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The promise of tissue engineering and wound closure technology

Note: this interview was broadcast by the WGBH affiliate WCAI, the Cape and Islands NPR station.
In this Faculty Insight interview, Sujata Bhatia, a lecturer on biomedical engineering at Harvard, and the assistant director for undergraduate studies in biomedical engineering at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, talks with Jenny Attiyeh of ThoughtCast about the science behind tissue engineering.

(This video features only part of the interview — to hear it in its entirety, click on the mike symbol below.)

Dr. Bhatia is also the thesis adviser to Suneil Seetharam, an Extension School biotechnology graduate student, who is working on an artificial tissue glue, which, down the line, could be used by doctors to close wounds.
He does much of his research at the Wyss Institute at Harvard. And this is where he and Dr. Bhatia meet, to take a look at a sample, and assess its strength.

Click here: (7:30 minutes).

Posted on December 19, 2013 in Faculty Insight, Harvard Luminaries, Ideas, Science
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Cosmic Evolution’s Predilection for Constant Change

Note: an audio version of this interview was broadcast by the WGBH affiliate WCAI, the Cape and Islands NPR station.

The theory of cosmic evolution is a relatively new addition to the field of cosmology, and attempts to answer the questions of who we are, where we are, and how we came to exist, among others, by taking the long view — from the big bang, to the present day.
Here’s another definition for you: “Cosmic evolution is the study of the many varied changes in the assembly and composition of energy, matter and life in the thinning and cooling Universe.”

This explanation comes from Eric Chaisson, a vigorous champion of the cosmic evolutionary theory. He’s an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and a lecturer at Harvard Extension School, who is also the subject of this Faculty Insight interview, conducted by ThoughtCast’s Jenny Attiyeh.
And while it might leave more questions asked than answered, we hope it will give you the chance to stick your toe into deep astrophysic waters, and feel the tug of the cosmic tide…

Note:  Images of galaxies and other cosmic phenomena courtesy of Eric Chaisson. Thank you very much for their use!

Posted on November 7, 2013 in Faculty Insight, Front Page, Harvard Luminaries, Ideas, Science
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Online Education at Harvard – a new advance for democracy?

Distance education. Online learning. We’ve been hearing a lot these days about this new tool for teaching, this new way of leveraging technology to spread access to education as widely as possible, with as little effort – it must be said – as possible.
Harvard Extension School has been one of the pioneers in using the Internet to reach its ideal audience – adult learners who might not have been able to attend an Ivy League college, but who have the intelligence and curiosity to benefit from top-notch instruction, albeit virtually.

This Faculty Insight interview, produced in partnership with ThoughtCast and Harvard Extension School, is with Henry Leitner, the associate dean for Information Technology and Chief Technology Officer at Harvard’s Division of Continuing Education, and a senior lecturer on computer science at Harvard. Leitner also oversees the Distance Education initiative at the Extension School, and we spoke in a control room there, where many of these online courses are recorded.
What’s more, Leitner’s played a role in launching edX, a Harvard-MIT venture in online learning that’s gathering steam. It represents the MOOC  or massive open online course model, which can reach even greater numbers across the globe. These free online classes have the potential to penetrate closed societies and break down barriers, be they physical, psychological, cultural or – yes, educational.

Posted on August 9, 2013 in Faculty Insight, Harvard Luminaries, Ideas, Internet, Public Media
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EdX President Anant Agarwal’s Plan to Change the World

Note: this interview was broadcast by the WGBH affiliate WCAI, the Cape and Islands NPR station.

You’ve heard the news. Online education is the next big, disruptive thing. It’s taking on the establishment, and the hidebound, bricks and mortar institutions of higher learning must change – or shrink.

EdX, Coursera, Udacity and the like are the future – promising us a better educated and better employed nation of newly empowered citizens.

Or –  they’re the tool that leads to the firing of second rate, redundant professors across the land, to the retreat of non-virtual classrooms, those sacrosanct spaces where real students interact with real professors.

Or perhaps they’re both? These cultural and marketplace issues will work themselves out over time. But if we look farther ahead, what will be the political impact of “free education for all,” across the globe? (Albeit for those with a high speed internet connection!)

Anant Agarwal

ThoughtCast spoke with Anant Agarwal, formerly the Director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and currently the very first President of edX, in their spanking new offices in Cambridge, Massachusetts. An entrepreneur and an intellectual, Anant is perhaps also a visionary.

Will his visions for edX come true? Take a listen, and judge for yourself!

Click here:   (12 minutes).

Also, for extra credit –
What does the “X” in edX stand for?
Click here: (1 minute).

Posted on July 8, 2013 in Ideas, Internet, MIT, Public Media
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Islam and its Coat of Many Colors – with Ali Asani

Can a multi-faceted Islam be whatever you want it to be?
All things to all people?

To listen to the renowned Harvard Professor Ali Asani tell it, Islam is a religion of multiple dimensions, interpretations, and perspectives. It’s almost like an all-encompassing religion, whose core beliefs can serve to unite widely diverse cultural groups, which eventually combine to form a dazzling coat of many colors.
But with such a cornucopia of rules and rituals, might the basic tenets of Islam get lost? Could they become confused with ancient tribal codes, which existed prior to Islam, and are difficult to puzzle out, to separate from the Muslim doctrines of today?
This Faculty Insight interview, produced in partnership with ThoughtCast and Harvard Extension School, asks — but perhaps does not always answer — many of these questions. So take a look, see for yourself, and join Ali Asani, Harvard’s Professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic Religion and Cultures,  in the debate!

Posted on January 30, 2013 in Faculty Insight, Harvard Luminaries, History, Ideas, Politics, Religion
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“Why Does the World Exist?” with Jim Holt

Note: this interview was broadcast on the WGBH public radio affiliate WCAI, on the Cape and Islands!

Jim Holt (photo: Michael Todd)
Jim Holt (photo: Michael Todd)

In this ThoughtCast interview, science writer Jim Holt takes us on a jaunty tour of being and nothingness, existence and emptiness, quantum tunneling and the uncertainty principle. The author of Stop Me If You’ve Heard This: A History and Philosophy of Jokes, Holt lends his wit to a dissection of the puzzle of existence, which happens to be the topic of his just-published book Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story!  A frequent contributor to The New York Times and other publications, Holt approaches his subject with a personal, philosophical and scientific point of view. But does he solve the puzzle?… You tell me!

Click here to listen (28 minutes.)

Posted on January 9, 2012 in Ideas, Philosophy, Religion, Science
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Rebecca Goldstein: the atheist with a soul

Note: this interview was broadcast on WGBH, Boston’s NPR station for news and culture!

Rebecca Goldstein
Rebecca Goldstein

Rebecca Goldstein’s latest work, called 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction, is perhaps best described as a hybrid. It is indeed a novel, with its share of psychology, mathematics and academic politics, but it concludes with an appendix outlining these 36 arguments, as well as their rebuttals, in the language not of fiction, but of philosophy. So, as in many of Goldstein’s earlier novels, this one manages to fold ideas into art.
ThoughtCast spoke with Rebecca in her home in the Leather District, in downtown Boston.
Click here (28 minutes) to listen.
Click here (90 minutes) to listen to a discussion with Rebecca Goldstein and Steven Pinker, sponsored by PEN New England.  It’s titled Mind-Body Problems: A Conversation About Science, Fiction and God, and focuses mainly on Rebecca’s latest novel.

Steven Pinker
Steven Pinker
Rebecca Goldstein received her doctorate in philosophy from Princeton, and went on to teach philosophy before trying her pen at fiction. Her first novel, The Mind-Body Problem, was a critical success, and she went on to write 5 other novels, including Properties of Light, Mazel, and The Dark Sister. She has also written non-fiction studies of the mathematician Kurt Gödel, and the philosopher Baruch Spinoza.

In addition to being Rebecca’s husband, Steven Pinker is Harvard College Professor and Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, and one of the world’s leading authorities on language and the mind. He’s written seven books (so far) including The Blank Slate, How the Mind Works and The Stuff of Thought.

Posted on January 30, 2010 in Front Page, Ideas, Literature, Philosophy, Religion
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Jonah Lehrer on Emotional Hijacking and “How We Decide”

This entry is part 6 of 10 in the series Talks@Harvard Book Store

Note: this interview was broadcast on WGBH in Boston as well as on the WGBH Cape and Islands affiliate WCAI/WNAN!

Jonah Lehrer
Jonah Lehrer (photo credit: Lori Duff)

Jonah Lehrer, the precocious author of Proust Was a Neuroscientist, has come out with a new book called How We Decide. He spoke at the Harvard Book Store, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Click here to listen (28 minutes.)

After his talk, ThoughtCast spoke with Lehrer briefly about the value of emotion in rational decision making, the power of wishful thinking to hijack our reason, and the potential to retrain the brain via the mind. According to Lehrer, we’d generally be better off sticking to our instincts, our initial reaction or impulse, rather than over-think things. Calm, cool deliberation, it turns out, doesn’t always lead to the best results. Jonah Lehrer is a Contributing Editor at Wired Magazine, and has written for The New Yorker, Nature, Seed, The Washington Post and The Boston Globe.
Click here to listen to this rather noisy interview (8:50 minutes.)

Posted on July 20, 2009 in Economics, Ideas, Philosophy, Psychology, Science
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Samuel Huntington — on Immigration and the American Identity

Note: Sadly, Sam Huntington died in late December of 2008, so I’ve re-posted this 2005 interview, which was broadcast twice on WGBH, in Boston.

Sam Huntington
The eminent and provocative political scientist and prolific author, talks with ThoughtCast about what he sees as the threat to America’s national identity (and its founding ‘Anglo-Protestant’ culture) posed by large numbers of unassimilated Hispanics, legal or otherwise, living in the United States. His most recent book: “Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity” has caused quite a stir. Huntington is also famous for an earlier work called “The Clash of Civilizations.” In this book, he argues that civilizations, not nations or ideologies, form the basic building blocks of future cooperation — and conflict.

Huntington, a longtime professor of political science at Harvard, is also a member of the editorial board of a new magazine chaired by Huntington’s former student, Francis Fukuyama, called “The American Interest.”

We discuss these topics in a half-hour interview while seated in the back yard of his home on Martha’s Vineyard — hence all those birds chirping away cheerily…

Click here: to listen (30 mins).

Posted on January 21, 2009 in Harvard Luminaries, Ideas, Politics
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The New York Review turns 45!

Note: this interview has been picked up by the public radio station WGBH, in Boston, and its sister stations WCAI and WNAN.

Robert Silvers (credit Melanie Flood)

The venerable New York Review of Books was launched amidst a newspaper strike in the winter of 1963, and has continued unabated ever since. Devoted to intensive and nuanced coverage of politics, the arts, literature, science (and now movies and the Internet!), the paper, as it’s called, is considered to be the premiere journal of the American intellectual elite.
Robert Silvers, its longtime editor, who shared the post with Barbara Epstein until her death in 2006, spoke with ThoughtCast in the WNYC studios in New York.

Click here: to listen (40 minutes).

Note: Scott McLemee, who writes the Intellectual Affairs column each week at Inside Higher Ed, contributed an excellent question to the interview – thanks!

Posted on December 9, 2008 in Front Page, History, Ideas, Literature, Politics
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Griefer, Google Cooking and other Neologisms

This entry is part 1 of 7 in the series Neologisms

Note: This piece was broadcast on Word of Mouth on New Hampshire Public Radio and on WCVE in Richmond VA.

been there - done that
Today’s online world is in overdrive. Think of it as a novelty factory – spewing out new ideas, products, and neologisms – new words, or phrases. Take the word blog, for example, or broadband. These are now old-hat neologisms even my mother would recognize. But neologisms can also be existing words that acquire new meaning, like the term spam. Or the word friend – that’s now a verb! People friend each other on social networking sites like Facebook all the time!
So what better place to look for neologisms than at a conference devoted to the “Future of the Internet”, held by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.
Click here: to listen to Esther Dyson, Jimmy Wales, Tim Wu and Judith Donath (4 minutes). Or check out this 1 minute video with MIT Media Lab assoc. professor and Harvard fellow Judith Donath

Posted on July 19, 2008 in Harvard Luminaries, Ideas, MIT, Public Media, Words@Work
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Jack Beatty, Public Intellectual

Note: this interview was reviewed on PRX and earned 4 stars! And it was broadcast on WRNC-LP, and the public radio stations WCAI/WNAN, the Cape and Islands affiliates of WGBH.

Public -- Or Private?
Who are our public intellectuals today? What purpose are they meant to serve, and are they in fact serving it — or us? How public are they, and how accountable? Is there a venue for such people to even be heard — and if so, who would bother to listen? Are they no better than the talking heads we see endlessly on TV, or are they some newfangled model of the Renaissance Man?
Well, ThoughtCast has tracked down one bona fide public intellectual. His name is Jack Beatty, and he’s not only a “thinker”, he’s also a writer. His most recent book is Age of Betrayal: The Triumph of Money in America, 1865 – 1900. He’s also a senior editor at The Atlantic Monthly, and a regular contributor to the NPR program On Point. Let’s see if he has some answers…

Click here: to listen. (28 minutes)

Posted on July 25, 2007 in Ideas
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Kwame Anthony Appiah: the Cosmopolitan Philosopher

Note: This program was broadcast on WCAI, an affiliate of WGBH, Boston.

Kwame Anthony Appiah (Photo: Greg Martin)
Princeton Philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah discusses cosmopolitanism on ThoughtCast!
Born in England and raised in Ghana, Appiah is half English and half African. And perhaps because of this, he’s fascinated with the concept of identity, and the power it wields over people. But rather than wage identity politics, Appiah encourages us instead to be good global citizens, interested in and accepting of each other. In short, cosmopolitan. But also, at least a little bit “contaminated”… Appiah’s written a book on the subject: it’s called Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers.

Click here: to listen. (42 minutes)

Posted on July 10, 2007 in Ideas, Philosophy, Politics
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Faith and Philosophy with Harvey Cox and Simon Blackburn

Note: this program was broadcast on the WGBH public radio sister stations WCAI/WNAN, on the Cape and Islands, and on WRNC-LP!

Harvey Cox
Simon Blackburn
In this half-hour, ThoughtCast talks with two very different men, with one thing in common — a belief in humanism. Harvey Cox, the renowned Harvard Divinity School Professor and author of The Secular City and When Jesus Came to Harvard, talks with ThoughtCast about his faith, and the religious resurgence taking place here in America and abroad. Cox has a unique take on Christianity — while he doubts the Resurrection, he celebrates the life of Jesus, and urges us all to follow in his footsteps, and take his teachings to the streets, to enact them in our flawed, real, and secular world.
Simon Blackburn on the other hand rejects religion but embraces the wisdom of philosophy. He too is an author — of Truth: A Guide, Think and Being Good, among others — and he teaches philosophy at the University of Cambridge, in England. What he offers is a philosophy that’s not just for the educated elite, but for the rest of us!

Click here: to listen (29 minutes)

And to listen to a WGBH Forum Network lecture moderated by Harvey Cox, on the Boston civil rights movement, click here!

Posted on June 8, 2007 in Harvard Luminaries, Ideas, Philosophy, Religion
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Marc Hauser on “Moral Minds”

Marc Hauser
Note: This interview was broadcast on WCAI/WNAN, and is also featured on WGBH’s Science Luminaries series, as part of WGBH Science City.
The provocative Harvard psychologist Marc Hauser recently spoke about “The Evolution of Our Moral Intuitions” at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, as part of the Cambridge Science Festival. This ThoughtCast interview with Hauser serves as a good “first course” — but to get to the meat and potatoes, check out his book Moral Minds.
Click here: to listen. (17:40 minutes)
And to listen to Marc Hauser on the WGBH Forum Network, click here!

Posted on April 20, 2007 in Harvard Luminaries, Ideas, Psychology, Science
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Economist Amartya Sen on “Identity and Violence”

Note: this interview was broadcast on WGBH Radio.  And here’s a PRX review of the program!

Amartya Sen
Amartya Sen, the distinguished economist, philosopher, Nobel laureate and Harvard professor, talks with ThoughtCast about “Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny.”

This new book examines the unfortunate connection between violence and our tendency to identify with one key trait — our ethnicity, or religion, for example — to the exclusion of all others. Sen argues that we can combat this tendency by rejecting this narrowly defined, limited sense of identity, and embracing a broader, richer and more complex understanding of ourselves.
Amartya Sen was born in West Bengal, India (now Bangladesh) and teaches economics at Harvard University. He is known in the wider world for his work on the causes of famines.
Note: Susan Wennemyr served as associate producer on this program.
Click here: to listen (28:30 minutes).
To listen to a panel on “Combating Global Poverty” that includes Sen, click here to access WGBH’s Forum Network.

Posted on November 19, 2006 in Economics, Harvard Luminaries, Ideas, Philosophy
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