The question may seem simple to answer: You are the citizen of a country, the resident of a city, the child of particular parents, the sibling (or not) of brothers and sisters, the parent (or not) of children, and so on. And you might further answer the question by invoking a personality, an identity: You're outgoing. You're politically liberal. You're Catholic. Going further still, you might bring up your history, your memories: You came from a place, where events happened to you. And those helped make you who you are.
Such are some of the off-the-cuff ways in which we explain ourselves. The scientific answer to the question above, however, is starting to look radically different. Last year, New Scientist magazine even ran a cover article titled, "The Great Illusion of the Self," drawing on the findings of modern neuroscience to challenge the very idea that we have seamless, continuous, consistent identities. "Under scrutiny, many common-sense beliefs about selfhood begin to unravel," declared the magazine. "Some thinkers even go so far as claiming that there is no such thing as the self."
What's going on here? When it comes to understanding this new and very personal field of science, it's hard to think of a more apt guide than Jennifer Ouellette, author of the new book Me, Myself, and Why: Searching for the Science of Self. Not only is Ouellette a celebrated science writer; she also happens to have been adopted, a fact that makes her life a kind of natural experiment in the relative roles of genes and the environment in determining our identities. The self, explains Ouellette on the latest episode of the Inquiring Minds podcast (stream above), is "a miracle of integration. And we haven't figured it out, but the science that is trying to figure it out is absolutely fascinating."
The question of whether the self could be said to exist at all is just one of the major scientific questions that Ouellette takes on in her new book. Nearly as thorny is the question of what actually gives you your (apparent) identity in the first place. You might think of the two issues in this way: For modern science, the question is not just who we are, but also, if we are.
To determine who she is, Ouellette naturally started with her genes. Fortunately for the book (and perhaps for her), she was able to get her genome analyzed by the genetic testing company 23andMe before the Food and Drug Administration stepped in late last year to challenge its provision of health-related genetic analyses. In response, 23andMe stated in December that it would now only offer raw genetic data and ancestry information, while it awaits FDA approval for health-related products. In the meantime, Ouelette defends what she received from the company: "They're very careful, I found, in their results, telling you that this basically just gives you a sense of what risk factors might be," Ouellette says. "I never had a sense that it was an oracle in any way. They actually linked to relevant papers, they ranked how valid the studies were, if they were preliminary, if they were very robust with a high sample size.”
From this inquiry, Ouellette learned that she might have a somewhat elevated risk of Type 1 diabetes, but also a lower than average risk of Alzheimer's. But it is crucial to bear in mind that all of these risks are relatively slight and merely statistical in nature. For instance, Ouellette's chance of getting Alzheimer's, based on this analysis, is only 4.9 percent, compared with a 7.1 percent chance for members of the general population. Which underscores one of the key through lines of the book: Your genes are very important, but they are far from everything.
In fact, although you wouldn't know it from a conventional wisdom that endlessly pits "nature" and "nurture" against each other, the two aren't actually opposed at all. Every expert Ouellette spoke with for the book agreed with this: Genes and environmental factors work together to make us who we are, meaning that setting them in opposition to one another is simply misinformed. "That's kind of empowering," Ouellette says, "because I think that sometimes we get caught up in things like genetic determinism. Genes are very, very important, and they certainly do impose constraints, but there's also a very strong sense in which we have a lot of role in shaping how we are perceived and who we think we are."
To see this, consider the ultimate repository of everything that we are: the so-called "connectome," which is defined as the sum total of all the connections between the hundreds of billions of nerve cells, or neurons, in our brains. Genes shape many aspects of how our brains form and develop—how the connectome gets wired—and, accordingly, research repeatedly shows that major behavioral traits like personality are partly inherited. But at the same time, your life experiences also change the connectome daily. "Everything that we do changes who we think we are," says Ouellette. One scientist interviewed in Ouellette's book calls the connectome "where nature meets nurture."
Needless to say, the science of mapping the human connectome is currently in its infancy. There are an estimated 100 billion neurons in the human brain, and as for the connections between them? Sheesh. There may be as many as 100 trillion synapses, or spaces where these neurons exchange information. So far, only one connectome has been mapped, and that was for a much simpler organism—the microscopic roundworm, or nematode. "It took them 10 years just to get the nematode," says Ouellette, "and the nematode only has 302 neurons."
Out of this unimaginable complexity emerges the self as we think we know it—and scientists have identified many of the component parts. For instance, there are specific brain regions associated with recognizing yourself in the mirror, feeling that you're in your own body, feeling that your body begins and ends somewhere, and recognizing where you are in space. So how then can anyone argue that there is not actually such a thing as a self?
Much depends on what you mean by the "self" in the first place. If you think of yourself as an essence—something you'd describe with adjectives like "unified," "continuous," and "unchanging"—well, science has some bad news for you. New Scientist, for instance, cites an array of neuroscience experiments showing how easy it is to make us believe we are outside of our bodies, or that we're in the body of a mannequin, or that a rubber hand on a table is our hand…and much else. The hand experiment is particularly disturbing. Watch it:
In other words, while you tend to think of your body as a self-contained entity, and to believe there are clear lines of demarcation between your body and other bodies, there are quirks in the brain that allow this sense to break down. And dropping acid—another self-experiment that Ouellette undertook for the book—further undermines this assumption. "I dropped acid, and you get disembodied," Ouellette says. "The acid actually messes with those parts of the brain, the ability to distinguish between self and other."
And then on top of that, there are all the problems associated with memory. We would all surely agree that our memories comprise a central part of who we are, yet an array of psychological interventions can cause us to think we made choices we didn't make, remember things that didn't actually happen to us, and so on. "Every time we remember something, we are rebuilding it," Ouellette says. "We're not actually remembering what happened, we're remembering what happened the last time we remembered it. And as a result, we embellish; little bits and details get changed." Memory is also culturally determined: Research has shown, for instance, that Americans tend to retain a particular type of memory, focusing on events that are more personal and individual. In China, by contrast, events of grand cultural or historical significance are more likely to be remembered.
Ouellette's conclusion from all of this, therefore, is that while it would be going too far to say there is no such thing as the self at all, our understanding of what the self actually is must be dramatically revised. "It's not right to say it's an illusion," she says, "but it is a construct. But it's not what you think it is." More specifically, Ouellette ultimately concludes that the self is an emergent property of the billions of neurons of our brain all interacting with one another. What's emergence? "A system in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts," writes Ouellette.
"A traffic jam is emergent," she explains. "You have all these cars interacting. If it gets dense enough, enough interactions, you're going to get a traffic jam. But that traffic jam is real." It is more than the sum of all its cars. Something similar goes for the self.
This also means the self is very fragile. Damage the brain or cease its function, and the self may dissipate. Die, of course, and the story is the same. "I expected people to object more to my take on what happens to your conscious self after you die," Ouellette confesses. "Because I basically say there is no soul. Or rather, your soul is this conscious thing that is emergent, and once all that activity that leads to the emergent phenomenon disappears, so does that, it's gone."
The good news, though, is that during the time we have, all the science that Ouellette relied upon to learn about her own self—genome and brain scans, personality tests, and even virtual identities—can only get better, and better, and better. The next few decades are going to be a great time to get to know yourself. You just have to be clear about what that actually means.
To listen to the full podcast interview with Jennifer Ouellette, you can stream below:
This episode of Inquiring Minds, a podcast hosted by neuroscientist and musician Indre Viskontas and best-selling author Chris Mooney, also features a discussion of the recent discovery of a 30,000-year-old "giant virus" frozen in Arctic ice, and about a case currently before the Supreme Court that turns on how we determine, scientifically, who is intellectually disabled.
To catch future shows right when they are released, subscribe to Inquiring Minds viaiTunes or RSS. We are also available on Stitcher and on Swell. You can follow the show on Twitter at @inquiringshow and like us on Facebook. Inquiring Minds was also recently singled out as one of the “Best of 2013" on iTunes—you can learn more here.
On Monday, I reported on the latest study to take a bite out of the idea of human rationality. In a paper just published in Pediatrics, Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth University and his colleagues showed that presenting people with information confirming the safety of vaccines triggered a "backfire effect," in which people who already distrusted vaccines actually became less likely to say they would vaccinate their kids.
Unfortunately, this is hardly the only example of such a frustrating response being documented by researchers. Nyhan and his coauthor, Jason Reifler of the University of Exeter, have captured several others, as have other researchers. Here are some examples:
1. Tax cuts increase revenue? In a 2010 study, Nyhan and Reifler asked people to read a fake newspaper article containing a real quotation of George W. Bush, in which the former president asserted that his tax cuts "helped increase revenues to the Treasury." In some versions of the article, this false claim was then debunked by economic evidence: A correction appended to the end of the article stated that in fact, the Bush tax cuts "were followed by an unprecedented three-year decline in nominal tax revenues, from $2 trillion in 2000 to $1.8 trillion in 2003." The study found that conservatives who read the correction were twice as likely to believe Bush's claim was true as were conservatives who did not read the correction.
2. Death panels! Another notorious political falsehood is Sarah Palin's claim that Obamacare would create "death panels." To test whether they could undo the damage caused by this highly influential morsel of misinformation, Nyhan and his colleagues had study subjects read an article about the "death panels" claim, which in some cases ended with a factual correction explaining that "nonpartisan health care experts have concluded that Palin is wrong." Among survey respondents who were very pro-Palin and who had a high level of political knowledge, the correction actually made them more likely to wrongly embrace the false "death panels" theory.
3. Obama is a Muslim! And if that's still not enough, yet another Nyhan and Reifler study examined the persistence of the "President Obama is a Muslim" myth. In this case, respondents watched a video of President Obama denying that he is a Muslim or even stating affirmatively, "I am a Christian." Once again, the correction—uttered in this case by the president himself—often backfired in the study, making belief in the falsehood that Obama is a Muslim worse among certain study participants. What's more, the backfire effect was particularly notable when the researchers administering the study were white. When they were nonwhite, subjects were more willing to change their minds, an effect the researchers explained by noting that "social desirability concerns may affect how respondents behave when asked about sensitive topics." In other words, in the company of someone from a different race than their own, people tend to shift their responses based upon what they think that person's worldview might be.
4. The alleged Iraq-Al Qaeda link. In a 2009 study, Monica Prasad of Northwestern University and her colleagues directly challenged Republican partisans about their false belief that Iraq and Al Qaeda collaborated in the 9/11 attacks, a common charge during the Bush years. The so-called challenge interviews included citing the findings of the 9/11 Commission and even a statement by George W. Bush, asserting that his administration had "never said that the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated between Saddam and Al Qaeda." Despite these facts, only 1 out of 49 partisans changed his or her mind after the factual correction. Forty-one of the partisans "deflected" the information in a variety of ways, and seven actually denied holding the belief in the first place (although they clearly had).
5. Global warming. On the climate issue, there does not appear to be any study that clearly documents a backfire effect. However, in a 2011 study, researchers at American and Ohio State universities found a closely related "boomerang effect." In the experiment, research subjects from upstate New York read news articles about how climate change might increase the spread of West Nile Virus, which were accompanied by the pictures of the faces of farmers who might be affected. But in one case, the people were said to be farmers in upstate New York (in other words, victims who were quite socially similar to the research subjects); in the other, they were described as farmers from either Georgia or from France (much more distant victims). The intent of the article was to raise concern about the health consequences of climate change, but when Republicans read the article about the more distant farmers, their support for action on climate change decreased, a pattern that was stronger as their Republican partisanship increased. (When Republicans read about the proximate New York farmers, there was no boomerang effect, but they did not become more supportive of climate action either.)
Together, all of these studies support the theory of "motivated reasoning": The idea that our prior beliefs, commitments, and emotions drive our responses to new information, such that when we are faced with facts that deeply challenge these commitments, we fight back against them to defend our identities. So next time you feel the urge to argue back against some idiot on the internet…pause, take a deep breath, and realize not only that arguing might not do any good, but that in fact, it might very well backfire.
Vaccine denial is dangerous. We know this for many reasons, but just consider one of them: In California in 2010, 10 children died in a whooping cough outbreak that was later linked, in part, to the presence of 39 separate clusters of unvaccinated children in the state. It's that simple: When too many children go unvaccinated, vaccine-preventable diseases spread more easily, and sometimes children die. Nonetheless, as scientifically unfounded fears about childhood vaccines causing autism have proliferated over the past decade or more, a minority of parents are turning to "personal belief exemptions," so-called "alternative vaccine schedules," and other ways to dodge or delay vaccinating their kids.
So as a rational person, you might think it would be of the utmost importance to try to talk some sense into these people. But there's a problem: According to a major new study in the journal Pediatrics, trying to do so may actually make the problem worse. The paper tested the effectiveness of four separate pro-vaccine messages, three of which were based very closely on how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) itself talks about vaccines. The results can only be called grim: Not a single one of the messages was successful when it came to increasing parents' professed intent to vaccinate their children. And in several cases the messages actually backfired, either increasing the ill-founded belief that vaccines cause autism or even, in one case, apparently reducing parents' intent to vaccinate.
The study, by political scientist Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth College* and three colleagues, adds to a large body of frustrating research on how hard it is to correct false information and get people to accept indisputable facts. Nyhan and one of his coauthors, Jason Reifler of the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, are actually the coauthors of a much discussed previous study showing that when politically conservative test subjects read a fake newspaper article containing a quotation of George W. Bush asserting that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, followed by a factual correction stating that this was not actually true, they believed Bush's falsehood more strongly afterwards—an outcome that Nyhan and Reifler dubbed a "backfire effect."
Unfortunately, the vaccine issue is prime terrain for such biased and motivated reasoning; recent research even suggests that a conspiratorial, paranoid mindset prevails among some vaccine rejectionists. To try to figure out how to persuade them, in the new study researchers surveyed a representative sample of 1,759 Americans with at least one child living in their home. A first phase of the study determined their beliefs about vaccines; then, in a follow-up, respondents were asked to consider one of four messages (or a control message) about vaccine effectiveness and the importance of kids getting the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine.
The first message, dubbed "Autism correction," was a factual, science-heavy correction of false claims that the MMR vaccine causes autism, assuring parents that the vaccine is "safe and effective" and citing multiple studies that disprove claims of an autism link. The second message, dubbed "Disease risks," simply listed the many risks of contracting the measles, the mumps, or rubella, describing the nasty complications that can come with these diseases. The third message, dubbed "Disease narrative," told a "true story" about a 10-month-old whose temperature shot up to a terrifying 106 degrees after he contracted measles from another child in a pediatrician's waiting room.
Child with measles CDC/llinois Department of Public Health
All three of these messages are closely based on messages (here, here, and here) that appear on the CDC website. And then there was a final message that was not directly based on CDC communications, dubbed "Disease images." In this case, as a way of emphasizing the importance of vaccines, test subjects were asked to examine three fairly disturbing images of children afflicted with measles, mumps, and rubella. One of those images used is at right.
The results showed that by far, the least successful messages were "Disease narrative" and "Disease images." Hearing the frightening narrative actually increased respondents' likelihood of thinking that getting the MMR vaccine will cause serious side effects, from 7.7 percent to 13.8 percent. Similarly, looking at the disturbing images increased test subjects' belief that vaccines cause autism. In other words, both of these messages backfired.
Why did that happen? Dartmouth's Nyhan isn't sure, but he comments that "if people read about or see sick children, it may be easier to imagine other kinds of health risks to children, including possibly side effects of vaccines that are actually quite rare." (When it comes to side effects, Nyhan is referring not to autism but to the small minority of cases in which vaccines cause adverse reactions.)
The two more straightforward text-only messages, "Austism correction" and "Disease risks," had more mixed effects. "Disease risks" didn't cause any harm, but it didn't really produce any benefits either.
As for "Autism correction," it actually worked, among survey respondents as a whole, to somewhat reduce belief in the falsehood that vaccines cause autism. But at the same time, the message had an unexpected negative effect, decreasing the percentage of parents saying that they would be likely to vaccinate their children.
Looking more closely, the researchers found that this occurred because of a strong backfire effect among the minority of test subjects who were the most distrustful of vaccines. In this group, the likelihood of saying they would give their kids the MMR vaccine decreased to 45 percent (versus 70 percent in the control group) after they received factual, scientific information debunking the vaccines-autism link. Indeed, the study therefore concluded that "no intervention increased intent to vaccinate among parents who are the least favorable toward vaccines."
Nyhan carefully emphasizes that the study cannot say anything about the effectiveness of other possible messages beyond the ones that were tested. So there may be winners out there that simply weren't in the experiment—although as Nyhan added, "I don't have a good candidate." In any event, given results like these, any new messages ought to be tested as well.
"I don't think our results imply that they shouldn't communicate why vaccines are a good idea," adds Nyhan. "But they do suggest that we should be more careful to test the messages that we use, and to question the intuition that countering misinformation is likely to be the most effective strategy."
Finally, Nyhan adds that in order to protect public health by encouraging widespread vaccinations, public communication efforts aren't the only tools at our disposal. "Other policy measures might be more effective," he notes. For instance, recently we reported on how easy it is for parents to dodge getting their kids vaccinated in some states; in some cases, it requires little more than a onetime signature on a form. Tightening these policies might be considerably more helpful than trying to win hearts and minds. That wasn't really working out anyway, and thanks to the new study, we now know that vaccine deniers' imperviousness to facts may be a key part of the reason why.
* This article previously referred to Dartmouth College as Dartmouth University. We regret the error.
This morning, everybody is talking about Matthew McConaughey's folksy, funny, and kinda preachy Oscar acceptance speech.
In it, McConaughey did something you rarely hear in one of these: He crossed the streams of science and religion. Specifically, after thanking God, McConaughey added that "He," with the super big capital H, "has shown me that it's a scientific fact that gratitude reciprocates."
What is McConaughey talking about?
Turns out he isn't just winging it: A decade of research has defined gratitude as a social emotion that, while related to empathy, is nonetheless distinct from it. Feeling gratitude helps bind us to our groups and communities and enhances social relationships. And it isn't just humans: Primatologist Frans de Waal has observed behaviors that look a heck of a lot like gratitude in chimpanzees, who are more likely to share food with other chimps who have recently groomed them.
What's the payoff of feeling grateful, of "paying it forward," and of helping out those who help you? The research suggests more hope and optimism, a better ability to manage stress, a tendency to exercise more and even sleeping better. And while not all of us are as naturally adept at feeling grateful, the research also suggests there are interventions you can do to turn your life on a more thankful path: Simply writing down the things you're thankful for, on a regular basis, seems to bring on these benefits.
On the Thanksgiving episode of Inquiring Minds last year, we discussed this growing body of research suggesting that the emotion of gratitude has many beneficial effects, singling out one recent gratitude study in particular, which showed a link between feelings of gratitude and the avoidance of risky behaviors like using drugs and engaging in teenage sex in African American youth. (The study did not, however, establish causation.) The discussion starts roughly at minute 3:
Obviously, a lot of people, like McConaughey, want to hop on board this research and ride it to a religious destination. But you don't have to, because thankfulness can certainly occur outside of a faith-based context.
In other words, there was a gem of wisdom in McConaughey's speech that, religious or not, you can put to good use.
As Edward Frenkel sees it, the way we teach math in schools today is about as exciting as watching paint dry. So it's not surprising that when he brings up the fact that he's a mathematician at dinner parties, eyes quickly glaze over. "Most people, unfortunately, have a very bad experience with mathematics," Frenkel says. And no wonder: The math we learn in school is as far from what Frenkel believes is the soul of mathematics as a painted fence is from "The Starry Night" by Van Gogh, Frenkel's favorite painter.
The Russian born University of California-Berkeley mathematician, whose day job involves probing the connections between math and quantum physics, wants to change that. Rather than alienating drudgery, Frenkel views math as an "archipelago of knowledge" that's universally available to all of us, and he's been everywhere of late spreading the word. In particular, Frenkel is intent on warning us about how people are constantly using (or misusing) math to get our personal data, to hack our emails, to game our stock markets. "The powers that be sort of exploit our ignorance, and manipulate us more when we are less aware of mathematics," said Frenkel on the latest episode of the Inquiring Minds podcast. If you hated math in high school, maybe that will catch your attention.
Frenkel's paean to math begins with an emphasis on its unifying nature. To him, math—not religion—is the one shared body of firm, unchanging knowledge that we all possess and that nobody can ever take away from us. "You meet someone, you don't know where they come from, what language they speak, what is their background," he says. "But you already know that there is so much you have in common, because all the mathematical ideas that have ever been discovered, we all share them." If you met an alien intelligence, the same would be true. Math never changes. It sometimes has discoverers, but never authors or owners. "It's a great equalizer," Frenkel says.
The implications of math's universality, incidentally, are downright spooky. Take this New York Times essay by Frenkel, contemplating whether the fact that math works so perfectly and without fail suggests we might be living in a Matrix-like simulation. For a while, it was the most viewed article on the paper's website. The question of why math works to describe the universe, even as we also just happen to have brains that can understand it, is a pretty momentous one. Or as Galileo put it:
Philosophy is written in this grand book, the universe, which stands continually open to our gaze. But the book cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and read the letters in which it is composed. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometric figures without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it; without these, one wanders about in a dark labyrinth.
Such contemplations have driven more than one scientist to God. But then, hey, it could just be Agent Smith.
Deep philosophical dives aren't Frenkel's only approach to math popularization: His leading approach is egalitarian. Liberal. He argues that today, and often to our peril, we leave the tough math to experts—whether they are working on quantum physics, stock market trajectories, or encryption systems that are supposed to protect our data.
But our mathematical illiteracy can have disastrous consequences. Case in point: Frenkel blames the global economic crisis of 2008-09 on inadequate mathematical models used by bankers and traders to predict the financial markets. "We should all have access to the mathematical knowledge and tools needed to protect us from arbitrary decisions made by the powerful few in an increasingly math-driven world," writes Frenkel in his book, Love and Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality. "Where there is no mathematics, there is no freedom."
Or take another example: Last year in Slate, Frenkel explained how the NSA manipulated math in order to install secret "backdoors" in the encryption systems that are supposed to protect our data. That's what allows the agency to hack into our emails and personal information. The math is very high level, involving a field called "elliptic curve cryptography," but in this highly watched YouTube video Frenkel explains it pretty simply:
Or take yet another example of people using math to take advantage of us. Frenkel has also explored how attempted changes to the formula for calculating the consumer price index, or CPI—a measure of inflation that is crucial to any number of economic policies and decisions—in effect represent a stealth way to raise our taxes and cut Social Security benefits. But we just shrug because it's math, says Frenkel. "I'm not even going to try to understand what this formula is," he says, summing up the typical thought process. "If they're telling me it should be replaced, it should be replaced."
In other words, you might call it the politically progressive, look-out-for-the-little-guy case for math literacy. "Mathematics equals rigor plus intellectual integrity times reliance on facts," adds Frenkel in his book.
Certainly, Frenkel makes a strong case that going through the world in a math-illiterate state is equivalent to having your defenses down. You won't understand the algorithms that Facebook, Amazon, and Google are using to populate your screen with stuff they want you to buy. You won't know how safe you are on the internet. And you won't see the next big economic shenanigan coming until it's too late.
But the question is, is such understanding really possible or plausible for most people? Most of us think that in order to truly appreciate the mysterious beauty of mathematics, we need to study it intensely for a long period of time. Not so, insists Frenkel. While most of us learn the basics of biology in school and have at least a rudimentary understanding of fundamental concepts like genetics and evolution, we generally don't even know what the fundamental concepts of high-level mathematics are. But Frenkel insists that we need not suffer through years of math study to grasp the key mathematical ideas. Rather, we can learn "a few chords," he says, just as we can on the guitar.
So here comes one of those chords: Frenkel thinks that rather than learning something ancient and dry like Euclidean geometry, we should all understand the principle of symmetry. It's a very simple idea, but also a concept that is "incredibly powerful," says Frenkel, and one that is relevant across geometry, algebra, and other aspects of math. An object is symmetrical insofar as it is the same no matter what you do to it; it is invariant despite transformations. Like a round glass: "If I turn away, and you rotate it, and I look back, I will not know the difference," says Frenkel.
Symmetry may seem like a simple idea. But the mathematics of symmetry quickly grow elaborate, and thinking about symmetry actually played an important role in the discovery of quarks, the elementary particles that comprise protons and neutrons.
Certainly, symmetry is not the kind of thing that you learned in your boring high school math classes; and for Frenkel, that's the problem. "What most people talk about when they say the word 'math' is not really math—it is painting fences," says Frenkel. Not only is that a tragedy, it's a disadvantage.
And that's why you should care about math. Forget the idea that it's alienating and hard. According to Frenkel, life is hard without it.
To listen to the full podcast interview with Edward Frenkel, you can stream below:
To catch future shows right when they are released, subscribe to Inquiring Minds via iTunes or RSS. We are also available on Stitcher and on Swell. You can follow the show on Twitter at @inquiringshow and like us on Facebook. Inquiring Minds was also recently singled out as one of the "Best of 2013" on iTunes—you can learn more here.