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The Late Movies: Carl Sagan Interviewed By Ted Turner (!)

In this 1989 CNN interview, Ted Turner interviews Carl Sagan on the environment, nuclear warfare, space, time travel, SETI, and other topics. Turner frequently seems to be out of his depth during this interview (as in part four, when he suggests that time travel to "live with the Indians" might be a good solution for modern-day environmental problems). Regardless, this is an interesting discussion, largely because of Sagan's calm, intelligent discourse. According to Wikipedia, this was supposed to be the fourteenth episode of Cosmos:

Some versions of the series including the first North American home video release included a specially made 14th episode, which consisted of an hour-long interview between Sagan and Ted Turner, in which the two discussed the series and new discoveries in the years since its first broadcast. This unique episode was not included in the DVD release.

So tonight, sit back and watch what was supposed to be the final installment of Cosmos -- albeit many years after the original, and without any of the wonderful production and theatricality of the original series.

Part 1 - Nuclear Weapons

While other topics are discussed, this is primarily about nuclear weapons and deterrence.

Sagan: "The professed function of the nuclear weapons on each side is to prevent the other side from using their nuclear weapons. If that's all it is, then we've gotta ask: how many nuclear weapons do you need to do that? ... You probably don't need more weapons than what's required to destroy every city on earth. There's only 2,300 cities. So, the United States, by that criteria, only needs 2,300 nuclear weapons -- well, we've got more than 25,000!"

Turner: "But not all those cities are our enemies!"

Sagan: "Of course not! A lot of those are our own cities!"

Part 2 - Nuclear Winter and the Environment

Turner: "Could you bring us up-to-date on [nuclear winter]?"

Sagan: (some minutes later) "We're in very bad trouble if we don't understand the planet we're trying to save."

Part 3 - Space & Time Travel

Sagan: "No other planet in the solar system is a suitable home for human beings; it's this world or nothing. That's a very powerful perception."

Turner: (some minutes later) "Are you a Socialist?"

Part 4 - The Environment, Time Travel, SETI, & Education

Turner: "If the world is gonna be environmentally degraded, you could take a few friends of yours and we could go back in the past and try and see if we couldn't live with the Indians a couple hundred years ago, before the white man came."

Sagan: "The trouble is that to do that, you need such an advanced technology that -- with that technology, you could solve our problem, or at least solve us. We might be more the problem than the technology."

Part 5 - Where Did We Come From, SDI, & Politics

Sagan: "I would love to believe that there was a God who made us, who's looking out for us, who's taking care of us, because we're in such a mess. [...] Then we would be relieved of the responsibility of taking care of ourselves. [...] But that does not seem to be the case; we have to solve our own problems."

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Animals
How a Pregnant Rhino Named Victoria Could Save an Entire Subspecies
Sudan, the last male member of the northern white rhino subspecies, while being shipped to Kenya in 2009
Sudan, the last male member of the northern white rhino subspecies, while being shipped to Kenya in 2009
Tony Karumba, AFP/Getty Images

The last male northern white rhino died at a conservancy in Kenya earlier this year, prompting fears that the subspecies was finally done for after decades of heavy poaching. Scientists say there's still hope, though, and they're banking on a pregnant rhino named Victoria at the San Diego Zoo, according to the Associated Press.

Victoria is actually a southern white rhino, but the two subspecies are related. Only two northern white rhinos survive, but neither of the females in Kenya are able to reproduce. Victoria was successfully impregnated through artificial insemination, and if she successfully carries her calf to term in 16 to 18 months, scientists say she might be able to serve as a surrogate mother and propagate the northern white rhino species.

But how would that work if no male northern rhinos survive? As the AP explains, scientists are working to recreate northern white rhino embryos using genetic technology. The San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research has the frozen cell lines of 12 different northern white rhinos, which can be transformed into stem cells—and ultimately, sperm and eggs. The sperm of the last northern white male rhino, Sudan, was also saved before he died.

Scientists have been monitoring six female southern white rhinos at the San Diego Zoo to see if any emerge as likely candidates for surrogacy. However, it's not easy to artificially inseminate a rhino, and there have been few successful births in the past. There's still a fighting chance, though, and scientists ultimately hope they'll be able to build up a herd of five to 15 northern white rhinos over the next few decades.

[h/t Time Magazine]

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entertainment
Why Our Brains Love Plot Twists
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From the father-son reveal in The Empire Strikes Back to the shocking realization at the end of The Sixth Sense, everyone loves a good plot twist. It's not the element of surprise that makes them so enjoyable, though. It's largely the set-up, according to cognitive scientist Vera Tobin.

Tobin, a researcher at Case Western Reserve University, writes for The Conversationthat one of the most enjoyable moments of a film or novel comes after the big reveal, when we get to go back and look at the clues we may have missed. "The most satisfying surprises get their power from giving us a fresh, better way of making sense of the material that came before," Tobin writes. "This is another opportunity for stories to turn the curse of knowledge to their advantage."

The curse of knowledge, Tobin explains, refers to a psychological effect in which knowledge affects our perception and "trips us up in a lot of ways." For instance, a puzzle always seems easier than it really is after we've learned how to solve it, and once we know which team won a baseball game, we tend to overestimate how likely that particular outcome was.

Good writers know this intuitively and use it to their advantage to craft narratives that will make audiences want to review key points of the story. The end of The Sixth Sense, for example, replays earlier scenes of the movie to clue viewers in to the fact that Bruce Willis's character has been dead the whole time—a fact which seems all too obvious in hindsight, thanks to the curse of knowledge.

This is also why writers often incorporate red herrings—or false clues—into their works. In light of this evidence, movie spoilers don't seem so terrible after all. According to one study, even when the plot twist is known in advance, viewers still experience suspense. Indeed, several studies have shown that spoilers can even enhance enjoyment because they improve "fluency," or a viewer's ability to process and understand the story.

Still, spoilers are pretty universally hated—the Russo brothers even distributed fake drafts of Avengers: Infinity War to prevent key plot points from being leaked—so it's probably best not to go shouting the end of this summer's big blockbuster before your friends have seen it.

[h/t The Conversation]

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