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Stayin' Alive

Tuesday, June 02, 2009 - 04:40 PM

silver action figure doing dance from Saturday Night Fever silver action figure doing dance from Saturday Night Fever (Josh Miller/flickr)

This week on the podcast we take a look at four unconventional ways to stay alive. We talk to geneticist George Church, who originally appeared in our So Called Life Show, biologist Bernd Heinrich, neuroscientist David Eagleman, and finally, we visit a CPR class.


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Comments [25]

Arthur B Kells from Oviedo

This podcast was certainly interesting. The topic of avoiding death intrigues many people, because many people want to avoid death. Personally, I think avoiding death might be nice, but at the same time the natural cycle of life is fine the way it is. Having a limited amount of time, depressing as it is, allows us to make many decisions, whereas with an infinite amount of time, what we do is not as important, because we would have all the time in the world.

Apr. 07 2015 07:31 AM
Edgar Keats from Florida

I thought this NPR was quite thought provoking. I really liked the guy from Harvard who refused to accept that death was something that was unconquerable. I, myself find death a terrifying topic. The fact that there is so much unknown associated with it really scares me. Also, I think the guy that wanted to be laid out above the ground had figured out what he wanted to do with the end of his life approaching, and chose something that was suitable to him. However, that is not me. I believe that ideas are eternal and can always be revived but humans are something that can have an end.

Apr. 07 2015 04:19 AM
Walt C. Sinclair from Florida

I really liked listening to this podcast. It helped me realize how many people cope with and some to terms with death. Personally, I would hope to be able to accept it as just part of the natural cycle of life, but who knows what will happen? Also, even though some languages are considered dead, unlike people, they have the ability to be revived. All in all, I thought this NPR Podcast was very interesting and has opened up a new view of the world to me: one of somebody who is accepting of their impending death.

Apr. 06 2015 10:55 PM
Ender J. Hayden from Florida

This podcast is very interesting. Some of the ideas are thoughtful and interesting. It is weird that some people find becoming composted into nature calming. I find the idea of paleoacoustics very cool and it would be very impressive to revive dead languages, and be able to use them. I liked the CPR method of 100 compression per minute by using Stayin' Alive. This was a cool podcast.

Apr. 05 2015 11:50 AM
Gertrude N. Poe from Florida

This was very interesting hearing people's different thoughts about death. I like how some people are comforted by the fact that one day they will be eaten away by bugs and such and decompose. Even though it's disgusting, it's cool to think that we'll all be apart of the earth again one day, or at least our bodies. However, I would not like to be preserved or brought back to life because I believe that once our time has come, that that should be it and we should go to the place after death. But I do hope that one day, there is a way to preserve history such as languages or find a way to bring them back.

Jan. 26 2015 06:49 PM
Uli from London

Ha! Jad said the Big D -- That means a whole different thing in pop culture

And yeah: Robert is an a**hole to Church in the interview ||| It's not really a good style of interview!!!

Jan. 01 2015 05:07 AM
yer russian

I have to side with Charles on his point. This isn't the only interview in which you blatantly bully the interviewee. You could learn a thing or two from Ira Glass.

Nov. 29 2012 02:48 PM

Terrible interview clip at the beginning... The interviewer continually interrupts George Church, trying to refute his statements by repeating the same statement (not even asking questions – just making statements and never bothering to listen to Church's responses). Why did you even bother interviewing that guy in the first place if you were going to conduct your interview in that way?

Church never even had the chance to explain himself properly.

I've heard a lot of praise about this podcast from several friends, and this is my first episode to finally sit down and listen to. It's not getting off to a good start.

Oct. 04 2011 03:58 PM

I know I'm way late on this but...I have to agree with Dr. Heinrich. It's way more creepy to think of embalmed, intact bodies in the ground. Like the undead.

Feb. 23 2010 08:58 PM

Paul, pretty sure they were more focused on the ideological aspect of their bodies becoming part of the ground which, in turn, provides the nutrients a plant needs to grow.

Jun. 24 2009 05:10 PM
Paul Tucker

Both George Church and Robert Krulwich dream about their dead bodies composting into plants and trees. Is this scenario even possible? The "stuff" that plants and trees are made from is carbon taken in from the air through photosynthesis not from the ground.

Dead Robert, how do your molecules compost into plants and trees? I suppose your decomposing body does offgas some carbon dioxide that could be taken in by some nearby plants. Is that what you meant?


Paul Tucker

Jun. 23 2009 11:22 PM
Julie F.

I tested myself to see if the theory that 'when most people remember a song they sing it at the correct tempo' was reliable.

I shuffled my ipod and got a Rammstein song. Before playing it, I sang it. While singing, I took my metronome and coordinated it with the pace of my voice.

Then I stopped singing. However, the tempo I had been singing was still ticking away on the metronome. I played the song. It was almost exactly synchronized with the metronome!
I love music. AND this show.

-Julie from
Long Island, New York.

Jun. 16 2009 11:21 PM

I think there is an interesting idea relating to identity when we talk about knowing all the information about all of our atoms at a particular time.

First, it reminds me of Star Trek in deconstructing someone and beaming their information somewhere else to be reconstructed.

It also raises an interesting question about whether re-creating ourselves in another place from an "atomic snapshot" really is continuing our identity.

There is a philosophical scenario, where you're about to be beamed down to planet Z, but just as you're having your atomic information scanned into the machine, the machine breaks and you are not deconstructed aboard the Enterprise, but you have your information beamed down to planet Z anyway, where you're reconstructed from the information just taken on the ship. Now, in this story, only one of you can survive. The other must be killed because the Enterprise can't take on another crew member. Which person should be killed - the one still aboard the Enterprise or the one on Planet Z? In other words, which person is YOU? It's interesting to hear the responses people give.

Jun. 15 2009 10:28 PM
a quick correction... (this time to my last post)

I listened to the top option on the list, and found that it really was "Choice." However, the description and time are still off. so... yeah.

Jun. 13 2009 03:11 PM
a quick correction...

On the the main Radiolab page, on the right side of the page where you can listen to episodes, there's a slight problem. The top obtion on the list, "Choice," has all the specs of the "Stayin' Alive" podcast. In other words, one isn't able to listen to "Choice" from that list; instead: "Stayin' Alive." I suppose it's a minor error, but it would be more professional to have a 100% correct list.

Jun. 13 2009 03:07 PM

I think that knowing the states of all the particles in a body and recreating them is sort of a classical physics view of reality though, taking quantum physics and the uncertainty principle into account, you can never do that.

Jun. 11 2009 01:15 AM

i dj for a living which means i know the bpm of a bunch of songs off the top of my head. and yeah, "stayin alive" is about 103 but "another one bites the dust" is 115. that's probably close enough though. "rehab" is up near 150, you don't want to use that.

incidentally, this is the only practical application i can think of of knowing all these song speeds.

anyways, great show.

Jun. 05 2009 11:37 AM

With respect to never dying, and resuming last known state: read an overview of the documentation for Subversion, the programming-source-code versioning system to get a feel for this point of view.

Then read Greg Egan's "Permutation City", where people's brains are modeled at the subatomic level in computers, and can copy and "branch" themselves to alternate versions that have been tweaked to make slightly different decisions.

Jun. 04 2009 05:43 PM
alexandre van de sande

The fact I knew about the staying alive connection made me enjoy the segment even more. It's fun hearing it knowing where it's leading

Jun. 04 2009 04:29 PM

Ugg, read that table wrong: Rehab is WAY too fast. Wouldn't want to be responsible for the great Amy Winehouse Myocardial Infarction of aught nine.

Jun. 04 2009 03:50 PM

Correction: Stayin Alive is 104 bpm, Another One Bites the Dust is 110 (I thought I heard a tempo difference, but this excellent website confirmed it: ). That "Rehab" fits better than (at 100.1 bpm) either of the two options presented in the show delights me, given that drug overdose seems a likely reason for needing to perform CPR.

Jun. 04 2009 03:32 PM

You know, I get 110 beat/minute for both those songs, not 100. The seems like a fairly significant difference. Is my metronome just mis-calibrated?

Jun. 04 2009 12:54 AM
Zoe Beloff

The piece on recovering lost sound from pottery, reminded me of an amazing sound installation by Paul DeMarinis where he created a machine to do just that.

The installation is called "The Edison Effect". Here Ancient phonograph records, wax cylinders and holograms are scanned with lasers to produce music at once familiar and distant, like some faintly remembered melody running through the head.

One of the most remarkable pieces is a rough hewn pottery pot that turns on a turntable and is scanned with a laser beam to produce whispered sounds.

Paul DeMarinis teaches art at Stanford University. He is the most interesting artist I know working with technology. You can find out a little more about him here:

Jun. 03 2009 06:51 PM
Mark Haller

The bit on "paleoacoustics" or recovering lost sound from pottery is scrutinized well here:

Jun. 03 2009 03:49 PM

I knew about the Bee Gees connection to CPR but the Queen song in that context made me laugh.

Jun. 03 2009 03:48 PM

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