‘Unexplainable’ talks to scientists about all of your burning questions

Science February 14, 2022
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Look, we don’t know what we don’t know. But that’s kind of the universal truth that’s kept humanity alive for so long, right? Woah, way too deep for a podcast recommendation site. Basically, what we’re trying to say is that “Unexplainable” is giving us everything we want to know when it comes to the juicy unknown. Host Noam Hassenfeld hosts this science show about everything we don’t know, looking at the world’s most fascinating unanswered questions and the extraordinary science used to find some semblance of an answer.

“Unexplainable” is closing in on 50 episodes, dropping new episodes every Wednesday. Episodes are a short and sweet 30 minutes, featuring a variety of experts and Vox reporters to find out more about what we don’t know.

Asking the questions you’ve probably been wondering your whole life or things you’ve never once thought to ask, “Unexplainable” has it covered. For instance, did you know that birds are shrinking? A recent study found that birds are actually growing smaller over time. Is is humans? Is it climate change? How else are humans altering the literal shape of the Earth?

“Unexplainable” has asked what causes Alzheimer’s. Closer looks at what researchers have been digging for shows that their focus may be to narrow for them to find a cure. They’ve asked experts about endometriosis, a common chronic condition where uterus tissue grows elsewhere in the body, who the first human to live to 150 will be, UFOs, and why placebos actually work.

What is love? (Baby, don’t hurt me)

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, they recently asked the beautifully philosophical, yet scientifically unexplainable, question of love. Mainly, what the heck is it? And can science predict the success of a relationship? Can science help people find love?

Well, kind of! After speaking with some experts of love, a.k.a. romance novelists, who also don’t really understand love despite making a living off of people’s love for love. Along with Vox science editor Brian Resnik and senior producer Meradith Hoddinott, “Unexplainable” dives right in, asking researchers and scientists: what don’t we understand about love? And it seems to be that’s not necessarily the problem with studying love (from scientists’ perspective). Instead, the question scientists ask is: do people really know what they want?

They speak with researcher Don Conroy Beam at UC Santa Barbara about what scientists used to do when they tried to study love, which basically boiled down to asking a whole bunch of people what they look for in a partner – whether they want someone tall, smart, funny, successful, nice, all the good stuff. But researchers weren’t getting very far with this. Suddenly, in the mid-2000s, speed dating skyrocketed in popularity, and it was the perfect experimental playground for researchers.

Those researchers found, to many speed-daters’ surprise and to their own surprise, that the partners that people wanted to pursue did not match the parameters that the speed-daters had originally laid out. Knowing that preferences don’t necessarily reveal who people end up dating, Dan Conroy Beam set out to create what was essentially a really big Sims game. Based on real people, he would create Sims, wipe their memories, and see what happened. And shockingly, the simulation did a really good job at reconstructing and reproducing relationships. About 45% of the couples sampled ended up back together in this Sim world.

Noam, Meradith, and Brian explain that 45% is actually overwhelmingly positive for this experiment. That’s like a .450 batting average in the major leagues levels of overwhelming excellence, not like a 45% on a test per say. They dive deeper into love, speaking with UC Davis professor Paul Eastwick about compatibility and a number of romance authors on the subject.

“Unexplainable” is probably what most podcasts strive to be. While the topics may be complex in many cases, this podcast does an incredible job of presenting it all in an understandable way. Focusing in on areas where we are lacking answers or have even fallen prey to a collective misunderstanding, “Unexplainable” always manages to use clear language to explain their findings. They aren’t always necessarily finding answers, but they are definitely keeping our lives a whole lot more interesting.

Listen to ‘Unexplainable’

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