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Join us as we explore the thought provoking themes surrounding CreativeMornings Cleveland's monthly breakfast lecture series. Excerpts of the lecture are book ended by meaningful conversations with attendees and speakers alike.

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Roots ft. Patricia Princehouse

| S:1 E:25

What do you think of when you hear the word “roots?” Our featured guest, Patricia Princehouse, is the Associate Director of the Institute for the Science of Origins and the Director of Case Western Reserve University's program in evolutionary biology. She knows a thing or two about roots. We allowed Patricia’s talk to guide the direction of this episode, as we take a look at our own roots.


Patricia Princehouse

is Director of the Program in Evolutionary Biology, and outreach director for the Institute for the Science of Origins. Patricia Princehouse is an evolutionary biologist and historian of science. She earned her masters from Yale and a PhD from Harvard, where she worked with Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin. She has conducted fieldwork on primate evolution in Africa and North America, and also has research interests in what artificial life and digital organisms can tell us about patterns and processes of evolution. Princehouse grew up on a farm near Dayton, Ohio, and has always had a keen interest in the natural world, especially animals, and is a breeder of top show, performance and working Pyrenean Shepherd dogs, and occasionally sheep, goats and horses. Princehouse has received many teaching awards, and in 2003 was honored by the National Center for Science Education’s “Friend of Darwin” award for helping preserve the integrity of Ohio’s public school science curriculum. She is currently working on a book titled Can Evolution Help You Choose a Puppy?

The Institute for the Science of Origins (ISO) is a collaborative team of faculty members and researchers from diverse scientific disciplines seeking to understand how complex systems emerge and evolve, from the universe to the mind, from microbes to humanity.

Through interdisciplinary teams and cross-departmental programs, the institute works with its partners, fellows, and the university community to create new knowledge, to prepare the scientists of tomorrow and to educate the public about origins research.

The institute was born out of discussions among scientific and administrative leaders at Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History (CMNH) on how to advance the understanding and appreciation of the science of origins. In spring 2008, emboldened by the inclusion of origins in the university’s new strategic plan, a group of faculty and curators decided to work toward the creation of an Institute for the Science of Origins (ISO), under the leadership of Glenn Starkman, professor of physics and astronomy, who was appointed by Case Western Reserve President Barbara Snyder to be director of the Origins Initiative.

The ISO now encompasses and brings together researchers in multiple disciplines, departments and centers at both Case Western Reserve and the CMNH, and is seeding, supporting and planning research and education across a broad spectrum of origins science. The ISO is pleased to have established a partnership with ideastream, the non-profit media organization that includes Cleveland’s public television and radio stations.


Lisa Sands

Lisa Sands is a public relations professional by day and an enthusiastic home cook by night. Flanked by her husband and sous chef, Troy, and with two taste-testing dogs underfoot, Lisa enjoys challenging herself with new recipes and creating photo-worthy composed plates. Her hobbies are talking about food, making food, and eating food.


Sean McCreary - Website


David Moss: From Genesis in the Bible, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters, and God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light." From the Popol Vuh, or the Council Book from the Mayans, "Now it still ripples. Now it still murmurs, still sighs, and is empty under the sky. There's not yet one person, not one animal, bird, fish or tree. There is only the sky alone. The face of Earth is not clear. Only the sea alone is pooled under all the sky. Whatever might be is simply not there. There were makers in the sea. There were makers in the sky. Together, these makers plan the dawn of life." From the Serer people of West Africa, referencing the first words their supreme being Roog spoke, "Water, air, earth. The words leap into space. He carried the sea on his head, the firmament on his shoulders, the Earth in his hands." Everything, all life, every species, culture, family, person, came from somewhere. You can trace everything backward in time, and that's what we'll be trying to do as we explore our theme, roots, on this episode of Wake Up Call. I'm your host, David Allen Moss. Thanks for joining us.

Tom Fox: Hi, I'm Thomas Fox with CreativeMornings/Cleveland. We're thrilled to have Evergreen Podcasts onboard as our official podcast partner. Evergreen Podcasts is committed to producing the best original content and engaging shows. Right now, you're listening to Wake Up Call, recorded on location at the monthly CreativeMornings lecture series. Enjoy.

David Moss: First up, I spoke with Sean McCreary, a lifelong writer, producer and creative. You've mentioned you worked for Hallmark.

Sean McCreary: I did. I worked for Hallmark Channel for 14 years. Before that, Starz Encore in Denver. And I started here at Channel 19 when it was in Shaker Square.

David Moss: Did you start out with this dream? Going back to your family history, did you guys make home movies? Did you ...

Sean McCreary: My dad had one of those big reel-to-reel tape decks, and I used to play with that all the time. And my buddy and I, when we were little kids, we used to play radio. We had a radio show on it.

David Moss: You had mics?

Sean McCreary: Yes, we had a mic, one of these big 60s plastic mic, and we would play Kiss records and be DJs.

David Moss: Oh my God.

Sean McCreary: See?

David Moss: We just went back. We're in the Wake Up Call time machine today.

Sean McCreary: Mid 70s, yeah.

David Moss: It's interesting to look back at your childhood and recount the innate inner workings of a future talent or career. To go back and find the beginnings of your passion, the roots of what lights you up inside, can be really rewarding.

David Moss: But let's now talk about, since we're back with your family and your dad with this reel-to-reel, what's your heritage? Cultural? Is it a town you lived in? What jumps out for you?

Sean McCreary: The most interesting thing of my heritage is on my mom's side, they came over on the Mayflower. William Brewster. I'm a direct descendant of William Brewster, so look it up in the history book.

David Moss: We had no idea we had such a gem standing with us today.

Sean McCreary: Yeah. Apparently, he was an important guy in history.

David Moss: Things happen for a reason.

Sean McCreary: William Brewster.

David Moss: William, he was a Pilgrim?

Sean McCreary: He was a Pilgrim. Yeah. Yeah, he came over...

David Moss: Wouldn't it be something if you could find his shoes?

David Moss: Okay, so Sean may not have been able to find a really cool pair of Pilgrim shoes, but what he does have is a family thread to the birth of America. I asked him what impact that's had on his life. Is it something that defines him or just a fun fact?

Sean McCreary: It was a little factoid, actually. Especially when you were a kid, you learn about the Pilgrims, and your grandmother can't wait to tell you, "Guess what?" And they tell you the story. But over the course of time, I've met and found out there's a ton of people descendent of William Brewster. I have two friends who are also descendants of William Brewster, who apparently I'm related to, and I think Bing Crosby is also a descendant of William Brewster.

David Moss: So you're related to Bing Crosby.

Sean McCreary: Yeah. I have no royalties, unfortunately. I get no mileage out of that and no revenue, no royalties.

David Moss: Having family roots that stem from the Mayflower and a link to the great Bing Crosby must be a blast to talk about at holiday parties. We continued on this quest to get to the bottom of things with our next guest, Lisa Sands of Edible Cleveland. We had a little fun foodie talk including the origins of pizza. Our Director of Audio, Dave Douglas, chimed in here too. After all, it is pizza we're talking about here.

David Moss: The next presentation will be the origins of pizza.

Lisa Sands: Cool.

David Moss: When was the first pizza? Who knows?

Lisa Sands: We could have a debate about, maybe, is there good pizza in Cleveland? We could have that debate.

Dave Douglas: Il Rione

David Moss: There is.

Lisa Sands: Well, we know, and Salted Dough.

David Moss: And Crust.

Lisa Sands: And Crust. [crosstalk 00:05:42].

David Moss: I know the formulas of baguette crusts.

Tom Fox: And Citizen Pie and Vero.

Dave Douglas: I do like Citizen Pie. I also like Edison's.

David Moss: That's a little more straight-up their thing.

Lisa Sands: They actually have a certain number of pepperoni slices that they go for on their pizza. There's an actual number, like when how it's...

David Moss: Is it a lot? You've got to be a pepperoni fan.

Lisa Sands: True. [Crosstalk 00:06:00] You can get vegetables there too, but you go there when you want the sort of slightly grease-laden wall-to-wall pepperoni situation. That's when you go to Edison's.

Dave Douglas: They're pretty fantastic.

David Moss: There's a reason why Lisa has an affinity for food. Unlike Sean from the Hallmark channel who spent his childhood steeped in radio and TV, Lisa's childhood incurred a lack of food. Thereby, she embarked on a departure from her childhood roots.

Lisa Sands: I grew up in a very boring, white bread, ground beef family. We didn't eat a lot of interesting things. A lot of it had to do with the economy. My dad was a teacher, my mom didn't work. Life was different then. Eating out was not a hobby, as it is now. It wasn't this thing that you took pictures of and made into this ridiculously awesome and also curious passion, I guess, again, another hobby. Not everybody shares that experience as we know.

David Moss: The whole foodie phenom.

Lisa Sands: The foodie thing, yeah. It's great, but I think there's a little bit of a dark side to it, too. Because, what we try to do at Edible Cleveland is, we like pretty food and great plating and beautiful Instagram streams, but the fact is: We like to take the story behind those to the people, to the things, to the struggle, to the hard work, the controversy. All of that is behind the pretty photo. But, I love good food, too. So, I mean...

David Moss: The origins of our food. This is so brilliant. This piqued my interest so much so, that I immediately went to Edible Cleveland's website and read the first story I saw. It was a story about milk and cookies. The cover image rendered a mouthwatering snapshot of soft, gooey chocolate chip cookies and an overflowing mug of creamy, frothy milk. And, the stories of Ohio's women dairy farmers caught my eye. Click! It was here I learned about the struggles and triumphs of a local dairy farmer; really illuminating. I appreciated the story in this interview with Lisa Sands. Now, we're going to turn to our guest lecturer, Patricia Princehouse. She's the Associate Director of the Institute for the Science of Origins and the Director of Case Western Reserve University's program in evolutionary biology. She knows a thing or two about roots.

Patricia Prince...: So, I started doing paleontology and archeology here in Ohio, in Southern Ohio.

David Moss: So, there's field study here in Ohio?

Patricia Prince...: Yeah, when I was a kid, with the Dayton Museum of Natural History. I took every course that they offered, and I actually didn't realize that it was something that you could take in school. Because, kids aren't allowed to have evolution and archeology and anthropology in school. So now, I've been to Africa. I have a site Africa that's quite a bit older than me. It's 25 million years old. I've been to Mongolia, hunting dinosaurs with the Cleveland Museum of Natural History's dinosaur paleontologists. We took students a few years ago.

David Moss: That had to be something.

Patricia Prince...: Yeah, and of course, for me, it's this horse culture. I'd always wanted to go to Mongolia from the other side of my interests. So, I got to ride Mongolian horses.

David Moss: Oh, wow.

David Moss: I could listen to her speak for hours, but for now, let's just get a peanut shell version of the Earth's roots according to this wise Sage.

Patricia Prince...: If you want to really ramp this up, my advisor Steve Gould, he says, "Okay, if you start the tape of life right at three, four billion years ago with single-celled organisms... First of all, if you had the Earth before then would they even arise? Would life arise?" It wasn't necessarily preordained. It's, he would argue, a contingent fact of history, right?

David Moss: Right.

Patricia Prince...: So, once you have life... We've still got bacteria, it's bacteria all the way down. I mean this is the modal organism as we used to call it. So, once you get that sort of thing, you had that for two billion years. You had just bacteria and blue-green algae and things like that. You finally, for quirky reasons, got cells with nuclei and you got mitochondria because you had a number of these different kinds of bacteria and other things coming together to form these symbiotes that then became obligate symbiotes, that they worked together only, and that's how you got the nucleated cell. From there though, it sits around for another billion and a half years or so before you get multicellular organisms and you start to get tissues and animals and things; plants and animals. It's really quite recent. So the earth is 4.5 billion years old and animals are only half a billion. So, one ninth of the history of the earth.

David Moss: We, as humans, are just a glimpse. Famed astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, explains it like this: If you put the life of the universe on a calendar, humans would arrive at 11:59 PM on December 31st. Patricia goes on to offer an analogy with the help of Mark Twain.

Patricia Prince...: In fact, Mark Twain said, "You can tell that the history of life and the earth was heading toward us all the way along. Because, if you look at the Eiffel Tower and all the history of the earth is up to that, we're that tiny skin of paint on the top and you can tell that it was all going toward that skin of paint."

David Moss: Yeah.

David Moss: If this doesn't put things into perspective, I don't know what would. Mind blowing stuff. But, I asked Patricia to take things from a macro scale down to a micro perspective. How does this impact me? How can I practically apply this wisdom?

Patricia Prince...: Individual human beings go through this life just once, so far as we know, and if their lives are thwarted by a stricture imposed from outside, but falsely identified as lying within, they never get another chance. That's the tragedy, and when people don't get opportunities or they're channeled into something that's less suited to what they could do, that's the tragedy. And so, I think that science can't dictate how we should live. That's the realm of ethics and a lot of other things, but it can inform some of our decisions and so I try, at least in my own way, to bring science to the public so that they have at least the opportunity to understand some of these things, like I was talking about today.

David Moss: Patricia's take on a more intellectual version of YOLO is spot on. We're just a speck of sand on the beach of life. If you don't do what you're meant to do in the time you were given, that's the tragedy of life. Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species 150 years ago in which he famously contributed his survival of the fittest theory to human evolution. Only the strong survive. But, in his 828 page sequel, The Descent of Man, he gives us a different perspective on human evolution. Darwin writes only twice of survival of the fittest, but 95 times of love. He writes of selfishness 12 times, but 92 times of moral sensitivity. He says the word competition nine times, but 24 times, he points to mutual respect.

David Moss: Though each of us are only here for but a speck of time, our cosmic fingerprints will forever be ingrained in the world around us, in the universe. The book is never closed. You can always look back and discover more and more about your roots, the beginnings of you. And someday, someone will look back and you'll be in their story. I would say "The End." But, it never really is.

David Moss: Wake Up Call is a production of Evergreen Podcasts. A special thanks to: Executive Producers Joan Andrews and Michael DeAloia, Producer and Audio Director Dave Douglas, Story Editor Julie Fink, and Account Manager Connor Standish. Thanks to Toubab Krewe for the use of their song, Rooster, available on iTunes. If you'd please like and review this program, it would really help. Learn more about this and other podcasts from Evergreen at

David Moss: Wake Up Call. Ideas that crow!

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