Carl Zimmer – This is Your Brain on iPad

October 22, 2010

On the show this week, Point of Inquiry features one of our most distinguished science writers—Carl Zimmer. He’s the author of many acclaimed books, including Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea, and now he’s taken on an experiment: Publishing his next book, Brain Cuttings, as an e-book, digital only.

The book collects Carl’s many writings about the brain—including essays about why we zone out, whether Google is making us stupid, and perhaps most memorable of all, the Singularity folks who think our brains will soon be downloadable. Needless to say, Zimmer isn’t quite so sure.

In a wide-ranging conversation, Zimmer also discussed why science’s biggest undiscovered continent is inside our heads—and what our growing understanding of the brain means for the future of religion.

Carl Zimmer has been called “as fine a science essayist as we have” by the New York Times Book Review. He contributes regularly the New York Times science section, as well as numerous other publications, and blogs for Discover magazine’s Discover Blogs site. In addition, he’s the author of seven books, including Microcosm: E. Coli and the New Science of Life, and teaches science and environmental writing at Yale University.

Today’s show is brought to you by Audible. Please visit Audible podcast dot com slash point to get a free audio book download. This is Point of Inquiry for Friday, October 22nd, 2010. 

Welcome to Point of inquiry. I’m Chris Mooney point of inquiry is the radio show and podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank advancing reason, science and secular values in public affairs. 

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I’m excited to have one of our most distinguished science writers, Carl Zimmer. He’s the author of many acclaimed books, including Evolution The Triumph of an Idea. And now he’s taken on an experiment publishing his next book, Brain, cutting’s as an e-book Digital Only. The book collects Kali’s many writings on the brain, including essays about why we zone out, whether Google is making us stupid and perhaps most memorable of all about the singularity folks who think our brains will soon be downloadable. So I wanted to have Karl on the show to explain why science’s biggest undiscovered continent is inside our heads and what our growing understanding of the brain means for the future of religion. 

Carl Zimmer, welcome to Point of Inquiry. 

Hi, Chris, thanks for having me. 

It’s great to have you on. You are not only one of our most distinguished science writers and essayists, but as a science writer, it seems like you’re always on top of the new technology. This is something I know because I’m always shaking my head, wondering how you do it. And now your latest book, Brain, cutting’s is actually being published as an e-book. Will you tell us how that came about? 

Well, I was starting to get interested in e-books, particularly looking at how some authors were coming up with a really new way to get their books out to people who literally would have novelists who say, I’m going to take this manuscript of a a book that’s been rejected and I’m just going to stick it on the Kindle and just start selling it. And that it’s so shocking to those of us who have been publishing traditionally, you know, where you get an agent and you go through a grand ritual with publishers, with computers and all the rest. And and after a very, very long period of time, you finally get a book out. And these are wonderful things, but it’s also wonderful to discover these these new ways of publishing. And so I had some material that I thought would be good for this kind of format. And so I said, hey, why don’t I try this out? 

What kind of material is good for this kind of a format? How does it differ? 

Well, I don’t think anybody has any hard and fast rules yet about what’s good and what’s not good for e-books. But one thing that I find interesting is that e-books really open up a new kind of intermediate range for books. So, like, on the one hand, you would have, say, a magazine article. And it might be 4000 words long, 5000 words long. And it’s something that you can sit down and read in 20 minutes maybe. And that can appear in a magazine with other articles. But if you go onto to a larger scale, really in the traditional world of publishing, you have to go quite a long way before you get to the next kind of recognized format. The book and books, actually, a lot of them are just getting bigger and bigger, I find. And I think that it’s partly the economics, you know, that bit regular books, print books, especially hardbacks, are having to cost more and more for various reasons. And so there is a feeling, well, you know, if we’re going to publish this hardback book, then it’s gotta be big. So there’s a huge gulf between 4000 words and like a hundred thousand words. But, you know, I think you could read something that’s perfectly interesting. That’s 10000 words or 20000 words, 30000 words. There’s all sorts of things you can try out. And I think e-books, but you totally get away from these constraints and you can say, well, let me try this. Let me try something in between there. So in my case, I’ve been writing a lot of pieces about the brain over the past couple years. Most of them, they’ve been columns for Discover magazine. But I’ve also been writing articles elsewhere. And I thought, you know, I think this might be interesting for people, people who might not be familiar with the things I’ve been writing. If I just bring them together, edit them or make them into a more coherent whole and publish it. I just do it myself. 

And I noted that the length was about 30000 words in fifteen essays, fifteen chapters. So this is very good for sort of reading on a ride in the, you know, one chapter, a ride on the train or something like that. Some folks have argued that with all the new technology, there’s a kind of this is your brain on Google effect and we all lose our ability to pay attention and think seriously. But as you write in in your new e-book, Brain Cutting’s, I have a hard time taking these Cassandras of the computer age seriously. Why not? 

Well, I find that more often than not, these people who are warning us about the horrors that are about to descend on us because we’re spending too much time on computers or the Internet or whatever it is, we love to invoke the brain. They love to say that this is changing our brains. And really, that’s about as far as it goes. And the claims that they make and that is really kind of absurd, too, as a criticism, because everything changes our brain. You know, I walk down the street, changes your brain, learning how to juggle, changes your brain. You actually grow, you know, certain areas of gray matter and you get bigger when you juggle. Now, should we be terrified that our brains have now been altered by this this strange new practice called juggling? No, of course not. That doesn’t mean that that there are some potential risks that come with new technologies. And, you know, certainly I find myself having to to really set aside a time to read longer works. But here’s the weird thing. I’ll give you a case in point of use my wife as an example. So we went off for a week to an island and it just so happened that it was very good wireless access across this island. 

And so my wife is is a voracious reader, actually read a lot more than I do fiction, nonfiction. And she brought along one regular paper book and she brought or iPhone. She finished the regular paper book. And then she decided it was time to really play around with the Kindle app on her iPhone. And she downloaded a book and read it. The whole thing finished at that. Well, that was fun. I want another one. Boom. Hit another button. Download another book. I think you would like five or six books while we were there using Godsell. Did this technology. The real problem, I think, comes down to the fact that people are not willing to accept the fact that our brains not only are always changing, but they actually are really biologically primed to essentially reach out and make new tools, in effect extensions of themselves. So if my memory is partly in my brain, but it’s also partly on my hard drive. And that’s just. A fact, and that’s just how the brain works, and it’s worked like that for a long time. I mean, you can if you trained a monkey to use a stick to get a piece of food. If you actually track the activity in their brain, what they’ve essentially done is they are representing the end of the stick and essentially the end of their body. They’ve incorporated the stick. This technology tool into their own representation of themselves. So that’s a long answer to your question. But that’s why I really have a lot of doubts about this whole Google is making a stupid kind of meme that’s going around. 

Well, this is a good way of getting into talking more generally about the content of the book and all of the different kinds of content that it contains. Because it’s centrally driven by a growing scientific understanding of the brain, which is a topic that you cover extensively. But there is sort of a bit of a I don’t know about it if it’s a paradox, but I’ll just try it out on you when it comes to what I hear about brain research these days. On the one hand, we hear this is sort of the hottest area in science and they’re gonna be big, big breakthroughs to completely change how we understand who we are, the nature of consciousness and all the rest. But at the same time, we hear a lot that the more we learn, the more we realize the brain is so complex, there’s billions and billions of neurons. How are we ever going to even really understand this? 

I mean, where’s the truth between those two? 

Well, I actually in a way, they’re both true. We do have all sorts of unbelievable tools now that scientists can use. To run experiments to see how the brain works, just, for example, visualizing individual cells in the brain and tracking their activity. That’s think that’s incredibly important because that lets you see what different cells are doing. And it turns out that there are like half of the cells in our brains that are not neurons. They’re called. Which is Latin for glue. But they’re more than glue. They don’t just hold on neurons together. They carry out all sorts of essential activities. And they mean it may even be involved in in our thought processes. And people just couldn’t even tell this until they could actually visualize what these cells are doing. And really, that’s only come about in the past few years. So there’s been this whole change in that particular area of how we understand the brain. And, you know, in each of the essays, I write it in brain cuttings. I look at some big new development, not just, you know, what our brains are made of, but how they work, how does we feel fear, how we would do math. After all these things, you know, brain imaging is revolutionizing how we understand the brain. That being said, there is a real crisis. I think that neuroscience has reached in and I say this based on talking to a lot of neuroscientists themselves. And I’ve gone to meetings where they’ve been grappling with this crisis. And the crisis is basically, you know, science works by taking things apart and looking at how the parts work and then trying to figure out how the parts work together as a whole. That kind of reductionist approach to neuroscience has worked well. But there are some fundamental limits to it because our brains are incredibly integrated. You know, you have neurons and one part of the brain that are reaching out to other parts with trillions of connections and basically huge parts of the brain are working in an incredibly complex, unified home. That’s probably what makes consciousness possible, for example. So these kind of old approaches are saying, OK, well, let’s figure out exactly which part of the brain becomes active when you become aware of a shape that you see in a computer screen. That’s just not going to cut it. And so there are a lot of neuroscientists who are reaching out. It’s a really interesting new direction. I like to think that information theory that computer scientists have used in the past to try to to try to study the brain as a whole. And if it’s going to be interesting, if this can get off the ground, it will be a new kind of science. 

One essay that I really enjoyed from the collection was the one about zoning out in mind wandering because of course, I do this. Everybody does this. I sometimes do it when I’m conducting one of these interviews, which is kind of embarrassing. But I guess maybe that’s actually, according to your essay, fairly normal. 

Yeah, it’s surprising just how normal it is. People spend a lot of time zoning out. You know, if you just check out what someone’s thinking and maybe about, you know, a fifth of car of the time, they might not be focusing on whatever it is they’re supposed to be focusing on, whether it’s a conversation or a book they’re reading or anything. We have this amazing tendency to just detach from what is at hand and turn inward. And this is just constantly going on. We turn outward, then we go back in order. We go outward again. We’re switching back and forth. This has been a very hard thing for neuroscientists to study. I mean, how do you. I mean, how do you track that kind of that that spotlight of the mind? And so some psychologists have come up with some very clever techniques, like they will have people read war and peace. And obviously, that is a good way to get people to start zoning out. But then they’ll then sort of interrogate them along the way at random times and say, why are you paying attention to that? 

Or they’ll have them read like a Sherlock Holmes mystery and then quiz them and see if they were paying attention because they’re, you know, otherwise they don’t get certain key plot twists. And so from these kind of real, really basic kind of classic psychological studies, they can build up this picture of how much we zone out. Now, what’s happening is that they’re working with neuroscientists who do brain imaging. And so actually, people are the brains are being scanned as they’re trying to concentrate on these tasks and then their minds are gifting. And you can literally see different parts of the brain lighting up when we’re focused on a task versus when we’re zoning out. And actually, these brain scan studies have a sense they they’ve made it okay to zone out. We can actually see that zoning out. It’s not just your brain kind of shutting down or going quiet or having random activity. Actually, when you zone out, your brain engages in a very interesting pattern of activity. It tends to be the same every time the same regions become active. And these are regions that are involved in understand being aware of yourself, yourself, in relationship to other people and also yourself in the future. So when scientists ask people to think about what they’re going to be doing next week, the same network that we see light up when people are zoning out, lights up when they’re thinking about the future. So there’s a theory that’s gaining a lot of credence that zoning out is really it’s actually adaptive. It’s actually we need it. You can’t be constantly like just looking at the here and now. You have to be switching back and forth. Obviously, we have to be dealing with matters at hand. But we also need to be constantly thinking about what our plans are and what our goals are and sort of manage our future or other things that might have some bearing on what we’re doing right now. And that can actually kind of adjust the way that we behave in the moment. So if we couldn’t zone out, I think we’d actually be the worse for it. 

Well, that’s good to hear. One of the other very memorable parts of the book is when you go and hang out with the singularity guys. Can you tell us about that? 

Yeah. So I was I was asked to write a story about the singularity, and it just so happened that around that time these people were going to have a meeting in New York. And I live pretty close to New York, so I thought I’d go. So let me just explain what the singularity is. It’s a strange movement of people. Some of them are scientists and as well as other people that are convinced that technology is moving at an accelerating pace and it’s moving at such an accelerated pace that in, say, 20 years, life is going to be inconceivably different than it is today. And so they will seriously talk about what it’s going to be like when we can upload our brains to computers. And, you know, they’re their big concerns about the future are not, you know, is the planet going to overheat from climate change or are we going? Are we going to have massive problems of poverty due to overpopulation? No. What they’re concerned about is how are we going to fight against the, you know, the conscious autonomous robots that are going to be competing with us to control the planet. That’s that’s a kind of us that’s for them is a serious concern. The singularity got its start out of science, really literally out of science fiction. But there are there are a lot of scientists and sort of futurists who really embrace it. There’s a Singularity University now. It’s a big deal. So so I went in there to kind of get a feel for it. And I was particularly interested in the fact that it had to do the brain. So this this connects to these other pieces out. I was writing for Discover. I wanted to understand what they think is going to happen with the brain. And then I wanted to talk to the scientists themselves. I asked them what they think the future of the brain is going to be. 

And so you found that they were not highly credible, but maybe slightly more credible than complete crackpots. Her voice was that was the punchline here. 

Well, you know, I have a say in the piece. 

I mean, I have not. I have not drunk the Kool-Aid. I certainly do not consider myself a member of the singularity. I mean, I think that the people who advocate for the singularity make a fundamental mistake. The mistake they make is thinking that an acceleration in technology equals an acceleration in scientific understanding. And this is not the case. You know, our computers are colossally better now than they were even 10 years ago. But there are still some questions in science that that remain really, really hard to figure out. And, you know, if you look at the predictions that some of these singularity advocates have made about like how cancer was gonna be basically eliminated by now. I mean, they’re just wrong and they’re wrong because they they make this mistake of just assuming that if you just have bigger and better computers and you can sequence DNA faster and do all that stuff faster, that automatically all of the answers just come to you. Cures for cancer. Understand the brain. All those big questions of science. Now, that being said, you know, when I would call side to stop to say, hey, you know, I’m curious what you think about these ideas and similarity. They would not necessarily just laugh and hang up the phone. They’d say they they had a surprisingly complicated view. I mean, a lot of scientists really do think that we’re going to be dealing with something that hard to conceive changes with the brain. So, for example, there are a lot of people who were working on implants that can be surgically placed in the brain and then those implants can detect brain activity and can actually like send in stimuli that you could perceive there. People already have these things. I mean. So, for example, a lot of deaf people get what are called cochlear implants. These are electrodes that are go into the brain and deliver impulses that they can perceive as sound. They’re going to be a lot of those things in the future. The question is, will people start getting them? Just not not because they’re deaf. Because they want to augment their their experience and maybe they want to control machines and computers or maybe they want to perceive the world in new ways. I actually was just reading that Intel is Intel is predicting that people are going to want to have these implants in their heads so that they can play computer games in a more satisfying way. For example, you know, it raises an interesting question, and this is a question that I discussed with some of these scientists. It’s possible that our attitudes about what’s appropriate and inappropriate in terms of technology and the brain are going to change. It’s incredibly common now for college students to be taking drugs to enhance their cognition. And this is actually you know, this is not just, you know, kids who have a serious case of attention deficit disorder or something like that. These are these are kids who are like, oh, I’ve got to study for the test. You know, while I might have had a cup of coffee, I I’ve been taking some Adderall or something like that. There’s a there’s a social shift going on in how people view manipulating the brains. And that shift is actually happening before we know what how effective these these drugs actually are. But it’s still significant because it means that, you know, maybe people will say, yeah, you know, I think I will go for that implant. I mean, just think about Lasik. Think about laser surgery for the eye. I mean, when people first started doing that 20 years, 10 years ago, the idea of having someone point a laser at your eye just to fix your eyes, I think crazy. Now it’s done all the time. So, you know, I don’t think we can eliminate the possibility that we’re going to be walking around with implants in our heads in the future. 

There are a lot of things that I don’t think we can discount. 

That being said, I don’t think we’re going to be uploading our brains into computers in the next 50 years. 

On that note, I want to just remind our listeners that Carl Zimmer’s new e-book, Brain, cutting’s is available through our Web site. Point of inquiry, DOT, Oregon, also on Carl’s Web site. Carl Zimmer, dot com. Carl, as you know, point of inquiry listeners are pretty into scientific and philosophical critiques of religion in one way. All this is heading is potentially at least or people say there’s a big threat to belief. And what I mean is there’s this idea that a grand new battle between science and religion is going to turn on our understanding of the brain. And there are several fronts of that battle. One front would be. Well, you know, we start to understand the brain so well. We realize that, hey, we don’t have freewill. There’s nothing to the brain but matter in this key theological idea of freewill is out the window. And that’s pretty threatening to traditional belief. What do you make of that issue? 

Well, I find the a lot of the debate to be kind of intellectually frustrating because people are talking past each other. 

I can’t really quite figure out what it would take for someone to prove or disprove God or the soul or whatever through neuroscience. When I read these these accounts, I just don’t get it. So, for example, there’s a lot of research, really good research on what happens to the brain when people are having spiritual or religious experiences. Great. That’s interesting. But let’s say that you find, as some people do, you find a certain network in the brain that consistently lights up when people are having a particular kind of religious experience. Now, some people say, aha, you see, this is a sign that we are know biologically prepared by God to contemplate God or to have this religious experience. And then other people will look at that and say hi. You see, this is just this is obviously evidence that we have. Evolved a particular circuit in the brain that just so happened to switch on when people have this religious experience. It’s just in the brain, you know, so they can look at the same evidence and come to different conclusions. So I think the problem with the real problem in these cases is just that the debate has been poorly framed to begin with. I mean, I don’t know when I read those things. I don’t know what people are arguing about either way. I literally don’t. So while I’m really interested in these studies on the neuroscience of religion, I have yet to see things that are really like clearly set out in terms of actually addressing the validity or not of of religion itself. 

I think the issue here is all is going to be a concept described as nothing buttery. I heard that word used by some Anglican theologians who are not extremely religious, certainly are religious, but also are cognitive scientists or psychologists. And they’ll say, you know, it’s one thing to explain some sort of spiritual or religious type thing that seems to be happening in the brain. It’s something else to say that the experience is nothing but that biology or that cognitive basis and will probably never be able to prove that it’s nothing but because that would then go beyond the realm of science. I think that’s what you seem to be saying, right? 

Well, yeah, I guess it’s it’s interesting. I mean, on the one hand, you can’t know that there isn’t something beyond that experience if that something is supernatural. But on the other hand, you have no proof that that something beyond that is there either, if it’s supernatural. I mean, it’s trying to get science to answer questions that I don’t think it’s particularly good at answering. I know there are a lot of people disagree on that point, but that that’s how I see it. 

But I will say that there are certainly cases where people will try to use neuroscience to to make a positive claim for certain religious statements. And I just don’t think they they hold up. For example, I’ve I’ve read some of the writing of Francis Collins, who is the director of the National Institutes of Health, on how he found religion. And he tries to make this case, is that there’s essentially no way that human morality could have evolved. And so since he couldn’t have evolved and therefore, it’s it’s it’s a gift from God, I’m I’m very much paraphrasing what he’s saying. But I think that’s a fair summary of his argument. But in order to say that he had to overlook huge amounts of research in neuroscience or morality in humans and also related kinds of behavior and other primate chimpanzees and other primates do a lot of things that are very much like kind of moral behavior. 

I mean, they have they do have sensitive, quote unquote, right and wrong. And I I think that I don’t see any reason that you couldn’t see an account of how human morality evolved. 

So if that’s if that’s what someone is saying there, there had on this earth, supernatural religious explanation is true because there is no way that human morality could have evolved. And I just don’t think the science is on your side on that. 

Yeah, that sounds like a incredibly dubious argument based upon a lot of things that I’ve read as well. I didn’t actually know that Collins made that argument. But I you know, you’re you’re dismantling of it is certainly a very convincing to me. And it also helps us transition in talking about, you know, besides the brain, a subject on which you written many books over the years, evolution and to some extent, the evolution wars more than the science of evolution. And one thing I’m playing around with in my head, you know, you’re somebody who if you write about evolution, maybe this has to happen. You have to know a great deal biographically in historically about Darwin himself and anecdotes about Darwin’s life or splice throughout your writing. And so I want to ask something about Darwin as a modern figure today. I mean, it seems to me that in some ways he’s becoming at least as big as Einstein, a secular saint. In many ways. I mean, even the creationists kind of grudgingly respect Darwin as a kind of figure. That’s a great grandfather of our culture. Nobody really says anything bad about him, how he’s ascended to this incredible status. And it seems like it’s happened fairly recently. What do you think about that? 

Well, actually, I don’t think. I don’t think it actually has happened recently because bear in mind that he was buried in Westminster Westminster Abbey. I mean, he every day when Darwin died, they took him to the place where all of England’s great heroes were buried. And so even in his own lifetime, he had a huge presence and in. Western culture. But, yeah, you know, it’s certainly in 2009 when the world celebrated his two Rochard birthday. It really did drive home just how big of a shadow he casts on the world today. 

I mean, you just need to show his face with that big beard and beetling brow. And a lot of people are going to know who it is. Maybe he has something to do with famous people and and hair, you know, because obviously everybody knows who Einstein is because of his hair. I don’t know what relationship there is, but but certainly Darwin and Einstein both have huge cultural roles in our lives. But I think it’s been like that for a long time. And I think, you know, I think it mainly it has to do the fact that just as Einstein singlehandedly revolutionized how we think about physics. I mean, obviously, there were other physicists who were playing a pivotal role. But when you think about things like relativity, curvature of space, it was just, you know, science hit. And likewise at Darwin, which is walking around for 20 years thinking and taking notes and so on of an idea that we’re really just about nobody else was thinking about. And then laid it out single handedly in an incredibly powerful document, The Origin of Species. And so you can’t help but associate evolution and all that notes with one person with Darwin. This is a problem, I think, actually, because evolutionary biology today is not Darwin. Darwin didn’t know about DNA. Darwin didn’t know about a lot of things. Darwin came up with a brilliant theory with the evidence that he had at hand. We have lots of other kinds of evidence today and evolutionary biologists have have expanded on Darwin’s theory and all sorts of different directions. So I think it ends up getting people into a lot of trouble because then what would you see again and again and again is that some scientists will be doing some research and it might contradict something that you can find in Darwin’s writings. So, for example, Darwin speculated that life branched like a tree so that species would split apart like like a branching process and then new species would split again. And some of those branches would go extinct. Basically, he was arguing that that you could think of the history of life with a tree. And now it turns out that a lot of genes have flowed between different species over billions of years. They haven’t been just handed down from parents to offspring, but they’ve been shuttling around between different species. They can kind of think of that as sort of webs in the tree, as it were. If you want to mature metaphors. So there’s still a tree and the tree of life. But there’s also a web, unfortunately. Then people will throw headlines on this like, you know, Darwin was wrong then. That leaves people with this idea that, oh, OK, well, Darwin had this idea. Evolution. And now I see Darwin is wrong. Ergo, there is no evolution. Good. And go home now. And we literally saw these kinds of headlines being waved around in Texas that meetings of the state board of Education, where they were trying to push in creationist friendly teaching, and they would say, well, what’s the big deal about evolution? Look, here I have this article that says Darwin was wrong. So I think actually, the more we can fight against the the iconography of Darwin, the better. He’s a fascinating person, but there’s life beyond Darwin. 

That should be a T-shirt or bumper sticker or something. Yeah. Based on all your writings on this topic, which are incredibly extensive, you know, and you are certainly aware of the politics as well as the science. I mean, what’s your feeling at the end of the day? Do we make progress in the evolution wars or do we just sort of chase our tails? I mean, the polling figures remain static over decades. How do you feel about the trajectory of it? 

The polling does stay pretty static. It’s true. And so I think we have to we have to acknowledge that. That being said, I spend a lot of time writing articles about evolution and I keep getting editors calling me saying, would you write about this? Or you’re right about that. And it is vastly more assignments that I could write and actually have time to write. There’s a huge amount of articles and books about evolution on their television shows and so on. So while I think there’s going to be a controversy, a puppet of political or social controversy for a long time to come, I think that is going to be in a lot of opportunity to learn about evolution. And I do think that for a lot of people, there’s there’s a huge curiosity about it. So what I do is I try to feed that curiosity and try to. Fostered it by showing some of the latest developments in evolution, whether it’s the evolution of the brain or the evolution of birds or what have you. This is fantastic, grand unfolding story. So I guess that’s the kind of thing that gives me some optimism for the future. 

Let me again remind our listeners that Carl Zimmer’s new book, Brain, cutting’s is available through our Web site, Poonam Inquiry dot org. And on his Web site, Carl Zimmer dot com, just sort of inc, including a lot of this discussion about evolution leads to an area where I know you and I differ at least somewhat because we’ve done blogging heads and had this discussion before. You know, I’ve always argued we need better communication, better political strategies to deal with these issues. You argue fundamentally we need better education. 

Yeah, I. I do think that it really comes down to education. The reason I say that is, is that, you know, I, as a science writer can really only do so much. And I think that all science writers can really only do so much in terms of helping people that understand the latest discoveries in science and how science works. I think that we just don’t have the opportunity to really teach people. I mean, teaching involves more than just delivering a summary of recent research. Teaching involves good teaching. Science involves a hands on experience that lets you understand how science is done. But it’s that it’s a process that it’s not like pulling away a curtain to just reveal some fixed truth. And I think that the only real way to do that, to get that across is through education and grade school and high school. And I think it’s quite clear that our science education in this country is in a lot of trouble and that, you know, you have teachers who were not particularly well-trained in teaching science classes and learned a lot of cases you cite as being scrimped away because there’s a lot of teaching for the test, whether that’s a test for reading or math. So that’s where the real problems are. I mean, there’s no end of stuff that you can read. I mean, I don’t think we have a shortage of science writing honestly. And so we really need to work on that shortage of good science education. 

And hopefully, maybe that means, in part, feeding some of your science, writing back into the classroom and the use of the new technologies in order to communicate that well will facilitate it. So on that note, Carl Zimmer, it’s been great to have you as a guest on Point of Inquiry. 

Thanks. Has been good talking to you. Chris. 

I want to thank you for listening to this episode of Point of Inquiry to get involved in a discussion about Carl Zimmer’s new book, Brain Cutting’s. Be sure to visit our online forums by going to center for inquiry dot net slash forums, then clicking on point of inquiry. The views expressed on point of inquiry aren’t necessarily the views of the Center for Inquiry, nor of its affiliated organizations. Questions and comments on today’s show can be sent to feedback at point of inquiry dot org. 

Inquiry is produced by Atomizing and AMR’s New York, and our music is composed by Emmy Award winning Michael Waylan. They show also featured contributions from Debbie Goddard. I’m your host, Chris Mooney. 

Chris Mooney