SGU Episode 894

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SGU Episode 894
August 27th 2022
894 italy trip.jpg

SGU book goes to Italy

SGU 893                      SGU 895

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

C: Cara Santa Maria

J: Jay Novella

Quote of the Week

What we call rational grounds for our beliefs are often extremely irrational attempts to justify our instincts.

Thomas Henry Huxley, English biologist & anthropologist

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Show Notes
Forum Discussion

Introduction, Steve's family vacation to Italy[edit]

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

S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. Today is Tuesday, August 23rd, 2022, and this is your host, Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella...

B: Hey, everybody!

S: Cara Santa Maria...

C: Howdy.

S: And Jay Novella...

J: Hey guys.

S: Evan has a thing, a family thing, so he's not here this week. And I'm just getting back from Italia. My Italy trip with my family, it was awesome.

B: So jealous.

S: I was awesome. Totally awesome.

B: The pictures are wonderful.

J: All right, Steve, what was the best thing you did and the best meal that you had?

S: Well, the best thing was just hanging with my family. Totally. I mean, that's 100%.

B: Lame answer.

S: It's not lame. It's true.

J: It is lame.

S: But both of my, Jay, both of my daughters are adults, mostly living outside the house. And so we got to hang as a family for the first time in a long time. So that was the best thing. But the best touristy thing I did was climbing the Duomo of the Basilica in Florence.

B: Nice.

S: Jay, you didn't do that when you were there.

J: I didn't. The line was too long.

S: You got to buy skip the line tickets. That's what we did. You got to buy skip the line tickets. Yeah, the line's massive. Just buy the tickets where you get to go right up.

J: Well, there was another thing, too, I'll tell you, because when I went, it was last October and COVID was like much worse back then because. So we were we were definitely doing crowd avoidant behavior. That was one of them.

S: Because you were in a very claustrophobic, closed stone stairwell. 457 steps. It was a workout, but it's totally worth it. When you get to the top, there's nothing higher in Florence. You get a 360 view of all of Florence and the surrounding Tuscan countryside. It's absolutely gorgeous. When you get up there, like this is everyone said, this is one 100% worth it.

J: Now, is it true that they give you a free cannoli when you get up to the top?

S: They should, but no.

J: All right. All right. So your best your best thing was that. Now the best meal. This is the important one.

S: All right. So here's the thing. The first night we flew into Rome. Right. So in a few days in Rome we get there. We've been traveling all day. It was like a long flight. We're tired. It's late at night. It's especially late. Like for us, it was like three in the morning. So we literally went into the first restaurant we saw. No research. Nothing. All right. This is just our first meal. Zero expectations. It was the best freaking meal we had in the whole trip.

B: Oh, my god. [inaudible] on the first day.

S: I had the cacio e pepe.

J: That's awesome.

S: It was the best cacio e pepe I've had. I had three. I tried it two other times. I had three samples. That was the best one. So first, the bucatini, like the pasta, was perfectly cooked. It was perfectly al dente. And just the proportion of the cheese and the pepper and everything was just perfect. The other times, the second time I had it, they went a little too heavy on the pepper. The third time I had it in Florence, they was like, where's the pepper? They didn't, it was like way too cheesy and not peppery enough. That's one of those recipes. You got to completely dial it in. But my big question was, how did I get to be 58 years old and never have cacio e pepe before? How did we miss that?

B: Wait. What the hell is it?

C: What do you mean? You've never had cacio e pepe?

S: No.

C: That's like my favorite dish.

S: I know. It's awesome.

J: Bob, it's remarkable.

C: It's like the comfort food.

J: Sorry.

C: Right? It's the epitome of comfort food.

J: Bob, it's incredibly simple. It's pasta─

B: I've had pasta.

J: ─that essentially has some type of butter sauce, but there is a lot of black pepper.

B: Butter sauce?

S: It's Romano cheese, grated Romano cheese and crushed black pepper. They actually, I looked up a recipe and it's like 18 steps to the recipe. It's not simple. The recipe is really hard to make. You have to like stir fry the pepper, the ground pepper, and then you mix in the cheese and you got to cook the pasta very al dente and then you put that in the pan with the pepper. Then you put the water from the pasta, the pasta water into the pot until the pasta is perfectly cooked and then whatever. It's complicated, which is why I think only certain restaurants have it completely dialed in.

C: Although in Italy it's pretty common because it's very─

S: Well, it's a Rome dish. It's a classic Rome dish.

C: It's like a rustic, it's like a grandmother dish.

S: Yeah, totally.

C: Every family does it the way that they do it, but it literally translates to cheese and pepper.

S: Yeah, cheese and pepper.

C: Cacio e pepe. That's all it is.

S: Cacio e pepe. Totally.

C: It's the best.

S: Very, very good. I had the best pesto of my life in Cinque Terre.

B: Whoa, really? Jesus.

S: Usually, I like pesto, but usually when I get it, I'm disappointed halfway through because it's a little bit too much. This was perfect. Because I could have had three plates of it. It was awesome. From Rome, we went to Cinque Terre, which there's five towns, that's the Cinque, built on the side of a cliff. This was just our relaxing vacation, although "relaxing", climbing up and down a cliff five times a day. Then we went to Florence to finish up the trip. It was really good because it was three very─

B: Did you see David?

S: Of course. It was three very different experiences. Rome is like a modern city with ruins scattered about. And it's awesome. So you basically just go looking at all the ruins. You went to the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, which I kept calling Palpatine Hill.

B: (laughs) Of course you did.

S: And then the Pantheon, and just you walking down the street and there's another ruin. It's just amazing. The best was─

B: A rune or a ruin?

S: A ruin. Yeah, a ruin. And the best was Palatine Hill, which we did not go to when we were there in high school guys. We sort of had the more of beachy, relaxing just, so Cinque Terre, it looks like you're in a town that was built 500 years ago. It's just so quaint, so beautiful. And it's like a little fishing village, looks like it's out of a Disney movie. That's where I had the pesto. That was awesome. And then Florence is completely different still. Florence is like a renaissance city. And─

B: Oh man, I remember.

S: ─it's the whole inner city looks like it did hundreds of years ago when the Medicis were ruling there and building it up as a renaissance city. And it's just gorgeous. The whole city is entirely gorgeous. And then the countryside, it just takes your breath away. So we went to, we did all the usual things. We did the Uffizi Museum, we did the Pitti Palace, the Boboli Gardens, we did the Basilica, the Duomo, and we did the Galileo Museum is there. I saw Galileo's telescope and Galileo's middle finger.

B: Oh man.

C: That's very cool.

B: Middle finger?

J: His middle finger.

C: Yeah.

S: His middle finger's there for whatever reason.

C: It's like preserved, yeah.

B: Cool.

S: We drove from Cinque Terre to Florence, and it was just a little bit of a side trip to go to Pisa, which again, we didn't go to when we were there last time.

B: No, we didn't.

S: We went to Pisa with very low expectations because it's so cliche almost, right?

J: It's wicked touristy.

S: But it was awesome. We were like, this is a hundred times better than I thought it was going to be, because it's not just the tower. There's again, like a whole building there, and it was gorgeous.

B: There's other stuff there?

S: Yeah. It was impressive, and it's huge. And it looks like it's about to fall over. It really does. You go up there, it's like this thing, why isn't this thing falling over right now? It looks like it's right on that edge. Of course, they stabilized it the way it is.

B: They've done a lot of stuff to it, yeah.

J: You can't go in it, right Steve?

S: You can. You can go up to the top. We tried.

B: What?

S: But it was like, oh yeah, you could come back in three hours. We were like, no, we're just here for now.

J: I would never do that. As much as I know intellectually that it's not going to fall over, it's going to fall over.

S: You feel like it is. But it was gorgeous. It was like, wow, that was a nice little surprise. We just did it on a lark, but it turned out to be a really worthwhile little side trip that we did.

J: All right, Steve, very important question to me. Which city did you like better, Rome or Florence?

S: I have to give it to Florence. I mean─

B: Really? Not Rome?

J: That's what I'm talking about.

S: Yeah. All right. So, yeah. Florence has David. It's just hard.

B: Ponte Vecchio.

S: It has the Ponte Vecchio, which is adorable. It has the Uffizi. But I think maybe the best single thing, I mean, it's hard to say even. I think in Rome, the best thing was the Palatine Hill, all the ruins, like the Forum. All of that was awesome. But seeing David as a transcendent experience.

J: But as far as the experience in each city, Rome feels much more like a modern city, even though it has such unbelievable things there to see that are crazy old. But Florence is a walking city.

S: Yeah, you are transported in time when you're in Florence.

J: There are no cars allowed in the center of Florence. It is literally just walking. And so everybody is casually walking everywhere, and it's just like the mood there is so wonderful. It's like, slowly take your time, low stress. It's not noisy. And then there is so much to see and do.

S: So much to see.

J: You are steeped in unbelievable, beautiful architecture. Every building looks like it comes from the other building. You know what I mean? They are all related to each other in a way that no other city really can pull off. Now, the one thing that Rome has over Florence, Steve, I don't know if you got into these details, but the bread in Florence is flavorless. (Cara laughs) I'm not kidding. I am not kidding when I tell you this, Cara. It's made, I believe, without any salt.

C: Why?

S: So Panna Toscana, Tuscan bread, not just Florence, Tuscan bread is made without salt. And so when you eat it, it has no flavor. The crust is okay. The crust is good. The actual, the bready bread itself is like, you feel like you're eating paste. But there's several theories as to why that is. They were protesting a huge salt tax at the time, and then it got good to them, so they kept doing it or whatever. There's multiple reasons why it persisted. And now people from Tuscan, that's bread to them. They like that. But here's the thing. They have very rich food. And so they say, well, we don't need flavor in the bread because you're always eating the bread with all of these salty sauces and other things. And in fact, they put that bread into their soups and into other things, and it doesn't get mushy. It doesn't get mushy. It gets spongy because of the lack of salt. So it makes sense. But I did note that in some of the restaurants, they would give us both Panna Toscana, like the Tuscan bread, and salted bread. That was delicious. So sometimes we would get both, but not every time. And I had some, like the Tuscan tomato soup was off the hook, just incredible. And that had the bread in it. That's again, like a Tuscan comfort food. That's your grandmother's soup.

J: But when it comes down to it, the biting into a piece of Italian bread or French bread, there is an experience with the flavor and the smell and everything. So in Rome, the bread is utterly fantastic as a standalone thing, because Steve's right. You're combining a lot of that bread with the food and everything. And the bread, everything else about it is perfect. It just doesn't have much flavor.

S: But also there's extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar on the table just there. You don't have to ask for it. It's there. You're not going to ever like eat the bread without dunking it in olive oil and whatever else there is to dunk it in.

J: How much weight did you gain, Steve?

S: I don't think I gained any weight, to be honest with you, because─

C: Because you walked.

S: Because, first of all, every day was a workout, a massive workout. I was burning so many calories, I mean, seriously. But also, we didn't eat like three big meals a day. We would just snack for breakfast. We would, if we did sit down for lunch, I had a salad. And then I just had my one pasta meal a night or meat dish, whatever, like my main deal. And the portion sizes are not huge.

B: Not American portions.

S: So I did not feel full at the end of the meal. I was like, all right, this is good. This is like, if I eat this, I wasn't on a diet, no way.

J: You weren't trying hard enough, man.

S: But I don't think, I really don't think I gained any weight, because it was just like I had it totally under control. Another thing is, Italians obviously have obesity, but most of the people there, compared to Americans, are thin. You wonder, how could they be eating this food every day and not be fat? Because part of it is that it's so good. It's satisfying. Like you have a little bit of it, like that was just, I'm satisfied. That was so awesome. And rich.

C: Americans eat, it's like, we always talk about counting calories and like calorie control. So much of that is portion control.

B: Yeah.

C: So much of it is.

S: 90% is portion control.

C: I remember one time going to a restaurant and there was this like woman who ordered and she said, okay, I want this and I want a box. And they were like, to go? And she was like, no, no, no, I just want a box right now. And they're like, okay. And she put 75% of it into the box. And she saw us looking at her when she did it and she was like, I lost like 100 pounds by doing this. I just want to sit down, yeah, at a restaurant, I take 75% of my plate and I put it in the box and then I eat it for three other meals.

S: So my advice to anybody who's going to travel to any of these cities is train. Work out. Seriously, get in as good a shape as you can. You want to walk, you want to do stairs, because every place that you want to go, you are going to be climbing stairs. And you don't want to like not go to the Boboli Gardens or not go to the Duomo or not climb up to the top of the Palatine Hill because it's too much for you. So that's my advice. Obviously, this depends on a lot of particulars about the individual, but get in the best shape you can so that you could see the most, get the most out of the trip. You might not think about it. It's too late when you're there.

J: Oh, yeah. Forget about it.

S: My wife and I, we were like, we were working out over the summer to prepare for this trip because we knew what we were getting in for. I wouldn't have made it to the top of the Duomo if I hadn't been walking up and down the hills around my house at least three days a week for the last couple of months.

B: Steve, what about Todoke, Steve? The red orange juice.

S: I didn't find it.

B: Holy crap. That's dissapointing.

S: Did not find it.

B: What about Gelato?

S: You know, that was everywhere.

J: It's everywhere.

B: All right. Just checking.

S: Gelato was awesome.

J: Steve, isn't the landscape in Tuscany just, it looks like a slice of heaven.

S: It is storybook.

J: It is storybook. It's amazing.

S: I love it. With the cypress trees and everything that's really interesting. I knew this, but I looked it up again just to confirm. Rome is north of New York City in terms of latitude.

C: Oh, interesting.

S: Right? Yeah. And like Europe is in Canada.

C: All of Europe is pretty much.

S: They just have, there's a climate thing going on where they get the warm air off the water or whatever. But it's subtropical there and we're like, we're north of New York City here. It was hot. It was hot when we were there.

J: Well, yeah. Their summers are crazy hot.

S: But wonderful trip. Wonderful trip.

Next trip: Solar Eclipse 2024 (15:22)[edit]

S: We started talking about where we're going to go next. We do have to, I think our next big trip though has to be the going to Texas for the solar eclipse.

C: Oh yeah. We have to do that, you guys. We can stay, my parents are there and I grew up there and stuff so I can really kind of help navigate.

J: Can we sleep in your old room?

C: No, we don't have the house. I don't have my old room anymore. My parents have like a different house, but we can we can see my old stomping grounds.

B: You sure you guys want to bring me?

S: No, Bob, we're sending you to Buffalo.

B: I would not blame you.

S: And we are going to Texas.

B: I will not blame you. I will pay people, people, if you don't want me to go to Buffalo, pay me some money and I won't go.

C: Pay to keep Bob away. That's so sad.

J: It took me a minute to figure out what you were getting at, Bob. And then I'm like, oh yeah, Bob has the ability to obfuscate anything happening in the sky.

B: Yes. I will ruin your viewing pleasure.

S: No, we don't really believe that Bob controls the weather. It's just confirmation bias, but we have had a string of bad luck. We have had a string of bad luck.

B: I've been rolling a string of ones, my friend.

J: Bob, imagine if we go to Texas and it is cloudy. That'll cement this thing into eternity.

B: Into myth for eons.

Book Update (16:42)[edit]

S: All right. Well, before we get to the news, actually, we're starting with a news item that we discussed in our upcoming book, The Skeptics' Guide to the Future. So we want to update everybody on the book. So we have two promotional thingamajigs happening with the book. One is an exclusive offer for SGU listeners. So if you're listening to this podcast, you can go to the link that we will provide on our book website. So you go to the, you click on our books. There will be a link there. There already is a link there that says pre-order the book for The Skeptics' Guide to the Future. And that takes you to the publisher's website. Now we do that because we have control over our website. We don't have control over the publisher's website, and we want to make sure we always can give you all the information you need in a timely fashion. And just one more click through to the publisher will explain what you're going to find there. So the publishers will, it's not there right now as you're recording this, but I think by the time this show goes up, they will have a link on their site. If you have pre-ordered the book in any format, you can submit your pre-order information, like your receipt information, and you can get an exclusive sticker decal that you could put on your laptop or your computer or your backpack or wherever you want.

B: I want one.

S: Number two is, just like with the first book, we will be signing a bunch of book plates. There's a couple of different retailers who are doing a signed book deal. It'll be a limited number, like obviously we can only sign a finite number of book plates, and then those links will be there as well. So again, that link isn't there right now, but as we're recording this, it may be there by the time you're listening to this, but just check back if it's not there. Just go through our website. We'll keep you updated on our website, where you can order through a couple of different retailers pre-signed books. So if you don't anticipate that you'll be seeing us in person sometime soon, you can get a pre-signed book. If you do anticipate you'll be seeing us at any of our live events, we always do book signings when we're there.

J: Now there's also another little secret that I want to drop, Steve.

S: Go ahead, Jay.

J: In chapter 23, now we've never said this before, but in chapter 23, about midway through the chapter, Steve gets naked in the chapter.

C: What?

S: I got naked while I was writing it and while I was recording the audio. (laughter)

J: There is nudity in this book. Just keep this in mind. Steve is naked while he was writing it. You have to think about that when you're reading chapter 23. That's all I'm going to say. I don't want to drop too many more secrets this early on. Now one of the things that we touch upon in the book on the future of energy is will we have space-based solar power in the future? Is that going to be a thing?

News Items[edit]

Space-Based Solar Power (19:29)[edit]

S: Jay, you're going to start us off on the news items because the European Space Agency is actually considering it. Tell us what they're doing.

J: There's a lot of things to tell you guys about this. I know, and I'm sure all of us are going to have a lot to say after I get through the meat of this one. All right, so let's start with the basics. There is an incredible amount of energy radiating from the Sun. I think I said this a few episodes ago. Imagine if we could collect more solar radiation than just what hits the Earth. Think of all of that solar radiation coming off, and a very, very, very small portion of that solar radiation enters the Earth's atmosphere and makes its way all the way down to the surface of the Earth, and that's where today's modern solar panels, that's where we're collecting solar energy, and we're doing a remarkable job so far. We're doing massive increases in efficiency, and when we transfer the energy from one form to another, we're getting better and better at retaining as much energy as possible. But there is a clearer shot to sunlight, and that would be in outer space because there's no atmosphere. There's six miles or 10,000 kilometers of atmosphere to go through. So that atmosphere does obscure quite a bit of that energy and makes it a little bit more difficult to collect. So imagine collecting solar energy without any atmosphere in the way. So space-based solar collection, if it were in outer space, would be able to collect solar radiation 24 hours a day because, as you know, most places on Earth, there's a nighttime, and at night you can't collect solar radiation. So anyway, that would be another perk for that. The European Space Agency, also known as the ESA, is actively considering to increase their energy independence, especially with things like what's going on in Ukraine with the war and realizing that they're relying on other countries or other areas of the world to get energy from. They want to be independent. They want to be able to produce as much of their own energy as possible. They also want to decrease their greenhouse gas emissions, which is great. So the ESA has decided that they were going to hire researchers to estimate the cost and benefits of space-based solar collection. The director of the ESA, Josef Aschbacher, is presenting his plan for space-based solar collection, and it's going to be called the Solaris program, and he's going to present it to the ESA in November. Now it's estimated that the satellites could collect as much as one-third of the annual 3,000 terawatt hours used in Europe. So that's a lot of energy, and they're saying that this solar array that they could potentially put up in outer space could collect a third of the annual energy usage, which is a lot. That's a lot of energy. Now the idea to put solar collection satellites into orbit is something that we've seen in science fiction. I've seen tons and tons of pictures throughout my life of some type of thing in outer space collecting energy or redirecting energy or shooting energy beams from the Moon to the Earth and that type of thing. The satellites that they're proposing would convert solar radiation into current and then beam down the collected energy in the form of microwaves. And those microwaves could be received by a photovoltaic cell or antennas, where then it would be converted again back into electricity. The satellites would be put into a geostationary orbit around 36,000 kilometers from Earth. There would be dozens of these satellites. They would be very big, each one approximately 10 times the mass of the International Space Station. So I don't know if you could visualize how big that is. That's big. That's big. The current space station, the ISS today is about 450 metric tons. And just so you understand, it took a very long time. It took 10 years to construct that space station in low Earth orbit. In order to fully deploy the array of solar collecting satellites that they're proposing in this idea, it's estimated that they would need, now get this guys, hundreds to thousands of heavy lift launches to push all of that hardware into low Earth orbit, right? Just put a little check box next to what I said there.

C: Thousands of launches?

J: Yes. Now let's talk about that, Cara. The number of launches would be so big that Europe may have to develop its own heavy lift rocket in order to accommodate the need here and how frequently they would have to do it. So with current and near future launch capabilities, so as an example, what do we got? We got SpaceX as a commercial company. NASA has heavy lift rockets. Other countries have heavy lift rockets. So what they did was they said, well, how often would we be able to schedule our hardware to be launched by what will it look like in the next 20 plus years? Would we be able to hire enough launches to get it done? And the answer was no. And they were saying that it would take four to six years to deploy just one of these dozens of satellites that they need to deploy. Because if it took─

B: To get a third of their energy.

J: Yeah. Now let's keep going here. The entire endeavor would cost hundreds of billions of euros. That's a lot of money. That's an incredible amount of money. I'm not saying that we shouldn't spend hundreds of billions of euros on space. I'm just saying for this particular thing, I think that's a lot of money. It almost seems out of reach and maybe not the best way to solve the problem that they're trying to solve, which is to become mostly independent and they want it to be green. So a few years ago, Elon Musk actually made it clear he thinks that this whole thing is a bad idea. He said that the collected energy would need to be converted twice as many times as solar collected on Earth. Every time you convert the energy, you lower the overall output because you lose energy during the conversion process. So he's saying like, okay, so let's say that these solar arrays can collect double amount of solar radiation. Well, you're going to lose about 50% of your energy just by the conversion process. So there's lots of technologies that are not there yet that would have to be there in order for this thing to make sense in any way. It has also been estimated that if they're collecting solar radiation in outer space that it would be three orders of magnitude more expensive than Earth-based solar collection. Three orders of magnitude more expensive.

B: A thousand times.

J: That's crazy right there. So as per the new program, they could start development. If it gets approved, they could start this whole project as early as 2025. Wow. That's not too far from that. If you think about it, it's only a few years, not that far to go. So the ESA's project Solaris will spend an initial investment to study the feasibility of all of this. So here's the part that brings things back into reality. They decided we need to invest some money so we could check our math. Let's make sure that everything we're talking about is legit. So they want to answer questions like, how would this be actually implemented? Are there environmental health or safety issues that would be involved? Are there regulatory issues or international space policy considerations? How about this: is the technology even possible in this timeframe? And when we say the technology, we're talking about lots of technology. Even like them having to build their own heavy lift rocket, is that feasible? Would they even be able to get something on its feet soon enough to have an impact on this project? Now, I would imagine that this project would require an incredible amount of work to be done in space itself. Think about the amount of hardware that they're putting up in space, 10 times the size of the ISS, well, there happens to be a lot of man hours, real people have to be in space using their hands. Using power tools to put stuff together like this. Now I don't know, is it possible that they would come up with drone robots to do this work? I have no idea.

S: They'd have to.

J: They'd have to on some level.

S: Also to maintain them. Here's the other thing you didn't mention, Jay, I don't think you mentioned it. The life expectancy of solar panels right now, the industry standard is 25 to 30 years, but it's anticipated that a orbital solar panel would have a much shorter life expectancy. First, it's getting sun 24-7, so right there it's going to be like half. But also space is not a very friendly environment. You think, oh, there's no weather, there's no moisture, but it's just not a friendly environment. There's radiation, again, the solar wind, et cetera. So what if the life expectancy is like 15 years?

J: Yeah, it really starts to get crazy when you think about all those factors. Now I had an idea. This is like a nightmare situation. So let's say they get half of these satellites up and they've spent $50 billion already doing this. And then the first fusion reactor comes online, and they're like─

S: What a nightmare.

J: No, no, what I mean is they've invested all of this time and energy, and now we have a working positive energy flow fusion reactor that at that point would need just to be rolled out and reproduced.

S: Or just really good next-gen fission reactors,. You know what I mean?

J: Yeah. Exactly man.

S: Or just next-gen geothermal, the real limiting factor with geothermal is the locations. But if you could cheaply drill deeper, suddenly there's way more locations where you could put geothermal. So anyway, I think this is probably the last thing they should be dumping billions of dollars in in order to fight climate change, in order to get clean energy. The technology's not there yet. We'll think about it next century. This is not for now.

B: All you need is an afternoon of Googling to figure out that we're not ready for prime time. It's just way, way too early to be considering this. I think we can have a future where we can have space-based solar collecting, even on the Moon. Even the Moon has benefits to things in orbit. But there's so many things to consider. Any one of them or two of them would be just a deal killer by themselves. How about the receiving station on the ground? They would be gargantuan, and one of them would be like a billion dollars just for one receiving station. Oh, man, yeah, yeah, let's robotically maintain them in orbit. We've done that before. We've had robots working in space like that. And you can't have people doing it because of the high radiation dangers in geosynchronous orbit is not good. High risk, high radiation dangers. It's just way, I can't believe they're considering this for more than an afternoon. It's like not ready. No time. It's not the time to do it.

S: Do a feasibility study. Sure, do it. But I mean, I would not sink serious money into that. I think it should be pretty cheap to figure out that this is not ready, as you say, for prime time. This is a next century kind of thing to think about. It could get way cheaper to get into space. We got to have much better solar technology. We have to have robotic remote technology that that could keep you maintain things. It's just not ready. And again, by the time this becomes feasible, we might have fusion, as you say.

J: Yeah, you have to exhaust all the terrestrial based solutions first. Before you start strapping metal to rockets and trying to push it into orbit and get into that whole fiasco because it's it's a whole other thing. Exhaust every single land based option that you have first. And we're not even close to there yet. I mean, what about putting it on the ocean?

S: Rooftop, low hanging fruit. Use this money to put solar panels on every roof rooftop of every building. Right? Do that first. Do that first. That's a lot. That's a third of our energy. That's a third of our energy right there. That's more than this. Thousands of the of the cost.

B: Yeah but Steve, then when you got to maintain it, you got to go all the way up to the roof and there might not be an elevator at the top. You got to take stairs.

J: There's insects. I mean, come on, Steve. Well, I you know, I'm torn here because I love the space enthusiasm.

S: It's a sexy idea, but it is a siren, but a technological siren song. It is not not something that we should be sinking a lot of money into. It's not as dumb as solar roads, but it's pretty much the same category.

B: Almost.

J: Oh, my god, Steve. That is such a diss. Solar roads really like if you if you're compared to solar roads you've hit rock bottom.

B: Yeah.

S: It's just not practical. It looks good on paper, but it's not practical. That's what I mean. All right. Let's move on. And you could read more about that in our book. As I said.

J: Steve, where can they where can they where? What's happening with this? What do you mean?

S: Just go to Click on our books. And there you will see a link for to preorder the Skeptics Guide to the Future. There you go.

J: Thank you.

Theory of Decision-Making (32:43)[edit]

S: OK, this is this is a really interesting paper. This is about the underlying theory of how people make decisions. Cara, you're going to be really interested in this.

C: OK. (Jay laughs)

S: It's a provocative article. The title of the article is "We don't have a hundred biases, we have the wrong model" by Jason Collins, who is a behavioral economist. So economists also study human decision making. Buying and selling and all that stuff is a lot of overlap with social psychology, behavioral psychology and neuroscience in general. Here's the analogy he starts with. In the back in the day when we had a geocentric model of the universe, right? We thought the Earth is at the center of the universe and everything went around the Earth. And that model predicted how everything should be moving in the sky. But of course, like the planets and the sun and everything didn't move the way the model predicted. So they had to make exceptions. They had to they had to make tweaks, add epicycles─

B: Epicycles!

S: ─and add all these tweaks in order to make the data fit the model. But at the end of the day, that was replaced by the heliocentric model, which and then Kepler's three laws of planetary motion, et cetera. So you now you have an elegant, simple model where you don't have to make a lot of exceptions.

B: That explains most of our observations.

S: Yeah. There were there were a few there were a few tweaks with like Mercury, et cetera. But then we needed we needed relativity, Einstein. Same thing now with relativity. We don't need any more tweaks. At least when looking at like how stuff is moving in the sky. OK, so he said, what if we're in the in the geocentric phase of scientific research, trying to understand why, how people make decisions, why people make the decisions they do? And right now, this is sort of an overly simplistic explanation of the current state of the science. But this is basically what's going on. At least the behavioral economists, their core theory, their core model of human behavior, of human decision making, is the rational actor model. That people make rational decisions in their own self-interest if they have enough bandwidth, enough cognitive processing power to get to the optimal answer and they have the willpower to execute it. But people are basically rational actors. Now we know that that's not true because, yeah, but behaviorists study all of the exceptions to that and they call those deviations from the from the predictions of the rational actor model biases or heuristics. And that's what he means by maybe there aren't hundreds of biases. Maybe the rational actor model is just wrong and we need a better model that won't require all of these tweaks to explain how people actually behave. OK, I'm with him so far. I get right guys with that. You get to understand the basic.

C: Yeah. I mean, basically. But I also don't see like biases as exceptions to the rule. You know what I mean?

S: Yeah. It's like we're on the same page Cara.

C: OK. All right. (laughs)

S: So he also we'll get there. He also is very fascinating. I love it. It's a meta question. Because it's like forces you to step back and think on a deeper level. And then he goes on to say it's like and there are other models like the rational actor model isn't the only one. There's also cognitive dissonance model that says we we make decisions based on minimizing our cognitive dissonance, which is a disconnect between different beliefs that we hold at the same time. But most of those are partial or conditional or situational and and they're kind of tweaks to the rational actor model, too. And so that doesn't really get it doesn't solve the problem for us. So now Collins doesn't say, here's the here's the new model I think we should go with. He's just saying we need to find a new model. He doesn't say what it is.

C: Oh, OK.

S: And then he talks about, how might we get there? And he says, well, we can maybe learn some things from artificial intelligence, A.I. algorithms have behavior to optimize outcomes. And so that's kind of like what people do. And so we could study how A.I. make decisions and maybe that will provide us some insight. He talks about evolutionary psychology, which is a thing unto itself. And I know it's very problematic, but he said that might provide us some information about why we do what we do. And he said, but this is what we need to do. We need to find a way to figure out a better model. Here's a money quote. This is where he lost me. I'm going to just quote a paragraph that he says. "But the proliferation of models is a problem parallel to the accumulation of biases. A proliferation of models with slight tweaks to the rational actor model shows the flexibility and power of that model, but also its major flaw. Economics journals are full of models of decision making designed to capture a particular phenomenon. But rarely are these models systematically tested, rejected or improved, or ultimately integrated into a common theoretical framework. And if you can find a model to explain everything, again, you explain nothing." So, OK, I partly agree with him there. That, yes, we do need to question our models. We do need to say, could there be a more elegant approach to this rather than just slapping on exceptions and biases and more tweaks of other specific models? And I also agree that he talks about the fact that this kind of research is a massive replication problem. And maybe there's a reason for that, because we're not really testing. We're not linking all these things together to some underlying theoretical framework. We're missing a comprehensive theoretical framework. So I don't he didn't he did not convince me. And here's why, Cara, you can tell me I'm interested to hear what you think about this. So the thing is, he didn't really mention what I always thought the answer was to all of this. He didn't mention two things, which basically are at the core of my thinking about this topic. So we talk about on the show all the time, almost every time a neuroscience like psychological study comes up, we ask, are we at bedrock here? Are we just looking at downstream effects? Is this fundamentally how the human brain functions? Or is this just a marker of what's really happening? Underneath? We talk about the marshmallow test wasn't at least not in every case wasn't looking at what was really happening. So yes, we have to question that. But what if, here's my big what if, what if the underlying theoretical framework is that there is no elegant theory of human decision making?

C: That's like what I was thinking the whole time. Why does there have to be a grand theory of decision making?

B: It's a heuristic.

S: So my model is that human decision making making is a committee. You have all these different circuits screaming at the same time. And one group of them sort of align in in a direction and are a little bit louder than all the others. And that's the decision you make. And it's chaos. It's trying to predict the weather.

C: And it's also so influenced by not just your, it's so influenced by socialization and by how you're raised that one model probably doesn't apply to a whole group of people.

S: Right. Which is why they're usually these studies are like really on the margins. We have 5%, more people did this than that or whatever. Sometimes there's more robust effects, but often they're looking at very marginal effects. So again, he didn't convince me that there isn't, the decision making isn't a kludge and that the underlying theory is not that there is no underlying unifying theory. And then also, here's the other thing. And I wonder if this is a bias in behaviorists is he didn't when he was talking about the things that might lead us to a more elegant, more integrated theoretical framework. He didn't mention neuroscience.

C: At all?

S: He didn't mention and we and the thing that the one thing that I think will most inform this question, which is looking at functional connective networks in the brain. That's the bedrock when we say there's a circuit that does this. Now it's going to be contextual. It's going to depend on what other circuits are doing. But that's the closest that we're going to get to behavioral cognitive bedrock is identifying specific circuits that do something that we can understand what they're doing. That's like one person on the committee is that functional circuit. And he didn't really well didn't really talk about that.

B: Why?

C: Without understanding the neuroscience, none of it is anything because it all comes, it's like I remember taking history and systems of psychology course, and this is a very common course that psychologists take psychology students for whatever reason a lot of other disciplines don't require history and systems courses, which to me is bananas because it's like, how do how do we know what we know? It's very important to study that. So anyway, I remember we were discussing all of the different kind of theories of psychology, all of the different groups of people who and this is very clear with clinical psychology, right? You can talk to the psychoanalyst, and you can talk about the behaviors and you can talk about the whatever. But that kind of follows in research as well. And I remember my professor posing to the class, will we ever be able to unify all of these different views of psychology into one grand theory? And there was a big argumentation, I think the behaviorists will win out because it'll be that with a little bit of this or no, no, no, definitely the analysts are definitely the the developmental psychologists. And my answer to the question in the class was, if there ever were any unifying theory, it would be neuropsychology.

S: Yes.

C: It may still not answer everything, but it's the only thing that even has the potential to answer because all of these other things are, as you mentioned, they are the the emergent properties of what's happening in the brain.

S: The bedrock is the circuits.

C: Yes, it has to be.

S: I totally believe that.

C: Yeah, and we may never be able to read the code and and know what the actual function is. That may be something that's out of our grasp.

S: I do think that artificial intelligence research, basically crisscrossing AI research with neuroscience neuro anatomical correlates of behavior will get us the closest that we can get to it. When we can test it systematically and we could say, OK, what happens if we turn this circuit down or remove this circuit or add this circuit, then what how does that influence and then we could make analogies to how the human brain's working and then we could model the human brain and silicon. I don't know when we're going to get there, but that when you would, in my opinion, we will get to this grand unified theory when we when we're doing that, when we are actually figuring out circuit functional circuit, what is happening in the brain. We're not going to do it by just studying what people do.

C: No. And this is why cognitive psychology has always confused me as a discipline, because when you take a cognitive or like a sensory and perception course, a cog psych course, a big part of what they talk about is let's say we're talking about memory. There are all these concepts that you have to know, like, oh, the phonological loop and the sketchpad and the whatever, and you're learning all of these, but they're constructs that never are describing the fundamental correlates. And I'm always so confused in these classes because I'm like, this is just someone's model. It's almost like language and then the thing that the language describes. Like once we know it's symbolic interactionism and we know that the deeper we get into language, the more meaning we have around the concepts that the language itself describes. But the language is not the table. The word table is not the table.

S: I would make a different analogy. It's like trying to understand the speech centers of the brain by studying language.

C: Oh, yeah.

S: You'll never figure out the speech centers of the brain. You won't figure out there's an arcuate fasciculus that connects the Wernicke's area to Broca's area. You won't figure that out by studying language. You have to look at the brain. And once you do know, when you combine those two things.

C: And that's the important part is the combining because you'll never really understand the beauty of speech if you just study the brain.

S: Right. It's just meat. If you're just looking at the brain, you've got to look at both. Yeah, there's circuits are firing, but you don't know what they're doing until you connect it to behavior. You need both. That is the critical thing. So I think that was a big hole in his argument. And he didn't convince me that, again, that biases are tweaks to a wrong model. I think biases are real phenomenon representing algorithms that are actually in our brain. At least some of them are and maybe some are maybe not, again, not at what I call bedrock. They're not fundamental. They may be manifestations of more fundamental things that are happening, like different contextual manifestations of more fundamental things. And I do think we are figuring some of that stuff out, like people fundamentally want to be loved and want to feel secure and whatever, all these things. Those are sort of fundamental. That could manifest in a hundred ways, but we don't call every hundred things its own thing necessarily. Sometimes we do because what they're describing is what we can see in research. As we say all the time.

C: Of course.

S: It's a construct. We're looking where the light is good. We're studying what we can measure in research.

C: When university undergrads in a psychology course.

S: It's not necessarily what's actually happening in the brain, but fascinating thought process here. We talk about this all the time and this was like right on the money in terms of this meta question about what is the model of behavior.

C: And don't you think it speaks to this bigger question that is, and I'm so fascinated by this question philosophically and Lulu Miller writes about it beautifully in Why Fish Don't Exist. This idea of the human need to like categorize and to model and to say, no, no, I figured out how to bucket all of these things so that they make sense. And this obsession with like, oh, but now that's an exception. Just like you said at the very beginning, what if the model is that there is no model? Why do we need to model everything?

S: That's a circuit that makes us want to do that. That's one of our biases. That's how we grapple with so here's the point. This is a concept that I think is very legitimate and that is that our brains are not powerful enough to grapple with reality. And so we have tons of algorithms whose basic purpose is to get close enough to reality─

C: It's all about the heuristics and shortcuts.

S: ─with the least amount of processing power. So it's like efficiently getting an approximation that's good enough. That's how our brain.

B: Good enough to spread our seed.

S: Those are heuristics.

J: So Steve, if you're at work and you screw something up, you just tell your boss, I mean, it's good enough. I did a good enough job. I mean, because you clearly can't blame any one of us for screwing things up because our brain is not perceiving reality. Is that what you're saying?

S: No. (Cara laughs) Because that's why we have external systems in place like checklists and─

C: Calculators.

S: ─checking things over multiple times and multiple people checking over mission critical things─

B: And performance reviews.

S: ─because rather than relying on brute cognitive power, we rely upon external systems that minimize error. Error minimization is a thing. That is a total discipline unto itself, and it is critical when you're flying a plane or doing surgery or practicing medicine or whatever. So then this comes down to, you've opened a can of worms to that question, I'm just going to give you a very quick answer. This comes down to how we combine the heuristic approach with the analytical approach. So first, you get the first blush of, oh, this feels like this to me.

C: Face validity. It makes sense on the surface.

S: But now I have to back up and go through analytically and say, if I do the math and look it up and go systematically through all the things, do I get to the same answer or am I missing something or whatever?

B: Sounds like science to me.

S: Yeah, you've got to back it up with analysis.

C: When you talk to astrophysicists, actual experimental or even theoretical physicists, I feel like they do the same thing when they do their mental math. I have so many friends who work in physics who will be able to rattle off large numbers really readily, but they're not calculating to the single digit. They're just able to go, it's roughly, however many light years, it's roughly 500 million of this because they're doing order of magnitude math.

S: We call it a back of the envelope calculation, right? It's an estimate that's close enough to think about plausibility or whatever.

C: Because when you're working with sufficiently big enough numbers, it doesn't really matter if you're off by a million or whatever, and then they're able to do the real calculations and go─

S: This is exactly what the number is.

C: ─that has 17 more zeros. We did something wrong.

S: But knowing that space-based solar panels cost a thousand times as much as ground-based space panels is enough. We don't need to know that five decimal points is how much more expensive that order of magnitude estimate is enough, and that's a good scale to have.

C: That's sort of a good parallel between the heuristics that we use to figure out good enough versus the science that we use to get it down to the third decimal place.

B: Sixteenth decimal point.

S: But we do have to remember also that we evolved in a much simpler environment, and now we're trying to use those heuristics that we learned in the wild in a complicated technological civilization with thousands of years of culture and history and everything behind it and systems, like legal systems and economic systems, et cetera. So our evolved biases and heuristics, our evolved estimates that minimize our cognitive energy to get to a good enough answer is not good enough anymore, and that's why we need institutions and systems and math and philosophy, and we need all these things.

J: The big artificial intelligence.

B: The takeaway is we're big fat Kluge's.

S: Yep. Totally.

C: Not only is it not good enough to get to the answer, but it also sometimes backfires, and I think that's a big important part of not just the skeptical movement and what we are part of doing here, but also the work that, for example, that I do in therapy is helping people understand, why do I feel this way if I thought I was making a good decision, or why am I feeling conflicted here? It's, well, of course, because we didn't evolve in modern society. You see this a lot with conversations about the 40-hour work week and the whatever. Human beings didn't evolve to sit at a desk for 40 hours. That was never a part of the plan evolutionarily, and these kinds of things can be in conflict, and I think understanding that about ourselves, cutting ourselves slack when we utilize our heuristics, understanding their shortcomings, having that metacognition, as we always talk about the neuropsychological humility, but also being able to go, and that's okay, because I am a human being.

S: Right. And also, it's humility and it's also compassion. It's very challenging in the current political environment. It's really hard not to be judgmental, even really angry at people who believe things that feel so wrong to you, and it's easy to moralize and be judgmental, but you have to understand they're just following their algorithms the same way you are. They just have different inputs and outputs than you do. You know what I mean? All right. Let's move on.

Urban Crops (52:29)[edit]

S: All right, Cara, tell us about growing crops in cities.

C: Right. So we often think about urban farming. That's a term that's often used. What do you see when you imagine urban farming?

S: Rooftop.

J: Rooftop.

C: Rooftops. Yeah, that's a big one.

S: Window sills.

C: Window sills.

B: Limited scale.

S: But of course now, hydroponics.

B: Small yield.

C: Exactly. So, there's the green spaces within urban environments, so community gardens or even there's a guy in LA, Ron Finley, he calls himself the renegade gardener, and he plants, you know that little strip of green? And I'm saying it this way because I did the New York Times you use use guys thing and everybody calls it something different depending on where in the country you live, but that strip of green between the sidewalk and the street?

S: Yes.

B: Yes.

C: That little thing, he like plants it technically that city property, but he plants like edible vegetables on those all the time so that people can start having little gardens out in their front yards. It's really brilliant. Anyway, so those are green belts or green spaces, but there's also what's called gray spaces. So, these are places where there is no soil, but we can still grow hydroponic crops. So, tower gardens, for example, which you can do indoors in your house or on your patio or on the roof of your apartment building. So there are different approaches to urban farming. Basically, we often think of urban farming as a sort of niche thing, like almost a like a cute thing that and I have a robot garden. It goes in my kitchen, you plug it in, it's self watering, it's self lighting, it has all these great features, but it takes me a while to grow basically one salad's worth of lettuce because it's just not terribly efficient. But I get the hang of it. I have a lot of friends, though, who can feed themselves with the way that they grow food in their urban apartments here in Los Angeles. So the question here is, is urban farming efficient enough to feed the residents? Are the yields high enough or do we really still need to rely on what we think of as conventional agriculture or rural approaches to farming? And there have been a lot of different studies asking very specific questions. But there's a really big study that just was released where the team actually did basically a meta analysis. So they looked at studies from 53 different countries. And they said which crops grow well in cities? How are they growing the crops? What is the most effective way to grow them? And where are they being grown? And we want to know, does it measure up to conventional farming? And what do you guys think?

B: It probably did surprisingly well.

C: Surprisingly well. Yeah, it did as well, if not better in several instances than conventional rural farming and sometimes three to four times the efficiency.

J: Why is that?

C: So certain crops, especially like watery fruits and vegetables. So think about like cucumbers, think about tomatoes, also things like lettuces. They grow crazy well hydroponically. And when you think about a hydroponic system, and I have seen, and we may have talked about this on the show before, the shipping container farms that are completely sealed to be airtight and they're basically tractor trailers so you can drive them to different regions that are 100% no loss farms. So basically the water, if it does become water vapor, it recondenses. It doesn't evaporate the way that water evaporates when you're planting in a field, because it's not going into the Earth's water cycle, it's going into its own closed water cycle. Also all of the different fertilizers and all of the different basically components that go into the farming can be measured to the microgram. And so the science of growing crops in a really controlled environment can really help with efficiency. The question has always been, does it cost more to do it? Is it worthwhile to do it this way? And the authors of this paper do caveat and say, the cost thing is still a very open question. It's growing conventionally, although let's be honest, conventional farming is not cheap. It may be we think of as more pastoral, more idyllic, it may be something that the skills have been handed down generation to generation, but farmers still have a lot of expenses. And a lot of conventional farms are barely breaking even. A lot of conventional farms have to work really, really hard to turn a profit. And the profit is really at the whims of the weather. It's at the whims of the climate and the environment. And of course, we know that this is ever changing and its whims are becoming less and less predictable. So when you're in a more closed urban environment, there's a way to actually mitigate against a lot of those issues. But even green spaces, like you guys mentioned, roof farms, small community farms, even within places where there is sort of the capriciousness of the weather and of the climate are important to consider, they are surprisingly efficient if you choose the right crops. You're not going to grow wheat that way.

S: Yeah.

J: Yeah. That's right.

C: But you're going to be able to probably grow lettuce.

S: Leafy and vegetables are good.

C: Yeah, leafy greens, vegetables grow super well hydroponically, but they also grow well in a really planned small farm where you can rotate. And so basically, the big takeaway from this study, and again, remember 53 different countries, a ton of different studies, because this was a meta analysis, that across the board, most rural settings, crops grew as well, if not better, and sometimes up to three and four times as well, as in conventional agriculture. They also surprisingly found that there weren't a lot of differences between indoor and outdoor green urban growing. So it could be that we're not as efficient as we need to be with the indoor closed spaces. It could be that a lot of people who are doing these community gardens are really being innovative and learning how to grow the right things for their right climates. Regardless, what we are finding is that there's just not that much data. This study is a good first step, because these researchers, and it's almost kind of activist research, they're basically saying, these questions need to be answered from a policy perspective. Because when we go to local governments, and we say, we need to invest infrastructure, we need to be putting our money into these urban farm initiatives, they're saying, why? Show me that it's going to be worth worthwhile. Show me the ROI. And the data just hasn't really been there, because it's been really like piecemeal and mismatched and the variables haven't been controlled. And so this large meta analysis is showing us that, for example only five to 10% of legumes, vegetables, tubers are grown in urban settings. 15 to 20% globally overall of food is produced in cities, but does it need to be that way? Could we up those yields significantly and actually save money in the process? And this study is showing that maybe, maybe it looks like at least from what we see so far, urban farming is as efficient, if not more efficient, and it could become even more efficient with more investment in technology, yeah, more R&D.

S: Totally. And so it's all about growing the optimal crop for this location in the situation that you're in. That's like a huge part of maximizing efficiency.

C: Which you don't have to do if you have a closed system, because you can mimic almost any environment with lighting, with humidity, with concentrations of different nitrogen concentrations, different soil concentrations. It's pretty incredible what you can do in basically a crop lab. I mean, think about it, almost any ag university is growing every crop in a lab right now.

S: I was talking to Kevin Folta about this when I was trying to get something to fruit. He's like, here, get a bulb, like an infrared bulb with this very specific frequency. And that will induce fruiting. They have it dialed in. I think we talked not too long ago about hydroponics. I mean, remember, hydroponics, first of all, it's vertical. It uses very little water compared to land based. And there's no pests, no pesticide, no loss due to pests, no resistance to pesticides, none of that.

C: And with no soil, you're not having to, first of all, harvest soil or grow soil. You're not having to deplete the nitrogen that's in the soil.

S: No fertilizer.

C: No fertilizer. It's just it's better for the environment. It's better. And again, it doesn't work for every crop, but for the crops that we can grow that way, we can do it in a small space, highly efficient, fewer ingredients going into the farming equation and less basically pollution coming out of it.

S: And you're growing the food where it's going to be eaten so you don't have to truck it across the country. You're growing it in the city where you're going to sell it.

C: You're growing it basically in situ, which is so smart.

S: All right. That's Cara.

C: Yep.

Protons Have Charm (1:02:07)[edit]

S: Bob, tell us about protons having charm.

C: Those charming protons.

B: Yes. Protons were in the news and researchers claimed the evidence that could change physics textbooks, if they're correct, basically. They say that everyday protons may fundamentally be composed of not just the usual suspects, but also the heavy charm quarks as well. And if true, that this would mean protons could at times contain elements that counterintuitively weigh more than the entire proton itself.

C: What?

B: Hello, quantum mechanics. So, yes, this fascinating study was published in the August 18th edition of Nature by the NNPDF Collaboration. That stands for the Neural Network Parton Distribution Function Collaboration. OK, so if you haven't noticed, I love quarks and I'm going to talk about them. They are there in many ways the most important particles in the universe, actually. They come in six so-called flavors, up, down, strange, charm, bottom and top. We've all heard these before. Two of the six are especially important, the up and down, especially important. They compose all the protons and neutrons in atoms that we see everywhere in our normal lives. Look around right now. You're seeing a whole mess of up and down quarks. Now if Thanos snapped his fingers and peered inside a proton, he'd see two up quarks and one down quark. The protons and neutrons are bound together by the strongest force in nature called, unimaginatively of course, the strong force. But that force, though, for all intents and purposes, can be said to derive from the bizarre, even more bizarre and amazing color force that's binding the quarks that are inside those protons and neutrons. And that color force arises because the quarks are constantly exchanging another type of particle. This is a force carrier called gluons. Now gluons in this context, you can think of them as analogous to photons that make up light. The electromagnetic force between two charged particles. The gluon is just the color force between two quarks. Okay, so now this concept of a proton that's composed of three quarks exchanging gluons is the top of the proverbial onion layer that I talk about. So for this news item, we're going to need to go just a layer or two deeper and I promise not to make you cry. A little bit. So inside a proton, gluons can at times split, did you know that? Creating vast quantities of quark-antiquark pairs. Now these are transient quarks and can include the other more massive quarks. It doesn't have to be just the up and down. These could be the strange or the bottom quark as well showing up in these quark-antiquark pairs within the proton. So now these have actually been identified in the debris when protons smash together at near the speed of light in colliders like the Large Hadron Collider. Now these pairs are thought to be the result of the kinetic energy. They come because there's immense energy associated with this kinetic energy of these protons traveling so fast. So they're not really considered fundamental to the proton's identities, these transient quarks. So therefore they're called extrinsic quarks. It's kind of like Jay. The essence of Jay, this essence of Jay does not have to include meatballs, but they often can be found inside of Jay when he's in what I call the Jay food collider. Now meatballs then are extrinsic to Jay. On the other hand, having no but is clearly fundamental to the Jay-ness of Jay. (Jay laughs) So that would be called intrinsic and not extrinsic. So okay. So this idea of intrinsic quarks then have been theorized for decades. And that means that the more massive quarks like the charm quark could at times appear within the proton and when it's in this baseline state. So you've got a proton that's not traveling at near the speed of light and they could potentially find these heavy charm quarks inside of it. And so then that would not be extrinsic. And this would be an example of an intrinsic quark. Now this would be, these intrinsic quarks then are a fundamental part of protons if they exist. And these intrinsic quarks that are not up or down, but are heavy and kind of fleeting and rare, they could potentially be a fundamental part of the protons. Similar in a way to the way that the up and down quarks that have low mass are fundamental. And every, you look at every physics textbook and you will say, oh yeah, these protons, these quarks, the up and down quarks and the protons and neutrons, they all say it. So if these intrinsic quarks are real, then that's going to have to change. Now another way to express this intrinsic nature is to say that the charm quark would be part of the wave function of the proton, which means that it would be part of this fundamental identity of what a proton is, if it's in there. So then this new research that I'm talking about is about this search for the, these new intrinsic quarks that may be part of protons and the icing on the cake for all of this research that I've gone through is that they used artificial intelligence and it played a critical role. That was really like one of the deciding factors. Again, I want to talk about this because not only is the whole quark angle fascinating, but of course they used AI, which is great. So to do that, they took massive volumes of the particle collider data from the LHC and from other colliders, and they added that to a theoretical calculations that they had done as well. And they use the AI software to analyze all that data. So for the analysis, they used a machine learning model that essentially built a hypothetical proton structure itself. And that included within that structure, the charm quark, of course. So it has the structure that has the charm quark embedded within this structure. And then it compared that to all the collider data. So that's what, that's what it did. And when it was all said and done, the results claimed that charm quarks carry 0.62% of a proton's momentum. But the confidence levels for now are three sigma. And we've discussed this before. That means that there's a 0.3% chance their results are just a coincidence. So it's it's not, it's not a great chance, but it's not good enough. And we all know by now that, that if you really want to get noticed, you're going to have to get to a level of five sigma before the quark quarks would pop and they could claim a conclusive result that would be accepted by the scientific community and maybe even go get their, their Nobel's as well. Since we're talking about the quantum realm, I have to point out that one of the bizarre ramifications of this theory that I mentioned briefly at the top of this is that if this does prove correct, charm quarks, then they're much more massive than the up and down quarks. If they do appear within protons from time to time, that would mean that the proton would get more massive. In fact, if you add the mass of a charm quark into a proton, it would increase its mass by a whopping 50%, something that would be hard not to notice. But of course, as we know, the quantum realm doesn't work that way. It's not obvious. It's not intuitive. You can't simply just add the individual masses up within a proton and expect that to be its final mass. You silly decohered macro scale humans. Doesn't work that way. The bottom line then is that once in a while a proton, if this is true, a proton will contain a charm quark that's heavier than the entire proton itself. And the universe just is like, we're not going to really, that's not going to really happen. And it doesn't so it's counterintuitive, it's hard to wrap your head around it, but that's how it works. So looking into the future, what's going to happen with this in the future? Well, first off, I think they're going to get that to five sigma. I hope they can get it up there. And then they will have conclusive proof that these charm quarks can be an intrinsic part of protons. I'll end it with a quote from theoretical physicist, Juan Rojo, he's from the university of Amsterdam. He said: "The recent research is just the start of a long term research program that aims to unveil the possible existence of other intrinsic heavy quarks in the proton. And this could help answer what determines the mass of the proton, one of the major open questions in physics." So imagine in the future, if not only they show that charm quarks are intrinsically part of protons, but also the other strange and top and bottom quarks are also those others super heavy and they're super heavy. They're many, many times heavier than than, than protons. So that would be even more kind of counterintuitive that they could potentially exist fundamentally within protons, but also be much more massive, which is, which is so quantum of it.

C: That's so quantum.

B: So quantum. So, yeah, just a fascinating idea. I've heard of these intrinsic and extrinsic, quarks before, and this really helps solidify that in my mind. It's fascinating because there's so much going on inside that proton. It is so not just, oh yeah, here's a few quarks and some gluons. There's so much more going on and I'm just scratching the surface. If you like any of this stuff, look it up. It's endlessly fascinating.

S: All right. Cool.

Who's That Noisy? (1:11:26)[edit]

Answer to previous Noisy:
Synthesizing human voice by successively adding overtones

S: Jay. It's Who's That Noisy time.

J: All right guys.Let's see if I played this Noisy:

[low chiming then intermittent, increasingly loud buzzing coupled with rising chime notes]

You guys have any guesses?

B: That's my electric toothbrush.

C: No idea.

J: Steve?

S: It's an artificial vocal cord.

B: Interesting.

J: Not a bad guess. So there was a lot of really, really good guesses this week. So I guess the reveal is going to happen relatively quickly on this, but Jim Kelly wrote in and said: "Hi Jay, this week's Noisy reminds me of overtone singing AKA throat singing where the singer changes the resonances of the vocal resonances"

S: Resonances.

J: Resences.

S: Resonances.

J: Resnen. "of the vocal track to make it seem like they're producing multiple separate notes." So Jim, you're not wrong, but you're not completely correct. I'll leave it at that because I'll tell you the whole thing in a second. Brian Fort wrote in said: "Hey Jay, it sounds like an artificial throat that is changing its aperture to create various harmonics like a Tibetan throat singer." Again, close, very close. Lots of good stuff in there. Not correct enough though. All right. Next one was sent in by a listener named Jeff Loats and Jeff says: "Hey Jay, first time guessing long time listener and patron" Ding, ding, ding. "This sounds like someone building up an electronic buzzer sound by adding successive Fourier components. It could even be a square wave, which has a very buzzer like sound." So when he says Fourier, he's talking essentially about there are pure tones and then there are overtones. And I think in this context, he's talking about collections of overtones, which adds to the puzzle here. So Jeff is not correct, but it adds a little bit more info, which I keep, I just find this very interesting. So we had many people guess correctly. I got a, I got a few people here that guessed correctly in different ways. So one person guessed, named Joshua Twilley. Joshua said: "Hey, dear Jay, you rock, this week's Noisy sounds very much like a recording of a human voice that has been put through a sinusoidal partial editing and resynthesis. Here is the hypothesis."

S: Sinusoidal.

J: Sinusoidal! "The original audio file has been put through a piece of software that deconstructed the sound wave into component sine waves." I'm not going to read the whole thing that he said, but that's, that could very well be what this sound is. So you did, you did answer correctly. He says the noisy starts off with many of the original sounds, partial overtones removed. So a lot of the things that he put near is absolutely correct. So that's a win. Shane Hillier wrote in this week sounds like a speaker layering overtones in such a way that causes acoustic beating that sounds similar to human vocal utterances." I thought that was good enough as well. And an interesting way is like you could simulate the human voice by adding in certain overtones is what he was saying. And then another listener named Nathan McDonald also guessed correctly. So anyway, let me get to what this is. I will say right out of the gate, I don't know exactly how these sounds were generated. They could have very well been a normal human voice that software picked apart all of the components that make up a human voice. But let me explain to you what a, what, what you're hearing and what is a human voice. Like why do our voices sound the way that they sound? Well, there are core tones in our voice that basically make the root or the bulk of our voice. There's something called overtones and overtones are other frequencies that are mixed in. They absolutely have something to do with the shape of your throat, the size of your throat, the shape of your head, the shape and size of your nasal cavity. The ways that your, the density of your bones actually affect the sound that comes out of your mouth. You have vocal cords and you know, it's basically like your vocal cords are one thing and then you have other parts of your throat that, that add to the sound of your voice. There's skin and folds of skin and tissue in your throat that do these things. It's very complicated from a physics perspective. But what's happening is there are tons of overtones that are being created. So the bass sound is coming off of your vocal cords and all of these other resonances are adding to it. So when you hear this noisy, in the beginning, you're hearing some very, very basic parts of the human voice. And when you hear the tinkling sounds, those little chimy sounds, they're adding in more and more overtones and it becomes more and more human sounding until the end. It's a complete human voice that's making an ah sound. So listen again, listen for those little chimes that come in when they're adding in overtones and you'll hear this thing start off as very non-human sounding and it becomes completely human sounding because of the overtones.

[plays Noisy]

So I find this absolutely fascinating. You're not just hearing a single tone. Like if you ever listened to a single tone, you could, you could easily do this, go online, you can hear someone play a synthesizer that's just playing literally one tone and it sounds so two dimensional, it sounds so flat, there's no life to it. But when any instrument that's played, essentially anything that makes sound will have overtones into it that gives it its characteristics that makes it sound the way it sounds. Why does like one guitar sound different than the next? It's a complicated question, but, but one of the things is basically the vibration and the way that that musical instrument resonates and creates overtones. So overtones are everything. Most everything creates overtones, but I gotta tell you, the human voice, when you hear this Noisy and hear the construction of a person saying, aaa, aaaa, those overtones get added in and you, and it becomes a human voice by the addition of further and further overtones. My god, that is so cool. It's such an interesting phenomenon that's going on and it's happening every time you talk. You're shooting tons and tons of overtones, which essentially is like remember the piano one I did a few weeks ago where you hear a voice in the piano?

S: Yeah.

B: Yeah.

S: That's what you're doing.

J: That's what's happening. If you think about it, there could be hundreds or thousands of, of overtones that are, that are added in to give something a sound. The piano could, could be a marginally sound like a human voice because you could add in like hundreds of notes that add in these overtones that build up the sound profile, the sound characteristic. So cool. Just look it up. There's tons of stuff on the web about that. I love it. I could keep going forever.

New Noisy (1:18:57)[edit]

J: I have a new Noisy. This Noisy was sent in by me.

S: Okay.

J: I did because I try not to repeat things I tried to be as, as unique as possible, but there are themes that I really love. And one of them is what the one that this slips into, what classification does this particular sound fall into? Some of you, a lot of you will know immediately what the classification is, but I want to know exactly where this is from, what it's from, and be as specific as you possibly can in the paradigm of what this is. Tell me exactly when this sound happens. That's my clue.

[short chime/ditty from a video game]

Cara, do you want to hear it again?

C: Yes.

J: [plays Noisy] Just out of curiosity, does that sound sound familiar to any of you?

S: It did.

B: Yeah.

J: Don't you love that? That head scratch and like, where did I hear that? What's that from? That's exactly the way I want you to feel. So if you feel that way, email me at and you can also send me in some cool sounds that you heard.

Announcements (1:20:09)[edit]

J: Steve, there are things happening in the world of SGU that I would like to go over with you right now. So one, I want to remind people that NECSS happened and it's not too late. You could always buy tickets to NECSS and view it for months and months. We've had, I actually think the last two years are still up right now. We didn't take them down because I still see people going back and watching talks from there. So we just leave them up. If you're interested, we had an incredible keynote speaker situation. We had Bill Nye and David Copperfield and their conversation was a ton of fun to listen to. These two guys went on well over an hour discussing, they were discussing different things about their lives and experiences and about misinformation. I thought it was a really, really cool and fun talk to listen to.

Another quick thing is we are going to be in Phoenix, Arizona and Tucson, Arizona doing extravaganza and private shows. Extravaganza is a stage show. There's a lot of standup improv comedy things that we do and we're also teaching you about how you cannot trust your human perception. The show is a lot of fun. It runs about two hours and we're going to be doing a show in Phoenix and a show in Tucson. We are also doing two private shows and these are special private shows because they're private show pluses, which means that we spend an extra hour with the audience. We do a live SGU recording and then we will stay an extra hour just to hang out and socialize and do some fun things with the audience. You can get all the information on these shows by going to

S: All right. Thanks Jay.

Dumbest Thing of the Week (1:21:44)[edit]

  • Comment about climate change

S: So we have a dumbest thing of the week. This is a comment left on a blog post of mine about climate change and it was so dumb I had to share it with everyone. I won't say the commenter's name but he writes: "Nobody competent in chemistry believes the political BS about each element in the human DNA being a pollutant. Nitrogen is over 75% of the atmosphere but turns into a pollutant once it hits the dirt, once it hits the ground, only a dirt worshiper would think so. Carbon is the basic building block of all life on Earth. Oxygen, the larger part of CO2, is not a pollutant even when combined with hydrogen as H2O where it becomes the largest greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. So go ahead, humor your politically correct self and believe political hacks that the very elements that make up your DNA are the biggest problematic pollution on Earth."

C: A lot to unpack there.

J: Steve, do we even have time to talk about it?

S: What's the core logical fallacy in there?

C: Is it the naturalistic, what's it called? The naturalistic? Is that, I always screw up the title of that one.

S: No, appeal to nature fallacy? No.

C: Yeah, the appeal to nature. Oh, okay. Not like it's in you, so it's fine.

S: I mean, yeah, I mean sort of. That's not the core fallacy, that's woven in there a little bit. So─

C: What am I not seeing?

S: It's a fallacy of division. You say that when you confuse different levels of organization, the pieces all have the properties of the whole or vice versa. So it's ironic that he starts with pontificating about being competent in chemistry and then makes the dumbest chemistry third grader mistake possible of confusing the properties of elements with the properties of compounds that contain those elements, right?

C: Right.

S: So yeah, nitrogen is in our DNA, therefore, nothing that contains nitrogen can possibly be a pollutant.

C: I know, that's bananas.

S: It's bananas.

C: We breathe air, therefore, if I put an air embolism in your vein, you wouldn't die. It doesn't make any sense. You can't just transfer, not just in quantity, but just in application. Some things are toxic when they're used a certain way.

S: But it's also when you combine different elements together, they have different chemical properties.

C: Different properties.

B: That's how chemistry works.

S: That's the fundamental aspect of chemistry. You cannot judge a chemical based upon its elemental constituents. I said, here's someone else opened up with, so cyanide's okay then, right? It's just hydrogen and nitrogen and stuff. Would you drink benzene? That's just carbon and hydrogen. How about formaldehyde? That's CH2O. It's water with a perfectly natural carbon attached to it. That's actually what makes it healthier. So drink a whole boatload of formaldehyde. It's nonsense. But this guy is getting judgmental about calling climate change scientists pseudoscientists because they don't understand. What? I mean, what is he saying? It's like saying everything contains quarks and quarts are natural. There's quarks in water, so anything with quarks is fine, can't possibly be bad. And I think he's confusing, there's also a straw man in there, which I know only because of other comments that he left. Because he's also trying to say that when people talk about reducing the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere, that they're talking literally about carbon and not carbon dioxide. It's like, no, no one believes that. It's only a problem when it's carbon dioxide when it's part. That's what they're talking about. It's just shorthand.

C: They think there's just like charcoal?

S: He's just projecting the worst possible straw man.

B: We're throwing diamonds into the air.

S: And then making an even worse gaffe himself. It's just mind numbing.

B: Yeah. It's kinda pathetic.

S: All right. But here's the thing. He didn't invent this. You know where he got all this from?

J: Where? Who?

S: Mike Adams.

J: Oh, boy.

S: He's parroting Mike Adams. So this meme is out there.

J: It's pretty sad.

S: It's pretty sad.

B: He's not even original in his ignorance.

C: Do you know what that reminds me of, Steve? I just made a weird connection in my head. Have you guys seen, there's, I think it's on Hulu. There's a New York Times documentary. They just did one all about Mercola and anti-vax and how dangerous it is. It's great. It's like this great, super skeptical, awesome, ultra mainstream, I think it was a New York Times documentary. It may have been ABC or something, but yeah, it's really good. Check it out. So it's called The New York Times presents: Superspreader and it's all about super spreading misinformation on COVID.

S: Awesome.

C: It's really great. You can see it on Hulu. It just came out on August 19th. I highly recommend you guys.

B: Thanks. Sounds great.

S: All right guys, it's time for science fiction.

Science or Fiction (1:26:49)[edit]

Theme: Florence, Italy

Item #1: Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing, was named after the city of her birth, Florence, Italy.[5]
Item #2: When the Nazis were fleeing Italy during WWII, Hitler ordered all the bridges of Florence to be destroyed to slow the Allied advance. However, the private tasked with setting the charges on the Ponte Vecchio deliberately failed to make a proper connection, sparing the bridge.[6]
Item #3: In 1527 anti-Medici rioters dropped a bench from a parapet, striking Michelangelo’s David and breaking off his left arm in three pieces.[7]

Answer Item
Fiction Nazi private saved bridge
Science Nightingale's namesake
Rioters broke m.b.'s David
Host Result
Steve win
Rogue Guess
Nazi private saved bridge
Rioters broke m.b.'s David
Nazi private saved bridge

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

S: Each week I come up with three science news items with facts, two genuine and one fictitious. And then I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. And there's a theme this week because of course there is. And what do you think that theme is? Florence.

C: Italy.

J: Definitely Italy.

S: Florence, specifically Florence.

J: Now you're going to make me feel bad, Steve.

S: All right, here we go. Item #1: Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing, was named after the city of her birth, Florence, Italy. Item #2: When the Nazis were fleeing Italy during WWII, Hitler ordered all the bridges of Florence to be destroyed to slow the Allied advance. However, the private tasked with setting the charges on the Ponte Vecchio deliberately failed to make a proper connection, sparing the bridge. And item #3: In 1527 anti-Medici rioters dropped a bench from a parapet, striking Michelangelo’s David and breaking off his left arm in three pieces. Cara, have you ever been to Florence?

C: No. I've only been to Venice in Italy.

S: Yeah, only Venice, huh?

C: Yeah, I know it's weird. It's a weird city to only have been to.

S: Yeah.

C: So does that mean I get to go first?

S: Yes, you go first.

Cara's Response[edit]

C: All right. These all are like totally believable and also completely unbelievable. Florence Nightingale, obviously we know of her, was named because she was born in Florence. Who does that? I have a friend named Austin who was born in like Houston, I think, which is weird.

S: Austin from Houston?

C: Yeah, I think so. He's not from Austin, but he is definitely from Texas. And then this middle one has so many details. When the Nazis were fleeing Italy during World War II, Hitler ordered all the bridges of Florence to be destroyed. Nazis fleed Italy? Wait, what? I didn't even know that happened. Did the Nazis─

S: Yeah, remember when they lost World War II? Remember when that happened?

C: No, I just remember, but they already had like these fascist allies. Why did they also have to be in Italy? I didn't realize that they were, I'm so confused. Private tasked with setting the charges deliberately failed to make a proper connection and save the bridge. I mean, that seems believable. And then this last one, anti-Medici rioters dropped a, why a bench? Oh, I'm assuming this would, well, it says rioter, so it maybe was on accident, but maybe it was intentional? That sucks. I've never seen David up close. I'm assuming they would have just like, I don't know, what would they have glued it back together?

S: Little super glue.

C: Oh my goodness. I don't know. I'm going to say that the one with all the detail is the fiction because there are too many things that could go wrong there. So I'm going to say it's the Nazis fleeing and the bridge, but then the bridge actually didn't blow up. But this is a total, just like I threw the dart at the dartboard with my back turned towards it.

S: Okay. Bob?

Bob's Response[edit]

B: I feel like I would have heard about David and breaking of his arm in three pieces. I'm going to say that one. I just feel like I would have heard about that because that would have been such a horrible thing. The Ponte Vecchio one, I just want to believe that that happened. So I'm just going to say that that one's science and Florence Nightingale, yeah, whatever. I'm sure it's possible. So I'll go with the anti Medici rioters fiction.

S: Okay. And Jay?

Jay's Response[edit]

J: I mean, I'm pretty, pretty damn sure that David had, the statue of David had a couple of things happen to it. One of them was that somebody hit David's toe with a hammer. You guys ever hear about that?

B: Yeah. I think that rings a bell, Jay. I think I just [inaudible] false memory.

C: Why would they have done that?

J: Some crazy dude.

C: That's not cool.

J: Yeah. Now they have to put metal detectors in all the exhibits and everything. Crazy people from destroying stuff. As far as David's arm breaking, I'm pretty damn sure that happened.

B: Shit.

J: Yeah. I think they have people that can fix problems like that. Then Florence Nightingale, I'm pretty sure that, that her name was because that she was born in Florence, Italy. I'm not a hundred percent sure about that. And the reason why I think number two is, is fiction is because one, I absolutely would have heard about it if this story existed, because I love world war II and I love Italy and I love the Ponte Vecchio. So I can't imagine through all of my reading about all of these things that I would not have heard of it. Right? I have to kind of go off of that because these are things that I am interested in that I feel like I have a little bit of a base of knowledge about. So I'm definitely going to say that that one's the fake.

S: All right. So you all agree with the first one. So we'll start there.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S: Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing was named after the city of her birth, Florence, Italy. Now you guys remember that she was a British nurse, right?

J: That's correct.

C: Oh, well then it would make more sense. Then it makes more sense that they would name her that.

S: Yeah. She was named after Florence, Italy, where she was born. Amazing, amazing woman. This is like, we don't talk about her enough. I mean, she really is the founder of modern nursing. I mean, she was in the, she was a British army nurse, mainly came to fame during the Crimean war. And she's completely revolutionized the modern hospital. Introducing things like cleaning the bed sheets between patients and basic hygiene and all kinds of safety regulations that we take for granted. That was all her. She literally wrote the book and transformed hospital care. First in the military, but then of course spreading throughout the world. So absolutely amazing. Okay. Let's go to number two.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: When the Nazis were fleeing Italy during World War II, Hitler ordered all the bridges of Florence to be destroyed to slow the allied advance. However, the private tasked with setting the charges on the Ponte Vecchio deliberately failed to make a proper connection, sparing the bridge. Now, Jay, I know you've seen the Ponte Vecchio, Bob, I know you saw it at least once. When was the last time you saw it?

B: In 94, I think.

S: And I just saw it of course last week. And of course it's intact and ancient. So it clearly was not destroyed in World War II, right? So but the question is what, how did that come about? How was it not destroyed? And yes, Cara, the Nazis occupied Italy as an ally. And then the allies starting at the starting in Northern Africa, then coming up through Sicily, pushed the Nazis out of Italy. When they fled Rome, they basically the allied forces overwhelmed the Germans and they declared Rome an open city, which means no fighting there. So they didn't have to blow up the bridges there. But then what the allied forces did was they took advantage of that. They stormed right over one of the bridges and captured like a whole battalion of Nazi forces.

C: Sneaky.

S: And so then they moved north to Florence and they were like, nope, we're not going to let them do it this time. We're going to blow up all the bridges. And they did blow up all the bridges except the Ponte Vecchio. But why did they not blow up the Ponte Vecchio? It wasn't because of a private. This one is the fiction. It's possible that the order to spare the Ponte Vecchio came from Hitler himself.

B: What a nice guy.

S: But we know for sure that we're pretty sure that the ranking officer in Florence, who was in charge of the withdrawal, essentially Hitler said, don't destroy anything historically significant when you're fleeing Florence, because Hitler was there for a while and he liked the city, thought it was beautiful, he loved the Ponte Vecchio. So we don't know exactly where the orders came from, but it was basically up the chain. Everyone was like, yeah, we're not going to blow up the Ponte Vecchio. But it's also the fact that American tanks couldn't fit across the bridge. So we weren't going to use it anyway. So they didn't have to blow it up. That was a factor as well. But yeah, there was no if they wanted to blow up the bridge, they would have blown up the bridge even if somebody, the first thing didn't work, they would have just kept going. But anyway that came from higher up, the order to spare the Ponte Vecchio. All the other bridges over the Arno were blown up, though.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: All this means that in 1527, anti-Medici rioters dropped a bench from a parapet, striking Michelangelo's David and breaking off his left arm in three pieces is science that happened. Don't know if it was deliberate or an accident. They were up there. They were throwing furniture at the forces, the guards the police, basically. And one of the pieces of furniture struck David, which was in the Piazza Signorita at the time where, "fake" David is now. We call that the Piazza of fake David because there's a copy of David in there. And that's where the original David was when this happened. And then there were later assaults on David. Then they moved it into the Academy Museum where it is now, beautifully placed. I mean, it's they come around the corner. It's like wonderfully. Where it is is like part of its of its charm.

J: David was so, he was so critically important to the people of Florence, like it became the symbol of the city. And I like to think, Steve, that when that happened, that everybody just stopped for a minute. We're like, oh, shit. You know what I mean? Because that's not cool.

S: So they moved David to protect it.

B: I just Googled David and zoomed into his left arm. I think I can even see where it was repaired.

S: It's pretty seamless. I didn't notice it when I was there. Other mishaps, 1512 damage to the base by lightning, 1813 broken finger on the right hand, 1843 a broken toe, and then the incident that Jay was talking about in 1991, a disturbed Italian artist attacks the toe on the left foot with a hammer saying he had been instructed to do so by La Bella Nana, the exquisitely beautiful model who posed for the 16th century Venetian painter Paolo and Veronese. So yeah. A nut job. So they had to protect it. Not, not as bad as the other─

B: The Pietà?

S: ─the Pietà, yeah, with the eighties or something. Some deranged person goes in there and just hammered it to pieces. They had to put that thing together like a puzzle. And now it's behind glass. You can't get anywhere near it. The arm pieces were put together by copper nails on David. And of course they fixed it to make it as seamless as possible. And it was good.

J: It looks pristine.

S: It does.

J: To think that that statue was outside in the weather. What were they thinking? Now it's perfectly positioned. That was definitely [inaudible].

B: What an awesome sight seeing him up close. Your jaw just drops and doesn't close for a while.

S: What's funny. So we were all looking at David and I had over the years read a lot about David and so he looked at the expression on his face and I always read that like it showed fear. He's looking at Goliath and he shows it on his face. But when you look at him from the ground, he looks pretty chill. You know?

C: Yeah, he definitely does. He looks serene.

B: Does it depend on the angle you look at him?

S: He looks serene. Totally. If you are at eye level with him, so I've seen pictures at eye level, you can see the furrowed brows and he is shitting his pants that he's not wearing right then.

J: I don't know, Steve.

S: Totally.

J: I've thought about this quite a bit too. The main question I have is, is this a snapshot of David before or after he beat Goliath?

S: Right before. He's looking at Goliath. He has the sling over his arm. He's putting the stone in the sling with his right hand. He's looking at David and he's shitting a brick.

C: Oh yeah, he definitely looks concerned when you look at him. I'm just googling David's statue at eye level and it's a completely different look. That's nice.

S: But from the ground he looks totally chill.

C: Yeah, and that's how we all see it is looking up at it.

S: Yeah, it's interesting.

B: I read that his head is a little bit bigger than normal for when he was, because I think when it was initially displayed, it was like on the ceiling, on the roof of some structure was like high. And so to make him look more to scale more─

S: Because it's so big he need to be proportioned

B: ─he made his head a little bit bigger. And of course his right hand is─

J: The hands are a little bit bigger as well.

B: ─yeah, that's always, most people talk about that, especially the right hand is clearly a little bit too big. And Steve, I remember when the last time I was there, I think in 94, I remember looking at the scores and scores of these little David statues that I wanted to buy to do some justice to David and no body, not one that I saw did this, did the big sculpture justice. They're all just like a weird expression on his face. Nobody could catch his face at all on small scale. I remember no one did. I would 3D print that damn thing.

J: There's something remarkable about how things of beauty, whether it's art or natural things, that they do something to us. And I think about it, like it's interesting to think about it, like why, why did we evolve? If we did, I think we did because it's powerful. There might be a really good reason why we're affected by things of beauty like this.

S: I think it's an epiphenomenon. We obviously evolved emotions for evolutionary advantages. Again, it's hard to tease that all apart, but I mean, those are evolved emotions. And art just exploits those. I don't think we, we didn't evolve to appreciate the piano. We evolved to appreciate regularity and mathematical precision and interpreting the emotion of voices. And then the artistry is translating all of that, the human experience, like how we process things like that.

C: What a funny thought.

S: Into an artistic experience, you know?

C: And you can go one level further because I remember talking once about when I first left religion and I was reflecting back on all the time I spent in the Mormon church and I used to really love singing and I was in the choir and I actually remember listening to religious music and being like, I feel the spirit in me. And then I looked back and I was like, oh no, I just really like music. Music is just very emotional for me. So it's funny that even another layer deeper than that, people can ascribe almost like supernatural or metaphysical kind of properties to that because it is so evocative and it makes you feel so much.

S: Bob and I were talking about this recently.

C: Yeah?

S: Yeah, Bob and I were talking about this recently. We both have this really intense emotional reaction to certain pieces of music, especially when paired with the correct video. Like a film.

B: Oh my god, yeah.

S: When you have that combination of emotions in a film with the right music behind it supporting it, it's really powerful. And that's just wired in us.

B: And sometimes I'm like, but I don't want to cry about this. Why? What's happening?

S: Why are you manipulating me, you bastard? But it is, yeah, it's a wonderful, powerful experience. All right.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:42:20)[edit]

What we call rational grounds for our beliefs are often extremely irrational attempts to justify our instincts.
Thomas Henry Huxley, English biologist & anthropologist (1825-1895), English biologist & anthropologist

S: Evan's not here, so I'm going to do the quote. The quote is: "What we call rational grounds for our beliefs are often extremely irrational attempts to justify our instincts." I thought that was appropriate given my news item. And that phrase was written by one of my favorite philosophers, Thomas Henry Huxley.

B: Oh yeah.

J: Yeah.

S: Yeah, he got it.

B: Tommy!

S: All right, guys. Well, good job Jay and Cara on The Science of Fiction.

J: Thank you.

C: Yay! Thanks.

S: And thank you all for joining me this week.

J: You got it, Steve.

B: Go quarks!


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

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


Today I Learned[edit]

  • Fact/Description, possibly with an article reference[8]
  • Fact/Description
  • Fact/Description




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