Podcast | What death can teach us about consciousness

Science can't fully explain what life is. Three experts try anyway in a conversation about life, death and our desire to push back the expiration date.

A cemetery backed by a skyline

The Empire State building and the Manhattan skyline are seen behind the tombstones at Calvary Cemetery, Saturday, April 11, 2020, in the Maspeth neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York. (Mary Altaffer/AP)

Talking about life and death is tricky for anyone, even scientists. Despite considerable research over the course of generations, scientists still don’t fully understand what life is, what death is or even what separates the two. 

But where science lacks understanding, there are theories and questions about what makes something alive and how to keep living things from aging. And there are intriguing thoughts on the ethics of efforts to prolong life.

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These are the questions at the heart of this episode of the Crosscut Talks podcast, featuring Andrew Steele, author of the book Ageless: The New Science of Getting Older Without Getting Old, and Carl Zimmer, who writes the New York Times column Matter and is the author of Life’s Edge: The Search for What It Means to Be Alive.

Led in conversation by University of Washington doctoral candidate Halli Benasutti, these two experts discuss life, death, aging and consciousness. And while they may not be able to arrive on concrete definitions of these elusive concepts, they certainly have very interesting insight into each.


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