Think Again – a Big Think Podcast

Think Again – a Big Think Podcast

United States

We surprise some of the world's brightest minds with ideas they're not at all prepared to discuss. With host Jason Gots and special guests Salman Rushdie, Saul Williams, Henry Rollins, Bill Nye, George Takei, Maira Kalman, Sam Harris, Junot Diaz, Maria Konnikova, and many more . . . You've got 10 minutes with Einstein. What do you talk about? Black holes? Time travel? Why not gambling? The Art of War? Contemporary parenting? Some of the best conversations happen when we're pushed outside of our comfort zones. So each week on Think Again, we surprise smart people you've probably heard of with hand-picked gems from Big Think's interview archives on every imaginable subject. The conversation could go anywhere. SINCE 2008, BIG THINK has captured on video the best ideas of the world’s leading thinkers and doers in every field, renowned experts including neurologist Oliver Sacks, physicist Stephen Hawking, behavioral psychologist Daniel Kahneman, authors Margaret Atwood and Marylinne Robinson, entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, painter Chuck Close, and philosopher Daniel Dennett.

Episodes

112. Richard Dawkins (biologist) – Red in Tooth and Claw  

Since 2008, Big Think has been sharing big ideas from creative and curious minds. Since 2015, the Think Again podcast has been taking us out of our comfort zone, surprising our guests and Jason Gots, your host, with unexpected conversation starters from Big Think’s interview archives.
Today’s guest is internationally best-selling author, speaker, and passionate advocate for reason and science as against superstition Richard Dawkins. From 1995 to 2008 Richard Dawkins was the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University.  Among his many books are The Selfish Gene, the God Delusion, and his two-part autobiography: An Appetite for Wonder and A Brief Candle in the Dark. His latest is a collection of essays, stories, and speeches called Science in the Soul, spanning many decades and the major themes of Richard’s work.

In this episode, which Dawkins described as “one of the best interviews I have ever had,” Richard and Jason talk about whether pescatarianism makes any sense, where morality should come from (since, as Hume says, "you can't get an 'ought' from an 'is', so you can't get morality from science), the greatness of Christopher Hitchens, and the evils of nationalism.

111. Ari Shaffir (Comic) – The Golden Age of Trolling  

Since 2008, Big Think has been sharing big ideas from creative and curious minds. Since 2015, the Think Again podcast has been taking us out of our comfort zone, surprising our guests and Jason Gots, your host, with unexpected conversation starters from Big Think’s interview archives.

Today's guest Ari Shaffir is a stand-up comic and the host of Skeptic Tank – a super popular weekly podcast that’s on its 299th episode (at this writing). Ari grew up orthodox Jewish, spent two years in a yeshiva in Israel, and then turned into an atheist comedian who did an outrageous web video series called “The Amazing Racist” and runs a yearly “Shroomfest” where he’s like a benevolent Dionysus, presiding over a worldwide three-day celebration of psilocybin mushrooms. He co-created and hosts Comedy Central’s storytelling series “this is not happening”. And he got a two part comedy special on Netflix called “Double Negative”.

Ari and Jason talk about outrageousness in comedy, bipartisan e-rage on social media, growing up and growing out of bad habits, the transgender bathroom debate, and much, much, much more.

Surprise conversation starter interview clips in this episode:

Barbara Oakley on the rigidity of geniuses’ thinking and Elijah Nealy on the transgender bathroom debate



110. Peter Frankopan (historian) – You Can't Stop the Clock  

Since 2008, Big Think has been sharing big ideas from creative and curious minds. Since 2015, the Think Again podcast has been taking us out of our comfort zone, surprising our guests and Jason Gots, your host, with unexpected conversation starters from Big Think’s interview archives.

Today's guest Peter Frankopan is a historian at Oxford University, where he is Director of the Oxford Centre for Byzantine Research. He works on the history of the Mediterranean, Russia, the Middle East, Persia, Central Asia and beyond, and on relations between Christianity and Islam. Peter's new book The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, is an international bestseller, described by William Dalrymple as a 'historical epic of dazzling range, ambition and achievement'.

At an anxious moment in Western history, Frankopan encourages us to take a historical perspective, understanding how change happens in societies and how people typically react to it. This conversation unpacks the fascinating and dense history of the Silk Road countries and digs deep into the economic and social forces that shape our lives.

Surprise conversation starter interview clips in this episode:

Michael Slaby on the 30 hour work week and Geneticist Jennifer Doudna on designer babies  



109. Sheelah Kolhatkar (Writer, Former Hedge Fund Analyst) – The Most Dangerous Game  

Since 2008, Big Think has been sharing big ideas from creative and curious minds. Since 2015, the Think Again podcast has been taking us out of our comfort zone, surprising our guests and Jason Gots, your host, with unexpected conversation starters from Big Think’s interview archives.

Sheelah Kolhatkar is a staff writer at the New Yorker  and a former “risk arbitrage analyst” for two hedge funds in New York City. For the New Yorker, Sheelah writes about Wall Street, Silicon Valley, economics and national politics, among other things. Her latest book is the New York Times bestseller Black Edge, about the largest insider trading investigation in history and the transformation of Wall Street and the U.S. economy.

This week’s episode is a departure for us – a deep dive into the personalities, culture, and ideas driving the big banks and the hedge funds of Wall Street. Jason and Sheelah talk about what it was like for her as a woman in that male-dominated industry, how hedge funds have reshaped the whole Wall Street landscape and with it, the global economy, and why billionaire investors are almost required to collect Picassos.

Surprise conversation starter interview clips in this episode:

Neuroscientist Tristan Harris on how companies exploit our brains’ vulnerabilities.




108. Jeff Garlin (Comedian) – K.I.S.S.  

Since 2008, Big Think has been sharing big ideas from creative and curious minds. Since 2015, the Think Again podcast has been taking us out of our comfort zone, surprising our guests and Jason Gots, your host, with unexpected conversation starters from Big Think’s interview archives.
Today, one of our wildest episodes ever, with comedian Jeff Garlin, who cuts one of our surprise clips short to call B.S. on neuroscience and complexity.

Wikipedia succinctly describes Jeff Garlin as a comedian, actor, producer, voice artist, director, writer, podcast host and author. You might know him best from Curb Your Enthusiasm, which he produced and acted in as Larry David’s friend and manager Jeff Greene, whose relationship with his wife was one of the most harrowing things I’ve ever seen on television. Jeff co-wrote, directed, and stars in the 2017 film Handsome: A Netflix Mystery Movie as the befuddled yet capable Detective Handsome.

Surprise conversation starter interview clips in this episode:

Neuroscientist Beau Lotto on Perception, Documentary filmmaker Louis Theroux on Scientology




107. Neal Stephenson & Nicole Galland (Authors) – The Garden of Forking Paths  

Since 2008, Big Think has been sharing big ideas from creative and curious minds. Since 2015, the Think Again podcast has been taking us out of our comfort zone, surprising our guests and Jason Gots, your host, with unexpected conversation starters from Big Think’s interview archives.

Today, for the first time, we welcome TWO guests to Think Again – writers Neal Stephenson & Nicole Galland – and talk to them from New York to a Los Angeles hotel room over a horrible wi-fi connection. And it all works out beautifully.

Nicole’s typically a writer of historical fiction including The Fool’s Tale and Iago, and Neil’s known for complex, speculative science fiction  including Seveneaves, Snow Crash, and many other novels. Together, they’ve written a new novel: The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. – a massive and massively entertaining epic involving magic, time travel,  quantum physics, secret government organizations, and an ancient banking family called the Fuggers — with all of the jokes that implies.

In this episode, we delve into Schroedinger's Cat, why humans make such terrible decisions, and how linear a story has to be to be a story at all.

Surprise conversation starter interview clips in this episode:

Salman Rushdie on video games and the future of storytelling, Robert Sapolsky on brain regions and impulse control





106. Alan Alda (Actor) – The Spirit of the Staircase  

Since 2008, Big Think has been sharing big ideas from creative and curious minds. Since 2015, the Think Again podcast has been taking us out of our comfort zone, surprising our guests and Jason Gots, your host, with unexpected conversation starters from Big Think’s interview archives.

Today's guest is actor, writer, director, and science-curious artist Alan Alda. Jason says: "I grew up watching him in reruns of MASH, where his character Hawkeye Pierce was so specific and relatable that he feels in my memory like a not-too-distant relative. And in Horace and Pete, Louis CK’s 2016 brilliant web-tv dramedy, Alan underwent a miraculous metamorphosis into a bitter, racist barman who is also a fully-fleshed human being.  But wait - there’s more! For decades, Alan has been helping to heal the ancient rift between highly technical science and ordinary curiosity. Alan’s new book If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? Shares what he (and science) have learned about how we can communicate better. It’s no exaggeration to say that this is a matter of life or death."

Inspired by a passage in Alan's book, Jason puts away his interview notes. What follows is a funny, honest, connected conversation unlike anything else in the show's two-year history.

Surprise conversation starter interview clips in this episode:

James Gleick - Humans are Information-Seeking Creatures


105. Jennifer Doudna (Geneticist) - Intelligent Redesign?  

Since 2008, Big Think has been sharing big ideas from creative and curious minds. Since 2015, the Think Again podcast has been taking us out of our comfort zone, surprising our guests and Jason Gots, your host, with unexpected conversation starters from Big Think’s interview archives.

Jennifer Doudna is a Professor of Chemistry and of Molecular and Cell Biology at the UC Berkeley, and until around 2012 she was quietly and contentedly studying the three dimensional structure of RNA molecules. Then she and her colleagues started looking into a thing called CRISPR-Cas9. It’s a kind of bacterial immune system, and it led to an invention that will change everything for all of humanity, forever.

In this episode Jennifer and Jason discuss the implications of the gene editing tool her lab created, and how humanity should (and likely will) yield the power to rewrite our own evolutionary destiny.

Surprise conversation starter interview clips in this episode:

Richard A Clarke on averting global catastrophes, Deepak Chopra on secular spirituality (clip not available online)







104. Timothy Spall (Actor) – That Double Want  

Since 2008, Big Think has been sharing big ideas from creative and curious minds. Since 2015, the Think Again podcast has been taking us out of our comfort zone, surprising our guests and Jason Gots, your host, with unexpected conversation starters from Big Think’s interview archives.

Timothy Spall is an extraordinary actor, best known perhaps for the many films he’s done with director Mike Leigh, including Secrets & Lies and Mr. Turner, for which he won best actor at Cannes. You may know him from a number of Hollywood films, too, including the Harry Potter series and The Last Samurai, with Tom Cruise. His latest is THE JOURNEY. It’s based on a real road trip that happened in 2006, when two arch-enemies — the heads of Ireland’s warring factions, spent about an hour together in the backseat of a car. This was the prelude to a historic peace deal, cementing the end of Ireland’s long Civil war.

In this episode we dig deep into questions like what people really want from their political leaders, whether it's possible (or even advisable) to overcome desire, and whether and when just sitting on a park bench, enjoying a tree, is enough.

Surprise conversation starter interview clips in this episode:

Scott Barry Kaufman on Solitude




103. Liza Jessie Peterson (Playwright, Arts-Educator) – The Sleeping Giant  

Since 2008, Big Think has been sharing big ideas from creative and curious minds. Since 2015, the Think Again podcast has been taking us out of our comfort zone, surprising our guests and Jason Gots, your host, with unexpected conversation starters from Big Think’s interview archives.
Liza Jessie Peterson is an actress, poet, playwright, and arts-educator who’s been working with adolescent boys and girls incarcerated on Rikers Island for the past 18 years. Her fierce, funny, powerfully written new book is All Day: A Year of Love and Survival Teaching Incarcerated Kids At Rikers Island. The loving and specific portraits she paints of her students highlight the cruelty of the systems (economic, school, police, prison) that fail so many young black men, landing them and keeping them in prison.

In this episode we talk about cultural icons and the realities behind them, hip-hop, the trauma of poverty and the tragedy of the American prison system, and how to make impossible situations better. 

Surprise conversation starter interview clips in this episode:

Marie Gottschalk on solitary confinement


102. Paul Theroux (Writer) – Saintly & Scowling  

Since 2008, Big Think has been sharing big ideas from creative and curious minds. Since 2015, the Think Again podcast has been taking us out of our comfort zone, surprising our guests and Jason Gots, your host, with unexpected conversation starters from Big Think’s interview archives. 100 episodes in, like the universe itself, the show continues to expand and accelerate at speeds that boggle the imagination.
One of seven siblings, Paul Theroux is the author of over 50 works of fiction and non-fiction, including The Great Railway Bazaar and The Mosquito Coast. His latest novel Mother Land is a scathing, semi-autobiographical, often painfully funny portrait of a mother’s long and insidious reign over her seven children.

In this episode, Paul talks about the claustrophobia of big families, the mass migrations of peoples, colonizing Mars, and an important difference between humans and cockroaches.

Surprise conversation starter interview clips:

Anders Fogh Rasmussen on the geopolitical challenges of climate change, Stephen Petranek on colonizing Mars




101. Ariel Levy (Writer) – Big Things That Are Not Talked About  

Since 2008, Big Think has been sharing big ideas from creative and curious minds. Since 2015, the Think Again podcast has been taking us out of our comfort zone, surprising our guests and Jason Gots, your host, with unexpected conversation starters from Big Think’s interview archives. 100 episodes in, like the universe itself, the show continues to expand and accelerate at speeds that boggle the imagination.

After 12 years at New York Magazine, Ariel Levy became a staff writer at The New Yorker, where she’s written about remarkable women, sex, Ayahuasca, madness and Silvio Berlusconi. Her new book The Rules Do Not Apply is a memoir that grew out of the loss of her son soon after his birth and the subsequent collapse of her marriage.

Here she talks with Jason about assertiveness and doubt, the silence around the animal facts of women's physical lives, her comically awkward experience with the shamanic hallucinogen Ayahuasca, and much more.

Surprise conversation starter interview clips:

Lexicographer Kory Stamper on the word 'bitch", Gish Jen on imitation in China vs. the West




100. Neil deGrasse Tyson (Astrophysicist) – The Only "-ist" I Am  

Since 2008, Big Think has been sharing big ideas from creative and curious minds. Since 2015, the Think Again podcast has been taking us out of our comfort zone, surprising our guests and Jason Gots, your host, with unexpected conversation starters from Big Think’s interview archives. 100 episodes in, like the universe itself, the show continues to expand and accelerate at speeds that boggle the imagination.
Neil DeGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist and the director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and the spiritual heir to Carl Sagan in getting us all worked up about the Cosmos. He’s been appointed to special NASA commissions, hosted multiple TV specials and podcasts, and written many excellent books, the latest of which is Astrophysics for People in A Hurry – a succinct, wryly funny book that’s surprisingly informative for its size - it has the informational density of a black hole.

In This, Our 100th Episode: Can Neil tell the entire history of the universe in 30 seconds? When is it possible to move faster than the speed of light? Why is "dark matter" a terrible name for dark matter? And what does Neil's esteemed colleague Lawrence Krauss have in common with a pit bull?

Surprise conversation starter interview clips:

Lawrence Krauss on Optimism, Dean Buonomano on "Presentism" and "Eternalism"




99. Mary Gaitskill (Writer) – Their Animal Being  

Since 2008, Big Think has been sharing big ideas from creative and curious minds. The Think Again podcast takes us out of our comfort zone, surprising our guests and Jason Gots, your host, with unexpected conversation starters from Big Think’s interview archives.“How strange it is to be anything at all.” – from the song In the Aeroplane Over the Seaby Neutral Milk Hotel Mary Gaitskill is the author of three short story collections including Bad Behavior and Don’t Cry, and three novels, including Veronica and Two Girls, Fat and Thin. Her latest book is a collection of essays and reviews called Somebody With a Little Hammer. The topics are diverse, from the Hollywood version of Mary’s story Secretary, to date rape, to Celine Dion, to Mary’s experience losing her cat, Gattino. In every case Mary writes with startling, otherworldly clarity, peeling back the surface of things we might think we understand to peer into the slippery psychological realities underneath.

In this episode: Threaded through with personal anecdotes, relevant moments from Gaitskill’s novels and essays, and striking observations about human nature, this intimate, starkly honest conversation goes wide and deep. So deep, in fact, that there’s barely time to get to the surprise clips! 

Surprise conversation starter interview clips: Google's Tristan Harris on the attention economy


98. Lawrence Krauss (Physicist) – Lux Ex Machina  

Since 2008, Big Think has been sharing big ideas from creative and curious minds. The Think Again podcast takes us out of our comfort zone, surprising our guests and Jason Gots, your host, with unexpected conversation starters from Big Think’s interview archives.
Physicist Lawrence Krauss directs the Origins Project at Arizona State University, which fosters scientific research and collaborations on origins – of life, the universe, and everything. His own research focuses on the interface between elementary particle physics and cosmology, including investigations into dark matter and the origin of all mass in the universe. His latest book The Greatest Story Ever Told - So Far is a deeply entertaining and informative account of the progress of knowledge in modern physics.

In this episode: To what extent and in what sense does science represent "reality"? You don't have to paint like Picasso to enjoy a Picasso...so why are non-scientists often reluctant to engage with complex scientific concepts? Is tribalism an essential part of human nature?

A passionate, witty back-and-forth with a leading physicist who is also one of our most poetic defenders and explainers of science.

Surprise conversation starter interview clips:

Sebastian Junger on tribalism and democracy, Kevin Kelly on “cognification”, David Bodanis on Einstein’s rejection of a random universe


97. Dean Buonomano (Neuroscientist) – This is Your Brain on Time  

Since 2008, Big Think has been sharing big ideas from creative and curious minds. The Think Again podcast takes us out of our comfort zone, surprising our guests and Jason Gots, your host, with unexpected conversation starters from Big Think’s interview archives.

Dean Buonomano is a professor of neurobiology and psychology at UCLA and a leading theorist on (and researcher into) the neuroscience of time. His latest book, Your Brain is a Time Machine, the Neuroscience and Physics of Time convinced Jason that time is far weirder than he knew it to be (and he already knew it was mind-bogglingly weird).
In this episode: Does time exist at all, or is it an illusion of consciousness? If the latter, what's the evolutionary advantage of seeing time as linear and one-directional? Which is right: the Einsteinian view that the universe is a four dimensional box in which all time is already present, or the "common-sense" view that time is uni-directional? How does comic timing work? What's the evolutionary advantage of comedy? And oh so much more. 

Surprise conversation starter interview clips:

Scott Aukerman on comedy as a survival skill, Kevin Kelly on optimism as an engine of progress

96. Sarah W. Goldhagen (Architecture Critic) – Souls & Spaces  

Since 2008, Big Think has been sharing big ideas from creative and curious minds. The Think Again podcast takes us out of our comfort zone, surprising our guests and Jason Gots, your host, with unexpected conversation starters from Big Think’s interview archives.

Sarah W. Goldhagen taught for ten years at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design and spent many years as the Architecture Critic for the New Republic. She’s written about buildings, cities, and landscapes for publications all over the world. Sarah’s new book Welcome To Your World: How the Built Environment Shapes Our Lives is a thoroughly entertaining, eye-opening manifesto arguing that the buildings we live and work in deeply affect us, physically and psychologically, and that we can’t afford the soul-crushing architecture we mostly subject ourselves to.

In this episode: why we tolerate design that’s bad for us, startling parallels between a passage from a Chekhov short story and Sarah's book, the many ways concrete can be beautiful, and why schools shouldn’t look like prisons (maybe prisons shouldn’t, either?).

"Surprise idea" clips in this show:

Jeffrey Sachs on optimism in America and Alison Gopnik on School and the Developing Mind




95. Kory Stamper (Lexicographer) – Lair of the Level 10 Word Mage  

Since 2008, Big Think has been sharing big ideas from creative and curious minds. The Think Again podcast takes us out of our comfort zone, surprising our guests and Jason Gots, your host, with unexpected conversation starters from Big Think’s interview archives.

Kory Stamper is a lexicographer at Merriam-Webster, often seen on their “Ask the Editor” video series. Her funny and fascinating book Word By Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries is about the how the sausage of dictionaries is made, and about the slipperiness of words themselves. This is not a “prescriptivist” manifesto, fussily criticizing people’s misuse of apostrophes or words like “irregardless.” On the contrary, like any lexicographer worth her salt (and salt, as Kory will tell you, was once so valuable it was used as money, which is where we get the word “salary” from…) Kory’s a professional “descriptivist”, painstakingly trying to pin down how words are actually used even as they try to wriggle away from her. 

Surprise conversation starter interview clips:

Adam Mansbach on the term "political correctness" and Rob Bell on the word "Hell"



94. Joyce Carol Oates (Writer) – Oh, That's Socialism  

Since 2008, Big Think has been sharing big ideas from creative and curious minds. The Think Again podcast takes us out of our comfort zone, surprising our guests and Jason Gots, your host, with unexpected conversation starters from Big Think’s interview archives.
The writer Joyce Carol Oates grew up on a farm, tending chickens in what she describes as a very desolate part of upstate New York, and grew up to write around 90 (and counting) novels and collections of essays and short stories, many of them while teaching at Princeton University. She’s won many, many awards, including the National Book Award, the Pen/Malamud Award and the National Humanities Medal. Her powerful new novel, A Book of American Martyrs, begins with a terrible act of violence – and then deals with its complex aftermath.

Today's conversation starts there, weaving through the political and religious landscape of America, past and present. We also talk about whether writing, for Joyce, is as "effortless" as critics have described the experience of reading her. Trump comes, up, inevitably but briefly. Stick around for a fascinating discussion of the challenges early success can pose for young writers, including Oates' former student, Jonathan Safran Foer.

Surprise conversation starter interview clips:

Gish Jen on Identity and Choice in the West, Nicole Mason on Poverty in America


93. Adam Alter (Social Psychologist) – Ping!  

Since 2008, Big Think has been sharing big ideas from creative and curious minds. The Think Again podcast takes us out of our comfort zone, surprising our guests and Jason Gots, your host, with unexpected conversation starters from Big Think’s interview archives.
Adam Alter is the author of the New York Times bestseller, Drunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces That Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave, and has written for the New York Times, New Yorker, Atlantic, WIRED, Slate, Washington Post, and Popular Science, among other publications. He’s an associate professor of marketing at New York University and also teaches in the psychology department. His fascinating and chilling new book, Irresistible: the Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping us Hooked has, among other things, convinced Jason to stop charging his cellphone in his bedroom.

Surprise conversation starter interview clips:

James Fallon on Voting for an Actual Psychopath and Margaret Atwood on Anti-Science Sentiment


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