Visit Steven’s website, which includes information about all his books, including his latest, ‘Rationality’, and how to purchase them:
Follow Steven on Twitter:
00:00 Opening and introduction.
2:17 The conventional wisdom that humans are irredeemably irrational is wrong: rationality is actually prevalent and innate. Iona reads passages from Steven’s newest book ‘Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters’ about the “scientific mindset” of hunter-gatherers.
8:09 The evolution of human rationality - our “environmental/ecological rationality.” The “premature consensus” that humans are fundamentally irrational. But why are we so bad at dealing with logical problems in the modern world? How to reconcile this apparent paradox - a new conceptualisation of human rationality: we become expert logicians when logical problems are presented in concrete, human-relevant ways and when we are pursuing goals.
18:32 William James’s example of Romeo and Juliet as rational actors pursuing a goal (as opposed to iron filings attracting each other).
21:05 An analogy with quantum theory’s unintuitiveness. The mismatch between our ancestral environment(s) and our modern environment(s): we didn’t evolve to apply the tools of science. The roots and varieties of irrationality.
25:16 How does ‘Rationality’ relate to Steven’s other work? What is the common thread throughout all of his work?
35:28 On lightly held irrational beliefs - distal vs. testable beliefs, the “willing suspension of disbelief”, and indulging in irrationality. Why do we hold such beliefs? Why does fiction appeal to us? The Enlightenment paradigm of verifying one’s beliefs - revolutionary and almost unique in history, a mindset that we are not adapted to.
46:45 The real meaning of David Hume’s famous statement that “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.”
48:55 How do we get an ought from an is? How can morality be derived from rationality? Iona reads a passage from ‘Rationality’ dealing with these questions. Steven explains his view of how reason relates to ethics.
54:53 How can reason be justified in the first place? Isn’t it circular to justify reason using reason?
59:17 Base rates and group differences - does a contradiction between rationality and morality lie here?
1:07:27 Difficulties in defining categories and the family resemblances solution. Iona reads a passage about pattern-finding, stereotypes, and fairness from ‘Rationality.’ Using abstract rules to set aside stereotypes for purposes of law, morality, etc. Logic vs. rationality.
1:13:46 Rationality’s relationship to progress. Many social justice movements have begun with appeals to rationality and logical coherence: how can a society claim, for example, to be against absolute monarchy yet allow men to have total power over their wives? How rationality is a good guide to which movements for change deserve support.
1:18:00 How highfalutin methods of logic and reasoning are in fact at the centre of our everyday lives - we just formalise them and we need to apply them more at all levels.
1:25:05 The current “pandemic of poppycock” - is Steven optimistic about the future of rationality?
1:28:16 Iona reads a passage from the end of ‘Rationality.’
1:28:55 Last words and outro.
Visit Mark’s website, where you can find out more information about his books, including how to purchase them: https://www.markschatzker.com/
Follow Mark on Twitter:
Mark’s paper, co-authored with Jeffrey Brunstrom, on micronutrients and food choice:
0:00 Opening and introduction.
2:02 Mark reads a passage from his book ‘The End of Craving: Recovering the Lost Wisdom of Eating Well’.
5:20 Pellagra and how it differently influenced American and Italian cuisine and understandings of food.
15:08 ‘Delicious’/‘hyper-palatable’ food v deeply pleasurable eating experiences.
20:00 Micronutrients, food choice, and our innate nutritional wisdom.
39:33 A critique of the keto diet.
42:33 The set point theory of weight: how the brain deals with food. And why it is perilous to meddle with this process.
50:43 If set point theory is correct, why don’t people stay in a certain weight range all their lives?
58:19 Does the example of northern Italian food culture really support Mark’s theory? Iona challenges Mark’s ideas further with counterexamples.
1:10:00 Mark’s response and further discussion.
1:23:28 The lingering ghost of behaviourism and why we require a more sophisticated approach to the brain and its relationship with food.
1:30:23 Last words and outro.
Follow Matt on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mattjj89
Some of Matt’s previous writing and speaking about Ukraine:
Two for Tea episode featuring Matt, Daniel, and Ben Burgis on Christopher Hitchens:
Some of Taras Bilous’s writings from the frontlines of the war:
00:00 Opening and introduction.
2:05 Iona reads a passage from Matt’s Areo essay ‘Putin’s Pointless War’ on the origins and causes of the Ukraine war.
5:00 Matt discusses the history and ideology behind the invasion of Ukraine.
7:10 Matt discusses the more immediate background to the Ukraine war, from 2013 on: Ukraine’s desire for closer relations with the EU, the Revolution of Dignity, the annexation of Crimea, and more. Why Putin is a 19th-century leader.
10:38 The religious aspect of the war and Putin’s warped view of history. Why so many fail to understand that Putin is just an imperialist and miss the mark by talking about Russian security interests and NATO expansion.
15:22 Wouldn’t the US be angry if Mexico joined a Chinese version of the Warsaw Pact? Why blaming NATO expansion for the war is wrong.
20:00 What the Glenn Greenwald-style anti-imperialist left and the Tucker Carlson-style isolationist right get wrong about Ukraine and why (and how they overlap).
25:44 Isn’t Ukraine corrupt and authoritarian? Aren’t Russia and Ukraine just as bad as each other? Isn’t Zelensky illiberal?
28:58 What about the Azov Battalion? Isn’t Ukraine riddled with fascism and neo-Nazism?
31:40 How the usual suspects on the anti-imperialist left deny agency to Ukrainians, who want arms. Plus: The Ukrainian socialist Taras Bilous, on the frontlines and for western arming of Ukraine. Could Ukraine be a turning point for the left?
38:01 The war and the news cycle. What’s actually happening on the ground now? What does the future of the war look like?
42:24 Has Putin lost his edge? Has the invasion backfired on him? Has he united the west again? And if so, how long will that unity last? Has the western reaction to Russian expansionism come too late? Should the west’s aim be to degrade Russia’s capability to wage such wars? Is a Ukrainian victory possible?
51:23 What should the west be doing about Ukraine? Will Europe put up with skyrocketing energy costs to help Ukraine? Will this lead to an upsurge in support for politicians like Le Pen?
53:31 Could Putin use nukes? Might he escalate the war?
58:18 A strange question about elites from Twitter for Matt.
1:03:08 The effects of the war on energy in Europe and attitudes to nuclear power. The war as an advertisement for nuclear power. Plus: the intransigence and greed of the oil companies and OPEC countries.
1:06:16 An aside: the grotesque mystery of America selling its soul to Saudi Arabia.
1:08:00 Is there anything Matt didn’t get the chance to say but wanted to? Yes! Matt on the flaws of realism in the study of international relations: why political culture matters.
1:12:10 Last words and outro.
Buy Katy and Jeremy’s book ‘Guilty Pigs: The Weird and Wonderful History of Animal Law’: https://www.amazon.com/Guilty-Pigs-Wonderful-History-Animal-ebook/dp/B09CGQDNGD
Katy’s academic webpage: https://law.unimelb.edu.au/about/staff/katy-barnett
Follow Katy on Twitter: https://twitter.com/DrKatyBarnett
Jeremy’s academic webpage: https://law.unimelb.edu.au/about/staff/jeremy-gans
Follow Jeremy on Twitter: https://twitter.com/jeremy_gans
Opinions on High, a legal blog that both Kate and Jeremy contribute to: https://blogs.unimelb.edu.au/opinionsonhigh/
Katy’s Areo article ‘Perverse Incentives in Academic Publishing’:
00.00 Opening and introductions (with a diversion on Katy’s “adventures in walking”).
5:24 Katy reads a passage from her and Jeremy’s book ‘Guilty Pigs: The Weird and Wonderful History of Animal Law’.
7:10 Jeremy reads a passage from ‘Guilty Pigs’.
9:46 How did Katy and Jeremy come to work together on this book and what initially sparked their interest in the subject?
13:21 How has the status of animals in law changed over time and in space and what does this tell us about our attitude to animals?
22:51 The Isbester dog case.
27:59 The ethical and legal issues raised by the Isbester case. Plus: other cases involving dogs.
35:08 Comparison of these cases with the Daniel Brighton case and discussion of the ethical/legal issues thrown up by it.
44:07 The 19th-century British case involving cattle that influenced the modern legal understanding of ‘animal cruelty’. Iona reads relevant parts of ‘Guilty Pigs’; discussion ensues.
48:50 The strange legal history of swans, queens, and nobles (and sturgeons).
53:07 On the legal eccentricties of bee-owning. Plus: Iona tells the Argentinian tomcat’s tale; and other troublesome felines.
1:01:14 Project Acoustic Kitty.
1:03:45 Crimesolving parrots?
1:06:13 Why you should never, ever pat a zebra.
1:07:35 The Toronto Ikea monkey.
1:11:20 The photographer octopus, the posing macaque and Happy the elephant.
1:19:43 How do Katy and Jeremy see animal law developing in the future and are there legal provisions that aren’t in place that they think should be (or provisions in place that should be abolished or altered)?
1:25:28 Closing words and outro.
Buy Arvid’s book ‘The Gene’s-Eye View of Evolution’:
Follow Arvid on Twitter:
Daniel’s Areo review of Arvid’s ‘The Gene’s-Eye View of Evolution’:
Two for Tea episode featuring Sean B. Carroll:
00.00 Opening and introductions.
4:59 Why Arvid wanted to write his book ‘The Gene’s-Eye View of Evolution’.
5:57 Daniel reads a passage from Arvid’s book.
9:00 The sociological aspects of the gene’s-eye view. How did Arvid become interested in evolutionary biology and the gene’s-eye view? Evolutionary biology’s links with history and philosophy.
13:50 Similarities between Richard Dawkins and Arvid’s background interest in evolutionary biology. Arvid outlines the selfish gene theory and its intellectual history.
18:47 Are some of the arguments over the gene’s-eye view terminological rather than substantial? What if ‘The Selfish Gene’ had been called ‘The Immortal Gene’?
19:58 Stephen Jay Gould vs. Dawkins: critiques of selfish genery. What questions were Gould and Dawkins separately interested in, and what does this tell us about their disagreements?
27:18 Evolutionary developmental (evo devo) biology and its relationship to selfish gene theory.
31:01 Is the evo devo/selfish gene binary really valid? E.g. Dawkins’ contributions to evo devo.
33:21 What are the most compelling critiques of the selfish gene view? What does Arvid think of the alternative ways - evo devo, the extended synthesis, etc - of looking at evolution? Why is the selfish gene view valuable? In which senses is the selfish gene view incomplete? Pluralism and preferences in science.
44:38 The empirical consequences of the gene’s-eye view: extended phenotypes and selfish genetic elements. Plus: Salman Rushdie and W.D. Hamilton’s “eternal disquiet within.”
58:40 Why should scientists study the history of ideas?
1:01:37 The role of metaphorical thinking in science.
1:06:32 The sociological reception of the selfish gene view.
1:10:04 What is the current standing and future of the gene’s-eye view?
1:14:30 The extended evolutionary synthesis: is the Modern Synthesis outdated?
1:19:32 Is there something Arvid would have liked to say but didn’t get the chance to?
1:20:31 Last words and outro.
Visit Simon’s website for information about him and to buy his book ‘SPEECH! How Language Made Us Human’:
Follow Simon on Twitter:
Two for Tea interview with Sean B. Carroll:
The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (linguistic relativity):
Simon’s Areo article on Ukraine and the United Nations:
00.00 Opening and introduction.
2:25 Simon reads from his book ‘SPEECH! How Language Made Us Human’.
13:00 Animal sounds vs. human language. Simon’s theory of the key to and origins of language: the “digitisation of noise.”
17:25 The evidence for Simon’s theory.
22:07 Nature and language as digital; an analogy with DNA and evo devo.
26:04 The revolutionary power of language for humanity. Iona reads from Simon’s book—language as an act of transportation, both connecting us with others and distancing us from the immediate basis of experience. Plus: the dangers of being trapped by language (“the trap of identity”, “the trap of culture”, etc.) and a Babylonian diversion.
37:27 Japanese enka music and Jero, the black American enka singer: a cautionary tale against feeling one’s culture is special and unique. This is true at the individual level, too. This is an illusion caused by language. Further discussion and examples of this illusion and how it (sometimes dangerously) misleads and divides us. The artificiality of culture: our natures are all calibration, stemming from language and culture. Simon’s Japanese experience.
49:48 Simon’s views on the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (linguistic relativity).
55:01 The power of music and its (lack of?) relation to language. Did language drive the growth of the brain?
1:04:36 Do books offer a kind of vicarious experience? Can we really communicate experience and thought to others via language? Is the world headed in the direction of a universal culture (but not a monoculture!)?
1:07:06 Using language and argument instead of violence. Is democracy an evolutionarily stable strategy? How do we apply this at the global level, not just the national level? Why the United Nations fails at this.
1:14:04 Last words and outro.
Follow Arjun on Twitter:
Matthew Walker’s ‘Why We Sleep’:
00.00 Opening and intro. The Factual: credibility grading of news articles/stories.
2:33 The Factual’s history, its mission and ethos, its process of evaluating articles/stories, and the technology behind it.
6:25 Iona on Areo and the foundation of all good commentary—the facts. Opinion/commentary vs. news reporting. Arjun: The Factual’s algorithm and AI tries to ensure that commentary is scored according to how well-grounded in fact it is.
9:00 How the technology behind The Factual works and the methodology of assigning rankings to the four different categories that The Factual rates to come up with an overall credibility score for a piece.
13:51 The conflation of credibility with popularity in science and news. The “herd mentality” in news. Plus: why The Factual’s algorithm can’t tell you if something is true or false, only if a piece has characteristics that mark it as credible and factual—it provides a rubric, with rules of thumb, applicable with or without the algorithm. Ultimately: no easy answers to big issues in the news.
19:59 A discussion of the adversarial nature of politics—does this give it an advantage over (mostly popular) science because everything is “subjected to a ferocious scrutiny” (Iona) by political opponents with vested interests? Pros and cons of this. Challenging popular narratives in science and politics. Adversarialism in politics and journalism.
24:49 Arjun’s father and the simple, core principle of The Factual’s algorithm: read multiple sources/viewpoints. Give people the tools to decide for themselves. The Factual’s commenting methodology. How to cure polarisation.
29:42 The perils of internet discourse in the social media age: Facebook comments and the end of friendships and the flaws of the Twitter algorithm. An age of polarisation and bitter division, online and offline. How can The Factual help us move beyond this?
34:20 Why are people interested in the news? Why is knowing the news and reading good journalism good for people? Where did Arjun’s interest in the news come from? Why reading the news should be enjoyable rather than anxiety/anger-inducing. Why news shouldn’t take over your life. The Factual’s business model.
41:23 Metric obsession and how The Factual is different.
45:21 Arjun’s colleague Alex and the importance of double-checking and questioning the algorithm.
47:07 The erosion of free speech—big tech algorithms, social media, and censorship. How we all engage in curation and why curation is better than censorship. How best to deal with cranks and mis/disinformation—and how the tech giants get it wrong. The poisoning of discourse by cancel culture and how social media enables cancel culture.
1:00:34 Polarisation and the continual subdivision of people into smaller and smaller groups and the effects of all this on public discourse. Twitter is NOT representative of the world. Why a multiplicity of platforms is good and why we must learn how to best use them.
1:04:43 How does Arjun think news might be consumed in the future, or how does he hope it will be consumed?
1:09:09 Last words and outro.
Visit Oliver’s website:
Follow Oliver on Twitter:
Oliver’s most recent book ‘Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals’:
Oliver’s book ‘The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking’:
Oliver’s book ‘HELP!: How to Become Slightly Happier and Get a Bit More Done’:
Samuel Johnson’s 1751 essay on procrastination, ‘Idleness and anxious and miserable state’:
Iona’s Letter correspondence with Nir Eyal on technology and distraction:
Nir’s book ‘Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life’:
Visakan Veeraswamy’s appearance on Two for Tea:
Ethan Strauss’s article ‘Pity the Zoomer Athlete’:
‘How to Live on 24 Hours a Day’ by Arnold Bennett:
The Pomodoro Technique:
00.00 Opening and introduction.
1:47 Iona reads from Samuel Johnson’s 1751 essay on procrastination, ‘Idleness and anxious and miserable state’. How it relates to Oliver’s book ‘Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals’.
8:45 Procrastination as a timeless phenomenon, though technology and social media make it worse. Our desire to “not focus”.
9:46 A précis of ‘Four Thousand Weeks’. What leads us astray in our relationship with time? Do we try to avoid the unpleasantness of “finitude” - the knowledge that our time is limited? Are we just trying to avoid discomfort?
14:15 The feeling of “irreparable loss” when we waste time - and the cycle of feeling guilt at this, thus leading to more avoidance and procrastination. How do we navigate this cycle of distraction?
20:53 What is the escape from this cycle? Is there one? Or must we just accept its absurdity to gain liberation?
24:29 The pleasures of doing versus the pleasures of having done (dance vs academia). Do we vacate value from the present to the future? And: a diversion on the proprietary and Nir Eyal on distraction. How has our attention changed over the decades and centuries - has it gotten better or worse?
39:01 Is the self a “road to hell”? Self-improvement and efficiency vs absorption in something larger. Is the self overrated?
44:00 The problem with productivity hacks and self-improvement. The real route to freedom. One of Iona’s mantras: you don’t have to wait until tomorrow.
50:10 On neglecting the right things.
52:24 On FOMO, being a generalist vs a specialist, and trade-offs.
1:01:35 More on procrastination and how to beat it: theory vs practice. The Pomodoro Technique, setting maximums, and more. But beware: never think of such exercises as allowing you to transcend limitation - this is impossible.
1:07:47 Oliver reads a passage from ‘Four Thousand Weeks’.
1:10:42 Last words and outro.
Buy Matt and Alina Chan’s book ‘Viral: The Search for the Origin of COVID-19’:
Matt’s website, where you can find out more about him and his other books and work:
Follow Matt on Twitter:
Some of Michael Worobey’s work on the origins of Covid-19:
Two for Tea episode with Azra Raza on fighting cancer:
Two for Tea episode with Brian D. Earp on circumcision:
Iona’s Areo article on circumcision:
00.00 Opening and introduction: the debate over the origins of Covid-19, the reception of and controversy over ‘Viral’, and why the origins debate matters for everyone.
8:40 Will the origins debate ever be settled?
18:58 What we know for certain plus some possible scenarios of how Covid-19 spread. Matt explains why the ‘lab-leak’ hypothesis is plausible.
25:28 Objections to the lab-leak hypothesis and Matt’s responses.
42:30 Here be technical scientific stuff: the cutting edge of knowledge in molecular biology—how furin cleavage sites work. Plus: the duties of writing about science.
49:25 More objections to the lab-leak hypothesis and Matt’s responses.
1:11:50 The benefits and risks of gain-of-function research. Plus: circumcision and the problems with the World Health Organization.
1:21:32 Does ‘Viral’ underestimate the dangers of zoonotic transmission of diseases? Plus: the deforestation/ecological argument about Covid’s origins.
1:24:31 Developments since the publication of ‘Viral’ and the plans for the paperback.
1:27:50 Last words and outro.
Follow Alex on Twitter:
Buy Alex’s book ‘The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time’:
Buy Alex’s book ‘The Upward Spiral Workbook: A Practical Neuroscience Program for Reversing the Course of Depression’:
Iona’s book ‘Our Tango World Vol. 1’:
Iona’s book ‘Our Tango World Vol. 2’:
00.00 Opening and introduction.
1:57 How Alex became interested in neuroscience, addiction, and depression.
4:44 Alex’s own experiences with depression and the nature of depression. Depression, diagnosis, and the brain.
13:16 Why we should stop obsessing over the diagnosis of depression and start treating diagnosis as a starting-off point to do something about the issue. Depression as a continuum. Iona’s experiences of depression.
21:59 The artificial distinction between “real chemical depression” and “situational depression” and how life experiences affect you at the level of the brain. Why medication is just one of many ways to combat depression.
27:01 A discussion of the relationship between life circumstances and depression.
42:16 The small, positive steps one can take to overcome depression and find fulfilment.
45:11 Iona’s two different forms of pleasure/satisfaction (of doing and of having done) and ensuing discussion on how individuals’ brains differ.
52:37 On the tools and habits that will help you gain greater fulfilment (and a diversion on sharing the same lab as Sam Harris).
1:02:11 The benefits and hazards of faking it till you make it when it comes to depression. Taking actions rather than being hamstrung by feelings.
1:10:13 Some questions for Alex from listeners. Is depression evolutionarily adaptive? Does anti-depressant medication lead to long-term dependency? How would you reach out to a friend who has withdrawn into depression?
1:21:39 What does Alex think is the most underrated thing a person who is depressed can do to help themselves?
1:23:55 Last words and outro.
Follow Nicholas on Twitter:
The Human Nature Lab at Yale University, of which Nicholas is the director:
Buy Nicholas’ books, including his latest, ‘Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live’:
Nicholas’ previous appearance on the podcast:
0.00 Opening and introduction.
2:10 The history of plagues and the typical three-phase cycle (immediate, intermediate, and post-pandemic) of respiratory pandemics—and how Covid has conformed to that pattern. Have we reached “the end of the beginning” (i.e. the end of the immediate phase) rather than “the beginning of the end” of this pandemic? What will the intermediate and post-pandemic phases look like? What if there is a new, vaccine-resistant, more lethal variant?
11:36 Is the lifting of all Covid restrictions in England premature? How vaccination/exposure rates affect whether or not it is wise to lift restrictions.
18:22 What might the long term effects of infection with Covid be? Could there be long term disabling effects on those who survive a Covid infection? What are Nicholas’ views on “long Covid”?
23:34 How effective are masks in preventing Covid infection/transmission?
28:34 Which countries have been worst affected by the pandemic? Why?
31:06 Which countries fared best? Why?
36:41 Whence distrust in health authorities during the pandemic? How should public health messaging be communicated? Plus: how Covid hit us at an already very vulnerable moment and exploited pre-existing social, cultural, and economic issues. How should we encourage vaccination uptake?
48:36 The psychological impacts of pandemics, historically and today: the search for meaning in religion, politics, and more.
52:35 How has Nicholas’ own life changed because of the pandemic? Plus: biological vs social endings of pandemics.
56:38 Last words and outro.
Discover Rob’s writing, interviews, and other work on his website:
Follow Rob on Twitter:
Rob’s essay ‘America's Lost Boys and Me’:
Rob’s essay ‘Elite universities should stop prizing victimhood’:
00.00 Opening and introduction.
1:45 Rob’s difficult upbringing and background: foster care, adoption, drugs, and alcohol.
6:59 Why social, emotional, and cultural variables matter enormously for kids’ life outcomes—it’s not all about economics.
16:00 More on Rob’s personal background and how it has informed his views; Iona reads from Rob’s article ‘America's Lost Boys and Me’.
24:47 What were the “lingering effects” of his upbringing on Rob? How his military experience helped him.
28:05 Iona’s “more common or garden unhappy childhood” as related to Rob’s upbringing and its effects on him. Some experiences and feelings in common,
32:18 Iona and Rob’s very different experiences of university life. Plus: the ‘controversy’ around one of Rob’s teachers, Erika Christakis, and the origin of his concept of “luxury beliefs.”
41:53 Rob explains his concept of “luxury beliefs.” Signalling one’s status as an elite: one can afford to worry about relatively trivial transgressions and impose such taboos on poorer people; their jobs are less worthy of concern than sticking to the elite’s ever-changing taboos. Storms over “cultural appropriation”, use of the n-word, and using the OK hand symbol. Why cancel culture is real for blue-collar people. Middle-class ignorance of working-class people and the classism of cancel culture and luxury beliefs.
56:32 Rob’s examples of luxury belief: all family structures are equal, downplaying the value of hard work and agency. Is being anti-vax a luxury belief?
1:03:13 Iona on the flip-side to downplaying hard luck: some successful people won’t admit to the role of luck in their success and some hard work is thwarted by bad luck. Further discussion.
1:08:24 Discussion of the stable two-parent family structure as an ideal and why that idea receives pushback (and how such pushback is akin to arguments over ‘fatphobia’). Discussion of Iona’s caveats about the desirability of the stable two-parent family structure: stability isn’t everything (consider a stable but miserable situation).
1:15:47 Has Rob noticed different atmospheres in the U.K. vs. the U.S. regarding wokeness and luxury beliefs in university culture? What is the future of wokeness? The case of Jordan Peterson and Cambridge.
1:22:05 Rob’s article ‘Elite universities should top prizing victimhood’ and the case of Mackenzie Fierceton. Victimhood, disadvantage, and suffering as cultural currency in higher education. Plus: Iona and Rob’s experiences and views of the university admissions process.
1:33:32 Iona’s experiences of being accused of having had a privileged upbringing. A discussion of the narrowness of the concept of privilege as it is usually used today. How most people can frame their life stories either as ones of privilege or suffering. How prizing victimhood creates perverse incentives: the Mackenzie Fierceton story.
1:39:06 Race, victimhood, woke gatekeeping/race games, and gaming the system.
1:43:36 Last words and outro.
Follow Alan on Twitter:
Alan’s academic profile:
Alan and Josh Szeps’ special speaker podcast series ‘Permission to Think’ homepage:
Josh Szeps’ podcast series ‘Uncomfortable Conversations’, of which ‘Permission to Think’ is under the aegis:
Josh Szeps’ appearance on ‘Two for Tea’:
Interview with Alan in the ‘Times Higher Education’:
‘Two for Tea’ episode with Jesse Singal:
‘Trans Ideology and the New Ptolemaism in the Academy’ by Kathleen Rowley in ‘Archives of Sexual Behavior’:
‘Should You Trust the Myers-Briggs Personality Test?’ by Laith Al-Shawaf in ‘Areo Magazine’:
‘Two for Tea’ episode with Tomiwa Owolade:
Alan’s paper ‘A Darwinian Approach to Postmodern Critical Theory: Or, How Did Bad Ideas Colonise the Academy?’ in ‘Society’:
Alan’s paper ‘Multiculturalism, Social Distance and “Islamophobia”: Refections on Anti‑racism Research in Australia and Beyond’ in ‘Society’:
‘Two for Tea’ episode with Jonathan Rauch:
00.00 Opening and introduction.
2:36 Iona reads from Alan’s interview in the ‘Times Higher Education’ about the problems he sees in academia and asks him about the problem of ‘wokery’ in academia and how it has affected his own institution, wider society, and academic science/tech.
6:45 Specific examples of wokery infecting academia: diversity training, no-go research areas, and censorship. Wokery within Alan’s own discipline of music.
11:45 What is going wrong in Australian universities? The example of implicit bias training, based on the discredited implicit association test, being used in higher education.
16:02 Cultish mindsets in academia and the discouragement of scepticism.
18:25 The corporatisation and marketisation of academia. The “perfect storm”: the combination of identity politics and brand/risk-aware corporatisation in academia.
22:12 How is the culture of diversity training affecting universities?
26:30 Is testing for implicit bias simply workplace totalitarianism? The ‘who you are’ over ‘what you do/say’ mindset. Clumsy and counterproductive attempts to measure injustice and “redress the balance.” ‘Representation’ in music, particularly orchestral music. Does dealing with economic inequalities earlier in the ‘pipeline’ matter more?
40:30 Socioeconomic and cultural factors in inequalities.
44:25 Discussions of Alan’s evolutionary psychological/memetic approaches to understanding the success and influence of postmodern critical theory and Iona’s view that tribalism is a universal heuristic, including in the ‘anti-woke’ circle. Alan: “Resist the heuristic!” The risk of orthodoxy taking over.
1:00:46 What universities should be and the decline of public trust in higher education. Alan’s defence of universities. What are the risks to universities?
1:11:00 How has the atmosphere on campus changed since Alan began his academic career?
1:12:10 Last words and outro.
GeneralFind out more about Meghan, her books, and articles, on her website:https://www.meghandaum.com/ Follow Meghan on Twitter:https://twitter.com/meghan_daum Buy Meghan’s book ‘The Problem With Everything: My Journey Through The New Culture Wars’:https://www.meghandaum.com/the-problem-with-everything Buy Meghan’s book ‘The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects Of Discussion’:https://www.meghandaum.com/the-unspeakable Listen to Meghan’s ‘The Unspeakable Podcast’:https://www.theunspeakablepodcast.com/ ReferencesMeghan’s novel ‘The Quality of Life Report’:https://www.meghandaum.com/the-quality-of-life-report The volume Meghan edited, ‘Selfish, Shallow & Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers On The Decision Not To Have Kids’:https://www.meghandaum.com/selfish-shallow-self-absorbed Timestamps0:58 Opening and introduction1:55 Iona reads a passage from an essay in Meghan’s ‘The Unspeakable’ in aid of reflection upon the choice of subjects in non-fiction and the freedoms (and limits) the genre of the personal essay gives authors as opposed to memoirs and non-fiction. Including further discussion on Meghan’s experience with fiction-writing. 16:51 Meghan’s lack of fear in addressing difficult topics. Today’s atmosphere for public thinking compared to earlier in Meghan’s career. The very different reception accorded her most recent book ‘The Problem With Everything’ compared to her previous writings. The radical cultural shift since 2014/15/16: the rise of ‘social justice’ and the casting out of ‘the problematic.’23:42 The origins of ‘The Problem With Everything’: the problem with contemporary feminism and the rise of the ‘badass’ trope. The “commodification of grievance” in recent years. How Meghan’s book expanded from a discussion of feminism to become a much broader study of the culture wars.29:42 The rise of the race discourse to prominence in the culture wars. Are there unspoken tensions between modern feminism and anti-racism? Has race superseded gender/feminism as a culture war flashpoint? The rise of the ‘Karen.’ Where have all the thoughtful people gone? The hijacking of big issues by the least thoughtful among us.35:05 Reflections on #MeToo. Has there been a “valorisation of victimhood”? Further reflections on the reception of ‘The Problem With Everything’ and the radical culture shift since c. 2014. 52:37 Where are the ‘edgy’ woke folk? Is there a risk of becoming obsessive about all of the woke inanity?1:00:27 The politicisation of everything. The struggle not to constantly ‘harrumph.’ Can we avoid being angry with people rather than ideas? How much certainty should we have in our beliefs? How do we find a balance between being unapologetic and being epistemically humble? Why is it so difficult to say “I don’t know”?1:08:10 The generational divide between those who grew up online and those who didn’t. Meghan’s view that hers is the last generation to have experienced an analogue world; her generation has gotten old/obsolete without being old; she sometimes feels closer to boomers decades older than her than millennials much closer to her age.1:15:35 Iona reads from ‘The Problem With Everything’; a discussion on the role of women, childhood, and moral panics (child abductions, the Satanic panic, ‘the latchkey kid’) ensues. The tension between safety and freedom in our personal lives (particularly in women’s personal lives).1:23:42 Iona’s feelings about Meghan’s ‘The Unspeakable’ book: how it affected her more personally than Meghan’s other books; the similarities she felt to Meghan’s description of being involved as a volunteer in foster care. Iona’s childhood relationship with her sister, who was a parent figure, growing up. Why Meghan and Iona couldn’t wait to be done with childhood. Plus: on not wanting to have kids.1:37:22 How did Meghan’s serious freak illness and miraculous survival some years ago affect her views on life?1:40:08 Last words and outro.
Order Jacob’s forthcoming book, ‘Free Speech: A History from Socrates to Social Media’:
Jacob’s podcast series on free speech, ‘Clear and Present Danger’:
Follow Jacob on Twitter:
Discover more about Jacob’s think tank, Justitia:
00:56 Iona introduces Jacob and his forthcoming book ‘Free Speech: A History from Socrates to Social Media’.
2:28 Iona reads some passages from Jacob’s book on the Nazis vs. free speech, including how Hitler hoisted the Weimar Republic by its own petard (or, why intolerance of intolerance doesn’t work).
17:21 Does censorship of bigoted and authoritarian ideas work to prevent such ideas from taking hold? The “Weimar fallacy.”
23:18 Free speech as the guarantor of freedom: Trump’s America compared to Putin’s Russia and Modi’s India.
31:44 The counterintuitive idea of free speech and its fragility in practice. “Milton’s Curse”—selectivity about free speech, even among its greatest historical champions, from Milton to Voltaire. The need for a strong culture of free speech (without which legal protections are almost meaningless).
36:30 Iona’s “footnote” on Milton, whose ‘Areopagitica’, of course, is the namesake of ‘Areo’. Why, despite Milton being an imperfect champion of free speech, ‘Areo’ is appropriately named! Plus: the history of free speech in Britain, the two ancient and competing conceptions of free speech (elitist and egalitarian), and Milton’s more radical-on-free-speech (and oft-neglected) Leveller contemporaries. The tragic irony of Milton becoming a censor. How Milton’s authorial intentions have been undercut by the radical implications of his arguments and the power of his language.
47:21 The historically influential antiquity-rooted elitist vs. egalitarian concepts of free speech (or, the Roman vs. Athenian concepts of free speech) and “elite panic” whenever a new form of disruptive and democratising communications technology, from the printing press and the radio to the internet and social media, arises.
54:50 On elite distrust of the lower classes—we can’t trust them with new communications technologies or free speech!
1:00:18 Is the contemporary “golden age of free speech” in a process of decline? Are we seeing a “global free speech recession” alongside a “democracy recession”? Rising authoritarianism and the worrying loss of faith in free speech (and internet freedom) in liberal democracies. Many on both right and left now seem to prefer purging ideas to debating them.
1:03:52 What can be done about the free speech recession? Taiwan’s tech-based g0v initiative—combatting disinformation and promoting new forms of democracy for the digital age without censorship. The tensions between the “Analogue City” and the “Digital City” and how we must find solutions for these without sacrificing free speech. Plus: how the lack of free speech in China made the Covid pandemic worse.
1:10:01 The worrying power of private social media and other internet companies over what we can say and hear. John Stuart Mill, George Grote, and the tyranny of the majority: the need for a culture of tolerance and openness to dissenting views. The problems with centralised platforms that are pretty much monopolies and the need for technological rather than legal solutions to these. The need for a “more decentralised social media ecosystem.”
1:16:30 Last words.
Follow Nev on Twitter:
Buy Nev’s first novel ‘Murder in Old Bombay’ here:
Pre-order the sequel ‘Peril at the Exposition’ here:
The Rajabai Clock Tower deaths, upon which Nev’s novel is based:
Sample Vikas Adam’s reading of the book here:
Iona’s podcast with Dinyar Patel about the Indian independence pioneer Dadabhai Naoroji:
Nev’s account of visiting the Rajabai Clock Tower:
Interview with Nev by Marshal Zeringue, April 21 2021:
Sign up to Nazneen Engineer’s Zoroastrian survey:
3:04 Nev reads a passage from ‘Murder in Old Bombay’.
8:06 Nev discusses the historical details of the infamous Rajabai Clock Tower deaths and her knowledge of the story growing up. How the mysteriousness of the case intrigued her and inspired her to create a fictional detective and write a novel to ‘solve’ this old crime.
12:15 Nev’s love of the Sherlock Holmes stories and how this influenced her novel. Her other influences and the Easter eggs in the novel. Her protagonist, Captain Jim.
19:15 A comparison between Nev and other Raj-era historical fiction writers Sujata Massey and Abir Mukherjee.
24:33 Clashes of identity and problems of belonging in Nev’s novel, particularly around Parsi identity - and how this relates to Iona and Nev’s personal experiences. How dealing with such issues affected the novel.
32:29 Iona’s reading experience and Nev’s writing experience. The audio version of ‘Murder in Old Bombay’.
35:46 Nev’s style. The panoramic, cinematographic nature of Nev’s writing and scope. Comparison to Salman Rushdie - writers who span two cultures and who are concerned with hybridity.
37:27 Where/how did Nev plan and write the novel? Nev’s visit to the Rajabai Clock Tower and Iona’s memories of it from when she lived in Bombay.
45:22 Nev reads another passage from the book.
49:08 What did Nev mean when she said “Truly, we write to discover what we think” in an interview from last year? What did she discover she thought when writing her novel? Questions of identity and patriotism and Nev’s ‘middle ground’. Complexities and contradictions in human behaviour.
54:41 Good novels explore moments of tension and ambivalences in human nature.
55:40 Nev reads another passage from the book.
1:00:00 Iona reads a passage from the book.
1:05:50 Nev discusses the forthcoming sequel to ‘Murder in Old Bombay’, ‘Peril at the Exposition’. How the problems of the turn of the century period she sets her fiction in are reflected today. The types of historical events Nev is attracted to.
1:14:10 Nev reads another passage from the book.
1:19:50 Last words.
Follow Christopher on Twitter:
Christopher’s Amazon page, with links to his books, including ‘Moral Combat: Why the War on Violent Video Games Is Wrong’, ‘Suicide Kings’, and ‘How Madness Shaped History: An Eccentric Array of Maniacal Rulers, Raving Narcissists, and Psychotic Visionaries’:
Christopher’s Areo articles:
Christopher’s article ‘My APA Resignation’ in Quillette:
More on the ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders’
The Goldwater rule:
2:36 Christopher discusses the flaws of the American Psychological Association (APA) and his association with and resignation from it.
7:22 The new groupthink and monoculture among organisations and associations, including and specifically the APA, on ‘systemic/structural racism’: instead of focusing on their original missions, such theoretical and scientific organisations seem to be very focused on this newly fashionable issue (it is important to note that this is a separate issue from the truth or falsehood of systemic/structural racism itself). The problem of ‘institutional capture’.
12:39 The victory of politics and politicking (‘political correctness’) over scientific investigation. The flaws of the Implicit Association Test (IAT) and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) trainings: how the promulgation of these is based on business and profit rather than science.
16:52 Iona reads from Christopher’s Quillette piece on his resignation from the APA; discussion on the problem of political correctness over scientific integrity ensues, including how rapidly this has become an issue. How this will damage psychology and how it is perceived as a discipline.
21:58 The task of psychology, especially clinical psychology, with particular reference to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), versus this new consensus. Iona reads from Christopher’s ‘How Madness Shaped History’. Christopher discusses the problems, from a psychological point of view, with ‘lived experience’ and ‘safetyism’.
30:37 The differences between dealing with issues, both contentious and banal, on a societal level versus an individual, psychological level, with reference to sexual assault and obesity.
38:55 A discussion of more problems in psychology, with particular reference to the ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders’.
49:12 How effective are pharmaceuticals in treating mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia?
54:28 The bureaucracy of mental health care and the relation of problems like homelessness, criminal violence, and police shootings to mental health issues. Why we need to return to some kind of state-sponsored asylum-like system (but one which is humane and rational)
1:01:02 The connections between mental health problems and violence and why we are so hesitant to talk about these. How do we deal with such issues?
1:06:25 A discussion of science denialism and opportunism by ideologues on both left and right: people adopt scientific positions that support their views and ignore ones that contradict their views.
1:13:57 Political tribalism in the pandemic versus science (on all sides).
1:22:05 The Goldwater rule.
1:28:34 Last words.
Mónica’s Link Tree with links to preorder her upcoming book ‘I Never Thought Of It That Way’, her website, and more:
Follow Mónica on Twitter:
Braver Angels website:
John R. Wood Jr’s previous appearances on Two for Tea:
Buster Benson’s appearance on Two for Tea:
3:05 Iona reads from Mónica’s upcoming book ‘I Never Thought Of It That Way’, leading to a discussion of the complexities of identity and expressing oneself and the temptation to use membership of certain groups as a shield in arguments.
12:53 Our interpersonal “internal assumption assistant”: positives and negatives.
14:38 Mónica’s lens when writing her book. What angle on polarisation and having better conversations does Mónica’s book have that other such books lack? The problem of “chaining.” “It’s all people.”
20:24 How our attitudes and beliefs arise from our particular experiences across time rather than rational cogitation. Why we must learn to ask where other people are coming from instead of arguing with people’s conclusions directly.
24:41 The process of changing minds: again, experiences and relationships matter most.
30:28 The benefits of listening to and learning from and being interested in other people. Mónica’s idea of “respect.” The importance of being curious and open. Mónica - reframing the way we interact with others.
36:55 The dangers of making assumptions about other people’s views when we interact with them. The dehumanising and destabilising effects of social media on our discourse: do we spend too much time in virtual reality?
42:41 The benefits of being surprised.
44:13 Mónica’s experience as a journalist and how this has informed her worldview. Her love of conversation.
48:48 The kinds of questions that are good to ask people, that they respond well to. The difference between questions that inspire openness vs. clamming up - specifics or the way in which we ask the question/who is asking us?
54:13 Iona’s main problem with Twitter: you don’t just talk to people, you can see, at the same time, what they’re saying *about* you to others. “Chaining” and the failure to be curious. How to be more open: small steps.
59:54 Our attachments to our beliefs and the ‘zealotry of converts’ paradox. The pain of changing our beliefs on big issues. Opinions as “snapshots.” How to loosen those attachments in conversation - and why we should do this. Listening to other people doesn’t mean you endorse their views.
1:05:40 Do our conversational difficulties come from a deep fear of being wrong? [‘Editorial’ note: the gif Iona mentions is from the British comedy Peep Show, not Inglourious Basterds!] How do we overcome this fear? The long, slow process of changing one’s mind - the distant and often unintended consequences of arguments.
1:11:52 Twitter question: are there any guests Mónica would refuse to have on the Braver Angels podcast and if so, on what criteria?
1:22:29 Twitter question: What had to be trimmed from Mónica’s book that she would have liked to have kept in? Is she planning a second book?
1:27:14 Is there anything Mónica wishes Iona had asked her or that Iona didn’t give her a chance to talk about?
Follow Ben on Twitter:
Buy ‘Christopher Hitchens: What He Got Right, How He Went Wrong, and Why He Still Matters’ by Ben Burgis:
Follow Matt on Twitter:
Daniel’s LinkTree (contains links to his website, Substack, and more):
Follow Daniel on Twitter:
Daniel’s article ‘Naming the Unnameable: Salman Rushdie, Christopher Hitchens and the Defence of Free Speech’ in Areo Magazine:
Christopher Hitchens bibliography:
Channel 4 News report on Hitchens’s death, December 2011:
Hitchens’s Vanity Fair essay on J.G. Ballard and sci-fi, ‘The Catastrophist’, 2010:
The Brothers Hitchens debate God and Iraq, 2008:
The New Philosophers:
Hitchens’s Vanity Fair essay on ‘Why Women Aren’t Funny’, 2007:
4:34 Daniel reads from his Areo article ‘Naming the Unnameable: Salman Rushdie, Christopher Hitchens and the Defence of Free Speech’.
10:29 Matt reads from his forthcoming book ‘How Hitchens Can Save The Left: Rediscovering Fearless Liberalism in an Age of Counter-Enlightenment’.
13:34 Ben reads from his forthcoming book ‘Christopher Hitchens: What He Got Right, How He Went Wrong, and Why He Still Matters’.
18:40 Ben discusses why he was attracted to Hitchens in the first place and why he decided to write a book about him: rehabilitation of what Ben believes to be Hitchens’ best parts.
28:15 Matt answers the same question. Hitchens as a “first principles thinker”.
34:02 Daniel answers the same question. His seduction by Hitchens and subsequent maturation as an admirer. Some of Hitchens’s flaws from Daniel’s point of view.
39:29 A discussion of Hitchens the literary critic and how his literary views relate to his political and moral views. Iona’s disappointment in Hitchens’s dismissal of the sci-fi genre.
44:49 Ben talks about how Hitchens was and remains a figure who needs to be written about and argued with and the reason for writing a book about him: the story of someone who goes badly wrong is more interesting than someone who was right.
46:49 Matt on the irreconcilability of and tensions within some of Hitchens’s positions.
43:04 Daniel asks Ben and Matt their views on what Hitchens got right and what he got wrong/how he went wrong and an ensuing discussion on Hitchens’s politics, especially on Afghanistan, Iraq, and interventionism (and a comparison of Peter Hitchens’s views on the same).
1:05:57 Matt discusses Hitchens on the New Philosophers and the evolution of liberal interventionism.
1:09:14 Iona discusses the feasibility of communism some of Hitchens’s foundational (and consistent) values: universalism, liberalism, humanism, anti-authoritarianism, and the defence of free speech (and freedom in general). Hitchens’s “trollish” side: uncowed by political correctness or consensus.
1:14:14 Daniel talks about Hitchens on the civil war within Islam. An ensuing discussion on the relevance of this today: arguments over the hijab and the concept of ‘Islamophobia’. Ben compares the misuse of ‘Islamophobia’ with the misuse of ‘anti-Semitism’. Hitchens and Israel/Palestine. Plus: Ben discusses his upcoming book defending the radical left economic view in response to Iona’s points above.
Dorian’s academic profile:
Follow Dorian on Twitter:
Dorian’s article ‘MIT Abandons Its Mission. And Me.’, in Bari Weiss’s ‘Common Sense’ Substack:
Dorian’s ‘Wall Street Journal’ article, ‘The Views That Made Me Persona Non Grata at MIT’:
Watch Dorian’s cancelled lecture, ‘Climate and the Potential for Life on Other Planets’:
‘Life on Mars: The Ethical Implications of Colonizing the Red Planet’ by Thomas Cortellesi in ‘Areo Magazine’:
‘Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe’ by Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee:
2:24 What makes a planet habitable and how we find exoplanets.
8:18 Dorian’s research on the cloud effects on tidally locked planets - and how these effects suggest these planets might be more habitable/Earth-like than previously thought.
14:10 How some exoplanets and their clouds provide a model for the possible future of climate change on Earth.
15:31 Dorian’s views on the Fermi paradox - where are the aliens? Why Dorian believes extraterrestrial life is more likely than not.
20:23 Why we should hope to find no life at all on exoplanets rather than finding lots of extinct civilisations.
21:10 Twitter question: what does Dorian think a realistic time scale and strategy for colonising exoplanets would be?
22:39 Twitter question: how useful is the Drake equation?
24:08 Twitter question: what are Dorian’s views on von Neumann self-replicating probes? (And a digression on ‘decolonisation’ and the possible impacts of us colonising other planets.)
27:50 Dorian’s views on the ‘Rare Earth’ thesis, which posits that complex life is very unlikely to be found elsewhere in the universe.
29:32 What does Dorian’s exoplanet work tell us about climate change? What does Dorian think are the main misconceptions about anthropogenic climate change? What we don’t know: the future of climate change
32:21 Dorian’s work on rogue planets - could these harbour life?
35:20 Has the atmosphere in physics departments changed recently? Is there pressure from the woke left and climate denialist right? Academia, cancel culture, and chilling.
39:52 Why science should be based on merit, not politics.
40:22 Who does Dorian think Iona should interview?