DiscoverSean Carroll's Mindscape: Science, Society, Philosophy, Culture, Arts, and Ideas
Sean Carroll's Mindscape: Science, Society, Philosophy, Culture, Arts, and Ideas

Sean Carroll's Mindscape: Science, Society, Philosophy, Culture, Arts, and Ideas

Author: Sean Carroll | Wondery

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Ever wanted to know how music affects your brain, what quantum mechanics really is, or how black holes work? Do you wonder why you get emotional each time you see a certain movie, or how on earth video games are designed? Then you’ve come to the right place. Each week, Sean Carroll will host conversations with some of the most interesting thinkers in the world. From neuroscientists and engineers to authors and television producers, Sean and his guests talk about the biggest ideas in science, philosophy, culture and much more.

88 Episodes
Nations generally want their economies to be rich, robust, and growing. But it’s also important to person to ensure that wealth doesn’t flow only to a few people, but rather that as many people as possible can enjoy the benefits of a healthy economy. As is well known, the best way to balance these interests is a contentious subject. On one side we might find free-market fundamentalists who want to let supply and demand set prices and keep government interference to a minimum, while on the other we might find enthusiasts for very strong government control over all aspects of the economy. Suresh Naidu is an economist who has delved deeply into how economic performance affects and is affected by other notable social factors, from democracy to revolution to slavery. We talk about these, as well as how concentrations of economic power in just a few hands — monopoly and its cousin, monopsony — can distort the best intentions of the free market.Support Mindscape on Patreon.Suresh Naidu received his Ph.D. in economics from the University of California, Berkeley. He is currently professor of economics and international affairs at Columbia University as well as a fellow at Roosevelt Institute, external faculty at the Santa Fe Institute, and a research fellow at National Bureau of Economic Research. His awards include a Sloan Research Fellowship and the “Best Ph.D. Advisor Award” from the Columbia Association of Graduate Economics Students.Columbia School of International and Public Affairs pageSanta Fe Institute pageEquitable Growth pageGoogle Scholar publicationsThe Economy online textbookTwitter
The Greek statesman Demosthenes is credited with saying “I am a citizen of the world,” and the idea that we should take a cosmopolitan view of our common humanity is a compelling one. Not everyone agrees, however; in the words of former British Prime Minister Theresa May, “If you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere.” On the other side of the political spectrum, groups who share a feature of identity — race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and others — find it useful to band together to make political progress. Kwame Anthony Appiah is a leading philosopher and cultural theorist who has thought carefully about the tricky issues of cosmopolitanism and identity. We talk about how identities form, why they matter, and how to negotiate the difficult balance between being human and being your particular self.Support Mindscape on Patreon.Kwame Anthony Appiah received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Cambridge University. He is currently Professor of Philosophy and of Law at New York University. He is the author of numerous academic books as well as several novels. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and is the recipient of a number of major awards, including the National Humanities Medal of the United States. He currently writes the New York Times Magazine column “The Ethicist“, and frequently writes for The New York Review of Books. (Note that in the podcast intro I mistakenly said he was “born and raised” in Ghana; he was actually born in London, moving to Ghana when he was six months old.)Web siteNYU web pageGoogle Scholar author pageTalk on “Beyond Identity”WikipediaTwitter
The Convention on Psychotropic Substances was a 1971 United Nations treaty that placed strong restrictions on the use of psychedelic drugs — not only on personal use, but medical and scientific research as well. Along with restrictions placed by individual nations, it has been very difficult for scientists to study the effects of psychedelics on the brain, despite indications that they might have significant therapeutic potential. But this has gradually been changing, and researchers like Robin Carhart-Harris have begun to perform controlled experiments to see how psychedelics affect the brain, and what positive uses they might have. Robin and I talk about how psychedelics work, how they can help with conditions from addiction to depression, and how they can help people discover things about themselves.Support Mindscape on Patreon.Robin Carhart-Harris received his Ph.D. in psychopharmacology from the University of Bristol. He is currently the Director of the Centre for Psychedelic Research in the Department of Brain Sciences at Imperial College London, and holds an honorary position at the University of Oxford. His research involves functional brain imaging studies with psilocybin (magic mushrooms), LSD, MDMA (ecstasy) and DMT (ayahuasca), plus a clinical trial of psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression.Web siteCentre for Psychedelic ResearchGoogle Scholar pageTalk on Psychedelics: Lifting the VeilTwitter
Introducing WeCrashed

Introducing WeCrashed


The Rise and Fall of WeWork is a stunning story of hope and hubris. WeWork was the poster child for a new economy. Its founders wanted to revolutionize everything about the way people lived their lives. Its charismatic founder Adam Neumann had an intoxicating vision for the company — but did it ever match the reality?Subscribe today:
People have always disagreed about politics, passionately and sometimes even violently. But in certain historical moments these disagreements were distributed without strong correlations, so that any one political party would contain a variety of views. In a representative democracy, that kind of distribution makes it easier to accomplish things. In contrast, today we see strong political polarization: members of any one party tend to line up with each other on a range of issues, and correspondingly view the other party with deep distrust. Political commentator Ezra Klein has seen this shift in action, and has studied it carefully in his new book Why We’re Polarized. We talk about the extent to which the apparent polarization is real, how we can trace its causes, and whether there’s anything we can do about it.Support Mindscape on Patreon.Ezra Klein received a B.A. in political science from the University of California, Los Angeles. He is currently the editor-at-large and founder of Vox. As a writer and editor his work has appeared in/on The Washington Post, MSNBC, Bloomberg, The New York Review of Books, and The New Yorker. Among his awards are Blogger of the Year (The Week), 50 Most Powerful People in Washington DC (GQ), Best Online Commentary (Online News Association), and the Carey McWilliams Award (American Political Science Association).Vox profileThe Ezra Klein Show podcastWhy We’re PolarizedWikipediaTwitter
Physics is simple; people are complicated. But even people are ultimately physical systems, made of particles and forces that follow the rules of the Core Theory. How do we bridge the gap from one kind of description to another, explaining how someone we know and care about can also be “just” a set of quantum fields obeying impersonal laws? This is a hard question that comes up in a variety of forms — What is the “self”? Do we have free will, the ability to make choices? What are the moral and ethical ramifications of these considerations? Jenann Ismael is a philosopher at the leading edge of connecting human life to the fundamental laws of nature, for example in her recent book How Physics Makes Us Free. We talk about free will, consciousness, values, and other topics about which I’m sure everyone will simply agree.Support Mindscape on Patreon.Jenann Ismael received her Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University. She is currently Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University. Her work includes both the foundations of physics (spacetime, quantum mechanics, symmetry) and the philosophy of mind and cognition. She has been awarded fellowships from Stanford University, the Australian Research Council, the Scots Philosophical Association, and the Center for Advanced Study in Social and Behavioral Sciences, as well as an Essay Prize from the British Society for the Philosophy of Science.Web siteColumbia web pagePhilPeople profileAmazon author pageCloser to Truth interviewWikipedia“Well-Being and Time,” David Velleman (mentioned in the episode)
We are all alive, but “life” is something we struggle to understand. How do we distinguish a “living organism” from an emergent dynamical system like a hurricane, or a resource-consuming chemical reaction like a forest fire, or an information-processing system like a laptop computer? There is probably no one crisp set of criteria that delineates life from non-life, but it’s worth the exercise to think about what we really mean, especially as the quest to find life outside the confines of the Earth picks up steam. Sara Imari Walker planned to become a cosmologist before shifting her focus to astrobiology, and is now a leading researcher on the origin and nature of life. We talk about what life is and how to find it, with a special focus on the role played by information and computation in living beings.Support Mindscape on Patreon.Sara Imari Walker received her Ph.D. in physics from Dartmouth college. She is currently Associate Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University, Deputy Director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science, and Associate Director of the ASU-Santa Fe Institute Center for Biosocial Complex Systems. She is the co-founder of the astrobiology social network SAGANet, and serves on the Board of Directors for Blue Marble Space.Web siteGoogle Scholar pageAsk an Astrobiologist interviewTalk on A Theory of LifeWikipediaTwitter
Wilfrid Sellars described the task of philosophy as explaining how things, in the broadest sense of term, hang together, in the broadest sense of the term. (Substitute “exploring” for “explaining” and you’d have a good mission statement for the Mindscape podcast.) Few modern thinkers have pursued this goal more energetically, creatively, and entertainingly than Daniel Dennett. One of the most respected philosophers of our time, Dennett’s work has ranged over topics such as consciousness, artificial intelligence, metaphysics, free will, evolutionary biology, epistemology, and naturalism, always with an eye on our best scientific understanding of the phenomenon in question. His thinking in these areas is exceptionally lucid, and he has the rare ability to express his ideas in ways that non-specialists can find accessible and compelling. We talked about all of them, in a wide-ranging and wonderfully enjoyable conversation.Support Mindscape on Patreon.Daniel Dennett received his D.Phil. in philosophy from Oxford University. He is currently Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy and co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University. He is known for a number of philosophical concepts and coinages, including the intentional stance, the Cartesian theater, and the multiple-drafts model of consciousness. Among his honors are the Erasmus Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the American Humanist Association’s Humanist of the Year award. He is the author of a number of books that are simultaneously scholarly and popular, including Consciousness Explained, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, and most recently Bacteria to Bach and Back.Web siteBibliographyGoogle Scholar pageAmazon author pageWikipediaTalk on The Illusion of ConsciousnessCenter for Cognitive StudiesThe Clergy ProjectTwitter
Welcome to the second annual Mindscape Holiday Message! No substantive content or deep ideas, just me talking a bit about the state of the podcast and what’s on my mind. Since the big event for me in 2019 was the publication of Something Deeply Hidden, I thought it would be fun to talk about the process of writing and selling a popular book. Might be of interest to some of you out there!Mindscape takes off for the holidays, so the next regular episode will be published on Monday January 6. It’s a good one — maybe my favorite episode thus far.
In the United States, more than one in five deaths is caused by cancer. The medical community has put enormous resources into fighting this disease, yet its causes and best treatments continue to be a puzzle. Azra Raza has been on both sides of the patient’s bed, as she puts it — both as an oncologist and expert in the treatment of Myelodisplastic Syndrome (MDS), and as a wife who lost her husband to cancer. In her new book, The First Cell, she argues that we have placed too much emphasis on treating cancer once it has already developed, and not nearly enough on catching it as soon as possible. We talk about what cancer is and why it’s such a difficult disease to understand, as well as discussing how patients and their loved ones should face up to the challenges of dealing with cancer.Support Mindscape on Patreon.Azra Raza received her M.D. from Dow Medical College in Karachi, Pakistan. She is currently Chan Soon-Shiong Professor of Medicine and Director of the MDS Center at Columbia University in New York. Previously she was the Chief of Hematology-Oncology and the Gladys Smith Martin Professor of Oncology at the University of Massachusetts. Her Tissue Repository contains over 60,000 samples of samples from MDS and acute leukemia patients. She is the co-editor of the celebrated blog site 3 Quarks Daily.Web siteColumbia University Medical Center pageFirst Cell CenterWikipediaThe First CellConversation With Siddhartha MukherjeeTwitter
It’s too easy to take laws of nature for granted. Sure, gravity is pulling us toward Earth today; but how do we know it won’t be pushing us away tomorrow? We extrapolate from past experience to future expectation, but what allows us to do that? “Humeans” (after David Hume, not a misspelling of “human”) think that what exists is just what actually happens in the universe, and the laws are simply convenient summaries of what happens. “Anti-Humeans” think that the laws have an existence of their own, bringing what happens next into existence. The debate has implications for the notion of possible worlds, and thus for counterfactuals and causation — would Y have happened if X hadn’t happened first? Ned Hall and I have a deep conversation that started out being about causation, but we quickly realized we had to get a bunch of interesting ideas on the table first. What we talk about helps clarify how we should think about our reality and others.Support Mindscape on Patreon.Edward (Ned) Hall received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University. He is currently Department Chair and Norman E. Vuilleumier Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University. According to his web page, “I work on a range of topics in metaphysics and epistemology that overlap with philosophy of science. (Which is to say: the best topics in metaphysics and epistemology.)” He is the coauthor (with L.A. Paul) of Causation: A User’s Guide.Web sitePhilPeople profileWikipediaDialogue on causation with Laurie Paul
We've talked a lot recently about the Many Worlds of quantum mechanics. That’s one kind of multiverse that physicists often contemplate. There is also the cosmological multiverse, which we talked about with Brian Greene. Today’s guest, Max Tegmark, has thought a great deal about both of those ideas, as well as a more ambitious and speculative one: the Mathematical Multiverse, in which we imagine that every mathematical structure is real, and the universe we perceive is just one such mathematical structure. And there’s yet another possibility, that what we experience as “reality” is just a simulation inside computers operated by some advanced civilization. Max has thought about all of these possibilities at a deep level, as his research has ranged from physical cosmology to foundations of quantum mechanics and now to applied artificial intelligence. Strap in and be ready for a wild ride.Max Tegmark received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of California, Berkeley. He is currently professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has played an important role analyzing data from large-scale structure and the cosmic microwave background. He is the author of Our Mathematical Universe and Life 2.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence. He is a co-founder of the Foundational Questions Institute and the Future of Life Institute.Web siteGoogle Scholar pageWikipediaAmazon author pageTalk on AITwitter
An infinite number of things happen; we bring structure and meaning to the world by making art and telling stories about it. Every work of literature created by human beings comes out of an historical and cultural context, and drawing connections between art and its context can be illuminating for both. Today’s guest, Stephen Greenblatt, is one of the world’s most celebrated literary scholars, famous for helping to establish the New Historicism school of criticism, which he also refers to as “cultural poetics.” We talk about how art becomes entangled with the politics of its day, and how we can learn about ourselves and other cultures by engaging with stories and their milieu.Support Mindscape on Patreon.Stephen Greenblatt received his Ph.D. in English from Yale University. He is currently Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University. He has specialized in Renaissance and Shakespeare studies, but has also written on topics as diverse as Adam and Eve and the ancient Roman poet Lucretius. He has served as the editor of the Norton Anthology of English Literature and the Norton Shakespeare, and is founder of the journal Representations. Among his many honors are the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the Distinguished Humanist Award from the Mellon Foundation. His most recent book is Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics.Web siteHarvard web author pageOnline courses at edXTalk on Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare
Changing technologies have always affected how we produce and enjoy art, and music might be the most obvious example. Radio and recordings made it easy for professional music to be widely disseminated, but created a barrier to its creation. Nowadays computers are helping to reverse that trend, allowing casual users to create slick songs of their own. Not everyone is equally good at it, however; Grimes (who currently goes by c, the symbol for the speed of light) is a wildly successful electronic artist who writes, produces, performs, and sings her own songs. We dig into how music is made in the modern world, but also go well beyond that, into artificial intelligence and the nature of digital/virtual/online personae. We talk about the birth of a new digital avatar -- who might be called "War Nymph"? -- and how to navigate the boundaries of art, technology, fashion, and culture. Her new album Miss Anthropocene will be released in February 2020.Support Mindscape on Patreon.Grimes, or c, studied neuroscience at McGill University before turning full-time to music. Her previous albums include Geidi Primes, Halfaxa, Visions, and Art Angels. Her latest album, Miss Anthropocene, channels the goddess of climate change. On December 5th in Miami, she will be orchestrating the one-night-only rave Bio-Haque.Web siteAllMusic profileWikipediaTwitterInstagramYouTube
Maxwell's Demon is a famous thought experiment in which a mischievous imp uses knowledge of the velocities of gas molecules in a box to decrease the entropy of the gas, which could then be used to do useful work such as pushing a piston. This is a classic example of converting information (what the gas molecules are doing) into work. But of course that kind of phenomenon is much more widespread -- it happens any time a company or organization hires someone in order to take advantage of their know-how. César Hidalgo has become an expert in this relationship between information and work, both at the level of physics and how it bubbles up into economies and societies. Looking at the world through the lens of information brings new insights into how we learn things, how economies are structured, and how novel uses of data will transform how we live.Support Mindscape on Patreon.César Hidalgo received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Notre Dame. He currently holds an ANITI Chair at the University of Toulouse, an Honorary Professorship at the University of Manchester, and a Visiting Professorship at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. From 2010 to 2019, he led MIT’s Collective Learning group. He is the author of Why Information Grows and co-author of The Atlas of Economic Complexity. He is a co-founder of Datawheel, a data visualization company whose products include the Observatory of Economic Complexity.Web siteMIT web pageGoogle Scholar pageWikipediaTalk on replacing politiciansIn My Shoes (documentary film)DatawheelAmazon author pageTwitter
The human brain contains roughly 85 billion neurons, wired together in an extraordinarily complex network of interconnected parts. It’s hardly surprising that we don’t understand the mind and how it works. But do we know enough about our experience of consciousness to suggest that consciousness cannot arise from nothing more than the physical interactions of bits of matter? Panpsychism is the idea that consciousness, or at least some mental aspect, is pervasive in the world, in atoms and rocks as well as in living creatures. Philosopher Philip Goff is one of the foremost modern advocates of this idea. We have a friendly and productive conversation, notwithstanding my own view that the laws of physics don’t need any augmenting to ultimately account for consciousness. If you’re not sympathetic toward panpsychism, this episode will at least help you understand why someone might be.Support Mindscape on Patreon.Philip Goff received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Reading. He is currently Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Durham. His new book, Galileo’s Error: Foundations for a New Science of Consciousness, is being published on Nov. 5.Web siteDurham web pagePhilPeople author pageBlogTalk on Consciousness and Fundamental RealityPanpsychism at the Stanford Encyclopedia of PhilosophyTwitter
Cosmologists are always talking excitedly about the Big Bang and all the cool stuff that happened in the 14 billion years between then and now. But what about the future? We don't know for sure, but we know enough about the laws of physics to sketch out several plausible scenarios for what the future of our universe will hold. Katie Mack is a cosmologist who is writing a book about the end of the universe. We talk about the possibilities of a Big Crunch (and potential Big Bounce), a gentle cooling off where the universe gradually grows silent, and of course the prospect of a dramatic phase transition, otherwise known as the "bubble of quantum death." Which would make a great name for a band, I think we can all agree.Support Mindscape on Patreon.Katherine (Katie) Mack received her Ph.D. in physics from Princeton University. She is currently an Assistant Professor at North Carolina State University, where her research centers on theoretical cosmology, including dark matter and black holes. She is also a member of NCSU’s Leadership in Public Science Cluster. Her upcoming book, The End of Everything, will be published in 2020.Web siteNCSU web pageWikipediaGoogle Scholar publicationsTalk on Death of a UniverseTwitter
Artificial intelligence is better than humans at playing chess or go, but still has trouble holding a conversation or driving a car. A simple way to think about the discrepancy is through the lens of “common sense” — there are features of the world, from the fact that tables are solid to the prediction that a tree won’t walk across the street, that humans take for granted but that machines have difficulty learning. Melanie Mitchell is a computer scientist and complexity researcher who has written a new book about the prospects of modern AI. We talk about deep learning and other AI strategies, why they currently fall short at equipping computers with a functional “folk physics” understanding of the world, and how we might move forward.Support Mindscape on Patreon.Melanie Mitchell received her Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Michigan. She is currently a professor of computer science at Portland State University and an external professor at the Santa Fe Institute. Her research focuses on genetic algorithms, cellular automata, and analogical reasoning. She is the author of An Introduction to Genetic Algorithms, Complexity: A Guided Tour, and most recently Artificial Intelligence: A Guide for Thinking Humans. She originated the Santa Fe Institute’s Complexity Explorer project, on online learning resource for complex systems.Web siteSanta Fe web pageWikipediaGoogle ScholarComplexity author pageTwitter
Our observable universe started out in a highly non-generic state, one of very low entropy, and disorderliness has been growing ever since. How, then, can we account for the appearance of complex systems such as organisms and biospheres? The answer is that very low-entropy states typically appear simple, and high-entropy states also appear simple, and complexity can emerge along the road in between. Today’s podcast is more of a discussion than an interview, in which behavioral neuroscientist Kate Jeffery and I discuss how complexity emerges through cosmological and biological evolution. As someone on the biological side of things, Kate is especially interested in how complexity can build up and then catastrophically disappear, as in mass extinction events.There were some audio-quality issues with the remote recording of this episode, but loyal listeners David Gennaro and Ben Cordell were able to help repair it. I think it sounds pretty good!Support Mindscape on Patreon.Kate Jeffery received her Ph.D. in behavioural neuroscience from the University of Edinburgh. She is currently a professor in the Department of Behavioural Neuroscience at University College, London. She is the founder and Director of the Institute of Behavioural Neuroscience at UCL.Lab web siteInstitute of Behavioural NeuroscienceResearchGate pageTalk on Cognitive Neuroscience and ArchitectureTwitter
Comments (202)

Astrobat81 z

interesting episode,not my cup of tea,but I'll take it as a new experience,new point of view.

Feb 19th

Ken Saganski

a terrible understanding of economics and capitalism

Feb 19th
Reply (2)


Remark on Ex Yugoslavia is either poor knowledge (wich wouldn't be a first time for a western intellectual to get it wrong) or false conclusion but still very good episode.

Feb 13th

יוחי מנש

strong evidence dor materialism is that you would have expected that the more brain power you have the more concious u r

Feb 12th

Casey Wollberg

Greater equality in the west has been accompanied by a growing obsession with identity. if identity politics were primarily concerned with attaining equality, this would not be the case. Mass movements take on a life of their own once initial agendas are satisfied. Identitarianism is a cult.

Feb 10th

Jason Zaslaw

Love Susskind and love this episode! Thanks as always Sean!

Feb 8th

John Molloy

wow she talks so fast i sometimes can't understand her

Feb 7th

Justin Mills

I haven't listened to this yet, does Ezra mention the knee jerk reaction that he had to the whole Covington High fiasco? He acted like a complete imbecile on Twitter and was 100% wrong about the facts. Does he talk about that? Because that would be the apotheosis of polarizing behavior, asking if anyone had a face more punchable face than a 17 year old wearing a MAGA hat. Does it get brought up?

Jan 31st

Jason Zaslaw

Fascinating discussion. I think you need to book another 3 hours with Geoffrey so we have more time for his reminiscing and storytelling. Quite the character. :)

Jan 28th

Jeff Jenkins

commercials in middle are annoying

Jan 17th

Jason Zaslaw

Love this interview and the flow of the discussion, from fundamental atmospheric science to the latest discoveries and unknowns. I've listened to this episode multiple times now and still picking up new info.

Jan 16th

Jeremy Dixon

how do you talk this much about consciousness without defining it?

Jan 10th
Reply (2)

Garry Gelade

Desr Sean, I would really like you to have NN Taleb as a guest on your show. And Dan Kahnemann. Both are seminal thinkers and I'm sure your listeners would be thrilled. Cheers.

Jan 1st

Matt Bowen

good thinker. good capitalist thought

Dec 22nd

Malcolm Scott

Awesome btw loved something deeply hidden. keep up the good work!

Dec 22nd

Jason Zaslaw

Just getting around to this episode, somehow I previously overlooked it. Wonderful presentation here that delves into a couple of questions that have intrigued (or tormented) me for much of my life. From a scientific perspective I really struggle with the idea that the universe just is, but I certainly appreciate the proposition. Thanks so much for this episode Sean!

Dec 13th

lee webb

Ai all the way....decentralization....Ben Geortzle

Dec 12th

Mike Auer

What a marvelous discussion. Love how Sean lets his guests just speak without interruption. Other podcasters could learn something here.

Dec 5th

Lucas Allen

uncle Sean tries to relate to his quirky niece for 78 minutes

Dec 4th
Reply (1)

Ewa Andrejczuk

hi Sean! I listen to you because of scientific content. Talking about Jordan Peterson just made me turn off the podcast. I feel like you are transferring bad feelings to me. Don't do that, it only harms you.

Dec 4th
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