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Rationally Speaking Podcast

Rationally Speaking is the bi-weekly podcast of New York City Skeptics. Join host Julia Galef and guests as they explore the borderlands between reason and nonsense, likely from unlikely, and science from pseudoscience. Any topic is fair game as long as we can bring reason to bear upon it, with both a skeptical eye and a good dose of humor!We agree with the Marquis de Condorcet, who said that in an open society we ought to devote ourselves to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them."Rationally Speaking was co-created with Massimo Pigliucci, is produced by Benny Pollak, and is recorded in the heart of New York City's Greenwich Village.

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Rationally Speaking #124 - Stoicism

Did you miss International Stoic Week this year? Well, it's not too late to catch Massimo and Julia's analysis of the ancient philosophy of stoicism, which advocates (among other things) practicing mindfulness, accepting the things you can't change, and regulating negative emotions. Come hear the results of Massimo's experimentation with stoicism and listen to him and Julia debate several potential problems with the philosophy.


28 Dec 2014

Rank #1

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Rationally Speaking #144 - Bryan Caplan on "Does parenting matter?"

Parents in the United States are spending more time and energy than ever to ensure that their children turn out happy, healthy, and successful. But what does the evidence suggest about the impact of their efforts? Economist Bryan Caplan (and the author of "Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids") argues that, despite our intuition that parenting choices affect children's life outcomes, there's strong evidence to the contrary. Bryan and Julia discuss his case, and explore what that means for how people should parent and how many kids they should have.

1hr 3mins

4 Oct 2015

Rank #2

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Rationally Speaking #4 - The Great Atheist Debate Over the Limits of Science

"Accommodationist" is a word that began to appear in recent months during public debates over science and religion. The derogatory term has been applied to atheists and rationalists like Eugenie Scott, at the National Center for Science Education, and Chris Mooney, science writer at Discover Magazine, who maintain that science and faith are not necessarily incompatible. Although the debate is frequently framed as a practical one, about what the tactics of the secular movement should be, it is also a philosophical one, hinging on the question of the epistemic limits of science. In this episode, we examine the arguments being made by and against the so-called "accommodationists," and ask: Can science disprove religious and supernatural claims?


14 Mar 2010

Rank #3

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Rationally Speaking #103 - Neil deGrasse Tyson on Why He Doesn't Call Himself an Atheist

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson returns for this episode of Rationally Speaking, with a particular question to discuss: Should he call himself an atheist? The impetus is a recent dust-up over Neil's appearance on Big Think, in which he explained that he avoids the label "atheist" because it causes people to make all sorts of unflattering (and often untrue) assumptions. Julia and Massimo reply with some counterarguments, and along the way delve into the philosophy of language.


9 Mar 2014

Rank #4

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Rationally Speaking #3 - Can History Be a Science?

Our guest, Prof. Peter Turchin from the University of Connecticut, joins Massimo and Julia to discuss whether history can be studied and understood in a scientific manner. In an article in Nature (3 July 2008) on what he termed “cliodynamics,” he discusses the possibility of turning history into a science. In it, he proposes that history, contrary to what most historians might think -- is not just one damn thing after another, that there are regular and predictable patterns, from which we can learn and that we can predict. Of course, he is not the only scientist to have turned to history in an attempt to make that field more scientific, Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse immediately come to mind. And naturally, many historians vehemently object to what they perceive as a crude scientistic attempt at interdisciplinary colonization.


28 Feb 2010

Rank #5

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Rationally Speaking #156 - David McRaney on "Why it’s so hard to change someone’s mind"

You're probably already aware that it's hard to change someone's mind with logical arguments and evidence, especially about emotionally charged topics. But are there exceptions? David McRaney, bestselling author of "You Are Not So Smart" (and host of the blog and podcast by the same name) describes his experiences with people who have done an about-face on some important topic, like 9/11 conspiracy theories. He and Julia discuss a technique for changing someone's mind with evidence, how individual mind-change mirrors scientific progress, and what happens when you confront Trump fans with facts that contradict their narrative.


3 Apr 2016

Rank #6

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Rationally Speaking #145 - Phil Tetlock on "Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction"

Most people are terrible at predicting the future. But a small subset of people are significantly less terrible: the Superforecasters. On this episode of Rationally Speaking, Julia talks with professor Phil Tetlock, whose team of volunteer forecasters has racked up landslide wins in forecasting tournaments sponsored by the US government. He and Julia explore what his teams were doing right and what we can learn from them, the problem of meta-uncertainty, and how much we should expect prediction skill in one domain (like politics or economics) to carry over to other domains in real life.


18 Oct 2015

Rank #7

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Rationally Speaking #149 - Susan Gelman on "How essentialism shapes our thinking"

In this episode, psychologist Susan Gelman describes her work on the psychological trait of essentialism: the innate human urge to categorize reality and to assume that those categories reflect meaningful, invisible differences. Julia and Susan discuss why the discovery of essentialism in children was such a surprise to scientists, how the language we use affects the way we view reality, and whether essentialism is to blame for bad philosophy.


13 Dec 2015

Rank #8

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Rationally Speaking #207 - Alison Gopnik on "The wrong way to think about parenting, plus the downsides of modernity"

Developmental psychologist Alison Gopnik explains why modern parenting is too goal-oriented. Alison and Julia discuss whether anything parents do matters, whether kids should go to school, and how kids learn discipline if you don't force them to do things. They also discuss Alison's reservations about Steven Pinker's book Enlightenment Now, and her concerns about potential downsides of modernity.

1hr 3mins

30 Apr 2018

Rank #9

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Rationally Speaking #120 - Nihilism

Are you a nihilist? Forget about wearing all black and being indifferent to the rest of the world -- nihilism is a lot more complicated than most people think. In this episode of Rationally Speaking, Massimo and Julia explain the different types of philosophical nihilism, reveal their own personal views on the subject, and explore why nihilism has such different emotional effects on different people.


2 Nov 2014

Rank #10

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Rationally Speaking #87 - Sean Carroll on Naturalism

Astrophysicist and author Sean Carroll joins this episode of Rationally Speaking, to talk about "naturalism" -- the philosophical viewpoint that there are no supernatural phenomena, and the universe runs on scientific laws. Sean, Julia, and Massimo discuss what distinguishes naturalism from similar philosophies like physicalism and materialism, and what a naturalistic worldview implies about free will, consciousness, and other philosophical dilemmas. And they return to that long-standing debate: should scientists have more respect for philosophy?


19 May 2013

Rank #11

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Rationally Speaking #194 - Robert Wright on "Why Buddhism is True"

This episode features bestselling author Robert Wright making the case for why Buddhism was right about human nature: its diagnosis that our suffering is mainly due to a failure to see reality clearly, and its prescription that meditation can help us see more clearly. Robert and Julia discuss whether it's suspicious that a religion turned out to be "right" about human nature, what it means for emotions to be true or false, and whether there are downsides to enlightenment.


2 Oct 2017

Rank #12

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Rationally Speaking #133 - Sean Carroll on "The Many Worlds Interpretatioln Is Probably Correct"

In this episode of Rationally Speaking, Caltech physicist Sean Carroll describes an "embarrassing" state of affairs in modern physics: that we still don't know how to interpret quantum mechanics, almost a century after its discovery. Sean explains why he thinks the "Many Worlds Interpretation" (MWI) is the most plausible one we've got, and Julia explores his thoughts on questions like: Can MWI be tested? Is it "simpler" than other interpretations, and why? And does MWI threaten to destroy our systems of ethics? Sean Michael Carroll is a research professor in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. He is a theoretical cosmologist specializing in dark energy and general relativity.


3 May 2015

Rank #13

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Rationally Speaking #101 - Max Tegmark on the Mathematical Universe Hypothesis

Those among us who loathed high school calculus might feel some trepidation at the premise in this week's episode of Rationally Speaking. MIT Physicist Max Tegmark joins us to talk about his book "Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality" in which explains the controversial argument that everything around us is made of math. Max, Massimo and Julia explore the arguments for such a theory, how it could be tested, and what it even means.


9 Feb 2014

Rank #14

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Rationally Speaking #135 - Robin Hanson on: "Most human behavior is signaling"

In this episode, economist Robin Hanson explains the signaling theory of human behavior: That our motivations for our choices, about school, shopping, medical care, and so on, evolved primarily to shape other people's perceptions of us. In the process Robin and Julia discuss what makes a good theory: How to decide what you should (a priori) expect to see, and why simplicity is a virtue. Robin Dale Hanson is an associate professor of economics at George Mason University and a research associate at the Future of Humanity Institute of Oxford University. He is known as an expert on idea futures and markets, and he was involved in the creation of the Foresight Exchange and DARPA's Future MAP project. he blogs at Overcomng Bias.


31 May 2015

Rank #15

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Rationally Speaking #97 - Peter Singer on Being a Utilitarian in the Real World

Few philosophers have as wide of an impact on the general public as ethicist Peter Singer, this week's guest on Rationally Speaking podcast. Singer's utilitarian arguments about how we should treat animals, why we have a moral obligation to give to charity, whether infants should count as "people," and more have won him widespread fame -- and notoriety -- over the last few decades, and launched multiple movements. Tune in to hear his discussion with Massimo and Julia about why he's a utilitarian, and how his views of utilitarianism have recently changed (and find out how he influenced Massimo's life years ago).


25 Nov 2013

Rank #16

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Rationally Speaking #143 - Scott Aaronson on "The theorem that proves rationalists can't disagree"

Can rational people disagree? This episode of Rationally Speaking features guest Scott Aaronson. Scott is a professor of computer science at MIT and has written about "Aumann's Agreement Theorem," which is related to Bayesian probability theory and seems to imply that two people cannot rationally disagree after they've shared their opinions and information with each other. Julia and Scott discuss how to reconcile Aumann's theorem with real-world disagreements, and explore the disconcerting question: Why should you favor your own beliefs, just because they're yours?


20 Sep 2015

Rank #17

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Rationally Speaking #216 - Diana Fleischman on "Being a transhumanist evolutionary psychologist"

On this episode of Rationally Speaking, professor Diana Fleischman makes the case for transhumanist evolutionary psychology: understanding our evolved drives, so that we can better overcome them. Diana and Julia discuss sexual preferences, jealousy, and other drives -- how immutable are they? How do we know? And how would it change society, if we could change the distribution of people we find attractive, or normalize new relationship structures such as polyamory?


3 Sep 2018

Rank #18

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Rationally Speaking #6 - Fluffy Thinking

Fluffy Thinking is a peculiar type of uncritical thinking that sounds sophisticated, and is next to impossible to criticize frontally both because it barely has anything to do with empirical evidence, and because it is hard to articulate what, exactly, these people are saying. These people include scientific luminaries like Freeman Dyson and Paul Davies. Also, Karen Armstrong, author of "The Case for God", and Krista Tippett, author of "Einstein's God" and host of National Public Radio's "Speaking of Faith", where scientific notions are regularly distorted and mixed up with barely intelligible mystical “insights” that are put forward as profound truths. The question is not only whether there is anything interesting in what these people are saying, but rather the much more difficult issue of why it is that smart individuals, who make their living thinking and writing about science and philosophy, are attracted by fluffy thinking.


10 Apr 2010

Rank #19

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Rationally Speaking #5 - Neil deGrasse Tyson and the Need for a Space Program

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson joins Massimo and Julia to discuss the need for a space program. Many scientists (and most people in the skeptic community) simply assume that funding outlets like NASA are a good idea. But, can scientists justify the enormous expense involved, not just in terms of their personal curiosity, but as a matter of tangible and intangible benefits to society at large? Should we go back to the Moon and establish a permanent base? Is it worth the expense and likely risk to human life to attempt a mission to Mars? What is a space station for, anyway? Dr. Tyson is an astrophysicist by training and director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. He is also the host of PBS's science NOW. His latest book is “The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favorite Planet.”


28 Mar 2010

Rank #20