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What’s the Difference Anyway?

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5. 4 Seconds Down: Soren Wheeler tells the story of Ken Baldwin, a man who is looking for death but finds a new view on life. 6. Am I Dead?: Neurological psychologist Paul Broks introduces us to a patient who thinks she's dead. 7. If I Only Had A Brain: If you don’t have one anymore, David Eagleman tells Jad and Robert he knows the next best thing. 8. Ineffable: A story on the afterlife by David Eagleman from his book SUM, read by actor Jeffrey Tambor.

Produced by:

Soren Wheeler

Comments [18]

Paul Anderson from Philadelphia, PA

Thought it was a great show, as it usually is.

For "If I Only Had a Brain",I thought David Eagleman missed a major point, which is my own criticism of our current tech culture:

Our brain isn't digital - "0"s and "1"s. It is a chemical analog system. Digital information is always missing some information. Analog has it's own challanges, but any mind that that was transferred to a digital system would not be the same as it was in the analog chemical system. You wouldn't be the same.

May. 30 2016 09:21 AM
Mo from California

There's a wonderful game called SOMA that incorporates Meditation 7 perfectly. It's a good play (or watch on youtube) and directly addresses copying human brains into machines/virtual reality. Who is real? The person or the copy? If the copy were a true copy, wouldn't the copy feel that they are 'real' also? Could humanity live on somehow in a virtual sense one hundred million years from now when only concrete buildings and opaque glass lasts?? Could our loved ones stay with us somehow even when their physical body is long gone? I can't recommend it enough, it's a very thought provoking game.

May. 29 2016 11:24 PM
Isabella Garcia from DC

After years of reading about and talking with others who had attempted or considered suicide, I began to realize there were often similar thinking patterns that we all shared:
*A low sense of self-esteem, often hearing those childhood recordings of family members belittling or bullying us, convincing us we were not worthy of happiness or even life itself.
*A feeling of hopeless despair, that nothing would ever turn out well for us or get better.
*A disgust with humanity and people who had hurt us, and a desire to get back at them, thinking it would make them feel endless pain and guilt.
*Believing that everyone else is living a charmed life and it is just us who suffer.
*Believing that the pain of a lost love, school bullying, social shunning or career disappointment is just too painful to suffer through and that it will never abate.
*Believing that if we just looked different, had more money, more opportunity and different life circumstances, then all our troubles would be gone.
Now, in my sixties after years of living a good but typical life, with plenty of pain, loss and major disappointments, I can state emphatically it is this distorted thinking that is the typical cause of suicide. It’s not what we are experiencing in life, it’s how we choose to view it and respond. I shall elaborate on those mind sets mentioned above and offer an alternative way of thinking:
A. A low sense of self-esteem, often hearing those childhood recordings of family members belittling or bullying us, convincing us we were not worthy of happiness or even life itself.
Yes, many of us had messed up, often horrific families, but the best revenge is going on and living happy, in spite of the sickness of family members who damaged us. Whether you can bring yourself to forgive is one thing, realizing that they are the ones to pity can be an empowering awareness. Your mantra can be, “at least I don’t have to live in their miserable head.”
B. A feeling of hopeless despair, that nothing would ever turn out well for us.
Of all the people who I knew who had taken their own lives, they all left notes indicating they felt there was no way out, no new day, that things would never change. And yet, often that lost job was just a door opening to a much better one. That loved one that left you and broke your heart, was just not the one for you, and someone so much better was right around the corner. In Glen’s case, he was out of work and had several bad relationships. After he died, we received calls of people wanting him to work for them and the girl he was just beginning to date turned out to be madly in love with him and a really decent person. A civil suit settlement notice for thousands of dollars arrived a month after he died. As the song says, Just hold on for on more day…
One must change one’s thinking from the dark clouded filter of despair and realize that time does heal all wounds, provided we tell ourselves the right messages.

May. 28 2016 05:13 PM
Ewaut Van Wassenhove from België

Article nr 7: We seem to ignore the simple fact that the downloaded brain would be a copy but not the original! The consciousness you experience with your brain and body will still stop without another method of immortality. You won't experience the virtual word but the copy of your consciousness will and if you live on for a little while then the real you and the copy will grow apart in some ways unless the copy is presented with exactly the same input and corrected for any irregularities.

Also what if we where able to simulate a consciousness but not yet a body and an environment? The consciousness would exist but that's it! the only input he would get are his own thoughts. I can imagine going crazy over and over again even if you would reset me to a previous state... and then afterwards you can simulate a body but no environment then it would be like someone is floating in space...

so Before we could ever get to a real virtual world we would've had to put some consciousnesses through hell and for what? We wouldn't even be immortal in that manner because it would be a copy of ourselves.

IF this ever happens then I'm against it because consciousnesses have rights to
(maybe i should start a group :P ) but especially because tempering with someones ''mind'' and driving it possibly crazy in that way is just immoral.

As for the afterlife in general: my humble opinion is that something has more value when it is limited says economics so why wouldn't that also be for life?
When it end completely in all ways then everything that is here and now is something to enjoy even being sad can be enjoyable in a manner i can't explain in this box....

Article 5: how sad... just imagine all those who didn't make it thinking the same thing :(

May. 05 2015 06:29 AM
Cerph from Florida

Interesting that when Baldwin parked at the GG bridge ... he feeds the meter!

May. 03 2015 02:55 PM
Jeff from Vienna, VA

David Eagleman needs needs needs to read Greg Bear's "Eon" and its sequel "Eternity" unless he has already, which seems likely since his thoughts on synthetic immortality are examined pretty much as he describes in this story. I first read them in my teens and the idea that technology can solve the problem of death is incredibly exciting and hopeful.

May. 03 2015 12:50 PM
John Galloway from Alameda California

8. Ineffable. As poetry its interesting, but biologically speaking most (but not all) of the atoms in our bodies get exchanged with the environment on a continuous basis (all the water in your body is new atoms every 16 days or so). So the atoms mourning you wouldn't have known you for very long.

9. If I only had a brain. I am among those that think our brains and hence the "me" that we are, is just a biological machine. But I think those contemplating uploading themselves in the next few decades are wildly underestimating the difficulty of this task. First we need very accurate scans to get the topology of the connections, what the speaker called "the algorithm". Scanning technology is not driven by Moore's law that much so scanner resolution is not progressing as fast as the number of transistors on a chip are increasing (even if Moore's law continues and it may not).

But even if the resolution is high enough, that only gets you the design of the hardware. The software if you will, is the electro-chemical state that exists on the hw at any one instant and we are not very good at scanning that, particularly in 3D (i.e. we detect electrical differences on the surface).

And even if the scanner can detect that as well, these machines scan in very thin slices as you slowly move through the scan area. The problem with that is consistency. Even if any one slice is scanned fast enough for the constantly changing state of all the neurons in that slice to have consistent state (and that would have to be very fast indeed), the structures in your brain will cross many such slices so from the algorithms perspective the state will be highly corrupted.

Using a likely very bad analogy, it would be like taking a snapshot of each MegaByte of memory in your computer, one every second. Then after about 8,000 seconds (a bit over 2 hrs) assuming you have a computer with 8GigaBytes of RAM, taking each of those copies and writing each of them into the same respective location in a new computer and then expecting it to function correctly. Not a chance.

May. 02 2015 06:07 PM
plynck from The Duchy of Grand Fenwick

A great song about one who tries to keep people from jumping.

May. 02 2015 03:40 PM
Faith from Los Angeles, CA

RE: #6, the woman who thinks she's dead because she feels like she doesn't exist.

Scully, did it ever occur to you she might be telling the truth? Radiolab did a whole hour with Brian Green, who pointed out that theoretical physics suggests there's a better than average chance we're in living in a simultation. What if people like the woman described in this story are attuned to that reality in a way most people aren't? I'm not saying this IS the case, only that if you're going to have Brian Green on to talk about extreme possibilities, it seems like it's at least worth mentioning those possibilities in this story.

Mar. 13 2014 01:34 AM
The Skleeve from Portland, OR

Excellent episode, as always. I'm re-listening every single one for the 3rd or 4th time...make them faster, please :). Always wondered, what is the little tune that plays from @43:07 to 44:06? Thanks!

Dec. 18 2013 03:22 PM
Mari from Waldorf, MD

What song begins playing at about 43 minutes in?

Dec. 03 2013 08:56 AM
Cassandra from Thousand Oaks, CA

"Four Seconds Down" saved my life today. Thank you.

Feb. 24 2013 07:51 PM
RK from Belmont, CA

8. Ineffable was amazing -- atoms like actors, dispersing after the last curtain. Poetry.

Jul. 27 2012 03:00 AM

Wonderful podcast. Could you please tell me what the music is that starts playing at exactly 11:26 into the podcast, as King Lear is mentioned? It is absolutely spine-tingly beautiful.

In fact, all of the music used in the RadioLab podcasts has been well chosen for each segment and very moving... it really helps me remember things much better than if there were no music at all- perhaps you could start listing the music in the show notes along with all the other information?

Thanks! Keep up the FANTASTIC work!

Jul. 23 2010 03:53 PM
Gus from California

The syndrome mentioned is Cotard's Syndrome.

And does anyone know what the music is at the end of this segment?

Nov. 12 2009 04:21 PM

What's the name of the syndrome that's mentioned in 6. Am I Dead?

Oct. 28 2009 05:55 PM
j birch from Va

Article#7 (I think) seemed not to distinguish carefully between identical but separate processes. A copy of my brain functions placed in a non-biological system might have a similar, but separate identity. Like identical twins, I and my psycho-simulacrum would diverge as (if) he discovered his non-biological body and its implications, and I contemplated our differences and perhaps envied or enjoyed knowing of my vicarious immortality. PS: Who owns the host 'computer', or even the copied processes?
One of the other articles discussed the hearing & imagination evoked brain functions detectable by fMRI, as though it were a contradiction to the standard definition of brain death. They could have discussed many other ways to trigger brain behavior, thru the 6 or 7 other senses, and directly by brain electrode stimulation of key parts of the brain. In any case, the brain is only part of the CNS, so the 'location' of the self (nor its death) is hardly as clear cut as 'brain death'. Death and the continuity of life are still infinitely discussable parts of most living processes. If you consider life that reproduces by fission, and can figure out when the first bacterium dies, maybe you can figure out when the rest of us die.

Sep. 27 2009 09:09 PM
Sarah McClary from Dayton, Ohio

"I SIng The Body Electric"
The idea of downloading your psyche, soul, feelings, whatever to some sort of computer is fascinating (if we could ever produce a machine that would have that much memory and be smaller than Fort Knox :). My dystopian, worst-case-scenario worrywart wonders if I would still remain "myself". Sure, the machine would be following the same patterns I would when I was alive, and may be able to assimilate my likes/dislikes/feelings to come up with some opinions. But we see how prevalent viruses and trojan horses are on the internet. What if a vegetable extremist sent a viral file to all the "computer people" to override personal taste so that we would all crave brussel sprouts like many of us crave coffee? Would these machines be considered citizens? And with file sharing, who's to say our memories/feelings wouldn't be transferred from machine to machine until nothing is distinguishable as "me" or "you" but instead only little files that represents some little snippet of personality? This idea is so fascinating, but I'm sure it will make the skin crawl for anyone who fears machines may become smarter than humans (take that, Will Smith!) Where's Asimov when you need him?

Jul. 29 2009 12:02 PM

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