Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman tackles what we here at mental_floss often call "big questions": How did we get here? Are we alone? Is there life after death? Is a zombie apocalypse possible? The sixth season, which premiered last night on the Science Channel, continues that tradition, tackling topics like why we lie and whether we're here for a reason. We emailed some questions to Morgan Freeman, host and executive producer, and executive producer James Younger to get the scoop on the new season.
The show tackles some of the biggest questions humans have. What’s the process of deciding which topics to include?
Morgan Freeman: We have a brain-trust involved in developing each new season. Producers who’ve worked on the show for years have ideas. Our great collaborating team at the network throws in ideas. And I always throw in an idea or two of my own. This year, it was on the origin of life. That ended up becoming quite a different show: Are We Here for a Reason?
James Younger: We aim to develop a mix of topics each season. We always cover hard science, like cosmology. But we also include more down-to-earth topics, and we particularly look for controversial subjects, like racism, religion, [or] evolution, where we think a scientific approach could shift long-standing debates.
What topics were you hoping to include this season that didn’t make the cut?
MF: We were looking into Infinity … but I guess we couldn’t figure out how to fit it all into one hour of TV!
JY: We’d also looked into areas like the paranormal. What are the scientific explanations for ghosts? Both in terms of physics, and the human brain? There are so many ghost shows on TV, but nothing that looks at the hard science of why we believe in them.
The show has certainly looked into controversial subjects before, but this season, you took on a topic that’s particularly resonant now—whether or not we’re all bigots. Why do you think it’s important to look at the science behind issues like this one?
MF: It’s important because the science tells us that we are all hardwired to be bigots. Our minds are riddled with stereotypes. We may not consciously believe them, but we use them every day to make quick decisions. So these prejudices are something we all have to work to overcome.
What do you hope people take away from the episode?
MF: I think that highlighting the scientific fact that our brains are affected by bias helps makes the question of bigotry and racism more personal for all of us. It gets it out in the open. We need to be conscious of it, and that’s the beginning of change.
Other topics tackled this season include why we lie, if time can go backward, if we live in the Matrix, and more. Which one is your favorite, and why?
MF: Do we live a computer simulated reality? That is such a fascinating idea: Our entire cosmos could exist inside the computer of an advanced alien. And scientifically, it’s entirely possible.
Do you have a favorite from the entire series so far?
MF: I don’t have a single favorite episode, there’ve been so many great ideas. But I did really enjoy one from last season back: Does the Ocean Think? Is the ocean not just full of life, but actually a single living, thinking, being?
In interviews, you’ve talked about how curious you are, and how much you like to learn stuff—and how the show is a great tool to do that. What’s the coolest or most surprising thing you’ve learned in the process of making Through the Wormhole?
MF: Zombies are real! There is a species of ant whose brain gets attacked by a fungus. And that fungus actually turns them into walking dead zombies, whose sole purpose is to spread the fungus to other ants.
Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on the Science Channel.