Sep 5, 2019

What's Left When You're Right?

More often than not, a fight is just a fight... Someone wins, someone loses. But this hour, we have a series of face-offs that shine a light on the human condition, the benefit of coming at something from a different side, and the price of being right.

Special thanks to Mark Dresser for the use of his music.


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ROBERT KRULWICH: Celebration of adverbs.


JAD ABUMRAD: Hello, hello?


ROBERT: Yeah. Hi.


JAD: Hi.


ROBERT: So, it's Golden Balls.


JAD: Yes, sir. We're gonna -- we're gonna roll back the clock a tiny bit.




JAD: And play you something that we really like.


ROBERT: Like, I don't know. Like, of all of the -- of all of the stage work we ever did, that night at the Brooklyn Academy of Music with those ...


JAD: Oh, man. Yeah.


ROBERT: ... all those people.


JAD: God, you know, having -- you and I have been through some highs and some definite lows on stages. And I think that was the highest high.


ROBERT: I think that was the highest.


JAD: I really do.


ROBERT: I do too.


JAD: And it had nothing to do with us, by the way. It was just that the clips we were playing on the video screen were so good.


ROBERT: They were good.


JAD: So good. And maybe I should just sort of explain what we were -- what we're talking about. So we were on stage couple of years ago at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. We were playing these clips from a TV show called Golden Balls, and each clip consisted of two people in a moral face-off. And the people in the audience watching were just losing it.


ROBERT: Because there was a section where you asked people to vote and they had to vote with their phones, and we had this weird receiver that was built, it was on the stage. It was going to receive this information and then we were going to then display it.


JAD: I just remember a whole bunch of people waving their phones and shouting. Anyhow, after that live show, we ended up doing a radio version of that story. And then based on that radio piece, we did two other segments that sort of, kind of, but not quite connected to that first one. So we're just gonna play you the whole show.


ROBERT: So this is three steps: zig, zag and zig again. It seems to be a -- well ...


JAD: Let's just -- let's just play the piece.








JAD: This is Andy Rowe.


ANDY ROWE: So I've got here, you can hear it rattling because it's falling apart.


JAD: He's a TV producer in London. And in his office where we reached him, he's got these very special metal balls.


ANDY ROWE: This is the original prototype of a Golden Ball. It's lovely and shiny. It's very light.


JAD: Each one's the size of maybe an orange or a tangerine or a tennis ball painted gold.


ANDY ROWE: And it makes a very satisfying clunk when it closes.


JAD: And that clunk? That is the sound of betrayal. Because Andy has used these balls to bring out the worst in people. To show how ugly and conniving we can be. But also how wonderful.


JASPER CARROT: And if you think you know about all that, then you could win big on Golden Balls.


JAD: Okay, so we're talking about a game show called, of course ...


ANDY ROWE: Golden Balls.


JAD: Andy was one of the executive producers. Did pretty well.


ANDY ROWE: We were really, really proud of Golden Balls.


JAD: Ran for three years in the UK.


ANDY ROWE: Nearly 300 episodes in quite a short space of time in the show. We thought it was such fun.


JAD: And it is fun, because in many ways it is just a normal game show, but I would argue there is more going on here. In fact, I'm about to argue that. Because there is a moment in one of those 300 episodes, one moment that I just cannot shake. Because you remember the first time I showed you this clip.


ROBERT: I certainly do. I was totally, totally, totally thrown by it.


JAD: Because what's about to happen is that two guys with totally different moral philosophies are about to go -- boom! Yes, with some fascinating results. And this story, in fact, inspired the whole show.


ROBERT: It did. Today ...


JAD: Three different smackdowns, all that somehow smack down not in the way that you would expect.


ROBERT: Different people, different dreams, different world views.


JAD: All going pow! And we're calling this show ...


ROBERT: What's Left When You're Right.


JAD: Which is ...


ROBERT: Genius. You'll find that out later.


JAD: It will ultimately make sense.


ROBERT: Perfect sense, I think.


JAD: Yeah.


ROBERT: Later.


JAD: For now, can we get the Golden Balls happening?




ANDY ROWE: All I can remember was that ...


JAD: All right. So before we get to the moment that I want to talk about, we kind of have to walk a few paces to sort of lay the foundation, which is that we have to explain the rules of this game, which are, uh ...


ANDY ROWE: You cannot describe Golden Balls in a sentence to anybody. It makes no sense whatsoever.


JAD: But I will try and simplify. So basically, there are all these early rounds where people are winning money, losing money, cheating each other, lying, strategizing, voting one another off the show. I'm gonna skip all that, because it is in the last five minutes ...


ANDY ROWE: That all hell breaks loose. And it's that classic shout at the telly moment where you're sitting at home going, "I can't believe what that guy just did. I can't believe he just did that."


JAD: Because basically, the whole game culminates with a face-off.


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jasper Carrot: You now face a very straightforward choice.]


JAD: Two players sit on opposite sides of a table with this host between them.


ANDY ROWE: Yeah, Jasper Carrot his name is.


JAD: A man whose head is as shiny and smooth as a golden ball itself.




JAD: Yeah, I know. I just edited in someone laughing at my own joke. That just happened. In any case, when you get to this moment at the end of the game ...


ANDY ROWE: Where there's two people facing each other in the spotlight. It's all gone quiet. In that moment, their hearts are racing.


JAD: Because they've got to make this key choice, which is not just about money. Although there is money on the line, of course. It is a choice that will reveal who they really are.


ROBERT: Uh-huh.


JAD: Not -- who we all are.


ROBERT: Okay. What ...


JAD: Humanity's soul will be laid bare.


ROBERT: This may be true, but why don't we just lay out the rules themselves?


JAD: Sorry. Got a little carried away.


ROBERT: No, that's ...


JAD: All right. So in the final round, each of the contestants get two Golden Balls.


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jasper Carrot: And they are the most important Golden Balls of the game.]


JAD: One ball says 'Split.'


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jasper Carrot: You each have a Golden Ball with the word 'Split' written inside.


JAD: And the other ball says 'Steal.'


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jasper Carrot: You both have a ball with the word 'Steal' written inside.]


JAD: Now 'Split,' like, say you and I are playing, right?




JAD: If I choose the 'Split' ball, what I'm really saying is that this jackpot whatever it is, say it's £3,200 Sterling, okay?




JAD: I'm saying I want to split it with you. Let's just split it in half, 50/50, even Stephen. I'm a good guy. Now if you also choose 'Split,' then we split it. You get half, I get half everybody's happy.


ANDY ROWE: The feeling of kind of joy that everybody had when it was a split was fantastic.


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jasper Carrot: You're both going home with £1,600 each.]


JAD: Okay, so that's one outcome. That's one of four outcomes, I believe. Because obviously there are other ways this could go. Because one or both of the contestants can choose 'Steal.' And what 'Steal' basically says is: forget sharing, I want to take the whole thing for myself. And if we both decide that ...


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jasper Carrot: If you both choose the 'Steal' ball ...]


JAD: We both screw each other and it cancels out.


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jasper Carrot: You leave today's game with what you came with. Nothing.]


JAD: Nobody gets anything.


ROBERT: Nothing. I like the way he says, "Nothing."


JAD: Nothing.


ROBERT: With a little bit of contempt.


JAD: Deservedly.




JAD: Two greedy people deserve nothing. Nothing.


ROBERT: Except each other.


JAD: Exactly.


ROBERT: Which equals nothing.


JAD: Right. So if we both decide to split, it is mutually good. If we both decide to steal, it is mutually bad. Now where things get thorny is that say you got a mismatch, like one person chooses split, the other person chooses steal. Now in that scenario, the person who chose split, the nice guy or gal, gets nothing. Whereas, the person who chose steal, the conniving duplicitous bastard takes everything.


ROBERT: So you -- if you steal and the other person is kind, then you walk away with the money.


JAD: Yeah. I mean, by the way, this is the classic prisoner's dilemma from game theory which some people may recognize. But the basic idea is that there is an incentive to share, because if you split you split, each person takes half. But there is also an incentive to lie, because if I can convince you to share the money and I turn around and shaft you, well then I get more money that way.




JAD: And the best part about this game for our purposes, is that before the contestants make a choice, Jasper the host gets them to talk to each other about what they're gonna do.


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jasper Carrot: Okay, before I ask you to choose, I think you have some talking to do to each other.]


JAD: All right, so watch this one. You got a young blonde girl facing off with a larger gentleman with a mustache.


ROBERT: Older. Yeah.


JAD: And the jackpot is £100,000.


[ARCHIVE CLIP, female contestant: Stephen, I just hope they weren't puppy dog tears and they were real tears and you were genuinely gonna split that money.]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, male contestant: I am going to split this. I'm just -- £50,000. I'm just -- it's unbelievable. £50,000.]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, female contestant: And you're genuinely gonna split this.]


JAD: She's crying at this point.


ROBERT: She's kind of adorable. I like her. She's, like, an innocent.


[ARCHIVE CLIP, male contestant: If I stole off you, every single person over there would run over here and lynch me.]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, female contestant: There is no way I could -- I mean, everyone who knew me would just be disgusted if I stole.]


ROBERT: See how he's gripping his legs? He's up to something.


[ARCHIVE CLIP, female contestant: Please.]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, male contestant: Sarah, I can look you straight in the eye and tell you I am going to split.]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, female contestant: Promise.]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, male contestant: I swear down to you. I am going to split.]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jasper Carrot: Okay. This is serious money. Sarah, Steve? Choose either the split or the steal ball now. Hold it up.]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, male contestant: We're going home with 50 grand each. I promise you that.]


JAD: The moment of truth.


[ARCHIVE CLIP: Crowd gasps.]


JAD: He chose split, she chose steal.


ROBERT: The nice girl was a thief! The nice girl was bad.


JAD: Every time I see this it totally breaks my heart, because the guy just falls onto the desk. He's got his head in his hands. He's just destroyed.


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jasper Carrot: Stephen, I'm so sorry. Commiserations. You've lost.]


ROBERT: Look -- look at her. She's looking away. She can't look at him. He's fallen into a slump on the table.


JAD: It's just awful.


ANDY ROWE: It's evil, isn't it? It's such a good little game.


JAD: And here's the thing: if you analyze all the outcomes, which social scientists have done, what you see is that a majority of the time something like what I just showed you happens. People get up there and they're like, "I swear ..."


[ARCHIVE CLIP, female contestant: I swear I will never ...]


JAD: "I am a good person."


[ARCHIVE CLIP, female contestant: I'm not that type of person. I could ...]


JAD: Over and over they say, "I'm not the kind of person that's gonna cheat you," and then they do it. They stab them in the back. And these are grandmas, policemen. And here's my theory. It's not that they're mean people, it's that they don't want to be that guy slumped on the table. They don't want to be the sucker. The fear of being the sucker far overwhelms the desire to do good to their fellow contestant.


ROBERT: There's something wrong with this program. The obvious thing to do is to share. You manage to wheedle your way into the approximate possession of a fortune, and all you have to do is agree to split it.


JAD: But what if you don't trust the person across the table from you, would you still share it?


ROBERT: Well, that's -- that's interesting.


JAD: Yeah.


ROBERT: Let's suppose I happen to be -- I'm introduced to a person named Snidely Whiplash. And he has an enormous oiled mustache and he's wearing a cape, and he has this habit of rubbing his hands malevolently.


JAD: And his eyes are twitching.


ROBERT: And his eyes are twitching. So I'm sitting opposite him, and I'm planning to share with this guy? See, it's in a situation like that ...


JAD: That's when it's a real test in this game. So what do you do if you don't want to be a sucker and you're not sure you can trust the person across the table? There's no good answer to that. But then ...




JAD: Hi, is this Nick?




JAD: This brings us to the moment in question. We ran into this guy.


NICK CORRIGAN: My name's Nick Corrigan. I work for Media Academy Cardiff based in Wales.


JAD: So Nick runs a not-for-profit in Wales, and right away when you talk to him you notice two things. He loves Wales.


NICK CORRIGAN: It's the most beautiful country in the world.


JAD: And he loves game shows.




JAD: What was your first one?


NICK CORRIGAN: When I was about 17.


JAD: He was on a quiz show.


NICK CORRIGAN: And I won a book.


JAD: Nick has since been on, by his count, 44 game shows.




JAD: He's won 43 of them, he says. He's won a boat. He's won a house full of stuff. Trips to various places. This is like what he does.




JAD: And when he first encountered Golden Balls, he noticed the same miserable pattern that we all noticed, which is like the nice people get up there, they say, "Let's share."


NICK CORRIGAN: Let's do it. We can be in this together. And then every time they were just shafted.


JAD: But then Nick got an idea.


JAD: How did you get that idea?


NICK CORRIGAN: I think I was probably swimming. I get all my greatest ideas when I'm swimming. It was only when I went back and had a cup of tea, as everybody in Wales obviously drinks tea.


ROBERT: With your lump of coal right next to you.




ROBERT: Your pet. Your little pet coal lump.


NICK CORRIGAN: Coal is very important to Wales. When I got back I thought, actually it can't fail.


JAD: So Nick makes it onto the show, makes it to the last round.


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jasper Carrot: Welcome back to Golden Balls.]


JAD: And he finds himself sitting across the table from a man named Ibrahim who, the two of them are a study in contrasts. Nick is tall, he's got really intense eyes, feathered hair. Ibrahim is short and bald and looks kind of like a mini-Telly Savalas.


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jasper Carrot: Ibrahim and Nick, you now face a very straightforward choice.]


JAD: Jasper the host lays out the scenario. They're -- they're competing for £14,000.


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jasper Carrot: They have to decide to split or steal.]


JAD: And now we get to the good part. Now keep in mind as you listen to this, that almost 100 percent of the time what happens in this moment is one person looks at the other and says, "I promise you I will choose the split ball. We'll share it."


ROBERT: "We'll share it together."


JAD: Yeah, that's what they say. Nick takes a very different approach.


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Nick Corrigan: Ibrahim, I want you to trust me. 100 percent, I'm going to pick the steal ball.]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Ibrahim Hussein: Sorry, you're gonna ...?]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Nick Corrigan: I'm gonna choose the steal ball.]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Ibrahim Hussein: You're gonna take ...]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Nick Corrigan: I want you to do split, and I promise you that I will split the money with you.]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Ibrahim Hussein: After you took the steal.]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Nick Corrigan: Yeah.]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Ibrahim Hussein: You're gonna take steal.]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Nick Corrigan: Yeah.]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Ibrahim Hussein: I'm gonna to take split.]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Nick Corrigan: Yeah.]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Ibrahim Hussein: So you take the money ...]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Nick Corrigan: And I will split it with you.]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Ibrahim Hussein: After the show.]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Nick Corrigan: Yeah.]


ANDY ROWE: There was -- there was utter panic in the studio.


JAD: Because his whole idea was like, "I'm not even gonna pretend I'm not gonna steal."


ROBERT: And then I'll meet you on a corner after the television show and give you the half of it? Like, that's ridiculous.


ANDY ROWE: All the researchers started running around going, "What's he doing? Can this be done?" There was panic.


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Nick Corrigan: Ibrahim, I promise you I'll do that. If -- if you do steal, we both walk away with nothing. I'm telling you 100 percent I'm going to do it.]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Ibrahim Hussein: I appreciate that. Right, I'll give you another alternative. Why don't we just both pick split?]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Nick Corrigan: I'm not gonna pick split. I'm gonna steal. Ibrahim, honestly 100 percent am gonna steal.]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Ibrahim Hussein: It's in your nature to steal?]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Nick Corrigan: No. I -- I'm honest, and I'm gonna tell you ...]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Ibrahim Hussein: You're an honest guy?]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Nick Corrigan: I am, that's why I'm telling you I'm gonna steal. If you do split, then I will split the money.]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Ibrahim Hussein: I can't see myself doing that.]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Nick Corrigan: Okay. Well, I'm gonna steal, so we're gonna leave with nothing.]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Ibrahim Hussein: Where is your brain coming from?]




[ARCHIVE CLIP, Ibrahim Hussein: I can't work out ...]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Nick Corrigan: I know that I'm a decent guy and I will split the money with you.]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Ibrahim Hussein: Well, we should just both split then.]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Nick Corrigan: No, I'm gonna do steal.]


JAD: And this argument went on and on.


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jasper Carrot: Blimey O'Reilly.


JAD: The actual argument, not the edited version online, went for ...


NICK CORRIGAN: 45 minutes.


JAD: There was name-calling, there were threats. And over those 45 minutes, there was an interesting shift. Nick says that the audience began to turn on him.


NICK CORRIGAN: The audience behind were booing me.


JAD: Which I get, because as I was watching -- and I mean, initially it seems like a really cool, clever strategy, but then you realize as it goes on that he's being kind of an ass. Like, he's not giving the other guy a choice. He's actually kind of bullying him.


NICK CORRIGAN: No matter what he said, I was not budging from the fact. And it -- my intransigence just infuriated him.


ROBERT: Did you ever actually, like, hate him, or actually ...?


IBRAHIM HUSSEIN: Yes, I did hate him. Yes. Yes. Yes, I did.


JAD: This is Ibrahim.


IBRAHIM HUSSEIN: Ibrahim Hussein. I'm a market trader. I work on flea markets.


JAD: He sells textiles.




ROBERT: It took us forever to track him down.


JAD: Months.


IBRAHIM HUSSEIN: You found me at last. But I did hate him, I think. Because he couldn't be -- he couldn't -- you couldn't negotiate with him. There was no negotiation. I was saying to him like, "If I give you my word that I'm gonna split then I'm gonna split."


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Ibrahim Hussein: If I gave you my word. Now let me tell you what my word means.]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Nick Corrigan: Okay.]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Ibrahim Hussein: My father once said to me, "A man who doesn't keep his work is not a man. He's not worth nothing. Not worth a -- not worth a dollar."]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Nick Corrigan: I agree. So Ibrahim, I'm gonna steal, so you've got the choice.]


JAD: That was the point where I was like, "Nick, give the guy a chance, at least. Come on!"


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Ibrahim Hussein: We've lost it. We've lost everything.]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Nick Corrigan: I see. We've lost, then.]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Ibrahim Hussein: We're walking away with no money because you're an idiot.]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Nick Corrigan: No, that's not true.]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Ibrahim Hussein: You're an idiot! You're an idiot! That's what you are, you're an idiot! You're an idiot! That's what you are!]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jasper Carrot: This can go on all night, and these people have got to get up for breakfast. Nick, choose split or steal.]


JAD: And right before they have to make their decision, it seems that Ibrahim caves. Maybe Nick wore him down and he's like fine, "You choose steel. I'll choose split. Hopefully you'll share the money."


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Ibrahim Hussein: Well, I'll tell you what. I'm gonna go with you.]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Nick Corrigan: Okay.]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Ibrahim Hussein: I'm gonna go ...]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Nick Corrigan: I promise you I will split it.]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jasper Carrot: You cannot change your balls now. Split or steal?]


JAD: They both turn over their balls. Ibrahim as we suspected chose split.


IBRAHIM HUSSEIN: I felt I had no alternative.


JAD: And Nick also chose split!


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jasper Carrot: Yes! Congratulations! You're both split and each received £6,800.]


JAD: The whole game he swore he was gonna steal, but then he ends up splitting.


ROBERT: Do you think that he was lying the whole time and always intended to share?


JAD: I mean, he could have changed his mind at the last second. Whatever the case, here's why his strategy was so brilliant.


IBRAHIM HUSSEIN: I was shocked. I was shocked. I was taken aback.


JAD: When we asked Ibrahim like, if Nick hadn't been deployed that crazy strategy, would you have still split? Because that's what you were saying to him the whole time, that you were gonna split it. You were gonna share the money. Would you have still done it?


IBRAHIM HUSSEIN: No. Not at all. Not at all. I was always gonna steal. I was never gonna split. Never. Never.


JAD: Really?


IBRAHIM HUSSEIN: Really. I was never gonna split.








IBRAHIM HUSSEIN: Well, the reason being if I split and the other guy steals, I'll get nothing. I'd rather both of us walk away with nothing, than someone -- what's the word? Embarrass me to a certain extent.


JAD: Didn't want to be the sucker. And then I asked him, like, what about that speech with your dad? You know, that's the one that kind of got me.


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Ibrahim Hussein: My father once said to me, "A man who doesn't keep his work is not a man.]


IBRAHIM HUSSEIN: Can I -- no, can I just jump in about that?


JAD: Yeah.


IBRAHIM HUSSEIN: My dad, I -- I never met him. My mother brought me up, me and my brother and my sister. And I never ever met my father.


ROBERT: So that -- you made that up?


IBRAHIM HUSSEIN: [laughs] I'm afraid so!


JAD: You made that up.


IBRAHIM HUSSEIN: Yeah. Yeah. I think I saw it on a film once [laughs] and it always stuck with me. I thought, "I'll be able to use that one day." [laughs] I've never been a good boy.


JAD: I think that is the real victory here. Like, Nick got a guy who was never intending to share the money, whose whole philosophy was like ...


IBRAHIM HUSSEIN: Don't trust anybody. Don't trust no one.


JAD: He got that guy to be good against his will, and that guy thanks him for it.


IBRAHIM HUSSEIN: He did con me to certain extent, but he conned me into £7,000. [laughs]


JAD: And Nick for his part is also grateful to have the money so he can give it to charity.


NICK CORRIGAN: I run a children's charity. I do all the health and safety and all the fundraising.


JAD: Is that connected in any way to your multiple appearances on game shows?




JAD: It is?




JAD: Huh. Directly?




JAD: I ...


NICK CORRIGAN: You sound surprised.


ROBERT: So while Nick is doing his good works, we will take a brief break and be right back.


[ANDY ROWE: Hi, this is Andy Rowe phoning from London with your credits. Okay, here we go. Radiolab is supported in part by the National Science Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, enhancing public understanding of science and technology in the modern world. More information about Sloan at Radiolab is produced by WNYC and distributed by NPR.]


[ANSWERING MACHINE: End of message.]




JAD: Hey, I'm Jad Abumrad.


ROBERT: I'm Robert Krulwich.


JAD: This is Radiolab. And today ...


ROBERT: Well, we have stories on confrontations, faceoffs, throwdowns. All of them leading to a question that is the title of our show, what's left when you're right?


JAD: Doesn't make a lick of sense yet.


ROBERT: Well, maybe -- maybe it will when you hear this story.


JAD: No, I'm afraid not. Won't get clear until a bit later. In any case, this next story began when one of our former producers Lulu Miller called me up and said, "Let's just get in the studio. I want to talk you through something."


LULU MILLER: Okay, should we just go?


JAD: Yeah, so you've been -- you've been -- so okay. I honestly don't quite know what we're doing. I think you're gonna tell me about something that you've been wanting to tell me about.


LULU MILLER: Yes. I wanted to quickly tell you what the idea is while -- while I truly, like, am still pretty darn confused by it.


JAD: Okay.




JAD: Gotcha.


LULU MILLER: Okay. So dun dun dun dun, it's about my bike trip across the country.


JAD: You say it with a certain amount of chagrin.


LULU MILLER: I don't know. I guess I just get embarrassed because it sounds, like, boring, self-indulgent ...


JAD: Now, when I initially talked with Lulu the -- she was planning to write a book about this story that we're gonna tell, and I was really there to just help her sound out the ideas and we were gonna use the recording as a transcript for her. So I was just doing -- you know, we were just having a ...


ROBERT: Doing her a favor.


JAD: Kinda. But then when I heard the story, I decided "favor over." Let's make this a radio story, because it's -- it's spooky. Actually, everyone here on the staff who heard it has had that reaction. And I think it also asks in its small way a really big question, which is how do you do good in a world that's -- well ...


LULU MILLER: So I feel like I went into the trip very confident about where I stood on people. Being really sure that inside everybody was, like, just another good soul. You know, everyone has quirks and ticks that make them angry or obnoxious or conceited or depressed. But that those ticks are just kind of like a good soul trying to, like, claw its way ...


JAD: Yeah.


LULU MILLER: ... through the world.


JAD: Yeah. No, that strikes me as one of your primary assumptions about the world, just knowing you.


LULU MILLER: Yeah. Well, "was." Past tense.


JAD: So something changed on this trip?


LULU MILLER: Yeah. There was a moment that -- so I did the bike trip with my friend Sue.


JAD: Sue, as she explained is an old friend. They met in college. And she says one of the first things that she noticed about Sue was it she would say the most amazing things. Like for example, she is Korean ...


LULU MILLER: And she moved to the States when she was 12.


JAD: Speaks English perfectly. No accent.


LULU MILLER: But every now and then she has, like, a language mashup that is so brilliant and she doesn't even notice it. One was like, "I don't know, I was just like running around and I was so crazzled that I dah dah dah dah dah." And it was like, "Ooh. Crazzled. That's not a word, but I know exactly what you mean. That's crazed and frazzled. And actually, that's a better word and then like, you know, "I'm just -- I just want to like -- why is it when I get down I like to eat all this grubbish? I just don't understand." And, like, grubbish is invented. Or like, "My dad is always worrying that I'm just always gonna be trapezing around and dah dah dah dah dah." And she meant traipsing.


JAD: But trapezing is a much better word.


LULU MILLER: But, like, trapezing is better. That's like what our whole generation of, like, lowlife a-holes are doing, we're trapezing.


JAD: Point is, Lulu was drawn to Sue, they became great friends. And part of that connection, this is the key, is that they were so different.


LULU MILLER: She has a very different personality than I do.


JAD: Whereas Lulu is kind of your classic optimist, Sue ...


LULU MILLER: She's very grouchy and always, like, frustrated by people. And she's really, really smart, so she'll, like, go on the most wonderfully enjoyable rants about people.


JAD: So anyhow, they decide to take this bike trip across the country. They'd actually done one before, so they knew they could travel together. And they obviously knew they had this difference in personality. And in fact, as they were biking and stopping in all these little towns they would sort of joke about it.


LULU MILLER: She would always yell at me for being what she called an over-engager, which is like we ask for directions and then I'm like, "Really, old man? Now, are you a farmer? Oh, you're a beet farmer. How does beet farming work? Oh, you had --" and she's sitting there like, "Jesus! We have 3,500 miles to go."


JAD: So it was sort of charming, they would tease one another. But then they came to this moment where that difference between them stopped being charming and it got kind of dangerous.


LULU MILLER: Basically, long story short ...


JAD: A few weeks into the trip, Lulu's front wheel is busted and they roll into this town ...


LULU MILLER: Called Pittsburg, Kansas.


JAD: Kind of a small, forgotten town in eastern Kansas near Missouri.


LULU MILLER: There is nobody there. It was like all desolate and hot.


JAD: But there was a bike shop.


LULU MILLER: So we went to the bike shop and the bike mechanic there, Roger ...


JAD: Big, bald guy.


LULU MILLER: Was like, "Well, I don't have any wheels, but I can build you one. If you guys can stay a day, I could build you one today and have it for you tomorrow."


JAD: So they went off, checked email, set up camp. Came back early the next morning.


LULU MILLER: We got there, and we could tell he hadn't even started it.


JAD: The wheel was just hanging there where they'd left it. And Lulu says at this point her and Sue started going in opposite directions.


LULU MILLER: So I registered that and I was like, "Uh, maybe it only takes an hour to make a wheel and he'll have it ready by 11," you know? And Sue registered that and was just like, "What the F?"


JAD: She said, "I'm gonna talk to this guy."


LULU MILLER: I immediately got, like, hot and flushed and didn't want her to say anything.


JAD: Lulu rushes Sue out of the store, telling Roger ...


LULU MILLER: "Well, we'll come back soon."


JAD: Two hours later they return again.


LULU MILLER: And the bike wheel is still there, not even touched. Sue really wanted to say something, and I think we kind of had a skirmish in the back. Like, I was like, "No, don't." Like, I could tell he was kind of not taking us seriously, but I still was like, if we continue to be nice to him, what reason would he have to, like, sabotage us or -- or not follow through? If we just keep treating him with respect, he'll treat us with respect.


JAD: And she says Sue on the other hand was like, "Lulu, don't you see? Like, this guy thinks we're just like these dilettante-ish college girls. This is some weird power thing. He's taking advantage of us." And Lulu's like, "No, he's not."


LULU MILLER: And then this, like, stupid "Is Roger gonna make a bike wheel?" turned into a ...


JAD: Turned into a test?


LULU MILLER: Yeah. Turned into, like, a test of the human spirit.


JAD: Yeah.


JAD: A few more hours pass. Lulu and Sue are sitting on this couch in the back of the store not talking to each other.


LULU MILLER: And then his two little boys come in. He has two little boys, and they were like, "Daddy, can we go soon?" And he's like, "Oh, I got to finish this, but then we can go on the ride." And it -- and I remember -- I remember he called them "sweetie," and I remember that being, like, a point for me. Because this is, like, a man who calls his little boys "sweetie." Like, that's a good person, you know?


JAD: A few more hours pass and they're still sitting there on this couch, now with these two little boys.


LULU MILLER: All four of us on this couch. And they were watching Nickelodeon cartoons.


JAD: And in the middle of the cartoons according to Lulu, there was a commercial for the Army, like a recruiting ad. And she says that was the moment where Sue just lost it. She turned to Lulu ...


LULU MILLER: And maybe it was one sentence, and maybe it was 45 minutes. Like, I don't know. But she said, you know, something along the lines of, "The way you think you are in the world as, like, so nice to people, that's a form of deceit."


JAD: And then she says Sue stormed right up to Roger.


LULU MILLER: And I'm sitting on this couch fuming.


JAD: And she laid into him.


LULU MILLER: "We're not gonna make it by dark and we have to get there, and this is your fault." And she, like, demanded that one of the, like, younger guys that worked in his store give us a ride. And he's like, "Well, this guy's got things to do." And it was just this horrible thing that I was just like, "Ugh." And on my way out ...


JAD: After Sue had already walked out ...


LULU MILLER: I tried to say something to Roger like, "Hey, I'm really sorry. I just -- it's been a --" you know, I tried to kind of like apologize for her and for myself. And he was like, "Well, tell your friend, so sorry to have inconvenienced her vacation."


JAD: Lulu said that feeling, like this guy that doesn't know them just now assumes they are these spoiled college girls, that just ate at her. She kept thinking, "I don't get it. Like, if we had just been nice to the guy instead of confronting him maybe he wouldn't think that about us." Making matters worse, after they left the bike shop they piled into this car and this kid from Roger's bike shop drove them into Missouri, because that's what Sue had demanded.


LULU MILLER: And we paid him and the kid was really nice, but I just was like, this feels so -- like, I feel so disgusting being in this car with her. And it just like, the whole thing was awful. Got to Missouri, and I just remember, like, Missouri passing in a blur of me being like, "I am riding with a crazy person." Like ...


JAD: So you felt like suddenly this difference between you guys was serious.




JAD: And just to walk me through a little bit about -- I mean ...


LULU MILLER: Well, I have to -- I do have to warn you, though, this isn't the moment.


JAD: This is not the moment.


LULU MILLER: This is not the moment.


JAD: Okay.


LULU MILLER: So let me ...


JAD: Do you want to tell me about the moment?


LULU MILLER: Yeah, I want to tell you about the moment, really bad.


JAD: Okay, take me there.


LULU MILLER: Okay, so I was just like, finish this trip. And then we get to Damascus Virginia, where the transcontinental bike route that we were riding crosses with the Appalachian Trail. So it's like, in the mountains. And the town put this little -- so they have tons of people coming through. So they put this free hostel for bikers and hikers to stay. And it's unmanned, no one's there. It's basically just kind of like an empty house with wooden bunk beds you can lie your sleeping bag on and a kitchen. So we get there and these two Appalachian hikers are staying there too. And it's just us and them.


JAD: Guy and a girl. The guy she says was maybe 23. Brown hair, super blue eyes.


LULU MILLER: The other hiker, she's a young girl doing it by herself. And we're all talking. It's late and we're in this, like, little living room area. And he kind of immediately jumps into the conversation and just starts, like, taking it over with his life story, which is that he thinks he's a prophet. He has the gift of prophecy. He also has the gift of extreme empathy where he can come into a room and he'll be, like, deafened by all the thoughts he can hear in other people.


JAD: Wow. All right.


LULU MILLER: And I was kind of like, "All right, we've got a nutter, but I know what he's saying." And Sue was, like, rolling her eyes and then he says, "Oh, and you know, I prophesied the Virginia Tech shootings." And it's like, "Oh, okay." So then there's, like, this silence and it's now like 10:30 p.m., and I don't know what you say in that moment. I don't -- you know, like, I think, like, in a way make him not feel crazy for that is -- somehow in that moment, my instinct is like, just don't rattle this guy, maybe.


JAD: Yeah.


LULU MILLER: And then he says, "Another time, I was getting off from work. I was walking home from the bus." He was, like, worked as a chef or cook, you know, in a kitchen and he was walking home from the bus, and he was really late. And he said, "And an African American woman came up to me dressed in really, like, revealing clothings and turned out she was a prostitute and she offered her services to me. And I said 'No.' And then I blacked out and the next moment I came to and I had a knife around her throat."


JAD: Whoa.


LULU MILLER: There was, like, this pause, and then ...


SUE: I remember just, like, my heart almost, like, pounding. Not of nervousness. It was just like but, but, but, but. Just I couldn't let him go on.


JAD: This, of course, is Sue.


LULU MILLER: She just starts attacking him.


SUE: I had to correct him.


LULU MILLER: "I think that's really irresponsible."


SUE: He pulled out a knife, he said and he was gonna do something. And the fact that he just so cavalierly said that ...


LULU MILLER: And I'm, like, staring at her, clenching my teeth. Like, "What the f are you doing? Like, this is -- don't behave this way, but don't behave this way right now with this person, please."


SUE: No, you're wrong. Like, if he didn't want to be corrected, he wouldn't have told that story.


LULU MILLER: She says, "You know, I think this isn't demonic possession. You need to, like, seek counseling."


SUE: You should confront the -- you should talk to a therapist.


JAD: That moment, Lulu says, she reached down and hit record on her tape recorder, figuring all right if this guy snaps, at least I'll have it on tape for the police. You'll hear his voice in here, but we've concealed his identity.


LULU MILLER: And he's like, "Oh, what? I'm crazy because I am, like, influenced by other things?" And she said, "You know, you never know." And the word schizophrenia fell out.


SUE: ... develop schizophrenia.


MAN: Schizophrenia?


SUE: Yeah. I know it's a big word, but it's ...


MAN: Everybody has to have psychological issue in the end.


SUE: But you do.


MAN: No, I don't.


SUE: I do remember he was like, "No!"


LULU MILLER: He's like, "You're calling me schizophrenic? No, no! It's so typical you would go to that." And she's just, like, taking him to town, and they are fighting and I'm scared.


SUE: Because then you allow the possibility that it's a spiritual problem.


SUE: We just kept arguing.


JAD: And, like, why? What we trying to get from this guy?


SUE: To admit that I almost killed someone. I almost killed someone. Period.


MAN: But it wasn't me. It was me but it wasn't me.


LULU MILLER: And she was just like, "But why are you telling us this? You come out, you show us your journal, you tell us this story. We've known you for three seconds. You clearly are -- want to be judged."


SUE: And so I have to judge it.


LULU MILLER: "So your laws are the Bible, which seem to be what you rely on say to respect the laws of the land. How dare you take, like, a life, a human sacred life, you know, in your hands."


SUE: No, you almost murdered a black woman. That's scary to me. And the fact that you won't confront it as that is even worse.


LULU MILLER: You almost did that. And she, like I don't know. I had this moment. Like, suddenly ...


JAD: Lulu says she's not sure why.


LULU MILLER: But it turned. And I was like, I am so, like, proud to be associated with somebody like this. Like, I am -- I would never do any of that. And she just, like, knows how to -- stands up for things. And it turned for him too. He kind of like over time slowly started backing down and even conceding I really might need help and I don't know how to get it. And then she sort of softened, and they were really having a conversation. And this thing inside him, like, a different him came out. Like, not the weird crazy person I was just tolerantly accepting. Like, a little being, a real confused person came out and was talking to her, you know? And everyone else kind of dropped away, and -- and they, like, go out and share this cigarette on the porch and come back literally like, arm in -- like, arms slung over each other.


SUE: I think when you get to the bottom of something with someone, you feel a kind of kinship, right?


LULU MILLER: You know, I don't know what they said out there. And all I knew in the moment was like, I'm so proud of her. I'm so, like, proud to be with this person. Like, I realized that she has so much -- she just has so much more hope. Like, she is just enraged by anyone who doesn't, like, live up to their potential. Like, I don't -- it's like my little theory was like, oh, we're all just selfish and we all kind of are assholes, but -- and we're all -- you know, but be nice about it. And she, like, has this -- a true hope. Like, that actually we could -- that actually, like, we're capable of better.


SUE: That's a really utopian reading of such a crappy part of my personality.


LULU MILLER: Seriously? Like, you can't even give me that? Like, is there really no part of you that sees what is so good about this?


SUE: But Lulu, the reason why I say it's romanticizing is that it's actually -- it's a kind of, you know, it's like scratching out a scab or something, and that's what I tend to do. And it's hurtful for the parties involved. And it's alienating to me, right? Nobody wants to be around that person.


LULU MILLER: But the change you create on the other side? I mean, it's change. It's like, my way of being maybe feels good in the moment and it enables stasis, you know?


SUE: But it also sustains a relationship, right?


JAD: Well, let me ask you this: have you had issues with being cruel to friends and losing friends or something?


SUE: [laughs]


JAD: I mean, I'm just guessing based on what you're -- what you just said.


SUE: Yeah. Yeah, I think so. Yeah.


JAD: Sue actually said that when she got home from the bike trip, her roommates at the place where she was staying confronted her.


SUE: "We think you have an anger problem." So I just -- I moved out. There was a big blowout fight and then I moved out.


JAD: So the story leaves you with some questions. Like, if you agree that people are messed up. Like, of course they are. We all are. Then what's the best way to heal people? I mean, do you decide as Lulu does or did, that you should approach the world with kindness and happiness no matter how the world greets you? Or is that kind of giving up? Like, a happy hopelessness. So then do you put your foot down as Sue did and say, "No, you are messed up. Don't be messed up." Is that hope? Or just being mean?


SUE: I don't know. I don't know.


LULU MILLER: I don't know. I'm still confused. I'm still very confused.


SUE: Maybe I have it all wrong.


ROBERT: Thank you, Lulu. Thank you, Sue. Thank you, Jad.


JAD: And thank you, big thanks to Damiano Marchetti.


ROBERT: We'll be right back.


[JENNY: This is Jenny Steiner calling from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Radiolab is supported in part by the National Science Foundation and by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, enhancing public understanding of science and technology in the modern world. More information about Sloan at]


JAD: Hey, I'm Jad Abumrad.


ROBERT: I'm Robert Krulwich.


JAD: This is Radiolab. And today ...


ROBERT: Well, it's stories about confrontations.


JAD: Throwdowns.


ROBERT: Faceoffs.


JAD: Smackdowns.


ROBERT: We're calling it What's Left When You're Right.


JAD: And now, at last, that title will make sense.


ROBERT: I think it will, because now we have a story about a fight that starts in a cage, spills over into the human species as a whole, and turns out in the end to be nested inside the brains of every single one of us.


JAD: Oh!


ROBERT: And that story comes from our producer, Pat Walters.


PAT WALTERS: It all started for me with this essay that I read by this guy named Jonathan Gottschall.




JAD: And a fighter.


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: And a bad, bad man.


ROBERT: [laughs]


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: So a few years ago, I'm an English teacher. I'm sitting in the English Department, I'm sitting in a cubicle.


PAT: He was a teacher at a small college outside of Pittsburgh. And at the time Jonathan had written some articles, even a couple of books.


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: But I was still an adjunct, a lowly adjunct. You know, the academic equivalent of cheap migrant labor.


PAT: Pretty low on the totem pole.


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: So I was sitting there in the cubicle that I share with other adjuncts, just kind of feeling miserable, down about my job. And then I catch a glimpse of movement through the window, and I go to the window and I look out.


PAT: And he notices that across the street where there used to be a car parts store ...


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: This new business had opened up, a mixed martial arts gym. This cage-fighting stuff that you see on TV.


JAD: That they're like -- the kind where you can -- where anything goes? Like, that kind? Or ...


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: Anything goes, yeah. Punching, kicking, mean, ground and pound. You can climb on top of a guy and punch him in the face until he goes out.


JAD: That stuff is just too raw.


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: Well, I had been watching it guiltily and very much in the closet for about 15 years. I knew it was wrong. I watched it in the way that most men watch porn. You know, my wife would walk into the room when I was watching and I'd really quickly turn the channel.


PAT: But now there they were, these huge muscle-bound dudes in the picture window right across the street.


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: They're in the cage, they're hitting each other, they're tackling, they're fighting on the ground.


PAT: And as he watches them day after day ...


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: I start to envy them. I envy their bravery and the way they just seemed so alive, while I was in my cube rotting.


PAT: Until one day he decides ...


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: I decide to do it.


PAT: I'm going over there.


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: Now I'm not a tough guy. I'm an English professor. I'd never been in a fight before but I wanted to try to do a brave thing.


PAT: Did you -- did you tell your wife?




JAD: And what was your wife's reaction?


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: This is almost a perfect paraphrase. She said, "You will be killed. You have no skills."


JAD: [laughs]


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: Yeah, it kind of hurt. It hurts to find out your wife has no respect for your fighting prowess.


PAT: But that doesn't stop him.




PAT: He starts training, sparring with other beginners.


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: And this is how it all goes down. Maybe I'm four months into my training. Let's say I'm about four months into my training. And I feel like I'm starting to get the hang of things. I'm starting to feel more confident, and I'm doing pretty well against the other beginners and the sort of the weaker guys in the gym. So one day I go into the gym, and it turns out I'm gonna spar this guy named -- named Nick. And I'm a little concerned about it because he's been at the gym longer than me. But I'm not all that concerned because I've watched Nick. We all watch each other in the gym. And he's just not an athlete. He even says this himself, he's kind of a klutzy guy. He's awkward in his movements, a little bit -- a little bit stiff. And I felt that just, like, athletically I stacked up very well with him. I was faster than him. I thought I'd get around better. And so, you know, we go into the cage and the bell rings and, you know, we go to the center of the cage and we engage. And again, I'm feeling confident.


PAT: And then ...


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: He punches me hard in the face.


PAT: Then he hits him again.


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: The punches keep coming. Jab, cross. Jab, cross. Jab, cross. Jab, cross. Hook. He doesn't bob, he doesn't weave, he doesn't dance. He's right there in front of you, you should be able to hit him, but I can't. He's just hammering me.


PAT: Finally, the bell rings.


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: And I go collapse in one of the chairs, and my headache is already thudding in my brain. And I say to myself." Well, that seals it. The -- the Faurie-Raymond hypothesis has to be true.


ROBERT: The 40 Raymond hypothesis has to be ...




ROBERT: Oh! The Faurie-Raymond. I see.


JAD: So, okay. What's is ...


ROBERT: What is the Faurie-Raymond hypothesis?


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: Okay. So Faurie and Raymond are these French researchers ...


PAT: Okay, so before we get down to the two French researchers, we should say that Nick, that guy Jonathan fought?


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: Nick is a lefty. Nick is a lefty.


PAT: And Jonathan is a righty.




PAT: And this conflict between lefties and righties, it goes way back.


DAVID WOLMAN: Oh, yeah. Absolutely.


ROBERT: Just ask David Wolman.


DAVID WOLMAN: I'm an author and journalist in Portland, Oregon.


PAT: You're right-handed, right?


DAVID WOLMAN: No. I am very left-handed.


PAT: Said that like you wanted to kill me.


DAVID WOLMAN: [laughs] I was trying to. I was trying to get it out that way.


ROBERT: Like Batman defends, you know, against crime? David is a defender of lefties everywhere.


DAVID WOLMAN: I am a strong left-hander. If you look at the Edinburgh handedness inventory, I'm like a 10 out of 10.


PAT: I did it. I'm a very strong right hand. I'm, like a -- I got, like, a perfect score for right-handedness.


DAVID WOLMAN: Okay. Well, our friendship is over now.


PAT: David's kind of joking, but he actually wrote this whole book called A Left-Hand Turn Around the World, because ...


DAVID WOLMAN: Growing up as a kid in a family of right-handers ...


PAT: David says he always felt a little different. Or as his family used to put it ...


DAVID WOLMAN: You're special, and this is -- this is some little extra sprinkle of specialness in you. Luckily, they're not -- you know, they didn't grow up in the Middle Ages and think that I was cursed by the devil and therefore I'm left-handed. Because throughout the ages, and pretty much throughout every culture, left-handers were perceived as evil and sinister.


ROBERT: In fact, the word sinister itself is derived from a Latin word, which means "on the left side." And in English, when we say something is correct we say it's right.


DAVID WOLMAN: You know, in the Bible, God is always doing really nice and benevolent things with the right hand and not so nice or benevolent things with the left hand. Everything left is always ugly or lesser or different or worrisome. And the presumption was that if this was not the result of a curse by -- from the devil, then this was the result of poor parenting or poor posture.


PAT: But we know now that ...




PAT: It's genetic.


DAVID WOLMAN: When you do a genetic study and you look at parents ...


PAT: Here's how it plays out.


DAVID WOLMAN: If you have two right-handed parents, their chance of having a left-hander is about nine and a half percent. If you have one righty one lefty parent, the odds do go up.


PAT: Now you've got ...


DAVID WOLMAN: 20 percent. Almost 20 percent chance. Then two southpaw parents have a 26 percent chance of delivering into the world a southpaw.


PAT: And if you add up those chances and look out across the entire human species ...


DAVID WOLMAN: We are about 90 percent right-handed, 10 percent left-handed.


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: 90 percent of people are right-handers.


PAT: Which brings us back to Faurie and Raymond.


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: So Faurie and Raymond realize that left handedness is this sort of evolutionary mystery.


PAT: Jonathan says it's a mystery, at least in part because left-handedness seems to come with some disadvantages.


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: It's associated with all these negative health outcomes, and I actually wrote a few of them down. Higher risk of schizophrenia, immune deficiency, epilepsy, learning disability, spinal deformity, ADHD, alcoholism, dyslexia, psychopathy, Crohn's disease. That's not even a complete list.


JAD: So, wait. Lefties have a higher incidence of all these things?


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: Yeah, significant.


ROBERT: How much higher? Like a teeny bit higher?


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: Teeny bit. Teeny bit.


PAT: Like, a really teeny bit.


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: But evolution works on teeny bits, right? So if there are significant health costs to being left-handed, why hasn't natural selection trimmed it away?


PAT: Why do we still have lefties at all? That's the puzzle. And the Faurie and Raymond hypothesis is that we still have lefties in the world because they have an advantage in one arena.




PAT: Which is what Jonathan realized in the ring with Nick.


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: You get very used to fighting right-handers. You get used to where the punches are coming from. And then you face the left-hander, and they do everything backwards, and you have to develop basically a whole different approach to fighting.


PAT: And if you go back to a time when wars were won and lost largely because of hand-to-hand combat ...


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: Whether with fists or with spears or with clubs or whatever.


PAT: Maybe the ancient lefties like Nick had a little edge.


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: Maybe the survival advantage of battling left-handed washed out those survival costs associated with being left handed.


PAT: So Faurie and Raymond came up with this prediction.


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: A prediction based on their idea.


PAT: That if left handedness is somehow linked to fighting prowess, then ...


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: Wherever they go in the world, they will find that the most violent societies have the highest proportion of lefties.


JAD: What -- how would they define violent? Like, over time? The number of wars or what?


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: Numbers of wars, homicide rates, that kind of thing.


JAD: I see. Huh.


PAT: So they dug up some data on violence and left-handedness in three different tribal societies. Then they went out and did their own field research in five other groups.


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: And they find this beautiful correlation. The least violent society in their sample had three percent left-handers. The most violent societies in their sample, tribal societies in New Guinea that were notoriously violent had rates of left-handedness about 25 or 30 percent.




JAD: Whoa!


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: Yeah. It was this incredible ...


JAD: Three times as many lefties as us, I guess?


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: Yeah. Yeah. So it seemed to be true.


PAT: Case closed. No.




PAT: Here's the thing. That tribe from Papua New Guinea that had three times as many lefties as you would expect? That was data that they looked up in the library. But when some other scientists actually went in the field and checked it ...


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: They found no evidence that lefties were over-represented in this tribe.


ROBERT: It wasn't heavily lefty.


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: According to this study, they just didn't find any evidence that lefties were over-represented.


JAD: I'm disappointed, because this was a very cool idea.


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: I was disappointed too. But I think we can salvage it. The original ...


PAT: Here's where Jonathan had an idea of its own. After Nick knocked him out, he thought maybe looking at real battles, real violence, maybe that was where Faurie and Raymond went wrong.


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: Maybe lefty genes are maintained more through success in the play fights of sports than in actual no-holds-barred violence.


PAT: Maybe it's about sports not war.


ROBERT: In fact, actually lefties have long been known for doing better at all kinds of different sports: tennis, boxing, baseball. We looked at a Northwestern study, Jad, which found that 50 percent of the top players in baseball, highest RBIs, best pitchers ...


JAD: Wait, 50 percent are lefties?


ROBERT: Yes. And you see this same over-representation of lefties in any sport that's got a one-on-one component. You know, a faceoff kind of thing. The only scientific question you need to ask is ...


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: Do athletes have more children?


JAD: Oh, wait a second. So you're saying all those lefty pitchers that are really good and that screw up the right-handed hitters, maybe they're having so many kids ...




JAD: ... and that's what keeps that 10 percent 10 percent?


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: Well, sort of. Yeah, so but ...


ROBERT: We can check this. Lefty Gomez, New York Giant left-hander has 16 children.


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: So people -- so people have actually looked into this. You know, they've looked into it. Do athletes do better with the ladies? And the evidence is pretty strong that they do.


ROBERT: Really?


JAD: Really?


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: Anybody who went to high school -- you went to high school and college.


JAD: Well, yeah. That seems like duh. You don't need a scientist to tell you that.


ROBERT: We have to count the babies. Count the babies. Are they counting the babies?


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: Or you can -- or you count the reproductive opportunities.


JAD: What do you mean? Like, how many dates they go on?


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: Yeah, exactly. How many sex partners they have.


ROBERT: Why not count the babies? You don't want to count the babies?


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: Well, because we live in an era of birth control now, and so it's -- and the environments in which these traits evolved, there was -- there were no reliable means of birth control. So we use reproductive opportunities as a proxy for reproductive success.


JAD: And then -- okay. It's starting to make sense to me now.


DAVID WOLMAN: How could I lovingly say that sounds like total garbage?


ROBERT: You'd think David would love this idea. He's the lover of lefties. But no.


DAVID WOLMAN: It's just there's too much biology at play here. So -- and too much ancient, prehistoric biology at play for this to matter as much as your dear English professor friend wants it to matter.


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: But here's -- here's the thing. Whether or not this has been proven scientifically, personally I know it's true.


ROBERT: [laughs]


JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: I know it's true because I experienced it. I know it's true in a way that statistics can't touch, you know? I know it's true from being in that cage, having the undoubtable truth just pounded into my brain literally by my friend Nick. You know, I know it's true. Yeah.


DAVID WOLMAN: I mean, it's so fun. These kind of things are so fun because it's so easy, right? I mean, who doesn't love an easy answer? But it seems so far-fetched and maybe that makes me a little bit of a wet blanket, but after this year plus investigating this topic ...


PAT: David says about halfway through writing his book, this whole handedness puzzle kind of flipped for him. Instead of worrying about why lefties have stuck around, he started to wonder about that 90/10 number. Like, why in humans do lefties only make up 10 percent of the population when in pretty much every other creature on Earth ...


DAVID WOLMAN: This asymmetry is random. In other words, it's a coin flip whether a monkey in South America is going to be left- or right-handed.


PAT: Several studies have shown that it's about 50/50 in cats. Same is true for dogs. People have looked at mice, toads, various kinds of birds, and all of them have a pretty even split.


DAVID WOLMAN: It looks like what is unique to humanity is the 90/10.


PAT: So how did we end up at 90/10?


DAVID WOLMAN: Well, one of the strongest theories for the origins of handedness, hooks handedness onto left hemisphere dominance for speech.


ROBERT: The idea, says David, is that humans are -- way back in the day, so these would be, like, early humans, pre-human ancestors were 50/50s. That is, they were 50 percent righty, they were 50 percent lefty like all the other animals in the forest. So the things that our brains were doing back then were also even on both sides. So the motor cortex on the left controlled the right hand as it still does, the motor control on the right controls the left hand as it still does. But then ...


DAVID WOLMAN: At some point in our evolutionary history ...


ROBERT: Language begins to develop.


DAVID WOLMAN: And there was this shift in brain organization.


ROBERT: The part of the brain that controlled speech, I don't know why this happened but it began to move over to the left side of our brain. According to one theory, that shift ended up making the left side of our brains better at motor control. Because think about what speech is. I'm going to say, "Let's pick a pair of pickled peppers."


JAD: Mm-hmm.


ROBERT: My tongue, my lips, my teeth are all in a medley of complex motion there. That is all about motor control. So the left side of my brain is doing that, and it's getting bigger and stronger. As the species gets more and more speech-y, it gets more and more left brain or right-handed.


JAD: So you're saying that as speech grows on our left side, the motor cortex grows on our left side. And since the left motor cortex controls the right hand, the end result is a bias to the right.




PAT: But weirdly, buried somewhere deep in our DNA still ...


DAVID WOLMAN: Is this gene that confers the chance to become left-handed.


PAT: Which results in about 10 percent of the population being lefties.


ROBERT: But they're not dwindling though. They just seem to stick there.


PAT: Well, they don't seem to be dwindling in the -- in the blink of an eye, that is ...


DAVID WOLMAN: We're not! We're not dwindling!


ROBERT: Shut up, lefty.


PAT: Or whatever. Maybe there's just -- you know, you're just still around because you're like a vestige of what we used to be.


DAVID WOLMAN: Thank you. Thank you. I'll call my -- as soon as my kids are old enough, I'll tell them that daddy's a vestige.


PAT: Which sort of brought us back to our original question. Like, why aren't lefties dwindling? And when we pushed David here's what he finally said.


DAVID WOLMAN: I would argue because I'm a lefty and a strong left-hander so, you know, take many, many grains of salt.


ROBERT: You're arguing from pride, we understand that.


DAVID WOLMAN: Of course. No -- well, pride and a little bit of research. But I would argue that a splash of diversity within the brain as far as brain organization has had a cumulative beneficial effect for our species. Now if you ...


JAD: How exactly does he mean?


ROBERT: Well, because if conditions on Earth should change radically, nature just likes to have a little variety in the -- in the gene pool. So if everyone's doing really well with one set of genes and then the situation changes drastically, you don't want everybody to get sick and die. So in variety there is a slightly heightened chance of survival.


DAVID WOLMAN: I think it's a subtle advantage to the population, but I think -- I think there's a beauty to it nevertheless. Lefties are coming at the world from a slightly different angle.


PAT: But this puts David in kind of a weird spot, because even if lefties don't dwindle away, if sports or brain diversity or some other random reason keeps them around, they'll always be the few.


DAVID WOLMAN: You know, as I said in the book, I don't think this is cause for the next march on Washington, but -- but lefties are their own special minority group.


ROBERT: Unless you are a parrot.


HUNT SLONEM: This is Coco. He was ...


DAVID WOLMAN: Yes. Somehow I knew you guys would go for the parrot.


PAT: As it turns out ...


DAVID WOLMAN: Parrots seem to be, I think it's 90 percent left-handed or left-footed or left-clawed, left-taloned, whatever I'm supposed to call it.


PAT: Robert and I went to visit this artist named Hunt Slonem who rescues a lot of parrots.


HUNT SLONEM: This is a cockatiel whose name is Crayola.


PAT: And we tested 11 of his birds.


PAT: They told us that the test that they've used before is you put a piece of food on the table or on a platform, and whichever foot they pick it up with is their preferred foot.


HUNT SLONEM: Well, that makes sense.


ROBERT: We would walk up to a cage ...


HUNT SLONEM: This is Clive.






ROBERT: Greets the parrot.


ROBERT: I'm going to give you a potato chip.


ROBERT: Present it with our treat, and then we would wait to see what it did.


PAT: A lefty. We have a lefty.


ROBERT: We went up to another cage, did the same thing.


PAT: Left -- left foot.


HUNT SLONEM: Another lefty.


PAT: And in the end ...


ROBERT: The final count was ...


PAT: Okay, well so our final tally was what? Nine to ...


ROBERT: Nine to two to one. Nine lefty, two righty and one went both ways.


JAD: Oh, so that is close to 90 percent.


ROBERT: Close to -- yes.


PAT: So if David was a parrot, he would have felt right at home.


JAD: But why do you suppose parrots are 90 to 10 the other way?


ROBERT: I have no -- I don't think anybody knows. On the other hand ...






ROBERT: They do -- they do talk a lot.


PARROT: [laughs]


HUNT SLONEM: He thinks that's funny.






PAT: We've incited mayhem.


HUNT SLONEM: Oh, this is nothing. They're on their best behavior.


[SUE: Hello. This is Sue.]


[JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: Jonathan Gottschall.]


[DAVID WOLMAN: Hello, this is David Wolman.]


[SUE: Reading you guys the credits.]




[DAVID WOLMAN: Radiolab is produced by Jad Abumrad.]


[JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: Our staff includes ...]


[DAVID WOLMAN: Ellen Horne.]


[SUE: Soren Wheeler.]




[SUE: Tim Howard.]




[DAVID WOLMAN: Molly Webster.]




[SUE: Dylan Keefe, Jamie York, Lynn Levy, Andy Mills and Kelsey Padgett.]


[DAVID WOLMAN: With help from Arianne Wack, Simon Adler ...]


[JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: And Krystnell Storr.]


[SUE: Special thanks ...]


[DAVID WOLMAN: Special thanks ...]


[JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: Special thanks to Sam Bryant ...]


[DAVID WOLMAN: And PJ Vogt. PJ Vogt.]


[JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL: PJ Vogt. Thanks very much.]


[SUE: Okay. Thanks. Bye.]




[ANSWERING MACHINE: End of message.]


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