The Really Big Questions

Thursdays at 7 pm March-June, 2014
Dean Olsher

TRBQ explores questions that intrigue both scientists and philosophers — questions about what makes us human.

The project is a collaboration between Peabody Award-winning SoundVision Productions, The Exploratorium in San Francisco  and Public Radio International.  TRBQ specials air on public radio stations around the country.

Veteran public radio journalist and curious guy Dean Olsher asks the questions.

Why Do We Share?
March 20 - Why don’t we share?  What drives us to be greedy one day and giving the next?  We’ll look at the research in psychology, economics, neuroscience, and anthropology as we explore the mysteries of cooperation, resource allocation and collaborative problem solving.

Why Does Music Move Us?
April 17 - Music can make us run faster, learn better, buy more, recover from surgery sooner, even live longer.  Music exists in every culture. Does that mean it offers an evolutionary advantage? We’ll delve deeper into what music can teach us about the human brain.

What Is a Good Death?
May 15 - Many Americans are trying to take control of their deaths, creating advance directives and asking for “green burials,” but strong forces exist to countermand their wishes. Most of us say we want to die at home, or in hospice, but the number of Americans dying in intensive care units continues to rise. Why don’t we get the death we hope for?

What’s Your Story?
June 19 - Why do stories have such a powerful influence on our beliefs and our behavior? Research confirms that our minds depend on story as the main roadmap for comprehending, deciphering, recalling and organizing our lives.  But our drive to create a coherent story can come at the expense of accuracy. If some of our stories about ourselves are not true, what can we believe?


  • Monday, July 28, 2014 3:28pm
    Mary Roach wants you to give yourself away. Not yet, though. After you’re dead. She wrote a book called “Stiff,” in which she details what has happened over the years to bodies that were donated—willingly or unwillingly—to science. “I think that, for many people, does take the edge off it,” Roach says. “You know there…


  • Monday, July 14, 2014 3:00am
    If you ever doubt that animals have the capacity to share, look no further than chimpanzees and capuchin monkeys. Frans de Waal studies primates, and he teaches psychology at Emory University. He says says looking at the way other primates share sheds light on the way humans act. Download audio “Sometimes in human behavior there’s…


  • Tuesday, July 1, 2014 3:34pm
    On the altar of a former cathedral in Duluth, Minn., an ensemble of musicians begins to play. Their notes are piercing and sometimes dissonant. It’s not your typical cathedral music—but then again, these aren’t your typical musicians. They’re robots. Download audio None of them look like robots, though. They look more like futuristic instruments. Troy…


  • Sunday, June 15, 2014 11:35am
    The human instinct to tell stories is strong. So strong, in fact, that sometimes people see stories when they’re not there. Download audio In the 1940s, two researchers set out to demonstrate the proclivity of humans to see stories, even in random events. Fritz Heider and Mary-Ann Simmel created a short animated film in which a small…


  • Monday, June 9, 2014 9:02pm
    The TRBQ team met Harvard ethnomusicologist Richard Wolf while working on a show about music. But Wolf studies the funeral music of the Kota people in south India, and he has something to say about death, too. Listen to more of Richard Wolf’s interview on TRBQ’s radio special: What Is a Good Death?