40 episodes

“The Joy of Why” is a Quanta Magazine podcast about curiosity and the pursuit of knowledge. The mathematician and author Steven Strogatz and the astrophysicist and author Janna Levin take turns interviewing leading researchers about the great scientific and mathematical questions of our time. New episodes are released every other Thursday.

The Joy of Why Quanta Magazine

    • Science
    • 4.9 • 365 Ratings

“The Joy of Why” is a Quanta Magazine podcast about curiosity and the pursuit of knowledge. The mathematician and author Steven Strogatz and the astrophysicist and author Janna Levin take turns interviewing leading researchers about the great scientific and mathematical questions of our time. New episodes are released every other Thursday.

    Will AI Ever Have Common Sense?

    Will AI Ever Have Common Sense?

    Common sense rules our world. This fundamental, sometimes trivial knowledge is inherent to how humans interpret language. Yet, some of these simple human truths are so obvious that they're rarely put into words. And without the data of common sense to train on, large language models such as ChatGPT have bizarre, often humorous blind spots.Yejin Choi, professor and the chair of computer science at the University of Washington, calls common sense the “dark matter” of intelligence. In this week’s episode of “The Joy of Why,” Choi talks with co-host Steven Strogatz about decoding the interstitial glue of language and comprehension. Together, they explore the question: Should we program more humanity into the next generation of artificial intelligence?

    • 44 min
    What Can Tiling Patterns Teach Us?

    What Can Tiling Patterns Teach Us?

    In the tiling of wallpaper and bathroom floors, collective repeated patterns often emerge. Mathematicians have long tried to find a tiling shape that never repeats in this way. In 2023, they lauded an unexpected amateur victor. That discovery of the elusive aperiodic monotile propelled the field into new dimensions. The study of tessellation is much more than a fun thought exercise: Peculiar, rare tiling formations can sometimes seem to tell us something about the natural world, from the structure of minerals to the organization of the cosmos. In this episode, co-host Janna Levin speaks with mathematician Natalie Priebe Frank on the subject of these complex geometric combinations, and where they may pop up unexpectedly. Specifically, they explore her research into quasicrystals — crystals that, like aperiodic tiles, enigmatically resist structural uniformity.

    • 39 min
    How Is Science Even Possible?

    How Is Science Even Possible?

    The universe seems like it should be unfathomably complex. How then is science able to crack fundamental questions about nature and life? Scientists and philosophers alike have often commented on the “unreasonable” success of mathematics at describing the universe. That success has helped science probe some profound mysteries — but as the physicist Nigel Goldenfeld points out, it also helps that the “hard” physical sciences, where this progress is most evident, are in major ways simpler than the “soft” biological sciences.In this episode, Goldenfeld speaks with co-host Steven Strogatz about the scientific importance of asking the right questions at the right time. They also discuss the mysterious effects of “emergence,” the phenomenon that allows new properties to arise in systems at different scales, imposing unexpected order on cosmic complexity.

    • 35 min
    Can Psychedelics Improve Mental Health?

    Can Psychedelics Improve Mental Health?

    During traumatic periods and their aftermath, our brains can fall into habitual ways of thinking that may be helpful in the short run but become maladaptive years later. For the brain to readjust to new situations later in life, it needs to be restored to the malleable state it was in when the habits first formed. That is exactly what Gül Dölen, a neuroscientist and psychiatric researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, is working toward in her lab. What is her surprising tool? Psychedelics.  In this episode, Dölen shares with co-host Janna Levin the surprising potential of psychedelics to change the lives of those grappling with addiction, depression and post-traumatic stress.

    • 39 min
    What Happens in the Brain to Cause Depression?

    What Happens in the Brain to Cause Depression?

    For decades, the best drug therapies for treating depression, like SSRIs, have been based on the idea that depressed brains don’t have enough of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Yet for almost as long, it’s been clear that simplistic theory is wrong. Recent research into the true causes of depression is finding clues in other neurotransmitters and the realization that the brain is much more adaptable than scientists once imagined. Treatments for depression are being reinvented by drugs like ketamine that can help regrow synapses, which can in turn restore the right brain chemistry and improve whole body health.In this episode, John Krystal, a neuropharmacologist at the Yale School of Medicine, tells Steve Strogatz about the new findings in mental health research that are revolutionizing psychiatric medication.

    • 33 min
    Will Better Superconductors Transform the World?

    Will Better Superconductors Transform the World?

    If superconductors — materials that conduct electricity without any resistance — worked at temperatures and pressures close to what we would consider normal, they would be world-changing. They could dramatically amplify power grids, levitate high-speed trains and enable more affordable medical technologies. For more than a century, physicists have tinkered with different compounds and environmental conditions in pursuit of this elusive property, but while success has sometimes been claimed, the reports were always debunked or withdrawn. What makes this challenge so tricky?

    In this episode, Siddharth Shanker Saxena, a condensed-matter physicist at the University of Cambridge, gives co-host Janna Levin the details about why high-temperature superconductors remain so stubbornly out of reach.

    • 28 min

Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5
365 Ratings

365 Ratings

Fluffster Normalpaws ,

Boredom Antidote

This show is a potent antidote if you’re suffering from the horrors of boredom. I don’t understand most of this, but that’s okay. The bits that I can follow are fascinating.

mr foo ,

Deeply informative and engaging

I love this podcast because it is incredibly informative about topics you many not see or hear much about elsewhere. This show has made me become interested in something I was barely aware of previously.

Quest for Knowledge & Insight ,

Fabulous Weekly “Ride” in Math and Science!

Outstanding podcast! Dr. Strogatz does a great service to obtaining insights from those in the trenches of knowledge creation and insight generation who are specialists in their fields of math and science.

I look forward to every episode. Keep up the great work Steven Strogatz!!

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