SGU Episode 839

From SGUTranscripts
Jump to navigation Jump to search
  Emblem-pen-orange.png This episode needs: proofreading, formatting, links, 'Today I Learned' list, categories, segment redirects.
Please help out by contributing!
How to Contribute

SGU Episode 839
August 7th 2021
839 Olympic-gold.jpg
(brief caption for the episode icon)

SGU 838                      SGU 840

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

C: Cara Santa Maria

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

Science is not a set of facts. It’s not an ideology. It’s just a system that humans created that is really, really good at uncovering truth.

Hank Green 

Download Podcast
Show Notes
Forum Discussion


Voice-over: You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, your escape to reality.

S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. Today is Monday, August 2nd, 2021, and this is your host, Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella...

B: Hey, everybody!

S: Cara Santa Maria...

C: Howdy.

S: Jay Novella...

J: Hey guys.

S: ...and Evan Bernstein.

E: Hello, everyone.

S: Gotta a rare Monday recording this week because we're preparing for NECSS, which will be this Friday and Saturday, just when the show is coming out. So if you're downloading this on Saturday, you can probably still squeeze in there and catch the end of the conference. But Jay, the whole thing is going to be streaming, right? Even if you join late, you can just watch it, the whole thing?

J: Yeah. So we're going to have it up for at least a month. And yeah, you can purchase tickets even after the show has aired because it's recorded. And you know what? It's going to be the same exact quality as if you saw it the real thing because it doesn't make a difference. Yeah. Last year, actually, we kept it up longer and people were buying tickets even a couple of months later. So really cool.

S: So you guys know how we talked about hydroponics a few weeks ago?

B: Yes.

C: Oh, yeah.

E: We did. Yes.

S: So I went ahead and I bought an indoor hydroponics garden.

C: Oh, cool. So which one do you have? Because I have a little mini robot garden too.

S: I do.

C: I do? That's what yours is called? I want to look at that.

S: It's a brand name. Basically, it's a self-contained-

B: You're not growing banana trees, are you?

S: No, no. This is a self-contained unit. So it has a tray with like 12 places to put your plants in and the water basin underneath. And it's got a water circulator and then an arm holding up an overhead light with a fan. So it circulates the air. It has a grow light.

C: Yours has a fan?

S: Yeah.

C: Mine doesn't have a fan. Mine's one of the ones where it's like little pods.

S: Yeah. There's these like little spongy pods. You put the seed in the middle. You put that down through the slot so the bottom of it's touching the water so it sucks up the nutrient water. You got to dissolve the nutrients in there.

C: The nutrients is in the little sponge for me. And then they're pre-seeded, although you can buy the ones that you-

B: Yours sounds better to me.

C: It's probably more expensive though.

S: So it's working pretty well. So I got just like an herb seed thing. So I planted like 10 different herbs in there.

C: Oh, I love that.

S: Yeah. And they're sprouting, which is always exciting. It's always like magic to me when like plants just emerge.

E: Magic.

S: Right? I mean-

B: Magic.

C: Yeah.

J: It really is. It's like a machine, a tiny little machine that's just unfolding and growing and reproducing itself.

E: Yeah. I felt the same way about Chia Pet when that came in.

C: Well, it's kind of the same. Have you guys ever done like seed quilts? Like what are they called? Microgreens?

S: No.

E: I have not.

C: Those are kind of fun because you usually, you buy them, they call them seed quilts. So it's all the little seeds are in similar, I think it's like husk. And you put it in a little dish that's like just a little bit of water. And they grow so fast. So like bean sprouts or any other sort of like microgreen, you can put them on salads or on your sandwiches. They're really good for you. I don't know, like a week or two, which is great. My robot garden, I've taken to, I like to grow herbs and I like to grow flowers in it. But every time I try to grow food, it's like months of work. And then when it's time to, quote, harvest, I remember I did lettuce and mine only has three pods. And so I did lettuce and it took like three months to make like a half a bowl of salad.

B: All right. So Cara, so just so it's official. I'm not going to your place during the apocalypse because you won't be able to feed me.

C: No.

B: All right. You're checked off. Steve, what kind of food can you grow with your hydroponics to feed me during the apocalypse?

S: Well, this is just an herb garden for now.

B: All right. Yeah. All right. Well, you got two check marks because you have solar, but that's it.

C: You can garnish your food. I have an electric car. So if we can crank the electricity-

S: I will soon. I will within a couple of months.

C: Yes. Then, okay. But hey, LA is like much more manageable to just like live in. The temperatures are more livable here.

B: Yeah. That's big. No, that's big. You can't discount that.

C: Yeah. You don't have to worry about it.

S: Yeah. But I also have a fireplace and a cord of wood, so I'm good.

B: Oh, man. When everything freezes over? I mean, it's good depending on the zombies you have. If the zombies freeze, that's good, assuming it's a zombie apocalypse. But cold sucks because it's cold.

S: But if you're going to grow like vegetable garden indoors hydroponically, you need a much bigger thing. So I'm looking at this as my starter kit. If this goes well, I might go for something bigger that you could actually grow like heads of lettuce and tomato plants and cucumbers and stuff like that. Mine's the size of an herb garden. It's not good. I'm just hoping to make fresh mint tea in the winter. That's what I want.

B: All right. So we're going to seguey now to the other part of this discusison you had just mentioned about the electric car. Now, I'm in the market for a car, and I've decided on a car, but it's not electric. So now I want you guys to convince me, no, I should go electric in 2021.

C: Go electric.

B: I'm convinced.

C: No, but really, why would you get a gas car at this point?

B: Money. It's just right now, it's just like-

C: Oh, yeah. Electric cars are more expensive.

B: I'm not spending 40 grand on a goddamn car. Sorry. I'm not doing that.

C: Well, are you buying or leasing?

B: Buying.

C: Okay. Yeah, I get it. You've convinced me.

S: Is it too early to have used electric cars?

C: No. You can find used electric cars. I don't know how they maintain their value, though.

S: But Bob, with the electric cars, the vehicle maintenance is much less, right? There's no oil. It's kind of all solid state.

B: I hear you.

C: This is why I would also just lease, Bob.

S: You can lease.

B: Oh, man.

C: Because then all of a sudden, you're down to a monthly payment that's lower. It's not like you're going to get equity out of a car, really.

B: Well, I figured I could get two or three grand at the end of its life.

C: Maybe.

B: As a trade-in for the next one?

S: It's really, it's the years after you've paid off the car and you drive it for another four to five years.

E: That's where you see the return.

C: But the thing is, are people going to still be wanting to drive gas cars by the time you've paid off the car? Are you going to have... You're going to have to be getting smog checks? That's a whole thing. I've never... I haven't been to a gas station in 10 years. I haven't gotten a smog check.

B: I'll pay it off in a couple, two or three years. I'm going to put a huge down payment.

C: Okay. Okay.

J: I need an SUV for my family. Is there even a good one out there? I don't know.

E: Electric?

C: There was a good electric SUV. It was the Kia, but then they stopped making that one. And now the car that I drive, the Bolt, they're putting out an EUV, which is like their version of an SUV, right? Sport Utility Vehicle. They're calling it an Electric Utility Vehicle. So it's basically the same car as the car that I drive, which is a really spacious hatchback, except it's just bigger.

B: But now, Steve, now didn't Joss get the... She got a bigger battery, right, because she wanted all-wheel drive, so she got a bigger battery. Is that over 300 mile range? You know?

S: 350.

B: Damn.

C: Oh, that's great. Which... You guys get a Tesla?

S: Yeah, the Tesla Model 3. In order to get... We need all-wheel drive in Connecticut, right? That's just the way it is. And so if you get the all-wheel drive, it comes bundled with the higher mileage, so you can't get the lower mileage with the all-wheel drive. So whatever. But we did not spend 10 grand on a self-driving package, on the driver-assist package, you know?

C: That's steep.

S: That's a lot to drive just for that feature.

B: Wow.

J: They're charging a lot for that. 10 grand for driver-assist?

C: I don't know. I have a friend who has three toddlers, and she has-

S: At once?

C: Yeah. Three toddlers at once.

S: Wow.

C: And, I know... Well, actually, one's an infant, and two are toddlers. They had the Tesla that has the falcon wings. And it had the self-driving thing, and it was, I mean, like a godsend. Because if a baby throws a bottle in the backseat, or the kids are fighting, she can turn around for a second, at least, and make sure everything's okay, and then turn back around. Because the car... It's like between her and the car, they have it covered.

B: So I think it gives you, what, a minute, and it makes you touch the wheel every minute? Is that still how it works?

C: I don't know if it's a minute, but yeah, it does remind you. I did a road trip with a friend once in his Tesla, and it was telling him... Yeah, it beeps at you. It's like, hello. I'm not asleep.

B: Yeah, so it's not like you can go in the backseat and get busy.

C: No.

B: Steve, did you take a serious look at all the places you could charge an electric car near us? Or within, say, four or five hours?

S: Yeah. There's plenty, but I got the home charger, so it's like-

C: Yeah. Why not just install a charger? It's not that expensive.

B: Well, yeah. Doing it home, but I guess going to Maine. What's it like in Maine? I don't know. Maybe not that great.

S: But the thing is, if the only time I would need it is on a long trip, and then it's not going to be near me. It's going to be 300 miles from my house, you know?

C: Oh, and they all have software, or there are a million apps to find.

S: There are apps. Yeah, to find all these charging stations.

E: There is an app for that.

News Items[edit]

Making Hydrogen (9:08)[edit]

S: All right. Bob, you're going to start us off with a news item about making hydrogen.

B: Yeah.

C: Ooh.

E: Making hydrogen.

B: This is cool. Researchers claim to have created first nanomaterial that can efficiently pull hydrogen from water. The question is, is this the breakthrough needed for hydrogen to really start contributing to our energy infrastructure? Yes. Efficiency is king, isn't it? This is from researchers at the University of Central Florida, UCF, and it was recently published in the journal Advanced Materials. Their paper was called Dual Doping and Synergism Towards High-Performance Seawater Electrolysis. Regarding the new nanomaterials, study co-author and associate professor in UCF's Nanoscience Technology Center, Yang Yang says, it will open a new window for efficiently producing clean hydrogen fuel from seawater. Okay. I usually don't talk about hydrogen much except in the context of stars. A couple of things I want to say about hydrogen to properly set the table for this one. First off, and you've heard Steve say this many times, hydrogen is not an energy source. It's an energy carrier, which is an interesting way to describe it. I like that. But seriously, I still see respectable outlets claiming it's a source of energy. So it's kind of surprising to see that still being very widespread.

S: Only if you have access to elemental hydrogen, which we don't.

B: Right. And yeah, I'll get to that in a second. But a good analogy that I like for hydrogen is that it's like a battery. It's a storage medium. It uses fuel cells. It can generate electricity or power and heat. So it's very much like a battery. And yeah, Steve, that's ironic because it's not an energy source despite being the most abundant element in the universe. And the last time I checked, the universe is 99.9885% hydrogen. So it's everywhere in the universe, but not so much for us.

S: But not on Earth.

B: It's not accessible. There's no accessible free hydrogen to Earthlings. And I say accessible because there is free hydrogen nearby. There's trace amounts in the atmosphere. There's some deep underground and of course in the sun and gas giants. But we're certainly not going to be mining them anytime soon. So it's not an energy source. But the other important point is that a hydrogen what people inevitably think about hydrogen and in the economy, there won't be hydrogen cars. They've lost. You know, except maybe for a small niche, hydrogen cars are already essentially dead. So it could be argued that they lost that battle against battery tech because we couldn't figure out how to give hydrogen at the same time, both a high specific energy and a high energy density that works for cars, which is an important caveat. So these are important terms, I think, for this kind of topic. Specific energy is the energy per mass. Hydrogen has that in spades, right? Three times the energy per mass is jet fuel. There's a lot of energy in there. But energy density is energy per volume. And natural hydrogen gas has obviously very low energy density. It's a gas. So increasing the energy density in a way that makes it safe and light and cheap for your car is very, very hard and they could not do it. And that delay, I think, is one of the most important reasons why battery tech and cars appears to have defeated hydrogen cars. Steve, you remember 20 years ago, everyone was talking about hydrogen cars. That's like basically not going to happen at this point. But that doesn't mean that hydrogen is down and out, not by a long shot. Hydrogen can have a huge role in decarbonizing, I love that word, decarbonizing our society. It could probably be most helpful in heavy industries involved in things like chemical production, steel and cement. And those industries actually account for 40% of carbon release into our environment. Huge. So those are just ripe targets. So these industries use so much power that battery technology is not really up to that task at all. Not now anyway. And hydrogen could do it, though, because heavy, expensive hydrogen tanks are fine and safe enough in a building. Who cares how heavy it is or even how expensive or relatively safe. It does not nearly as important as when you have hydrogen in a very small vehicle traveling at high speeds. That's when it gets really hard technologically to make that work.

S: I think hydrogen trains will be a good idea.

B: Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly. Because that's it. Because that's a big thing, moving at high speeds, and you can make it much heavier. Who cares if it weighs five tons? You could move a lot of mass with a train, unlike a car. So then the hydrogen's role could be expanded greatly compared to what it is now, except there's a big problem. If we want to move away from fossil fuels, then we've got to stop making hydrogen the way that we're doing it today. Did you guys know, and I know Steve knows this, did you know that more than 95% of the hydrogen produced comes from natural gas from reactions that have a byproduct? That's carbon dioxide. I mean, that is a deal breaker. I mean, basically, you can just wipe all that out. Why would we want to pursue that in the future, given where we are with climate change and everything that science is telling us? So the question then becomes, how do we massively scale up hydrogen production for heavy industry to use so we can mitigate climate change? So this most recent research may have the answer. These researchers came up with a novel nanomaterial, and of course, they're using water electrolysis, which uses electricity to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen. That accounts for only 5% of the hydrogen we produce. So that's a great way to produce hydrogen, pulling it from water, depending, of course, where you're getting the energy from. But we only use 5%. That's minuscule. It's meaningless almost. So these UCF researchers have created a thin film material with nanostructures on the surface, and it's made of nickel selenide, and it's doped with iron and phosphor. So for some reason, this is a wonderful combination that nobody's hit on before, because in this combination, they contend, anyway, the researchers, that it solves one of the longstanding problems of electrolysis, and that's competing reactions, because there's so many competing chemical reactions going on during electrolysis, so many things that are vying for the energy that's available, that it brings the efficiency way down, and that makes it impractical. And that's one of the big problems with electrolysis, and probably why it's only 5%, right? So apparently, according to the researchers, the new material balances those competing reactions such that helium is separated from oxygen in a way that is both low cost and high performance. So that's an impressive combination, if it's true. They say that they've run tests for over 200 hours, and they say that throughout the entire test, the material retained its high performance and stability. Stability is another huge problem with electrolysis. So they seem to have overcome some of the big problems with electrolysis. Co-author Yang Yang explained, the seawater electrolysis performance achieved by the dual-doped film far surpasses those of those most recently reported state-of-the-art electrolysis catalysts and meets the demanding requirements needed for practical application in the industries. So in the near future, then, what do they say about the near future? They say that they're going to continue to improve their materials to increase efficiencies, and that they're looking for funds, oh, that's a red flag, looking for funds to speed up research and commercialize their work. So that may be one of the reasons why they're really pushing for this, because they're looking for funds. And that makes me a little skeptical, right, when people are looking for money and they're putting out these press releases. But I still, this looks promising. I hope this works. If it does, if we can come up with a way that can efficiently and cheaply, say use renewable resources to perform electrolysis in water to grab, to get hydrogen, man, that would be big. If we can supply some of our industries with lots of hydrogen so that they can move away from fossil fuels, that would be wonderful. That could take a huge chunk, a real noticeable chunk out of all these industries that are making climate change far, far worse, and it's not getting good enough, fast enough by a long shot. And this could contribute if it if all this is true. And I'm really looking forward to have other scientists talk about this and talking about the feasibility and if this study actually is what they say it is. So cross your fingers on this one.

S: Do you know what the number one use of hydrogen is for?

B: Hydrogen? Balloons? Birthday balloons?

E: No, it's helium.

C: Helium.

B: Well, you use helium. I use hydrogen. All right?

E: That's why your balloons blow up.

C: I don't know. It's probably, I'm assuming it's not for like science labs. What is it?

S: It's actually for oil refineries. And then the second most common use is for ammonia for making fertilizer.

B: Oh, okay.

S: The Bosch reaction uses hydrogen.

B: Yeah. Bosch reaction, baby.

S: Yeah, because you add hydrogen to the nitrogen, right, to make an ammonia. So that's kind of important to our agriculture. In fact, I was I wrote a blog today about, you sent me this item, Bob, it was about farming microbes, which is just a way of growing bacteria and vats to make a lot of protein. And you could make 10 times as much protein on an acre of land than you can by growing soybeans. And so-

B: Say that again now, Steve, because soybeans are probably like the poster child for like the most efficient type of-

S: Plant protein, yeah. But this is a bacterial protein. Yes. But one of the inputs is you need some kind of a high energy input, right? And one of the things that you can input is just pure hydrogen, or you can input methanol, which you could make with hydrogen, or formate, which you also make with hydrogen and carbon dioxide. And so you essentially free hydrogen would be able to feed into this process. But the point is, hydrogen is an important energy carrier that could feed into a lot of processes.

B: Yes, yes.

S: But it's very limited. So if you had a cheap supply of massive scale of hydrogen-

B: Green hydrogen, yeah.

S: There would be a lot of uses for it that would emerge out of the availability of hydrogen. Again, it's just a really good energy carrier. At the very least, it would feed into a lot, many ways, it could potentially feed into a lot of agriculture, as well as being used directly for fuel. Obviously, it could be critically important for rocketry, for rocket fuel. Sure. You know, at some point, we may be flying hydrogen planes, hydrogen buses, hydrogen trains. I think those are the more likely uses in terms of directly using it as fuel.

B: Yeah, just not cars.

S: Yeah, probably. You know, it'll be a niche for cars.

E: Too small.

B: Yeah. So this, yeah, this really seems like one of those things that I talk about that we really should be investing a lot of money in, because that, it opens up so much.

S: I know. And I meant-

B: There's a lot of hydrogen. It's like, damn, that's such a a game changer. If this works. I hope this new nanomaterial works, because it's really a game changer.

S: Yeah, totally. And I've mentioned to many people at different times, even just recently, that 95% of hydrogen comes from fossil fuels. And they were shocked. They have no idea. It's like, just think of it as a green material. It's like, really? It's basically fossil fuel? And-

B: Right, right.

S: You know, the idea that you're driving a hydrogen car so it's green is nonsense, if it's all coming from fossil fuel.

B: Probably not coming from electrolysis.

C: Well, I think the idea is that it's not also putting out emissions.

S: But you did it already. So it's like charging an electric vehicle off of the coal plant.

B: It's front-loading.

C: Yeah, but regular cars do it on both ends.

S: Well, no, it's just burning the fuel directly, rather than burning-

C: Well, they still have to refine the oil.

S: Yeah, that's true. I mean, it's still better. I get, I grant you it's better.

C: But it's not, you're right. It's not like- You're not driving on air.

B: It's not what you think.

S: It's not as green as people think, yeah.

C: Yeah, for sure.

Trouble for Self-Driving Cars (20:48)[edit]

S: We're talking about cars, Jay. You're going to tell us about this article, casting doubt onto the future of self-driving cars.

B: Uh-oh, what? No. Doubt don't even.

J: Yeah, the question is, where are the driverless cars, right? Like, from my perception, I thought we would have them by now. What did you guys think?

S: Yeah, 2020s, I thought they would be coming into common use.

C: But they are. Like, a couple of them exist.

J: Cara's right. I mean, there is technology out there where I think they're working on technology for like tractor trailers and car companies are working on, like Uber and companies like that have been working on technology to have a driverless car that's like to rent type of deal. But it hasn't hit yet. And there's a lot of details in here that I think you're going to find interesting. So critics of driverless cars are saying that maybe it's too hard for today's technology to do it safely. So as an example, do you guys remember Google's self-driving car project, right? It started back in 2009. So this used to be known as Google's self-driving car project, right? It's now called Waymo. So it's called Waymo now. And this is what Cara was talking about. Like, they're working on technology more for different industries, but not for consumer yet. The project has test driven 30 million kilometres and billions of kilometers in simulation, which is cool. The vast majority of this testing was driverless. They were doing tests, of course, with the driver in the car observing at first and everything. And then I guess they started to really move into just having it be driverless. These tests have been done in 25 cities. And since 2017, Waymo has been operating with passengers in Phoenix, Arizona. So you can think of that as a test market. So all of the testing done has been adding to the data that the software needs to function, right? So every time they do a test drive, they collect that data and they use it. But as you know, none of this has been deployed to the public yet. Like, you can't buy a car that's using this technology. So other kinds of driver assist technology exist. Now, there's a difference between a fully autonomous car and a driver assist. And I'll give you all the details right now. You could buy cars that have driver assist today. And a common one, as an example, is technology that helps keep your car in lane, right? As an example, you're on the highway.

E: Yes, my car has that.

C: Oh, yeah, I have that.

B: My new car might have that.

E: Yeah.

J: So the car...

E: If I drift too far one way or the other, this wheel will automatically pull it back towards center.

C: And mine, like, beeps and stuff, too.

J: And some cars give you an electric shock to get you, you know...

E: It's only 370 volts, though.

J: The car reads the lines in the road can see the lines in the road, and the software can steer the car back in line by itself. A minor drive assist like this, this is considered a one on the scale of vehicle automation. The scale goes from zero to five, zero being the least automated, five being fully autonomous. And a fully autonomous car at level five means it can drive anywhere under any weather condition and under pretty much any condition the car can drive. This scale happened to be developed by the Society of Automotive Engineers, which is today known as the SAE. There's a lot of people, for example, we were talking about Teslas, there's a lot of people buying Teslas. And a lot of times you'll find that they're saying that their car can drive themselves. And a lot of people were thinking Tesla is putting out an autonomous car. But the truth is that since 2015, Tesla has been offering a level two option called autopilot. So unlike level one, level two can change the car's speed and direction at the same time. So level one, the car is limited to changing the speed or the direction, but not at the same time. Level two, speed and direction can be handled by the computer at the same time. So Tesla tells people that the driver must be supervising what's happening with their hands on the wheel. So this is definitely not a fully autonomous car. So don't be fooled, Teslas are not selling fully autonomous cars right now.

B: That's a two level?

J: That's a two. Back in 2018, GM's Cadillac introduced something called Super Cruise. So this is also a level two automation, which lets drivers take their hands off the wheel on specific roads, like specific roads, not like a road like this. It's like this road, right? Or that road.

C: Oh, like they've mapped only some roads that it can be.

J: Right.

B: Where we're going, we don't need roads.

J: So this is just in the United States and Canada. GM is being very cautious about this technology because what they do is they actually track the driver's eyes to make sure that they're looking at the road. That's meaningful because that's not inexpensive technology that they put in the car. They want to know, is the driver paying attention because they are not going to tune out and start crashing our cars all over the place. Starting in 2023, several other car manufacturers are going to be adding in similar level two options. Okay, level two, right?

B: Yeah, but what about the rumour, Jay, that you could just hang googly eyes off the ceiling and you'd be good?

J: They work. Yeah. Go ahead, Bob. Let me know how that goes. But I'm like, level two, it's 2021, level two, give me a break. I'm majorly disappointed. As I go down and continue to go on here, I will get more frustrated. So earlier in 2021, Honda delivered a level three vehicle in Japan. Level three means that the driver can hand over full control to the car, but this is only under certain circumstances. So what this means with level three is that the driver can actually stop paying attention during these times. In a car, I'm sure the details here are like the car has to be on certain roads, approved roads or whatever, certain types of circumstances, but then the driver is okay to go take a nap or read a book or whatever. That's level three.

B: I like level three.

J: It's not fully autonomous because it's very specific on where and how this can happen. So don't confuse this with the next levels. So a big issue that car manufacturers are having right now is what? It's government regulation.

C: Right. Jay, all these levels and the inability to put out level threes, is it because the science and the AI and all of the coding, the computer science isn't there, or is it literally just because it would be ridiculously unsafe to put out a handful of fully autonomous cars on the road and just let people let loose?

B: Or is that a false dichotomy, Cara? The other option is that they're just too afraid that some jerk is going to game it or have an accident and ruin their reputation.

C: Well, I mean, that's what I mean. So it's a risk assessment, right?

J: We are not there yet. We're not above the waterline.

C: We're not there yet technologically.

J: Technologically. And I'm going to give you all the details.

B: What?

J: I'm going to tell you exactly why. So for example-

C: I thought we were.

J: Listen, the government regulation is a big obstacle as well. And this will give you an example, like the car companies don't just have to build their own technology, but they have to all deal with like massive government regulations that are saying like, slow your roll. We're not ready for you guys to be putting these cars on our streets yet. We're not ready because it's too complicated. So for example, in 2017, Audi was ready to market a similar level, a three level car, right? But they ended up having to deal with such harsh legalities, they scrapped it. Even though the technology might be there, local governments are not ready for this.

C: So that makes it sound like the tech is there.

J: No, level three. They have level three right now.

C: Sorry, there's a level four, I assume?

J: Yeah.

E: And a five.

C: Okay.

J: The technology for level three is here. Local governments are starting to show that they don't feel comfortable with it yet. This is largely due to the fact that there have been fatalities due to driverless cars. Now, one in particular, and this is the big one, was a driverless Uber vehicle. That was a test Uber vehicle, right? The software, sadly, took too long to react to a circumstance and it killed the cyclist. And I got the impression that they felt like this was a very easily avoidable accident if a human was driving. So these types of things are happening, right? So of course, governments are like, whoa, what's happening? Your technology is not good enough and they're pumping the brakes. They don't want it to happen yet. So we're in this middle zone. Now here's a problem with level three, right? So let's say right now we're kind of at level three. Cars are starting to come out with level three cars. One issue is that at level three, drivers need to be paying attention and they have to be ready to take over the driver assist. They have to be ready to go. So the driver's sitting there and paying attention. Now what's going on, human nature, the drivers are taking too long to take over the vehicle when an incident happens or is about to happen. Now this really doesn't look well for level three automation. The problem is this, people want to let the car drive. They're excited and they want to do what they want to do and they easily can fall into habits where they're like, ah, screw it. The car's doing it. I'm doing my own thing. I mean, think about how quickly we adopted cell phones, right? Oh, driverless cars, bingo. I don't pay attention to the road anymore. That's what's happening. So people get into level three, they get kind of romanced into this idea that the car can kind of do it and they're just not paying attention. So car manufacturers have now decided, not all of them, but a lot of them are saying, we want to skip three and go right to four. They just want to get to level four. Now level four can handle the driver not paying attention at all during longer periods of time. So now we're getting into the level here where it's longer periods of time, more circumstances can be handled. The car is definitely fully driving the vehicle during those times when it can do it, when the car and I guess there's mapping and everything, everything lines up, the car can do it. You can check out. So the driver will have to get involved from time to time though. And again, it's different probably for every company and every system that they have. But level four is, it's pretty far down that road of being fully autonomous. So here's the question that I started to ask at this point during my research, right? It kind of occurred to me. So what's the holdup? Why are we only at level three kind of today? Why aren't we at level five and five plus? The core problem-

E: Lack of demand?

J: No, it's not that. It's not that because people, they know adoption will be extreme. The core problem-

B: Regulations.

J: With automation, no, is the car's ability to actually see the objects moving around. It's technology. It's the freaking technology. So during early testing with driverless cars, they were using laser based radars called, Bob?


J: LiDAR was able to see everything very well, but what's the problem? It was crazy expensive. Really expensive.

B: Detection and ranging.

J: So this forced the car companies to come up with other solutions because they're like, we can't strap this thing onto the car. It's going to make the thing three times as expensive car. They can't do it. So they decided to go with camera based automation systems. Cameras have proven to have difficulty measuring distance. Measuring distance. Well, measuring speed and distance-

B: Kind of important.

J: That is the name of the game. Measuring speed and distance is where it's all at, man. So luckily as the years passed though, LiDAR systems have dramatically dropped in price from the early days of testing autonomous vehicles. Now guys, the cost back then, and we're only going back to what, 2009 and on? The cost started at $60,000 a car.

B: Woof.

J: It's dropped-

C: Wait, just for the LiDAR?

J: Just for LiDAR. It's now- Well, yeah.

B: Now it's 59.

J: As you all know, as soon as a lot of people, as soon as there's more of a demand and they're able to optimize things and technology gets smaller and smaller, it's down to $1,000 a unit now, which makes it affordable again, which is great.

B: More than affordable.

J: Now, okay, great. So now LiDAR is affordable. Steve is paying $9,000 more for it than he apparently should be.

C: No, Steve decided not to pay-

J: Yeah, Steve chose wisely. But the experts in the field are saying something else too, and this is another huge factor. They're also saying that even the best LiDAR systems today are not going to be able to perform at the level we need to, even though they can see everything, because the problem is that machine learning doesn't seem to be able to understand the physics of the world anywhere near as well as a human brain. So machine learning doesn't have the reasoning power of a human. So when you think about all the things that people can do without even having to focus their attention, right? We were just talking about this. You can walk, you can chew gum, you could do all sorts of things, and the front of your brain is not making you even conscious that you're doing it. The problem here that we're having is that software is not complicated enough to simply do these top-down things that the human brain can easily do.

C: There's a really great experiment. You guys could do this at home. If you do it to one of your friends, walk with them side by side, and then ask them to do a relatively simple math problem, they will stop walking. Almost always they will stop walking, because they can't do both at the same time.

J: I stopped walking in my head when you said that.

C: Yeah, it's really funny. Like it almost always works. You can train yourself not to do it, but automatically you'll do it. But the issue is, if you're walking and trying to do a math problem, and then something starts falling out of the sky and it's going to hit you, you're going to twist your attention immediately and that's going to be the only thing that matters. And a car can't do that. It doesn't know this is more important than that.

J: Yeah, so they're saying that the machine learning is bottom-up, and humans do it top-down. So we have executive function, and we have parts of our brain that are incredibly good at basically controlling what becomes conscious, what's unconscious, and there's all sorts of subroutines in our brains that are, this is for walking, this is for talking, right? We have all these portions of our brain that do these things, and our brain talks to itself. It's constantly it's one big group of sections that are all intertwined with each other, all talking together at the same time. Well that's not exactly how machine learning and the software and the processing that we use, that's not how it functions. It's a different way. It's a totally different way, and they haven't figured it all out yet. It's just not at the level. So another thing that will depress you is that we're seeing car companies like Uber and Lyft, they started selling off their vehicle development groups to other companies, right? So they were like, oh man, we're all in. We're going to be going driverless in a couple of years. We're going to put a ton of time and money into this. This is a clear sign that level five autonomy wasn't as quickly achievable as everyone thought or hoped it was going to be. So when Uber and Lyft are like, and these are companies that are printing money, they're like, nah, we're selling this off. Let other companies deal with this problem. We're going to do what we do best, and we're not going to get directly involved anymore. So the short term, it's looking like driver assist is going to be what's coming next, right? So it's already here. They're going to make more driver assist, better driver assist. Our cars will help us become better drivers, but they won't be driving themselves. Bob, Christ, they won't be driving themselves anytime soon. That's where we're at.

B: Jay, I mean, are you saying that it's going to require something beyond even just narrow AI to be a really, really good driver, better than a person?

J: No, I think it's going to take longer, and I think that it's going to take a lot more innovation. It's not like Elon Musk is sitting at a desk somewhere, and he's like, if only we could, we just have a couple more things we got to do, and I'm going to press this button, and all my cars are going to fully get it. No, that's not where we're at. The core technology, the cars can see as good as they need to now because of LiDAR, because that came into it. So the hardware is there. No problem with the hardware. It's really the brain of the car isn't there yet. And this answers so many questions that I had that I wanted to know. This makes all the sense. Why haven't they dropped yet? It's just like we're at level three now. We're into level three. Level four is an order of magnitude, and then level five is an order of magnitude above that, and we're not there yet.

S: Yeah, it's like a lot of things that we try to solve with AI, with narrow AI, is that, like for example, voice recognition, right? The predictions about voice recognition were a decade or more ahead of what actually happened because it turned out that it was kind of easy to get to that 95% level.

B: Yeah, that's like everything.

S: And it's an order of magnitude harder to get to that 98% level or whatever, get to that 99% level where, like if you're correcting one in 20 words, it kind of sucks, you know? But to get to that point where it works really well, you do get to that diminishing return where it's orders of magnitude harder. So I'm not surprised that that's where we are. I mean, I was hoping we weren't going to hit this hurdle, but I'm not surprised that we're hitting this hurdle where, yeah, getting to that, it's almost good enough, like we're there, but when you're talking about driving cars on the road, that's almost good enough is nowhere near good enough.

J: You know what they're doing, Steve?

E: The risk is too high.

J: They're filling in the gaps. Like if you visualize a stretch of road that has pedestrians in this part, then it has really broken up road in this part that has really twisty roads in this part that has poor vision in this part. What they're doing is they're saying, we're not going to come out with a level five car and it's automatically going to be able to do all this. We've got to figure every single one of these jigs and jags out. So they're slowly connecting the dots between these different problems. And it's taking a lot more time, a lot more research. So driver assist is going to continue to get better. You know what, Cara, you were talking about the backup camera. Every car has got a backup camera now. That's now standard stuff. The lane technology that Evan has, that's become pretty standard now too.

E: Automatic braking is...

'S: What about just, you're correct in that being able for the car to fully drive itself on any road is really hard, but how about just on highways?

J: Yeah. Well, that's part of the thing, what I was saying.

S: That's four, right?

J: You start at level three and then into level four, they're like, yeah, we've tested these highways out. The lines are good. The roads are in good condition. And we know our cars can perform at 98% on this. We're good to go.

B: What about bad weather on those highways?

J: Yeah. But that's a circumstance.

C: What about mistaking a cloud for another car or a car for a cloud? Wasn't that one of the big Tesla stories back in the day?

B: Oh, yeah. I think I remember.

S: Well, for example, like on my commute to work, like, all right, I'll drive the back roads to the highway. And then if I could turn it over to to the automatic driving for the highway segment of my commute, I could have 20 minutes where I could be checking my email or doing whatever. And then I have to take over when I have to do the last little bit and pull into the garage. That would still be hugely useful. Doesn't have to be all or nothing. But I guess every time you have to trust people to use it correctly, it introduces another variable.

J: Well, that's why level three was no bueno. Because you'll probably be great, Steve, because you're very fastidious. But there are people that just want it so bad, they're like, it's going fine. It's going fine. Yeah. That's why Cadillac put in that eye tracking thing, because they're like, it's not going fine. You're driving this freaking car. You know what I mean?

B: So, Jay, what about, is there a lot of deep learning and AI in this? Because I would think that you get some good deep learning and you get some good training with like a billion different video computer generated variations of scenarios and train that in in the AI and the deep learning. And that would be, that could be pretty damn good. I mean, they're probably doing something like that now.

J: Bob, Google has had its cars drive over 30 million miles with almost no incident. Like really, really great driving record. Over 30 million real miles. They've driven billions of simulated miles, which is, simulation is really good. Like it's learning in the simulation as well. And we're still not there, dude. Billions of miles.

S: I think they'll crack it though. Again, it might, maybe it's going to be one of those things where it'd be another 5, 10 years, but it just might just be a matter of adding another functionality, like, oh, we needed to be doing this other thing that it's not doing now to get us the rest of the way.

J: Yeah. It just, this happens to be where we are today. And I guess, like we said, like it's, it seemed like they were going to get there a lot quicker and that car companies moved from like the holy grail, let's get to five. And now they're like, let's master three and we'll get there. It's, it's inevitable. It really is. It's just, it really is a problem that, that humans are going to love to solve. And there's tons of companies doing it. Billions and billions of dollars are going into it. It's going to get solved, but it's not going to happen in the short term. It's going to be, yeah, I think Steve, we're looking at in the 10 year range probably. I hope it's a lot less though. You never know. Some, some company might, might be a breakaway and they'd be like, we got it, man. We licked it. You know, it could happen.

Metaverse (41:54)[edit]

S: All right. I want to talk about something else that's also like five to 10 years away. And it is another one of these things where we know that there's this looming technology, but when exactly are we going to cross this magical line where it's, it's going to be ready? It's like, it's like the smart, the iPhone of smartphones, right? Like when is this threshold going to be crossed? This is the metaverse. Have you guys heard about?

J: Yes.

S: Facebook is all in on the metaverse.

E: Immersive virtual reality.

B: Some billionaire had to do it.

S: Well, that definitely puts a different spin on the whole thing. So the bottom line is that Mark Zuckerberg has now been talking in an interview and in during events about his plans to turn Facebook from a social media company into a metaverse company.

B: Now what does that mean, Steve?

S: Yeah. So the, the, the term metaverse came from a book snowfall in the nineties, but it basically refers to, yeah, it refers to a virtual reality, complete space like Oasis in Ready Player One, but also reminded me of the set of the, uh, the Futurama Futurama is the internet in Futurama was this virtual place that you went to. So that's basically what it is. So instead of, it's not a replacement for the internet because the internet's like the hardware, but what it sounds like, although I haven't heard any of the interviews explicitly say this is like, it's a replacement for the web in a way. It's like a VR, AR mixed media version of the web where it's the place where everything is interconnected, but it's optimized for virtual reality.

B: Yeah. It's like a new protocol. Be well beyond HTTP.

S: I haven't really read any good technical analysis of it. It's more just the vision that Zuckerberg-

B: Fluffy press releases.

S: So let's talk about what that vision is. So you know, Mark Zuckerberg, so first of all Facebook's a trillion dollar company. So that gives, if he says, this is what we're doing-

B: Wait, did they break trillion? Did they break that threshold?

S: That's what I'm, that's what I'm reading there. I've heard some of the articles I'm reading referred to them as a trillion dollar company. Close enough. I mean, that's, that's what we're talking about. So that's a significant they've acquired Oculus Rift. So they acquired a VR hardware company and they're trying to put all the pieces together. So again, very quickly, virtual reality is when you're wearing goggles that completely obscure your vision. So you are in the virtual space and you're not interacting with the physical space unless that physical space is represented in the virtual space, which you can do. So you can't see, you can't actually see the space around you in physical space-

B: Which makes it dangerous.

S: Yeah. You're dependent on whatever you're seeing in the virtual space, right? But it could be very compelling.

B: You get there, telepresence.

S: Yeah, it, it totally, it totally tricks your brain into believing that you are in the virtual space. Very effective at this point for, for gaming which is I think essentially what it's being used for attempts at doing things like a virtual office have not succeeded so far, mainly because of the hardware, because nobody wants to wear the clunky headsets for eight hours a day, you know? But if you're just going to play a game for an hour, it's fine.

C: Have you seen the, Steve, and I know it's not VR, but somebody, Cisco, somebody has these virtual meeting rooms and they're really brilliantly designed because they do sort of what we think about as AR, which is taking real meat space and digit like-

B: Overlay, yeah.

C: Yeah. Overlay. Thank you. And so but instead of it being classic AR, what they do is they have a life-size screen that's like basically one wall of the conference room. And then there's a half table that's shot, and then you are sitting at a half table. So you can virtually conference in with a conference table across the world. And the way the cameras are set, it feels like they're at the table with you.

B: That's awesome.

C: It's really smart.

S: I think like the, the metaverse incorporates all of that, because it's also going to be AR augmented reality where you are still seeing the physical space, but there's digital stuff overlaid on top of it, which if you remember when we did our show from the future, we talked about the aug, and which was essentially our version of the metaverse. But we emphasize the augmented reality aspect of it, because honestly, I think that's going to take over for virtual reality in a lot of ways, just because it's easier. And it's there's a lot of reasons why I think augmented reality will be superior to virtual reality. Virtual reality probably still might be optimal for gaming. But if you're just like doing a virtual office or whatever, we're conferencing, AR might be better. We'll see. We'll see how that plays out. But the metaverse is both of them and 2D, 2D, like you, you could get into the metaverse through your desktop your regular monitor or your smartphone or whatever. It's everything together. Like so that, and that's very deliberate. So that's why it's called mixed reality and also with physical reality as well. So that's technically what mixed reality is. It's essentially everything. So you don't have to be in VR or AR, but it'll have that functionality.

E: Not the holodeck.

S: No, that's like, we won't even go there. But if we think about I think the like one mature version of this as depicted in science fiction was Oasis from Ready Player One, where it was a complete world and had its own economy. It was like the biggest economy on the world was the virtual economy of Oasis. And you know, a lot of people spent a lot of their time there and the hardware was so good that you were there. Like you had to wear a full body suit and you had very comfortable glasses and you could be like in a harness on a treadmill. So you could, yeah, you could walk around and dealt with a lot of the vestibular function that did the motion sickness issues because you are physically moving. The question is, so I think the metaverse is coming, but here's the big question. Is it ready now? Is it premature to start talking about it? Or is this the time to start talking about it, knowing that it's not going to be ready for 10 years before it really crosses that threshold of like, this is now ubiquitous. This is now like the web. So like even Zuckerberg says that he, he expects to have the virtual reality hardware, the hardware at the point where people will feel comfortable using it all day in 10 years, like by 2030 time frame, which is a little disappointing. It's going to take that long, but I mean, that's what we need right now. Most of us have played with the, with the VR goggles by now, right? So you have 110 degrees of viewing angle, which is, is just enough to like really be fully immersive, but not optimal.

B: But annoyingly suboptimal.

S: Yeah. You'd want 140 would probably be so much better. And I think the resolution's getting good enough. You know, you want to be able to comfortably read with the resolution, but I think getting the eye tracking so that it, it increases the resolution just where you're looking everywhere so that it doesn't overwhelm. It's very smart. Save a lot of processing time. You know, you can get a wireless now, although that's a little expensive and incorporated audio, that's no big deal at all, even if you're just wearing headphones or earbuds or whatever with, with the headset, but the headset's kind of bulky and I do get a little fatigue if I use it for more than a couple hours at a time, it definitely is not the kind of thing I'd want to be dependent on for my job. You know what I mean?

C: Yeah. That'd be tough.

S: Right. You need something more like just wearing glasses.

B: I wonder what the research budget is. I mean, he acquired Oculus. I mean, if I were him and maybe he's throwing more and more than I, than I think I'd throw a quarter billion dollars at that bastard.

S: Oh, I think he's putting that kind of money into it.

B: $250 million into VR hardware. I hope he is. Cause that's, that to me, that's like, that's such a no brainer hardware to research and development because that's where that's what we're heading towards. I'm just waiting. You know what I'm waiting for? I'm waiting for my VR, AR sunglasses. That's it.

S: Well, that's going to be a while.

B: That's going to be a while. That could be 20 years, maybe.

S: But you got to remember like for AR, you don't need that wide an angle of view. It can't just be like regular glasses because you just need to be able to superimpose digital content in a reasonable range or view. It doesn't need to be immersive because you're still seeing the physical world. So again, I don't think, I'm not trying to say that it's going to be 10 years before we see the metaverse. We already have sort of the beginnings of it now. Like you can go to virtual spaces where people have avatars. That's the other sort of piece that he wants people to have realistic avatars. Like you are there, like you are, and also to have this piece of this experience of embodiment where you feel like you're in this space. So I think we're sort of at the beginning of this process. It's going to get incrementally better. And I don't know where that transition line is, but I think but Zuckerberg is basically announcing he's trying to, he wants Facebook to dedicate itself to develop, to become the metaverse. That's what he wants the company to be and to, to get us over that line. So it'll definitely, I think, accelerate this process.

B: Oh, sure.

S: The company decides that Facebook make this, make these plans as long as they don't bail. But I still, I do think, and I do worry a little bit that the hype will get a little bit premature. And then people will think it's a failed technology or whatever. Just like the driverless car, like it's the same thing.

B: Google Glass.

S: Yeah. You got to wait 10 years more than you thought. And then it kind of gives it a bad name. This premature hype thing is so common with so many technologies.

J: So my question is this, my question is we're talking about Facebook who has billions of dollars, right? It's going to take that amount of money. It's going to take that kind of tech company to dedicate huge amounts of talent and money and everything and will just having someone like Mark Zuckerberg push it to bring this thing into reality. Now meanwhile, the technology, the hardware, like the headsets and everything, it's still going to be used. It's still going to progress. It's still going to get better and better. So really what they're doing is they're just building a platform. They're building the platform.

C: Yeah. That's what Facebook really is. It's a platform.

J: But the reason why I'm pitching it this way is because I'm thinking there's not nothing stopping other companies from building their own platform as well. And this is where the competition comes in. Mark Zuckerberg was the first person to say-

C: Facebook already has the users. That's the difference.

J: Yeah. Absolutely.

C: The users are what are worth so much money. And Facebook has the largest user base out there. Can I ask you guys a really, like, probably Luddite-y question? So bear with me. What problem does this solve?

E: Yeah. What's the utility? That's what I was thinking.

C: Like, I just don't. Yeah. Like, why does the world need this?

S: That's a good question. So part of it is not so much need. It's that you create an opportunity to do new functionality. So we've all now experienced, of course, gaming and porn, Cara, first of all, like, without question.

B: Hello.

S: So those are going to blaze the trail. The question is, what you're really asking is what useful functionality will come in behind porn and gaming. So we've all experienced the Zoom conference, right, which was kind of a lifesaver during the pandemic, but also kind of sucked. You know, we all sort of experienced the downside of it as well. And so imagine if that conference was a more natural, immersive, 3D, physical space, presence kind of experience. That could absolutely be useful. And that may be where we need to get to really have the online learning, classroom, lecture, workshop, whatever experience that we've all been looking for, especially now that we all know how inadequate the 2D version of it is, the Brady Bunch boxes version of it. And so that's, I think that's the first thing. Plus also how I think it's one of those things that we have to do it to really see, like, will shopping be a better experience in virtual reality when it's at that level? I don't know. We'll see. Will there be a new functionality in terms of working as well? Will we have a virtual office? Will this reduce the amount of travel that we'll actually have to do or improve our online experience in other ways? I think we, this all remains to be seen, which is why I think things like this can flop if it turns out that people don't like it. You know what I mean? Or it's just like, it's not worth it. It's just not, I'd rather sit so I like, there are some times where I just rather sit at my desk and look at my screen. Like, I don't really want to put on the VR goggles and go into VR space and all that that entails. But I would if it were a lot easier and better, you know.

E: So energy intensive. I think this thing's going to be, Steve. How much energy?

S: I mean, it's going to be more. I mean, I think it's going to be more processing power, you know. But I don't know if it's going to be just incremental. I don't think it's necessarily going to be.

E: Because when I think of something like Bitcoin and the amount of energy that that.

S: That's different.

E: That is different.

S: Blockchain is completely different.

C: I think the thing that I can't help but go back to, which is like a little bit, again, like I don't, I don't want to sound like a Luddite. And I don't think it's that I'm like, I don't get it. I think it's that there's for me a real fear about what is it called? The metaverse?

S: The metaverse, yeah.

C: It's, it's exact. It's in the name. It has a very black mirror quality to it.

S: Oh, yeah, totally.

C: There's already a problem that Facebook is too immersive for many people. There's already a problem that a lot of these platforms are taking people out of meet space into digital space to a point where they're losing touch kind of with reality for some of them. It can be a huge problem solver, right? It can connect them to people they could never be connected for. It can really help people who struggle on the autism spectrum and individuals who have a hard time meeting people who are like them. But it also, I mean, we do see that it makes it like there are actual psychological effects of the way that people present themselves online. That's like out of touch with reality of the interaction capabilities, the interpersonal skills that people develop, especially when you're born into a world where that's all you know. I can't help but go to this very black mirror place of like, what are kids who grow up in the metaverse going to do when they meet on the street? Like, I don't know. It freaks me out, man.

S: But I wonder if it'll be easier or harder. Is this going to bring us full cycle because it's so realistic, it actually is better than like 2D online interactions? Or is it going to be less realistic because it is so completely virtual? I mean, that'll be interesting to see. I think it could go either way. But the thing is, Cara, it's happening this is only a matter of timing.

B: That's my point of view. There's no stopping this.

S: We'll just make it happen. Maybe it'll happen faster because of him. But it's going to happen.

B: Yeah. There's no stopping this.

C: I think it's just important to remember that the drivers of these technologies, it's not always about how can the consumer have a better life. It's about how can we make money off of the consumer.

B: Right. Sure.

E: That's how Facebook became Facebook.

C: Exactly. You see these things where it's like, I'd rather just go camping.

J: There's a flip to the whole thing. I don't disagree with you. The more technology we have and the more plugged in we get, the creepier things can be and the more weird our reality can get. Absolutely. But I could throw a similar question to you, like what about when we developed boating technology? You know, you very easily could be like, what are you going to do is go out there and tool around on the water? You know, like there will be economies that come after it's built. There will be.

C: Oh, for sure. But there's a fundamental difference between a virtual world and the meatspace world. And I mean, it just, again, like anybody who doesn't watch Black Mirror, like these are cautionary tales. They're intended to be cautionary tales. They're not written to just be fun. Like, we could be in that high rise building where we're all in these weird little cubes and we're just running on our treadmills every day. Or what were they? The bikes. And we're running in order to get exercise and score points. And like this is philosophically and existentially something that really makes me anxious.

B: It's going to be a double edged sword. It's absolutely going to be a double and triple edged sword.

E: Metaverse trolling.

B: That's why it's good to talk about it now, to anticipate those other edges and try to ameliorate them and deal with them because it's coming, baby. And there's no stopping it.

S: Sometimes those things are not mutually exclusive and companies make money by giving you something you need or making your life better "building a better mousetrap". But then sometimes there's the Ronco version, the guy who did that just died, which is why I'm thinking of it.

C: Ron Popeil.

S: So where he, where like the company's model was to make shit you don't need and convince you that you do need it and then sell you this something which you're never going to use because you don't really need it.

J: I don't know, but Steve, that potato peeler.

E: I still use my Slap Chop.

J: That potato peeler, man.

B: Changed my life, man.

C: The dehydrator.

E: The Slap Chop. And then the hydrator.

S: I want to scramble eggs in the shell because the guy says I should want to do that.

E: That's right. Look how easy my life will be if I do it that way.

S: There's always going to be the dark side. There's going to be the dark side to capitalism, but there's also going to be the, I we have better cars now than we did before and I have better computers and there's lots of ways in which it does improve the quality of our life and give us better stuff. And I bet you, I bet you like with the metaverse, it's going to be all those things. It's like social media. There's going to be some good things. There's going to be some terrible things and it's going to we'll have to muddle through.

C: I don't want to live in that world. I'm just, let's just say I'm glad I was born in the eighties because there's a part of it that's like being born in the metaverse sounds, woof.

E: In the metaverse age.

C: Oh, I mean, I guess I'd make a lot of money in therapy.

S: There is something so provocative about this because of the way that humanity will create and everything I mean, I'm sure we all will miss probably most of it. I mean, Cara, you'll probably be there for the beginning.

C: But it's like, it's the stuff of Bradbury. I mean, people were writing about this 70 years ago it's like, yeah, it's incredible.

J: Now I'm going to just say the thing that wasn't said because Steve was very polite, I guess. I don't want that guy being the guy in charge of it.

S: That's because he's not going to be in charge of it. At least what he's saying now is that this is going to be all sort of open source that where anybody can develop it. That's part of it. That's necessary for it to work. It can't be proprietary. It's got to be the kind of thing. It's like the web where anybody could make a website. If it's proprietary, where not everybody, anybody could make a functionality for it, then it's not going to be the metaverse. It's not going to be the one place where everything comes together. So by definition, this is what he's saying, right? But that this is the vision is it's got to be open source or otherwise it's not going to work. So but we'll see. But that's that's what they're saying now.

Olympic Medals (1:02:03)[edit]

S: All right, guys, we're going to finish up with a couple of Olympic news items there. Cara, you're going to start us off by telling what the Olympic medals are made from.

C: Oh, yeah, I came across a little write up in Cosmos magazine is a really great Australian science outlet about gold, silver and brass medals. So this is kind of a twofer because one of them is about the fact that and this is not a new thing. But this year in Tokyo, it's the first time that the all of the medals are 100 percent made of recycled materials. So how cool is that?

S: That's cool.

C: So yeah, no no virgin medals in them. They did this big push for residents to donate their used electronics and they were able to collect six point eight metric tons of circuit boards and a company called Tech Resources process them.

B: That's a lot of circuit boards.

C: Yeah, it is. Six point two one million used mobile phones. Thirty two kilograms of gold, three thousand five hundred kilograms of silver. And they're saying two thousand two hundred kilograms of bronze. But what I think they mean are copper and zinc and not tin, zinc. That's the interesting thing because they're not actually made of bronze. Also you'll notice a big difference between 32 kilograms of gold and thirty five hundred kilograms of silver. Why do you think that is?

E: Because the gold medals are made of silver.

C: Yeah. So the gold medals are silver with gold plating on the outside. I think there's actually a regulation that it has to be like a certain amount thick. The Tokyo Olympics made it thicker than what is required. A gold medal weighs five hundred fifty six grams. And oh, guess what? The difference in the market value of silver and gold.

B: Oh, I don't know.

S: Silver is like running that right now around twenty dollars an ounce. And gold is a thousand dollars.

C: Yeah. So by gram, it's a dollar a gram of silver and eighty dollars per gram of gold. So yeah, a whole lot more. But we're still talking like a thousand dollars of precious metals per medal.

B: Nice.

C: Four hundred eighty dollars of gold and five hundred fifty dollars of silver. And that's just with that gold plating. So these gold medals they're not they're not worth nothing. Then again, apparently there's a history of Olympians sometimes auctioning off their medals to raise money for charities. And they've gone in the millions. So probably worth a lot more than the actual value of the medal itself.

B: Seriously?

C: Yeah. I mean, it's all about provenance. So if it came from an Olympian with a really interesting story and it went to a person or organization, yeah, you get a lot of money and to raise money for a specific charity, of course. But so, yeah. So the gold medals are not made of gold, but they are plated in gold. So I wonder if when the Olympians bite the medals, if they actually could leave tooth marks, because gold, of course, is softer and that comes obviously from like back in the day when jewelers would bite gold to see if it was real, because gold is soft and you can actually put tooth marks in it if you bite down on it. And so, of course, it's just kind of tradition now for Olympians to bite their medals. But yeah, it would be kind of sad if they left tooth marks in their medal, like, oops, why did I do that?

E: Depends who they are. Should be worth more.

C: True, true.

B: Or it might add to the value.

C: Yeah. True, true.

B: Look at Suni's teeth marks on her gold medal.

C: So the silver medals are made of silver. They weigh 550 grams. They are pure silver. So just the one element and that is all. Now, the bronze is where things get interesting because bronze is an alloy. Bronze is usually copper and tin, just like Evan said. But the bronze medals at the Olympics are actually copper and zinc. And that is referred to as red brass. Red brass is an industrial material that's often used in plumbing and electrics, electronic, not electronics, electrical. Yeah, that's the word I was looking for. But usually red brass in industrial applications, the alloys are dirtier. So it's about 85% copper and then a whole bunch of other stuff, tin, zinc, other metals. But this specific Olympic red brass is 95% copper, 5% zinc. And I was trying to figure out why they decide to go with the zinc and not the tin. I don't know if it's a function of availability. I don't know if it's a function of it actually being stronger once you alloy the zinc into it and less brittle.

B: Maybe it just looks better.

C: It might be shinier and look better. And here's another thing. Maybe it's less likely to oxidize. Because of course, when you have 95% copper in an alloy, you might soon have a green medal. And maybe something about the zinc helps prevent that more than the tin.

S: Here's what's listed as sort of the properties of brass that might be why they used it. It has high corrosion resistance. It is highly castable. So it's easier to make into a very specific shape. And you know, it's more malleable and less brittle than bronze would be.

C: I do know that red brass is used in industrial applications more than bronze because bronze is brittle. Red brass, even though it's strong, it's brittle. And red brass is less brittle. So it makes more sense for industrial applications. And that may be where it originally came to be. But why they use a very pure form of red brass as opposed to bronze, I'm not really sure. It looks like bronze, though. And so...

S: Cara, I was looking at that, too. And I found this. So from the 2000 Olympics, the bronze medals were made out of actual bronze.

C: Really?

S: It says they were 1% silver, 99% "coinage bronze", which itself is...

C: Copper and tin.

S: They said itself is 97% copper, 2.5% zinc, and 0.5% tin. So it's still mostly zinc as the alloy, but there is a little bit of tin in there.

C: That's interesting because I don't think that's technically bronze.

S: Well, but they call this coinage bronze. And it actually came from Australian currency, which is no longer in circulation. So maybe they just ran out.

C: Oh, interesting. So they actually melted down their pennies. We should do that when we host in LA. There's so many unused pennies.

S: But pennies now are copper-coated zinc, right?

C: Oh, you're right. They're zinc. Yeah. And actually, I'm looking up and bronze is... I mean, technically, bronze is supposed to be mostly copper and then tin. But yeah, you can add in things like nickel, zinc, and these different additions. But technical bronze is copper and tin. And then this red brass is copper and zinc.

S: Maybe they couldn't recycle the tin.

C: Yeah. And that's the other thing, too. They have this mission in Tokyo to say, these will be the first in history to be 100% recycled, and they pulled it off. So it's really cool to think that all of these metals, and again, 32 kilograms of gold, 3,500 kilograms of silver, 2,200 kilograms of the copper and zinc that was made to make these quote bronze metals, all came from old phones and crap. How cool. What a way to pull that stuff out of the garbage cycle. Mm-hmm. Pretty neat.

Olympic Pseudoscience (1:09:25)[edit]

S: Evan, so every Olympics has some pseudoscience in there. How are we doing this year for Olympic pseudoscience?

E: Oh, well, par for the course, Steve. Don't worry. The bond between sports and pseudoscience is strong and alive and well, as it always seems to have been and probably will continue to be. And this is because athletes, when they're competing at these top, top levels of their sport, they've got this predisposition to search for every potential advantage. And unfortunately, that desire is not reined in by the borders of science. So they'll do whatever they think they need to do to get them that little extra 0.0001%. Yeah, it's what makes the Olympics one of the better displays of pseudoscience. It has this enormous global audience. I mean, hundreds of millions of people around the world are watching. They're saying to themselves, for example, hey, what are those red spots on some of the athletes' bodies? Or why do those athletes have tape stuck to their bodies the way they do all bright blue tape? Well, in those two specific instances, the red spots are the result of cupping. And we've talked about cupping before you use some glass cups and you burn some herbs to create a vacuum over the skin. And of course, you get your bruises as a result of that, little hickeys all over your body. And why do they do this? Because, well, to relieve themselves of what they perceive as pain relief mostly or discomfort. But there are other claims such as drawing out toxins and improving blood flow and all sorts of other things. There's a long list of what they say cupping can do for a person, including curing them, well, treating them for their herpes, for their acne, for cervical spondylosis. And oh, the British Cupping Society says that their therapy can treat blood disorders, fertility issues, high blood pressure, migraines, Steve, you should be aware of that, anxiety and depression, varicose veins, and bronchial congestion, among some other things. So the athletes, yep, they're using cupping and you see them mostly on the swimmers because they have a lot of skin exposed and there seems to be part of the culture there, especially since Phelps, Michael Phelps, famously many years ago, showed up with cupping marks all over his body. And hey, he did pretty well, so therefore there must be something to it. So other swimmers are going to do what Michael Phelps did, right? And what about that tape, the Kinesio tape, which is alleged to provide support, stability, and strength to athletes? Here, according to one manufacturer who is providing the tape to Olympic athletes, it works by lifting the skin, which optimizes the flow of lymphatic fluids to transport white blood cells and help remove waste products, cellular debris, and bacteria. The tape also helps with overall body awareness to heal and eventually prevent injury.

C: Yeah, except that it doesn't.

E: Yes, that's right. A lot of reviews of the tape have been done over the years. In fact, pretty recently there's been a couple of systematic reviews. They looked at 18 studies, these reviews, on the effectiveness of the tape. And in these studies, they showed no significant benefits regarding long-term pain alleviation or improved strength or range of motion or any of the other claims, basically, that you would put this tape on for. The authors of the review concluded there's insufficient evidence to support the use of Kinesio tape to prevent, treat injuries, or improve any of these other functions that an athlete has, range of motion, strength, and so forth. Why do they do it? Because if you're going to define something as cheap and safe and has a strong placebo effect, I mean, if it comes to some sort of psychological advantage, then they're going to do it. And that seems to be all you can get out of the tape. Did you know there was recently, and what I mean by recently is just today, there's a hubbub now about the tape being applied to the shins of the cyclists. And they're not using it essentially for any sort of real health benefit, per se, or injury prevention.

B: Friction?

E: Aerodynamic performance.

B: Nice.

E: And so the rules say that you can use it, and apparently they've figured out that if you put it in this direct spot right on your shins, right up to the knee, from where the sock ends to where the knee is, you can help to get that aerodynamic advantage. And they're being called into question as to whether or not, even though it's not technically against the rules, whether it is really a violation of the spirit of the rules. So that is something they're going to be taking a look at perhaps in the future. Oh, I have trivia for you guys real quick.

J: Yes.

E: Now, what pseudoscience was invented in Tokyo, which is where the Olympics are taking place right now? Pseudoscience was invented in Tokyo in the 1970s, and it is now being used for many of the athletes in these Olympics.

J: Kinesio tape.

E: No, no, not the kinesio tape. Whole body what? Cryotherapy.

C: Oh, right.

E: Invented in Tokyo.

B: Oh, boy.

E: So it's the home of this, and they are using it. They are definitely using it. They're providing it for any athlete really who wants it. And yeah, again, insufficient evidence to say that cryotherapy can reduce the self-reported muscle soreness or help you with recovery after exercise.

B: Well, I mean, it's basically a very intense but brief cold treatment, right?

E: No, but immersing yourself into these very cold, sudden temperatures. There have been cases of frostbite.

B: Oh, boy.

C: No, we also covered this. Bob, we covered just the cold therapy on the show.

B: Yeah, what was the deal?

C: It actually does nothing to improve healing, but it can, I think, if I'm trying to remember, it can actually dull some of the sensation, which is not good for preventing further injury.

B: Okay. That makes sense.

C: But I think there's no benefit to improving healing of muscle tears.

S: That's correct. No healing benefit. Or recovery from injury, recovery from working out.

E: I will quickly mention a few other pseudosciences being utilized at the Olympics. Ever heard of pulse electromagnetic therapy, PEMT? These are pads that you put on that delivers an electromagnetic pulse at the intensity and frequency, which mimics the Earth's magnetic field.

B: Don't have your phone nearby, but it's probably too weak for that.

E: And Steve, as you once said, hey, if this device mimics the Earth's magnetic field, then why is the device necessary? Right? And just around us is the Earth's magnetic field, so that was a very good question I thought you brought up. And oh, another piece of trivia. What pseudoscience is enjoying commercial airtime at the Summer Olympics? If you haven't seen it yet, it's run several times, a commercial for chiropractic. Yeah. 30-second commercial to educate consumers about the benefits of chiropractic care and to promote healthcare career as a doctor of chiropractic, running five times on NBC networks during the Summer Olympic Games. And acupuncture supplements, Ayurvedic medicine, rolfing, and healing crystals are also part of the bag of pseudoscience that you may find at your Olympics at any given time.

S: Yeah, because it's all around the world, so you're going to get basically every pseudoscience from around the world.

E: It's true. Send your athletes and send the pseudoscience they love with it.

S: Well, Chris, the one thing I noticed, because I do pay attention to it every year, is that eight years ago, the kinesio tape was all over the place, and now five years ago, actually, the cupping was all over the place, especially on the swimmers, but I don't know if that was just because you could see them they're not wearing clothes. And now there's some cupping, not as nearly as much, or some kinesio tape, not nearly as much. So I think that these things sort of, they're a fad, then they fade away, but they don't go away completely. They're just sort of always going to be there on the fringe. But I did make the observation that if any of these things actually worked, they wouldn't become a fad and go away, you know?

E: No, it'd be part of the standard equipment.

S: Yeah, exactly. They would become standard if they actually worked. But no, it's more of a fashion it follows that kind of pattern.

B: Yeah. Yeah.

Who's That Noisy? (1:17:56)[edit]

Answer to previous Noisy:
Spoonbill Stork

S: All right, Jay, it's who's that noisy time.

J: All right, guys, last week I played this noisy.


S: Get some.

E: That's what I thought. Anyone who runs.

J: So any guesses?

C: It's scary.

B: Take that, you filthy animal.

J: All right, nothing. Okay, so let me jump in here. So you guys know Visto Tutti, right?

S: Sure.

B: Of course.

J: This noisy sounds like the arcade game, remember them, called Turkey Shoot, where a mini machine gun is mounted on the video console, and if you miss too many turkeys, they peck your eyes out. Game over.

C: Jesus.

J: Yes, this does sound like a machine gun. Absolutely. It's not. It's not a bad guess, though.

E: It's a gun of some type.

J: I will not tell you right now, but you will know. So Michael Blaney wrote in and said, dude, WTN, WTF. That sounds like someone shooting a horse with an AK-47.

C: I know, it's sad.

J: I really hope it's not that. That is not correct, but that's a great guess. Brendon Alman wrote in, hey Jay, after 18 years in the home improvement industry, everything sounds like tools to me, a little insight into many guesses that I've never actually sent you. This week's noisy sounds like an impact wrench driving a particularly stubborn fastener. The hammering sound is the impact wrench and the cackling sound that is reminiscent of one of Bob's witch Halloween decorations is the bolt.

B: Nice.

J: I love it. It is not that. I don't even know what that sounds like, but I'm sure there's like a hammering sound of some kind. One more guess. We had a guest from Alex Freshy and he said, hey Jay, my guess for this week's noisy is a pneumatic chisel. So the pneumatic thing I get, absolutely. The screaming part, I don't know what you think the screaming part is. He says, because there are extra noises in there, I'll go ahead and guess that some kind of primate is playing with this tool. Probably not something to play with. That was a fun guess. A lot of people got this one correct. Apparently this noise has gone viral at some point. So a lot of people were familiar with it. This noise is indeed, Steve, a bird. Do you want to guess now what kind of bird it is?

S: A lyrebird.

E: The rapid fire lyrebreasted.

J: It's a shoebill stork.

S: Oh, okay. Shoebill stork.

J: C. Ross wrote in and said, hi Jay, was the noisy this week a shoebill? Yes, it's a shoebill stork. So this is really a very dinosaur-y looking type of old world creature. It's pretty tall. It's got really spindly looking legs. And it's got a really big beak. And that machine gun noise you're hearing is the beak opening and closing really fast. So here it is again. [plays Noisy]

B: Wow.

E: It has an echo to it.

J: It's inside.

C: So scary.

J: It's happening inside.

C: I'm looking this bad boy up.

J: It wasn't unhappy at all, Cara, just so you know. The shoebill stork. Very, very cool bird.

C: They're scary looking.

J: I told you. They're old school looking, right? They come from millions of years ago. That's what they feel like.

C: Yeah. Ooh, I don't want my hand to get stuck. Ooh, look at their skulls.

S: Yes, they're in Africa.

C: Oh, wow. No, I've never seen one of these. I've seen something that looks very similar in southern Africa that has that crazy looking beak.

B: Wow. Oh, they're big. They're huge.

J: But could you imagine if four or five of them were coming up to you and they all made that noise?

C: No.

J: You would be like, what is going on? You know, you'd be pretty alarmed.

New Noisy (1:21:31)[edit]

J: All right, so I have a new noisy for this week. This noisy was sent in by a listener named Andrew Hughes. And I'd like you to guess what this is.


There's some other noises in the background. So if you think you heard something cool this week, and I know you're out there, or if you think you know the answer to this week's noisy, email me at

Announcements (1:22:09)[edit]

S: We do have a quick follow up. Because we did say that we needed to get enough people to sign up for the return of the extraction. September 5th at 6 p.m. in Atlanta, Georgia. And we did. So thank you everyone for signing up. So the Atlanta extravaganza is a go. We also are doing a private show in Atlanta. This is on September 4th at 2 p.m. So still time to buy tickets for that. We've had a lot of discussion about what we're going to do because the pandemic is on an upswing at the worst possible time for DragonCon. DragonCon has instituted a bunch of new rules for everyone's safety. And, of course, for us at the SGU, pandemic safety comes absolutely first. So we are going to at this point, our plan obviously we have the facts on the ground may change. But our plan at this point is we're going to go. We're going to do the extravaganza and the private show. And we're going to avoid crowds as much as possible. We're going to do whatever we have to do to stay safe. But we should be able to do those two private events because we'll be on stage. You know, we'll be socially distancing. We'll probably be requiring masks. And we're going to avoid getting any kind of unnecessary exposure, which is obviously going to limit our DragonCon experience. But safety has to come first. And it'll be interesting because there's definitely going to be a lot fewer people there this year. And they're definitely going to limit access to hotels. They're requiring masking. They're encouraging vaccination, but they're not requiring it. But we'll be playing a little bit by ear.

Questions/Emails/Corrections/Follow-ups (1:23:49)[edit]

My name is Marco and i’m a long time fan. Cant even remember how long, maybe even from the start. Apologies if my grammar or spelling is wrong. I’m from the Netherlands (Yes where Cara liked our waffles) but i will do my best. Here we go: I was in a twitch chat and somebody made the comment ‘Time was invented by humans’. I know there are a lot of trolls on the internet but the discussion got heated. There were people claiming that the measurement of time completely abstract is, and others asked ‘are you talking about the progression of time or the measurement of appeared time’. While disregarding the comments like ‘time was invented by aliens’ i was still stuck with the original statement. Thanks to you guys I’m always interested in a healthy discussion. I would like to know how you guys would approach a discussion like that? By first needing a clear definition of time? Or was the statement itself not clear enough? I didn’t even engaged in the discussion because my brain almost exploded with all the questions and comments and now I’m stuck with the feeling that by staying silenced I’m agreeing with the statement. Which I’m clearly not Just curious and hope to hear from you. Keep up the great work! Regards,

-Marco van ‘t Hoog

S: All right. One quick email. This comes from Marco. And Marco writes, "I'm from the Netherlands. Yes, where Cara liked our waffles, but I will do my best. Here we go. I was in a Twitch chat." Twitch chat. That's a phrase that wouldn't mean anything 20 years ago. "I was in a Twitch chat and somebody made the comment, time was invented by humans. I knew there were a lot of trolls on the internet." Really? "But the discussion got heated. There were people claiming that the measurement of time completely abstract. And others asked, are you talking about progression of time or the measurement of a peer time? While disregarding the comments like time was invented by aliens, I was still struck with the original statement. So thanks, you guys. Always interested in a healthy discussion." So essentially, and we've probably talked about this before, but the question is what do we think about the statement that time is an invention of people?

C: What comes to mind for me is that just this last week I had Jordan Ellenberg, who's a mathematics professor, on Talk Nerdy. And so that comes out next week. And one of the things that we talked about at the very beginning was like, is math intrinsic to nature or was it invented by people?

S: That's a more interesting question.

C: And it was like, OK, so I think about time. I think about math. And his view was kind of like, to me, that's a moot point. Like I work in the world of math. So whether we invented it or we're just uncovering something that exists, we use it as a tool. And that's where I want to spend my time, which is fair. He's a mathematician. To me, it has the same philosophical underpinnings. Like there are fundamental features of the universe that seem to be dividable or that seem to have patterns. But then we have a language and a metric that we develop to be able to make sense of those things. And I think time is similar, right? Like we know that there's entropy. Time has an arrow.

B: Exactly.

S: This is an easy one.

B: That's it. That's a critical piece of information right there.

S: The measurement of time is artificial. But time is a thing. Time is an objective aspect of the universe. It is a physical property of the universe, if you want to look at it that way. It is not an abstract concept. It's not an approximation or whatever. It actually exists as a thing. Now, we could argue about what the fundamental nature of time is. But time, in some way, actually exists as an aspect of our universe, right?

B: Otherwise, nothing would happen.

S: It's not just that. It's built into the laws of physics.

B: It's entropy.

C: Time is entropy.

S: I think there is an arrow of time. You can't make sense of relativity of so many things without time being an actual thing. It is a—if it has a letter in an equation, you know what I mean? Then it exists, basically.

C: Yeah. Like the way that we subdivide it into days and weeks and minutes and hours, like that is a human construct.

E: That's a human construct.

C: For sure. Yeah. That's a construct. But time goes in one direction. And things go from more organization to less organization. And that is what time ultimately is. It's the change in—

B: Yeah. You can't get away from that.

C: Yeah. I guess in organization. Is that a good way to put it, Bob?

B: That's how I would do it. Yeah, absolutely.

C: Okay. Yeah.

B: I mean, you could talk about like psychological time and our perception of time. That's kind of a different beast in some ways. And it's kind of malleable and it depends on things. There's a lot of ways you could approach it. But I would just go right to entropy.

E: Is time the origin of time with the Big Bang? Or has time come prior to that? Or you don't need a Big Bang for there to be time?

S: Well that's an unanswerable question at this point.

B: Yeah. What came before the Big Bang? Hard to say at this point.

S: Yeah. Since the Big Bang created space time in our universe created our universe of space time, it's hard to even answer that question.

C: So it sounds like within the confines of our universe, time was a function of the Big Bang.

S: Right. So but that's like what's before the Big Bang may be a nonsensical question.

B: Right. But it's hard to say that there was no some – there wasn't a dimension of time beforehand whether it was another universe or whatever. But you think you would need some dimension of time for even a quantum fluctuation to happen.

S: For anything to happen.

B: You know, that created our universe if that's what your theory is.

S: But I think a more interesting question is, Bob, you brought up the perception of time. Because we all assume that all of our perception of time is the same, but we don't really know that. Especially for other animals. Like to squirrels, are we moving in slow motion?

B: To house flies, we are.

S: To whales, are we moving super fast?

C: Yeah, because of–

J: Probably.

C: You think because of their lifespan?

J: No, because of their speed. You know, they're in water and they're not fast moving.

C: Oh, see. I think it's the lifespan.

S: But it does relate to lifespan though. It does relate to lifespan.

B: How fast is your metabolism? How fast is your heart beating?

S: So from one perspective, I think most animals probably have the same perception of time and this is why I think that. Because if you could perceive time more quickly, meaning that your brain is processing faster to the point where like other animals do seem to you like they're moving in slow motion, that would be a huge evolutionary advantage. So it would seem that evolutionary pressures would push at least any vertebrate to be perceiving time as quickly as they can, which is ultimately limited just by the biology of neurons and myelin and brain cells. And so we're probably all pushing up against that limit to some degree.

B: Except for sloths.

S: Well, even then, that's different. That's not their actual perception of time necessarily.

B: Yes, it is.

S: But that could mean that, again, an alien species might perceive time very differently than we do. All right. Let's move on to science or fiction.

Science or Fiction (1:29:53)[edit]

Item #1: Earth is the only world (planet, dwarf planet, or moon) in our solar system with >10% nitrogen in its atmosphere.[6]
Item #2: The human body is 3.3% nitrogen by mass.[7]
Item #3: No plant can fix its own nitrogen, but a symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing bacteria has evolved many times, and also been evolutionarily lost many times.[8]

Answer Item
Fiction Nitrogen in atmosphere
Science Nitrogen in human body
Nitrogen in plants
Host Result
Rogue Guess
Nitrogen in atmosphere
Nitrogen in human body
Nitrogen in atmosphere
Nitrogen in atmosphere

Voice-over: It's time for Science or Fiction.

S: Each week I come up with three science news items or facts, two real, one fake. Then I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one they think is the fake. There's a theme this week because there hasn't really been enough time for enough news items to come out since the last time we did this. So I had to pick a theme and that theme is nitrogen. Figured since we talked about hydrogen earlier in the show, I would do science fiction on nitrogen. Okay. Three facts about nitrogen. You guys ready?

B: Yeah.

S: Item number one. Earth is the only world, planet, dwarf planet, or moon in our solar system with greater than 10% nitrogen in its atmosphere. Item number two. The human body is 3.3% nitrogen by mass. And item number three. No plant can fix its own nitrogen, but a symbiotic relationship with nitrogen fixing bacteria has evolved many times and also been evolutionarily lost many times. Jay, go first.

Jay's Response[edit]

J: Okay. The first one here about the earth is the only planet, you say only world, dwarf planet or moon in our system with less than 10% nitrogen in its atmosphere.

S: Greater.

J: Greater. I'm sorry, greater than 10%. So Steve, did you put the word world here for a reason or is it just any one of the planets? Is there a difference?

S: So that's why in parentheses, I say planet, dwarf planet, or moon. That's why.

C: He's including Pluto and Ceres.

J: Good. You're very inclusive.

S: Yes.

J: All right. So earth is the only world that has greater than 10% nitrogen in its atmosphere. Man, that's a good question. Now, just thinking about what I know about Mars' atmosphere. Damn you, Steve. That's a really tricky question. All right. Now, I just got to move on to the next one. The human body is 3.3% nitrogen by mass, by trade. And the next question is no plant can fix its own nitrogen. So you basically need to have a symbiotic relationship with some crazy-ass bacteria that can fix it for you. And I think that one is science because bacteria and nanotechnology, whenever they come up, they're always, yes, they can do it. Right, Bob? So between the human body being 3.3% nitrogen or the earth is the only world that has more than 10% nitrogen, I'm going to say that number one is the fiction about the planets.

S: Okay, Evan?

Evan's Response[edit]

E: Earth, the only world in the solar system with greater than 10% nitrogen in its atmosphere. In its atmosphere. Somewhere else on the body it may have the 10% nitrogen. I don't know, sequestered in the ground or under the oceans or something like that. But in the atmosphere. I have a feeling that one's... Ugh, gosh. It seems right to me. Don't we get nitrogen in our atmosphere from carbon emissions and among other things? I'm trying to think what other planets or bodies would be capable of doing that or are doing that. I have a feeling that one's right. The human body 3.3% nitrogen by mass. Oh, gosh. That seems... Wow, that's a lot of nitrogen. See, it seems like it. But I don't know for sure. I don't know any of these for sure. And then the last one. And then the no plant can fix its own nitrogen. But if you have a relationship with nitrogen fixing bacteria. It evolved many times and has been evolutionarily lost many times. Gee whiz. That's a lot of detail in that last one you put in there, Steve. I'm trying to think. I don't have any real hard information. But just the way you're phrasing that. It sounds like science to me. I guess I'm left with the human body being 3.3% nitrogen by mass. I'll say the body. I'll say the human body one's fiction, Steve. But I really don't know.

S: Okay, Cara.

Cara's Response[edit]

C: The one that really kind of does stick out to me is the one that's so caveated. Which is that we're the only world with more than 10% of nitrogen and etc. I thought it was way higher than that too.

B: Wait. What did you think was way higher?

C: The nitrogen content.

B: Of what?

C: In our atmosphere.

B: It is.

E: Oh, that is.

C: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

B: Way higher.

C: Way higher. And so the boundary there feels very low and my assumption is that some of the worlds that we think of as potentially habitable, like a few of the moons of Saturn or Jupiter maybe, could have nitrogen, a lot more nitrogen in their atmosphere. I think there's a reason you caveated this one. Maybe we are the planet with a lot of nitrogen and none of the other planets have much. But maybe, yeah, there are moons or something like that. So I'm going to go with that one as being the fiction.

S: Okay. And Bob.

Bob's Response[edit]

B: Well, the only one I'm confident about is the nitrogen one.

C: They're all about nitrogen.

B: The plant fixing its own nitrogen.

J: You had me there, Bob.

B: Yeah. So, yeah, no plant can fix their own nitrogen and symbiotic relationship. Sure, I know that. But I don't know how absolute that is. I mean, there could be some quirky plant there. There's a few plants that they discovered that can fix their own nitrogen. And, blam, it's fiction. And you got us. And it would be a tricky one. So, yeah, it could be that. There could be some tricky plant that would wipe that out and make it fiction. So, crap, that sucks. I'm not aware of it. At the very least, I know that the vast majority of plants cannot fix their own nitrogen. So that's the most I could say about that. The other ones I'm not too sure about. The planet and the nitrogen on the plants, I just don't know. When I combine my nitrogen neurons and my solar system neurons, there's no crossover. It's just like I don't know. Except for the earth, I just don't know anything about the other planets or moons or worlds that have nitrogen. I just don't know anything about it. So it would just be a guess. And then the human body, 3.3% nitrogen. I mean it seems a little high to me. But it seems it could be reasonable. So just because of that, I'll say that the world one is fiction. Go with, I guess, what, Jay and Cara, right?

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: Okay. So you guys all agree on number three. So we'll start there. No plant can fix its own nitrogen. But a symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing bacteria has evolved many times and also been evolutionarily lost many times. So there's a lot there that could be wrong. There's a lot of details in there. You guys all think this one is science. And this one is science. This is science.

B: Oh, nice.

S: So, yeah. So plants that, "fix their own nitrogen". And by fixing nitrogen, that means that they take nitrogen from the atmosphere.

B: The broken ones and you fix them.

S: And you combine it with hydrogen to make ammonia, which then the plant can use as a source of nitrogen to make plant stuff.

B: Which means, though, if we ever get to the point where we can make plants using GMO fix their own nitrogen. That would be epic.

S: Absolutely. Game changer. It would be huge. Huge. So nitrogen is considered to be an inert gas, but it's really only a mostly inert gas.

B: Mostly dead.

S: Yeah. Because it exists as N2, as two nitrogen atoms with a triple bond. So it's a very strong bond. But some bacteria have evolved enzymes, nitrogenase, that can break that bond and then throw hydrogens in there to make ammonia. And then once you're in that state, you have ammonia. That's fertilizer, right? We talked about that previously, the Haber-Bosch reaction. Different kinds of plants use slightly different methods, but many of them have these little bulbs that house the bacteria. They provide food for the bacteria and the bacteria provides nitrogen for them. So it's a symbiotic relationship. And it's really energy intensive, which is why the bacteria kind of needs the plants to do this. It takes 16 moles of ATP to make one mole of ammonia from nitrogen.

B: Wow.

C: Wow. Yeah.

S: 16 to 1. That's a lot of energy. A lot of energy. So in order to do it efficiently, they really need the energy from the plant. But of course, the plant gets a huge benefit. They don't have to try to get nitrogen from whatever has been recycled back into the soil from animals or whatever. They can just crank it out, get it from the atmosphere itself. And of course, that's a way of getting more nitrogen to the soil. So that's why if you do a crop rotation, one of the things you do is you plant a crop that does fix its own nitrogen, like legumes. And then you could plow that into the soil. Now you have all that nitrogen, which you can then use to fertilize some other crop that doesn't fix its own nitrogen. But Bob is right. We're studying the genetics of this because we want to be able to give the ability to form that relationship with nitrogen fixing bacteria to other crops so that we don't have to give them nitrogen fertilizer, which is one of the worst things that farming does to the environment is nitrogen runoff. So that would be huge. But what the recent study found was that this ability in plants evolved independently multiple times. But then also some of the downstream species lost the ability. And it's easy to see why that would happen. You think, well, why would you evolve to lose an ability which is so useful? And the answer is because it is so energy intensive. If you don't absolutely need to do this, then you're not going to use that energy. It's like flight. Like flight is hugely advantageous. But birds evolve flightlessness because flight is also very energy intensive. If you don't need to do it, it's better that you don't do it. So it's kind of similar that way.

B: Yeah, you get a hummingbird that figured out how to live without flying, it would leap at that chance.

S: Yeah. Right.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: All right. I guess we'll go backwards. The body is 3.3% nitrogen by mass. This one's pretty straightforward. Evan, you think this one is fiction? Everyone else thinks this one is science. And this one is science.

B: Yes.

S: Yes, 3.3% is correct. Yeah, I mean the elements in the body are basically carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. Those are like the four biggies that make up biology. So 3.3% by mass for nitrogen. That sounds about right. And it is right. Okay.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S: Which means that Earth is the only world, planet, dwarf planet, or moon in our solar system with greater than 10% nitrogen in its atmosphere is the fiction. So I ask you, especially you three who thought this was a fiction, what are the other worlds that have more than 10% nitrogen in their atmosphere?

C: I was thinking it might be one of those moons of the really big gas giants.

B: Is it Titan? I think it's Titan.

S: You are correct. Titan. Titan. It is Titan. Bob is correct. That's one of the two.

B: That was in my head. It was there.

S: Titan has a dense atmosphere, so it's one of the two moons with a dense atmosphere, and it's mostly nitrogen. It's the only moon with a significant nitrogen atmosphere. So Mars is mostly carbon dioxide, trace nitrogen.

J: Is it Pluto, Steve?

B: What about Venus?

S: It's Pluto. That's correct, Jay. Pluto is the second one.

B: Nice, Jay.

C: That's the first thing I said when you were like, why are you saying this?

J: Maybe that's why I said that.

C: Interesting.

S: Pluto has a wispy atmosphere, but it's mostly nitrogen.

C: Why? Do we know?

J: It's mostly dead.

C: Why did it trap all that nitrogen?

S: There's a lot of nitrogen ice on the surface of Pluto, so some of it sublimates into the atmosphere. Venus has very little nitrogen. Again, mostly carbon dioxide.

E: Methanol.

B: Carbon dioxide, yeah.

S: Yeah. The gas giants are mostly hydrogen.

B: Hydrogen.

S: Mercury basically has no atmosphere. It has a very, very, so ridiculously thin atmosphere.

B: Like the moon.

S: Yeah. So that's it. So Earth is the only planet with a nitrogen atmosphere. Of the dwarf planets, Pluto has a wispy one. We don't really know enough about the outer ones, so I don't think Ceres has much of an atmosphere. And of the moons, only Titan does. That we know of. Yeah. So I thought that was cool. One of those questions were like, even if you know a lot about astronomy and a lot about nitrogen, that's like a trivia kind of fact that it would be hard to know unless you specifically looked it up. You know what I mean? Unless you happen to remember reading about, oh, yeah, Titan having a nitrogen atmosphere or Pluto having a nitrogen atmosphere.

J: I did read about it and then forgot. And then you said something that triggered it just a few minutes ago.

C: And that 10% cutoff is so low.

S: But it's true, though, because Mars is—

C: So much higher than that.

S: Should I say significant nitrogen atmosphere? I'll just put a number on it just to make it hard and fast. But Earth is 78%, right? Around 78% nitrogen.

E: Mostly nitrogen.

C: And then what were Pluto and Titan again?

B: Titan's up there, I think.

S: Both of them are, "mostly nitrogen". I don't know if I read that.

C: Oh, OK. So they're up there like Earth.

S: Yeah. Or even more so.

C: Cool. Yeah. And then everything else, under 10%.

S: Trace. Yeah. 2%, 1%, very low.

C: That's cool.

S: Nitrogen is really important to Earth. There's a nitrogen cycle. You know? It's like there's a—

E: Gotta have it.

S: Yeah, the nitrogen cycle.

C: It's important for life.

S: Absolutely. But essentially, it's important for life, but the name for nitrogen in French means without life. And the reason for that is because when they were going back to when they were just discovering the elements, Lavoisier and those guys, when they were experimenting with air, if you take the oxygen out of the air by burning it, you're left with basically nitrogen, which of course if you put like a mouse in a cave—

B: It dies. Yeah.

S: In a chamber with deoxygenated air, they die.

B: That stuff happens.

S: Yeah. So the nitrogen is the part of the atmosphere that is incompatible with life. But actually—

C: That's so funny.

S: Yeah. And they had this weird idea about phlogiston. Remember phlogiston?

B: Yes.

S: Phlogiston. So like oxygen is also called deflogistinated air.

E: Oh, deflogistinated. Gotta remember that.

S: There's like this bizarre theory that has—you know, whatever. They were trying. They were trying. They had a hypothesis about what was happening when you heated compounds up like mercury dioxide and then it released the oxygen. But it was all wrong. They had a backwards about what was happening. It took them a while to sort out how like the elements work.

B: Yeah, it's complicated.

S: Yeah. And when you think about it, we take it for granted, but if you really knew nothing and you were trying to figure from scratch like how chemistry works, it's amazing they eventually got to—

B: I just find a textbook.

S: —the right answer. Yeah.

C: I just make time go the other way. No, it is interesting how much of our language is coloured by like culture and the amount of knowledge we had at the time. And this is, of course, how my brain works. I've been working on my dissertation proposal and I'm studying medical aid in dying. And, of course, I should have just known this from etymology, but I never thought about it before. But the word euthanasia, which has such a dark connotation in modern society, literally means good death. Like you, that preface, is good or happy and thanatos, right? So euthanasia is a good death.

B: Oh, wow.

C: A happy death. Yeah. And that's how we use it. It's gentle. It's easy. It's going out easy.

B: I used to think it meant something about the young people on the other side of the planet.

C: Right. Euthanasia. I think every kid has that when they hear it the first time. And also same with Alzheimer's. They hear old timers. It's very cute.

E: And the old factory sensors.

S: Thick as hell anaemia.

E: Teal factory.

C: Oh, and what's cystic fibrosis, they actually have, their foundation is called 65 Roses because that's how a lot of the little kids who have it, that's what they think it is.

S: Somebody told me that the kids in their kindergarten class were all getting checked for headlights.

C: So cute.

B: Nice.

S: Because that's the way our brain works. We find the closest match that we already know and that's what it sounds like to us. Headlights.

E: It works. Yeah.

B: Makes sense.

S: All right, Evan, give us a quote.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:46:39)[edit]

Science is not a set of facts. It’s not an ideology. It’s just a system that humans created that is really, really good at uncovering truth.
– Hank Green

E: This quote for this week was suggested by listener Andrew Mitchell from Melbourne, Australia. Appreciate it. He writes, hi, Evan. I thought you might enjoy this quote from Hank Green, author and science communicator. "Science is not a set of facts. It is not an ideology. It's just a system that humans created that is really, really good at uncovering truth." I like that quote.

S: Yeah. It's a method. It's a set of methods. Absolutely. And that's how it needs to be taught. The cognitive set of methods that make up science not just here are some facts. And unfortunately, in my experience having shepherded two daughters through the public school system in the United States in a pretty good party in terms of like all things considered, Connecticut has actually a very good school system. But even still, very terrible education in terms of like actually thinking scientifically. They were just going through the motions. They never really got to conveying an understanding of how scientific reasoning works.

E: You know, could be so much better.

S: Could be so much better. I know. Very disappointing. I had to teach them that myself, basically. Now, they get distracted by hands on learning stuff where nobody knows why they're doing what they're doing. You know what I mean?

E: Yeah. Going through the motions.

S: Yeah. Going through the motions. All right. Thank you, guys, for joining me this week.

E: Thank you, Steve.

B: Sure, man.

C: Thanks Steve.

E: Let's get back to NECSS.

S: Yep.


S: —and until next week, this is your Skeptics' Guide to the Universe.

S: Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by SGU Productions, dedicated to promoting science and critical thinking. For more information, visit us at Send your questions to And, if you would like to support the show and all the work that we do, go to and consider becoming a patron and becoming part of the SGU community. Our listeners and supporters are what make SGU possible.


Today I Learned[edit]

  • Fact/Description, possibly with an article reference[9]
  • Fact/Description
  • Fact/Description




Navi-previous.png Back to top of page Navi-next.png