Living On Through Others
Imagine that the world will end in thirty days. Would your life have meaning anymore? Would anyone’s? It seems that there would no longer be anypoint to making technological or medical advances, developing new forms of art, or even taking good care of ourselves. Imagining the doomsdays scenario shows that there is something particularly disturbing about the prospect that not only we, but also everyone else, will die. Why is this? Would our lives be nearly as meaningful if others did not live on after our death? Could our “collective afterlife” through the lives of others actually be more important than the “personal afterlife” with which we are so often preoccupied? John and Ken live on through Samuel Scheffler from NYU, author of Death & the Afterlife.
Spinoza was a 17th century Dutch philosopher who laid the foundations for the Enlightenment. He made the controversial claim that there is one substance in the universe, which led him to the pantheistic belief in an abstract, impersonal God. What effect did Spinoza have on Enlightenment thinkers? What are the philosophical – and religious – consequences of believing that there is only one substance in the universe? And why do scientists today still take him seriously? John and Ken welcome back Rebecca Goldstein, author of Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity.
Will Innovation Kill Us?
Innovation, be it social, economic, or technological, is often hailed as the panacea for all our troubles. Our obsession with innovation leads us to constantly want new things and to want them now. But past innovations are arguably the main reason for many of our current predicaments, which in turn creates a further need to innovate to solve those problems. So is innovation – and our obsession with it – ultimately a force for good or ill? Is our constant need to innovate a function of our biology, or just a product of various cultural forces? Can we ever escape the innovation loop? Should we try before it kills us? John and Ken find new ways to talk to Christian Seelos, author of Innovation and Scaling for Impact: How Effective Social Enterprises Do It (forthcoming).
Your Lying Eyes: Perception, Memory, and Justice
The criminal justice system often relies on the testimony of eye witnesses to get convictions. Yet more and more, psychological science demonstrates how unreliable eye witness reports can be. Moreover, jurors have all kinds of cognitive biases and unconscious influences, and they rely on dubious folk psychological theories when assessing evidence. So, how should psychological science be used to improve our justice system? Is there a way to figure out whether a particular eye witness report is reliable? Or for a truly just system, must we forbid all testimony that depends on the capricious faculty of memory? John and Ken take the stand with Daniel Reisberg from Reed College, author of The Science of Perception and Memory: A Pragmatic Guide for the Justice System.
The Demands of Morality
We all want to lead a moral life. But even if we all agreed on what that would mean, we still have to balance our own self-interest with the competing demands of morality. This becomes even more challenging when the decks are stacked against us, or when everyone around us is only looking out for themselves. So in the real world, what does it mean to live a moral life? Do we have a responsibility to act morally when others around us are not? And what do we do if morality makes excessive demands of us? John and Ken balance their own self-interests with Tamar Schapiro from Stanford University, for a program recorded live as part of the Stanford Continuing Studies series The Art of Living.
Self and Self-Representation
We craft personal brands or images to accompany or represent ourselves in various situations. These personas are malleable – how we portray ourselves online differs from how we act at an event, which differs from the workplace or in the privacy of the home. Social media and the possibility of creating an online 'self' exacerbate this situation. We may wonder: who is the true self if we have the power change selves given various circumstances? Is there such a thing as 'one true self', or is the self mere a conglomerate of 'mini-selves' shaped by cultural and societal forces? Could it be detrimental to think of a self as socially constructed? John and Ken put their best face on for Susan Hekman from the University of Texas at Arlington, author of Private Selves, Public Identities: Reconsidering Identity.
Taoism: Following the Way
Taoism (sometimes Daoism) is one of the great philosophical traditions of China. Lao-Tzu, commonly regarded as its founder, said that “Those who know do not speak; those who speak, do not know.” The arguments that Taoist texts offer for skepticism may seem surprisingly modern. Yet these same texts also offer recommendations for certain ways of life over others. So what exactly is Taoism, and what are its main tenets? Is it a religion, a philosophy, or a way of life? How do Taoists reconcile endorsing a specific way of life with skepticism about human thinking? John and Ken go east with Bryan Van Norden from Vassar College, author of numerous translations and books on Chinese thought, including Introduction to Classical Chinese Philosophy.
Good, Evil, and the Divine Plan
A theodicy is an explanation by a philosopher or theologian about why a world created by a kind and all-powerful God contains so much suffering. It forces us to think about the nature of good and evil, whether the kind of knowledge an all-knowing God has leaves room for human freedom. Why do people who suffer often find their faith in God growing stronger? Is evil an illusion? Does God really need a defense attorney? John and Ken search for insight with Andrew Pinsent, Research Director of the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion at the University of Oxford
Truth and Other Fictions
Most of us think we know the truth when we see it. But what exactly is truth, anyway? Philosophers have offered a blizzard of different answers, ranging from truth as correspondence or coherence all the way to the view that truth is a matter of pragmatic utility or just a compliment we pay to the things we're prepared to believe or to say. But what is the truth about truth? Is there really such a thing? Or is truth itself a fiction? John and Ken explore the fickle nature of truth with Alexis Burgess from Stanford University, co-author of Truth, for a program recorded live at the Marsh Theatre in Berkeley.