Tag Archives: Charles

Episode 21: Caitlin Hobbs on Life and Death During a Pandemic

Photograph of a fake human skull sitting on a lop in a forest in winter. It's wearing a blue surgical mask.

Image courtesy of Caitlin Hobbs.

Our new episode is available from our Podcast host here: Episode 21

We’re also listed on:


For more from Caitlin:

  • Caitlin’s Twitter: @caitlinthehob
  • Caitlin on Book Riot
  • They are still collecting responses on responses to death during the COVID-19 pandemic for their thesis here

If you want to read or watch more about death in general:

Options for what to do with a body after death:

Cultural and historical funerary/death rituals:


Transcript

Charles 0:00
Hello, welcome to Assigned Scientist at Bachelor’s. I’m Charles and I’m an entomologist.

Tessa 0:04
And I’m Tessa and I’m an astrobiologist.

Charles 0:07
And our guest today is Caitlin Hobbs. Caitlin studies bio cultural anthropology with focus in folk studies, having earned a Bachelors of Science from Kennesaw State University. They’re especially interested in folklore and the many shapes that takes. They also like to make knives and crochet in their free time just to change it up sometimes. They are on Twitter @caitlinthehob. Caitlin, welcome to the show.

Caitlin 0:27
Thank you all for having me so much.

Charles 0:29
Thank you so much for coming on. So generally, to begin the show, we ask our guests sort of how they got interested in science, how they got started in science,

Caitlin 0:36
I have done science for about as long as I can remember. I was going to be a biologist growing up, like I knew that period, like it was going to be biology or become a zookeeper. Then I got to college, was going to do evolutionary biology and then realized, hey, I have to take organic chemistry to get this degree. Forget that! JK, that’s not gonna happen. So then I just kind of bounced around for a little bit looked at, like, psychology for a little while, but like, no, not for me was your like, standard gay college student, was in musical theater for a little bit before realizing I’m not as good as I think I am. And then I settled on anthropology, which I just graduated from. So that’s… it’s been a ride, but like, science has been a constant in my life, from the very beginning.

What I’m studying right now, let me go back a little bit to the summer before this last semester. So you know, going on Twitter, like, Animal Crossing just came out, which, like everyone lost their minds over, rightfully so. And I’m going through Twitter and starting to notice a trend, okay, a lot of these people were building memorial services to their loved ones, or their pets or whoever, even their grave sites or little postcards around Animal Crossing to these people that have passed that they haven’t been able to go to the funeral still, because social distancing, they’re limiting how many people can go into these funerals and everything because it’s just not safe. So I reached out to my professor, who is actually the Georgia forensic anthropologist – like she is the state anthropologist for Georgia – and go, Hey, I’m noticing this trend, would this be something you’re interested in working with me with? And she says, absolutely, that’s amazing, and then kind of start off going from there.

Because what I’m looking into is how death rituals and how COVID-19 deaths have affected the death industry. Right now you can’t go to funerals, you can’t have memorials, you can’t do all these different things that humans have created for ourselves to kind of mark the mourning of a loved one. And no one’s really looking at the medical examiners either, like we’re talking about the nurses and teachers been talking about like the heroes of COVID, which they absolutely are, like, they deserve so much respect right now, but medical examiners and funeral directors are dealing with all this stuff, too, and no one’s looking at them and saying thank you. You know? Like I’ve looked, I’ve seen reports from funeral directors saying, I hate going into work, because we’re running out of space and I don’t have anywhere to put these bodies, I’m overwhelmed. You know?

Tessa 3:11
That’s a really good point.

Caitlin 3:12
Like no one really, no one wants to talk about it – in America, anyway. Like, no one wants to talk about people dying. People pass and it’s just kind of something that’s pushed off to the side. And I think that’s kind of hurt us a lot right now, too. And humans are communal, like we like to be together, we… a lot of our death rituals right now are just, I mean, like prior to 2020 is just, you gather together, you mourn the person that was lost, you shared memories of them. And that kind of marks that end of life for them and the beginning of grieving, and no one has that right now. So it’s just thrown everything out of whack.

Charles 3:46
Okay, so we’ve talked about what was sort of motivating your interest in thinking about death right now. So what specifically was your thesis on?

Caitlin 3:54
My thesis was basically just looking directly at how the high death rate of COVID-19 has affected the funerary business, like how they’re, how they’ve been coping with it, how the medical examiners have been coping, how the funeral directors have been dealing with what’s going on, because they’re the ones that kind of tend to organize the funerals or the memorials or whatever. How are the cremations going? Like, what was it like at the beginning, when you weren’t really sure, can you catch it from dead bodies, which now they know it’s not as big but you know, then there was just so many unknowns, like, it’s a worry – like, am I going to catch it by embalming this person, you know?

And then, also, like I mentioned before, humans are communal creatures who… we like to be together. But COVID-19 is keeping us from doing that when we’re mourning. And so, I was reaching out to everyone else saying like, hey, if you’ve lost someone during this year, what was your experience? Like, how did you… how do you normally do things when someone dies, how did you do things this time around and then, have you picked up like any coping mechanisms to deal with it? Because like, like I said, people went to Animal Crossing and started to build stuff there. Some people have picked up like, new technology to help them do it, people created little Facebook pages to do memorials that way. So it’s kind of like how are you coping right now?

Charles 5:17
Yeah. Well, so what have you found so far?

Caitlin 5:22
So, so far, a lot of people have, to be frank, not dealt with it as well as they could have been, like, I’m still very much in the early stages of data collection, because people aren’t as willing to talk about this. Like I mentioned, it’s death. And then also, it’s a little traumatic, like, people don’t really want to bring those memories up, which I totally understand.

Tessa 5:41
Especially I’m sure as fresh as some of them are.

Caitlin 5:45
Oh, yeah. No, like, it’s like, some of these have been like, well, yeah, my grandfather died last week. It’s like, you could have waited a little bit like, it’s okay. I’m so sorry. But… but some people said like, like men, like, came out themselves and said, I haven’t been dealing with this. Well, like, I got super depressed, I stopped eating. Like, I just… because so many people didn’t have that marker of, okay, they died, we did this, and now it can go on with life. There was no pattern for them to stick with which – our brains like patterns, you know?

Charles 6:17
Yeah. Well, that’s interesting to me, also, because whenever somebody dies, I’m always shocked by how quickly things proceed.

Caitlin 6:26
Mm hm.

Charles 6:27
Because generally, you’re dealing with a body, and those don’t say great forever.

Caitlin 6:31
Oh no.

Charles 6:32
So it’s always, it’s always shocking to me when somebody dies and then a week later, their funeral has been arranged, and they’re being buried. And so it’s, it’s interesting to me that, I guess, trying to think how to phrase it, the same rapidity of going through that whole process feels potentially less satisfying to people now, because they can’t do everything that typically goes along with it.

Tessa 7:00
Right.

Caitlin 7:01
Yeah. Because I mean, like with it, in the Muslim faith with it, when someone dies, you wash the body, you can’t do that with COVID-19, their body is neatly taken away, and then dealt with elsewhere, because of biohazard issues. That kind of breaks things up, that doesn’t follow the pattern of what you’ve been ingrained to believe you’re supposed to do, and it kind of throws you for a loop, like what am I supposed to do now? You know?

Charles 7:30
Yeah.

Caitlin 7:34
I mean, even just like in the Christian religion, like, you go to the funeral, you gather with a family and talk it out. You talk about memories, like I’m Irish, we would have had an Irish wake… if I had a family member dying, we wouldn’t be able to do that. There’s no gathering in pubs and drinking and laughing about stories together. It’s just, you sit in front of a computer, you watch a live stream of the funeral, and it’s very detached and impersonal, like nobody… like it’s not sinking into people’s brains that, Oh, yes, this is actually happening. You know?

Charles 8:11
Yeah, that is interesting, the idea – that I’ve seen elsewhere also – that the processes that we use to deal with death together are also an important part of recognizing that death has happened, making it feel real, and the inability to do that, along with all of the other weird stuff that COVID has wrought. I, you know, I can’t really imagine how disorienting and just… just a mega bummer that would be.

Caitlin 8:43
Yeah, like I think, these kind of coping mechanisms that people had in the past for when someone died was like this marker saying, this person has died, I can begin to mourn now and I can work through it. Now… syou don’t go to the funeral, you don’t see the dead body, you don’t have a memorial or anything – you’re set adrift, your brain doesn’t quite catch up with what’s happening, especially with everything else going on, where it’s just constant traumatic experience upon a traumatic experience, your brain just kind of overloads and goes, Nope, I’m done. Thank you.

Tessa 9:10
I think that’s particularly true. Or at least it’s already exacerbating the fact that for a lot of us, with COVID and quarantine, everything kind of feels a little unreal anyway, and like, you know, that doesn’t really exist to the way that it used to. So you have that on top of the fact that we can’t have these normal passage ceremonies that we use to mark the end of life.

Caitlin 9:31
It’s hard enough to keep track of the days when you’re just waking up and going to work like having to do that while also acknowledging, Oh, yeah, someone died last week… it’s kind of weird. It’s unprecedented. So that’s kind of what I’m looking into, like, how is this affecting people and then potentially looking forward as to how will this affect our rituals going forward? Things changed after the black plague, when there was this huge number of deaths going on. Things changed after the 1918 flu pandemic, when the there are these huge numbers of deaths going on. So it’s kind of like how is this going to change us, the way we look at death and the way we mourn?

Charles 10:02
Well, mentioning the 1918, influenza epidemic, are you incorporating any comparative research based on looking at how people have reacted to similar events previously?

Caitlin 10:12
I am, and it’s a little depressing because we did not learn anything. There are still people back then going, Oh, no, it’s no problem, you don’t need to worry about anything. There’s still the mask issue going on. It wasn’t as obvious because I mean, obviously, we’re more interconnected now, like we have Twitter where you can just go look something up and you have 30 different people telling you, No, you’re wrong, you’re infringing my rights, while others are going like, no, I’m begging you, please wear your mask.

Charles 10:40
I gotta interject… one of the videos that has been going around on Twitter on the day that we’re recording this and for posterity, I’ll say that it’s December 18, there was one of a video of like, a parade, a parade of some [pause looking for an appropriate term] very silly people in Arizona, through a Walmart and then through a Target, asserting their right not to wear a mask. And it’s like…

Caitlin 11:05
Yeah, I saw a quote tweet of that same video saying like, meanwhile, in my patients room, I have a goal written saying to breathe better, because my patient cannot breathe. It’s one of those things like you get that harsh dichotomy going on right now that just makes it even clearer. But like, then, if we weren’t as connected, if it wasn’t as obvious to everybody, it’s like, Oh, no, this is a serious thing. Philadelphia had a parade, a state sanctioned parade when they thought the pandemic was over, and turns out it wasn’t and people got sick and there’s a huge boom in deaths because people weren’t being careful. Yikes, I mean, you really do not learn from our mistakes do we?

Charles 11:41
[breathes in] No. So that’s a real bummer. But for a little moment of levity, I encourage everybody to Google cats in masks, because there are some real charming pictures from the 1918 epidemic… well it was a pandemic… of the situation of cats in masks. And that’s just a little bit of, that’s just a little bit of fun for everybody. Cats don’t enjoy that.

Caitlin 12:09
Yeah. Tessa mentioned her bearded dragon earlier, my aunt’s got one too. And like, I’ve seen pictures of people like putting little masks on their bearded dragons when they go out walking around with them. It’s like, Oh, my God, this is amazing.

Charles 12:19
That is fun. So… death.

Caitlin 12:24
Yes, super depressing, right? Like…

Charles 12:29
It’s a, it’s a bit heavy.

Tessa 12:32
You know, you’ve talking about, like, sort of the methodology you’ve used for reaching out to people? What were your findings, was there anything you found that surprised you?

Caitlin 12:40
Not as much… like I was, I was a little surprised that a lot of people were saying they didn’t handle it as well as they could have. It’s just kind of like, oh, we’re really not doing okay, are we? Because I, you know, you see people on the internet going like, Oh, yeah, so and so died, but then it’s just kind of like, it’s a little blip in your feed, and then you move on to something else. But then like, so many people were saying, like, No, I’m really not doing okay. Like, some of them are saying like, Oh, yeah, no, I reached out to my family or reached out to my friends, like we still had little things together on Facebook, or Skype or whatever, then there, but there’s just large, larger that I was expecting, I’m really struggling right now, that sort of thing.

And then, you know, in my informed consent thing I included like mental health resources, because I mean, obviously, like people need help right now. And they’re like, thank you so much for including that because I now have somewhere I can reach out, I know where I can get help. And it’s like, oh, no, Honey, please let me make you some tea, wrap you in a blanket… like my mom instincts are coming out right now.

Charles 13:39
Get ’em a cat.

Caitlin 13:41
Right, exactly.

Charles 13:42
The only problem with using a cat for comfort is that then you have to contend with the mortality of your cats also.

Caitlin 13:49
Mm hmm.

Charles 13:49
Because I haven’t lost anyone this year, partially because I think I just don’t know enough people.

Caitlin 13:56
Same.

Charles 13:57
But then also because the people that I love are generally in a privileged enough position that they’ve mostly been able to stay at home and haven’t been overly exposed to stressors. But, one of the major ways that my anxiety has sort of dealt with the… just the enormity of the world’s grief and stress has been becoming hyper fixated on worrying about the mortality of one of my cats. He’s been stressing me out, but he’s also been giving me comfort. So that’s the great irony of cats.

Caitlin 14:25
No, I’m with you there on that, like I lost the cat back in September, like on top of everything else going on. It’s like oh my god, and it was like a year after I lost two other cats and like I can not right now. So yeah, I’m with you on that whole fixating on my cats – like, you cannot die on me, I will not allow you to die on me.

Charles 14:42
Yeah. So that’s a bummer. Yeah. So I have two questions. And then another question.

Caitlin 14:48
Okay.

Charles 14:48
But the two questions first. So my first question is, have you heard from many people in the industry that they’re planning on leaving after the pandemic? Because I know that there have been a lot of reports of people who are in essential roles, who are very close to the effects of the virus – like nurses, medical practitioners, even teachers – who have basically articulated, I’m going to stay in my job while we’re still in crisis and then I’m out. Have you seen anything similar?

Caitlin 15:18
So I can’t quite answer that one yet, because I haven’t been able to do as many interviews with the professionals of the field, because the IRB kind of screwed me over and created my study, like the week of Thanksgiving. And then like, after… immediately after, that is like, holidays, and there was another big spike and everything, so I was like, these people don’t really have time to talk to you right now, which I get. I can’t answer that yet, unfortunately.

Charles 15:40
Fair enough. Well, then a related question that you may also not be able to answer. Have you heard from people that they are planning on postponing a lot of the communal exercises of grief?

Caitlin 15:53
Yeah. So that’s actually how a lot of people have been doing it that I’ve heard from so far. Like, there were a few that said, like, Oh, yeah, we just a small number would enter the funeral the rest of us live streamed it. But a large enough of them said, No, we went ahead and buried or cremated them or did whatever we were going to do, and then we’ll hold a memorial later on when family can actually be together, and we can mourn together. A larger number said, we’re waiting to do that.

Charles 16:17
Well, it’s kind of a dark inverse of everybody getting small, like townhall civil ceremonies, and then planning a big reception in two years.

Caitlin 16:25
No, you know, strange times.

Charles 16:26
It has… mentally, it’s just been such a weird year.

Caitlin 16:30
Mm hmm.

Charles 16:30
Which is kind of the understatement of the century, I guess. But. And it’s, I think it’s an especially difficult thing to deal with has been the expectation of basically continuing on as much as normal.

Caitlin 16:45
Yeah.

Charles 16:45
There’s been very little time for individuals to just sit with their own grief. And which is probably, as we’ve discussed, really especially difficult because they don’t have these culturally recognized rituals of processing grief among other people. So that already is a barrier. And then there’s still the expectation that everyone is just going to continue on as normal, when, (a) many more people than normal are experiencing substantial personal losses, and (b) we’re sort of culturally and globally experiencing a weird, extreme miasma of generalized grief.

Caitlin 17:28
I mean, I think a lot of that also boils down to like the fact that a lot of people are working from home now and it’s kind of hard to say, like, No, I can’t do that. Because yes, you can, you’re at home, you’re right next to your computer all the time. Like, you can’t say, No, I can’t, because I have this thing… companies are saying like, No, you can still kind of do it, you can sit there on the call and just kind of work through it. And it’s like, no, just because I’m at home, which is not technically my workspace, doesn’t mean I am able to be there all the time.

Charles 17:54
This is also a sub tweet at academia.

Caitlin 17:56
Yes. [chuckles]

Charles 17:59
So… on the topic of funerals.

Caitlin 18:02
Mm hmm.

Charles 18:02
So have you thought about your own funeral a lot?

Caitlin 18:05
Actually, yes. I’m an anthropologist – bones is kind of like something that I’m always thinking about. And like, I look at folk studies and how people do things, it’s kind of like both things. Like, I mean, someday I’m gonna die. Like it’s just one of those things. I’ve thought about my own, have my own decomposition, and like how I want things to go quite a bit. I’ve told my parents, my family, and everything’s like, hey, if I die, this is how I want it to go. Like I just, we don’t have to do some big fancy funeral. You can just put me in one of those little mushroom soups that we’ve made now that will decompose your body you can toss me in a hole in the ground, and then go have some drinks together and celebrate my life. That’s it. Nothing fancy. Just kind of, you know, toss me in a hole in the ground say, well, they were good. And then just go on with your lives and mourn how you need to but you don’t need to do anything for me specifically.

Charles 18:52
I love mushroom suits.

Caitlin 18:55
Right? I love them.

Charles 18:56
I love the idea of just decomposing in the ground.

Caitlin 18:58
Mm hmm.

Charles 18:59
I used to want to be cremated and then I learned that cremations are actually really terrible for the environment.

Caitlin 19:04
Yeah, it’s not great.

Charles 19:06
Not great. So just turn me into mushrooms, let whatever wants to eat me eat my body. We’re gravy. Because my first thought is always donation to science, then it’s, that’s very unclear, you know. And you can really stipulate things, but then sometimes the things that you stipulate don’t actually need your body. And it gets very complicated.

Caitlin 19:25
And like, not to burst anyone’s bubble who’s thinking about donating your body to science, but a lot of time when you do that your body just goes and becomes a test cadaver for doctor students, people in the medical field who are learning how to do surgery or like learning anatomy and everything… that’s kind of where your body ends up allocated.

Charles 19:43
I’m actually totally fine with that. My best friend is in med school, and they’ve told me many tales about their designated cadaver and we’ve got a very close bond, both me and my best friend and me and the best friend and the cadaver. What has always stuck with me is… I read, uh, I can’t remember what it’s called now… but Mary Roach, one of her books is on the science of…

Caitlin 20:05
Stiff?

Charles 20:06
Yes! Stiff. And the fact that a lot of bodies get sent to cosmetology schools. And all my respect to cosmetology students, they’re doing a great job, but if it’s between being a decapitated head for somebody to test out, cosmetology or a mushroom, yeah, I’d rather you know, I’d rather be a mushroom.

Tessa 20:28
Honestly, I… I just feel bad for the cosmetology students. Because like, if I applied to cosmetology school, I would not go in there with the assumption that at any point in time I might be working on a decapitated head.

Charles 20:40
Yeah. Well, Tessa, have you thought about what you want people to do with your body?

Tessa 20:44
I’m kind of also with team decomposition. I did my master’s thesis on microbial ecology so I’m very much into nutrient cycling, so that seems more fitting. I also always thought that Tibetan sky burials were pretty cool, too.

Caitlin 20:57
Yes, I love sky burials. Like I wouldn’t do it, but I appreciate the idea of them but…

Charles 21:02
For the uninformed in the audience, including myself, can we describe what a sky burial is?

Caitlin 21:07
Okay, a Tibetans sky burial is… part of it kind of depends on what faith you’re part of. But sometimes, like there’s a big tower that they put you up in, sometimes it’s just kind of your way down on the mountainside… These kind of burials came from, you not really be able to dig into the dirt, so they’ll kind of go out and lay your body out in the mountain side or up at the top of a tower. And just kind of let nature do its thing. Like they let the birds come and kind of pick it your bones, they let the scavengers come, like you just kind of weather down and they go and collect the bones and do whatever with them afterwards. It’s really nice, actually.

Charles 21:40
It sounds nice. My other joke answer is that my best friend and I have talked about, whichever one of us dies first, the other one defleshing their skull and then putting articulations in the jaw and keeping it on, like, their office shelf or whatever and having little conversations with it like a skull puppet.

Caitlin 22:00
I love that.

Charles 22:01
I think it would be very fun. Is there anything else that you would like to communicate about your research and your interests that we haven’t gotten to yet?

Caitlin 22:09
Well, I was gonna bring up to Tessa real fast – I know you’re talking about like the whole microbial thing, like breaking down like that. There is a research group in Maryland, I believe, that actually is looking on how to like compost people, like how to turn us into soil that you could put into your garden. Like they’re looking into the best way to do that, like…

Tessa 22:28
Fascinating.

Caitlin 22:29
You can actually donate your body to that group. I believe they’re in Maryland? I do not remember their name. But Caitlin Doughty has talked a lot about them before, and they’re in one of her books as well. It’s so cool.

Tessa 22:42
It’s really, really cool, yeah, I agree.

Charles 22:44
I would also be up for being composted.

Caitlin 22:46
Mm hmm. Right. Like it’s, you know, just kind of put me in the earth, I’m good.

Charles 22:50
Well, it’s also nice to think of yourself being useful after you’ve died.

Caitlin 22:53
Yeah, like there’s, it’s really expensive right now. But there’s ways you can like turn your body into like a little seed pod and like, they’ll put like tree seed in the pot, and then you’ll be buried that way, and then you have like a tree coming out of what was you. There’s a lot of different green burials out there now that are, let’s try to make this a little more eco friendly. There’s a lot of options that people don’t seem to realize.

Charles 23:13
I imagine it gets back to the fact that mainstream American culture is so averse to talking about death and thinking about death.

Caitlin 23:21
Oh, yeah. No, like, it’s very much… ever since the Victorians we’ve just gone on this decline of, we’re not going to even walk at death. Because like Victorians were… like they loved it.

Tessa 23:30
That surprises me. I always assumed they were repressed about everything, including death, I didn’t realize that they were vibing with it.

Caitlin 23:37
You know, Victorians were actually kind of secret freaks.

Charles 23:39
Victorians were very goth.

Caitlin 23:41
They were so goth. Like, there were these elaborate mourning rituals. Widows would wear black for at least a year. And then even afterwards, there’d be like a black armband that they would wear, the house will be covered in black with black curtains, you would cover the mirrors and everything, like, it was very ornate and performative. And just, someone just died, I must let the world know that someone died. There were a bunch of weird death cases at the time, too, so it was also that kind of scientific fascination that they had with that as well.

Tessa 24:08
I know at the time, spontaneous human combustion was very much a topic… it even shows up in one of Charles Dickens’ novels.

Charles 24:16
Because the Victorian period is a long period of time, it was like 60 years, and it represents the industrial age, the beginnings of modern medicine, a lot of stuff was happening that represented a huge and very rapid change up in culture and the world.

Caitlin 24:35
Yeah, I mean, like, you have this growth of medicine and people doing the body snatching going on at the same time. You have like spiritualism becoming a big thing. People go into seances and trying to commune with the dead, so it’s kind of like science and magic, I guess, kind of started intertwining together and it was really difficult for people to kind of separate between the two. Like you said, there’s a lot going on during the Victorian period.

Charles 24:56
Yeah, so that’s that. What else was I gonna ask? And we, so Okay, so I, obviously we… trying to think out of phrases that it’ll be like, not insulting. Okay, so I’m a big nerd for history and philosophy of science. And part of that is thinking about what the boundaries of science are, and what makes something count as science. And clearly, we think that you count because we have had you on our podcast and are talking to you now. But, I can imagine somebody might look at this episode and think, this isn’t science, I didn’t sign up for this. And then I would say to them, well, this is a free podcast. But then I would also invite you to sort of answer that potential naysayer.

Caitlin 25:51
Yeah. So that’s actually something I’ve heard quite a bit like, What do you mean, you have a Bachelors of Science? Cultural anthropology isn’t science. Well, it is because we’re still testing theories. We’re testing hypotheses that we come up with, we follow the scientific method when we go out and do ethnographies and everything. And like, I’m a bio cultural anthropologist, like, I’m still looking at people’s bones and seeing, okay, what’s going on here? What caused this shape to come out of these bones? And then Is this because of the culture? Or did the culture result from the bones? Like there’s still a good amount of hard science, heavy quotations around hard going on there. I’m no stranger to the whole like, but you’re not actually doing science. I am though. Like I’m taking the scientific method and applying it to how humans think and work and create the systems around us. I… they’re not naturally occurring things, like humans created these concepts and ideas and cultural anthropologists are like, Okay, so how do we do this and why?

Charles 26:49
The final thing that we do, basically, with this podcast is ask our guests to weigh in on one of our recurring themes.

Caitlin 26:56
I kind of bounced between all three while thinking about it, but I might go with the, is it gay if it’s in space.

Charles 27:01
I mean, listen, you can answer all three, if you want to, we don’t have time limits. We’re not on cable.

Caitlin 27:09
So I might just answer all three, because they’re going to be nice, not short, but like, well rounded answers that are nicely condensed,

Charles 27:17
Fantastic.

Caitlin 27:17
You know, I’ll just go on down the line. So the first one, which is the whole post apocalyptic landscape thing, I mean, I’m in the foothills of Appalachia, I would probably start up… I know how to garden, I know how to make knives, I would probably start up in like, build a community around me. It’s like, Hey, this is how you garden efficiently. This is how you take care of the weapons that you have, like, this is how you make sure you get what you can and I can repair them for you. So I’ll probably start doing that. I mean, I know how to sew and crochet as well. So it’s kind of like, you know what, I’m a one person factory all by myself.

Tessa 27:49
Yeah, you’d be really handy to have around.

Charles 27:51
Yeah, you’d be a great value add, it sounds like, to any community. What’s also interesting, and an angle that we have not pursued yet, is the question of… because we’re generally presenting this as climate catastrophe, because that’s generally what I think of as being not only likely, but at some point inevitable.

Caitlin 28:09
Yeah.

Charles 28:10
And so thinking about where you are located in space… In Arizona, I feel like our biggest issues to begin with will be water availability, and just the dang heat, which then again, it gets back to water availability. So what sort of problems do you anticipate if you stayed where you are? What would you have to deal with there?

Caitlin 28:31
Probably a good amount of water availability. Because I mean, I’m in Georgia, we’re basically always in a drought for some reason or another.

Charles 28:38
That’s interesting to me, because Georgia is so humid.

Caitlin 28:42
It’s so humid but like, I think it’s rained once in the last month where I live. So like, it’s like it’s humid, but like the actual rain itself is pretty sparse. My area itself is like very wooded and hilly. So that’s another thing you’d have to deal with, just like the amount of effort it would take to get from point A to point B of like, you can’t use a car or some other kind of automized vehicle to go around with… like walking around would be a pain in the butt.

Charles 29:12
Okay, so question two was the… one of our perennial favorites and which we referenced earlier, so imagining your physical body is about to die, but you have the option to put your brain inside a robot body. Two questions related to this: (a) would you do it and (b) is this a form of immortality?

Caitlin 29:30
So this kind of gets into the whole like cyberpunk thing. Like in transhumanism, like where do we stop being human? But I think I wouldn’t. I mean, it depends on how good the robot is. If it’s kind of like the clunky ones that you see like in the old sci fi movies, maybe not. Some of the nicer ones that you’ve seen the sci fi stuff now, I could probably go with that like maybe like a robot from I, Robot. I could work with that… I could see myself putting myself in to that robot body, assuming I don’t go evil.

Charles 30:02
Well, a couple things that we’ve suggested… first is, on a previous episode I mentioned, putting yourself in sort of an insectoid body. So I’m imagining a lot of, sort of, physicality options and also the ability to move your brain between bodies for different situations.

Caitlin 30:20
Yeah, see if I had that kind of setup? Absolutely I would go for it. Like, let me be a praying mantis.

Charles 30:24
Yes! And then also, Tessa, do you want to tell yet another guest about your retirement plans?

Tessa 30:31
Yeah, yes. This is becoming a recurring thing.

Charles 30:33
It’s a recurring thing.

Tessa 30:34
So my wife and I’s retirement plan, theoretically, anyways, is to upload our consciousnesses – hopefully in a way that preserves continuity of consciousness, because otherwise, I don’t think it counts, and we we actually had an episode about that…

Charles 30:49
We had a whole episode.

Tessa 30:51
Into an interstellar probe, and then, you know, spend the rest of the eternity just exploring the universe.

Caitlin 30:58
I could get with that. That’s a nice idea.

Charles 31:00
I wouldn’t do this because I am imagining all the ways that this could go horribly wrong.

Caitlin 31:06
Yeah, no, like, I mean, if they had it, like, nailed down to where, like, Nothing will go wrong, I’m okay with that.

Charles 31:12
Tessa, honestly, this is a great, weird existential horror premise that you’ve provided us. And somebody’s got to write that.

Tessa 31:20
Well, I am a published author. So I will keep that in mind.

Charles 31:23
Do it, do it.

Caitlin 31:24
Well there you go, next book idea.

Charles 31:26
Next book idea. Okay. Um… I actually have, I actually have a great novel idea, which I probably will never write so I’m releasing it out in the world, for anybody who wants it, but a person who is facing the end of their life, and they choose to upload their consciousness, like into a computer program, or as a computer program, not a brain situation, but like they are… because and I think the way that I got around this to this story was like they are specifically dying of brain cancer. So their, their brain is the problem like the physical brain. Yeah, so they are choosing to upload their consciousness into a robot. But then, twist! When they actually die, spirits also exist in this reality – they come back as a ghost. And now there are two versions of them that diverge over a long period of time.

Caitlin 32:17
I love that.

Tessa 32:17
That sounds fascinating.

Charles 32:18
Thank you you so much. I will never write this as I am… well, partially because I’m lazy and partially because I don’t think it’s my skill set. So anybody who wants it, it’s yours, take it and run free. Yeah. And then our third question is, again, some variant on, is it gay if it’s in space, and this is more just sort of a free space to throw out any ideas you have on the theme.

Caitlin 32:41
I know, like you had sent to me… if it’s an alien species that doesn’t have like the human gender sexuality thing going on, like if you had an alien species that like was just completely androgynous, didn’t have any concept of gender or sexuality or anything, but we’re still like interested in you know, getting it on with you… I don’t know if I would see that as gay cause like, the like… it’s a completely different species, completely different cultural mindset going on there. Like, I don’t know, if you would, could you really call an androgynous, like… everyone, the same alien species as male or female when they don’t have any, like, sort of verbiage to put to that because like, I mean, with humans, we can still say like, Oh, no, like, even though I’m born this way I am that I am this other way. But like, we have that cultural framework to work through. They don’t have any semblance of that whatsoever. It’s just like, no, I’m me, you know? So it’s kind of like, I don’t know if I would see that as gay.

Charles 33:38
Yeah, but putting it another way then we could ask, can heterosexuality exist in this context?

Caitlin 33:47
I mean, I would say it wouldn’t exist there, either, because they don’t have that concept of like… it wouldn’t be gay or straight, it would just be sex, like, Is it gonna have those kind of cultural hang ups to go along with it? Who knows? Maybe they copulate like the blue aliens in Avatar, and it’s just through these weird little hair braid things.

Charles 34:07
Was that actually reproduction? Or was that just like physical…?

Caitlin 34:11
I don’t know.

Tessa 34:13
It was part of their reproductive strategy, but I don’t think it was… I don’t think those were their genitals per se.

Caitlin 34:20
I think it was like step one towards it, and then just kind of like, like, it was a nice feel underneath the shirt kind of thing.

Charles 34:26
Well, I wonder if it functions at all, like… there are a number of parthenogenetic lizards. And I remember reading at one point a study that found that these parthenogenetic lizards obviously didn’t need external fertilization to mate, but they were more likely to develop a viable fetus or whatever lizards do…? They got eggs. I’m not, I’m not a herpetologist either. But they were more likely to, like, to start developing actual offspring if they went through the behaviors, like copulatory behaviors with another female lizard.

Tessa 35:06
I know what you’re talking about, yeah.

Charles 35:07
And so I wonder if the avatar thing is something like that, where the hair thing is not about physically transferring gametes, it’s about sort of setting up the body to be in a position to…

Caitlin 35:20
To trigger that response.

Charles 35:21
Yes. Yeah, so who knows? I’ll never know because I refuse to learn anything about avatar.

Caitlin 35:28
Yeah, that’s fair.

Charles 35:29
Yeah. So I we’ve been recording for about an hour now. They had a great conversation, some great new additions to our recurring questions. So thank you very much. Is there anything else that you would like to say before we sign off?

Tessa 35:43
Wear your mask?

Charles 35:44
Wear your mask.

Caitlin 35:48
Be smart, and be safe.

Charles 35:49
And we will also link… well, we’ll tweet out a link to your survey today. And then we’ll also tweet out another link when we post this episode in January.

Caitlin 35:59
Oh, perfect. Thank you.

Charles 36:01
Anytime, except only the times when you see me so write a post. Okay, so Caitlin, if people want to find you or your work online, where should they look?

Caitlin 36:10
So I am on Twitter as @caitlinthehob. And then also I write for Book Riot, and you can go and look me up put on their contributor list just as Caitlin Hobbs pretty standard. So you can find me there as well and read my writing. It’s a lot of it’s science, a lot of it’s gay.

Charles 36:30
Is there any other kind of writing?

Caitlin 36:32
I mean, I don’t want to know about it if there is.

Charles 36:34
I am on Twitter @cockroacharles, and Tessa?

Tessa 36:37
I am on Twitter @spacermase.

Charles 36:42
The show is on twitter @ASABpod and at our website where we post transcripts for every episode asabpodcast.com.

Tessa 36:50
And until next time, keep on science-ing.

Episode 17: Rae Lambert on Vaccines, Immunology, and the Horror of Organic Corporeality

Transmission electron micrograph of SARS-CoV-2 virus particles

Image: “Transmission electron micrograph of SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, isolated from a patient. Image captured and color-enhanced at the NIAID Integrated Research Facility (IRF) in Fort Detrick, Maryland.” (Source: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIH – Flickr)

Our new episode is available from our Podcast host here: Episode 17

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Episode 13: Elizabeth Feinberg on Plastics and Post-Apocalyptic Game Plans

Illustration of the reptation model from chemistry

Image: An illustration of the concept of reptation, “motion of long linear, entangled macromolecules in amorphous polymers.” (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Our new episode is available from our Podcast host here: Episode 13

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