The Joy of Why

“The Joy of Why” is a Quanta Magazine podcast about curiosity and the pursuit of knowledge. The mathematician and author Steven Strogatz and the astrophysicist and author Janna Levin take turns interviewing leading researchers about the great scientific and mathematical questions of our time. New episodes are released every other Thursday.

Quanta Magazine

“The Joy of Why” is a Quanta Magazine podcast about curiosity and the pursuit of knowledge. The mathematician and author Steven Strogatz and the astrophysicist and author Janna Levin take turns interviewing leading researchers about the great scientific and mathematical questions of our time. New episodes are released every other Thursday.

Quanta Magazine

Terence Tao, who has been called the “Mozart of Mathematics,” wrote an essay in 2007 about the common ingredients in “good” mathematical research. In this episode, the Fields Medalist joins Steven Strogatz to revisit the topic.

Alan Turing helped the Allies in World War II by cracking the Nazis’ “unbreakable” Enigma cipher. But if Turing had attempted to decrypt those messages simply by trying out all possibilities, the sun would die out before he was done. How did Turing crack the "unbreakable" code? And now in the digital age, how do we keep generating encryptions of seemingly impossible complexity to keep our information secure? On this week’s episode of “The Joy of Why,” co-host Janna Levin talks with computer scientist Barak Boaz about the mind-bending mathematics of cryptography.

Why are the trickiest queries often easier for ChatGPT to answer than relatively simple questions that hinge on basic common sense? The answer lies somewhere deep in the layers upon layers of neural networks that make up large language models. On this week’s episode of “The Joy of Why,” co-host Steven Strogatz and 2022 MacArthur Fellow Yejin Choi take us into the ever-evolving, months-long training processes that are shaping the future of AI.

Perfect patterns can be an obsession for some people. And then there are the mathematicians obsessed with finding and breaking that perfection. In March 2023, after decades of dogged pursuit, the elusive aperiodic monotile was identified by a hobbyist, David Smith. On this week’s episode of “The Joy of Why,” mathematician Natalie Preiebe Frank and co-host Janna Levin talk through how recent breakthroughs in tiling can unlock structural secrets in the natural world.

How are scientists able to crack fundamental questions about nature and life? How does math make the complex cosmos understandable? In this episode, the physicist Nigel Goldenfeld and co-host Steven Strogatz explore the deep foundations of the scientific process.

Research suggests that psychedelic drugs can reopen critical periods of brain development to create opportunities for re-learning and psychological healing. In this episode, co-host Janna Levin speaks with Gül Dölen, a neuroscientist studying the therapeutic potential of psychedelic substances.

The exact cause of depression is unknown, although SSRIs, drugs targeting the neurotransmitter serotonin, have long been prescribed for it. Now the spotlight is turning to other aspects of brain chemistry. In this episode, the neuropharmacologist John Krystal of the Yale School of Medicine shares findings that are revolutionizing depression treatment.

Scientists are pursuing materials that can conduct electricity with perfect efficiency under ambient conditions. In this episode, the physicist Siddharth Shanker Saxena tells co-host Janna Levin about what makes this hunt so difficult and consequential.

Human nutrition begins with milk, but the wondrous biofluid does much more than feed babies. In this episode, co-host Steven Strogatz speaks with molecular nutritionist Elizabeth Johnson about her research into the lifelong benefits that milk confers through a healthy microbiome.

We often think of black holes as inescapable, but viewed through the lens of quantum information theory, there can be some exceptions. In the 1990s, the theoretical physicist Leonard Susskind struck a bet with Stephen Hawking about whether information can escape a black hole. Co-host Janna Levin speaks with Susskind about this “black hole war” and how the lessons learned about the black hole information paradox have propelled modern physics.

Birds flock. Locusts swarm. Fish school. Within chaotic assemblies of life, order somehow emerges. In this episode, co-host Steven Strogatz interviews the evolutionary ecologist Iain Couzin about how and why animals exhibit collective behaviors, and the secret advantages that arise from them.

Teleporting people through space is still science fiction. But quantum teleportation is dramatically different and entirely real. In this episode, Janna Levin interviews the theoretical physicist John Preskill about teleporting bits and the promise of quantum technology.

Time is all around us: in the language we use, in the memories we revisit and in our predictions of the future. But what exactly is it? The physicist and Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek joins Steve Strogatz to discuss the fundamental nature of time.

If evolution favors the "survival of the fittest," where did the impulse to help others come from? Host Janna Levin speaks with Stephanie Preston, a neuropsychologist who studies the biology of altruism.

In the third season, premiering Feb. 1, Steven Strogatz is joined by his new co-host, author and astrophysicist Janna Levin, for a new round of big questions and surprising answers about math and science.

Even empty space is bubbling with a form of energy, according to quantum mechanics - and that fact affects almost every facet of physical reality. The theoretical physicist Isabel Garcia Garcia explains to Steven Strogatz why it's so important in modern physics to understand what a true vacuum is.

Abnormal waves of electrical activity can cause a heart's muscle cells to beat out of sync. In this episode, Flavio Fenton, an expert in cardiac dynamics, talks with Steve Strogatz about ways to treat heart arrhythmias without resorting to painful defibrillators.

Jellyfish and other aquatic creatures embody solutions to diverse problems in engineering, medicine and mathematics. John Dabiri, a fluid dynamics expert, talks with Steven Strogatz about what jellyfish can teach us about going with the flow.

Once dismissed as myths, monstrous rogue waves that tower over ships and appear without warning are real. Wave-science researcher Ton van den Bremer and Steven Strogatz discuss how rogue waves can form in relatively calm seas and whether their threat can be predicted.

Consciousness, our experience of being in the world, is one of the mind's greatest mysteries, but as the neuroscientist Anil Seth explains to Steven Strogatz, research is making progress in understanding this elusive phenomenon.

Several areas of physics suggest reasons to think that unobservable universes with different natural laws could lie beyond ours. The theoretical physicist David Kaplan talks with Steven Strogatz about the mysteries that a multiverse would solve.

A new state of matter called a "time crystal," recently created on a quantum computing platform, can bend our expectations of thermodynamics. The physicist Vedika Khemani talks with Steven Strogatz about counterintuitive quantum behavior.

All infinities go on forever, so how is it possible for some infinities to be larger than others? The mathematician Justin Moore discusses the mysteries of infinity with Steven Strogatz.

Should Covid-19 vaccines be judged by how well they prevent disease or how well they prevent death? Anna Durbin, a public health expert and vaccine researcher, talks with Steven Strogatz about the science behind vaccines.

Can mathematics handle things that are essentially the same without being exactly equal? Category theorist Eugenia Cheng and host Steven Strogatz discuss the power and pleasures of abstraction.

Can We Program Our Cells?

“The Joy of Why” is a podcast about curiosity and the pursuit of knowledge from Quanta Magazine. The acclaimed mathematician and author Steven Strogatz interviews leading researchers about the great scientific and mathematical questions of our time.

As The Joy of Why podcast returns for a second season, producer Polly Stryker and host Steven Strogatz invite listeners to join them and their brilliant new guests on another voyage of discovery.

Why and How Do We Dream?

What Is Quantum Field Theory and Why Is It Incomplete?

Why Do We Get Old, and Can Aging Be Reversed?

How Do Mathematicians Know Their Proofs Are Correct?

Can Computers Be Mathematicians?

What Is Life?

How Could Life Evolve From Cyanide?

Will the James Webb Space Telescope Reveal Another Earth?

Einstein’s description of curved space-time doesn’t easily mesh with a universe made up of quantum wavefunctions. Theoretical physicist Sean Carroll discusses the quest for quantum gravity with host Steven Strogatz. The post Where Do Space, Time and Gravity Come From? first appeared on Quanta Magazine

Why Is Inflammation a Dangerous Necessity?

Steven Strogatz explores the mysteries of knots with the mathematicians Colin Adams and Lisa Piccirillo. The post Untangling Why Knots Are Important first appeared on Quanta Magazine

The reasons why sleep is so vital often hide in unexpected parts of the body, as host Steven Strogatz discovers in conversations with researchers Dragana Rogulja and Alex Keene. The post Why Do We Die Without Sleep? first appeared on Quanta Magazine

The noted mathematician and author Steven Strogatz explains how the conversations with experts in his new Quanta Magazine podcast address his lifelong fascination with timeless mysteries. The post Deep Curiosity Inspires The Joy of Why Podcast first appeared on Quanta Magazine

February 1, 202435min 41sec

We tend to think of mathematics as purely logical, but the teaching of math, its usefulness and its workings are packed with nuance. So what is “good” mathematics? In 2007, the mathematician **Terence Tao** wrote an essay for the “Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society” that sought to answer this question. Today, as the recipient of a Fields Medal, a Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics and a MacArthur Fellowship, Tao is among the most prolific mathematicians alive. In this episode, he joins **Steven Strogatz** to revisit the makings of good mathematics.