'Invisibilia' Podcast Explores Bizarre Workings of the Human Mind

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From how people deal with their deepest, darkest thoughts to the experience of living in a world without fear, a new podcast explores the hidden forces that shape human behavior.

Called "Invisibilia" — Latin for "invisible things" — the show, told with engaging anecdotes through a scientific lens, is about the powerful effect that thoughts, ideas, beliefs and feelings have on people's lives.

Hosted by Alix (pronounced Ah-LEES) Spiegel and Lulu Miller, contributors to the popular radio programs "This American Life" and "Radiolab," the show is produced by National Public Radio. [5 Ways Your Emotions Influence Your World (and Vice Versa)]

"It's really about people, but it has this backbone of science," Miller told Live Science.

For example, the first episode is about whether people's thoughts reveal who they really are. Listeners will hear from a man who is plagued by violent thoughts about his wife and family, and about another man who is trapped inside his own body.

An episode on fear features the story of a woman who has a rare condition that makes her incapable of feeling fear. The case has been written about for decades, but researchers have guarded the woman's identify, for fear that people may take advantage of her. Spiegel and Miller explore what it means to live in a world without fear, and ask the question, could everyone survive in such a world?

Another episode explores the role that expectations play in shaping people's performance. Expectations can make a student score higher on a test or make a soldier run faster, but can they make a blind man see? You'll have to listen to the show to find out.

Then, there's the story of a woman who experiences everything happening to those around her as if it were happening to her. "If a person puts food in their mouth, she'll feel it in hers," Spiegel told Live Science.

"At the end of the day, we often talk to people [who represent] a very extreme case," Miller said. "But the reason we're talking to them is that it's sort of a version of what we all experience."

The pilot season of "Invisibilia" features six episodes, each about an hour long. The show premieres today (Jan. 9) on NPR and will also be available as a podcast. Excerpts from the show will be featured on NPR's "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered."

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Tanya Lewis
Staff Writer
Tanya was a staff writer for Live Science from 2013 to 2015, covering a wide array of topics, ranging from neuroscience to robotics to strange/cute animals. She received a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a bachelor of science in biomedical engineering from Brown University. She has previously written for Science News, Wired, The Santa Cruz Sentinel, the radio show Big Picture Science and other places. Tanya has lived on a tropical island, witnessed volcanic eruptions and flown in zero gravity (without losing her lunch!). To find out what her latest project is, you can visit her website.