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Train spiral Train spiral (vitroid/flickr/CC-BY-2.0)

Our lives are filled with loops that hurt us, heal us, make us laugh, and, sometimes, leave us wanting more. This hour, Radiolab investigates the strange things that emerge when something happens, then happens again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and… well, again.

In this episode of Radiolab, Jad and Robert try to explain an inexplicable comedy act, listen to a loop that literally dies in your ear, and they learn about a loop that sent a shudder up the collective spine of mathematicians everywhere. Finally, they talk to a woman who got to watch herself think the thought that she was watching herself think the thought that she was watching herself think the thought that ... you get the point.

All that plus mind-bending musical accompaniment from Laguardia Arts High School singers Nathaniel Sabat, Julian Soto, Eli Greenhoe, Kelly Efthimiu, Julia Egan, and Ruby Froom.


William Basinski, Alex Bellos, Kurt Braunohler, Janna Levin, Sean Mackey, M.D., Ph.D., Kristen Schaal, Dr. Craig Smith, Steve Strogatz, Melanie Thernstrom and Jesse Thorn

On Repeat

We begin with a couple of silly people – comedians Kristen Schaal and Kurt Braunohler (of the Hot Tub comedy series) – deciding to do something silly. And at first, it’s very funny. Then they do it again. And again. And again. Until... it’s not really very funny anymore. ...

Comments [34]

Everything and Nothing

Math can get pretty loopy, at least when we try to explain it. But according to author Alex Bellos, the most straightforward mathematical concept might be the loopiest. Then producer Mark Philips introduces us to William Basinski, a composer who loops analog tape to create a unique sort of ...

Comments [18]

(In)completely Loopy

In the late 1800's, mathematicians fantasized about a machine that could answer any math question at all. But Steve Strogatz explains -- by way of Sesame Street and a thought experiment involving a conflicted barber -- that their dreams were dashed by a scrawny little German guy. Then, theoretical ...

Comments [20]

Comments [127]

Veronica from Ottawa, Canada

Could someone point me to a place where I can learn more about the Transient Global Amnesia. I would like to learn about the cause of it and the likelihood that it is going to happen again.
Thank you,

Jul. 17 2017 10:02 AM

To call William Basinski's music "muzak" shows a fundamental lack of understanding or a willful ignorance about the content. Odd moment in an otherwise good episode.

Jan. 23 2017 04:28 PM
Jai Brunner from Mumbai


Jun. 15 2015 06:30 PM
Ruth Klein from Queens, NYC

Amazing! I had an episode of Transient Global Amnesia a few days after my birthday 3 years ago; it was much like described on the program. When my twin came to my rescue, sitting in a small ice cream shop in Chelsea (How did she know to come? The wonderfully caring & helpful young waitress was smart, & asked if I had a cellphone... she called my "ICE" (in case of emergency)contact. Later, I asked my sister how come she was laughing, as I did the "What day is it today? Not the day, the date... we just had a birthday? Did we do anything special?..." loop. Wasn't she concerned that I'd had a stroke? "No," she said. "I knew immediately it wasn't serious... I just knew." A friend who had a similar experience with her mom also "just knew" it wasn't serious. Whenever I recall the incident, I feel happy & wonderfully lucky, just as I felt that day once my sister showed up: I was (am) SO LUCKY to have someone who loved me who could help!

Jun. 13 2015 12:25 PM
Sir Lancelot from Panera with my girlfriend

Very few podcasts leave me questioning reality, but this one hit it home. Specifically the part when they talked about the cassette loops. It reminds me of history and no matter when is around the events the same major plot points will prevail, and the music as a whole will stay the same.

Mar. 30 2015 07:55 PM
basinskiquestion from nyc

Hi, does anyone have insight into what the first Basinski piece they place in the episode is called? Desperate to find it... Thanks so much

Feb. 19 2015 02:53 PM

A great episode, as always!
I chuckled when I hear the song at 48:00. Does anyone know what's it called?

Feb. 17 2015 08:41 AM
Ms. B from San Francisco

The barber is female, or a prepubescent boy. The barber get's electrolysis, takes estrogen, or is of a cultural background that does not grow facial hair.

Nov. 12 2014 04:14 PM

Listened to this on repeat

Oct. 29 2014 07:55 AM
Bela from Wash, DC

In the segment about the woman with a concussion...the religion is Hinduism and someone practicing is a Hindu, not Hindi. Hindi is a language.

Aug. 31 2014 05:28 PM
dave from Cambridge, Ma

Good episode, but how could you forget Hofstadter's concept of consciousness as a strange loop? It would have tied everything up quite nicely.

Aug. 30 2014 04:04 PM
Al from Wis

Am I old because I remember this?

This is the song that never ends,
Yes it goes on and on, my friends,
Some people started singing it, not knowing what it was
And they'll continue singing it forever, just because
This is the song that never ends,
Yes it goes on and on my friends,
Some people started singing it, not knowing what it was
And they'll continue singing it forever, just because
This is the song that never ends,
Yes it goes on and on my friends,
Some people started singing it, not knowing what it was
And they'll continue singing it forever, just because

(repeat forever, apparently)

Aug. 29 2014 01:28 AM
bahfafah from Eugene, Oregon

Two years ago I, too, suffered a head injury with complete memory loss. I never lost consciousness, but my wife tells me my loop--where am I? why am I here? like that--was quite short, 20-30 seconds, and that I looped for 6-8 hours until there were brief moments of lucidity. I came back the next day. My cognitive skills have mostly returned, but there are huge gaps in my memory. But here's the weird: I am an artist. Since my injury I have produced extraordinary work I never would have conceived of before. I have no idea where this came from but I am loving the ride. I would not recommend a massive concussion to stimulate creativity, but that has been the result of mine.

Aug. 28 2014 09:57 PM

Oh man i was in the hospital after a bad car accident, totally conscious for hours although i have no memory of it. my mom and boyfriend were with me, they've told me i was on a couple minute loop as well. "where am i?" "you're in the hospital, you were in a car crash." "how'd i get here?" "they had to airlift you in a helicopter." "i was in a helicoptor??" (same degree of awed shock each time, then sad i couldn't remember it.) "where are my glasses?" "right here." "hope we don't see House walk by heheh, i'll start vomiting blood!" "yup." (they were totally bored by my repeated jokes by the end, lol, but my boyfriend did play with the timing of, "you were in a helicopter!" because sometimes i would be like, "i know you just told me!" but then when the loop reset i would be all "i was in a helicopter??"

I don't actually remember anything until my doctors woke me up in the morning to check my concussion, and they had to repeat the story for me one last time. lol

Dec. 26 2013 12:23 PM

Did I ever tell you the definition of insanity? Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting things to change.

Dec. 14 2012 12:15 PM
Michael from Spokane, WA

I don't know if this has been mentioned before, but I bet Jad and Robert could have had a lot of fun with the John C. Lilly "Cogitate Loop". It's a single word (Cogitate) repeated over and over. It's used in a exercise where you play it for 15 minutes to an hour and see what other words you hear, even though the only word being played is "Cogitate". It's really interesting to do the experiment.

Here's part of the loop, I have yet to find the full version online.

Oct. 14 2012 05:35 PM

During skit night at band camp, I convinced my friend Garret to perform Kristen Schaal and Kurt Braunohler's horse skit with me on stage. I played Kurt's part, and Garret did the horsey dance. We kept it going for four minutes straight, and the audience was in stitches. A girl in the front row nearly hurt herself from laughing so hard. We had a blast.

Sep. 11 2012 11:32 PM
John Smith from Israel

My dad use to tell me this story: “It was a dark and stormy night, the men were sitting in the focasil, when up spoke the first mate saying “Captain, tell us a story”. So the captain began: “It was a dark and stormy night, the men were sitting in the focasil, when up spoke the first mate saying “Captain, tell us a story”. So the captain began: “It was a dark and stormy night…

Aug. 07 2012 02:19 AM

In the opening act of this broadcast, the comedic pattern of the loop "Kristen Shaal is a Horse" is described as moving from amusement to hatred to hilarity. The exact same pattern is described by Al Jean to explain the humor behind the Sideshow Bob "rake gag" in the popular Simpson episode Cape Feare. In the gag, Sideshow Bob steps on nine rakes in a row and the same moan by Kelsey Grammar is repeated each and every time.

Aug. 06 2012 09:25 AM
Holli Lynn from LA

Listening to the segment about the musical loops reminded me of a show I went to in Syracuse New York. A performance by the musician Joe Driscoll. He would record his voice/beat/instrument in short segments, then he would loop the track back to add more and more layers of music. Amazing!!

Jul. 27 2012 04:55 PM
james from New Mexico

The disintegration of the whale (and the loop of life and death)reminded me of Harry Nilsson"s song "Think about your troubles" from his The Point album.

Jul. 08 2012 04:35 PM
Cabin Rentals BC from canada

What you want to share in this blog? I want to know in detail of it? Cabin Rentals BC

Jun. 25 2012 12:59 AM

So much Recursion :) :)

Jun. 08 2012 03:42 PM
Louis S. from AZ

The answer to the barber paradox is to add another barber. Every set, it seems to me, is part of a larger set, that set part of a larger set and so on. Each paradox can be resolved by completing the set and layering under broader sets. Much like a short sequence of numbers that has no disernible pattern until the set of numbers is completed.

May. 22 2012 03:56 PM
marc ventura from california

That horse song is now on my ipod to listen over & over & over & over.

May. 21 2012 07:04 AM

the barber is transgender and Donald Trump has Joe Arpaio arrest them until they can produce a long form birth certificate verified by the President.

May. 20 2012 07:22 PM
Paul from Orem, Utah

Take away: Never die in the ocean.

May. 17 2012 12:55 PM
katie from Georgia

something and nothing and something and nothing and something and nothing! song stuck in my head! wish they'd talk about how songs get stuck in your head!

Apr. 23 2012 02:02 AM
Mike from Torrance, CA

The barber is a woman.

Apr. 15 2012 10:32 PM

Yeah, I was crazy once... they put me in a rubber room, and then I died.
They buried me, and the worms started eating me... and worms just drive me crazy!
Year, I was crazy once... they put me in a rubber room, and then I died.
They buried me, and the worms started eating me... and worms just drive me crazy!
Year, I was crazy once...

Mar. 17 2012 10:55 AM

Listening to the Kristen Schaal/ Kurt Braunohler segment of the 'Loops' podcast as I was driving along the highway, I thought I was beginning to hallucinate (from laughter possibly) and pulled off the road to listen to the end. How utterly strange that a loop could put one in such a mesmerized state.
At the end of the podcast, tho, I was still vaguely disappointed that, following the story about Mary Sue Campbell, the cognitive basis for loops was left unexamined. Is this 'looping effect' which Dr Viahos describes as happening to everyone. Is this an evolutionary leftover of our psyche looking for anomaly in the environment as a survival tactic?

Mar. 05 2012 10:21 PM
Marcus from Palm Beach Gardens, Fl

Interesting connection to the memory loop discussed in this episode.

Feb. 28 2012 11:16 AM

On the barber conundrum- surely there's an obvious solution - the barber is a woman and doesn't need to shave!

Feb. 19 2012 02:06 PM
Kat Johnson

LOVE THIS PODCAST! I am working on themes of repetition for my MFA thesis, and would love to cite from this podcast. Is there any way you could post the transcript? Would be much appreciated! Thanks!

Jan. 29 2012 01:57 PM
Dan Lehman from Philadelphia, PA

@Chris Walker from Texas; I too was completely blown away by the ethereal sounds in the tape loops. For the past week and a half, the one with brass instruments has been in the back of my head, but I love that I keep hearing it. Probably will have to buy the album

Jan. 14 2012 07:34 PM
Peebles Wiggins

There was this one talk show on which Jason (the 'killer') was featured. Now, naturally, he didn't talk, so the entire 'talk' show was him being silent while the host asked him questions. He was silent the entire time and the audience was in hysterics by the end of the show. It was odd, but this podcast explains it.

Jan. 08 2012 07:06 PM

They tend to overdramitize things. The disappearing tape segment being a prime example. So what???

And that gay sounding guy is incredibly annoying.

Dec. 29 2011 10:53 PM
Anna from Anchorage, AK

The looping music reminded me of this little plaything: Pulsate from aM laboratory. Create circles that bounce against each other:

Dec. 17 2011 04:08 PM
Saurabh Gupta from Boston, MA

The religion is Hindu (Hinduism), people speak Hindi.

Dec. 15 2011 01:45 PM
Kyle Somerville

This is cool. But its annoying as hell how they constantly complete each other sentences.

Dec. 06 2011 04:25 PM

Great show as always but how can you do a show on loops and mathematics without mentioning fractals?!? I find them fascinating and I'm heartbroken that they didn't make their way into this episode.

Dec. 04 2011 07:32 PM
will from athens

this episode was excellent. hey here's a tape loop by me !

Dec. 01 2011 02:00 PM

B.Russell's paradox is also illustrated in the following manner: you have a series of books about various aspects of a topic.Then there are other sets of books about other topics. The set is the topic of which these volumes are members of. Then there is the book which is the catalogue of these volumes. Which set holds the catalogue book? Or does the catalogue have a separate set of its own? Is it not related to all the other volumes? Where do we collocate it?

Nov. 29 2011 10:06 AM
Lady filosopher from Dover, Kent, UK

Rituals: not a symbol, but what happens within the repeated form. Inga Britt-Krauss talks about the freedom to emote within a ritual, but that could also be the freedom to NOT feel typical feelings during an experience. This last idea is novel to me during the preparation of a Research proposal on rituals. The only relief a an OCD sufferer (obessive compulsive disorder) seems to get is the very moment of their "rituals". Could that be why these ritualistic gestures escalate?

Nov. 29 2011 09:34 AM
Carl Tappe

Ref: Whale Fall

From hag fish to bacteria that feed off the sulfur in whale bones, I had the spooky image of life crawling over planet earth slowly, inexorably, consuming it to the last morsel.

As an aside, John Romer in his book "Testament" writes that Rabbi Akiva "...was executed by the Romans who combed the skin from his body with 'combs of iron'"!!

By the way, I really like your new pod-cast layout.

Nov. 20 2011 10:49 AM
Wm. Heffner from New York

I listened to this episode and enjoyed it very much. I've worked in technical documentation of one sort or another for years and wanted to pass along that every now and then, if you check an index, you will see the following entries:

Loop, Endless ... see Endless Loop
Endless Loop ... see Loop, Endless.

Thanks for an enjoyable show.

Nov. 14 2011 04:55 PM

My Dad taught me this little loopy story (I don't know where he heard it from):


Feeling a bit weary, I stopped in at a wayside pub and ordered a glass of ale.
"Ale?" says he
"Ale," says I
"And what is your name," says he
"Zanzibar, z-a-n-z-i-b-a-r," says I

"Ah HA! Then you have just killed my brother. We shall meet at dawn at the village gates."

I, being the chosen one, was given the choice of weapons. With one thrust of my trusty steel, he fell into the arms of his others.

Then... feeling a bit weary, I stopped in at a wayside pub and ordered a glass of Ale.

"Ale?" says he
"Ale," says I
"and what is your name?" says he
"Zanzibar, z-a....
and from here it just keeps looping and looping.

Nov. 13 2011 08:52 AM
Olivia Meikle from Beijing, China

My Father had Transient Global Amnesia for about 24 hours 15 years ago. He did keep asking the same questions, to the point where my mom made a sign for the wall saying "You have not had a stroke, we don't know what's happening, the kids are with Livi . . ." However, there was one major difference --every time someone explained what was happening, he made a joke, but each time it was a different joke! He NEVER repeated a joke, which is how my mom said she knew he would be okay. Some part of his brain wouldn't let him make the same joke. I don't know what that means about him.

Nov. 07 2011 10:29 PM

My brain has been on a loop since the beginning of this episode. "Kristin Shaw is a horse. Kristin Shaw is a horse. Kristin Shaw is a horse..."

Nov. 07 2011 06:30 PM
oddjob from Maynard, MA

Two perhaps relavant(?) items:
(and elsewhere...)
A Mark Twain tale of a rhyme stuck in
the mind...

and, on the international links, from the OTHER ABC:

(Radio Lab makes it to ABC, in occaision...)


Nov. 07 2011 07:51 AM
Chris Walker from Dallas, TX

Just listened to the "Loops" episode today & the segment about William Basinski's analog tapes had me crying & chocked up for about ten minutes. The musical loops were so beautiful sounding & the way they were falling apart was incredible. It was completely crazy! I just sat in my car listening to this musical disintigration and it was just so powerful.

Nov. 04 2011 04:37 PM
Matt Aukamp from West Chester, PA

I don't understand how if the woman with temporary amnesia is unable to make new memories, she can remember that she's having temporary amnesia the whole time?

She never seems to question why she's in a hospital and goes so far as to start exploring the extent of her memory and commenting on it ("This is so WEIRD!") but if she's missing her memory, shouldn't she just be saying "Why am I in a hospital?" or "Where am I? How did I get here?" or "When am I going to see the doctor?" or something?

Is it just that the human brain is smart enough to piece together "I'm confused and don't remember anything" and "I'm in a hospital" into "I must have amnesia and everyone around must already be aware of this." ?

Nov. 04 2011 03:37 PM
Jim H

As for the coffee shop loop, it was a story about Improv Everwhere. I can't find the original story, but here's their link to the event:

Nov. 03 2011 01:54 PM
Nary from a continent


The Barber's Paradox is a dumbed-down explanation that reporters use when they don't want to scare away their audience by making them think. It's like explaning gravity with a bowling ball and a trampoline - it gets the general idea across as long as you don't think too hard about it.

The Barber's Paradox is not what sent mathematicians' heads spinning. If you want to know the real story, look up "Goedel Incompleteness Theorem" on wikipedia.

Nov. 03 2011 11:05 AM

On the Barber's Paradox: - this is not a paradox of self referencing loops but a rhetorical language trick. “The barber shaves only those men in town who do not shave themselves” effectively tricks you into thinking that “barber” is the opposite of a person who does not shave themselves, when in fact it is in another category (barber or not barber) that is independent of the self-shaver category. The statement is effectively nonsense and misleading, and it belongs more in the realm of rhetorical tricks of persuasion, than in the realm of logic, mathematics and set theory. To use such an obvious misuse of language to poke holes in something as fundamentally simple as set theory is quite simply astonishing to me. I cannot understand why this paradox has been held up to scrutiny as long as it has.

Nov. 03 2011 03:16 AM
Bruce from Bloomington, Indiana

Aaarrgghh. Steve Strogatz got it wrong. Goedel didn't show that statement's like Goldbach's might be "neither true or false". Of *course* Goldbach's statement is either true or false. Either every even number can be written as the sum of two primes, or there's a counterexample. Period. What Goedel *did* show was that statement's like Goldbach's might be true, but not provable within the framework of mathematics/logic. *That* is what "undecidable" means. Not every mathematical truth has a mathematical proof. It's kind of like "not every rational number has a rational square root." Not that hard to understand, once you get used to it.

How wonderful that Goedel's amazing work would come to the attention of Radiolab's large popular audience. How disappointing that---as too often happens with mathematics---that it would be mis-characterized.

Nov. 01 2011 12:14 PM
Ed from Canberra

On the whale fall topic, there is an interesting bit of science indicating that traces of one of the species of worms mentioned in this story have been found in fossils.

See for example reporting at

The article itself is available online at

Oct. 31 2011 07:14 AM

I was reminded of The Infernal Loop while listening to this piece.

Oct. 26 2011 09:55 PM
Mike from Chicago, IL

I can't tell you what a happy surprise it was to hear William Basinski being interviewed. (I just started the episode without taking a closer look at what/who would be on it.) I've been listening to his Disintegration Loops over and over for a couple of years now, and I plan on buying everything of his that's buyable. Great, great stuff. Thanks, Radiolab.

Oct. 26 2011 06:07 PM

I was justy listening to the beginning of Loops and I almost turned it off. Then I waited a monent and remembered, oh that's just radiolab. terrific.still.

Oct. 26 2011 04:09 PM

What an excellent blend of science, humanity and entertainment. I think you have finally got the formula perfected. Well done

Oct. 26 2011 11:31 AM
Nate White from Chicago

Amazing program, but whoever is obsessed with a capella (I suspect it's Robert) needs to understand that a capella is the most annoying musical style known to man.

Oct. 25 2011 05:40 PM
Elliott from Santa Barbara, CA

this should definitely be expanded into a second part. producers and researchers should look into frequency and grammatical change (Bybee 2003 Mechanisms of change in grammaticization: The role of frequency) since that would make a wonderful linguistic/scientific piece on how frequent usage of words in constructions become "degraded" over time like basinskis loops, but ultimately become useful grammatical particles in language.

i was also surprised that the basinski piece didnt include the 9/11 part. i think that's the most poetic and important aspect of the Disintegration Loops series.

Oct. 23 2011 04:40 PM
Dan from ukraine

For those fiddling with the "barber" paradox, it is not a paradox, because the barber doesn't have to exist. All the barber paradox is, is a simple story version of Russell's real paradox which is expressed it abstract logical notation, and is devoid of any visual images or reference points. Russell's actual paradox has the advantage of really existing, because it exists in the realm of artificial language, set theory and logic. However, if one does not fiddle with the example then the barber serves as a great proxy for the actual paradox. A similar paradox, in that it involves self referential loops, but does not involve a supposed barber is the "heterological" paradox. Heterological is a word that means a word which does not describe itself. Blue is an example of a heterological word, because it is not blue, monosyllabic is another. Words that aren't heterological include, pentasyllabic, polysyllabic, and English. The paradox arises when you ask "is heterological, heterological?" This paradox creates roughly the problem for english as Russel's does for math. Sorry for the rough unrefined presentation.

Oct. 22 2011 06:13 PM
Una from Canada

Great show! I wrote a story once called "Story of Nothing" and it was so much fun that I desited animating it. Here is the result:

Oct. 22 2011 03:02 PM
Nathan McKee from Northern Ireland

Anyone know what that song was at the end of Whale Fall?

Oct. 21 2011 09:23 AM
Ted Froberg from Largo, Florida

Russell's barbers paradox is not really a paradox because it mentions only one set, those who don't shave themselves. And Russell states that the barber shaves all members of that set. However, there is another set not mentioned, the set of those who DO shave themselves. And of course the barber can shave only one member of that set: himself. The paradox arrises only when we assume that the barber shaves no members of the second set. But Russell never states that.

I think at least one other listener also came up with the female barber solution.

Oct. 19 2011 04:23 PM
Aaron from Phoenix

Cool episode! I was surprised that nobody mentioned computer science and programming.

Loops are one of the most basic building blocks in computer science!

Oct. 19 2011 01:22 AM

The first segment reminded me of something only one comedian has done: George Carlin was on "The Chuck Barris Rah-Rah Show", and he came out and stood there looking at the audience. They began to chuckle. He stood. They began to laugh. It would get quieter, then louder. He went 3 minutes like that, and said, "Thank you!" and left. I saw it. It took a lot of nerve, and an understanding of audiences.

Oct. 18 2011 10:33 PM

For best results, listen to this podcast over and over again.

Oct. 18 2011 08:11 PM
Winfred Hawkins from Montgomery, Al

The barber goes to the next town...of which he is not the barber.

Oct. 18 2011 04:24 PM
Laurie Williamson from Dallas, TX

Woohoo, new episode! :D

Oct. 18 2011 03:56 PM

My first thought after hearing the Godels story was to apply it to creationism. Does this give credence to the theory? Any thoughts? Anyone?

Great show.

Oct. 18 2011 01:07 PM

"Finally, they talk to a woman who got to watch herself think the thought that she was watching herself think the thought that she was watching herself think the thought that ... you get the point."

typical meditation technique to have one observe his/her mind...too bad she couldn't sustain it without visual stimulation. i wonder if she could explore meditation techniques that help coping with chronic pain such as MBSR, which has a secular approach.

Oct. 18 2011 09:06 AM
Aaron Murphy from Berkeley, CA

I love the loop music.
Would you post some of that to listen/download?

Oct. 17 2011 06:55 PM
Michael Bishop from Northampton, MA

Love this episode. When I was a kid, I was fascinated by the phrase: "Where is my underwear?" When I would say it, I would get to the end of the sentence and then realize just when I thought I had gotten off the track (with the word "wear") that I was now back at the beginning (with the word "where"). Through my day I'd be thinking about this and mumbling to myself...

Where is my underwear is my underwear is my underwear is my underwear is my underwear.....

Oct. 17 2011 12:56 PM
Rodrigo Teixeira from Rio de Janeiro

Scientific American Mind had this article about how depression is an evolutionary trait that we don't get rid of. It said that you lose your appetite and seek isolation because you want to save your cognitive ability in order to figure out (ruminate) whatever went wrong. That people such as Isaac Newton didn't socialize well but...
So i'm always skeptical with happy people and every time i'm feeling blue I get happy with the prospect of geniality.
Oh Nelle, cool video.

Oct. 16 2011 11:15 PM

I thought folks who enjoyed this hour may be interested in a wicked neat art video I just found the other day: "Whale Fall (after life of a whale)" by Sharon Shattuck

Credit to for pointing me to it :)

Another great ep everyone!!

Oct. 15 2011 10:10 PM
Ted Pavlic from Columbus, OH

Coincidentally, a news article came across the popular media today on transient global amnesia (TGA). In this case, it wasn't caused by a bang on the head, exactly...

Oct. 14 2011 02:59 PM
Kenny from Oregon

Brandon: As a mathematician, I shall try to do my best to respond to your question without taking too much affront as to your dismissal of my entire discipline. So, to do my best to give a practical example, there is something mathematicians have been trying to solve for hundreds of years called the Riemann Hypothesis. It turns out that nowadays this is no longer a purely mathematical exercise, as many of our encryption techniques rely on not being able to factor products of large primes very quickly, and apparently whether or not Riemann's is true affects whether we can factor these numbers quickly. So, much of our encryption is based on our guess that Riemann's hypothesis has a certain truth value, but until we prove whether or not it has this value, we cannot be sure that our algorithms are actually as secure as we think they are. Then Incompleteness comes in because we now know that there are things that are true that we cannot prove to be true, since Riemann's has been around for so frustratingly long, it is not uncommon to wonder if it happens to be one of those statements which cannot be proved either way.

Anyway, all that math is is proving things. The insane mathematician would be the one thinking something had to be true without a proof. You are right, it is about as abstract as the angel on a pin head problem, but the physicists and engineers seem to appreciate it for some silly reason more for some silly reason. Finally, yes, new math is often so complicated that perhaps ten mathematicians will be able to understand the proof completely (if that), but to describe them as rich would require a fairly loose definition of the word.

Oct. 14 2011 01:45 AM

precisely why aren't Russel's paradox and Godel's incompleteness theorem just, "a simple logical trick"?

I've listened to lectures, read GEB, I'm fully aware that theory precedes application by a long time. Still don't get it. Still seems like only someone insane needs math to be provable, and it CERTAINLY seems like those internally consistent theories only make sense to the one rich guy who made them.

A thing of the past, in other words. A relic of the bad old days of european 'angels on the head of pin' thinking.

Oct. 13 2011 10:03 PM

Regarding the tape loops...I was surprised there wasn't more on the why, although it was more of a poetic interlude than a scientific one, I suppose. But I thought the disappearance might have to do with the "sound" on the tape...the louder the note, the more particles? That's why the ends disappeared faster...there was less information to stick around so it degraded faster? I don't know how the physics of all that works, but was interested in learning more.

Also: I just have to comment on Jad's pronunciation of Gödle through the the tapes, it slowly degraded every time he pronounced it. It started as "girdle" and worked it's way down to "goodle" by the end. I thought it was hilarious.

Oct. 13 2011 03:29 PM
Joel from New Mexico

Gottlieb vs. Gottlob:

Regarding a very small aside in the "Loops" episode (terrific as usual): there was some confusion expressed about the fact that a cited mathematician had the possibly-errant name "Gottlob." Not so odd, really. Gottlieb is a fairly common German-language name that can be understood to mean simply "God's love" or "love of God." I believe it asserts that the name's bearer loves God. Gottlob, which sounds similar (and is) looks at first like a variant, perhaps just a phonetic change that occurred over time and amid cultural/linguistic flux. But it actually has its own meaning: "God's praise" or "praise of God." I found it interesting, when first visiting Germany that, while I tended to translate people's names, most Germans I knew tended to think of names merely as phonetic signifiers of specific people. Putting the shoe on the other foot, I recognize now that I tend to do the same in English, and ignore the fact that, in nearly all cultures, ours included, names originate as descriptors of people -- professions, aspirations, statements of belief, etc. On top of the fairly interesting-to-muse-on qualities of this idea, it's a captivating side matter that a mathematician who was trying to comprehend order via mathematics bore the name, surely inherited from a time long before his own proclivities would manifest themselves in mathematical inquiry, that signifies spiritual acceptance and admiration for one of the culturally dominant concepts of universal order. Just a thought.

Oct. 12 2011 12:52 PM
shadowrunner042 from MA

Shawn from Utah - Radiolab is great, I listen to it at work - Can't believe that I've asked so many peps this ? and have looked and looked....45 min & I find it. Thank You So Much !

Oct. 12 2011 12:31 PM
Shawn From Utah from Providence, Utah

Shadowrunner042: that was one of Improv Everywhere's earliest "missions." It took place back in 2003 in a Starbucks in NYC, where IE started. It was also the first looping event I thought of as this episode unfolded, and would've been a great addition to the loop discussion!

Oct. 12 2011 12:01 PM
shadowrunner042 from Wormtown (Worcester)MA

I remember listening to an NPR radio program years ago and it was about a 'time loop' in a coffee shop. The same set of events would happen every 10-15 min and they would watch to see if anyone would noitice. Think it was in Seattle. Anybody out there that gan give more (been trying to find for a while). ty
Great episode!

Oct. 12 2011 11:14 AM

@Ben the song is "I Saw The Bright Shinies" by Octopus Project.

You can see the official video here:

They are from Austin and I love them.

Oct. 12 2011 09:45 AM
Julie from Minneapolis

Kristen Schaal is a horse! :D

Oct. 12 2011 07:35 AM
Ben from OKC

Anyone know what the song is that starts at about 36:50? It's so good, and I can't find it on Shazam! I feel like a broken record player, but it would be really cool if they documented the music they use on the show.

Oct. 11 2011 10:27 PM
Ben from OKC

Anyone know what the song is that starts at about 36:50? It's so good, and I can't find it on Shazam! I feel like a broken record player, but it would be really cool if they documented the music they use on the show.

Oct. 11 2011 10:26 PM
Dread Pirate Clinton from Montreal

RE: Transient global amnesia loop

If I had transient global amnesia and chose to answer a question with a deliberately random response of my creation, would I always choose the same response?

I'm not at all happy with this sudden understanding that I'm less a living creature and more an animate object, acting predictably with such exactness as to prove I have no more free will than a table of billiard balls.

Oct. 11 2011 07:13 PM

In regards to the clip about math being at the core of everything and nothing can be proven true or false, could you say "We can not know if anything is true."? Which I guess negates itself. Unless it's written as "We can not know if anything is true, except this statement."

hmmm sounds like on the order of a quote from Socrates...

Oct. 11 2011 06:21 PM

I really enjoyed the article about pain control.
Having been in sports I learned to mentally relax pain away. All that's needed is to be left alone, relax the mind and relax the body. The sooner the better. Zen Buddhism can also help, considerably.
A word of caution- this can be taken to the point where you need medical attention but because the pain is diminished you don't seek need help!

Oct. 11 2011 07:27 AM
TGA kid from NYC

Aha! TGA, yes. I know TWO men who have experienced TGA. My father and my friend's father just a year or so bizarre! If you decide to look further into this, I know quite a few people who can discuss their experiences...

Oct. 10 2011 06:55 PM
Jonathan Abramsohn from Montreal

Awesome show, but I was so disappointed that the Loop-Master General himself, Douglas Hofstadter, wasn't even mentioned! And it came so close with the Gödel story, too... :)

Oct. 10 2011 06:04 PM
Mikhail from Minneapolis

I got to see the same type of amnesia as described in the the first segment when an ex girlfriend hit her head while skiing. Thankfully it only lasted one day.

Every two minutes we had to explain to her how she got to the hospital. We started with the truth, that she fell on the bunny hill and hit her head on ice, and when we got bored of that we started making up crazier and crazier stories including black diamonds and helicopter rescues.

A crazy experience, that like the doctor made me question the existence of free will. She would respond exactly the same way to the same prompts, including telling the same joke over and over. Like a computer program that given identical input spits out identical output.

Oct. 10 2011 12:46 PM

The segment on musical loops degrading reminded me of telomere degradation.

Oct. 10 2011 12:07 PM
7.830hz from Yukon

Can anyone tell me that name of the song that was played in the background during the segment about the mathematicians? Thanks

Oct. 10 2011 12:48 AM
kathy from St. Paul MN

The article on the two comedians' repetitive song/dance skit reminds me of a Scientology drill/session, where a "counselor" repeats the same question over and over, and the "patient" gives an answer back each time. This often goes on for hours, and besides the "counselor" getting very bored, the "patient" goes through every emotion in the book. All part of brain-washing...

Oct. 09 2011 03:49 PM
Greg Jackson from North Platte, NE

RE:Chua circuits ( gothamxi from Xi'an, China )
The Chua Circuit is the simplest electronic circuit exhibiting chaos.
What I see from a quick overview of chaos here is....order?
The feedback and looping creates a "fractal" effect that is continous rather than an ever diminishing pattern. So, does order come from chaos? Or is it time to stop posting and take a nap?
Off topic note:
It wasnt untill I saw equations for higher math modeled in a visual form, did I begin to understand and accel in this area. Well, at least to pass my calculus courses.

Oct. 09 2011 01:45 AM
Greg Jackson from North Platte, NE

Re: Hagfish
"the only living animals that have a skull but not a vertebral column. An adult hagfish can secrete enough slime to turn a 5 gallon bucket of water into slime in a matter of minutes. Their slime-producing capabilities have led members of the scientific community to dub the hagfish as the most "disgusting" of all sea creatures"

Oct. 09 2011 12:14 AM
jesi from Portland

Kinda wish there had been a tie-in with the Radio Lab from a couple weeks about out of body experiences. Specifically the test pilots who would experience tunnels of light and transcendental experiences as oxygen depletion set in on the brain. The brain, taking in the little bit of input it's still getting and still trying to paint a full picture, often repetition sets in... All of this reminded me of experiences people report while under the influence of laughing gas. As the brain's function is altered, people often get caught in timing loops, reporting visual and auditory loops that rise in frequency... the brain working to make sense of it, interprets the input as tunnels of light, sounds fold back in on the person's inner dialog, creating a feedback loop. Or so I've read.

I wonder if this could be used as a tool for the woman in the story who was in pain. If she wouldn't need a big fancy machine to find relief and maybe find her inner feedback loop (whatever that means?)...
Of course, consult local laws and ask your dentist.

Oct. 08 2011 06:24 PM

Just want to say that 'loops' was fantastic. Diverse, entertaining, hugely informative and brilliantly put together. This is the first Radiolab audio I've listened to and I'm amazed by how good it is. Great job and thanks.

Oct. 08 2011 06:42 AM
Priscilla from Atlanta, GA

Sarah- there is a fascinating study on Toddlers looping through activities or TV shows in the book The Tipping Point. It is very intersting and insightful! I highly recomment you checking that out, it's helped me to understand my 2 year old nephew's behavior a whole lot more.

Oct. 07 2011 04:44 PM
dean from atlanta

Re: Barber Paradox
Just because the Barber shaves everyone who doesn't shave himself, does not mean that the Barber cannot shave himself. While yes the Barber can shave everyone else in town it is not an exclusive statement, meaning it does not preclude the Barber from shaving himself. The Barber may still give haircuts, jump out of an airplane or wear clown shoes because the statement does not exclude such things.

Oct. 07 2011 01:59 PM
Steff Rahaim from Chicago, IL

Someone should interview Ed Miliband about loops, he seems to be stuck in one:

Oct. 07 2011 11:57 AM

I'm curious if anyone has every studied loops in toddlers. I often watch my 20 month old daughter repeat the same activity over and over and over. I assume the repetition is meant to teach her. Great show!

Oct. 07 2011 11:34 AM
Bri322 from Pittsburgh

That whale fall deal is the neatest thing I've learned about for a long time. 8) Thanks.

Oct. 07 2011 11:10 AM
Chris from Portland, Maine

Regarding the "Barber Paradox" - the barber is a woman. Solved.

Are you passing out cookies for solving these?

Love the show!


Oct. 07 2011 09:43 AM
M Bontempo from Austin, TX

I was stuffing envelopes all day at my not for profit arts organization (big bummer) and passed the time by listening to the most recent RADIOLAB podcast. I was so thrilled with the programming this week! the interesting and insightful programming and contributors really reminded me of my senior year of college wherein I undertook a 20 week long study of pain whilst other friends of mine investigated the mobius strip, set theory, abnormal psych, and amassed a full scale installation surrounding the notion of ghost and casette tape loops. Thanks RADIOLAB for the wonderful trip down memory lane, and for making those painstaking, estoteric academic pursuits seem relevant and exciting!!

Oct. 07 2011 12:56 AM

hey, i like what you guys did with the singers on this episode. the way they kind of mimic the story but in song format, it reminds me of a piece i heard a couple months ago...

Oct. 06 2011 07:29 PM
Lee Strenge from Oregon

Re:Loops "This statement is a lie" from a liar.

Why is it that you think the liar is addressing "This statement" He might be lying about what he's addressing. Paradox solved. Can I have a cookie?

Love the show,
Lee S.

Oct. 06 2011 06:28 PM
Damon from San Francisco, CA

I felt certain, when this started, what with Jad's musical composition background, we were gonna hear a segment on Oct. 06 2011 05:25 PM


Have you seen nyan cat? A silly loop sweeping the kids scene. The You Tube clip has over 40million views! It's funny for no reason other than it just keeps going.

Oct. 06 2011 03:15 PM
K from Chicago, IL

Laughing out work. The horse song?!?/ dance comedians were surprisingly hilarious!

Oct. 06 2011 12:36 PM
gothamxi from Xi'an, China

Oh, you could take this so far! I love loops. I'm sure Jad or someone was reading I Am A Strange Loop and came up with this episode.

Guys! You need to check out Chua circuits! They are the loopiest things around! They are circuits that feedback on themselves and are truly chaotic. or

Oct. 06 2011 09:46 AM

why no slider

Oct. 06 2011 08:55 AM
Michael from Switzerland

Another great loop story, if not already widely known:
Composer Gavin Bryars' discovery of a tape with a bum on it singing "Jesus blood never failed me". He was so hypnotized by this that he composed a ~40Minutes around this loop.
You can read more about it here:

Oct. 06 2011 01:34 AM
Dave Kliman from New York

aw, it looks like you didn't include the euthanasia roller coaster, with its loops of death.

Oct. 05 2011 07:15 PM
AndSoIPonder from College Station


In Talking to machines a guy argues that we are not that different from computer programs, that we are just extremely complex, if we had the capability programming a robot to that complexity it would basically be a life form of its own...

Here this doctor examining the woman who is in a loop inside her brain, explains how she is receiving the same input and so she reacts the same way over and over again almost as if she had no will.... doesn't this support the complex program theory? Idk if that's an actual theory or not.... but if it isn't it should be.... It needs to be studied further.

Oct. 05 2011 05:01 PM
Christine Campbell from San Francisco, CA

So great to hear the final cut! Thank you, Jad and Robert for letting us be a part of the show. My mom and I took a lot from the experience. Your questions allowed us to be much more introspective about the experience than we had been pre-interview. For anyone looking to see the video I recorded the day of the "incident", it's right here:

Oct. 05 2011 02:43 PM
Dan from Boston

@ Rex: i'm gonna be "that guy" and say "House has been doing the same episode over and over again since the beginning." Booossshhhh!

seriously though, great episode. however, i'd love to hear another "visceral" episode like "parasites" or "famous tumors" because i'm a 12 year old who loves getting grossed out while learning about things.

or since we're getting close to Halloween, how about an episode about fear?

Oct. 05 2011 02:25 PM

Another sublime episode. It reminded me of the Erik Satie piece VEXATIONS which sounds like the score to an Ingmar Bergman film, but is a short piece meant to be played 840 times without stop, purportedly inducing in the player a dissociative fugue state.

Oct. 05 2011 02:11 PM
Rex from Mex

Radio Lab just gave House a new episode.

Oct. 05 2011 12:55 PM

Almost perfect timing with the chemistry Nobel Prize winner being announced. In his discovery with the quasicrystals, he found a pattern in the atoms that never repeats itself, and goes on infinitely.

Oct. 05 2011 11:41 AM
Alexander from NYC

Regarding the segment about the musical loops from the degrading analog tapes... I wonder if those loops that got shorter and shorter were simply a function of the fact that analog tape is spooled. Imagine the spooled tape is resting on a table and you took out a marker and drew one single radius from the center of the spool out to the outermost loop of tape. Now imagine that the tape degraded as was described in the story except at the exact spots where that radius was drawn it degraded a bit slower. The effect discussed in this episode seems to be a function of the spooling of the tape.

Just a thought.

Oct. 05 2011 09:22 AM

Interview Max Goldberg, the creator of, or "You're The Man Now Dog"

This is a man who understands loops.

Oct. 05 2011 04:01 AM

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