Crossover Episode: LocoFoco with Timothy Wirkman Virkkala

What follows is my appearance on the LocoFoco podcast. In it, I discuss some of the ideas in my Black Box episode with host Tim Virkkala. Tim is one of the most interesting thinkers I’ve met, and I still remember some of his comments from 25 years ago, including his observation that I should call risk a transaction cost in an article I was writing at the time. It took me a day of pondering the idea to go from strong disagreement, to the realization that in the context of my article, this was the only way to look at risk.

Tim’s personal blog can be found at

Ep 29: Black Box Thinking, UFOs, and a Fist Full of Dung

In this solo episode, I discuss black box thinking in the context of our current Dim Age of epistemology and the role of journalism. I unpack my previous thoughts on Occam’s razor and discuss analyzing the contents of boxes you cannot open, with examples drawn from politics and the pandemic. Finally, I explain the self-coined Asher principle, which connects black boxes, labels and power.

Related Links:

The Filter Episode with Vin Armani

The Filter Episode on the New Colonists

Pat Tillman and the Pentagon’s Black Boxes

Ep 28: Fantasyland Redux, a Deeper Dive into the Dark Complexities of Magical Thinking

In this solo episode, I build on ideas from the previous episode with guest Kurt Andersen, author of Fantasyland: How Americans Went Haywire. I examine the and the relationship between spirituality and politics he presents. I also clarify some earlier thoughts and go farther down the rabbit hole that his book has opened for me. I discuss fantastical thinking in politics and pandemics, the relationship between individualism and accurate beliefs, and discuss the effect our modern clerisy has on suppressing truth.

Related Links:

The Filter Episode with Kurt Andersen

Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire by Kurt Andersen (2018)

The Filter Episode with Jesse Walker

The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory by Jesse Walker (2013)

Image adapted from Follow the White Rabbit by David Álvarez

Ep 27: Kurt Andersen on Fantasyland Nation

Kurt Andersen is co-founder of Spy magazine and the author of several bestselling books, including Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire.  We discuss the fantasy industrial complex, new urbanism, and the draw of comforting explanations. We also discuss the relationships between science and fantasy, conspiratorial thinking, links between spirituality and politics, and the cultural legacy of Spy magazine.

Related Links:

Kurt Andersen’s Website

Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire

Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America

The Filter episode with Jesse Walker

Spy Magazine Archive

The Half-life of Facts and
What if we’re wrong

Ep 26: Deborah Mayo on Error, Replication, and Severe Testing

Deborah G. Mayo is professor emerita in the department of philosophy at Virginia Tech, a research associate at the London School of Economics, and a pioneer of the “Error Stats” method for testing scientific claims. We discuss the history of the problem of induction, her developed approach to scientific claims, and ideas from her most recent book, “Statistical Inference as Severe Testing”.

Related links:

Error Statistics Blog


Deborah Mayo’s publications

My analysis of the global warming data

Statistical Inference As Severe Testing by Deborah G. Mayo (2018)

Error and Inference: Recent Exchanges on Experimental Reasoning, Reliability, and the Objectivity and Rationality of Science by Deborah G. Mayo & Aris Spanos (2009)

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. citation analysis.