I’ve become a podcast fiend. If I’m editing, which is almost a nightly ritual as of late, I’m listening to podcasts. After leaving a cubicle prison for the day, it is nice to come back to my quaint studio apartment and be privy to intellectually stimulating and refreshing conversations that are typically absent during my forty hour work week. Since light is quick to rest in winter, I have no choice but to become enchanted with the world through other means. Podcasts have assuaged this longing because the people speaking often are captivated with an element of life, nature, or existence and manage to articulate their perceptions and passions in a manner that seduce me into being equally enticed.
Below are several podcasts I subscribe to and highly recommend. They’re free and archives are available, which is grand for a person like me without television and internet (most of the time).
APM: Speaking of Faith
In a matter of weeks, I have listened to reflections and discussions on Einstein’s God, Mormonism, preserving the Ojibwe language, the secret life of stem cells, the soul in depression, etc. This is quickly becoming my favorite podcasts with its eclectic offerings on religion, spirituality, faith, history, psychology, sociology, basically a humanities feast for the ears.
The one I’ll highlight is the secret life of stem cells. The first secret: stems cells are all over our bodies. It is merely a matter of extracting them and using them to their potential to help us one day heal ourselves in greater ways than they already do. Scientist Doris Taylor discusses her stem cell research. Taking animal cadaver hearts, her research team managed to strip the dead cells from the hearts through mere soap. Once reverted back to a more original state, stem cells were injected. Over several days, the hearts would progress and eventually be given artificial blood, and in 8 days, what evolved was a working, beating, new heart. Think about that for a moment…8 days and a new heart. Dr. Taylor hopes that in several years these studies can be done on human hearts and eventually be used in heart transplants. Just imagine someone being diagnosed with severe heart disease and instead of being put on a long waiting list for a heart, doctors can harvest stem cells from that person’s body, take a human cadaver heart, and in 8 days produce a heart ready for transplant. On top of this, since the cells used are the person’s own, then there would be almost no chance of organ rejection. This is the type of breakthrough with the potential to save lives. It is the type of breakthrough that could have saved my mother. And if it can be done with a heart, it can likely be done with most organs.
Speaking of Faith delves into many issues. Each week is a different subject likely quite different than the previous week. Host, Krista Tippett, maintains a respectable level of journalistic intrigue mixed with sincere and critical dialogue that produces engaging interviews.
These podcasts and videocasts are somewhat short, but connect listeners to ideas and concepts not penetrating mainstream media. I’ve listened to a scientist speak about how mushrooms can combat illness and help lower pollutants, how ordinary people become monsters or heroes, and the real difference between liberals and conservatives.
Ordinary people begins with the potential of everyone to become a hero or monster, along with the ability to change into the other as well. The guest speaker is a sociologist who discusses a particular study which he conducted. A group of men in college were divided into two roles: guards and prisoners. Before the test, these men were interviewed to ensure they had good mental health, came from stereotypical ‘good’ backgrounds, and were declared ‘reasonable’ people. After 5 days, the study had to be discontinued because those in the role of guard had begun showing violence and severe interrogation tactics and several men in the role of prisoners started having breakdowns.
He referenced another study done several decades ago where random civilians were studied. Taken into a room with a two-way mirror, the participants would sit with the researching and watch the person in the other room. It was said to be a memory study and participants were requested to push a button on the table if the person got an answer wrong. By pushing the button, an electric shock would be sent to the person in the other room and each additional shock would grow in severity. Unbeknownst to the ordinary civilians in the study, the person in the other room was an actor and was pretending to be shocked. Before this study was conducted, scientists hypothesized that only 1% of participants would actually go through with pushing the button. The results showed that over 50% pushed the button without question. After the first shock or two, the actor then cries out about having a heart problem and for them to stop, that this isn’t good for him, and even then people STILL would push the button. If some began to question the researcher and object, the researcher would say it was necessity, that it was part of the study and to continue. This was to see how many people would merely listen to authority and also because they weren’t technically held responsible since this was in the hands of the researcher. Well, guess what, most still pushed the button anyway. Though it may not seem like nothing, to me it is quite horrifying. This shows the automaton nature the masses have become and it is no wonder atrocities like the Holocaust have occurred.
This American Life
This has been a favorite for some time, but I am only now listening to archived episodes starting all the way from 1995. The concept is simple: a theme every week and stories of Americans are told. I have a handful of favorites but one story that sticks in my mind is about a kid at summer camp. Well, technically, Bible camp, and one afternoon these dark clouds were rolling in. The narrator says something in him just dared the devil as he looked into that storm forming. I guess in a way like ‘Bring it!” The counselors began ushering everyone indoors and as the narrator and his friend began to run to the cabins, the boy’s friend was struck by lightning and killed. The narrator goes on to say that over the years he’d tell people this story and eventually he began telling it to see people’s reactions. At first they would comfort him, say it wasn’t his fault, and then he’d respond that he didn’t think it was his fault, and that’s where the intriguing reactions began. But that imagery of daring the devil, these hovering thunderous clouds, and death by lightning is so rich in my imagination and in itself, that brief space of time is a story that is multilayered and so much more complex than what is at the surface.