access to ideas


Podcast Profile: The Big Idea

podcast imageTwitter: @DavidEdmonds100 (followed by 328 philosophers)
Site: www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p066vz7p
42 episodes
2018 to 2020
Average episode: 10 minutes
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Categories: Broadcast Radio Programs • Philosophy+/Philosophyish/Ideas/Etc. • Story/Narrative-Style

Podcaster's summary: What are the big ideas shaping our world now?

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List Updated: 2023-Mar-24 12:17 UTC. Episodes: 42. Feedback: @TrueSciPhi.

2020-Dec-19 • 12 minutes
Fighting pandemics
The 2020 pandemic has transformed our world, but it won’t be the last to do so. How should we prepare for the future? Along with one of the world’s leading epidemiologists, David Edmonds explores the science of pandemics – and why it is so uncertain.
2020-Dec-12 • 11 minutes
The science of addiction
Some people are addicted to drugs, others to alcohol. Addicts often crave a substance, and yet when they inject or consume it, it doesn’t bring them any pleasure. David Edmonds finds out how humans can want something, but not like it.
2020-Dec-05 • 12 minutes
The new normal
Love him or loathe him, we can all agree that Donald Trump is not a ‘normal’ President. Previous presidents would never behave like President Trump. Is the abnormal becoming normal? And how can we tackle people who say uncomfortable things?
2020-Nov-28 • 10 minutes
Do cities need rules?
Have you ever thought that your city is too regulated? Or that the city you live in doesn’t do enough to police people who break the rules? In this episode, David Edmonds has been speaking to Michele Gelfand, a psychologist whose research on rule makers and rule breakers could change the way we think about our cities. We’ll find out why you might be able to tell the time better in a city that's like Switzerland; why Japanese police officers reportedly egged people on to commit more crimes; and why living in...
2020-Nov-21 • 15 minutes
The science of sleep
We spend around a third of our lives asleep, but the reason we sleep is still something of a mystery. Could it be the biggest mistake the evolutionary process has ever made? What does sleep actually do for us? David Edmonds meets Matthew Walker, one of the world’s leading sleep scientists, to discuss some of his findings. We’ll hear about how the clocks going back has an effect on heart attack rates, and consider why, if you’re struggling to sleep, the worst thing you could do would be to stay in bed.
2020-Nov-14 • 12 minutes
The importance of fairness
Ernst Fehr is well named: he’s an economist who writes about fairness. In fact, until his pioneering work, economists had been dismissive about whether fairness was a subject worthy of study. Now some have tipped Fehr to win a Nobel Prize. David Edmonds speaks to him about why it pays to be fair, and why people are less selfish than you think. Presented by David Edmonds Produced by Robbie Wojciechowski for the BBC World Service
2020-Nov-07 • 12 minutes
How do we spot rogue cops?
David Edmonds speaks to a leading criminologist who says we can do much better in identifying rogue cops before they act. Produced by Robbie Wojciechowski for the BBC World Service.
2020-Oct-31 • 13 minutes
Understanding emotions: Should we follow our hearts?
Watching a scary movie, you feel scared. But how do our brain and body work together to tell us about our emotions? A brilliant young scientist has been finding out why the art of interoception could help us better manage our emotions.
2020-Oct-24 • 15 minutes
Every time you book a journey from an app like Uber, you’ll be providing the company with data - and making one man in Chicago very happy. He’s an economist who’s been examining the data, and his findings are fascinating.
2020-Oct-17 • 14 minutes
Why living in the city could make you happier
Why is more than half the world’s population living in cities? Why are some more successful than others? And what is their future post-pandemic? David Edmonds searches for answers to these questions and more with the world’s foremost economist on cities.
2020-Oct-10 • 13 minutes
Why do we find things disgusting?
There are some things - cockroaches, poo, wounds - that most of us find disgusting. But is disgust useful? Can our sense of disgust be misused? We ask an academic who describes herself as a ‘disgustologist’. Since recording this programme, Professor Val Curtis has passed away.
2020-Oct-03 • 10 minutes
The fragility of choice
Do you know why you believe what you believe? Why you are left or right wing, say, or why you find another person attractive? You probably think you do, but we’ll be explaining why you shouldn’t be so confident.
2020-Sep-26 • 10 minutes
The truth about marriage
When most couples get married they’re optimistic that their union won’t end in divorce. The statistics show this to be hopelessly naive. But we’ll be talking to a philosopher who argues that irrational optimism is…well, rational.
2020-Sep-19 • 10 minutes
How to topple a dictator
Suppose a country is ruled by a dictator. Suppose many people want to topple the dictator. What’s the best way of doing it – a campaign of violence or non-violence? There’s an academic from Harvard who has the answer. Picture: Romanian waving flag over Bucharest Square Picture Credit: Peter Turnley/Corbis Historical/Getty
2020-Sep-12 • 11 minutes
Why do we laugh?
There are thousands of academic papers about depression. There are, in comparison, virtually none about laughter. We’ve been talking to a leading expert on laughter – who argues that we should take it more seriously. Picture Credit: Tim Robberts/Getty
2018-Sep-23 • 9 minutes
The Afterlife
Suppose you knew that after your natural death the human race would die out – perhaps, for some reason, humans had become infertile. How would that alter how you live your life? How would it change your attitude to the ideas and projects to which you are currently committed? This thought experiment is posed by American philosopher Samuel Scheffler. He believes that in this scenario, most of what currently gives our life significance would come to feel meaningless. This leads him to conclude that we care dee...
2018-Sep-16 • 9 minutes
Why Are Some Nations Rich?
Some countries, like Norway, are rich. Other countries, like Niger, are poor. Why? Why do some countries succeed whilst others fail? There are various possible theories. Some say that certain countries have geographical or resource advantages. Others claim that the real explanation is cultural – in some cultures, it’s said, there’s a stronger work ethic than in others. But the distinguished economist James Robinson, co-author of Why Nations Fail, proposes an alternative answer. He says it’s all to do with h...
2018-Sep-09 • 10 minutes
How does language work?
Humans are a unique species in many ways, but an important one is that we communicate with sophisticated language, using words and grammar. So how does language work? Is there a single mechanism in the brain, or multiple mechanisms? Is it useful to learn a second language – what are the cognitive advantages to being bilingual? Cathy Price is a neuroscientist and a leading expert in language. Presenter David Edmonds Producer Ben Cooper Image: A man delivering a speech (Credit: BBC)
2018-Sep-02 • 9 minutes
A Future Without Doctors?
Can you imagine a future without doctors? We’re in the midst of a robotics and Artificial Intelligence revolution. Many jobs humans currently do will in future be carried out by machine? But what about those in the medical profession? AI will be of assistance, but surely we’ll always need surgeons, doctors, and nurses? Well, the Oxford University economist Daniel Susskind is not so sure. He believes that many of the tasks currently carried out by doctors will soon be performed by machine. So can doctors sur...
2018-Aug-26 • 9 minutes
The Intelligent Tree
Are trees intelligent? We think of humans as intelligent – maybe animals too. But vegetation? Well, one of the world’s leading tree researchers, Suzanne Simard, insists that trees should be seen as intelligent. They communicate with each other. They help each other. They are even able to distinguish between their offspring and stranger trees. She calls the network of tree communication the wood wide web. And she believes that her discoveries should alter our relationship to trees, woods and forests. ...
2018-Aug-19 • 11 minutes
Consciousness: A Strange Theory
Is consciousness everywhere? Human consciousness - our subjective experience - remains a mystery. How is it that we can smell coffee and feel the touch of a flower? How does the brain produce consciousness? Well, one of the world’s top philosophers, David Chalmers, has a suggestion. Perhaps consciousness exists everywhere, in some form; perhaps it exists in every subatomic particle – the particles that make up not just humans, but tables and chairs. It sounds completely wacky, but Professor Chalmers explain...
2018-Aug-12 • 11 minutes
The Teenage Brain
Teenagers are an alien species. Well, that’s not exactly the conclusion of Sarah-Jayne Blakemore’s research, but it’s a crude summary. Professor Blakemore is a leading neuroscientist who studies the teenage brain. When humans enter adolescence their brains, as well as their bodies, go through a period of transformation. And, during this period their behaviour alters. They become more risk-taking for example, and more acutely conscious of how they’re perceived by others. Professor Blakemore even has a...
2018-Aug-05 • 9 minutes
How To Stop Murder
How can we reduce murder rates? Homicide is frequent in some countries, rare in others. The countries in which the homicide rate is very high include El Salvador and Honduras. The countries in which the murder rate is very low include Japan and Norway. The homicide rate in El Salvador is 100 times worse than the homicide rate in Norway. So what explains this extraordinary difference? Susanne Karstedt is a German-born criminologist who researches homicide around the world. She offers a surprising answer. Pre...
2018-Jul-29 • 9 minutes
Democracy and Famine
What is the cause of famine? The obvious answer is shortage of food. But, says the Nobel-prize winning economist Amartya Sen that misses a vital point. In his research on famines, he showed that there’s usually enough food to go around – it just doesn’t reach the people who need it. Often that’s because news of food scarcity hasn’t been widely publicised. In democracies people don’t starve to death, he says, because there’s always pressure on the politicians to alleviate suffering. Presenter Davi...
2018-Jul-22 • 11 minutes
Dimensions of Discrimination
Do black woman face more prejudice than black men or white women? The legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw introduced a new way of thinking about disadvantage in society. She called it ‘intersectionality’. It attempts to analyze how different forms of marginalization – race, class, gender and so on – overlap. And it has been hugely influential on those academics and policy makers who deal with the nature and impact of discrimination. Presenter David Edmonds
2018-Jul-15 • 10 minutes
Inequality Makes Us Anxious
Inequality makes people anxious. How? Well, according to Kate Pickett, in unequal societies we become more conscious of our position in society, more aware of our status. That creates anxiety. And that in turn is linked to all sorts of bad outcomes, such as obesity, lower life-expectancy, and higher levels of teenage pregnancy. It’s also linked, claims Professor Pickett, to consumerism. In unequal societies, she says, we’re more likely to want the branded watch or handbag. Then, as you’ll hear, there’s the ...
2018-Jul-08 • 12 minutes
Are We All Racist?
Are we all racist? Harvard professor Mahzarin Banaji is the architect of what is arguably psychology’s most influential experiment. It’s called the Implicit Association Test (the IAT) and it has been taken millions and millions of times. It purports to be a measure of our unconscious bias towards various groups – e.g. blacks, women, the old or the disabled. Most people taking the IAT do exhibit some kind of bias. That leads to two questions – how worried should we be at these implicit attitudes, and w...
2018-Jul-01 • 11 minutes
The New Distrust
In an era of fake news, are we living through a crisis in trust? Without trust society couldn’t function. We need to know that individuals and organizations are competent and reliable, that they’re not corrupt and that they’ll honour their word. But now we have digital manipulation, allegations of fabricated news stories and ubiquitous social media spewing out much that is bogus and emotionally manipulative. What, then, can be done to counter these developments? And how much of a threat do they pose to...
2018-Jun-24 • 9 minutes
Contact Theory
How do you stop different groups hating each other? Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland. Palestinians and Jews in the Middle East. Muslims and Hindus in India. Is building walls between them the solution? According to Miles Hewstone, of Oxford University, what’s really needed is contact – the more you are exposed to people in another group, the less you distrust and fear them. Presented by David Edmonds (Image: doves, Credit: Shutterstock)
2018-Jun-17 • 10 minutes
Economics and Mosquito Nets
What’s the best way of persuading parents in developing countries to immunize their kids? Do women politicians make a difference to what policies are pursued? If you want to reduce malaria is it best to give people mosquito nets for free or make them pay? The influential economist Esther Duflo has revolutionised the way we answer these questions. The secret is to introduce RCTs - Randomized Control Trials. Producer: Dave Edmonds (Image: Nurse with Needle, Credit: Shutterstock)
2018-Jun-10 • 10 minutes
Memory Wars
Many criminal court cases rest on eye-witness accounts of what happened. There’s a problem though. Elizabeth Loftus – one of the world’s most influential psychologists – has shown in numerous experiments that memory is not nearly as reliable as we once believed. It is easy to alter memories. It’s even quite easy to implant entirely false memories – making people believe they remember something which never occurred. Presented by David Edmonds (Photo: Brain and eraser, Credit: Shutterstock)
2018-Jun-03 • 9 minutes
A World Without Livestock?
What is the biggest cause of climate change? According to biomedical researcher Pat Brown it’s an extremely inefficient technology – aka cows. Maintaining livestock is hugely expensive. It produces greenhouse gases. And it takes up much of the land we use on the planet. So what’s the solution? Professor Brown believes it’s the creation of a new meat – meat which is made without animal flesh. Presented by David Edmonds (Image: Cow, Credit: Shutterstock)
2018-May-27 • 9 minutes
Outrage and Moral Conscience
Why is there so much outrage on social media? And what does this have to do with our moral conscience? Molly Crockett is a neuroscientist who runs her own lab at Yale University. She believes that concern about reputation may explain both the operation of our conscience and our frequent expressions of indignation. Presented by David Edmonds (Image: Flaming fists, Credit: Shutterstock)
2018-May-20 • 9 minutes
A great advantage of the internet and social media is that they allow us to keep in touch with all our friends, even when they move away. That means our group of friends can carry on expanding indefinitely. Except, says anthropologist Robin Dunbar, it can’t. There’s a limit to the number of friends we can have. It is known as Dunbar’s number. Presented by David Edmonds (Image: Group of friends, Credit: Shutterstock)
2018-May-19 • 9 minutes
Baby Boffins
Babies know little and learn slowly. Right? Not according to child psychologist Alison Gopnik. She has spent decades investigating the extraordinary talents and abilities of babies and young children. Her conclusion: they’re much smarter than you might think. The presenter is David Edmonds (Image: Clever Baby, Credit: Shutterstock)
2018-May-17 • 9 minutes
One day – and Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom believes it may not be far away – computers could become super-intelligent. At that stage they’ll far surpass human intelligence. They may be able to solve our most intractable problems – like find a cure for every disease. But will we be able to control these computers – or will they control us? David Edmonds presents (Image: Computer code, Credit: Shutterstock)
2018-May-16 • 9 minutes
Social Physics
Professor Sandy Pentland is the modern pioneer of what’s called ‘Social Physics’ - the analysis of human interactions using so called Big Data. Mining data - from credit cards, electronic ticketing and mobile phones - we can now take a reading of the city, its pulse. Sandy Pentland tells us why some cities are richer and more successful than others. Presented by David Edmonds (Image: Busy city scene at night, Credit: Getty Images)
2018-May-15 • 9 minutes
The Growth Mindset
The Growth Mind Set. Is there such a thing as innate talent? Possibly. We’re not all capable of winning a Nobel physics prize. But according to Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck children who believe that talent is fixed do worse at school. For kids to succeed, they need what she calls ‘a growth mindset’. Her theories have had an enormous influence on education around the world. Presented by David Edmonds (Image: Children in classroom, Credit: Shutterstock)
2018-May-14 • 9 minutes
Can our experiences be passed down biologically to our children and grandchildren? Quite a thought given for a long time now the orthodoxy has been that our traits are transmitted through our genes meaning that how your father or mother behaves can’t affect your biology. However, this evolutionary theory may itself be evolving. In one study, mice who were psychologically stressed, seemed to pass on this stress to their descendants. It’s controversial, but Professor Eva Jablonka argues, that the impact of w...
2018-May-13 • 9 minutes
Future Gazing
We’re used to seeing political pundits on our television screens predicting future events – who will win an election, whether a war or social unrest might break out, whether an international treaty will be signed. How accurate are these forecasts? Well, this is something Philip Tetlock has studied, and it turns out, not very. And oddly, the more famous the pundit, he says, the worse their predictive record. Presented by David Edmonds (Image: Crystal ball, Credit: Shutterstock)
2018-May-12 • 11 minutes
Monkey Money
What can monkeys tell us about the stock market? Apes and monkeys are our closest animal relatives. We share a common evolutionary history. Through studying them, Laurie Santos believes we can learn a bit about ourselves and our attitude to money. Laurie Santos has taught monkeys to use money (or tokens). And it turns out that in experiments, monkeys make some ‘financial’ decisions which are remarkably similar to those made by humans. This may explain why we humans keep facing financial crises! Present...
2018-May-11 • 2 minutes
The Big Preview: The Big Idea
The search for the most interesting ideas around - ideas which are shaping our understanding of the world and our place within it. Written and presented by David Edmonds, who will be talking to leading thinkers from fields such as economics, psychology, neuroscience, philosophy and anthropology.