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    Explore "ideas" with insightful episodes like "AMA | March 2024", "268 | Matt Strassler on Relativity, Fields, and the Language of Reality", "AMA | February 2024", "261 | Sanjana Curtis on the Origins of the Elements" and "Holiday Message: Reflections on Immortality" from podcasts like ""Sean Carroll's Mindscape: Science, Society, Philosophy, Culture, Arts, and Ideas", "Sean Carroll's Mindscape: Science, Society, Philosophy, Culture, Arts, and Ideas", "Sean Carroll's Mindscape: Science, Society, Philosophy, Culture, Arts, and Ideas", "Sean Carroll's Mindscape: Science, Society, Philosophy, Culture, Arts, and Ideas" and "Sean Carroll's Mindscape: Science, Society, Philosophy, Culture, Arts, and Ideas"" and more!

    Episodes (100)

    AMA | March 2024

    AMA | March 2024

    Welcome to the March 2024 Ask Me Anything episode of Mindscape! These monthly excursions are funded by Patreon supporters (who are also the ones asking the questions). We take questions asked by Patreons, whittle them down to a more manageable number -- based primarily on whether I have anything interesting to say about them, not whether the questions themselves are good -- and sometimes group them together if they are about a similar topic.

    Big congrats this month to Ryan Funakoshi, winner of this year's Mindscape Big Picture Scholarship! And enormous, heartfelt thanks to everyone who contributed. We're going to keep doing this in years to come.

    Blog post with questions and transcript: https://www.preposterousuniverse.com/podcast/2024/03/11/ama-march-2024/

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    268 | Matt Strassler on Relativity, Fields, and the Language of Reality

    268 | Matt Strassler on Relativity, Fields, and the Language of Reality

    In the 1860s, James Clerk Maxwell argued that light was a wave of electric and magnetic fields. But it took over four decades for physicists to put together the theory of special relativity, which correctly describes the symmetries underlying Maxwell's theory. The delay came in part from the difficulty in accepting that light was a wave, but not a wave in any underlying "aether." Today our most basic view of fundamental physics is found in quantum field theory, which posits that everything around us is a quantum version of a relativistic wave. I talk with physicist Matt Strassler about how we go from these interesting-but-intimidating concepts to the everyday world of tables, chairs, and ourselves.

    Blog post with transcript: https://www.preposterousuniverse.com/podcast/2024/03/04/267-matt-strassler-on-relativity-fields-and-the-language-of-reality/

    Support Mindscape on Patreon.

    Matt Strassler received his Ph.D. in physics from Stanford University. He is currently a writer and a visiting researcher in physics at Harvard University. His research has ranged over a number of topics in theoretical high-energy physics, from the phenomenology of dark matter and the Higgs boson to dualities in gauge theory and string theory. He blogs at Of Particular Significance, and his new book is Waves in an Impossible Sea: How Everyday Life Emerges from the Cosmic Ocean.

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    AMA | February 2024

    AMA | February 2024

    Welcome to the February 2024 Ask Me Anything episode of Mindscape! These monthly excursions are funded by Patreon supporters (who are also the ones asking the questions). We take questions asked by Patreons, whittle them down to a more manageable number -- based primarily on whether I have anything interesting to say about them, not whether the questions themselves are good -- and sometimes group them together if they are about a similar topic. Enjoy!

    Blog post with questions and transcript: https://www.preposterousuniverse.com/podcast/2024/02/12/ama-february-2024/

    Support Mindscape on Patreon.

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    261 | Sanjana Curtis on the Origins of the Elements

    261 | Sanjana Curtis on the Origins of the Elements

    In mid-20th-century cosmology, there was a debate over the origin of the chemical elements. Some thought that they could be produced in the Big Bang, while others argued that they were made inside stars. The truth turns out to be a combination of both, with additional complications layered in. Some of the elements of the periodic table come all the way from the Big Bang, but others are made inside stars or in stellar explosions. But still others are made by cosmic rays or when neutron stars and black holes merge together. We talk to nuclear astrophysicist Sanjana Curtis about all the different ways that the universe is cleverly able to produce various elements.

    Blog post with transcript: https://www.preposterousuniverse.com/podcast/2024/01/08/261-sanjana-curtis-on-the-origins-of-the-elements/

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    Sanjana Curtis received her Ph.D. in physics from North Carolina State University. She is currently a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Berkeley. Her research involves nuclear astrophysics, especially the production of heavier elements in supernova explosions and neutron-star/black-hole collisions. She is also active in science communication, including at her TikTok channel.


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    Holiday Message: Reflections on Immortality

    Holiday Message: Reflections on Immortality

    The final Mindscape podcast of each year is devoted to a short, reflective Holiday Message. This year the theme is Immortality: whether it's an attractive idea, and whether the laws of physics and cosmology would allow for it in principle. (Spoiler: they do not.) Mindscape will return as usual on January 1, 2024. Happy holidays everyone!

    Blog post with transcript: https://www.preposterousuniverse.com/podcast/2023/12/18/holiday-message-2023-reflections-on-immortality/

    Support Mindscape on Patreon.

    Here are some of the stories and papers mentioned in the episode:


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    AMA | December 2023

    AMA | December 2023

    Welcome to the December 2023 Ask Me Anything episode of Mindscape! These monthly excursions are funded by Patreon supporters (who are also the ones asking the questions). We take questions asked by Patreons, whittle them down to a more manageable number -- based primarily on whether I have anything interesting to say about them, not whether the questions themselves are good -- and sometimes group them together if they are about a similar topic. Enjoy!

    Blog post with questions and transcript: https://www.preposterousuniverse.com/podcast/2023/12/04/ama-december-2023/

    Link to the article referenced about time travel in movies: Ars Technica.

    There will be no AMA in January due to holiday break.

    Mindscape Big Picture Scholarship.

    Support Mindscape on Patreon.

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    257 | Derek Guy on the Theory and Practice of Dressing Well

    257 | Derek Guy on the Theory and Practice of Dressing Well

    Putting on clothes is one of the most universal human experiences. Inevitably, this involves choices; maybe you just grab the cheapest and most convenient clothing available, or maybe you want to fit seamlessly into your local environment, whatever that might be. But maybe you choose to dress more consciously, putting a bit of effort into crafting a personal style and creating a desired impression in others. Derek Guy has, to his own surprise, become well-known as the menswear guy on Twitter. He has put a lot of thought into both the practicalities of clothing (how to find a suit that fits) and its wider social impact (how fashion acts as a cultural language). We talk about both sides of the coin.

    (Picture on right is not Derek, but rather former US Attorney General Elliot Richardson, whose dapper image Derek uses as his avatar.)

    Blog post with transcript: https://www.preposterousuniverse.com/podcast/2023/11/20/257-derek-guy-on-the-theory-and-practice-of-dressing-well/

    Support Mindscape on Patreon.

    Derek Guy is a fashion writer living in San Francisco. He blogs at Die, Workwear!, and contributes to a number of publications.


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    256 | Kelly and Zach Weinersmith on Building Cities on the Moon and Mars

    256 | Kelly and Zach Weinersmith on Building Cities on the Moon and Mars

    There is an undeniable romance in the idea of traveling to, and even living in, outer space. In recent years, a pragmatic justification has become increasingly popular: the Earth is vulnerable to threats both natural and human-made, and it seems only prudent to spread life to other locations in case a disaster befalls our home planet. But how realistic is such a grand ambition? The wife-and-husband team of Kelly and Zack Weinersmith have tackled this question from a dizzying number of angles, from aeronautics and biology to law and psychology. The result is their new book, A City on Mars: Can We Settle Space, Should We Settle Space, and Have We Really Thought This Through? It provides an exceptionally clear-eyed view of the challenges and opportunities ahead.

    Blog post with transcript: https://www.preposterousuniverse.com/podcast/2023/11/13/256-kelly-and-zach-weinersmith-on-building-cities-on-the-moon-and-mars/

    Support Mindscape on Patreon.

    Kelly Weinersmith received a Ph.D. in ecology from the University of California, Davis. She is currently an adjunct professor in the department of biosciences at Rice University. Zack Weinersmith received a B.S. in English from Pfizer College. He is the creator of the popular webcomic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, as well as the author and co-author of several books, including Bea Wolf, a retelling of Beowulf as a children's story, with illustrations by Boulet. Kelly and Zach are also co-authors of Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That'll Improve and/or Ruin Everything.

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    AMA | November 2023

    AMA | November 2023

    Welcome to the November 2023 Ask Me Anything episode of Mindscape! These monthly excursions are funded by Patreon supporters (who are also the ones asking the questions). We take questions asked by Patreons, whittle them down to a more manageable number -- based primarily on whether I have anything interesting to say about them, not whether the questions themselves are good -- and sometimes group them together if they are about a similar topic. Enjoy!

    Blog post with questions and transcript: https://www.preposterousuniverse.com/podcast/2023/11/06/ama-november-2023/

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    255 | Michael Muthukrishna on Developing a Theory of Everyone

    255 | Michael Muthukrishna on Developing a Theory of Everyone

    A "Theory of Everything" is physicists' somewhat tongue-in-cheek phrase for a hypothetical model of all the fundamental physical interactions. Of course, even if we had such a theory, it would tell us nothing new about higher-level emergent phenomena, all the way up to human behavior and society. Can we even imagine a "Theory of Everyone," providing basic organizing principles for society? Michael Muthukrishna believes we can, and indeed that we can see the outlines of such a theory emerging, based on the relationships of people to each other and to the physical resources available.

    Blog post with transcript: https://www.preposterousuniverse.com/podcast/2023/10/30/255-michael-muthukrishna-on-developing-a-theory-of-everyone/

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    Michael Muthukrishna received his Ph.D. in psychology from the University of British Columbia. He is currently Associate Professor of Economic Psychology at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Among his awards are an Emerging Scholar Award from the Society for Personality and Social Psychology and a Dissertation Excellence Award from the Canadian Psychological Association. His new book is A Theory of Everyone: The New Science of Who We Are, How We Got Here, and Where We're Going.


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    AMA | October 2023

    AMA | October 2023

    Welcome to the October 2023 Ask Me Anything episode of Mindscape! These monthly excursions are funded by Patreon supporters (who are also the ones asking the questions). We take questions asked by Patreons, whittle them down to a more manageable number -- based primarily on whether I have anything interesting to say about them, not whether the questions themselves are good -- and sometimes group them together if they are about a similar topic. Enjoy!

    Blog post with questions and transcript: https://www.preposterousuniverse.com/podcast/2023/10/09/ama-october-2023/

    Support Mindscape on Patreon.

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    251 | Rosemary Braun on Uncovering Patterns in Biological Complexity

    251 | Rosemary Braun on Uncovering Patterns in Biological Complexity

    Biological organisms are paradigmatic emergent systems. That atoms of which they are made mindlessly obey the local laws of physics; even cells and organs do their individual jobs without explicitly understanding the larger whole of which they are a part. And yet the system as a whole functions beautifully, with apparent purpose and function. How do the small parts come together to form the greater whole? I talk with biophysicist Rosemary Braun about what we're learning about collective behavior within organisms from the modern era of huge biological datasets, especially crucial aspects like timekeeping (with bonus implications for dealing with jet lag).

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    Blog post with transcript: https://www.preposterousuniverse.com/podcast/2023/09/25/251-rosemary-braun-on-uncovering-patterns-in-biological-complexity/

    Rosemary Braun received her Ph.D. in physics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and an M.P.H. in biostatistics from Johns Hopkins. She is currently an associate professor of molecular biosciences, applied math, and physics at Northwestern University and external faculty at the Santa Fe Institute.

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    250 | Brendan Nyhan on Navigating the Information Ecosystem

    250 | Brendan Nyhan on Navigating the Information Ecosystem

    The modern world inundates us with both information and misinformation. What are the forces that conspire to make misinformation so prevalent? Can we combat the flow of misinformation, perhaps by legal restrictions? Would that even be a good idea? How can individuals help distinguish between true and false claims as they come in? What are the biases that we are all subject to? I talk to political scientist Brendan Nyhan about how information and misinformation spread, and what we can do as individuals and as a society to increase the amount of truth we all believe.

    Blog post with transcript: https://www.preposterousuniverse.com/podcast/2023/09/18/250-brendan-nyhan-on-navigating-the-information-ecosystem/

    Support Mindscape on Patreon.

    Brendan Nyhan received his Ph.D. in political science from Duke University. He is currently James O. Freedman professor of government at Dartmouth College. Among his awards are an Emerging Scholar award from the American Political Science Association, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


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    249 | Peter Godfrey-Smith on Sentience and Octopus Minds

    249 | Peter Godfrey-Smith on Sentience and Octopus Minds

    The study of cognition and sentience would be greatly abetted by the discovery of intelligent alien beings, who presumably developed independently of life here on Earth. But we do have more than one data point to consider: certain vertebrates (including humans) are quite intelligent, but so are certain cephalopods (including octopuses), even though the last common ancestor of the two groups was a simple organism hundreds of millions of years ago that didn't have much of a nervous system at all. Peter Godfrey-Smith has put a great amount of effort into trying to figure out what we can learn about the nature of thinking by studying how it is done in these animals with very different brains and nervous systems.

    Blog post with transcript: https://www.preposterousuniverse.com/podcast/2023/09/11/249-peter-godfrey-smith-on-sentience-and-octopus-minds/

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    Peter Godfrey-Smith received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of California, San Diego. He is currently professor in the School of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Sydney. Among his books are Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness and Metazoa: Animal Life and the Birth of the Mind.

    Here are some of the papers mentioned in this episode:

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    AMA | September 2023

    AMA | September 2023

    Welcome to the September 2023 Ask Me Anything episode of Mindscape! These monthly excursions are funded by Patreon supporters (who are also the ones asking the questions). We take questions asked by Patreons, whittle them down to a more manageable number -- based primarily on whether I have anything interesting to say about them, not whether the questions themselves are good -- and sometimes group them together if they are about a similar topic. Enjoy!

    Blog post with questions and transcript: https://www.preposterousuniverse.com/podcast/2023/09/04/ama-september-2023/

    And you can now pre-order The Biggest Ideas in the Universe Vol. 2: Quanta and Fields!

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    248 | Yejin Choi on AI and Common Sense

    248 | Yejin Choi on AI and Common Sense

    Over the last year, AI large-language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT have demonstrated a remarkable ability to carry on human-like conversations in a variety of different concepts. But the way these LLMs "learn" is very different from how human beings learn, and the same can be said for how they "reason." It's reasonable to ask, do these AI programs really understand the world they are talking about? Do they possess a common-sense picture of reality, or can they just string together words in convincing ways without any underlying understanding? Computer scientist Yejin Choi is a leader in trying to understand the sense in which AIs are actually intelligent, and why in some ways they're still shockingly stupid.

    Blog post with transcript: https://www.preposterousuniverse.com/podcast/2023/08/28/248-yejin-choi-on-ai-and-common-sense/

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    Yejin Choi received a Ph.D. in computer science from Cornell University. She is currently the Wissner-Slivka Professor at the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington and also a senior research director at AI2 overseeing the project Mosaic. Among her awards are a MacArthur fellowship and a fellow of the Association for Computational Linguistics.


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    246 | David Stuart on Time and Science in Maya Civilization

    246 | David Stuart on Time and Science in Maya Civilization

    You might remember the somewhat bizarre worries that swept through certain circles back in 2012, based on the end of the world being predicted by the Maya calendar. The world didn't end, which is unsurprising because the Maya hadn't predicted that, and for that matter they had no way of doing so. But there is very interesting archeology behind our understanding of how the Maya developed their calendar, as well as other aspects of their language and scientific understanding. Mayanist David Stuart takes us on a tour of what we know and what we're still discovering.

    Blog post with transcript: https://www.preposterousuniverse.com/podcast/2023/08/14/246-david-stuart-on-time-and-science-in-maya-civilization/

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    David Stuart received his Ph.D. in anthropology from Vanderbilt University. He is currently professor of Art History and Director of the Mesoamerica Center at the University of Texas, Austin. He is the youngest-ever recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship. Among his books is The Order of Days: Unlocking the Secrets of the Ancient Maya.


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    AMA | June 2023

    AMA | June 2023

    Welcome to the June 2023 Ask Me Anything episode of Mindscape! These monthly excursions are funded by Patreon supporters (who are also the ones asking the questions). We take questions asked by Patreons, whittle them down to a more manageable number -- based primarily on whether I have anything interesting to say about them, not whether the questions themselves are good -- and sometimes group them together if they are about a similar topic. Enjoy!

    Post with questions and full transcript: https://www.preposterousuniverse.com/podcast/2023/06/05/ama-june-2023/

    Support Mindscape on Patreon.

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    236 | Thomas Hertog on Quantum Cosmology and Hawking's Final Theory

    236 | Thomas Hertog on Quantum Cosmology and Hawking's Final Theory

    Is there a multiverse, and if so, how should we think of ourselves within it? In many modern cosmological models, the universe includes more than one realm, with possibly different laws of physics, and these realms may or may not include intelligent observers. There is a longstanding puzzle about how, in such a scenario, we should calculate what we, as presumably intelligent observers ourselves, should expect to see. Today's guest, Thomas Hertog, is a physicist and longstanding collaborator of Stephen Hawking. They worked together (often with James Hartle) to address these questions, and the work is still ongoing.

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    Thomas Hertog received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Cambridge. He is currently a professor of theoretical physics at KU Leuven. His new book is On the Origin of Time: Stephen Hawking's Final Theory.


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    AMA | May 2023

    AMA | May 2023

    Welcome to the May 2023 Ask Me Anything episode of Mindscape! These monthly excursions are funded by Patreon supporters (who are also the ones asking the questions). We take questions asked by Patreons, whittle them down to a more manageable number — based primarily on whether I have anything interesting to say about them, not whether the questions themselves are good — and sometimes group them together if they are about a similar topic. Enjoy!

    Support Mindscape on Patreon.

    See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy and California Privacy Notice at https://art19.com/privacy#do-not-sell-my-info.