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Ever wanted to know how music affects your brain, what quantum mechanics really is, or how black holes work? Do you wonder why you get emotional each time you see a certain movie, or how on earth video games are designed? Then you’ve come to the right place. Each week, Sean Carroll will host conversations with some of the most interesting thinkers in the world. From neuroscientists and engineers to authors and television producers, Sean and his guests talk about the biggest ideas in science, ...
 
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In July 2018, 12 youth soccer players and their coach found themselves trapped 6 miles deep in a cave with no food or water and depleting oxygen. The rock formed maze became almost completely submerged as the water rose to levels nearly impossible for survival. There was no light and no way to communicate with the outside world. The first season of…
 
In our postmodern world, studying the classics of ancient Greece and Rome can seem quaint at best, downright repressive at worst. (We are talking about works by dead white men, after all.) Do we still have things to learn from classical philosophy, drama, and poetry? Shadi Bartsch offers a vigorous affirmative to this question in two new books comi…
 
Welcome to the February 2021 Ask Me Anything episode of Mindscape! These are funded by Patreon supporters (who are also the ones asking the questions). This month is in what has been the conventional format, where I just try my best to answer every question. But it’s growing a bit unwieldy, so going forward I might just try to pick my favorite ques…
 
A common argument against free will is that human behavior is not freely chosen, but rather determined by a number of factors. So what are those factors, anyway? There’s no one better equipped to answer this question than Robert Sapolsky, a leading psychoneurobiologist who has studied human behavior from a variety of angles. In this conversation we…
 
It’s a truism that what we see about the world is a small fraction of all that exists. At the simplest level of physics and biology, our senses are drastically limited; we only see a narrow spectrum of electromagnetic waves, and we only hear a narrow band of sound. We don’t feel neutrinos or dark matter at all, even as they pass through our bodies,…
 
Here is a special bonus punishment treat for Mindscape listeners: an interview of me, by David Zierler of the American Institute of Physics’s Oral History project. This is a fantastic project that collects interviews with influential physicists of all ages, and apparently sometimes less-influential physicists. So if you’d like to hear my (academic)…
 
As a semi-outsider, it’s fun for me to watch as a new era dawns in biology: one that adds ideas from physics, big data, computer science, and information theory to the usual biological toolkit. One of the big areas of study in this burgeoning field is the relationship between the basic bioinformatic building blocks (genes and proteins) to the macro…
 
The possible existence of technologically advanced extraterrestrial civilizations — not just alien microbes, but cultures as advanced (or much more) than our own — is one of the most provocative questions in modern science. So provocative that it’s difficult to talk about the idea in a rational, dispassionate way; there are those who loudly insist …
 
What is the world made of? How does it behave? These questions, aimed at the most basic level of reality, are the subject of fundamental physics. What counts as fundamental is somewhat contestable, but it includes our best understanding of matter and energy, space and time, and dynamical laws, as well as complex emergent structures and the sweep of…
 
The first full week of 2021 has been action-packed for those of us in the United States of America, for reasons you’re probably aware of, including a riotous mob storming the US Capitol. The situation has spurred me to take the unusual step of doing a solo podcast in response to current events. But never fear, I’m not actually trying to analyze cur…
 
We all know stereotypes about people from different countries; but we also recognize that there really are broad cultural differences between people who grow up in different societies. This raises a challenge when most psychological research is performed on a narrow and unrepresentative slice of the world’s population — a subset that has accurately…
 
Welcome to the third annual Mindscape Holiday Message! Just a chance for me to be a little more chatty and informal than usual, although as it turned out this isn’t all that different from a conventional solo episode. With the difference that what I’m talking about — a phenomenon called “cosmic birefringence” — has played a big part in my personal …
 
Many characteristics go into making human beings special — brain size, opposable thumbs, etc. Surely one of the most important is language, and in particular the ability to learn new sounds and use them for communication. Many other species communicate through sound, but only a very few — humans, elephants, bats, cetaceans, and a handful of bird sp…
 
Getting into the swing of things here with monthly Ask Me Anything episodes. If you missed the explanation last month, there is a Patreon page for people who wish to support Mindscape with a small donation per episode. Benefits include a warm feeling, social status, access to ad-free versions of the podcast, and the ability to ask questions once pe…
 
Those of us living in democracies tend to take the idea for granted. We forget what an audacious, radical idea it is to put government power into the hands of literally all of the citizens of a country. Where did such an idea come from, and where is it going? Political scientist David Stasavage has written an ambitious history of democracy worldwid…
 
Aristotle conceived of the world in terms of teleological “final causes”; Darwin, or so the story goes, erased purpose and meaning from the world, replacing them with a bloodless scientific algorithm. But should we abandon all talk of meanings and purposes, or instead conceptualize them as emergent rather than fundamental? Philosophers (and former …
 
Time! It doesn’t stop, psychological effects of being under lockdown notwithstanding. How we experience time depends on our situation, but time itself just marches forward. Unless, of course, it’s possible to travel to the past, as countless science-fiction scenarios have depicted. But does that really make sense? Couldn’t we then change the past, …
 
As you have likely heard me mention before, I have an account on Patreon, where people can sign up to donate a dollar or two per episode of Mindscape. In return they get two tangible (if minor) benefits. First, they get to listen to the podcast without any ads. Second, once per month I do an Ask Me Anything episode, where patrons are allowed to ask…
 
Emotions are at the same time utterly central to who we are — where would we be without them? — and also seemingly peripheral to the “real” work our brains do, understanding the world and acting within it. Why do we have emotions, anyway? Are they hardwired into the brain? Lisa Feldman Barrett is one of the world’s leading experts in the psychology…
 
Imagine you were locked in a sealed room, with no way to access the outside world but a few screens showing a view of what’s outside. Seems scary and limited, but that’s essentially the situation that our brains find themselves in — locked in our skulls, with only the limited information from a few unreliable sensory modalities to tell them what’s …
 
This episode is published on November 2, 2020, the day before an historic election in the United States. An election that comes amidst growing worries about the future of democratic governance, as well as explicit claims that democracy is intrinsically unfair, inefficient, or ill-suited to the modern world. What better time to take a step back and …
 
Erwin Schrödinger’s famous book What Is Life? highlighted the connections between physics, and thermodynamics in particular, and the nature of living beings. But the exact connections between living organisms and the flow of heat and entropy remains a topic of ongoing research. Jeremy England is a leader in this field, deriving connections between …
 
In the service of seeking truth, there would seem to be value in intellectual diversity, both in keeping ourselves honest and in the possibility of new ideas coming from unexpected quarters. That’s true in the natural sciences, but even more so in the humanities and social sciences, where the right/wrong distinction is sometimes less clear. But aca…
 
Astronomers rocked the cosmological world with the 1998 discovery that the universe is accelerating. Well-deserved Nobel Prizes were awarded to Saul Perlmutter, Brian Schmidt, and today’s guest Adam Riess. Adam has continued to push forward on investigating the structure and evolution of the universe. He’s been a leader in emphasizing a curious dis…
 
Evolution is a messy business, involving as it does selection pressures, mutations, genetic drift, and the effects of random external interventions. So in the end, how much of it is predictable, and how much is in the hands of chance? Today we’re thrilled to have as a guest my evil (but more respectable, by most measures) twin, the biologist Sean B…
 
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