Episodes

  • NOTE: This is a special guest episode of Jason's new podcast Clever Creature. Please subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts!

    The Moleskine is open, the page is staring back accusingly/
    Like 'come on, Punk, what makes you think you possibly could fill the likes of me?

    Reflections on a big creative leap of faith: the making of this podcast. A staples manufacturer on the brink of death, taking solace in his gut flora and the memory of his daughter's love for LOL Surprise dolls. A song about deserts, real and figurative. A conversation with Jason's son Emre about the Ice Cream Desert and music-making as a doorway. And a "bonus track" 7 minute guided meditation at the end.
    . . .
    You can learn more and join my mailing list at my website.
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    And hey—I'm making this first season all on my own—it's a blast, but it takes a lot of time! Please consider supporting the show by joining our creative community on Himalaya Premium. Just download the Himalaya app for any smartphone, search for the show, and click "join membership" at the bottom.
    . . .
    Episode art by Nathan Gelgud
    Theme song by Emre Gots
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  • [From February through March 22, 2020 (his last day hosting Think Again) Jason will be revisiting favorite past episodes. Jason's new show, starting May 12th, is Clever Creature with Jason Gots.]
    Adult life, with all its schedules and responsibilities, can turn into a kind of library of locked boxes. The ones we open every day sit on a shelf at eye level, their keys clipped to a carabiner at our waist: Set the alarm. Pack a gym bag. Pick up milk for the kids.
    But on the lower shelves and in the dusty back rooms there’s an ominous jumble of odd-shaped containers. They hold the stories that don’t fit so neatly into the skin we’ve decided to live in. Maybe we’ve misplaced the keys, or maybe we’ve deliberately lost them.
    My guest today keeps all the keys close at hand. In his stories and graphic novels worlds collide and, as the fairy Ariel puts it in Shakespeare’s Tempest, they “suffer a sea change, into something rich and strange”. The walls of reality are permeable, and dangerous magic is always seeping through.
    Neil Gaiman is the author of the Sandman graphic novels, The Graveyard Book, Coraline, American Gods, and many other wonderful things. His latest is a marvelous retelling of Norse Mythology, with most of the nasty bits left in.
    Surprise conversation-starter clips in this episode:
    Barbara Oakley on learning speeds and styles
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  • [From February through March 22, 2020 (his last day hosting Think Again) Jason will be revisiting favorite past episodes. Jason's new show, starting May 12th, is Clever Creature with Jason Gots.]
    I’m underground as I write this, one day before taping the conversation you’re about to hear, speeding through New York City subway tunnels that aren’t all that ancient but whose darkness, and rats, and crumbling, esoteric infrastructure holds fear and fascination enough for anyone who contemplates them. Waking up this morning—notice how you wake up, not down—I felt my already barely remembered dreams sliding off of me in layers, like leaves, or hands. And the longing to submit to those hands and slide back down, underground, into the caverns of sleep.
    My guest today, Robert MacFarlane, has dug deeper than I could ever hope to into the meanings and magnetism of the underworld —tunnels, caves, sinkholes, and the living, fungal earth of our world and our imaginations. At one point in his new book UNDERLAND he brings up the fact that to a neutrino, our solid physical world is just a a mesh—Mount Everest is a wide-gauge net it can pass easily through. In MacFarlane’s writing, the layers of the world are transparent, overlapping, always already present. He’s often called a “nature writer”, but that’s a poor proxy for what he actually is: a philosopher poet with the gift of sight in the darkness, whose penetrating vision turns the world inside out.
    Surprise conversation starters in this episode:
    E.O. Wilson on the world of pheromones
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  • [From February through March 22, 2020 (his last day hosting Think Again) Jason will be revisiting favorite past episodes. Jason's new show, starting May 12th, is Clever Creature with Jason Gots.]
    --
    Faith in anything is its own special form of madness.
    It’s a challenge to entropy, and entropy takes no challenge lightly. If there’s any better metaphor for this struggle than trying to make a big budget movie with even a shred of integrity, I haven’t found it.
    On the one hand, you’ve got this impossible dream. This faith in the beautiful thing that’s supposed to emerge at at the end of the process. On the other hand, the process is a hellish sausage-making machine of studio bosses, financing, and acts of god like four days of flash flooding in the middle of your big shoot. You might as well be Don Quixote, doing battle with a windmill.
    What kind of masochist would put themselves through that?
    My guest today, Terry Gilliam, is that very masochist. And we should be grateful, because his stomach for the fight has given us movies like THE FISHER KING, BRAZIL, 12 MONKEYS and MONTY PYTHON’s THE LIFE OF BRIAN. And now, almost 30 years after his first, biblically disastrous attempt to make it, THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE. Starring Adam Driver and Jonathan Pryce, the movie is as funny, thrilling, and unpretentiously deep as the best of Gilliam’s work. It’s also kind of like one of those Russian matryoshka dolls: a film inside a film inside a film, all of them metaphors for the holy folly of believing in anything at all.
    The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is out April 19th in select theaters and on demand video.
    Surprise conversation starters in this episode:
    Michelle Thaller on whether time is real or an illusion
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  • [From February through March 22, 2020 (his last day hosting Think Again) Jason will be revisiting favorite past episodes. Jason's new show, starting May 12th, is Clever Creature with Jason Gots.]
    --
    Among other things, music can be medicine. Like a vaccine, it sometimes works by giving your body a little taste of the disease. Other times, of course, you just wanna dance, and James Brown might be just what you need. But the medicine songs I’m talking about are the ones that break your heart open no matter many times you hear them. And you want them to—because that’s what it feels like to be alive.
    Nobody knows this better than my guest today, singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell. Like the centuries of blues and folk songs that echo through it, transubstantiated by her voice and guitar into something almost too beautiful to bear, her music is powerful medicine.
    Anaïs wrote all the songs, lyrics and the book of the new (14x Tony-nominated!) Broadway musical, HADESTOWN, directed by Rachel Chavkin. It makes new again the ancient story of the singer-songwriter Orpheus and his lover Eurydice, who he follows all the way to hell, and leads most of the way back again. 
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  • [From February through March 22, 2020 (his last day hosting Think Again) Jason will be revisiting favorite past episodes. Jason's new show, starting May 12th, is Clever Creature with Jason Gots.]
    --
    At this point, it’s very rare to read something and find myself thinking: This is something new. This is unlike anything I’ve ever read before. It doesn’t have to be written in hieroglyphs or be some kind of three-dimensional interactive reading experience with pull-out tabs and half the pages upside down. That kind of formal experimentation, in my experience as a reader, more often ends up being gimmicky and annoying than exhilarating. In fact, paradoxically, the “wow this is something new” experience often comes along with a sense that this new thing has somehow always existed, in your dreams if nowhere else. 
    Marlon James—the Jamaican writer who won the Man Booker Prize for A Brief History of Seven Killings— has done something in his new fantasy novel Black Leopard, Red Wolf that’s unlike anything I’ve ever read before. The first book of a trilogy, it’s been described as an “African Game of Thrones” and likened in scope to Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings. But the stories within stories it tells and the shifts in voice and perspective thrust you into a seething, hallucinatory, morally ambiguous world that’s part Ayahuasca dream and part blacklight nightmare, anchored in a rich African mythology that’s worlds away from all those elves, wizards, dragons, and goblins—all those well-worn tales of light versus darkness. 
    Surprise conversation-starters in this episode: 
    Jeffrey Sachs on whether Jeff Bezos should distribute his Amazon wealth
    Damian Echols on tattoos as a lifeline 
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  • [From February through March 22, 2020 (his last day hosting Think Again) Jason will be revisiting favorite past episodes. Jason's new show, starting May 12th, is Clever Creature with Jason Gots.]
    --
    Note: I feel I should let listeners know that this episode of Think Again is about surviving and thriving in the face of unspeakable trauma and sexual violence. And in order to get to the thriving, we have talk about the trauma, which may be painful for some listeners and inappropriate for kids. But I don’t want to scare anybody off—I think it’s one of the most valuable conversations we’ve ever had on the show. 
    --
    For a human child growing up, trust is the foundation of everything. We learn how to regulate our emotions, how to see the world as relatively stable and safe through the connection with the people who care for us. Severely neglected children can suffer all kinds of harm to their ability to think, connect with others, and learn. But what happens when the caring bond is not only missing, but is horribly abused? Distorted through incest and sexual violence? How do you build a self and life after that? And let’s say you somehow manage to survive to adulthood…to thrive, even. How do you fill the place in your heart where the love and the trust is supposed to be?
    My guest today has had to answer all these questions for herself. She is the playwright, author, and activist Eve Ensler. You may know her as the creator of the Vagina Monlogues. What you might not know is that all the horrors I’m talking about happened to her as a kid. Let me take that out of the passive voice: her father did that to her, and more. And he died without saying anything remotely close to “I’m sorry”. So Eve wrote his apology for him—her book THE APOLOGY is a letter to her—to Eve—in the imagined voice of her dead father, retelling what happened, why it happened, and trying to figure out in these twisted circumstances what an apology would even mean…
    Surprise conversation starters in this episode:
    Jared Diamond on immigrants and innovation 
    --
    Thoughts on relistening: 
    This episode with Eve Ensler means a lot to me. I came late to the feminist conversation about patriarchy and masculinity. About the ways men are taught to be ashamed of vulnerability, and how all that fear and shame can lead to violence. Listening back I’m struck again by this one thing she says: “Language changes everything. It’s like the word 'vagina'. If you can’t say it, you can’t see it. If you can’t see it, a lot of things can happen to it in the dark without your permission.” There is so much hope and power in the work Eve does to break the silence and encourage others to do the same. As a man, I hear it especially loud and clear when she says it’s time for men to “...make a choice. Whether they’re going to maintain allegiance to the male code or step into the next paradigm. Stopping the domination so they get to be free in this lifetime.” I hear it and I personally, enthusiastically accept that call. 
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  • [From February through March 22, 2020 (his last day hosting Think Again) Jason will be revisiting favorite past episodes. Jason's new show, starting May 12th, is Clever Creature with Jason Gots.]

    Life is full of horrible things. I dare you to deny it. Things like death, sickness, and alcoholism. And did I mention death, which lies in wait for us all? But if you talk about these things at dinner parties, or at work, or to someone you have just met in line at the grocery store, you risk being branded a negative person. In some circles, such as the state of California, negativity is like leprosy. It can really mess up your social life.
    This does not seem to trouble my guest today, who has spent much of his life turning horrible, true stories into festive comedy. like many people, I first heard David Sedaris’ unmistakable voice on public radio in the late 90s. My sister and I took a couple of his audio books on a road trip across America in her red Saturn with a bumper sticker on the back that read “Humanity is Trying”. Having Sedaris along as company somehow made the endless miles of Stuckeys’ and strip malls, and the weeping people at Elvis‘s grave side in Graceland a little less alien and terrifying. In his latest book, Calypso, David is doing his thing better than ever. It’s about what’s on his mind these days, from decluttering the English countryside, to feeding a surgically removed lump of fat to a snapping turtle, to a sister’s suicide.
    Surprise conversation-starter clips in this episode:
    Martin Amis on the “etiquette” of good writing
    Lucy Cooke on the extraordinary genitalia of female spotted hyenas
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  • Since 1976, Sharon Salzberg has been sharing ancient meditation and mindfulness practices in a voice the contemporary West can understand. Her warm, funny, down-to-earth books, dharma talks, and guided meditations have helped struggling meditators worldwide establish a strong practice and reduce the suffering in their lives. In this episode master teacher Sharon Salzberg considers whether it's ok to teach mindfulness to the armed forces, how practitioners of meditation and mindfulness should balance openness with discipline, and so much more. Sharon’s latest book is Real Happiness: a 28 day program for realizing the power of meditation, now thoroughly updated and revised for its 10th anniversary. 
    Note: This will be the last original episode of Think Again with show creator and host Jason Gots. Throughout February and March he’ll be running a retrospective of favorite episodes with new commentary. On May 12, 2020, he’ll launch a new, independent show: Clever Creature. 
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  • Thelma and Louise, Ponch and John, Pancho and Lefty, Quixote and Sancho Panza, Marx and Engels, Marx and Chast…history and literature are full of magical buddy stories. Every now and then, for reasons no one can explain, Two people come together and produce something greater, or at least very different, from the sum of their parts.
    I’m here today with one such team: the writer-cartoonist duo of Patricia Marx and Roz Chast. They’re both longtime contributors to the New Yorker and fearsome humorists in their own rights. But together they form a third fearsome thing, a thing which has created books such as Why Don’t You Write My Eulogy Now So I Can Correct it: A Mother’s Suggestions, And their latest: You Can Only Yell At Me For One Thing At A Time: Rules for Couples. They’re also the enigmatic figures behind yet a fourth thing, the legendary ukulele band Ukelear Meltdown. 
    – Jason Gots
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  • Freedom. Everyone wants it, but knowing where to look for it is another matter. And to make matters worse, the world is full of things that feel like freedom but might just get us more tangled up in everything we’re trying to escape. How much freedom can money buy? How much money? How free are you on a tropical vacation? Would uploading your consciousness into the cloud and downloading it into a robot avatar on Alpha Centauri make you more free? How about falling in love again? How about three margaritas with friends? Or six? How about falling in love again? A better government? Less government? No government at all? 
    I’m here today with Joseph Goldstein, a beloved teacher of Buddhist ideas and practice in the West and a personal inspiration to me, to talk about freedom of the mind and spirit—and the kinds of effort and insight that can lead there. Joseph is the co-founder of Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts and the author, most recently, of Mindfulness: a Practical Guide to Awakening. 
    - Jason Gots
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  • If you’d told me a couple months ago that a podcast about Dolly Parton could move me deeply and raise all kinds of questions that go straight to the wounded heart of America today, I guess I would have been skeptical to say the least.
    But that skepticism might be exactly the point. America is an image factory. Country music. Rock and Roll. New York City. Nashville. We paint with big, broad brushes. And if we’re not careful, we miss a lot of the details. 
    My guest today is audio storytelling wizard Jad Abumrad. He’s the creator and a host of Radiolab, More Perfect, and now, of Dolly Parton’s America – a nine part podcast series that achieves all those aforementioned implausible things. Jad’s trips into the Dollyverse with his co-producer Shima Oliaee reveal the country singer as something between a bodhisattva and one of those fairytale mirrors that tell you the truth about yourself. 
    – Jason Gots
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  • The other day on social media a friend asked what the heck is up with this Mr. Rogers revival. Why does everyone suddenly love this guy so much? Moments before, I had been listening to a new podcast about Dolly Parton, and her weird, almost saintlike ability to bring people together across cultural divides. In a moment of deep mistrust and cynicism, there’s this hunger for people and things worth believing in. 
    I’ve also got Bodhisattvas on the brain lately. In Mahayana Buddhism, Bodhisattvas are the embodiment of compassion. Absolute compassion for all living things, even those that really piss us off. 
    THE WORLD COULD BE OTHERWISE: the Imagination and the Bodhisattva Path is a wonderful new book by my guest today, poet, Zen priest, and translator Norman Fischer. It’s a collection of thoughts and practices for becoming Bodhisattvas ourselves, warts and all.
    A Bodhisattva commits to the impossible for the benefit of everyone. “beings are numberless: I vow to save them all.” According to Norman and a couple thousand years of Buddhist tradition, we can do this too. 
    Boddhisattvas or saints, Dolly and Fred Rogers possibly included, are needed at all times and places. But right now, when trust and kindness are in short supply, we maybe need them—and need to embody them—more than ever. 
    – Jason Gots
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  • I’ve spent more of my life than most people I know immersed by choice in what my guest today would call “scripture”. I was never much of a Roman Catholic, in spite of being dragged weekly to church until I was about 13 and could no longer be dragged, and, in my boredom, sometimes believing I saw the statue of Jesus moving on the cross. But in late adulthood, the need for spiritual meaning gripped me tight and wouldn’t let go. It led first into Judaism and Jerusalem, and then, for the past couple decades, mostly to Buddhist study and practice.
    But I’m as troubled as all the Enlightenment thinkers I know by scripture-thumping orthodoxy and intolerance of any kind. Troubled watching my wife Demet’s country, Turkey, split between retrograde, homophobic and misogynistic Islamism on the one hand and intractable secular nationalism on the other. Moses and I don’t have much in common, but like him, I get tongue-tied talking about these things. Religious, or spiritual, or scriptural ideas and practices can be so essential and become so problematic at the same time. 
    My guest today is Karen Armstrong. On these subjects, she doesn’t get tongue-tied. She’s one of the clearest and most nuanced thinkers I know of on god, religion, and scripture. Author of THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE and THE CASE FOR GOD, recipient of the TED Prize, and a co-creator of the interfaith Charter for Compassion. Her new book is called THE LOST ART OF SCRIPTURE and I’m so happy it brings her to Think Again. 
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  • While reading Deborah Levy’s novel THE MAN WHO SAW EVERYTHING and her recent “working autobiography” THE COST OF LIVING I often found myself pausing and kind of sinking into a passage I’d just read. Going back and rereading it not because my attention had wandered nor exactly to unpack an idea but because I felt the need to experience it over again. To have it happen to me. 
    Levy started her career writing plays that have been staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company and broadcast by the BBC. She is the author of multiple novels, several of which have been Man Booker Prize finalists, the short story collection Black Vodka, and two of the aforementioned “working autobiographies”. 
    The two books of hers I’ve read are packed with ideas, but like great theater, they treat ideas as verbs. They’re thought in action. In a sense they defy you to talk about them. But let's try to, anyway.
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  • The phrase “common sense” can be misleading. The way we use it in casual conversation, it means something like “that which is obvious to any sensible person, of course”. It’s like what philosopher Daniel Dennett says about the word “surely”. Surely we can all agree that it’s just an innocent word, right? Surely I’m not manipulating you by starting this sentence with a positive conclusion? Common sense, in fact, is just what it sounds like: the commonly agreed upon sense of how things are at any given time. But as social primates, we too easily mistake consensus for truth. 
    My guest today is Yancey Strickler, cofounder of Kickstarter—the company that made “crowdfunding” a common sense idea. That’s a very big deal when you consider that when Kickstarter was getting, uh, kickstarted, that idea made very little sense to anybody at all. Having people chip in to launch something they’ll never own? Ludicrous! Contrary to human nature as explained by Adam Smith! 
    Having helped transform how creative work is financed, Yancey’s moved on from Kickstarter. His new book: This Could Be Our Future: a Manifesto for a More Generous World is after bigger game—a kind of values reset that moves us away from a narrow, unsustainable, inhumane obsession with profit at all costs. He calls it “bento values” because it’s a box with four compartments: Me and us, now and in the future. Maybe it’s not common sense today, but surely it could be. 
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  • “Maybe the opposite of goodness is not evil. Maybe the opposite of goodness is, in fact, numbness.” 
    There are so many questions we never ask. So many assumptions we make every second of every day because our minds and our lives are sealed off from one another, accessible only through time, patience, and the slow work of trust—all of which are often in short supply while we’re running around trying to stick to schedules. And there are some questions we don’t ask for other reasons—because the answers might tell us more than we want to know about ourselves. 
    I’m so very happy to be here today for the second time on this show with British-Turkish author, speaker, and educator Elif Shafak. In her latest novel, as in all of her work, she asks some of these forgotten questions and, maybe more important, signposts the infinity of doorways we walk past without noticing. The book, 10 Minutes, 38 Seconds in This Strange World, was one of six on the shortlist for this year’s Booker Prize. Like any human life, that of its heroine Leila is strange, beautiful, and important. And all too easily tossed aside. 
    Surprise conversation starters in this episode: 
    Ibram X Kendi on the dangerous idea of the dangerous black neighborhood, and anger and analysis in social justice movements, from our conversation on Think Again
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  • Some experiences change you so completely that you’re left with a choice: either spend your life running from them or spend your life turning them over in memory, trying to find new ways in, through, and out the other side. The power of the impulse to explain or somehow articulate these experiences is inversely proportionate to other people’s ability to understand them. They’re everything all at once. It seems to me that my guest today has made that second choice, the hard choice not to run away. Or maybe it’s a choice you have to keep making over and over again. His name is Reginald Dwayne Betts. He’s 39 years old—an accomplished poet and essayist and a graduate of Yale Law School. But he spent most of his teenage years and young adulthood in prison and over a year in solitary confinement, experiences neither society, nor memory, nor his fellow feeling for the more than 2 million people behind bars in the United States, the vast majority of them black men and boys, has let him forget. Dwayne’s beautiful and necessary new book of poems is called FELON, and I’m honored to have him with me here today to talk about it.
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  • Do you have a body? I do, but I was mostly unaware of this fact until somewhere in my mid-30s, when my life strategy of living like a bourbon-loving brain-in-a-vat became increasingly untenable. Since then, I’ve come to understand something that might have been obvious to you all along. The body’s not just a convenient support system for coming up with clever things to say—it’s how we experience the world. It’s most of what we mean by living.
    And for all its marvelous autonomy, it’s also wonderfully, bafflingly complex. My guest today is the author Bill Bryson. In his new book THE BODY: A GUIDE FOR OCCUPANTS, he has been kind enough to demystify it for us to the extent that that’s possible, and to help us revel in its mystery everywhere else. Bill is the beloved author of A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING and A WALK IN THE WOODS, and I’m delighted to have him on the show. 
    Surprise conversation starters in this episode: 
    Excerpted from Think Again episode #215 with Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie. 
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  • I grew up in the almost entirely white suburbs of 1980’s Bethesda, Maryland thinking of myself and my world as 100% not racist. It’s hard to notice what’s missing: for example pretty much any black or brown people anywhere I went except on vacation, in spite of the fact that we were right next to Washington DC. At some point in middle school I learned that my Jewish dad had been unwelcome at the most popular local country club, and so chosen another, less popular one that admitted Jews at the time. But this seemed like a weird anomaly, and boo hoo about not getting your first choice of country club anyway, right? 
    Then, at 16, I had to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles in Anacostia, DC and was astonished to find it wasn’t the “war zone” I’d been told it was throughout the Reagan years. To see people walking calmly to the grocery store or chatting on the corner. No guns. No open air drug markets, whatever those were. Racism, gender bias, economic elitism—they’re not anomalies. They’re cultural, economic, political, psychological. But as Paul Simon—a favorite songwriter of mine who some see as the poster boy for cultural appropriation once wrote: "Well, breakdowns come and breakdowns go, so, what are you gonna do about it? That’s what I’d like to know.”
    My guest today is Ibram X Kendi. he’s been working on these problems for a long time, and he’s developed some powerful ideas and methods for solving them. Ibram won the National Book award, he’s the founding director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University in Washington DC, and he’s the author of the important new book How to be an Anti-Racist. 
    Surprise conversation starters in this episode: 
    A read excerpt from MINDF*CK: Cambridge Analytica and the Plot to Break America, by Christopher Wylie 
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