You've got 10 minutes with Einstein. What do you talk about? Black holes? Time travel?
Why not gambling? The Art of War? Contemporary parenting?
Each week, host Jason Gots surprises some of the world's brightest minds with ideas they're not at all prepared to discuss. Join us and special guests Neil Gaiman, Alan Alda, Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood, Richard Dawkins, Maria Popova, Mary-Louise Parker, Neil deGrasse Tyson and many more...
Ha Jin on the wild and tragic life of China's greatest poet, Li Bai
The 8th century AD was a tough time to be a genius from a poor family in China. Poet and novelist Ha Jin on the tortured life of the legendary drunken poet Li Bai. Also: panpsychism, the value of idleness, and humanities education in America today.
- "I knew in the case of Li Bai, I should follow the poems. Every masterpiece by him would be kind of a small crisis…a center for drama in his life."
- "There are people who want a different kind of fulfillment. Society should be open to that. In the long run, you don't know—maybe those idlers can produce more for the society."
Let's start with a very old poem :
On the bank of Caishi River is Li Bai's grave
Surrounded by wild grass that stretches to clouds.
How sad that the bones buried deep in here
Used to have writings that startled heaven and moved earth.
Of course poets are born unlucky souls
But no one has been as desolate as you.
When you think of an an ancient poet, what do you picture? Wandering? Drinking? A lot of ups and downs? That certainly describes the life of Li Bai, one of the most brilliant and beloved poets in Chinese history—a man of whom it is said that he drowned jumping into a river, drunkenly chasing the reflection of the moon.
In his beautiful new biography THE BANISHED IMMORTAL: a Life of Li Bai, the poet and author Ha Jin paints a vivid picture of this extra-vivid man—who suffered the double misfortune of living in interesting times and being interesting himself. Ha Jin is interesting too—a young soldier in China's Cultural Revolution, he came to America as a grad student. Watching the Tiananmen Square Massacre on TV, he decided to stay in America for good.
Surprise conversation-starters in this episode
Want to be smarter than you were yesterday? Learn to have better conversations using these 3 design principles.
- What is a great conversation? They are the ones that leave us feeling smarter or more curious, with a sense that we have discovered something, understood something about another person, or have been challenged.
- There are 3 design principles that lead to great conversations: humility, critical thinking, and sympathetic listening.
- Critical thinking is the celebrated cornerstone of liberalism, but next time you're in a challenging and rewarding conversation, try to engage sympathetic listening too. Understanding why another intelligent person holds ideas that are at odds with your own is often more enlightening than merely hunting for logic errors.
Should all speech be free? How much intolerance should society tolerate?
- For society to stay open and free, you don't need to eliminate prejudice. You need the opposite: All kinds of prejudice pitted against each other.
- Intellectual diversity helps society as a whole learn the truth. And as long as society has rules that force ideas to be openly tested, the intolerant will not gain the upper hand.
- "In America it's legal to be intolerant. It may not be right. It may not get you accepted or respected. But absolutely it's legal and it should be legal," says Jonathan Rauch.
When I was a teenager and music was still on cassettes, a mixtape was an act of love. In this episode, I'm putting together some of my favorite moments of 2019, strung together with minimal interruption from me.
Picking up where we left off a year ago, a conversation about the homeostatic imperative as it plays out in everything from bacteria to pharmaceutical companies—and how the marvelous apparatus of the human mind also gets us into all kinds of trouble.
- "Prior to nervous systems: no mind, no consciousness, no intention in the full sense of the term. After nervous systems, gradually we ascend to this possibility of having to this possibility of having minds, having consciousness, and having reasoning that allows us to arrive at some of these very interesting decisions."
- "We are fragile culturally and socially…but life is fragile to begin with. All that it takes is a little bit of bad luck in the management of those supports, and you're cooked…you can actually be cooked—with global warming!"
How do you write away the personal hole in your heart when that hole was left by a man half the world idolizes? Steve Jobs' daughter, the writer Lisa Brennan-Jobs, on the process and effects of writing her beautiful memoir SMALL FRY.
- "If I hadn't gone back with a fine-toothed-comb, a lot of these assumptions I had would have just been the air I breathed into my future."
- "There is something like theft in a memoir. If you want to write about yourself you have to write about other people who are unwitting and don't want to be written about…"
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