Ep 25: Patrick French on the Military Tourism and Mysticism of Col. Younghusband

Patrick French, author of Younghusband: The Last Great Imperial Adventurer

In this epic episode, Patrick French and I retrace the steps of imperial adventurer Francis E. Younghusband, from crossing of the Gobi Desert to assaults on Tibet and Mount Everest to a quest to unite the world’s religions. We talk colonialism, mysticism, The Great Game, and why Lhasan Lamas have extra long sleeves.

Related links:

Patrick’s Author Page at Random House

India and Tibet by Francis Younghusband (1985)

Younghusband: The Last Great Imperial Adventurer by Francis Younghusband (2004)

The Epic of Mount Everest: The Historic Account of Mallory’s Expeditions (2000)

The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham (2003)

Modern Mystics (2013)

The Heart Of A Continent: A Narrative Of Travels In Manchuria, Across The Gobi Desert, Through The Himalayas, The Pamirs, And Chitral, 1884 1894

Ep 24: Adam Kotsko on Fear, Sacrifice, and our Permanent State of Exception

Adam Kotsko is an American theologian, as well as a political and religious scholar. Adam and I discuss his work on Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, with a focus on the idea of the State of Exception. Adam gives his interpretation of several Agamben quotes, and I give my own thoughts on something Agamben said about the use of lockdowns in response to the Covid epidemic. Agamben’s anti-lockdown stance has made him unpopular with many on the political left in recent times.

Related links:

Adam Kotsko Homepage

Agamben’s Philosophical Trajectory (2020)

Awkwardness (2010)

Žižek and Theology (2008)

Agamben’s Philosophical Lineage (2007)

Ep 23: Carl A.P. Ruck on Mushrooms, Mystery, and Drinking from the Dyonisain Stream

Carl A.P. Ruck is professor of classic studies at Boston University and an expert in the use of entheogens, or psychoactive substances, used in religious rituals. We discuss Dionysus, the Eleusinian Mysteries, and evidence for the fungus ergot as a key part of these rites. We talk about Ruck’s collaboration with Gordon Wasson, who believed the Fly Agaric (Aminita Muscaria) was in the Vedic mystery drink of Soma, and Albert Hofmann’s synthesis of LSD from ergot.

Carl A.P. Ruck’s Faculty Profile

Entheogens, Myth, and Human Consciousness

Persephone’s Quest: Entheogens and the Origins of Religion

The Road to Eleusis: Unveiling the Secret of the Mysteries

Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality

Ep 22: Scott Aaronson on the Hunt for Real Randomness

Scott Aaronson is a leader in the field of Quantum Computation. We discuss the idea that our universe contains “true randomness”, and an experiment which indicates that no matter how well we understand our world, there will always be a level of unpredictability we cannot overcome. We also discuss the simulation hypothesis and our possible role as human dice, and the idea that the field of computer science is built on a foundation of uncertainty that’s unique to the field.

Related links:

Scott Aaronson’s homepage.

Shtetl-Optomized blog.

Pascal and Probability theory.

Types of randomness.

The CHSH game as a Bell test thought experiment. (Highly technical)

Ep 21: Sean Rife on the Uses and Abuses of Total Institutions

Sean Rife and I discuss the idea of the Total Institution, as originally described by sociologist Erving Goffman. We examine several Total Institutions in detail, and touch on the connection these have with religion and purity cults. We also discuss Thomas Szasz and his ideas about mental illness and the ways in which entire societies can come to resemble a total institution.

Related links:

Sean Rife’s homepage

Erving Goffman’s book Asylums.

Thomas Szasz: The Myth of Mental Illness.

Statistics Blog: Dumb Arguments by Smart People.

Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundations.

Scite.ai citation analysis.

Ep 20: A.J. Jacobs on Humility, Omniscience, and the Perils of Polygamy

A.J. Jacobs spent a year reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica and published a book about the experience. In this episode of The Filter, we discuss his project generally and touch on cultural complexity, what counts as history, Pascal’s wager, the decay of knowledge over time, polyamory, humility, and why you might want a skull on your desk.

Related links:

A.J. Jacobs homepage.

The Know-it-All (Main book we discussed).

Other books we discussed: The Half-Life of Facts, But What If We’re Wrong?, Beyond Fate, Do Humankind’s Best Days Lie Ahead?

My analysis of the date behind climate change and one skeptical take on the 97% consensus claim.

Other Filter episodes discussed in this one: Jesse Walker, Sandra Tsing Loh, Russ Roberts.

Ep 19 Michael Shermer on Giving the Devil his Due

Author and intellectual Michael Shermer talks about his book, Giving the Devil his Due: Reflections of a Scientific Humanist. Shermer was the Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine and a long-time contributor to Scientific American. In our conversation, we discuss enlightenment values in an era of mob rule, cancel culture, the history of human rights, and the limits of social media’s power over us.

Related links:

Erica Chenoweth (Violence in political movements)
Kurt Anderson (How America Lost Its Mind)
Jean Twenge (iGen book)
Hugo Mercier (Not Born Yesterday book)
The Filter episode with Russ Roberts (Behavioral Economics).

Ep 18: Sandra Tsing Loh on a Tour of the American Class System

Sandra Tsing Loh, writer and performer, discusses Paul Fussell’s book “Class: A Guide through the American Status System”. Fussell’s book was first published in 1983, and reviewed by Sandra in in 2009 in The Atlantic, but the ideas from it are as relevant as ever. As Sandra writes, “The experience of reading (and re-reading) Class is akin to wiping goggles one didn’t know were fogged. Fussell’s methodology settles into the brain like a virus; one soon cannot stop nanocategorizing one’s world.” In this highly entertaining, conversational episode, we talk about the constraints of the class structure, the challenges of opting-out, the value of useless degrees, and what your living room furniture says about how likely you are to go on a Carnival Cruise.

Ep 17: Russ Roberts on the Curious Task of Epistemology

Russell Roberts, economist and philosopher of science, talks about his views on marketplaces, religion, and the importance of doubt. We also discuss about behavioral economics, rationality, rough heuristics, and black box problems. I make the case that we may never have consensus about Covid data or the measures taken in the name of stopping the spread of the disease. Russ explains why you might not want to carry empty suitcases across a border for attractive ladies.

Ep 16: Zvi Mowshowitz on Immoral Mazes, Levels of Language, and the Magic of Magic

Zvi Mowshowitz comes on The Filter to discuss a series of blog posts he wrote about “Immoral Mazes”, or pathological institutions that incentive perverse behaviors. We also talk about levels of meaning in language and the arc towards more complex and indirect forms of communication, the many uses and abuses of the college system, and the magic of Magic the Gathering.