Podcasts, videos, and links to make you think
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Welcome to the Hurt Your Brain newsletter, a collection of podcasts and links that make you think. If you like learning on the internet, you are in the right place.

Maybe it’s obvious by the amount of times I’ve recommended it, but I’m a huge fan of Planet Money. They recently hit episode 1000 and have managed to be just as relevant in this crisis as they were at their birth during the 2008 financial crisis.

In my first article for Podcast Review (a Los Angeles Review of Books Channel), I outlined what I felt are the best 20 episodes of Planet Money ever.

Ok, let's jump into podcast recommendations. I found some great new shows, including one that gave me an excuse to provide lots of pull quotes from a classic science book.
Talking Politics: History of Ideas — Hobbes on the State
  • A new 12-part spinoff series from Talking Politics that provides overviews of some of the most influential political thinkers in history. 
  • This first episode is about Thomas Hobbes and his influential Leviathan (1651).
  • “Nasty, brutish, and short” is Hobbes’ famous description of human nature outside The State, but he was far from a cynic at heart.
  • Hobbes knew that seeking peace was better than seeking war, but also knew that everyone seeking their own peace would lead to clashes and chaos. This was the basis for his arguments for the idea of the Sovereign. 
  • “The recipe of everyone seeking peace will be what Hobbes famously, chillingly called, ‘the war of all against all.’” 

99 Percent Invisible: Perfume — Articles of Interest # 9 
  • I've been loving the return of Articles of Interest from Avery Trufelman and so far season 2 for me is even better than season 1.
  • Not surprising: Most fragrances (perfume, soap, etc) are made by just a handful of companies.
  • Surprising: There are niche indie perfume makers who specialize in very odd smells.
  • The aromas that are considered acceptable or desirable are completely cultural and have changed wildly across cultures and time.

Science Vs: Coronavirus — Sweden Goes Rogue
  • I love Science Vs, but I’ve been largely avoiding coronavirus content outside of Planet Money and The Daily. I dipped my toes back in with this episode and I’m glad I did.
  • An excellent breakdown on what is happening with Sweden and context around their successes and failures with their unique approach.
  • The Podcast Brunch Club Podcast recently published an interview with Wendy Zuckerman. It is excellent and you should check it out.

Science Diction: Meme 
  • A new show from Science Friday that is part science history and part etymology, all in a short and sweet format. 
  • I knew the story that “meme” was coined by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in 1974, but didn’t know the intermediary steps between his book The Selfish Gene and how we all identify with the word today. 
  • The gist of how Dawkins used the word was a way to describe a unit of cultural replication or an infectious idea. (See below for many quotes from him).
  • It was first used in an internet context in this 1994 Wired article: Meme, Counter-meme.
  • Just this past year I read Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene, and the chapter on memes was one of my favorites in the book. I looked through my Kindle notes and provided a few select quotes of interest below.
Quotes from The Selfish Gene, the book that first introduced “meme” to the world:
  • “Are there any good reasons for supposing our own species to be unique? I believe the answer is yes. Most of what is unusual about man can be summed up in one word: ‘culture’.”
  • “Cultural transmission is not unique to man. The best non-human example that I know has recently been described by P. F. Jenkins in the song of a bird called the saddleback which lives on islands off New Zealand. [...] There are other examples of cultural evolution in birds and monkeys, but these are just interesting oddities. It is our own species that really shows what cultural evolution can do. Language is only one example out of many. Fashions in dress and diet, ceremonies and customs, art and architecture, engineering and technology, all evolve in historical time in a way that looks like highly speeded up genetic evolution, but has really nothing to do with genetic evolution.”
  • “I think we have got to start again and go right back to first principles. The argument I shall advance, surprising as it may seem coming from the author of the earlier chapters, is that, for an understanding of the evolution of modern man, we must begin by throwing out the gene as the sole basis of our ideas on evolution.”
  • “But do we have to go to distant worlds to find other kinds of replicator and other, consequent, kinds of evolution? I think that a new kind of replicator has recently emerged on this very planet. It is staring us in the face. It is still in its infancy, still drifting clumsily about in its primeval soup, but already it is achieving evolutionary change at a rate that leaves the old gene panting far behind. The new soup is the soup of human culture. We need a name for the new replicator, a noun that conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation. ‘Mimeme’ comes from a suitable Greek root, but I want a monosyllable that sounds a bit like ‘gene’. I hope my classicist friends will forgive me if I abbreviate mimeme to meme.* If it is any consolation, it could alternatively be thought of as being related to ‘memory’, or to the French word même. It should be pronounced to rhyme with ‘cream’.”
  • “Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation. If a scientist hears, or reads about, a good idea, he passes it on to his colleagues and students. He mentions it in his articles and his lectures. If the idea catches on, it can be said to propagate itself, spreading from brain to brain. As my colleague N. K. Humphrey neatly summed up an earlier draft of this chapter: ‘… memes should be regarded as living structures, not just metaphorically but technically.* When you plant a fertile meme in my mind you literally parasitize my brain, turning it into a vehicle for the meme’s propagation in just the way that a virus may parasitize the genetic mechanism of a host cell. And this isn’t just a way of talking—the meme for, say, “belief in life after death” is actually realized physically, millions of times over, as a structure in the nervous systems of individual men the world over.’”


"How does Planet Money, a decade-old, sometimes wonky show about the economy, remain one of the most downloaded podcasts in the world? Like other popular podcasts that sprang from public radio, the secret is in its storytelling."

The new economics of chess [Marginal Revolution]. I knew Magnus Carlsen was a beast, but this quote blew me away. "Do not underestimate Magnus Carlsen. He has been #1 in classical chess, rapid, and blitz, all at the same time. He is a huge YouTube star in chess. He has won a tournament about chess trivia, and he has been #1 in fantasy football for the whole world (not an easy feat)."

What golden nugget of information do you have to share? [thread on Ask Reddit]. Tons of interesting comments and responses.

The Miracle Sudoku. Watch a world-class puzzle solver tackle this crazy constrained version of the traditional puzzle. I watched the whole thing and was fascinated. I'm loving the trend of Twitch-style streaming spilling over into all sorts of unexpected places outside of video games (and chess).

Brilliant [self-directed STEM learning]. I watch a lot of educational YouTube with my kids, and Brilliant is a pretty common sponsor we see for channels like Kurzgesagt. I finally caved after the 10th time my son asked, expecting some kind of lame site. We ended up loving it and bought the premium subscription. If you are into puzzle solving or learning STEM subjects, definitely give it a try. 

Podcast Brunch Club virtual meeting. There are two dates left for next weekend and I just may try to join if I have time. It's a great way to nerd out about podcasts with other people across the world. 

Newsletter to check out that I've been into:
  • The B-Sides. A music curation newsletter that focuses on uncovering lesser known pop songs. Get ten songs in a playlist along with context and industry news sent to your email every three weeks. Sign up here.

For fun: deconstructed sandwich (stay for the comments).

Check out these links in Listory, all organized in one spot to look through.

That's all for this week!

Connect with me @erikthejones on twitter and if you've learned anything interesting, please forward this link to any curious natured friends or family so they can subscribe. Many thanks!

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