11 episodes

In each episode I endeavour to know more and think better by interviewing knowledgeable guests about fascinating topics. I have an insatiable curiosity about many areas, including politics, economics, philosophy, history, literature, psychology, religion, and different branches of science such as neuroscience, biology, and physics. Regardless of subject matter, I hope to promote critical thinking, Enlightenment values, and the scientific method. Please join me on this journey as we engage and broaden our skeptical curiosity.

Skeptically Curious Ryan Rutherford

    • Science
    • 5.0 • 2 Ratings

In each episode I endeavour to know more and think better by interviewing knowledgeable guests about fascinating topics. I have an insatiable curiosity about many areas, including politics, economics, philosophy, history, literature, psychology, religion, and different branches of science such as neuroscience, biology, and physics. Regardless of subject matter, I hope to promote critical thinking, Enlightenment values, and the scientific method. Please join me on this journey as we engage and broaden our skeptical curiosity.

    Episode 10 - Enlightenment values with Professor A.C. Grayling

    Episode 10 - Enlightenment values with Professor A.C. Grayling

    In this milestone tenth episode of Skeptically Curious, I had the immense privilege and unique honour to speak with world-renowned philosopher, Professor A. C. Grayling, who has exerted a profound intellectual influence upon yours truly since I first began reading his work around 2007. The author of over thirty books, his astonishing oeuvre possesses the rarest combination of lavish depth and extraordinary breadth. Anything one is liable to read that issued forth from the man's pen cannot help but impress for its remarkable erudition, elegant prose, and profound acumen, qualities made the more awe-inspiring by being so unflaggingly consistent. As my focus for this episode was predominantly on the Enlightenment, I decided to centre our discussion on one of the coruscating jewels of Grayling’s rich output, Towards the Light of Liberty, which provides an account of the struggles in the West over the last five hundred years to expand freedom in a host of spheres. I began our conversation by asking Professor Grayling how growing up in Africa shaped his thinking, which prompted his sharing candid details concerning some devastating personal tragedies. I then asked him about the role of the philosopher, whether ancient or modern, before moving onto a discussion on key values associated with the Enlightenment project. He elaborated upon why to fully understand the Enlightenment we need to take a wider historical view, as he does in Towards the Light of Liberty, which surveys predominantly European history over the last half a millennium. I asked my guest to explain the relevance of the Reformation in the 16th century to subsequent developments. Other subjects we discussed included the importance of struggle in achieving Enlightenment ideals, the notion of Enlightenment as a process of continual renewal and ongoing striving for a better dispensation, which I summarised as becoming and not being, the serious problems with religious approaches to acquiring knowledge and developing ethical standards, and the importance of the scientific method to Enlightenment ideals and its supremacy in comparison to all other modes of understanding reality. My guest addressed a few oft-cited criticisms directed against the Enlightenment, including some major Western nations’ history of colonialism and imperialism and the ongoing hypocrisy in the way many supposedly Enlightened states conduct their foreign policy. He then fielded a question about whether attaining economic democracy across the globe to displace the current capitalist order represents a necessary continuation of the Enlightenment effort to promote human flourishing in all dimensions. In closing, Professor Grayling urged everyone to continue their self-education beyond the formal kind as he averred we should “stay awake, alert, and never give up learning.”

    A.C. Grayling’s official website: https://acgrayling.com/

    A.C. Grayling's Wikipedia entry: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A._C._Grayling

    Towards the Light of Liberty: https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/towards-the-light-9780747592990

    Twitter account for Skeptically Curious: https://twitter.com/SkepticallyCur1

    Patreon page for Skeptically Curious: https://www.patreon.com/skepticallycurious
     

    • 1 hr 36 min
    Episode 9 - Secular Buddhism with Stephen Batchelor

    Episode 9 - Secular Buddhism with Stephen Batchelor

    I have been interested in Buddhism for some years now, and so to further feed my curiosity and broaden my knowledge on the subject I decided to turn to Stephen Batchelor, whose knowledge as both Buddhist practitioner and scholar is impressively extensive. Following his immersion in Buddhist teaching and training as a monk from the early 1970s, Stephen grew increasingly discontent with traditional Buddhism, in particular those aspects common to most religions, including a priestly class, dogmatism, and adherence to infallible holy texts. He has therefore devoted the last number of decades to promoting Secular Buddhism, incidentally the title of one of his many books. Some of Stephen’s other major publications include Buddhism Without Beliefs, Confession of a Buddhist Atheist, and, most recently, The Art of Solitude. My aim for this episode was two-fold: roughly the first half is devoted to exploring some basic tenets of Buddhism, while in the latter part we delved into Stephen’s approach to secularising the tradition. After he told me about how he initially became a Buddhist in India, my guest was asked to provide some biographical background on the Buddha. Here Stephen painted a vivid cultural and historical portrait of India during Gautama’s lifetime, which was a period of momentous transition. I asked him about the veracity of the famous account of what set the Buddha’s quest for enlightenment in motion, which while not historically accurate has the kind of timeless truth all great myths possess. He clarified the three marks of existence and then explained the five precepts. I asked Stephen to provide insight into the Middle Way, after which we discussed how the Buddhist conception of enlightenment, something of a mistranslation as he noted, differs from the European variety that emerged in the eighteenth century. I provocatively, if still good naturedly, challenged Stephen about why he even bothers to call himself a secular Buddhist and does not simply slough off all affiliations to a faith tradition. We then had an extended discussion on mindfulness meditation, including how rapidly its popularity has expanded throughout the world in recent times, the centrality of this practice to the Buddha’s teachings, and how its numerous physiological and psychological benefits point to the practical aspects of Buddhism that transcend any associations with, or even knowledge of, the religio-philosophical system whence it emerged. I hope, and am fairly convinced, Stephen’s insights, articulacy, and erudition will give everyone who listens at least a few nourishing morsels for deeper reflection.

    Stephen Batchelor’s website: https://stephenbatchelor.org/index.php/en/

    Some of Stephen Batchelor’s books: Buddhism Without Beliefs (1997) / Confession of a Buddhist Atheist (2010) / Secular Buddhism (2017) / The Art of Solitude (2020)

    Bodhi College, which Stephen co-founded and where he teaches courses off and online: https://bodhi-college.org/

    Twitter account for Skeptically Curious: https://twitter.com/SkepticallyCur1

    Patreon page for Skeptically Curious: https://www.patreon.com/skepticallycurious

    • 1 hr 4 min
    Episode 8 - Reflective and Therapeutic Writing with Dr. Gillie Bolton

    Episode 8 - Reflective and Therapeutic Writing with Dr. Gillie Bolton

    To many, the thought of writing likely conjures at least some of the following associations: furiously taking down notes in a lecture hall; penning an essay; composing a poem; typing an email; bashing out a blog post; and/or dashing off a Tweet. But what if writing could provide a means to analytically probe the innermost mental recesses for deeper reflective engagement with all aspects of our lives? Beyond even this, what if writing could serve as a powerful therapeutic tool in helping us work through trauma? Dr. Gillie Bolton has been exploring the unique reflective and therapeutic possibilities proffered by writing for decades as a creative writing teacher and facilitator working with a range of professionals. Dr. Bolton is a major pioneer in this field, and a sixth edition of her widely used book, Reflective Practice, was recently published. I asked her first to talk about her background, which included earning a degree in social anthropology from Cambridge University and working as a creative writing teacher at a residential college, as well as decades of experience facilitating writing workshops. We went on to discuss the nature of reflective writing, the tradition of reflective practice of which this emerged, how anyone can benefit from cultivating a regular practice in this fashion, through-the-mirror writing, an idea drawn from one of her favourite books, Alice in Wonderland, and the many positive aspects of maintaining a journal. Furthermore, I asked Dr. Bolton to define therapeutic writing, whether there is a potential danger in someone being re-traumatised through undertaking such a process, about the difficulty of conducting quantitative scientific studies to determine the efficacy of reflective and therapeutic writing, and how we can cultivate greater reflectiveness within ourselves and society at large. Dr. Bolton made the profoundly insightful observation that we are human beings and not “human doings.” She also stressed that we should be kind to ourselves and be willing to ask “why” to enable us to open up greater possibilities of exploration, curiosity, and personal growth. Dr. Bolton is a very special person who exudes the kind of authentic warmth, empathy, kindness, gentleness, thoughtfulness, and generosity of spirit the world desperately needs so much more of. This was an extraordinary conversation and if listeners derive even a small fraction of what I did after talking to her then it will be well worth their time.

    Dr. Gillie Bolton’s website: https://www.gilliebolton.com

    Twitter account for Skeptically Curious: https://twitter.com/SkepticallyCur1

    Patreon page for Skeptically Curious: https://www.patreon.com/skepticallycurious

    • 1 hr 21 min
    Episode 7 - The Irrational Ape with David Robert Grimes (Part 2)

    Episode 7 - The Irrational Ape with David Robert Grimes (Part 2)

    In this second interview with Dr. David Robert Grimes, author of the indispensably excellent book, The Irrational Ape, I began by asking him about the reductive fallacy, before moving onto a related essentialising bias known as the No True Scotsman fallacy. I then asked my guest about two woefully widespread mental shortcuts, namely the anecdotal fallacy and the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, which literally means “after this therefore because of this,” but is often stated as correlation does not equal causation. Dr. Grimes also reminded listeners that the plural of anecdote is never data. We spent some time discussing various issues pertaining to statistics, including the difference between relative and absolute risk, the nature of statistical significance, the meaning of a P-value, and the so-called replication crisis in social science and in biomedical research. I then asked Dr. Grimes to explain sensitivity and specificity, two crucially important attributes pertinent to all tests for diseases. Understandably, these concepts have gained even greater relevance during the Covid pandemic. In The Irrational Ape, Dr. Grimes draws from a 2005 paper by John Ioannidis called ‘Why Most Published Research Findings are False’ to provide six guidelines to assess the validity of research findings, which we spent some time discussing. I also asked him about some ways to distinguish between science and pseudoscience. At the time we recorded the interview, Dr. Grimes was about to pen a piece for The Observer about the Wuhan Lab Leak theory, averring that the virus was engineered at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which he argues is a conspiracy theory that violates the principle of Occam’s Razor. He helpfully explained what this is for those who might not know and is another handy weapon in one’s critical thinking armoury. Near the end of this once again insightful and enjoyable interview, my guest pointed out how liberating it can be to admit you do not know something. As he said, “don’t believe anything until the evidence is in,” which is a reminder of the kind of humility and intellectual honesty we should all try to cultivate.

    Official website: https://www.davidrobertgrimes.com/

    Twitter account: http://www.twitter.com/drg1985

    Instagram account: https://www.instagram.com/david_robert_grimes/

    Buy The Irrational Ape: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Irrational-Ape-Flawed-Critical-Thinking/dp/1471178250

    https://www.waterstones.com/books/search/term/the+irrational+ape+david+robert+grimes

    Dr. Grimes’ article about the Wuhan Lab Leak Theory: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/jun/13/newly-respectable-wuhan-lab-theory-remains-fanciful

    Twitter account for Skeptically Curious: https://twitter.com/SkepticallyCur1

    Patreon page for Skeptically Curious: https://www.patreon.com/skepticallycurious

    • 1 hr 8 min
    Episode 6 - Expertly Explicating Evolution and Countering Creationist Canards with Dr. Ken Miller

    Episode 6 - Expertly Explicating Evolution and Countering Creationist Canards with Dr. Ken Miller

    Even though it has been 162 years since Charles Darwin published his ground-breaking treatise, On the Origin of Species, many misconceptions and outright falsehoods about the theory of evolution through natural selection continue to persist. I was therefore incredibly honoured to be joined in this episode by renowned biologist, Dr. Kenneth R. Miller, one of America’s foremost public defenders of evolution, to help clear up some of the confusion. For instance, I asked my guest to dispel the oft-repeated claim that evolution is “only a theory.” In his excellent book, Finding Darwin’s God, Dr. Miller contends that the theory of evolution should be understood as both history and mechanism, so I asked him to elaborate upon what he meant. We further discussed another common creationist misrepresentation, namely that evolution is simply a random process that could not possibly account for the appearance of design we see throughout the natural world. I asked Dr. Miller about the evidence for evolution, which as I claimed now consists of many mountains, and not merely a single Himalaya, as it were, and he homed in on upon three major areas, namely the extensive fossil record, genetics, and the ability to date the age of the earth using radioactivity. We also discussed transitional or intermediate fossils, how evolution is a vast branching process and not a teleological one culminating in humans as the apex of some scale of nature, the difference between micro and macro evolution, often misused by creationists, and why the second law of thermodynamics definitely does not invalidate the theory of evolution. I received a short anatomy lesson about the poorly designed nature of the human eye, which is interestingly still used by creationists, drawing selectively and disingenuously from a single paragraph in On the Origin of Species, as a supposed refutation of Darwinian evolution. The last area of scientific interest we delved into is the call by some for an Extended Evolutionary Synthesis to incorporate epigenetics, which is an exciting new area of evolutionary biology that is expanding upon and enhancing our understanding of the mechanisms of evolution. At a few points in the discussion Dr. Miller references the relevance of evolution to the current global Covid-19 pandemic, reminding listeners that the term variants should be understood as evolution in action, while the remarkably rapid breakthroughs in developing vaccines are thanks in large measure to the flourishing field of modern genomics.

    Dr. Miller’s Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenneth_R._Miller

    Kitzmiller V. Dover Area School District Trial Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kitzmiller_v._Dover_Area_School_District

    ‘Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial’ documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2xyrel-2vI

    Twitter account for Skeptically Curious: https://twitter.com/SkepticallyCur1

    Patreon page for Skeptically Curious: https://www.patreon.com/skepticallycurious

    • 58 min
    Episode 5 - The Science of Sleep with Dr. Raphael Vallat

    Episode 5 - The Science of Sleep with Dr. Raphael Vallat

    According to William Shakespeare in Macbeth, sleep “knits up the ravell’d sleave of care.” As with so many other aspects of the human condition, The Bard articulated a profound truth with that line. To help unravel the myriad of facets appertaining to sleep revealed by the latest scientific research, I spoke to Dr. Raphael Vallat, a postdoctoral researcher in Dr. Matthew Walker’s lab, the Center for Human Sleep Science, at UC Berkley. Yes, that Matthew Walker, author of the best-selling, Why We Sleep, which significantly deepened my understanding of this inordinately necessary physiological process. After inquiring about his background and to reflect on the scientific method, I asked Dr. Vallat why we need to sleep at all. As he pointed out, even though no single dispositive answer to this question has yet been settled upon, it appears that sleep “impacts all the major physiological systems” and is “very important for learning and memory.” We spoke at some length about the stages of sleep, which are divided broadly, but not too imaginatively, into Non-REM and REM sleep. REM, or Rapid Eye Movement, sleep remains something of a mystery and is an active area of ongoing research. In fact, Dr. Vallat described it as “one of the greatest mysteries” and admitted that scientists are still not sure why we have it, although some clues have been uncovered. Unfortunately for those like me who enjoy the odd tipple at night, alcohol is severely disruptive to REM sleep. Other topics we discussed include how scientists know that we need between seven and nine hours of sleep, the nature of chronotypes, the exceedingly rare gene variant that enables those who possess it to sleep less than the average person, whether it is possible to sleep too much, and the function of dreams. The last major topic we discussed was how to achieve better sleep, which prompted Dr. Vallat to provide many helpful pointers.

    Links:

    Dr. Raphael Vallat’s personal website: https://raphaelvallat.com/

    Dr. Vallat’s Twitter account: https://twitter.com/RaphaelVallat

    Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker: https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Why-We-Sleep/Matthew-Walker/9781501144325

    10 Tips for a Better Night’s Sleep from the National Sleep Foundation: https://www.thensf.org/sleep-tips/

    The STOP-BANG questionnaire (a free screening tool for sleep apnea): http://www.stopbang.ca/osa/screening.php

    Twitter account for Skeptically Curious: https://twitter.com/SkepticallyCur1

    Patreon page for Skeptically Curious: https://www.patreon.com/skepticallycurious

    • 1 hr 15 min

Customer Reviews

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2 Ratings

Kwoog ,

A perfect example of the Long-Form podcast w

Skeptically Curious is the rare example of how to do a long-form podcast well.
Not only are the guests brilliant, but Ryan Rutherford is a highly adept interviewer who, unlike most podcasters, asks the questions I want asked, whether I’d thought of them or not.

If you’re interested in becoming more knowledgeable about some of the most interesting and stimulating topics conceivable, please give this a listen.

chétjie ,

Know more and think better

Excellent, thought provoking discussions with expert guests. Thoroughly enjoyable!

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