Feb 28, 2019

Asking for a Friend

Last year, we ran a pair of episodes that explored the greatest mysteries in our listeners’ lives - the big ones, little ones, and the ones in between. This year, we’re back on the hunt, tracking down answers to the big little questions swirling around our own heads.

We reached out to some of our favorite people and asked them to come along with us as we journeyed back in time, to outer space, and inside our very own bodies.

This episode was reported by Rachael Cusick, Simon Adler, Becca Bressler, and Annie McEwen and was produced by Rachael Cusick, Simon Adler, Matt Kielty, Becca Bressler, and Annie McEwen.

Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate

 

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Introducers:

Wait, wait, you're listening ... (laughs)

 

Introducers:

Okay.

 

Introducers:

All right.

 

Introducers:

Okay.

 

Introducers:

All right.

 

Introducers:

You're listening ...

 

Introducers:

Listening ...

 

Introducers:

... to Radiolab.

 

Introducers:

Radiolab.

 

Introducers:

From ...

 

Introducers:

WNY ...

 

Introducers:

C!

 

Introducers:

C?

 

Introducers:

Yeah. (laughs)

 

Robert Krulwich:

Oh.

 

Jad Abumrad:

By s-, pull the mic in front of your, front of your mouth.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Oh, sorry. Yes. (laughs)

 

Jad Abumrad:

There you go.

 

Robert Krulwich:

You might want to hear me closer.

 

Jad Abumrad:

I do want to hear. I want to hear the-

 

Robert Krulwich:

Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

... deep dulcet.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Oh, yeah. Okay.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Dulcet tones. You know what it is? It's like, it's like, it's like 80 hertz.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Was that an 80 hert ... Is this an 80 hert difference? Is this 80 hertz better?

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah, well because when you move off mic-

 

Robert Krulwich:

80 hertz better. Just think about that.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Let me just tell you this. When you move off mic, I lose like 90 to 150 hertz of Robert Krulwich.

 

Robert Krulwich:

You do.

 

Jad Abumrad:

When you, when you l-

 

Robert Krulwich:

This, ladies and gentlemen-

 

Jad Abumrad:

When you get off-

 

Robert Krulwich:

... is the geek talking to the dumb dumb.

 

Jad Abumrad:

When you get off mic, Robert, you rob me. You take away my appreciation of your 80 hertz, and it hurts me. It hurts me.

 

Robert Krulwich:

(laughs).

 

Jad Abumrad:

It literally hurts me. H-E-R-T-Z me.

 

Robert Krulwich:

See, this is the thing.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And it H-U-R-T-S's me. Okay?

 

Robert Krulwich:

Oh, the sublime, whatever you call a word that sounds like another word, that isn't the same word, that sounds the same when you say it. Whatever that is.

 

Jad Abumrad:

It's a homily.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Homilum. Homonym.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Homonym.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Homonym.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah.

 

Robert Krulwich:

It's a homonym.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah.

 

Robert Krulwich:

We're having a homonym conversation.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Actually I think it's a different word. I think it's homophone, homophone?

 

Robert Krulwich:

Oh.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Anyhow, this is Radiolab. I'm Jad Abumrad.

 

Robert Krulwich:

I am Robert Krulwich.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Robert, you ready for this?

 

Robert Krulwich:

Wh- what are you about to get me ready for?

 

Jad Abumrad:

So, so this, just to put a, a, a frame, uh, just off the top of my head, frame-

 

Robert Krulwich:

Uh-huh (affirmative).

 

Jad Abumrad:

So, last year, we decided to do a thing where, y- you know, w- we, we went to the inbox, the Radiolab inbox. Uh, for years, people had been sending us questions that they wanted answers. Stupid questions as we were calling them colloquially, but w- we say that lovingly.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Sometimes they would say that.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah, they would say it.

 

Robert Krulwich:

"So this is a question, I don't know, it may seem too simple to you, but why do," and then some sort of thing, the, "Why is the sky blue?" fort of thing.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah, "Why is the sky blue?" kind of thing. So there were a lot of these kind of questions had accumulated in the inbox. Last year, we took a bunch of those questions, we emptied them out, and we tried to answer them. And it was very fun. Everyone got to do one. Everyone picked a question and then ran after it. And there were some questions left over. There was also the questions that we ourselves had-

 

Robert Krulwich:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Jad Abumrad:

... that we had kind of like filed away, and so, we decided we were gonna do this again. Except this time, broaden the constraints so that it's not just questions that are sent to us, but we, questions we ourselves had, questions that were given to us by friends of the show.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Or that had just s-, came into our heads and never gone away.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yes.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Here's the deal, if you are wandering through life, reading a book, talking to a friend, browsing a magazine, and some question came up that you thought, "Hm, I don't know," and it never left your head, take that question, the one that you still think about and have never answered, and answer it, baby.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Exactly.

 

Robert Krulwich:

That's the idea.

 

Jad Abumrad:

That's right. We have four questions in this episode, and then there'll be another episode with a few more questions in a couple days. But starting us off-

 

Timothy Adler:

Do we have the levels all right?

 

Simon Adler:

Yeah, you sound, uh, [crosstalk 00:03:02].

 

Jad Abumrad:

This is producer Simon Adler.

 

Simon Adler:

Try now. Talk now.

 

Timothy Adler:

Okay, I'm looking at my checkbook while we're doing this.

 

Simon Adler:

Uh, wh- what, what's going on in the checkbook at the moment?

 

Timothy Adler:

Oh, I'm just, just checking.

 

Simon Adler:

(laughs).

 

Timothy Adler:

(laughs).

 

Robert Krulwich:

And, uh, and a close relative of his.

 

Timothy Adler:

So how are the levels?

 

Simon Adler:

Oh, you sound great.

 

Timothy Adler:

Very good.

 

Simon Adler:

Yeah. So for my question, a little while back, uh, I gave my dad a call.

 

Timothy Adler:

I'm Tim Adler, I'm Simon's father, and, uh-

 

Simon Adler:

Well, and this is not your first time being on the show.

 

Timothy Adler:

Uh, that's correct. I've been on before with imponderable questions-

 

Simon Adler:

And I wanted to bring him back on, because since his last appearance-

 

Timothy Adler:

It's an honor to be back.

 

Simon Adler:

... little over a year ago, you could kinda say he's become a new man, all thanks to a phone call.

 

Timothy Adler:

Okay, uh, it was June 25.

 

Simon Adler:

Okay.

 

Timothy Adler:

And it was a gorgeous day, sunny day, good temperatures, and, uh, I had decided at about 1:00 in the afternoon to take a walk.

 

Simon Adler:

And as he was strolling along ...

 

Timothy Adler:

Across the river from our house, I, uh, felt my phone vibrate in my pocket for a text message, and I looked at it.

 

Simon Adler:

And saw that he had a voicemail.

 

Timothy Adler:

And it said ...

 

Kiri:

Hi, this message is for Tim, or Timothy. Um, this is [Kiri 00:04:18] calling from UW Hospital in the transplant department, and we're calling because we have an organ offer to discuss with you."

 

Timothy Adler:

It said something to the effect of, "We have a lung available."

 

Kiri:

Um, there's a couple of numbers that you can call.

 

Timothy Adler:

"Reserved for you."

 

Kiri:

If you could please give us a call back now to have the transplant coordinator on call place [crosstalk 00:04:40].

 

Timothy Adler:

Something like that, and I'm thinking (laughs), "Wow, this, this is hard to believe."

 

Kiri:

Thank you. Bye.

 

Simon Adler:

If I can back up here, about 25 years back, my dad was diagnosed with sarcoidosis. It's a relatively rare disease with no cure, that essentially triggers the immune system to attack the body. Typically, it, it targets and wreaks havoc on the lungs. Now, usually sarcoidosis goes away on its own after a few years, and that's what we were hoping would happen with my dad, but, uh, in his case, the disease became chronic.

 

Simon Adler:

And so year after year, breathing became harder and harder. He had to stop running. Uh, he, he was a marathon runner at the time, and suddenly just walking a mile became difficult. Uh, about 10 years back he started using oxygen, uh, to help him get around. And then five years ago, things finally got so bad that he was placed on a wait list for a lung transplant. And so that call was the transplant team calling him to say that, after five years of waiting ...

 

Timothy Adler:

They had awarded this lung to me, if I was still onboard.

 

Simon Adler:

So it was almost like, uh, you're a sweepstakes winner.

 

Timothy Adler:

(laughs) Yes, maybe.

 

Simon Adler:

Well, and did you feel like a sweepstakes winner or were you like, "Oh."

 

Timothy Adler:

Well, I, I had to actually tell myself that I always said that if one was made available, I would take it, and it's gonna make a great story when it's all said and done.

 

Simon Adler:

(laughs).

 

Timothy Adler:

(laughs) So on the walk back I called and I said, "We're in, and, uh, and damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead."

 

Simon Adler:

And from there, this years-long glacial pace process started moving very fast.

 

Timothy Adler:

It was pretty much, "Honey, pack your bags."

 

Simon Adler:

My folks hopped in the car, drove the three and a half hours south, uh, to the hospital in Madison, Wisconsin.

 

Timothy Adler:

We got down there about 5:30, and, you know, within 45 minutes, I was basically immobilized because I had things coming out of every orifice.

 

Simon Adler:

(laughs).

 

Timothy Adler:

(laughs).

 

Simon Adler:

And then just a couple hours after that, very early that next morning, the surgeons came in and said, "It's time."

 

Timothy Adler:

And they just told me to relax.

 

Simon Adler:

What's the next thing you remember?

 

Timothy Adler:

Well, uh, I woke up, and my arms were strapped to the gurney, and I had a breathing tube down my throat. And, you know, you just got hit by a bus, basically, with that operation. But, uh, that was the beginning.

 

Simon Adler:

Now, sitting in my dad's hospital room as he was coming to, I really realized for the first time then that this was, like, this wasn't over.

 

Timothy Adler:

The phrase is, "You're just exchanging one major set of problems for another major set of problems."

 

Simon Adler:

The biggest being the threat of rejection. In fact about 50% of folks who, uh, get a lung transplant only live about five years.

 

Timothy Adler:

And you can always be on the wrong side of that.

 

Simon Adler:

I'm sure that that had sort of been explained to us, but I, I, I didn't really imagine what that meant until we saw him lying there. S- so there were, there were all these sort of terrifying questions, uh, surrounding all of us. And I, my, I, I think we wanted to find a way to talk about all those terrifying questions without having to actually discuss them.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Simon Adler:

Uh, and so th- the way we decided to talk about this was we s- inserted this intellectual or legal question.

 

Timothy Adler:

The question was, who had ownership of this lung throughout this entire process?

 

Simon Adler:

Because, like, I don't know, if they're transporting a suitcase full of hundred dollar bills, like somebody has to be responsible for that suitcase every step of the way.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Right.

 

Simon Adler:

I-, this organ is essentially valued as much as a suitcase full of hundred dollar bills, so who, who the heck was responsible for it? Who owned it? Who was liable for it each step of the way here?

 

Timothy Adler:

And, uh, when did I have complete ownership of the lung. That was, that was the ultimate question.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Wait, so you and your ... Y- are ... Is this you and your, your mom and brother talking about this, or is this, like ... Are you talking about this with your dad?

 

Simon Adler:

Uh, it, it started between Barbara and I.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Barbara, your, your-

 

Simon Adler:

My partner.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Your partner.

 

Simon Adler:

Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Okay.

 

Simon Adler:

And, uh, it, from there the, the circle of conversation grew as, uh, sort of as the week went on. And it, yes, eventually my dad was roped into, and my dad was a lawyer, so he had some thoughts on all this.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Oh, it's funny.

 

Simon Adler:

Uh, yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So, wait. But isn't it kind of a simple matter? I mean, I would imagine that when the lung is in the donor ... By the way, do you know anything about the donor?

 

Simon Adler:

We, we don't know. Uh, i- it's all kept quite, uh, confidential. Essentially, there's a process through which my dad has sent a thank you note, uh, sort of into a, a black box that is the nonprofit organ donation machinery. And that will be delivered to them, and then if they would like to reach back out to him, they can do so. But, uh, up until this point, that hasn't happened.

 

Jad Abumrad:

I see. Okay, so getting back to it, so I would think that when the lung is in the donor's body, it is in that person's possession, then it's taken out. And then at that sort of intermediate stage, it's in the hospital's p- possession as they transport it. And then when it goes into your dad's body, he then immediately assumes ownership. Wouldn't it be s-, as simple as that?

 

Simon Adler:

Uh, well you'd think so, right?

 

Fred Cate:

Okay, so nothing that really looks simple ever is very simple, at least when lawyers get involved. (laughs)

 

Simon Adler:

This is Fred.

 

Fred Cate:

Yeah, I'm, uh, Fred Cate. I'm a professor of law at Indiana University, Maurer School of Law.

 

Simon Adler:

He's the guy I ultimately called to try to tease out an answer here, because he's written a lot on the laws surrounding organ transplants. And he said the first thing you've gotta understand ...

 

Fred Cate:

Well, f- first of all, property is a really special thing in the law.

 

Narrator:

Code of Laws, by Hammurabi.

 

Simon Adler:

And by that he means, many of the oldest written laws we have as humans were about protecting property.

 

Fred Cate:

Historically, protecting property was, you know, very much at the heart of it.

 

Narrator:

Without witnesses or contracts, he has no legitimate claim.

 

Simon Adler:

They set out to settle disputes over ownership ...

 

Narrator:

If an enemy take away from him anything that he had ...

 

Simon Adler:

... assess damages.

 

Narrator:

... the broker shall be free of obligation.

 

Simon Adler:

And over time the number of things the law protects ha- has only grown.

 

Fred Cate:

You know, intangible things like intellectual property, you know, I can own a copyright now. And so we have a, a respect for property that's reflected in the law that is really quite distinctive.

 

Simon Adler:

Okay.

 

Fred Cate:

But, having said all of that, we don't really allow property rights in most body parts. And moreover, the law doesn't let us call the human body property.

 

Simon Adler:

Now, obviously in this country, there was a time when it did, but then you had the 13th Amendment which ended slavery. And since then ...

 

Fred Cate:

It could be sort of a squeamishness. It could be a reaction to the prohibition on slavery that we don't wanna ever give the notion that one person can own a- another person's body.

 

Simon Adler:

Since then, Fred says, U.S. law has gone very silent on questions of ownership in bodies, and so as a consequence, when someone donates you an organ, legally, you have no ownership claim over that organ.

 

Fred Cate:

Yep, yeah. We're just not willing to, to, to call it property.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Okay. I think I get that.

 

Simon Adler:

Where it gets sort of strange then, however, is that apparently that same prohibition applies to your own body.

 

Fred Cate:

Yeah. You don't have property interest i- i- in your body. And so although you can donate them and you can leave them in your will, we don't really treat them like property.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Wait, so you're born with a lung in your body. You don't own that thing that's been with you since birth?

 

Fred Cate:

Correct. It is yours, but you don't own it.

 

Simon Adler:

Well and it ... Are we quibbling over the word property here or ownership? Because this-

 

Fred Cate:

Because that's what lawyers do. We, we, we don't call it quibbling. This is what we make our money doing-

 

Simon Adler:

Okay. (laughs)

 

Fred Cate:

... is arguing over property.

 

Simon Adler:

If it's not property, what, what is it? What's the, what's the term at that point?

 

Fred Cate:

Um, yeah, I don't think we really have a term for that.

 

Simon Adler:

Now can you hear me?

 

Timothy Adler:

I can.

 

Simon Adler:

When I relayed this to my dad ...

 

Timothy Adler:

You don't own your own organs?

 

Simon Adler:

Right. (laughs)

 

Timothy Adler:

Yes. Yes.

 

Simon Adler:

He was as confused as I was.

 

Timothy Adler:

At the risk of a pun, they've certainly carved out an interesting, uh, concept here.

 

Simon Adler:

(laughs) Yes. And it turns out the consequences of this legal carve-out are spectacularly strange. Let- let- let's say you drew a little bit of blood out of your arm one evening for I don't know why, and you, you put it in a vial in your refrigerator, and that night a burglar breaks into your, your home, your apartment, goes into the refrigerator, and steals that blood. That, that thief would not be charged with theft for, for stealing that blood.

 

Fred Cate:

There might be criminal claims, like breaking and entering, but I just don't think there's gonna be a property claim there.

 

Simon Adler:

Because they didn't actually steal something that was your possession. Equally strange, this, this has come up a couple times where, uh ...

 

Newscaster:

Richard Batista, his wife Dawnell went into renal failure in 2001.

 

Simon Adler:

A husband in this case, a guy by the name of Richard Batista, donates his kidney to his wife.

 

Richard Batista:

My priority was to save her life.

 

Simon Adler:

The operation goes well. Her life is saved.

 

Jad Abumrad:

True love.

 

Simon Adler:

True love, but then ...

 

Newscaster:

Batista says his wife began having an affair about two years after the transplant.

 

Simon Adler:

The marriage falls apart.

 

Newscaster:

Talk about a bitter divorce. A Long Island couple ...

 

Simon Adler:

They enter divorce proceedings.

 

Newscaster:

It's a stunning demand.

 

Simon Adler:

And the husband ...

 

Newscaster:

Batista wants his donated organ back.

 

Simon Adler:

... wants the kidney back.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Shut up.

 

Simon Adler:

True story. And of course it was thrown out by the judge, in part because it was ridiculous, but also because, and the judge never said this, but he could've, that like, "Sorry, bub, you never owned your, your kidney to begin with, let alone after you donated it to your wife."

 

Fred Cate:

So I don't think you would ever find a situation where that would be treated as marital property, but, um, ironically, and this is just gonna make it even more complicated, um, blood, skin, and corneas tend to be an exception in the way we, uh, think about this in the law.

 

Jad Abumrad:

M- meaning what?

 

Simon Adler:

That you can sell your blood or, or your skin.

 

Fred Cate:

The law allows that?

 

Simon Adler:

Don't ask why. That's just the way it is.

 

Fred Cate:

Hm.

 

Simon Adler:

Even still, in these cases ...

 

Fred Cate:

You cannot call it property.

 

Simon Adler:

I don't own it, but I could sell it?

 

Fred Cate:

Exactly.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Well did they ... When they took that blood, I would assume that they don't own it either.

 

Fred Cate:

Well, the purchaser, the folks who, who do buy it from you, the blood bank or the hospital that has, that has collected it, they own it.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Huh.

 

Simon Adler:

And here's the kicker. So if you then broke into the blood bank to steal back your own blood, you could be charged with theft.

 

Fred Cate:

Right. And, and we have cases on this.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Okay, that's definitely strange.

 

Simon Adler:

Very odd.

 

Timothy Adler:

All right.

 

Simon Adler:

Well, um, what I think is interesting here is, uh, like, I think we, we first started wondering this question as a, as a tangible way to think about this far, uh, more abstract, impossible-to-answer question, which was like, when would we feel like this lung was really yours. Like, when would we feel like we didn't have to be worrying all the time.

 

Timothy Adler:

Right.

 

Simon Adler:

And I don't know, I guess I, I'm not, I'm not fully there yet.

 

Timothy Adler:

Oh.

 

Simon Adler:

Are you?

 

Timothy Adler:

Well, three months ago I received a call from the, uh, nurse that's been handling, uh, all of our transplant affairs. And, and she just almost, uh, as an aside, said to me, uh, "I think you're gonna stick around a long time with this lung, because it's going so well." And I, I didn't know what she was talking about at first. And then she went on to explain that, you know, there's a mortality rate after five years.

 

Simon Adler:

Yeah, 50%.

 

Timothy Adler:

Something like that. And then she said to me, uh, "But I don't think you have to worry about that. I think you're going to be one of our 30-year candidates." Well I'd never, I'd never considered a, a 30-year plan in anything. I've always lived on about a five-year plan, because when I was 45, given the decline of the pulmonary functions, I said to myself, "I am going to be lucky. I am going to be the luckiest man in the world if I could reach 60." And in order to get to 60, I had to get to 50, and then to 55. And then at age 60 when I got lifted or thereabouts, you know, then I was (laughs) on a five-year plan where no lungs came along. So I've always lived in these five-year gaps and have been happy to reach those goals. So anyway, it was, I was dumbfounded, and it was pretty, uh, awe-inspiring to hear those terms. Right then and there I said that, "This is it. This is what this is all about. It's, it's working, this lung. And it, it's mine."

 

Simon Adler:

I'm really happy for you and for us. I'm happy for us.

 

Timothy Adler:

(laughs) Well, thank you. I'm, I'm pretty pleased myself, thank you.

 

Simon Adler:

Good. Good.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Producer Simon Adler.

 

Robert Krulwich:

And his dad.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And his dad.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Um, listening to that, I said to Simon, uh, "You know what? You know what this, this story doesn't have? Shakespeare."

 

Jad Abumrad:

Oh, boy.

 

Robert Krulwich:

(laughs)

 

Jad Abumrad:

Here we go.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Well, because Merchant of Venice is about this very thing.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Is it really?

 

Robert Krulwich:

Yeah. Remember the guy le- lends money to some other ... Shylock lends money to this, Antonio. He says, uh, "If you don't pay me back I get a pound of flesh." [inaudible 00:19:33].

 

Jad Abumrad:

Is that where that phrase comes from?

 

Robert Krulwich:

Yeah. And then he doesn't pay back. So Shylock goes to court and says, "I want a pound of flesh. A pound."

 

Jad Abumrad:

A pound?

 

Robert Krulwich:

A pound. "I want it to [inaudible 00:19:46] well, that will kill this guy." He said, "That's the deal he signed. I own a pound of flesh from this man. Give it to me." And the entire play then turns on a court case about this very question.

 

Jad Abumrad:

No way.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Jad Abumrad:

What, what happens?

 

Robert Krulwich:

He wins.

 

Jad Abumrad:

He gets his pound of flesh?

 

Robert Krulwich:

Well, it's a trick ending.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Oh.

 

Robert Krulwich:

He wins, and then the judge says, "Of course you can have the pound of flesh, but the c-, the, the contract did not include any blood, so-"

 

Jad Abumrad:

Oh.

 

Robert Krulwich:

"... no blood. See if you can get the pound of flesh, but if any blood of Antonio comes your way, you have, um, violated the criminal laws of Venice, so, uh-"

 

Jad Abumrad:

You can have a pound of bloodless flesh?

 

Robert Krulwich:

There is no such thing, so he's caught.

 

Jad Abumrad:

That's some twisted (bleeps).

 

Robert Krulwich:

[inaudible 00:20:37] you've been, like, this is, this is not ... This has been thought about by really smart people before this moment.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Well that's interesting.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Well, okay. So let's go on to number, the second s-, uh, big little question. This one, um, is told to you by our producer Becca Bressler.

 

Becca Bressler:

Hello!

 

Robert Krulwich:

Hi.

 

Becca Bressler:

Did I tell you anything about what I wanted?

 

Robert Krulwich:

Nothing.

 

Becca Bressler:

Okay. (laughs) Great. I am talking to you about my question.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Right.

 

Becca Bressler:

Comes from this guy Jason Feifer.

 

Jason Feifer:

Test test test test test! Okay, I'm recording now.

 

Becca Bressler:

Is that always how you test your mic?

 

Jason Feifer:

Yeah. (laughs)

 

Becca Bressler:

This is Jason. He hosts this podcast I really like called Pessimist Archive, uh, which is a little too hard to explain right now.

 

Jason Feifer:

(laughs)

 

Becca Bressler:

But it's really great. You should go check it out. Um, anyways, I reached out to him. I just sent him an email and I said, you know, "I'm a fan of your podcast. You seem like a really interesting guy. I'm im- ... I imagine you have some fairly interesting questions, so what keeps you up at night? What burning questions do you have that maybe I can help you answer?"

 

Jason Feifer:

Yeah.

 

Becca Bressler:

All right, so you want to give it a shot, your question?

 

Jason Feifer:

Yeah, my question. Okay, so here we go. So okay, so here's my question. How far ba- ... (laughs) Now I've psyched myself out, because it's such a complicated question.

 

Becca Bressler:

(laughs)

 

Jason Feifer:

I don't even know how to start. Uh, I do have a question. Okay. So here's my question. My question is how far back in time could I go and say a word that, you know, like an English word, a word that means whatever it means to me in English, um, that ... No. I'm gonna do it again.

 

Becca Bressler:

Hard.

 

Jason Feifer:

Do it again. This is what-

 

Becca Bressler:

It's very hard.

 

Jason Feifer:

It's so hard. I know. I came up with ... How did I even write this in an email so that it was communicated to you?

 

Becca Bressler:

(laughs)

 

Jason Feifer:

I don't know. Um, okay, so here's my, here's my question. If I (laughs) could walk into Bill and Ted's time machine and go back as far as possible, step out and say a word in English, what word could I say that the person who's hearing me would understand exactly what it means because the same sound and meaning, uh, have, have been retained across time? So like, what is the oldest word that I can say in English that the furthest possible person from a totally different time and culture, like, they would, they, I'd say the word and they'd be like, "Yes, I understand." (laughs) I don't know how they would respond, because I don't know their language, but they would, they would know what I'm saying, right? They would know what I'm saying. How ... What is that word? Does that make sense?

 

Becca Bressler:

Yeah. I think that's it. I think that's great.

 

Jason Feifer:

Okay, great!

 

Robert Krulwich:

Hm. What an odd question. What is the oldest English word that hasn't changed?

 

Becca Bressler:

Yeah. And I asked Jason, do you have a guess?

 

Jason Feifer:

Oh, uh ...

 

Becca Bressler:

He was like, "Maybe something basic."

 

Jason Feifer:

Like a tree?

 

Becca Bressler:

Like something just elemental.

 

Jason Feifer:

Grass? Dirt? Water? That's probably where it would go.

 

Becca Bressler:

Okay, so I just started calling around.

 

Sarah Thomason:

Hello?

 

Becca Bressler:

Sarah?

 

Sarah Thomason:

Can you hear me?

 

Becca Bressler:

Sarah?

 

Sarah Thomason:

Hello?

 

Becca Bressler:

First person ...

 

Becca Bressler:

Hi, okay, I can hear you now.

 

Becca Bressler:

... was Sarah Thomason.

 

Sarah Thomason:

Professor of Linguistics at the University of Michigan.

 

Becca Bressler:

And she told me ...

 

Sarah Thomason:

I can get you 6,000 years back.

 

Robert Krulwich:

4,000 B.C. Okay, so that's-

 

Becca Bressler:

Yes, which is when you have this language known as Proto-Indo-European.

 

Sarah Thomason:

Proto-Indo-European is the ultimate ancestor of English and all its relatives.

 

Becca Bressler:

English and all its relatives are known as Indo-European languages, so Proto-Indo-European is like the great-great-great-grandparent of ...

 

Sarah Thomason:

Latin, Greek.

 

Becca Bressler:

German.

 

Sarah Thomason:

Danish, Dutch.

 

Becca Bressler:

Most languages in India.

 

Sarah Thomason:

It's all over the world, thanks to colonization.

 

Robert Krulwich:

And who spoke it, by the way?

 

Becca Bressler:

What we call the h-, the Proto-Indo-Europeans. (laughs)

 

Robert Krulwich:

(laughs) So we're talking about, like, tribal forest people from in the-

 

Becca Bressler:

Yeah. So they would've been people in Eastern Europe, near the Black Sea.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Sort of fisherman, a little bit of hunting?

 

Becca Bressler:

Let's, let's go with that. Let's say that.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Okay.

 

Becca Bressler:

(laughs) And so-

 

Robert Krulwich:

And how long ago was this again?

 

Becca Bressler:

6,000 years.

 

Sarah Thomason:

Yep. And I think my best guess for a word that would've been understood way back then is is.

 

Becca Bressler:

The word is.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Huh. And why did she think that was the oldest one?

 

Becca Bressler:

So the way that she was thinking about it was certain, um, consonants ...

 

Sarah Thomason:

Like T and K.

 

Becca Bressler:

... over 6,000 years ...

 

Sarah Thomason:

Changed a lot.

 

Becca Bressler:

But S with, like, sss ...

 

Sarah Thomason:

Didn't change very much. It's just hung around.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Hm.

 

Becca Bressler:

But Sarah told me that the way you would've pronounced is is ...

 

Sarah Thomason:

[Esti 00:24:55].

 

Becca Bressler:

... esti.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Well that's not the same.

 

Becca Bressler:

It's not the same.

 

Robert Krulwich:

No.

 

Becca Bressler:

I know. I know it's not the same. So, uh, I kept calling around.

 

Claire Bowern:

Um, yeah, sure. My name's Claire Bowern.

 

Becca Bressler:

Got a hold of another linguist.

 

Claire Bowern:

At Yale University, and I work on language change and language documentation and things like that.

 

Becca Bressler:

Okay, great, well ...

 

Becca Bressler:

And so, told Claire my question, and she was like, "Okay, how about ... "

 

Claire Bowern:

The word for me.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Me?

 

Becca Bressler:

Yep. It's simple. It's elemental. And it turns out that 6,000 years ago, me ...

 

Claire Bowern:

In, um, Proto-Indo-European was meh.

 

Becca Bressler:

Meh?

 

Robert Krulwich:

No.

 

Becca Bressler:

(laughs) I know. So, next up was Robert.

 

Becca Bressler:

Hey, Robert. Can you hear me? Robert? Uh ...

 

Becca Bressler:

Linguist at the University of Toronto.

 

Robert:

Can you hear me? [inaudible 00:25:35].

 

Becca Bressler:

Yes, I can hear you now.

 

Robert:

Okay, good.

 

Becca Bressler:

I can hear you know. (laughs)

 

Becca Bressler:

And Robert's word was sack.

 

Robert:

S-A-C-K. You know, something we hold things in.

 

Becca Bressler:

Which would've been pronounced ...

 

Robert:

Sock.

 

Becca Bressler:

Ugh. Called up another guy.

 

Becca Bressler:

Do you mind just introducing yourself?

 

Slava Gorbachov:

Right. Uh, my name is, uh, Yaroslav Gorbachov, or Slava Gorbachov.

 

Becca Bressler:

Linguist at the University of Chicago.

 

Slava Gorbachov:

I came up with, uh, a few words, uh, that really have not changed that much.

 

Becca Bressler:

So the English words three, six, eight, and apple.

 

Slava Gorbachov:

Yeah.

 

Becca Bressler:

And so what would those, like, Proto-Indo-European pronunciations be?

 

Slava Gorbachov:

Yeah, they're basically the same. So for example, three is [treyas 00:26:12] and six is [swex 00:26:14] and apple is [habble 00:26:16]. (laughs) And eat is [ed 00:26:19].

 

Robert Krulwich:

No. None of them.

 

Becca Bressler:

Yeah.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Well maybe the answer is there is no word that has survived, so they're just gonna get as close as they can.

 

Becca Bressler:

Well this is-

 

Robert Krulwich:

Penumbral is the fancy word for that, because I can't answer your question exactly, but I can under the, under the cloud that covers the subject.

 

Becca Bressler:

Yeah, which is not super satisfying, right?

 

Robert Krulwich:

No.

 

Becca Bressler:

I mean, like, why-

 

Robert Krulwich:

No.

 

Becca Bressler:

What I want is a, is a very precise, you know, literally the exact same word. And so I thought, like, well maybe I can't go back 6,000 years, but I can go back 600 years or something.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Right.

 

Becca Bressler:

And so, um ...

 

Becca Bressler:

How's it going?

 

Andrew Rabin:

Going wonderfully. (laughs)

 

Becca Bressler:

I got in touch with this guy, Andrew Rabin.

 

Andrew Rabin:

Professor of English at the University of Louisville.

 

Becca Bressler:

He's an expert in the Anglo-Saxon world.

 

Andrew Rabin:

Literature and law of the period in England pretty much between 500 and 1066.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Oh, very modern now. Okay, what's, what's the word?

 

Becca Bressler:

Yeah, well so I asked Andrew.

 

Andrew Rabin:

Yeah, well I was thinking, my initial thought was, oh, the word must be an Old English word.

 

Becca Bressler:

Like, so much of our language obviously comes from Old English.

 

Andrew Rabin:

The thousand most common words in modern English, roughly 80% or, or so come to us directly from Old English. So I thought, gee, it has to be Old English. But then I started thinking ...

 

Becca Bressler:

What if not?

 

Andrew Rabin:

What, what if it were something all the way back with Proto-Indo-European?

 

Robert Krulwich:

No! That's-

 

Becca Bressler:

(laughs)

 

Robert Krulwich:

We've ... No. We've already done that.

 

Becca Bressler:

Just hear me out. Just hear me out, because Andrew went about this a different way. He ... The way that Andrew was thinking about this is he was looking for an English word that sounds the same or really similar in a bunch of other Indo-European languages, because if he could find that word that was shared amongst these languages, that it would, it would mean that they were all holding on to something from Proto-Indo-European.

 

Andrew Rabin:

And I remembered that one of the things that combines many Indo-European languages together is similar words for father. So Latin has pater, Old English has fader, Old Norse fafir, German vater.

 

Becca Bressler:

And, and then he also realized that mother ...

 

Andrew Rabin:

Muter, German. Matka is Polish.

 

Becca Bressler:

... is the same way.

 

Andrew Rabin:

Fairly consistent.

 

Becca Bressler:

So he went to his dictionary of Proto-Indo-European and he looked up father and mother, and they're not quite the same.

 

Andrew Rabin:

Mother is something like [mather 00:28:34]. And father is something like [pader 00:28:38].

 

Becca Bressler:

But what he did find is that in the dictionary, right under the words mother and father, were these two other words.

 

Andrew Rabin:

Mama and papa.

 

Becca Bressler:

Mama and papa.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Mama and papa.

 

Becca Bressler:

Mama and papa. So yeah.

 

Andrew Rabin:

It would almost, you know, almost certainly, if we ...

 

Becca Bressler:

Got into a time machine and went back to Eastern Europe ...

 

Andrew Rabin:

Back on the Black Sea in the 4th millennium B.C. and we said mama or papa, they would've understood us.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Hm. That's just a little too pat.

 

Becca Bressler:

Oh god, are you raining on my parade?

 

Robert Krulwich:

Mama, papa. Of course.

 

Becca Bressler:

(laughs)

 

Robert Krulwich:

Why didn't I think of that myself? Of course it would be.

 

Becca Bressler:

Yeah, sure, sure. It's like baby's first words, obviously. But the thing that did surprise me that I thought was really cool in talking to Andrew is that m-, the words mama and papa ...

 

Andrew Rabin:

Occur in virtually every language.

 

Becca Bressler:

So obviously all the languages that come from Proto-Indo-European.

 

Andrew Rabin:

Papa in French.

 

Becca Bressler:

Mama in Norwegian.

 

Andrew Rabin:

Papa in Latin.

 

Becca Bressler:

Mama in Italian.

 

Andrew Rabin:

Greek papas, or papous, grandfather.

 

Becca Bressler:

But also ...

 

Andrew Rabin:

You'll see similar sound patterns in Chinese ...

 

Becca Bressler:

Mama and baba.

 

Andrew Rabin:

... or in Korean.

 

Becca Bressler:

Eomma and appa. Like, it's not just Indo-European languages. These sounds show up in Swahili, in Eskimo, Hebrew, Arabic.

 

Andrew Rabin:

The technical term for this is they're linguistic universals. They just go right across the board.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Hm. So you just came up with an answer that's like that for everybody.

 

Becca Bressler:

Yeah, you find these sounds in a vast majority of languages.

 

Robert Krulwich:

And, and why is that? Because you-

 

Becca Bressler:

Well, Andrew, Andrew says that no one's really quite sure.

 

Andrew Rabin:

It may be that the M sounds, because it only involves the lips and the vocal chords, same for papa, the P sounds, uh, is just particularly easy for babies.

 

Becca Bressler:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Andrew Rabin:

It's been guessed that perhaps the lip movements involved in saying mama are similar to lip movements involved in latching on to a woman's breast.

 

Becca Bressler:

Hm.

 

Andrew Rabin:

Um, ultimately we don't really know why, or at least the babies know, but they're not telling.

 

Becca Bressler:

(laughs)

 

Andrew Rabin:

But, you know, it's the very facts that the first words we learn to say as babies are also the oldest words. That's actually a really lovely thought.

 

Jason Feifer:

Oh!

 

Becca Bressler:

I called Jason to tell him what I learned.

 

Jason Feifer:

Is d-, that, is that where they come from? Are we saying mama and papa because those are sounds babies can make?

 

Becca Bressler:

Yes, the easiest sounds they can make, yeah, e- exactly.

 

Jason Feifer:

That's awesome. That's really awesome. You, you know what's, what's so cool is that I was thinking at first about b- basics, trees and stuff. But this is, thi- ... But actually that wasn't basic enough. The most basic thing is the first relationship that you can understand and the first sound that you can make about it. That's the most basic it gets.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Becca Bressler. And, uh, Matt Kielty produced that story with her. You know what's funny is that most of the time I feel like dada comes first for some reason.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Does it?

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah.

 

Robert Krulwich:

It shouldn't.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Well, I know. I mean, it's always a great-

 

Robert Krulwich:

Mama.

 

Jad Abumrad:

It's always like a, this classic moment of offense where the mom's like, "What?"

 

Robert Krulwich:

Oh, you mean father comes-

 

Jad Abumrad:

"Why are you saying him first?"

 

Robert Krulwich:

(laughs)

 

Jad Abumrad:

This is what happened with me was that she was like, "Oh, really?"

 

Robert Krulwich:

You got first mention.

 

Jad Abumrad:

"Really? You're gonna go to him first?"

 

Robert Krulwich:

(laughs)

 

Jad Abumrad:

"Not to the person who birthed you and who is feeding you?"

 

Robert Krulwich:

(laughs)

 

Jad Abumrad:

[inaudible 00:32:07].

 

Robert Krulwich:

And, and what, what look do you put on your face?

 

Jad Abumrad:

And then I was like-

 

Robert Krulwich:

Sheepish pride?

 

Jad Abumrad:

I was like, "He doesn't know what he's saying."

 

Robert Krulwich:

(laughs)

 

Jad Abumrad:

Anyhow, let's go to break. Shall we?

 

Robert Krulwich:

Yes. Let's shall. Let's do ... Let's shall? Let's do that.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Let's shall.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Let's shall.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Let's shall.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Yeah.

 

Kerri Klun:

This is Kerri Klun from La Grange, Illinois. Radiolab is supported in part by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, enhancing public understanding of science and technology in the modern world. More information about Sloan at www.sloan.org.

 

Ilya Marritz:

Hello, it's Ilya Marritz, cohost of Trump Inc. Donald Trump is the only recent president to not release his tax returns, the only president you can pay directly by booking a room at his hotel. He shreds rules, sometimes literally.

 

Male:

He didn't care what records was. He tore up memos or things and just threw them in the trash. So it took somebody from the White House staff to tell him, like, "Look, you can't do that."

 

Ilya Marritz:

Trump Inc, an open investigation into the business of Trump, from Propublica and WNYC. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Okay, ready?

 

Robert Krulwich:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Jad Abumrad:

Three two one. Hey, I'm Jad Abumrad.

 

Robert Krulwich:

I'm Robert Krulwich. Radiolab is what we're doing.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yes. And we are in, uh, the midst of Big Little Question, uh, Part Three, Friends and Family Edition. And, uh, um, you know how we said at the beginning that these, the, we're gonna give, uh, we're gonna, we're gonna nod to the questions we can't get out of our heads and that maybe are a little bit embarrassing.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Right.

 

Jad Abumrad:

I don't know if we said that last part at the beginning, but we're saying it now. And, uh, th- this next one, uh, satisfies both of those.

 

Robert Krulwich:

(laughs)

 

Jad Abumrad:

(laughs) Criteria, it comes from producer Annie McEwen. She delivered it to, uh, producer Matt Kielty.

 

Annie McEwen:

Are you recording yourself right now?

 

Matt Kielty:

Yeah.

 

Annie McEwen:

Okay, great.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Oh, so this is a McEwen to Kielty.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Oh yeah.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Okay.

 

Annie McEwen:

I don't know, I guess maybe we could start by, like, how would you feel if I called you a Neanderthal?

 

Matt Kielty:

I would feel like a dummy.

 

Annie McEwen:

Dum dum?

 

Matt Kielty:

Yeah. It feels like something you say to-

 

Annie McEwen:

Yeah.

 

Matt Kielty:

... big dumb-

 

Annie McEwen:

Yeah.

 

Matt Kielty:

... men-

 

Annie McEwen:

Okay.

 

Matt Kielty:

... is how I feel.

 

Annie McEwen:

And then so if I say the word Neanderthal, what do you visualize?

 

Matt Kielty:

Like, a bigger head. Like, a big block head. And a really big barrel chest.

 

Annie McEwen:

And what is that, what, what is the person doing?

 

Matt Kielty:

Uh, punching stuff.

 

Annie McEwen:

Okay. (laughs) Like what? Like punching what?

 

Matt Kielty:

(laughs) Any- anything around.

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

I think the image that comes to mind is something hairier, clumsy, hunched over, brutish.

 

Annie McEwen:

This is Evelyn Jagoda.

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

I am a PhD student in Harvard's Human Evolutionary Biology Department.

 

Annie McEwen:

And like most people you know researching a topic, she's got a Google alert set up for the word Neanderthal.

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

About half the time it's an actual science story about Neanderthals, and the other half of the time it's ...

 

Male:

Trump is a absolute Neanderthal on trade.

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

... people using the word Neanderthal to mean ...

 

Male:

Knuckle-dragging Neanderthals.

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

... stupid.

 

Male:

The Minister of Finance referred to her as, and I quote, a Neanderthal.

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

Honestly, it makes, it makes me angry. (laughs)

 

Annie McEwen:

Evelyn says this image of Neanderthals is just, just not quite, I don't know. It needs an update.

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

Yes.

 

Annie McEwen:

I remember you saying the last time we spoke on the phone, um, kind of the, the way that we think about Neandert- Neander- ... Did you say thal or tal?

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

I honestly can never decide what I say-

 

Annie McEwen:

Okay.

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

... which is sad because I talk about them all the time. What have I been saying? Have been saying Neanderthal?

 

Annie McEwen:

I think, I think thal, but I feel like a bit of a wiener when I say Neandertal.

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

Same. I feel like such a wiener.

 

Annie McEwen:

Yeah.

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

That's why I say thal normally.

 

Annie McEwen:

Okay, let's say thal.

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

[crosstalk 00:35:39].

 

Annie McEwen:

Okay, good.

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

Yeah. (laughs)

 

Matt Kielty:

So like, when did the wrong image get, like, stuck in our brains?

 

Annie McEwen:

Yeah, so it got stuck in our brains about 100 years ago back in France with this guy named Marcellin Boule. He was paleoa- paleoanthropologist. And one day he was in his lab in Paris and, um, the, some ... He was brought this, um, this, uh, what, at the time was the most complete Neanderthal skeleton ever found, um, which was very exciting. And so we took a look at this skeleton, and what he sees is something small, something curled over, hunched, decrepit.

 

Matt Kielty:

Hm.

 

Annie McEwen:

And he interprets that, and the sort of famous drawing based off his interpretation turns out to look like this hunched over ape man, that is where we get our idea. So that one skeleton then became what we now think of today colloquially as what a Neanderthal is. But it turned out that this particular skeleton ...

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

Actually had a great deal of arthritis.

 

Annie McEwen:

Oh.

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

Yeah.

 

Annie McEwen:

Wow.

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

Actually this skeleton was diseased.

 

Annie McEwen:

Oh, but he just thought that's just the way it was.

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

Exactly.

 

Annie McEwen:

Yeah. It's like imagining an alien species coming to earth and finding ... The, the skeleton they find that represents humanity is, like, an 85-year-old woman, (laughs) like, in a wheelchair or something.

 

Matt Kielty:

And you're like, "Oh, everybody looks like this."

 

Annie McEwen:

Yeah. And so tell me a little bit about, like, what do we know about Neanderthals now? What are the things that are, um, we are learning? How are they evolving in our minds?

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

I would say that going from that brutish, wooly mammoth, primitive Neanderthal picture, I would say a lot of scientists today have more of a sense of Neanderthal as a different flavor of human.

 

Annie McEwen:

And this brings me to my question. Okay, so, uh, so, uh, I don't know, a few months back, Latif Nasser and I, we were making this story about these things called pizzly bears, these hybrid polar bear grizzly bears.

 

Matt Kielty:

I remember.

 

Annie McEwen:

Um, yes, you were there. And while we were hanging out in the studio [inaudible 00:37:40].

 

Matt Kielty:

Wait wait, I thought that two different ...

 

Annie McEwen:

I was trying to explain to you just how far apart evolutionarily these grizzly bears and polar bears are.

 

Latif Nasser:

They branch off evolutionarily, like, hundreds of thousands of years ago.

 

Annie McEwen:

And I threw out this analogy.

 

Annie McEwen:

Pretty much the same time that we broke off from the Neanderthals.

 

Annie McEwen:

Wiener!

 

Annie McEwen:

And so it would be like us meeting a Neanderthal out in the, you know, the Crown Heights bar or something and going home with that person and creating, creating [inaudible 00:38:07].

 

Latif Nasser:

(laughs) This is really specific. It sounds like you've had ...

 

Annie McEwen:

(laughs) Uh, Franklin Ave, uh, April 10th. Call me!

 

Annie McEwen:

So I made that kind of dumb joke and it was very silly. But then so that just sort of be- became a little bit m-, I don't know if serious is the right word, but the question kind of stuck around in my mind like a little thorn, like, wait, what would that be like? That's such a funny image, meeting a Neanderthal in a bar.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah, could you even relate to each other?

 

Annie McEwen:

Yeah. What would we ... Would we have anything in common at all? Are we at all similar?

 

Jad Abumrad:

So is that your question, like, if you met a Neanderthal in a bar, what would it be like?

 

Annie McEwen:

Yeah, like could it communicate, what would it sound like.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Huh.

 

Annie McEwen:

This is why I originally called Evelyn Jagoda.

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

okay.

 

Annie McEwen:

To help me imagine this.

 

Annie McEwen:

We can be so speculative here. So you are free to step out of your, like, scientist hat-

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

Okay.

 

Annie McEwen:

... and put on your artist hat or whatever you want to do. Um-

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

Okay, but promise you'll portray me as taking off my scientist hat, because-

 

Annie McEwen:

I will even say ... I will even put that part in. I wi-, yeah, I will, I will, I will.

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

Okay. (laughs)

 

Matt Kielty:

You want to tell me ... You want to set the scene?

 

Annie McEwen:

Okay, so-

 

Matt Kielty:

Where are you?

 

Annie McEwen:

Okay, let's just say I'm at a jazz club.

 

Matt Kielty:

Cool.

 

Annie McEwen:

The lights are, like, dim. The music is kind of like that, like, steamy, um-

 

Matt Kielty:

Oh.

 

Annie McEwen:

... rush on the cymbals type of jazz.

 

Matt Kielty:

(laughs) Yeah.

 

Annie McEwen:

Maybe it's raining outside or just finished raining and I'm, you know, shaking my umbrella. Um, and I look around and I see sort of a scattering of Homo sapiens. (laughs)

 

Matt Kielty:

(laughs)

 

Annie McEwen:

Some are, (laughs) some are playing pool. Some are-

 

Matt Kielty:

Do we, are we, are we living in a reality where it's like sometimes there's Homo sapiens and sometimes there's Neanderthals or is this just how you-

 

Annie McEwen:

This is, this is a special night. (laughs) I'm looking around at all the people, and my eyes come to rest on this one guy.

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

Looks strong, fairly robust. He's got red hair.

 

Matt Kielty:

Red hair?

 

Annie McEwen:

Yeah. So Evelyn says they, they ha-, kind of had red hair, brown hair, and most of it was on their head, so they didn't really have much more body hair than us.

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

The implication of that is that Neanderthals must have had fire.

 

Annie McEwen:

Right.

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

They must have had some sort of clothing.

 

Matt Kielty:

And are you playing it cool or are you, are you just, like, gawking? What are you doing? How close are you?

 

Annie McEwen:

I'm playing it cool. I kind of like sidle up to him and, and, and slip onto the, the stool next to him.

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

You notice his head is kind of weird shaped. Uh, the back is protruding out. He's got a pretty big nose.

 

Annie McEwen:

Smallish chin, brown eyes.

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

Maybe he's working on grinding up a medicinal plant to, to, uh, you know, take the edge off. (laughs)

 

Annie McEwen:

(laughs)

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

It's been, it's been a long day. Um ...

 

Annie McEwen:

Evelyn says that there's now evidence that Neanderthals used plants to make medicine.

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

Really?

 

Annie McEwen:

And s-, more incredibly, they also, like, looked after their sick and their elderly.

 

Matt Kielty:

Aw.

 

Annie McEwen:

Such good people.

 

Matt Kielty:

Yeah.

 

Annie McEwen:

I know!

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

He's got to get home soon to care for his grandma. Um ... (laughs)

 

Annie McEwen:

(laughs)

 

Matt Kielty:

You're captivated. You're like, "This is something different but familiar."

 

Annie McEwen:

"What is this?"

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

You don't realize until he gets up just how short he is.

 

Annie McEwen:

He's about 5'4".

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

Completely bipedal.

 

Annie McEwen:

And he turns to me. And like, oh my gosh, here we are, we're in my question. We're just looking at each other.

 

Matt Kielty:

And?

 

Annie McEwen:

And I just wonder, like, what's the next step? Can, can he talk? Could Neanderthals talk?

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

(laughs) I mean, this is a, this is one of the great debates, about whether Neanderthals had language.

 

Annie McEwen:

So we don't technically know if they could talk.

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

Right.

 

Annie McEwen:

It's really hard to tell just by looking at their DNA and their skeletal remains. But there's ... Like, check out all this stuff. Evelyn says that ...

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

They had a variety of tools.

 

Annie McEwen:

They're able to hunt.

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

Venison, rabbits, small game.

 

Annie McEwen:

They had art.

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

Yes, like geometric cave paintings. And furthermore, the other really human thing is that there's evidence of Neanderthals burying their dead.

 

Annie McEwen:

And, and you'd think, like, with all of those things, how could they have done it without communication? That just makes me think they had language.

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

Yeah, yeah, it makes me think that too. Yeah.

 

Annie McEwen:

Okay, so if they could talk, what would that sound like? What would this guy at the bar, what would his voice sound like?

 

Vocal Coach:

Oh, goodness, that's, um, that's very interesting. This is a human. This is a human throat. This is a Neanderthal.

 

Annie McEwen:

There's actually this BBC documentary made back in 2005 where they tried to answer this question.

 

Vocal Coach:

So I imagine that they wouldn't have subtle sounds. It would be loud, very loud, or very, very loud.

 

Annie McEwen:

There's this vocal coach, and she is sort of interpreting all the things that they then knew about Neanderthals, bigger head, bigger nasal cavity.

 

Vocal Coach:

And fantastic chest.

 

Annie McEwen:

And then giving direction to an actor.

 

Vocal Coach:

So Elliott ...

 

Annie McEwen:

So this voice that they create, well, okay, let's just like bring it back into my bar scene and imagine I ask this Neanderthal, "Can I have your number?"

 

Matt Kielty:

Uh-huh (affirmative).

 

Annie McEwen:

According to the BBC, his response would've sounded something like this.

 

Vocal Coach:

Now speak.

 

Elliott:

One two three!

 

Matt Kielty:

(laughs)

 

Annie McEwen:

(laughs)

 

Vocal Coach:

Now let's make a sound. Just let's make a huge ah.

 

Elliott:

Ah!

 

Vocal Coach:

And again.

 

Elliott:

Ah!

 

Matt Kielty:

Th- that, that was the voice they came up with, based on the science of-

 

Annie McEwen:

Yeah, I, I mean, it's ... But, you know, I thought, like, 14 years have passed, you know, probably the sciences have updated, what is, what is the better answer to that question today, what is a more up-to-date version of this voice. Dr. Barney, are you there?

 

Dr. Anna Barney:

Yes, I'm there.

 

Annie McEwen:

Oh, great. So I called up Dr. Anna Barney.

 

Dr. Anna Barney:

I'm a professor at the Institute of Sound and Vibration Research in the University of Southampton.

 

Annie McEwen:

And she's one of the scientists that has tried to answer this question partly by focusing on this tiny little U-shaped bone.

 

Dr. Anna Barney:

The Neanderthal hyoid bone, the bone that supports the tongue.

 

Annie McEwen:

It's right at the base of your tongue.

 

Dr. Anna Barney:

And anybody who reads murder mysteries will know about it, because it's the one that cracks when you're strangled, so [crosstalk 00:44:06].

 

Annie McEwen:

Ew, really?

 

Dr. Anna Barney:

Yeah. (laughs)

 

Annie McEwen:

(laughs) So this bone is a very, very important little bone for making sounds with your mouth, and Neanderthal skeletons have it too, but it hasn't really been clear, like, exactly how they used it. Like, did they use it in the same way we do? So Dr. Barney's team, using computer modeling, they sort of did a l-, bunch of things to figure out where the hyoid bone probably sat in the neck of the Neanderthal.

 

Dr. Anna Barney:

So that gave us a slightly different shape of vocal track to a modern human.

 

Annie McEwen:

A- and, and so then they, they took that shape and they sort of, uh, digitally pushed something like breath through it.

 

Dr. Anna Barney:

Yes, puffs of wind, yes.

 

Annie McEwen:

What sounds were you going for?

 

Dr. Anna Barney:

We were interested in what are called the quantal vowels, ah, e, and oo. Those are the ones, if you can produce those, then you've got the range of sounds that a modern human can make in terms of vowels.

 

Annie McEwen:

Sort of like the primary colors of the, the basis of speech, is that right?

 

Dr. Anna Barney:

That's right, yes. You could think of them as a- analogous to the primary color.

 

Annie McEwen:

So the idea is if they could say these three vowels ...

 

Dr. Anna Barney:

Ah, e, oo.

 

Annie McEwen:

... they would've been physically capable of some kind of language.

 

Dr. Anna Barney:

That's right, yeah.

 

Annie McEwen:

Okay, and what did you find?

 

Dr. Anna Barney:

So for e and oo, we found a very good match.

 

Annie McEwen:

Oh.

 

Dr. Anna Barney:

And for ah, it sounds a bit dull compared to the modern human ah.

 

Annie McEwen:

What does it sound like?

 

Dr. Anna Barney:

A bitter flatter. A bit more like ah.

 

Annie McEwen:

Ah.

 

Matt Kielty:

Oh, so their, like, their as become ahs.

 

Annie McEwen:

Yeah.

 

Matt Kielty:

So they still scream and yelling, like the thing in the BBC?

 

Annie McEwen:

Uh, well when I asked Anna about that she said ...

 

Dr. Anna Barney:

No.

 

Annie McEwen:

Based on what we know now, there's no real evidence to support that.

 

Dr. Anna Barney:

I can't see why they wouldn't have the whole range of being able to whisper and being able to shout.

 

Annie McEwen:

(laughs) Okay, good. Um, okay, so let's take a step.

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

Um-

 

Annie McEwen:

Or sorry, yeah, [crosstalk 00:45:41].

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

Yeah, oh, I just wanted to say-

 

Annie McEwen:

Yeah.

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

... one last thing that I didn't even get to [crosstalk 00:45:43].

 

Annie McEwen:

Again, Evelyn Jagoda.

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

I feel like Neanderthal women are just, like, excluded from (laughs) the depiction of it, you know.

 

Annie McEwen:

That is very true.

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

Totally the word Neanderthal colloquially implies [inaudible 00:45:53]-

 

Annie McEwen:

Right.

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

... in my head.

 

Annie McEwen:

Definitely, yeah.

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

And there were Neanderthal women.

 

Annie McEwen:

Wow, okay, maybe I should've ... Maybe I should meet a Neanderthal woman across the bar.

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

Oh. (laughs) Now that's my kind of story.

 

Annie McEwen:

Okay. So let's return to our Neanderthal, except for this time, instead of a man, all right, it's a woman.

 

Matt Kielty:

Oh, fun character switch.

 

Annie McEwen:

That's right.

 

Matt Kielty:

Okay.

 

Annie McEwen:

And like the BBC 14 years ago ...

 

Xandra Clark:

Here we go.

 

Annie McEwen:

... I brought in a voice actor Xandra Clark ...

 

Xandra Clark:

So let- let's stand up actually.

 

Annie McEwen:

Okay, yeah.

 

Annie McEwen:

... to be my Neanderthal.

 

Xandra Clark:

How tall are you?

 

Annie McEwen:

5'2" and three quarters.

 

Xandra Clark:

Perfect.

 

Annie McEwen:

Uh, so beforehand I'd actually workshopped, uh, a couple of, I don't know, bar-appropriate phrases I guess you could say, uh, with Anna Barney, the sound scientist. Um, basically like what could we have this Neanderthal say.

 

Dr. Anna Barney:

Um ...

 

Annie McEwen:

I was thinking, like, um, "Hello, you're beautiful," or, "Did it hurt when you fell from Heaven?" that kind of thing.

 

Dr. Anna Barney:

(laughs)

 

Annie McEwen:

But she had kind of a different idea, and she gave me this one that's kind of weird but it really does highlight that special vowel.

 

Dr. Anna Barney:

Because there's a lot of ahs in it, yeah, yeah.

 

Annie McEwen:

Okay, okay.

 

Dr. Anna Barney:

Lots of ahs.

 

Matt Kielty:

Wait, what, what was her phrase?

 

Annie McEwen:

Patience! Okay. So I'm standing next to this woman at the bar. Just imagine the sister of the other guy.

 

Matt Kielty:

Uh-huh (affirmative).

 

Annie McEwen:

Um, she's a little bit shorter. She's got, like, brown hair, the same piercing brown eyes. And I just say, "Hey." And she pauses for a moment, and, and then she says ...

 

Xandra Clark:

The cat sat on the mat.

 

Dr. Anna Barney:

The cat sat on the mat, yes.

 

Matt Kielty:

(laughs) That's, that's the first thing she says back to you?

 

Annie McEwen:

There's vo-, there's vowels in it. You got your vowels.

 

Matt Kielty:

And that's like, that's almost like it's so opaque, you probably would kind of lean in, you know. It's mysterious.

 

Annie McEwen:

So, come here often?

 

Xandra Clark:

Yes.

 

Annie McEwen:

I'm Annie.

 

Xandra Clark:

Annie.

 

Annie McEwen:

That's right, my name, that's my name.

 

Xandra Clark:

Annie.

 

Annie McEwen:

Can I have your number?

 

Xandra Clark:

Can I have yours?

 

Annie McEwen:

Yeah. It's one two three. (laughs) I love how your eyebrow's like oh.

 

Xandra Clark:

Well I'm picking you up!

 

Annie McEwen:

No, it's cool! Go for it!

 

Xandra Clark:

I'm not gonna just have no facial expression.

 

Dr. Anna Barney:

So it's not a dramatic difference.

 

Annie McEwen:

Which I think is itself dramatic, right?

 

Matt Kielty:

Yeah.

 

Annie McEwen:

Because, I don't know, I just think it's so totally amazing how similar they are to us. And like, the more and more we learn about them, the closer and closer they become to being our very close cousins.

 

Xandra Clark:

The cat sat on the mat.

 

Annie McEwen:

Not only our close cousin. They're actually a part of us.

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

For a lot of humans, we have literally Neanderthal ancestors.

 

Annie McEwen:

For a lot of us, we have like 2% Neanderthal DNA in, in us. And when I spoke to another scientist ...

 

Ella Al-Shamahi:

My name's Ella Al-Shamahi. I'm a paleoanthropologist.

 

Annie McEwen:

... um, about, you know, I was just asking all these scientists what would it be like to meet a Neanderthal at a bar. She actually had this to say.

 

Ella Al-Shamahi:

When we think about if a Neanderthal was around today, some people [inaudible 00:48:54] Neanderthals are around today, because if we each carry about 2%, you know, Neanderthal DNA in us, are they really that extinct, especially when you consider that the 2% that I carry isn't the same 2% that you carry.

 

Annie McEwen:

Hm.

 

Ella Al-Shamahi:

So actually amongst humans living today, we, we have, I, I mean, the estimates vary right now, but some estimates go up as, as far as 70% of the Neanderthal genome within Homo sapiens living today.

 

Matt Kielty:

Wait, is she saying if you take all the 2%s that are in various individual humans and add them up you get to 70?

 

Annie McEwen:

Up to 70% of a Neanderthal walking among us, the ghost of Neanderthal.

 

Matt Kielty:

Wow. That is cool.

 

Annie McEwen:

I know. It's super cool.

 

Ella Al-Shamahi:

So when you say, you know, what would happen if you met a Neanderthal in a bar today, you've kind of met bits of a Neanderthal in bars [inaudible 00:49:40].

 

Annie McEwen:

(laughs) That explains so much.

 

Ella Al-Shamahi:

Yeah.

 

Matt Kielty:

All right, Annie.

 

Annie McEwen:

Okay.

 

Matt Kielty:

Annie.

 

Xandra Clark:

Annie. The cat sat on the mat.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Producer Annie McEwen.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Oh boy, so a Neanderthal's reading Dr. Seuss. Oof.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah. (laughs)

 

Robert Krulwich:

It's just ... (laughs) I would strangle. It would be a form of murder. I sentence you to reading the Cat in the Hat.

 

Jad Abumrad:

(laughs) That would be like a Neanderthal prison.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Dr. Seuss. (laughs)

 

Robert Krulwich:

(laughs)

 

Jad Abumrad:

Oh my god. Anyhow.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Anyway, okay.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Shall we round things out? We have one more, one more big little question.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Yes, we should go to the final question.

 

Jad Abumrad:

This final question-

 

Robert Krulwich:

Oh, I really like this final question.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yes, it comes from our, uh-

 

Robert Krulwich:

And not that I didn't like the other ones, but this one just is so wonderfully weird.

 

Jad Abumrad:

It's very Krulwichy, this one.

 

Robert Krulwich:

So if there's time, which there won't be, I want to dedicate what's about to happen to people who were living in New York when I was growing up named Mr. and Mrs. Purple.

 

Jad Abumrad:

(laughs)

 

Robert Krulwich:

They were these people who just drove on a purple bicycle dressed in only purple and lavender tie-dye clothing, had purple colored hair, purple kind of, kind of makeup, and they were just very purple. And they were always here and there in New York. And they became a kind of legendary couple.

 

Jad Abumrad:

This is pre-Prince?

 

Robert Krulwich:

Way pre-Prince. And I'm sorry to say, Mr. and Mrs. Purple are now in, in Heaven.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Maybe with Prince.

 

Robert Krulwich:

But their Heaven might very well be perfectly described by what you're about to hear.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Interesting.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Mm.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Interesting. Okay, so let me, let me set it up. So this-

 

Robert Krulwich:

Okay.

 

Jad Abumrad:

This comes from producer Rachael Cusick. And Rachael, in addition to making radio with us, uh, formerly was a professional maker of food. She-

 

Robert Krulwich:

Yes.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Uh, she worked in a, she worked in a restaurant for two years. I th-, I would call her a professional cook, although apparently that is maybe putting it too strongly, according to Rachael. But she's a food wizard.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Jad Abumrad:

And, uh, regularly, every couple of weeks, will bring in these, like, food inventions that she makes in the wee hours of the night, like hallucinogenically colored rainbow shortbread cookie things that are incredibly delicious but also incredibly weird.

 

Robert Krulwich:

That will set you up for what's about to happen, for sure.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yes. So she ran into this question that, uh, I guess you could say combines all of that.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Jad Abumrad:

And throws in a bit of science as well.

 

Rachael Cusick:

It was like a science meets food meets journalism, like, intersection that I, like, was like, "(bleep) yeah, this is my wheelhouse."

 

Jad Abumrad:

The question really begins with this guy.

 

Anders Sandberg:

How are we doing?

 

Rachael Cusick:

Oh, hi, how's it going?

 

Anders Sandberg:

Oh, it's excellent.

 

Rachael Cusick:

Can I ask you to introduce yourself?

 

Anders Sandberg:

So I'm Anders Sandberg. I'm a senior research fellow at the Oxford Martin School at University of Oxford.

 

Rachael Cusick:

Um, so I guess to start, I was wondering if you could tell me how you first stumbled across this question. Like, set the scene for me. Where were you? What were you doing?

 

Anders Sandberg:

Well, I was going back to my office in Oxford.

 

Rachael Cusick:

He was on a bus coming back from a meeting.

 

Anders Sandberg:

It's summer. It's warm. And, uh, I'm tinkering with my laptop because the countryside is pretty boring.

 

Rachael Cusick:

So he's surfing around.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Do they have, like, WiFi on buses?

 

Rachael Cusick:

I don't know. I was wondering that.

 

Jad Abumrad:

I guess that's a thing now, right?

 

Rachael Cusick:

I think it maybe is a thing. But maybe I think he's so dedicated that he brings his own form of WiFi with him. (laughs) Anyhow, so he's on this bus, and he starts answering questions from this website called Stack Exchange.

 

Jad Abumrad:

What is that?

 

Rachael Cusick:

It's, it's, I think of it like Yahoo Answers, but for, like, science nerds, where people post questions, some are science-related, and then anyone can come and answer them.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Who are these people? Are these all smart, like, academics or-

 

Rachael Cusick:

I think, no, I think it's kind of a mix. There's, like, teenagers who want help with homework and then there's just random Joe Schmoes who, like, are taking a break from Reddit and they're like, "Let me show you how I can disprove Einstein right now."

 

Jad Abumrad:

(laughs)

 

Rachael Cusick:

And then there's Anders (laughs) on this bus.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Okay.

 

Rachael Cusick:

And he's, like, scrolling, maybe looking out the window every now and then. And then he, like, at a certain point on the ride he sees this question.

 

Anders Sandberg:

What if earth turned into blueberries?

 

Rachael Cusick:

It was posed just like that, like what if the earth turned into blueberries?

 

Anders Sandberg:

More or less. Uh, there was a note that, of course, it's unpacked blueberries, uh, rather than already compressed blueberries.

 

Rachael Cusick:

In other words, take this earth we're living on, replace that dirt and water and rock with an earth-sized ball pit of blueberries, what would that look like?

 

Jad Abumrad:

What? Why would someone ask that question?

 

Rachael Cusick:

I want to, I want to take a moment right now because I think, who would not ask that question? (laughs)

 

Jad Abumrad:

(laughs) [crosstalk 00:54:39].

 

Rachael Cusick:

It's a fundament- ... I think there's two kinds of people in this world. It's like people who think it's an amazing question and people who are like, "Get out of here."

 

Jad Abumrad:

No. And there's also the kind of person who just needs to be convinced.

 

Rachael Cusick:

(laughs)

 

Jad Abumrad:

Why is this an amazing question?

 

Rachael Cusick:

Because it's like, hardcore science is on this website, next to serious science questions. But it's also like the most fantastical form of that. It's like let me work within this structured world, like, the laws of physics, planetary science, and see where we can go.

 

Anders Sandberg:

I love what if questions. I'm a big fan of taking some assumption, see where does it lead.

 

Rachael Cusick:

So Anders says the moment he saw that question pop up ...

 

Anders Sandberg:

I just felt, oh yes, I can totally see how one can answer this.

 

Rachael Cusick:

But as soon as Anders got started, the, the people over at Stack Exchange, the moderators, closed the question because apparently they thought it was too stupid.

 

Anders Sandberg:

When the moderators on Stack Exchange took down the question, I got really angry.

 

Rachael Cusick:

Why? Wait, tell me why you were so angry.

 

Anders Sandberg:

Well, I felt this is a good question, because it allows us to exercise what if in the world of physics.

 

Rachael Cusick:

He's not even a physicist.

 

Anders Sandberg:

I'm a dilettante. I'm an amateur.

 

Rachael Cusick:

He's just like, "Look, I'm not even in this world, but like, these formulas are out there for everyone to use." This is, like, why we have laws of physics is so that we can imagine these new worlds.

 

Anders Sandberg:

Yeah. That's actually why I wrote the paper.

 

Rachael Cusick:

A very technical paper.

 

Anders Sandberg:

Indeed.

 

Rachael Cusick:

About this blueberry world, the physics of it, how it would behave, what it would look like, what it would feel like. Can you walk me through, just so I have an image in my mind? I'm on this blueberry earth. What's the first thing that I would notice?

 

Anders Sandberg:

Well, you would feel light.

 

Rachael Cusick:

All right, okay.

 

Anders Sandberg:

Because suddenly gravity got much smaller.

 

Jad Abumrad:

But why exactly?

 

Rachael Cusick:

Well ...

 

Electronic:

Results show that the density of [inaudible 00:56:27] in the temperature range between 303 and 353 Calvins ...

 

Rachael Cusick:

Anders says if you calculate the density of uncompressed blueberries ...

 

Anders Sandberg:

They're about 700 kilos per cubic meter.

 

Rachael Cusick:

Take that, plug it into another formula.

 

Anders Sandberg:

You can immediately calculate how much, uh, less mass would blueberry earth have than earth. And from that ...

 

Electronic:

GN divided by R squared.

 

Anders Sandberg:

... there is a simple formula to calculate the surface gravity. And it turns out that, uh, you get about the same gravity as on the moon.

 

Rachael Cusick:

Blueberry earth would have 16% of the gravity that you would have on regular earth. So we can bounce.

 

Anders Sandberg:

Exactly. Uh, so you would be able to bounce around on this earth as blueberries.

 

Rachael Cusick:

(laughs)

 

Anders Sandberg:

Uh, so-

 

Rachael Cusick:

That sounds so amazing.

 

Anders Sandberg:

It does, but ...

 

Electronic:

5,510 ...

 

Anders Sandberg:

There is an interesting problem.

 

Electronic:

[crosstalk 00:57:14].

 

Anders Sandberg:

Um, blueberries, well, they're squishable.

 

Rachael Cusick:

So Anders says what'll happen is that as you're bouncing on the surface of blueberries, you will radiate pressure downwards, into the center of the planet's core.

 

Electronic:

Blueberries will reduce its mass to [crosstalk 00:57:31].

 

Rachael Cusick:

And there, blueberries at the center of the planet will start to burst.

 

Anders Sandberg:

So now the squishing starts.

 

Rachael Cusick:

They burst and burst and burst until it's more liquid than it was blueberries at the center. And as that happens, the whole planet starts to compress. And normally when you pack these blueberries, there's, like, little corners of air tucked in between each one. But once that's being replaced with liquid that is being squeezed and squeezed, that air has to go somewhere, and it gets pushed up. Up up up up, like a volcano. Through the core, up to the surface of blueberry earth.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Oh, what happens then?

 

Rachael Cusick:

Then ...

 

Anders Sandberg:

Then the geysers start.

 

Electronic:

The total gravitational energy of the constant density sphere [crosstalk 00:58:15].

 

Anders Sandberg:

Remember, it's lunar gravity, so you're going to get geysers going very far. This is going to have big effects.

 

Electronic:

This is the energy output of the sun over 20 minutes.

 

Rachael Cusick:

Wait, tell me, tell me how high up. I've never seen a geyser.

 

Anders Sandberg:

This is not, uh, a puny little geyser in Yellowstone that has just a kilometer of the rock and water boiling out of it.

 

Rachael Cusick:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Anders Sandberg:

This got thousands of kilometers of moving air and blueberry pulp, so it's going to be tremendously dramatic.

 

Rachael Cusick:

These, these blueberry geysers, are they hot? They must be hot.

 

Anders Sandberg:

Well, yeah. One of the, the things you might have noticed, if you're pumping up, uh, the, your bike, is that when you compress a gas, it gets warmer. So this implosion heats up things. You're going to get boiling blueberry jam all over the place.

 

Rachael Cusick:

I just want to get like a piece of toast. (laughs)

 

Anders Sandberg:

Totally.

 

Rachael Cusick:

Scrape it all up.

 

Anders Sandberg:

And the geysers, I think some of them are likely to launch at least some of the blueberries into orbit.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Whoa.

 

Rachael Cusick:

So these blueberry comets are streaking across the sky.

 

Anders Sandberg:

They will turn into the weirdest, uh, shooting stars you could possibly imagine.

 

Rachael Cusick:

And meanwhile, geysers are exploding everywhere. And because all this jam is, like, shooting out from the center, it has to go somewhere. And when it drops back down to earth, it just covers the earth in warm blueberry jam. And so it's no longer like a surface of full blueberries. It's just, like, an exoplanet, like an ocean planet of blueberry jam.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Oh, you mean like the whole thing is now an ocean?

 

Rachael Cusick:

Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

No land?

 

Rachael Cusick:

No land.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Wow. That's pretty cool to imagine. And is it like an ocean like we would think of an ocean?

 

Rachael Cusick:

Okay, so it's kind of similar but it's gonna be, like, a little bit more epic. Like, there's gonna be massive waves. Like here on earth at some point the waves get, like, squished down, because gravity's like, "Nuh-uh (negative)."

 

Jad Abumrad:

Gravity pulls them down.

 

Rachael Cusick:

Yes.

 

Anders Sandberg:

But here's less gravity, so they can be actually much taller.

 

Rachael Cusick:

Can you go surfing on blueberry jam ocean waves?

 

Anders Sandberg:

I think you can. Uh, the tricky thing, and this might be easy for us who are not used to surfing, is that they are going to be moving more slowly too.

 

Rachael Cusick:

Oh, that kind of sounds like my ideal to learn how to surf is just to, like, go slowly in a jam wave.

 

Anders Sandberg:

Yeah.

 

Rachael Cusick:

And then if you fall in, you just get to, like, lay in jam. (laughs)

 

Anders Sandberg:

Oh yeah, it's quite d- delicious.

 

Rachael Cusick:

Okay, so as you're surfing these jam waves, which by the way, is now your amazing life, you notice a few things. First, you notice that the air is pretty thick, about 10 times thicker than it is on regular earth.

 

Anders Sandberg:

Which means that you're going to have enormous clouds.

 

Electronic:

The scale height of the atmosphere, H equals KBTMG, where M is the mean molecular mass [crosstalk 01:01:10].

 

Rachael Cusick:

It's a little bit hazy. The sky is this, like, blue purple white milky color, like swirls.

 

Anders Sandberg:

I think you would probably find that it's going to be relatively dim.

 

Rachael Cusick:

Another thing you'll notice is that the days will be a little bit shorter because blueberry earth is compressed.

 

Anders Sandberg:

So you spin a bit faster.

 

Electronic:

We end up with a planet with .879 times angular momentum conservation gives [inaudible 01:01:33].

 

Rachael Cusick:

So you're there, you're surfing, and then you look up and you notice the moon. You forgot about the moon.

 

Anders Sandberg:

The, the problem for the moon is it's bound to earth right now.

 

Rachael Cusick:

But only because the earth is heavier.

 

Anders Sandberg:

If the, the earth turns into blueberries, the mass goes down a lot.

 

Rachael Cusick:

And as it does, the earth can no longer keep hold of it. It's got a lot of other things it has to worry about.

 

Anders Sandberg:

So it will go off into an orbit around the sun.

 

Rachael Cusick:

So you see the moon kind of just recede into the sky.

 

Anders Sandberg:

Uh, but now we have an interesting problem. Blueberry earth is going into an orbit around the sun.

 

Rachael Cusick:

Uh-huh (affirmative).

 

Anders Sandberg:

And the moon is also orbiting the sun, and they're roughly in the same orbit. Not quite.

 

Rachael Cusick:

Huh.

 

Anders Sandberg:

But they're very close.

 

Rachael Cusick:

So from time to time, you might just see the moon swirl by at nighttime. And then eventually, according to the math, there will come a time when they sync up, get closer, closer, closer.

 

Electronic:

A kilogram of lunar material has potential energy GMBE moon-

 

Anders Sandberg:

So over long periods of time, it's pretty likely that sooner or later ...

 

Electronic:

Multiplication [inaudible 01:02:44].

 

Anders Sandberg:

They will collide.

 

Rachael Cusick:

The blueberry earth and the moon will collide?

 

Anders Sandberg:

Oh yes. It's going to be a big splash.

 

Rachael Cusick:

(laughs) Who's gonna win?

 

Anders Sandberg:

My big guess is that the moon ends up as the core under the now fried ocean.

 

Rachael Cusick:

It's as if we just, like, absorbed the moon and put it into blueberry earth, and this moon gets to live within blueberries forever.

 

Anders Sandberg:

More or less, yes, even imagining the moon splashing into it is probably going to send blueberry jam across the solar system, leading to all sort of very hilariously colored craters on other planets.

 

Rachael Cusick:

It's like the messiest food fight of the universe.

 

Anders Sandberg:

Indeed.

 

Rachael Cusick:

Oh man.

 

Anders Sandberg:

So the calculations I've been describing, you do them when you do planetary science. Well, our brains developed to handle the normal world around us, but in some sense there was a overshoot. We can imagine things that are not here. We can think about stuff that ought to be here or could be here and, or must not be here. And then we supplement the imagination with science, so we've got ways of reasoning about strange situations. So this is an expression of being human. Imagining other worlds I think is what really makes us human.

 

Rachael Cusick:

Hm. Thank you so much for coming in on a Saturday to talk about blueberries. This is-

 

Anders Sandberg:

Yeah.

 

Rachael Cusick:

... great. (laughs)

 

Anders Sandberg:

Yeah, I, I think it's totally awesome.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Producer Rachael Cusick. Also special thanks in this episode to Xandra Clark and Alexandra Glacier.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Hm.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Well, look, I'm, I'm, I'm on, I'm on team blueberry now. It's like, I'm not-

 

Robert Krulwich:

Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

It's not like I'm an antagonist anymore, but maybe I've just lost my joie de vivre, Robert.

 

Robert Krulwich:

I don't think so.

 

Jad Abumrad:

You think?

 

Robert Krulwich:

I don't think so.

 

Jad Abumrad:

I don't know.

 

Robert Krulwich:

You did, uh, f-, you did succumb. Some people get joie early, some people get joie middle, and some people get joie thrust upon them.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Mm.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Shakespeare.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Mm, yeah, of course. No, but maybe, maybe the distance one has to travel, like, you pick, you pick, you pick a person out, like, at 3:33 on any given Tuesday, and you say, "How far emotionally and spiritually do you have to travel to get to joy? How far is that, that, that journey?" It ... My journey used to be like, "I'll just take one step to the left, I'm there."

 

Robert Krulwich:

(laughs)

 

Jad Abumrad:

Now it's like I gotta board a plane, I gotta take off, I gotta fly all the way across the world.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Oh.

 

Jad Abumrad:

I gotta land the plane in Tahiti.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Oh.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And then I'm, then I'm in joy. You know what I'm saying?

 

Robert Krulwich:

Yes. You have r-, you have, you have slid further from the, from the ideal than you wish to be.

 

Jad Abumrad:

It's, it's troubling me.

 

Robert Krulwich:

But see, that's the advantage of a story like this. This is a story that can gently tug you the way gravity does-

 

Jad Abumrad:

Hm.

 

Robert Krulwich:

... and then land you in a totally magical place.

 

Jad Abumrad:

A jammy soup of glory.

 

Robert Krulwich:

A jammy soup of glory, all purple.

 

Jad Abumrad:

(laughs)

 

Robert Krulwich:

Thank you, Rachael.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah, yeah. But you know what I will say, just b-, just as a closing thought?

 

Robert Krulwich:

Hm?

 

Jad Abumrad:

Your 80 hertz is really good right now.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Is it?

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah. Yeah. It's ... You got a little bit of a f-, a, a little bit of a gravel happening that-

 

Robert Krulwich:

Well that's because I have laryngitis-

 

Jad Abumrad:

Under-

 

Robert Krulwich:

... or something.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Under the gravel I hear some really good 80 hertz.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Well thank you, Jad.

 

Jad Abumrad:

You're welcome. All right, let's get outta here. I'm Jad Abumrad. Whoa. Come back to me. I'm Jad Abumrad.

 

Robert Krulwich:

I'm Robert Krulwich.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Thanks for listening. More questions coming at you in a few days.

 

Electronic:

To play the message, press two. Start of message.

 

Timothy Adler:

Hi.

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

Hi. This is Evelyn Jagoda.

 

Jason Feifer:

This is Jason Feifer.

 

Timothy Adler:

Hello, this is Timothy Adler for Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

 

Jason Feifer:

Okay, I'm, I'm gonna do the credits. And I'm sitting here with my [inaudible 01:06:52].

 

Timothy Adler:

Radiolab was created by Jad Abumrad and is produced by Soren Wheeler.

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

Dylan Keefe is our Director of Sound Design.

 

Jason Feifer:

Suzie Lechtenberg is our Executive Producer.

 

Timothy Adler:

Our staff includes Simon Adler.

 

Jason Feifer:

Becca Bressler, Rachael Cusick.

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

David Gebel, Bethel Habte, Tracie Hunte, Matt Kielty, Robert Krulwich.

 

Timothy Adler:

Julia Longoria, Annie McEwen.

 

Jason Feifer:

Latif Nasser, Malissa O'Donnell, Kelly Prime, Sarah Qari.

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

Arianne Wack, Pat Walters, and Molly Webster.

 

Jason Feifer:

With help from Shima Oli- Oliaee. Oh no. I was gonna get that right and then I didn't. I gotta do it again.

 

Timothy Adler:

With help from Shima Oliaee.

 

Jason Feifer:

Audrey Quinn and [Emilio Vanesha 01:07:34].

 

Evelyn Jagoda:

Our fact-checker is Michelle Harris. Bye.

 

Jason Feifer:

I, I didn't do that very well, but hopefully it worked. Bye.

 

Electronic:

End of message.



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