A podcast exploring questions in science, culture, music, philosophy and more. Life as we know it, or would like to. The content varies from episode to episode and includes interviews, music and the occasional sound-rich story in the tradition of This American Life or Radio Lab. Produced and hosted by Robert Pollie in California.
Remembering Comedian Garry Shandling with Paul Provenza
There are a lot of comedians whose work I'm partial to, but I have a special place in my pantheon for Garry Shandling. He was funny, unsparing, compassionate, psychologically acute and epistemologically astute all at once, an uneasy combination of entertainer and truth-seeker. When I learned of his untimely death on March 24, like many fans I felt bereaved, and I sought out someone to talk to who loved his work as much as I do: Paul Provenza. Paul is a comedian and a sort of comedy curator, chronicler and catalyst, and he was responsible for one of Garry's more memorable public appearances, which I was fortunate enough to attend thanks to Paul. We talked about Garry the person and the performer – and the complicated relationship thereof.
Gravity Waves Explained by Physicist Anthony Aguirre
If the news coverage of recently discovered gravitational waves left you with lingering questions, you've come to the right place. Theoretical physicist Anthony Aguirre, our go-to guy on all things general relativistic, provides some great insight into the details and subtleties that popular accounts ignored or glossed over.
Gwendolyn Mok: Pianist and Musical Medium
Gwendolyn Mok may have flunked her first Juilliard audition at the age of 5, but that was just a speed bump en route to a distinguished recording and concert career. Gwen sees herself as a kind of medium, doing her best to channel the spirit and intentions of composers such as Brahms, Mendelssohn, Saint-Saëns, and particularly Ravel. Her brand of originalism extends to playing historic pianos like those the composers themselves knew and wrote for, and Gwen demonstrated with some exquisite renditions on an 1868 Erard and 1871 Streicher as we talked about her life as a student, performer and teacher. Also discussed: her school days with Yo Yo Ma, apprenticing with Ravel's last living student, performing with Astor Piazzolla, driving the Silk Road in a 1940 Chevy, making mistakes in concert, and the best place to listen to a piano.
George Yancy: Philosophizing While Black
“As a black male in the United States,” says George Yancy, “to do philosophy in the abstract would be to deny the reality of my own existence.” Yancy grew up in a tough North Philadelphia housing project, where young men were far more likely to end up in early graves or jail than in academia. He beat the odds and now enjoys the status of a tenured professor at a major university, but he hasn't forgotten where he came from, or the racial realities that made his story so unlikely. George and I talked about his beginnings, becoming a philosopher and using his brand of "down to earth" philosophizing to explore the structure of blackness, whiteness and lived experience in a racialized society.
Molecular Biologist Kevin Esvelt: Gene Drives, CRISPR Critters and Evolutionary Sculpting
It's one thing to genetically modify an organism in the lab. It's another thing entirely to spread those modifications in the wild, altering whole populations or even species. A new technology, the “CRISPR gene drive,” promises to do just that, giving human beings an unprecedented ability to fine-tune the natural world and nudge evolution in new directions. Malaria-resistant mosquitoes? Lyme-blocking ticks? Those are just a few of the applications floated so far, but the possibilities are endless. I talked to molecular biologist and “evolutionary sculptor” Kevin Esvelt, who first proposed the CRISPR gene drive, about its potential, perils and steps to ensure that we use our new powers wisely.
Comic Book Artist Dean Haspiel: Superheroes, Antiheroes, Fantasy and Autobiography
If you're going to tell cool stories in comic books, it helps to have had a colorful life and interesting friends. Dean Haspiel has had both. His dad was a writer, occasional street vigilante and confidante of Marilyn Monroe. Mom's pals included Shelly Winters and the young Bobby De Niro, who was one of Dean's babysitters. Dean worked with Harvey Pekar and Jonathan Ames on their respective graphic novels, and won an Emmy for his title work on Jonathan's HBO sitcom "Bored to Death." He was also the inspiration for Ray the cartoonist, played on BTD by Zack Galifianakis. We talked about all of the above, plus Dean's beginnings as a comic artist, his love of superheroes and his own hero complex, his residencies at the Yaddo artist colony, and his latest comic memoir, "Beef with Tomato."
interviews about science and other topics
Pollie is one of the only interviewers I'm aware of who can do interviews about science topics (such as Einstein's relativity or molecular biology) without oversimplifying or dumbing it down too much but at the same time making them comprehensible to people like me with limited science background. Some times I've listened to the same interview several times. And not just about science. One of the best podcasts out there!
The podcast seems to have gone on hiatus for some reason. I hope it returns some day but in the meantime there’s lots of old interviews worth listening to.
The most informative and genuine radio show focusing on real topics and big ideas. Robert is the best!
Robert Poley is a superb interviewer
Robert is the best interviewer I've ever heard. I listen to a lot of podcast and I've never heard the guests thanking their interviewer the way Robert is thanked by his guests. They seem to sincerely enjoys chatting with Robert. A lot of it has to do with the excellent questions Robert asks them.
I'm not sure how Robert prepares for his interviews but he always seems to know a lot about his guests' subject matter. Be it physics or literature, Robert often asks questions that testify to his breadth of knowledge.
Do yourself a favour and subscribe to this podcast. Make sure to check out the old episodes too. There are many informative interviews in the back catalog.