Return Home
Season 11 | Episode 8

Known Unknowns

« previous episode | next episode »

Some things are simply unknowable, from the pain another person feels to the reasons why they commit horrible acts. In this hour, we meet people who are trying to measure and make sense of things they can’t quite grasp -- from the quest to pin down a standard measurement for pain, to a pair of performers who, night after night, step on stage with absolutely no plan.

Produced by:

Sean Cole, Tim Howard and Lulu Miller

Plotting a Pain Scale

Pain is a fundamental part of life, and often a very lonely part. Doctors want to understand their patients' pain, and we all want to understand the suffering of our loved ones. But pinning down another person's hurt is a slippery business. Is your relentless lower back pain more or ...

Comments [10]

The Risks and Rewards of Empathy

Sometimes being a good scientist requires putting aside your emotions. But what happens when objectivity isn't enough to make sense of a seemingly senseless act of violence? Lulu Miller introduces us to Jeff Lockwood, a professor at the University of Wyoming, who spent a part of his career studying a ...

Comments [6]

Uncertainty on Center Stage

When TJ Jagodowski and Dave Pasquesi get on stage they introduce themselves, work the crowd a bit ... and then, the lights go off. And when the lights come back on, they're just standing there, staring at each other. The audience is waiting, wondering what's going to happen. ...

Comments [4]

Comments [21]

Andrew from Toronto

Does anyone know the song that plays at the end of the episode?

Feb. 28 2018 08:58 PM
Doug R. from Memphis, TN

What was the name of the murdered professor please? I heard "Lefarge" perhaps but I'm unsure of the spelling.

Apr. 23 2017 04:51 PM
mack lipkin from New York

Your story on pain misses two key well established principles (and many nuances)key to treating people with complex and severe pain. The first derives from Henry Beecher's work. Pain is a subjective, cortical experience so the major determinant of a particular pain experience is its meaning. If you lose your leg in a crash driving to work in Boston meaning your life is drastically damaged, your pain will be severe and your morphine requirement enormous. The identical injury in a desperate battle where you expect to die means you will live and go home, and your morphine requirement will be negligible. Second, people who experience more than one pain experience, e.g., childbirth, kidney stones and trigeminal neuralgia, can compare them. Accumulating such comparisons allows more accurate layering of pain on a scale. Thus childbirth and kidney stones are both 8, trigeminal neuralgia (tic douloureux, said to be the most painful symptom) is 10. One nuance is that cultural issues impinge. For example, childbirth is systematically more painful in women from some cultures than others even with similar pelvic measurements and conditioning.Another nuances relate to personality, personal experience, social outlook, and social attitudes, and much more.

Apr. 22 2017 12:52 PM
Kelsey from Wollongong, Australia

I'm beginning to realise that it doesn't matter which podcast I listen to, it's going to be awesome!

Nov. 29 2015 09:31 PM
MCBurroughs from Pittsburgh

Glad to find you.

May. 06 2014 08:52 PM
North Sky

Dear all this is a member of North Sky Cello Ensemble.
I am happy to let you know that we have a link for the song that you were trying to find from the
Radiolab show Known and Unknowns.
Below it is:


Nov. 27 2013 09:03 PM
thegliphic from Van B.C.

Ok. I'm wondering why this and ,handful of other episodes aren t available in itunes?

Nov. 24 2013 12:08 AM
Dagur from Iceland

What is the name of the track that start around 52 minute?

Oct. 14 2013 01:24 PM

Found it! The song is indeed by North Sky Cello Ensemble but it's called "Once" :)

Sep. 28 2013 09:32 PM

The song is by the North Sky Cello Ensemble and it's called Song for a Nightingale

Sep. 27 2013 03:22 PM

I'm also interested to know the name of the track around the 26/27 minute mark between the first two segments. Sounded great!

Sep. 13 2013 01:49 PM
Mac from Chicago, IL

WHY is this not on iTunes?! UGH, please stop doing this!

Sep. 11 2013 08:05 PM

Same question as Lailee and Ryan....Shazaam has failed me.

Sep. 07 2013 11:32 PM

Same question as Lailee, who did the music? Namely the track that starts around 26 min mark.

Sep. 04 2013 05:11 PM
Sonia kaposhilin

Loved David and TJ!!

Sep. 03 2013 11:47 PM
Nancy Dulaney from Tulsa, OK

Great show, as always. Disturbing that lady in pain never got diagnosed/healed. I heard of a case with similar symptoms/discomfort that was diagnosed as trigeminal neuralgia and cured by the very expert upper cervical chiropractic treatment by Dr. Ray Marshall of Branson, Missouri. This sufferer had written a book about his intended suicide due to intractable, "undiagnosible"
pain; I heard a review of the book and saw Dr. Marshall myself with awesome results. Hopefully you can get this info forwarded to woman in question... Good chance she'll find relief.

Sep. 03 2013 02:22 PM
Karna Gowda from Evanston, IL

These all came old podcast shorts! You guys just drove me crazy trying to figure out why I've heard all these before!

Sep. 03 2013 01:07 PM
HELEN MARTIN from Eastern Pennsylvania

I was a pregnant, isolated, American living in Tel Aviv when I read Grantley Dick Read's book about natural childbirth. This was back in the days before all men were suspect - 1965 to be exact. I took from his book the message that the Victorian's had invented pain in childbirth as a means of discouraging women from engaging in premarital sex. To keep this comment short: while in labor I had to be told when I was having a contraction and I asked for a bedpan as my son's head crowned.
The discomfort of my second child's delivery was minor compared to a visit to the dentist.

Sep. 01 2013 02:22 PM
Liz from New Jersey

I tried to look up information about the wasp and the cricket and couldn't find any that matched the description on your show. Can you provide their names?

Aug. 31 2013 03:52 PM
Wayne Johnson Ph.D. from Bk

Crickets are living beings that want to live as much as you and I. Jeff says we should let them be who they are. Is he doing that by imprisoning them, and using them in his human concocted experiments? He kills one of the bugs and then thinks back to his Professor who has tutored him to think objectively. Well to be objective the real tragedy here is the death of one cricket because he/she was in Jeff's lab, not the death of his professor

Aug. 31 2013 12:51 PM
Lailee Soleimani from Toronto

Thank you for this podcast. What is the name of the track that plays around minute 25? It's so haunting and beautiful..

Aug. 29 2013 03:36 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.