Episode #11: Zombies, talking robots and the Rapture!

The eleventh episode of Consilience is out! You can download the mp3 here (26.4mb) and the file’s page on Archive.org is here.

This week we have a special guest, James Hough. James is well known in the Gauteng skeptical circle through his blog, Acinonyx Scepticus, and his involvement in the Johannesburg Skeptic’s in the Pub events (James was the only person to attend the first SITP that Angela organised back in November 2008).

By the way… Sorry the podcast is a few days late this week. A key member of our editorial team has been feeling rather sick. Normal service to resume next week.

Teaching Angela to Appreciate History

This week we discuss the signing of the Metre Convention in 1875 which led to the adoption of the International System of Units (SI units), which is the modern form of the metric system.

Listener Feedback

James Hough, our special guest this week, points out some important things to consider about the smallpox samples which we discussed in episode 10.

Mike clears up some errors regarding homeopathic dilution and reflexology.


In case you missed it, the Rapture has not happened. We recorded this edisode of the podcast on the 22nd of May and we had another look at the failed predictions of Harold Camping. (We included an excerpt from the Pod Delusion podcast). We predict cognitive dissonance (When Prophecy Fails) will reign supreme.

The USA’s Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has released a set of guidelines for preparing for the Zombie apocalypse! (Sorry Cathy! Please don’t stop listening!). Of course, this is just supplemental to Max Brooks’ Zombie Survival Guide.

We discuss a recent paper in the journal Science by Rowe et. al. about how the sense of smell may have influenced the development of the mammalian brain. The paper looks at CT scans of two ancient, mouse-sized mammalian fossils, the Morganucodon and the Hadrocodium, both of which were alive between 195 and 205 million years ago.

A BBC documentary has been causing a stir because of its suggestion that an fMRI scan of a prominent Apple fanboy revealed that his brain responded to Apple imagery in much the same way a devout religious person’s brain responds to religious imagery.

Ruth Schulz and her colleagues at the University of Queensland have taught a pair of really cute little robots, known as Lingodroids, how to learn their own language. Through exploration, communication and experimentation, these two little robots were able to not only invent words for locations in their environment, but also to come up with names for places they had never experienced.

Satoshi Kanazawa has proven himself to be a crazy racist yet again with his claim that black women are ugly because they have “too much testosterone”. Kanazawa bases this ridiculous claim on his own interpretation of data collected during the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health in the US.

How does HIV affect the spread of measles? We discuss a recent paper in PLoS Pathogens that studied this question.

Questions for the Panel

Angela received a comment on her Skeptic Detective blog which contains many interesting questions. We will answer the questions posed in this comment over the course of a few episodes. This week we tackle the placebo effect and determining the possible atmospheric conditions on exoplanets.

We really enjoyed answering these questions and would like to encourage more of our listeners to follow suit. Email questions to consiliencecast@gmail.com.


The June edition of the Johannesburg Skeptics in the Pub will be held on the 1st of June at the Keg and Spitfire in Blackheath. The events Facebook page is here, please join us if you can. http://www.archive.org/download/ConsilienceEpisode11/Consilience11.mp3

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5 Responses to Episode #11: Zombies, talking robots and the Rapture!

  1. Rallick says:

    Well, I was all ready to come and correct you and say that iTunes works perfectly well for finding your podcast, but then you said that you had the button on the sidebar, and I remembered that this is how I got your feed in iTunes. My bad! Sorry I can’t be of any further help, but once again a good show, thanks!

    PS: Apple sucks! The garden of Eden just proves that point!

  2. James says:


    Just to clarify how the Lingodroids create pseudo-experiences (locations they have never visited). I went back to the paper to get the exact reason why the “where-is-there” game can result in novel locations. I had glossed over this previously and not read it in depth.

    The grammar of the “where-is-there” game is prescribed to the robots (in case I wasn’t clear before; they’re not inventing a language, this is yet another prescribed component of language 😉 ). The grammar dictates that once the game is started, the robot in charge of the game speaks the location of a known reference point. From where they are to the reference point both of them know. The robot running the game then announces a random angle relative to the line between their current location and the named location and also announces a random distance along that new line. That will describe a point that they both understand through the geometry of their relative position but may not have experiences encoded for it. That is why the passive robot in this game can realise if its somewhere that it has been before or not and will know if it should announce a place name for a place it already knows or a new name for a place not yet known.

    Also; Owen asked if this will be useful when the serving droids meet each other in the corridor and coordinate who goes where. More likely it’s an example of when the robot uprising occurs and the same two droids meet to discuss where to bury the body in a place they have both never been. 😛


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