Podcasts, videos, and links to make you think
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Welcome to the Hurt Your Brain newsletter, a discovery playlist for when you want to go into learning mode on the internet.
The End of the World with Josh Clark. One half of the Stuff You Should Know podcast talking seriously about existential risks to humanity? Uh, yes thank you. The first few episodes focus on why the fact that we haven't discovered alien intelligence yet might be a sign that intelligent life has a way of not lasting long. After this set up, episodes increasingly focus on specific existential risks to humanity, which are not just post-apocalyptic type scenarios, but complete and utter wiped off the face of the earth type scenarios. My kind of show.
The framework used for what existential risk means. AI doesn't mean AI is bad, but that certain scenarios could lead to very bad no good rotten days for us.
This series isn't exactly serialized, but I'm glad that I've been listening in proper order because there are several references to ideas in past episodes as you go along. Here are some interesting things that have stood out within the first five episodes:
  • Our moon, our position from the Sun, the existence of our buddy Jupiter that attracts would be Earth-killer sized asteroids, Earth's tilt, and plate tectonics are just some of the things that are special to Earth that helped life along.
  • Most of the history of life is single cell life.
  • The Cambrian explosion was remarkable. In just 70 million years, we went from all life being single-celled, to animals walking on land.
  • As recent as 50,000 years ago, we shared the planet with no less than three other types of humans.
  • The asteroid that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago also killed 75% of all species around at the time.
  • "Humans have been aware of supernova for thousands of years...But we spend the entire lifespan of our species up until the 1960's blissfully unaware that death rays went off in our universe at all. It was all because of the cold war that we found them."
  • The first human killed by a robot was in 1979 at a Ford plant.
  • Neural nets, the thing that is all the rage in AI research, was actually a concept from the 40's that is finally getting attention.
  • The first two episodes are about the Fermi Paradox and the great filter, both of which I heard about for the first time years ago in this excellent Wait But Why article.

Throughline: How The CIA Overthrew Iran's Democracy in 4 Days. A new history show from NPR that I am really digging. If you crave context on what is happening now in the world, this show is for you.
  • Most of us are probably at least vaguely aware of the Iranian revolution and hostage crisis of 1979, but most of us are probably not aware of the CIA's involvement in destabilizing Iran in 1953.
  • This is because the CIA only declassified documents in 2013.
  • The whole story is fascinating and really does provide good context for what is going on today.

Radiolab: Loops. An episode from 2011 that showed up in the feed. I had never heard it and I loved it, but there was absolutely no mention of it being a repeat, which I find to be bad form. Anyway, it's classic Radiolab and I'm glad it presented itself to me.
  • Global transient amnesia is an unexplained phenomena that can lasts 1-24 hours where your brain resets every minute or two. Here is the hospital video referenced in the episode.
  • There are at least 55 species that so far have only been found to exist in the mini-ecosystem that springs up around a whale carcass.
  • A fallen blue whale can support a micro-habitat for 50-75 years.

Singing Mountain: Wet Metal. A show for anyone who has nostalgia for old school video game music (NES, SNES, Sega). Each episode is a mini-exploration of different facets of old school game music, with lots of air time given to the actual songs.
  • This second episode focuses on Mega Man. I knew that in Japan the game is called Rock Man, but I had no idea it was as in "rock" music, not like "stone". All the other side kicks make so much sense now, like roll.
  • There are some lengthy, curated playlists of just songs (except at very beginning) like episodes 20 and 25.


10 Offbeat Podcasts for Music Lovers [article]. A list from Wil Williams, one of my favorite podcast list makers. 36 Questions is a show high on my list to finally check out. It features Jonathan Groff, the original King George from Hamilton after all.

Award-Winning Footage Of The Microscopic World Around Us [YouTube]. Will induce both nightmares and awe. On a side note, videos of microorganisms on YouTube is a fine rabbit hole to go down. Like this surprisingly sad video of a singe cell dying.

What Impossible Meant to Feynman [article]. "I could have recognized that distinctive, gravelly voice with the unmistakable New York accent with my eyes closed. Standing before me was my scientific idol, the legendary physicist Richard Feynman, with his shock of graying, shoulder-length hair, wearing his characteristic white shirt, along with a disarming, devilish smile."

Considering human imagination the last piece of wilderness, do you think AI will ever be able to write a good song? [short blog post]. From musician Nick Cave's website. An excellent response on why AI will never completely replace humans in song writing. "It is perfectly conceivable that AI could produce a song as good as Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, for example, and that it ticked all the boxes required to make us feel what a song like that should make us feel – in this case, excited and rebellious, let’s say. It is also feasible that AI could produce a song that makes us feel these same feelings, but more intensely than any human songwriter could do. But, I don’t feel that when we listen to Smells Like Teen Spirit it is only the song that we are listening to."

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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