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Stayin' Alive

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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.

Comments [6]

Roger from Upstate New York

Regarding the graduate student who hoped to have an "Abbey-style" burial upon his passing. There does exist a tradition where this does take place, in Tibet. It is called "sky burial." Up on the Himalayan plateau you can't dig a grave. The dead are taken to a sacred spot away from the villages and essentially left for the vultures and other animals. The bodies are even cut up to speed up the excarnation process. Tibetan Buddhists see it as a last gift of generosity a person can make to the universe. To Westerners the practice may seem gross; I think it quite beautiful and environmentally sound!

Nov. 28 2017 08:41 PM
Julie Holcomb from Berkeley

I heard this broadcast yesterday, 2/14/2015, on KQED. I agree with George Avery of Maryland, who commented on this last year, that the host should not have accepted Professor Church's assertion that death could be avoided if we could determine the exact position of all the atoms of a living body and with that knowledge reconstitute an identical living body, one that we could then make immortal. Mr. Avery is correct that the essential missing component of that model is time. A living organism is dynamic in space and time, and cannot be fully described as a snapshot of the position of atoms in space in a moment of time. A body whose constituent atoms and molecules are all in "perfect position," but not moving, is not living. The atoms in a living organism are moving because of the forces acting on them. It's an error to assume that positioning atoms in a certain way with respect to one another in a reproduction like this automatically entails the replication of the forces acting on the atoms in the original. Those forces are the result of the histories of the atoms in the original, and the atoms of the reproduction do not have those histories. The duplicated body would remain eternally in that reconstructed moment, unliving and subject only to the inevitable degradation of entropy over time. It would never live and not help Professor Church achieve his longed-for immortality. Even if he believes in the old chestnut of Newtonian determinism, that given the position of every particle in the universe at a particular time and all the forces acting on them, you could predict the future, he's forgotten about the latter requirement. And given the observations of quantum theory, as noted by Mr. Avery, that old chestnut is not quite what it's cracked up to be anyway.

Feb. 15 2015 08:18 PM
Gandalf G. Bond from Florida

I thought this podcast was fun to listen to because it talks about something that everyone has thought about. I dont agree with some of the comments that are made about death and what it means but it kept me interested regardless. I though it was cool to hear about what other people want to do with their body after death. I had never really heard about people wanting to give their body to nature before listening to this.

Jan. 26 2015 09:32 PM
Keats A. Dunbar from Florida

This one was pretty funny which kept me pretty interested throughout. Some of things they said I don't really agree with, but it was still interesting to hear other people's viewpoints on this topic. Personally, I want to be buried in a casket and buried. I don't want any bugs crawling on me or turning me into a plant. I want to rest in peace and in heaven. All bias and opinions aside, this podcast was entertaining and had some good music within that added a sort of retro element to the mix. Maybe one day we will all be able to live forever and stay alive.

Jan. 26 2015 06:47 PM
Beth from Israel

Another one bites the dust! Fantastic ending! I love radio lab.

Aug. 21 2014 02:51 PM
George Avery from Maryland

On Radio Lab today (Sunday, 2/23/2014)on WAMU, I heard Professor Church's comment on life as a continuum in which what we call "death" might not be final if we could ever acquire "knowledge" or "information" as to the precise position of the atoms of which we are composed at that moment. I would suggest that the presentation of Professor Church's view merited further probing at that point in the broadcast. Specifically,it does not take into account fundamental principles of modern physics widely, if not universally, accepted. I am referring first to the laws of quantum mechanics which posit that it is physically impossible to ascertain the precise position of atoms at any given moment since the very act of observation alters that position of the observed atom. Quantum theory says that all we can deal with is probabilities. Second, it ignores the inescapable continuum of time as we know it in our physical world. If it were indeed possible to ascertain that position at that moment, the next moment would instantly arrive and the process or state we call death would again exist. In other words, for Professor Church's theory to have any effect in the physical world, it would also require time travel to go back to a moment in which the "known" position of our atoms is such that the process leading to that final moment we call "death" can be reversed. While I know that time travel is the darling of science fiction, it seems a considerable stretch even for enthusiasts of Einstein's relativity theories. I suggest that, in presenting Professor Church's view, he should have been asked to deal with these challenges.

Feb. 23 2014 02:58 PM

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