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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.

Rationally Speaking #64 - Jesse Prinz on Looking Beyond Human Nature

Rationally Speaking Podcast

  • 650 views
  • almost 12 years ago
  • 46:28

Nature vs. Nurture? Massimo and Julia revive the age-old debate in this episode of Rationally Speaking, with special guest Jesse Prinz. Jesse is a professor of philosophy at CUNY and the author of several books, most recently "Beyond Human Nature." The trio debate Jesse's argument that human behavior is far more culturally determined than evolutionary psychologists would have you believe, and in the process explore the question of where morality comes from and how to distinguish between nature and nurture.

Rationally Speaking #63 - Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge

Rationally Speaking Podcast

  • 640 views
  • almost 12 years ago
  • 48:44

Will all knowledge eventually be united? And what does that even mean, anyway? In this episode of Rationally Speaking, Massimo and Julia explore the topic of consilience, or the "unity of knowledge," a concept popularized by biologist and theorizer E. O. Wilson. Along the way they discuss whether all phenomena can be explained in terms of physics, the importance of precise language, and the seductive dangers of the "deepity."

Rationally Speaking #62 - Patricia Churchland on What Neuroscience Tells Us About Morality

Rationally Speaking Podcast

  • 680 views
  • almost 12 years ago
  • 55:13

The Rationally Speaking podcast is proud to feature another certified genius: Patricia Churchland, a philosopher well known for her contributions to neurophilosophy and the philosophy of the mind, was professor at the University of California San Diego from 1984-2010, and won the MacArthur Genius Grant in 1991. In this episode, she, Massimo, and Julia discuss what philosophy has to say about neuroscience, what neuroscience has to say about philosophy, and what both of them have to say about morality.

Rationally Speaking #61 - Willpower

Rationally Speaking Podcast

  • 660 views
  • about 12 years ago
  • 48:22

This episode of Rationally Speaking is all about the age-old problem of willpower: why don't we do what we know is best for us? Massimo introduces some of the early philosophical approaches to this puzzle, and then Massimo and Julia go over more recent scientific research on the issue (for example: does resisting temptation deplete your reserves of willpower, or does it strengthen your willpower "muscle"?). They also examine possible solutions to the problem, including betting and precommitment, and online programs that can help.

Rationally Speaking #60 - Q&A With Massimo and Julia

Rationally Speaking Podcast

  • 640 views
  • about 12 years ago
  • 01:03:24

Massimo and Julia answer listeners' questions. In this installment the topics include: how much do works of fiction affect people's rationality, Bayesian vs. frequentist statistics, what is evidence, how much blame do people deserve when their actions increase the chance of them being targeted, time travel, and whether a philosophically examined life is a better life. Also, all about rationality in the movies, from Dr. Who to Scooby-Doo.

Rationally Speaking #59 - Live at NECSS: David Kyle Johnson on the Simulation Argument

Rationally Speaking Podcast

  • 690 views
  • about 12 years ago
  • 01:09:22

In this special live episode recorded at the 2012 Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism, Massimo and Julia discuss the "simulation argument" -- the case that it's roughly 20% likely that we live in a computer simulation -- and the surprising implications that argument has for religion. Their guest is philosopher David Kyle Johnson, who is professor of philosophy at King's College and author of the blog "Plato on Pop" for Psychology Today, and who hosts his own podcast at philosophyandpopculture.com. Elaborating on an article he recently published in the journal Philo, Johnson lays out the simulation argument and his own insight into how it might solve the age-old Problem of Evil (i.e., "How is it possible that an all-powerful, all-knowing, and good God could allow evil to occur in the world?"). As usual, Massimo and Julia have plenty of questions and comments!

Rationally Speaking #58 - Intuition

Rationally Speaking Podcast

  • 660 views
  • about 12 years ago
  • 47:20

When your intuition tells you something, should you listen? That depends! Relying on intuition can be anything from a highly effective strategy used by experts, to an excuse not to require evidence for your beliefs. In this episode, Massimo and Julia talk about what people mean by "intuition," where our intuitions come from, and when intuition can beat careful reasoning.

Rationally Speaking #57 - Peer Review

Rationally Speaking Podcast

  • 670 views
  • about 12 years ago
  • 48:18

If you value scientific evidence you're probably familiar with the idea that having "peer-reviewed" studies is crucial to the legitimacy of any new claim. But what does "peer-reviewed" entail, anyway? In this episode, Massimo and Julia open up the black box of peer review, explaining how the process originated, how it works, and what's wrong with it. They also try brainstorming ways it could be fixed, and ask: how is the Internet changing the way we do research?

Rationally Speaking #56 - Howard Schneider on Science News Literacy

Rationally Speaking Podcast

  • 670 views
  • about 12 years ago
  • 46:45

M & J discuss science communication with Howard Schneider, dean of the school of journalism at SUNY Stonybrook and former editor of Newsday. A guest at previous skeptic events, including the first annual Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism, Schneider has argued in the past that skeptics lay too much blame at the feet of the media for public misunderstandings and misconceptions about science. Julia and Massimo question him on this point, and ask him for his thoughts on what *can* be done to improve scientific literacy. As the founder of the Center for News Literacy and the Center for Communicating Science, Schneider has plenty of thoughts to share -- including making scientists take improv classes. Should science communication involve more storytelling? And is there any way to take advantage of new, online media formats to remedy some of the weak points in the science communication process?

Rationally Speaking #55 - Spirituality

Rationally Speaking Podcast

  • 690 views
  • about 12 years ago
  • 55:06

Is "rational spirituality" a contradiction? In this episode, Massimo and Julia try to pin down what people mean when they call themselves "spiritual," what inspires spiritual experiences and attitudes, and whether spirituality can be compatible with a naturalist view of the world. Are there benefits that skeptics and other secular people could possibly get from incorporating some variants on traditional spiritual practices -- like prayer, ritual, song, communal worship, and so on -- into their own lives? Massimo and Julia examine a variety of attempts to do so, and ask: how well have such attempts worked, and do they come with any potential pitfalls for our rationality?

Rationally Speaking #54 - The 'isms' Episode

Rationally Speaking Podcast

  • 700 views
  • over 12 years ago
  • 52:06

n this episode Massimo and Julia ask, "Is the fundamental nature of the world knowable by science alone?", looking at the issue through the lenses of a series of related philosophical positions: determinism, reductionism, physicalism, and naturalism. All of those "isms" take a stance on the question of whether there are objectively "correct" ways to interpret scientific facts -- like physical laws, or causality -- and if so, how do we decide what the correct interpretation is? Along the way, Massimo and Julia debate the nature of emergent properties, whether math is discovered or invented, and whether it's even logically possible for "supernatural" things to exist.

Rationally Speaking #53 - Parapsychology

Rationally Speaking Podcast

  • 670 views
  • over 12 years ago
  • 57:13

In this episode, Massimo and Julia take on parapsychology, the study of phenomena such as extrasensory perception, precognition, and remote viewing. Its practitioners claim that there is more evidence for it than there is for other areas of scientific inquiry, such as string theory for which there is no empirical data at all. Yet string theory is taken seriously as a science whereas parapsychology is not. So, what is the scientific status of parapsychology? What does the best academic literature on the subject tell us? Finally, what can we learn from parapsychology about the practice of science in general?

Rationally Speaking #52 - Donald Prothero on the Holocaust-Deniers' Playbook

Rationally Speaking Podcast

  • 640 views
  • over 12 years ago
  • 49:18

Guest Donald Prothero joins us to discuss the common tactics and thinking of science deniers and the implications of this assault on science for our future. The denial of scientific realities in issues like global warming, creationism, vaccine safety, and AIDS, is growing in our society. Not only is our acceptance of scientific "inconvenient truths" under attack, but even scientists themselves have been threatened. Donald R. Prothero is Professor of Geology at Occidental College and Lecturer in Geobiology at the California Institute of Technology. He is the author, co-author, editor, or co-editor of 25 books, over 200 scientific papers and a number of popular books including, most recenly, "Catastrophes!: Earthquakes, Tsunamis, Tornadoes, and Other Earth-Shattering Disasters" and "Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters". He is on the editorial board of Skeptic magazine and has been featured on several television documentaries, including episodes of Paleoworld (BBC), Prehistoric Monsters Revealed (History Channel), Entelodon and Hyaenodon (National Geographic Channel), and Walking with Prehistoric Beasts (BBC).

Rationally Speaking #51 - Joseph Heath on Economics Without Illusions

Rationally Speaking Podcast

  • 680 views
  • over 12 years ago
  • 46:49

Guest Joseph Heath, author of “Economics Without Illusions: Debunking the Myths of Modern Capitalism,” joins us as we turn our skeptical eyes toward the treacherous dual terrain of economics and politics. We discuss the ways in which, with his book, he attempts to raise our economic literacy and empower us with new ideas. In it, he draws on everyday examples to skewer the six favorite economic fallacies of the right, followed by impaling the six favorite fallacies of the left. Heath leaves no sacred cows untipped as he breaks down complex arguments and shows how the world really works. Joseph Heath is the Director of the Centre for Ethics and Professor of Philosophy and Public Policy at the University of Toronto. In addition to his academic publications, he is the author of other popular books, among them, "The Rebel Sell : Why the Culture Can't Be Jammed" and "Efficient Society: Why Canada is as Close to Utopia as It Gets"

Rationally Speaking #50 - Neurobabble

Rationally Speaking Podcast

  • 710 views
  • over 12 years ago
  • 53:22

The media is increasingly bombarding us with reports of advances in neuroscience which claim all sorts of amazing feats, like allowing us to read our thoughts and intentions. It sounds like neurobabble. Most of these reports though are either based on bad science, reach false conclusion, or are based on conceptual misunderstanding of how our psychology works. To be fair, much of this is manufactured by the popular media but, unfortunately, some of it comes from the neuroscience community itself. So, what information can we really get from fMRIs? As with the misunderstanding of what genes are (like whether there is a God or a conservative gene), are there really parts of the brain dedicated to categories of thoughts like some of these reports claim? And, perhaps more importantly, what are the ethical implications of this neurobabble, should we arrest people who we can tell, based on this research, will be committing a crime?

Rationally Speaking #49 - Eugenie C. Scott on Denialism of Climate Change and Evolution

Rationally Speaking Podcast

  • 670 views
  • over 12 years ago
  • 47:00

Our guest Eugenie C. Scott joins us to talk about a new initiative of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) to tackle denialism of global warming. Both evolution and global warming are “controversial issues” in the public sphere, but are not controversial in the world of science. There is some overlap between the two issues, but far more people are climate change deniers than evolution deniers. What is interesting to skeptics, however, is the similarity in the techniques that are used by both camps to promote their views. The scientific issues are presented as “not being settled,” or that there is considerable debate among scientists over the validity of claims. Evolution and global warming opponents also demonize the opposition by accusing them of fraud or other wrong-doing. Denialists in both camps practice “anomaly mongering,” in which a small detail seemingly incompatible with either evolution or global warming is considered to undermine either evolution or climate science. Although in both cases, reputable, established science is under attack for ideological reasons, the underlying ideology differs: for creationism, the ideology of course is religious; for global warming, the ideology is political and/or economic. Dr. Eugenie C. Scott is Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education, and sits on the Board of Advisors for the New York City Skeptics. She has written extensively on the evolution-creationism controversy and is past president of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists. Scott is the 2010 recipient of the National Academy of Science's Public Welfare Medal. She is the author of "Evolution vs Creationism" and co-editor, with Glenn Branch, of "Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools."

Rationally Speaking #48 - Philosophical Counseling

Rationally Speaking Podcast

  • 710 views
  • over 12 years ago
  • 46:01

Our guest Lou Marinoff joins us to discuss philosophical counceling, a recent trend to use philosophy as a type of talk therapy. Now, despite the provocative title of his best-selling book, “Plato, Not Prozac!: Applying Eternal Wisdom to Everyday Problems,” the idea is actually not to replace psychiatric medications with chats about the ancient Greeks. Rather, as he puts it in the introduction to the volume, you should take your medications if you really need them, but once your brain is back to a normal functionality you will likely still be faced with the same existential problems that plague most human beings. And that’s where philosophy might help. Lou Marinoff is the Chair of the Department of Philosophy at The City College of New York and a founder of the American Philosophical Practitioners Association. His other books include "The Middle Way: Finding Happiness in a World of Extremes" and "Therapy for the Sane."

Rationally Speaking #47 - SETI

Rationally Speaking Podcast

  • 680 views
  • over 12 years ago
  • 54:23

Is the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI, solid science, pseudoscience, or something else, as Massimo argues in his book "Nonsense on Stilts"? What are the theoretical foundations and empirical evidence that justify a multi-decade research program, and what are its chances of succeeding? Have we learned anything thanks to SETI? Also, if the universe is infinite, what problems does this pose for utilitarian ethics?

Rationally Speaking #45 - Rebecca Newberger Goldstein on Spinoza, Göedl, and Theories of Everything

Rationally Speaking Podcast

  • 720 views
  • over 12 years ago
  • 54:24

Our guest Rebecca Newberger Goldstein joins us to talk about Baruch Spinoza and Kurt Gödel, the subjects of her books "The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel" and "Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew who Gave Us Modernity." The topics include the idea of "Spinoza's God" and his concept of a theory of everything, their views on the limits of reason and objective reality, Gödel's theorems and its repercussions in philosophy and mathematics, and his legendary friendship with Albert Einstein. She also talks about her novels and her experience of being both a novelist and a writer of non-fiction works. Rebecca Newberger Goldstein grew up in White Plains, New York, graduated summa cum laude from Barnard College and immediately went on to graduate work at Princeton University where she received her Ph.D. in philosophy. In 2008, she was designated a Humanist Laureate by the International Academy of Humanism, and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Emerson College. Currently she is a Research Associate in the Department of Psychology, Harvard University. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the coveted MacArthur “Genius Award.” She was named Humanist of the Year 2011 by the American Humanist Association, and she was given the "Freethought Heroine Award" by the Freedom From Religion Foundation in 2011. In addition to her non-fiction works, she is the author of a number of novels, including "The Late-Summer Passion of a Woman of Mind; The Dark Sister." Her latest work is "Thirty-Six Arguments for the Existence of God."

Rationally Speaking #44 - Fluff that Works

Rationally Speaking Podcast

  • 730 views
  • over 12 years ago
  • 52:06

In this episode we tackle the curious case of pseudoscience or mysticism that works, or seems to, at least some of the times. From acupuncture to chiropractic, from yoga to meditation, what do we make of instances where something seems to have the desired effect for the wrong reasons (e.g., acupuncture), or might otherwise be a perfectly acceptable technique which happens to come intricately bundled with mysticism (e.g., yoga)?