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Season 9 | Episode 5

Desperately Seeking Symmetry

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This hour of Radiolab, Jad and Robert set out in search of order and balance in the world around us, and ask how symmetry shapes our very existence -- from the origins of the universe, to what we see when we look in the mirror.

Along the way, we look for love in ancient Greece, head to modern-day Princeton to peer inside our brains, and turn up an unlikely headline from the Oval Office circa 1979.


Marcelo Gleiser, Natasha Gostwick, Joy Hirsch, PhD, Zoe Keating, Lauren Silbert, Neil deGrasse Tyson, John Walter and Marcus du Sautoy

Are You My Brain Double?

Robert kicks things off with a beautiful re-telling of a 2400-year-old love story from Plato, by way of Aristophanes, about the longing many of us feel for another half to make us whole. This ancient yearning gets us wondering whether the world around us is deeply and fundamentally symmetric, or...not. ...

Comments [37]

Mirror, Mirror

The mathematician Charles Lutwidge Dodgson posed a big question about mirrors in one of his best-known books: Through the Looking-Glass (yup, Dodgson's pen name was Lewis Carroll). Natasha Gostwick of Storynory reads an excerpt that gets at the heart of the trouble: is mirror milk any good to drink? ...

Comments [369]

Nothing's the Antimatter

Just after the Big Bang, the universe was a primordial soup made of light. Then, it started belching out matter. Neil deGrasse Tyson explains how deeply shocking this is, and Marcelo Gleiser reveals an imperfection in the laws of physics that makes our very existence possible.

Comments [19]

Comments [151]


Natalie from NYC ...that saxophone music you're referring to wasn't a sax...believe it or not it was clarinet...Mr. Ackerbilk..."Stranger On The Shore" from the 1960's makes me wish that I hadn't quit the clarinet...switched to bassoon ... then quit that too...Here ya go...

Jul. 17 2017 08:38 PM

What about viruses? Do they also display left-handed chirality?

Jun. 12 2017 05:53 PM
Sam Dec from wis

I came to see the picture of abe lincoln hair part photo. VERY disappointed you made it impossible to find. poor web site structure and tags identifications.

Jun. 12 2017 10:24 AM
Susan from little rhody

Stand in front of a mirror
Go to the photo app on your smartphone
Hold the phone camera so that it is facing you, not the mirror
In the mirror, the phone should be covering your face
Take a photo
You should see yourself how others see you
apologies if this was stated elsewhere in the show

Jun. 11 2017 08:03 PM
Dennis Brown from Portland, Oregon

Isn't DNA a right-handed helix? This seems to be a fundamental contraindication of the hypothesis.

Jun. 11 2017 06:36 PM
Bob Gustafson from Chicago

I didn't know that all living matter is left-handed!

I seem to remember something about Mad-Cow_Disease. I think the cause has been traced to prions which have an opposite handedness. A prion is not quite a living cell - something like that anyway.

This kind of disease seems to go down the same path as thalidomide - a good medicine that goes bad because it picked up a reverse handedness.

I wonder if anyone has pushed this medical handedness further? I will click around.

Jun. 11 2017 02:15 PM
Natalie from NYC

What was that famous romantic slow saxophone music that came on for a moment after the matching brain bit when the laurens said they probably wouldn't be friends? It's doing my head in that I can't remember 😖
Thanks :)

Jun. 10 2017 06:30 PM
Jonathan Dimes from Baltimore

First time I ever listened to your show. Certainly wont be the last. Can't believe how much I learned...and it was so much fun.

Jun. 10 2017 04:40 PM
Hayden Jacobs from Arizona

I just realized my hair part is on the wrong side. D: Thank you for letting me fix this!

Jun. 09 2017 01:43 AM
Jan Crean from Tullahoma TN

You might find the opening number from "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" interesting, as it explains in song Aristophanes' story that Robert read at the opening of your episode "Seeking Symmetry."
Love the show; keep up the good work!

Jun. 08 2017 08:21 PM

Jad is an anti-Krulwich! Haha!

Jan. 29 2016 01:58 PM
John from United States

Turns out the photographer was Anthony Berger, and he also took the picture with a right part used on the Lincoln Penny. I once found the story about how Berger combed it that way just on the portrait day, but can't find it now. If you Google Lincoln's portrait, every picture has his pair parted on the left (mostly) or not at all for some wild pics, except two of the most circulated pictures - the penny and the 5 dollar bill! (BTW, for reference, use the bump under his right cheek to ascertain that the negative or daguerreotype is not flipped.)

Mar. 06 2015 08:46 PM
robert meurer from left

Who screwed up President Lincoln's part on the $5

Mar. 02 2015 05:30 PM
Mary Rhudy from Tullahoma, TN

I heard Dr. Tyson explaining how these vast cosmic clouds of energy were 'belching' out matter. Newton teaches that for every action there is an equal or opposite reaction. So, if those first cosmic clouds of energy were belching out matter, were there also bits of stuff coming out the other end of those clouds?

Mar. 02 2015 05:14 PM
joan from 14617

can you put 2 lincoln pics side by side?

Mar. 01 2015 11:39 PM
joan alden

fascinating...never heard show before...hopefully will have more stuff like this....perhaps provide "must reads"

Mar. 01 2015 09:01 PM
Saundra Johnson from York, PA

Very thought-provoking and useful information. I'm spending a portion of my afternoon flipping pictures of myself and family and I find it fascinating.

Mar. 01 2015 03:28 PM
Stewart Willis from Oklahoma

I just had an inclination to turn on a radio I had in the house that I hadn't listened to in a year. It was tuned into PBS and your program was on.

WOW! You turned difficult science into a sit back and enjoy fun story. So well done! I'm gona turn that radio on more often at this time, or listen to your podcasts.

Feb. 28 2015 12:23 PM
Marko from Croatia

Light turning into matter? Holodeck!

Jul. 26 2014 06:01 PM
Melanie Dickson from Washington, DC

I am 27 years old, and until I listened to this podcast yesterday, I did not realize that I was parting my hair on the wrong side. Listening to John Walter, it hit me like a ton of bricks - I always look weird in photos but, like him, "I always look fine in the mirror." Hairdressers have always tried to get me to switch my part to the other side, and I keep telling them that that's not the way I like it - but it IS the way I like it! This was a total epiphany! THANK YOU, RADIOLAB.

Jun. 19 2014 02:54 PM
T.N. Trosin from P.O'd in OK

Your right! he looks waaaaay different. Much like a carton cat! Who would have ever imagined.

Feb. 04 2014 10:22 PM

I found the image here

Feb. 02 2014 08:41 PM
Heidi from Lancaster, Pa

I can't open the Lincoln link either, but I did meet the mirror guy (John Walter) at a PEX Halloween party on a ship a couple years ago and found him very attractive. Might have thought so with the right part too.

Feb. 02 2014 05:32 PM
Karen_SLC from SLC-UT

My 25 year old daughters are "mirror twins". Identical but opposite of each other. One is left handed while the other is right handed. There are other physical characteristics that are identical in nature but present right side vs left side. Interestingly enough, they both part their hair on the left side.

Feb. 02 2014 01:17 PM
Darlene from Boston

C'mon what's up with the Lincoln picture? Is this a joke?

Feb. 01 2014 10:12 PM
ann haley

I was unable to find the Lincoln pix on your website (, but found many of him in Wikipedia. EVERY photo of him could have been of another man in his family: no two were quite alike. All shared a very strong family resemblance, of course, but his face was so traced with interesting lines of worry, concern, concentration, and amusement, that no two were alike. His hair went every which way, typical of his careless grooming, but that only enhanced the images. As a person, he was very interesting indeed.

Feb. 01 2014 07:49 PM
Joanne from Brooklyn

You may have missed the perfect music for the Symmetry program seguaes: Jane Siberry, Symmmetry

Feb. 01 2014 07:07 PM
Stephen from nyc

Would the elephant recognize it's self in the mirror image mirror image and try to remove the mark/sticker?

Feb. 01 2014 06:45 PM
craig from NewHampshire

I must have unconsciously decided to comb my hair straight back do to child hood problems similar to those related on the show, military helped in the decision.

Feb. 01 2014 06:29 PM
Stephen from nyc

I vaguely remember hearing or reading that some psych. researchers think that some animals, such as elephants, have a sense of self. They based this on experiments in which the elephants, while looking in/at a mirror, try to remove a sticker or mark that was placed on the the elephant's faces by the researchers. Does this finding relate to the stories in this episode?

Feb. 01 2014 06:29 PM

Tried several options still can't find the Lincoln pix

Feb. 01 2014 05:00 PM
Glen from Oregon

Crude oil is the residue of life on this planet from long ago, what is the turn of the molecules in crude oil?

Feb. 01 2014 04:29 PM
Adam from NYC

That was an amazing program!!!!!

Jan. 30 2014 09:01 PM
Sophia McAllister from Cincinnati

I just listened to the Black Box episode and as soon as the part about the Australian "magic" show from the '50s finished, I typed in the url to find out the secret. It didn't load!! I have continued to try to no avail! Are you teasing us? No fair! I want the ugly truth so please help me.

Jan. 29 2014 07:34 PM
Chris from Warwick, RI

Please read this!

I am so so so pleased right now. I have the RadioLab App on my iPhoney phone. I listen to an episode every time I am banished to the filing room for an hour or two. So, I am listening to this episode, and I get all intrigued about Lincoln's mirror image (which is pretty cool). BUT I also saw the pic of Jad and Robert on stage, and I am so juiced. Because the image I had created in my head PERFECTLY matched the actual picture of you guys. You know how when you listen to someone's voice on radio, you kind of just dream up what you think or want them to look like? Well my imaginary Jad and Robert are completly SYMMETRICAL to you gusy in real life! Isn't that awesome?

Also, I just moved my bangs to the other side of my forehead.

K, thanks!

Oct. 22 2013 11:06 AM

Im confused by this.....should we part our hair on OUR left or left for the person looking at us??????????

Jun. 15 2013 11:07 PM
daniella from kelowna

why does she sound exactly like brit marling

May. 04 2013 05:41 PM
Beauty Packages Brisbane from Brisbane

I think you are following great approach in it. I got to learn many things from you.

Olle from Lund, Sweden

@Marcela Pino: yes, the chirality of the molecules in an organism would be the same after it died.

Living things are not alive because of what molecules or elements they contain, but because of the way those molecules fit into patterns. When an organism dies, the pattern of life is broken (as it were), but the molecules stay the same (until they begin to decompose, that is).

Feb. 05 2013 10:01 AM
judy tritel from estero florida

I'm left handed but have to part my hair on the right side because of a swirl in my hair.
What does being left handed in a right handed world have to say about lefties?
This is my intro to symmeytry. I am 68 years old.

Feb. 04 2013 09:13 PM
Alyssa K from Brooklyn, NY

Great episode as always. Lauren's speaking skills drove me up the wall a little bit. Yikes.

Feb. 04 2013 11:40 AM
Karen from Glenwood Springs, CO

Like the comment that your show is exercise for the brain, but that doesn't cover it for me. I get so excited after every episode! It really lights up my imagination! Thank you!

Feb. 03 2013 07:55 PM
Marcela Pino

My question is,- if life is left-handed almost exclusively, What happens after the living thing dies. If you look at ashes or very dead things that were alive before under those magical microscopes, are the molecules still ordered in the same way as when it was alive?

Feb. 03 2013 03:02 PM
pam from minneapolis

This story totally stressed me out. I'm going to be having a chat with my hair stylist.

Feb. 02 2013 06:16 PM
Dr. GwenEllyn Anderson from Salem, Oregon

Why isn't this listed as a rebroadcast? Good show, but disappointing that it was old news.

Feb. 02 2013 04:05 PM
mark kenseth

You should have mentioned "Hedwig and the Angry Inch". The movie has a great animation of the story:

Feb. 02 2013 03:08 PM
jebwa sabony

then why are so many people right handed?

Feb. 02 2013 10:43 AM

Genius, simply genius! I am highly amazed, entertained, puzzled by this show. What a poetic look at science, what a light-feet approach to philosophy!

Feb. 01 2013 01:52 PM

"Have you ever wondered what happens in that moment? [When the stars aligne and the world falls away...]" I know what happens in that moment... The other half does not "click". And you're left feeling like when the pieces in the box do not match with the assembly instructions nor with logic... We love other people, we're loved by yet other people, and we marry yet other people... The world is out of whack...

Feb. 01 2013 09:14 AM

Interestingly enough the Superman of the less successful 2006 adaptation parted his hair on the RIGHT side.


Jan. 31 2013 09:10 PM

Great. Another plug for homosexuality being just another normal option via classical Greek culture. Didn't work out so well for them either. Guess I'm just a hater.

Oct. 23 2012 01:52 PM
Jonathan M Lwiza

its really funny cuz artists when making a picture are always encouraged to keep flipping your image because it starts to warp in your mind

Sep. 25 2012 03:14 PM
Sereine from Seattle, WA

Great sound track and love the new nickame: Bobby K. :o)

Apr. 23 2012 07:22 PM
Jordan Romero from Fort Collins, CO

I made a stop motion video to the story you tell at the beginning of this podcast. I would love to send it to you, but cannot find an e-mail address for you anywhere. Is there one I can contact you on? Thanks!

Mar. 25 2012 12:41 AM
JR from Dallas

I looked at the Lincoln - Mirror Lincoln pictures and it still seems like nonsense. If he always parted his hair the other way, the more familiar appearance would seem strange. I couldn't tell any difference. I like the show, but sometimes they say things that simply don't hold up.

Jan. 27 2012 09:40 AM

Dude- researchers are not supposed to disclose personal information (e.g. names) of their participants.

Jan. 25 2012 11:08 PM

I listen to podcasts while working out at the gym. Definitely freaked out a girl when she walked into the locker room and I was going from 'blank face' to 'happy face' in the mirror trying to see if my smile was left-handed too. And now I can't stop messing with my part. Thank you for good radio (& podcasts).

Jan. 23 2012 06:17 PM
Sam Gipson from LA

Definitely want a "True Mirror" now!

Jan. 08 2012 01:19 PM

"Trypsin is a three-dimensional mirror image of Malignin." Donald kelley beat stage 4 pancreatic cancer with a method involving pancreatic enzymes

Dec. 30 2011 08:57 AM

.The hair parting bit was like nails on the chalk board to this rational skeptic

Nov. 04 2011 07:14 AM

I'm parting my hair on the left starting today.

Oct. 19 2011 12:56 AM
Cecelia from Montreal, Canada

Just to note - the left side of the brain is not "more masculine" than the right side of the brain. The two sides of the brain aren't "male" or "female," even if there are sex based differences within specific brain regions (there are less than you'd think). Additionally, the right brain versus left brain argument for personality has been shown to be without foundation. I found it very irritating to hear him say "the left, logical, more masculine side of the brain" - it betrays a poor understanding of the actual science related to this topic.

Oct. 14 2011 02:49 PM

I was hoping that you would mention that an n- dimensional object can "become" its mirror image if you flip in in an n+1 dimension. For example, a 2D image of a left hand can be lifted into the 3rd dimension, turned and put back into 2D, becoming a right hand. Athur C. Clarke has a cool short story named "Technical Error" in which a man is accidentally turned into his mirror image, essentially by having a turn in the 4th dimension. After the accident the man starts to starve because his molecular machinery is "right handed" and cannot digest "left handed" food. And that is only the beginning of the story.

Oct. 10 2011 06:30 AM
Brian from Brooklyn, NY

N. I am having the same problem!

"Have your webmaster kick the computer running the RSS feed and attachments."

What does that mean? How do I do that?

Oct. 09 2011 01:40 PM
Jared Johnson from Davis California

I think that the direction that we read might effect how we look at a face.

Oct. 05 2011 08:24 PM
Guanina from Dallas, TX

Regarding the story of the two Laurens: what popped into my head before hearing Lauren's interpretation of the two outliers was not "this one is similar to Lauren's brain, this one is different." I assumed that the one that understood the story but didn't mirror her brain was a bit unfeeling (jerk?) and that the one who mirrored her brain so emphatically must me a natural Empath.

Sep. 30 2011 10:55 AM
Loretta Garcia from San Antonio, TX

it is kinda funny that the two lauren are the same because when you here them talking they do sound the same as well!!! i also have moments of times myself^_^

Sep. 24 2011 01:09 PM

I think it's more likely that the "cool kids" finally felt sorry for the awkward kid and decided to be nice to him. He was lucky to have had the red herring of parting his hair on the other side, otherwise he probably would have concluded that they were setting him up for some cruel prank.

Sep. 13 2011 06:54 PM

Thanks, your symmetry show answered a question I had.
A while back having viewed the
Photographs of athletes from the early 1900's in my club, all with hair parted down the middle I thought to give it a try. I have a full set of hair and years under my belt and always parted my hair on the right.
Parted my hair straight down the middle and began receiving complements such as "a Number of the girls have talked about how handsome you are, they're right. And walking on the street two children looked up at me and said you're handsome mister. And my grandchildren are infatuated according to their parents.

Have kept this to myself until this message, but While the notion sounds somewhat ludicrous it appears to be true.

Wondering whether I should move the part further left?

Sep. 05 2011 11:58 AM
lizzy from nyc

If that woman wants to be taken seriously, she needs to work on her speaking voice. She sounds like a drugged Valley girl, and I found it really, really distracting and annoying.

Sep. 03 2011 02:22 PM

This may sound strange, but I would pay 99 cents USD for Robert Krulwich reading the Plato story. Yes, I have the capability to do it for myself. Yes, I will still pay for it if it shows up. Keep up the good work.

Sep. 03 2011 01:00 AM
Kimberly from Chicago, IL

Dear Bob and Jad,

Listening to the opening of this episode made me crack up uncontrollably. Do you know the movie "Hedwig and the Angry Inch"? There's a song in it called "The Origin of Love" that is a nice summary of the Plato story Bob described... and in very similar language. It has the effect of hearing someone wisely recite a song, as if they are the authors of its wise prose, even funnier that he's doing it unknowingly. Anyway, it's a great movie with wonderful animations of the story of the Origin of Love. You should check it out and then you'll get the joke.

Thanks for what you do.

Aug. 17 2011 07:41 PM
Ernst from Oregon

I caught most of the show, but maybe I missed any mention of Emmy Noether ? She has an interesting back story and I remember the conservation of charge being mentioned in the context of symmetry so it would seem strange not to mention her work. Maybe I missed it.

Jul. 31 2011 12:07 AM

I was surprised that there was not more discussion on the brain double portion of the show about the fact that the brain scan of the researcher's fiance was an outlier...the most different from her own brain scan. To me it seems obvious that she found her missing half (the half that the gods separated her from...)!

Jul. 23 2011 09:58 AM
Nick A from Los Angeles

Did anyone notice that Brandon Routh's Superman had his hair parted the other way? Could it be why he came across so anemic?

Jul. 22 2011 11:32 PM
Plugg from Sacramento, CA

I didn't understand the shocked reactions people apparently had to seeing themselves in a true mirror. Have they never seen photographs of themselves? I've got so many photos of my own face (security badge for my job, a state ID, a driver's license, a passport, and probably 15 school IDs--most schools/universities issue a new one every year--yearbook photos, portraits, not to mention hundreds of other random photos), I'm used to myself both ways--reflected and not--and don't really see much of a difference

It's also a simple matter to shoot a quick video of myself if I wanted to see my true self in motion. My webcam also does not reflect my image, so I can use it as a "true mirror" and see my non-reflected self moving in real time. Many webcams allow you to toggle this feature, and they're are much cheaper than a specially designed true mirror, anyway (up to $1500!).

Jul. 16 2011 11:28 PM
Plugg from Sacramento, CA

I didn't understand the shocked reactions people apparently had to seeing themselves in a true mirror. Have they never seen photographs of themselves? I've got so many photos of my own face (security badge for my job, a state ID, a driver's license, a passport, and probably 15 school IDs--most schools/universities issue a new one every year--yearbook photos, portraits, not to mention hundreds of other random photos), I'm used to myself both ways--reflected and not--and don't really see much of a difference

It's also a simple matter to shoot a quick video of myself if I wanted to see my true self in motion. My webcam also does not reflect my image, so I can use it as a "true mirror" and see my non-reflected self moving in real time. Many webcams allow you to toggle this feature, and they're are much cheaper than a specially designed true mirror, anyway (up to $1500!).

Jul. 16 2011 11:26 PM
Barry Kennedy from Minneapolis, MN

@Ty... take it up with Aristopheles, Ty.

Once you get your time machine fixed, obviously.

Jul. 11 2011 05:27 PM
Nan from Indianapolis

Please, where can I find the passage from Aristophanes, exactly? Or how can I get a transcript of that portion of the program?

Jul. 06 2011 11:39 AM

They do mention very explicitly the connection between boys & boys and girls & girls and alas boys & girls

Jul. 04 2011 12:32 PM
Ty from Tempe from Arizona

I was offended by the heterocentric introduction of the Greek tradition of "double humans," where the hosts mentioned how male/females were joined together as "soulmates," and after being separated by Zeus, pine for the lost half. In the original, there were also male/male and female/female beings, which is offered as an explanation for the love of same-sex couples. Why did the hosts amputate this quite literally "half" of the story?

Jun. 26 2011 06:22 PM

Cool topic, you should have talked about the "asymmetry theory". That's a real good "mirror" too the symmetry theory...

May. 23 2011 11:51 AM

Oops. My bad. After some more research, it appears that many Lincoln images are originally Daguerreotypes, but many of the images have since been laterally inverted, to show the life image. It was his left side that was kicked. Kudos!

May. 22 2011 05:49 AM

Interesting podcast. I really enjoyed it. So much so that I have spent about an hour looking at Lincoln portraits and researching the daguerreotype process. I tend to agree with the one comment I read, here. The pictures of Lincoln are reversed. A daguerreotype is a mirror image process. So, the real life Lincoln parted his hair on the right. The gasp is probably due to the fact that we are used to seeing these images a certain way, reversed, and the difference is what we react to.
Interesting, also, that other research refers to the 'left side' of Lincoln's face was that which was kicked by a horse. It appears that this was the 'left side in the image' which was his right side in real life.

May. 22 2011 05:36 AM

Andrew from Dallas - I like your home experiment, but which "left" did you part it? Your left or the left of people who are looking at you?

May. 20 2011 02:01 PM
Terry Hulsey from Fort Worth, TX

Please discuss the entropy-defying symmetry of entrainment:

May. 19 2011 11:07 PM
Terry Hulsey from Fort Worth, TX

Please discuss the entropy-defying symmetry of entrainment:

May. 19 2011 11:06 PM
Andrew from Dallas

So i just noticed that I normally part my hair to the right. After hearing this episode, I decided to put the left hair part to the test.

I woke up one morning, pushed my hair part over the other direction and the very first person I talked to said, you look good today-- and i quote--"I think its your hair part".

May. 19 2011 09:20 PM

hey whats the music that comes on at 46:30? it is so amazing. i need to get it. if i don't get it my life will no longer have any meaning.


May. 17 2011 04:44 PM

I was just listening to this episode in the car on my way to work this morning. I actually had started it the other day, but I restarted it because I really enjoyed the story Robert Krulwich read in the very beginning. I liked it so much that I got into work and started doing a bit of research. It's funny that the story Krulwich tells seems to give an entirely different meaning than what Aristophanes originally intended, which was a way of almost poking fun at the origin stories found throughout Greek mythology. After learning this, I prefer Robert's telling of this story. :)

I haven't finished the episode, yet, but I stopped at the true mirror story and I ended up spending a few minutes staring at my reflection in the vanity mirror in my car and trying to visualize how exactly I appear differently in the mirror and to other people. This made my brain hurt. I also tried parting my hair on the other side, too, to see how it would look. It also got me thinking about the mirrors in beauty salons. I wonder if it would be better if those were true mirrors, so that you and your stylist could see exactly how your new 'do looks to everyone else!

P.S. Radiolab has turned me into a fan of Zoe Keating. I LOVE her music. :)

May. 12 2011 01:57 PM

I was telling my boyfriend jokingly about the difference socially between parting your hair on the left and right. To my surprise, he agreed with the show about the left hair part. In junior high, he was a geek that parted his hair on the right, but he switched his part in high school to the left and elevated his social status. I found this quite amusing. Thanks Radiolab for providing interesting stories that spark amusing conversation.

May. 11 2011 01:22 PM
Nico from Albenga, Italy

After the talk about brain tests and the exact match girl, I'm now curious about what makes a good listener, if that is indeed what she is. Are some people better at listening than others? How do they get that way? Would that one Lauren match up with just anyone or was it a one-time occurrence? Can you measure if you're a good/bad listener? Does it change with different people or subjects? I was desperately hoping for a rabbit trail on that point...

May. 11 2011 09:28 AM
Josephine from Australia

You've become my exercise buddies. Before I get on the bike, I think nah they can't do it again. And you do. Every time. My brain gets a bigger workout than my body. Guys you are the greatest. 10/10

May. 11 2011 07:54 AM
B. Dix

I noticed that Hitler parted his hair on the right. I wonder if maybe this had seeped into the subconscious and influences their reactions.

May. 09 2011 02:56 AM

i love the imaginativity of these shows - this episode to me seemed disjointed, however - maybe i wasn't paying attention well enough? -

the 'unbackwards mirror' is really interesting too
my hair was first parted to the right, then i did it to the left, then straight back, but now there's not enough to bother with, so that cured itself and there are no more questions about it. I could never tell left from right anyway.


May. 05 2011 03:21 PM

Are we talking parting to the left in anatomical position is the correct way? So basically parting the hair to that persons left side of his head? Is that the more masculine way?

May. 05 2011 12:06 PM
Melissa from Illinois

My favorite show yet. I found myself gasping in pleased surprise at parts of it. Just wonderful.

May. 04 2011 03:31 AM
Robert Ilbrink from Arhnem, The Netherlands

Is it possible to separate the RSS feed into PURE audio and one extra feed with the video's. I do not need the video's on my AUDIO player, but "Juice" will download everything.



May. 02 2011 01:31 AM
archie buchanan from vancouver wa

Electrons have dirrering levels amounts of energy. It is unlikely that electrons and positrons with identicle amounts of energy would come together and cancel each other. Rather an electron and a positron would come together and cancel each other, but with some left over matter. It is this left over stuff that made up all the other matter.

May. 01 2011 07:13 PM
M. Lahman from Utah

I part my hair on the left, and I'm a socially-inept nerd. So if I parted my hair on the right, would I be even more so??

Apr. 29 2011 01:37 PM
Selin Gulgoz from Ann Arbor, MI

In all honesty, I haven't finished listening to this episode yet. But I've listened to the first part about the BD. The professor at Columbia's reasoning about how you wouldn't have thought it so amazing if it were simply that another person's heartbeat matches yours, as opposed to brain activation, is quite interesting. I'm pretty certain that, if it were another, less scientifically-oriented, more spiritual community, the fact that the heartbeats matched might have been far more impressive than the harmony in brain activation. This exact point might of course illustrate to us that indeed there is no such thing as an Aristophanesian (!) second half, for the attributes we look for in a second half are all in our head, in our culture, and perhaps, therefore, arbitrary?

Apr. 29 2011 10:08 AM

Any transcripts?

Apr. 29 2011 06:28 AM

The theory regarding hair is very true. It actually happened to me too, I didn't notice it myself but i remember that during high school my hair was part toward right and one day my friend randomly told me that I need to change it to the left because it looked better. I did and ever since it has been like that. Because everytime I try to switch it back to the right i notice there is something wrong.

Apr. 28 2011 03:45 PM

Every episode of radiolab always amaze me! I really want to try out a reverse mirror. I don't mind even replace what I have as mirror now. Anyone know a good digital version of it to try out?

Apr. 28 2011 10:37 AM

For those who are wondering...

One of the songs used towards the end of the first segment was The Album Leaf "Belladonna"

Huge Album Leaf fan, it was cool hearing a song of theirs in a RL piece.

Apr. 26 2011 12:59 PM

I can't download the episode automatically from the feed, can't download manually from the website, can't listen to it from the web page.
Have your webmaster kick the computer running the RSS feed and attachments.

Apr. 25 2011 07:48 PM
Alex from San Francisco

Apr. 25 2011 03:36 PM
Adhiti from Acworth, GA

This episode was so amazing! I could relate to the beginning story of humans in clumps. My best friend and I have known each other for two years, but I feel like I've known her for several lifetimes. Robert Krulwich summed up the experience perfectly. My friend and I don't know what we expect of each other. We just are.

Apr. 24 2011 09:08 PM
Jimbo from Syracuse, NY

I was surprised that your symmetry episode didn't talk to any mineralogists. Geologists, mineralogists especially, deal with symmetry all of the time, and some of the most amazing naturally symmetric things I've ever seen are minerals. Radiolab should talk to earth scientists more, I think, but with symmetry it seemed like a no-brainer! Twinned minerals alone are rather freaky.

Apr. 24 2011 08:05 PM
Kevin from Boston, MA

Love RadioLab. This was a great episode. But I'm curious about why you said nothing about group theory. Group theory is a branch of math that actually studies and classifies different types of symmetry. Everything you said about mirrors, reflections, the shape of molecules. These all result from research in group theory. In fact some of these examples have the exact same type of symmetry.

Apr. 24 2011 04:42 PM
NaiSammon from Michigan

Back to form! Killer show, you guys were slippin for a few shows there...haha... Thanks
for the great work you do!

Apr. 24 2011 11:35 AM
Nicholas Mitchell from Santa Cruz Mountains

Apropos writing presidents about their grooming styles, this famous letter from an 11-year old girl to Abraham Lincoln, advising him to grow a beard.

Apr. 23 2011 03:09 PM
dobsky from san francisco

Amazing. I teach classical drawing and painting and have noticed weird things happen when trying to represent symmetrical objects. There always seems to be a bias towards one side of the object, usually the one on our left. I've noticed this not only in myself but many of my students. If doesn't happen every single time but the percentage of times it does happen is so high that it has weirded me out a bit. It now all makes a bit more sense. Thanks for the great show guys!!!

Apr. 23 2011 02:00 PM
brandon from Bend, OR

I saw those true mirrors at Burning Man last year. Definitely a little strange.

Apr. 23 2011 12:06 PM
Steve Asher from San Francisco

Regarding the true mirror, the OSX app Photo Booth inverts the image. Presumably this is because people are so used to seeing their image flipped by a mirror.

Apr. 23 2011 01:13 AM
Luke from Dublin Ireland

I was disappointed with the skip over thalidomide, but I can understand it. We are not all chemists. Would like to point out quinine though, in tonic water. One side gets your heart beating normally, the other side stops malaria!

Apr. 22 2011 02:23 PM
Hannah from WA

I can't find the Lincoln or hair part pictures on here. A little help? I loved this episode. :)

Apr. 22 2011 12:10 PM
Andy from ann arbor from Ann arbor, michigan

I would have liked to have heard more explanation for why proteins are all left-handed, or at least how they got to be that way.

Apr. 21 2011 10:15 PM
Henner from Germany

Hehe, I just made a digital version of the "magic mirror". Go check it out and change your hair part! ;)

Apr. 21 2011 09:55 PM
Yogen Kushi from New York City

I saw true mirrors set up at the Burning Man festival last year, and I and many other people left comments after seeing ourselves "truly" for the first time. Some of the best comments are collected here: It was a very strange and wonderful experience.

Apr. 21 2011 09:53 PM
Henry from Columbus, Ohio

What are the titles of the Zoe Keating tracks in this episode? I also would like to suggest that the titles and artists of the backing tracks for all the episodes be listed on this site, for it is really good music and deserves a place in my library.

Apr. 21 2011 09:19 PM

The Abe Lincoln photo is under the Mirror, Mirror podcast.

Apr. 21 2011 08:03 PM
hardoc from Philly

Adolf Hitler parted his hair on the wrong side too...the world could have been a different place if had had only switch sides

Apr. 21 2011 05:09 PM

Where is the Abe Lincoln Photo?!

Apr. 21 2011 04:52 PM

Does Jad really call Robert "Bobby K"?

Apr. 21 2011 03:44 PM
J. Poole

I love this show, but I must point out the existence of D-glucose, albeit not a protein, but right handed oriented nonetheless, and a fairly important molecule for life. So when scientists "look inside life" and see glucose, its not oriented left.

Apr. 21 2011 03:34 PM
Janey from San Francisco, CA

I attended a live show and eagerly listened to the podcast in the hope of hearing Zoe Keating's remarkable work again. I understand that time constraints prevented its inclusion in the recorded podcast, but I wish I knew the names of the pieces she played in the live performances. I recall the first one was written for her son, and it was lovely, but the second one blew my mind and I would love to know the name of the piece and on which cd it appears.

Apr. 21 2011 12:11 PM

A friend videotaped me talking naturally and when I watched it several times I started to feel better about myself, it improved my self image. I think it overrode my negative self image. Whats up with that?

Apr. 21 2011 11:36 AM

The comments about thalidomide's handedness relating to its toxicity were incorrect:

Apr. 20 2011 10:14 PM
Greg Council from Denver

Great show. Anyone who is interested about chimerism in molecules should read a great article in the December Wired issue.

Apr. 20 2011 10:09 PM
ted from new york

sure is a lot of asymmetry in the comments here :)

Apr. 20 2011 08:12 PM
Eric Lanke from Milwaukee, WI

Dear Radiolab,
Do you believe your audience is made-up of seven-year-olds? Then why do you produce programs like this one that seems sound-designed for their intelligence levels and attention spans? I'm a grown-up and I understand science. Please remember that.

Apr. 20 2011 07:34 PM
Martin from Hamburg


I remember reading that story of the spherical human wholes in Plato's Symposium. In that book, a load of ancient Greeks, Aristophanes among them, hang out together but are too hung-over to get drunk on wine again. They decide that it might be entertaining to have each one tell a story about love instead.

Weird and wonderful.

Apr. 20 2011 03:50 PM

There is a reference at the beginning of the program to a play by Aristophanes, that used this imagery from Plato. Anyone know what play this is?

Apr. 20 2011 01:49 PM
Adam Pracht

Help! What's the music they play after the first segment? I've had it stuck in my head for years and never known the name of it!

Apr. 20 2011 11:55 AM
Olivia O from Berlin, DE

I'm surprised you guys didn't mention the "left gaze bias" and how we unconsciously look at the left side of a persons face to better determine their emotions. Interestingly enough, studies have shown that dogs do the same while looking at humans, an adaptation via domestication.

Apr. 20 2011 09:30 AM
Joel from Seattle

At first I was intrigued by the idea of a hair part playing a role in a person's success, but the evidence is pretty weak. Parting hair from the left could just as easily be a trait shared by right handed people since it is easier to pull hair from left to right rather than push it right to left. Since more people are right handed, you would have plenty of "sucessful" people to choose from that part their hair in that direction. I wonder how many people no one has ever heard of parts their hair left to right...just a thought.

Apr. 20 2011 06:23 AM
Rod from Oakland, CA

I loved the symmetry show. The origin of love - so sad and so beautiful.

"Deny me and be doomed..."

Apr. 20 2011 01:29 AM

I like how Robert added the "lucky wind" part, alluding to the Stochasticity show :)

Apr. 19 2011 09:06 PM


The Lincoln photos are in the "Mirror, Mirror" segment here (click on Lincoln's portrait to flip to his mirror image):

Apr. 19 2011 02:10 PM
Susan C. from West Valley City, UT.

Oh my. I honestly and quite literally LOLd w/ the hair-part part ... And now... I'm investing in a True Mirror.

Apr. 19 2011 01:49 PM
Laura from Provo, UT

While I was listening to this episode at work I came across this website. It seemed too good to be true. This site shows the work of two painters, side-by-side, and how they mirrored each other in near symmetry. Unbelievable.

Check it out:

Apr. 19 2011 12:32 PM

Radiolab is not a science show in the same way This American Life is not public affairs programing. Just look at their mission statement on their About page. Listen to their earliest episodes, they're more ontological inquiries than straight reports on the latest scientific research, more an ethnography on science, or if you will a poetics of science. I agree that some of the theories posited have been specious sometimes outlandish (like that one about the walking rate in cities), but science begins with speculation and truth is as much about the negotiations (ethical, logical, emotional) as the cold hard facts.

Apr. 19 2011 12:24 PM
Andrew Caldwell from Seattle, WA

I attended the Seattle show. I have to concur with HCaruthers--this was not Radiolab's finest hour... and I'm a hardcore fan of the show.

Apr. 19 2011 06:20 AM

It's the origin of love :)

Apr. 19 2011 05:57 AM
Etienne from San Diego

I saw the Symmetry show in L.A. It was amazing!!! You should do more shows in public.
One of the best moments of the show was the video of blind folded people trying to walk straight and ending up walking in circles. That would be great if this video could be available on your website. Thank you very much in advance!

Apr. 19 2011 04:10 AM
HCaruthers from Knoxville, TN

Has TED used up all the science? This episode was softer than a moist towelette and less objectively valid. This was a uniquely cringe-inducing RadioLab, half as good as the second-worst.

Apr. 18 2011 11:24 PM
Lindsey Hall

I enjoyed the music in this episode more than I have in any other episode. I admit that often I have sat restlessly through intermission music, waiting to get back to the topic, but not at all this time. Zoe Keating was fantastic.

Apr. 18 2011 09:23 PM

Where are the pictures of Abe Lincoln and Superman/Clark Kent with hair parts swapped?

Apr. 18 2011 08:56 PM
Alan Wright

George: if you do a Google search for "true mirror," it's the first result.

Apr. 18 2011 10:57 AM
George Atlas

In the "symmetry" episode, a guest who makes "true" mirrors was interviewed. Question: Where can one purchase a "true" mirror? Such would be a novel gift - for one to view his right side to be "on the right" and the opposite for his left would be unique.

Apr. 17 2011 03:51 PM

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