Big Unknowns: Is Free Will an Illusion?

“Free will has been debated by philosophers and theologians for centuries. Neuroscientists and psychologists have now entered the fray – but what new light can they shed? And just how free are we when it comes to “free” will?”
“It would appear that we, as conscious agents, are able to make choices that change the world around us, despite many of the known laws of nature being deterministic. But is this freedom of choice all an illusion created by the conscious mind? And ultimately, is it even possible to act outside the bounds of our environment, our upbringing, and our genetic makeup?
To delve into this and more, Ian Sample speaks to neurophilosopher and pragmatist Professor Patricia Churchland – who believes the key to studying free will lies in self-control and intention. We also hear from the University of Ghent’s Dr Marcel Brass how science is attempting to reveal more about the nature of free will through experimentation. Finally, Yale University’s Adam Bear explains how the conscious mind might play a role in the illusory nature of decision-making.”
Illustration by Alex Eben Meyer

The Guardian’s Science Weekly | 15th November 2016

Your Attention Please

your-attention-pleaseExploration of the attention economy, addiction to Adderall, the way attention merchants are getting inside your head, and why wasting time on the internet is time well spent. Plus, the secret history of the world’s most popular video game.
Legal scholar Tim Wu chronicles the rise of the attention merchants in his new book, The Attention Merchants: An Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads. Steve Paulson recently sat down with Wu to talk about these audacious merchants of attention.

To the Best of Our Knowledge | 15th November 2016

The Cult of the Expert – and How It Collapsed

Led by a class of omnipotent central bankers, experts have gained extraordinary political power. Will a populist backlash shatter their technocratic dream?

When the history is written of the revolt against experts, September 2008 will be seen as a milestone. The $85bn rescue of the American International Group (AIG) dramatised the power of monetary gurus in all its anti-democratic majesty. The president and Congress could decide to borrow money, or raise it from taxpayers; the Fed could simply create it. And once the AIG rescue had legitimised the broadest possible use of this privilege, the Fed exploited it unflinchingly. Over the course of 2009, it injected a trillion dollars into the economy – a sum equivalent to nearly 30% of the federal budget – via its newly improvised policy of “quantitative easing”. Time magazine anointed Bernanke its person of the year. “The decisions he has made, and those he has yet to make, will shape the path of our prosperity, the direction of our politics and our relationship to the world,” the magazine declared admiringly.
Written by Sebastian Mallaby, read by Alice Arnold and produced by Simon Barnard
Photo: Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke testifies before Congress in October 2011, by Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

The Guardian’s Audio Long Reads | 11th November 2016

Trust Me

trust_me_3Societies where people trust one another are healthier and wealthier. “This is a more powerful predictor of future national growth rates than, for example, levels of human capital or skills in the population… Having someone or feeling that other people can be trusted or people you can rely on in your life… has roughly the same positive effect, in a series of studies, as giving up smoking.”

Countries range from, the ones like Brazil where less than 10 percent of people would say that most others could be trusted to countries like Norway where more than 70 percent of people would say most others can be trusted. U.S. and the U.K. are halfway in between, typically 30-40 percent of people say others can be trusted.” Worryingly, in the U.S. and the U.K. social trust has been falling for decades.  What is the way to restore it?

Freakonomics Radio | 10th November 2016

Global Corruption

global-corruption-2Australia has been called ‘the Cayman Islands of the South Pacific’ – a safe haven for money coming into the country through international corruption. The money trail particularly leads to Queensland. Each year billions are looted by rulers from their countries’ public coffers. An international agreement prohibits a state from hosting money stolen by the leaders of another state. However, Australia does little to honour this agreement.
Join Professor Jason Sharman for a fascinating journey into the world of political grand corruption.

Big Ideas – ABC Radio | 9th November 2016

The Power Paradox

the-power-paradoxWhat is power? Where does social power come from? What happens in our bodies and with our behavior when we have power and when we don’t? What can we learn about lasting social power from small-scale hunter-gatherer societies?

Dacher Keltner is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and the faculty director of the UC Berkeley Greater Good Science Center. A renowned expert in the biological and evolutionary origins of human emotion, Dr. Keltner studies the science of compassion, awe, love, and beauty, and how emotions shape our moral intuition. His research interests also span issues of power, status, inequality, and social class. He is the author of the best-selling book Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life and of The Compassionate Instinct. Dr. Keltner’s most recent book is The Power Paradox: How We Gain and Lose Influence.

This episode is a live recording from The Leakey Foundation’s Bay Area Science Festival event.

Origin Stories| 8th November 2016

Comprehending the Incomprehensible: Samuel Arbesman on Rapidly Accelerating Technology

comprehending-the-incomprehensible-1In developing the complicated technologies that permeate our lives, is it possible that humans have failed to grasp the magnitude of the complexity they have created? In this episode a complexity scientist, Samuel Arbesman, author of the new book Overcomplicated: Technology at the Limits of Comprehension, explains that the rate of technological expansion is growing too quickly for our intellects to keep up, and the dangers of not understanding the inner workings of our creations are already revealing themselves, whether it’s the New York Stock Exchange suspending trading without warning or Toyota cars accelerating uncontrollably to the surprise of their drivers. The complexity of the code behind much of what has become fundamental components of society is so far past the limits of human comprehension that oftentimes no one is even able to find the cause when these systems go awry. Arbesman lays out why it’s so difficult for even experts to keep up with technological progress and how we can make efforts to prevent our creations from destroying themselves…or us.

Point of Inquiry | 7th November 2016

Is China’s Gaokao the World’s Toughest School Exam?

“For two days in early June every year, China comes to a standstill as high school students who are about to graduate take their college entrance exams… Construction work is halted near examination halls… ambulances are on call outside in case of nervous collapses, and police cars patrol to keep the streets quiet. Radio talkshow hosts discuss the format and questions in painstaking detail, and when the results come out, the top scorers are feted nationally… That score is the most important number of any Chinese child’s life, the culmination of years of schooling, memorisation and constant stress… The students who do best can look forward to glittering careers and even good marriage prospects. But for the less successful, the system is brutal.”
Written by Alec Ash, read by Andrew McGregor and produced by Simon Barnard
Photo by Zhou Chao / Epa

The Guardian’s Audio Long Reads | 4th November 2016

Steven Pinker on Language, Reason, and the Future of Violence

steven-pinker-on-language-reason“Steven Pinker has spent an entire academic career thinking deeply about language, cognition, and human nature. Driving it all, he says, is an Enlightenment belief that the world is intelligible, science can progress, and through rational inquiry we can better understand ourselves.
He recently joined Tyler for a conversation not only on the power of reason, but also the economics of irrational verbs, whether violence will continue to decline, behavioral economics, existential threats, the merits of aerobic exercise, photography, group selection, Fermi’s paradox, Noam Chomsky, universal grammar, free will, the Ed Sullivan show, and why people underrate the passive (or so it is thought).”
Illustration: Steven Pinker,  by Joe Ciardiello

Conversations with Tyler | 2nd November 2016