In the years since Owen Flanagan’s The Bodhisattva’s Brain, there have been thousands of studies, of varying degrees of quality, on the effects of meditation on the human brain. Here, Lachlan Dale reviews some of the highlights of that research as it’s presented by Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson in Altered Traits.
Discussing articles by Alan Turing, Gilbert Ryle, Thomas Nagel, John Searle, and Dan Dennett. What is this mind stuff, and how can it “be” the brain? Can computers think? What is it like to be a bat? With guest Marco Wise.
Plus a new intro by Mark, Wes, and Seth reflecting back on this 2010 discussion, which we’re re-releasing to help you prepare for our upcoming episodes in this area.
End Song: “No Mind” by Mark Lint and the Fake Johnson Trio (1998).
Become a PEL Citizen or $5 Patreon supporter for more energized conversations like this, including the the Not School discussion on David Chalmers’s book The Conscious Mind.
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On the 1636 comedy by Pedro Calderón de la Barca, considering destiny (Christian vs. Ancient Greek), skepticism, meta-theater, and the ethic of honor. Listen to our performance first. With guests Bill Youmans and Erica Spyres.
Given our treatment of Game of Thrones and Life Is a Dream, and the way in which end-justifying-the-means logic plays endlessly in our real-life political situation, it’s time we looked back on our episode 14 on Machiavelli. I reviewed that episode and recorded a little essay about practicing Machiavellian politics to get you back in this spirit.
Get teased re. Mark and Wes’s post-finale, spoiler-filled continuation of the discussion of the show.
How does its conclusion affect its overall political message? Does it make sense to be performing feminist critiques on a show based on the premise of people murdering each other for power?
Discussing the TV show (2011-2019) based on the books by George R.R. Martin.
What’s the role of a mass-consumed fantasy series in today’s society? Is it our “fantasy” to have all these horrible things happen to us? Is this an edifying prompt to engage in public moral thinking, or a spectacular distraction of the kind that those Marxist theorists keep warning us about? We get into the function of fantasy and how a more “realistic” show plays with that, the extent to which we’re supposed to identify with the characters, depiction of moral complexity, low art vs. high art, identity issues, and more. With guest Sabrina Weiss.
End song: “Fire and Blood” by Sacrifice Feat. Mark Lint; hear the interview on Nakedly Examined Music #24.
Keep an eye out for a Citizen-only spoiler-filled follow-up discussion between Mark and Wes to be released this week!
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On Aldous Huxley’s 1932 dystopian novel, recorded at Manhattan’s Caveat on 4/6/19, with audience participation.
If we harness the power of society to employ available technologies to really focus on making people happy, what would the result be? This is Huxley’s thought experiment, but is it in all respects a dystopia, and is it a fair test of the ideal of social improvement or merely of a flawed view of human nature? You can watch this episode instead.
End song: “Brave New World” by Mark Lint. Read about it.
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Concluding Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1885).
What’s the wise way to live? We start in earnest into part three, treating the “spirit of gravity,” where socially imposed values cover over your uniqueness; omni-satisfaction vs. being choosy; “Old and New Tablets,” where Nietzsche explores various ethical and meta-ethical issues (e.g., is self-overcoming a matter of one-time self-actualization or is it continual?); and more on the Overman and eternal recurrence.
End song: “Upright Man” by Rachel Taylor Brown, as interviewed on Nakedly Examined Music #91.
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On the remainder of Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1885).
How can we keep our spirits up and avoid nihilism? We consider Nietzsche’s “solution” of eternal recurrence, why he uses a poetic, allegoric style, and more.
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Continuing on Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, books 1 and 2 (1883).
We talk through Nietzsche’s symbolism (tightrope walkers and gravediggers and snakes, oh my!), the path toward the overman, his screed against the state, the Will to Power as the will to overcome oneself by reconciling oneself with the past, and more.
On Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, books 1 and 2 (1883).
What is wisdom? In this text whose style parodies the Bible, we get pithy advice and allegorical imagery to guide us away from self-defeating, life-denying attitudes and orient us toward creative self-overcoming (i.e., exertion of the Will to Power). The Last Man who no longer knows how to give birth to a dancing star is a rotten egg!
Continuing on What is Literature? (1948).
Sartre gives a phenomenology of reading and writing that makes reading into a creative act of completing the writer’s work, and calls this cooperation ethical: the work is an appeal to the reader’s freedom, and also the reader’s responsibility to then know what the work reveals. Are you shirking, all you skimmers?
End song: “Things I Shouldn’t Have Told You” by Sam Phillips, as interviewed on Nakedly Examined Music #90.
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On Jean-Paul Sartre’s What is Literature? (1948), ch. 1 and 2.
What’s the purpose of literature? Why write prose as opposed to poetry? Sartre argues that while poetry is about the words themselves, prose is about the ideas, so it’s necessarily political. A written work is essentially an ethical appeal for a reader to apply his or her own faculties and experiences to complete the work through the act of reading.
PEL Live is this Saturday 4/6 4-6pm Eastern time! We will post live-stream info and other details at partiallyexaminedlife.com/pel-live.
Wes Alwan is joined by Monica McCarthy of the Happier Hour podcast to discuss Anton Chekhov’s 1898 play about family dysfunction and potentially wasting your life.
Moving finally on to Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Black Orpheus” (1948), where he introduces a book of black poetry by praising its revolutionary spirit as embodied in “negritude.” Is this a legitimate consciousness-raising exercise or a weird fetishization of blackness?
End song: “Punch Bag” by Godley & Creme as discussed on Nakedly Examined Music #3.
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Continuing on Jean-Paul Sartre’s Anti-Semite and Jew: An Exploration of the Etiology of Hate (1946).
Is there an “authentic” way to respond to persecution? As part of his critique of anti-semitism, Sartre criticized the responses of some Jews to this situation, e.g. denying that the persecution exists, pretending to not be Jewish, or in any way accepting the terms of anti-semitism and setting up one’s life in reaction to it. Sartre instead recommends solidarity and “concrete liberalism,” which we try to figure out.
On Jean-Paul Sartre’s Anti-Semite and Jew: An Exploration of the Etiology of Hate (1946) and “Black Orpheus” (1948).
How can we best understand the psychology of racism? Sartre condemns anti-Semitism as denying the facts of the human condition: the responsibility for fixing problems and not blaming them on a demonized other. But he also criticizes “the democrat” for a humanism that pretends we’re in a post-racial world, calling instead for “concrete liberalism” that treats Jews not as abstract individuals but as real people in an an oppressed situation.
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Continuing on Black Skin White Masks (1952), starting with the influential ch. five, “The Fact of Blackness.” Are the successive coping strategies to racism (including “anti-racist racism” and embrace of negritude) that Fanon describes, necessary steps in a dialectic that should be encouraged, or would it be best to learn from his “mistakes” and jump right to the humanistic end-point? With guest Lawrence Ware.
End song: “Malaika” by John Etheridge and Vimala Rowe; hear John interviewed on Nakedly Examined Music #85.
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