Are we in the matrix? Physicist James Gates reveals why string theory stretches our imaginations about the nature of reality. Also, how failure makes us more complete, and imagination makes us more knowledgeable.
"Insight is not a matter of memory, of knowledge and time, which are all thought. Insight is the total absence of the whole movement of thought as time and remembrance. So there is direct perception. It is as though I have been going North for the last ten thousand years, and my brain is accustomed to going North, and somebody comes along and says, that will lead you nowhere, go East. When I turn round and go East the brain cells have changed. Because I have an insight that the North leads nowhere.
I will put it differently. The whole movement of thought, which is limited, is acting throughout the world now. It is the most important action, we are driven by thought. But thought will not solve any of our problems, except the technological ones. If I see that, I have stopped going North. I think that with the ending of a certain direction, the ending of a movement that has been going on for thousands of years, there is at that moment an insight that brings about a change, a mutation, in the brain cell.” —Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986)
Sujata Krishna offered this passage from Questioning Krishnamurti after listening to our show with Rex Jung. During the interview, he described how the brain, with training, can actually change shape, beef up like a muscle that’s been trained:
"I think there are some strategies to cultivating creativity. It takes a lot of time to change the structure of your brain and there are several studies out there now. You know, the famous juggling study where they have novices who don’t know how to juggle. They image them, then they juggle for three months, they image them again and they see that literally a portion of their brain, a small chunk, but a portion of their brain is beefed up like a muscle in service of that concerted thing that they’re doing with their brain and that is the thing.
The important thing is they’re doing a very new thing in a concerted way. And their brain says, hey, if we’re going to be doing this thing in the environment over and over and over, I’m going to build tissue to do that so that we can do it easier and more efficiently. So if you’re going to be creative, pick one thing, get a lot of experience in that one thing, and do it over and over and over.”
Think about that. We can actually change the shape of our brains. Time to get to work. Putting that idea to work, methinks this magnified image of stained neurons is a fitting pairing.
Image by Mr. McGill / Flickr
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
How do we prime our brains to take the meandering mental paths necessary for creativity? New techniques of brain imaging, neuroscientist Rex Jung says, are helping us gain a whole new view on the differences between intelligence, creativity, and personality.
"With intelligence, there’s the analogy I’ve used is there’s this superhighway in the brain that allows you to get from point A to point B. With creativity, it’s a slower, more meandering process where you want to take the side roads and even the dirt roads to get there."
One of our most popular interviews in which Dr. Jung unsettles some old assumptions — and suggests some new connections between creativity and family life, creativity and aging, and creativity and purpose.
“It immediately looked right.”
It’s been 60 years since the double helix structure of DNA, the key to life itself, was first revealed to the world. The BBC’s “Science in Action” walks the listener along the journey of this discovery with some of the scientific giants of the time. The delight is still there in those voices. So wonderful.
Also clears up some of the debate over the credit of Crick and Watson. Their approaches to modeling and sense of beauty moved the idea forward… through actual base pairing cut-outs!
(h/t Krista Tippett)
We had to cut quite a few stellar moments from Krista Tippett’s conversation with theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss for the radio show and podcast. He’s a devoted atheist who has some provocative things to say about religion, the Higgs field, our country’s literacy about science and how it should be talked about in the same way as we discuss film or the arts.
Our unedited interview with him allows for the fullest listening, and it’s definitely worth your time.
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
We get a fair number of people asking us to include more overt atheists in our weekly public radio program and podcast. If you’re one of those listeners, this week’s conversation with theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss will be right up your alley.
He’s an energetic, witty thinker in the New Atheist movement who takes aim — fairly or unfairly — at religious believers. But, more importantly, his way of thinking about science as an integral part of our cultural formation and how many of us are let off the hook all-too-easily when we don’t know basic scientific principles.
His latest book is A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing. And if you’re at all a sci-fi fan, then The Physics of Star Trek is a great read for you.
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
I fear the copious media coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court’s handling of same-sex marriage might drowned out a pivotal case the Court is hearing right now. At stake is who owns the stuff of which we are made.
“A patent isn’t a reward for effort. A patent is a reward for invention. And Myriad didn’t invent anything. The gene exists in the body. All Myriad did is find it.”
But, it may not be as simple as that. Research companies want to be compensated for their efforts. They want to ensure that their work is protected from other profiteers. But, to what extent? Can human genes themselves be patented, or the mechanisms behind them? What is the right of companies like Myriad Genetics to be rewarded for their efforts that contributes to better clinical care and our social good? What are the ethical and moral responsibilities of these companies to put patients first and not keep them from their own genetic information?
Big questions with huge decisions that will impact us and our children.
Oftentimes, for many of us, our way into the world of science is through gazing at the night skies, through astronomy, through NASA. We’re drawn to space and frontiers only limited by our imaginations. Natalie Batalha, a mission scientist on NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, brings this same sense of childhood astonishment and wonder to us in our show, "On Exoplanets and Love."
This week’s sketchnotes by Doug Neill captures moments of her insights that, we hope, will lure you into listen and read. Quotations from Carl Sagan and rainbows in oil puddles are only the tip of the iceberg with this show. I encourage you to print it out, hang it on your door or in your office. Share with others. Listen and talk about what you see and what you heard.
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Q:Can someone at On Being recommend a good book to start reading the works of Teilhard de Chardin? I was transfixed by this show! Thank you!
Most definitely! There are two books I’d definitely recommend reading.
The first is Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: Writings Selected. It’s edited by the religious scholar Ursula King, who is a guest voice in our podcast on "Teilhard de Chardin’s ‘Planetary Mind’ and Our Spiritual Evolution."
This book is a good introduction to Teilhard’s spiritual thinking and biographical notes. Ms. King writes a beautiful summary at the beginning that gets at the heart of Teilhard de Chardin’s spirituality, which “creatively welds together science, religion, and mysticism in one unifying synthesis.”
Ms. King doesn’t just write about him and selectively quote from his writings. This is a good thing. She pulls healthy sections from some of his most notable works — including Writings in a Time of War, The Divine Milieu, Heart of Matter, and The Phenomenon of Man — which allow you to imbibe the sensibility of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in his own words. The translations are passionate and very readable, thank goodness, because we’ve come across other translations will make you feel like you’re eating week-old bread with nothing to wash it down.
I’d also recommend reading Amir Aczel’s The Jesuit and the Skull. Mr. Aczel is a superb storyteller and popularizer of great scientific minds and finds. For devotees of Teilhard, Mr. Aczel may not do enough, but his focus on the French Jesuit’s role in the discovery of Peking Man in 1929 gives the reader a sense of Teilhard as scientist who is trying to reconcile his religious beliefs with those of the Catholic Church.
Teilhard de Chardin’s struggle is at the heart of Aczel’s book. It’s an adventure story too, trotting the reader all over the globe, introducing us to countries and cultures of the day that speak to our own ongoing wrestling match about evolution.
Whereas, Ms. King’s compilation will force you to read slowly, think deeply, and savor Teilhard’s passionate langue and ideas, The Jesuit and the Skull lets you buzz through with a liveliness and vitality of a good summer vacation exploration.
Hope this helps!
Trent Gilliss, senior editor