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After Life

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Foggy road Foggy road (eioua/flickr/CC-BY-2.0)

This hour: Radiolab stares down the very moment of passing, and speculates about what may lie beyond.

What happens at the moment when we slip from the other side? Is it a moment? If it is, when exactly does it happen? And what happens afterward? It's a show of questions that don't have easy answers. So, in a slight departure from our regular format, we bring you eleven meditations on how, when, and even if we die.


Ken Baldwin, Paul Broks, David Eagleman, Gary Greenberg, Adrian Owen, Lee Silver, Jeffrey Tambor, John Troyer, Emily Voigt, Peter Ward and Jan Zalasiewicz

When Am I Dead?

1. Soul Has Weight, Physician Thinks: Biologist Lee Silver tells us the story of a physician’s ambitious 1907 experiment to discover the weight of the soul. 2. Metamorphosis: One possibility of the afterlife from David Eagleman, read by actor Jeffrey Tambor. 3. When Am I Dead?: Is ...

Comments [40]

What’s the Difference Anyway?

5. 4 Seconds Down: Soren Wheeler tells the story of Ken Baldwin, a man who is looking for death but finds a new view on life. 6. Am I Dead?: Neurological psychologist Paul Broks introduces us to a patient who thinks she's dead. 7. If I Only Had A Brain: ...

Comments [18]

But Am I Really Dead?

9. Booyah Mozart: Producer Lulu Miller brings us a conversation with geologist Jan Zalasiewicz about what we’ll leave behind … in a hundred million years. 10. Cyberternity: Producer Emily Voigt tells a story about a guy named Wyatt, fixed in time. 11. Goodbye: Paleontologist and professor Peter Ward describes the ...

Comments [8]

Comments [145]

Nicholas Druecke

I heard this episode on air a few weeks after a suicide attempt. It changed my life. Thank you Radiolab.

May. 18 2017 11:40 PM
Tom from Anywheresville, Anywhere

I'm 14 and this is deep

May. 31 2016 04:19 PM
Amber from Lansing Michigan

Loved this! This whole show blew me away. The story about the women who asked if she was dead is so me, sometimes. I have depression and what the Dr. described is what I experience during a depressive episode. It's like my mind and body are completely disconnected. My husband was listening, and I was able to tell him that's what I feel or don't feel when I'm in a depressive episode. It was helpful for him to understand what it's like. I am great btw and will not be jumping off a bridge.

May. 29 2016 11:13 PM
sean from Oregon

Heard this one before and always fascinates me like most of what I hear on RL. The commentary on atoms mourning the loss of someone's body had me considering this: since atoms make up the very essence of life and are passing through us at all times of our living selves, why and how is it that certain atoms remain constant to make us who we are, so to speak. Or are we a constantly changing 'image' of atoms passing through us? Are 'we' a set number of atoms or constantly replaced with new ones, just like cells in our bodies constantly live and die?

Just saying...

May. 29 2016 05:37 PM
Rafi from Minneapolis MN

Wonderful episode. Naturally a topic that science, I find, usually tries to avoid since it can't address the possibility of the existence or non-existence of a part of reality that's beyond what's scientifically observable.
I really like the ocean / islands metaphor too. Science is fascinating but can be boring when scientists insist that nothing is real beyond a little island they've been able to observe and prove to others.

May. 29 2016 11:47 AM

And the logical unanswered question when you deride the inaccuracy of scales in 1907 (not true really) was HAS ANYONE DONE THE EXPERIMENT WITH LIVE MICROGRAM BALANCES??

I was a bit worried with that jumper story that you would provoke a rash of copycats, but the revelation that he (and most people) instantly deeply regret it was important and meaningful to millions. The amazing MediaChannel story of our monkey-like tendency to copy everything is:

My little brother, a dry laconic wit and a guy who could fix absolutely anything, was a fierce user of drugs- he loved them and could do 5 times the normal human dose, but they took everything he had. 17 years ago I was cruising around NH, VT, Montreal exploring + mountain climbing and could feel he was in trouble, though we hadn't been close for a long time. We had had a bucolic vacation as maybe 10 + 14 yo kids on Lake Champlain, and I in a brazen display of youthful bravado had "borrowed" a canoe and set sail for an island 200M away in some windy weather- Alex came with me, totally trusting and it all went fine, though the water was probably killing cold and I had never ever sailed a canoe, or anything beyond an air mattress. I could feel he was in trouble that Autumn, and searched and searched for that dam hotel because I wanted to tell him that no matter how miserable his life was, no matter how much sht there was, things would change- there would be good times again, and if he gave up, every good time he had had, would never be again.

I couldn't find the place, which I needed as my touchstone, and Alex never made it to the new Millennium.

May. 28 2016 09:53 PM

ADDENUM: And I really believe from our experiences with the hot smokers, that the vast oceans of Europa are more likely to hold advanced life than Mars. Or as Arthur C didn't say: "Let some man set foot on Europa!!!"

May. 28 2016 08:51 PM

Another great thought provoking deeply reflective show I had to listen to twice (because you miss some detail + IT DOESN'T MAKE ANY SENSE). The doesn't work- it is shut down, but there are analogs.

David Eagleman is absolutely brilliant- he's behind THE BRAIN PBS series, which I will forthwith download, and gave maybe the most inspiring TED Talk I've ever heard, opening up the possibility of humans, with simple homebuilt aparatus, giving themselves new expanded senses possessed by many animals- infrared, or ultraviolet vision, echo-location, radar- fed into the brain by ANY crude sensor representative (he uses a grid of buzzers on the back)- no matter what you use, if you do it enough, the infinite analyzer of the brain will figure it out, make mind maps, and assign everything value!!!!!!

Some quibbles, the sun's output is supposedly increasing at 10% a billion years (as it burns higher + hotter elements), so the oceans should be cooked away in 1 bil. (I think we should concentrate on not roasting ourselves and Earth's habitability in the next 200 years though!!!!) I thought the red giant phase would be 4-5 bil years from now. Europa sounds fabulous, but it would have an atmosphere- of water vapor, which would dissociate in the Jovian radiation into oxygen and escaping hydrogen, so maybe all we would need was a pressurizing suit that could harvest the oxygen!!! The big problem wouldn't be air, but the fierce Jovan radiation that would fry anyone on the surface too many hours. A water filled hemispheric dome, or submarine habitat would be insulated enough though. It would be easy to electrolyze water to make Oxygen + Hydrogen- breathing and terrarium air, and rocket fuel!!

I would go gladly one-way. The view would be out of this world!!

May. 28 2016 08:41 PM
Blaise Favara from Hamilton, Montana

I'm a retired physician and believer in the Near-Death-Experience(NDE)as an example of the separation of body and consciousness. Your excellent program would, in my opinion, have been greatly enhanced by considering NDE as Pim van Lommel did in his article that appeared in the medical journal, the Lancet, and in his book, Consciousness Beyond Life. I'm also of the opinion that topics such as this will ultimately lend themselves to application of quantum theory.

May. 28 2016 02:21 PM
Karen from NYC

Love you guys, but this show should come with a warning label: "May induce uncontrollable eye leakage".

May. 28 2016 12:55 PM

awesome so good loved it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! <(^.^)>

May. 05 2015 10:38 AM
Vicki Rovere from New York City

A suggestion for doing brain scans on "profoundly deaf" people in vegetative states: You need 4 volunteers and a tennis racket. 2 people hold up the subject's forearms, the other 2 hold his hands and guide them around the racket: the oval, the webbing, the handle. Then hold his hand to grip the racket. Put the arms down and, on a convenient body surface (maybe a forearm), with a finger, draw a line. That's the net. Then with an extended finger, not sharp, jab rhythmically into the skin on one side of the line, then the other. This is a volley. Some jabs can be closer to the line, some farther away. If you haven't already hooked him up to the scanner, do it now and repeat the volley.

If you do manage to establish contact, maybe you could write on his skin instead of talking to him.

But someone has probably thought of this already.


May. 04 2015 10:55 PM
Stephen from Chesterton, Indiana

Really enjoyed re-listening to this episode. If you ever do a follow-up, I highly recommend adding a section on an untestable but fascinating and, I think, plausible concept sometimes called "existential passage." The premise, which I actually came up with on my own before verifying via Google that "I wasn't the only one," is this:
Assuming there is no "soul" separate from the material body, what happens to my consciousness when "I" am gone -- utterly, irretrievably, irrevocably gone? When that moment happens, does everything simply cease, which is the usual assumption, or do I "wake up", so to speak, as another consciousness? -- literally a new "me?" This is not reincarnation or "transmigration of souls," since again, the assumption is that there is no soul outside my own brain patterns. The "passage" (for lack of a better term) happens when a new fetal brain achieves what we call consciousness subsequent to my brain ceasing to function. I'd try to explain further, but instead, I think I'll just post the following two links which independently cover the concept in depth:

Disclaimer: as a lay member in good standing of a religious body that doctrinally believes in a soul, I am not necessarily endorsing this idea. But I still find it intriguing and I think Jad and Robert would as well.

May. 04 2015 09:40 PM
RJ from Minnesota

If Radiolab ever covers the same topic in the future, it would be interesting to include Eben Alexander as one of the guests (even if it challenges the orthodox science mindset). Of course being strictly a mainstream science program someone like that probably wouldn't fit. Oh well.

May. 02 2015 08:36 PM
Don Zacharias MD from Hawaii

How fitting that the music playing during Jeffrey Tambor's first reading was from the movie The Conversation. The new book with the same name The Conversation by Angelo Volandes discusses the much needed conversation about end of life and goals of care.

May. 02 2015 06:57 PM
lee from United States

I died 8/10/2010. I was talking and then I was dead - Sudden Cardiac Arrest- it was as if someone had shut off the power strip- everything stopped. So I listened with interest to the differing decision models on when a person is dead- by no heartbeat and no brain activity - I was. Someone applied CPR so air moved thru my lungs. The firemen shocked me twice, the hospital once - after six to eight minutes my heart was beating - with a pacemaker working 100% and a ventilator breathing for me. I have no memory of this my brain was unable to store into short term memory. I'm recovered with minimal memory loss - 4 hrs before and 3 months after. I have an Implanted Cardiac Defribulator in case my electrical system takes another time out. I only know that I probably died the easiest I will ever die - no pain, no gasping for breath, just here and gone. Another great show.

May. 02 2015 05:54 PM
jharaphula from pune

In Creation everything has minimum two sides just like a Coin. Few pair are Day & Night, Sunrise & Sunset, Male & Female, Lock & Key etc. In this similar fashion you are also made with 2 objects. One is your Body & rest one is Soul. Body is Physical when Soul is pure Logical. I can say the relationship between Body & Soul like Lock & Key. Without Key lock will not work & Without Lock key has no meaning. I hope you got me. When death occurs body stopped operating & just with-in a micro-second soul left the dead body. Lets make you more clear, Like your Computer if Hardware get damage than what is the role of Software. Here soul is like software & your body is hardware. Now the soul is in Space. Here matter comes how this death occur. Is it a natural death or something else. If it is a natural death your soul will get immediate invitation by some envoy to the souls residency. But if its not a natural death, Your soul will not get any invitation. It will rotate in Space. I will discuss later in this article why like this? Read more at

May. 29 2014 05:34 PM
M. Sherman

I think the idea that you can "clone" your brain and thereby live forever is mistaken. People have difficulty separating the aspects of existence. I believe there are 3: Physical, Mental, and Spiritual. The point is that recreating your mental state will not reinstantiate your spiritual state. If you completely reproduced your brain, you would not be in it. Which is to say you would not experience it. Imagine for a second, that your existing brain continued to exist while you created an exact clone, so that now you had two brains. Do you really believe you would exist in both at the same time? So the connection of your spirit (that part of you that has experiences) to your brain (so that you can experience what happens inside your brain)is not given purely by your brain's existence. Your brain could exist, and you not be attached to experience it. So before you can clone yourself to live forever, you must first solve the mystery of the soul. Something connects us to our mental state so that we experience it. I believe that is the soul. It allows my deepest self (that I call my spirit) to experience my mental state. Merely reproducing your mental state does not ensure that your soul would then attach to it. Until you can attach your spirit to that new brain, you can't be immortal. Your brain might be immortal, but you would not be.

Mar. 09 2014 07:42 PM
Heather J from Pennsylvania

Regarding long-comatose patients responding to a "play tennis" command: We occasionally hear of "miraculous" recoveries of someone returning to consciousness after a quite long coma. We seldom hear of the long-term outcome. Do these folks go on to have any sort of productive, satisfying, or even very long life? I'm not sure, given the state of science right now, if I would even want to know that such a "spark" remained if I was in such a coma. I think I would rather just be let go.

Mar. 09 2014 01:34 PM
Patrick from Newbury, MA

30 years of research started by the Chairman of Psychology at UConn, 600 people every day in the U.S., astounding consistency but unique to the individual - I've heard at least 100 of them and find no contradictions between them, nor with any religious or moral teachings I've read. NDEs of course - how could it be left out? When the statements that NDErs make are added up, we're left with startling conclusions: we are eternal sentient beings who chose this specific life specifically, after much counseling with other sentient beings, for the purpose of developing empathy and for the experiences themselves; we chose the most challenging life we thought we could handle, and in order for the "play" to seem real, we agreed to have the memory of our eternal life erased. Not my conclusions, but it's what's concluded if you believe them. This renders the question of "why does God allow evil in the world" meaningless, since we chose to include the challenges - without evil there's no opportunity to help others. Every time I look around and get overwhelmed at my situation or others', I remember that we all chose this - and I trust myself, my sentient all-knowing self. I can't be any freer than that. "I didn't ask to be born" - looks like that's wrong! Richard Dawkins shot down a religious person's question by responding "Yes, if you'd been born in India you'd by Hindu" - Dawkins' assumption is we are randomly born in locations here on earth - what a fantastic claim, which as he says, requires fantastic evidence.

Mar. 09 2014 12:56 PM
Khadijah Juswil from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The song playing around minute 24:00 was beautiful. What's it called?

Mar. 09 2014 12:26 PM

What if The question asked to patients during the brain scan doesn't spark a reaction, cause if they have no idea or feel for playing tennis. The only way to get the question right would be to know what turns on the individual, their passion etc

Mar. 08 2014 05:35 PM
Toni-Ann Mistretta from Houston... Or am I?

Story on the woman who thought she might be dead sounded similar to dissociation, a survival skill common in traumatic abuse. I never heard of this syndrome and missed the name it was given. I wished the story was a bit more in depth. Love radiolab!!

Mar. 08 2014 03:52 PM
lynort from Brookly, NY

I would venture to take an educated guess regarding the "weight" of the soul. The last breath would most likely an exhalation. The lungs would be empty. This would account for the few grams mentioned.

As for the comment (made perhaps by Robert?) that when someone dies there is something very different that is beyond no breath, that "something" is the total absence of muscle tone. They look very different. Different than we have ever seen them. In life, there is never a complete absence of muscle tone in the face.

Mar. 08 2014 12:47 PM

"We've learned enough to know, that we know, much less than we thought."

Mar. 05 2014 07:55 PM
Rita from WV

Amazing and moving podcast

Feb. 10 2014 04:28 AM

After living overseas for many years, I am glad to get NPR again. I was lucky to catch the last few minutes of your interview with the Reverend from NY. I agree with him that we will all be surprised at who gets to "heaven". "Hell" may be an even bigger surprise. In RAISING HELL, author Julie Ferwerda provides a refreshing review on what the Bible says about hell and concludes that the hell is mostly based on mistranslations and wrong interpretations that have been reinforce through successive generations. Her historical and linguistic scholarship, was made possible with tools now available on the internet to everyone. Though it may be hard for some to recognize, such tools may make possible a second reformation (as similarly followed when people could evaluate the Bible translated into their own language), with part of the result being a broadening of the understanding of afterlife among the Christian community.

Oct. 07 2013 08:57 PM
Thomas Mowbray from The Villages, FL

I believe that in our afterlife we will, as is the case with all other living things, simply be broken down into the basic elements that make up our physical being. We will be recycled simply as chemical elements that will be available for the growth and development of new living organisms.

Oct. 07 2013 05:59 PM
mcg-truth from Eagle

The socially accepted insanity of religion has too long influenced humanity.

Oct. 07 2013 11:14 AM

Harry Houdini, the great magician/escape artist, had a hobby of debunking psychics who held seances at which they claimed to contact the dead. He thought them all to be scams. He attended seances and ALWAYS succeeded in discovering how the so-called psychic made it appear as if the dead was contacted and delivering messages. Houdini told his wife that when he died, if there was any way to contact her from beyond the grave he would find it. After all, if there was a way to escape he kew how to do it. For decades after his untimely death his widow sat in waiting some anniversary (perhaps of his death) but never heard from him. Another magician has since continued his debunking activities.

Sep. 22 2013 01:25 PM

Someone on the program made a comment that everyone wants to believe there is an afterlife. It ain't necessarily so. The story of the man who became known as "the Buddha" originally was an Indian nobleman. The religion of the area believed in reincarnation. Eternal reincarnation. He thought that was like being on an endless treadmill and went seeking something different. He left his home and wealth behind and set out to explore various sects and their approaches to seek God. After a long time of trying a variety of ways to prove his devotion to God, he eventually had an epiphany that how you lived your life determined whether you would be reincarnated as a higher or lesser form of life, until you reached the highest, Nirvana, state of reincarnation, which allowed you to leave the treadmill. Nothing about going to heaven or an eternal paradise, but to a merciful oblivion. I think you will find many people who look forward to oblivion, not eternal life, whether on Earth or in paradise. If all people believed in an afterlife of heaven or hell there would be no suicides.

Sep. 22 2013 01:20 PM
mcquigan from Kelso, WA

My brother died on Sept. 7th, last year.
People (me included) still "talk" to his Facebook page.

Feb. 27 2013 11:44 AM
Paul Clemente from Kingston, NY

Hi, I enjoyed the afterlife show. For some reason, while listening I could not help but recall and savor the memories of a TV show, Tales from the Darkside. Although short lived, it is readily considered The Twilight Zone of the 1980s. There weren't any chainsaws. Just good old storytelling. Like the episode where Grandpa (3 days deceased) keeps coming downstairs for meals and no one has the heart to tell him until he starts getting a bit "ripe." His family eventually decides to hide crushed black pepper in his napkin. While using his napkin that night, he has a hearty sneeze that blows his decaying nose clear off and into the napkin. Seeing this, the stubborn old gent excuses himself, to go back upstairs to his final resting place while muttering something like "well I'll be damned," never to return again. Thanks, PC

Feb. 25 2013 09:24 PM
Selina from California

I LOVE, LOVE RadioLab! This show never fails to make me think about life, ourselves, our communities, and our place in this universe. Thank you for creating this show and please keep up the great work!!

Feb. 24 2013 01:28 AM
queuebe from Boston

Thank you. Loved this show!

Feb. 23 2013 08:06 PM
L. Steffans

Four years ago I went into cardiac arrest a few times while in the hospital. I flatlined for a time and due to the circumstances, the last one lasted for a bit. I don't believe that I died, but that these were just near-death experiences. I didn't see any lights or any deceased loved ones. I'm not trying to dispute people who report these experiences, but I didn't have them. I did keep a conciousness and had a definite experience that would take too long to explain here. I'll just say that there are no words that can express how beyond joyful and beyond perfect it was for me while I was out. My loved ones? Somehow I just knew they would be ok without me in the long run. Then I was back here. I have nothing but gratitude for the nurses who revived me because they truly felt that they were helping me. Think me an ingrate if you want but that doesn't matter. I wasn't glad when I was pulled back here. I'm convinced that death is the least fearsome thing in life. The fact that it's the big unknown is probably why so many people fear it. That's natural, I guess. I'm a military veteran and have been in my share of hazardous spots, so I've not had any illusions about living forever, and I'd never had a definite opinion of what happens after death. Death is inevitable, so it's a waste of energy to spend too much time worrying about it. I still don't think that I have the answers. I'm just saying that, even though I'm not suicidal, I sincerely hope that the next time for me is the final time. Because nothing in life approaches the beauty of what I experienced when my line went flat.

Feb. 23 2013 04:52 PM
Vernondo from Renton, WA.

Years ago I read a fictional story in Playboy about a boy who was in an airplane accident. His body was destroyed but his brain was still alive. The brain was kept alive and eventually hooked up to a devise that allowed him to communicate and be communicated with. By that time he had gone insane from sensory deprivation. Attempts to rehabilitate him were eventually successful, but in the mean-time, brain transplants had become possible. "Consciousness" had become transferable from body to body, but because initially he was insane, the boy was not eligible for transplant until his mental health was restored.

I don't remember how the story ended, but I have always remembered the story, I have even asked Playboy about it, but got no response.

Does anybody else remember this story? It is probably from the late 60's or 70's. Would love to read it again!

Feb. 23 2013 04:36 PM
reed from camping in fl

I just listened to death afterlife and when you die program..

Suprised you didn't get into The Urantia Book...
it gives all sorts of information as what happens after death,,,
with our spirit,soul and personality...
And where we find ourselves after...
Wow for those interested...this book is a must...
Blending science,philosophy and more!

Feb. 23 2013 01:12 PM
Greg from Toledo, Ohio

Critical Care RN, seem many deaths over 30 can absolutely tell when death is final and also can tell when death is near. Sometimes electrical activity as monitored on EKG may continue for a while but it's over before then absolutely. The patients often know but maybe not if sudden and unexpected, my mom saw her dead husband standing and waiting for her.

Feb. 23 2013 01:58 AM
Mike Barker from Lansing, MI

I remember hurtling towards an abutment at 100 miles an hour on a road in Michigan years ago and time slowing down. It seemed as if I had time to read a paper. I began to talk to the driver calmly even as I could see the abutment approaching. It didn't seem to matter. Just at the last moment, we hit the curb and suddenly we were going 80 miles straight down the road. I remained calm, though to this day, I still feel that I died then, in some way.

Feb. 22 2013 10:49 PM
John Campanelli from Detroit

How come you never reveal what happened to the patient who'd been in a coma for fifth months in the "Tennis anyone?" segment? I was screaming at my radio. What happened to her?

Feb. 22 2013 06:18 PM

That sign-off was PURELY adorable.

Feb. 22 2013 05:07 PM
Adam from Tokyo

We don't remember birth or death... This must be infinite.

Feb. 21 2013 02:51 AM
junior weir from vermont

What if the soul's weight change is do to the gravitational pull to the human body. if the atom's slow enough or what ever gravity pull's on. what if when the energy of the body leave's gravity give's the body it self a diffident mater mass. like give a body a six or more hour time and dont the body blot? weigh it then and see if with adding nothing if the body weigh's more... i dont know but the soul could have a grip on our gravity link.

Feb. 08 2013 04:04 PM
Tim from Americatown

Susan loves Bill Maher... Who'd a thunk...

Sep. 24 2012 12:39 PM

I was sad at the "Good-bye" segment because hearing about deaths that happened in the past doesn't scare me as long as they aren't people I know but either have or haven't met, but hearing about the sun frying the earth to a crisp and the universe being pulled apart is sad. I want to keep everyone alive forever and prevent that scenario from happening. Please don't say that again.

Aug. 19 2012 01:15 PM

"Afterlife" was the first time I've ever heard a Radiolab show. It was an unexpected and wonderful gift while driving home from Midway Airport in Chicago.

I'm not concerned about the war of science vs. spiritual... I am merely open to the possibility that I don't know everything. That makes me curious, and will keep me tuning in from now on.

Well done!

Jul. 29 2012 09:39 PM
matt from San Francisco

I listened to this during a brutal job along the ocean - extremely entertaining.

Jul. 26 2012 12:00 AM
Sienna from NJ :)

I LOVE radiolab
that's all
thanks for all the free pod casts
you guys are amazing!

ps. i think you should make a pod cast about interesting things that go on with teenagers and young adults
idk just a suggestion :)

Jul. 22 2012 08:37 PM

"This hour: Radiolab stares down the very moment of passing, and speculates about what may lay beyond."
Come on Radiolab - you are always fascinating, can't you also be literate?
verb (used with object)
1. to put or place in a horizontal position or position of rest; set down: to lay a book on a desk.

verb (used without object) be in a horizontal, recumbent, or prostrate position, as on a bed or the ground; recline.

Jul. 22 2012 02:07 PM
old nurse from Bakersfield, CA

I heard the rebroadcast of this show yesterday and had multiple flashbacks! When the original brain death criteria were reviewed (Beecher), I remembered how many times my transplant colleagues and I used those criteria to provide organ transplants to others. I remembered being in operating rooms and personally discontinuing respiratory support for a brain-dead person just before the surgeons removed the kidneys for transplant. As a nurse, I was the one who explained to their loved ones that the person was dead. I still believe those criteria to be the basis of definition of death (with some improvements).
I was disturbed by, or maybe I missed something in the story about fMRI--did those persons have any activity on an EEG? Were they breathing spontaneously or did they have NO respiratory activity--especially those who apparently responded on the testing?
More importantly--are there differences in our personhood--being able to live and function in the world even with assistance vs a biological, cellularly functioning being who has no cognitive, sentient abilities? Is existing as cellular function being a live person? How do you want to live?

Jul. 22 2012 01:34 PM
BicameralMind from Dighton, MA

Hi Jad and Robert. Just a note to alert you to a topic you could do a series of shows on - the work of Julian Jaynes. In his seminal book "The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind," Jaynes offers a completely new theory that explains the origin of consciousness, substantiated by an analysis of ancient writing compared to more modern works; recent advances in brain science; and fascinating examples of the vestigial bicameral mind structure in the modern world, such as schizophrenia, hypnosis, even explorations like your own.
For more, see
Contact Marcel Kuijsten, Founder and Executive Director of the Julian Jaynes Society. I look forward to hearing your treatment of this fascinating theory.

Jul. 22 2012 12:34 PM
Ntange from USA

@Andrew Finlayson... your dismissive explanation is simplistic to a say the least focusing only on one small part the experience (which is necessarily encountered by all NDEs).

Jul. 22 2012 10:03 AM
Ntanga from NY

Perhaps in the many posts someone has already brought this up. It would seem to me that Radiolab's glaring omission with this program is NDEs (near death experiences) of which, at this point, there are many fascinating accounts. Most of the stories Radiolab recounted in this program I’ve read about before. I’m not sure why NDEs would be left out or ignored, considering the topic. Any discussion of what lays beyond without including this experience that has been witnessed by thousands is for the most part worthless.

Jul. 21 2012 10:32 PM

Usually Radiolab is too jumpy for me (the sound production - sounds layering over one another), but I'm glad I listened today: love the rebroadcast of "After Life". Fascinating & moving. Particularly - the letter that fixes a moment in time....when your name is no longer said aloud....geologist Jan Zalasiewicz talking about what we’ll leave behind in a hundred million years....a failed suicide talks about how he immediately changed his mind (I wondered: is the adrenaline surge - as a result of the suicide - the brain's way of trying to restart/jump out of depression?).

Jul. 21 2012 04:58 PM
Robert Abrahamian from CA

P. M. H. Atwater and her book(s) titled, Future Memory give a keen insight on time, death, and life.

Jul. 21 2012 03:11 PM
Johnny from New Yawk

I LOVE THIS PROGRAM! So exciting, exhilirating and profound.

But I CANNOT STAND Mr. Krulwich's disparaging attitude towards Mr. Eagleman's rather provocative idea put forth in segment #7. Sometimes, Krulwich, you can be so entertaining and interesting but sometimes you can be so boorish! Why must you affect that tone, unless you think it's funny or something... I don't get it. But, anyway, great program. And keep em coming! Including you, Krulwich.

Jul. 05 2012 12:19 PM

then again I have known a couple people that have technically died....nothing but blackness till they were revived.

Jun. 20 2012 12:12 AM
Andrew Finlayson from Australia

@Xu Yun ....yes people have had near death experiences, and yes they often report similar things .... a dark tunnel, a bright light at the end etc.

Two possibilities: this is just a manifestation of something hard wired in the brain, triggered when one is near death.

Second, that we are remembering something quite similar which has happened to us before .... a dark tunnel with a bright light at the end .....

It's called birth.

Jun. 02 2012 09:24 AM
Xu Yun from Seattle, WA

It's totally false when he says no one has come back to tell us where people go when they die. Many have come back and many of these people's stories are quite similar. If you choose not to believe them that is fine but don't claim that no one has tried to tell us.

Oct. 08 2011 11:05 PM

That is ridiculous. Looking at the world without theistic belief means assuming there is not a god. It is less of an assumption than a specific god, but it still is an assumption. A negation can be an assumption, not making an assumption is completely different. No they are not the same. Assuming T or -T is much different from not assuming either T or -T.

Sep. 03 2011 02:27 PM

Actually, when you analyze the word atheist, it simply means to be without theistic belief. Many people commonly perceive it to mean more, but it really doesnt. So while I used to insist on being called an agnostic, im more ambivalent these days about the attribution of atheism. Both say pretty much the same thing.

Sep. 03 2011 12:51 PM

There isn't a grey area Joshua. There is just faith and no faith. The faith side includes the religious and the atheists because they both have opinions on a subject that is not scientifically testable, i.e. the existence of god. The no faith camp is populated by agnostics. Not weak agnostics who just think they don't know, but strong agnostics who proudly stand up and say at this stage of human thought and technology any positive or negative statements about a creative intelligence that could be considered god are scientifically baseless. How to you test for the influence of super natural forces if by definition they act outside of known forces? How do you look at what caused the big bang if it is a continuum. Don't count math and science out for explaining things, but there certainly isn't a testable hypothesis about the existence of god or a soul as of right now. Science never leads to certainty, only the systematized definition of uncertainty and atheists are awfully certain for people who so often claim to love science. Science is agnostic, atheism is a bias and biases skew data.

Sep. 03 2011 03:39 AM

desperately not seeking susan - i appreciate the fact religion must have wronged you in some way, obviously this would be nothing new. But, honestly, don't be so closed off. The complete opposite approach to something is rarely a good answer to things as you end up becoming very similar to that which you have disliked in the first place. My advice is chillax and don't be so black/white with ideas. Find a nice gray balance. You may even find yourself a happier person

Sep. 03 2011 12:55 AM
Will from Tulsa, OK

M wrote, "Einstein was a reader of the Bhagavad Gita (a book you would not find appealing) and he did believe in a supreme self, as well as all the other geniuses that have lived...."

Citation please.

That rumor has been going around since at least the sixties without actually being attributed directly to any of Einstein's own writing.

From all the quotes that actually can be directly attributed to Einstein, through his letters or other writings, there is abundant indication the he most certainly did not believe in a supreme self or eternal soul.

As far as your similar implication about "all the other geniuses that have lived", well that is quite obviously utter malarky.

Nov. 28 2010 08:35 PM

I dont think they are sharing any personal belief, the are giving you facts!, and this doesnt mean they agree with it.....

Nov. 23 2010 11:01 AM


Einstein was a reader of the Bhagavad Gita (a book you would not find appealing) and he did believe in a supreme self, as well as all the other geniuses that have lived....

but as you created the universe, I guess you know better. ; )


Nov. 17 2010 03:31 PM
Robert Bullock

Wow, you scientific materialists are off your rockers! To say that that there is nothing of the individual that survives death is as speculative as saying that there is. However, being brainwashed by your particular religion, you think you have some actual insight into the total mystery we call "death".

Oct. 29 2010 12:06 PM

susan im not sure you are here anymore to read this but im gonna say this anyway

they in no way put believes on you... they gave you facts... and what someone a long time ago made of it

they even said afterwards that everything could tip the scale...

now I do not believe in souls but I am sure something left the body wether it's air sweat or something else we have no idea of

Also Robert and Tom(if I got the names correct) often just do a back and forth bit so that people can draw the conclusion that not everyone has to believe the same thing

1 more thing... you don't want ideas forced on you but in your post you have no respect for other religions so pretty please... go learn abit about empathy

Sep. 27 2010 09:36 AM
jucal6405 model from Havana Cuba

Susan, Just because people count something in what they say is their religion does not make it inherently religious. If some people start worshipping chairs, chairs shouldn't be kept out of school. Some people could say to you to keep for yourself your SECULANT HUMANISM believe.But what a boring planet with just the you. no? I love diversity in food, wine, and opinions/believes.

Sep. 23 2010 09:26 AM

Susan, I am so glad we have someone who has been dead and come back to tell us what happened. You have truly offered more insight than any expert on Radiolab.

Please continue to spread the good news. How dare we listen to an interesting take on death when you have been there and done that. Get over yourself, this was a fantastic show.

Sep. 12 2010 11:14 AM

LH: Yes, how dare they attempt to use sound design to create a sense of drama and urgency about existential topics? How blasé! If Radiolab so terrible, why don't you recommend us all to the amazing radio show that you listen to that we've probably never heard of instead of poopooing something we all enjoy?

Susan: As a very staunch atheist, I completely agree with your non-belief, but I don't think this show contradicted those standpoints. Many of the ideas posited were theories of what consciousness consists of and what happens to it after the brain dies. I heard of no spirits or souls, just musings on molecular breakdown and memories of things past. The Jeffery Tambor readings of "Sum" (the only segments that could be construed as mystical) were mere literary musings and anecdotes. There is no reason to take offense. I, too, was a little off-put by Robert's constant disbelief in facts at first, but you have to realize that this is probably how many listeners will react and it is important to have a sympathetic "character" on the show to ease those listeners in to those ideas. Most people are not as strongly skeptic as you or I.
Let's relax and enjoy the show. It is, after, just a show. :)

Sep. 08 2010 07:15 AM
Jon from Cincinnati

Susan they don't "owe" you anything. Death and the afterlife is something that has puzzled man since we could communicate. We don't "know" anything. And I don't believe in an afterlife. This was a fascinating show and deserves to be recognized as so. You're just coming across as arrogant and pompous.

Sep. 05 2010 05:18 PM

Today I was having an existential crisis, feeling sort of lost at the final dropping away of all my religious beliefs of youth to face the nothingness of non-existence: the moment when my self is just gone.

I decided to listen to Radiolab today, and there it was: After Life. I listened in wonder at all the science and belief, mixed together. Because we have no knowledge of what happens after life.

But it was at Ineffable that I broke down into sobs, filled with wonder at the thought that in a way, life is a moment of art, a sonata, a story that gains it's own spirit from the sum of its parts.

Thank you.

Apr. 28 2010 10:47 PM

I heard this podcast rebroadcast on WNYC this morning (1/30/10) and, again, I was disgusted by your references to "the soul" and where it "goes" after life. Life ENDS. The person ENDS. The person and their fictitious soul go NOWHERE. The brain STOPS. And decomposition BEGINS. This is a science show and I expect better of you. If you are believers, keep your beliefs to yourself. There are a growing number of us Secular Humanists who are appalled by your foisting superstitions, myths and historical lies about the "after life" on the public. Do science; report science and keep religious beliefs, and your religion, in particular, out of it. Robert, it is not charming or funny or cute. I'm a faithful listener to RadioLab podcasts, but this rebroadcast just set my teeth on edge. You owe us Secular Humanists at least 3 or 4 podcasts devoted entirely to how people live life ethically, compassionately and lovingly without gods, ghosts, heaven, afterlives, and the fear of hell, just to balance out all the ten commandments, religion, myth, spirituality, "wonder" and superstition you so subtlety endorse just by making it your subject matter. What about interviewing Sam Harris or Bill Maher on the threat of religion to life and happiness? How about a program on Einstein and his rejection of a personal god at the age of twelve? Or is that a little "too religious" for you?

Jan. 30 2010 06:56 PM

Another Great Show Robert & Jad, thank you for letting us listen. Can anyone tell me what song that started playing at the end (54:24) as they are saying good bye? It was very nice and relaxing.

Sep. 25 2009 08:40 PM

Great show! I, like others, was a bit apprehensive about a topic such as this, but it was handled with such a mastery that it has become one of my favorite episodes you guys have produced. Well Done!

The readings from Sum were so completely enjoyable, I would suggest that an audio book combining the thoughtful production of Radiolab and the stories from this book would be outstanding. I'd be the first to pre-order.

Sep. 19 2009 08:46 AM

See, I can believe in a silicon reproduction of life---as long as it is embodied. Remember "Where Am I?" Life might be life without a body, but it'd be a different kind of life.

Sep. 18 2009 05:47 PM

Honestly, this show is the most affected, pretentious waste of an hour, especially the mock-dulcet tones and the hipster/pseudo-intellectual inflection. Radiolab is the only thing that bums me out about Friday afternoon.

Sep. 18 2009 03:57 PM
Evil Eye

it is science because it is the science of the mind.

How can something make you cry if it has no meaning?

Aug. 27 2009 06:25 PM
Kenny Mann

"You're dead, sir" - Catch-22, chapter 31

"Goddammit," Doc Daneeka expostulated politely in an
uncommon excess of exasperation, "what's the matter
with you two men anyway? It just isn't right for a person
to have a low temperature all the time and walk around
with a stuffed nose. (...) Just look how cold I am right now.
You're sure you're not holding anything back?"

"You're dead, sir," one of his two enlisted men explained.

Doc Daneeka jerked his head up quickly with resentful
distrust. "What's that?"

"You're dead, sir," repeated the other. "That's probably
the reason you always feel so cold."

"That's right, sir. You've probably been dead all this time
and we just didn't detect it."

"What the hell are you both talking about?"

"It's true, sir," said one of the enlisted men. "The records
show that you went up in McWatt's plane to collect
some flight time. You didn't come down in a parachute,
so you must have been killed in the crash."

"That's right, sir," said the other. "You ought to be glad
you've got any temperature at all."

Doc Daneeka's mind was reeling in confusion. "Have you
both gone crazy?" he demanded. "I'm going to report
this whole insubordinate incident to Sergeant Towser."

"Sergeant Towser's the one who told us about it," said
either Gus or Wes. "The War Department's even going
to notify your wife."

Aug. 27 2009 08:43 AM
Quimby Smith

There are no scientific questions that can be answered about the afterlife. So I guess the "lab" part of radiolab get thrown away.

I am not yet ready to throw radiolab away but after this episode and the "In Silence" offering, I am definitely looking at radiolab with more skepticism and much less respect.

Aug. 17 2009 06:58 AM
Levi Blackman

Fantastic show...I really loved the tennis match going on in dead people story. Kinda creepy.

Aug. 15 2009 01:55 PM
Russell Buckley

Great show, as always.

At the risk of being a little surreal, I really liked the mashup of two ideas here. When the oceans have boiled away and that new generation of geologists find our future fossils, they'll be very puzzled as to why we apparently only lived on the mountain tops.

I wonder how long it'll take them to figure it out.


Aug. 14 2009 03:02 PM

@Windswept Waif: Yes, know the movie. Not sure why you saw 'so-called' locked in syndrome: it's a well-characterized disorder, but is characterized by patients retaining some ability to communicate (usually with eye movements). What is different about the scenarios being proposed is that these would be people who didn't have even that ability - no one would be able to tell if they had consciousness - and the person couldn't communicate at all. Kind of like a disembodied brain, except that information could flow one way (from body to brain; the patient could experience pain, hunger, physical pleasure etc.).

Aug. 12 2009 08:47 PM

You Lied! You did.

“… but it won’t be depressing.”

I got seriously bummed out several times! :P

Aug. 11 2009 10:27 AM

Moving, outstanding, great!
I am going to translate parts of the show into German to talk about it with my students! Thank you and greetings from Cologne, Germany

Aug. 11 2009 05:37 AM
Windswept Waif

To Drew:

You wrote --

"The scenario described in this Radiolab episode in which someone might have consciousness but is completely otherwise locked-in – unable to move or in any way express any thoughts, wishes, needs – cannot indicate when they are in pain, hungry, etc. – this scenario is actually far more disturbing than someone who is truly vegetative because that person is completely trapped.

It’s terrifying to contemplate, and as fMRI research is coming out and people are trying to grapple with what it means, some have begun arguing that there is more of a compelling argument to stop life-prolonging treatments in patients with consciousness than in those without due to the possibility of immense suffering"

Regarding so-called "locked-in syndrome," I don't know if you have seen the beautiful French film, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, about the editor of ELLE Magazine, Jean-Dominque Bauby, who in 1995 was put into precisely that condition due to a rare kind of stroke. He was totally paralyzed -- save for one blinking eyelid. By using blinks to indicate letters of the alphabet this extraordinary man wrote a beautiful autobiography. I shudder to think what would have happened had he not had that single eyelid to tell the world he was still there!!!

Aug. 10 2009 09:58 PM
Alexander Mongo

Not sure how it's possible to continually outdo yourselves, but you manage to do so, with each show better than the one before. You folks are my heroes. Thanks for expanding the mind space in such imaginative and entertaining ways. Bravo, Jad, Robert, & All! ~ P.S. The music, effects, and edits are brilliant - which just help lift the merely great to the unbelievably grand. Any chance you'll start publishing, by episode, the titles used for the music beds?

Aug. 10 2009 07:50 PM

Several months ago, my young and healthy husband dropped dead. His heart just stopped beating. Doctors have no clue why - no history of heart disease, no contributing factors. It just stopped.

A bystander gave him CPR for 10 minutes until the lifesquad arrived. That means he was dead for 10 full minutes, with somebody manually keeping the blood flowing to his brain. His heart did not restart until after they shocked him with an AED. He was still unconscious when they brought him into the ER and after many tests (still showing no cause...they call this "idiopathic") they induced hypothermia, paralyzing him and putting him on life support in the hopes that his brain- thus relieved of other responsibilities, would repair any damage which might have occurred. They told me his odds of surviving were about 50 - 60%, and that he'd probably have some brain damage.

I sat at his bedside in sheer disbelief. He had hoses and tubes running everywhere, and machines blinking and beeping, his chest rising and falling in a mechanical unhuman rhythm. Have you ever looked at a loved one in a casket, and kept expecting their eyes to open? That's what it's like watching someone on life support. I stayed with him and read to him, talked to him, sang to him, and every nurse or doctor who came in felt compelled to tell me "He can't hear you" to which I'd say "YOU DON'T KNOW THAT!" I'm sure they were just trying to give me a break, but that's where I wanted and needed to be.

To the amazement of everyone, when they warmed him back up and began to remove the paralyzing drugs, he started to respond. The process took hours but suddenly...he opened his eyes! Two days later he was reading and talking and wondering what the heck had happened.

He doesn't remember any of this. He had no "afterlife" or "near death experience." At least, he says he didn't, and I believe him. but he was dead for a full 10 minutes and I will always wonder...where was he then? His body was there, but where was HE?

I'm just glad he's back. For now. This has certainly changed MY life, and made me realize it's not a dress rehearsal.

Aug. 08 2009 10:00 PM

I love your podcast. I listen to many, including This American Life, but yours is my favorite.

I just saw on your Twitter that you plan to follow up the afterlife episode with a video instead of a shorter audio cast. I am always disappointed when your podcasts aren't audio. They are so well done and the videos do nothing for me.

Aug. 07 2009 12:31 PM
Beau Campbell

This was an incredible show. I have spoken with several people who had near death experiences. Their experiences all seem to be very close. There was a lot to chew on with this show. The Lady who sent this to me wanted me to comment on it after I had listened to the show. I told her, Too much to process. Maybe tomorrow. Thank you for this. I repeat. Incredible show.

Aug. 05 2009 08:00 PM

I love all your show's, always interesting and creative. This one was particularly moving. thanks!

Aug. 05 2009 05:27 PM

Correcting my own typo here.... Last paragraph should say -

There is a 10% chance that in a year they will have improved somewhat – not sure how much – but it’s possible they’d regain the ability to communicate.

Aug. 05 2009 02:44 PM

Regarding 'murder': the distinction about brain death is not really relevant to this. At least in the US, anyone can have life-prolonging medical treatments withheld or stopped (including artificial feeding, antibiotics, ventilators, etc.) which are only serving to maintain them in a state which is unacceptable to them. Patients who cannot communicate for themselves can have these treatments withheld or withdrawn by an informed decision by a legal surrogate decision maker (usually a family member). For example, a patient with dementia who has pneumonia and is on a ventilator - their surrogate decision maker can have the ventilator stopped, even if it means they die sooner, if they deem that the patient would not want to go through such an uncomfortable procedure if it was only going to restore the patient to an already unacceptable quality of life.

The same ethical case applies to patients in severely brain injured states (whether 'vegetative' or not). In fact, patients who are truly 'vegetative' (as it is currently conceptualized) are not thought to have any awareness/consciousness and therefore cannot at least suffer. The scenario described in this Radiolab episode in which someone might have consciousness but is completely otherwise locked-in - unable to move or in any way express any thoughts, wishes, needs - cannot indicate when they are in pain, hungry, etc. - this scenario is actually far more disturbing than someone who is truly vegetative because that person is completely trapped.

It's terrifying to contemplate, and as fMRI research is coming out and people are trying to grapple with what it means, some have begun arguing that there is more of a compelling argument to stop life-prolonging treatments in patients with consciousness than in those without due to the possibility of immense suffering (see here:

Either way, an informed decision by a loving family member that someone would not want their life prolonged medically in such a state is not murder, and has never been characterized as such in the US, and I was disappointed when the scientist Robert was speaking with did not directly contest Robert's use of the term 'murder.'

Where fMRI may eventually help is to stratify patients into those who have virtually zero chance of ever recovering and those who have a small (but real) chance of actually recovering (most never will under any circumstances at least with current technology).

This may *help* of course, but it will do so by presenting families with some variation of this choice: your loved one cannot indicate any signs of consciousness, awareness, pain, or suffering. This scan suggests they may be aware of their surroundings in some way. They might be in agony and we'd never know it. There is a 10% chance that in a way they will have improved somewhat - not sure how much - but it's possible they'd regain the ability to communicate. Would the patient want to be kept alive with artificial medical support given those odds?


Aug. 05 2009 12:50 PM

Please Clarify. In the tennis meditation story, Robert suggests that we may be murdering people who are still aware and thus alive. But surely these patients were not deemed brain dead. They had cognitive activity, which is why they hadn't been allowed to die yet and why they were around for the experiments. These are the patients we do keep alive. Unplugging the brain dead is not murder. It is not cruel to the unaware patient. It is only cruel to the aware and grieving family to call it murder; to call them murderers. It is inflammatory and unjust. Surely the tennis meditation patients were not brain dead and would not have casually unplugged.

Aug. 05 2009 09:18 AM

. . . wow

Aug. 05 2009 01:11 AM

The Andrew Bird song I mentioned a few comments above is called "Souverian" off his latest album, Noble Beast (which is amazing). That was driving me crazy!

Aug. 05 2009 12:16 AM

love this!!!!!!

Aug. 04 2009 10:42 PM

Great Show. You guys are truly the best. I am 14 and plan to be a listen till I am 100 hopefully you'll live till then. If not they maybe you guys will get supercomputer for a brain and live forever.

Aug. 04 2009 07:43 PM

Another fantastic show. For the folks that think this was too metaphysical, Radio Lab isn't only about science. Also, for every person that finds the edits and sound effects annoying, there is someone like me that finds them intriguing and as integral to the show as Jad and Robert.

Aug. 04 2009 04:46 PM

Can anyone pinpoint what song is playing at 50:10 (on the podcast when reading Wyatt's letter)? I know it's an Andrew Bird song, I can't remember/figure out which one though.


Aug. 04 2009 03:43 PM
Lulu Miller

To Sam Maiser-

you can read Wyatt's whole letter here:

Jeannie, Wyatt's mom, also encourages people to visit Wyatt's Zambia blog:

All the best.

Aug. 04 2009 11:23 AM
Gayle Standage

What was the music at 43:10 into Afterlife? Great show.

Aug. 02 2009 04:43 PM
Don Mitchell

Provocative show. I wrote reflections on my blog (link above). Excepts: Who among us is so irreplaceable that we should cling to our spots perhaps at the expense of others? Can you imagine fairly universal immortality? Who'd want to pay the electrical bill to keep your disembodied brain running for 1000 years? Who'd want to interact with you? How would this brain differ from the woman who couldn't tell if she were alive?

Aug. 01 2009 05:07 PM

The sound effects and edits are annoying.

Aug. 01 2009 12:04 AM
John K. Fitzpatrick

Is Radiolab a "science" show? I never thought so, rather it seems an exploration show. And very well done! Hey I'm as science-heavy as anyone who is, but don't get stuck on this as a science show. Observation preceeds all, and not all observation is scientific (yet :).

p.s. this also regards comments made re: the Dawkins interview. Robert K. did perfectly fine on that podcast... some (and I) don't see eye-to-eye with all his views, but he wasn't begging or pleading, not that I heard.

More Power To RadioLab!

Aug. 01 2009 12:03 AM

While I was away for Peace Corps, my best friend jumped. He wasn't as lucky as this guy. As I listened, I wondered, "What were his last thoughts?"

Then ten minutes later, my dog was looking at me funny for laughing out loud.

Amazing show!

One note about the MRI that supposedly yielded results of a tennis match: we ought to bear in mind that the brain works a lot like the internet. Just because there is a web page that exists on one computer, that page must be uploaded to a server to have any real significance. Some lone neurons firing in the motor cortex doesn't in itself have any significance. Now, if there were a way to get those action potentials into the lower parts of the brain, then maybe we'd be in action!

If anybody could put my skepticism to rest, please answer this question - is there any research in the origin of action potentials? What creates the first action potential - that first spark - that initiates anything in the brain? Much of the brain is homeostatic, but is there such thing as an original thought? Wouldn't this be the true test of life and death?

Aug. 01 2009 12:02 AM
Fernando Rosales

While it's difficult to encapsulate properly there seems to be an answer inherent of all of us to the question of what happens after we die.

And it's rather simple; pause and consider for a moment you're existence. We know now that the universe has existed 13.7 billion years before anyone of us came into being.

Now, where were "you" during those 13.7 billion years? You were a part of the ether of everything. That's what death is; Going back to the point of non-existence, or rather non-sentience.

We've all been there before, it's nothingness it's our home, the cosmic womb but really, its returning the fabric of everything.

We must enjoy this breif blip of life, which is to say; this emergent consciousness that is all so fleeting.

All the same, there may be billions of years to come after we cease to be.

Jul. 31 2009 05:38 PM
Greg Dorsainville

Half way through the episode, and i am pleasantly surprised how you managed to navigate this seemingly unscientific topic. this is great beyond stuff! cant wait for the commute home to listen to the rest!

Jul. 31 2009 03:23 PM
Lulu Miller

"My mind is sleeeepin" is The Temptations.
"Take a Stroll Thru Your Mind" from Psychedelic Soul.

(whoop whoop)

Jul. 31 2009 11:40 AM

Hello my new favourite podcast,
I listened to this driving my son to school yesterday - he was late for a chemistry competition.

Despite that - he found it hard to get out of the car.

As I did when I got to work... luckily I was allowed to take my mp3 player.

So from Perth, Australia, about as far away as you can be from NY and still be on the planet.


I'm glad I found you.


PS: Loved the jumper story too, I'm glad he survived to tell his story.

Jul. 30 2009 11:51 PM
Joe Heritage

Robert Krulwich*** is my hero!!!

Jul. 30 2009 11:18 PM

Thank god Jad is back.. now can Kulrich take an extended vacation please?

Jul. 30 2009 08:56 PM

Another great episode. I can only hope that the people moaning about the religious nature of this episode are kidding, because there was really no such thing.
Also, regarding - the story depicted definitely did not happen. In the game Animal Crossing, there is a character called "Mom" who regularly sends you various presents, no matter what. Sorry to burst any bubbles. Regardless, it's still a powerful story touchingly encourages you to appreciate your family, and even knowing the truth about it, I still can't help but get a little misty-eyed when watching it.

Jul. 30 2009 03:56 PM
Jeff C

Wonderful, beautiful, touching and thought provoking. The very, very best episode I have ever heard. Wyatt's story brought out emotions in me that have been locked up for some time. I think I'll start writing letters to my Mom, though she can longer answer them. THANK YOU

Jul. 30 2009 03:03 PM

Metamorphosis reminds me of Kevin Brockmeier's novel The Brief History of the Dead in which the room is a city.

Jul. 29 2009 10:45 PM
Sam Maiser

I lived with Wyatt during my junior year in college. He was the only person who forced me to be myself. I wish I could read that letter...

Jul. 29 2009 10:27 PM


Your reorganizing of the episode works great, but the Radiolab team already had it organized in a different way. If you click the "Read More" link in the post you'll find this organization. Here it is, using your "Arc" term:

Arc 1: When am I Dead?
-Soul has Weight, physician thinks
-When am I Dead?
-Anyone for Tennis?

Arc 2: What's the Difference Anyway?
-4 Seconds Down
-Am I Dead?
-If I only had a Brain

Arc 3: But am I Really Dead?
-Booyah Mozart

Anyway, I'm not sure if you knew about these "arcs," but I thought I'd point them out, just in case.

Jul. 29 2009 04:42 PM
alexandre van de sande

Dear Jad and robert

I almost loved this episode, but as I stated before, I really felt the format of very short stories worked against the episode as a whole. I really felt there were themes to the show, but by jumping between one
and another without enough time to get deep the meaning was easily lost.

This bothered me so much I took the liberty of reediting the episode :} I hope you don't mind. I basically took out the parts where you play around the number counting and rearranged the stories slighty,
just so to make the show work in four great arcs:

Radiolab, episode After, after life. -Introduction and the attempts at measuring a soul

Arc 1 - What does it means to be dead?
-When does one actually dies? (breath, heart and brain death)
-Are you even sure? (the tennis experiment)

Arc 2 - How does it feels to die?
-4 seconds before death (the failed suicide attempt story)
-Your brain losing your body (a borrowed story about a pilot having a near death experience from one of my favorite episodes, "where am I?")
-Living as a non-living (the story about the woman who feels she is no more in real life, which has a great hook to the next arc in the last phrase)
-I resisted the opportunity to play a clip of David after dentist saying "is this real life?"

Arc 3 - Can mind survive the body?
-What if your mind could be uploaded to another body? ("if I only had a brain" story)
-Electronic life after death. ("cybeternity" story)
-Surviving in the minds of other people (part of the "cybeternity" story)
-When do memories die? ("metamorphosis" story on when you are last remembered)

Arc 4 - What happens after death?
-Can our things die? (another story from Sum, by david eagle, but ending with the interesting idea that our atoms might "mourn" us)
-How long will we last last? ("booya mozart" a very funny story that was cut short in the original episode)
-How long can it all last?

Of course it's very amateurishly edited, without Jad's fantastic transitions and musics, and some introductory and credits clip have been cut, but it just shows how a little bit of reediting can really transform that episode. I hope you didn't mind me doing it - I enjoyed

I posted this before with a link for download, but it got catch by the spam filter I guess.. Anyway, I would love to share it with you.

Jul. 29 2009 03:58 PM
Fernando Rosales

"There lies the rub..." :)

Jul. 29 2009 01:30 PM

This is the first time I've felt the need to post a comment about one of your shows.
Jad, Robert, I want to say thanks. Well done. You managed to touch on a subject that affects us all with just the right amount of emotion, while still keeping in mind that it's just a natural part of life's progression. And I know have a great way to answer that lame "what about that doctor who calculated that we lose 21 grams at death?" question, when discussing souls vs consciousness.

Jul. 29 2009 12:25 PM
alexandre van de sande

ops, small correction: where it reads David Sedaris, I obviously meant David Eagle and his book Sum..

Jul. 29 2009 11:08 AM

Dear Jad and Robert

I almost loved this episode, but as I stated before, I really felt the format of very short stories worked against the episode as a whole. I really felt there were themes to the show, but by jumping between one and another without enough time to get deep the meaning was easily lost.

This bothered me so much I took the liberty of reediting the episode :} I hope you don't mind. I basically took out the parts where you play around the number counting and rearranged the stories slighty, just so to make the show work in four great arcs:

Radiolab, episode After, after life.
-Introduction and the attempts at measuring a soul

Arc 1 - What does it means to be dead?
-When does one actually dies? (breath, heart and brain death)
-Are you even sure? (the tennis experiment)

Arc 2 - How does it feels to die?
-4 seconds before death (the failed suicide attempt story)
-As your brain loses your body (a borrowed story about a pilot having a near death experience from one of my favorite episodes, "where am I?")
-Living as a non-living (the story about the woman who feels she is no more in real life, which has a great hook to the next arc in the last phrase)
-I resisted the opportunity to play a clip of David after dentist saying "is this real life?"

Arc 3 - Can mind survive the body?
-What if your mind could be uploaded to another body? ("if I only had a brain" story)
-Electronic life after death. ("cybeternity" story)
-Surviving in the minds of other people (part of the "cybeternity" story)
-When do memories die? ("metamorphosis" story on when you are last remembered)

Arc 4 - What happens after death?
-What will survive us? (another story from david sedaris, like the last one, but ending with the interesting idea that our atoms might mourn us)
-How long will we last last? ("booya mozart" a very funny story that was cut short in the original episode)
-How long can it all last?

Of course it's very amateurishly edited, without Jad's fantastic transitions and musics, and some introductory and credits clip have been cut, but it just shows how a little bit of reediting can really transform that episode. I hope you didn't mind me doing it - I enjoyed doing.

download here
or here

ps. the total running time is 1h05m but I accidentally left out 50 minutes of silence in the end. Also, I uploaded different cover arts for each arc.

Jul. 29 2009 10:13 AM

Wyatt's story was really sad, how his mom is still trying to connect. I had a hard time not to cry at work. ;)

Great episode. Thank you.

Jul. 29 2009 09:44 AM

I am a bit confused. Several people have commented that this episode was somehow religious. Did you listen to the episode?

Detractors aside, this was another brilliant hour! I can't wait for the next one.

Jul. 29 2009 04:00 AM

What was the piano music at around 7:20? I could've sworn it was from Persona 4!

Jul. 29 2009 03:05 AM
Erik W

Outstanding and thought provoking. Probably my favorite episode yet.

Jul. 29 2009 01:21 AM

"We've entered into this very difficult space where we have learned enough to know much less than we thought." Should be Radiolab's official motto. I love this show more than anything else on public radio.

Jul. 28 2009 11:21 PM
Adam Graham

I love that you used a Through the Viewfinder pic for this post.

I'm so happy to have full episodes back. My house painting time is so much richer when spent with you Radio Lab folk.

Jul. 28 2009 07:33 PM

I was rather let down by the fact they were many unconnected stories. I measure each episode by how many times my mind goes boom after they grow an insight. Unfortunately in this episode the size of each story never allowed that to sink in.

Is rather sad really because I believe with a little editing those unconnected tales could form at least three or four bigger adventures on what is the nature of death and life.

The future fossils, for example, I felt it was cut short just when it was getting interesting, answering the question of "what will be the testimony of humans". It could be perfectly connected to the last one, of what happens billions of years in the future. Or the story of wiatt that could be connected to that fiction writer telling about immortal silicon self. Also valid on the many stories that, unconnected, seem mere philosophical tales on the nature of afterlife of unliving things, but connected together make a great story on how our ideas are alive until they live in someones brain.

Many times I felt this, a little threading could go a long way in transforming all those unconnected just great npr-level stories into one single head-exploding hour radiolab-worthy hour.

Jul. 28 2009 06:25 PM

what was the music after the tennis meditation, around 23:43 into the show?

“My mind is sleeping, but I am wide awake”

please let me know, too!


Jul. 28 2009 05:03 PM

Wow. Add another episode to my "listen again" list. This episode was tactfully done, especially in avoiding religious controversy.

That story on Wyatt was one of the most touching things I've heard in a long while.

That animated GIF goes right in line with this episode. Here's the URL again:

Jul. 28 2009 03:55 PM

Very nice episode. I tuned in expecting o hear alot of religious drivel, and was pleasantly surprised to find a great show minus the drivel.

Switchbreak: I remember that GIF. I think that GIF could be a turing test in the future. If you see it and it doesn't break your heart, you're a robot.

Jul. 28 2009 03:49 PM
Jenny O'Brien

Congrats on another brilliant show! Now, to all the whiners who will inevitably moan about the metaphysical content, I will quote from the Radiolab home page:
"Radiolab believes your ears are a portal to another world. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between SCIENCE, PHILOSOPHY AND HUMAN EXPERIENCE (my caps). Big questions are investigated, tinkered with, and encouraged to grow. "
You sure blur away at those bounderies, Jad and Robert, bless your hearts!

Jul. 28 2009 03:07 PM

There's an animated GIF that's been going around the internet that immediately popped into my head when I heard this episode. Here is a link to a copy of it:

(hopefully posting that link on this blog doesn't kill my webhosting)

Jul. 28 2009 02:55 PM

Please, please, RadioLab, tell me who is singing that beautiful line...

"My mind is sleeping, but I am wide awake"

with sincere appreciation.

Jul. 28 2009 02:14 PM
Nick Sagan

I was sort of half-listening while working and drawn out of focus when I heard the words "Peace Corp", "Zambia" and the name "Wyatt".

You see, Wyatt was a friend of mine. I knew him as the best friend of a good friend and big brother type to another good friend. Hearing his story took me by surprise as much as his death took all of us by surprise.

Wyatt's being was full of energy and charisma and wit. To hear his words spoken only reinforces that which he left with us. To know that his aspirations for inter-Earthly transience will never be realized, rather replaced by another sort of transience, is a comfort.

Be well, Wyatt, wherever you are.

Jul. 28 2009 01:33 PM
brian h

my god! you brilliant, brilliant bastards! that was a great episode! the ending with robert and jad fading off into atomic disintegration was extremely funny - soooo glad you're back with full episodes - more, more, more

Jul. 28 2009 01:32 PM
Wilbur Stankalovich

Why not discuss the belief that the dead cross the river Styx and we end up in Hades. This episode was racist agains non Judeo-Christians.

Jul. 28 2009 12:14 PM
Ben Toone

Just discovered this show through the wonderful guys at Speechification... (google their blog... they have some great radio pics...) wonderful mix of sound production, genuinely interesting human interest, scientific explanation and entertainment. You have a new fan!

Jul. 28 2009 11:13 AM


Jul. 28 2009 07:25 AM

Great show, I love how you guys take on a topic like The After Life and apply scientific studies to understanding it, if it even exists or is capable of being understood. I think anyone who can say they've truly lived a single day on this earth can say they've had some strange after life experience, whether it's in reference to their own life or the life of someone they have lost. My personal experience with "the After Life" was shortly after the death of my father... Thanks for doing this and all your other shows, my mind has officially been taken to depths I didn't even know existed... it's a great feeling. Take Care and be blessed :-)

Jul. 27 2009 11:22 PM
Dave MacD

Really? Afterlife? I thought this was a science show! Afterlife is most definitely NOT science! Get that religion crap out of here. I expect better from you guys.

Jul. 27 2009 11:13 PM

the best part of this one ... the jumper. how often are we deluded to think we know the way out.

Jul. 27 2009 10:24 PM

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