We look at some of the weirdest things in our wild, wonderful world, from the singing fish of Seattle to the fractal cats of imaginary mathematical space. First we check out an African shrub with berries that sparkle like ornaments: how could a Christmas tree evolve in the wild? Then we explore the strangely fuzzy boundary between plants and animals: bugs that use sunlight to create energy, salamanders that use photosynthesis, and sea slugs that look and act remarkably like leaves. Our parade of weirdness continues with birds that are hooked on ant baths, triple-gendered singing toadfish, the ultrasonic songs of mice, LOLcats that improve productivity, Julia’s infinite mathematical cats, and — now it can be revealed! The astounding truth about dog people vs. cat people. Finally, in our Pro Extension, we check out a real-life Jedi master, the Buddha from Space, exotic exoplanets, and the stunning beauty of the world’s largest mirror.
We explore the significance of sacred animals as guides, gods and omens. News of the birth of a rare white buffalo stirs the Lakota community in the wake of a series of tragic deaths earlier in the summer, and we explore the importance of cattle and other domesticated animals in human history and our relationship with the natural world. Then, Ali and Jeff each tell the stories of their own encounters with animal guides and how such relationships can shape our ever-changing understanding of ourselves.
This week we look at our most intimate and daily relationship with nature: the plants and animals we eat. We look at how incorporating native and invasive species into our diets can impact our health and our planet, we share some ways that art and technology challenge us to think about our food in new ways, we delve into greenwashing and how to spot it, and ask the tough question: does eating organic help the planet but hinder our sympathy for our fellow humans? In our Pro extension, we explore the relationship between diet and religious belief, and talk about the ways the Slow Food Movement can enlighten us about the interconnection between food, self and community.
In honor of Memorial Day weekend, we turn our attention to the mysteries of death, grief, and memory. What does it mean to honor our dead, and how does our relationship with loved ones we have lost shape our connection to the land in which we live? Can we acknowledge our sense of sacred ambivalence, and the tension between holding onto the past and looking forward to the future? We explore our connection with the land through sacrifice and burial traditions; we look again at our relationship with animals and how we experience loss; and we share some personal reflections on the spiritual meaning of grief as a path towards transformation.
We probe a little more deeply into the spiritual side of our relationship with the animals and plants who share the planet with us by exploring the role of familiars, fetishes and totems in cultures from all over the world. Is there a way to enlist the help of these beings to reconnect the natural and the spiritual, or maybe even rediscover how they’ve been connected all along?
In Episode 105 – Animal Kin, we discover that animals are people, too, and some of them share a lot more in common with humans than you might think! We take a look at how biologists are reexamining the question of animal intelligence in “bird-brained” corvids, and how someday soon you might be able to use a new iPhone app to talk to apes at the zoo. Plus, we learn how man’s best friend may have helped wipe out the Neanderthals, all the while grooming us to become obedient personal servants. After covering the fascinating discoveries of conventional science, in our Pro extension we take a walk on the wilder side as we look at research into psychic animals and animal psychics.