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...
Think Again Podcast's 200th episode! Robert MacFarlane (writer) – deep time rising
The wonder and the ethics of deep time. The "wood-wide-web". The claustrophobia of the Anthropocene. In our 200th episode, UNDERLAND author Robert MacFarlane takes us on a journey deep into the Earth and ourselves.
- "We think of ourselves as this surface species. Of builders. But we are a species of burrowers and borers. And we are leaving warrens behind us that dwarf any ant's nest…"
- "That handprint on the cave wall is testimony to that urge to move into darkness in search of meaning—in search of different orders of time."
I'm underground as I write this, one day before taping the conversation you're about to hear, speeding through New York City subway tunnels that aren't all that ancient but whose darkness, and rats, and crumbling, esoteric infrastructure holds fear and fascination enough for anyone who contemplates them. Waking up this morning—notice how you wake up, not down—I felt my already barely remembered dreams sliding off of me in layers, like leaves, or hands. And the longing to submit to those hands and slide back down, underground, into the caverns of sleep.
My guest today, Robert MacFarlane, has dug deeper than I could ever hope to into the meanings and magnetism of the underworld —tunnels, caves, sinkholes, and the living, fungal earth of our world and our imaginations. At one point in his new book UNDERLAND he brings up the fact that to a neutrino, our solid physical world is just a a mesh—Mount Everest is a wide-gauge net it can pass easily through. In MacFarlane's writing, the layers of the world are transparent, overlapping, always already present. He's often called a "nature writer", but that's a poor proxy for what he actually is: a philosopher poet with the gift of sight in the darkness, whose penetrating vision turns the world inside out.
Surprise conversation starters in this episode:
These effective strategies can minimize harmful moral grandstanding – in yourself and in others.
- What is moral grandstanding? Here's a comprehensive explanation of the psychology that drives this disruptive and divisive online behavior.
- Moral grandstanding may have very serious consequences for social discourse, but calling it out and shaming moral grandstanders is unproductive, says Brandon Warmke.
- To defeat moral grandstanding, you can do several things. Before posting anything online, ask yourself: 'Am I doing this to do good or am I doing this to look good?'. You can deny attention and praise to moral grandstanders, and you can redirect your own impulse to signal morality into actual volunteer work instead of online posts.
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.
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…"
Artist, "bird noticer", and concerned citizen of the digital state of the world Jenny Odell looks at many different ways of resisting the attention economy, sinking into the reality of our lives, and finding solidarity and agency with others.
- "Someone is defining the terms already by asking the question. And if you're not attentive, you will accept those terms."
- "It's really hard to draw a hard line around an entity in any ecological system. And I think this is a great description of the self, too."
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