Into The Impossible

A podcast about how we imagine, and how what we imagine shapes what we do. Each month, we'll bring you into a conversation between visionaries from the worlds of arts, sciences, humanities, engineering, and medicine on the nature of the imagination and how, through speculative culture, we collaborate to create the future, with interviews by Clarke Center leaders Sheldon Brown, Brian Keating, Erik Viirre, and Patrick Coleman.

Episode 23 - Matthew Stanley & Einstein's War


How history can shape science, and how science can change the tide of history? NYU Professor Matthew Stanley is our guest, here to discuss about his latest book: Einstein's War: How Relativity Triumphed Amid the Vicious Nationalism of World War I . Brian Keating, associate director of the Clarke Center and professor of physics at UC San Diego, talked to Professor Stanley about his interest in the history of science and the relationship between science and society. We learn about Einstein's first failed attempt at proving his theories with a disastrous expedition at the outbreak of WW I in 1914, and Arthur Eddington's 1919 solar eclipse experiment that made Einstein famous around the world.

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Episode 22 - Journalist & Author Annalee Newitz


How does Annalee approach world-building? I'm using the same skillsets for world-building in science fiction works like AUTONOMOUS and in journalism covering cutting edge science and technology. I want my science fiction to be as accurate as possible. The boundary is if I can make things plausible. Educated guesses about the future come from history. My approach to science fiction is to set stories at the edge of the present. Annalee discusses her books: Autonomous, Scatter Adapt, and Remeber: How Humans Will Face Mass Extinction, and her latest, The Future of Another Timeline about how people from the future seek to alter the past. She also discusses the abuse of graduate students in academia and how it shows up Autonomous.

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Episode 21: Beyond 10,000 Hours


On this episode, we explore physics, education, and what it takes to train imaginative scientists with Carl Wieman, Nobel Prize winning physicist with joint appointments as Professor of Physics and Professor in the Graduate School of Education at Stanford University. Dr. Wieman is interviewed by Brian Keating, UC San Diego Professor of Physics, Director of the Simons Observatory, and Associate Director of the Clarke Center.

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Episode 20 - The Second Kind of Impossible


THE SECOND KIND OF IMPOSSIBLE: The Extraordinary Quest for a New Form of Matter is the exciting, first-hand story of how Paul Steinhardt, the award-winning physicist and Albert Einstein Professor in Science at Princeton University, predicted a new type of matter – the quasicrystal – shattering centuries-old laws of physics. Steinhardt’s quest to prove the natural existence of quasicrystals takes him on a globe-hopping scientific journey from Princeton to Italy to the remote mountains of Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula. In a “suspenseful true-life thriller of science investigation and discovery” (Publishers Weekly), readers are taken along for the ride as Steinhardt challenges commonly held assumptions about settled science, refuting skeptics and disproving their notions of impossibility along the way. Steinhardt’s search to prove the existence of this rare crystal structure began in the early 1980s, when he first proposed the existence of “quasicrystals.” While studying abstract tile patterns, Steinhardt and his graduate student discovered a scientific loophole in one of the most well-established laws of science and, exploiting that, realized it was possible to create new forms of matter. In this podcast, co-associate director of the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, Professor Brian Keating, and Professor Paul Steinhardt explore a wide range of ideas from the discovery of new forms of matter to string theory and the sociology of science. Enjoy!

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Episode 19 - Nature Has More Imagination


In a ranging conversation, associate director Brian Keating interviews the preeminent scientist and thinker Freeman Dyson, discussing his career in science and letters, the role of creativity and subversiveness, the perils of prizes, and how nature always shows more imagination than we do.



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Episode 18 - Internet of All Kinds of Things


How is the internet changing our humanity, and what can we do about it? We explore these questions and more with Antonio Garcia Martinez (author of Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley) and Douglas Rushkoff (author most recently of Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus and host of the fantastic podcast Team Human).


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Episode 17: Graphic Science


On May 8th, the Clarke Center will host an evening of Graphic Science: Comics Engage the Cosmos. In advance of that, associate director Brian Keating chatted with Jorge Cham, creator of PHD Comics, and Daniel Whiteson, physicist at UC Irvine, about their new book We Have No Idea: A Guide to the Unknown Universe, a witty, creative look at the biggest open questions in cosmology.


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Episode 16: Alien Contact: Part 2


We’re continuing our conversation from episode 14 about alien contact by focusing on language barriers: barriers betweens humans and aliens, humans and animals, and, in what some consider the most alien encounter of all, between scientists and artists. With acclaimed science fiction writer Ted Chiang, dolphin researcher Christine Johnson, and visual artist Lisa Korpos.


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Remembering Stephen Hawking


In 2007, Erik Viirre, Associate Director of the Clarke Center, was fortunate to share a unique experience with the great Stephen Hawking: taking him into zero gravity. He shares his remembrance of the intellectual giant with Brian Keating here, in honor of Hawking's passing on March 14, 2018.



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Episode 15: Dark Matter


We’re going to get pretty dark today... by exploring dark matter, with one of the foremost theorists in physics: Sir Roger Penrose. Dr. Penrose visited the Clarke Center this past January to deliver a talk titled “New Cosmological View of Dark Matter. We wanted to share this talk with you today, and for those of you who are able, check the video version on our Youtube channel (find via imagination.ucsd.edu) to see Penrose's rightly famous for his hand-drawn illustrations on overhead transparencies, which are beautifully illuminating.

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Episode 14: Alien Contact


We're digging in the vaults to explore ideas of alien contact, with Jill Tarter (SETI Institute) and Jeff VanderMeer (bestselling author of the Southern Reach trilogy). We'll talk about the Drake Equation, the faulty math of the film Contact, manifest destiny, whether we're alone, flawed assumptions about the concept of intelligence, what fiction can do to help us think about the very alien-ness of alien contact, and how it may be happening all around us.

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Episode 13: Life on the Moon


It’s the end of 2017, but we’ll spend this episode living, imaginatively, in the 2080s, on the first lunar city, called Artemis. Artemis is the invention of Andy Weir, the author of The Martian and another of the great science fiction writers to have come through UC San Diego. We welcomed him back to campus earlier this month, and we have the live conversation to share with you today.


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Episode 12: Speculative CubeSats


How can CubeSats—the small, standardized satellites paving the way for the democratization of space—change our sense of the possible? We dive into two projects: the Planetary Society's Lightsail 2, with Director of Science and Technology Bruce Betts, and with MacArthur Genius grant-awardee Trevor Paglen, we discuss Orbital Reflector, the first satellite to be launched purely as an artistic gesture.


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Bonus: Andy Weir (author of The Martian and Artemis)


We have a mid-month bonus episode with Andy Weir, author of the novel The Martian, so memorably adapted in the film starring Matt Damon, and the new book Artemis, which launches today! Our own Brian Keating, author of the forthcoming Losing the Nobel Prize, sat down with Andy to discuss lunar colonization, his approach to world- and character-building, and what he would do if he was in charge of the future of space exploration. Andy will be speaking at the Clarke Center on December 7th (see imagination.ucsd.edu for more details).

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Episode 11: Stranger Things (While Podcasting); or On Fear and Imagination


In honor of Halloween, we're exploring the relationship between fear and imagination. First, a story about when the production of this very podcast was visited by a demon from the Upside Down (maybe?). Then, a conversation with Christopher Collins, author of Paleopoetics: The Evolution of the Preliterate Imagination, on the auditory and visual imagination, the evolution of language, and how human culture has spent so much time telling itself scary stories.

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Episode 10: Pictures, Pastries, and the Matter of the Universe


Physics is cool—and sometimes very hard to understand. Today we talk to Duncan Haldane, winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize, about quantum topology and why the Nobel committee brought a bagel, a pretzel, and a bun to the award ceremony to explain his ideas. And with the inimitable Sir Roger Penrose, we explore the visual imagination as it relates to science, the work of artist M.C. Escher, and what it has to do with Penrose's cosmological theory of the universe.

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Episode 9: Artificial Imagination


We kick off Season 2 of Into the Impossible by diving into the world of artificial imagination. As the artificial intelligence dream comes closer to AI reality, are the doomsday stories about AI correct—or will AI augment human imagination in unexpected and powerful ways? We speak with Kenric McDowell, the Director of Google's Artists and Machine Intelligence group, about generative AIs, Deep Dream, neural nets, AlphaGo and Deep Blue, artists working with machine learning, and what the technological enhancement of human imagination may, ultimately, look like.

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Episode 8: Fantastica, with George R.R. Martin and Kim Stanley Robinson


Science fiction and fantasy have gone from the sidelines to the mainstream. We bring you a live conversation between two of the field's living legends, George R.R. Martin (“A Song of Ice and Fire,” adapted for television as Game of Thrones, the Wild Card series) and Kim Stanley Robinson (New York 2140, the Mars trilogy), discussing their careers, the history of fantastic literature, and how it shapes our imagination. They came to the Clarke Center in support of the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Workshop (clarion.ucsd.edu), the premiere training and proving ground for emerging writers, which the Clarke Center organizes each summer with the Clarion Foundation.

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Episode 7: New Spaces


We’re looking at new spaces in space, speaking with Drs. Yvonne Cagle (astronaut and physician) and Adam Burgasser (astrophysicist). We talk about why we send humans into space, the discovery of potentially habitable worlds at TRAPPIST-1 and how we imagine them, the role of interstellar art, the evolution of human physiology in zero-g, why the scariest thing about being an astronaut might be finding yourself on stage at the Oscars with Dr. Katherine Johnson, subject of the film Hidden Figures, and how important it is that we remain vigilant in our embrace of diversity across disciplines.

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Episode 6: Designing the Future


How do you design the future? Today we talk with cyberpunk founder and design theorist Bruce Sterling and feminist/activist writer Jasmina Tešanović about speculative design, design fictions, open source hardware, the maker movement, and the soft robots of our domestic future. Plus we go behind the scenes of the creation of a design fiction by Bruce, Jasmina, Sheldon Brown, and the Clarke Center—a video installation called My Elegant Robot Freedom.

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Bonus #1: Entanglements with Rae Armantrout


In advance of our upcoming event Entanglements: Rae Armantrout and the Poetry of Physics, we have a bonus episode: a conversation between the inimitable poet Rae Armantrout and Clarke Center cosmologist Brian Keating. Enjoy! And join us April 13, 2016 at UC San Diego for a evening with Rae, Brian, the writer Brandon Som, and the critic Amelia Glaser in conversation on how Rae's poems mix the personal with the scientific and speculative, the process of interdisciplinary creativity, and what her poetic engagement with physics can teach those working in the physical sciences.

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Episode 5: Limits of Understanding


On this episode, we’re touching up against the outer limits of cosmology, and through that bringing up questions of limits on the imagination, the role of theology, and the end (and ends) of the universe. First, we’ll hear Paul Steinhardt on developing the inflationary model of the universe—and then casting that model aside in favor of the radically different cyclic model that replaces the Big Bang with a neverending series of Big Bounces. Then David Brin, science fiction author and futurist, shares his perspective on understanding religion, enabling discussion, and how nice it would be if we were all reborn in computronium as the universe collapses in on itself.

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Episode 4: How to Make a Spaceship


How do you jumpstart the private spaceflight industry? Passion, commitment, bold risk-taking, some inspiration from Charles Lindbergh, and a little luck. On today's show, we hear from Peter Diamandis, whose XPRIZE Foundation launched the competition that gave us the first private manned spaceflight—and paved the way for Virgin Galactic, SpaceX, Blue Origin, and his own Planetary Resources, among others—along with the prize-winning pilot, Brian Binnie, and the writer Julian Guthrie, who chronicled their stories along with those of the other teams from around the world inspired by this unprecedented challenge. Also on this episode: convincing Arthur C. Clarke to buy your college friends dinner and a nearly disastrous incident with a mother-in-law and a cup of coffee.

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Episode 3: The Hard Problem


Today is an unusual and very special episode of Into the Impossible. In winter of 2015, the Clarke Center produced a collaborative project with the performance artist Marina Abramović and the science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson. The multi-day workshop cultivated a series of interactions between a story that Stan was writing about a multi-generational spaceship heading to another star, and the performance art gestures of Marina’s that are a journey into our inner self. We improvised readings and performance actions to find the ways in which these seemingly diametric experiences touched on the common idea of how we extend our sense of time and space from the moment to the eternal. Out of this, we created an installation with multiple audio tracks, which was then further developed for the Venice Biennale. We also made a short film, which you can find a link to on the podcast webpage, and the audio tracks were mixed and choreographed by Adam Tinkle into the podcast we are featuring today: The Hard Problem: An Audio Voyage, by Kim Stanley Robinson, Adam Tinkle, Marina Abramović and the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination.

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Episode 2: Becoming a Galactic Wonder


We’re looking at wonder and imagination today, through the plays of Herbert Siguenza (playwright, actor, and director; founding member of Culture Clash) that take us from Pablo Picasso in 1957 to a post-apocalyptic California, and the art (and green thumb) of Jon Lomberg (astronomical artist), who worked with Carl Sagan on the original Cosmos and has created a garden that can help us imagine our place in the universe. Both ask, as Herbert does in the persona of Picasso himself, “How can we make the world worthy of its children?”

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