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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

The Science of Storytelling
by Colleen Scheck, APM producer
Scientists studying the origin of humans use the clues of ancient artifacts to help shed light on many facets of our evolution, including the development of culture in our species. In the World Science Festival panel "Why We Prevailed: Evolution and the Battle for Dominance," anthropologist Alison S. Brooks showed a photo of six snail-like shells thought to be 100,000 years old that had synchronized piercings with smooth edges and coloration, suggesting they were strung like a necklace and worn on a body-painted “person.” What was the purpose of this Neanderthal art? A primitive marriage symbol? A tribal identifier? A designation of leadership? And what story did the wearer tell about it? 
That question lingered in my mind at a subsequent panel "Why We Tell Stories: The Science of Narrative." While storytelling itself may have been a component of our prototype years, the science of storytelling is a very young field. Jonathan Gottschall, a writer at this intersection, noted its infancy — there’s only about 15 years of active scientific research in hand. Why? He said neither scientists nor humanities scholars feel it’s their jurisdiction. He advocates for bringing experts in these disciplines closer together to more rigorously advance our understanding of this uniquely human gift.
The panel was an intriguing and entertaining example of how writers and scientists can jointly explore the wide spectrum of theories and questions in this arena. Authors Joyce Carol Oates and Jeffrey Eugenides, psychologist Paul Bloom, novelist and psychologist Keith Oatley, and Gottschall discussed everything from the neurological functions in the brain of a reader to storytelling’s role in cognitive development in children, from the differences in the art of storytelling itself to its sociological implications in our individual and communal lives, from the nature of its psychological depths to the value of its aesthetic heights. What is the effect of “constantly marinating ourselves in fiction” like we do? Why do children’s stories often center around some type of trouble, when we would expect them to want to avoid fearful or sad narratives? What’s the future of storytelling? Will video games evolve beyond action genres to include virtual engagement in a Henry James or Jane Austen story?
In closing, moderator Jay Allison brought me back around to evolution. As one of the creative forces behind the popular public radio program The Moth, he noted the remarkable appeal of the show’s utterly simple and primitive form — individuals telling true personal stories, without editing or sculpting or elaborate production.
What’s the power of storytelling in your life? What do you think is important to advancing this field of inquiry?
(Click on the panel title links above to replay the live stream of both these events.)
Photo at top (l-r): Jonathan Gottschall, Joyce Carol Oates, Jeffrey Eugenides, Keith Oatley and Paul Bloom discuss the art and science of storytelling.

The Science of Storytelling

by Colleen Scheck, APM producer

Scientists studying the origin of humans use the clues of ancient artifacts to help shed light on many facets of our evolution, including the development of culture in our species. In the World Science Festival panel "Why We Prevailed: Evolution and the Battle for Dominance," anthropologist Alison S. Brooks showed a photo of six snail-like shells thought to be 100,000 years old that had synchronized piercings with smooth edges and coloration, suggesting they were strung like a necklace and worn on a body-painted “person.” What was the purpose of this Neanderthal art? A primitive marriage symbol? A tribal identifier? A designation of leadership? And what story did the wearer tell about it?

That question lingered in my mind at a subsequent panel "Why We Tell Stories: The Science of Narrative." While storytelling itself may have been a component of our prototype years, the science of storytelling is a very young field. Jonathan Gottschall, a writer at this intersection, noted its infancy — there’s only about 15 years of active scientific research in hand. Why? He said neither scientists nor humanities scholars feel it’s their jurisdiction. He advocates for bringing experts in these disciplines closer together to more rigorously advance our understanding of this uniquely human gift.

The panel was an intriguing and entertaining example of how writers and scientists can jointly explore the wide spectrum of theories and questions in this arena. Authors Joyce Carol Oates and Jeffrey Eugenides, psychologist Paul Bloom, novelist and psychologist Keith Oatley, and Gottschall discussed everything from the neurological functions in the brain of a reader to storytelling’s role in cognitive development in children, from the differences in the art of storytelling itself to its sociological implications in our individual and communal lives, from the nature of its psychological depths to the value of its aesthetic heights. What is the effect of “constantly marinating ourselves in fiction” like we do? Why do children’s stories often center around some type of trouble, when we would expect them to want to avoid fearful or sad narratives? What’s the future of storytelling? Will video games evolve beyond action genres to include virtual engagement in a Henry James or Jane Austen story?

In closing, moderator Jay Allison brought me back around to evolution. As one of the creative forces behind the popular public radio program The Moth, he noted the remarkable appeal of the show’s utterly simple and primitive form — individuals telling true personal stories, without editing or sculpting or elaborate production.

What’s the power of storytelling in your life? What do you think is important to advancing this field of inquiry?

(Click on the panel title links above to replay the live stream of both these events.)

Photo at top (l-r): Jonathan Gottschall, Joyce Carol Oates, Jeffrey Eugenides, Keith Oatley and Paul Bloom discuss the art and science of storytelling.

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Absolute Zero and God

by Colleen Scheck, APM Producer

"A [cracked] plastic tabletop: $79.95. Fun with liquid nitrogen: priceless."

It’s not all serious dialogue here at the World Science Festival. At today’s event, “Einstein, Time, and the Coldest Stuff in the Universe," Nobel prize-winning physicist William D. Phillips used liquid nitrogen to help explain absolute zero and what happens when atoms are cooled. As you can see, his enthusiastic young audience had many questions. How does Phillips feel about science and belief in God? Read his response to the question “Does Science Make Belief in God Obsolete?" In short, "absolutely not!"

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Internet Everywhere: The Future of History’s Most Disruptive Technology (live video)

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

In "Alive Enough?," the director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, Sherry Turkle, cautions that technology is not alienating in and of itself, but that we must mature as our ever-expanding relationship with technology grows. And, she says, we can and must lead examined lives with our digital objects — actively shaping technology to human purposes.

Well, at this year’s World Science Festival, some of the pioneers (including Vint Cerf) of these disruptive technologies examine “the Internet’s brief but explosive history and reveal nascent projects that will shortly reinvent how we interact with technology — and each other.” And they give us a view of what technologies and interactions are in our future.

The live webcast starts at 1pm Eastern. Our producer is there and will be live-tweeting this panel of dynamic thinkers from NYU’s Skirball Center. Watch the live video stream with us and let us know if there’s anybody you’d like us to interview for On Being.

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Hockenberry Steals the Show at the World Science Festival
by Colleen Scheck, APM producer

"Once God saw quantum mechanics, he smiled." —Thorsten Ritz, biophysicist

I highly recommend watching the stream of last night’s World Science Festival event "Quantum Biology and the Hidden Nature of Nature." It’s rare that a moderator steals the show — especially when sharing the stage with the engaging, brilliant and distinguished minds of Paul Davies, Seth Lloyd, and Thorsten Ritz — but journalist John Hockenberry did it.
Through the insights of these three scientific guides, Hockenberry took the professed “QB” crowd on a fun journey through the “spooky” intersection of quantum mechanics and biology, exploring how it might explain bird migration, photosynthesis, and the delicate sense of smell. God only came up once, after Hockenberry abandoned a complicated question and said “Let’s forget all that. Is there a God?” Ritz replied, ”Once God saw quantum mechanics, he smiled.” I guarantee you’ll be both fascinated and entertained by this event, and perhaps you’ll wish, like me, that this is how you had been taught science in school.

Hockenberry Steals the Show at the World Science Festival

by Colleen Scheck, APM producer

"Once God saw quantum mechanics, he smiled."
—Thorsten Ritz, biophysicist

I highly recommend watching the stream of last night’s World Science Festival event "Quantum Biology and the Hidden Nature of Nature." It’s rare that a moderator steals the show — especially when sharing the stage with the engaging, brilliant and distinguished minds of Paul Davies, Seth Lloyd, and Thorsten Ritz — but journalist John Hockenberry did it.

Through the insights of these three scientific guides, Hockenberry took the professed “QB” crowd on a fun journey through the “spooky” intersection of quantum mechanics and biology, exploring how it might explain bird migration, photosynthesis, and the delicate sense of smell. God only came up once, after Hockenberry abandoned a complicated question and said “Let’s forget all that. Is there a God?” Ritz replied, ”Once God saw quantum mechanics, he smiled.” I guarantee you’ll be both fascinated and entertained by this event, and perhaps you’ll wish, like me, that this is how you had been taught science in school.

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Will My Smart Phone Be Smarter Than Me?
by Colleen Scheck, APM producer
Perhaps you’ve asked yourself this question while speaking to Siri on your iPhone. It surfaced at yesterday’s World Science Festival event “The Creator: Alan Turing and the Future of Thinking Machines” where a panel of scientists and filmmakers discussed the nature and future of artificial intelligence.
The conversation was framed through the premiere of the film “The Creator” by artists Al+Al - a surreal, mythical journey of computers into the dreams and memories of Alan Turing as he contemplates suicide in his final hours of life. Wired UK recently interviewed Al+Al about the film.
It was a wide-ranging dialogue that touched on both the scientific and the ethical aspects of artificial intelligence work to create machines that will capture not just what we do, but the reasons we do what we do. I appreciated the historical perspective of NYU computer scientist Yann LeCun who noted that until recently computer science was about being exact, and artificial intelligence has forced computer science to deal with the unsolvable, or the “approximately solvable” - how we deal with uncertainty. This echoes Janna Levin’s perspective on the coexistence of mathematics and mystery that she so eloquently discusses in this week’s repeat broadcast. Is this a “Golden Age” in mathematics history?
In the photo above (l-r): Janna Levin, Josh Tenenbaum, and Yann LeCun discuss the nature and future of artificial intelligence at the World Science Festival.

Will My Smart Phone Be Smarter Than Me?

by Colleen Scheck, APM producer

Perhaps you’ve asked yourself this question while speaking to Siri on your iPhone. It surfaced at yesterday’s World Science Festival event “The Creator: Alan Turing and the Future of Thinking Machines” where a panel of scientists and filmmakers discussed the nature and future of artificial intelligence.

The conversation was framed through the premiere of the film “The Creator” by artists Al+Al - a surreal, mythical journey of computers into the dreams and memories of Alan Turing as he contemplates suicide in his final hours of life. Wired UK recently interviewed Al+Al about the film.

It was a wide-ranging dialogue that touched on both the scientific and the ethical aspects of artificial intelligence work to create machines that will capture not just what we do, but the reasons we do what we do. I appreciated the historical perspective of NYU computer scientist Yann LeCun who noted that until recently computer science was about being exact, and artificial intelligence has forced computer science to deal with the unsolvable, or the “approximately solvable” - how we deal with uncertainty. This echoes Janna Levin’s perspective on the coexistence of mathematics and mystery that she so eloquently discusses in this week’s repeat broadcast. Is this a “Golden Age” in mathematics history?

In the photo above (l-r): Janna Levin, Josh Tenenbaum, and Yann LeCun discuss the nature and future of artificial intelligence at the World Science Festival.

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Quantum Biology and the Hidden Nature of Nature (live video)

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Put an astrobiologist and a mechanical engineer on the same stage and what do you get? One heck of an exciting conversation about how quantum physics realm holds sway and plays a pivotal role in our everyday experiences — in everything from bird navigation to our sense of smell.

We have a producer on the ground at the World Science Festival who will be live-tweeting the conversation with Paul Davies and Seth Lloyd from The Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College. Watch the live video stream with us and share your takeaways from this panel, and if you’d like to hear one of them interviewed for On Being. The event starts at 8pm Eastern.

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Madness Redefined: Creativity, Intelligence and the Dark Side of the Mind (live video)

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

What’s the line between utter brilliance and incalculable madness? Maybe it’s not a line but a shifting spectrum. Live from the World Science Festival (8pm Eastern), leading researchers discuss new studies showing that people with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia tend to possess higher creativity and intelligence.

We’ve got a producer on the ground scoping out the panelists — James FallonKay Redfield JamisonSusan McKeown, and Elyn Saks — as potential guests for On Being. Watch the live video stream and share your suggestions on whom you’d like to hear on our program.

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The Creator: A Film That Explores Alan Turing’s Enduring Question

by Susan Leem, associate producer

This week’s show with physicist Janna Levin spends a great deal of time discussing her novel about Alan Turing. Tonight, Ms. Levin is helping launch a short film about the legacy of the computer scientist and code breaker called The Creator, which makes its world premiere at the World Science Festival:

"[it] follows sentient computers from the future on a mystical odyssey to discover their creator: legendary computer scientist Alan Turing. Decades ago, Turing famously asked, ‘Can machines think?’ and ever since, the notion of computers exceeding human intelligence has transfixed researchers and popular culture alike."
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On Being at the World Science Festival

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Today the 2012 World Science Festival kicks off in venues across New York City. Two memories that jump out at me from past events are Bobby McFerrin’s demonstration of the universality of the pentatonic scale and string theorist Jim Gates’ story about encountering “God” on an Icelandic mountaintop.

And, in attendance will be our former senior producer Colleen Scheck will be doing a bit of moonlighting forOn Being. During the next several days, she and Peter Clowney will be scouting potential voices for future interviews with Krista and blogging + tweeting some of the highlights and provocative ideas.

Here are the events they’ll be attending. If you have any suggestions or ideas about what to think about or ask, please drop us a line in the comments section:

THUR, MAY 31 
8:00pm – 10:00pm “The Creator: Alan Turing & the Future of Thinking Machines”
8:00pm – 9:30pm “Madness Redefined: Creativity, Intelligence and the Dark Side of the Mind”
 
FRI, JUN 1 
9:00am – 10:00am “Pioneers in Science: Featuring Elaine Fuchs”
7:30pm – 9:00pm “The Elusive Neutrino and the Nature of the Cosmos”
8:00pm “Quantum Biology and the Hidden Nature of Nature”
 
SAT, JUN 2 
1:00pm – 2:00pm “On the Shoulders of Giants: A Special Address by Edward O. Wilson”
1:00 – 2:30pm “Internet Everywhere”
3:30pm – 5:00pm “Exoplanets : The Search for New Worlds”
3:30pm – 4:30pm “Einstein, Time, and the Coldest Stuff in the Universe
6:00pm – 7:30pm “Why We Prevailed: Evolution and the Battle for Dominance”
8:00pm “Why We Tell Stories: The Science of Narrative”
8:00pm – 9:30pm “Spooky Action: The Drama of Quantum Mechanics”

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Beautiful Minds: The Creative Brain Across Time and Cultures

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

World Science Festival with Julie Taymor, Rex Jung, and Douglas FieldsThere’s little doubt, most brain researchers agree, that genius looked much different thousands of years ago. With new tools and improving technologies, scientists are able to see traces of this evolution and observe how our brains are reshaping themselves. But, how are our ideas and commonly held assumptions about intelligence and the creative process being informed by these technologies?

In our most recent show, "Creativity and the Everyday Brain" with neuropsychologist Rex Jung, we featured this video from the World Science Festival. Here, uber-director Julie Taymor (a force of nature and creativity in her own right) and neuroscientists Rex Jung and Douglas Fields wrestle with the notions of genius over time and the possible effects of new technology on attention and creativity. It’s been one of our most popular pieces online, and I hope you’ll add your ideas to the mix.

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"Playing" The Audience

by Andy Dayton, associate web producer

Nancy just sent around a link to this video of Bobby McFerrin presenting at the 2009 World Science Festival (we’re hoping they’ll also release video of Xavier Le Pichon's presentation soon). I don't really know much about McFerrin, but admittedly my impression of him in the past has been cynical — his late-80's chart-topper "Don’t Worry, Be Happy" was always a little too earnest for my ears. But I was pleasantly surprised to see McFerrin give this simple, fun, and extremely effective demonstration of the universality of the pentatonic scale.

As it turns out, McFerrin’s been on our “big list” of potential guests for quite a while, but like our other music show ideas he’s never quite made it into the schedule. This video convinces me that I should probably rethink my impression of Bobby McFerrin, and the following quote makes me think he’s worth moving up on our list:

“Music for me is like a spiritual journey down into the depths of my soul. And I like to think we’re all on a journey into our souls. What’s down there? That’s why I do what I do.”
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