Podcast: Radiolab’s Desperately Seeking Symmetry

I really liked this podcast by Radiolab. if you’re not listening to Radiolab, you need to add it immediately to your mp3 device of choice. you can also stream it here:

I really liked the section that co-host Robert Krulwich recalls the story Aristophanes tells from Plato’s Symposium, a story about a group of men who get together and drink and each person must tell a story about love. I like Krulwich’s retelling better than the wikipedia entry, copied below, so have a listen, its worth it.

His speech is an explanation of why people in love say they feel “whole” when they have found their love partner. It is, he says, because in primal times people had doubled bodies, with faces and limbs turned away from one another. As somewhat spherical creatures who wheeled around like clowns doing cartwheels , these original people were very powerful. There were three sexes: the all male, the all female, and the “androgynous,” who was half man, half woman. The creatures tried to scale the heights of heaven and planned to set upon the gods. Zeus thought about blasting them to death with thunderbolts, but did not want to deprive himself of their devotions and offerings, so he decided to cripple them by chopping them in half, in effect separating the two bodies.

Zeus then commanded Apollo to turn half their faces around and pulled the skin tight and stitched it up to form the belly button which he chose not to heal so Man would always be reminded of this event. Ever since that time, people run around saying they are looking for their other half because they are really trying to recover their primal nature. He says some people think homosexuals are shameless, but he thinks they are the bravest, most manly of all, and that many heterosexuals are adulterous men and unfaithful wives. Aristophanes ends on a cautionary note. He says that men should fear the gods, and not neglect to worship them, lest they wield the axe again and we have to go about with our noses split apart.

anyway, I really like this story because it has a greek myth feel to it, with the gods being all powerful and punishing the people for imitating them. it even implies that at some point, the gods who created us formed us happy and perfectly “whole”. The story “answers” things, as most mythology does. it helps explain hetero- and homosexual love, it helps explain why we feel a longing for that feeling of one-ness, and it helps provide some “reasoning” as far as why we were separated in those primal times. Anyway, if you haven’t already figured out, I’ve been getting into a lot of podcasts, and RadioLab is definitely a must-listen, Enjoy!

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