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Cancel the Fun: Science & God
53 minutes | Sep 18, 2014
Where does order come from? How come there's, like, planets and people instead of just gas and dust? Matter has a funny way of organizing itself using simple rules. The process is called self-organization, but you can just think of it as matter doing its thing. Self-organization is so fundamental to understanding the world, we often don't talk about it unless there's a very specific example -- like a flock of birds, or a hive of bees. But you can see self-organization in every aspect of life. Proteins fold into tiny little machines all on their own. Cells do all the work of life without any CPU to tell them what to do (the nucleus does a lot, but it's not the brain of the cell). Brains, for that matter, produce consciousness without any single region or structure that can be identified as the "decider" -- consciousness emerges from distributed regions, all over the brain. Life comes from a bunch of small parts acting on their own, according to their own rules, to produce something bigger, more complex. So why don't we spend every day marveling at this beautiful reality? Why don't we begin our conversations, "Well hello, nice to meet you -- or should I say -- Nice for my neurons to collectively interact with the emergent consciousness of your neurons, neurons that are supported by all the rest of the cells in your body, cells that are in turn a staggeringly complex and elegant collection of proteins that folded on their own, supported by nucleic acids that assembled on their own into a sequence containing information that literally built itself from noise, you beautiful, precious hunk of living matter, I will never forget you, you symphony of life, you victory of order over randomness, I weep tears of sublimity at our meeting." No, that would be weird. But we can at least make a podcast.
45 minutes | Sep 11, 2014
If you can argue a legal case that is not true, Graham thinks there is something fundamentally wrong. Lindsey agrees in principle, but however comma facts are hard. The Supreme Court of the US seems to not even be sure if the facts it uses in its decisions are real or not. In fact, the "facts" presented to the SCOTUS justices are not fact-checked. Supreme Court facts aren't fact-checked? Indeed, SCOTUS puts a decent amount of time into their judicial reasoning, as Supreme Court Justices are want to do, but it turns out they don't dig around to make sure the numbers, scientific assertions, and statements about the world presented to them in amicus briefs are actually real."What?" you say aloud. Indeed; what. These are dark days for the Enlightenment and also, justice. Listen for more whining about how disappointed we are with nine highly successful people, and for our startup website SupremeKortFax.com. Submit your very own Supreme Court amicus brief today at SupremeKortFax.com. Don't like fennel? Guess what? Fennel caused 50,000 cases of infant mortality last year in the US. It's true because I read it in an amicus brief, right after I wrote it.
48 minutes | Sep 4, 2014
Spiritual but not Religious
Spiritual but not Religious? You're not alone -- many people feel this way, so we tried to figure out what it means to be SBNR. Carolyn Porco, leader of the Cassini imaging team, gives us a hint to follow up on. For her, contemplating her place in the galaxy and in the universe makes her feel "empowered", and big, not small. Strong words from a scientist! Neil deGrasse Tyson, on his podcast StarTalk, decides this admission is enough to grant Porco cult status, but we think she's talking about something that's quite common to experience. Graham talks about getting his jollies by considering the fact that he is living matter, and Linz says it's all about her community.
46 minutes | Aug 28, 2014
Sqautches and Cherubim
Why do we love monsters? Ahh! Really, what is it about an animal that's almost a real animal but not quite, a cryptozooid if you like, that makes us want to believe? Unlike the merits of religion, the benefit to a believer of cryptozoology is, well, fairly cryptic. What's in it for James "Bobo" Fay besides, uh...his show on Animal Planet? (Pff, I guess that's why they don't call it Actual Animal Planet, am I right?) And think not that cryptozooids are 20th- and 21st-century phenomena! The Tanakh and Christian Bible are chock full of beasts, angels, and demons. Indeed the ancient Israelites oft went a-'squatchin. Why bother with monsters? (OK I can see why we have the jackalope that is the ONE EXCEPTION to my question it is so adorable just look at that little guy I'd like to stuff him and put him in my cabin) Linz says the answer is complicated but has to do with transcendence and power. We are talking about modern-day mythology here. Belief is alive and well, and not just the Friday-at-sundown to Sunday morning type.
41 minutes | Aug 21, 2014
Animal Family Values
"Focus on the family!" is what we told ourselves preparing for this show. Those of conservative religious bent have feelings, typically lots of them, about families. Excuse me, about human families. But what do biologists have to say about families? As is always the case with model organisms, studying animals doesn't directly tell us anything about human families. Our common ancestry, though, guarantees that animal families can at least inform the study of our own families. After taking a good long look at how other animals organize their families, frankly we are horrified. Animals are some sick puppies. Infanticide, absent parents, cheating parents, infanticidal philandering parents! But there are a few animals that construct families what would make James Dobson proud. We're talking about life-long pair bonds in prairie voles. If one partner dies, the other one does not find a new partner. And they never cheat on each other, ever. We're talking about albatrosses, who return from a six-month solitary sojourn around the world to find their one partner on a rock in Oahu, and if that partner hasn't arrived yet, the albatross waits. If their partner has died during the six months abroad, the partner waits, and waits. Oh, also, one third of the albatross partnerships are female-female couples. Nevermind about James Dobson, animals can be downright inspiring. Where do we humans fall out in the kerfuffle? We're one of the most family-oriented species, to be sure, but we're not the most faithful, and we're not the most paternally invested. That can make one feel small, but also big. Sort of in the middle is where we humans are when it comes to families. Well, we're still doing better than butterflies. Those heartless egg machines just mate and mate and mate and then die, leaving their caterpillars alone on a stick. Butterflies, the very model of sin.
51 minutes | Aug 14, 2014
What is a non-overlapping magisterium, you ask? If you're the type who thinks science and religion are best served by just parting ways once and for all, non-overlapping magisteria are your best #%@$ing friends. Proposed by Stephen Jay Gould using the language of Pope Pius XII's 1950 encyclical Humani Generis, non-overlapping magisteria are separate domains of teaching authority, each with its own self-consistent language and legitimate logic. However, the logic and language of one non-overlapping magisterium does not necessarily pertain to the other! This splits science and religion into separate attempts to answer two different types of questions. Questions about the physical world go to science; questions about human meaning go to religion. Problem is here, that nobody except SJG and I are happy with this. Religious communities find this unacceptable because people historically turned to religious traditions for explanations of the physical world. Some still do, and many believers often feel that their religion is all-encompassing, or at least that it loses something when Balkanized. Scientists have much to gain from n-ov mag, as I call it for short, for scientists have earned their right to describe the physical world. By coming up with the worst system except for all the others to describe it, scientists have worked hard for their little chunk of a magisterium. Yet scientists also find Gould's two-state solution unsatisfying because even though scientists make no claims they'll one day understand everything, that's at least the goal. Why couldn't we understand spirituality as the neurological process it is? So there you have it. An intractable conflict that's been on since the Enlightenment or so -- I think we've got at least a temporary solution but nobody wants it. RIP SJG -- apparently you were a jerk to everyone still alive who knew you but at least you had some good ones.
63 minutes | Aug 7, 2014
Here's a doozy for ya: God, and yet, bad stuff. Pretty tough, right? How can God be omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent, as a couple folks claim, given all the ignorant, impotent, and evil stuff that happens every day? Plus, earthquakes. Efforts to resolve this theological crisis are called theodicy. If God created the Earth, then why didn't He lubricate tectonic plates with Teflon so they glide effortlessly over one another without producing earthquakes? Seriously, why not? This is a win-win proposition: no earthquake-derived suffering, and also, free Teflon right there in the ground. Maybe God can't do anything about tectonic plates, but then He would only be partipotent, wouldn't he? And maybe God just don't care, but who wants to worship a jerk? Or maybe God is surprised by every disaster, like, "Oh my Me, I did NOT see that coming!" This is an old problem dating back to Greek philosophers, but we solved it right. here. Two periods because we did it! Tune in for the answer! Spoiling Alarm: Bad things are Pat Robertson's fault.
7 minutes | Jul 31, 2014
Linz is sick! She'll be better, but on this very sad occasion I am forced to fly solo for today's tenuous mini-episode. Listen in as I banish MSG phobia to the realm of irrationality and in the process insensitively call into question the life experiences of those who suffer from MSG-sensitivity. Dear MSG-haters, your symptoms are real, but they are not caused by MSG if you enjoy symptom-free cheese eating! With that out the way, let's just hope Linz gets better so I don't have to do another douchey episode next week, this time extolling the virtues of nitrite. So long friends.
51 minutes | Jul 23, 2014
Knowing God for Dummies
We have a (sort of) clearly-defined way of knowing things in science, and with notable exceptions, it works (sort of, over time...in an asymptotic way...it works, alright?!). But how do those of us we affectionately call "non-scientists" go about knowing their stuff? Seems like a silly question, "How do you know stuff?" but we found the answer for "How do you know about God?" to be very interesting indeed! First of all, tons of people don't believe in God, so there's that. Second of all, among those who do believe, they don't all agree on how to know God, because sum(religions) > 1, obv. And third of all, people may know God differently even if they agree on what it means to know God, and how you go about doing so. And yet, theology! Knowing God is clearly important to quite a lot of people, including us, so what is going on here? Linz 'splains.
61 minutes | Jul 17, 2014
Journalism, Science Communication, Teaching, Politics: we carry out these endeavors under the premise that facts exist, we can know them and communicate them, and that others will eventually adopt those facts as truth. But the human mind may operate differently! The smooth trickling down of facts from experts on mundane subjects (like cell biology and Protestant theology) may just have lulled us into a false complacence, for things get tricky when misinformation competes with the truth. Listen to this week's show for a new old theory about how us humans chose between competing "facts" -- ALERT FOR THOSE WISHING NOT TO BE SPOILED: we humans don't care about which version of the "facts" are actually correct. We may only be good at being correct if we're a member of a group that values being correct. And, have you talked to the average peer group recently? We are screwed! Not to be overly dramatic, but the fate of our species may depend on getting this right. All our eggs are in the "tell people about climate change and wait for them to do the right thing" basket. But if that's the wrong basket, we need to, like, switch baskets. Soon! Listen to the end for a few ideas for how to ... "help" people be right when their peer group's identity is based around being wrong. PS The science communication field needs more ethical ideas for how to help people accept correct facts. People just like you are sending their ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org
58 minutes | Jul 9, 2014
Have you ever heard something that made you feel really great on the insides? It was probably wrong if it used the word "quantum". Listen in as we put the idea of quantum consciousness to rest. You see, some people peddle the cool idea that your thoughts are related to quantum mechanics and THE UNIVERSE. In fact, (Spoilers!) your thoughts emerge over vast networks of neurons spanning your entire brain -- but there is an entire industry built on you not knowing that! (c.f. Deepak Chopra et al.) Why do we care about debunking quantum BS if it makes people feel so good? I ... don't ... know! Who really cares about being right? Who cares about truth? Reality doesn't pay the student loans. Pseudoscience moves paperbacks! How about this? You and your thoughts are not "merely" physical matter -- you are a refulgent wad of pure quantum energy, big and bright enough to clog up a black hole, with enough cosmic awareness left over to cure cancer by saying the following phrase in you head, "I feel great! I feel great! The last 500 years of scientific work must be wrong because I watched a show, and I feel GREEEEEAT!"
38 minutes | Jul 2, 2014
This week we make civil rights hiii-larious. Kate Kelly, a devout Mormon, wants the LDS church to ordain women, and for suggesting it, she was excommunicated. We talk about how this makes us feel and (spoiler alert!) decide the way forward is to just ordain women.
42 minutes | Jun 25, 2014
What's cooler than believing in UFOs? --pondering why we don't see any life from another solar system of course! I'm sorry, let me back up and tell you a little bit about my personal journey. When I was a kid, I loved reading about UFO sightings. There are entire books about UFOs in libraries -- real libraries! These books are filled with unconvincing reports of contact with life from another world, observed by unconvincing people, inevitably in situations that would prevent the collection of evidence. Sleep-deprived middle-of-the-night drivers must be catnip for aliens. But I loved it! That is, I loved it until I was old enough to realize that if humans had actually made contact with life from another world, the entire way we view ourselves and the universe would change. Philosophy, religion, biology, all these fields would be rewritten to incorporate the reality of extraterrestrial life. I decided UFO stories weren't true. And now that just about everyone carries a high-resolution camera around in their pocket, literally everyday, we can be more sure than ever that so far, we are alone. And that's a problem. Given the number of Earth-like planets in our galaxy -- probably a billion -- not to mention in the rest of the universe -- another 10^20 or so -- you'd think that more than one of them would have intelligent life capable of gettin' around. So where are those aliens? So asked Enrico Fermi. Join us for speculation!
8 minutes | Jun 20, 2014
Dr. Oz cuts the Forskolin
Episode cancelled! Graham literally cancelled this week's recording, apparently by not hitting the "record" button in the studio. Linz and G still had a nice hour long chat, but you'll never know! Dr. Oz nearly, almost apologized to the Senate subcommittee on Consumer Protection this week after being grilled by Claire McCaskill for his fraudulent promotion of quack weight loss products. I take a few minutes all by my lonesome to make fun of him. Again, I sat by myself this morning, ridiculed a famous, wealthy, and accomplished cardiac surgeon, then emailed to tell you about it. Life can be sad.
23 minutes | Jun 13, 2014
Green Bean Coffee
Host cancelled! With Lindsey at a graduation, I find myself just letting loose on the easy targets: CNN, climate denialists, and Dr. Oz. With nobody to laugh, the fun is seriously cancelled, and I don't even talk about God once. This is what happens when you're "celebrating the achievements" of your "friends," Lindsey: GOD IS FARTHER AWAY. Don't let this happen again, unless you're coming to my graduation. Science, news, snark, and youtube videos. Then I just play Cosmos for a couple minutes to wrap 'er up! Yeehaw! (I'm so scared and alone; come back Linz)
54 minutes | Jun 5, 2014
Global Warming part Deux
Neil deGrasse Tyson's reboot of Carl Sagan's Cosmos has left us agape + gasping = agasp. We rethink the case for anthropogenic global warming with a renewed sense of self-preservation, and in doing so shatter our record for F-bombs dropped! We did it! In attempting not to sentence our great-grandchildren to lifetimes of swamp-ass, we question why humans seem to be uniquely adept at understanding problems without taking collective action to solve them. Hmm... Our guest Sandra Bullock suggests that it may take a minor climate crisis to bring us together, which she hopes to hasten by insisting we never drive below 60 mph. Graham argues that positive feedback might mean we'll only get to a minor crisis if we're headed for a major one, to which Lindsey utters her first cuss. Don't miss next week's episode on KZSU 90.1 FM in the Peninsula and kzsu.stanford.edu on Thursday at 9am Pacific!
77 minutes | May 29, 2014
Even though Deepak Chopra pops an entire bottle of his anxiety pills when we say it, consciousness might just come from the brain! Or at least so says Graham. Linz prefers a little bit of mystery to her mind. But what about God? And ... Free Will? Early reviews call this "...their longest episode yet." Our guest Anselm of Canterbury tries for a coherent interview but keeps on interrupting himself every time he imagines something greater to talk about.
68 minutes | May 22, 2014
Everything's fine! Join us in feeling downright plucky about the future as we slowly realize not at all to our horror that we humans are definitely equipped to survive on this planet no matter what happens. Either that, or Jesus will fix whatever we screw up. Eco theology, eco feminism, and publicly-humiliated scientists all agree that we're doin' just great. Our guest John Oliver sums it all up with profanity.
62 minutes | May 15, 2014
All the Feels
What are emotions and why do they...what's the word...burn? Ever get the sinking feeling you're nothing more than an exquisite symphony of electrochemical networks? Suck it up, meatbag. We address these questions and more with not-at-all-made-up answers, then we disagree about God. Show cancelled.
64 minutes | May 8, 2014
This week Graham and Lindsey figure out if the Bible is literally true using this one weird trick, Andrew Revkin and Darren Aronofsky treat the Word Of God like your average Greek epic, and guests Karl Popper and St. Augustine take the finger trap beauty test -- you won't believe who passed and who didn't!
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