Conversations about consciousness, culture, and how we might live in the 21st century. The podcast blends contemplative practice with cultural theory, exploring everything from radical economics, meditation & psychedelics, to philosophy, all in service of exploring the full spectrum of existential possibilities.
Psychedelic politics and humanities, with Oliver Davis
What is the current arc of the psychedelic renaissance in Western society missing? How do psychedelic experiences affect politics? And what are the psychedelic humanities?
To guide us through these questions, I speak with Oliver Davis. He's a professor of French Studies and director of graduate studies at the University of Warwick in the UK, a co-editor of an ongoing series on the psychedelic humanities, is working on a book about the politics of psychedelics, and wrote of a recent paper on the French artist Henri Michaux’s writings on psychedelics, which serve as a guide for our conversation.
By tracing Michaux's writing on psychedelics, we explore how they impact everything from creativity to metaphysics. Using that lens, we get into:
what is lost in the potential of psychedelic experience when it’s approached exclusively as a therapeutic tool to be used under highly regulated and controlled settings,
threading the needle between science and mysticism when it comes to making sense of psychedelic experiences,
psychedelics and politics, where one of the most important implications of psychedelic experience is not what it can teach us about consciousness or the nature of the universe, but how it might help us rethink our social and economic worlds, how psychedelic experiences might help foment a more democratic form of politics.
How algorithms undermine consciousness, with Eran Fisher
As algorithms rise to play larger roles in how we interact with the world, how are they recursively acting upon us to play larger roles in how we experience ourselves? What, in short, does an algorithmic society do to consciousness?
Eran Fisher is a professor of sociology at the Open University of Israel, and has a recent book out titled: Algorithms and Subjectivity: On the Subversion of Critical Knowledge. In it, he digs beneath the more obvious conversation around how algorithms are changing our worlds, to ask how they're changing our-selves.
In the conversation, we discuss:
How do algorithms change the promise of freedom society offers?
What does it mean for algorithms to "undermine" subjectivity?
How do algorithms pose different threats to freedom than mass media of the 20th century?
How much of the threat of algorithms derives from their for-profit deployment in a world with insufficient mechanisms for democratic data governance?
Plus tangents into psychedelics, the politics of subjectivity, and all that sort of good stuff.
Emancipatory Social Science, with Christian Arnsperger
Christian is an economist whose work can help answer the question: how might economics become an 'emancipatory' social science?
Christian holds a PhD in economics, is a professor at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, a former advisor to the alternative bank of Switzerland, and was a long-time researcher at the Belgian National Science Foundation. He's the author of Critical Political Economy and Full-Spectrum Economics, among other books on political economy with an existential and ecological focus.
As an economist unafraid to venture into questions around spirituality, or the evolution of consciousness, his works are highly interdisciplinary, including a fusion of Ken Wilber's integral philosophy with post-neoclassical economics, and a dialogue between Max Horkheimer and Friedrich Hayek.
Our conversation is about emancipatory social science. What is it, and how might economics move in its direction. More broadly, we cover:
What emancipation means in the context of social science
What Ken Wilber’s philosophy can bring to economics
Christian’s loving critique of complexity economics
The idea of a society’s "critical spirit", which functions as a parallel to price signals
The role that greater variety can play in changing the course of the economy as a complex system
And the role that actual policies, like a basic income, or a job guarantee, or empowering people to work fewer hours, might play in making that kind of deep existential variety, variety in our forms of life, actually viable
An Evolutionary Economic Paradigm, with David Sloan Wilson
Today, evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson joins the podcast to discuss his recent paper, co-authored with Dennis Snower: "Rethinking the Theoretical Foundation of Economics."
Neoclassical, or orthodox economic theory is based on physics equations that assume the economic system is always trending towards equilibrium. Their paper suggests replacing physics with Darwin's evolutionary science, which sees the economy as a system always undergoing evolution, driven by the triad of variation, selection, and replication.
David is a distinguished professor of biological science at Binghamton University, co-founder of a number of organizations that work to put evolutionary theory into practice, and even a fiction author of Atlas Hugged, a rejoinder to the selfish individualism of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged that emphasizes the role of cooperation in evolution.
What replacing the neoclassical "physics of social science" with evolutionary theory brings to the table
Why an unregulated economy will not spontaneously self-organize into a more cooperative, improved system
The 'multilevel paradigm' of economics
Core design principles to manage the cultural evolution of a multilevel economy
A synthesis of science and spirituality
[Unlocked] Reflections & Extras from Michael Levin Podcast
An unlocked, patreon-only episode where I reflect on the process at the heart of my conversation with Michael Levin, the evolutionary process through which little selves integrate into larger collective intelligences.
Also incudes a fun experiment where I splice in audio clips from a prior conversation – with Ruben Laukkonen – to show themes that run across episodes.
If you'd like access to past & future reflection episodes, consider becoming a Patreon supporter, which also has the fun byproduct of helping the project continue existing. Thank you!
Scaling Selfhood: Collective Intelligence from Cells to Economies, with Michael Levin
How does collective intelligence emerge? How do parts get integrated into larger wholes? How can we increase the intelligence and agency of collective systems? Are cities, economies, or even societies intelligent systems of which humans are unwitting parts?
On this episode, I'm joined by Michael Levin to discuss how his research in the collective intelligence of biological systems might help us think through larger collective systems, like the economy.
Michael is a professor of biology at Tufts University, director of both the Tufts Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology and the Allen Discovery Center, an editor of three academic journals, and so on. His pioneering research has direct applications in regenerative medicine, cancer research, and artificial general intelligence.
I wanted to speak with him for two reasons. First, for all the theory and philosophy we've covered about 'selfhood' on this show, Michael's work brings a refreshingly concrete perspective, offering a 'biology of the self'. He provides a story of how selfhood emerges via evolution, which is really a story of how collective intelligences emerge.
Second, Michael thinks about collective intelligence in a way that is 'substrate-independent'. That is, his research on collective intelligence should apply to any intelligent system, whether it's made of flesh, metal, or anything else. This allows us to apply principles he's researched that scale up agency in biological systems, and apply them to larger systems, like an economy. If we understand the economy as a system of collective intelligence, can we apply the same principles that worked for evolution in biological systems, to increase the intelligence and agency of the economic system?
A few more themes we explore:
Why are "goals" the fundamental ingredient that identifies a system as intelligent?
How do little selves (like cells) combine into larger selves (like...me)?
Are humans parts of larger systems of collective intelligence, and could we even know if we were?
Should we have concerns about what happens to use as we become more deeply embedded in increasingly vast, planetary systems of collective intelligence?
The first hour of the conversation explores his research within biological systems. The final 45 minutes uses that as a foundation to explore systems that are larger than humans. Even if you find the first hour rather technical, I highly recommend at least checking out the final 45 minutes.
Oh my goodness, what a great find. Mr. Jarow asks the questions about reality I’ve been struggling to articulate. I’m so fortunate to have found his work.
This host actually prepares for the interviews
I could not believe the depth and quality of questions from this host. While I was familiar with most of his guests, I have not yet heard a single better prepared, engaged, articulate, thoughtful host than Oshan Jarow. What he brought out of his guests is a testament to his depth of care, curiosity and creativity for the topic at hand (consciousness). A true jewel in the burgeoning podcast landscape!
Smart, interesting, wise, deep, reflective
Love the content. Please keep it coming!