Behaviors are sometimes described as being “hardwired,” but the work of the celebrated neuroscientist Eve Marder of Brandeis University has explored a crucial difference between neural circuits and engineered ones: Neurons need to be resilient in the face of their own ongoing biomolecular transformation. In this episode, host Steven Strogatz talks with Marder about “multiple solutions” as a key feature of life, the similarities between a crab’s stomach and our shoulders, and the secret to a satisfying career in science.
Steve Strogatz: When you’re speaking of lobsters and crabs, we really should be picturing a three-inch-by-three-inch, like, operating table where you’re going to be doing fairly fine-detailed electrophysiological items.
Eve Marder: Right. Right. And I should say, it takes a new person, depending on who they are and how old they are, a while to learn to do this dissection.
Strogatz: And do the students end up having a taste for eating lobsters and crabs, or are they so completely sickened by them after all this, they would never eat them again?
Marder: I don’t eat lobster or crab. It just seems bad.
Strogatz: You know, we’ve had some other biologists on the show who have worked on C. elegans or mosquitoes, but I don’t know of any biologists who ever eat their organisms or part of their organisms.
Marder: Yeah. Nobody eats the squid? Probably. Yeah, I think your best bet would be to find the squid people.
Marder: They eat their animals, I think, usually, too.
Steve Strogatz [narration]: From Quanta Magazine this is The Joy of x. I am Steve Strogatz. In this episode, Eve Marder.
When I was a postdoctoral fellow, I was working on a project that just honestly didn’t interest me that much, and I felt guilty about it. And Eve was part of that project. She was a collaborator on it. And I remember talking to her, sort of asking her permission, almost. Like, would it be okay if I worked on something else? And she staggered me with her generosity, and she really understood my plight, and said, “Of course. You should just work on what interests you. Why would you want to be a scientist if you’re not interested in what you’re working on?”
Many, many years later now — something, like 30 years later — I can understand why she was able to give me the advice that she gave. Because Eve herself is so turned on by her organisms that she studies, lobsters and crabs. She uses them to illuminate really big questions in neuroscience today, like how can circuits of neurons, collections of neurons in the brain or the nervous system, how can they keep working so reliably even though their ion channels and their other component parts are being turned over all the time, every few days or every few weeks.
She thinks about these big principles with the help of her little crustaceans. But since this conversation with Eve took place during the pandemic, we have to be a little bit scrappy about it. I wasn’t able to go into my usual studio. I was recording from my attic and she was recording from her office.
Strogatz: So, I read somewhere that there was a turning point for you with an abnormal psych class.
Marder: So, I was in college and I was — it was first semester of my junior year, and so it would have been in fall of 1967. And that’s only relevant because of where neuroscience was at that point. So, I had, really, a good friend. She ran off to take this class in abnormal psychology, and she came back from the first day of class saying, “Eve, you’ve got to come take this course.” And I said, “Well, why?” And she said, “Because the professor is really cool. He’s got a British accent and he’s got a dueling scar and he wears three-piece suits.”
Strogatz: A dueling scar. You mean, like, he got slashed by somebody?
Marder: He had a scar on his cheek, you know, down along his cheek.
Strogatz: But really from a duel? Or just because he happened to have a scar?
Marder: No. No, it turned out it was a war injury. We were, what, 19 years old and reading all sorts of romantic literature. It was dueling scar. Right?
Strogatz: Yeah. All right. A dueling scar.
Marder: So, the course is pretty interesting, and then one day, the professor said, “Well, there are some people who think that schizophrenia might have something to do with biology. And there is a hypothesis that deficient inhibition in the brain might have something to do with schizophrenia.” And I was a biology major, and I said, “What’s this inhibition in the brain? I don’t know anything about inhibition in the brain.” So, I decided to do my term paper on the question of whether deficient inhibition in the brain could be important for schizophrenia? And in the process, I decided I was going to be a neuroscientist.
Strogatz: Hmm, I mean, how did you even know where to go to pursue these questions?
Marder: My professors were telling me that neuroscience wasn’t really a field, that I should just go and learn molecular biology, and that if I wanted to do neuroscience afterwards I could. But, you know, do something real like molecular biology. But then I had to decide between Oregon, Berkeley and UCSD [University of California, San Diego]. And UCSD is just up the hill from the water, and I had this idea I’d be able to go to the beach every day and do my experiments. And I never interviewed or visited any of those places, I just decided to go to San Diego.
Strogatz: Well, what a spirit of adventure you had. And it seems like it worked out pretty well. But so, it was there that you met the lobster, I suppose?
Marder: There I met the lobster, yes. They have different lobsters there. I met Panulirus interruptus, which is the West Coast spiny lobster, and that’s the lobster that I did my thesis with. And then when I finished and ended up going to France for postdoc, when I arrived in Paris, they said to me, “Oh, you want to work on the STG?” And I said yes, and they knew that. And they looked at me and they said, “Well, langouste est trop cher.” Langouste is the spiny lobster. Trop cher is too expensive. And they said, “Well, go down to this fish market and find a cheap animal.”
And so, I went down — I spoke very little French at the time — I went down to the fish market and looked at all the marine crustaceans, and found the cheapest animal, which happened to be le crabe. And then, when I came back to Boston, for a while we used to fly Panulirus interruptus from the West Coast into town, but that meant paying for air freight, and also it was a little complicated, but we did it. And then eventually, we stopped getting Panulirus interruptus. It was just too much. Too expensive and et cetera.
Strogatz: I was curious about the acronym that Eve dropped, STG.
Marder: So, by STG, I meant the stomatogastric ganglion. And the stomatogastric ganglion is a small group of nerve cells that comes from bugs and crabs and other decapod crustaceans. The stomatogastric ganglion itself has 26 to 30 neurons, and is an example of what we call a central pattern generator. That is to say, this small group of cells generates rhythmic motor patterns that in the animal would move muscles in the animal’s stomach.
Strogatz: Hold on, can I have you pause there for there a second.
Strogatz: There is so much to talk about. It’s a lot of science-sounding words. “Stomatogastric,” so that sounds like something about the stomach?
Marder: Stomach, mm-hmm.
Strogatz: “Ganglia,” so that’s your clump of nerve cells, the small group of nerve cells.
Marder: That’s right.
Strogatz: And then you said, “muscles in the stomach.”
Marder: So, lobsters and crabs have a stomach which is very different from the human or other vertebrate stomachs. The stomach of a lobster or crab has 40 pairs of striated muscles that contract when the motor neurons that innervate them excite them. So, the stomach of a crab is much more like a shoulder joint or a leg or a mouth in a human than it is like a stomach in a human. The reason why it was very useful is precisely because it’s a very beautiful, well-defined motor system.
Strogatz: So, a motor system is anything that moves, that involves muscles to produce motion. Is that right?
Marder: Yeah. A motor system is the neurocircuits that produce movement by acting eventually on muscles.
Strogatz: So, I like the analogy to a mouth. I mean, you mention a shoulder. I find it a little easier to think about a mouth, since I associate the stomach with digestion of food.
Marder: That’s a random association. It has nothing to do with it.
Strogatz: Are you kidding me or are you serious?
Marder: I’m serious. For you to move your mouth, you have to move many, many different muscles and to create speech sounds. You have to organize a large number of different movements. So, from that way, it’s a very complex motor system. The fact that the mouth is upstairs, if you will, from the stomach is completely independent.
The stomach and the rest of the gut in a vertebrate is an autonomically driven set of smooth muscles, which have a totally different organization than either the mouth or the stomach of a crab.
Strogatz: Okay. So, I should not really think of my mouth as anything like the stomach or the mouth of a crab?
Marder: Your mouth is more like the stomach of a crab than it is like your stomach.
Marder: Just to put this right.
Strogatz: Are there any things like teeth or gnashing?
Marder: There are teeth inside the stomach of a lobster or crab. There are two lateral teeth and one medial tooth, and these three teeth grind the food in the middle of the stomach.
Strogatz: So, the stomatogastric ganglion is the thing that sort of, what? Gives operating instructions to this stomach?
Marder: Yes. Yes. Well, it gives operating instructions that allow the muscles to contract and relax in the right pattern of activity, so that the stomach can do its job. The muscles that allow you to raise your leg or lower your leg, or your left leg or your right leg, there have to be patterns of activity in the muscles that allow you to make complicated movements.
Strogatz: Right. And now we’re getting to the heart of it. Right? That that’s the interesting thing. This is behavior which, for us, we might think of as running or whatever, some pattern of movement for our legs. For you, this interesting behavior is the way that this stomach of this lobster or crab does what it needs to do, its kind of behavior.
Strogatz: And how is that controlled? By neurons?
Marder: Right. And these neurons are an example of what we call an essential pattern generator, which is a group of cells that produce rhythmic patterns. So, for example, when you breathe, you breathe in and out, and you do that many times, and you do that for the duration of your life, hopefully. And you do that because there are groups of neurons that rhythmically produce the impulses that cause you to breathe in and breathe out.
Just like your heart is an oscillator, so these groups of neurons that we call central pattern generators are oscillators that drive these rhythmic movements. So, for example, when you’re running, there are groups of cells in your spinal cord that allow you to move each of your legs. To move each of the muscles in your legs in a way so that you can run for two, maybe three hours without paying particular attention and to … “Oh, now I have to raise my left leg by two inches and then lower my right leg by three inches,” et cetera.
Marder: You can about deep things like math without having to pay attention to what’s going on with your muscles.
Strogatz: That’s, I mean, it’s sort of obvious, but it’s a really interesting point, isn’t it? That we can do things like running or walking or chewing without giving it a lot of conscious thought. You don’t need that. Somehow, it’s deeper than that. These central pattern generators can take over for you.
Marder: Right. And the whole reason why you want to, if you will, put into a peripheral — it’s not quite a peripheral. But you want to be able to run these patterns of rhythmic activity that are good to go for quite a while without having to use a great deal of attention in generating those movements.
Strogatz: The kinds of work that Eve is doing on lobsters and crabs is partly for its own basic biological sake, but really, it also has tremendous medical implications for things like stroke and psychiatric disorders. But what exactly do lobster stomachs have to do with a person having a stroke?
Marder: One of the things that we have been particularly good at doing is using this small nervous system to look for general principles that are going to be relevant to any circuit doing anything. So, for example, we started working on neuromodulation. That is, the effects of chemicals like amines such as dopamine or serotonin on the nervous system, or neuropeptides on the nervous system, and trying to understand how neuromodulators could alter the behavior of a neurocircuit. So, that’s as true in a human as it is in a crab, but there are certain experiments that are much easier to do in a lobster or crab than they are to do in a human.
Strogatz: I feel like you’ve been asked this question before, because you really hit the nail on the head with that one.
Marder: Well, but that’s just the first of a number of fundamental problems that we’ve studied using this nervous system. And we’ve been able to do that because of the small number of neurons and the fact that it’s very easy to record from electrophysiologically. It means that it’s been possible to do experiments that would be very hard to do in a larger nervous system. Each of the cells in the stomatogastric ganglion can be identified. That is, they make — give each cell a name. And we can easily record what it’s doing, so we know if we’ve done something, and it’s changed its behavior. We can try and connect that with the manipulation or the change with them.
Strogatz: One of the things that I found so fascinating in talking to Eve is that she helped me overcome a misconception I had about nervous systems. I had tended to think of them as being hardwired; you know, like that there is a single kind of behavior that a particular neurocircuit can produce.
But actually, Eve’s work throughout the decades has been showing that there is enormous flexibility and plasticity, that nervous systems can be reconfigured. Sort of adapted to new circumstances by chemicals, or they can also respond to changing environments in ways that we weren’t traditionally led to believe.
Marder: So, what I’m doing right now, which is why I’m so happy that the NIH thinks it’s interesting, is studying a set of problems around what I would call “resilience” of the nervous system to a series of perturbations. What one of the things we’ve doing most recently is studying the effects of temperature as a perturbation on the motor patterns in the stomatogastric nervous system.
And this is a very interesting story because, I’m sure you know, the temperature affects every biological process. In general, temperature makes biological molecules do their job more quickly, but if you think about something that involves 10 or 12 or 50 or 100 processes, and each of them has some time-dependent steps, and to make the whole system work correctly, all those components have to interact correctly.
And if each of those components responded to temperature differently, you might imagine, as you start changing temperature, the whole system would crash. You would no longer be able to work. Does that make sense?
Strogatz: Sure. Well, it does. I mean it’s a big issue in all kinds of biology. Anything that has to do with rhythms. I mean, I used to work on human sleep cycles and circadian rhythms, and there, there is always this question about temperature regulation.
Strogatz: Like, if there are chemical reactions driving the clock that controls our 24-hour cycles of sleep and wake and hormone fluctuations and body-temperature ups and downs and all of that, if all these reactions speed up at higher temperature, the clock will start to run faster.
Marder: But the clock is very unusual in being that temperature compensated.
Marder: So, what the rhythms in the stomach of the crab do is, as you increase temperature from, let’s say, 6 degrees Centigrade to 23 to 24 degrees Centigrade, the rhythms go faster, but the characteristic patterns are maintained. And that is completely fascinating. It’s what you would imagine the crab would need to be able to do to live happily in the ocean during summer and winter. But if you start thinking about it, you realize it’s an incredible intellectual challenge.
Strogatz: Six degrees. So, that’s the coldest that the crab would experience.
Marder: The crab might go down to about 2 degrees.
Strogatz: In the wild.
Marder: In the wild, in the deep winter.
Strogatz: Yeah, and then 24 degrees Celsius?
Marder: Yes, in the summer in a tide pool.
Strogatz: That’s tide pool water.
Marder: Or shallow. So, we would hunt crabs that live in the ocean right outside of Boston. So, they’re routinely seeing, in a year, temperatures from, let’s say, 2 degrees to 25 degrees. And in the course of a single day, as the tides come in and out and as the currents come in and out, they have been known to see a 10-degree change in temperature.
Marder: So, you start thinking about all of the biological mechanisms that are changing, and the fact that these animals are still alive. It’s pretty remarkable.
Strogatz: Wow, so when Eve is talking about all of these different biological mechanisms that speed up as you change temperature, as you raise temperature, it gives me the image of an orchestra. Because you know, it really is sort of true, that there is an orchestration of biochemistry happening in all of us, keeping us alive.
And so, if you imagine literally an orchestra with its wind section, woodwinds and strings and horns. And if you somehow made all of them play faster, but there isn’t one master conductor. Different sections go faster in their own ways. I mean, that would make some pretty nasty music. And yet, that’s the problem that these creatures are facing when the temperature changes on them in the ocean. And somehow, their orchestra never falls apart. It’s unbelievable.
After the break, more about nervous systems that take a licking and keep on ticking. And we’ll track our lobsters from the sea to the lab. That’s ahead.
[MUSIC PLAYS FOR BREAK]
Strogatz: So, what can we learn from all this temperature resilience?
Marder: We have discovered that there is a range of temperatures over which they do extremely well. And then if you go too hot — and that “too hot” we’ll have to talk about for a moment, because it’s interesting — then they start doing what we call “crashing.” That is to say, the rhythms become disorganized, or might stop entirely.
Now, the first time we started studying this about 10 years ago, we were starting to see crashes with these dysfunctional rhythms around 23, 24, 25, 26 degrees. However, right now, in August of 2020, biorhythms aren’t crashing until 33, 34 degrees.
Strogatz: Wait, are you telling me some story of climate change?
Marder: Climate change is part of it. So, the first time we saw this was in 2012. It was a winter that never got cold. The ocean was 6 to 7 degrees Centigrade and warmer all winter than usual. And that summer, we had these animals that didn’t crash until much, much higher than usual. And then several years later, the crash points went back down. And of course, we work on these wild animals.
Marder: So, we didn’t know whether we were seeing only a subset of the population that was temperature robust. Whether we were seeing animals that had migrated from warmer waters north, or that our animals had gone up to Maine, like intelligent animals might have been. I don’t think these crabs actually migrate that far, but who knows. Or whether we were just seeing the ones that survived the warm temperatures.
So, this whole issue about where the crash point is changes from summer to winter normally. But more importantly, there seems to be a very long-lasting acclimation or adaptation to the temperature of the water over many, many months.
I mean, it’s both really fascinating to see the influence of the environment and climate on animals. But it also means that we’ve started to have to pay very close attention to what month, what day, what year the data were collected from, because they do have this long-term temperature robustness.
Now, I should say that until we started studying temperature, we never knew that this was happening, because, routinely, we always bought animals. We put them in our tanks and we recorded at a standard control value of 11 degrees. And if we hadn’t stressed them, we never would have seen the fact that every animal responds to stress differently, and that that stress point varies during the year.
So now you can see that resilience to stress is something which is a fundamental problem for all nervous systems. And obviously, if you think about neurological and mental illness, you realize that really trying to understand resilience to both … either single stressors or repeated stressors, and how that plays out is fundamentally important to asking why you have a hundred children who get fevers of 106 degrees when they’re six months old, and a few of them develop febrile seizures and many of them don’t. And out of the ones that develop febrile seizures, most of them recover as soon as the fevers go away, but a couple of them are seizure prone for the rest of their lives.
So, that whole issue of how the organization of a specific individual nervous system is related to resilience or sensitivity to various stressors is one of those really deep questions that we’re interested in.
Fifteen or so years ago, we started looking at using computational models and then experiments to ask, “How similar or how different are circuits in different animals that are doing the same thing?” So, for example, if I take one crab out and I study the STG and I take a second crab out and study the STG, how different are the motor patterns — that is, the behavior? And then, how different are the synaptic strengths or the numbers of ion channels that each of the cell has? And it turns out that you can have two circuits that, to your eye, are doing almost identical output, and yet the parameters that govern the properties of each of the components can be vastly different.
So, we see a two-to-six-fold range in the number of specific kinds of ion channels. Or synaptic strengths across animals, even though what they’re finally doing at the end is very similar. So — and I’m telling you this because we call this now either degenerate function or multiple solutions — it tells you that two children — and you know their brains are different, but they’re different at every level in terms of the number of channels in their membrane, the strengths of the synapses, the numbers of synapses, et cetera.
When you take that and you start thinking about it, you say, “Well, okay, maybe these two kids (or my two crabs) can behave very normally in the unstressed condition, but maybe those different underlying parameters play a role in explaining why they respond to stress differently.”
Strogatz: I like the phrase “multiple solutions.” You’re saying there is, at the level of the number of channels in the membrane, synaptic strengths, other electrophysiological parameters — they can be very different from one organism to another — and yet behaviorally, they can sort of solve the same problems in the same way, it looks like.
Marder: They solve the same problem in a way that looks similar. The components are a little bit different. And in a sense, you have that in electronics, because every time you’re building something with electronic components, you know, the resisters might be a little bit different or the capacitors might be a little different, but at the end of the day, you want the TV to work the same way. Right?
Strogatz: Just to pan back, because we hear so much … people talking about “hardwired,” but like, if you thought that circuits — biological circuits, not just electronic ones — had to be built to certain specifications and if they were a little bit off the whole circuit would break down… As you say, your TV wouldn’t work, and it sounds like the crabs, you know, various parts of its nervous system wouldn’t work. So, biology has to be able to tolerate diversity, and that probably it uses diversity in all kinds of ways as grist for evolution.
Marder: Right. Exactly. So, that’s where we were going to come back full circle, and then we’ll come around again. If you think about evolution, having multiple solutions in the population means that individuals in the population will be more or less resilient to challenge, but it also means that you have enough diversity in the population to allow evolution to occur. Right?
Marder: And so presumably, multiple solutions is key to evolution. And it also tells you — it frees you from another problem in biology, and I would tell you what that problem is, because it’s another problem we’ve studied.
Marder: Human neurons, Steve, your neurons specifically, are going to live a hundred years.
Strogatz: Thank you. Oh.
Marder: I’m giving you a hundred-year-old neurons, in some number of years from now.
Strogatz: I just turned 61 today as we speak.
Marder: So, your neurons are going to live another 39 years. However, the ion channels in the membrane, the sodium channels and the calcium channels and the potassium channels, and your synapses, the proteins that are involved in doing all the signaling in the brain last in the membrane for either hours or days, maybe weeks, but not years. So, basically, every neuron faces the job of replacing all of its protein molecules while it’s working.
Strogatz: That’s amazing.
Marder: They swap out — it is. It’s got to swap out all these parts, and yet it’s got to maintain its function.
Strogatz: That’s crazy.
Marder: So, imagine that you’re building a 747, and you’re going to have to swap out every conceivable part while the plane is flying. You know you wouldn’t want to be doing that. You’d rather wait until it’s on the ground.
Marder: But your nervous system doesn’t have that opportunity. So, it’s replacing all of its protein components and the membranes while it’s working.
Strogatz: Oh, this is great.
Marder: So, one of the problems we started working on is a problem that we now call the “homeostasis of intrinsic excitability.” That is to say, one of the rules that allow neurons to rebuild themselves while maintaining approximately stable behavior. And then when you start thinking about homeostasis and the fact that the cell has to rebuild itself, you realize that you have to, you’ll end up with multiple solutions, because otherwise you’ve got to specify to precisely every last detail. Right?
So, basically, the number of sodium channels in your fifth spinal motor neuron today is almost certainly not the same number as it was a month ago, and certainly not the same as it was two years ago. But on the other hand, you can still walk. Right?
Strogatz: It’s really wild, because this sort of brings up the idea that, somehow, biology is better at engineering than we are. Like, it can face so many insults and variations and conditions, and it sort of just shrugs them off. It can keep on ticking.
Marder: Right. And then long-lived animals like humans, it’s remarkable that you don’t start seeing degraded function until as late as you do, because if you do some back-of-the-envelope calculations, and say a potassium channel on average might live for two weeks, then you might think about how many times all those potassium channels in every neuron in your body had been turned over. Have been replaced. The old ones have been swapped out, and they’ve been degraded and new ones been put in, and yet your cells are still making action potentials.
So, that multiple solution, which is a consequence of the fact that you can’t specify to the exact, exact, exact detail the properties of every single one of the billions of cells in your brain, gives rise to this differential resilience. They’re all part and parcel of the same story.
Marder: So, those are the kinds of problems that we’ve been studying these years, and you can see that having a nervous system which is easy to record from and easy to manipulate makes it easier to ask some of these questions than if you had a complicated human nervous system that you wouldn’t be able to manipulate in any way, the same way.
Strogatz: So, what I hear Eve talking about here is the problem faced by maintaining anything. You know, whether it’s maintaining your house or your car. If your furnace goes out, you better have a space heater around to keep you warm for those days when you need it. Or if you get a flat tire, you better have a spare.
You know, so what is the solution that living things use to solve this problem of constantly maintaining nervous systems as their component parts? Their channels and their synapses are getting turned over. Eve is figuring that out by studying exactly how the lobsters and crabs do it in their little stomatogastric ganglions.
Marder: So, when I was in graduate school there was a very fine molecular biologist who worked on lambda phage. Those are viruses that infect bacteria. Some guy came and gave a talk about RNA processing in neurons, and we went to the seminar. I was walking out of the seminar with Peter Geiduschek, this molecular biologist.
And I said “Peter, you do microbiology and neurons, aren’t you really excited? Don’t you want to do that?” And he looked at me, and he said, “I couldn’t tolerate that much ambiguity.” He said, “I work on lambda for a reason, and that’s because it’s as much ambiguity as I can tolerate.” So, if you’re interested in neuroscience, almost everybody became a neuroscientist because they’re interested in the problems of human cognition.
Marder: Right. We want to understand schizophrenia. We want to understand thought. You want to understand personality, et cetera. And so that pushes you up in terms of the kind of problem you want to be studying.
Strogatz: Up in the ambiguity hierarchy.
Marder: Up in the ambiguity hierarchy. Ambiguity hierarchy is how much ambiguity you can tolerate in the data, or the kind of data, or the kind of questions you can ask.
Marder: So, my colleague who recently retired from right upstairs, Chris Miller, who was a fabulous ion channel physical biochemist, once said that a neuron is a really, really messy bag of perfectly good ion channels. And he said, “You know, the best thing to do with an ion channel is to get it out of the neuron and into a biolayer.” Right?
And so, it’s clear that this other dimension, which is how you balance your desire to understand something fundamental about the human nervous system, which pushes you high, and the desire to do something and get a really hard quantitatively rigorous answer, which pushes you down. And individual sciences layer themselves into that increasing web of ambiguity, as you get further from the structure with single ion channels and closer to human language.
And the reason I like telling that story is because — and I tell this to every young scientist I talk with — is, unhappy trainees are ones who actually don’t find their right place in that gradient of ambiguity.
Marder: And if you think about it, it’s if you’re trying to ask a question and you just can’t come to a clean, precise set of experiments or tools because your working system … that really is too fuzzy for you, you’ll always feel unfulfilled. And if you’re working on something at a very reductionist level, that you think is really not asking a big enough question, you’re going to be very unhappy.
Strogatz: It’s a beautiful perspective that you’re articulating here, because I… In addition to the practicality of it, that if you find the right place in the hierarchy you may be, that’s your most effective place as a scientist. But it’s also a very profoundly compassionate view, I think in that you, you know… Like, there are folks who don’t adhere to this view, who say — I’m thinking of, like, say the most extreme molecular biologists, who feel like anything else is just mush.
And what I hear you describing is a much more openhearted view, where there are all different levels, and people have to find the one where they are most comfortable, and then they have a chance of doing something remarkable.
Marder: That’s right. And I tell people, you know, my husband who studies human language, every now and then, he says to me, “Oh, I wish I could answer things the way you can.” And then he says, “But if you want to understand human language, you sort of have to work on human language.” And he said, “So, I put up with a lot of unanswered questions in the middle of the brain.”
Strogatz: The Joy of x is a podcast project of Quanta Magazine. We’re produced by Story Mechanics. Our producers are Dana Bialek and Camille Peterson. Our music is composed by Yuri Weber and Charles Michelet. Ellen Horne is our executive producer. From Quanta, our editorial advisors are Thomas Lin and John Rennie. Our sound engineers are Charles Michelet and at the Cornell University Broadcast Studio, Glen Palmer and Bertrand Odom-Reed, who I like to call Bert. I’m Steve Strogatz. Thanks for listening.
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