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Wondros Podcast

Airs weekdays at 4:10 am, 12:10 pm, and 8:10 pm PT.

The Wondros Podcast features probing discussions with experts and visionaries within their fields. Our guests speak about innovation, science, arts, entertainment, history, social justice, and more. Cultural provocateurs Jesse Dylan and Priscilla Cohen unpack smart, quirky, and out-of-the-box conversations with fascinating people revolving around Web3, music, art, and technology.

The Wondros Podcast is a great way to learn about the latest trends and developments in a variety of fields. Whether you’re interested in learning about the latest scientific breakthroughs, the most innovative new technologies, or the most important social issues of our time, you’ll find something valuable on The Wondros Podcast.

https://wondros.com/

 

Originally aired on November 8, 2023

In this Wondros episode, Jesse Dylan interviews Lucy Sante, a writer, culture critic, scholar, and contributor to The New York Review of Books. Sante discusses a range of topics, including the creative process for artists in today’s world, her book “Evidence” that features haunting photographs found in the New York City municipal archives, her love for photography and collecting old photographs, the connection between photography and music, the fascination with the past and history, and the challenges and importance of research in her writing process.

The Challenges for Artists Today

  • Sante reflects on the dramatically different conditions for artists now compared to when she was coming up in the art world.
  • She notes that photographers often go through the academic route, receive grants, and do commercial or fashion work to support themselves.
  • Living modestly and dealing with high demand, young artists often struggle compared to the relative freedom and low cost of living that Sante experienced.

The Origins of “Evidence”

  • Sante explains that her book “Evidence” came about as part of her picture research for her first book about New York City in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
  • While searching for specific types of photographs, she stumbled upon the glass plate photographs in the New York City municipal archives.
  • These photographs, found under a staircase and overlooked in a move, provided a unique and haunting glimpse into the daily lives of people living in tenements in the early 20th century.

The Strange World of Glass Plate Photographs

  • Sante describes the glass plate photographs as hypnotizing and revealing of a part of New York City that no longer exists.
  • The buildings, people, and captions are gone, leaving only the photographs and sometimes fragmented or missing information.
  • These photographs, which were taken as part of police investigations and court cases, offer an interzone between life and death and give insight into how people lived in tenements during that time.

Photography and Intuition

  • Sante shares her early attraction to photography, citing Walker Evans and Robert Frank as influences.
  • While she took classes and learned about the technical aspects of photography, she realized she would always be an imitator rather than an original artist in the medium.
  • However, she continued to collect old photographs and found a connection between photography and folk music, both capturing and transmitting certain aspects of American culture.

Folk Photography and American Culture

  • Sante discusses her collection of folk photography, particularly postcards that depict Americana.
  • She notes that her interest in folk photography was driven by visual appeal rather than subject matter.
  • The photographs capture the outfits and culture that are reminiscent of American folk music, creating a connection between the two art forms.

Ramifications of History and Memory

  • Sante reflects on the impact of history and memory on her work, noting her personal connection to the Catskills, reservoirs, and abandoned villages.
  • She finds fascination in the disappearing or transformed landscapes and the stories that are lost or rewritten over time.
  • Through her research and writing, she strives to capture and make sense of these stories before they vanish completely.

 

 

Originally aired on November 1, 2023

In this episode of Wondros, hosts Jesse and Priscilla interview Rob Gasto, an artist specializing in creating dinosaur fossils for museums. They discuss whether the dinosaur bones in museums are original or recreations, the challenges posed by distorted and mashed bones, and Rob’s personal journey from childhood fascination with dinosaurs to becoming a renowned dinosaur fossil artist. Rob also shares his experience of having a dinosaur genus named after him, how he developed his skills in sculpture and welding, and his process of restoring and reconstructing dinosaur skeletons. He explains the importance of accuracy in his work and the limitations he faces due to budget constraints and distorted bones. Rob highlights the role of paleontologists in providing guidance and references for his restorations. He also talks about the demand for dinosaur skeletons in Japan and his desire to see more unique and non-action poses in dinosaur sculptures. The episode concludes with a discussion on the future of paleontology and the ongoing discoveries and challenges in the field.

Are museum dinosaur bones original or recreations?

  • Bones in major museums are usually original, while smaller regional museums often use cast material for accuracy and budget reasons.
  • Original bones can be distorted and mashed due to being buried under sediment for millions of years.
  • Original bones may not be suitable for mounting due to damage and accessibility for research purposes.

Rob’s personal journey and the dinosaur named after him

  • Rob’s childhood fascination with dinosaurs reignited when he found a dinosaur that was later named Gastonia.
  • Gastonia is a genus named after Rob, and the discovery led to Rob’s career as a fossil artist.
  • His skills in sculpture and welding were well-suited for the occupation.

The process of restoring and reconstructing dinosaur skeletons

  • Rob’s team uses high-quality plastic casts to ensure accuracy and prevent damage to original bones.
  • Distorted bones can be reshaped through cutting, heating, and bending techniques, or by creating foam forms and taxidermy-like methods.
  • Restorations can take from a few days to several years, depending on the complexity and condition of the bones.

Challenges and competitors in the fossil art industry

  • The industry has seen a resurgence in dinosaur discoveries, resulting in increased demand for restorations.
  • Rob considers other artists in the field as fellow professionals rather than competitors.
  • The skills required for the job include artistic abilities, manual dexterity, and shop skills.

The fascination and impact of dinosaurs

  • Dinosaurs capture the imagination due to their magnificent size and the intriguing worlds they inhabited.
  • Rob prefers imagining dinosaurs in their natural environments rather than focusing on their interactions with humans.
  • Movies like Jurassic Park provide entertainment and bring dinosaurs to the public’s attention, but Rob appreciates more alternative and unique depictions as well.

The future of paleontology and ongoing discoveries

  • The field of paleontology will continue to discover new dinosaur species as construction projects and expansion uncover more fossils.
  • However, illegal collecting and poaching threaten the preservation of fossils.
  • Rob believes that our records and discoveries may be lost or altered over time, but the vastness of geologic time makes human impact seem insignificant.
 

Originally aired on October 18, 2023

In this episode of The Wondros Podcast, hosts Jesse and Priscilla interview space archaeologist Alice Gorman. They discuss the concept of luxury in space, the field of space archaeology, the relationship between archaeology and space exploration, and the challenges of preserving space artifacts. They also explore the idea of a space graveyard, the cultural impact of space exploration, and the future of space governance.

What Counts as Luxury in Space?

  • Luxury in space can include items like fresh fruit, high-end designer products, and unique materials.
  • Luxury may be symbolized by rarities that demonstrate social status or the ability to create high-value products in space.
  • The mobilization of material goods to support social structures in space will be an interesting aspect to observe.

Space Archaeology

  • Space archaeology is the study of the artifacts, buildings, structures, and environments related to humans getting into space.
  • It is part of the broader field of contemporary archaeology, focusing specifically on space-related objects.
  • The field has gained recognition, with governments and space agencies taking it seriously and considering heritage issues in space exploration.

Spacecraft Lifecycle and Preservation

  • Spacecraft are often made by hand and can be mass-produced or involve unique materials and technologies.
  • Depending on the altitude and destination, spacecraft may burn up upon re-entry or be preserved in space or on the surface of celestial bodies.
  • The preservation and analysis of space artifacts and legacy data are crucial for future study and understanding of human space exploration.

Space Governance and Ethics

  • The question of how to govern human activities in space is a pressing issue.
  • Discussions center around issues such as labor rights, power dynamics, regulations, and the prevention of one nation gaining dominance.
  • Some propose polycentric governance and the creation of a separate government for colonies on Mars or other celestial bodies.

Cultural Impact of Space Exploration

  • Space exploration has a profound impact on culture and society, inspiring awe and fascination.
  • There is a tension between the utopian vision of equal opportunities in space and the potential for exclusive access and elitism.
  • Exploring space raises questions about the purpose and meaning of human existence and our place in the universe.

Controversies and Belief Systems

  • The controversies surrounding space exploration, such as the moon landing conspiracy theories, often stem from distrust of authority and scientific knowledge.
  • These beliefs are tied to wider belief systems and can involve religious or ideological factors.
  • The preservation of space artifacts and data can provide tangible evidence to debunk such conspiracy theories.

 

 

Originally aired on October 11, 2023

In this episode of Wondros, Jesse and Priscilla interview Sam Candio, a scientist from the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration. They discuss a recent discovery of a strange, gold object on the sea floor and the process of exploring the deep sea. Sam explains that the object caught their attention due to its shiny, golden appearance, but its exact nature is still unknown. The team uses sonars and remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) to map and explore the ocean floor, capturing high-definition videos and collecting samples. The object has garnered international news coverage, but no one has been able to identify it yet. Sam highlights the importance of ocean exploration in expanding our knowledge of the underwater world and encourages curiosity and exploration.

 

Discovery of the Gold Object

  • The shiny, golden object caught the team’s attention during their exploration of the ocean floor.
  • Despite its publicity, the exact nature and purpose of the object remain unknown.

Process of Ocean Exploration

  • The team uses sonars to create 3D models of the seafloor and identify potential habitats for further exploration.
  • ROVs equipped with cameras and sampling tools are remotely operated to collect high-definition videos and samples from the ocean floor.
  • The vehicle captures detailed images and footage, allowing scientists to analyze and identify various species and objects.

Unidentified Biological Discoveries

  • Each dive has the potential to uncover new and unidentified species in the deep sea.
  • The deep sea is largely unexplored, and every dive reveals new surprises and adaptations to the unique environment.
  • The team has encountered carnivorous sponges, octopuses brooding eggs, and other fascinating species during their expeditions.

Importance of Baseline Exploration

  • The team’s explorations aim to create a baseline understanding of the ocean and document the unknown.
  • With only low-resolution satellite imagery available, high-resolution mapping and visual analysis provide valuable insights into the underwater world.
  • The discoveries challenge existing knowledge and broaden our understanding of the ocean’s diversity.

Collaboration and Communication in Exploration

  • Real-time communication and collaboration between scientists aboard the ship and experts ashore are crucial during exploration dives.
  • The team receives feedback and guidance from the scientific community, incorporating input during dives to study specific organisms or objects.
  • Open-mindedness and curiosity are important qualities in ocean exploration, enabling scientists to generate hypotheses and explore various possibilities.

Public Engagement and Interest in Ocean Exploration

  • The gold object discovery generated significant media attention, sparking public curiosity about the mysterious deep sea.
  • Ocean exploration serves as a point of public engagement, inspiring conversations about the unexplored areas in our own backyard.
  • Scientists’ willingness to acknowledge uncertainty and embrace the unknown humanizes the field of exploration.

 

 

Originally aired on October 4, 2023

In this episode of the Wondros Podcast, host Jesse and Priscilla welcome guest Dr. Jessica Schleider to discuss the effectiveness of single-session mental health interventions. They explore the history of mental health care and the growing need for accessible treatment options, particularly for young people. Dr. Schleider explains that single-session interventions have been around for a long time but are gaining more importance due to the increasing lack of access to traditional therapy. She shares insights from her research, including the power of brief moments of intervention and the themes that often arise in individuals’ turning points in their mental health recovery trajectories. The conversation also delves into the concept of a strength-based approach and the potential of single-session interventions to expand the mental health ecosystem and bridge gaps in traditional therapies. Dr. Schleider discusses her work with Coco, a digital mental health non-profit, and how they are embedding self-guided tools into online platforms to reach individuals where they are. Overall, the episode highlights the effectiveness and potential of single-session interventions to provide evidence-based and accessible mental health support.

The history and growing need for accessible mental health care

  • Mental health care was originally intended for a select group of people or those institutionalized, leading to limited access for most of the population.
  • 80% of children and adolescents with significant mental health needs have no access to treatment.

The concept of single-session interventions and its historical roots

  • Single-session interventions have been around for a long time but have gained more attention in recent years due to access barriers.
  • The emphasis is on providing support and assessment in a single session, acknowledging individuals’ existing strengths and coping skills.

Insights from Dr. Schleider’s research on turning points in mental health recovery trajectories

  • Through interviews with individuals who experienced turning points in their mental health recovery, common themes emerged.
  • Turning points often involved individuals surprising themselves, feeling seen and validated by others, reclaiming their narratives, and finding joy in giving back to others.

The impact of single-session interventions and their potential for expansion

  • Single-session interventions have been found to be as effective as longer-term therapies in reducing symptoms.
  • They can be delivered by professionals, peers, or through self-guided programs and online platforms.
  • Single-session interventions offer opportunities for early intervention, empowering individuals, and addressing gaps in the current mental health system.

Application and implementation of single-session interventions

  • Single-session interventions can be delivered through various channels, such as pediatric primary care, school partnerships, and community programs.
  • Digital platforms, like Coco, provide accessible and personalized interventions by embedding self-guided tools and peer support into social media platforms.

Student contributions and innovative use of single-session interventions

  • Students have played a significant role in developing and implementing single-session interventions for various populations.
  • Examples include designing programs for parents to support their children’s mental health and addressing the needs of LGBTQ+ teens through a program called Project RISE.

 

 

Originally aired on September 27, 2023

In this episode, Jesse and Priscilla talk to Geophysicist Attreyee Ghosh about the fascinating topic of the disappeared ocean between India and Eurasia called Tethys. They explore how the movement of India caused the ocean to sink into the Earth’s mantle and left behind a gravity anomaly known as the gravity low. They delve into the concept of gravity anomalies and how they are related to the density structures deep within the Earth. The hosts also explore the connection between plate tectonics, earthquakes, and the formation of mountains. They highlight the importance of researching Earth’s interior to gain insights into the planet’s past and potentially discover habitable planets in other solar systems.

What is the gravity low in the northern part of the Indian Ocean?

  • The gravity low is a circular area in the northern part of the Indian Ocean where gravity is lower than usual.
  • It is detected through satellite measurements and indicates the presence of density structures deep within the Earth’s mantle.

How do density structures in the Earth’s mantle create gravity anomalies?

  • Density structures in the mantle, caused by convection currents, result in variations in gravity on the Earth’s surface.
  • Convection currents occur when hot mantle rock rises and cold outer rock sinks, creating a constant movement of material within the Earth.

Why do earthquakes and mountains occur on the Earth’s surface?

  • Earthquakes occur due to the collision of tectonic plates, where one plate sinks beneath another.
  • Mountains form when two plates collide and neither plate is denser than the other, causing a collision and the uplift of the Earth’s crust.

What is the significance of plate tectonics in understanding our planet and the possibility of life elsewhere?

  • Plate tectonics is the unique movement of Earth’s surface, which may be responsible for the presence of water and the development of life.
  • Studying plate tectonics can provide insights into the possibility of habitable planets in other solar systems.

How do scientists study the Earth’s interior without direct access?

  • Seismology, the study of earthquake waves, allows scientists to indirectly study the Earth’s interior.
  • Seismometers collect seismic wave data, which helps create models of the Earth’s density structures and understand its dynamic nature.

What are the implications of the research on the disappeared Tethys ocean?

  • The research sheds light on the complex interactions between the Earth’s surface and its interior.
  • It also highlights the ongoing search for answers regarding the origin and movement of tectonic plates, as well as the formation of oceans and mountains.

 

 

Originally aired on September 22, 2023

In this Wondors episode, hosts Jesse and Priscilla interview Dr. Daniel Kraft, a physician and innovator in digital health and medicine. They discuss a wide range of topics related to the past, present and future of medicine and healthcare. Daniel provides insights into how cancer treatments have evolved over the decades, moving towards more personalized approaches. He talks about the potential for technologies like CRISPR gene editing, synthetic biology and stem cell therapies to help extend human healthspans in the future. Other topics include the role of social determinants versus genetics in health outcomes, integrating Eastern and Western medical practices, the need to rethink medical education, and leveraging AI and data to democratize and improve healthcare access globally. Daniel emphasizes the importance of shifting to more preventative, proactive care focused on health rather than just treating disease. He shares his optimistic vision for the continued evolution of medicine and technology to help people live longer, healthier lives.

What advances have been made in cancer treatment?

  • Treatments have evolved from generic radiation/chemo to more personalized
  • Cancer itself evolves as treatments are developed
  • Shift underway to precision oncology and risk stratification
  • Early detection through blood tests becoming possible

Can emerging tech like CRISPR extend lifespans?

  • CRISPR gene editing already in trials for diseases like high cholesterol
  • Could enable proactive “minority report” style preemptive care
  • Tech like synthetic biology and stem cells may reverse aging processes
  • Goal is extending healthspans more than maximum longevity

What role do social factors play in health?

  • Data shows social determinants affect ~15% of health/longevity
  • Environment and exposures play a key role
  • Isolation is a major risk factor
  • Designing communities to enable healthy lifestyles critical

How to blend Eastern and Western medicine?

  • Differences often due to language/descriptive frameworks
  • Lots of opportunity to blend knowledge from both
  • Meditation/yoga/diet regimens prove effective
  • Learning from ancient natural treatments ongoing

How should medical education adapt?

  • Curriculums remain similar to those from decades ago
  • Needs to incorporate genetics, apps, telehealth, etc.
  • VR enables simulated surgical practice
  • Training should focus on future clinical environments

Can AI and data democratize healthcare?

  • Smart tools can enable basic diagnostics by less trained individuals
  • Vast amounts of health data now available
  • AI and analytics key to generating insights from data
  • Enables personalized, proactive, preventative care

 

Originally aired on September 13, 2023

The episode features an interview with Annette Kleiser, CEO of Dalan Animal Health, who has developed a vaccine for honeybees. The vaccine is administered to the queen bee through a sugar paste and is then passed on to her offspring, providing protection against diseases. The honeybee population plays a crucial role in pollination and food security, so the development of this vaccine is seen as a significant breakthrough. The CEO discusses the challenges of starting a new business in a niche market, gaining regulatory approval, and addressing the global need for bee health. The interview also touches on the importance of insects in ecosystems, the impact of diseases on bee colonies, and the potential for expanding this vaccination approach to other insect species.

What is the delivery mechanism for the vaccine?

  • The vaccine is mixed with a sugar paste called clean candy.
  • Beekeepers feed the vaccine-laced sugar paste to the queen bee, who then passes it on to her offspring.
  • The liquid vaccine is taken up by the queen and passed onto her ovaries and developing eggs.

Why are honeybees important for food security?

  • One-third of the world’s food depends on pollinators.
  • Honeybees are the primary pollinators used in agriculture to boost crop yields.
  • Losing honeybees would have a significant impact on nutrient-rich foods, biodiversity, and climate concerns.

How did the CEO get involved in developing a honeybee vaccine?

  • The CEO met a researcher at the University of Helsinki who had the idea for a honeybee vaccine.
  • Recognizing the importance of bees and the lack of solutions to address their decline, the CEO decided to form a company and make the vaccine a reality.
  • The development of the vaccine began four and a half years ago.

What are the challenges in the beekeeping industry?

  • Bee colonies face a multitude of stressors, including diseases, climate change, pesticides, and transportation.
  • The lack of modern tools for disease protection puts bee colonies at risk.
  • The goal of the vaccine is to make bees healthier and better equipped to handle these stressors.

How do clinical trials for the vaccine work?

  • Clinical trials involve exposing the larvae to the disease to test if they become sick.
  • High doses of the pathogen are used to observe the survival rates of vaccinated larvae.
  • The initial responses from thousands of beekeepers who tried the vaccine have been positive, with no reported cases of disease.

What are the challenges in scaling the honeybee vaccine business?

  • The company is facing a high demand for the vaccine but has limited resources to respond to inquiries and manufacturing requests.
  • The focus is on targeting specific markets and establishing partnerships in different countries.
  • Increasing awareness and investment in innovative solutions for bee health is essential.
 

Originally aired on September 6, 2023

In this episode of The Wondros Podcast, hosts Jesse and Priscilla speak with Dr. Daniel Kraft, a physician-scientist and expert in digital health and the future of healthcare. They discuss the future of preventative medicine and the advancements in technology that will revolutionize healthcare. Dr. Kraft explains how cancer treatment has evolved and the potential for personalized tumor vaccines and genomic medicine. He also discusses the importance of social determinants of health and how factors such as environment and community can impact longevity. Dr. Kraft emphasizes the need for a proactive approach to healthcare and the integration of technology and data to provide personalized, effective care. He explores the role of AI in healthcare and its potential to improve diagnostics and treatment. Overall, Dr. Kraft’s insights highlight the incredible progress and opportunities in the field of preventative medicine.

The Future of Cancer Treatment

  • Advancements in immunotherapy and personalized tumor vaccines
  • The potential of genomic medicine and precision oncology

Social Determinants of Health

  • The impact of environment and community on health outcomes
  • Designing healthier clinical spaces and communities

The Integration of Technology and Healthcare

  • The influence of wearables and digital biomarkers on self-care
  • The potential for genetic testing and risk stratification in preventive care

The Role of AI in Healthcare

  • AI-enabled diagnostics and therapeutic tools
  • The need for medical education to adapt to technological advancements

 

 

Originally aired on August 30, 2023

In this episode of Wondros, Dan Finnegan, the founder of Solar Shepherd LLC, discusses his innovative approach to utilizing solar farms for sustainable grazing. He highlights the benefits of combining clean energy and sheep farming, emphasizing how the sheep can help maintain the vegetation under the solar panels. By rotating the sheep in a grazing strategy, the land remains healthier, reducing the need for chemical pesticides and promoting carbon sequestration.  Finnegan explains how his background in corporate America and experience in the financial services industry led him to launch the solar grazing business. He also shares the challenges and opportunities of expanding the business, partnering with solar companies, and promoting local agriculture and clean energy.

The concept of solar grazing

  • Solar farms provide wide open spaces for clean energy production
  • Vegetation maintenance is crucial to ensure optimal solar panel performance
  • Sheep can be used to graze the land between the solar panels, reducing the need for toxic herbicides like Roundup

Benefits of solar grazing

  • Enhances soil health and carbon sequestration through rotational grazing
  • Reduces the risk of damage to expensive solar equipment during maintenance
  • Improves the aesthetics of solar farms by maintaining a green and lush appearance

Challenges and concerns of solar grazing

  • Ensuring animal welfare and responsible grazing practices by experienced farmers
  • Addressing potential conflicts with other wildlife and predators on the grazing sites
  • Need for ongoing monitoring and training to maintain high standards

Business model and clients

  • Solar Shepherd works with solar companies to manage vegetation on their sites
  • Focuses on building relationships with solar companies through networking and marketing
  • Offers a cost-effective and environmentally friendly solution for solar farm maintenance

Scaling and expansion of solar grazing

  • Recognizing the need for additional pastures and land for expanding the sheep flocks
  • Partnering with agriculture industry groups, solar companies, and the federal government to promote solar grazing
  • Training and sharing best practices to ensure responsible and successful solar grazing operations

Future aspirations and industry growth

  • Encouraging other farmers to explore solar grazing as a means to sustain their farms
  • Fostering an industry of family farms and maintain profitability in the agricultural sector
  • Promoting the benefits of solar grazing for the environment, economy, and local communities

 

 

Originally aired on August 23, 2023

In this episode of Wondros, Dr. Donald D. Hoffman, cognitive scientist and author of “The Case Against Reality,” discusses his theory that consciousness is fundamental and challenges the idea that space-time is the foundation of reality. He explains that space-time is merely a data structure, like a virtual reality headset, that conscious agents use to interact with each other. Dr. Hoffman compares his theory to ideas from Plato and Leibniz, highlighting how science has advanced to provide greater precision and scientific backing for these philosophical concepts. He also explores the limitations of the current standard model of particle physics and discusses the integration of consciousness into our understanding of physics.

The Standard Model of Particle Physics

  • The standard model is an impressive achievement but has weaknesses and limitations.
  • Physicists are questioning the fundamental nature of space-time, which the standard model relies on.
  • The particles in the standard model are tied to the foundation of space-time, making the search for new structures beyond space-time necessary.

Consciousness and Physics

  • The measurement postulate in quantum theory poses a challenge for physicalists who cannot explain how observation collapses wave functions.
  • Reductionism fails in explaining conscious experiences and their relationship to particles and space-time.
  • Dr. Hoffman argues that consciousness is fundamental, and current theories for deriving conscious experiences from computational processes lack scientific evidence.

The Simulation Theory

  • Dr. Hoffman distinguishes his theory from the simulation hypothesis put forth by Nick Bostrom.
  • The simulation hypothesis assumes space-time as fundamental and implies that computational systems can create conscious experiences, which has no scientific basis.
  • Dr. Hoffman’s theory posits a vast social network of conscious agents beyond space-time, with space-time being a limited interface to navigate interactions.

Artificial Intelligence and Consciousness

  • Dr. Hoffman initially pursued artificial intelligence and explored the possibility of creating consciousness through computational systems.
  • He highlights the lack of scientific evidence that any computational system, including AI, can explain specific conscious experiences.
  • The rigorous exploration of consciousness and its integration with AI and neuroscience is crucial for understanding the limits of computational systems.

Exploring the Nature of Consciousness

  • Dr. Hoffman emphasizes the importance of exploring the connection between science and spirituality in understanding the fundamental nature of consciousness.
  • The convergence of scientific rigor and spiritual ideas can lead to greater insights and progress in our understanding of consciousness.
  • The mathematical model of conscious agents offers a potential bridge between science and spiritual traditions, improving the precision and exploration of consciousness.

 

 

Originally aired on August 16, 2023

In this episode of Wondros, hosts Jesse and Priscilla interview National Geographic Explorer and marine biologist, Luiz Rocha, who explores the deep sea reefs. Luis discusses his experiences diving to depths of 400-500 feet and discovering new species of fish and coral. He explains the excitement of discovering something new and the importance of protecting reefs for their ecological significance and beauty. The conversation also covers topics such as the process of diving at these depths, the impact of human activities on reefs, and the challenges of conservation efforts. Overall, the episode sheds light on the wonders and challenges of exploring and safeguarding the hidden secrets of the deep sea.

The thrill of discovery in deep sea diving

  • The biologist is always surprised and excited to find new species during dives.
  • Fish, coral, crustaceans, and nudibranchs are just a few examples of the diverse species they discover.
  • The beauty and uniqueness of each new species make the experience of exploring deep sea reefs captivating.

The significance of deep sea reefs and the need for conservation

  • Over a billion people depend on reefs for food, tourism, and coastal protection.
  • Reefs also play a vital role in the production of bio compounds used in medicine.
  • The biologist personally values reefs for their breathtaking beauty and believes they should be preserved.

The challenges of diving at extreme depths

  • Technical diving at depths of 400-500 feet requires specialized training and equipment, including a rebreather for breathing helium.
  • The gear is heavy, and swimming can be strenuous, which is why divers use scooters to navigate underwater.
  • The process of decompression after a deep dive can take several hours, but the biologist and his team find ways to stay productive during this time.

The discovery of new species and their naming

  • The biologist often encounters new species of fish during his dives, easily recognizable by their unique colors and attributes.
  • When a new species is found, the team photographs and documents it, sometimes collecting samples for further study.
  • The naming of new species has moved away from using Latin and Greek names and now prioritizes using local names, allowing communities to connect with the newly discovered species.

Conserving deep sea reefs in the face of human impacts

  • Even in remote places, signs of human impact such as fishing lines, nets, and litter can be found on the deep sea reefs.
  • Proper conservation requires finding a balance between protecting reefs and sustainable fishing practices.
  • The biologist emphasizes the need for targeted conservation efforts, focusing on areas most vulnerable to destruction rather than meeting arbitrary targets.

The future of deep sea exploration and conservation

  • The biologist believes there is still much to discover in the depths of the ocean and appreciates the opportunity to contribute to scientific knowledge.
  • Collaboration with local scientists and building partnerships is essential for successful conservation efforts.
  • Deep sea mining, though not widely observed at the depths explored, poses a potential threat that must be monitored and addressed to protect these delicate ecosystems.

 

 

Originally aired on August 9, 2023

In this episode of the Wondros Podcast, hosts Jesse and Priscilla interview Yu Ping Chan, the head of Rising Nations Initiative Secretariat at the United Nations’ Global Center for Climate Mobility. The interview focuses on the challenges faced by Pacific Islands due to climate change and rising sea levels. Yu Ping Chan discusses the potential impact on the islands, the loss of land and culture, and the urgent need for action. The conversation highlights the importance of raising awareness, preserving culture and heritage, and holding governments accountable for their commitments to combat climate change.

The Vulnerabilities of Pacific Islands:

  • Pacific Islands, such as Tuvalu, are at the forefront of the climate crisis and face imminent existential threats.
  • Rising sea levels are causing flooding, rendering parts of the islands uninhabitable.
  • The islands’ small landmass and low elevation make them extremely susceptible to the impacts of climate change.

Preservation of Culture and Heritage:

  • The connection between Pacific Islanders and their land is deeply rooted in their culture and heritage.
  • Climate change poses a significant challenge to preserving their traditions, as the islands face the possibility of complete submersion.
  • Efforts are being made to create digital repositories and online platforms to safeguard cultural artifacts, records, and traditions.

Impacts on People and Communities:

  • Movement of people due to climate change is becoming a reality for Pacific Islanders.
  • The loss of land and the need to relocate can have devastating effects on communities and their social fabric.
  • The connections and communal gatherings integral to their culture become difficult to maintain when people are forced to move away.

The Role of International Support:

  • The International Community has been slow to respond adequately to the climate crisis faced by Pacific Islands.
  • The Rising Nations Initiative aims to raise awareness of the situation and garner support for these vulnerable communities.
  • Holding developed countries accountable for their commitments, addressing loss and damage, and providing financial support are crucial steps in assisting Pacific Islanders.

The Urgency of Action:

  • The urgency of reducing carbon emissions and mitigating global warming cannot be overstated.
  • Projections for the future indicate catastrophic impacts on Pacific Islands, necessitating immediate action to change the current trajectory.
  • Awareness, activism, and governmental accountability are key components in addressing the climate crisis and supporting vulnerable communities.

Exploring Solutions and Future Scenarios:

  • Potential solutions include exploring legal associations or treaties with other countries to facilitate movement while preserving cultural identity.
  • Technology and digital platforms offer opportunities to preserve culture, heritage, and community connections.
  • The engagement of civil society, artists, researchers, and international organizations is essential in supporting the Pacific Islands and advocating for action.

 

 

Originally aired on August 2, 2023

The Wondros episode focused on new research examining how a common parasite called Toxoplasma gondii (Toxo) affects the behavior of wolves in Yellowstone National Park. Jesse and Priscilla interviewed two scientists, Connor Meyer and Kira Cassidy, who conducted the study.

The researchers found that wolves infected with Toxo were more likely to disperse from their packs and become leaders of new packs compared to uninfected wolves. They theorize the parasite may increase boldness, helping infected wolves take more risks to find mates and start new packs. This benefits the parasite’s goal of reproducing and spreading to new hosts like mountain lions that roam the Yellowstone area.

To examine the parasite’s impact, the researchers tested blood samples from wolves in Yellowstone going back over 20 years. Around 25-40% of the wolves had Toxo antibodies, indicating past exposure. The parasite likely spreads when wolves ingest infected mountain lion scat while exploring territorial boundaries.

While Toxo may give infected wolves a behavioral edge for leadership, the researchers noted it could also increase risky behaviors that lower survival. Wolves dispersing to new packs face many threats alone before finding a mate. Still, the parasite seems to manipulate host behavior to further its spread, an evolutionary strategy seen in other species too.

The researchers plan to continue studying how Toxo may interact with wolf personality, relationships, and culture learned from pack mates. Their work sheds light on how a common parasite affects animal behavior and the ecosystem.

How does a common parasite change wolf behavior in Yellowstone?

  • Researchers found the Toxoplasma gondii (Toxo) parasite makes wolves more likely to disperse and become leaders of new packs.
  • They theorize Toxo increases boldness and risk-taking, helping wolves find mates and reproduce.
  • Testing wolf blood samples, 25-40% showed past Toxo exposure. It spreads via mountain lion scat in territory.
  • While aiding leadership, Toxo may also lower survival through risky dispersal from packs.
  • The parasite manipulates host behavior to spread further, a common evolutionary strategy.
  • Researchers will continue studying Toxo’s impact on wolf personality, bonds, and culture.

 

Originally aired on July 26, 2023

The Wondros podcast hosted by Jesse and Priscilla interviewed Noah Robinson, founder of the virtual mental health platform called Innerworld. Noah shared how his personal struggles with depression as a gay teenager led him to escape into the online video game RuneScape for 10,000 hours. While it trapped him in a virtual world, it also provided a supportive community. This experience inspired Noah to create Innerworld, which provides peer mental health support in a virtual environment using avatars. Innerworld offers support groups led by trained lay counselors on topics like depression, anxiety, PTSD, and hosts fun social events. The tools and visuals used make concepts like CBT more accessible. Members find the anonymity combined with the feeling of presence from being an avatar in a 3D space creates a safe space to open up. Many members share how the support and skills learned in Innerworld help them in their daily lives. Innerworld plans to expand support options as its community grows. The biggest obstacle currently is awareness. Innerworld wants to reach more people struggling with mental health issues who can benefit from its unique virtual support system.

How did the founder’s personal struggles lead him to create Inworld?

  • Founder Noah Robinson escaped into the online video game RuneScape for 10,000 hours as a depressed gay teenager
  • The game provided him an anonymous supportive community, though also trapped him avoiding reality
  • This experience inspired him to create the virtual peer support platform IInnerworld to help others

What does Innerworld provide as a virtual mental health platform?

  • Innerworld offers support groups led by trained lay counselors on topics like depression, anxiety, PTSD etc.
  • It also hosts fun social events and hangout spaces for members
  • The 3D environment and avatars create anonymity while retaining feeling of human presence
  • Tools and concepts like CBT are presented visually to increase accessibility

How does Innerworld help its members?

  • Members share how Innerworld provides a safe space to open up without judgment
  • The skills and support in Innerworld help them face challenges in daily life
  • Innerworld fills gaps in traditional mental health treatment with its unique approach

What are Innerworld’s growth plans and obstacles?

  • Innerworld plans to expand support options as its community grows
  • The biggest current obstacle is awareness – reaching more people who can benefit

 

Originally aired on July 19, 2023

Blurred Boundaries: Exploring the Intersection of Genetics and Psychiatry

How much of mental illness is influenced by our genes versus our environment and experiences? This question lies at the heart of Dr. Jordan Smoller’s fascinating research exploring the complex relationship between genetics and psychiatric disorders.

Dr. Smoller explains that while psychiatric conditions have long been known to run in families, it has only been in recent decades with advances in genetic analysis that researchers have been able to directly study the role of DNA variations. Early twin studies comparing identical and non-identical twins provided initial evidence that genetics substantially contribute to most psychiatric disorders.

However, unlike classic genetic diseases caused by single gene mutations, psychiatric conditions involve a more complex combination of small variations in thousands of genes that add up to increase risk. Environmental factors still play a key role as well. Dr. Smoller notes the boundaries between normal variation in human personality and behavior versus clinical definitions of mental illness remain blurry.

With modern big data analysis and machine learning, Dr. Smoller’s team strives to improve prediction of serious psychiatric outcomes like suicide risk and matching patients to optimal treatments. They have developed algorithms analyzing electronic health records that show promise to identify individuals in need of early intervention. He cautions about the ethical use of such tools, as biases can inadvertently be embedded in the data.

Social connection and physical activity consistently emerge from their studies as protective factors that can overcome even high genetic risk for depression after trauma. The pandemic’s spotlight on mental health offers opportunities to advance research and expand access to care. While optimism exists about developing more targeted treatments based on genetic pathways, Dr. Smoller stresses a balanced, holistic approach remains key.

How has research enhanced our understanding of the genetic basis for psychiatric disorders?

  • Twin studies first demonstrated high heritability of mental illness
  • Genetic analysis now identifies DNA variations that increase risk
  • Combination of small gene variations rather than single mutations

What are some of the ethical concerns when applying big data to mental health?

  • Prediction algorithms can inadvertently embed societal biases
  • Must ensure responsible use of individuals’ data and predictions
  • Important to involve diverse perspectives

How might insights from genetics guide more precise psychiatric care?

  • Predict individuals at highest risk for suicide or other adverse outcomes
  • Match patients to optimal medication based on genetic profile
  • Develop treatments targeting specific biological pathways

What emerged as protective factors against depression in the research?

  • Social connection lessened depression risk even with high genetic risk
  • Physical activity also lowered odds of developing depression
  • Findings highlight need for holistic approach beyond just medication

How has the pandemic shifted perspectives on mental health challenges?

  • Mass trauma increased public awareness of mental health crisis
  • Creates opportunities to advance research and expand care access
  • But must maintain balanced view incorporating social and biological factors

 

 

Originally aired on July 12, 2023

In this episode of Wondros, Jesse and Priscilla with Dr. Christopher Stimpson, a zoologist and archaeozoologist, about his research on ancient Egyptian bird paintings found in a room called “The Green Room” in the ruins of the city of Amarna.

The Green Room is located in the northern palace ruins in Amarna, the capital city built by Pharaoh Akhenaten in the 14th century BCE. It was named by early 20th century excavators for the green painted walls that were found there. Stimpson became interested in studying the bird paintings after corresponding with archaeologist Barry Kemp about excavated bird bones from the Amarna site. Stimpson noticed that there didn’t seem to be any definitive identifications made previously of the bird species depicted in the Green Room paintings.

Using his background in ornithology, Stimpson analyzed the paintings in detail and made identifications of the species portrayed based on distinctive characteristics that were represented. The majority of the identifiable birds appear to be rock pigeons, which prefer cliff habitats rather than the marshes depicted in the paintings. Other species identified include a pied kingfisher, a redback shrike, and a white wagtail.

The prominence of rock pigeons in the paintings is interesting because there is limited archaeological evidence of rock pigeons being widely consumed as food sources at Amarna during the period these paintings were made. However, there is some pictorial evidence that rock pigeons may have been offered as votive offerings to the deity Aten, who was promoted by Akhenaten. Stimpson speculates that the inclusion of rock pigeons in the marsh scenes may be more symbolic, representing wild nature and the surrounding desert cliffs rather than the actual habitat preferences of the birds.

The redback shrike and white wagtail identified in the paintings are migratory species that would have appeared seasonally in the area when the Nile floodwaters receded. This flooding event deposited nutrient rich black silt ideal for agriculture along the Nile banks. Stimpson theorizes that the distinctive markings depicted on these migratory bird species may represent a temporal element, intentionally highlighting this important seasonal period for sowing crops.

Stimpson is careful to emphasize that his interpretations of the bird species and symbolic meaning of their depictions is not definitive. He aimed to make reasonable cases for species identification based on artistic characteristics and considers his perspective an ornithological one meant to complement standard Egyptological analysis.

There is still quite limited context available for interpreting the purpose and overall significance of the Green Room within the palace complex. The room itself likely belonged to royal residents of the palace, potentially being used as living quarters or studio space. But the wall paintings may have been created purely for decorative purposes, with no elaborate symbolic meaning intended.

Stimpson has an interdisciplinary academic background that combines interests in zoology, paleontology, and archaeology. This enables him to utilize methods from all these fields to study ancient human-animal relationships and gain perspective on long-term ecological changes over millennia. His PhD research involved extensive excavation and analysis of bat populations and environmental changes in large cave sites in Borneo spanning 50,000 years. This work allowed Stimpson to reconstruct bat population changes and contextualize the impacts of modern human activities like deforestation and agriculture in Borneo within a deeper time scale.

In general, Stimpson believes that studying the deep past and ancient evidence of human and animal life satisfies human curiosity and helps situate current global environmental and social issues within a much longer framework of hundreds of thousands of years of planetary history. He advocates maintaining an attitude of open curiosity about past ecosystems and life on Earth, even when it may not have immediate applicability to modern research goals or conservation efforts.

Bullet point summary:

What ancient bird paintings were found in the Egyptian ruins at Amarna?

  • Paintings found in “The Green Room” depict species like rock pigeons, a kingfisher, shrike and wagtail

Why did the rock pigeons painted in The Green Room raise questions?

  • Rock pigeons prefer cliff habitats yet were painted in marsh scenes

  • Limited archaeological evidence of pigeons being consumed for food at Amarna

How did Stimpson approach analyzing the bird paintings?

  • Used an ornithological perspective to identify species from artistic characteristics

  • Aimed to complement standard Egyptological analysis

What theory does Stimpson have about symbols on some birds?

  • Markings on migratory birds may represent seasonality and the Nile flood

Why is context limited for interpreting The Green Room paintings?

  • Purpose of the room itself remains unclear

  • Paintings may have been purely decorative

How does Stimpson’s background inform his perspectives?

  • Combining zoology, paleontology and archaeology provides long-term view

  • Studies past ecosystems and human-animal relationships

What is Stimpson’s view on the value of studying the deep past?

  • Satisfies human curiosity and contextualizes modern issues

  • Maintaining curiosity about the world is important

 

Originally aired on Mar 1, 2023

Jesse and Priscilla talk with Oxford professor of philosophy of theoretical physics, Owen Maroney, about whether it’s more likely that each moment of our experience bursts in and out of existence out of nowhere.

What is the Boltzmann Brain Paradox?

  • The Boltzmann Brain Paradox questions the formation of intelligent life in the universe by suggesting that it might simply be a random fluctuation of entropy.
  • Maroney discusses the implications of this paradox for the nature of reality and consciousness.
  • The Boltzmann Brain Paradox suggests that complex systems, such as intelligent life, might be a result of random fluctuations of entropy rather than natural processes.
  • The paradox challenges the traditional view that intelligent life arises through evolution and natural selection, and suggests that we might simply be living in a temporary fluctuation of the universe’s entropy.
  • The paradox raises questions about the nature of reality and consciousness, and whether our understanding of the universe is limited by our own cognitive biases.
  • Maroney suggests that the paradox may be a result of our own limited understanding of the universe, and that we may need to rethink our conception of entropy and information.
  • The paradox also has implications for the search for extraterrestrial life, as it suggests that the formation of intelligent life might be far less probable than we currently believe.
  • Ultimately, the Boltzmann Brain Paradox challenges us to question our assumptions about the universe and our place in it, and to remain open to the possibility that our understanding of reality may be far more complex and mysterious than we can currently imagine.
 

Originally aired on Nov 30, 2022

Jesse and Priscilla talk with the all-star team of physicists and technologists making traversing wormholes possible, and their discovery helps confirm String theory. These quantum pioneers include Maria Spiropulu, the senior investigator at CERN who oversaw the discovery of the Higgs boson particle.

Read more about the fascinating work this team is doing in the articles below:

https://www.nature.com/articles/s4158…

https://inqnet.caltech.edu/wormhole2022

Quantum Team:

Maria Spiropulu – Professor of Physics

Caltech Joseph Lykken – Deputy Director of Research

Fermilab Daniel Jafferis – Professor of Physics

Harvard University Hartmut Neven – Engineering Director

Google David Kolchmeyer – Graduate Student

Harvard University Alexander Zlokapa – PhD Student

MIT Nikolai Lauk – Postdoctoral Fellow

Caltech Samantha Davis – Graduate Student, Caltech

What is the possibility of traversing a wormhole using the principles of quantum mechanics and curved space?  While a traversable wormhole is theoretically possible given the correct pattern of entangled black holes, the challenge lies in finding such a pair.

  • Traversable wormholes are theoretically possible through entangled black holes in the right pattern of entanglement.
  • Quantum mechanics and curved space can provide equations for traversing a wormhole.
  • The challenge lies in finding the initial pair of entangled black holes.
  • There is no current known way to obtain such a pair.
  • The podcast explores the theoretical feasibility of traversing a wormhole.
  • Guests discuss the current research and understanding of the topic.
  • The possibilities and implications of traversing a wormhole are discussed.