The brilliantly simple first line on the ‘About’ page describes Radiolab as “a show about curiosity.” The show aims to present specific topics from multiple angles, combining ‘science, philosophy, and human experience’ to convey the magnitude of a certain topic in modern life. Skimming the list of titles for episodes reveals a large range of topics covered, from “Darkode” (reviewed on Audiologue) to “Patient Zero” to “Oops” (whatever that title implies).
I am currently racing to finish reading The Martian by Andy Weir before the book-turned-major motion picture comes out on Friday. The book is an absolutely fascinating (fictional, of course) account of the survival of a botanist/astronaut left on Mars via freak accident. That is to say, “space,” in general, has been on my mind lately.
While I’ve heard excerpts of Radiolab when I turn on my local public radio station for a drive, this is the first full episode I’ve ever heard. Despite my lack of familiarity with the show, even I was able to recognize the iconic voice and unique story-telling ability of host Jad Abumrad.
The hook of the show was the romantic love story of Ann Druyan and the renowned Carl Sagan (author, astronomer, cosmologist, astrophysicist, astrobiologist, etc. etc.). The perfectly executed hook, and subsequent theme for the rest of the show, was how the love story was essentially recorded and launched in a space craft carrying a Gold Record. The project, led by NASA, created a “cultural Noah’s arc” so that anyone else in the Universe, whether future humans or extraterrestrial beings, would have a record of how humans on Earth operated in this century. The image painted for listeners portrayed living humans as being completely insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
The episode went on to explain, in various ways, that humans only actually know an estimated 4% of how the universe works. Put differently, 96% of space is completely unknown to humans. Thinking about how much IS known, and researched, and published, makes 96% seem absolutely ridiculous. Humans are “a speck, on a speck, on a speck, on a speck,” according to famous astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.
To be perfectly honest, my interpretation of the title of the episode led me to believe that I was going to be learning about similar topics as described in the book. I started to get a bit disappointed when I realized that the podcast was not in any way focused on actual spacecraft physics, botany in space, or really any singular topic about space. However, I realized that the ambiguous title was absolutely fitting for the equally ambiguous subject matter. While the episode could have been slightly more focused on certain subtopics about space, instead of trying to capture the magnitude of the universe in a single hour, the ambiguous and unclear structure paralleled the subject matter itself.
If you want a great podcast that will humble you beyond all possible belief, listen to this particular episode. It will put all problems that you have in perspective.
Radiolab, as a podcast, is excellently produced. This show has led me to consider a career change later in life to hosting a show like Radiolab. What cooler job exists than one that finds new subjects to investigate, thereby increasing not only your breadth of knowledge but also the depth of many fascinating topics?
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