Return Home
Season 12 | Episode 4

Black Box

« previous episode | next episode »

This hour, we examine three very different kinds of black boxes—those peculiar spaces where it’s clear what’s going in, we know what’s coming out, but what happens in-between is a mystery. From the darkest parts of metamorphosis, to a sixty year-old secret among magicians, to the nature of consciousness itself, we confront the stubborn gaps in our understanding.

Decoding The Void

In the days before anesthesia, surgery was about the worst ordeal you could endure. Patrick Purdon, Assistant Professor of Anesthesia at Harvard Medical School, gives producer Tim Howard a tour of Mass General Hospital’s famous Ether Dome, an operating theater that would have resonated with the screams of ...

Comments [12]

You Are The Judge

As a young man, producer Jesse Cox learned that his grandparents, Sydney and Lesley Piddington, had been enormously popular radio performers of the 1950’s. They were mentalists, wowing listeners with their uncanny ability to read each other’s minds. Sixty years later, a question remains: how did they do it? No ...

Comments [122]

Goo and You

On a quiet, warm summer day, somewhere in the soil beneath your feet, tucked into a nearby plant, or at the edges of a pond, a tiny little cataclysm is happening: an insect is transforming, undergoing metamorphosis. The chrysalis is easily nature’s best known black box, but it turns out, ...

Comments [31]

Comments [109]


Is vectorman sampled in this @ 18:20?

Jan. 19 2015 02:43 PM

I went to the page clicked play then when they were about to say the answer i closed it

Nov. 14 2014 10:05 AM

For those who still don't know, and would like to know. The brazilian song is: Teta Lando - Fuguei No Escola (Para Jogar a Bola)

Your welcome fellow Radiolab listeners.

Oct. 22 2014 11:07 PM
Gertrude G. Goethe from me handy dandy computer desk

The unnerving mystery of what happens in between wakefulness and unconsciousness has been explained- sort of. I always thought that the complex running's of the mind were meant to be just that, a mystery. When it gets debunked as brain waves interfering and communicating, I feel like it loses some of it's paranormal, for lack of a better word, qualities. The human mind is hardly paranormal, but it makes it all the more interesting to know that there are some things that are more difficult to understand. The concept of Telepathy, telekinesis, etc.. has always been a wonderful mystery to me in the sense that it is a reoccurring thing in human experience and yet, classified as impossible. The whole concept of unexplainable events is extremely fascinating in an otherwise uneventful life.

Oct. 20 2014 10:01 PM
Joseph from Oregon

Aug. 17 2014 02:14 AM
Rory Lane from Santa Cruz

Pretty annoying that they chickened out of both the pain stories and the trick.

Aug. 08 2014 04:33 PM
miranda from florida

i'd LOVE to know the details of the music that's played
the african song at 50 mins is fabulous and shazam can't identify it
please let us know what it is!!
i agree with previous comments saying there should be links so we can hop to itunes or wherever and purchase

Jun. 11 2014 10:01 AM
Robert from Rolla, MO

The old "mind reading" couple have obviously rigged it. The person who they choose to generate the phrase during each show is a plant. It works across all of the scenarios you discussed.

Jun. 06 2014 05:27 PM

Are there going to be any new episodes any time soon? I know I have heard this one before a few months ago. I have listened to every single episode now and I am jonesing for something new. Thanks :)

Jun. 02 2014 12:30 PM
Rick Evans from 10473

When as a 6 year old I had my tonsils removed I distinctly remember having a nightmarish dream under the influence of ether. I did not just suddenly lose consciousness then wake up in recovery.

The anesthesiologist put a metal meshed mask over my face and dripped ether on it. I was told to count to a hundred. I never got that far but as lost consciousness I could hear deepening and increasingly louder voices while the wire mesh of the mask became increasingly magnified and the surgical theater lights became brighter. This seemed to go on for a while. Then I woke up in recovery.

But it was not one second I'm getting the anesthetic then the next second I'm awakening.

Jun. 01 2014 03:21 PM
Helen from NYC

I loved this episode. The bit about "a caterpillar's memory" gave me actual goosebumps - this is why love your show.

I wanted to leave this video here for anyone interested:
It's an animated MRI/ CT rendering of a butterfly chrysalis. I can already see the vasculature, so I am guessing that this is a bit later in the pupation process? I'm wondering why can't they do this earlier, and see if there is any order to the "goo"?

Jun. 01 2014 03:14 AM
Jane Eiseman

Re Black Box/anesthesia program segment: I was once a research assistant in a Sleep Laboratory. Are the slow waves, to which you refer, delta waves, characteristic of deep/stage 4 sleep? Or are they of a slower frequency?

Jun. 01 2014 12:54 AM
David McMahon

I loved the show or at least what portion I could listen to. A few thoughts:

1) Anesthesia: the pastern described, a low frequency alpha wave, seems remarkably similar to a clock cycle in a modern computer. The clock cycle dictates when various components of a computer talk to each other ( memory, CPU, video & sound outputs). I wonder whether the low frequency wave is a cause or a symptom. I really think they need to explore whether the slow clock cycle is caused by anesthesia and so the brain components do not properly communicate. ERGO, figure out what portion of the brain controls the clock cycle and the impact of anesthetic drugs.

2) Psychic trick: there are plenty of similar tricks out there that I have seen that would explain the mind reading trick. The principal seems fixated on the recordings and is not thinking beyond. Both the first example and the second could be easily explained by a substitution method. One where by the sentence seems randomly selected but really is not. The second whereby a pre-fixed sealed envelope is substituted for the random audience submissions. It is not that difficult do do either of these.

May. 31 2014 08:30 PM
Darin See from Silly Valley, California

Why not partner with eMusic or some music retailer, and provide links to songs/artists that are played in music interludes? Maybe (1) RL could make a small bit of money for the leads on sales at the retailer; (2) musicians could make a little more money on sales and get a little more exposure; (3) music retailers could make a little more money on sales; and (4) RL listeners who hear something they love don't have to scour the internet to figure out what that great Angolan song is... they can just click and get it!

In fact why not advocate for doing this throughout the NPR world?

An idea!

May. 31 2014 06:40 PM
JimC from N NJ

The caterpillar to moth transition seems amazing at first, but think about how a flower emerges from the bud ... IRIS flowers are blooming right now and are a perfect example.. the final flower is all wrapped up (but fully created) inside, and over a matter of an hour or two the solid, bullet-shaped bud opens into a beautiful, fully formed complex flower. Sounds just like the moth emergence description!

May. 31 2014 01:03 PM

A lack of anesthesia during surgery is unimaginable to me during this day and age. I feel as though we take it for granted and don't really think about when there was a lack of it, such as when they would require multiple men to hold down a patient just to do an operation. I'm not surprised that many patients ended up committing suicide because the thought of a saw going through ones limbs and bones is unbearable beyond measure. Very interesting Radiolab.

Apr. 24 2014 08:06 PM

I had never really considered the mechanics of anesthesia before, and I find the idea of it cutting off the brain's connectivity really interesting. How would that explain the 1 in 10,000 cases in which anesthesia doesn't work?

Apr. 23 2014 08:29 PM
Michael Maher

Hi there.
I loved this episode and the show in general. I would just like to know the name and performer of a song that plays in between two segments in this episode. There is a man singing in Spanish with guitar accompaniment. Anyone know the information on this song?


Mar. 13 2014 12:50 PM

The page didn't work for me either. The player shows but doesn't play. Here's a link to the mp3 it plays:

Mar. 12 2014 09:40 PM
Elle from New York

Hazel from Denver, those were my thoughts exactly on that segment. They mentioned that the judges--people working for the show--selected the envelopes from the audience. The whole act could have been set up beforehand, with the "audience member" and poem pre-selected. Frankly, I had trouble believing she was on a plane at all.

I did listen to "Don't Click This," and in spite of their warnings about ~ruining~ the trick I thought it actually made the whole thing more interesting. The interest lies in the machinations of the trick, for me.

I have to say, I love Radiolab (sometimes), but often the wiffling everyman characters played by Jad and Robert annoy me. Do they really think their listeners are that dumb, or is it a ploy to make their listeners feel smart and thus keep listening?

Mar. 12 2014 05:06 PM

Excellent episode. My favourite part though was the "Decoding The Void" segment. I really liked the part where they were trying to explain why you go unconscious and how (they think) anesthesia works. I think that what can only be described as a sonic illustration really was kind of genius.. It really aided in crystallizing the idea of how the low frequency alpha waves produced as a result of anesthesia succeeds in interrupting communication between the neurons in your head just as your about to go under. It really made me smile and I had to chuckle to myself at how effective it was at making me understand.. That sequence of sounds really worked..

Was kind of awesome actually..

Mar. 09 2014 02:27 PM
Leah from New York

The link that worked for me was:
Try that if you can't get the other to work.

Mar. 08 2014 01:15 PM
Dan K from Cambridge, UK

Would love to know what song is playing at the end of this piece.

Sounds like a combo of Zoë Keating - We Insist ( and causeyoufair (

More generally, it would be so awesome to have a soundtrack of each episode. I think the experimental sounds and the sampling is what makes this podcast such a joy.

Feb. 28 2014 09:59 AM
Hazel from Denver,

It's a surprise to me that the Piddington's act was considered such a vast mystery by modern audiences and thinkers--or at least that's how the story was spun by Chad and Robert. While listening to the program, it occurred to me that the trick was probably performed in a similar many to how Televangelists perform healings of "random" guests in the congregation. The televangelists get away with it because audience members assume that the nice looking old lady who can barely stand, even with her walker, would never accept payment to lie and pretend to be handicapped. However, I do have to say that it's strange that, with as many broadcastings as the Piddingtons' have performed, no one ever came forward and said they were paid to read a particular line--not that they used the same exact trick every time. However, I am sure that if you threaten to sue people for squeaking, they will take their 5 pound note and be quiet.

Feb. 27 2014 05:47 AM
Lab Rat Sam from FSM

The segment on Goo and You reminds of this beautiful quote from Maya Angelou, "We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty."

Feb. 26 2014 11:11 PM
Jimmy Jack from Australia

Through the black box... only a few days before listening to this episode, I'd listened to an Australian podcast, Radio National, that aired an interview with Sydney Piddington from 1982. In the episode he explains how he developed his techniques whilst trying to keep his mind active as a prisoner of war in Changi prison camp and provides a fair bit of detail as to how he developed his techniques. Not sure if its accessible to people in other countries, but I've posted the link below, with a free download of the interview:


Feb. 26 2014 07:00 AM

A few hours after listening to the podcast we saw the NYTW production of the Caryl Churchill play Love and Information which begins exactly where you left off. "I really want to know but may regret finding out. ". Many other parallels of looking inside a black box.

Feb. 25 2014 11:55 PM
Migs from Los Angels

Hey Guys: quick question, whats the song you play in the transition between the Magic story to the Caterpillar?butterfly segment. Does anybody know? Shazam doesn't know

Feb. 19 2014 04:27 PM

Hey Jad and Robert! I loved the Piddington piece. I am the one of those people who visited the website and clicked on the ugly truth link, and I am just wondering how many people listened to the episode and how many people chose to listen to the ugly truth. I just wanted to know. It should be pretty easy to find out??


Feb. 17 2014 02:37 PM
Lindsey from Chicago

On the Piddington segment: It wasn't difficult to work out that they had agreed on the phrase in advance and that the trick was to make it appear that it had been chosen randomly from an audience. Isn't it a little insulting to the listening audience to assume we wouldn't figure that out immediately? But still, it was a very entertaining story, and I enjoyed it!

Feb. 13 2014 02:16 PM
Amy Piddington

Regarding the comment below my contact is

Feb. 12 2014 05:36 AM
Amy Piddington from Sydney, NSW, Australia

What a great surprise! My family name, I quizzed my grandmother about it and it turns out that the Amazing Piddingtons were my grandfathers cousins!
I love this radio show and listen to it all the time, what an honour that they are talking about my ancestors. Any other Piddingtons out there please get in touch - I am an only child, and always thought I was the very last Piddington of the line.

Feb. 12 2014 05:33 AM
Scott Smith from Corvallis, Oregon

Hi, another great show, and I have to say, maybe I'm wired more differently from other people than I thought, or was meant to be a stage magician, but I clicked thru all the silly warnings and listened to Penn explain how he could imagine the trick being done, and it was absolutely satisfying. I would've put it right in the show, because it wasn't at all like telling us there's (spoiler alert) no Santa Claus; Penn admits in the podcast that it's a trick. So, let us appreciate the cleverness of the misdirection, the art of the set-up. At any rate, thanks for making it available. And thank you, Penn, for playing along in a morally murky situation for a performer.

Feb. 10 2014 12:16 AM
dankzephyr from seattle

why they didn't consider telepathy or astral projection is beyond me. these two methods could have also have been plausible, for story #2.

Feb. 06 2014 07:59 AM
John Stotler from Colebrook, CT

As soon as they got to the point where the guy said he still had no idea how his grandparents pulled it off, all I could think was, "Man, is there ANY way I could get in touch with Penn Jillette and see if he thinks this is interesting enough to tell us how it worked?"

And then Robert said, "so I talked to Penn Jilette..."

I cheered aloud in my car.

Haters gonna hate. I didn't like the religious bit either, but I'm not going to act all entitled about it and complain on the inter webs about how that .9 seconds of a brilliant show didn't fit my sensibilities.

Feb. 04 2014 09:08 PM
Ryan from CA

Another great radiolab episode, but I only have one quibble. The connection between religion(or life after death) and a butterflies metamorphosis is so far fetched it makes no sense.

Sure it is a nice feeling to think that something tangible could explain what happens to us all when we die. But the absurdity to connect these completely unrelated events with each other is... hogwash. How is something(humans) dying related to a caterpillar becoming goo. Are you saying that when we die we become soup? Are you being more philosophical and saying that our soul goes into an afterlife, if so how does a caterpillar help the issue become more clear? And how does a caterpillar (which didn't die) which able to remember something from it's (not really past life) but previous self means that "YES, in fact you will remember everything when you get to heaven, or at least the smell of that chicken tikka masala which gave you food poisoning".

Honestly I found the "goo and you" story to be fascinating in it's own right. A caterpillar walking around with the "building blocks/scaffolding" of its future self, builds a cocoon, then becomes a slush of proteins only to emerge as a butterfly, and, still remembers at least some information from its previous self is pretty frickin awe inspiring.

Feb. 03 2014 08:46 PM

Pure coincidence that only a few hours before listening to this episode, I watched a video someone posted that demonstrates quite nicely, and hilariously, the experience of anaesthesia.

Jan. 31 2014 03:00 PM
Erik Rosaen from Ann Arbor, MI

After reading some of the scathing comments I just need to say that your podcast is one of the very best available. Lighthearted, fun, interesting and yes you allow yourselves to have a point of view. Lighten up people!

Jan. 30 2014 03:01 PM
Tom from San Francisco

Audio did not work for me using Safari version 7.0.1 (9537.73.11). Switching to Chrome worked.

Jan. 30 2014 01:56 PM

There are some tricks that are really good because they do something in plain sight of a room full of like 300 people and no one sees it until the magician explains what he did, then everyone can see that. Now that is magic!

But I just didn't think it was that big of a deal to tell everyone how it was done, as long as you warned us. I suppose I can understand how some people haven't been exposed to enough truth about such things yet and still have a childlike excitement about it. I was interested enough to come here because of the buildup, but it wasn't any kind of let down. I actually figured she... oh, never mind. I guess you can listen if you haven't yet.

Jan. 30 2014 02:32 AM
Ken from Los Angeles

I loved the African high-life music that was played after the first segment and the answering machine. Do you know the name of the African music?

Jan. 29 2014 07:28 PM


We wanna hear the other stories about people who wake up from the ether!!!

Jan. 29 2014 03:48 PM
Audrey from Portland Flute Shop

The piece of flute music heard from 3:00 to 3:33 is excerpted from Robert Muczynski Duos for Flutes, Op. 34. It's one of my favorite flute duets!

Jan. 29 2014 02:38 PM
Alex Rosenheim from Kensington, MD

Comment (Part 2 of 2):
And that is why there was nothing ugly about Penn's explanation. Even he indicated that he could not know for certain...but he had a good guess. If you have a witness that sees someone in London at Noon and then in Los Angeles at can reasonably say that the person took an airplane, but you would be hard pressed to be certain to identify which flight. You would not attribute it to magic or mystery...but you would still, not know all the details.

Had this story been presented on any other forum, none of this would matter. But this is Radio Lab. Shows like yours and Sci Friday are an inspiration to the raw power of observation of the real world we all inhabit and the truths revealed through the scientific method. And there is even the power of the mysteries that remain even in the midst of the truths discovered.

So, not think that anything is lost or ugly from discovering that a truth that we cling to depends on a certain point of view. It is the constant pursuit of truth, beauty, freedom and above all else, love that drives us as we, and everyone that has ever been and ever will be share this pale blue dot.

I constantly am drawn back to and humbled by this quote from Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space: “Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there--on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

So, no truth is ugly. Truth rises above such concepts. The ugly is only where worth and understanding remains undiscovered. And it is up to science to never give up the pursuit of truth. For once the truth is discovered, we receive the gift of beauty, freedom and love.

Jan. 29 2014 10:07 AM
Alex Rosenheim from Kensington, MD

Comment (Part 1 of 2):
Science is the pursuit of truth through objective observation and logical deduction based on those observations of the real world.

Magic and the supernatural are not bound by objective observation, but depend on trickery to force a subjective, controlled observation. It is similar to the concept of a Potemkin village. If you walk down the street, you see buildings. But the second you walk through a door and explore deeper, you see that it is only a facade.

The entertainment of performance magic is an unstated agreement between the performer and the audience that a lie, within the proscenium, is not only allowable, but is, in fact, expected...anticipated.

I have been a fan of Penn and Teller since their TV special, "Penn and Teller Go Public" aired on PBS in 1985. (Wow...nearly 30 years!) They did a great piece in the show about how to light a cigarette in a completely fake way with a combination of coordinated misdirections. It involved tricks like dropping props into pockets, planting objects hidden in the palm of the hand, using noises and motion to move the viewers eye and attention from one spot to a selected other. Each act was real, but they appeared to be different than they really were, not because they weren't happening, but because the performer used other actions to prevent the audience from making an accurate observation.

One of the other things Penn did on the show was to a fire breathing act. He talked about side shows, sword swallowing and other carnival attractions. It still sticks with me to this day...but before he did the trick, he pointed out that these things did not involve the same type of trick as the others. They did not involve misdirection...just perseverance and skill. He hauntingly pointed out that sword swallowers gag a little bit and sometimes get nicked, and that fire breathers sometimes singed their lips and got sick from swallowing lighter fluid.

I know even this may have been part of the act with more hidden secrets and misdirection. But regardless, the point he ended his introduction with before he finally performed the feat of breathing fire was that it is far less interesting to think about HOW the trick was done...but was more interesting to think "WHY?".

Jan. 29 2014 10:06 AM

Seems like a ton of comments consist of people trying to get info about songs and media included in the shows. I imagine including a credit list with each show would save a few headaches for listeners.

Jan. 28 2014 07:33 PM

Leave the pseudo religion crap out of it. It ruined an otherwise useful segment with a bunch of nonsensical farcical crap. As mentioned the stories about waking up during anesthesia would also have been interesting, but of course that was cut off too. I was pretty disappointed with this episode. It was pretty mediocre.

Jan. 28 2014 05:47 PM
Angela from Toronto, Ontario

Does anyone know who did the dreamy soundscape music at the end of the catepillar story?

Jan. 28 2014 12:55 PM

Overall a good episode, however I wish they would have covered the topic of anesthesia awareness. They hinted at it, but Jad kept objecting and they dropped the subject. If you don't want to talk about it then why bring it up in the first place?

Jan. 28 2014 12:00 PM
Erica from Minneapolis

Really enjoyed this episode.

Jan. 28 2014 11:55 AM
Valerie Hebert from San Diego, CA

I just love RadioLab, and thought Black Box was another exceptional show. The last segment on the metamorphosis of the caterpillar is one of the best pieces of radio journalism I have heard. I am telling all my friends and family to listen to Goo and You, and cannot express how much I would rather listen to this sort of thought provoking journalism over every other form of mass media available. Keep up the great work you do! And, I also love how you finish each other's sentences :o)

Jan. 28 2014 12:16 AM

I'm very curious to find out what portion of Radiolab's listeners went to the "you were warned" site. I hope that they are tracking those stats, and that Jad and Robert will share that info in a later podcast.

Jan. 27 2014 06:47 PM

Hey guys,

The song between You are the Judge and Goo and You is from Angola Soundtrack 2. It the song by Teta Lando called "Fuguei na Escola (Para Jogar a Bola)"

Thanks for listening everyone.

Jan. 27 2014 05:22 PM

Did Piddington say Keats? Shelley wrote "Hail to thee, Blithe Spirit."

Jan. 27 2014 11:45 AM
Alroy from Europe

There she is
..well you are the judge !

Thanks for a great episode !!!

Jan. 27 2014 11:25 AM
Dan from Alberta

Hey Radiolab,

I think your show has excellent content, and I'd really like to listen to your shows, but I just can't seem to get used to the take-your-turn way you have of finishing each others sentences. I feel like this is really disjointed and scripted, cause obviously you aren't doing that organically.

Sadly, I feel like this (for me personally, I don't intend to project) ruins the show. I just can't absorb the information, and the dialogue seems extremely blocky. The fact that you sometimes have guests with dissimilar recording equipment actually makes the experience pretty grating. It feels like someone reading an article, which I guess could be the objective. It's too bad because a lot of the content you cover is highly interesting, and I would love to hear about it in a natural dialogue form.

I don't want to just complain, and I'm just dying to know what reason you have for doing this. I could even just be imagining this, but I have yet to actually get through one of your shows without turning it off because I just get sick of the constant switching.

Excellent job otherwise!!

Jan. 27 2014 06:06 AM
Nathan from tx

Does anyone know the song that plays at 49:30? I tried Shazam and all it told me was that it would not recognize my humming...

Jan. 27 2014 12:38 AM
Angelica from New York City

I JUST HEARD THE HOLD MUSIC FOR THE FIRST TIME WHILE I WAS ON HOLD WITH BED BATH AND BEYOND! I didn't even realize it at first but then it was stuck in my head, and she put me back and hold and I was like, WOW THIS IS IT! It is really great hold music...

Jan. 26 2014 11:44 AM

I saw two people ask for the name of the music and I want to know also! I don't see any answers. I thought it would/should be credited... great show!

Jan. 25 2014 11:13 AM

1) Dr. Crawford Long of Georgia was actually the first to use Ether as a surgical anesthetic, in 1842.

2) The answer to the second segment is obvious. The audience member providing the random sentence, bit of a poem, etc, is clearly a plant, and the grandmother memorized it ahead of time. That's the only reasonable explanation. Not a black box.

Jan. 24 2014 12:56 PM

I am a big fan of the show, but I have been disappointed recently. This episode was the worst. Not telling the whole story in the anesthesia segment was just bad journalism, if you are too "sqwicked" out by this stuff maybe you shouldn't be a science journalist. The magic trick not being explained left me feeling like you had wasted the last 10 minutes of my life, and the butterfly section had me baffled. Why would you insert theology into an otherwise compelling story? You ruined that whole segment, and insulted your audience by looking at biology from an exclusively christian perspective. Heaven, really?? Resurrection?? I would have been happier with a zombie comparison, or really any other analogy at all.

Jan. 24 2014 11:59 AM
Eamonn from Ireland

Thought it was a great episode. The first section was really the strongest part though. The last section was what Radiolab do worst... Why bring in reputable scientists for all science bits, but then feel free to spout off whatever metaphysical/theological nonsense you want without consulting creditable and rigourous philosophers or philosophers of science? Philosophy (and even theology) isnt just about sitting around and spouting off about the first things that come into your head. They require equal rigour and academic investigation.

Also, all the nonsense about the magic trick was a bit strange. I mean who is actually listening to the whole airplane set up and actually tring to work out secret codes of communication!? You'd have to have never seen a card push or envelope trick in your entire life! I like Penn's response best of all... especially his incredulous laugh that someone would even remotely believe in any part of the act in this day and age.

But despite all that, I do love your show guys. Keep up the good work.

Jan. 24 2014 10:28 AM
Marta from Colorado

Loved this segment and was very happy to go to the separate link. Loved clicking on the black box and then on the skull and crossbones. Totally fun!

Jan. 23 2014 09:24 PM
Melissa from Oklahoma City

Man, we have some grouchy poopy-pants-ers on here about this show. Negative, negative, negative, complain, complain, complain. I think they are great even if they didn't blow my mind. I love Jad and Robert, squeamish and cussing and laughing and philosophizing. It's what makes this such a great show. They incorporate all humanness, scientific and sentimental and everything in between with every topic on every show. And the link did work, you just have to click the dang box. Jeez, lighten up and have a little fun.

Jan. 23 2014 08:15 PM

Hi, the entire go to some other link to find how they did the trick was silly and pointless. Its a trick of course there were no sparkle unicorns or magic dust involved. The entire "it will be a bummer" was also silly and a waste of time. You guys spent minutes going over and over that there was a solution but should we or shouldn't we say it. If you are going to say it, then just say it. If you aren't, then that is silly when we are talking about a frickin magic trick, but if you aren't then just move on.

Jan. 23 2014 07:39 PM

Hi. I love RadioLab, and always learn something; I did in this episode, too. I enjoyed the anesthesia segment a lot. But the last story about butterflies has stayed with me -- in a bad way. I'm not bothered by the biological-theological mash-up (maybe everything is interconnected!), or the anthropomorphizing (we humans have a highly evolved system that came from somewhere -- and I think we have plenty in common with other creatures). I'm not squeamish. But, I'm not a huge fan of dissection, but it has its place. But this one seems dumb, gratuitous, immature ("looks like snot"). I'm an amateur, raising swallowtails; I certainly don't know everything. They're not magical or even all THAT mysterious -- their life cycles are just different from ours. But they are cool. And part of what makes them cool is that these creatures ARE the chrysalis, as much as they are caterpillars and butterflies. That chrysalis was INSIDE the caterpillar, pushing out, growing, pushing out, growing, emerging, transforming -- with every instar. So, of course the caterpillar wasn't IN the chrysalis, certainly not at the 1 day pupa mark. It WAS the chrysalis. Moths and their cocoons are a bit different, but I distinctly heard the word "chrysalis." Would love to hear more about metamorphosis on RadioLab, but not from the two-kids-on-the-sidewalk-squishing-bugs perspective.

Jan. 23 2014 06:53 PM

Hi. I love RadioLab, and always learn something; I did in this episode, too. I enjoyed the anesthesia segment a lot. But the last story about butterflies has stayed with me -- in a bad way. I'm not bothered by the biological-theological mash-up (maybe everything is interconnected!), or the anthropomorphizing (we humans have a highly evolved system that came from somewhere -- and I think we have plenty in common with other creatures). I'm not squeamish. But, I'm not a huge fan of dissection, but it has its place. But this one seems dumb, gratuitous, immature ("looks like snot"). I'm an amateur, raising swallowtails; I certainly don't know everything. They're not magical or even all THAT mysterious -- their life cycles are just different from ours. But they are cool. And part of what makes them cool is that these creatures ARE the chrysalis, as much as they are caterpillars and butterflies. That chrysalis was INSIDE the caterpillar, pushing out, growing, pushing out, growing, emerging, transforming -- with every instar. So, of course the caterpillar wasn't IN the chrysalis, certainly not at the 1 day pupa mark. It WAS the chrysalis. Moths and their cocoons are a bit different, but I distinctly heard the word "chrysalis." Would love to hear more about metamorphosis on RadioLab, but not from the two-kids-on-the-sidewalk-squishing-bugs perspective.

Jan. 23 2014 06:52 PM


Jan. 23 2014 04:59 PM

I'm not sure why anyone feels insulted for having to go to a different site to listen to the conclusion of the story. It's fun! It's a treasure hunt! Leaving it open as an option is completely appropriate.

Jan. 23 2014 02:14 PM

I absolutely HATED when Jad stopped everyone from hearing stories about what it's like being locked in during operations without anesthesia. If I could reach through my computer and slap him I would. Seriously?? Either edit that out or tell the story. Horrible storytelling, guys. HORRIBLE.

Jan. 23 2014 12:00 PM

I was actually expecting a story about aircraft black boxes. Oh, well.

I found the anesthesia bit fascinating. Since I experienced the light switch turning off with my colonoscopy. While my hubby remembers being conscious during his. I'll take note of that if he needs surgery in the future.

The thing about the magic trick was not a surprise to me since I had just seen the movie "Now You See Me" with Woody Harrelson, Mark Ruffalo and Morgan Freeman.

Then there is the absolutely fabulous book: Sleights of Mind: What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals About Our Everyday Deceptions by
Stephen L. Macknik, Susana Martinez-Conde, and Sandra Blakeslee. Reading it will give you much more insight, and if memory serves (it is quite unreliable) Penn Jillette is mentioned. An interesting reveal in the book was one of the authors was quite pregnant and experiencing morning sickness when she fully witnessed what everyone else missed in the trick.

Or you can just visit the Quirkology YouTube channel of Richard Wiseman, where mind blindness and misdirection are the basic rule of the day.

Jan. 22 2014 11:12 PM
Mike from Denver

I have to say that this is one of the best RadioLab episodes I have heard in a long time. Way to get back to your roots!

Jan. 22 2014 07:56 PM
Marc W from Albuquerque

After you go to this link: you then have to click on the black box and then another screen displays with a skull and cross bones. You have to click on that also and you will then see the audio player.

Jan. 22 2014 01:16 PM
Brian W from Lynchburg VA

Having your audience jump through unnecessary extra hoops (which appear, often as not, to not work) just to reveal a mundane piece of the story is a bit much. I, for one, was listening to this podcast during a long drive, and was thus unable to visit a special hyperlink to hear the rest of the story. Yes, I understand that it was a play on the misdirection of magic and the "ugly secret," but it ended up being just deliberately constructed frustration for more than a few of your listeners. I have no doubt you Radiolabbers were entertained by it; I can't say the same.

Jan. 22 2014 10:03 AM

I love Radiolab. But I couldn't help feeling disappointed with the team for the way they chose to anthropomorphise the act of metamorphosis in the butterfly story.

It was a truly wonderful description on it's own without having to include cloying sentiments of the possibility of being able to find something inside yourself right now that you might become in the future. As the comparison was made with the pre-butterfly caterpillar having signs of it's wings. Or, worse still, stoking the coals of the 500 year old idea that there still might be some kind of parallel between a morphing caterpillar and retaining some sense of self on entering a mystical heaven. Oh please!

Story telling yes. But stick to the science please. It's far more enriching.

Jan. 22 2014 05:05 AM

Great episode, love the story on anesthesia. I didn't find the spoilers such a bummer, just a couple theories how it could be done. Should've been included!

Jan. 21 2014 09:52 PM

is the "don't click this" url not working for anyone else? i can bring up the web page, just no audio...

Jan. 21 2014 05:03 PM

Ughh... Jad is such a pussy. I wanted to hear the stories about people waking up in the middle of surgery.

Jan. 21 2014 04:34 PM

Thanks gang!

As a fan of both Penn Jilette and Radiolab it was an am amazing combo. Looking forward to listening to the extra bit when I'm done.

Jan. 21 2014 02:12 PM

I like Radiolab, but they really annoy me when they take some perfectly sensible topic like pupation and say things like "There's the answer to what 'carries through' resurrection". Even worse when they say things like "Does the butterfly know that it used to crawl?" It's an invertebrate; give me a break! It doesn't have that level of awareness. It's like they were out sick the day they taught Science in science class...

Jan. 21 2014 10:04 AM

I'm not sure what this segment had to do with black boxes. They just did a variation of an old carny trick, such as a blindfolded mentalist guessing what an audience member is holding in their hand. Even if you couldn't guess 1 of dozens of ways they could have done this, a quick google search provides links to sites that explain how this variation is performed.
The first segment was fascinating though. :)

Jan. 21 2014 08:30 AM
Drac from Berkeley, CA

I was a little annoyed that Radiolab took a truly interesting story about butterfly transformation and forced a philosophical and theological punchline to it. I think the similarity between biology and theology is severed the moment the mechanism is described. If any philosophical parallel can be drawn it must be between biomass and self. Not self and form. Especially off target when the form is a supernatural one.

Jan. 21 2014 08:01 AM
Carl Crusoe

Does anybody know the name of the song that goes "I am sleepy, I am sleepy" please?

Jan. 21 2014 05:28 AM
Jared Grabill from Detroit, MI

Hi, does anyone know the name of the piece music at the end of the show?

Jan. 21 2014 02:32 AM
Mike Fairchild

Direct MP3 link to the extra "Dont click this"

Jan. 21 2014 12:19 AM

For those of you having trouble:

worked for me. Good luck!

Jan. 20 2014 08:48 PM
Bob Buczek

(lower case)

Jan. 20 2014 06:03 PM

I'm glad I followed the link. While listening to the first part I kept thinking that I bet Pen & Teller would know how the trick is done and I started to get mad when it seemed clear they weren't going to pass it on.

I enjoyed the episode but I feel a bit insulted that they made me go do a different place and listen to a different thing just to learn the truth. Truth is always preferable to mystery, ugly or not. And it wasn't even an ugly truth.

Jan. 20 2014 05:09 PM
Jim E from San Diego

Listens who are intrigued about the Piddington secret may want to also listen to a 2000 radio broadcast about the show:

If you combine that radio show's added detail on the performance nature of the show, and the reasons why the BBC and others would not want the show's secrets revealed (example: there was serious interest in telepathy, this was the first Australian show on the BBC, the BBC wanted the show to look real for ratings), you get a better sense of why this was a black box.

Jan. 20 2014 03:56 PM
Amber from NJ

Just the best RadioLab episode ever. I didn't hesitate to listen to link. I'm happy I listened. Isn't it human nature to want the answer to a mystery?

Jan. 20 2014 03:52 PM
Diane from Northern Michigan

To Toby~ If Safari won't work and you haven't already tried Firefox…that worked for my iMac. Good luck.

Jan. 20 2014 02:23 PM
Allen Stevenson from Hamilton, Ont

I clicked on this link
and it said page not found!!!

Jan. 20 2014 01:06 PM
Kieron G. from UK

Oh, not that Jesse Cox...

Jan. 20 2014 12:49 PM
Steph from Boston

Loved hearing about MGH. I work there and love going up to the Ether Dome. It's slightly more creepy now.

Jan. 20 2014 09:39 AM

Excellent! :) :) :)
I wonder who DIDN'T want too find out...
Probably no one :)

Though I think you guys missed out on a chance for a new competition. Would have been a great one.

'Pick a card, any card...'

Jan. 20 2014 05:45 AM
Harry from Sydney, Australia

I loved this episode ... Even more so because I am in Sydney Australia and loved to hear my accent right next to the NY accent (my two favourite accents in the world).

Jan. 20 2014 02:09 AM
Alex Ember from SAN FRANCISCO


Jan. 20 2014 12:24 AM

When I try to open the audio to this podcast all I get is a black box...

Jan. 19 2014 11:15 PM
bc54321 from Brooklyn, NY

For those still having trouble (I'm using Chrome, the link stopped responding after the third click), here's a direct link to the audio file:

Jan. 19 2014 02:32 PM

This did NOT work on Safari.
This DID work on my IOS iPhone.

Jan. 19 2014 10:38 AM
Chris B from Grand Rapids, MI

I was only able to listen to the "don't click" by using Internet Explorer and enabling cookies. It wouldn't work in Firefox, Chrome, or Qupzilla (which all may be set to block cookies by default).

Jan. 18 2014 09:01 PM
Wayne R

The extra audio doesn't break the "magic trick" at all. In my opinion its still a mystery as to how they did it, but people are just thinking about it the wrong way. In fact, I would say most magic tricks should be solved that way.

Jan. 18 2014 08:26 PM

What is the name of the song played at the end of the You Are The Judge segment?

Jan. 18 2014 07:04 PM
rcdc from New York

for those having trouble with the link:

Jan. 18 2014 06:57 PM
James Repka

I really enjoyed this episode. I can't get over how bummed people are over how the trick was done. I had no hesitation about going to the link (it worked for me, by-the-way: just type in the whole series of words given in the address with no capitalization, no spaces, and no punctuation, then click on each of the series of images that load in your browser). The whole "mystery of life" thing always seems like a defense of ignorance to me, I always want to know how things work -- which is what I loved about the episode.

Jan. 18 2014 06:30 PM
Dima from Us

Can someone link likely to the ugly truth some reason I keep only getting 404's

Jan. 18 2014 05:50 PM
Nancy from Los Angeles

Agh! The don't click didn't work! My bummer is now hanging off a cliff!
Maybe my computer has a killjoy switch...

Jan. 18 2014 05:34 PM
Juan from London, UK

Worth every minute!

Jan. 18 2014 04:21 PM
Ben H from Austin, TX

Fantastic episode! I'll say as a magic aficionado with zero care about ruining the mystery for myself I definitely listened to the "Don't Click" this extra, and I'll repeat what Robert said that it is a real bummer. Not for me really because frankly I find the art of magic is in the design of the trick itself rather than the mystery. However if you aren't a buzzkill like me then seriously don't listen to it. It's not some spooky disturbing story, it's just...kind of demystifying. Please live in the magical world, it's a truly wonderful place that I wish I could visit.

I would love to hear Jad or Robert say how many pageviews and listens the "DON'T CLICK" extra will receive over the next month. I kind of hope I'm the only one, but I highly doubt that.

Jan. 18 2014 11:36 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.