IDEAS schedule for May 2022

Highlights include: an exploration of why left-handers are so special; how math and geometry is helping corrupt American democracy; re-examining Richard Wright's legacy and enduring relevance; and science writer Britt Wray on her book, Generation Dread: Finding Purpose in an Age of Climate Crisis.
Leonardo Da Vinci, Harpo Marx and Jimi Hendrix all had one thing in common: they were left-handed. And so are ten per cent of humankind — but the reasons are still mysterious. (Svenska Dagbladet/AFP via Getty)

* Please note this schedule is subject to change.

Monday, May 2

They've remained a minority among humans since the dawn of our species, coping with systems and tools arranged for right-handers, and sometimes thriving as a result of their difference. Left-handed writer Mark Dance consults experts on the history — and latest mysteries — of the 'sinister 10 per cent,' and seeks answers to the question of what makes a left-hander special.

Tuesday, May 3

An ambitious orchestra from Nazareth comprised of half Palestinian and half Jewish musicians has a mission — to bridge the divide and serve as a model of peace building. The Galilee Chamber Orchestra is the performance wing of a music education organization called Polyphony. In musical terms, 'polyphony' is a musical texture that combines two or more tones or melodic lines. But what can music do to truly advance peace and understanding? IDEAS host Nahlah Ayed explores this question with Polyphony's co-founder Nabeel Abboud Ashkar, followed by a panel discussion. 

Wednesday, May 4

The conventional wisdom about the two sides of the brain is that the left hemisphere is the rational, logical side and the right side is the artistic, contemplative side. Neuroscientist Iain McGilchrist's theory of the Divided Brain goes much further. He argues that the left side of the brain leads to a mechanistic, reductive view of the world, in contrast to the more holistic, contextual ways in which the right side of the brain takes in the world. McGilchrist also believes that many of the ills that plague us today stem from the dominance of the left brain in western society. *An adaptation of a television documentary, The Divided Brain. *This episode originally aired on October 22, 2021.

Thursday, May 5

Never before have we had such a close up, real time picture of war: the devastating impact, the upending of lives — and the range of roles that women play. We're in conversation with several women who know war: They're neither fighters, nor victims, yet at times of conflict they are wholehearted participants. We discuss the challenges, stereotypes, and the dangers for civilian women working in the fog of war. The underlying question: how might we see conflicts differently if women had told the story?

Friday, May 6

For centuries, Benedictine monks have acted as custodians for some of our world's most precious religious texts. Today, many of those manuscripts are under greater threat than ever before, whether that be theft, weather or political unrest. Minnesota-based Father Columba Stewart has spent nearly two decades working with religious leaders, government authorities, and archivists around the globe to preserve these religious manuscripts. On this episode of IDEAS, a conversation with Fr. Columba about where this all started, and why it matters so much. 

Monday, May 9

"Neurodiversity" captures the idea that variations in our brains are part of the natural human spectrum, part of a normal range of our cognitive capacities. There's increasing evidence that what we know today as Autism, ADHD, Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, and Dyslexia may not be the result of disease, but may actually have been a way for us to extend our species chances of survival. Some experts believe these brain variations have been around as far back as we can measure. But today, brain variations that once may have been advantages are seen as burdens and disorders that beg for remedies. In this two-part series, IDEAS traces the social and cultural response to brain variation and whether there's a way back to seeing them as advantages.

Tuesday, May 10

The image of the guillotine is flourishing online as a symbol of protest against inequality, racism, and elitism. Mock guillotines regularly show up at protests, from both the political right and left. This documentary from Matthew Lazin-Ryder traces the history of the guillotine as a symbol, from its bloody history during the darkest days of the French Revolution to its reinvention as an emblem of equality. *This episode originally aired on  November 2, 2021.

Wednesday, May 11

Abraham Lincoln used geometry to make better arguments. Google uses geometry to hide or promote websites. And U.S. political parties use it to tip elections in their favour. In his new book Shape, mathematician Jordan Ellenberg exposes the geometric underpinnings of logic, science, and politics. A former child prodigy who aced the SATs at age 12, Ellenberg argues that clever use of math and geometry is helping corrupt American democracy, but mathematicians might still be able to save it.

Thursday, May 12

Have you ever looked down at your beloved family dog and thought: what on earth is she thinking? Alexandra Horowitz certainly has. She's the author of Inside of a Dog and a senior research fellow at Barnard College. In 2018, Horowitz joined fellow authors and scientists at the Aspen Ideas Festival, a forum for values-based leadership and the exchange of ideas, to speak about the theme of animal cognition. Hear excerpts from The Mysterious Mind of the Dog  and  The Genius of Birds. *This episode originally aired on November 5, 2021.

Friday, May 13

Lean in. Be all that you can be. Photo filters. Identity management. The quest for perfection has become a modern malady, correlating to increased rates of depression and anxiety. But according to scholar Irina Dumitrescu, there's a connection between medieval ideas and contemporary experiences, whether motherhood, body image or social status. Professor Dumitrescu delivered the second annual JHI Humanities at Large Lecture, and in it explores how conceptions of perfection — then and now — play out in the tumble of real-life experiences that can leave us scarred and doubting.


Monday, May 16

Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas believed that the face-to-face encounter was the beginning of our ethical obligation to each other. So what does that principle mean in an era of Zoom meetings and widespread masking? Where does that idea leave people whose faces defy easy recognition? Historian Sharrona Pearl and artist Riva Lehrer consider the changing meaning of the face, and the vexed relationship between the face and the self. Zambian novelist and scholar Namwali Serpell explores "the strange face, the stranger's face, the face that thwarts recognition … the disabled face, the racially ambiguous face, the digital face, the face of the dead" — and calls for new ways of building ethical relationships. *This episode originally aired on September 6, 2021. It is part of of our series, Body Language where we explore what our bodies express, literally and symbolically.

Tuesday, May 17

The concept of 'ugliness' lurks in Western storytelling, from ancient tales of Medusa to teen comedies like She's All That. This documentary looks at cultural ideas of 'ugliness' and how they affect the world today, especially for women, people of colour, and people with disabilities or facial differences. Featuring disability rights activist and writer Ariel Henley, author of the memoir A Face for Picasso, and Jess Zimmerman, author of the feminist reanalysis of ancient myth Women and Other Monsters. The documentary traces the way perceptions of ugliness have been used to decide who matters, who doesn't, and who should be removed from society. *This episode originally aired on September 21, 2021. It is part of of our series, Body Language where we explore what our bodies express, literally and symbolically.

Wednesday, May 18

Rubenesque, zaftig, curvaceous, full-bodied — these are all ways to talk about bodies, especially women's bodies, without using the word 'fat.' It's a word many of us were raised to believe was rude and cruel and is often deployed to shame and mock larger sized people or to pick on the insecurities of the rest. 'Fat' is now being reclaimed by activists and researchers as part of an effort to move toward body size or fat acceptance — the idea that bodies come in all sizes and all bodies have equal value and deserve equal treatment. But socially, we remain deeply invested in diet and weight loss culture and so the question lingers: is it possible to get to a place where body size no longer matters? *This episode originally aired on September 22, 2021. It is part of of our series, Body Language where we explore what our bodies express, literally and symbolically.

Thursday, May 19

A conversation with writer Olivia Laing, author of Everybody: A Book About Freedom. She links the ideas of artists, thinkers, and political activists who made bodily autonomy and liberation their work. From renegade psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, to musician Nina Simone and civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, these are contentious yet insightful people who challenged their 20th century times. Laing and host Nahlah Ayed also discuss the body's vulnerability and its power, something on many minds in this period of disease, conflict, and climate change peril. *This episode originally aired on Septe.ber 23, 2021. It is part of of our series, Body Language where we explore what our bodies express, literally and symbolically.

Friday, May 20

Early on in his coverage of the coronavirus journalist Ed Yong realised that it was not just a science story.  It was an omni-crisis: "an event that upended all aspects of society and that forced us to grapple with the interplay between science and everything else." His focus evolved to expose the cracks in society that were and continue to be exacerbated by the pandemic. Yong is a staff writer at The Atlantic. He was awarded the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting for his coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. He delivered the final lecture The Art of Science Journalism" in the Lind Initiative Future of the Media series at the University of British Columbia in April 2022. 

Monday, May 23

Failure. It's the worst. Nobody wants to fail or be branded a failure. It stinks of ruin, regret, and other people's contempt. It imputes some sort of profound moral flaw. No mere mistake, or series of errors, failure is king in the realm of the wrong. It's an "F" grade in the school of life. Or is it? In the last decade or so, efforts to repurpose failure have pushed it to the surface of popular culture. Today you can find motivational speakers, and tech entrepreneurs like Richard Branson, Elon Musk, and Oprah Winfrey all hawking failure as the secret to 21st century success. Was Samuel Beckett right: fail again, fail better? *This episode originally aired on December 15, 2021.

Tuesday, May 24

In 17th century Italy, Artemisia Gentileschi carved a name for herself as the brash and passionate painter of biblical heroines. Her bold history paintings upended traditional depictions of women and delivered instead complex female figures: gutsy, intelligent and strong. With her paintbrush as in her life, she fought gender inequality and helped to reimagine womanhood and what it could mean to be a female artist.

Wednesday, May 25

Richard Wright was the biggest name in Black American literature in the 1940s. His bestselling 1940 debut novel, Native Son, was a literary sensation, his short stories and non-fiction were searing depictions and critiques of the effects of racism and the ever-present threat of racist violence. But Wright fell out of favour, in part the result of critiques by two writers he mentored — James Baldwin and Ralph Ellison. However, the persistence of anti-Black racist violence, the emergence of Black Lives Matter, and the publication of a long-forgotten Wright manuscript have led to a re-evaluation of Wright's importance, legacy and enduring relevance. 

Thursday, May 26

In a world of climate crisis and inaction, the kids are not alright. Neither are many adults, including those considering parenthood. Science writer and scholar Britt Wray was one of the latter when she made a 2018 IDEAS documentary on the topic. Now she is a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University, specializing in the mental health impacts of the ecological crisis. Her new book details her work and conversations, and synthesizes her insights. It shares productive ways to cope, think, and act while facing an anxious ecological present and uncertain future. At an event recorded at the Toronto Reference Library, Britt Wray talks to Nahlah Ayed about Generation Dread: Finding Purpose in an Age of Climate Crisis.

Friday, May 27

Orpheus haunts us  — with music and magic. Not a god, but he thinks he might just be, as he's powerful enough to rescue his wife from death, and to bring her back into his world — if he can manage not to break the rules and look at her on the way out of the underworld. The myth of Orpheus is the oldest love story, from ancient Greece — it's the story of the power of art, a story told through opera and film, and poetry. Two thousand five hundred years later, why does the myth of Orpheus still have such a hold on us? *This episode originally aired on October 14, 2021.

Monday, May 30

The passing of Ronnie Hawkins at age 87 is the inspiration for this special episode of IDEAS in which producer Philip Coulter retools a show he did for Inside the Music. It plumbs the CBC Radio's extensive archives featuring "The Hawk," and captures the bottomless charisma, warmth and energy that defined his legendary career.

Tuesday, May 31

"Sand is the material that matters most to what it means for us to be human," says Toronto-based researcher Nehal El-Hadi. In her lecture Poetics, Politics, and Paradoxes of Sand, delivered for the Slow Factory, she explores how sand shapes everything from our cities to our understanding of time — and what it means that the global supply of sand is dwindling. Nehal El-Hadi also speaks with Nahlah Ayed about her encounters with sand as a child in Sudan, the ecological toll of sand mining, and how governments weaponize deserts against refugees. 


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