Podcast Tuesday: ‘Invisibilia’

It’s been said that there are three sides to any story: your side, their side, and the truth. This isn’t to say that everyone involved in relating an interaction are lying, but that there may be more forces at work, elements to what’s going on that aren’t being considered, invisible variables.

“Invisibilia,” and radio show and podcast produced by National Public Radio aims to put these invisible forces under a microscope. The first season of six episodes launched in 2015 and while episodes don’t come very regularly, when they do come they are incredible.

Each episode focuses on a particular theme, some invisible thing impacting our lives, from the power of clothes or expectations, to the fluidity of personality or how pretending to be some way can actually transform you.

“Invisibilia” shows us that while the world may not be magical, that doesn’t mean it’s mundane. 

Typically an episode will feature several stories tied together by a common thread. Interviews are presented with ordinary people who’ve had extraordinary experiences as well as experts in related fields. In an hours’ time hosts Alix Spiegel, Lulu Miller, and Hanna Rosin, paint a word picture that leaves you looking at a world through glasses not just of another color, but with a completely new spectrum.

While the show often strays into territory that would be considered unscientific, the hosts are careful to remind listeners that there’s no magic going on here, that living is simply complex and we may not be working with a full data set.

While each episode tackles a different topic, there is a common thread here, specifically that your mentality, the way you choose the see the world, can have a profound impact on the type of life you lead and the opportunities and situations presented to you.

In “The Secret Life of Clothes” it isn’t suggested that clothes themselves have some intrinsic power over the wearer. Instead it reveals that certain clothes have a psychological association both in the mind of the wearer and in the minds of those around them. It is this association that might make the wearer feel more confident or more vulnerable. In “How to Become Batman” the hosts interview two blind men, one who might be considered a “typical” blind person while the other is able to navigate the world via echolocation utilizing a series of clicks. There’s nothing supernatural about the second individual, he was simply never told he couldn’t do what other kids did. He wasn’t limited by his own expectations or the expectations of others.

Ideas like this have a tendency to be hijacked by the metaphysical. Books like “The Secret” promise that all you must do to conquer the world is wish it. This mentality takes a true tenet of reality, that our mentality can impact how we approach a situation and ultimately the outcome of that situation, and bastardizes it into wishful thinking. The philosophy isn’t bad but it’s missing a critical step, action.

“Invisibilia,” makes it clear that wishing for sake of wishing will get you nowhere. The difference isn’t in the wish itself, but in the way the wish changes you.

“Then we realized that your kind like to make laws. Like to decree what’s what, and whether it’s good or not. And the world, being a loving thing, and not wishing to disappoint you or distress you, indulges you. Behaves as though your doctrines are in some way absolute.” – Clive Barker, “Weaveworld.”

There is some truth in these words, you won’t see what you wish not to see. You won’t do what you think yourself as incapable of. You may be a prisoner, wrapped in chains of your own making and all you must do to shake them off is acknowledge them and let them go.

Growing up means sometimes shedding the magic that once permeated your world. “Invisibilia” shows us that while the world may not be magical, that doesn’t mean it’s mundane.