SGU Episode 892
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|SGU Episode 892|
|August 13th 2022|
Meteor (artistic rendering)
|S: Steven Novella|
B: Bob Novella
C: Cara Santa Maria
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
|Quote of the Week|
Death might appear to destroy the meaning in our lives, but in fact it is the very source of our creativity. As Kafka said, "The meaning of life is that it ends." Death is the engine that keeps us running, giving us the motivation to achieve, learn, love, and create.
Caitlin Doughty, American mortician
Introduction, NECSS reflections & plans
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 Tuesday, August 9th, 2022, and this is your host, Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella...
B: Hey, everybody!
S: Cara Santa Maria...
S: Jay Novella...
J: Hey guys.
S: ...and Evan Bernstein.
E: Good evening folks!
S: We have a full boat this week, I think it's been a little bit.
S: Just coming off of NECSS.
S: Yeah, we had a digital, virtual NECSS this year. It was great. I just like that format better. We had way more people than we ever get in person. It's a lot cheaper for everybody. We can get speakers from around the world. I know everyone misses meat space, but I think for a conference where it's just a lot of events where you have panels and discussions and interviews and talks, I think virtual is better. And then if we're going to get together in meat space, we'll do other stuff. We'll figure out more fun stuff that's more geared towards.
B: Yeah, let's absolutely do that. How are we going to get the vegans to a meat space thing? Do we need to rebrand this?
J: I said it during NECSS, like I think our next group thing that we do, we should go back to the Star Trek Museum.
S: We could do that.
J: I know that Cara doesn't.
C: No, but I'll come. I'll come. I still have the dress.
B: The problem, Jay, is that like for like hanging out together, like after outside of the awesome Star Trek sets. Where do you go? I mean, it's kind of like, I mean, we haven't been in that area in what, half a decade more?
J: Well, we could rent it. We could rent a hotel space and we could do a live show and then we could do a meet and greet and hang out that night we could just have it be a big social day.
C: Or maybe we rent the whole Star Trek museum and then we just like play games and stuff in the museum.
E: Oh my gosh. Will they let us do that?
S: Yeah. Well, wherever we do it, I think we need to just be open minded about what we're going to do. Having shows extravaganza, play games do like music or whatever, do stuff that's more fun, more casual and to have a lot of social interaction. That's what people want. They don't necessarily go to a conference so they could sit and listen to a lecture that they could listen at their leisure online and then stop and pause and whatever, it's just a it's just a better way to consume information if that's if that's what you're after. If you're after the social stuff, we'll do other stuff, more fun stuff, more social stuff.
B: Don't forget to include the drinking.
S: For some people.
C: Steve. That's spoken like a true college student. I love it. I just love it. This is the new way.
S: People are saying I missed in-person conference. What do you miss about it? Do you miss sitting in a room with a bunch of people listening to talks? No, that's not why you're doing that now in your living room. They're missed the other stuff. So let's just give them that.
B: Yeah, let's do it.
J: Don't forget, though, speaking about NECSS, if you didn't know, you could listen to NECSS. Actually, I think the last three NECSSes are still available if you're interested. But if you want to listen to this year's, if you buy tickets right now, if you go to NECSS.org, you could still listen to it, you have months or years to watch it. And I got to tell you, the keynote was particularly good this year. I was actually, I listened to the full thing three times and there's more information I get out of it each time I listen to it because Bill Nye and David Copperfield had a really cool longer than an hour conversation with each other that went to a lot of different places.
B: Yeah, Jay, it was good.
J: It was a lot of fun. And the other thing was, was that this year George said something to me when we were talking about the conference after we did it on Saturday and he's like, yeah, I just feel like we're giving people speakers that they haven't met before. It's not the same old, same old people like we're giving you like brand new people that you've never heard from before. And that's true. I really appreciate that because after going to how many skeptical conferences, guys, maybe 100 at this point, all said and done. There's like a cast of characters there that you see and it's great from a friendship perspective. But if you want to learn about something new and get into other people's minds and understand the type of research that they're doing, I think we deliver very strongly like brand new voices. So please do, if you're interested, go to NECSS.org and you can still get tickets to that conference. It's just available online streaming like anything else.
S: We're talking about doing, a rewatching of it, where we're going to be there live to do a highlight, talk about some of the best things, maybe even combine best of the last couple of, or even all three digital NECSSes but where they're live to do chats and everything again, get some online stuff going. So we're talking about that. I'm not committing to it cause we haven't put it on the calendar yet, but that's a solid idea that there were that we're working on. But in the meantime, you could watch the whole thing beginning to end. It's a very similar experience to having watched it live cause it's all online.
Guest Rogue's 50th Birthday (5:15)
J: So Steve, a listener of the show named Justin Fisher wrote me an email asking that we say happy 50th birthday to one of his friends, Carl Gerhardt back in episode─
S: I'm afraid we can't do that.
J: ─(laughs) it's Episode 402.
J: He was a guest on the show and he has been a long, long, long time fan and listener of the show.
S: All right. I guess we could do it.
J: Yeah. So I would say happy birthday. He's 50. It's a 50th birthday. We're not going to say happy birthday to everybody. But 50 years is a huge─
S: Arbitrary round number, sure.
J: It's an important. Basically once you hit 50, like your younger life is officially over. You know what I mean?
S: Is that the hill? We're at the top of the hill? Is that what you're saying?
J: It is. So anyway, Carl, happy birthday, man. I know what it's like to be in the fifties (Evan laughs) and you just gotta eat less and try to enjoy it.
E: Well, happy birthday, Carl.
Special Report: USA's New Climate Change Bill (6:10)
S: All right guys. So we have to talk about this again. We don't want to talk about really the politics of this, more of the strategy of this. The US passed really its first climate mitigation bill pretty much ever. At least in decades.
C: Definitely the most kind of intensive one.
S: Oh yeah. Billions of dollars. For climate mitigation. And I actually really like what the approach they took, which we'll get into in a second. But I think this is, it's good to point out, Bob, that it's not hopeless and that if we keep plugging away I think it's important that we don't, fall into nihilism because that's self-defeating. So in a way, sort of that nihilistic approach can be as bad as denialism because at the end of the day, it's we're doing nothing. That's the end result.
E: Perfection is not the enemy of good.
S: Yeah. And again, there's yeah, this certainly isn't a perfect bill. It doesn't do everything we'd want it to do. But it's a huge win. And I think we should be very happy about it. The big picture here is that this is the inflation reduction bill, which is really not primarily about inflation reduction. That's kind of a side thing. But that's how they're marketing. That's how politics works in the US. But it is primarily a health care expansion and climate change mitigation bill is like the primary pieces of it. But the approach that they're taking and this is what Biden said he was going to do. It's the carrot, not the stick. So it's rather than trying to reduce fossil fuel production or have disincentives for fossil fuel. It's all focused on incentives for transitioning to a green economy.
B: Yeah, that's good. It'll help.
S: So it's money for, yeah, absolutely. It's money for buying electric vehicles for green energy, for energy efficiency, for industry to transition, even like steel and cement industry, agricultural industry transitioning to cleaner processes.
E: Any nuclear in there?
S: Yeah, apparently it contains a subsidy for existing nuclear power, 30 billion dollars over the next 10 years. So this definitely could help support the nuclear industry. Now, what I like about this approach is when you think about it, I think it makes more economic sense because if you think about what's our goal, our goal is to get to a transportation and energy infrastructure that is all green. That's not producing greenhouse gases and therefore means, no fossil fuel. You could, if you get there through a pathway that emphasizes or begins with trying to reduce fossil fuel, that's going to increase energy costs and be bad for the economy and what are we going to replace it with. But if you just reduce the demand for fossil fuels by pushing them aside with alternatives with green energy, then energy costs go down and everybody's happy. It's a much more politically feasible and much more logical path to take. And also I think there's an interesting question in the middle of this and so I think everyone's pretty much in favor of subsidies for green energy and electric vehicles and all that sort of stuff. It's like hard to argue against that realistically, obviously there's politicians will find some reason to oppose it, but there's no real, I think, negative thing to say about it. But there is a thing, there's a real debate about whether or not we should be having policies designed to increase the cost of fossil fuel or to decrease the cost of fossil fuel. And here are the two arguments. You want to increase the cost of fossil fuel, then that motivates people to drive less by more fuel efficient cars or switch over to electric or get off their natural gas supply or whatever. And there's certainly some evidence that that happens, but that of course is focusing on the consumer. But the problem is that is a massive incentive for the fossil fuel industry to continue to produce fossil fuels because they're getting more money for it. It's a more valuable commodity.
C: Well, unless it's a tax.
S: But even then.
C: You're not actually increasing the cost to the, the fossil fuel industry doesn't get the money, the government gets the money.
S: Yeah, but they just pass that tax on to the consumer, right?
C: Right, that's true.
S: And then they still get their money. Otherwise, if you reduce the cost of fossil fuels, maybe initially people might loosen up. But again, if you're doing that at the same time, you're really pushing for alternatives that are even cheaper, then what happens is you reduce the value of fossil fuel. And the argument goes, that's a really great way to have to incentivize companies to leave it in the ground because it's not worth anything anymore.
C: Well, it depends on how you're reducing the cost, because right now we do reduce the cost of fossil fuel by giving these companies tax breaks.
S: That's not the way to do it, but specifically by reducing demand. And you're reducing demand by promoting electric cars and solar power and wind power and nuclear power and all that stuff. So I don't know. I think this is kind of what I've been arguing for a while, is that we want the win-win. And I think the win-win here is let's just develop the crap out of green infrastructure energy, transportation and industries like steel and cement are the big ones. And the rest will kind of take care of itself.
C: But the problem is we're not coming from a neutral place. We're already incentivizing fossil fuel. So we have to stop incentivizing fossil fuel before we can be in that neutral place where there's it's either a yes or no.
J: Yeah. I agree.
B: Yeah, it's true cost is like would be shocking to most people.
S: Right, right, right. Absolutely. And what we don't want to do is increase the profitability for the fossil fuel industry.
C: We absolutely don't want to do that.
S: Because that's what's happening now.
C: Yeah, we are already. You're right. We are incentivizing it and we are increasing the profitability. So it's making it harder for these companies. You remember there was a time when Exxon was like, hi, we're going to be the alternative fuel people. But it wasn't worth it to them. They decided not to go that route. That was their company's plan and they chose not to because it wasn't financially worth it to them. That was a big misstep.
B: How long ago was that?
C: The 80s, I think.
C: Late 80s, early 90s.
B: Too soon, I guess. It was not in the cards at this point.
C: No it was─
S: Technology wasn't there?
C: ─a lot of policy failures.
B: Well, yeah. But also the technology was like in a zygote phase.
C: No, but that's what they wanted to do. They wanted to be the people who did that technology.
S: Which would have been [inaudible].
B: Imagine if they ran with that shit and really put some money into. Oh boy.
S: But the good thing is the technology did advance in the background. Right?
S: As we say, battery technology is better, solar technology is better, wind technology is better, nuclear technology is better─
B: Fusion is getting there.
S: ─and the electric vehicles are, yeah, that'd be nice. Electric vehicles now are just a completely different story than they were in the 90s.
C: It's like the technology is there, you're right, and it's getting there, but the corporate heavy-hittedness isn't there. When you think about─
S: But that's what this bill does, right? It basically─
C: When you think about BP and Exxon, it's like what do we have, Tesla? That's the closest thing we can even come up to that's like a heavy hitter like that in the green space.
S: Yeah, but this package gives incentives for all the auto companies to switch over to electric. To accelerate that transition. Right now there's more demand than supply of electric vehicles. So if we give the car companies money to rapidly switch over their manufacturing to electric vehicles, the demand is already there. And then we actually further increase the demand by giving incentives to the consumer for buying electric vehicles. So the idea is that we're at sort of a tipping point and we're just going to give it a huge push and then the dominoes are going to fall. So I hope that this approach works. I think it will. I think it's a good way to go. There's definitely more that could be done, but the other thing politically, because it's happening─
B: Yeah, how did they pull this off?
S: They got Manchin and Sinema on board and that's all it took.
C: Yeah we just needed [inaudible].
S: So here's the thing. This is how they got Manchin on board. They said, we'll increase drilling on federal land, onshore and offshore drilling, which may [sounds of disapproval] but I don't think that's a bad thing. I don't think that matters. It's not because, first of all, in the very current geopolitical climate, reducing the profitability of Russian oil is a good thing. And the thing is, until we reduce demand by replacing it, people are going to burn the fossil fuel anyway. I actually don't think it's a problem.
C: That's not why Manchin wanted this.
S: I know, but who cares? My point is, I will take this deal any day. If you tie increased leasing, first of all, it's only 10% of leasing, so who cares? But if you want to tie that to subsidies for green energy, I'll take that deal every day because I think in the long run, that pathway is going to get us the quickest to where we want to be. And trying to choke off fossil fuel in the short term is not going to get us there. It's actually going to create a backlash against green technology because all people are going to see I'm spending more money and the economy is in a slowdown or whatever. We want to make it politically a positive thing. We want it to be that in a year or two, just like with Obamacare after a couple of years, at first it was a backlash, then it was like the politics shifted.
C: And then it's like, please don't take this away from me.
S: Don't take this away. Again, it's the same thing. Once people see the health benefits and the price benefits and the energy independence and that electric vehicles are actually awesome, once that happens, then who's going to be the winner? It's going to be a political juggernaut. That's what we need.
S: So this may be a domino, both in industry, politically, scientifically. So we will see. I'm trying to be optimistic and obviously we could be disappointed, but I think first of all, it's better than the stagnation and the nothing that we had.
C: Oh, for sure.
B: Absolutely. Do something. Please.
S: There's a lot of good reasons to think that this is actually a good, solid approach. I'm very happy with it.
C: Sorry to ask a kind of naive question. I know that you dug deep into this, Steve, or you've been digging deep into it. So I'm curious if you have insights on this. Is there anything in this package bill, whatever we're calling it, that gets around or helps at least to somewhat mitigate the problem that part of the reason that our electric car supply and demand is so off is because of these supply chain issues, because we kind of screwed the pooch when it comes to the actual base technology that we need to make these batteries? And we're sort of in China's vice right now. Is there anything in here that's going to help us with that?
S: Well, I think there's a separate bill the CHIPS Act, which is going to try to increase the chip manufacturing in the U.S., and that is one of the main supply chain log jams for electric cars. So that's a separate bill, but that actually will help the problem. There's a lot in here under so-called energy justice, like trying to make sure that the benefits are spread out and and reach people of different socioeconomic status. I didn't see anything in there specifically to say and we're going to maintain battery independence. But yet I'm not worried about that, because as we discussed a few weeks ago, there's like a million years worth of lithium in the oceans.
C: And so we just got to scale that up.
S: It's actually there.
B: But you didn't read the news, Steve. China grabbed all of it.
S: All of the million years worth of lithium?
B: Just happened last week.
S: And the technology exists. We could do it now. It's just a matter of how much it costs. So if China tries to choke it off, say, OK, screw it, we've got all that we need right here.
C: Gotcha. OK. So that's not like a big brick wall.
S: There's no obstacle.
C: Big, big brick wall.
S: There's no obstacle for us getting to our goal.
C: Well, there are obstacles, but there's none that we can't overcome. But I mean, there are no technological obstacles or resource obstacles. There's just political obstacles. And this, I think, massively overcame those political obstacles. And I think if it works, it'll snowball. I think that's the idea. And again like the naysayers say, oh, the United States is only one piece of the pie. And if we don't do anything about China and India and these other countries, then we're not doing anything. It's like, yeah, but a lot of this is research and development and industrial change. And the United States is still the biggest economy in the world by far. It still dwarfs even China. And if this will, first of all, give us the moral leadership saying, hey, we're doing our bit. We passed the big law. We're spending the money. We're doing it. So it puts a lot of pressure on our allies. And also, this makes us more competitive in the green energy space. That has massive downstream effects as well. So the idea is that this will have implications far beyond America's shores when it comes to green energy. And again, that's all extremely plausible. Very encouraging. It's like the only real encouraging climate news in decades. And we'll see how it goes. And it's 100% going to pass, which is good. All right. Let's click over to some regular news items.
The Physics of Meteors (19:57)
S: Jay, you're going to start us off with the physics of meteors.
J: Steve, are you aware that meteors are affected by gravity just like everything else on the planet?
S: Oh yeah.
E: Oh, my gosh.
C: You mean off the planet?
J: I'm just kidding.
E: You mean mass has gravity? Oh, my gosh.
J: I mean, this is new, Ev. It's new. This is like the new physics. They're talking about gravity and how everything is affected by gravity.
E: Slow down there, Einstein.
J: So the question is that the researchers were asking is how does a part of a meteor make it all the way to the surface of the Earth? What determines what parts of the meteor actually make it to the surface, if at all? Is it like a piece that falls off early on, or what's the story behind the whole thing? And you would think that because most meteors are small, when you have something enter the Earth's atmosphere from outer space, lots of stuff is entering the Earth's atmosphere all the time. It's essentially sand and dirt and very, very small things that burn up immediately. I guess most things do burn up in the atmosphere, but some are big enough to get down or pieces of it to get down to the surface. Peter Jenaskins of the SETI Institute and NASA Ames Research Center set out to find some answers about what actually happens to meteorites or meteors as they're coming down. They decided to find meteorites that came from an asteroid that was originally detected back in 2008. And that asteroid is called, I mean, this always makes me laugh, I think of you, Bob. It's called TC3. They need to read more science fiction. They got to name these things something cool, something catchy.
E: Well, at least there's only three characters on those really long ones that nobody will ever remember.
C: But just roll them into a word. Like if it's TC3, call it like Tech 3 or Tri-Tech or something. Like turn it into something more memorable.
J: But what do they call it? The Wolfbiter 7.
E: I like that.
J: Sounds provocative. So this bad boy was six meters long, and it was actually detected by scientists. They're scanning outer space all the time to try to find asteroids and things that are flying by the Earth. And they found this guy, and they had some time to study it before it entered the Earth's atmosphere. Now, this one came down and ended up breaking apart over the Nubian desert of Sudan. And what they did was they got some research students to go to the site and to turn the site into a grid. So when it enters the Earth's atmosphere and it's traveling, not horizontally and not vertically, it's just coming down on an angle. And it could cover a lot of area, that pathway as it comes down. And it's shedding stuff the entire time. So they wanted to figure out, let's try to find samples of pretty much everything that fell off of this asteroid meteor as it was coming down. So they had tons of students go, and they were looking for samples. They found over 600 meteorites, which is a lot, by the way. They all varied in size, but nothing was bigger than, say, the size of a fist. So as the meteor was coming down, it was shedding parts of itself. And the researchers found that the larger pieces, the largest pieces that came off of this, the fist-sized ones that I mentioned, they were more spread out and they were farther down the pathway that the meteor took than the smaller ones, meaning that they were farther away from the path of the incoming meteor. Does that make sense? So the smaller particles would come off and they would basically fall in line with the pathway of the meteor. But the larger ones that happened towards the end were kind of like blown away. And it's all the physics of what happened.
E: So they take a different trajectory? They don't follow the same path, is that what you're saying?
J: They went perpendicular to the path of the meteor at the very end.
B: Was it from an air burst?
J: Kind of, yeah. Let me explain to you what they say and what the physics is that they're talking about. So because this meteor was initially tracked, they knew what size and shape it was. And they used the information that they had to be able to make a computer model to simulate the asteroid entering the Earth's atmosphere and its meteoric descent, using something called 3D hydrodynamic modeling. Now, this is typically used for, you would think, water. But air molecules behave like water in a lot of ways. And they can use this software to do modeling when things are moving through the atmosphere. So they were able to recreate the motion of the meteor as it tumbled around and melted and broke apart when it was coming into the Earth's atmosphere. And there's another important part of this. Scientists actually observed the actual meteor itself as it came down the day that it happened. And they recorded details about its brightness and the dust clouds it was leaving behind and the altitude at which these things were happening. So this information was factored into the simulation. And you'd be surprised at how damn accurate this simulation was at painting the story of where and when things fell off, especially when they added in the information of the debris field that was left under the pathway of the meteor as it came down. And they got a pretty clear picture of what was going on with this thing. So one cool thing they figured out was that because the meteor was coming in at a very high speed, it created a near vacuum wake in the Earth's atmosphere. So the first pieces that broke off came off from the sides of the asteroid slash meteor. And these pieces mostly moved into the vacuum that was created. And then after they entered that vacuum space, they fell down to the ground straight. They deaccelerated and fell down pretty much at regular speed like dirt and sand falling out of the air. The larger pieces that broke off mostly fell much further down the path of the descending meteor like I told you. So as the meteor is coming down, the air pressure becomes so high that it actually dramatically increases the heat on the front side of the meteor. So what they found, and this is so interesting, is that the backside of the meteor, however, did not get as hot and was not anywhere nearly as affected by the heat as the other parts of the meteor, that front leading edge in the front face of the meteor was really affected by the heat. It starts to melt, literally melts as it's coming down with that intense heat that's coming. So you have this the air pressure that builds up and creates that intense heat in the front. And then you have this vacuum that's being created like on the sides and partly behind. It's a really complicated collection of different types of physics happening all at the same time. So they were able to determine that the front leading edge of the meteor was the part that received the most heat from the compression of the air. While the back side and particularly the back bottom side was not as hot. Now, of course, what an important factor here is because of the the shape of this particular meteor, it wasn't tumbling as much. It tumbled more early on and then it kind of stabilized and it retained a relative position. So there was an extraordinarily different amount of heat in the front than the back of the meteor. And that is very important to the physics of what was what's about to take place here. Now towards the end of its journey, larger pieces now came flying apart in the final collapse. So as it's getting down into the atmosphere, there was this final collapse that happens where the whole thing just broke apart. And that's when the really large pieces, the fifth side pieces came off of this. And like I said, they they weren't following the normal trajectory. They got shot out to the sides because of what happened with all the air pressure and all of the heat and everything. And that final collapse, these pieces just came shooting out of this area where it had its final kind of like an explosion, you could say. Now here's another really interesting thing about what happens to asteroids and and ways that scientists will take advantage of these things. Asteroids are hit with cosmic rays as they travel through space and they all have low levels of radiation. The farther inside the asteroid you go, the less and less radiation is being absorbed. So by analyzing the meteorites, they were able to determine that the interior parts of the meteor did not survive the descent.
C: Oh that's cool.
J: They were not the protected part. It's the backside that's protected because it had radiation. And when they compared it to pieces that they did find with with lower radiation, they were able to determine that the majority of the material that was ejected from this as it came down was from the backside.
J: Now that I've educated you guys about it pretty complicated report that I read, but it was extraordinarily complicated and they get into literally mathematical formulas about what's going on and everything. And of course, I can't get into all of that. So this is this is a quick overview that I just thought was very interesting. But then I just decided, let me look up some some fun facts that I could share with you guys about meteors. Are you ready?
E: Fun facts about meatballs. Ready.
J: Every day. Next episode Ev. Every day, Earth is bombarded with more than how many tons of dust and sand sized particles?
S: Tons on a million.
J: Anybody else?
E: A million? A million tons?
E: I'll say 10,005.
J: It's actually 100 tons, which is a lot.
E: Bob's closest.
B: I win!
J: It's a lot. Yeah. You add zeroes. You take away zeros. These are hard numbers to guess. About once a year, an automobile sized asteroid hits Earth's atmosphere. It creates an impressive fireball and then burns up before reaching the surface. In that situation, it could be tumbling like crazy and everything gets burned up because everything gets hot and explosive and then turns into dust and sand at that point. Every 2000 years or so, a meteoroid the size of a football field hits Earth and causes significant damage to the area that it hits. Only once every few million years, an object large enough to threaten Earth civilization comes along. Impact craters on Earth and the moon and other planetary bodies are evidence of these occurrences. So we know that they happen. We know that they're super rare. Please don't worry about it. We're also watching the skies now, but it does happen. Space rocks smaller than about 25 meters or about 82 feet will most likely burn up as they enter the Earth's atmosphere and cause little or no damage. 25 meters, that's a pretty big chunk of rock if you think about it, and our atmosphere is there to protect us. If a rocky meteoroid larger than 25 meters but smaller than one kilometer, a little more than half a mile, were to hit Earth, it would likely cause local damage to the impact area. And we believe anything larger than one to two kilometers or one kilometer is a little more than a half a mile could have worldwide effects. So it would take an extraordinarily large piece of rock that we would most definitely see coming and we probably have time to deal with it.
B: Well. If it's coming out of the Sun, if it's coming from that direction, I mean, I'm just saying it's not a no brainer that we wouldn't miss it. We're not perfectly observing all possibilities. We still have meteoroids that kind of look it, there it goes. Didn't see it coming, but there it goes. That still happens.
E: See you again in 5,000 years.
J: Bob I'm trying to make people feel good. And you're harshing our mellow over here how about this? When we went to the museum in New Zealand, we got to smell a meteorite. And what, guys, do you remember what it smelled like?
E: Burning or something.
B: It's a cam and Swiss?
J: No, it smelled like a barbecue. It had definitely had─
E: Burning, OK, yeah.
J: ─almost an umami kind of smell to it. Very interesting to think that little particles of that were coming off and we were breathing them in and getting a smell of outer space in us.
B: Yeah, right?
E: Yeah. From a long time ago too.
B: I liked it.
New Kind of Motion (33:38)
S: All right, Bob, you're going to tell us about a new kind of motion that defies the laws of physics. What?
B: Well, kind of, but this is cool. Researchers claim that by studying movement on curved spaces, that it's possible to create a type of movement in a way that has never been seen before. Now, this was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers were led by Zeb Rocklin, assistant professor in the School of Physics at Georgia Tech. Okay. This one is a bit of a loin girding scenario (Evan laughs) so I'll lead with a quote from the researchers' pre-print archive paper from January 2022, and I'm going to use that because it's ironically better than their opening for their published paper. So they said: "Locomotion by shape changes (spermatozoon swimming, snake slithering, bird flapping) or gas expulsion (rocket firing) is assumed to require environmental interaction, due to conservation of momentum." All right, that's a huge point. What this means is that for locomotion to occur, momentum has a critical role to play as well as the environmental forces like friction. Think about it. Without them, especially like thinking of friction as well, specifically walking or slithering or flapping, you're not going to go anywhere, you're not going to get anywhere. Momentum also plays a critical role. Now, this exchange of momentum, it seems obvious and has been a general assumption for quite a long time until the early aughts. Is anybody even still using that word anymore? Aughts? I almost never hear it.
C: Don't think so.
E: Not in 20 years or so.
B: The early 2000s, when some scientists named Wisdom, Guérin, and Avron claimed that locomotion does not require this interaction with the environment if it happens in curved space-time or even in earthbound curved surfaces. So this assumption that you're going to have this interaction this exchange of momentum and utilizing forces like friction. That assumption, they claim, is not warranted in a special situation where there's a curved space-time or earthbound curved surfaces. Okay. Now, many scientists didn't believe this exception. They thought, no way, that can't be right. They didn't think it existed. And now, these most recent researchers claim that they've actually demonstrated this effect for the first time using a robotic apparatus. They describe this apparatus in their paper in this way: "Here we show that a precision robo-physical apparatus consisting of motors driven on curved tracks and thereby confined to a spherical surface without a solid substrate." Now, if you think that description is hard to picture, I saw a video of this thing and I'm still not sure exactly what the hell was going on. (laughter) I mean, it's like, wait, what? And it gave me two angles. So all right, so from what I could gather, the hardest thing about this apparatus was that they had to isolate it from the environmental forces as much as possible. Because they needed to remove the possibility of conservation of momentum or environmental forces like friction from playing a part. They wanted to subtract that possibility. So in this case, they minimized the effect of gravity and friction to as close as zero as possible. And then once they did that, it allowed for this subtle effect to appear in their robo-physical apparatus. Robo-physical. And that's a word never heard before. I'm not sure what I think about it yet, but okay. The result, which has never been observed before, was that from a system, the system that they created had zero momentum. Nothing. No momentum. And from that, they were able to generate a forward movement of a tenth of a centimeter per gate cycle. Not amazingly fast, but it came from a zero momentum system and it accomplished this even while it still had to resist the tiny amounts of gravity and friction that remained in the system. I assume the minute pieces of that they couldn't fully remove. And even though it had to resist it, it still had this forward movement that was created kind of from nothing in a sense. So the summary in their paper said, we have experimentally realized and theoretically characterized the movement of a robot through a curved spherical space without relying on any momentum or reliance on environmental forces to translate. In contrast with all other observed systems, this has never been observed before. And I mean, it's not really from nothing, but I mean, that's one interpretation that some people are saying. But I mean, look at the paper. It's like, damn, man. Obviously a lot of that was super technical and I'd like to see what some other scientists make of it. So, all right, so what do we make of this? What can something like this even accomplish if it's further developed? What's the future of something like this? And of course it's hard to say. But this could get potentially very, very interesting. Now they say that their apparatus can be used as a test bed to reveal other types of this very exotic behavior on curved surfaces related to, for example, nonlinear effects or collective behavior. And we know nonlinear effects and collective behavior, to me, that's like, wow. Those are scenarios where you can see amazing stuff like collective behavior. We see emergent behavior coming from collective behavior. Nonlinear effects can also, as we know, produce some very, very interesting things. Now researchers say that this curvature induced effect may have some practical importance. They compare it to, for example, the small frequency shift that's caused by gravity that became critical for GPS satellite systems to work so well. So they compare it as an analogy, something that was subtle and small having an outsized impact potentially in the future. Now they say this research relates to the so-called impossible engine study. Remember that? That's that so-called EM drive nonsense. Now that got a little nervous.
S: Propellantless rocket.
B: I got nervous when I read that, like, whoa, wait, what? Well, you're comparing this to that baloney? So but lead scientist Rocklin said, its creator claimed that it could move forward without any propellant. That engine was indeed impossible, but because space time is very slightly curved, a device could actually move forward without any external forces or emitting a propellant. A novel discovery. It's a hell of a sentence right there. So can a rocket be created like that? No external forces or propellant emission. Steve, Jay, do we need a new chapter in our future book? That's rhetorical. Don't answer it.
B: Well, okay.
E: Too late.
B: I'm of course, I'm skeptical at this point. If their experiment and their interpretation is solid, I suspect my luck, this will just remain a laboratory curiosity. But who knows? There's already talk of this potentially being used on a spacecraft in the future at some potential point that can move around the incredibly curved space around a black hole. Just using curved space time to actually move without needing propellant or even laser sails or any of that stuff. Who knows? To me, that sounds a little magical still at this point, but their experiment is their experiment and I can't wait to see what other scientists say about what they did and what their interpretation of it is. So I'm going to definitely be following this one.
S: Yeah. That's one of those game changers that would render a huge chunk of our book completely obsolete. (laughter)
E: Oh my gosh.
S: If there's any way to translate energy or motion, whatever, into linear acceleration without external force or propellant, because those are really the only two methods, that is a complete game changer. So then then interstellar space travel becomes massively more feasible. Well, let's hope it doesn't happen for a few years at least then.
B: Assuming it's I mean, even that, remember what they've achieved in the laboratory. This was a 10th of a centimeter. Now sure.
S: It doesn't matter.
B: It's a testament. It doesn't matter.
S: It really doesn't matter.
B: It doesn't necessarily. Yeah. The fact that that it happened is kind of big. It is absolutely big. But translating that to the possibility, it might be the situation where, yup, this is absolutely real. It happens, but you would need infinite energy to translate it into a rocket that could travel in an interstellar in a way that would actually be beneficial. That's what I suspect it would happen. But who knows? This could be pie in the sky. This could be like the future of industries could be based on this at some point. But that's so premature at this point. It's just, it's just a fun little thing that could become something, but cross your fingers. Let's just see what other scientists say.
S: Yeah, absolutely. It could be the zero point energy of acceleration. But interesting. I hope that we were wrong about this. I hope there is some subtle aspect of the laws of space, time and quantum physics or whatever the hell, like quantum gravity, something, there's something there that we could exploit to produce the equivalent of propellantless acceleration.
B: Oh my god.
S: That will give us the universe. That would just be a complete game changer for space travel. It may be even intraplanetary travel.
B: Even small scale uses could be amazingly beneficial. If it's just something that's limited in that way, it really wouldn't be useful for beyond the solar system. Even that could be an absolute game changer.
S: But we have to be as amazing as it is. That's how skeptical we need to be about it.
B: Yeah, absolutely.
S: All right.
Structured Water (43:34)
S: Speaking of being skeptical, Cara, tell us about structured water. What is that?
C: Yeah. This is, I feel like I'm like doing an Evan story today. I'm excited. (laughter) I don't often talk about like scams on the show, but I love it. So I came across an article in The Conversation, which was also picked up by Science Alert that was recent. It was like within the last week because apparently Courtney Kardashian on her website, do you know that she has a website called Poosh?
E: How do you spell that?
S: She's trying to outdo goop or something?
C: Yeah, she's trying to outgoop goop.
E: Posh with an extra O.
B: Is it just as ridiculous?
C: Oh, absolutely. So there is an article that was published in Poosh this past month. The title is: "Is Your Water Creating Chaos?" And it's amazing. This, it's so bad. So the whole thing is trying to hawk something called hexagonal water.
E: Oh, I love hexagons.
C: Yeah, which the more I've learned about it, the more, it's just there's so much good stuff here. There's like so much to unpack. They also sometimes call it structured water. And as the Poosh article explains: "its molecules are beautifully formed hexagonal configurations that look like perfect little snowflakes." They also say: "it's formed in nature from endless swirls and tumbles over smooth rocks and stones, creating vortexes that magnetize the water, pulling the components of each molecule into a symmetrical shape."
S: Oh, yeah.
E: Oh, wow. So it gets everything in alignment and balances.
J: Sounds great.
S:: You could do that right now with a turbo-encabulator. (Evan laughs)
C: Right. So the funny thing is, of course, they're not just saying your water isn't hexagonal enough. They're also hawking a filter or a machine.
S: The hexagonator.
C: That will hexagonify your water. And guess how much it costs?
E: $995 at least.
B: Oh, my gosh.
J: Of course.
E: Because in numerology, that's an important number.
C: It will vortex your water.
S: But isn't your health worth it, Cara?
C: (laughs) To make it more structured. So I was like, well this is stupid. So I started to dig a little bit deeper. And I found a lot of websites hawking hexagonal water, structured water. It's also apparently called EZ water.
J: Oh, it's easy. It's very easy.
C: As in the letters EZ.
E: Oh, my gosh.
C: Here's a great website. I don't want to give the, I'm not even going to say the dude's name because I don't want to give him any traffic. But the article is literally called, what is EZ water and why do I have to get naked in the Sun to make it?
E: What? Why?
C: (Cara laughs) Because apparently, as he says, who shall be unnamed "EZ water is a special type of water that forms in your cells. It's like a charged battery. It stores energy and can deliver that energy to cells that need it. EZ water makes your mitochondria stronger so that you can produce more energy. It also acts as an antioxidant, protecting you from stress and slowing down aging and improves protein folding across your whole body, which makes you more resilient to stress and speeds up recovery." Oh, and if we read below, we'll have five ways to make more EZ water in our cells. Let's find those five ways. Here we go. "Drink raw vegetable juice or fresh spring water" because I guess it just naturally occurs in those places. "Blend regular water in the blender" (laughter) "or drink bulletproof coffee." Apparently that helps too. "Get naked in the Sun." So you want to know why? Here we go. "Sunlight has plenty of the 1200 nanometer light that creates EZ water, plus a bunch of other spectra." Yeah. Yeah, a bunch that makes sunlight great for you. I can't with this. It's so stupid.
J: It's so stupid it's unbelievable.
C: And then you also infrared sauna, of course. And then use some sort of, again, not going to give the name of the machine, some sort of stupid machine that sends water through 1200 nanometer radiation. And then you breathe it in. What? Okay. So I was like, this is the dumbest thing ever. But the interesting thing, and also I found the Wikipedia page, and you know the Guerrilla Skeptics did some, a number on this, it's amazing. So hexagonal water, also known as gel water, structured water, cluster water, H3O2 is a term used in a marketing scam. That is the first sentence of the Wikipedia entry that claims the ability to create a certain configuration of water that is better for the body. But what I learned is that, A, the scam is not new. It's quite old. I'm finding websites from 2011 that are hawking hexagonal water. So I guess poosh is a little late to the party. Also it's one of those types of pseudoscience that I find the most fascinating, where it's based on legitimate research that then went into like crazy town. So there was a researcher, or I shouldn't say was, I don't know if he's still around, and I am a little concerned about his, about some of the conclusions that he draws on his labs page. But there is a laboratory by a researcher named Gerald Pollock, and he does research on the structure of water, among other things. And water is fascinating. Water is really cool and has all sorts of really amazing properties that like only water seems to have, and it's fascinating. And so we know about the three different states of water matter, solid, liquid, and gas. His research laboratory looks at something called a fourth phase, exclusion zone water and that's where the name EZ water actually comes from.
E: Exclusion zone.
C: Exclusion zone water is water that occurs at interfaces with surfaces, because the water properties do change, and the structure changes a bit as water interfaces with either surfaces, whether it's air surfaces or the surfaces of the container that it's in. I mean, you guys remember way back when you were taking your biology lab and you would put things in a graduated cylinder? Do you remember where you had to measure from? The bottom of the meniscus? You remember that? Because it clings to the edge of the graduated cylinder, clings to that, because of these properties that make it basically stick, like bond, to the edge of the glass. And so this lab really studies exactly what's happening at the molecular level in these exclusion zones. And they've looked at all sorts of different cool things where they're finding that certain solutes are excluded from hydrophilic surfaces, and they're using their findings to develop interesting technologies. Desalination technologies, filter technologies that don't require, like filterless filters, as they call it, by utilizing the exclusion zone properties of water to separate solutes from the solution, basically. His lab does not study the magical, mystical properties of hexagonifying water and then drinking it and, I guess, making your cells super efficient. But I do worry that there is a portion on his website called Water and Health that just starts to feel a little weird. So I'm curious what you guys' take is on this. I'm just going to read you, like, two paragraphs. "We're studying the central role of water in health. We're two-thirds water by volume. In terms of the percentage of molecules that two-thirds can figure computes to a lot of water molecules. More than 99% of our molecules are water molecules. Evidence suggests that those 99% don't merely sit as background carriers, but they're central participants that what the cell does depends on water." Okay, so far you've got me. "This leads to the hypothesis that proper hydration is a central feature of function and therefore of health." I don't think anybody's arguing with you.
B: Hydration is important.
C: Yes. Considerable evidence supports this point of view. And then the next sentence, you guys. "Informal discussion of the evidence for the role of water in health appears in an interview I did with Dr. Mercola."
C: Why? And a recent lecture dealing with EZ water in health is found here and a grant proposal submitted earlier to the NIH, blah, blah, blah. We're actively seeking funding, blah, blah, blah. And then he ends this section with: "Who knows, EZ water may become the next wonder drug." So I am not going to take Dr. Pollack off the hook for this. Yes, I think that he's probably got a fair amount of really legitimate research. And yes, I think that a lot of scammers and snake oil salesmen took a handful of things that he studied and ran with it into a bizarre kind of totally different dimension. But don't seem like he's doing a whole lot to stop them. Doesn't seem like he is.
S: No, he's totally responsible. First of all, my sense is, and I'd have to look into it deeper to see if this holds up, but there's two things. One is he's some nerdy scientist in a lab who has no idea about the world out there and pseudoscience and how his research can be exploited. The fact that he has no idea who Mercola is and what a complete and total scam artist and pseudoscientist he is is inexcusable. And second, a lot of basic science researchers, of course, they want their research to change the world. And I've seen a lot of them get seduced by pseudoscientists who say, your research could actually be this huge clinical thing, the new wonder drug or whatever it is. And they buy it because they're not clinicians. They don't know. This happened with when I was sued, the doctor who did that, where he had these basic scientists on the hook who he's telling them that, yeah, your basic science research led to this amazing clinical breakthrough. They didn't have the first clue. I remember I told my lawyer when they were on the stand, I'm like, ask them what a phase three clinical trial is. Just ask, what's a phase three clinical trial? And he asked that question and she gets this embarrassed smile on her face and goes, it's the one that comes after phase two? (laughter) That was literally her answer.
S: She had no idea. No idea.
E: Oh, my gosh.
C: Right. Because she's not doing transitional work.
C: She's not a clinical scientist.
S: So shut up and get off the stand. You have no idea what you're talking about. So it's possible that he's falling into this category.
C: Yeah. He is a bioengineering professor. And he's studying, again, behavior at these hydrophilic surfaces. And he's discovering that, whoa, water has these cool properties where it pushes away certain materials. It pushes away certain solutes. And so, yeah, it could have some cool industrial, some cool material science outcomes.
S: It's diamagnetic. I don't even think that's anything new.
C: And here's the interesting thing. Well, I shouldn't say interesting, but here's the part where I feel like we would be remiss if we didn't just straight up debunk this. I know we're debunking it by being like, this is stupid, but let's debunk it by looking at what the claims are and systematically dismantling them. Basically the main claim is that at this exclusion zone, which does seem to exist, water, we know what water is, right? It's two hydrogen atoms─
C: ─and one oxygen atom, yep, H2O, may change into H3O2. So we've got this negative electric charge and that sort of induces this layered kind of hexagonal network arrangement. And in doing that, certain solutes now can no longer bind to it. And we do see this happening within our cells all the time because our cells have membranes. So there are going to be these kind of zones, these surface zones with water. But this is where the massive jump comes. Well, that's what happens in your cells. That's what happens in nature. Why aren't we drinking this kind of water? And let's talk about why this is not science. If water could change into H3O2, first of all, it wouldn't and doesn't stay that way because then it wouldn't be water because water is H2O. If it formed this hexagonal lattice-like structure, it would not be wet. It would not flow. That would no longer be the liquid phase of water if in large quantities, in the macro, it stayed this way. This only happens at the surface. It could not happen throughout the whole water or it wouldn't be water. Get this. If you were to look at like a big vat of water, about every one molecule in every billion molecules already has an extra hydrogen atom because not everything's super stable. Sometimes you get these positively charged and negatively charged ions. They just happen spontaneously. These protons are mobile. They move around. And it happens really fast. We're talking about what this site says a thousand times each second. On the Wiki page, it says that hydrogen bonds continually break and reform at timescales shorter than 200 femtoseconds. So even if you could produce hexagonal water with some sort of weird filter, it would just become water again within femtoseconds because chemistry. So it's one of those things where not only is it a clear and total scam, it's not even feasible. We can debunk it, sure, but it doesn't even have face validity from the beginning.
S: It's homeopathy.
C: It's so important.
E: Oh, that's a good point.
C: It's fully, yeah. It's like water has a memory. It's all that.
S: And again, they refer to this femtosecond structure of water to say that, see, water can have other structure and information. They're like bricks building a building. So yeah, at the femtosecond scale, you're going to drink that? It's going to survive to interact with your body in some way? It's ridiculous.
C: It's water is water and I'm sorry, but like really when it comes down to it, whether they're changing the pH on you, whether trying to change the molecular structure, whether they're dissolving stuff into it, whatever, it's water. And you know what water is in a lot of places in the world? Not all. We definitely have struggles with water insecurity, but in most developed nations, you know what water out of your tap is pretty cheap, if not free. So don't spend ridiculous amounts of money on scamming water─
S: magic water.
C: ─and mind the pockets of hucksters.
S: Magic water is a whole category of scams unto itself. Absolutely.
C: Yep, yep, yep.
S: All right. Thanks, Cara.
Cryonic Horror Stories (58:58)
E: Evan, tell us about cryonic horror stories.
E: Oh boy.
S: Jay, you're going to love this story.
E: Well, a long time ago. No?
J: Yeah. (Cara laughs)
E: In a galaxy far, far away?
B: In a galaxy far far away. I got it.
E: Just to see who was awake. A protocol droid once said: "They've encased him in carbonite. He should be quite well protected if he survived the freezing process, that is." Well, fast forward to today in our very own galaxy, and we have a newly released article over at bigthink.com with the title, Horror stories of cryonics: The gruesome fates of futurists hoping for immortality. So I guess we have to decide how we went from quite well protected to cryonic horror stories. Cryonics, we've spoken about it before on the show, I'm certain. But for those who are not familiar with it, cryonics is the practice of deep freezing bodies of people who have entered the earliest state of the dying process in hopes that future scientific advances may allow them to be revived in the future. In some cases, it's only the head of the person that gets frozen as opposed to the full body. And the goal is to freeze the body or the head before the natural decaying processes take hold for too long. So what they do, they prepare a body, the bodily liquids are removed and replaced with what they call an organ preservation solution. And I believe that process is called perfusion. When you take the blood out and you put something else in. The solution is described as sort of a human antifreeze. The body is then wrapped in several layers of insulating material. It's embedded in dry ice until the body reaches a temperature of about negative 130°C. Then the frozen body is placed inside a Dewar, D-E-W-A-R. That's an insulated container used for storing cryogens. Body goes into the Dewar, head down to keep the brain the coldest and most stable to also guard against leakage. The Dewar lies within a second outer vessel separated by a vacuum to avoid heat transfer from the outer room temperature vessel wall to the cold inner vessel wall. Then that Dewar in that pocket is filled with liquid nitrogen and that gets the body down to -196°C. So yeah, that's where you are. That's about as frozen I think as a body can get with using modern technology. Oh, and you have to fill up the liquid nitrogen periodically in order to keep it stable at that temperature. Now, the freezing of people using dry ice and liquid nitrogen has been in practice since the 1960s. And as you can imagine, the first instances of attempting to preserve people using freezing techniques didn't go so well. Techniques were generally poor. Bodies were at room temperature in most cases for too long before they froze them and that really made them unviable from the start. Some companies did not use cryoprotectants or the perfusion with their patients. Some only put them on dry ice and did not use liquid nitrogen and others skip the liquid nitrogen and went straight to freezing them. I'm sorry. And then others skip the dry ice and went straight to freezing them in the liquid nitrogen. Although the idea they said initially wasn't for future revival, it was more for cosmetic preservation. But even that didn't go so well. And they have several cases in which they tell you about how some of these things failed ultimately. So in one case, there's a facility that was paid to keep people frozen in just the dry ice and that would get your body to about -130°C. And that was it. They're just lay there on beds of dry ice until they decided to finally obtain a Dewar capsule that could do the liquid nitrogen process. And then when they did get it, they got the Dewar, there was already a body inside of it. So they opened it up, they took that body out and then they packed it back in with a total of four bodies managed to kind of get it in there. But the original body that they took out, it thawed too much. It was just out of there too long and unfortunately it started to unfreeze. They refilled it, they got it all in there though eventually. They held everyone there for about a year, but then they stopped receiving money from the relatives, so after a while they couldn't pay for it anymore. They had to thaw everyone out and then give them more of a regular resting place in a cemetery vault. Reporters who visited the crypt where those failed operations as they call them took place, they reported a horrifying stench. So that's not good, whatever the heck they were smelling. Another case, a group of three bodies packed into one Dewar, the liquid nitrogen system failed. The Dewar design failed and couldn't hold the liquid nitrogen and then just one day they were checking and the technician noticed, uh-oh, we got a problem here. They thawed out and they were eventually removed and buried elsewhere, so that's another case. Oh, here's a case where a boy, a young boy's body was frozen, but they found it to be cracked and they said the cracking likely occurred because it was frozen too quickly by the liquid nitrogen. It has to go over a specific sort of slow gradual process of getting to that temperature, but apparently it went too quickly. Once again they had to abandon it and the boy had to be thawed out and buried in a more traditional sense. And then there's the one in, here's one where the Dewar, again poor design, led to a series of incidents, at least one of which was the failure of the vacuum jacket. Remember I said the Dewar is dropped in and then there's another inside and then there's an exterior piece to it. So you got these two layers, but problem with the vacuum that took place, the bodies in the container partially thawed, they moved, and then they froze again. And when that happens, the bodies contort, they'll go into these strange shapes, which is not good. They wind up sticking to the side of the capsule. They described it like a child's tongue to a cold lamp post, eventually when they got these bodies out. So ultimately after a year, they deemed it a total failure. The bodies decomposed into a plug of fluids, as they described it, and sort of pooled at the bottom of the capsule and they had to scrape out their remains and bury them. So basically when the process goes bad, it goes really bad. But here's the interesting part of the article, the part that I didn't know about. This was in 1983, Alcor, which is one of the main companies that manages the freezing of people, they had to lighten three cryonauts. You're a cryonaut, by the way, when you go into these duars. That's your designation. And the orders were to take the bodies out and we're just going to use the heads. They're just going to keep the heads frozen. I imagine for financial reasons, but they wouldn't really get into that. But in any case, that's what had to happen. So the corpses were removed from the duar capsules, the heads were cut off, and they used a chainsaw to do it because obviously you're still very much frozen. And then the heads were stored separately. But this gave the scientists an opportunity to see so what happens to the thawing process of the bodies? They had these three bodies to observe and watch. So while the bodies were still frozen, they said the skin was only moderately cracked in a few places. But they said once the bodies thawed, then things started to go downhill rapidly. Cracks appeared in the bodies, cutting through the skin and subcutaneous fat, all the way down to the body wall and muscles beneath.
C: What happens at the macro level, think about what's happening inside the cells. These ice crystals are ripping the cell membranes apart. They're losing all of their integrity.
J: That's what that liquid, that's what that perfusion method─
C: Is supposed to take care.
J: ─supposed to be minimizing. And from my understanding, the material that they're using and the formula that they're using is constantly being improved upon. I've never seen any proof of how well it's working or there's also different companies.
C: But if they're just perfusing in blood, that's probably not enough. You know what I mean? You need to get into the neurons. You need to get into, I just remember working in a lab years and years and years ago and one of my lab mates was trying to figure out how to ship these like in vitro nerve cell networks that we made. And she was trying to, and this was an exposed nerve cell network, just use the right antifreeze in order to allow them to be frozen and then come back without ripping through microtubules and really destroying the integrity of the cells. And it was very hard to do. I know we've gotten to the point where we're better at that now with cultures, but with whole bodies?
E: Yeah, whole bodies.
C: We're not there.
E: They said for as bad as the skin and the muscles and the tissue damage was, it's the organs that really took horrible, horrible beatings. Badly cracked. Severed in some cases. The spinal cords were snapped into three pieces, the heart was fractured. Every major blood vessel had broken near the heart. The lungs and spleen were almost bisected. And yeah, the liver and kidneys, although weren't completely destroyed, they were severely damaged. So these are the cases in which they emphasize in this particular article. The thing is that there are still plenty of people who remain frozen. So obviously we don't know exactly what's going on with all cases. These are just the cases they were able to study of the few that have had to be thawed out for whatever reason. If the scientists know that this is the case, especially when it comes to the whole body freezing process, perhaps maybe they should be more focusing on really just offering the service for the head alone. And again, you can imagine what's going to happen to the brain during any sort of thaw process. But again, you're relying on a future technology that doesn't exist. That's the gamble. However, some people pay as much as almost a quarter million dollars to have their entire body frozen and maintained. And the company's knowledge about sort of how the history of this has worked out and what they do know about the thaw out process with the body, it's a red flag to me that they kind of still continue to offer that as a service, sort of knowing that the end result here in at least all of these cases turned out to be a big zero.
B: The problem here is that the kind of gross damage that you're describing and said like the heart was split, the spine was split in three pieces, to me that's all irrelevant because the point is, the entire point is that you're anticipating a future technology that will be able to do repairs at the nanoscale. So those gross damage would be trivial assuming that technology. But it also misses the point of the way a lot of these companies are now preserving the brain. They're not using these cryopreservation fluids. They're using vitrification which is much superior. I've read studies where they've taken hippocampal slices from rats and vitrified them and then they undid that process and it was comparable to controls that were not cryopreserved or vitrified at all. So I mean the key is, can you infer the working state of the neurons, of the brain from what is left? So some damage is essentially inevitable but if you can infer, all you have to be able to do, you assume that the technology will be developed and then if we can infer the working state then you have a decent shot of having some sort of positive result here. More nuanced damage would probably be hard to predict but to me that's the key. So this other, this damage that you're talking about it kind of misses the point. It's like because the whole thing is anticipating and expecting this technology that doesn't seem to it's not breaking any laws of physics in my book.
C: Yes it is.
B: So you're talking quick care. I mean we've got we've got biology itself creates structures that work at this level. So you're saying that repair at the molecular level is not something that we could achieve within a century or two or ten?
C: No, I think we could easily repair things at the molecular level but then to reanimate them is a completely different question.
B: Well you've got to put them on a table, you lift them up when there's an electrical storm and then just let it work (Cara laughs) but I mean the thing is it's not like we've got to like find a spark of life to throw in there. What do you mean? Once you get things working, well I don't know what that comment means.
J: It would take nanotechnology, it would take a full blown developed nanotechnology to be able to even contemplate doing something like this.
B: Of course.
C: I feel like the breakdown in reasoning is the same parallel breakdown in reasoning that we often get to the crux and maybe it's a philosophical difference. When you guys talk about space colonialism and I'm like why would we do that, we haven't even figured out how to terraform our own planet and make it livable. It's the same kind of thing like you're just saying well you just put bodies in a blender then we'll just figure out how to fucking fix it all later. Like it's like no we won't, like it just doesn't make sense.
B: Good luck inferring a working brain from a blender but I mean that's not a good example.
C: I see what you mean. But it's not that different than why don't we just freeze them on ice. Like why do all this extra tech, why vitrify even if we come up with good tech?
B: Because I think if you just did it on regular ice, I mean you will have decay. You will have decay and you will not be able to infer the working state and that's what death is. We all know the definition of death is almost meaningless in that it changes over time. A century ago or so or two, if you stopped breathing you were dead. Now you are not dead at all when you stop breathing. So death is not a point, it's a process and just because somebody is frozen in the future doesn't necessarily mean that for all time this person is going to be considered dead.
C: No but it's also a wild assumption to think that we will just figure out a mechanistic and feasible ability to re-induce consciousness when we don't understand the emergent property that is consciousness.
B: I don't think you need to understand consciousness to thaw out and repair a body and potentially make it work.
C: But you're just assuming it will then just become conscious after you do that.
S: I think that's a pretty good conclusion.
B: My odds of coming back otherwise are zero. I'll take fractionally above zero, over zero any day.
C: And that's a fine, I mean if that's the gamble you're taking that makes sense. I'm not disagreeing with that.
B: Of course it is, of course it is.
C: But to really think that it's actually going to happen to me is pseudoscience.
J: We're not talking about magic here though. If they were going to repair─
B: Right. This isn't magic.
J: ─a brain, bring it back up to temperature and actually have blood pumped to it, if that brain is put together in a way that makes sense from a neurological perspective, why would we think that that consciousness would be impossible to achieve? I mean you're really just trying to build, it is the most complicated thing in the universe, I'll give you that without a doubt.
S: The real question is not will we be able to do this because ever is a very long time. It's really a matter of how long is it going to take before we can repair the amount of damage that's going to happen. And so the better you preserve the body at the front end, the less time it will take to be able to repair it at the back end in terms of advances in technology.
C: But to just have a blanket assumption it's not an if, it's a when, I think is a little overreaching.
S: There's a lot of assumptions there.
B: Nobody claimed this was inevitable.
S: If you assume that human civilization doesn't collapse and it continues indefinitely, then I think it's not unreasonable to say that this technology can happen.
B: That's out point.
S: It is very, very difficult but it is not breaking the laws of physics. There's no theoretical reason why it's impossible, it's just really hard. It may prove impractical and it may prove that we won't really be able to ever practically do it. Or we may find that yeah, we could get the brain working again but like you have none of your memories. It's insufficient information for any continuity, that's also totally possible.
B: Absolutely agree. I would take that chance.
C: But how is buying into cryonics then any different than buying into the pseudoscientific snake oils that we often see sold that do have, that don't fly in the face of physics?
B: Like what?
C: The ones where they're not, it's not like everything that's pseudoscience is pseudoscience simply because it breaks the laws of physics.
S: Oh yeah, there's a lot of pseudoscience that doesn't define the laws of physics, they're just wrong. Or there's insufficient evidence to, they're making claims that go beyond the evidence.
C: And you think that cryonics isn't making claims that go beyond, that's what I'm saying. This is pseudoscience.
S: I'm not defending the ROI on cryonics.
C: But I feel like our tone is very different as a skeptical podcast when we talk about this kind of stuff. And it's like, why are we not applying the same skepticism?
S: I disagree. I think the tone is very much the same. I'm very careful to always say this is impossible. This isn't impossible. This could work but like we could be being visited by aliens. There's nothing impossible about that. There just isn't enough evidence to support it that I'm willing to accept that claim. That's all. So I think we're talking about it very similarly.
C: I don't think so.
S: There isn't any reason why, again, you're talking about the future, all bets are off and when you're talking about the deep future, especially, we just can't know that. What I think the real question is, what's the probability that the infrastructure is going to keep you properly preserved until that?
B: Yes, it's low. It's probably damn low.
S: It's really low.
C: We may be talking about the far future of what's going to be possible then, but we're talking about a commercial enterprise right now.
S: Oh I know.
C: That people are spending money on.
S: Yeah, I'm not defending that. I'm not defending that.
B: Yeah, of course.
C: Because to me, this is pseudoscience. Cryonics, as a, it's like cord blood stuff, it's like all of these different industries that prey on people's fears and their concerns.
C: And then they take their money away from them in the hopes of giving them some sort of salvation. That's pseudoscience.
S: I agree. I'm not defending crime as an industry.
C: I just want to make that clear because I don't think that comes across in the conversation.
S: Well, you're assuming a lot. We're talking about it theoretically versus this is a good investment of your money.
B: Exactly that's the difference Cara.
S: We're not saying that.
C: No, and that's great, but I'm saying nobody made that explicit. And so I'm trying to put myself in the shoes of the listener. This needs to be made explicit.
S: Yeah. Well, we're making it explicit.
C: Yeah. I'm just saying. That's why I'm asking. That's why I started talking about it.
S: And for most people, I mean, the ROI absolutely is not there. You're better off spending your money in other ways, enjoying the life that you have. You're going to spend $200,000 on a very slim chance of a partial future.
B: It's not that. It's not that expensive. I agree. I don't disagree. I'm not going to take money out of my kids' future to do this. But it also and as Steve said, we're talking theoretical here and zero percent chance sucks. And a little bit better than that. I bought a lotto ticket when it was a billion dollars. I bought some lotto tickets. Sure. It was it was just for fun. I had no expectation that it was going to work, but there was the there was the possibility that it could have worked and there was a potential that I could be a billionaire right now. And otherwise, I would not have that chance. So it would to me it was worth the few dollars that I spent for that for that chance, which was infinitely greater than zero.
S: If it gave you five dollars of entertainment, sure.
B: It did. Exactly. That's how you treat it.
C: Sure if you just really have been paying for entertainment. But by scientific standards, if something is 0.0000001% chance of being real, it's for all intents and purposes not real.
B: I'm not talking about winning money. I'm talking about my life. So it's kind of I'll take that. I'll take a chance.
S: I think you're creating a little bit of a straw man about how we talk about pseudoscience. Again, I'm usually very careful to distinguish when I think something is impossible versus just unlikely versus we don't know and you should stop charging people for claims that you can't prove or just your claims are not true, whether or not this phenomenon might be plausible or possible or not. Anyway, I think this is just this is on that spectrum.
C: I just think we have to be really careful because I think sometimes we make the mistake of assuming that the audience remembers.
S: I agree with that.
C: And we talked about something nine months ago or a year and a half ago.
S: It is good to make it explicit. Because we always get emails where people assume all kinds of things about what we're saying that we didn't say. And this is the trick of being a good science communicator. How much background and caveats do we throw in on every discussion versus, this is critical, I want to make it clear. This is what we're talking about here. Yes, this is vanishingly improbable from on many levels. And it's certainly not the kind of thing I would say is like a good investment. But and I would definitely ask, make sure that people know exactly what they're doing if they're going to put their money into this, because the chances are pretty overwhelming that you're going to end up a smelly mess and then have to be just be buried later.
C: There you go.
S: It's overwhelmingly likely.
E: Especially the whole body option as opposed to just the head.
S: But we'll say, for a lot of things, on a theoretical basis, again, I do the space alien things, there's no reason why they can't be visiting us right now. I just don't think the evidence supports it. I think it's kind of the same thing.
C: Yeah. There's face validity there. I think this I think this was a good skeptical exercise, this conversation.
'S: Absolutely. That's why we included it. Absolutely. Okay.
Who's That Noisy? (1:22:32)
S: Jay, it's Who's That Noisy time.
J: All right, guys. Last week I played this Noisy:
[high-pitched, scratchy calls/music]
S: That's spooky.
J: Oh, yeah. I'm not going to lie, I picked this Noisy because I knew that Bob would kind of like it.
E: Halloween is afoot.
J: So there's some weird things going on in this noisy and I think it was it's very provocative because what could it possibly be? This is not one where it kind of sounds like a thing hitting another thing. This is weird. You guys have any idea what this might be?
S: Not really.
E: I really don't.
B: Yeah, man. It's weird.
J: Well, listener named Shane Hillier wrote and said: "Hey, Jay, this week, I think the Who's That Noisy is someone playing a water phone. So real quick, if you don't know what a water phone is, it's a very─
S: Is that similar to a banana phone?
C: Ring ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring banana phone.
E: I love banana phone.
B: The hex water phone?
C: I gotta feel it.
J: A water phone is an instrument that they use for thriller and for horror movies. It's that high pitched, like screechy kind of metal type of noise.
E: Like from Psycho when the knife is going to that.
J: That that might be a water phone. They're really great. Just look it up on YouTube real quick if you want to take a look at one in action. They don't look like a traditional instrument. They are strummed with a bow, typically, and they make incredible sounds. And you've heard them before, but take a look on your own. It's not a water phone, but that was a good guess because of the level of strangeness we have here. Another listener named Joe Vanden Enden, remember Fridging Jensen, remember that person?
C: It's probably Vanden Enden. It's probably Dutch.
J: You're right. Vanden Enden. You're right. Thank you.
C: I think so, yeah.
J: Cara, I love having you with us in so many ways.
C: And even that was a terrible accent, sorry, but yeah, it's probably close to that.
J: Joe said: "It's the center bearing on the Ferris wheel at our summer fair. That thing is terrifying." I thought that was funny because I did take my kids to a carnival and the Ferris wheel was making this crazy noise.
J: It rung a bell, it didn't really sound like that, but it definitely was making a creepy noise where I'm like, I don't think my kids are going on that this time, not in this one. And as a side question, are carnival rides safe? Can somebody just email me and let me know, is this a bad idea?
S: I don't know.
J: Because they all look like they're bus buggers, man.
S: They look junky as hell.
C: Yeah, you're talking about the ones that fold up into their own trucks right away.
J: Are these the types of things that they fix them when they break, you know what I mean?
E: Define fix them.
S: They literally look 50 years old.
J: How many injuries or deaths though have you really heard about though?
C: Yeah. It's like that whole thing that Trevor Noah did about food trucks and how he doesn't trust them because he wants the establishment where he gets food that they're preparing that's going into his body to still be there when he comes back.
E: But Bob, that's a good point. The millions of people who ride those things every year and how many fatalities, it's probably relatively low.
C: I hope so.
E: Yeah, right. Hope so.
S: Four people die every year from carnival rides. 3,000 people were sent to hospital for carnival ride injuries and 7,000 were sent for amusement park ride injuries.
E: And do they estimate the number of people who participated in those things?
C: Oh, yeah. What's the [inaudible].
J: That's important to know.
E: It's got to be millions. It has to be millions.
J: It can't be 4,000 people ride them and 3,000 go to the hospital, you know? (Cara laughs) All right. So let's continue here. Jacob Lutzin said: "Thanks for a fantastic NECSS." You are so welcome, Jacob. "I'm hearing a melody in the background that's distinctly Asian sounding, probably Chinese. The timber and the way the ornaments go makes me think it's a so-called Chinese violin, also called an erhu, E-R-H-U. I'm wondering why the quality is so bad. The artifacts actually sound digital, but that wouldn't make sense. So I'm going to say that this is a historical and primitive recording of a Chinese erhu playing a traditional melody." All right. So that is not correct, but there are a couple of things in here that aren't completely out of bounds. Just keep that in mind. Let me go on to the next person here. This was from Zao Wang: "Hi Jay and Skeptics crew, greetings from China and congratulations on making more than 888 episodes. Actually, I've been listening for years and especially enjoying learning about the newest tech developments with skepticism. This week's Noisy sounds vaguely like some kind of Chinese opera. It is one of the recordings made by Berthold Laufer in 1901? He used two phonographs at the same time, one for vocals and one for instruments and may have created the earliest stereo sound recording by chance." So anyway, this one is not correct as well, but there's a couple of things in here too that are not completely worthless. So there was no winner for this week and I read through a lot of guesses. I was really hoping that someone was going to get it. But let me eveal to you what this thing is. This is something from Operation Wandering Soul. This was a propaganda campaign and psychological warfare efforts exercised by U.S. forces during the Vietnam War. Operation Wandering Soul. It was an attempt to increase desertions and defections from Viet Cong forces and weaken their morale. So what they did was they set speakers up and they played this crazy sounding music that had some ghostly voices in there. And the Viet Cong thought that they were the ghosts of dead soldiers. Some of them believed in that. And when they heard the noise, it scared them to death. You know what I mean? It was actually a very interesting way to demoralize the enemy. So there is very deliberately, there is Asian sounding music in there. There is ghostly voices, you hear that repetitive laughing.
E: That's what I said. Yeah.
J: And that was that was the reason why they did this. And it's just one of the many, many things that one army tried to do to another army during a war. So take a listen again. I won't play the whole thing, but you can get an idea of what it is. [plays Noisy] That would be the ghosts.
S: No, that would definitely be disturbing if they were played loudly, continuously in your environment.
J: In the middle of the night it's creepy in the jungle.
S: You're hopped up on adrenaline anyway, because you're, you know, at war.
J: So anyway, so that I thought that was a really interesting little piece of history there. So thank you very much, Quinn, for sending that in.
New Noisy (1:29:34)
J: I have a new noisy this week for you guys. This one was sent in by a listener named Naomi. And I have to say that this one goes on my top, probably my top five list, because it's really interesting. When you hear the reveal, I think you'll really appreciate what you're about to hear:
[low chiming then intermittent, increasingly loud buzzing coupled with rising chime notes]
So this week, be specific, guys. This one, I'm looking for something more than just a plain answer. You got to give me some background to it. If you think you know what this week's Noisy is. Or if you would like to send me a Noisy, because I got a lot of good Noisies this past week, by the way, thank you everyone who sent them in. But just email me at WTN@theskepticsguide.org.
J: Steve, in December, in December.
J: Something is taking place.
E: Something wonderful.
J: Something wonderful. (laughter) How did you know? You bastard.
S: In Arizona?
J: Yes. So in Arizona, we are going to be doing for the very first time, we're going to be doing two holiday themed extravaganzas. One in Phoenix and one in Tucson. We also have─
S: What holiday we're not saying?
J: Yeah. It's December. It's December.
C: There are many.
J: We will be doing two SGU private shows, which is you could come and watch us do a live recording of the podcast. There's lots of interaction. These particular private shows are considered to be super private shows because we're actually─
J: They're enhanced. We're going to be spending more than just the time that we do the show. We're going to be spending an additional hour just hanging out and talking to the people that come. Having fun. George will be there. We're going to definitely be doing something fun with everybody, including George. Maybe some music, maybe some games. Who knows? It's going to be, we're going to do different things in different locations. But please do join us because that's going to be a lot of fun. Then you could come see us at one of the two extravaganzas. So there's two private shows, one in each city, and there's two extravaganzas, one in each city. The dates are a little weird because we're going to be bouncing back between the two cities. Just trust me when I tell you, I tried my best to make it as easy on us as possible, but sometimes things get a little wacky. But join us. It's going to be a lot of fun and I doubt we'll ever do the holiday theme thing again. So this is your chance.
S:This is it.
J: Go to theskepticsguide.org/events for all the specific details.
S: Thanks Jay.
Correction #1: Photons Have Momentum (1:32:21)
S: All right, just one quick email. We had a couple of people email us on this. I want to read one from Armando who says: "Hey all, this is Armando, your friendly pathologist. Recently featured on your live stream. Just wanted to comment on something Jay said during science or fiction. He said, it can't be that the photons are pushing anything because they're massless." Jay, you know why that's wrong now, right?
J: Yes, but that, so that is wrong?
S: That is (laughter)
E: That's what he's alluding to.
S: It's partly wrong. So the photons are massless, but they can push things.
B: That's how solar sails work. And Steve, I am so disappointed in us. (Evan laughs) Steve, how did we miss that?
S: I didn't hear him. It was live. Whatever.
B: Oh, this was the live show. I feel so much better. I do. I really do.
S: Now if I had heard and processed what he said, I definitely would have made a correction. Although I try not to kibitz too much when you guys are talking yourself into a wrong answer. You know what I mean? I try to remember to do it afterwards and sometimes I forget. But I don't remember hearing this at all.
B: I blame Steve.
E: Thought we were friends.
S: So yeah, so photons are massless, but they have momentum because of their energy. And because they have momentum when they smack into things, they can push them. You can, so like Armando says, he used optical tweezers in his research. That's how he knows about it. But also there are things like light sails, solar sails, where just the light from a laser or from the Sun can push a little bit, a little tiny, a little bit, but it picks, it adds up over time.
B: It is counterintuitive to think that light has momentum, but yeah.
S: Right. Well it's a whole energy mass thing. It's just weird. But yeah, they have, photons have momentum. Absolutely. Okay guys, let's go on with Science or Fiction.
Science or Fiction (1:34:08)
Item #1: Robot-assisted lobectomy for lung cancer had better outcomes than video-assisted lobectomy in a recent double-blinded clinical trial.
Item #2: A University of New Hampshire team has developed a robot that can independently take care of a demented patient's entire daily needs.
Item #3: A robot armed with a new AI algorithm was able to map its own body without any outside help or input and use that information to plan its own movements.
|Fiction||Caring for the demented|
Robot maps its own body
|Caring for the demented|
|Caring for the demented|
|Caring for the demented|
|Caring for the demented|
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 one fake. And I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. We have a theme this week. These are news items, but these are news items around a theme. And the theme is robots. Robots. Three robot related news items. Are you guys ready?
J: I am totally ready now.
S: Yeah. All right, here we go. Item #1: Robot assisted lobectomy for lung cancer. So that's lung lobe, not brain lobe, right? Lobectomy for lung cancer had better outcomes than video assisted lobectomy in a recent double blinded clinical trial. Item #2: A University of New Hampshire team has developed a robot that can independently take care of a demented patient's entire daily needs. And item #3: A robot armed with a new AI algorithm was able to map its own body without any outside help or input and use that information to plan its own movements. Cara, you missed last week, so you get to go first.
C: Okay, let's see. As in last week as in next week.
C: For the listeners at home. Okay, so robot assisted. This one like speaks to me because I recently had not a robot assisted laparoscopy. But I know people who had robot assisted laparoscopies. So did those with lung cancer who had a lobectomy have better outcomes than when a robot assisted them? Not in a double blind trial better outcomes. What does that mean?
S: Yeah, I'll get more specific, but I'm not going to give you the details now.
C: Oh, okay. All right. Did they get more of the cancer or I'm assuming this, yeah, for lung cancer. Okay, so that's no, no, no. University of New Hampshire team developed a robot that can independently take care of a patient with dementia's entire daily needs. I mean, it says they just developed it. It doesn't say that they actually tested it or that it actually works very well, right? Because I'm reading online about people, robot cats giving people with dementia companionship, not robots that are helping them dispense meds and, and eat and clean and cook and all of those things. I mean, whether you could make it and whether it would actually work are two different issues. And then a robot armed with a new AI algorithm, I'm sure there's a new AI algorithm every day. Was able to map its own body without any outside help or input and use that information to plan its own movements. Oh, okay. So like it had sensory, somatosensory feedback is what you're saying, right?
S: Yeah, or basically the robot equivalent of somatotopic mapping was able to know its own body enough to use it.
C: I mean, they all seem plausible. The dementia robot in practice to me is the least plausible, but in theory, it's quite plausible. And the way you worded it, the team developed a robot that can do this leaves a lot of open endedness. But I do think a robot could map its own body. I do think because with like computer vision, and then obviously use that information in neural net, in machine learning to then kind of know where its body is in space. And I think probably a robot assisted lobectomy might result in a faster heal time or something because you can make smaller incisions because everything's a little bit more precise. So yeah, I guess I got to say that the dementia robot is probably going to be the fiction even though it could be science, but yeah.
S: Okay, Evan.
E: Oh, yeah, Cara, well done. I'm leaning towards your way of thinking about this. I think the one about taking care of the demented patient's entire daily needs. How would the robot be able to shift its programming based on the fact that the demented patient will be kind of going through probably these shifts of their own and sort of keeping up with that unpredictability or unpredictability of it? I don't know that that gap could be closed, so that one seemed the least plausible of these three to me. So yeah, I'll just go with that and I think Cara, you're right.
S: Okay Bob.
B: The lobectomy sounds totally, I don't have a tremendous amount to add. One thing I would add about the robot that can map its own body. I would think it wouldn't need specialized sensors. I think it could potentially just visually look at itself and divine and ascertain what the likely things it would have to do in order to understand its body well enough so that it could attempt to walk or something like that. So yeah, but that sounds absolutely the most plausible. The first one about the assisted lobectomy seems almost as plausible. And of course, the second one here, this one with the robot helping a demented patient's entire daily needs just leaked out. Come on. I'm with my mom most days and taking care of her and she's not even demented yet. And there's no way, come on, but it all depends, what are you talking about? Independently take her, you're going to help her out of bed or cook food or go get medicine or, it just totally depends on what that means. Entire daily needs. I mean, how demented are we talking about? There's so many unknowns here that I think could make this much more restricted than we're assuming. And then I think in that case, the lobectomy then would be the fiction. But I'll just, this one's so obvious and Steve, you know that this one is the most obvious one. I don't want to metagame it, whatever, I'll just say that's fiction as well.
S: And Jay.
J: Yeah, I'm going to have to agree that the one about the robot taking care of the demented patient, the devil's in the details here, but I just don't see that we have a robot that can do all the physical things that need to be done with a mind behind it to make decisions because unexpected things happen that I don't think the robot could handle. So I definitely agree with these guys.
S: All right. Well, you all agree with number two, so we'll just take these in order.
Steve Explains Item #1
Number one: Robot-assisted lobectomy for lung cancer had better outcomes than video-assisted lobectomy in a recent double-blinded clinical trial. You guys all think this one was science. And this one is science. This one's, yeah, this one's pretty cool. Not surprising, robot-assisted surgeries are progressing fairly quickly. And the robots could just make very precise movements and very tiny movements. It's like the perfect tool for a surgeon.
B: They don't drink coffee before the surgery and get jitters.
S: So the ways in which the outcomes were superior, there were two ways. One was kind of subjective. The patients who had the robotic surgery had improved quality of life assessment afterwards. But the more objective one was that the robot-assisted surgery were able to find more lymph nodes to dissect.
C: Oh, so like their diagnostic ability was better.
B: Oh, yeah.
C: Oh, cool.
B: Not surprised.
S: Yeah. So that might be actual hard outcome improvement. All right. Let's go on to number two.
Steve Explains Item #2
S: A University of New Hampshire team has developed a robot that can independently take care of a demented patient's entire daily needs. You guys all think this one is the fiction. And this one is the fiction. This is the fiction.
J: All right.
S: Clearly I made it too easy. (laughter)
C: It happens.
S: But the news item was that the New Hampshire team got a research grant to develop a robot to take care of Alzheimer's patients. But they've already developed a prototype. But it's not really like taking care of the patient. It's more like those robots now that wander around the store. But it's like that. It will do things like monitor whether or not they took their medication. And then if they don't take their medication, it'll tell them, take your medication. And if they still don't take their medication, eventually they'll then call their doctor and say, hey, they're not taking their medication. So it's not really physically doing anything. It's just sort of monitoring the patient, communicating with them, giving them reminders, communicating with other, with caretakers as necessary. And they're trying to now do research to build more functionality into it. But robots in people living spaces and doing people things is still a little bit of a ways off. So this is, I think, a little ahead of the curve.
B: Yeah, that sounds like a butler to me. If you could do that, then that would make also a decent butler, which we are just not there.
E: It's also a Roomba. Vacuums the floors.
Steve Explains Item #3
S: So number three: A robot armed with a new AI algorithm was able to map its own body without any outside help or input and use that information to plan its own movements is also science. The writing about this as the robot was taught how to imagine itself, but I think that's too much of a cognitive description.
S: It basically, yeah, the robot was functioning with five streaming video cameras.
C: Yeah. It's computer vision. So it could see itself and then uses that information in order to map its own movements and its own body and then use that information in order to execute maneuvers. And there was no outside information, so it was totally self-taught, which is one type of AI algorithm where the AI is unguided. It's learning entirely with information it's picking up from the world around it, not fed to it by a program or anything. So self-modeling. Of course, the other researcher says that self-modeling is a primitive form of self-awareness. Okay. That's misleading. I just don't know why they feel like they need to go there to try to use consciousness metaphors. I think it's confusing. Anyway, so yeah, robots are cool. I ran across several robot news items, I'll just do a theme on robots.
S: All right, guys. Good job, everyone.
Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:44:53)
Death might appear to destroy the meaning in our lives, but in fact it is the very source of our creativity. As Kafka said, "The meaning of life is that it ends." Death is the engine that keeps us running, giving us the motivation to achieve, learn, love, and create.
– Caitlin Doughty, American mortician, author, blogger, YouTube personality, from her book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory (2014)
S: Evan, give us a quote.
E: "Death might appear to destroy the meaning in our lives, but in fact it is the very source of our creativity. As Kafka said, "The meaning of life is that it ends." Death is the engine that keeps us running, giving us the motivation to achieve, learn, love, and create. Caitlin Doty, from the book Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory.
S: Yeah it's an interesting idea. I jokingly responded to Evan when he sent this quote out saying, this is pro-death propaganda. (Cara laughs) But I would love to have information about the counterfactual. I'd love to do research, which is impossible to do. But what would it be like?
C: Yeah, this is a philosophical question.
S: Yeah. If people lived hundreds or thousands of years or just indefinitely, what would it do to human psychology? Would people just lay around and lose all interest? Or will they just have multiple jobs, multiple careers, multiple families, and would it re-energize them every now and then? Or would it just completely sap them of all motivation? I don't know. I'd love to know.
B: It's hard to say. But I think what's important, related to the quote that was just read, was that even if death is inevitable, immortality is such obvious bullshit, but death will happen even if you live for 1,000 years. That doesn't mean that, oh, life won't have any meaning. Of course it will have more meaning if you died at 1,000 years instead of a mere 80.
C: Wait, you mean of course it'll have more meaning?
B: No, no.
B: No, of course it will still have meaning.
C: I see. Okay.
E: It will still have meaning.
B: It will still have absolute meaning. It's not, because I read this quote, I hear this quote, and I think that it's kind of like saying that it would be against, somebody would say that would be against extended lifespans. But to me, it doesn't matter. 80 years or 800, it's still, death would have meaning and people would still─
S: Still finite.
B: ─could still, yes.
C: Also, our sense of time would be different.
C: And that's sort of the counterfactual to your counterfactual or to your asking for the counterfactual that I would say, Steve, is that regardless of what it would be like if, it's not like that. It is like it is. We die at a certain age or younger, and the fact that we die and many philosophers have grappled with this and many of them come to the same conclusion and existential psychologists like myself come to that same conclusion that life has purpose and meaning fundamentally because we die. That is where we find it. The same way that love, that we feel the depths and the ache and the power of love fundamentally because we lose it.
E: The absence of it.
C: Yes. We would not know it if we didn't know what the absence of it was. It's fundamental to our human psychology. And I believe that in my bones and I know that's not scientific. It is philosophical. There is no way to actually scientifically test that, but it's something that resonates deeply with me. And part of the reason that I love this quote, it obviously jibes with everything I study and all of my academic work that I do, but I see it in my patients. I see it when they get a terminal diagnosis. I see the way that they change their relationship with what matters to them, how they find meaning and purpose in their lives. And it's really beautiful to see.
S: Yeah. I do watch one of the things I think about, like if people were super long lived, would they be really petty?
C: Right. Yeah. Well, if What We Do in the Shadows is a documentary, they definitely are.
S: That is a very, obviously it's comedy, but there is a little bit of an inadvertent experiment going on.
E: Next you're going to tell me Highlander isn't a documentary. Okay.
C: But the funny thing is what we do in the shadows is filmed like it's a documentary.
B: Oh, yeah. Sometimes they kill the cameraman. Whoops.
C: They do, right?
E: That's interesting.
S: All right. Well, thank you all for joining me this week.
B: Sure man.
J: Roger that, Steve.
C: Thank you, Steve.
E: Thank you 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 theskepticsguide.org. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. And, if you would like to support the show and all the work that we do, go to patreon.com/SkepticsGuide and consider becoming a patron and becoming part of the SGU community. Our listeners and supporters are what make SGU possible.
Today I Learned
- Fact/Description, possibly with an article reference
- The Meteoritical Society: Bolide fragmentation: What parts of asteroid 2008 TC3 survived to the ground?
- Georgia Institute of Technology: Robotic motion in curved space defies standard laws of physics
- Science Alert: 'Structured Water' Is Not What People Claim. Don't Believe The Hype, Scientist Says
- Big Think: Horror stories of cryonics: The gruesome fates of futurists hoping for immortality
- IASLC: Robotic-Assisted Lobectomy for Early-Stage Lung Cancer Provides Better Patient-Reported Quality of Life Compared to Video-Assisted Lobectomy
- University of Newswise: UNH Awarded $2.8 Million to Develop Robots to Care for People with Alzheimer’s and Dementia
- Columbia University: A robot learns to imagine itself
- [url_for_TIL publication: title]