Radio Lab – Black Box

Man—love those hour-long Radio Labs. The latest one’s called Black Box, and it’s all about the beauty of not knowing. Nothing too deep, nothing too scary. Just a few Abumrad style whodunnits. Mysteries of nature. Mysteries of magic. And mysteries of medicine.

The first story took a look at a mystery specific to the medical discipline of anesthesiology: what the mind does with that gap between consciousness and chemically-assisted unconsciousness. I can’t tell you too much, but much was revealed about what the brain does when you’re about to go under. Lots of short-acting, intravenously administered hypnotic/amnestic agents in this one, and thinky stuff.

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The story that will undoubtedly stick with you the most is that of Sydney and Lesley Piddington (pictured), who were popular radio performers in the 1950s. The story, as told by their grandson, revolves around a trick they did for millions of listeners.

They claimed to be able to read people’s minds, and they never revealed to anyone in their family how they did it. Even though the trick is far from amazing, and in no way convinces me of anything regarding psychic phenomenon (it’s more about the art of secret keeping), Penn Jillete helps crack the code, which is not revealed on the actual episode. You have to follow this link to learnĀ  how the Piddingtons did the trick. I found the reveal in a message board, by the way. The link supplied on air was radiolab.org/dont-click-this, and it does NOT work. Probably a trick too.

Then there’s the caterpillar story, my personal favorite. The big mystery: what happens inside the pupae before a caterpillar turns into a butterfly or a moth. There’s a great deal of goo, existentialist pontification, and other weirdness that’ll make you rethink the little critters flying around your porch light.

Great episode.

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