Digital Shamanism – Radiolab's Old-Fashioned, Newfangled Storytelling Magic

Jad Abumrad: I do feel like the kind of storytelling that I do is somehow independent of the technology that delivers it.  I mean, I do happen to work on the radio, and I’m a guy who likes sound, so, in that sense, this technology does suit me. But I feel like storytellers, they're kind of like shamans, in way, and that your job, as a storyteller, is to kind of create a circle of connection that might as well be thousands of years ago around a campfire, in some sense.  Your job is to induce a kind of dream state between people, which is, I think, where the stories live.  The good stories are in a kind of collective dream state.

So even though Radiolab uses millions of layers and weird noises that are kind of interlapping in crazy sort of like counterpoint, I do feel like, in some sense, we’re doing something that's very old.  It’s ancient.  It just so happens that my voice contains all the bleeps and the bloops and the strange things that this technology enables, and I do feel like that's a crutch sometimes.  I really do.  I mean, there's something amazing about a person getting on stage like almost naked in front of an audience and just with their voice inducing that dream state.  It’s something magical about that.  For me, someone who doesn't quite feel comfortable doing that, getting on stage, this technology allows me to have that voice. 

But there are some crazy things you can do now, crazy synthesis techniques, where you can use any source to create these big long drones and soundscapes, and I use that stuff all the time.  You know, what I’ll do, one of my favorite little things I like to do in scoring the show is to take a bit of someone’s voice that was just in the segment and maybe just like the “ch” on a syllable and using various things you can sort of almost grab it with two hands and stretch it and make it a mile long and create these like, strange kind of landscapes that are weirdly familiar.  They sound weirdly like the voice still.  So I love playing with that kind of stuff and there's all kinds of new technology within sound creation and every single one of it I use it all.

 

Directed / Produced by
Jonathan Fowler and Elizabeth Rodd

 

Radiolab uses cutting edge audio tech and ancient storytelling techniques to evoke wonder in an entirely new way.

Astronomers find more than 100,000 "stellar nurseries"

Every star we can see, including our sun, was born in one of these violent clouds.

Credit: NASA / ESA via Getty Images
Surprising Science

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

An international team of astronomers has conducted the biggest survey of stellar nurseries to date, charting more than 100,000 star-birthing regions across our corner of the universe.

Stellar nurseries: Outer space is filled with clouds of dust and gas called nebulae. In some of these nebulae, gravity will pull the dust and gas into clumps that eventually get so big, they collapse on themselves — and a star is born.

These star-birthing nebulae are known as stellar nurseries.

The challenge: Stars are a key part of the universe — they lead to the formation of planets and produce the elements needed to create life as we know it. A better understanding of stars, then, means a better understanding of the universe — but there's still a lot we don't know about star formation.

This is partly because it's hard to see what's going on in stellar nurseries — the clouds of dust obscure optical telescopes' view — and also because there are just so many of them that it's hard to know what the average nursery is like.

The survey: The astronomers conducted their survey of stellar nurseries using the massive ALMA telescope array in Chile. Because ALMA is a radio telescope, it captures the radio waves emanating from celestial objects, rather than the light.

"The new thing ... is that we can use ALMA to take pictures of many galaxies, and these pictures are as sharp and detailed as those taken by optical telescopes," Jiayi Sun, an Ohio State University (OSU) researcher, said in a press release.

"This just hasn't been possible before."

Over the course of the five-year survey, the group was able to chart more than 100,000 stellar nurseries across more than 90 nearby galaxies, expanding the amount of available data on the celestial objects tenfold, according to OSU researcher Adam Leroy.

New insights: The survey is already yielding new insights into stellar nurseries, including the fact that they appear to be more diverse than previously thought.

"For a long time, conventional wisdom among astronomers was that all stellar nurseries looked more or less the same," Sun said. "But with this survey we can see that this is really not the case."

"While there are some similarities, the nature and appearance of these nurseries change within and among galaxies," he continued, "just like cities or trees may vary in important ways as you go from place to place across the world."

Astronomers have also learned from the survey that stellar nurseries aren't particularly efficient at producing stars and tend to live for only 10 to 30 million years, which isn't very long on a universal scale.

Looking ahead: Data from the survey is now publicly available, so expect to see other researchers using it to make their own observations about stellar nurseries in the future.

"We have an incredible dataset here that will continue to be useful," Leroy said. "This is really a new view of galaxies and we expect to be learning from it for years to come."

Protecting space stations from deadly space debris

Tiny specks of space debris can move faster than bullets and cause way more damage. Cleaning it up is imperative.

Videos
  • NASA estimates that more than 500,000 pieces of space trash larger than a marble are currently in orbit. Estimates exceed 128 million pieces when factoring in smaller pieces from collisions. At 17,500 MPH, even a paint chip can cause serious damage.
  • To prevent this untrackable space debris from taking out satellites and putting astronauts in danger, scientists have been working on ways to retrieve large objects before they collide and create more problems.
  • The team at Clearspace, in collaboration with the European Space Agency, is on a mission to capture one such object using an autonomous spacecraft with claw-like arms. It's an expensive and very tricky mission, but one that could have a major impact on the future of space exploration.

This is the first episode of Just Might Work, an original series by Freethink, focused on surprising solutions to our biggest problems.

Catch more Just Might Work episodes on their channel:
https://www.freethink.com/shows/just-might-work

Study: Unattractive people far overestimate their looks

The finding is remarkably similar to the Dunning-Kruger effect, which describes how incompetent people tend to overestimate their own competency.

Sex & Relationships
  • Recent studies asked participants to rate the attractiveness of themselves and other participants, who were strangers.
  • The studies kept yielding the same finding: unattractive people overestimate their attractiveness, while attractive people underrate their looks.
  • Why this happens is unclear, but it doesn't seem to be due to a general inability to judge attractiveness.
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Meet the worm with a jaw of metal

Metal-like materials have been discovered in a very strange place.

Credit: Mike Workman/Adobe Stock
Personal Growth
  • Bristle worms are odd-looking, spiky, segmented worms with super-strong jaws.
  • Researchers have discovered that the jaws contain metal.
  • It appears that biological processes could one day be used to manufacture metals.
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