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Season 11 | Episode 9

Of Men and Myths

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A hat that goes viral, an idea that gives birth to computer science, and a life-saving maneuver. In this episode of Radiolab, we look at the men behind some of the most famous inventions of our time and wonder what they really created, and what legacy they will leave behind them.


Jonathan Epstein, James Gleick, Dr. Henry Heimlich, Jonnie Hughes, David Leavitt and Janna Levin

Turing's Machines

Alan Turing's mental leaps about machines and computers were some of the most innovative ideas of the 20th century. But the world wasn't kind to him. Turing was a math genius, a hero of World War II, and is widely considered to be the father of artificial intelligence. But in ...

Comments [13]

Heimlich's Maneuver

In the 1970s, choking became national news: thousands were choking to death, leading to more accidental deaths than guns. Nobody knew what to do. Until a man named Henry Heimlich came along with a big idea. Since then, thousands have been rescued by the Heimlich maneuver. Yet the story of ...

Comments [15]

The Boss of the Plains

In the mid 1860s, John B. Stetson introduced a new hat to the American West, and it caught on like wild fire. But according to author Jonnie Hughes, the history of how and why the cowboy hat conquered the Plains is a lot more complicated than that -- and it ...

Comments [5]

Comments [18]

Michael H from Europe

Terrible sad story about Turing- I think Turing's tremendous contribution was still completely top secret, even then. The thing to take away is that nobody should call the cops, including despicable neighbors, unless they have nothing whatsover to hide, no drugs, no liquor bottles in their car, no traffic tickets, no missed court appearance. Police aren't there to protect anybody, their job is to hurt whomever they can, including the complainant or victim!! And when some busybody witch neighbor calls the cops, and there's some tragic killing, they should be held criminally responsible.

When some neighbors 2 houses down were having a screaming fight, other busybody neighbors called the cops- they came to MY house, rang the bell, opened the screen door and started strolling in till I stopped them. It was summer 3am and my light was on, so I must be the miscreant, right?

The story that sticks with me is cops called to a noise complaint in Detroit, cop comes, circles the house having a party, sees a guy with a gun, and blasts him dead... through the kitchen window, without the people inside ever even having seen him. But it was a HALLOWEEN PARTY!!!!! Can you imagine the horror, and what a dumb sht this cop was (both were black).

Feb. 07 2016 09:36 PM
LiDAR from Rolla ,MO

A clarification on the Heimlich maneuver thing - in their training, the Red Cross says they have changed the Heimlich's name out of legal necessity, so that people can't sue Heimlich or his family if the maneuver does not succeed. I'm not sure if that was bologna or legit, but that's what they said last year.

Jun. 11 2014 01:19 PM

Right on, Pat. Surely there are Women and Myths?

May. 30 2014 09:12 PM

that school nurse sounded like such a sweet wonderful person :)

May. 26 2014 03:36 PM

Thank you Dornier :)

Nov. 05 2013 07:09 AM
Dornier Pfeil

The piano at 22:00 is from Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier. The third or fourth piece iirc.

Nov. 04 2013 07:32 PM
H Tinsley

Turing's story is truly fascinating and moving. I was dismayed though at your distinct lack of censure when Mr Glick pronounced his strictly materialist beliefs. Unfortunately, for all his learning, he contradicted himself. If indeed it is wonderful that a random assemblage of condensed energy has created such things as Bach fugues and Cezanne paintings, why bother referring to Bach or Cezanne? The truth is that no one would approach a sheet of lovely music or a spectacular canvas and say: oh, what an interesting and random collision of colors/symbols which chanced to manifest this way over billions of years! That's plainly foolish. Why that passes for brave insight when we talk about human beings is beyond me. In fact, this only illustrates the power of belief, not scientific materialism. Turing, too, was strongly influenced by his belief and hope for a world where he and his plight mattered. He was clearly a romantic and no romantic is confined merely to logic and facts. And if ever machines reach the level of existential sophistication we humans seem desperate now to disavow for ourselves, it will be because we chose to create them as such. Creation is magnitudes more beautiful than arbitrariness. Just ask Cezanne.

Nov. 04 2013 05:53 AM
Saud from Beirut

What's the music playing at 22:00?

Nov. 04 2013 04:05 AM

Actually, using malariotherapy was a mainstream treatment for syphilis in the pre-antibiotic era. So, the idea that it might work for lyme disease, also a spirochetal disease, is not farfetched at all. Either Dr. Fauci does not know his medical history or he does not choose to acknowledge it for some reason.

Nov. 03 2013 03:58 PM
Rori from philadelphia.

hey there, rl!

i love your show. but had to take small exception to one of the underlying messages in the heimlich piece. there's a trend now in medicine to turn away from using people's last names to describe maneuvers, diseases, etc. and to favor more descriptive language to describe these things. it keeps things more straightforward, more democratic, and solves the sticky problem of discoverers who made their discoveries in shady ways. look up reiter's called reactive arthritis.

Nov. 03 2013 03:01 PM
Pat from San Francisco

This episode suffers from a severe estrogen deficiency.

Nov. 02 2013 06:59 PM

Not only should Alan Turing be pardon, the Queen should bestow on him a posthumous earldom.

Nov. 02 2013 03:23 PM

Love the show, and loved the segment on Turing. It's as great story without the suicide part, and this item from the BBC Radio Science Unit ( says the suicide story is not true. It would make a great new Radiolab segment.

Nov. 02 2013 01:39 PM
Bill Bendzick from Dover, NJ

Dear Sirs,
I have just heard your piece on Alan Turing. The man was certainly a genius. But with regard to the current status of growth in artificial intelligence, you do not seem to believe that we have "hit a wall." In order for you to get to know what this wall is, and how penetrable it might be, you need to update your epistemology by studying one genius, and your neuron-grounded affect knowledge by studying another. Between the two, the opening of your eyes regarding consciousness, cognition, the neuroscience of affect and our use of imaging, and all sorts of implications for cultural anthropology and intercultural communication will greatly enhance your radio program.
Silvan S. Tomkins (d. 1992) developed a comprehensive affect theory which is revolutionary. The Silvan Tomkins Institute was formed at his death to carry on his work. The core members,disciples of Tomkins, are not fringe--they hold full professorships in world universities. They do their psychological study in accord with the accepted standards of empirical science, something that disciples of e.g. Freud and Jung actually refused to do. Tomkins in particular can tell you from his later writings what you need to consider if the distance separating the evolved human brain and the computer "thinking machine" (still a very primitive device) is to be shortened.
Empirical science itself is a method based upon a set of epistemological notions. The man who has explored most deeply the underpinnings of empirical science, and thus both confirmed its best promise and warned of its worst possible excesses is the Canadian Jesuit Bernard Lonergan (d. 1984). Lonergan wrote his book "Insight" in 1957. As with Tomkins, so with Lonergan, his disciples organized a Bernard Lonergan Institute in Toronto to press forward his work. These people too are not fringe, since they too hold full professorships at major world universities. It is not possible to use empirical and statistical methods to do science and not also be aware of Lonergan. Ignoring Lonergan leaves one at the mercy of bias, even to the extent of wasting years doing pointless lab work.
Do not take my word for anything I have said. Do the digging yourselves with open minds. I doubt you will not be interested in what you encounter.

Nov. 02 2013 01:13 PM
Frank Huttinger from Pasadena, CA

Brilliant show tonight! Am trying to share with FB friends, but having difficulty finding a path to sharing?

Nov. 02 2013 03:34 AM

in response to Hub, the music is Philip Glass' Metamorphoses 1

Nov. 01 2013 03:18 PM

This is a new episode, how come it's not in Season 12?

Oct. 31 2013 06:01 PM

who's playing the music in the first break?

Oct. 31 2013 12:28 AM

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