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Science

The Leonard Lopate Show

I Feel Your Pain: All About Empathy

Friday, April 18, 2014

Psychologist Paul Bloom and Leslie Jamison, author of The Empathy Exams, explain empathy's role in human psychology, behavior, and relationships—and they look at some of the downsides of empathy.

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On The Media

Engineering Intelligence

Friday, April 18, 2014

Despite the technological leaps made in the realm of artificial intelligence, people often object to the idea that the minds of machines can ever replicate the minds of humans. But for engineers, the proof is in the processing. Brooke talks with Stanford lecturer and entrepreneur Jerry Kaplan about how the people who make robots view the field of AI. 

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On The Media

Our Universal Robots

Friday, April 18, 2014

The word 'robot' first appeared in 1920 in Karel Čapek's play, Rossum's Universal Robots. Since then, intelligent machines have starred countless times in novels and films. Brooke talks with professor Jay P. Telotte about the ways our fears and fascinations with robots are reflected in culture. 

Music: Calexico - Attack El Robot! Attack! Special thanks to @bartona104 (Julia Barton) for the suggestion on Twitter!

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On The Media

Google's Robot Brigade

Friday, April 18, 2014

Google has recently scooped up more than a half dozen robot companies. Their specialties range from artificial limbs to 3D machine vision to scurrying insect-bots and humanoid soldiers. But Google has kept mum about why they're acquiring these technologies. Brooke talks with Henrik Christensen, a professor of robotics at Georgia Tech, about what Google might do with its new toys. 

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On The Media

ROBOTS! (and artificial intelligence)

Friday, April 18, 2014

A special theme hour - starring a computer competing against a comedian for laughs, the Army's recruitment chatbot, and Google crushing on robots. 

PRI's The World

Deep cave explorers are different. To work thousands of feet underground, you have to be.

Friday, April 18, 2014

If you're claustrophobic in any way, stop reading this story. Please avoid listening to the audio of the story. You won't like it. So avoid it. There's plenty of other good stuff on our website to enjoy.

Like our story about Tom of Finland stamps.

It's a good one. And it doesn't talk about descending down into the black abyss of the Cheve, one the deepest cave systems in the world.

So that's your warning.

Leave.

With that said, Burkhard Bilger's latest story in the New Yorker is an epic, even better if its read outdoors. Just look at the jaw-dropper of an opening paragraph:

On his thirteenth day underground, when he’d come to the edge of the known world and was preparing to pass beyond it, Marcin Gala placed a call to the surface. He’d travelled more than three miles through the earth by then, over stalagmites and boulder fields, cave-ins and vaulting galleries. He’d spidered down waterfalls, inched along crumbling ledges, and bellied through tunnels so tight that his back touched the roof with every breath. Now he stood at the shore of a small, dark pool under a dome of sulfurous flowstone. He felt the weight of the mountain above him--a mile of solid rock--and wondered if he’d ever find his way back again. It was his last chance to hear his wife and daughter’s voices before the cave swallowed him up.

Few will ever be able to write as good as Burkhard Bilger. I first fell in love with his writing when my dad gave me a copy of his book, "Noodling for Flatheads." I've been a fanboy of his work ever since. I'm just glad we did the interview remotely. If I'd been in the same room with him, I would've had him sign my book. My T-shirt. My laptop. I'd embarrass myself.

This story on the monster cave outside Oaxaca, Mexico, is among his best. He shared with us more about it during the interview, starting with the entrance.

"It's spectacular," he says. "You go in this huge, gaping hole in the cliff-side and there are rocks and monoliths inside and the ancient Cuicatec Indians used to hold ritual sacrifices there, and there are a number of bones that were found of people who were sacrificed. So it has a real creepy and impressive aura."

Then you head down. Bilger says the caves work like a staircase. But the "staircases" in caving are different from the ones you're used to. In the Cheve cave system, it's a combination of rappelling, crawling on your belly for hundreds of yards, and even traveling underwater with the help of scuba gear, over and over and over. So yeah, it's a different sort of staircase. Bilger says many times, you have to squeeze your body through narrow rock passages.

Makes you wonder, why the heck anyone would want to do this?

Because it's there, is one reason. Another reason, Bilger says, is the sense of exploration. But the other explanation is that cavers love caving.

"They kind of like being underground in an odd way," he says. "These are people who, it's not that they just aren't claustrophobic, it's that they actually love the feeling of being surrounded by rock. It's that womb-like feeling of having close contact with the earth."

To be sure, It's not without risk.

Bilger says it's on the danger level of extreme sports, like BASE jumping. There are a variety of ways to die. You can get hypoxia from a lack of oxygen, or narcosis. You can get trapped in a tunnel, then a rainstorm hits  and you drown. You can also die from the climbing aspects of it, and fall to your death "So it really is a thousand ways to die," he says.

That's why deep cave exploring requires a team. Bilger says you approach the cave like climbers approach at summit of Mt. Everest. There's a base camp and several more campsites at different depths inside the cave. Other cavers shuttle supplies to keep the lead cavers fed. Some of the cavers spend weeks inside the cave, searching for the bottom.

But it's different that Everest. There's no reward of standing atop a mountain. There's just more cave.

And that's what Bilger has trouble grasping. Why do it? Sure, you can try and beat a record depth, but doing so is rare. His best guess is that cavers are different.

"They don't have such a heroic self image," he says.

Bilger says cavers view caving as an incremental process. And it seems that cavers enjoy that incremental process of discovery.

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'Completely Unique': Cave-Dwelling Female Insects Have Penises

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A team of international scientists have found four species of insects with reversed sex organs. The females' anatomy may have to do with their need for nutrients that only males produce.

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Even Chimps Know That A Firm Bed Makes For Quality Sleep

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A new study looking at the nests made by chimpanzees in Uganda found that they prefer a type of tree that gives them a firm and secure sleeping platform.

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Got A Hobby? Might Be A Smart Professional Move

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Workers who have a creative outlet outside the office are more likely to be creative problem solvers on the job, a study suggests. Oh, and they have more fun.

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All Things Considered

Scientists Spot A Planet That Looks Like 'Earth's Cousin'

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Kepler-186f is almost the same size as Earth, and it orbits in its star's "Goldilocks zone"-- where temperatures may be just right for life. But much is unknown because it's also 500 light-years away.

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Chili Say What? Linguistics Help Pinpoint Pepper's Origins

Thursday, April 17, 2014

It turns out the first chili peppers were grown by humans in eastern Mexico. And it's not the same region where beans and corn were first grown, according to new ways of evaluating evidence.

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All Things Considered

First Embryonic Stem Cells Cloned From A Man's Skin

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Scientists based their technique on the one used to create the sheep Dolly years ago. These cells might one day be useful in treating all sorts of diseases.

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Science Friday

SciFri: Amir Aczel: 'Why Science Does Not Disprove God'

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Aczel's latest book chronicles the New Atheist movement, taking aim at scientists like Richard Dawkins.

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Science Friday

SciFri: Discovering Your Inner Fish

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Evolutionary biologist Neil Shubin takes us through the evolutionary story of how the human body evolved from our fish and reptilian ancestors.

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Science Friday

SciFri: Spotting Earth's Cousin in the Cosmos

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Astronomers have found a planet about the size of Earth, far enough from its star to host liquid water.

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Science Friday

SciFri: How a Warming Planet Will Change What's on Your Plate

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Climate change has already cut yields of wheat and corn, taking a bite out of gains achieved by better farming technology.

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Science Friday

SciFri: The Sticky Science Behind Maple Syrup

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Plant physiologist Abby van den Berg traces how maple sap flows through trees and onto your plate.

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Science Friday

SciFri: E.O. Wilson: ‘A Window on Eternity’

Thursday, April 17, 2014

E.O. Wilson discusses the recovery and biodiversity of Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park.

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'Why Am I Dead?' He Never Asked. Here's The Answer He Never Heard

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Man goes in for a routine hip operation. In the corner of the operating room, there's a young med student watching. When things go wrong, she tries to make sense of what she sees.

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Radiolab

'Why Am I Dead?' He Never Asked. Here's The Answer He Never Heard

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Robert Krulwich/NPR

Shara Yurkiewicz is a med student. She's doing rounds now, moving from department to department. Much of what she sees, she's seeing for the first time. Not yet a doctor, there are moments, many moments when she has the eyes of a ...

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