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Invisibilia

Unseeable forces control human behavior and shape our ideas, beliefs, and assumptions. Invisibilia—Latin for invisible things—fuses narrative storytelling with science that will make you see your own life differently.

Weekly hand curated podcast episodes for learning

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The best episodes ranked using user listens.

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The Personality Myth

In America personality is often seen as destiny. Whether you're a famous CEO like Steve Jobs or a serial criminal like Hannibal Lecter, most of us think that our position in life has a lot to do with our personality. This episode looks more closely at this belief. We start at a Court House where lines of people who are getting married describe the personality of the person with whom they are to be joined for life. Then travel to a prison in Ohio where a woman has struck up a work relationship with a prisoner who it turns out did something far worse than she imagined. Finally Lulu talks to a scientist to come up with a complete catalogue of all the things about us that actually do stay stable over the course of our lives. They look at everything from cells to memories until ultimately they come up with a list — but it's a really short list.

57mins

24 Jun 2016

Rank #1

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Emotions

A thief knocks down your door and you are flooded with fear. Your baby smiles up at you and you are filled with love. It feels like this is how emotions work: something happens, and we instinctively respond. How could it be any other way? Well, the latest research in psychology and neuroscience shows that's not in fact how emotions work. We offer you a truly mind-blowing alternative explanation for how an emotion gets made. And we do it through a bizarre lawsuit, in which a child dies in a car accident, and the child's parents get sued by the man driving the other car.

55mins

22 Jun 2017

Rank #2

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Entanglement

In Entanglement, you'll meet a woman with Mirror Touch Synesthesia who can physically feel what she sees others feeling. And an exploration of the ways in which all of us are connected — more literally than you might realize. The hour will start with physics and end with a conversation with comedian Maria Bamford and her mother. They discuss what it's like to be entangled through impersonation.

57mins

30 Jan 2015

Rank #3

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How to Become Batman

In "How to Become Batman," Alix and Lulu examine the surprising effect that our expectations can have on the people around us. You'll hear how people's expectations can influence how well a rat runs a maze. Plus, the story of a man who is blind and says expectations have helped him see. Yes. See. This journey is not without skeptics.

57mins

23 Jan 2015

Rank #4

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Our Computers, Ourselves

In Our Computers, Ourselves, a look at the ways technology affects us, and the main question is : Are computers changing human character? You'll hear from cyborgs, bullies, neuroscientists and police chiefs about whether our closeness with computers is changing us as a species.

57mins

13 Feb 2015

Rank #5

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The Culture Inside

Is there a part of ourselves that we don't acknowledge, that we don't even have access to and that might make us ashamed if we encountered it? We begin with a woman whose left hand takes instructions from a different part of her brain. It hits her, and knocks cigarettes out of her hand and makes her wonder: who is issuing the orders? Is there some other "me"in there I don't know about? We then ask this question about one of the central problems of our time: racism. Scientific research has shown that even well meaning people operate with implicit bias - stereotypes and attitudes we are not fully aware of that nonetheless shape our behavior towards people of color. We examine the Implicit Association Test, a widely available psychological test that popularized the notion of implicit bias. And we talk to people who are tackling the question, critical to so much of our behavior: what does it take to change these deeply embedded concepts? Can it even be done?

56mins

8 Jun 2017

Rank #6

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The Problem with the Solution

In this episode we find that the solution can be the problem. The hour begins with a charming couple from Utah who stumble across a clever fix to their clogged drain problem one day while they are showering together. For them, the impulse to fix the problem leads to a happy adventure into the world of patenting and manufacturing a new product. From there, the hour takes a turn to explore how this very same impulse to fix a problem — the impulse that has led the human species to invent telephones and bicycles and rocket ships — has surprising consequences when it comes to the problem of mental illness.

59mins

1 Jul 2016

Rank #7

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The End of Empathy

Invisibilia is a show that runs on empathy. We believe in it. But are we right? In this episode, we'll let you decide. We tell the same story twice in order to examine the questions: who deserves our empathy? And is there a wrong way to empathize? If you or somebody you know might need help, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255 or at suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

52mins

12 Apr 2019

Rank #8

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True You

What happens when you discover a part of yourself that is so different from who you think you are? Do you hold on to your original self tightly? Do you explore this other self? We travel to England to meet an insect with a split personality. Then we talk to an internet famous cartoonist who's been hiding a part of himself for years, and a woman who records herself sleep talking, and is amazed at what she finds.

35mins

1 Jun 2017

Rank #9

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Future Self

What do you want to be when you grow up? This is a question we ask children, and adults. In American culture the concept of the future self is critical, required. It drives us to improve, become a richer, more successful, happier version of who we are now. It keeps us from getting blinkered by the world we grew up in, allowing us to see into other potential worlds, new and different concepts, infinite other selves. But the future self can also torture us, mocking us for who we have failed to become. We travel to North Port, Florida, where the principal of a high school did something extreme and unusual to help his students strive for grander future selves - a noble American experiment that went horribly wrong. If you or somebody you know might need help, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255 or at suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

46mins

1 Jun 2017

Rank #10

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The Pattern Problem

A panel of judges sits to decide the fate of the young woman. She's the child of addicts and an ex-addict and ex-felon herself, and she's asking the court to trust her to become an attorney. The outcome of her case hinges on a question we all struggle with: are we destined to repeat our patterns, or do we generally stray in surprising directions? - a question increasingly relevant in an age when algorithms are trying to predict everything about our behavior. CONTENT WARNING: This episode contains descriptions of sexual abuse.

57mins

30 Mar 2018

Rank #11

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Raising Devendra

What happens when you treat artificial intelligence with unconditional love?

30mins

17 Dec 2019

Rank #12

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Outside In

There's a popular idea out there that you can change from the outside in. Power posing. Fake it 'til you make it. If you just assume the pose, inner transformation will follow. We examine to what extent this is true, by following the first all-female debate team in Rwanda, a country that has legislated gender equality. We also see how an app reshaped the relationship of twin sisters. And we end our season at the beach, with a man whose life was transformed by a seagull named Mac Daddy.

1hr 4mins

29 Jul 2016

Rank #13

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Bubble-Hopping (Reality Part 2)

The concept of bubbles (social bubbles, media bubbles, political bubbles) has become popular lately as people grapple with the unexpected outcomes of the 2016 election. We talk to two people who are making attempts to break out of their bubbles, and expose themselves to new points of view. We start with a woman seeking to break out of the confines of the human bubble altogether, by teaching herself to experience the world more like a dog. Then we meet a young man named Max, who has made a life out of hopping from bubble to bubble.

29mins

15 Jun 2017

Rank #14

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The Callout

A lot of communities today are taking a hard stand against sexual harassment and assault. Using social media shaming, ostracism, professional excommunication, whatever punishment is painful enough to shift the moral code by brute force. Through one incident in the Richmond Virginia hardcore music scene, we chronicle a social media callout and ask what pain can accomplish. CONTENT WARNING: This episode contains obscenities and descriptions of sex and violence. For resources on handling accountability for harm done, please visit: n.pr/2GZqccC.

55mins

13 Apr 2018

Rank #15

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A Very Offensive Rom-Com

A young woman discovers a pattern in her dating habits that disturbs her - a pattern that challenges her very conception of who she is and what she believes in. The realization sets her off on a quest to change her attractions. But is this even possible? And should we be hacking our desire to match our values?

1hr 1min

5 Apr 2019

Rank #16

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The Profile

A mysterious profile pops up on a dating app - leading to a bubble of chaos and confusion. A story about trying to sort fact versus fiction, how destabilizing that can be, and a very strange confrontation with the truth. NOTE: Since this story was originally published, we have added some background reporting and context to the episode.

23mins

20 Sep 2019

Rank #17

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The Other Real World

Reality TV may be popular around the world, but it's also roundly mocked as formulaic and contrived. So, can that kind of fragile fantasy world meaningfully influence reality? We look at the goals and impact of a UN-backed reality show called "Inspire Somalia," that attempted to model democracy and freedom in a country racked by decades of clan warfare and oppression by extremist groups like al-Shabab.

50mins

16 Mar 2018

Rank #18

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What Was Not Said

Your aging mother lives in another country. Then a tenant moves into her house – he's clean, polite, helpful. At first you are relieved, until you begin to suspect that man has sinister motives. That's the situation two brothers found themselves in, in Taiwan. Then something happened between the tenant and the mother that unsettled the brothers' lives even more. We examine how leaving things unsaid with our intimates can lead to misunderstandings and missed connections.

48mins

22 Mar 2018

Rank #19

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I, I, I. Him

In this episode, we talk to a 74-year-old woman who decides the only way to get over her husband's death is to jump out of an airplane. And to a third generation beekeeper whose entire collection of hives has been stolen - he believes by Russian mobsters. After losing so much can they tell themselves new stories about themselves that allow them to function?

40mins

9 Mar 2018

Rank #20