Podcast by Ari Stein
#13 Sebastião Salgado: Life, Death & Photography In-Between
This week I sit down with the legendary photographer Brazilian/French photographer, Sebastião Salgado. A true icon of the visual world, he has inspired countless generations of adventurers, humanitarians, conservationists, policymakers and photographers everywhere.
His work is able to raise awareness around some of the most pertinent issues of our time including the debilitating effects of industrialisation on the developing world, the destruction of our natural world and the unflinching tales of human suffering. His magnum opus includes Genesis, but The Other Americas, Workers, and Migrations; are all mammoth projects that have taken a scrutinising yet awe-inspiring look at our species.
As someone who is almost 80 years old, he has lost none of his gumption to fire into some of the most uncompromising places on earth. In this exclusive chat, we talk about his own mortality and the imminence of death, he describes his own harrowing moment when he came incredibly close to dying. We also talk about his hopes for humanity. There are clear messages throughout his work none more so than in his latest work, Amazônia, where through profiling the indigenous peoples and their landscapes, he is telling us we must act now before it's too late.
All you can do is sit back and listen to Sebastião describes his philosophy and ideas about life, his character and heart are as enormous as the books he produces. If you have not I urge any of you to sit down and watch Salt of the Earth an incredible documentary from 2014 which follows Sebastião from Econ student to photographer/adventurer.
#12 Yascha Mounk: What Do We Want The 21st Century to Look Like?
Every major democracy in the world right now is experiencing some kind of teething problems. From rising inflation to some very deep soul searching in a post-pandemic world, issues that are interconnected that look increasingly intractable.
But all of these challenges are what make democracy such an exciting project to live in – it's ours alone to craft. Within this tug of war, new ideas and concepts arise. Enter renowned American-German political scientist Yascha Mounk, a passionate defender of the liberal order, his work documents the bitter challenges we face as citizens of our democracies but also the enormous opportunities we inherit if we pull together. In his latest work, The Great Experiment, he has put together a rallying thesis outlining a bold vision, one that requires a macro overview, he is 'pessimistic about our political discourse, and anxious about a civil war of the elites, but insists that progress in the heart of society are reasonably good.'
An Associate Professor of International Affairs at Johns Hopkins University in Washington D.C., a contributing editor at The Atlantic, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and the founder of Persuasion. Mounk is Someone who can distil even the most complex of problems we face in a straightforward way.
As Yascha and I get into the weeds of these problems, Russia makes a renewed advance into Ukraine, aiming to disrupt the calm which we have all fought so hard to preserve.
Let me know your thoughts on the discussion, email me or comment at me on our social media and please subscribe to my newsletter to get notified of my next podcast.
#11 Gary Taubes: Are Our Modern Diets Killing Us?
How did we become so incredibly unhealthy? How did obesity and diabetes become some of the most prevalent diseases of our civilisation? It is now estimated that cases of autoimmune diseases are rising between 3% and 9% a year because of our westernised diet. As soon as the western diet started leeching off white flour and sugar, people across the world became inordinately unhealthy as a consequence.
How should we then, in 2022, think about health? Science journalist Gary Taubes has been reporting on the inadequacies of the nutrition science industry for decades. A bestselling author behind the recently rereleased The Case For Keto and The Case Against Sugar. Rather than take the word of science at face value, he tends to see nutrition and health science being littered with methodological sinkholes.
For decades his hunch behind the causes of obesity has attracted the intense ire of the scientific community. But the nutrition and health community can at least agree on one thing with Gary; sugar has captivated us for all the wrong reasons. It has become the cornerstone of our deterioration.
At the dawn of the new year, this being the first interview for 52 Insights, it is fitting to look at our health and what we put into our bodies.
In this fascinating discussion with Gary, he reveals the mechanisms that lie behind the food industrial complex, how it shaped the way we eat and think and its many attached conspiracies that go with it.
Ultimately many of us face a myriad of chronic illnesses if we don’t change our behaviour, and Gary gives us a glimpse of what we can do to fix this. Gary says the most important thing is not what about you put in your body but getting your thought environment right. Tune in to my latest podcast with best selling author behind the Case Against Sugar, Gary Taubes who takes me on a whirlwind tour of the sugar industry of the 20th century and what the full picture of obesity really is.
#10 Max Chafkin: On The Dark Genius of Peter Thiel
This week we’re speaking to features editor and tech reporter of Bloomberg Businessweek, Max Chafkin. He’s just released his debut book, the brilliantly researched biography, The Contrarian: Peter Thiel and Silicon Valley's Pursuit of Power.
If you’ve followed the tech world in any shape or form over the last two decades, then it would be almost impossible to have avoided the name Peter Thiel. One of the most successful venture capitalists of our time, a hugely influential power broker, in the last two decades, he’s navigated his way to becoming the godfather of tech bros.
His politics, his ideas permeate everything that Silicon Valley has become today. Thiel is known for playing puppet master with some of the biggest names in tech, from Elon Musk to Mark Zuckerberg.
A shadowy entrepreneur who has aligned himself with the more conservative side of politics, he’s crafted his worldview out of a hyper-libertarian mindset. From seasteading to the apocalypse to space travel to the quest for immortality and even psychedelics. He epitomises everything that Silicon Valley has now become maligned for.
To some, Thiel is the OG troll, malevolent and someone to be very suspicious of; to others, he’s a prophet, someone not afraid to speak his mind no matter what the cost. He envisioned the left eating itself decades ago, the coming Balkanisation of the Democratic Party.
Invariably he's become one of the most influential and consequential figures in Silicon Valley; some know him as the first investor in Facebook portrayed in the iconic 2010 film The Social Network. Others as the interventionist who helped bring down Gawker in 2016.
If it all sounds a bit Cloak and Daggers to you, then that's because it is; Chafkin’s biography is an appropriate metaphor for the questionable motives behind Silicon Valley and an indication of where it could be heading.
In this wide-ranging discussion, Chafkin and I examine the power elite of Silicon Valley, Peter Thiel’s shapeshifting ideological worldview. We learn about the tight-knit and, at times, the bizarre relationship between Thiel and Elon Musk.
We also learn about Thiel’s prophetic voice on cancel culture and his future plans as a board member for Facebook, now called Meta.
Max Chafkin: The Contrarian: Peter Thiel and Silicon Valley's Pursuit of Power is out now
#9 Anil Seth - 'We Are The Movie, We Are The Hallucination.'
It remains up there as one of life's biggest mysteries, who are we really? What sits beyond the flesh-like incarnation that we inhabit day in and day out.
One man, in particular, has spent his entire career looking for answers to these challenging questions: Anil Seth, a leading British researcher in the field of consciousness. Operating out of the University of Sussex in the UK as a professor in cognitive and computational neuroscience, Seth has published well over 100 academic papers on the area. You might know him as the man that has likened our reality to a type of hallucinating prediction machine. His TED talk to date has been viewed over 12 million times.
He has now written his first comprehensive book on the domain - hailed as a seminal text by The Guardian- called Being You; it hopes to clarify some of the biggest complexities that plague the area and give you a refreshing and very human account of where the field sits.
Studying what makes us, well, us is a difficult challenge in it itself, when the observer becomes the observed. I had the pleasure of examining how science dissects this incredibly difficult problem in this chat. Anil believes solving the issue of consciousness will come down to an incremental like elimination process where bit-by-bit we chip away at what philosophers call 'the hard problem'. However, sceptics out there think we will never solve this mystery – that's what makes this field so enchanting.
Anil and I take a walk through some weighty material that includes the myriad of theories aiming to define what makes us conscious, from panpsychism to functionalism. As well as the striking parallels between this field of science and the philosophy of Buddhism. And finally, we end up in the future, discussing the moral and existential dangers that hold the Metaverse and artificial intelligence together.
This is about so much more than donning a lab coat and measuring the activity in our brain; this is about breaking out of the very core beliefs we cherish, ones that have existed since time immemorial.
Anil Seth's Being You is out now on Faber.
#8 Florian Brand & Christian Angermayer: A Higher Calling
Imagine a future where your local therapist is able to administer a small dose of a psychedelic compound to you in a controlled setting. Whatever mental health affliction your experiencing, be it addiction, anxiety or depression, your ability to gain fast, effective respite to many could be life-transformative.
This is the future that atai is betting on, a German-based psychedelic inspired pharmaceutical company with a slew of drugs in current development. Co-founded by the entrepreneurial trendsetter Christian Angermayer and Florian Brand, they stand on the shoulders of giants, partly assisted by the decades of research by mavericks in white coats such as Rolland Griffiths, David Nutt and Rick Doblin. They aim to revolutionise the mental health landscape for hundreds of millions of sufferers worldwide.
Having just IPO'd in what is becoming a crowded marketplace for psychedelic inspired life science companies, they are betting on psychedelic inspired compounds like ibogaine, DMT and ketamine to reinvigorate and empower large sections of society where SSRIs (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) have only done half the job. And they mean business, they count luminaries like Sam Harris, investor giant Peter Thiel and artists Diplo & One Direction's Liam Payne as backers for this juggernaut.
However, the challenge for atai remains twofold, one, to dispense of the century-long stigmas and myths that cling to psychedelics and mental health but also to sell this into to a weary public. In this discussion, Florian and Christian talk me through their future roadmap, why psychedelics changed their lives and when can we expect these medicinal compounds to appear over the counter?
Love this podcast, very insightful, very thoughtful.
A must listen
Such diversity of guests and high quality of conversation. I loved the lisa Feldman Barrett one