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Episode 205: Nerdist Podcast
Cara Santa Maria
Nerdist PodcastNerdist Podcast

Nerdist Podcast: Cara Santa Maria

Neuroscientist and science educator Cara Santa Maria sits down with Chris and Jonah to talk about asking strange questions at museums, how Cara teaches science to non-scientists, and where conscientiousness comes from!

This episode is brought to you by Go to My PC. Visit Go to My PC and enter the promo code ‘Nerdist’ for a free 30 day trial!


  1. drinking says:

    Simple Actions To Your Successful Massive Event
    Preparing a marriage is the two equally pleasurable and
    truly stressful.
    Turning out being educated on weddings may assist ease some of these stresses.

  2. Rod says:

    If what you hear about the Higgs discovery goes in one ear and out the other, your brain is full of bozo particles … all at spin zero.

  3. StuartB says:

    I’d love to hear an actual religion themed podcast on Nerdist. Chris, you’ve had Christians on the show before, I can think of at least 5 or 6, and yet faith or religion is never brought up at all. It’d be interesting to get one of those guys you respect on and have them open up a little, or find someone who fits the “Nerdist” description yet is also a Christian and can rationally discuss things.

    Unfortunately, you could put 40 atheists in a room and they’d have consensus, but if you put 40 Christians in a room, you’d have 40 different opinions…

    • Nich Hustler says:

      I wouldn’t be so quick to say that StuartB I know too many atheists who can’t even agree on what an atheist is. I always figured there was a standard definition for it, but then I realised we’re human and nothing is standard.

      That said Chris I would love to hear you interview someone christian and nerdy like Rob Bell. Wow that would make my day.

      Anyway, keep on keeping on and the Brent Spiner episode was absolutely laughtastic!


  4. Imma let you finish, but “No Control” was the best Bad Religion Album of all time.

  5. SlimCharles says:

    I think I’m in love. One of the best episodes ever. Cara is awesome.

    Chris, you should get one of the guys [or a girl!] from Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast. That and Nerdist are by far the best podcasts around, and they are all very smart and funny!

  6. jaymoff says:

    Love all your episodes but Cara, Neil and Philip have been the most interesting for me. Would love to hear them on the podcast again. Mythbusters still all-time favorite. kutgw.


  7. Josh says:

    Ha! I’ll give you “Ray”! I’m totally cool being “Louis”. You’ll see…

  8. Josh says:

    That was a brave move, @XL! Not everyone would post back like that. You’re freakin awesome, dude! Not to be a broken record — I so hope you check out @Matt’s blog. @NathanaelBenDavid just joined in … I think we’ve taken the conversation to amazing depths, well worth your time!

    • XLCranium says:

      @Josh, I did actually check out the blog! Very thorough. @Matt’s blog is now a bookmark… Do I now have to make some Tall-Can-Induced comment then retract it on his page too? kidding. Imma do it anyway.

  9. Josh says:

    @XLCranium Yeah, I don’t like Bill Maher either (left of center religious Jew here) — his movie “Religulous”, in my opinion, is complete hooey. But still… I would hate to be judged based on the people I’ve dated, wouldn’t you? (I think the consensus is that they’re not together anymore) I say give the episode a chance, read the comments, check out our debate on @Matt Grandis’ blog ( and join in! I’ll bet anything you have some great opinions to add here.

    • xlcranium says:

      @Josh , Yeah, That last post was a bit of sudden troll-ism on my part. I thought Cara was TOTALLY charming and engaging. Lord know if someone polled my EX’es I would cower. Apologies to Nerdist team and Ms. Santa Maria. I thought the dick jokes were perfect.

      I still don’t like Bill Maher though.

  10. XLCranium says:

    Oh Man, while I was really excited to hear this talk, and as Moderate-Right Christian fan of Nerdist, wasn’t opposed to her since side of things. I like things science… I lost her after my google search. Bill Maher? Eff that guy. I’m sorry. But, delete. #SingleTear

  11. Amanda says:


    I’m midway through Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape, and it’s a fantastic read. A little hard starting off, but it offers a great argument for natural morality.

    Also, I wish I had Cara Santa Maria as a neurobiology professor when I was still in college. I may have passed the class the first time around.

  12. Josh says:

    I got your back, sheriff! (c;

  13. Josh says:

    My message wasn’t at you, @doc. If it turns out someone on this post wants to defend hate anything, I’m definitely ready to cowboy up! Join the posse! All that country-western jazz. Was just trying to give a general plug to cordiality. And a reminder to THAT dude that we’re all intelligent people here and can do better in the way we talk about things…

  14. Matt Grandis says:

    No, I think we can fully agree now that the one who should at least apologize is Ben Z.

  15. You’re not ignorant, sir. Far from it. I love that smart people always think that they’re dumb and the least ignorant people are always calling themselves ignorant. :) If anything I should be apologizing for being sanctimonious.

  16. Matt Grandis says:

    You’re right. It’s just … *sigh* … why would anybody act so shitty? I’d *love* to simply ignore that. It’s just one stupid troll after all. But you’re absolutely right. We let it slip, it sets an example. Sorry for being ignorant.

  17. @Matt
    I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with you there, Matt. I think that this person’s stance (blame the victim) is a foolish, cowardly, cop out. What’s worse, this idea that people should just sit down and shut up when somebody attempts to intimidate them for doing nothing more than speaking their minds is a dangerous and all-too-prevalent point of view. We may not all agree about science and religion, but I think we can all agree on right and wrong, and that’s wrong.

  18. Matt Grandis says:

    @Nich Hustler: Try the following link I just pulled from my bookmarks. Didn’t check it again, but I think it’s quite comprehensive:

  19. Matt Grandis says:

    Oh come on, guys, it went so well. Don’t let one troll bait you. I’m more than tempted to get pissy myself about the hate mail thing, so … let’s just not go there. It’s not worth it.

  20. @Josh
    Hang on Josh, this guy’s about to explain to me why somebody deserves to get hate mail for voicing an opinion. After than, unless it’s a really REALLY good explanation, you can get concerned about me taking a slight turn for the aggressive.

  21. Josh says:

    And @Roy too!

  22. Josh says:

    Oh, and also, bring this debate over to @Matt Grandis’ blog! @Matt, @Doc, I, and even ol’ @Chris Hardwick have posted there! And I think we’ve made a good start to a more structured discussion. You can find the link to Matt’s site above.

  23. Josh says:

    Hi guys! I know I said I was done here, but this is just a quick reminder that neither the institutions of science or religion are monolithic. Not a message to anyone in particular — I feel this debate taking a slight turn toward the aggressive. Could be I’m reading incorrect emotions into a few of these, but blanket statements (ie: Religion is always… Scientists never…) are, by nature, always wrong.

    We live in a complicated burrito, everyone! And if we’re passionate enough to comment here, then I’m sure we’re all doing our best to eat our way through it without too much diarrhea. Let’s remember that!

  24. Roy says:

    @ Ben Z

    Creationism is compatible with science?
    At least we can agree it isn’t science.
    Creationism starts with it’s end conclusion and seeks to validate that, ignoring anything that contradicts it. That is not how science works.

    Why don’t you head over to and see for yourself how creationism holds up to real science like evolution theory.

    • Nich Hustler says:

      @any_evolutionist without any condescension I’m not a creationist, but the thing with evolution that always bugged me was the lack of proper evidence for a missing link. The creationists have some pretty good points on that at least in my opinion. Any good links? Thanks in advance.

  25. Sam says:

    I remember back in my days as an Undergrad I wrote a paper for a history class on Galileo and Giordano Bruno as a comparison of their controversial findings in astronomy, the church’s reactions, and how they reacted to the church. Suffice it to say, Galileo at least lived through his ordeal (Bruno was not so fortunate), but what I found very comforting was that Galileo was a firm believer in the melding of science and religion as two sides of the same coin. Galileo believed that it was the job of religion to explain what science found since science was the natural language of the universe. And through it all, Galileo remained a devout Christian – though I don’t know how much so after he was forced to recant.

    I bring this up because, at the time I was researching and writing that particular paper, I was still struggling with faith and religion and I was in my early twenties. Also, my grandmother was struggling with cancer which brought religion back into my life ten-fold since we had to go through last rites and the full mass that was her funeral where I was honored to give the eulogy. I distinctly remember telling the congregation that I envied my grandmother because I could only hope to have an iota of the faith she constantly expressed. She was good, decent, and kind, and though I got a heavy dose of Catholic guilt growing up, she never held anything against me as I was coming to terms with how I felt about religion and what my particular beliefs were and continue to be.

    I have a very analytically skeptical brain, most of which comes from being an historian where I have to look at things logically from a distance, which prevents me from fully giving myself to any strong religious beliefs, but I found an amazing amount of comfort when I traveled to several European churches a year after my grandmother passed away. I lit candels for her, said a prayer at St. Peter’s in Rome, but I mostly found the beauty of whatever form of spirituality I possess in the buildings created as monuments to faith. I’ll never be completely religious, but I think I’ve found a decent balance between the skeptical and spiritual parts of my psyche.

  26. @Ben Z
    Before I respond, I want to make sure you’re saying what I think you’re saying. Are you trying to imply that Cara’s attitude toward religion somehow excuses the act of sending her hate mail?

  27. Ben Z says:

    I forgot to add, I figured out why Cara gets hate mail for “no reason.” She flaunts her atheism. It’s a fine line. In episodes, Chris expresses his beliefs, but tries to switch the topic quickly. Cara likes to bash on people with religious beliefs and give, “f&#$ you”s to creationists. I have not read any of her articles, but if her tone towards religion is the same there as in this podcast, I can exactly see why she gets hate mail. There will always be idiots, but most people of faith will respect your faith decisions as long as you’re willing to respect theirs.

  28. Ben Z says:

    @Chris Hardwick,
    I respect your opinion to not have religion. I also respect that this is your podcast and you can darn well do whatever you want with it. Usually when you get on the topic of religion, you try to get off of it very quickly to not stir a ruckus. You even commented that you wanted to get off of it, but it just wasn’t happening.
    You have your beliefs and I have mine. The people like Cara who can’t see how Creationism is compatible with science bother me. This is the first time I’ve had to turn off an episode of The Nerdist podcast, but I just couldn’t take any more religion bashing. I’m not going to stop listening, but just wanted to let you know.

    PS I know you sometimes chalk up people’s religious beliefs as having a low IQ, but I can assure you that mine is over 160, and I work in a highly mathematical field. Maybe that’s the problem? People with high IQ’s have switched from trying to put things together to trying to discredit ideas. I have chosen to reconcile religion and science, while the people in this episode have seemingly only attempted to discredit it.

  29. Rogue says:

    So glad to hear a not super famous voice on the podcast!
    AND a girl in the STEM field,
    AND a writer.
    As a propulsion/design engineer, its nice to hear that I’m not alone as a science/engineering girl with tattoos/the alternative look. While listening, all I could think about was how I would have loved to be involved in this conversation because some of these topics are things my friends and I enjoy discussing and new outlooks are always good.

    I feel the same way about science in this country and how its going; between the bible thumpers and the continued cutting of funding, I worry where we will land as far as technological superpower goes… if we don’t have the advanced, revolutionizing technology to keep us on top of the market, our economy will probably falter and struggle further.

  30. Brodie Spears says:

    Im a diabetic……I’M GONNA LIVE!!

  31. Nich Hustler says:

    I’ve listened to nearly every episode of Nerdist and this was the first one I tuned out in. The premise of talking down about faith without a worthwhile and reasonable objector in the room is fine. Just this isn’t the first time it’s happened, and I just had enough of it. Get someone reasonably smart and nerdy and full of faith like Rob Bell on here Chris. Please. Then perhaps you might have more respect for people who are prepared to be reasonable about their faith and the world around them. Any way it’s not gonna stop me listening to future episodes or anything, I love you guys and your shows, but it can get a bit much sometime even for someone who is pretty liberal about their faith, like I consider myself to be.

  32. Justin Williams says:

    Thank you for the thought provoking episode. Being a man of faith myself as well as a lover of the sciences its important to take part in these conversations without putting your head in the sand lest you become bitter and ignorant. Einstein put it this way, “science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” Not a religious man himself he did feel that Science is not trying to compete with religion/faith. Its not trying to do anything for as Cara put it, “it just is.” “Science explains what is, not what should be”… another Einstein quote.

    You guys may never read this but… Chris; clutch move on the last minute dick joke and thanks for the sensitivity you approached the subject. Sorry about your home state, coming from a Christian, Christianity should not be legislated. Cara, sorry for the haters, they act out of hate, not Love, and the lip ring looks great. And Jonah….well thanks for being Jonah. Nerd-On my brothers and sisters of Nerdom and peace be with you all.

  33. RetCon says:

    It’s okay to talk up to your audience. I believe in you. Also, y’all have some serious scarring from fundamentalists/evolution deniers/people who skipped 8th grade bio. As an archaeo-demography kid with a faith all my own and experience in bioanth; hugs and high fives- it’s going to be alright.

    Btw, as someone who watches political demographics, hard social conservatives, who also tend to be older, vote more consistently than liberals and moderates (and are more likely to ID with a party). This means the GOP runs really right because those folks control small elections and GOP primaries (they rarely have high turnout, comparable to Dem high turnout situations, but it’s consistent), like in 2010. That control makes our dialogue out of the GOP run further right than is naturally appealing to the typical regional and national majority, particularly on a Representative level (2 yr election cycles). So statistically, they aren’t a large group and are over represented in dialogue and government, but they use the system effectively and show up, while in most regions, moderates and liberals are less likely to register to vote or vote (luckily, b/c moderates and liberals outnumber conservatives at least 3:2, those who do show up are enough to make it appear close or in favor of sanity).

    Anyway, before I got sucked into that diatribe, I wanted to say it’d be interesting to run those behavioral experiments on consistent voters vs inconsistent/only high stakes elections voters to poke behind the stats, and maybe slam that against religious minded folks. The general anti fundamentalist rage of this ep seems like scientists might be into it.

    Also you’re left handed “rare and dangerous” spiel made me really happy. Feelin’ pretty good.

  34. @Doctor Quemmento rofl, 99 comments but bitchy are among. (oh that was obvious and bad but…. :-) *high five*

    Oh I almost forgot!! I’d love to have a periodically podcast! Look at the discussion started with this one? Wouldn’t this be cool on a weekly/bi-weekly/monthly?

  35. Matt Grandis says:

    In case anybody cares to take the discussion further, I just blogged a little recap of what happened here. Warning: subjective impressions ahead.

  36. Evan says:

    I will not stop til I become left handed! I will train tirelessly day and night and soon I will achieve level: south paw! I guess I will always be a sucker for gorgeous nerdy women…

    fantastic episode!

  37. @Doc

    While comment thread postin’s are frequently a laughing matter, the education and propagation of helpful and important knowledge is quite frequently not.

    I did forget to mention, however… there’s something to be said for the fact that objectivity is potentially faith-based (though to a more practical/inextricable degree) due to a little something Ms. Santa Maria mentioned, re: the questionable existence of consciousness. It kinda undermines the observation-basis of empiricism if we cannot verify that we are actually observing stuff or even if other observers can observe like we do. It’s probably best to tread lightly with science, bearing in mind that it is all simply practical knowledge that could at any moment prove completely false once something new comes to light. The scientific principles of inspection and verification, especially in the form of skepticism, should be applied liberally to all things- usually the worst thing to happen to decent conversation and society is when a group of people become assured of the exacting nature of their “truth” and begin to disregard all other evidence presented purely on that basis.

    Don’t take this as a call against using science since it ‘could be false’, because something that could be false but tries to self correct is better than something that simply ignores any other possibility other than its own absolute validity.

    Oh, also, politics are shifting and fleeting and terribly, self-obsessedly human. Humans, by their nature, are inevitably going to insert themselves into the center of whatever their discussing and, as science typically tends to be distinctly non-anthropocentric, politics are a nice little tool to turn the conversation back to humanity. It’s quaint and it’s cute and it’s inevitable because scientists are human, we’re human, and we want to talk about what gravity has to do with our taxes. Just as journalistic integrity is attempting the impossible (to paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson, who can be objective about Nixon?) so is attempting to make science purely about the objective reality of it all. However, it is wise to note that even if it’s impossible there’s nothing wrong in trying. After all, those politics will change sometime anyway, while the facts will (barring mindblowing upheavals in our perception of reality) generally stay the same.