SGU Episode 891

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SGU Episode 891
August 6th 2022
891 moon lava tubes.jpg

Lava tube on the Moon

SGU 890                      SGU 892

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

C: Cara Santa Maria

J: Jay Novella

Quote of the Week

If anyone can refute me–show me I'm making a mistake or looking at things from the wrong perspective–I'll gladly change. It's the truth I'm after, and the truth never harmed anyone. What harms us is to persist in self-deceit and ignorance.

Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor

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Show Notes
Forum Discussion

Introduction, passing of Nichelle Nichols[edit]

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 August 2nd, and this is your host, Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella...

B: Hey, everybody!

S: Cara Santa Maria...

C: Howdy.

S: And Jay Novella...

J: Hey guys.

S: Evan is off this week. Yeah, he is otherwise engaged, some family matter, but he'll be joining us for the next episode. This next episode we're going to record actually is NECSS, which is, it's happening probably right now as you're listening to this. Or maybe it happened already if you're listening to this after Saturday, and that's, that show will be airing in two weeks. So guys, the big news this week. Sad news. Nichelle Nichols passed away. She was 89.

B: Good age, good age.

S: Yeah, 89. Lived a long life. Always great. So that means that only Kirk, Sulu, and Chekov are left from the bridge crew of the original series.

J: You know what I loved about her and that original bridge crew was when I was a kid watching the original Star Trek series, I didn't realize that there was anything special about the fact that it was a multicultural crew. You know what I mean? And it wasn't just humans and aliens. There was people from different parts of the world, but you know, the differences were important back then. And it was one of the reasons why Gene Roddenberry actually constructed it that way. And she was key to that because not only was she black, but she was a woman.

C: Yeah, she was one of the first black women on TV, like in a major series.

S: And she had a significant role. I know it's very easy to, to to denigrate say, well, she was basically answering the phone. Sort of the comedian, one line about her. But she actually had, she was part of the bridge crew, man. And I remember there was one episode, I just watched it. I just happened to watch it because I was, we're going to be reviewing it on AQ6, Balance of Terror where they're fighting the Romulans for the first time. And she is called to the helm. She has to actually work at the helm because the helmsman had to be called away. So she if you're on the bridge crew, you're able to handle any station that you're called upon to. So anyway, the point is it wasn't a small position on the Enterprise and her character was a significant character in the show. But even she had doubts about that character that she was portraying.

J: The story is she was, she actually gave her resignation letter after season one to Gene Roddenberry and Martin Luther King Jr. She was talking to him at some point, not too far after that. And he told her you absolutely have to stay on the show. You don't know how unbelievably important it is as a black woman that you're on this particular TV show.

B: Yeah. She's a role model.

J: And he convinced her to stay. And it was it was really, he felt that it was very important to have that representation on TV. It really was important. It was very important.

B: Yeah. I'm reminded of Whoopie Goldberg was talking about it recently and she said that when she saw it growing up, she was running around the house and she was saying she was very excited, very happy because from her point of view, this was the first time that she had seen a black woman on TV that wasn't a maid. And to her, that was huge, huge. And I think it was huge for lots of people growing up at that time. So yeah, it was clearly a very important role at a very important time.

C: It's a point that it's kind of the point that Dr. King was making. He was saying that if you leave, they could just fill anybody in that role. Like the great thing about the role you have is that it's not, there's nothing about it that's black. There's nothing about it that's female. It's just a strong role. They could stick an alien in there. They could stick anybody to fill your role. And so it shows that black women are people, fully formed people who can have skills and who can engage. It's not just, like you said, like you're not just the maid. And how important for not just young people, not just young black people, not just young black women to see that, but white men to see that.

J: I mean, Cara, I was a kid watching those Star Trek episodes. And it absolutely had an impact on my life in so many different ways. But I remember thinking about her on that crew and not thinking anything odd about it. And that's, that's my point.

S: It normalizes it.

J: As a young kid, I wasn't looking at her as black or as a woman. I was just looking at her as one of the, one of the people on the bridge. And I know it had an impact on me in my life.

S: Do you guys know that after Star Trek that Nichelle Nichols went to work for NASA recruiting women and minorities into the space program?

C: That's so cool.

S: And she actually, she recruited Sally Ride, who was the first American female astronaut.

C: That's so cool.

B: That is awesome. I didn't know that.

C: Oh, and let's not forget that in 1968, wow, what a year, 1968. Think about everything that happened that year. It was the first interracial kiss on television.

S: Yeah, that wasn't, in the US it was, but there was a British one that preceded it.

C: Okay. First US, first interracial kiss on US television.

S: Yeah.

B: Yeah.

S: Yeah, which was significant. Absolutely.

B: And I think if I remember. I'm trudging up some old memories here, they wanted to do multiple takes because they were very nervous because the people were very strict with what you could have and what you can't have on the show in terms of that kind of thing and sexual situations and all that. So if I remember correctly, William Shatner actually screwed up all the other takes to such a degree that they would never be able to use any of them except the one that you saw.

J: Well, he and her did that. They did it together.

B: Oh, even better. Even better.

J: Yeah. That's actually accurate, Bob. They deliberately screwed up all the alternate takes.

B: Good for them.

J: Because they knew the system so well, they knew how much time they had. They couldn't keep doing this. That was it. Their time was allotted to do it. So they had no choice in the editing room but to put that in or not show the episode.

C: I didn't realize that she put out albums throughout her life. She did two albums, and one of them was standards, and then the other one was rock and roll. But they were put out while she was filming Star Trek, and they have those themes, down to Earth and out of this world are the names of the albums.

B: And I can guarantee you that they are far superior to the albums that William Shatner put out. (laughter)

J: Bob. Actually, I could do a better job. If you want to know what we're talking about, go on YouTube and look up William Shatner Tambourine Man, and you'll see everything that you need to know.

C: Yikes.

S: All right. Let's move on.

Quickie with Bob: Friction (7:15)[edit]

S: Bob, you're going to start us off with a Quickie.

B: Thank you, Steve. Gird your loins, everyone. This is your Quickie with Bob. Friction in the news, specifically from the journal Nature Nanotechnology. Recently, using an electron microscope, researchers were, for the first time, able to image two surfaces coming into contact and sliding across each other with atomic resolution. A professor of mechanical engineering and material science, Guo-Fang Wang, said: "In the study, we were able to actually see the sliding pathway of interface atoms and the dynamic strain and stress evolution on the interface that has only previously been shown by simulations." Now, after seeing this atomic process of friction in the real world, researchers were able to go back to the simulation to verify not only what the microscopic visualization showed, but also understand more about the specific forces at play at the atomic scale. Wang describes one of his main takeaways from this experiment when he said: "What we found is that no matter how smooth and clean the surface is, friction still occurs at the atomic level. It's completely unavoidable. However, this knowledge can lead to better lubricants and materials to minimize friction and wear as much as possible, extending the life of mechanical systems." And also, this new method can now apparently be applied to any material to learn more about the role friction and wear plays on it. And who knows what this research can do for astroglide. (laughter) Loins un-girded, this has been your Quickie with Bob. I hope it was good for you, too.

C: Eww. (laughs)

J: Jesus, Bob. (laughs)

B: Hey, man. It's thematic.

C: Yeah, it's only because you said loins un-girded right after you said astroglide.

S: All right. Thanks, Bob.

B: Sure.

News Items[edit]

The Neuroscience of Politics (8:59)[edit]

S: All right. I'm going to start off the news items. This is one about the neuroscience of politics.

B: Oh, geez.

S: Well, this is interesting. And so there's a study that came out looking at fMRI scans of different people. Subjects that took a survey. Answered a bunch of questions so that they could be characterized on a Likert scale from one to six, from very liberal to very conservative. And so they're just using that just one axis, liberal or conservative, which is a massive oversimplification of the political landscape. But whatever, that's the scale they used. And comparing that to different functions in the brain, looking at functional connectivity specifically under nine different tasks, one of which is doing nothing. And a "task" is just something, it's just a neurological environment that you're putting the subject under. For example, you could be showing them images of people expressing emotion. That would be one "task". Another one might be a memory task. Another one was trying to get a reward by hitting a button as quickly as you could. Now, none of these tasks had anything to do with politics or ideology. They were considered politically neutral, but they just wanted to get the brain to light up in different ways and see if there are statistical differences between liberal brains and conservative brains. That was the goal of this research. This is not the first study to do this, although this is the first one to try to look at functional connectivity. Previous research of the neuroanatomical correlates of political ideology, as we would say, looked at more of like modules in the brain. Which piece of the brain is lighting up versus this one is looking at different circuits in the brain, lighting up. The differences are interesting. Now, this is a technically very complicated study and I don't have the expertise to dissect it technically. I don't know if they're using the right fMRI technique or they used AI to sort of analyze the data and I have no idea if their analysis is valid or not. So I just wanted to talk conceptually about the research itself sort of just take the results at face value for now, it got through peer review and it will go through further analysis and attempts at replication. So we'll put that aside, the technical analysis for now and just see, I'm sorry, it was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. Right?

C: (chuckles) PNAS.

S: Which is a good journal. So let's back up a little bit and look at this research in general. Are there brain differences between people with different political ideology? So I've already alluded to one of the issues with this research paradigm and that is how are you choosing the ideology to look at? In this research, they did a one-dimensional liberal to conservative scale. But we know that politics is about a lot more than that. We have a two-party system in the United States and so things tend to sort out it's actually Democrat to Republican, but Democrats are at least several different ideologies and Republicans are at least several different ideologies. There are sort of coalitions of ideologies and they're actually somewhat in flux in the US in the last few years.

C: But that's not what they looked at. They didn't look at Democrat versus Republican.

S: No, they didn't. They looked at liberal versus conservative. But the point of why, what is, why choose that, you know?

C: Well, I think that that's the prevailing model across all political science.

S: I know that, but my point is, does that reflect reality or is that a cultural construct that may not reflect any kind of neurological reality?

C: Oh, I see. Yeah, I think the interesting thing is that it's a cultural construct that seems to hold in most cultures.

S: Yeah, but so what parts of it though? Because for example, are we talking about socially liberal? Or economically liberal or liberal in terms of foreign policy or what it breaks down multiple different ways and they don't always align. And so you can define it in different ways and then you're looking at basically completely different phenomena that you're just labeling liberal and labeling conservative.

C: I think the issue, I mean, obviously this is, you dug a lot deeper, but I think the issue is that if we use that sort of, let's say, fiscal and socially liberal conservative quad, you're going to find that there are people who are extremely liberal, which means that they are both socially and financially or economically liberal. And then you're going to find people who are extremely conservative. So they are both financially and socially conservative and they're going to be the most severe ends. And so if you can take the most severe ends and almost caricature them as an archetype, then you might have a better chance to see differences.

S: But I think, so they also did look at extremists versus moderates in this study and which to me provokes yet another question, which is not answered by the data. And that is, so is an extreme liberal someone who is just very liberal or are they a liberal who happens to have other cognitive qualities that make them extreme?

C: How do you even define extreme liberal? Because that definitely, as you mentioned, is culture bound. Like what we consider super liberal in America is like moderate in a lot of European countries.

S: Well, yeah, it's relative to the culture, but in this case, this is a study of Americans and they looked at and they were using a survey. You answer these questions and then we grade you on these questions, liberal to conservative. You're right, that spectrum may be different in different countries. They may use the labels differently too, which we won't get into. That's a different thing. But my point is, are there extremists and extremists can end up as an independent variable of whether they're liberal or conservative or they just people who are really conservative and people who are really liberal─

C: Those are to different constructs.

S: ─and maybe it's both. Maybe it's both. Maybe there are people who are, whatever ideology they have, they're going to be extreme. And if they happen to fall on the conservative side, then they would rank as an extreme conservative. That doesn't necessarily mean that they're really more conservative than a moderate conservative. They're just conservative and they have a cognitive style that makes them extreme. And this is just speculation because again, this study didn't really have any way of sorting all this out, but it's just sort of treating it as one dimensional.

C: Are they all neuroscientists on the study? Are there any psychologists that are in their political neuroscience?

S: They are political neuroscientists.

C: Political neuroscientists. Interesting. Okay.

S: But with all that in mind, let's look a little bit at the data and then you'll also see what I mean a little bit. So the bottom line is what they found is that all nine states, all nine tasks that they gave them showed statistical differences between people who ranked liberal and people who ranked conservative on this, on their study, which is interesting. Why would, they basically chose nine tasks mainly because they could do that. There are just easy ways to do them for fMRI studies. We'll give them a reward task and a memory task and whatever. You know what I mean, they weren't picked because they thought they would relate to ideology. In fact, they thought that they wouldn't relate to ideology. That's why they picked them. So why did they all show statistical differences between liberal and conservative? The authors suspect that it's because that there are just some fundamental differences between the liberal to conservative neurological function, if you will, that just shows up in every fMRI you do, even when they're doing nothing. The brains are just functioning differently and it just contaminates every state that you look at.

C: But did they only look at people who, like on those self-report surveys, who kind of fell at a certain threshold of liberality or conservatism?

S: No, again, there was a Likert scale, a six-point scale, so you could have been in the middle, right?

C: Right. But they didn't use anybody who's meh?

S: Well, yeah, it was mild liberal, liberal, extreme liberal. Mild conservative, conservative, extreme conservative. Those are the six points on this scale.

C: And they found significant differences between mild liberals and mild conservatives across all six? Because that's surprising.

S: No, I think if they like included all of the liberals and included all of the conservatives, they showed differences. But they also looked at extremists versus moderates. And for that, so I'm going to back up a little bit and just ask you guys a question. What do you think is the factor that predicts somebody's political ideology more than any other factor? Because this could be anything.

J: You mean for example, like education, something like that?

S: Yeah. Age. Sex.

B: Families?

C: Like a demographic factor?

J: I'm going to say where they're born.

B: Family history.

S: Bob's correct. Pretty much, it's their parents, right?

C: Makes sense.

S: So whatever your parents' ideology are, that is the strongest predictor of your ideology. It's not where you're born, because if you're a liberal born in a red state, you're still a liberal parent, you're still going to be liberal, not red. Not conservative. And then, of course, this cuts both ways. This doesn't tell you if it's nature versus nurture, because you could say that they inherited the genes from their parents, but they also were raised by their parents to be liberal or to be conservative. And so you don't know. But there are twin studies, you do like twins separated at birth, and that shows that it's at least partly genetic. It does appear to be at least partly genetic, but not fully. Like pretty much everything with the brain. It's a combination of genetic and hardwiring and also environmental factors. Okay, so with that in mind, they said, how much does every, all of these states predict whether or not somebody will be on the liberal or the conservative end? And also, does it predict who will be extreme versus moderate, like who will, counting extreme as the two ends of the spectrum, the very liberal and very conservative? So first of all, they found that overall, the functional connectivity patterns were as predictive as the ideology of the parents─

C: Whoa, really?

S: ─which is like the gold standard. So it was as predictive as parental ideology. And for the tasks that they looked at, there were three that correlated the most. So there were three standouts. One was the empathy task, which was looking at pictures of people who are expressing an emotion. So it was supposed to be like, how much are you reacting to the emotion that you're seeing?

C: AKA bleeding heart liberals.

S: Well, that's not correct.

C: Oh, really?

S: What that correlated with is being politically moderate or ideologically moderate. The reward task, on the other hand, correlated with extremism. The reward task was trying to win a prize by hitting the button fast. And a retrieval task, which involved it was a memory retrieval thing. And that task was the most different among liberal to conservative spectrum. So you could see, you could predict.

C: In what direction?

S: I'm just saying, you can predict based upon the way their brains looked on that task, if they're liberal or conservative more than other tasks.

C: Yeah, but I'm saying, what was the pattern?

S: It's a statistical thing using AI looking at the patterns on fMRI scans. So I'd have to show you pictures of fMRI scans.

C: Okay, so they weren't using predefined circuitry that they know is like, okay, this is a reward circuitry, or this is a retrieval circuitry, and we want to see who has is loading more on it, and who's loading less.

S: No, they were just saying, what's happening in the brain when we have them do this? Oh, and this now, let's now let's see if they sort out into different patterns.

C: That's weird.

S: Can we use those patterns to predict how they scored on the test, on the liberal to conservative survey?

C: Interesting. So it's almost like it's meaningful in so far as it has predictive power, but it's not really meaningful in so far as it tells us anything.

S: Right. We don't know what it tells us. So this is really hypothesis hunting, if you will, because they're just saying, hey, what's going on in the brain when we give liberals and conservatives different tasks? Oh, I wonder what that means. What does it mean that certain patterns in your brain when you're doing a reward task predict if you're an extremist or a moderate.

C: There's also no way to know if we're just loading on a completely different construct that like ─

S: Exactly.

C: ─it exactly confabulating variable kind of like those old studies where it's like, we took smokers and compared them to non smokers, and we asked them X, Y and Z. And it's like, well, but maybe it's because the smokers drink more coffee, or maybe it's because our problems.

S: I'm sure there's confounding factors go in this kind of study because and this is what I was alluding to at the top of this is that we don't know that we are dealing with fundamental phenomena or just one or two layers removed from those fundamental phenomena. What is it about someone that makes them liberal? Liberalness may not be a thing unto itself neurologically. It's just a cultural manifestation of more fundamental neurological functions. Like you could think of things like empathy, for example. And but then what's that? What is empathy? Is that even a fundamental neurological function? Or is that a manifestation of other things that are happening in the brain, other circuits that are firing? And so we're trying to dig down, but we are not at the base level yet.

C: No. And but there's something about the there's like a face validity kind of component to this, which has long interested me, and I'm assuming it really interests the authors too, that there's something that feels fundamental about ideology. Because once you sort of start to develop an awakening into ideology as you're child, you don't really know what's going on in the world. But once you start to say, this becomes part of my identity, it actually is very fundamental to a lot of people's identities. It's very rare for people to switch parties, unless there's some sort of personal insult to their reasoning,. Like their party fails them.

S: Or like there were you going through a realignment like we're doing now.

C: Exactly.

S: So this study does not tell us if what the error of causation is. Looking for only for correlation. So it doesn't tell us that people are liberal because their brains function this way. They could be that their brains function this way because they're liberal.

C: Right. Because these are pathways. These aren't hard. Like this is just use and disuse kind of stuff.

S: Right. Exactly. This could just all be learned. This could be the patterns of functioning in the brain because you were raised this way, rather than predisposed to being liberal or conservative. Doesn't answer that. I also think it doesn't answer if these things that we're looking at, like the circuits in the brain that we're looking at, if they are fundamental to ideology or incidental to ideology. We don't know that. But there's one other way to sort of look at this data, which is interesting. And that is, so what are the parts of the brain that were different? Let's just ask that question from liberal to conservative, not the necessarily the functional circuits or what tasks they were doing, but just what parts of the brain were involved. And they were mostly the hippocampus, the amygdala and the frontal lobes. So those are all involved with emotional processing. And that's very provocative, in my opinion, because that suggests that ideology is really tied very strongly to emotional processing. It wasn't so much the more rational cognitive parts of the brain, it was the emotional parts of the brain that were able to predict liberal to conservative, extreme to moderate. So it's really political ideology may say more about our emotional makeup than our cognitive style, which is interesting to think about. Which kind of does jibe with other research that shows that we tend to come to opinions that are emotionally salient to us based upon our emotional instincts. And then post hoc rationalize them with motivated reasoning, which is why it's so hard to resolve political or ideological or religious disagreements because people aren't reasoning their way to them in the first place. They're just using motivated reasoning to backfill their emotional gut instinct. And that's their worldview, what feels right to them. Now, this is the way it is because it feels right to me, and I will make sure I figure out a way to make it make sense. And it's why sometimes you have to shake your head at the motivated reasoning that the "other side" is engaging. But of course, we all do this. This is a human condition.

C: It also kind of speaks to I mean, I'm curious if you agree, but it speaks to, I think, a fundamental construct that's involved in political discourse or political thinking, which is moral reasoning. And moral reasoning is fundamentally emotive. It is cognitive and emotive, but you can't strip emotive reasoning away from moral philosophy. It's part of it.

S: Totally. Yeah, totally. We feel injustice. Absolutely. And then we rationalize why that's unjust. Because if we feel it first, absolutely.

C: If we were totally cognitive and like a kind of extreme example of like a cool, cold, calculated cognitive, the humanism would be not there. And that's also dangerous.

S: Yeah. I mean, that's why I kind of like science fiction shows that explore that through characters that have different emotional makeup than humans like Vulcans or androids or whatever, because it's like they are they have only rational reasoning, no emotional reasoning. And it's just a good thought experiment. What would that result in? And even to the point of taking what seem like really extreme moral positions, but they make perfect rational sense.

C: Right. Exactly.

S: But they don't feel right. They don't feel right to us. So they got to be wrong. All right. Let's move on. Very fascinating. So this is something that I sort of follow. And so I'm sure we'll be talking about this and again in the future. And this is a one tiny slice of obviously very complicated phenomenon. No one study is going to give us the answer as to what like a liberal brain is or a conservative brain or even if there is such a thing. But it is very interesting. All right.

Cozy Lava Tubes (28:21)[edit]

S: Jay, this is cool, actually, literally and figuratively cool. Tell us about lava tubes and the temperature of them.

J: All right. First, I want to start by saying, Bob, just calm down.

B: Yep. I tried to select this topic for this week and I was shut down.

C: I was very surprised when you said Jay and not Bob.

J: Bob, I need you to breathe.

B: Okay. I'm breathing, man. Just get your facts right, baby.

J: All right. So we've talked about lava tubes as potential locations for future moon habitats, haven't we? Quite a bit.

B: Yes.

J: Well, a little later in this news item, I'm going to blow your mind about lava tubes. But let me fill your brain a little bit with some interesting things that'll make you appreciate it even more. So I recently talked about, I think it was last week, about the Artemis 1 mission that could be launching very soon. This mission sends an uncrewed command module in orbit around the Moon. If everything goes well, the Artemis 2 mission, which will be crewed, can launch as early as 2025. It's NASA's intention, this is important, it's their intention to send people to the surface of the Moon, build habitats, and have people live there. That's what they want. And I couldn't agree with this more. This is the best thing that I think they could be doing right now. I imagine that this whole effort is going to be similar to how people stay on the space station. They rotate crew on and off. So they probably will rotate crew to and from the Moon. Some of them will be staying for longer periods of time. They'll conduct experiments and at some point they'll start building a place for future visitors to live. There's a ton of details that we all have to consider about people living on the Moon, especially NASA. NASA has been thinking about this for a long time. First, what? The Moon has no atmosphere, almost. There's a tiny little bit of atmosphere on the Moon. It's about as dense as the atmosphere that's around the space station, which is in low Earth orbit. There is atmosphere there, but it is essentially a vacuum. Not a perfect vacuum.

B: It's fascinating, too.

J: It's tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny.

B: Yeah. I mean, one example I heard, Jay, if you took the air that's in like a baseball or football stadium in the United States, that kind of size, if you take the air that's inside that and spread it around the Moon, that's the density we're talking about.

J: Yeah. It's nothing.

B: Quite thin, but fascinating, though. It's a thing. It's a thing.

J: So, Bob, as a point of curiosity, an average human can stay conscious for about 20 seconds in a vacuum.

B: Yeah. About.

J: And the next thing about the Moon that we have to be concerned with is the temperature. The Moon has extreme temperatures. The daytime temperature there is 260°F or 126°C. Nighttime, it goes way down to -280°F or -173°C. Super hot, super cold. So with no atmosphere or magnetosphere, visitors on the Moon will also be exposed to solar wind and cosmic rays. This means that the Moon's habitat has to provide a lot of amenities in order for people to stay for long periods of time. So all that said, keeping in mind how hostile the surface of the Moon is, it's looking like lava tubes are even more awesome than we thought. NASA figured out that some lava tubes have a consistent inner temperature of 63°F or 17°C. Do I need to repeat that?

B: That's amazing.

J: Amazing. It's the perfect temperature. It's the perfect freaking temperature. Within 10 degrees of the perfect temperature for people to live. It's like the perfect fall day, let me put it to you that way. These lava tubes can be as big as 1,600 to 3,000 feet or 500 to 900 meters in diameter. Which is very, very large, which is fascinating as well. There's a reason why lava tubes are large on the Moon. It's because there's less gravity. So the more gravity a planet has, the smaller the lava tubes get. Well, the Moon doesn't have a lot of gravity, so the lava tubes got to be really big. Now lava tubes can also, if we build habitats in them, they also can help block harmful effects of radiation and micrometeor impact, which happens quite often on the Moon. It might even be possible to pressurize a lava tube. Even if like we can't pressurize a lava tube, for example, there's still a massive benefit to building a habitat inside of a lava tube itself. So first of all, who would have thought that lava tubes have a cozy temperature? That's the thing that I've been rattling around in my head the last few days. I just simply can't believe that these things are a perfect temperature for humans to live at. Now NASA figured this out by analyzing data from the Diviner Lunar Radiometer that's onboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. The data shows that the consistent lunar cycle, which is 15 straight days of light and then 15 days of dark. The Diviner instrument measured the temperature of the lunar surface for over 11 years. And when the sunlight is hitting the surface, the temperature, like I said before, it skyrockets way up. And then when it gets dark, the temperature plummets very quickly way, way down to a very, very low temperature. So there's things that are called pits that are on the Moon, and most of these were likely created by meteor strikes. Now 16 of these pits so far that have been discovered likely dropped down into a lava tube. So there's a meteor strike. It creates a hole. That hole cracks into a lava tube that was below the surface. Can you visualize that?

S: Sixteen of them are probably collapsed into a lava tube, but there's no reason to think that they're from meteor strikes, it's just that the ground over the lava tube collapsed into the lava tube.

J: Oh, it sounded to me like those were meteor strikes.

S: No, the other ones, the other pits are caused by meteor strikes.

J: All right, but the important fact here is that they collapsed down into a lava tube for some reason, right?

S: Yeah.

J: So you have a hole.

S: The ceiling of the lava tube collapsed, you know, fell in because it was unstable, whatever. It could have been from a nearby impact, shook it and cracked the rocks, whatever. Just something happened and it eventually collapsed down.

J: Now, the pits have something, though, that's important. They have a protective overhang that blocks some of the sunlight.

B: That's critical, it seems, for this cozy temperature. That seems very critical.

J: Yeah, this, I guess, Bob, without that rocky overhang that's partly covering up the hole that was made, things wouldn't behave the exact right way in order to create this nice, even temperature. But so it does a couple of things. It blocks light from coming in and it also inhibits retained heat from leaving too fast. Now, this is probably why the temperature stays at such a nice temperature. This is called blackbody equilibrium, by the way, with a constant temperature of 17°C or 63°F. There's less than, and this is mind blowing, there's less than a one degree Celsius variation throughout the 30-day lunar cycle.

B: That's amazing. How efficient that is.

J: So if we get lucky, one of these pits will indeed connect to a preexisting lava tube. And if we find that, we're in business.

S: Yeah, they also, their simulations also show that that one degree variance, that 63° or 17°C with one degree Celsius variance, probably holds true throughout the entire lava tube.

B: Yeah, that's what I was wondering.

J: So now we have a lava tube that could be pretty long, could be very long, and it has a pretty large diameter.

B: Huge, yeah, because a low gravity can make them go much bigger than anything found on the Earth.

J: We're absolutely going to investigate these lava tubes and these pits and see what we find. And if things happen correctly the way that we want them to, then we most definitely will be building some type of habitat inside of one of these. It's too good. It's just too many benefits.

B: It really seems like a no-brainer in a lot of ways because the surface of the Moon is far deadlier than people generally can appreciate. Jay, you mentioned the micrometeoroids, absolutely. These things can come in and if you get hit, you will be taken out. I don't care what you're wearing. But not only that, even if it hits near you, the debris that's kicked up can cause damage, can ruin habitats. So you've got that. You mentioned the radiation, cosmic radiation, solar radiation, and also the radiation that's created at your feet by the other radiation that's hitting the ground by your feet can also do more damage. And the other thing, Jay, you didn't quite mention, Moon dust is horrible. The astronauts hated, hated it more than Darth Vader when he was a kid, he was a punk.

S: Anakin.

J: Anakin.

B: They hated it more than he hated sand because that stuff, think about it, you've got─

S: It's abrasive, I know, it's sharp.

B: It's sharp edges. There's no weathering.

C: It's everywhere.

B: There's no atmosphere. There's no water. It's very sharp. You breathe that in, not good. And it also gets everywhere. And we got to get people are going to want to get away. You cannot stay there. Yeah, you can stay there for three days like our astronauts did. That's fine. But if you're going to stay there for longer than that, you got to get out of that. That is a horrible place to be for an extended period of time. And it's like right there waiting for us. Now it's even more comfortable than we thought. It's just a much better place, it's much safer. To me, I mean, you're going to spend the resources and the money to dig deep holes and bury yourself under the regolith that way. I mean, when there's places just waiting for you that are better gargantuan.

J: Now Bob, how about a pressurized lava tube?

B: Sure.

S: Imagine if there's one that's deep enough that it can hold pressure. All you'd really need to do is build two end caps, airlocks, that would contain the airlocks. And you might have to smooth out the interior surface and maybe even coat it to reduce any leaking. You pressurize that thing and you just kind of you got a huge underground city.

B: Right. And also, it's not like what people think that you think, you get a little crack in this blocked area so that the air maintains pressure. You get a little hole or a crack and the air is going to go rushing out and people are going to get sucked out. No, you would actually have hours and hours and hours or maybe even days before this would reach a critical threshold. You have time to fix these, any problems, any cracks or holes that might appear. You have time. It's not like red alert. It's more like a soft yellow alert.

S: I read a good science fiction story. I forget which one, but there was this was aboard a ship, but the principle could apply. You basically have these floating balloons that are filled with a sticky substance.

B: I have listened to that story as well.

S: If there's a leak, the balloons would float to the leak. And when they get into the crack, they break and automatically fill it with the sticky substance that seals the crack. So you could have this just these balloons floating around in the lava tube that would just automatically passively seal at least small size cracks, if not bigger ones.

J: That's pretty cool.

S: But you'd probably want to have some airtight habitats inside there as a backup. I would want two layers, but─

B: Absolutely.

S: ─maybe you're living in the habitats, but you can have a farm that is just in the regolith just in the lava tube with artificial lighting. You could put a frigging nuclear power station down there.

B: Yeah, baby.

S: I think if we're going to build any permanent or long term large bases or settlements on the Moon, they're going to be in lava tubes. I mean, it just seems [inaudible].

J: Definitely. It's so provocative, right though, it just it's like stories writing itself. I'm just envisioning all the cool things that we could be doing in there. Imagine you could go to the Moon. Eventually, there might be a living space, where people can go to the moon and vacation there for a week. You know what I mean? That's incredible.

S: Well, I know Cara is probably asking herself right now, why would we even go to the Moon? Like, why have, why send people there? Why not just send robots there to do whatever we want? I mean, there are definitely, you could make an argument for we should do whatever we need to do on the Moon with robots. But there are lots of things to do on the Moon like research, industry, tourism─

J: Ballet.

S: ─mining. If we end up using H3 for our fusion reactors, then the best source of that is the lunar surface and as a platform for deep space.

B: Space elevators.

S: So if we want to get to the rest of the solar system, the Moon, we're going to go through the Moon.

C: My question isn't why, it's should we? It's not why would we, it's should we?

S: Well, if there are reasons to go, then absolutely.

C: Are those reasons good enough to go?

S: Yeah, which they are.

C: I'll agree with some of them, but not all of them.

S: But I think that also, it's good to have humanity not on one planet in case something happens.

B: There's always that. Which reminds me, of course, of an image, a still image that is kind of unforgettable where you see an astronaut on the Moon looking at the Earth and you see the Earth has just been basically run through by like a mini planet. So the Earth has basically been utterly destroyed and this guy's looking at it happens like whoops.

J: Whoa. [inaudible] worse than that.

S: Good thing I wasn't there.

[commercial brake]

Video Games and Well-being (43:27)[edit]

S: Okay Cara, tell us about video games and well-being, this endless debate that we seem to be having.

C: Yeah. So new study, really interesting, very, very large study. So I'm just going to ask you guys point blank. What do you think? Does playing video games have a detrimental impact on well-being?

B: No.

S: I would say generally no, unless you abuse it, like anything else.

C: Okay.

S: But not especially.

C: What do you think? Do video games have a positive impact on well-being?

B: They can. I think so.

S: Yeah, that's exactly what I would say. I would guess yes. It can. Probably not generically, but I think it can in some contexts.

C: Right. So this study looked at probably it was more on the generic side than on the specific context side because it was a really, really large study. Ultimately, they looked at 38,935 players' data. And it started way bigger than that, like hundreds of thousands. But of course, with attrition and people not getting back and dropping out of the study, they ended with 38,935 solid participants in this study.

B: Still good.

C: So that's a big, big data set. Their basic takeaway was there's pretty much no causal connection between gameplay and well-being at all. It doesn't improve. It's not detrimental. It has no effect at all on well-being for the most part.

B: I could deal with that.

C: Of course, we want to break that down a little bit. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So they looked at something else, which was kind of interesting, which we'll get to in a second, which is the motivation for playing and how that motivation might be a sort of underlying variable. But first, let's talk about what they actually did. So it was pretty cool. These researchers were able to partner with, I think it was seven different gaming publishers, gaming companies. And in doing so, they were able to get direct, objective data about frequency of play because they found that most of the, obviously the reason for this study is exactly what you asked at the beginning, Steve, like this endless debate. And what we've seen is that there's a fair amount of public policy, like legislation, and not just here in the US, but across the globe, that directly concerns the fear that playing video games is detrimental to health. But it's not evidence-based. There's, the researchers cited that in China, there is like a limit to the number of hours people are allowed to play video games a day for fear that if somebody plays longer than that, it can be detrimental. And they were like, okay, if we're making like policy decisions based on this, we should probably get to the bottom of whether or not this is even true because the data is complex. So they were like, a lot of the data, when you look at previous studies, is subjective in nature. I should say it's self-report. So not only are individuals saying, this is how I feel, but they're also saying, oh, I kept a journal, and yeah, look, I played seven hours yesterday, or oh, I play an average of two hours a week. And it's like, okay, we just got to take your word for it. So what they decided to do is figure out how to partner with these different companies. So they partnered with Nintendo and EA─

B: Nice.

C: ─and CCP Games and Microsoft and Square Enix and Sony. And so they looked at a handful of games. They were Animal Crossing New Horizons. That was Nintendo. Apex Legends, which was EA. EVE Online, which is CCP Games. Forza Horizon 4, which is a Microsoft game. Gran Turismo Sport, which is Sony. Outriders, which is Square Enix, and The Crew 2, which is that last one, Ubisoft. And they had players from, I think they wanted to make sure that they were English-speaking so that they could complete all of the surveys. But they had players from all over the world, English-speaking world, Australia, Canada, India, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, UK, US. And they basically said, hey, if you play this game regularly, you can participate in this research study. They defined regularly as you've played, let's see, in the past two weeks to two months. And then they were able to objectively record based on these players who participated the hours that they logged on these games. And then they were cross-referencing that or they were actually doing their statistical analysis comparing those numbers to the─

B: Self-report?

C: ─different self-report surveys of the game. And they used multiple different self-report surveys. So let me find them here. So they use something called the SPANE, which is the Scale of Positive and Negative Experiences. It's a Likert scale, one to seven, where people basically just say how frequently they felt a certain way in the past two weeks. So how often did you feel this positive experience or this negative feeling? So from very rarely to always or never to always. They also used the Cantril Self-Anchoring Scale, and that asks participants to imagine a ladder with steps from zero to 10. The top of the ladder is the best possible life for you. The bottom is the worst possible life. Which step were you on in the last two weeks? And then they did some very, very complicated statistical analysis where they basically were comparing how often people were playing, like the time that they spent playing, and also the changes in the time, like did they play more or less over the time that they measured them? Because I think they had three different measurement points, the sort of before, during, and after. And they were slightly different. This is one of the problems with doing this kind of study where they're using the publishers to help provide the data because, of course, the collections were slightly different between them. But they were able to sort of normalize everything and look at these changes over time. And that's how they were able to statistically try to develop a measure of causality.

B: But no controls though? They didn't study anyone with, well, I mean, how would they do it, like people that aren't playing games?

C: I don't think they had a control group at all of non-game players. But I don't think it would be that hard to just look at the norms data tables of responses to the ladder and the SPANE, the Cantrell self-anchoring scale and the SPANE. They're all going to have norms tables. There's going to be a bunch of published literature on pretty much every demographic you can think of and how just people standardly answer those scales, so you can use that as an anchor. But what they were able to do is by using the type of statistical analysis that they utilized, they were able to sort of model causality. And you see this quite a lot with sophisticated statistics. So if you're not doing a randomized control double-blind placebo control trial, basically, if you're not saying, here's time point A, here's time point B, we're going to give half of them a placebo and half of them a drug, and then we're going to actually see what the outcome was, it's very hard to say whether or not something is causal, when you're looking at like longitudinal data or sampling data across time points. But there are statistical ways to try to model causality. The basic outcome of looking at the amount of time was that if a person played more or if a person played less, it neither improved nor decreased their well-being statistically. There were some small changes, but none of them reached any sort of statistical significance. And they sort of utilizing some not terribly sound but interesting guesstimations, they were like, let's assume that there's linearity, and let's assume that some of these response categories are equidistant. Basically, the outcomes looked like they could say, this is not based on the data, it's based on projecting the data into the future, that the average player would have to play like 10 more hours per day than typical to notice a change in their well-being. And also that even if there was a steady accumulation over time, because of course, they were only looking at like a six-week window, but even if there was a steady accumulation over time, players would only notice a difference after they were playing that much for 17 weeks straight. And that's all again modeled, because they were only looking at the data that they collected. So they were saying, based on this data, assuming things like linearity, it would take this long to notice a difference because these differences that we saw were so small, they didn't reach any statistical significance. But what they did find was a wholly different question, which was an important and interesting one, which was, why are these people playing video games to begin with? And maybe the why gives us some indication of well-being outcomes. Is it the gameplay? No, we're not saying that playing more or playing less is having any sort of effect on well-being, but is it the motivation for why they're playing? And they looked at internal and external motivation. So they used a measure called the PENS, which is the Player Experience and Need Satisfaction Scale, which asks the different study participants to think about the past two weeks of playing the game and answer questions on a Likert scale about a bunch of different constructs, like your sense of autonomy, your sense of competence, your sense of how related you felt to other people, and then two big ones, intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation. Were you playing because you wanted to? Were you playing because you felt pressure from the outside to play? So interestingly, they found that when they were comparing intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation, they looked at two different things, affect, which is like the way that their mood was represented, and also life satisfaction. They actually found a positive relationship between the two, and they found a negative relationship between affect and life satisfaction and extrinsic motivation. So basically, if people felt drawn to play because of external pressures, they also were more likely to show a trend towards negative life satisfaction and poorer affect. If people were internally motivated to play, if they played because they wanted to, you actually saw a positive relationship there. So basically, what the study authors say, and they list all the limitations, we've got a lot of standard limitations of this study. Certain types of conclusions can't be drawn. We only looked at seven different games. Maybe different types of people play different types of games. Maybe games that are more like fighting games or more like driving games or whatever might have different outcomes. But basically, they're saying, not sure these policies that say we need to limit the amount of time people are spending playing video games because it's so detrimental to their mental health are evidence-based. Because our study shows that we couldn't find a relationship between the amount of time these people were playing and their well-being, or at least their self-reported well-being. And we know how much time they were playing because we have objective measures of it.

B: What if somebody or a country government replied, well, sure, but the games, though, that are more violent, those are the ones that we need to limit.

S: And that's what they talk about in their limitations. They could only access these seven games, these seven games. They didn't do any sort of scale to say they were from less violent to more violent. But they do, obviously, in their intro and their discussion section, cite other studies that show, and we've talked about this before on this show, a lack of evidence supporting that violent video games have much of an outcome at all. And the relationship is complicated because some psychologists will show studies and they'll actually show good supporting evidence and theories based on that good supporting evidence that certain types of violent play allow for an outlet. And others will show that certain types of violent play exacerbate. And so it is complicated.

B: Is that good evidence, good evidence to show that violent games can exacerbate?

S: No, I'm saying violent play across the board, not necessarily video games per se. But a lot of that has to do with who's playing them. And you have to remember that, too. If a person who has certain personality styles, certain maybe DSM diagnoses, a history of violent, something like that, yes, you're probably going to see exacerbation in utilizing violent play paradigms. But you might also see it's sort of the age old argument about, I think we talked about this years ago on the show, do you guys remember when we talked about child pornography and specifically modeling of child pornography, sort of digitization so they're not real people and whether this was a healthy outlet for individuals who already feel drawn towards engaging in this and want a healthy outlet to be able to do it legally and safely where there are no victims? Is that going to contribute and exacerbate their behavior and codify it and normalize it? Or is that something where they're going to do it anyway? So how do we give them a safe usage that doesn't harm individuals. So I think there is a more complicated conversation to be had there. But when it comes to general use everyday people, sort of vanilla test subjects who aren't scoring high on certain psychopathologies and don't have violent histories and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, yeah, a lot of the data shows that there's no correlation at all between playing violent video games and violence in the real world. And so you add that to this very interesting study that shows that also playing for a lot, the more I play doesn't make me sadder or less connected or more angry or feel like my well being is worse off. People I do think that governments, organizations, academic and educational organizations, even parents, something to think about. It's really something to think about this is a person to person experience. I think you know your children well, but let's not just assume that because somebody is playing video games, they have poor well being because the evidence just doesn't bear that out.

S: Yeah, it's a moral panic kind of thing.

C: Totally. It's like satanic panic of the 90s. Absolutely.

S: Like these role playing games are going to turn our kids into demon worshipers.

J: And why isn't this going away after all these years?

C: I know. People are afraid of things they don't know.

B: And they want easy scapegoats, too.

C: They do.

S: It's a compelling media narrative also.

C: Yeah.

S: All right. Interesting. Thank you, Cara.

Invisible Dark Matter (58:23)[edit]

S: Bob, tell us about the latest research trying to image dark matter.

B: Yeah, a lot of dark matter news recently. This one caught my attention. Australia finished its first run of experiments for its first major dark matter detector called the Oscillating Resonant Group Axion, also called ORGAN. So I figured it'd be good to do a little primer to put this into context. So when you're looking into a dark matter detector and you don't know much about it, one of the first questions should be, well, what kind of hypothetical type of dark matter is it made to look for? Also, there's two broad classifications. There's hot dark matter and cold dark matter. You probably heard the latter one much more than the first one here. So hot dark matter, what is it? Hot in this context means fast, as in near light speed. And dark, the word dark, of course, implies that it does not interact much with matter or light, basically almost invisible in a lot of ways. So an example of hot dark matter would be a neutrino. It goes very, very close to the speed of light because it's nearly massless, but not totally massless, but it goes very, very fast. And it's really neutrinos, I remember, when they found out that they had mass, they thought for a little while that, oh, maybe this is what dark matter is. But no, it's just not a popular candidate for dark matter these days. Then you have the other big category, cold dark matter. So cold in this context means slow compared to the speed of light. And the two major classes of cold dark matter that I'll talk about are MACHOs and WIMPs, which was pretty funny when they first came out because there's such, MACHO and WIMP, two ends of the spectrum. So macho is an acronym for massive astrophysical compact halo object. So this was actually one of the very first MACHOs, it was one of the very first candidates for dark matter. It seemed kind of obvious, oh yeah, maybe neutron stars or brown dwarfs or primordial black holes, they could potentially, if you add them all up, add up all the masses, maybe that's what dark matter is. Maybe there's halos of these much more than we would ever think. Massive halos of these around, say all the galaxies that are causing this extra mass that we can't see. But it didn't take that long before it's basically now considered to be very unlikely. The data just doesn't show enough of these. Like I remember reading about some studies looking for primordial black holes and gravitational lensing that they would cause, and they're just not seeing enough of them out there to possibly be considered a candidate, a serious candidate for dark matter. The other one of the, the other big option for cold dark matter is WIPMs. This group I think is the one that's getting the lion's share of research these days. WIMP stands for weakly interacting massive particles. Weakly actually in this context, I just found out to me, I always thought that they interact weekly, right? They just don't interact a lot, but actually it refers to the weak force when it says weakly interacting massive particles. Now WIPMs are assumed to be non-baryonic. So they are not made of protons, neutrons, quarks, et cetera. And there's some examples here you might not have heard of. The Kaluza–Klein particle is a potential WIMP candidate for cold dark matter. Kaluza–Klein particles are supposedly potentially curled up in a hidden fifth dimension and we therefore cannot see them. You look, no matter where you look, you're not going to see this particle because it's hidden away in a super tiny fifth dimension. But the theory states that it should be able to decay into neutrinos and photons, which we don't see in our accelerators. So that means perhaps that it just doesn't exist or maybe our accelerators just aren't powerful enough to see them. And one day we may, wouldn't that be interesting? We have a solution to dark matter and we have a hidden fifth dimension. That would be pretty amazingly awesome. The other potential wimp that is an example of cold dark matter is gravitino and gravitino is a silly name and I won't discuss it anymore. (Cara laughs) How's that? And then we have another WIMP is an axion and this is what Australia's Oregon experiment is looking for, axions. Axions are hypothetical particles. They were theorized decades ago initially to deal with CP violations of the strong force. So you don't know what that is, well, look it up. It's out of scope today, but it's worthy of a rabbit hole. If these axions exist, they would move very slowly and would interact. They wouldn't interact much at all, but we do know that they would likely have a very certain mass range because they would need to have a minimum and maximum mass because if they were heavier or smaller than we would see them. So that's pretty solid. So if you're going to look for these, you're going to, you should, you need to look within this mass range and that's what people have been doing. The other major part of this theory says that axions should be able to transform by very, very strong magnetic fields into photons. And I think also neutrinos as well regarding Oregon, Dr. Ben McCallister from the university of Western Australia said: "It engineers and corrects conditions for axion photon conversion and looks for weak photon signals, which are little flashes of light generated by dark mass matter passing through the detector. So the big engineering problem then here is dealing with the noise. And I'm not talking about the machine making loud noises like Jay eating meatball after meatball at dinner. Oh God, that happens all the time. Noise in this context refers to the random light signals that are caused by the high temperatures, which are in turn caused by the intense magnetic fields themselves. So this, the heat creates random light that tends to swamp out any of the photons that would be caused by axions that have been converted into photons and then being detected. So they had to deal with that and apparently they have dealt with that. So what happened? What happened after Oregon's recent experimental run? They basically found no axions at all zip, zero, zilch, and how does that expression end? What's the last one?

S: Nada.

B: Nada. Yes. Very good. Steve, you are very well conversant with nada. Zip, zero, zilch, nada. And that sounds bad, right? That sounds, they didn't, they looked, they didn't find it. Holy crap. That's not good. That doesn't mean it's not good. It's not necessarily bad. That reminds me of the quote attributed to Edison. "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." So it's kind of similar to this axion research. This lack of discovery is just one, it's really one step forward towards the goal of discovering that dark matter is made of axions or we're not. We're still going in the right direction. So to clarify that, I'll give you another quote by McAllister, he said: "When we don't see any little flashes, as was the case this time, we instead place exclusion limits where we rule out axions that our experiment would have been sensitive to." So then we tell the rest of the dark matter community, hey, no dark matter here. And we move on to search for axions of a different mass. So basically there's a chunk of mass ranges that this, that the axions could have, and they basically just took away a little piece of that, like it up, it can't be there. Let's look over here. So as you may have guessed, this was just Oregon's phase one. Future phases will be testing other unexplored mass ranges. And hopefully that will be, that will be quite a day if they, if they did find it. And we did find out that dark matter is composed at least partly of these axions. So explaining the significance of their quest, McAllister had another good quote. He said, we never would have discovered electricity or radio waves if we didn't pursue things that at the time appeared to be strange physical phenomena beyond our understanding. Dark matter is the same. So yeah, this was a very interesting experiment and going through it there wasn't a huge amount of meat necessarily in this specific news item. It was pretty simple here's the experiment they looked for if they didn't find it. But I think the significance of it, the idea that they're just, they're just eating away at one possibility and eventually they'll have some answers one way or the other at least according to axions. And I also thought it was, it was fun to just give a little primer on what exactly are the different types of a dark matter with a cold or hot or whatever. So this was a kind of a fun little research thing. So so that's it.

S: Yeah. It's a good reminder that negative results are results and they do push the ball forward it reminds me of the experiments looking to see if the Earth was at rest with respect to the aether or was it moving with respect to the aether? And the answer was no, it's neither. And therefore─

B: Every experiment they did showed, nope.

S: ─there's no aether. And but if there's no ether, then what is light propagating through? What is light removing at speed c with respect to? And that eventually led to the answer of everything. And the theory of realtivity.

B: Of reality.

S: So that was a negative result that transformed physics. So it's good to remember.

B: And it's good also that they didn't just double and triple and quadruple down. We've seen that of course in, in our community, we see that where, remember that flat Earth show where they did a really fairly definitive test with a laser beam that would have gone above the hole that they created because of the curvature meant that it went above. And they're like, wait a second. And for a second you could see them just flirting with the idea, well, wait, the best explanation here is that the Earth is a sphere and it's not flat. And you see them kind of nibble at it for a second, right? And then they're like, we did something wrong. And then they, then they totally double and triple down and said, no, the Earth is flat and something is wrong with the experimental setup. It's like, come on guys.

S: There was so much of that in that movie. It was so brilliant. I mean, my favorite was the woman who was a conspiracy theorist, but then someone who was even more nutty than her had a conspiracy theory about her and she was saying, well, this guy is just making stuff up and doing A and B. And then she like looks off and goes, is it possible that that's what I'm doing? Like she had this moment of insight.

B: Did she? I don't remember that.

S: Oh yeah. And then she had a total Theodoric of York moment where she was like, naaah.

B: Oh my God, Steve Martin. What a great scene.

S: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I just, there was a lot of that or we should do this experiment to spend $20,000 on a gyroscope that will show that the Earth is not rotating. Oops. It is rotating. Okay. Hmm. Motivated reasoning kicks in and then eventually they figured out that it's because the sky is moving around the Earth. That's what's making the gyroscope move is dragging it along with it. So we just had to invent some new physics there. But yeah, just that movie is a master work of just documenting the process of conspiracy thinking and motivated reasoning and how people can get stuck in it. It's just wonderful. All right.

B: So frustrating. Okay.

S: Let's move on.

Questions/Emails/Corrections/Follow-ups (1:10:30)[edit]

Question #1: Lord Kelvin (1:10:40)[edit]

I've just recently heard about your podcast and have downloaded many of the back numbers which explain why my feedback has to do with an old podcast. In podcast [851]—that's not that old—chirality was a topic of discussion. This term was coined by Lord Kelvin, AKA William Thompson. One of the broadcasters used a posh English accent in connection with this, probably assuming this would be the accent Lord Kelvin has spoken. Actually having been born in Belfast and brought up from an early age in Glasgow, he had a pronounced Scottish accent. Furthermore, he was not a hereditary peer. I have seen something similar in one of the Around the World in 80 Days where he was also given an upper class English accent and manners. Imagine if Benjamin Franklin was similarly misrepresented in a film or a documentary. Otherwise I thoroughly enjoy your podcast. Keep up the good work.
–David Allen

S: We're going to skip ahead to a few emails. We had some fun emails. These are just like kind of quick science questions or science feedback. So I was going to go through a few. First one comes from David Allen from Stuttgart, Germany. And David writes: "I've just recently heard about your podcast and have downloaded many of the back numbers which explain why my feedback has to do with an old podcast. In podcast [851]—that's not that old—chirality was a topic of discussion. This term was coined by Lord Kelvin, AKA William Thompson. One of the broadcasters used a posh English accent in connection with this, probably assuming this would be the accent Lord Kelvin has spoken. Actually having been born in Belfast and brought up from an early age in Glasgow, he had a pronounced Scottish accent. Furthermore, he was not a hereditary peer. I have seen something similar in one of the Around the World in 80 Days where he was also given an upper class English accent and manners. Imagine if Benjamin Franklin was similarly misrepresented in a film or a documentary. Otherwise I thoroughly enjoy your podcast. Keep up the good work." All right, thanks David.

C: Wait, doesn't Benjamin Franklin always have a posh upper class English accent in every film about him too?

B: Franklin? No.

C: Yeah. Because it's colonial. Everybody talked like this in colonial America.

S: Yeah, but it wasn't a British accent, it was a colonial accent.

C: Well fine, whatever, that comes from the British accent.

S: But yeah, so I didn't know that. So Lord Kelvin was born William Thompson. He's considered Scott Irish and he was knighted and became Sir William Thompson because of his scientific contributions and then later landed and became a baron, Lord Kelvin. But yeah, it wasn't a hereditary title for him, I guess, because he was granted it. But he would have had a Scottish accent.

C: Okay, but to be fair, also Scottish accents are really hard to do.

S: Yeah, I think we do the posh British accent because that's the one we could do, not because it's accurate.

C: Yeah, but because it's intentionally a caricature.

S: Yeah.

B: Well not just that. My take on that was, and I think probably was it Jay who maybe did that accent, my take is this, is that because to me, in my mind, Lord Kelvin, to me seems like he would have, just by the fact that it has Lord, to me equates to upper class British, which is what.

S: That's his point. We assume that.

C: He was Scottish. Yeah, that's the thing. It doesn't mean it's English. Just because it's British doesn't mean it's English.

B: Right, I know. But to me, Lord, I think it just connects automatically with the stereotypical accent that was used. I don't know who did it or whatever.

C: Well, I can tell you why.

S: Because of BBC America, that's why.

B: Right, right.

C: And not just BBC America, it's literally every film ever made in the US about another culture uses a British accent. Doesn't matter if they're German, doesn't matter if they're Polish, well maybe Polish, they'll try and pull something off. But definitely any kind of European, well, most European countries, they just use British accents. It's ridiculous. Why do they do that?

B: Because we just, we like it. We like that damn accent, you know?

C: Because we think it makes people sound smart.

B: It's so, yes, it's such a pleasing sound.

S: They choose accents based upon the character, not what makes sense historically. Disney's the worst at this. Yeah, a British accent, it means you're smart. A Scottish accent means that you are a barbarian or a rebel.

C: Yeah, that you're rough.

S: So I remember like in How to Train Your Dragon, the Vikings had Scottish accents. Why did they give Vikings Scottish accents? Well, because they were tough barbarians. And that is now the media trope of that's, I guess, the accent you have if you're a barbarian, you have a Scottish accent. It doesn't matter that you're a Viking.

C: Well, we get similar feedback. I mean, I remember we got an email from somebody and I mean, good on them. And like, I agree, but it's a hard habit to break. And I'm from there that when we do a Southern accent, what does that mean? And this is, I mean, this is across the board. You see this in television, you see it in comedy, you see it in other countries and here. And of course, there are plenty of brilliant people with Southern American accents. But I think there's this stereotype that the more colloquial an accent becomes, like the more specific and entrenched it becomes, the more kind of regional it becomes, the less metropolitan the person is. And that's the stereotype. And so you can take it anywhere. Very deeply New York accents, we think of having all of the stereotypes of very deeply New York people, very deeply Texas accents we think of George W. Bush. It's just, it's the stereotype.

S: Totally. I remember I had a professor in medical school who spoke with like a Brooklyn accent and it was like, it totally was jarring because this guy's a medical professor and he was speaking with an accent that you don't normally associate with a scholar and an academic. But of course, why wouldn't people who were born in New York be medical doctors and teach at a university? But we get totally trained. We're totally trained. I remember, I think I mentioned this when I went to Vienna and just hearing a bunch of everyday people speaking German and it totally realized like, oh my God, up to this point in my life, every German accent I've ever heard was coming from a Nazi. (Cara laughs) And you're like so programmed you had to like get deep, deep, deep, like, no, this is just a normal people accent. This is just the way people speak here. But we are absolutely programmed by media. All right.

Question #2: Green Methane (1:16:18)[edit]

S: This one comes from Chris in Florida, and he says: "I recently found this article which claims that Musk's new rocket engines based on methane can be carbon neutral. Fact or fiction?" So I'm just going to focus on the can methane be carbon neutral? And the answer to that is, well, yes, it can be.

B: Sure. It's where it came from.

S: You can make methane. Well, you could create methane as like a biofuel if you're using as a source of that things that are carbon neutral. If you're using plant matter. And also, or if you're carbon capturing,. If the energy you're using to make the methane, because methane is a high energy molecule. So if you're "making it", you're allegedly going from lower energy molecules like carbon dioxide, or water, and you're going to this methane, which is a high energy molecule. Your energy is coming from somewhere. So where's that energy coming from? So if you're powering the process with solar panels, yeah, you could theoretically have carbon neutral methane. Absolutely. But it just all depends on how you're making it. If you're sourcing it from fossil fuel and releasing previously sequestered carbon into the atmosphere, then no, not at all. Or if you're burning coal to power the process to make the methane, then no. But if you're powering it with solar or wind or whatever, then, then it could be. Sure. Absolutely.

Question #3: Universe Isotropy (1:17:45)[edit]

S: All right. And then one more. So we have a question from Pedro. He gave his location as capital P small t. I have no idea what that refers to and I couldn't find out because PT is like too generic to search on. You guys know what that is?

C: I don't know because I don't have any, any narrowing context. Is that a state?

S: I don't know. Yeah.

C: Is that a city? Is that a country? Is it Portugal?

S: That was all the information. I voted for Pedro. and he instigated that on me. All right. So he asked: "If we analyze the universe in all directions from our point, no matter of Earth, solar system or galaxy, do we see any direction where universe is older than others? Because maybe this way we could position ourselves in a kind of universe map in case it is limited or until the visible universe and actually check if universe is bounded or not." Speaking in a little bit of a broken English there.

B: It's isotropy, baby.

S: Right. So that's exactly right. So and I emailed them back to let them know that. So the answer to Pedro's question is no. So if you look in any direction on obviously on large scale, the universe looks the same. That's a property called isotropy.

C: Yeah, I was going to say I pronounce it isotropy. I like isotropy. That's fun.

S: Isotropy?

C: Yeah, that's how Bob pronounced it. Remember, I did a What's the Word on this. We talked about kind of standing up on top of a hill and looking in all directions. And not having that would be an isotropy.

S: And now there's also the universe also is another property where no matter where you are in the universe, it looks the same again, at a large enough scale.

C: There's no center point.

S: And what's that called? The universe is?

B: Homogeneous.

S: Homogeneous. So the universe is isotropic.

C: [inaudible] like a special term.

S: Yeah, the universe is isotropic and homogeneous at large enough scale. But of course, the question is at what scale does that happen? We talked about this previously on the show because there was a news item about that.

B: So one good way to remember it, though, for both of these isotropy or homogeneity is that they both have to do with uniformity. Homogeneity is uniformity of position. And isotropy is uniformity in respect to angles, like viewing angle. So that's one might be easier way to remember. Because I kind of like confuse them sometimes. And that might be one way to make it pithy in your head.

S: Yeah. And this is very important concept cosmologically.

B: Oh my god yeah.

S: Basically, there's no privileged location in the universe. Every point in the universe is pretty much equal to every other point in terms of its relationship to the universe as a whole. There is no center, there is no edge. There is no middle or whatever, just all homogeneous. Just all the same. In fact, the universe is so isotropic and homogeneous that physicists have a hard time explaining why there's any clumps of anything. Like why did galaxies form?

B: Cosmic microwave background radiation, bro.

S: Why isn't it 100% uniform? It had to be.

C: Why is there patternicity at all? Yeah, it had to be inhomogeneous at some scale at some point.

B: Quantum fluctuations.

S: Yeah, once any clumps, even slight perturbations in the homogeneity form, then gravity will take over and form those into clumps, stars and galaxies and whatnot. But what started it all off? Why aren't we just a uniform haze of hydrogen, mostly hydrogen, a little helium and a tad of lithium─

C: Dark matter

S: Whatever, I mean, it's still an open question.

Who's That Noisy? (1:21:24)[edit]

S: All right, Jay, it's Who's That Noisy time.

J: All right. Last week, I played this Noisy:

[low-quality audio of two men in conversation in English about photography]

All right, so we got two people talking. Do you guys have any guesses?

B: Dog.

J: A dog?

B: La la la

C: It's a marine mammal, isn't it?

J: Well, we have a listener named Michael Praxty and he wrote in: "Hey, long time listener and huge fan of the show. We just had our second kid yesterday and after all the nurses left and we were hanging out in postpartum, we turned on the latest Skeptics Guide. So you were also the first voices that Kai heard outside of the room." That's pretty cool. "Anyway, I think this audio is a reconstruction of a conversation happening at the other end of a fiber optic cable." using a technique similar to this thing that he sent to me. That is not correct, although I think that's really cool, like an early fiber optic message that they were encoding and decoding. Not correct, but that was a cool guess. I'm going to click right into the winner. I have two people here. So I have a guy said his name is pronounced like Chubby and he's from Romania. So I'm just going to say Chubby. "Hello, Jay. So the voices belong to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin during Apollo 11. Specifically, they were speaking at the one hour 25 minute mark and then they were discussing the camera that they were using to take pictures on the Moon." Very freaking cool. Another random listener who did not send it in first, but they did win because they got it correct and you guys know who this person is. Joe Anderson wrote in and said: "Is Neil talking with Buzz on the goddamn Moon?" (laughter) That's right, Joe. They were talking about AOS and f-stops and all that. So we have those two people got it correct this week and I have a new Noisy for you guys.

B: Wait, do you know what camera they used?

J: Yes. It was a Hasselblad, right Bob?

B: Hasselblad. Yeah. Is that the name? How do you pronounce it?

J: Close enough.

New Noisy (1:23:38)[edit]

J: Here's the new Noisy. This noisy was sent in by a listener named Quinn English. This one I dedicate to Bob and you will know why in a second:

[high-pitched, scratchy calls/music]

J: Very weird. Very Halloween sounding.

B: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

J: If you think you know what this week's Noisy is, you can email me at Please don't forget if you heard anything cool, email me at the same address with whatever you heard.

Announcements (1:24:18)[edit]

J: Steve.

S: Yeah.

J: Our patrons are what keeps our podcast going. Do you realize this?

S: Absolutely. I look at the number every day.

J: So if you want to support the SGU, if you enjoy this show, if we taught you something and you want to show us some appreciation, please go to Become a patron. You can join us in curing this planet of misinformation.

B: Join us.

S: All right. Thanks, Jay. Guys. Let's do on with Science or Fiction.

Science or Fiction (1:24:53)[edit]

Theme: Materials Science

Item #1: Chemists have developed a method for essentially printing complex designer molecules by using specific frequencies of light.[6]
Item #2: Scientists have produced a method for combining single-walled carbon nanotubes into highly ordered structures, such as a regular helix, with minimal errors by using DNA as a lattice.[7]
Item #3: Researchers have produced a biocompatible fiber optic sensor out of spider silk.[8]

Answer Item
Fiction Complex designer molecules
Science Dna as a lattice
Spider silk sensor
Host Result
Steve win
Rogue Guess
Spider silk sensor
Complex designer molecules
Complex designer molecules

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

S: Each week, I come up with three science news items or facts. Two real and then one fake. And I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. There is a theme this week. Although these are all news items, they just happen to cluster in a theme. The theme is material science. That is a frequent theme.

C: Oh, no.

S: We come to material science news and you see a bunch in a row. I use it. All right. Here we go. Three news items about material science. Item #1: Chemists have developed a method for essentially printing complex designer molecules by using specific frequencies of light. Item #2: Scientists have produced a method for combining single-walled carbon nanotubes into highly ordered structures, such as a regular helix, with minimal errors by using DNA as a lattice. And item #3: Researchers have produced a biocompatible fiber optic sensor out of spider silk. Jay, go first.

Jay's Response[edit]

J: All right. This first one, chemists have developed a method for essentially printing complex designer molecules by using specific frequencies of light. Whoa. Pushing around molecules with light. How can that possibly be? I mean, it can't be that the photons are pushing anything because they're massless, but maybe they do something with temperature or I don't know. That sounds iffy, but super interesting. The second one, scientists have produced a method for combining single walled carbon nanotubes into highly ordered structures such as regular helix with minimal errors by using DNA as a lattice. I think that one is science. I think that's really cool. I know there's a ton of research in this type of processing. Nanotubes, hugely wanted, hugely useful. So I could see that they use DNA to help them do something. So I totally think that one is science. Last one, researchers have produced a biocompatible fiber optic sensor out of spider silk. A biocompatible fiber optic sensor. So a sensor, I'm guessing what Steve is saying here is the fiber optic sensor is one of the pieces of hardware that they use to, in this case, receive the signal of light that is then transformed into information. Spider silk is one of those things that you heard a lot about in your life, but they never do anything with it. You know, and it's always like, can you scale it up? Can you produce it? Sure. They might have been able to do something in a lab, but sensing fiber optic, I don't know. It's so weird. I'm going to say that that one is the fiction. I don't think we've done anything with spider silk.

S: Okay, Bob.

Bob's Response[edit]

B: Yeah, the spider silk biocompatible, I could see, but a fiber optic sensor, I mean, I suspect that the silk is a component, maybe even a major component. So I'm kind of going to buy that one. The nanotubes into a regular helix shape using DNA as a lattice, I guess I can see that. The one that's getting me though is this first one, basically printing designer molecules using specific frequencies of light. Hey, I'm not buying that. That would be amazing and it's just kind of a little bit too amazing at this point. So I'm going to say that one's fiction.

S: And Cara.

Cara's Response[edit]

C: Well, it's funny because I would say I'm going to go with Bob and Jay on this because Jay basically made the exact same argument and then picked a different, picked a different choice. So like as Jay was going through his reasoning, I was like, yeah, yeah, the frequency, like there's no way. And then, and then you said the same thing. So I think I have to go with you, Bob, and say that, yeah, the designer molecules with frequencies of light feels like the fiction.

S: All right. So you all agree on the middle one, so we'll start there.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: Scientists have produced a method for combining single walled carbon nanotubes or SWCNs into highly ordered structures, such as a regular helix with minimal errors by using DNA as a lattice. We all think that the DNA lattice is science. And this one is science.

B: Yeah baby.

S: This one is cool.

B: Nice. Interesting.

S: So it's actually hard, to get these pesky carbon nanotubes to do what we want them to do with very, very few errors. And those errors interfere with the structure of the material that we're going for and therefore really limits their utility. For example, they can form breaking points that can unzip carbon nanofibers, et cetera.

B: To what end, though?

S: So, well, that's an interesting question. So this is how they did it. So first of all, they use a specific sequence of DNA, in this case, with CNG amino acids. I mean, base pairs, with CNG base pairs. So they, for example, they used one sequence that was C3GC7GC3. And those contain cross-linking binding spots for carbon. And so when that becomes a lattice on which these single-walled carbon nanotubes then bind to each other, and that particular sequence formed an ordered helical structure with a 6.5 angstrom periodicity. But so they just created a helical structure out of the carbon nanotubes, but with very, very few errors because they're being guided into position by this DNA lattice. And you could basically customize the lattice by the sequence that you give it, which changes the relative positioning of these, the cross-linking reactions. So it's pretty cool. Now, all of the reporting on this said that you could use this to create superconducting materials. But that's like they're putting the cart before the horse. They're putting one potential theoretical application of this technology could be making metamaterials that have properties like superconductivity, but it really doesn't have anything to do intrinsically to do with the process that they're developing here, which is just, look at this. We can have exquisite control over linking up these carbon nanotubes by using a specific sequence of DNA as a, essentially a template or as a lattice.

B: Yeah. I mean, they wouldn't even have to mention superconductivity. Just mention metamaterials and you've got my attention.

S: Yeah. But they all say superconductivity and I'm like, okay, look at that. And I'm like, this has nothing to do with superconductivity.

B: All right.

S: All right. Let's go back to number one.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S: Chemists have developed a method for essentially printing complex designer molecules using specific frequencies of light. Bob and Cara, you think this one is the fiction. Jay thinks this one is science. And this one is the fiction.

B: Yeah.

C: Yay, Bob.

S: It's a little bit too much. I made it up.

C: You made it up?

S: Well, the news item was using photochemistry as a step in a process of forming organic molecules. Or basically using the light to break up a molecule into two components that can then be used to form other organic molecules. It's just photochemistry. But the idea of using light to print designer molecules I made up. I had to come up with something that was different enough because you could do so much with light. You can't push molecules around with light. They've done it.

B: You could also combine light with matter in some cases, really heavy stuff.

S: I had to make sure it was significant enough that it's not actually happening out there.

B: Well, Steve, I got to say, wow, I went through this week in SGU history has the distinction of being the longest most amount of time I went through news items to find something that grabbed me. I read I went to every damn science news website I could think of. It was unbelievable. It was the worst, the hardest one, the most amount of time. So I have a lot of familiarity with a lot of news items that came out this week. And this one specifically, I related this to another news item entirely. And this one to get this, though, it was a way of using lasers to polarize atoms so that one side is more positive, one side more negative, so that you're so that you're bonding atoms together with a with a very they're bonding together. But it's not a strong bond. It's not a molecule like bond. It doesn't have the strength of a molecule, which is why I thought this was fiction, because the word molecule meant that, no, this was absolutely fiction, because it doesn't have the binding strength of molecules. It's just very it's just a very light attraction. And so it's so weird.

S: That's because there's so much with those photochemistry is the thing. The article that inspired me was light as a tool for the synthesis of complex molecules. But here they're using light to break apart a chemical bond and then using that to then insert something in between.

B: Interesting. I'll take the win no matter what.

S: Yeah. Creating organic molecules. But that's the reason I had to make sure it was fiction, because there's so much out there I could easily if I if it wasn't specific enough. If I said, they're using light to push atoms around to make molecules. Yeah, that is happening.

B: That is a thing.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: All right, all of this means that researchers have produced a biocompatible fiber optic sensor out of spider silk is science. Bob, I don't know if you saw this one.

B: I didn't. This one I didn't see.

S: Here's the actual title of the article, the published article: "Biocompatible spider silk-based metal-dielectric fiber optic sugar sensor." So yeah, I didn't realize this, that spider silk, certain kinds of spider silk actually can have fiber optic properties.

C: That's cool.

B: Whoa.

S: Now, fiber optic is something that the refractive index inside the substance is such that the light will stay inside, it won't go outside. So it travels down along the fiber. That's what makes it fiber optic. So spider silk could be used as a fiber optic. They did coat it with like a metal, not something that made it the fiber optic, but with something else. And then they used it as a sensor for sugar, for different types of sugar. So like this would be like a biosensor and then it's very, very, very precise to tell the difference between glucose, sucrose and fructose.

B: How about sucralose?

S: It did not mention. And it's biocompatible because you can put it in the body and it won't cause a reaction or anything. So yeah, very, very interesting.

B: More spider silk applications, please. I want my shirt, my bulletproof shirt.

S: I had another one that I didn't use. I could have used it though, but I just thought it was too obvious because this was a process for making cement that is 40% stronger than regular cement by putting basically nano ground up shrimp shells in there.

B: There's a seafood byproduct, right?

S: Yeah. There's a stream of waste from the seafood industry for chitin shells─

C: Cool.

S: ─from things like shrimp. Or crabs or lobsters or whatever─

B: That's great.

S: ─but they specifically mentioned shrimp.

B: 40% man.

S: Yeah. But that's cement, not necessarily the resulting concrete, but it probably would translate well to the concrete. They just haven't looked at that yet. And also it makes it more flexible, so it's stronger and more flexible. And so if that translates to the final product, that could reduce the amount of cement. Or concrete that you need in a build and therefore, because remember we talked about the fact that steel is responsible for 10% of greenhouse gas release. Concrete is responsible for 5%. So yeah, between the two of them, it's 15% of our greenhouse gas emissions.

B: That's a lot.

S: So reducing the need for cement for concrete by 40% could be significant. That could take a big chunk out of that. And also just having a stronger cement is nice and more flexible. Plus it also could last longer. It might last like twice as long.

B: Oh my god, man.

S: And that factor alone would reduce our need by a significant chunk because you don't have to replace it as often. Yeah. So more durable, longer lasting, stronger cement using a waste stream0.

B: A waste stream. Talk about a win-win-win.

S: Right now we just dump it back in the ocean, which is probably not a bad thing. And chitin, it's basically made of chitin. So chitin's a biopolymer and it is the second most common or abundant biopolymer in the world. What is the first?

B: Hair. Hair.

C: No, no, no, no. Polycarbonate. No. What's it called? Bicarb. The thing that makes up seashells.

B: Calcium bicarbonate?

S: Calcium bicarbonate?

C: Calcium bicarbonate. Yeah.

S: That's in the seashells too. That is in cement. So that is part of why it's a useful additive. But no, no, biopolymer. So it is cellulose, cellulose made by plants. That's the basic. So plants speed out insects, I guess, in terms of their structural biopolymer, in terms of just the raw amount in the world. But chitin is the second most common. And spider silk is also a biopolymer.

B: My favorite biopolymer.

S: As abundant as cellulose or chitin, but very desirable properties. Yeah. They're all structurally very strong things. Cool. Okay. Well, good job, Bob and Cara.

J: I came close, Steve.

S: You did. You were almost there, Jay. You just doubted yourself at the last moment.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:39:01)[edit]

If anyone can refute me–show me I'm making a mistake or looking at things from the wrong perspective–I'll gladly change. It's the truth I'm after, and the truth never harmed anyone. What harms us is to persist in self-deceit and ignorance.
Marcus Aurelius (121-180), Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher, from Meditations Book 6, Number 21

S: I am taking over the quote for today since Evan is not here. This was submitted by a listener called Grant. That's all he gave as his name. And I thought it was appropriate. And the quote is from Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 6, Number 21. Marcus Aurelius, skeptic of the ancient world, I don't know if you guys know who he is. And he wrote: "If anyone can refute me–show me I'm making a mistake or looking at things from the wrong perspective–I'll gladly change. It's the truth I'm after, and the truth never harmed anyone. What harms us is to persist in self-deceit and ignorance."

J: Oh, my God.

B: Wow.

S: Marcus Aurelius.

J: Total skeptic man.

S: Total, right? Total skeptic living in the ancient world.

B: That's epic.

C: Yeah, he's a philosopher, right?

S: Yeah. We've quoted him before, too, because he's sort of─

C: He's very quotable.

S: Yeah, yeah. Very quotable. He lived from 121 to 180 A.C.E. He was a Roman emperor from 161 to 180, and a Stoic philosopher. The last of the rulers known as the five good emperors. But yeah, this guy's just overflowing with skeptical philosophy.

J: I'm going to read more about him. I'm interested to see what he has to say.

S: Yeah, totally. It is fascinating. I took a course in Greek philosophy in college, and the professor said they basically thought of everything. The first time they started thinking systematically about stuff, they basically had all the ideas, in terms of just basic philosophical ideas. Everything has its roots, is like variations on a theme from the Greek philosophers. It's probably not literally true, but it does seem like.

C: Wait, he's Roman.

S: Yeah, yeah. But Greek led to Roman, led to...

C: So you mean between the two. Yeah, I mean, they also did something really smart. They wrote it down.

S: They wrote it down. Exactly.

C: They probably weren't the first people to think of this stuff either, but they wrote it down.

S: But they did think systematically thought about things, philosophy, and they wrote it down. So it survived. And so it's like, oh, they thought of all this stuff.

C: Yeah. I mean, they grappled with concepts that we still grapple with today.

S: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

J: Called the human condition.

C: Yep.

S: Right. All right. Well, thank you all for joining me this week.

B: Sure, bro.

C: Thanks, Steve.

J: Thanks, Steve.


[01:41:17.520 --> 01:41:18.520] All right.

[01:41:18.520 --> 01:41:19.520] Well, thank you all for joining me this week.

[01:41:19.520 --> 01:41:20.520] Sure, bro.

[01:41:20.520 --> 01:41:21.520] Thanks, Steve.

[01:41:21.520 --> 01:41:22.520] Thanks, Steve.

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




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