Live at the Bell House: “The Space Between Your Ears” (Part 1)

Post Date: 11 March 2012

Listen now:

Season 3, Episode 4

Photo caption: Neil deGrasse Tyson, Heather Berlin, Wyatt Cenac, Cara Santa Maria, and Eugene Mirman, backstage at the Bell House in Brooklyn New York on February 17, 2012. Photo credit: David Gamble.

For our third Bell House show in front of a live audience, recorded on February 17, 2012, we peer into the vast and mysterious cosmos of consciousness. Professor of psychiatry Heather Berlin, science blogger Cara Santa Maria, and comedians Eugene Mirman and Wyatt Cenac speculate on head-scratchers such as what makes us human, whether we have free will, and how this tiny ball of meat we call the human brain can contemplate infinite numbers and the unbounded expanse of the universe.

Co-Host: Eugene Mirman
http://eugenemirman.com/

Guest:
Heather Berlin, professor of psychiatry at Mt. Sinai Hospital
Cara Santa Maria, science blogger for the Huffington Post
Wyatt Cenac, comedian and Daily Show correspondent

Songs:
“Basket Case” by Green Day
“Crazy” by Seal
Human Behavior – Bjork
“Re: Your Brains” by Jonathan Coulton
Insane in the Brain — Cypress Hill
Grey Matter – Oingo Boingo
“Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley

  • John A.

    Man, that one guy is out of control, can’t keep his mouth shut

  • Joey

    I love Eugene.

  • Max M

    They just moved right on past the free will/no free will disagreement between their experts. That seems like a really big deal. It deserved some time to discuss. Maybe that can get an episode of its own.

    • Jeff

      You know, Max, you can start the discussion right here…

  • Ryan

    Wow I wanted to strangle that “comedian.” Why was he there? He ruined the discussion at every turn.

    • Jeff

      Please don’t strangle Eugene, Ryan. We love him.

  • Alex

    Great show! I’d love to hear one devoted to the topic of free will.

    I’ve read a bit on the subject myself and would like to contribute now to a discussion. Bearing in mind the fact that our actions/opinions/thoughts can be guided by what others say and do (ie. word association, primed actions), along with flat out involuntary responses (breathing, pulling your hand away from a hot stove), there is definitely a lot going on with us that is out of our control and beyond our free will.

    ‘Control’ being central here, and it seems to exist within us in varying degrees.

    We feel control when we decide what to eat for breakfast in the morning. Even though our choices are limited by what’s in the pantry, and by what our taste or particular craving of the day is, we still exercise control in eating. As you grow hungrier during the day, your control over your hunger begins to wane and you eventually give in to it. Your sense of control was challenged by the needs of your body to survive. Your feelings of control constantly shift.

    I don’t think that “control” and “free will” are necessary the same thing. Free will implies the ability to freely do whatever you wish- on that we can all agree is bologna. I am no more free to will my hair to stop growing overnight than I am to free to think in languages I’ve never heard. Control, though, works within the parameters of your disposition and bodily desires to help guide you through life. I have control over what to write here, but within the rules of the grammar and syntax I’ve been taught. I have control over what book to read tonight, but that’s limited to what’s in the house and what I might be in the mood for; acknowledging that I often cannot control my moods.

    Though that sense of control might be an illusion, as the guest on this show described free will to be (and I agree), when it comes down to practicality what I feel is what’s real to me. If I feel angry that’s because I’m angry, if I feel sad that’s because I’m sad, and if I feel in/out of control that’s because I am in/out of control. No Matrix rebuttals here please.

    Thoughts?

    • Jeff

      Great comment, Alex, and I’d love to here what others think about it. For myself (Jeff), I think free will should only be applied to choices we can make, not to elements that are outside of our choosing. So, in your hair growth analogy, it is not subject to will or choice, and therefore not germain to the free will conversation. (That’s assuming we couldn’t ingest substances that would stop hair growth, of course.)

  • Alec

    The wife and I just listened to this podcast on the way to work this morning. The Bellhouse episodes are awesome.

  • will

    loved the talk about the brain, that 1% discussion about if there are another species’s DNA is 1% different from us we could look like the monkeys, blew my mind. Also watch part of this on youtube and have to say… Cara is crazy good looking.

  • Mark

    Carl Sagans ‘We are a way for the universe to know its self’ – to me is potentially a misleading anthropomorphic presumption.(that the universe has a capacity for consciousness, something we yet understand in ourselves)…..

    But its profoundly poetic indeed.

  • Dianna White

    Why do humans assume that this experience we call “reality” is complex? We are known to complicate the hell out of things because we have learned that complexity from others who taught us, and they learned it the same way. Why not throw out the complexity we think exists and start over with a much simpler format of thought?