It’s All Journalism: Ran Levi breaks down big ideas for Curious Minds

Podcasting might not be as ubiquitous in Israel as it is in North America, but that isn’t enough of a challenge to dissuade Ran Levi. Not only is he the host of one of the only professionally produced podcasts in Israel, the Hebrew-language Making History, his Curious Minds podcast specializes in taking intimidating-sounding topics and making them understandable.

Curious Minds, as the name suggests, is targeted to those people who are interested in the deeper questions of our technology, of our science, trying to understand things,” he said. “The basic idea I go by is that you don’t have to be knowledgeable in economics, for example, to understand the deeper ideas of economics. You don’t have to be a scientist in genomics to understand how the genome works. You only have to have the curiosity and the openness to absorb ideas, not be too frightened by big names or big ideas.”

If someone can explain big, complex ideas or concepts in an easy-to-understand way, just about anyone can learn just about anything, Levi continued.

He dedicated an episode of Making History to discussing quantum mechanics and the philosophy of mathematics, “topics which I think mainstream media will rarely try to tackle because it seems to frightening for the general audience. … Some people just, you know, they get frightened from the name. I don’t have that fear and I try to open the minds of people to really understand the hard ideas, the tough ideas behind it.”

Learning and understanding big ideas has been a lifelong pursuit for Levi, who tapped into his curiosity at the age of 10 when he read an encyclopedia found in his home. Following his mandatory military service, he studied to be an electrical engineer, a job that required some education and training in chemistry, math, physics, biology and other sciences.

He’d been writing for himself for several years before, in his mid-20s, he decided to write a book on the history of perpetual motion machines. Ultimately, the book didn’t sell well, but “I still had the desire in me to teach people. When I finally got to hear about podcasts in 2006, it was very natural for me to start a podcast about those topics, hoping that it would fare better than writing books,” Levi said.

“Actually, the Hebrew podcast is the most successful podcast in Israel, I am happy to say, with some 50,000 to 100,000 downloads per week. So it’s going really well,” he said.

The key to explaining big ideas to the general public is to first overcome the notion that science, technology, math and other similar subjects are boring. He tries to lead the audience into a story before disclosing the topic of the episode, so the listener is already invested and curious about the topic. “Just be open to new ideas. That’s the non-technical challenge you see there,” he said.

Levi’s other guideline is to acknowledge from the beginning that a single podcast episode will have to let some of the history or complexities of a topic slide by the wayside.

“You have to decide consciously what are you going to talk about in a certain topic and what you’re going to ignore, because you can’t say everything within an episode of 45 minutes or so,” he said. “You have to let some important stuff go. Disregard it. Ignore it. Don’t explain it. Just keep things simple and focused.”

On this week’s It’s All Journalism podcast, host Michael O’Connell talks to Ran Levi, an Israeli writer and creator of two podcasts, the Hebrew-language Making History and Curious Minds. He discusses his passion for science and technology and explains how to take complex ideas and make the accessible for a mass audience.