Podcasts, videos, and links to make you think
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Welcome to the Hurt Your Brain newsletter. Every two weeks I send out a playlist of podcasts, videos, and other links that will make you think. If you are interested in science, history, philosophy, and generally how the world works, you'll find something to feed your curiosity. 

I spent most of the last several weeks reading through The Three-Body Problem trilogy. This week's newsletter is clearly influenced by being in the sci-fi mindset. Check out spoiler-free thoughts on the series at the bottom.

Also, I'm thinking of putting together a playlist of books, podcasts, videos, movies, etc. of sci-fi that will make you think, so please send me your best recs. 

Ok, let's get to it!

The Breakdown: What is GPT-3 and Should We Be Terrified? [website, Apple, Spotify]
  • My Twitter feed exploded recently with examples utilizing the newly released third iteration of OpenAI's general purpose language algorithm, GPT-3. You put some text in, and it provides shockingly creative and human outputs. 
  • Like this one, where a person asked the computer to pretend to be Richard Dawkins and to summarize The Selfish Gene. It's damn good.
  • I wanted to understand what was going on and why everyone was excited, so I dusted off the ol' Apple Podcasts search bar and typed in "GPT-3".
  • I picked this show, which seems to be mostly about crypto-currency related things, but the meat of this episode does a fine job of explaining the context around GPT-3.

Levar Burton Reads: "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" Part 1 by Ted Chiang [website, Apple, Spotify]
  • Part 2 [website, Apple, Spotify]
  • Ted Chiang wrote the short story that was turned into the movie Arrival, and I've been looking forward to checking out his writings.
  • This story is wonderful, mind-bending, and thoughtful. 

Art of the Score: Blade Runner 2049 [website, Apple, Spotify]
  • My friend told me about this show and as I scanned the feed, this episode stood out. I love this movie largely because of the cinematography and the film score, so I thought it would be a great test episode.
  • A lengthy but satisfying exploration of the themes and context around the film score, with loads of clips played throughout. 
  • I highly recommend checking out the feed of the show and finding some of your favorite movies. 

Our Opinions are Correct: Alien minds [website, Apple, Spotify]
  • A show that explores the meaning of science-fiction and how it is relevant to our lives.
  • The hosts, topics, and guests are a breath of fresh air compared to what you might expect with a science-fiction discussion podcast. 
  • This episode is all about the various ways writers have depicted alien and AI minds throughout the sci-fi pantheon. 

Our Opinions are Correct: The History of Afro-futurism [website, Apple, Spotify]
  • Guest Shawn Taylor  (scholar/critic/founder of brings a wealth of knowledge around what Afro-futurism is and many, many examples to check out.
  • A great sci-fi movie from the UK that has largely passed under the radar in the US is Attack of the Block (2011). The hosts and Taylor all recommend it.


History Pods. A new site that highlights new releases from indie history podcasts. Check it out!

How To Prove Einstein’s Relativity In The Palm Of Your Hand. Ethan Siegel is an astrophysicist and science communicator who writes a column called Starts With a Bang! It's great stuff for anyone interested in physics and cosmology. 

Ask Ethan: What Are We Getting Wrong About Schrodinger's Cat? Another one from Siegel, this time in his Forbes column. “Every idea along these lines is itself a myth and misconception that runs counter to Schrödinger's original purpose in putting forth this thought experiment. His true purpose? To illustrate how easy it is to arrive at an absurd prediction — such as a prediction of a simultaneously half-dead and half-alive cat — if you misinterpret or misunderstand quantum mechanics.”

When Astronomer Johannes Kepler Wrote the First Work of Science Fiction, The Dream (1609). [Open Culture]

I'm new to reading books!! Suggest me some sci fi books [Reddit thread, r/suggesmeabook]

What’s the absolute single greatest podcast you’ve ever heard in your life? [Reddit thread, r/podcasts]

Recommendation for a documentary podcast which maps one topic in depth? [Reddit thread, r/podcasts]



The Three-Body Problem trilogy is technically called Remembrance of Earth's Past. It's written by China's most famous sci-fi author, Cixin Liu, and is comprised of:
The Three Body Problem
The Dark Forest
Death's End

I had heard many great things about this series. Namely that it's mind-blowing and a must read for people into science and science-fiction. But I knew literally nothing about the plot going in. I was vaguely aware of a problem in physics called the "three-body problem" though, and was intrigued to know if there was any connection.

The gist of this physics problem is that when you have two bodies orbiting each other, like a star and a single planet with no moon, the mechanics of predicting the orbits far into the future are pretty straight-forward. 

But if you simply add one more body to the equation, like with three stars all orbiting each other for instance, all hell breaks loose. It becomes a chaotic, non-repeating swirl of orbits that literally cannot be plotted out far into the future for most real-world cases, even by supercomputers.

I blew through all three books and felt they got stronger as they went. Without it spoiling anything, the first book does indeed directly involve the three-body physics problem, but in a fascinating, unexpected way. The entire series was for the most part completely unpredictable, and fully lived up to the reputation of mind-blowing. The series truly does contain some certified crazy shit, particularly in the last book. If you liked the part of Interstellar where they were near the black hole and the guy on the ship aged way faster because of general relativity, you'll most likely love this series. It's that kind of stuff, but dialed up to 100.

I overall agree with this review (about the third book but applies across series):
"This is a magnum opus, the third in a series of magna opera. How Liu managed to hold it together I do not know – it is quite a feat. It is not particularly sweat-inducing or sniffle-generating. I would say the overall tone is cool, despite the narrative of [redacted for potential spoiler, follow link above if not worried]. And surprisingly, for such a long novel, it does not contain superfluous text or repetitions. It is, as I mentioned, written in formal business-like English with the occasional metaphor or simile, and the emotions of the characters are shown by their actions, not by their dialogue or inner monologues. In that sense, it is fairly typical of many novels by Chinese authors that I’ve read."

I would say that this book will not make a sci-fi fan out of someone who already doesn't care for the genre, but should absolutely be checked out by any existing sci-fi fan. 

Bonus for those who have read it: There are many scenes in this series that I would LOVE to see visualized, and while there are some full-scale adaptations in the works, there are some things online that do a remarkable job.

1) There is an animated show called "My Three Body" from a Chinese streaming network that has so far adapted most of the first two books. The creator started off making fan videos using Minecraft, and now the series maintains that strange character appearance. BUT, I found their visualization of a certain scene from the second book to be pretty incredible nonetheless. Major spoilers within the link, but this is their episode that involves "the teardrop". 

2) This is a separate, unofficial short film called "Waterdrop". It's a combination of real audio from various science communicators and news events as well as excerpts from the second book. I was baffled by what was going on (all I could tell was we were zooming out from way up close on something), but by the end thought it was a genius idea once it all clicked. It also happens to end directly before the encounter shown in the above episode of My Three Body.

For fun: Godspeed, August.

And as always, check out a Listory list of all the links contained in this email. 

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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