Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Science Is Everywhere with Neil deGrasse Tyson & Brian Greene | StarTalk @ BAM | Full Episode

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(applause) - Brooklyn in the house.

Welcome, can anybody hear me?

Welcome, did you hear that? - Yes.

- There you go, Brooklyn in the house.

(applause) (audience cheers)

- Thanks for comin' out and givin's us your Friday night.

This is a special presentation of StarTalk.

StarTalk at BAM.

And in this presentation you're gonna get

three versions of what our StarTalk franchise is all about.

The first one lasting 30 minutes is StarTalk.


StarTalk flagship, where I'm the host

and we have special guest talking about special topics.

We then go to another 30 minutes featuring

StarTalk All Stars and that's where we have

a cadre of counter parts to me,

who are experts in other fields of science

and they each have their own radio show,

with a comedian similar format,

but they get to do it their way.

StarTalk All Stars, you'll get a sampling of that

for 30 minutes and then we will end with

one of our favorite new franchises of StarTalk,

StarTalk Playing with Science,

which is all about the science of sports

and tonight we're gonna talk about

the physics of figure skating

and we'll get back to that in a minute.

But right now, we will begin StarTalk at BAM.

I'll bring out my comedic co-host,

the one, the only, Chuck Nice.

Come on out. (applause)

(audience cheers)

- Chuck. - What's up buddy?

- Oh man. - How are you man?

- This is my man. - It's good to see ya.

- Very cool, and so tonight, we're gonna talk about

the physics of the early universe.

And I realized, this whole event was introduced

as a radio love fest, but he didn't say it right.

You gotta save a radio love fest.

(Neil laughs) You gotta do that right.

- Yeah, exactly.

I think you just made the universe pregnant.


- Love fest, let me introduce a colleague and a friend.

One of the smartest people on Earth,

Theoretical Physicist, Brian Greene, everybody.


Brian Greene, best known for popularizing concepts

like String Theory and the Multiverse.

- You just made String Theory pregnant.


- You're best selling author of The Elegant Universe.

A beautiful book.

That person read your book. - One sold.

- Right there, that person read your book.

(laughing) - I know the rest of you

are just posers.

- [Neil] That was followed with Fabric of the Cosmos.

A beautiful book.

Hidden Reality was a third book and then you are co-founder

of the World Science Festival. - That's right.


- [Neil] It's a bit audacious to call it

the World Science Festival?

- Well, we were gonna call it the universe but,

pulled it back to world. - It's great.

It's a World Science Festival, held in New York.

- Also in Australia, so it is world in that way.

- Co-founded with your wife? - That's correct.

- Very good. - Smart man.


Very, very smart. - How to keep

that marriage goin'. - There you go.

- So Brian, there's recent news

of the earliest star

ever formed in the universe.

So were you on top of that story?

- Been following it, yeah.

- Because what we know as astrophysicists

is you get the Big Bang, got that.

Then you have the Cosmic Microwave Background, got that.

But nothin's formed yet.

You gotta make stuff that you can recognize in modern times

and there's this long period,

hundreds of millions of years,

where nothing is happenin'.

And so we call that the Cosmic Dark Ages.

Say it right, Dark Ages.

Let me hear dark. - Dark.

Ages. - There you go.

You give him a B plus? - I'ma give him a B plus.

- I'll work on it, I'll work at it.


- The Dark Ages, before the first stars had formed.

There was the hunt, the eternal hunt.

Can we find that first star?

Recent news announcement said what?

- Well, there's now evidence that those first stars

may have formed about 180 million years

after the Big Bang and it's hard to find them

because they're not actually sitting out there

waiting for us to see them directly.

You have to find an indirect test to see their presence

by virtue of their impact on their environment.

And in a very clever experiment, that's what was done.

- And how'd they do that experiment?

- You mentioned the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation.

People know what that is?

Let's just hear.

- There are some people at home, listenin',

that may not know. (laughing)

I'm just sayin' for their sake,

maybe you should tell 'em.

- This is heat leftover from the Big Bang.

The Big Bang's very hot, as the universe expands,

it cools down, but the heat doesn't disappear,

it's still there and indeed,

we can see that heat coming to us

through powerful satellite borne telescopes today.

Now that is a fantastic discovery in its own right,

that won the Nobel Prize,

the discovery of the Microwave Background Radiation,

but now imagine this.

- It's won the Nobel Prize twice.

- That's true, yes, absolutely.

The initial discovery and then--

- The flowers. - I gotta tell ya.

That's very good. (laughing)

The same thing, five years later, oh my god,

we should give it to him again.

(laughing) - Give it to him again, right.

That was a bad ass thing we found in the universe.

- And it was found by mistake. - Mistake, yeah.

- So you do know about this.

You said mistake before I did.

- I didn't mean to. (laughing)

- How did the Cosmic Background tell us this?

- The theory was that when these initial stars formed,

they would be very large,

much larger than the sun and very hot

and they would emit a lot of ultraviolet radiation.

And that radiation would have had

an impact on the environment.

A lot of hydrogen around it would've ionized the hydrogen.

Why does that matter?

When you cause the hydrogen to change in that way,

it has an impact on the microwave background radiation

that otherwise would've passed through it.

- With no incident. - With no incident.

- And now it's been perturbed. - That's right.

Now actually, some of it gets absorbed,

which means when we look out,

there should be missing parts of the spectrum

that are being absorbed by this hydrogen,

which itself is being affected by these early stars.

- So we're not seeing the stars themselves,

we're seeing some kind of smoking gun of the stars?

- Yeah, we're seeing a shadow of some sense of the stars.

- Oh my god, it's just like the Russia investigation.


- So Chuck, I didn't tell ya.

The reason we have such Big Bang expertise

is 'cause we have both independently appeared

on The Big Bang Theory. (laughing)

- That's true actually. - Actually I was only on once.

Were you on once or-- - Only on once.

- Oh, they didn't invite you back?

- No, they didn't. - They didn't invite me back--

- Invite you either. (laughing

- Welcome to my world. (laughing)

- I thought you did really well.

- I thought you did really well.

- I'm so not an actor and I depend on people

allowing a little latitude for that cameo,

non actor delivered lines.

You'd say okay they're not really an actor,

but we'll let it slide.

You were good. - Well thank you.

I appreciate that. - And plus, Sheldon gave

both of us a hard time. - He did.

He told me that I should give up physics

and consider reading to the elderly,

(laughing) but he said don't read

your own books to the elderly.

- He was pissed off that I was an accessory

to the demotion of Pluto.

He said Pluto was one of his favorites.

(laughing) - And you told him

to get over it. - To get over it, yeah.

But he's scripted to just get angry,

so he just got angry.

I couldn't rely on a natural response.

- That's 'cause he's not real. (laughing)

- This early star, does it tell us something backwards

towards the Big Bang that we should know about?

'Cause you're a Big Bang guy. - Yeah, it does.

The curious thing is that the signal is stronger

than the theory predicted.

The signal's there in the sense that you've got

this missing part of the spectrum.

- So you have people saying what would

a first star look like, let's map it out,

now you compare it,

and now we got somethin' stronger than that.

- That's right. - So that means you gotta go

back and recalculate what? - You've gotta tweak

the theory and people are suggesting that dark matter

may play a key role. - See how he did that?

Gotta tweak. - Tweak.

- Yeah. - Right.

- So I don't know what he's cookin' up.

He just tweakin' stuff. - But the tweak also kinda

spilled over into the dark matter,

so I'm not sure what this means.

- I don't know what either of you are talkin' about.


- What of the Big Bang do you have to tweak

in order to allow our hypothesis to match the observation?

- Well it may be that the dark matter

interacts with ordinary matter in a way

that differs from the conventional description.

This is very speculative.

We're right at the beginning of this kind of experiment.

- At what point do you say I need to tweak my theories

and at what point do you say,

I need to throw out my theory? - Well, that's the art.

That's the art of science.

Some people criticize scientists for sticking to theories

long after the data seems to suggest that

they really need to move on.

People say that even about String Theory.

They're wrong, but-- (laughing)

It's an art and it's a personal choice.

- To his face, just to be clear,

'cause I'll say this again publicly,

but I did really say this to his face,

- Oh snap. (laughing)

- When I asked Brian, I said Brain, I remember y'all,

I'm that old, from the 1980s.

String Theory was being born and I said wow, this is great.

A new understanding of the universe.

General relativity married with quantum physics,

a marriage that Einstein died trying to find.

How soon will you have this?

Said we're about five years out.

About five years and then 10 years later, how far?

We got another five years.

And then 10 years after that,

just another five years. - I'm consistent.


- It's the year 2018.

Brian, how-- - 'Bout five years I'd say,

somethin' like that. - How close are you?

So then I said, so Brian, why?

He said well, it's a hard problem.

So then I said or every one a you working on this problem

is an idiot. (laughing)

- He did. - I said that to his face.

- Brian, I'm gonna go with hard.


- I said that rib jokingly.

At what point do you say, we're simply not smart enough

to even answer the question we ourselves posed?

Or do you just say it's hard?

'Cause Einstein figured out general relativity

basically by his lonesome in 10 years

after he had special relativity.

And you got how many dozens of you guys.

(laughing) - Yeah.

- [Neil] For 35 years.

- I gotta tell ya,

the reason I accepted to be on the show tonight is.


Here's the situation.

If we were not making progress,

then I wouldn't need you to tell me to give it up.

I don't believe in re-incarnation.

I think you live once and I don't wanna spend my life

workin' on a theory if I really don't think

it has a promise to reach the goal

that we have set for ourselves.

- [Neil] So you're honest with yourself.

- Totally honest. - We have so much in common

'cause I don't believe in it

'cause I don't wanna be a turtle.


- Okay. (laughing)

- No, you said I don't believe in re-incarnation.

For some reason, I think I'm coming back as a turtle.

- I hear what you're sayin'. - Oh, yeah,

we both missed that. - Shh, went like this.

- And you're the astrophysicist.

- We both missed that. (laughing)

- They got it. - Here's the thing.

- They did not get that. - Oh they got.

Did you not get that? (applause)

(audience cheers) - I was thinkin'--

- Stupid people unite. (laughing)

- I was thinkin' the turtle was a reference

to sort of the Hindu on the back of an elephant.

The elephant's standing on turtles

and it's turtles all the way down.

- See that's why you got doctor in front of your name.

(laughing) And I tell dick jokes.

- Where were we? - I know exactly

where we were. - I'm sorry, I'm sorry.

Go 'head. - I know exactly

where we were.

What I'm asking you as a theoretical physicist,

leading theoretical physicist,

we have an observation, an astronomical observation

and it forces you to go back and tweak.

Are you tweaking Big Bang, you tweaking quantum physics?

What are you tweaking? - In this particular case,

you really are tweaking something that

we yet don't understand fully, which is dark matter.

So that's ripe for being tweaked,

but look, there are other things.

- Dark matter is mysterious gravity of the universe.

We have no idea what's causing it.

- But I'll give you another example,

which has happened recently.

There've been measurements of the rate

of the expansion of space

and those measurements, very recently,

are seeming to be incompatible

with earlier measurements done in a different way.

- [Neil] You see a whole other recent result.

- A whole other recent result, exactly.

And this one, if it's correct,

this is one that could really change

our understanding of the early universe dramatically.

In order to get the measurements

that are done on the expansion of space

looking at the microwave background radiation

and those that are coming from

looking at supernova explosions,

to get those compatible, right now,

is gonna require perhaps, tweakin' the dark energy.

It may require tweaking our understanding of

the gravitational force.

There are many things that may come into

that particular reconciliation.

- Tweak our understanding of the gravitational force itself?

- Yeah, whenever you talk about dark energy,

everyone knows what dark energy is?

- Some people at home may not. (laughing)

- This energy filling space that we believe

yields a repulse of gravity that's causing the universe

to speed up in its acceleration.

- When it theoretically should be slowing down.

- That's right, ordinary gravity pulls things together.

It should be slowing down.

The shock that we got in 1998 is that's not slowing down,

the rate of expansion speeding up.

- Against the wishes of gravity?

- Here's the thing,

we didn't understand gravity well enough.

Gravity can not only be attracted, it can be repulsive.

And that really wasn't taken into account until about 1998

when it comes to Cosmology.

Now, the possibility is maybe this outward push

is itself getting stronger over time.

- So that means thinking it was one thing,

would be an incomplete understanding of that phenomenon.

- Yes, and that's what science is.

- Which would actually change everything.

- But that's what science is. - Which is why,

you have to tweak String Theory.

- Yeah. (laughing)

- If it affects gravity, then every moment of our models

from the Big Bang forward would have to be rethought.

Put back in the computers,

say now what are you gonna give me

with this new understanding? - Literally.

Because these equations are so complex,

there's so many features that come into play

that you have to put it on a computer

and simulate and see what happens.

- Does that affect any thinking of what's going on

before the universe began? - People play with those

sorts of ideas, but it's hard to know

if that question even makes sense.

It makes sense to say what happened before you were born?

What happened before the Earth formed?

Those sorts of phenomenon certainly were preceded

by something else in the universe.

But the Big Bang may have been not just the beginning

of the universe as we think of it as stuff,

it could've been the beginning of time itself.

- This past Sunday,

we aired my interview with Stephen Hawking,

went to the dude's office in Cambridge.

I asked him, what was around before the Big Bang?

He gave an answer and nobody understood the answer.

Check it out.

- I have no idea what he was-- - What was he saying?

- I have no idea, I haven't seen the podcast.

- You gotta watch the show. - Yeah, I will.

You didn't prep me on this one.

- Allow me to explain what he was sayin'.


- You can give me two or three ideas that people have

about what preceded the Big Bang.

- Absolutely. - Whether or not

they're your ideas.

- One idea is that the Big Bang may not have been

a unique event, there may have been many Big Bangs,

giving arise to many universes.

- We are one of those-- - And we're just one of those.

Sort of like a cosmic bubble bath of universes,

and we're just one bubble expanding

in that larger landscape of reality.

If that's the case, then our Big Bang

was not the beginning of everything,

it was just an interesting event that we hold dear

because it gave rise to us,

but there would've been a time before it

that wouldn't have been any more exotic

than the time now. - A time measured by

some methods we have yet to divine

because every method of measuring time exists

within this universe. - That's right.

The notion of a time goin' across all of the universes,

a very difficult idea to make mathematical sense of.

- Like a meta time. - A meta time of some sort,

but people don't fully appreciate--

- But that wouldn't be time. - It wouldn't be time as you

- That would not be time. - as you experience,

you're absolutely right.

So in this universe, the fact that we can say

that the universe has an age of whatever,

13.8 billion years, is only because our universe

is highly symmetric.

You look at one chunk of the universe over here

and another chunk over here and on average,

their properties are the same.

If that weren't the case there would be no notion of time

across even our universe. - Because of this symmetry

of appearance, you're saying, we can justifiably say

we are all experiencing the same age of this universe.

- That's right. - But if we had looked

over there and stuff was being born

and over here stuff was dyin', out of proportion,

we would be forced to say there's not one coherent time

across this space time continuum.

- Right, because Einstein, as we're all familiar with,

taught us that if you're moving,

time ticks off at a different rate,

if you're near a black hole,

time ticks off at a different rate,

so you should ask yourself,

when people say the universe is 13 billion years old,

according to which clock?

If those clocks are moving or if they're near a black hole,

or a strong gravitational field,

they'll tick off time at different rates

and the way we get outta that conundrum

is what you're saying.

The overall uniformity means that on those clocks,

that are experiencing basically

the same physical conditions,

they're gonna (laughing)

experience time the same way.

- I love your clock pantomime.

It's beautiful. - I love it too.

Man, I have never in my life wished that I smoked weed

more than I do right now. (laughing)

Now I know why they do it, man.


- We gotta land this plane.

Two final questions.

If we're asking what was around before the Big Bang,

you're saying maybe there was this bubble bath Big Bangs,

then that just pushes that question a little further,

what was around before the bubble bath?

- Or it may push it infinitely far back.

That's a possibility too. - Turtles all the way down.

- It could be turtles all the way down.

- See, the turtle thing. - The other idea that does

come outta String Theory initially is that

maybe our universe is a slice of space,

floating in a larger cosmos.

Higher dimensions of String Theory allow for that freedom.

So our universe is like a slice of bread

in a big cosmic loaf that may have other slices,

which would be other universes.

I bring that up because - He's high.

- there's a theoretical description--


I'm gonna ignore these guys.

- We were good, now we're like slices of bread.

Slice of bread, I got you.

This is a bread, loaf universe.

- Exactly and there's a way of describing the Big Bang

where it's actually arising from the collision

of these two universes.

It's knowing what we call the Big Bang

or it's called the Big Splat,

so it's a little more evocative way of thinkin' about it.

In which case, before the Big Bang, before the Big Splat,

would just be the these two giant sheets of space

slamming into each other. - They created yet

a subsequent Big Bang. - That's right,

it's a cyclic universe.

It happens over and over and over again

through these collisions.

So then what's before our Big Bang?

It would just be an era of the universe,

similar to this potentially,

but was just a different part of the cycle.

- So therefore, and my last question to you,

the very distant future universe,

where we're accelerating at whatever rate it is,

does what you're saying now affect

that very distant universe? - It can, absolutely.

Because if for instance, we're talkin' about

a cyclic universe-- - But my slice of bread

is gettin' bigger. - Your slice of bread

is getting bigger, but that other slice

may be coming toward you.

So it truly, in years from now, we may get hit again,

and be completely obliterated.

- How will we know if another slice of bread

is coming towards us? - That's the thing, we won't.


- All I know is I am hungry right now.

- Brian Greene, thank you for totally

fucking with our heads here. (laughing)

Brian Greene. - That's awesome stuff.

(applause) - Thank you.

- It's phenomenal. - Hang on for a second.

We're gonna wrap up this parta the show.

Before I hand the baton over

to Neuroscientist Heather Berlin,

one of our StarTalk All Stars.

And while she comes out. but before that happens,

we are going to have a

special musical interlude.

Musical interlude. - Oh sweet.

- We are going to have

a special performance by Baba Brinkman.

Baba Brinkman come on out. - All right.


- Baba, you're a science rapper.

- I am a science rapper, such things do exist.

- That's a thing. - It's a thing now.

- You will demonstrate that now?

- Let's all hope so. (laughing)

- [Neil] Baba Brinkman.


- They gave me one song to demonstrate

that science rap exists.

And all this physics stuff

is gonna mix with neuroscience

and pretty soon we're gonna start talkin' about free will

and as a rap artist, who's been at this for over a decade,

you gotta get into freestyle.

So I'm about to do a freestyle interpreting

a lot of what was discussed through this last half hour.

And I want you to think about this.

Either every word they said and every word I'm about to say

was pre-determined since our Big Bang, on our slice,

or there is some kind of free will possible.

Alright, hit it.

(electronic music) Now I'm from Western Canada.

When I was a young rapper, picturin' myself on MTV,

this is the rap I always pictured myself kickin'

Listen to this lyric

It isn't freestyle, it's written

I wrote it of my own free will, it was my decision

Every intimate constituent

Part of it was deliberate

I considered how to script it

And how to stand and deliver it

I wanted to get up on stage

And do a lotta damage

And talk about how all the universes

Were like a big sandwich

And I could just step up here

And do some things that are drunk on beats

And find out why astrophysics makes people feel hungry

That was forethought but that doesn't mean nothing

Comes before thought

Look at the source of your thoughts

You might find the door's blocked

If every decision is made in a part of my brain

That's invisible to me

That's will, but with this subliminal origin

I'm not thinkin' it's too free

See, I break it down

I show you the freestyle basics

You can't see me

All you can see is the imprint of my radiation

See what I'm sayin' ♪

That's the way that I spread it with freestyle bars

Lookin' for me is lookin' for

In the universe the first star

But what am I doing here? ♪

Why am I choosing to bust the rhyme? ♪

Am I a puppet on this string

Who could not have done otherwise? ♪

A slave to my subliminal migdal reptilian forces

With no self control

Up in my neocortex

I can't stop

I'm stuck here tryin' ta bust raps

I could no more stop

Than Neil could shave off his mustache

I'm tryin' to figure that out

Maybe perhaps it could happen

But we're all stuck up in this quantum bubble bath

I can't stop believin' in the option to choose

I couldn't stop if I wanted

It's down to the molecules

I choose words and deeds

Not wants and moods

Freedom is like a muscle

It's only strong when it's used

I can't stop

Well I probably could

But I probably shouldn't

♪ 'Cause right now I gotta kick a rap

And make it really good

And maybe, maybe interpret everything

That they talked about a second ago

Alright, let's do a little rewind

Y'all people could be checkin' the flow

See, I'm gonna drop this

And say everything clearly

I'm five years from stardom

Like Brian explaining String Theory

It's about to happen

Any second is comin' next

Every word I spit is peer reviewed

Somethin' you can check

Like the literature works of freestyle

Now as I spit it at you

Indeed, that's the place that I take it

Breakin' down the basics

Yeah, check it out

Freestyles, people always felt them

I'm gonna get on the Big Bang Theory

So I could get dissed by Sheldon

Yeah one day that's about to happen

That's the cameo

Baba Brinkman comin' through right now

With nothin' but a damagin' flow

Yeah, check it

I'm gonna have to come sparkin' in

I'm cookin', it's not gonna get the same reaction

As it did with Neil when I say

Is there a house full of Brooklyn

No, I screwed it up, that's okay

I'm just blazin' 'em

That's the way that we say it

Where I come from

I'm Canadian tryin' ta bust the rap

So I'm gonna say a shout out

To the plaid shirt right there

Me and him were reppin' the lumber jacks some

Can't stop believin' in the option to choose

I couldn't stop if I wanted

It's down to the molecules

I choose words and deeds

Not wants and moods

Freedom is like a muscle

It's only strong when it's used

Well I could stop

I could stop if I want

The question is why would I wanna stop? ♪

I could stop, it's just not recommended

At least not 'til this song is ended

♪ 'Cause I spent a lotta time

Training my brain to rhyme

At the drop of a dime

That's the kind of freedom

I could claim as mine

Freedom isn't a metaphysical state

At the level of atoms

It's a collection of talents

Each of us can develop and manage

Freedom evolved

Evolution gave us the building blocks

Absolute freedom, maybe not

But more than a digger wasp

And more than prefrontal cortex

Lesion patients living today

I'll take the freedom I've got

Over the non-freedom of Phineas Gage. ♪

Freedom is having a brain

That can reject options

Detect imposters

Dodge sucker punches like boxers

Freedom is having a brain

That can navigate obstacles

In a continuous exploration

Of the adjacent possible

A brain that's free enough

To recognize goals and pursue them

And recognize the reasons why

Even if it's prone to allusions


If you've got that kind of mind

And it's at fault, congratulations

You can now be tried as an adult

Free will

It's similar to freestyle

It's a learnable system that's deterministic deep down

But even if every syllable has a physical cause

Freedom is just the belief

That I should still get some applause

(screaming) (applause)

Thank you. - Oh my god.

- Well done.

- Fantastic man.

- What parta Harlem were you from?

- 139 and Lennox, that's the danger zone.

(laughing) Could you tell by the way

I said is the house somewhere around Brooklyn?

- Yeah, yeah, yeah, Brooklyn in the house.

You're actually Canadian. - Yeah, I'm from Vancouver.

(audience cheers)

- That's just a little creepy, I think, I don't know.

It's good, but I think it's the universality of the medium

that I think is speaking to us all,

where you wanna express yourself, it comes out.

It comes out just how you feel it in that moment.

- The question is if you imagine hip hop culture

spreading to Western Canada and then getting adapted

and coming back to Brooklyn, would you imagine it sounding

any different than what I just did?


- All I know is this, I can't be Black anymore.

I'm goin'. (laughing)

- So you gotta run, 'cause where you gotta be?

- Okay so that was a piece

from an Off Broadway production I'm doing,

hip hop theater, very inspired by Hamilton.

It's called the Rap Guide to Consciousness

and it's all neuroscience, cognitive psychology--

- And you performed that tonight.

You gotta leave here tonight to perform that.

- The show starts in 45 minutes.

- Well, get the hell outta here.

At the SoHo Playhouse. - SoHo Playhouse,

downtown, it's running until the end of April.

I hope y'all can come see it.

- Dude. - Thanks for having me here.

I appreciate it. - Love you man, love you man.

(applause) - Thank you Neil.

- Baba Brinkman.

- That guy is my favorite rapper now.

(Neil laughs) Jay-Z suck it.

I ain't never heard Jay-Z say anything

about his prefrontal cortex.


- You have some good vocabulary runnin' down there.

- That was serious. - Just to be clear.

He did that in rehearsal and 5% of it was the same.

The rest was completely invented in that moment.

- Yeah, it was unbelievable. - What's the dude

talkin' about my mustache? (laughing)

- See, he knew better than to do that in rehearsal.


- Our next segment is gonna be StarTalk All Stars,

where I take a backseat and we bring on the host.

One of our many talented StarTalk All Stars.

Neuroscientist Heather Berlin.

Heather, come on out. (applause)


So Heather, it's your show.

- Okay. - Go for it.

- All right Neil, you can take a backseat.

- Yeah, I don't think so. (laughing)

- You don't know me very well, Brian.

You don't know me very well.

Welcome to StarTalk All Stars at BAM.

I'm your host, Heather Berlin.

I'm a Cognitive Neuroscientist.

I'm based here in New York

at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine.

So Neal, Brian, thanks for being my guests tonight.

- And Chuck, forget about you. (laughing)

- You're just ingrained in my mind.

We've become one.

Chuck, my co-host, for bringing all of the wonderful

scientific insights and comic relief.

- Well thank you. - Thank you for being here.

- So wonderful of you to say.

(Heather laughs)

- We're gonna talk a little bit about

the intersection between neuroscience and physics.

Talk a little bit about consciousness, time and free will.

So we're just gonna keep it light.

(laughing) Light and easy.

- Free will.

Not Free Willy, right, free will.

- It's not that kinda show. (laughing)

- That was a movie.

- I took that reference differently.

- You know what's funny, I was thinkin' that.

(laughing) And I was like nah,

I better not say it. - I told you,

we are one, you're like my subconscious,

but I just kind of try to keep at bay,

but it keeps comin' up.

- That's a very good plan, actually.

- Brian, you once tweeted, you said,

free will-- - Wait, you're gonna quote

a tweet of mine - I am quoting a tweet--

- in front of this guy over here?

That's like saying I play baseball in front of Babe Ruth.

It's like saying I write music in front of Mozart.

(laughing) - Your tweets matter.

Your tweets matter. - Thank you.

- Free will-- - All tweets matter.

- Not all tweets, (laughing)

not all tweets. - Blue tweets matter.

I had to do it, I'm sorry. - We got some red tweets

in the house, we got some red tweets.

- So you said, free will

is the sensation of making a choice.

The sensation is real, but the choice seems elusory.

Laws of physics determine the future.

- I had to say that. (Heather laughs)

- You were compelled.

It was determined from the Big Bang.

What does physics have to say about free will?

- It's not definite,

because we don't fully know the laws of physics,

but the laws of physics that we currently have

at our disposal have no opportunity

for intersection by human will.

We are a collection of particles

governed by laws that you can write down

and fit on a t-shirt

and those laws don't at any point

in the evolution of the particles say

hey, can you tell me now what to do, person?

They just determine the future

based upon what things were like in the past.

- But Brian, can't there be an emergent property

of that collection of molecules,

that we can call free will?

Because the emergent property, if you know emergence,

it's a feature of an ensemble that cannot be deduced

by the study of the individual.

- Like ants. - Like ants.

You study one ant, you say hi ant, they'll shake your hand.

You have no idea that a thousand ants together

are gonna make an ant mount,

or a thousand termite make a termite mound.

Or that birds will flock.

You have no way to predict that.

- It sounds like Woody Allen. (Heather laughs)

- If free will doesn't exist (laughs)

at that level of physics,

in other words, if it doesn't exist at the level of physics

could it not exist at the level of biology,

- It depends. - or say psychology.

- It's a really good point and it really depends

on what your definition of free will is.

Normally, the intuitive definition is

things could've been different,

and I could've made a choice

for things to turn out differently.

And if that's your definition of free will,

does that resonate with your perspective of free will,

then I don't see any way to square that

with the laws of physics because anything that you do

is your particles executing some kind of motion

and the motion of your particles,

in your brain, in your body,

have no opportunity to allow you

as a conscious being to direct them.

What force could possibly that direction come from?

Is it the electromagnetic force?

Well that one we understand from Maxwell.

Is it the gravitational force?

We understand that one from Einstein.

Is it the nuclear forces?

Those we understand from

the standard model particle physics.

What force could you possibly exert on your particles

that goes against or goes beyond those that emerge

from the equations of physics?

That's the issue. - Could our free will thrive

in the probabilistic description of quantum physics?

- No. (laughing)

Not as we currently understand it.

And that's a natural-- - Don't make me fight you

here on stage. - We've done this before.

- Yeah, we did actually.

I grabbed his lapel on stage. - But we both were wrestlers

in high school, different weight categories.

(laughing) - Yes, very different

weight categories.

- I should've said it's possible but I consider it

highly unlikely.

So there is a puzzle right now in quantum physics

that has been on the table for 50, 75 years

and we don't know the answer to this puzzle,

and that's why I have to couch my remarks

with a little bit of uncertainty.

And that puzzle is this.

Quantum Theory says they can only predict

the probability of one outcome or another.

50% chance electron here, 50% chance there.

Yet, when we measure the electron,

we always find it either here or there.

One or the other.

So how do you go from the fuzzy probabilistic haze

of many possibilities to the single definite reality

that we all experience in every day life?

We still don't know how to bridge that gap.

Within that, if consciousness, somehow plays a role,

in picking out one outcome from the probabilistic haze,

then sure, then free will might come for the ride as well.

- There you go. - But, but, but--

- You just said, probabilistically,

the particle can be here or there.

- Yes. - But if you measure it,

it is only in one place. - Yes.

- So my act

of thought

is I wanna cheeseburger, that's the particle in this state.

I want a cheeseburger, bam.

The particle's there. - That's the part I don't buy.

Right there.

Because it's random.

There's nothing that you did to pick one outcome

because you wanted it, because you willed it,

because it was your desire.

And yet, your intuition is you had the cheeseburger

because you chose it.

If it comes from a random process

it's like throwin' the dice.

And throwin' the dice to get an outcome

is not what we mean by free will.

- Okay wait, you physicists. (laughing)

- Sorry. (applause)

- I'm gonna give you a neuroscientific perspective.

From a neuroscientific perspective, first of all,

what's happening at the quantum level,

doesn't really scale up to whether a neuron fires or not,

I mean that indeterminacy.

From experiments that we've done,

starting in the '80s, Benjamin Libet did studies

where he said to somebody, whenever you feel like it,

just press this button and he measured brain activation.

and he said even before they actually press the button,

'cause that takes time to make the movement,

just let me know where this little dot is on the clock

when you feel the first inkling of the intention

of wanting to move.

And then what he found is about 350 milliseconds

before a person even had that conscious intention,

there was a gearing up of brain activation.

So then, leap forward to current times,

we do in our imaging experiments,

where we can say to a person--

- Just so that people know,

you measure people's brains for a living.

- That's my job, that's what I do, yes.

- I would be no help to you. (laughing)

- It's my unconscious here again.

He's always buttin' in.

We need you, we need you.

But you can measure it using FMRI,

which looks at blood flow

to different parts of the brain.

- Functional Magnetic - Functional Magnetic

Residence Imaging.

Basically looking at blood flow as a proxy to neurons fired.

The blood is gonna go where the neurons are firing

'cause they need energy.

We can say to you okay, just choose left or right,

or that hamburger or not. - Cheeseburger.

- Cheeseburger, sorry, cheeseburger.

- [Chuck] He chose to put cheese on that burger.


- We can say, we can predict, up to 10 seconds

before you even have a conscious inclination

of your intention, which you're going to go.

Left or right, or cheese or no cheese.

So at that level, I like to say yeah, sure,

we have free will, but we're just not conscious of it.

The brain is making these decisions all the time

and we have this allusion of free will.

But the question really is is why do we have this allusion?

Why did we evolve this allusion?

Is it important, if we didn't have it,

would it change our behavior? - Yeah, it strikes me that

it gives us that sense of control

that presumably, out in the Savannah,

50,000 years ago, 100,000 years ago,

made the difference between surviving and not.

If you're invested in how things turn out

and feel that your decisions can affect how things turn out,

you're more attentive, you're more engaged.

It's something that matters to you more

and presumably, something like that

or some parallel story like that,

suggests why we have this allusion.

- 'Cause you're less likely to be eaten.

- Yes, that's the point, that's the point.

- So you both agree with one another, with each other,

that from physics point of view, it's deterministic.

You didn't use that word, but I'm puttin' it in your mouth.

- It's okay on the radio and live show--

(laughing) - And so Heather,

your results are consistent with his, basically.

- Yeah, I think from both a physics perspective

and a neuroscience perspective,

we come to the similar conclusion that it's an allusion,

that free will is an allusion,

even though we really feel like it's not.

And actually studies have been done,

which when you tell people that free will is an allusion

and you start giving them subsequent tests,

they're more likely to cheat on a math test,

they're more likely to act unethically.

The fact that we had this belief,

those who have had it actually are better able to survive

in the system along the line. - More likely to behave.

- More likely to behave. - If you said

we're in control. - However, we also have

evolved for there to be cheaters, and they can win.

If we were all cheaters, no one would win.

But if we all-- - Just ask Tom Brady.


- And Chuck, he looked so deflated at the end of that game.


He was sad.


let me ask you a blunter question.

Does it even matter that you know this

if we all feel like we have free will?

I wanna believe that I go to school,

and get a good job and behave, I wanna believe all that.

You told me I shouldn't believe it.

That if one day I end up in prison,

that was pre-determined from the Big Bang?

You're saying yes to that? - Absolutely, man.

If I knew you were gonna do it,

there's nothing I can do. (laughing)

- If I kick your ass right now,

- That's it. - that was pre-determined

- Then it was meant to be. - from the Big Bang.

- It was meant to be, my friend.


- I don't know how this got to sexy.

- Plus Brian, kicking one's ass is not a literal

stick your ass and someone's to kick.

In the hood it means just winning a fight.

- Oh. (laughing)

- Brian was born and raised in New York City.

Went to Stuyvesant High School,

so he's home grown. - Oh, nice.

- Home grown. (applause)

- But wait, that pre-determinism

that you were just talking about.

Okay, let's say for instance that you do accept that.

And then that leads to fatalism.

Was that also pre-determined? (Heather laughs)

So the fact that you were given this information

that well, I'm not really in charge of my own decisions.

My brain is makin' these decisions

based upon these neurosynaptic transitions

that happen within my mind and so I just let that happen

and then I say oh okay, because of that,

I don't give a damn about anything

and I just let it all go.

Was that pre-determined? - Yep.


- But also, to put it in perspective--

- [Chuck] Okay, god I'm gonna shoot myself tonight.

- I gotta just let the record show.

Chuck put out a really awesome question right there.

And it just got a one word answer.

(laughing) You coulda at least

stretched out your answer, give the guy a break.

- No, happy to.

Often people when they encounter these ideas,

and you must've heard this too,

people say okay then I'm not gonna do anything

but sit on my couch and what does it matter?

- Fatalism. - But you see, that's a mixing

of two distinct views on one question.

If you think that you're makin' a free choice

to sit on your couch, then you feel like

well now, I am going to give in to this

and I'm just gonna sit there.

But if you do that, it was determined.

So exactly what you're asking.

If you choose to sit on your couch,

it's not that you made a volitional choice,

it was set in place.

And if that's what was gonna happen,

that's what's gonna happen. - But then by that

particular measure, all information that we receive

then pre-determines everything that we do.

That's really what you're saying.

- Yes, absolutely.

And moreover, to just give this a little bit more color,

I think your view, Heathers' view and Baba's view--

- Don't mansplain her view. - Okay, I won't then.


But what I heard Baba say. (applause)

- Let me tell you somethin' Brian.

Let me tell you somethin'.

I pre-determined to say that. (laughing)

- We spoke about this before we came out.

Baba's description I think, really at least helps me,

when I think in those terms.

Which is, it's not that free will is the intuitive one

that we're talkin' about here.

Free will really is the fact that we're able to carry out

this amazing spectrum of behaviors.

We can walk, we can talk, we can sing,

we can come up with ideas.

The fact that they had an earlier cause

maybe even back at the Big Bang,

to me, it doesn't take anything away from creativity.

It doesn't take anything away from originality.

It doesn't take anything away

from having a sense of authorship over your own actions

because you're the most immediate cause of those actions.

They emerge through you, through your particles.

Your particles and your brain are configured

in such a way that when certain stimuli hit your body

you said and do certain things.

The fact that it's determined, who cares?

- So there's different views of free will.

There's not just determinism and non determinism.

There's compatibilism. - Which is what that is.

- And compatibilism is saying that the world,

it is deterministic, but we also have free will

within in that because of these probabilities.

And the other question,

getting kind of to what you were saying

is that so then people throw their hands in the air,

okay, if there's no such thing as free will,

then I can do whatever I want.

I can go murder someone, it doesn't matter,

it was pre-determined. (laughing)

However, we have also-- - However, Chuck.

- There is a however, that's really important.

We have evolved the capacity

to have self control as other animals.

But in particular, we have the largest percentage

of prefrontal cortex than any other species,

which is the part of the brain that has that ability

to control our innate impulses.

So we hold people accountable for their actions

to the degree to which they have the capacity

to have self control.

Therefore, children are less responsible for their crimes

than adults or people who have prefrontal lesions

or sever psychiatric illness. - 'Cause children don't have

a fully developed - Prefrontal cortex.

- prefrontal cortex yet. - Until about the age of 25.

- And for guys, it's 35. - Yeah, it's a little bit--

(laughing) Pushed out a little bit more.

- Or perhaps, 70. (laughing)

- So our next segment is gonna be StarTalk All Stars,

where I take a backseat and we bring on the host.

One of our many talented StarTalk All Stars,

Neuroscientist Heather Berlin.

Heather, come on out. (applause)


So Brian, you're gonna come here.

- [Heather] I think I'm sitting here.

- [Neil] Why don't you go there.

And you go there.

Let me ask botha you somethin'.

'Cause you both have to think about this.

Since we're talkin' about

the brain predetermining something you do,

you talkin' 'bout the Big Bang predetermining

all future events.

Then is the fact that we experience time,

is that itself an allusion?

- I'm gonna say yes, time is an allusion,

the way we experience it.

I'm not talking from the physics perspective,

but the way humans experience time is an allusion

because it's very easily manipulated.

So for example, in experiments,

we can take something called

transcranial magnetic stimulation,

which is basically-- - Transcranial.

- Transcranial magnetic stimulation.

You put a magnet and you can kinda zap

different parts of the brain

and temporarily knock them out.

- People let you do this to them?

- We do all sorts of things, Neil.

Why do you think I became a neuroscientist?

- I gotta be honest, I'm kinda up for it.

(laughing) - It's a lotta fun.

It's a lot of fun. - Heather, you describe it

with such glee.

Stick a magnet on their head, okay, and what happens?

- One day I'll bring you into the lab.

- Na uh. (laughing)

I don't wanna put magnets in my head.

- We can manipulate, for example, we have you do an action.

You can press the button whenever you want.

Kinda like that let me know when you had

the intention to do it and then we see when you do it.

And then we zap you just after you do it.

- Zap you. - Little magnet stimulation.

(Neil laughs) And what that does.

It's harmless. - Innocent.

- It's harmless. - Harmless.

Magnetic stimulation of the brain.

- It's absolutely harmless and what it does

is we can move back in time,

your perception of when you had the intention,

we can move forward in time your perception

of when you did the action.

So that's one way we can manipulate time.

You can manipulate time when you're in

various different states of consciousness.

When you have particular types of brain damage,

especially to the prefrontal cortex,

your perception of time will speed up.

We're starting to understand which parts of the brain

are related to time perception

and when they're damaged, your time perception changes.

Or when you have certain psychiatric illnesses.

Even during the creative state,

when you're in that kind of flow state,

like when Baba gets into his flow and he's rapping,

I've looked at his brain in the scanner

and other rappers. - He let you do this.

- Why do you think I married him?

Oh, he's my husband by the way.

(laughing) (applause)

- Did he know before he married you?

- No, she made him marry her. (laughing)

They were out at dinner, she was like, come here.

I'ma put a magnet on you.

- The real question is. - Don't tryta dodge this back.

We know. - The real question is,

did he write a rap about neuroscience

because he married a neuroscientist?

Or did he marry a neuroscientist

because he wanted to write a rap about neuroscience?

We'll never know, I digress.

- I'ma tell you what I know, and no disrespect to Baba

or my wife of 20 years, but he married you

'cause you're hot. (laughing)

Now that's one thing that every man is predetermined.

(laughing) - He tells me he was

more attracted to my brain, but I'll leave it at that.

- And I'ma tell you he's lyin'.


- As I was saying, I put it in the scanner.

- You put him in the scanner while he's rapping?

- While he's rapping and we actually found

a distinct pattern of brain activation.

During improvised state versus

when he's doing a memorized rap,

he gets decreased activation of the part of the brain

called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex,

which has to do with our sense of self and time and place.

So when you're in these flow states--

- There's actually a part of the brain called

the dorso



Can you make up your mind where this thing is in the head?


- I'm kinda with you 'cause this like

dorsal, lateral, pre. - Dorsal, lateral, pre.

Frontal. - Frontal.

- Exactly where is it?

It's all around here. (laughing)

It's all up in here.

- In this exact spot. - It's right there.

- There are a lot of parts to the brain

that we need to describe in explicit detail.

I won't even ask you about your physics terms

that you all use.

It's turned down.

So that's why when people are in this flow state

it feels as if it's coming through them from some place else

'cause they lose their sense of agency,

but they also lose their sense of time

and we also know in people if you knock out

with the transcranial magnetic stimulation,

that part of the brain,

it'll affect their perception of time.

Time is a creation of the brain.

It's an allusion, just like anything else.

And the other interesting fact is that

people without any brain damages, healthy people,

actually have a slower subjective sense of time

than the actual clock time.

So we're not very accurate at telling clock time.

So we have our own kind of internal pace.

- When I was a kid I did a really geeky thing,

just 'cause I could.

I trained myself to count seconds precisely.


- What are you talkin' about Neil?

That's not geeky at all.

- My personal best was

I counted 89 seconds

when 90 seconds had passed.

And I used to do it with stop watches.

I almost got an applause for that, thank you.


So Brian, I just tried to match real time

but she's sayin'

the brain can be manipulated

to think about-- - Is there such thing

as real time?

I just think it's an allusion that we experience

but there is actual real time? - From the standpoint

of physics, there is a conception of time

because that's what allows change to occur.

So when people say from a physics standpoint

that time is an allusion,

I don't really know what they mean,

but it is the case that our experience of time,

which you say that you can manipulate,

which is quite interesting, - With magnets.

- Or electrodes. - Our experience of time

does not give us isnight into the way time actually works.

'Cause once you learn that time for me

is not the same as time for you,

if we're in motion

or if we're experiencing different gravitational fields,

these are measurable differences between

how your watch and my watch will tick off time

based upon what we're doing and where we are.

That's counterintuitive.

We never experience that.

It took a genius of Einstein to come along and reveal it,

so I would say that our experience of time

gives us a misrepresentation of how time actually behaves.

But time is real. - But for every one of us,

we are prisoners of the present.

Eternally transitioning from our past to our future.

- Jesus, man. - That's deep, man.

We should just end this show right now.


- You said that, I was like, guess we outta time.

- Looking into the future, there might be ways.

We can do things now, like implant electrodes in the brain

and stimulate certain parts directly.

- The more you talk about this.

(laughing) We can plant electrodes

in the brain because the magnet wasn't good enough.

- And we can control it with remote control.

This is real stuff, I promise. (laughing.

- How do we know, you weren't just off stage

controlling Baba like this,

with a remote control? (laughing)

How do we know? - Why do you think

he was so good? (laughing)


But if we could, and theoretically we could do this

in the not too distant future,

go in and implant electrode

and affect your perception of time,

such that every moment appears to last an eternity.

- Tend to which the moments are.


- You could fast forward the ones you don't like.

You can keep the really good ones.

- Wait, that was in Black Mirror.

I saw that in Black Mirror. - Was that?

- I was gonna say, have you been talkin' to my wife?

(laughing) - But the question would be,

would you want that implant?

Would you want that because I happen to think that

having to experience both the good and the bad,

the fact that it's temporal and that there's limit

and that it's our most valuable resource,

gives life meaning. - But suppose you could find

the moments in time or the places in the brain

where you're most creative

and then make that be your most sustained experience.

Does creativity map into this conversation?

- Yes, when you're creating, the parts of your brain

that are normally active when they're click off time,

are down regulated when you're in that creative flow state.

Time doesn't seem to exist, self doesn't seem to exist.

It's a very pleasurable state.

People strive to get there. - I think Brian and I

could agree on this, when you're crankin' out

some equation, you forego personal hygiene,

you don't know that you're hungry.

And you don't know how much time has elapsed.

Brian, do you agree? - Yeah, yeah, yeah.

- Yeah, I call that Sunday. (laughing)

- But you also feel, it feels as if

you're tapping into something greater.

As if you are outside something greater than yourself.

Because your sense of self is turned down.

So in those moments, I would argue that

we feel eternal in a sense because time is not existing.

And it is very pleasurable,

but do you wanna be in that state all the time?

- If I had control over it.

Do we have control over it? - Essentially, yeah.

- If we had control of it. - Yeah, she wasn't very sure

about that part. (Heather laughs)

You have control, well ya ya ya yeah.

(laughing) All I know is this.

I am never comin' to your lab,

'cause you like a real life version of Get Out.


Lay me down on the table.

Now sink into the floor. (laughing)

- Well, I welcome any of you into my lab

at any time. - Chuck and I are walkin'

right by. - It's open door policy.

Come on in.

I would argue that our sense of time

is what gives us meaning.

And there are some patients who get lesions

where they are just literally living in the moment.

They cannot see the future

and they cannot think of the past.

There's someone who has this certain type of brain damage--

- So they're prisoners of the present without vision.

- Because you say we're prisoners of the present.

I say we're not prisoners of the present

because we can see into the future and the past.

There's a man, he had a certain type of brain damage,

where every minute, he keeps a diary and just keeps writing

I am now just conscious for the very first time.

Right now I'm just conscious for the first time.

Now I'm just awake, the first time

and it's just each minute because he has no vision.

He can't look in the future and he can't see the past.

It's only the now.

He's a prisoner. - Which magnet

made that happen? (laughing)

- It's a type of brain damage. - And can I borrow some money

from him? (laughing)

- Chuck. - One interesting thing

of that story though, just to give it meaning.

He had damage to his hippocampus,

which is involved in memory,

but the one thing he did remember.

- There was an episode of Family Guy called Big Man

on the Hippocampus, by the way.

- [Heather] Really, I've never seen it.

The thing that stayed constant.

- I know it 'cause I was in that episode, that's why.


- You were the big man? - I was referenced in it

or somethin'. - You were the big man

on the hippocampus? - No, no, no, no.

- Oh no, it wasn't you?

The thing that remains stable though is every time

his wife would come to visit him

and this was over the course of years,

he would recognize her and see her like it's the first time

he's seeing her in a million years

and say oh, it's so good to see you.

I'm so happy to see you.

And that lasted for years and years

and that was the only thing that remained constant.

And the other thing was that he was a professional pianist

and whenever he'd get in front of the piano,

and get into this mode,

he could actually just play a whole piece.

- Was he aware his wife was puttin' magnets on his head?


- The one thing is this.

We control the electrodes right now.

The question is can you control them yourself?

That's why I hesitate.

We haven't got to that point yet

because you don't wanna people goin' home and just

- Well, call me when you get there.

- zingin' themsevles.

When we get to that point, then I'll give you a call.

- So Heather, we're about to lose Brian

- Oh no. - out of this segment

- Forever? - before we go to our

sports segment. - Forever she says.

- Brian, you have any sort of

concluding reflective thoughts?

- No. (laughing)

(applause) - And he freely said that.

- Brian, was it Einstein or John Wheeler who said

of time, time is invented to make motion look simple.

- Wheeler said time was invented so that everything

doesn't happen at the same moment.

- That you can spread it out - Spread it out.

- in a coordinate system. - And Einstein said that

the distinction between past, present and future

is only an allusion, however persistent.

And on that I'll leave, thank you very much.

(laughing) (applause)

- Brian. - Thank you.

- Brian Greene, everybody. (applause)

- Great job, man.

For those of you who are uninitiated,

Playin' with Science is a sports science mashup.

Where Neil likes to say where jocks and geeks collide.

And I like to say without any concussions by the geeks

because when jocks and geeks collide,

only one person suffers in that collision.

- One person walks away. - One person walks away,

the other one does not and normally do this--

- By the way. - Go 'head.

- In high school, I was a geek jock.

- A geek jock? - Yeah.

- Yes. - Yeah.

- [Chuck] You were a wrestler.

- But intellectually, I associated with the geekaverse.

But any time I saw a geek get beaten up or bullied,

that was my superhero.

The geeks need me and I would go


(feet stomp)

I felt this urge to protect the geekasphere as high school--

- What's the superhero name for that?

- I don't know, I don't know. - Chuck?

- But it needs one. - Yeah, yeah.

- I believe it's the Tysonator.


That's very cool.

- So who do you have? - But before we get

into our guest, who is (chuckles) just so so so awesome,

actually I'm gonna use a different word,

who is such a superb guest. - He said that because

any time I hear him say awesome,

he said it would be awesome if you could pass the salt

and I would say, when I grew up, the word awesome

would apply to curing polio, walking on the moon

and there's a next generation that has no concept

of how to use that word. (laughing)

- And I blame the Lego Movie. (laughing)

You didn't see it. - No, I didn't see

the Lego Movie.

Everything is awesome


- Let me just say, first of all,

I can't tell you how long I been waitin'

to do that on stage. (laughing)

But normally this show is co-hosted with Gary O'Reilly,

who is a former professional soccer player

and the co-host of Playing with Science

and he is currently a broadcaster.

He resides in the UK.

Unfortunately his flight was canceled

and so he could not be here.

- It was snowing in the UK. - It was snowing in the UK.

No, it was snowing here.

Unfortunately he could not be here.

But he is listening right now.

Not right now, but he will be listening to this broadcast,

so if we could all give a round of applause

to Gary O'Reilly. (applause)

What we do here is we explore the science of sport.

To help us do that today, we have an incredible guest

who is a former Olympic Silver Medalist.

She is also, how many times, how many times was it?

I gotta look at these notes 'cause I wanna get it right.

Five time World Champion Medalist.

Please welcome the incredible

Sasha Cohen.

(applause) (audience cheers)

- Hi. - Hey, good to see you.

- I'm so excited to join the fun.

- It's so great.

- Hop over here. - Excellent.

- Have a seat Sasha. - Chuck, what did she

get her medals in?


- Thank you Neil. - It's okay.

- The truth is that I took it for granted

that everybody would know because you're Sasha Cohen

but she is a-- - Luge.

- Luge. (laughing)

- Luge. - You said luge.

Sasha of course, is a figure skater.


A damn good one.

And not just a figure skater.

You're also an incredible ballerina

and gymnast, all of those things rolled in

and then strap skates on and do it all.

- Exactly, I started in gymnastics.

I wanted to take hip hop, my mom directed me

towards ballet, figure skating.

- She wanted you to have a job.

- Exactly. - Hey, what are you

talkin' about, what's wrong with hip hop?


- Don't worry, your husband is still my favorite

White rapper. (laughing)

- White science rapper.

- But go 'head. - So that was how

I got started, I started in gymnastics

because I was basically a bundle of energy

and I destroyed the house.

They were like how can we calm you down?

So I got put into gymnastics

for about three hours a day, every day.

When I was five years old,

I was doing hundreds of jumping jacks, push ups, v ups

and when I got home, I was a very well behaved child.

- A v up, is that this here? - Are you gonna show me?

- Oh, this? - Am I gonna show you?

You're basically like this and you're goin' up and up.

- [Neil] Okay cool, very cool.

- [Sasha] That's a v up.

- That's very impressive, I gotta tell you right--

(laughing) Nah, I'm not.

You know what, I'm good. - You good, you good.

- You got it, you got it.

It exists in the space time continuum.

Just leave it there.

- We of course have Heather Berlin here,

Dr. Heather Berlin,

who is going to break down the neuroscience

because there's a lotta neuroscience that goes into

pretty much every athlete, correct?

- Yeah. - When you talk about

the brain and the discipline.

They call it muscle memory,

but it really isn't muscle memory.

- It's actually called procedural memory.

Basically when you're first learning,

and you probably have had this experience,

the moves or whatever it may be,

you have to really focus

and you're using parts of your prefrontal cortex.

You need conscious focus,

even learning to tie a shoelace for the first time.

And then over time, over repetition,

and discipline to do it all those many times,

it starts to become implicit or unconscious

and it moves into the basil ganglia,

which is the subcortical part of the brain

and it becomes this procedural memory.

- What we call muscle memory. - Yeah.

And it's like riding a bike.

And then once you get it into that implicit state,

if you become too self aware of what you're doing,

oh exactly how should I hit that tennis ball,

it will mess up your flow.

I imagine that you practice it so much

that when you go into a routine,

you're almost going on autopilot.

You wanna get to that point

at which your body knows what it's doing

and you don't have to think about it.

'Cause the thinking messes it up.

- 'Cause Yogi Berra said it, baseball,

90% of the game is half mental.

(laughing) - That's a good quote.

- No, it's true and I think that's where

a lot of elite athletes get in trouble.

It's happened to me on several occasions,

is where you train your body to do something

over and over and over, but then you have this one moment

and you're like I can't leave it to chance.

So you get your mind involved because you also have days

that you're only practicing an hour a day

once your at competition,

and then you're just thinking about it

over and over and this one moment arrives

and it's very hard to put away the monkey mind

'cause it really wants to be there to help you,

but it's like too many cooks in the kitchen.

- Exactly, and when you turn down that part of,

it's the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex,

that's making you self aware. - There it is.

- There it is again. (laughing)

- And that's the inner critic

and oh my god, what should I do.

And if you can manage to turn that down,

and just enter into the flow state and lose yourself,

that's when you really perform at your best.

- Exactly. - You better watch out,

she'll tell you to sink into the ice.


Neil, you, yesterday, actually,

I heard you talkin' to somebody

at another thing we were doin',

where you were sayin' that you skate or you did somethin'

at the ice rink where you wore figure skates?

What didn't you do?

What haven't you done? - I spent the time

in high school as a rink guard.

(laughing) - But not with hockey skates.

- Not with hockey, I wore figure skates.

- [Sasha] Which is very unusual.

Very unusual. - The rink guard is

more aggressive

with hockey skates, but I had figure skates on.

(laughing) I had on figure skates.

- I'm just tryin' to figure this out

and maybe you can tell me. - That toe pick can hurt you.

- That's why you had it.

'Cause you're fierce. - You ever see figure skates?

There's teeth in the front of figure skates.

There were some thugs who came on.

- You were the real deal - Hockey thugs.

- Who knew figure skatin' was so tough?


- They were beefy, thuggy guys,

and rather than fight them,

I just challenged them to a race,

from one end of the ice to the other

and everyone parted ways

and they have on hockey skates,

so they gotta press their feet left and right

to go forward. - Yeah.

- I had on figure skates, I just went up on my toes

and just ran. (laughing)

And I got to the end, waitin' for them to come.

They shut up after that.

So I deeply appreciate your craft.

- Thank you. - As a figure skater myself.


- As a physicist. - We'll have to do

the next episode on the rink.

We'll race, we'll race. - Ooh, yeah.

- [Heather] Ooh, those are some fightin' words.

- [Sasha] Take this to the rink.

- Meet me outside on the rink.

With figure skates on in a tutu,

then we'll fight. - Exactly.

- Are you aware of the physics

because they call figure skating physics on ice.

There's so much to it.

Are you aware of the physics when you're skating?

Or are you aware of it at all? - I think you are aware of it,

but you don't think of it in terms of physics.

The way that you define,

it's like this hyper body awareness

and you can feel when you take off for a jump,

if you don't have enough speed,

if you slightly throw your shoulder too much

and you can feel in the air that you're off kilter

and that you're gonna go down hard.

And you also know that if you're doin'

a single, a double, a triple or a quad,

exactly how much torque you have to put in

when you leave the ice, 'cause that is what determines

how fast you will rotate and if you'll be able to complete

a certain number of rotations up in the air.

- Torque is a force that sets something into rotation.

And otherwise it's just a force

giving acceleration to an object.

You have force that goes in a straight line

and then you have torque,

which is a force turning something.

So there you are, it's a force you are putting

between your body, your skate and the ice,

so that you can rotate. - To launch it,

to begin it and the same with spinning.

And that's something you'll kinda go into a spin slow

and then you'll glide in and you'll ride the edge,

and then you'll take the right side of your body

and you'll snap it to begin the spin

and then you'll use your arms and legs

to increase your speed or slow it down.

- Oh my god. (laughing)

I'm learnin' how to physics skate.

- Physics skate. - Physics skate,

I'm learnin' how to physics skate.

- [Neil] Did you just invest that word?

- I did, physics skate. - Physics skate.

- So here's what I would love to do.

For those of you who are listening

and do not have the benefit of visual,

because everybody is here, if you could stand up

and just show us the actual,

but you have to talk it through,

because people are listening at home,

- Sure. - if you could show us

the physicality of what happens

when you're doing that motion

and then Neil, if you can break down

exactly what's happening from a physics standpoint,

I think that would be really cool.

I'm makin' this up as I go along.

(laughing) (applause)

- So we can pretend like we're the Olympic announcers.

We've got Sasha Cohen.

- And this is what she's doing.

- This is what she's doing.

Sasha Cohen, she's wearing high heels

at this moment. - I am wearing heels.

I've not done it this way before.

- So what happens? - There's two instances.

There's a jump and a spin.

I feel like if anyone's watched any figure skating,

somewhat aware of the difference.

One you leave the ice and one you don't.

The jump, you leave the ice. (laughing)

- Chuck, you got that? - I'm keepin' up.

- We'll start with a jump. - Stay with us, Chuck.

- For instance, I will start with

a salchow, and so it's something where

you're gonna take off backwards

and you're gonna be gliding

on the inside edge of your left foot

and you're gonna determine

how much speed you wanna get going in.

So I'll be doing crossovers and running

and running, going fast. - Building your speed.

- Right, and then people have different entrances.

Many, many, many years ago, I did a quad salchow

and I wanted to get extra torque.

So I would do a turn ahead and then I would set myself here,

and then I would use the edge, gliding backwards,

the right side of my body

and I would dig in with my left foot into the ice

and whip this up and that's what would initiate the momentum

and I would leave the ice, push off this toe pick

and then immediately snap the weight over my right side.

And based on how much

I followed through with my right arm, and right leg,

and push down with my left,

would determine how fast I would spin

and if it would be a single jump, a double jump,

a triple jump, or a quad. - Can I ask you a question?

The way you've just broke it down

was a very logical, conscious, whatever.

When you're actually doing that,

you're not thinking all those things are you.

Are you feeling them? - You feel it.

- You feel it. - So I think I'm explaining

exactly what I feel, but it's like you're very fine tuned.

You know exactly how much speed you need

and you know how much speed is too much

that you'll lose control.

That it could turn out great, but you have to get lucky

because basically speed magnifies anything.

It helps you get more height and more torque,

but if you are one millimeter off in any direction

and you have extra speed, you're gonna go down really hard

or your alignment won't be quite right.

So people are a little tentative with speed.

You can go up in flames.

It's like putting leverage on your house.

It can work out really well, or it just can go bust.


- Now, finally, somethin' I can relate to.

- No leverage. - So Sasha,

you gave a brilliant description of how you

give yourself rotational inertia.

- [Sasha] For a jump, we haven't even gotten to the spin.

- To me, in physics, you generally break things apart

into components and you put 'em all together

for the one thing.

I break this apart, you told me how you gain spin,

but if gonna do a quad, you have to be airborne long enough

to complete the quad before you hit the ground.

- Yes, that's part of it.

Because you'll notice,

if you've watched figure skating this past Olympics,

you will see some people barely get off the ice

and they can do three turns

and some people get this high up

and they don't complete it. - Two, three feet off the ice.

- It really is the rotational spin.

- It's how fast you launch yourself up.

And then obviously it goes into what's you're body type,

do you have wide hips, how fast are you spinning?

And that's why men rotate faster

and generally do a lot more quads than women do.

They spin faster, they've got narrower hips.

But women are more flexible,

so we've got better spiral sequences.

- How many women have done quads?

- A couple have done it in practice

and I feel like maybe one or two have done it

in competition. - And you've done a quad?

- I have, a long time ago. (applause)

Long time ago.

Thankfully, YouTube exists, and it will always live there.

(laughing) I'll be like wow,

I used to do that.

Now I just sit. (laughing)

- People must've freaked out.

Did the announcer lose his shit?

(laughing) - It was an exciting moment

because people can see when you get really close,

or you're double footed or you step out,

but when you actually do it

and you come down from four turns

and you have to have tremendous amount

of strength and balance to catch yourself

when you come down, get out and so it's this moment.

Uh, is she gonna do it?

Is she gonna do it?

And you have it and it's very exciting.

- It was exciting watching you just do it in heels.

(laughing) - It's an extra layer.

- So there's the launch

and the landing, that both matter.

- Yes, so when I train,

you'd work on explosive muscles for bounce.

And then also I would jump down off of boxes this high

in order to learn how to absorb all that pressure

and momentum coming down. - You do that with

the skates on? - Off ice training,

I do it without skates.

And then on the ice, with skates.


- Thanks Sasha. - No problem, no problem.

Did wanna keep it clear.

No misunderstandings.

But then let me get to a spin.

'cause a spin's very different,

'cause you're not launching yourself out

and it's something that goes for much longer.

It's not fractions of a second.

A spin can be 30 seconds, it can be a minute.

You'll see most people wind backwards.

It's all about torque in the body

and this is why I realize I'm a terrible skier

because it's the opposite. - They're winding the spring.

- You're winding. - To send it out.

- So my hips are going to the left

and my shoulders are going to the right,

lotta abs, lotta abs. - Core work.

- So then you step in and you ride this outside edge

and then again, you do the same with momentum for a jump,

except you don't take off and then you spin.

Generally, if I wasn't in heels,

(applause) I could do more spins.

Once you're there, you'll keep this momentum

and then as I would bring in my arms and my legs,

I can just insanely increase the speed of my spin

and likewise, if all the sudden, I wanted to slow it down,

I would just open up.

And you would see the rotations just kind of almost stop.

In that way, I was aware of physics,

but for figure skaters, we would think about it more

in terms of body awareness of where your hips are,

what torque you need.

- Plus you have to look good doin' it.

- Yes. - 'Cause you're bein' judged--

- And what color you look good in.

(laughing) - Right, right.

There are other dimensions of the analysis of the scores.

- [Sasha] Exactly.

- Can you tell us what is happening when she does that?

- Oh, the physics, yeah.

Gonna take my shoes off. - I wanna see your spin.

- For those of you listening,

Neil is taking off his shoes. - She kept her heels on.

- And putting on Sasha' heels.

- [Sasha] Cinderella, does it fit, does it fit?

- All I could tell you is this,

Prince Charmin' is never comin' back.


- [Sasha] Thank you.

- In physics, here's the deal.

If you set yourself rotating, so I'll do that right now.

Here I am rotating,

(applause) at a speed.

Wait, don't applaud yet.

You don't know what's about to come.


- So you just spun around. - You can calculate

how much angular.

You might remember from your physics class,

everything that happens in a straight line

you can think of in a rotation.

There's a force, the rotational counterpart is torque.

There is mass, the rotational counterpart

is moment of inertia.

You also have momentum and the rotational counterpart

is just angular momentum.

So here's the thing.

Once you start rotating, your angular momentum is constant.

It's constant, so if I start spinning,

you calculate the angular momentum by, here it is.

It is



of whatever your body is.

(laughing) - Which in this case

would be the biggest figure skater ever.


- Here's the point.

Your hands have a certain mass

and they're rotating out at this distance.

So you have part of your body mass

away from your axis of rotation.

You can calculate how much angular momentum that is.

Now watch, if I bring any part of my body

closer to my axis of rotation,

then one of the terms in your angular momentum drops.

What happens is the distance to your axis of rotation drops.

But your angular momentum stays the same,

so somethin' has to increase.

- Ohh. (applause)

- Because when you multiply - Bing.

- these two numbers, you have to get

the same answer every time.

If I start changing the distance of the mass of my body

to my axis and I make it smaller, I have to spin up.

- Nice. - Nice.

- Allow me? - Yes.

- I will spin, and then. (applause)

Just like she said.

You're spinning, you speed up, but then you can stop it.

By just putting your mass back out.

- Slow it down. - Here's my proposal to you.


Put your arms out.

You're my skating physics demo in this moment.

You have a certain amount of mass coming out here.

- For those listening, right now,

Sasha has her arms-- - T shape.

- Spread apart, - Spread, apart, yes.

- in a t formation and go 'head.

- Exactly, so there's a certain amount of mass

along your arm and in your hands.

And you also showed earlier when you started spinning,

you might start with your leg out.

And then when you bring your leg closer in

towards your axis of rotation,

you start spinning faster.

So we got this.

Oh, this an infinity on your wrist.

- It is. - Very cool.


It's an infinity tattoo. - Yes, that is

an infinity tattoo. (laughing)

- Sorry.

Here's my suggestion, I don't know if it's legal.

Next time you do this, I think you can do a quint.

Is there such a word? - There is such a word.

- A quint, five turns.

Now how would you do that?

I'm gonna say, you get some lead weight to put in your hand.


- It's Tom Brady all over again.

Tom Brady of ice skating.

- When you start spinning with lead weights in your hand,

even if you're spinning at the same speed

that you once were, you have more mass

farther away from your rotation axis.

So that as you then bring the more mass in,

you will spin faster.

People will notice if you're grabbing somethin'

to hold on to somethin'. - Whoa, what's goin on?

- As you skate around the rink

with two kettle bells in your hand.

(laughing) - It's a little obvious.

- Just get really heavy rings.

Really heavy rings. - Bracelet,

and lead infuse the wrist bracelet

and it's just your jewelry. - Meanwhile, I build up huge--


- So what I'm sayin' is, if you did that,

the same gestures, you will spin faster

and you'll have to land, you have to figure out the landing.


- I'm gonna throw this back to you.

- What's that? - For spinning,

this would absolutely work,

and it would give me more torque and momentum when I spin.

But I think the extra weight,

would not allow me to get up as high in the air,

and so even if I got extra torque when I pulled in,

I would still not be able to rotate as many times.

- Need to think about this. - We need to work on this.

You need to work on this. - It's a trade off.

(applause) Have to think about that.

- Good thing to think about. - Gotta think about that.

This is one of the interesting physics problems

where there are two variables competing with one another

and you don't know if one is more powerful than the other

or where they meet, to get the best combination of both.

That's where you get more the interesting,

complex problems in physics and in life.

- I have a neuroscience problem here.

That I can address. - What's that?

- [Heather] Why don't you get dizzy

when doing all of this-- - Oh yeah.

What's up with that? - I have an explanation

for that. - You know Chuck,

if we did that, we'd be like bleh.


- Are you kiddin' me? - 'Cause they're going around

- and around and around - I'm dizzy right now.

- There's actually a neuroscientific explanation

for that question. - It's interesting.

For jumping, it happens in a fraction of a second

and you don't get dizzy, it's just very quick.

But spinning is something where ballet

and skating really diverge.

If you're a ballerina, you're spotting

to the edge of the room and that's how you're keeping

your awareness. - And by spotting, you mean,

you pick a spot, - You pick a spot.

- and you turn your head - and you turn and you turn.

- very quickly back to that spot.

- That prevents you from getting dizzy?

- For ballet. - For ballet.

- This is what ballerinas do.

They always spot, but for figure skaters,

you're spinning so fast and you're not doing one, one, one.

You're literally doing, I don't know, 50 turns

and the trick is you have to stay in the same center.

So about one to two blade length.

I think it's something to do with your inner ear,

that if you're not traveling,

and you're staying in the same spot,

even though you're spinning,

you don't get dizzy, but from personal experience,