Mind-Blowing Science: Season 1
1: How Dinosaurs Grew So Large and So Small
Until recently, paleontologists had no way to measure the age of dinosaurs or to figure out how they grew. So, we assumed dinosaurs had a physiology similar to modern reptiles. But it turns out that the clues we needed were locked in the animals’ bones all along—in growth lines similar to the annual growth rings in trees. John R. Horner, Kevin Padian, and Armand de Ricqlès, who have studied dinosaur bones together for more than 20 years, break down how they helped to determine the growth rates of many dinosaur species.
2: Are We the Only Intelligent Life in the Galaxy?
With so many exoplanets out there in the galaxy, it seems reasonable to hope that life may be prevalent. On our planet, it took a series of unusual coincidences to give rise to our intelligent civilization, and it’s quite unlikely such serendipity has taken place elsewhere. Science writer and astrophysicist John R. Gribbin examines how everything had to go just right. Perhaps most unlikely of all, he argues, was the development of our technological species—a feat that is probably unique in the Milky Way.
3: Decoding the Puzzle of Human Consciousness
Physiological and behavioral evidence indicates that humans are fundamentally similar to many other animals in terms of their responses to painful and pleasurable stimuli. Even so, scientists disagree on whether other creatures have consciousness or can suffer. Dr. Susan Blackmore, a psychologist researching consciousness and memetics, and author of The Meme Machine, explains the arguments on each side of this great debate and introduces her own concept of the “selfplex.”
4: Why Your Brain Needs Exercise
Everyone knows that exercise is good for the body. But it’s also been well-established that exercise has positive effects on the brain, especially as we age. Less clear has been why physical activity affects the brain. Doctors David A. Raichlen and Gene E. Alexander explain how key events in the evolutionary history of humans may have forged the link between exercise and brain function. And they show how cognitively challenging exercise may benefit the brain more so than physical activity, which makes fewer cognitive demands.
5: The First Monster Black Holes
In the very distant, ancient universe, astronomers can see quasars—extremely bright objects powered by enormous black holes. Yet it is unclear how black holes this large could have formed so quickly after the big bang. Dr. Priyamvada Natarajan, a theoretical astrophysicist focusing on cosmology, gravitational lensing, and black hole physics, explains how she and her colleagues have tried to solve this mystery by proposing a novel mechanism for black hole formation. Rather than being born in the deaths of massive stars, the seeds of the most ancient, supermassive black holes might have collapsed directly from gas clouds.
6: Pets: Why Do We Have Them?
For over 50 years, psychologists have been trying to understand the appeal of animal companionship. Two out of three American households keep an animal primarily for companionship and we spent an estimated $95.7 billion on our pets. Examine how scientists are finding some common threads that tie people to their household pets. From goldfish to Golden Retrievers, our attraction to animals may be driven by biological and social forces that we don’t consciously acknowledge.
7: The Mysteries of Neandertal Art
Until recently, we believed there was still at least one important distinction between Homo sapiens and Neandertals, but then some simple cave paintings changed everything. Kate Wong, a senior editor for evolution and ecology at Scientific American, explains how images dating back 65,000 years have settled a long-running debate over Neandertal cognition.
8: Six Ways to Boost Brainpower
Previously, scientists thought adult brains couldn’t grow new neurons or change old pathways. But, recent discoveries have revealed how your behavior and environment can substantially rewire your brain—even later in life. Science writer Emily Anthes explores six areas to focus on in order to improve how well your brain functions.
9: Mathematical Games: The Enduring Appeal of Tic-Tac-Toe
We probably played our first Tic-Tac-Toe game as children, yet the appeal of playing this simple game stayed with us well into our adulthood. Its legacy has endured a long history as well—people have been playing it since ancient days of Rome, China, and Greece. Celebrated mathematician Martin Gardner relates the history of the game and explores its more complex variations, while also delving into the reasons we have been playing for as long as we can remember.
10: Earthquakes in the Sky
Tens of thousands of people can be killed by a single earthquake. So, it’s no wonder humankind has spent millennia searching for an early warning sign. Japanese geophysicist Kosuke Heki recently presented tantalizing evidence that we may someday be able to anticipate these devastating seismic events. Science writer Erik Vance breaks down Heki’s theory that clumps of electrons form in the ionosphere, sometimes 30 minutes or more before a quake.
11: Why Good Thoughts Block Better Ones
The Einstellung effect is the brain’s tendency to stick with familiar solutions and to ignore other alternatives. You probably know it better as the “confirmation bias.” While psychologists identified this mental phenomenon in the 1940s, they’ve only recently come to truly understand it. Psychologists Merim Bilalić and Peter McLeod explain why we instinctively overlook new solutions and if it is possible to overcome the Einstellung effect.
12: Sleep On It
Just like hunger, thirst, and sexual desire, the urge to sleep is a deep physiological drive. A growing number of experiments suggests the quantity and quality of your sleep directly affects many bodily processes, from hormonal balance to immune protection. These discoveries also reveal a strong link between sleep and improved mood, memory, and learning. Based on an article by Robert Stickgold, director of the Center for Sleep and Cognition at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, this video explores the latest research into what happens when we sleep.
13: Thinking like Einstein
“Gedankenexperiments” is what Albert Einstein called one of his most enduring contributions to physics. You might know them better as “thought experiments.” Whether daydreaming of riding beams of light or picturing people tumbling into black holes, Einstein used his mind’s eye to explore the natural world and then sought out ways to test his intuitions with real-world experiments. Theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder explores several of the famous physicist’s best-known Gedankenexperiments and shows how influential they’ve been.
14: Predicting the Next Pandemic
With global temperatures changing faster than anyone predicted, and altering the regions where animals, viruses, and humans can live, the threat of emerging zoonotic diseases—those that began in animal populations and jump to humans—is expanding. As climatologists strive to model new weather patterns, epidemiologists are realizing how critical it is to incorporate these data if they are to anticipate the next outbreak. Journalist Lois Parshley explores a new, multidisciplinary approach that may be the key to understanding how infectious diseases arise and spread.
15: A (Dino) Star Is Born
If you’re a fan of the film Jurassic Park, you may remember the Dilophosaurus, which was portrayed as a golden retriever-sized creature, with a threatening frill around its neck and venomous spit capable of blinding its prey. But what was Dilophosaurus really like? Paleontologists Matthew Brown and Adam Marsh reveal what’s been learned in the decades since Dilophosaurus made its film debut and reconstruct this dinosaur in remarkable detail—including its appearance and behavior, how it evolved, and the world it inhabited. Sometimes, reality can be much more frightening than fiction.