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Season 2 | Episode 4

Where Am I?

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X-ray of skull X-ray of skull (erix!/flickr/CC-BY-2.0)

OK. Maybe you're in your desk chair. You're in your office. You're in New York, or Detroit, or Timbuktu. You're on planet Earth. But where are you, really? This hour, Radiolab tries to find out.

How does your brain keep track of your body? We examine the bond between brain and body, and look at what happens when it breaks. First, author and neurologist Oliver Sacks tries to find himself using magnets. Then, a century-old mystery: why do many amputees still feel their missing limbs? We speak with a neuroscientist who solved the problem with an optical illusion. Up next, the story of a butcher who suddenly lost his entire sense of touch. And we hear from pilots who lose consciousness and suffer out-of-body experiences while flying fighter jets.

Guests:

Dr. Jonathan Cole, Dr. Antonio Damasio, Col. Dan Fulgham, Dr. V.S. Ramachandran, Dr. Robert Sapolsky, Tim Sestak, Ian Waterman and Dr. James Whinnery

Phantom Limbs

Warning: this section gets gorey. We'll start off with fatality, trauma, and bear attack. Neurologists Robert Sapolsky and Antonio Damasio weigh in on 19th century philosopher William James, and his theory of emotion (and of bears), which says “emotion is a slave to physiology.” ...

Comments [6]

The Butcher's Assistant

There's a sense so essential to our everyday functioning, it is almost impossible to describe beyond... simply being. Or existing, physically. Called proprioception, and sometimes referred to as the sixth sense, it is the sense that the body uses to detect itself. Radio Lab talks to one man ...

Comments [9]

Out of Body, Roger

I was there. But I, like, wasn't there. I was floating. I was looking at myself from outside of myself.

If it hasn't happened to you, it's likely happened to somebody you know. And whether or not you believe it, about one in ten people report having ...

Comments [14]

Comments [60]

Yablokov from Portland, OR

The Xray of the skull looks to be of a jewish man. Just look hard at the nose!

Sep. 01 2014 11:40 PM

Anyone else notice a 2 second of Aphex Twin's Alberto Balsam intro at 0.47 seconds? Haha... I wreck my friends heads with these things.

Jul. 01 2014 07:59 AM
Andrea

I would love to see how this relates to things such as anxiety! It makes perfect sense that your body reacts for an unknown reason and then the fear sets in due to the experience of the body.

Jun. 16 2014 10:54 AM
glendoria burris from everywhere

I'm a newbie,

just
testing the site to get a feel if its something i would like to obligate my time & engage in on a weekly basis.a few episodes will determine my decision. so far so good you've really piqued my curiosity.

Ciao!

Dec. 29 2013 10:08 AM
Organic Learning Center from Kalamazoo, MI

Such a great episode. So exciting to hear support for the embodiment of emotion from the genius of Radiolab!

Surprised to hear Damasio supporting James' interpretation, I thought he was a critic- http://williamjamesstudies.org/9.1/stoklosa.pdf

Both the speed and automoticity of subcortical emotional processing challenged here-
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3025529/

Nov. 25 2013 10:11 AM
Sean from Ellijay, GA

Radiolab,
This is some of the best media out there and I faithfully listen every week and I kill lots of time (or ENHANCE time, actually!) listening to archived material.
Please, please list the music playlists that are on the shows. Not only is it informative, but listeners will, in turn, support the musicians.
Does anyone know what was played from 27:07 through 28:07
Thanks!
Sean

Nov. 24 2013 08:43 PM

As a student & teacher of what is called psychoprophylaxis used for the relief of pain in childbirth, this sounds like what we called pavlovian conditioning. Its great to learn the physiological basis. It also brings to mind, something I think I've always known & described on a more limited basis. I am an excellent teacher of swimming. But a terrible teacher of horseback riding. I have always described the difference bcs. I had a very difficult time learning to swim. I had to break it down like the guy who had to think "move left arm, breath in when head over, breath out when head under water etc." I became a good, not talented, but reasonably good swimmer & an excellent teacher. Horseback riding, my body seems to know exactly what to do. I have never had to break it down, in order to learn. I was always a good rider. It came naturally. We called it muscle memory. I have no idea how to teach horseback riding. I learned both as a child about the same time approx age 5 to 7. I wonder if this relates to the program & how the theories espoused by the doctors may relate to the teaching process. While mentioning muscle memory, I'm reminded of a course I took at a dog training seminar on clicker training. There are some using clicker training for various teaching for disabled children. But the remarkable one is called tag teaching where clickers are used on very talented children, in olympic training where the children train each other with clickers. This results in quick learning & what we call muscle memory. We have thought of it as pavlovian conditioning. Is, what we call muscle memory, the body learning & by-passing the brain? All of this flies directly in opposition to what we learned about pain when studying psychoprophylaxis for childbirth ie. Pain is first felt in the brain. This is a fascinating subject & an interesting program. Thx for presenting it. I'm a devoted listener.

Nov. 23 2013 04:24 PM
Questions

I would be interested in hearing how the topic of this show relates to annorexia. I was previously annorexic and struggled to "see" myself as I really was--way too skinny. Because what I saw in the mirror was not the actual reality. I am healthy and happy now, but had to learn to not always trust what I saw. Instead I relied on my husband to help me see what my body actually looked like. I would ask him before getting anxious.

Nov. 23 2013 03:49 PM
Roger

I saw something interesting today that corroborated what I heard on the "Where Am I?" segment. I was riding my bike in the bike lane on a two-way street. A car was a hundred feet ahead of me on the left. I noticed another biker biking against traffic on the opposite side, about 200 feet ahead. That biker decided to cross over into my lane, the one going with traffic. I saw clearly what he was doing. It wasn't particularly safe but he assumed that the driver on our side would see him. I only have a sense of what happened next, but it is fascinating. The driver slowed down, but it was really more a lack of acceleration than braking. In other words, he reflexively took his foot off the gas without thinking when he saw the biker cut in front. It's hard to perceive engine braking because you can't see brake lights, but I swear that's what happened. Then, when the cyclist was safely my lane, he hit the brakes - almost a second later. It was if the message "hit the brake!" had to travel to his brain from his eyes, but the instinctive reaction to stop accelerating was instantaneous.

Nov. 22 2013 05:22 PM
Jennifer

Drew Kullman, sounds like you might have synesthesia. I love the sound work on this program partly for the imagery as well. Though, the startling stuff? I could live without that. And I might one day when it gives me a heart attack! Before I die, the last thing I might experience is a bright, jagged flash of white and a snap! from Jad Abumrad's magic sound wand. But, hey, who wouldn't like a quick death? (Thanks in advance, Jad.)

Jul. 15 2013 09:42 PM
soheill from persian

i lOve You guyS::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::;

Jan. 21 2013 07:34 AM
oliver from Germany

The song around 42:00 - 43:30 is from "Dosh" and is called '"building a strange child"....

Jan. 09 2013 11:19 AM
anas muhammad from bakori, katsina, nigeria

hi

Sep. 28 2012 06:04 AM
Drew Kullman from Richmond, VA

i love your program. why you ask? ;) My answer, because I'm both an artist and musician. I learn audibly and through touch. Sound makes pictures that I like to interpret as patterns. Your show creates vivid landscapes. Your themes are beautifully universal. You interpret a single thems through multiple angles and viewpoints. It is pure genius. If I had a dime...I'd give it to you in a heartbeat:) Thank you Radiolab.

Aug. 09 2012 03:41 PM
Harlan

Please stop interviewing Jonah Lehrer! He's not a reliable source.

Aug. 09 2012 12:13 PM
Jim in Fremont from Seattle, WA

Wow. I thought this was a fluke. I have a disorder "Neurocardiogenic Synchope" whereby I occassionally loose conciousness due to a sudden drop in blood pressure when standing up on a tilt table at a 70 degree angle. It is very similar to the effect on pilots and I was told NASA may be studying it. One day I had a very similar "out of body" experience where I found myself floating in space. Completely aware of the stars, planets etc. but, unlike a normal dream, completely unaware of my sense of self or the passage of time. I was completely at peace and since then I've had this sense that I'm not afraid of what lies beyond death. It was profound. I'd be curious if these researchers are looking into this disorder and if any studys have been done related to Lucid Dreaming. Similar states have been reported as part of certain lucid dream states. I'd like to hear more on these topics. Fascinating and now I don't feel I'm crazy or alone in having had such an experience.

Aug. 08 2012 01:05 PM
Bob

Can someone tell me the source (author, publication) of the dialogue of the husband and wife arguing?

Aug. 07 2012 08:10 PM
John M

No question RADIOLAB is the best show of any media period. There is so much in every show I record and listen all week.

Aug. 06 2012 11:24 PM
Whitney from Macon GA

The segment about Ian is particularly dramatic. I work with children with Sensory Processing Disorder who don't get adequate proprioceptive information and process is as usual. Many of these people aren't able to cope as well because they don't have the motor-planning ability that Ian has to compensate. If this segment reminds you of yourself (it affects people of all ages), you should check out www.spdfoundation.net. There is effective treatment, and I will definitely use this segment to help my client's families understand. Thank you for bringing awareness to this amazing sense and what happens when it doesn't function appropriately.

Aug. 06 2012 10:30 PM
Ben

I thoroughly enjoy the sound collage Radiolab does, and find it engaging to no end. Thanks, and keep it up!

Aug. 06 2012 02:02 PM
Carol S

I was completely fascinated by "Where am I?" Where you explore the connection between your brain and your body and what happens when it breaks.
Stories such as this confirm why I listen to NPR. Thank you!!

Aug. 05 2012 06:47 PM
E.

I agree with the previous comment about the production values of the show. All the flourishes and cuts impair my sincere appreciation of the actual information. Please scale it back, guys.

Aug. 05 2012 01:14 PM
EmilyDickinson from Seattle

Love the topics but seems to me you are overdoing the gimmicks. It's getting downright annoying . I understand sometimes you are using weirdness in place of the illustrations and graphics that a book would provide but a lot of the extra "stuff" is unnecessary. Why the many voices, the interruptions of noises and unpleasant music, the snatches, the laughter, etc. If the content is good, and it is usually superb, these excessive stylistic tics are distracting. I recommended Radiolab to my son as the kind of show he'd love. Turned out he couldn't get past disjointed, irksome presentation of the material. I hope the show survives for many years to come; I've learned a lot of wonderful stuff. Please consider cutting some of the pointless, off-putting quirks. It's insulting that you feel that this fascinating must be embellished to grab an audience.

Aug. 05 2012 12:23 AM


I wonder if the difference in emotional reset time associated with gender (as demonstrated with the cute argument between Robert and his wife) might also be associated with differences in status. If two people of the same sex have an argument, does the person of greater social status reset more quickly than the does the socially less powerful person?

Is there a link to the the original study?

Aug. 04 2012 04:59 PM
Ella

This is very interesting, particularly because I have sensory processing disorder which is when my brain doesn't communicate properly with my body, in all '5 senses' and vestibular and proprioception. I often trip if I'm wearing thick-soled shoes because I don't know where my feet are unless I'm looking at them, and I drop things because I'm not entirely sure how much grip is needed to hold them. I'm interested in what exactly is going on in my head, and it's really cool to learn more about it.

Jun. 22 2012 07:53 PM
Anna from Minnesota

YOU GUYS ARE AWESOME!!!!!!!!
This completely keeps my attention to every single word you say. Iloveyour cell phone;your wife?your weirdness.
You are ILARIOUS!!!
Thank you so much for being there. You make this so easy. Oh my goodness...I LOVE YOU!!!!
Ciao :0)

Feb. 01 2012 11:23 AM
Tony

Tomas81, the song you are looking for is one of Brian Eno's Three Variations on Canon in D Major from the album Discreet Music. I believe it is the variation called French Catalogues, but could also be the variation called Fullness of Wind.

Dec. 01 2011 10:17 AM
tomas81 from kyoto

I would like to know the soundtrack from 7:33 after the punch-line.
Anybody has an idea?
Thanks

Dec. 01 2011 01:27 AM
WhatIsTheSong

Hello. Does anyone know what is the song that plays in this episode beginning at 43:47?

Nov. 21 2011 02:14 PM
Michael Ringland from Sydney Australia.

Greetings from Australia, I love the podcasts..but "Where am I" contains a glaring error. Ian, who lacks proprioception, "had to study movements in a way no-one in history has ever studied movement". Can I beg to differ, my undergraduate days as a physiotherapist were almost full, for one year, of study in exactly that. The process of sit-to-stand, walking, using knife and fork, all required video analysis, frame by frame, prior to gaining a pass grade in the subject. The purpose was to enable stroke rehab. We would observe the "missing component" in a movement, and confine our rehab to facilitate that. The surprise I am feeling in hearing the error no way will prevent me totally enjoying the work you guys do.

Oct. 28 2011 12:46 AM
Lee

Very interesting episode that I had not heard before, thanks for posting! I have listened to many of your episodes more than once and was happy to listen to something "new"

Nov. 06 2010 11:48 PM

i love you guys!!

Oct. 15 2010 06:13 AM
Sandra L Parker from Los Angeles

I would love to buy a transcript, is that possible? PLEASE?

Sep. 27 2010 05:28 PM
tim

Does anyone know where i can find that haunting melody at the end of where am i? was it stars of the lid? i know jad really likes them... Karma points to the winner!!

Jul. 01 2009 09:07 PM
ILuvRadioLab

This was a terrific episode that we hadn't heard; so, thank you for rebroadcasting it! The question is, where can we find info about the fantastic scientists/authors you mention on the show? Do you have a list of RadioLab-related books somewhere? If not, please post one! Keep up the fantastic work, Jad and Robert!!!

May. 26 2009 08:00 PM

Hey, you guys need to post your soundtrack somewhere, because like, all this music is grooovy.

May. 17 2009 03:43 PM

Martin,

They say at the beginning that he lost all perception of his body and the sense of touch from the neck down.

May. 13 2009 04:42 PM
Martin

oops I meant Robert not Michael

May. 06 2009 03:01 PM
Martin

I am curious how Ian Watterman can speak? It sounded like he has to look at every body part in which he wants the muscles to move, so... how is his speech not an issue. Do Jad and Michael check this? Keep up the good work, I love this program!

May. 06 2009 02:59 PM
Michael Krauklis

I'm a regular Radio Lab listener but I hadn't heard this one before. I don't mind rebroadcasts, especially since you were kind enough to label it "(Rebroadcast)". If I didn't want to listen to a rebroadcast it would have been literally two seconds to mark it as read and move on. Thanks, and keep up the good work!

May. 06 2009 08:29 AM
Lauren

Ohh that sound effect when you were describing amputation gave me the willies and I'm just short of puking on my keyboard.

Job well done!

May. 05 2009 03:15 PM
Chris

Fascinating ideas on your show!
I find a parallel here: this idea of feeling upheavals of emotions with your body is the root of Vipassana meditation. Through this practice one learns to recognize feelings in the body and to see them as being “empty” or “interdependent”, and therefore become able to watch them arise and pass away without being overtaken by them. So, we knew about this stuff 2500 years before William James! Nothing against James though, I love his work.
Thanks for the show!

May. 04 2009 04:28 PM
dadada dadda dadada daddada gggg

go grease lightning

May. 04 2009 09:56 AM
Another Irritarted Reader

I this is completely pointless i cant believe I have to listen to this

May. 04 2009 09:41 AM
dave

I too would like to see the photo of the Civil War "legs".
Where?

Apr. 30 2009 01:46 PM
Benjamin Jancewicz

Can you ask Oliver Sacks where he got his magnets from? I want to see if I can make a hat that tells you (my feeling, just like he was doing with this thighs) which way is north.

My assumption is that if I wear the hat long enough, my brain will start to automatically learn which way is north, (based on the feelings relation to other things, like landmarks and the position of the sun) and then even when I do not have the hat on, the sense will still be there.

Apr. 30 2009 11:53 AM
greybird

I would be curious to see the pilot experiment include some testing of perception during the out of body phase. For instance, before the pilots fly in the simulator, someone could paint a temporary colored dot on the back of the pilot's head. Then, if the pilot did have an out of body experience in which he saw himself from above and behind, he could then be asked what color the dot was. This way, the experiment could also disprove any idea that the pilots might have actual perception from their unnatural vantage point....or it might not. It would be a cool thing to try.

Apr. 28 2009 04:11 PM
Witches Brew

Yeah i did that passing out thing, at a roller skating arena, the management got wise to it and they told our parents, my dad thought i was on drugs, lol, i dont remember having any dreams though.

Apr. 28 2009 01:57 PM
Charlotte

First I want to echo Steph's sentiments. Well said, so I won't repeat.
Second, a comment on this particular episode: am I the only one who, in high school, spent a couple recess periods with other not-so-wise kids doing this hyperventilation/strangulation thing on each other? The idea was to breathe very deeply for about a minute and then hold your breath while applying pressure to the arteries in your throat. The result (if done properly) was exactly like what the pilots describe: grey-out then loss of consciousness. Some passed out and went limp, other flailed a bit. Loss of consciousness only lasted a few seconds, but to the person doing it, it felt like hours, or forever. Many reported having had a dream of some kind.
So, besides the fact that we were crazy and that this should not be tried at home, what's the deal? Was this the same phenomena as what the pilots were experiencing?

Apr. 27 2009 09:11 PM
Steph

I LOVE RADIOLAB. You guys rock and everytime I'm driving in the car with your show on, I find myself sitting in my driveway listening because I can't get out until the show is done. I love the topics, the sound effects, the questions, the mysteriousness of it all. Nice job. I'll keep listening and passing on your "weird juju" to friends/family. You're like the uber hip, mac using, music making, twenty (thirty?) somethings of Discover magazine.

Apr. 25 2009 06:54 PM
Rob

I have nothing but contempt for you, Irritated Reader. You mean to tell me you have the gall to complain about a rebroadcast of a classic Radio Lab episode you don't have to pay anything for? Who do you think you are?

You remind me of the people described here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LoGYx35ypus

Keep on rocking, Radio Lab.

Apr. 25 2009 12:44 PM
darwin godwin

I'm a new listener. I like to hear the best of... and this episode was nice. I wonder if you intentionally fed me fighter pilots talking about weird juju and knew I was going to make the jump to soul-casting, ghosts in hotels, staring down from operating room ceilings etc... using silver-haired, no-nonsense military dare-devils for inspiration. I KNOW you did that on purpose, and it worked...

Apr. 24 2009 02:59 AM
voice of friggin' reason

for godssakes! stop complaining!! We're lucky to have a pop-science program of this caliber at all!

Apr. 23 2009 08:45 PM
alexandre van

Althought I agree that the last new season has passed by rather quickly (I am just spoiled by having a new this american life every week) I like rehearing old episodes. But would like a new intro, sort of "why is this here? why this episode? why now?"

Apr. 22 2009 04:58 PM
Joseph

Not to be gruesome, but where could I see that picture of the amputated legs you discuss in this episode? It sounded kind of cool.

Apr. 22 2009 04:57 PM
Ronnie

Fantastic,

Apr. 22 2009 11:53 AM
Ilya

What were the magnets called again?

Apr. 21 2009 05:58 PM
Not-At-All-Irritated Reader

Please ignore the irritated reader and continue to stuff my RSS feed with everything you can. I have not heard this episode, and I appreciate having it called to my attention.

Apr. 21 2009 01:24 PM
Witches Brew

I just want to know one thing.
When will we be hearing a New SEASON?

Like an actual full season, not just these teaser 30min podcasts -which have been a blessing- but please, I really need a full hour fix of radio lab and quick!!!

Apr. 21 2009 10:43 AM
Irritated Reader

Don't stuff people's RSS readers with stuff they've already heard. This is completely pointless.

Apr. 20 2009 11:56 PM

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