5 Things We Learned From The Fourth Episode Of NPR’s “Invisibilia”

You’re more tangled with those around you than you think. Find out what you missed on this week’s top podcast on iTunes.

Alice Mongkongllite / BuzzFeed

For their six-part podcast, Invisibilia hosts Alix Spiegel and Lulu Miller examine the invisible stuff that shapes us.

This week, we dipped our toes into types of networking that don’t involve webinars and awkward cocktail hours. Here are some enlightening facts from the fourth episode, “Entanglement.”

1. Scientific entanglement goes completely against our intuition.

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If the word “quantum” makes your brain pillbug into itself, hold onto your hat! Quantum entanglement is immensely complex, but it’s the stuff of sci-fi movies.

Say you have one atom hanging out at one end of the table. At the other end, you have another atom. It’s something that goes against common sense, but get ready: Scientists can make both atoms do the same thing even though they’re apart. Even the researchers admit to not really understanding it.

The U.S. government is funding a computer network that would allow info to travel from point A to point B without being cracked, and so far scientists have successfully done it at a distance of 88 miles.

2. Entanglements don’t just stop at atoms: They happen to people, too.

In the episode we meet a woman named Amanda who has a rare neurological condition called mirror-touch synesthesia.

You may have heard of other forms of synesthesia, or when senses intertwine, like seeing color when listening to music. Mirror-touch is like a form of hyper-empathy: When Amanda sees someone touch ice, her fingertips feel cold; she sees a hug, a warm tingle goes down her spine, and so on.

3. Mirror-touch synesthetes also mimic others’ emotions.

If Amanda witnesses someone cry, her brain manufactures that feeling, too. And so to get through the day, she learned to focus on people who were the most serene in the bunch.

Even a simple trip to the grocery store becomes neurologically taxing. Whereas we can ignore the wailing babies or overlook a bored cashier, a couple of hours out is so intimate for Amanda, she crashes hard with what she terms “the sleep.”

4. And it might be because a part of their brain is depleted.

Universal Pictures / Via naomuack.blogspot.com

You are you, and I am me, right? Seems simple. But what exactly moors the separation of yourself as an individual from others?

It’s a region called the temporoparietal junction, and less gray matter in that area can lead to blurring between yourself and others so much that you treat others’ bodies as your own, neuroscientist Michael Banissy told Spiegel and Miller.

After being a chameleon for years, Amanda vowed to leave the house less to sharpen the focus on her family.

5. Our faces leak micro-expressions all the time.

Candid Camera / Allen Funt Productions / Via youtube.com

Humans are wired to sync up. We mirror others’ behavior all the time, from our posture to the our inflections. We’ll even start breathing as one around a group conference table, says Banissy.

We also constantly broadcast split-second nonverbal clues about how we’re feeling. These emotional contagions are called micro-expressions — and that means like Amanda, each of our outings is eroded into its distinctive shape by those around us.

If you missed the episode, listen to it over at NPR or subscribe here.

Catch up with our recaps below or our interview with the hosts.

Episode 3, “How to Become Batman”
Episode 2, “Fearless”
Episode 1, “The Secret History of Thoughts”

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