Pineal Express is a progressive and educational podcast based out of Binghamton, NY. The podcast features a variety of academics, thinkers, and activists who provide listeners a glimpse of the world through the lens of their field of expertise. Forward looking and multidisciplinary, Pineal Express touts itself as the place “where trains of thought intersect.” Amid that intersection, podcast hosts Julian Willard and Jim Mack aim to explore the human potential to solve existential challenges and usher in a better world.
Pineal Express (TM)
Episode 28 - Lawrence Lessig on Fixing the Broken Government
In the two years since Pineal Express has been running, we, its operators, have sought to raise awareness about the major problems facing our species. Such problems include climate change, the risk of technological dystopia, and the latest rise of the authoritarian far-right worldwide.
These problems have been worsened by the United States. But the United States also has the potential to ameliorate them, provided that its government is functional enough to do so. For that reason, among others, it is important that the United States government not fall into chronic stagnation, dysfunction, or in the extreme case: collapse or despotism.
Presently, there are numerous structural weaknesses which threaten the efficacy and long term health of the United States government. Among these weaknesses is the electoral college, which has contradicted the popular vote in the election of two out of the last three presidents in their first terms. For demographic reasons and electoral vote apportionments over time, that kind of incongruity between the electoral college and popular vote may become more frequent, not less.
Another structural weakness is legislative district gerrymandering on the state and federal level, now aided by precise, computer-driven optimization of legislative maps for partisan advantage, thereby making control of some legislative districts effectively voter-proof.
Yet another structural weakness is the states’ leeway to enact laws which suppress voter turnout, chiefly among minorities, the poor, and the young.
Still another weakness includes the campaign finance system, which allows for a kind of legalized corruption in government, with candidates at every stage of the electoral process disproportionately influenced by, if not outright dependent upon, those entities which bankroll them most.
There is also the inherently unrepresentative nature of the US Senate, where right now the 40 million people living in California get two senators, whereas the 40 million people living in the least populated states get a combined total of forty-four senators. The scale of this problem may grow even more severe with demographic change over time.
Lastly, there’s the Supreme Court, which is theoretically vulnerable to a cadre of ideologues capitalizing on their lifetime tenure to spend decades setting aside legal precedent in favor of enacting a partisan judicial agenda. One wonders precisely how close we are to that now.
These structural weaknesses threaten the functionality and stability of the United States government because they make the government less representative of and less responsive to the general public. Furthermore, they raise the chances that an oligarchic minority can use government to stymie anti-corruption reforms or to consolidate undue power.
It is worth mentioning that elected Republicans benefit disproportionately from each of these structural weaknesses, and therefore, they have an incentive to maintain the status quo insofar as they can. Hence there is great challenge in pursuing a reform agenda.
Joining us today to talk about the pressing need to solve these fundamental problems of representation in the US government is Harvard Law Professor, Lawrence Lessig. Professor Lessig has argued that the United States has become “ungovernable” and that new, unprecedented efforts to reform the system are necessary. These efforts could include specific reform-minded election strategies, or an Article V Convention to propose constitutional amendments. Professor Lessig details his strategies for fixing our broken government on his podcast, Another Way. We do recommend listening to Another Way in tandem with this episode of Pineal Express.
Thanks to EllE for this episode’s intro.
EllE (electronic music):
Episode 27 - Soumya Basu on Blockchain Technology
Blockchain is a kind of tamper resistant digital ledger. The ledger stores data in groupings called "blocks."
What data gets stored in the blocks depends on what the blockchain is being used for (whether it's to transfer digital currency, or to store and distribute other transaction information like real estate or medical records, and so on). Also stored in the blocks is an encrypted digital fingerprint, or hash, that identifies the block and what data is inside it. Each newly generated block also contains the previously generated block's digital fingerprint such that the blocks can be sequentially linked or "chained" together, hence the term "blockchain."
Tampering with the data inside any block within the chain is therefore difficult, in part because such tampering would constitute an alteration of the block's digital fingerprint, thereby risking the unlinking of the block and the breaking of the chain.
One major benefit of blockchain is that the generation, or "mining" of such blocks and their distribution is decentralized. So it would be unlikely that any one entity could control the blockchain network, given that the network is supposed to be comprised of many individual users, or "peers."
Blockchain technology gained more visibility due to Bitcoin, a blockchain cryptocurrency originally developed by a mysterious figure who went by the name "Satoshi Nakamoto." Attention to Bitcoin reached its height in 2017 and 2018 as its value in dollars grew rapidly and then crashed. Other cryptocurrencies have also seen ups and downs such as Ethereum, the second largest cryptocurrency and blockchain network after Bitcoin.
Blockchain is a tool; like any tool it could be used for public benefit or for harm. But if we want to cultivate prosocial uses for blockchain, more people will need to understand what it is and how it works.
That's why we talked to Soumya Basu. Soumya is a Computer Science PhD student, who researches blockchain at Cornell University. Soumya is also the co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of bloXroute, a distribution network meant effectively to increase blockchains' number of transactions per second.
Episode 26 - Eric Dietrich on Excellent Beauty
In Episode 10 of Pineal Express, we spoke with Binghamton University Philosopher Eric Dietrich about consciousness, skeptic philosophy, and paradoxes. If you haven't already listened to it, we recommend you go back and listen to Episode 10 before listening to this one.
In this episode, we invited Eric Dietrich back to discuss his book Excellent Beauty: The Naturalness of Religion and the Unnaturalness of the World.
In the book, Dietrich argues that religious belief is widespread across the human species because it has an evolutionary origin. He also argues that religious belief is false and largely destructive in modern times. Dietrich suggests that people could satisfy their need for wonder and awe not through religion, but rather by embracing the beautifully perplexing scientific mysteries. Dietrich calls these mysteries "Excellent Beauties"; they include consciousness, infinity, true-contradictions, and quantum mechanics, among others.
#13 - Preview - Derailments, Minutiae, and Tirades
This is a preview of a full discussion episode, available for our patrons on patreon.com/pinealexpress :
Jim and I (Julian) argue about the dystopian applications of CRISPR, where we use the term "CRISPR" as a shorthand for "Next Generation Gene Editing built upon current CRISPR technology."
We also draw some comparisons to Star Trek, including Star Trek's genetically augmented villain "Kahn". We also mention Star Trek series DS9 and TNG.
#12 - Preview - Derailments, Minutiae, and Tirades - 2020 Presidential Draft
Hey listeners, Julian here.
Jim and I, along with two friends of the show, produced a 2020 Democratic Presidential Candidate Draft episode for our Patrons on patreon.com/PinealExpress
This is a preview of that draft, during which the four of us took the opportunity to rag on former Vice Presidential candidate Tim Kaine, after I drafted him for my team in the fourth round.
Special thanks to friends of the show Delia Blackman of the podcast Blow Jam and Carinne Vizvary for their participation in the draft.
Get the full draft episode by becoming a Patron of Pineal Express.
#11 - Preview - Derailments, Minutiae, and Tirades
Get the Full Episode on our Patreon Page: www.patreon.com/pinealexpress
Full Episode Description:
Hey, everybody, Julian here:
In the discussion episode I talk about how my work as a disability analyst for the Social Security Administration and as a technician in an acute psychiatric hospital informed my views about social welfare programs like Social Security Disability Insurance, and a possible Medicare-for-all type system.
Also, Jim and I discuss the perniciousness of disability stigma and how that stigma serves capitalism by denigrating people who aren't selling their labor.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Julian and Jim are the most well-read Podcasters out here. They bring a high standard of intellectual authenticity and you can hear it in the most common phrase on the show from guests: “That’s a really great question!”
Excellent podcast! The breadth of understanding that the hosts bring to the discussion is impressive. The guests are extremely knowledgeable and the topics are really unique and interesting. Great job!
Interesting guests/subject matter and friendly genuine hosts. Solid podcast