Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Now hear this: WNYC's Radiolab

Our local public radio station, WNYC, generates quite a few excellent shows, including Radio Lab. Although Radio Lab "is heard around the country on over 150 stations" as they put it, their episodes can be accessed anytime via the web or as a podcast, if you're like me and into that sort of thing.

On my way to work today I listened to a show of theirs from 2005 entitled "Emergence" in which the two hosts try to unpack, in a remarkably sophisticated and subtle way, how larger-scale order arises out of smaller-scale randomness and chaos, how a whole bunch of dumb things (like individual neurons or ants) can somehow coalesce or cooperate into a smart thing (a conscious thought or an effecient ant colony).*

This is a great episode of a great show. It goes a long way to communicating the wonder and difficulty of problems in consciousness and brain research, how even the simplest examples of the mind at work quickly leave us unsure exactly how to ask the right questions.

*Disclaimer: Though I don't know Christof Koch personally, I've been rather involved in an organization he's helped to create and to maintain, namely the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness. Not trying to shill or to promote, though. And the section of the show where he's interviewed is really quite touching.

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