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The Ocean Of Time And The Lighter Side Of Extinction, With Peter Brannen

This is a photo of a rock formation in Oman, I just thought it looked neat.
Photo by KARIM SAHIB/AFP via Getty Images

Science: It’s real, and it’s out there happening every day, and I personally do not understand it. It seems important, for sure, and lord knows there was a time in my life, back when I was little and when The End Of Everything seemed a little less imminent, when I thought science was the coolest thing imaginable. But once my childhood fascination with dinosaurs and volcanoes and the planets was replaced with actual science-related homework that moment passed decisively. At this point, it may well be too late for me to have a more profound understanding of how our natural world works than the current wary incomprehension I bring to the topic, but this doesn’t make any of it any less interesting or worth knowing about.

It was with that in mind that we invited the writer Peter Brannen, author of the righteous book The Ends Of The World, onto the podcast. That book is about the extinction-level events that our planet has not just endured but survived, which is one of those topics that you might prefer seem a little less urgent; our conversation was more about cosmic insignificance, deep time, huge oysters, and evil-seeming prehistoric fish. And I guess also we got Dino Radja in there as well.

These sorts of conversations are bracing by definition. Some things are just difficult to get your head around, and it may just be that someone who sweats out a blog about How I Am Upset Re: The Mets for three days is not equipped to think in terms of eons and epochs. But it is all easier to get once you lean into the bafflement and insignificance, oddly, and Brannen proved a brilliant and patient guide. I really did feel like I learned something not just about what our world has gone through and is currently going through, but about how to contextualize all that trouble. And while he is right that the scientific name doesn’t really roll off the tongue, the idea of the Cleveland Dunkleosteus mixing it up in the American League Central honestly works pretty well once you know what a Dunkleosteus looks like.

The non-scientific portion of the podcast was similarly bracing, if for the usual goofy reasons. An opportunity to remember Dino Radja opened into a recollection of the last truly shitty Celtics teams, and stars-of-convenience like Blue Edwards and Todd Day. A consideration of the baseball equivalent to A Big Boy Touchdown in football delivered an opportunity to remember great catcher stolen base attempts that we have known. A tragic construction accident was repurposed to offer the delightful thought of just having two hands full of useless gawky ring fingers. In matters big and small, it’s about making the best out of the difficult questions life throws at you, even if it comes down to just making up the answer that amuses you most.

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