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Episode #705

Who Are You?

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Friday, May 14, 2010

This hour of Radiolab centers around a chilling question: how well can you ever really know the people around you?

We talk to neuroscientists, primatologists, actors, zookeepers, and fathers who are all trying to get inside another’s mind--from how a newborn sees his dad, to a rare disorder that turns family members into impostors.

Guests:

Dr. Carol Berman, Charles Fernyhough, Dr. V.S. Ramachandran, Ron Rosenbaum, Mark Rylance, Dr. Rob Shumaker and Jerry Stones

The Beloved Others

Can you ever really know those most beloved to you? Are you sure? Jad wonders how his tiny son experiences the world. Developmental psychologist Dr. Charles Fernyhough explains what science conjectures about what the world is like for a newborn...and shatters Jad's warm fuzzies. But how can ...

Comments [4]

The Furry Others

Knowing what's going on in the minds of other humans is a leap of faith, but it's a pretty safe leap. Knowing what's going on in the minds of animals, however...that's another story. Reporter Ben Calhoun introduces us to Jerry Stones, a zookeeper who was duped by an orangutan named ...

Comments [27]

The Others... who are slipping away

What can we know about the mind of someone who is just glimpsing death? Ron Rosenbaum describes two alternate endings to Shakespeare's 'Hamlet,' and he and actor Mark Rylance explain the significance of four wordless sounds.

Comments [3]

AWE-MAGEDDON hits June 1st!

Get ready. The second night of AWE-MAGEDDON is almost here! Join Jad and Robert live in NYC for an evening devoted to hacks, fusions, and creative problem solving.

Comments [8]

Comments [43]

Wetdog from Mars in Summer

Wow, that coyotes story just keeps going on and on and on...i didn't listen to the end of it but I'd like to imagine the dog get eaten...

Jun. 18 2014 04:13 PM

Ugh I hated the Charlie story. But that's what Radiolab is all about. Making you uncomfortable and listening to hard stories is part of what makes this show so great.

Jun. 12 2014 11:40 AM
Gnome

I've very rarely skipped through a segment of Radiolab, but I had to turn off the segment about the dog and coyotes – it would have been listenable if not for the speaker's grinning, almost enthusiastic tone.

It felt as though she was quite pleased with herself to be able to mine a personal trauma for a "good story".

Jun. 10 2014 02:03 AM
Hugh from Arlington, VA

Loved this show in general, but I have to comment about the Hamlet part. Not on trying to divine Shakespeare's intent from texts that probably don't accurately represent the changing nature of what was actually performed, or any of the other legitimate pitfalls of interpretation (read Rosenbaum's book for more on those), but one simple question:

What makes you think that silence equals nothingness or oblivion?

It was an excellent and thought-provoking piece, but like most Shakespeare interpreters, it said more about the interpreters than the play. And that's as it should be- "...the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the
first and now, was and is, to hold, as 'twere, the mirror up to nature..."

Jun. 08 2014 01:23 PM
Eden

I'm 68. When was 40 I read in Omni that science wanted to find out where a cat's purr comes from. No one could find the area, so they decided to use a live cat. The experimenter said, "I put a kitty in my lap, petted it, and as it purred we used a sensitive stethoscope and found the source." That is exactly where all the experts with all their credentials are, concerning the mind and memory.
There's something big going on here you should know about; what a person can learn when he/she is free from listening to people all day long. My teachers were invisible and no bullshit flowed from them. I'll keep you updated--you wouldn't want to miss this story.
Ask your scientist experts why we don't have free electricity when Tesla gave it to us. It's In The Air.
Eden
ps. you guys are really funny. I do enjoy your show.
pps. I was born at the end of WWII. I've had lots of time to learn. If I had a religion I'd be a Quaker, but I don't because I'm not organized. My refrigerator is more organized than I am. It gives me hope.

Jun. 07 2014 05:53 PM
Herman from Boston

Deceptive Foo? What about the possibility that the orangutan simply was storing the metal pin in his cheek? Where else was he going to keep it? In a hand? On the ground somewhere?

Jun. 07 2014 04:14 PM
Jessie Henshaw from Way Uptown

Jad & Robert, To be serious for a moment about the elemental phenomenology of consciousness, there's a kind of mysterious if also a very common phenomenon that can shed much light on it. You approach it by asking: "How in the world do people seem so often able to co-inhabit a quite convincing shared perception of complex realities” There’s actually no “input-output” device for thought, not physiological means at all for the perceptions of one person to be transferred to another, only means by which others can individually reinvent them. Somehow, though, we do seems to have a facsimile, in order to create and work such complex communally held understandings and means of making them, following the literal construct of the word “commun•ication” as meaning “process of communal making”, by which the magical world we create together appears.

The basic problem, of course, is that our sensory ‘information’ contains no “information” other than imaginatively re-created in the mind of the person perceiving it. What our minds get as input is so sparse, our minds need to impute most of the relationships between the things we perceive. Speech is made of only decaying vibrations in air, vision just areas of light and dark. Lots of basic science of psychology has shown that neither has a whit of meaning without a complex process of active learning. So the world that appears to each of us “the ground of reality”, thought of as where everyone else in the world lives too, is just our own personal fabrication, even while frequently seeming to be mutually recognizable in every part.

There's a wonderful experience of communal design that architects have, on nearly every project. You can see corollaries of it in many other walks of life too. Architects famously start a design with a "napkin sketch", some "evocative squiggle" made in an idle moment over lunch. Architectural designs then follow an evolving, somewhat medieval, process of the blind leading the blind as teams of people co-design an imaginary building, all collaboratively reshaping their own visions of it as they work together, giving and taking on the possibilities for what it can become. On one side of the studio someone will say "that's got to be heavy", and on another side "is it a floating foundation of light, maybe?".... as they go around and around testing the ideas of a form in space one way and another.

So it starts with amazingly free form questioning of what something can be, but orchestrated to progressively accelerate, so getting to the exact materials, and the details of every part, specified so builders who know nothing of the intent can provide competitive bids, within a budget, to get it built on time...

It's another example of how nature creates new universes...

Jun. 05 2014 10:20 PM
AJ from SoCal

Does anyone know the song that starts around 23:36? If so, thank you.

Jan. 14 2014 04:55 PM
Ana from Porto, Portugal

Can you add this episode on iTunes? It's not there...

Apr. 16 2013 02:49 PM

I love Radiolab, but I found that Charlie the dog story to be in poor taste and an awkward fit...

Mar. 23 2013 01:18 PM
R Horn from Orange County

I bought the Radiolab app because I enjoy the show so much. I installed on my iPhone and iPad and it won't play any episode for more than about 45 seconds. The app just quits completely. Any ideas what I can do?

Thanks,
Rick Horn

Jan. 07 2013 08:13 PM
Linda from Wharton, NJ

In the past, I have turned RadioLab off because the tone of the show is too "SMART ASS." Saturday, was an ugly day in my listening relationship with NPR programming. I suggest it would be a good idea for the people who produce RadioLab to take a look at their real motives for re-airing the story about Lulu's little dog, who was left alone outside by his owners, getting eaten by coyotes.The narrative suggested that the narrator was not upset but, rather GRINNING and AMUSED while she read her essay. She knew that she was going to upset listeners with her callous comments about her dog at the end and that was a cheap shot. Now that I know that the producers have show-cased this story SEVERAL times since 2010, I will turn RadioLab off no matter what the topic is... Also, I am going to rethink my ongoing monthly pledge supporting NPR. I can accept that coyotes kill people's pets, but I cannot accept being subjected to a writer who thinks it is a humorously artistic to detail the event in order to deliver a smug, gratuitous shock. Then, the smart ass who followed her story suggested to listeners look at the "cute picture of Charlie" online-WHAT the Hell?????? Who are these people? The fact that the story was re-aired made me sad and then... angry at NPR.

Jan. 07 2013 07:28 PM
kay from stewartstown, pa

I'm a little surprised at the vehemently negative comments on this week's show. I liked it a lot, just wanted to say. I frequently write about dogs and other animals, and while the terrier story was disturbing and probably would be better material for short fiction than an essay of this sort, I found it quite arresting and imaginative. Loved the orangutan story. And in the last piece, about Hamlet's "last words," am I the only one who immediately thought of Steve Jobs' purported last words (as reported in a piece by his widow that appeared in the New York Times). They were: "Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow."

Jan. 07 2013 09:57 AM
Barb C. from Chicago, IL

The Capgras Delusion sounds similar to the way Alzhemer's patients can lose the ability to recognize faces, but often retain the ability to recognize voices. This occurred with my mother; she continued to recognize voices for as long as she was able to speak.
This episode was definitely below par for Radiolab. I agree with the other comments about "The Furry Others" - badly written, poorly connected to the theme, insensitive, stupidly romantic, and gratuitously disgusting and upsetting. I have witnessed my own dog nearly killed by a pack of 3 dogs. There is nothing as chilling and as upsetting as being reminded of the horror and helplessness of your dear pet being set upon by a 3-dog pack intent to kill. It is rare that a anyone, esp in the city, witnesses the raw power of a pack of dogs on lethal attack. My dog was torn up in her belly, head and had her throat nearly torn out in front of me. I broke it up with bare hands, escaping injury to myself by sheer luck and the help of fast-acting neighbors. That radio piece vividly stirred up nauseating grief, flashbacks of the horrific experience, complete with my fear and the utterly wrenching sounds of my dog screaming in terror and pain while the attackers snarled and snapped, sensations that are burned into my memory forever. I was also the witness to another dog being run over by a car - with the same awful sounds of pain mentioned in piece. I was too far from the radio to turn it off as fast as I wanted, so I heard most of it. It ruined my evening. A very irresponsible and callous choice.

Jan. 06 2013 11:38 PM
simdak

I worked with orangutans for about 6 years, one who knows sign language and understands spoken English very very well. I caught this orangutan practicing deception a few times; most notably I caught him lying to me. He had spit from one enclosure across to another enclosure onto another male orangutan. I saw him do it, but he didn't know I saw him. I asked him who spit on the other orangutan and he turned and pointed at the female oranguta in his enclosure! I laughed and told him "you just lied to me!" He knew he'd been caught and signed "bad". It was hilarious.

Jan. 06 2013 08:38 PM

So...Lulu's story about her dog being eaten by coyotes: what romantic nonsense.

Jan. 06 2013 04:53 PM
MountainMike from No. California

I do not understand how people can be "nauseated" by RadioLab presenting the story of a dog that is taken by a gang of coyotes. The theory that the dog ran off with the coyotes as a voluntary act is hardly believable. Those that are nauseated need to get out of the city and into the country more.

If the coyotes aren't eating your dog, they are eating the neighbor's cat or chickens. What can we expect when we flush the coyotes out of their natural habitat (undeveloped land) and build homes on what was once theirs!

I don't see how this segment particularly fit in with the other portions of the program, but someone already suggested that you may have just placed it there to fill air time.

End of soapbox!

Jan. 06 2013 12:47 AM
kevin weaver

Oh Bess, please. The Terrier story was great

Jan. 06 2013 12:01 AM
Bess from New Orleans, LA

The story about the terrier eaten by the coyotes was disgusting. What kind of person listens to their dog being taken by coyotes? If I heard my dog taken by coyotes I'd grab something (bat, frying pan, rifle if I had one and I would have one if I knew as they did that coyotes were in their neighborhood) and I'd go get my dog. Those people were cowards and wusses and caused their dogs death by their failure to take the coyotes seriously and failure to rescue their dog.
But mainly, why in the H did you think that was a good story to tell? What the H did it have to do with the rest of the show?

Jan. 05 2013 04:39 PM
Linda from Wharton, NJ

Six weeks after my beloved little terrier died at age 14, I finally mustered the courage to go to the vet to pick up her ashes this morning.On the way home, Lulu's story about Charlie aired. I smiled as I listened to her describe her dog's terrier personality, so like my dog's, and I naively thought the story line was going to circle back to the yearly wardrobe gift the dog received and his acceptance of his non-wolf-like attire.. I should have suspected that Lulu, in her humorous, lilting voice, was setting me up, just as the coyotes set up her little dog, for the painful realization that she was not playing and that I had been "had" ...I spent the rest of the ride home, my little white dog's ashes in a box on the seat beside me, weeping for the loss of two dogs instead of one.

Jan. 05 2013 02:04 PM
B from Bothell, WA

FYI - The Lulu story about her terrier has aired before, but followed by a conversation with a scientist who let her know that her perception of the dog's last moments were hooey. (I can't recall if it was a previous Radiolab or a This American Life episode, though.) It's a shame that Radiolab left the actual science part off this time.

Jan. 03 2013 05:46 PM
C

Ahhhhhhh I cannot stand when Jad puts audio of his kid on Radiolab. All the breathing and cooing and baby noises and AHHHH kill it kill it kill it! It's cancer to my ears! :(

Jan. 03 2013 02:41 PM

I actually created an account so that I could like the post below mine. I don't know whether somebody's daughter wrote that story, "The Furry Others," or how it got into a program like Radiolab but it sounded like an example of what not to write for a grade school writing competition... My media player has a glitch that prevents me from fast forwarding from time to time and I wanted to listen to the last part of the episode but I was literally nauseated by that piece. I had no idea that bad writing could actually physically affect me but I was pretty close to leaving the room or kicking my desk by the end....

Jun. 19 2012 04:52 PM

I feel compelled to clarify that even though I've "recommended" it this episode, it comes with one caveat - skip the last part of "The Furry Others". Others have commented that this essay did not meet the usual standards set by RadioLab and I concur. It was silly and nauseating, sensations I'm not used to experiencing at the same time and have no need to experience again. All of the other stories were great and fully worth hearing.

Apr. 05 2012 04:49 PM

@ 27:11 WHOO! shout out to Omaha, NE!!

the henry doorly zoo is amazing.

Jan. 18 2012 04:20 AM
Jon Haben from Austin

Dr. Charles says: I mean naturally I can't know if anybody is conscious.

Dec. 22 2011 12:18 PM
Vinícius Carreiro

Hey guys

Maybe someone could help me. I'm a brazilian student of english and a big fan of radiolab, but I can't understand what Dr. Charles says in 09:23 / 09:27. "... naturally I con(?) that everybody is concious(?)".

Britsh accent sucks.

Dec. 08 2011 06:26 AM
Sean Hall from Corvallis, Or

I found the terrier story to be really boring too.

I also really think it did not fit the kind of program that radio lab is.

You can't understand a dog in human terms, because a dog is not a human. Instead you have to try to understand them on a dogy level.

I mean the transference bias going on in the story was really obvious.
The narrator was unreliable. The story unsuitable.

Jul. 02 2011 04:03 AM
gidon levy

Dr. V.S. Ramachandran talk on ted

http://www.ted.com/talks/vilayanur_ramachandran_on_your_mind.html

Jun. 22 2011 10:37 AM
Eliza from Sydney

@Priya on the topic of the coyote and Charlie, it's pretty harsh to go on about canine psychology, Charlie was there, and then he wasn't. For me, the story isn't about how dogs have evolved or how they are as much as it is about the storyteller trying to come to terms with something traumatic, and wondering what goes on in the minds of these animals in these situations. And as they've established in the show - its a subjective thing that we may never know.

I liked this episode, and its certainly one of the more abstract ones. As a documentary maker sometimes you go out thinking a topic will lead you down an amazing path with a more or less conclusive finale, and other times it just brings up questions that you don't even know if you can have an opinion about. This one certainly made me think about how deeply animals "think" - and how much we think - or want to think - that they think... okay cross-eyed now :-)

May. 07 2011 02:27 AM

I listen to your show here in Seattle because it addresses aspects of experience that modern thinking people are wrestling with. It is clear that you want to include academic (scientific) viewpoints on these issues. But we are dealing here with being alive. And being alive includes more than science.

This particular episode contained only one segment that really revolved around scientists. But it was the first and sort of set the stage. And that segment firmly established our current modern myth about the mind and the soul: that they are all the result of brain function. This myth is unprecedented in our history on earth and I believe is very worthy of a large dose of skepticism. There are many modern students of life that join in this skepticism.

Talk to them, too!

Apr. 16 2011 05:10 PM
clf

First let me say that I've enjoyed Radiolab very much and have been fan of Robert Krulwich since the days when he did stories for Nightline in the '90s.

I was disappointed with this episode and felt it didn't meet the usual high standards that I've come to expect from the show.

You didn't really answer the question posed by the episode and went pretty far off topic.

I found the story of the terrier who was eaten by coyotes to be absolutely deplorable and agree with Priya's comments. The piece romanticized the savage death of a domestic animal in a way that turned my stomach. I was so sickened that I could not continue listening to the end of the show.

One of the hallmarks of Radiolab is that it uses science to explain things. The terrier story lacked that.

The other hallmark of Radiolab is that the program is delivered in a natural, conversational style--not a scripted style. Robert & Jad are just "chatting" and we get to listen in.

The terrier piece was clearly scripted in the stilted writing style—the I'm-reading-my-A+-essay-aloud-for-English-class style—that NPR is famous for. It's almost as if this piece was created for another show and crammed into Radiolab because you were short on material.

I've been making my way through past episodes of Radiolab and planned to listen to two episodes today, but the terrier story stopped me dead in my tracks. It left me with a very bad feeling about the show. For now I'm giving Radiolab a rest.

Mar. 13 2011 12:49 AM
ryan

whao.. radio lab guys ....i thought i only thought about these things...like i think of some strange idea and nobody else cares...i now know people know
yeah!!!!!!!!

Mar. 01 2011 08:35 PM
Indigo from California

I think I may have a better explanation to the theory of Capgras Syndrome. I think I may have experienced the feeling described several times. Let me see if I can describe my experience:

Sometimes when I look at familar people, I get this strange sensation (it actually scares me sometimes)...I know it is them, but it feels different; it feels like something is off or missing. Similar to what was described in the segment, but I know they are not a stranger even if it feels that way. Even when I see pictures of myself, or look at myself in the mirror it feels like 2 different people. It is a weird uneasy feeling. I know it is me, but it does not seem like me.

I sometimes get the same sensation from words. Sometimes when I hear words, it does not feel right or seem familiar even though I know that is the right word. I am not talking about words that are infrequently used, I am talking about common every day words. The word just doesn't feel or sound familar anymore.

The best way I can describe, explain, or rationalize it--- is as moment of clarity or being present as Eckhart Tolle describes it in A New Earth and The Power of Now. Eckhart Tolle kind of put this feeling into perspective when he talked about being conscious/present and in the Now. Sometimes we spend so much time in the constant chatter in our heads, when we allow our minds to go silent or not focusing on the incessant chatter (as he describes it) the entire world appears different. Or, it is quite possible I am just crazy :)

Feb. 26 2011 11:10 PM
Kubaba from Lansing, MI

I'm listening to "Who Are You" and you talked about how babies experience synesthesia. Synesthesia sometimes sticks with people into adulthood. It would be awesome if you did a piece on this.

Feb. 09 2011 10:24 AM
rebecca chavez from new mexico

excellent podcasts always entertaining and educational - I really appreciate the variety and the focus on science, philosophy, etc
Most importantly I ALWAYS learn...so many
Thanks

Dec. 04 2010 10:12 PM

Man this show really goes off on some tangents sometimes, I don't feel like the question "who are you?" was really addressed at any time in the show.

Dec. 03 2010 05:08 AM
Tim Badonsky from oceanside, ca

In response to the comment, early in the program, "that blinding haze of whiteness might be how the world actually is."

To be generous, that is an inane comment.

There is no way the world actually is. This isn't some philosophical notion, it's neurobiology: we see what our brains produce in response to the energy that impacts our retinas. Yes, the retinas of infants and young children are more transparent to blue light than are adults, but they cannot see infrared, ultraviolet, cosmic rays, alpha, beta, and gamma radiation: we see what our brains produce, not what is.

In a lesser program I would have lower expectations, but the hosts are not ignorant fools, they have spent time with brilliant minds and learned a thing or two. Well, here's a third thing that you should ask the next neuroscientist that you talk to: what the world looks like independent of how our brains interpret the world. They will either invoke philosophers (Kant is a favorite "Ding an sich") or retreat into describing details of the neuroanatomy of the visual processing systems in the brain. Either way, what we see is not what is, it is a construct.

Nov. 13 2010 12:20 AM
Priya from Chicago

One of the things I love about Radiolab is that the show considers questions of animal emotion and cognition in a way that is reasonable and not polarizing. It doesn't claim to have any answers, but takes animals seriously. So I was really shocked that they featured the story with the woman whose dog got eaten by the coyotes. Despite thinking all of wild nature was romantic and life-affirming - from her dog chasing squirrels to coyotes howling at night - she hid in the closet the first time something actually wild happened to her family. OK, she was young, but she seems to have spent her time since then trying hard to make herself feel better about a situation that one really ought not feel good about. If she was actually interested in dogs she would know that they do not think they are coyotes; in fact domesticated dogs are afraid of coyotes and of wolves, unless they are introduced in safe and controlled conditions. She would also know that terriers are hardwired to defend their families and their homes at any cost, often belligerently. She would probably have figured out by now that the dog - a dog that went ballistic when he saw squirrels, remember? - would have charged coyotes that got too close to home, and was most likely trying to defend the family that left him outside, alone, with no access to a safe place, knowing that there were coyotes out there. How does she think she would feel being basically eaten alive, alone, and completely helpless? Not glorious, I would guess.

Oct. 15 2010 10:29 PM
Chris

Hey! The soundtrack to I Heart Huckabees!

Sep. 06 2010 09:26 PM
KSH from San Diego

Great new skin and organization!

Sep. 03 2010 10:01 AM
Ben

Oh, all of these segments were released as shorts earlier. I see now. Great-looking website, guys!

Sep. 02 2010 08:51 AM
Ben from Sidney, NY

Why wasn't this one on the podcast?

Sep. 01 2010 10:16 PM

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