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Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - 05:00 PM

17-Year Periodical Cicada - Brood XIII (Magicicada sp.) 17-Year Periodical Cicada - Brood XIII (Magicicada sp.) (Jason Sturner 72/flickr/CC-BY-2.0)

This spring, parts of the East Coast will turn squishy and crunchy -- the return of the 17-year cicadas means surfaces in certain locations (in patches from VA to CT) will once again be coated in bugs buzzing at 7 kilohertz. In their honor, we're rebroadcasting one of our favorite episodes: Emergence.

In this classic hour, we take a look at the bottom-up logic of cities, Google, and even our very own brains... with fire-flyologists, ant experts, neurologists, a mathematician, and an economist.

We'll be back next week with a brand-new hour. In the meantime, enjoy Emergence, and consider rolling up your sleeves for some DIY bug science: help us track the return of the Magicicada Brood II.


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Comments [34]

Anthony Diaz from Minnesota

There's some lovely classical music right at the beginning of this single violin or single cello that really would like to know what it was does anybody know or can you tell me

Jan. 07 2018 03:11 AM
Laura Frizelle from Eagle River, Alaska

I am an Eastern Orthodox Christian and I live in Alaska. I love this program and want to add a perspective to the subject of God. You quoted the book of Genesis where God said "Let there be light" and referred to him as "the boss". Read a little further in Genesis and God says, "Let Us create man in our image." This is the first and most mysterious revelation of God as the Trinity. Christians believe that God is a collective. Three unique persons Father, Son and Holy Spirit united in love. We also believe that we were made to be like Him and part of that collective. A mysterious communion. We are members of his body. Each person is unique and plays an important part, using our free will and respecting each other's personhood, yet we live best when we share and are united in love. I see no contradiction between Creation and Science. Eastern Orthodoxy has less cultural residue from western history when it comes to the question of who is God? And what is God like? We are comfortable knowing that God is a deep mystery, like the science of emergence is. Thank you for your beautiful program. "Beauty will save the world." Dostoyevsky

Nov. 22 2014 07:51 PM
Kristyn from Saint Louis, MO

As of today, October 17th 2014, Steven Johnson is the number 3 Steven on Google. He is behind two Steve Madden Shoes links, but two links above Alice Cooper (who's actual name is Steven).

Oct. 17 2014 01:24 PM

Shout out to the amazing lightning bugs of East TN in the Smoky Mountains, who also synchronize! Time for an update to this episode!

Jul. 24 2014 10:17 AM

just heard this episode.... by far one of my favorites. i hope to hear more like these in the future.

Feb. 24 2014 12:00 PM
Edward from Miami

This is a really stunning piece of radio. If you listen to this and really get what it's saying, it will change the way you think about society, elections, political parties and yourself. We can't understand ourselves without understanding the network effects.

Jan. 23 2014 09:54 PM
Alicia from Tulsa, OK

You guys might enjoy how this story entertwines with mine :) This is the first RadioLab podcast I ever heard, driving home on a warm summer afternoon years ago. The image of the fireflies blinking in unison down that river, and the memory of those magical little soundbytes -- I had it stuck in my head for 2 years! I had missed the beginning of the show, and I didn't catch your name, so I tried periodically to google "npr" with "fireflies", hoping our paths would cross again. Then, on a similar summer day, one of my random searches found RadioLab and I listened to two or three episodes a day for weeks. HOOKED. And this was the enchanting episode that put the magic in motion. Love at first sight, lost and found again!

May. 28 2013 10:19 AM
Alda from Chicago

Cool episode, but ..... I thought this was going to be about cicadas!?!?! Listened to the program twice...did we miss it?!

May. 19 2013 11:04 AM
Remus from California

What a great podcast but confusing at times!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

May. 12 2013 01:09 AM
jim from LA

I have seen somebody had already mentioned Buda. I think that Chinese has long been thinking of this problem and they have come with many methods to control your perceptions and consciousness (such as Zen). But the problem is that they could not quantumfy or articulate this into a Western style scientific way. They can show you how would you do it but not why....

May. 02 2013 01:18 PM
jim from LA

I have seen somebody had already mentioned Buda. I think that Chinese has long been thinking of this problem and they have come with many methods to control your perceptions and consciousness (such as Zen). But the problem is that they could not quantumfy or articulate this into a Western style scientific way. They can show you how would you do it but not why....

May. 02 2013 01:18 PM

This is the first full episode of radiolab I've ever listened to. Stunning piece of work. OK, I guess I now have to include you guys in my podcast rotation. Looking forward to many more hours of insights and stories.

Apr. 21 2013 08:24 AM
Jared from Vancouver

I'm all for re-broadcast, but what did this have to do with cicadas? They don't have the complexity of groups of ants or bees. The only thing I can think is that they literally EMERGE. Wasn't there a program or a short that talked about the very emergence of cicadas before? I can't remember.

Apr. 12 2013 05:06 PM
Gaurav from Foster City, CA

I love this show. Just thinking about how individually the ants are stupid but when you look at the colony they do amazing things. And now this -

Where does earthquake awareness fit in? Are we saying that somehow individual sensors which don't mean anything in and of themselves, somehow result in the earthquake alarm at the society level?

Apr. 12 2013 03:06 PM
Joe from Ann Arbor

There's a lot of really neat stuff in this show but it's really frustrating how they pitch things to a not so high common denominator. Robert asking where the rule is could have gone somewhere but then they just went into mystical territory. Our predisposition to see patterns and need to analogize everything to "simple" and familiar objects of everyday experience, like an author, is half the story. Instead they squander so much potential and, much like the media that uncritically give equal time to two sides to create an illusion of objectivity, push a faux-philosophical mysticism. It was maddening how the last story seemed like it was going to go into the way we perceive things. Was Robert's view meant to be a foil or straw man? It's implicitly contradicted by much of the discussion, but never explicitly addressed.

Apr. 02 2013 10:37 AM
John Faust from Arizona

We have a really difficult time with the notion of nothing. Everything demands a context. How can a universe bubble into existence from nothing? That's beyond all human experience and imagination.

At the same time, the notion of a designer cobbling together something as complex and wondrous as a universe is equally incomprehensible. It's much easier to imagine (and be awestruck by) an emerging universe full of surprising twists and turns. If I were a god, what could be more delightful than planting these seeds and watching what springs forth.

Mar. 31 2013 10:56 AM
Dan from Monrovia, MD

An intriguing look at some amazing mysteries. I agree with Robert's sense that design points to a designer. Occam had something to say about simplicity. Considering the weight of all the inexplicably ordered yet observable phenomena in the universe, there is surely an engineer at its heart. Thanks for rebroadcasting.

Mar. 30 2013 11:43 PM
scott from Portand, OR

Why is emergent systems that are not based on a ghost some how less meaningful? Every thought you will ever have is a biologic process. But that is totally amazing and pretty meaningful. Would it make it more meaningful if a ghost made it happen? Not really. Our quest for order within a systems is itself and emergent organized process. Its all a product of random noise in matter. Enough time passes with random noise and you get a protein that can clone itself by bumping into a different protein. Eventually you get a lifeform listening to radio lab. How is that not as meaningful as the stuff being created for a specific purpose? In the long run random noise is mandatory for complexity and for survival. We wouldn't be here if the Universe was not a crap shoot.

Mar. 25 2013 04:46 PM
Kimberly from Chicago, IL

Buddhist teachings have much to say about how consciousness arises from the composite mind, and it always seems left out of these discussions, perhaps because it is classified as religion rather than science. You're right to say that you're reaching the edges of understanding, but perhaps that's only true for Western science.

Mar. 24 2013 08:44 PM

I've seen the synchronization of fireflies at Elkmont in the smokies here in East Tn and it was absolutely amazing! I'm sad they failed to mention this in the episode.

Mar. 24 2013 01:41 PM
Andrew from Brooklyn, NY

To those looking for songs, may I suggest:

Mar. 24 2013 02:05 AM
Caros Gutiérrez H from Tijuana, B.C. mex

Thanks for your great work; but have you guys ever heard of SERENDIPITY?

Mar. 23 2013 02:22 PM
David Cort from Redmond, Washington

In this program, Robert asks Jad something like, "So your view seems to remove purpose from the universe - and you're okay with that?" To which Jad replies, "Yeah!" But according to one of the most distinguished scholars associated with emergence, you are both missing the mark a little! Stuart Kauffman in his book _Reinventing the Sacred_ argues that purpose is a real quality of our universe (point Robert) - but that it is an EMERGENT quality of our universe. It is not bestowed, but rather it emerges, along with biology (point Jad?) "Part of my goal is to discuss newly discovered limitations to the reductionism that has dominated Western science at least since Galileo and Newton but leaves us in a meaningless world of facts devoid of values. In its place I will propose a worldview beyond reductionism, in which we are members of a universe of ceaseless creativity in which life, agency, meaning, value, consciousness, and the full richness of human action have emerged" (_Reinventing the Sacred_, p. 2). And although I really loved this episode, I have to ask: in a program about emergence, how could you leave out Stuart Kauffman?

Mar. 22 2013 09:33 PM
Susan Orrell from Charlotte, NC

Was just listening to this one and had to comment on the synchronistic fireflies that the couple went to Thailand to see. We do actually have these here in the U.S. Every July, in a specific part of the NC mountains, these fireflies emerge for a couple nights. It really is beautiful. At the same time, there are these blue fairy flies - with soft purplish-blue lights that don't blink at all - they stay lit. It's spectacular!

Love your show, by the way. Thanks!

Mar. 22 2013 02:27 PM
Renee from Germany

Thanks guys! The podcast was amazing!

Mar. 22 2013 09:02 AM
Robert from Pittsburgh, PA

Hey Kent, do you know where in Pennsylvania you were when you saw this, and what time of year it was? I live in the Pittsburgh area, and would absolutely love to catch a glimpse of something like this.

Mar. 21 2013 02:12 PM
Kathryn from New York

Just listened to this episode for the first time. I work right above all the flower shops on 28th St they're talking about. Cool moment. Love when Radiolab comes to your own backyard :)

Mar. 21 2013 02:08 PM

American fireflies at a specific location in the Smokey Mountains do synchronize for a few weeks every year and it is an unbelievable experience to watch them.

Mar. 21 2013 02:00 PM
Shie from Seattle, WA

Just listened to the show again and then I saw this:

An anagram of Galton and a site that uses the principle that crowd-think works on all kinds of creative projects.

Mar. 21 2013 01:24 AM

Well, I googled "Steven" and he came up as number seven (six if you count the two Spielberg links as a single one), so he's still going strong.

Mar. 21 2013 12:40 AM

A comment was made early in the podcast that American fireflies do not synchronize like fireflies from other parts of the world. In about 1982 I was traveling across Pennsylvania in the middle of the night and I stopped for a break at a closed gas station. Behind the station was a gully and it had about ten thousand fireflies in it. Trees were completely synced, flashing off and on in perfect unison. Waves of flashes rippled across the ground where fireflies were sitting on the grass. My wife is a witness.

Mar. 20 2013 11:20 PM
Sam from Austin

Does anyone know what song was playing at about 49:40?

Mar. 20 2013 06:30 PM
Zan from Oklahoma

Nevermind. I came across the answer. The song is An Ending by Brian Eno if anyone else is wondering. Here's a YouTube link to the song.

Mar. 20 2013 12:07 AM
Zan from Oklahoma

Does anyone know the name of the song playing in the background at 25:10? It's incredibly familiar but I can't remember where it's from.

Mar. 19 2013 11:55 PM

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