Hi-Phi Nation is philosophy in story-form, integrating narrative journalism with big ideas. We look at stories from everyday life, law, science, popular culture, and strange corners of human experiences that raise thought-provoking questions about things like justice, knowledge, the self, morality, and existence. We then seek answers with the help of academics and philosophers. The show is produced and hosted by Barry Lam of Vassar College.
Drake coined “YOLO,” short for “you only live once” in 2011, and then later apologized for all the douchiness it subsequently engendered. But the spirit is ancient, and cross-cultural, speaking deeply to the kind of decision-making that is supposed to make for the good life. It seems to be saying that risk and spontaneity should be valued above prudence and planning. Is that true?This week we take calls from listeners about their YOLO stories. We follow two college buddies who venture into the Malaysian jungle, naked, with nothing but a machete and oodles of YouTube survivalist knowledge looking for the ultimate YOLO experience. Meanwhile, philosopher Nick Riggle meditates on the significance of YOLO, and wonders whether living twice, or an infinite number of times, would make a difference to the value we place on adventure and risk-taking. Maybe not. The spirit of YOLO then, might have nothing to do with living once, but rather about living at all. Guest voices include James Moynihan, Daniel Olifi, Nick Riggle, and many Hi-Phi Nation listeners. This is the season finale. Listen until the end of the episode for big news about Season 4 of Hi-Phi Nation.
Pyotr Tchaikovsky composed and conducted his final symphony in 1893. He died 9 days later, after having knowingly drunk an unboiled glass of water during a cholera epidemic. Deep into the symphony, Symphony no. 6, there is a paradoxical passage that, when played, no one will be able to hear. This is because Tchaikovsky scored it to contain a musical illusion. We uncover the mystery of why he put it there. Sound illusions reveal some of the most puzzling features of the human mind, most notably its insistence that it knows reality better than reality itself. On this episode, we listen to some of the most curious auditory illusions to find out how some of the features of sounds are generated by the human mind, rather than features of the external world. The illusions reveal something deep about some of the most treasured human endeavors, including music and language.Guest voices include Diana Deutsch, Casey O'Callaghan, and Christine Howlett. Thanks to Kenna Tuggle for violin passages. Get $50 off your first job post at LinkedIn Talent Solutions. Go to linkedin.com/nation.
In Australia, vegan and animal liberation activism has recently become intense and disruptive, invading farms, restaurants, and city centers. They’re doing everything from rescuing animals to blocking traffic, and occupying steakhouses. Some argue that these new activists are needlessly victimizing innocent farmers, business owners, and consumers. Others argue that the activists are only doing what’s necessary to stand up for the innocent victims of farmers, business owners, and consumers. For any cause, when change does not seem to happen, or happen quickly enough, movements can turn to more confrontational styles of protests, or “uncivil disobedience.” Is this morally defensible, or is civility a must in any kind of protest? Guest voices include Kimberley Brownlee, Chris Delforce, Candice Delmas, Lauren Gazzola, Paula Hough, David Jochinke, Joanne Lee, Brian Leiter, Clare McCausland, Tyler Paytas, Jacy Reese, Jeff Sebo, and Peter Singer.This episode brought to you by Dave's Killer Bread, click to read stories of second chances, and for a special offer.For Slate Plus, there is full bonus companion episode featuring Barry talking with Stephen Metcalf of Slate Culture Gabfest about the philosophical issues raised in the episode. Both Barry and Stephen try to come to terms with whether they think we can separate the morality of activist tactics with the morality of their causes. Sign up at www.slate.com/hiphiplus
In the 40 years since the events at Olivia Records, gender categorization seems to pop up sporadically in the mainstream press, leading to what sociologists Laurel Westbrook and Kristen Schilt call "gender panics," and then they disappear only to emerge again at some other time. An analysis of gender panics show that people fear some gender nonconformists but seem perfectly fine with others. It turns out that one thing in particular, just one thing, causes and then quells a gender panic, showing that the public has a very peculiar underlying theory of gender. Meanwhile, the metaphysics of gender is the academic study of what gender is, and who belongs in a particular gender category. In that area, the descendants of the views about gender in the 70s stake their positions today, calling for the inclusion or exclusion of certain transindividuals in sex-segregated spaces. We look at some of these arguments and the contested assumptions that underlie them, and then come back out to the real world to see how trans-inclusive women-only spaces seem to be doing in America. This is part 2 of 2 about the metaphysics of gender. Guest voices include Sandy Stone, Janice Raymond, Laurel Westbrook, Holly Lawford-Smith, and Robin Dembroff. To get an ad-free feed of this and every other Slate podcast, and bonus content, sign up for SlatePlus by going to slate.com/hiphiplus. Support the production of this show by giving a monthly donation at Patreon https://www.patreon.com/hiphination
It is currently very difficult to get your gender legally changed in the U.K, That might change. In recent months, philosophers have been drafted into making complicated and contentious arguments about what it is to be a man, woman, or any other gender in the service of advancing or blocking the movement for trans-rights and recognition. In particular, it has exposed a conflict between trans-rights advocates and a certain wing of feminism, a conflict that in fact has its roots in America in the 70s. On this episode, we look at the historical origins of this conflict by looking at a single event involving two women in the 70s, one of whom founded the gender-abolitionist wing of feminism, and the other founded transgender studies. That event, and those ideas, help us to understand the stakes and contentiousness today. This is part 1 of 2 on the metaphysics of gender, and in particular, the question of what is a woman?Guest voices include Sandy Stone and Janice Raymond. Post a job today at LinkedIn.com/nation and get fifty dollars off your first job post.See the stories of second chances and get a limited offer from Dave's Killer Bread, at daveskillerbread.com/nationSign up for SlatePlus for ad-free feeds for all Slate podcasts and bonus content. Go to slate.com/hiphiplus/
Preschool kids get their first taste of democratic participation when they vote on their class name, and democratic private schools try to display the value of democracy by making kids vote on everything, even the school budget. Does it work or do kids make terrible decisions? One diagnosis of our modern-day political problems is that too many stupid people are voting for stupid things. There are two proposed fixes; mandate that everyone vote, so as to diminish the power of ignorant and irrational voters, or find ways to disenfranchise all and only the misinformed people. This week we examine both proposals, examining whether compulsory voting is a solution to the problems of democracy, or whether getting rid of democracy altogether can be wise or just. We look at Sudbury Valley and Brooklyn Free School, democratic schools where the people who are thought too ignorant and irrational to vote are given democratic power. Are there are any lessons to be drawn for our democratic problems from these democratic schools? Guest voices include Jill Sheppard, Jason Brennan, Noleca Radway, Jonathan Ho, and alums of democratic schools. Dave's Killer Bread gives second chances to people with criminal histories by hiring them at their Oregon bakery. Go to http://www.daveskillerbread.com/nation to get a free offer from them and support second chances. To get an ad-free and bonus content for this and every other Slate podcast, join Slate Plus at www.slate.com/hiphiplus.
A few days after the New Zealand Mosque massacre, Dr. Thaya Ashman heard about a woman who was too afraid to come out in public in her hijab for fear of being targeted. So Dr. Ashman had an idea to invite every person in New Zealand to wear a headscarf in public. The result was quite different from what happened in America three years ago, when a woman who tried to make a similar gesture of good will toward Muslims incurred the wrath of evangelical Christians on social media. On this episode, Barry revisits that episode in light of the New Zealand massacre, and how it helped write the next chapter in a thousand year-old controversy concerning Christianity, Islam, their shared origins, and the nature of God. Guest voices include Thaya Ashman, Larycia Hawkins, Michael Mangis, Karly Bothman, Paul Griffiths, and Amir Hussain.Sign up for Slate Plus to get an ad-free feed and bonus content for this and every other Slate podcast. Go to slate.com/hiphiplus
This year will mark the 18th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan, the forever war characterized by regime change, a surge, drawdowns, and then re-engagement across three Presidential administrations. We take a retrospective of the entire war, from the forgotten events of the lead-up to its total financial and moral costs to date. Journalist Douglas Wissing and Professor Neta Crawford of the Cost of War project take us through the staggering amounts of money spent on prosecuting the war and the development of Afghanistan, and we investigate where the money went. Veterans who served at each stage of the conflict, from the Gen Xers of the early days to the millennials of the Obama surge, give us the changing, and unchanging picture of the unending war. Finally, philosopher Seth Lazar and Barry talk about sunk costs and the role that thinking about past sacrifices play in rationalizing the indefinite continuation of war. Special thanks the veterans who gave their stories for this episode, Ian Fishback, Joshua Maxwell, Gaven Eier, Pat DeYoung, and Romario Ortiz. In the bonus content for SlatePlus members, Neta Crawford talks about the opportunity costs of the wars that can't be calculated, and Barry talks with Doug Wissing about the opium economy of Afghanistan. Get all bonus content and an ad-free version of this and every other Slate podcast at slate.com/hiphiplus.
What if you could sue someone for calling you a racial slur? In the 90s, one country that always looked very similar to America decided to allow it, rolling back the rights to free speech in the interest of protecting victims of hate speech. Is the result a slippery slope to government tyranny, or a more harmonious society? The moral right to hate speech does not run as deep in the U.S. as most people believe. Only in the last 80 years of litigation and activism has it become protected. On this episode, we look at the story of a racial slur that led to a precedent, we take a whirlwind tour of landmark First Amendment cases, and two philosophers argue about whether morality is on the side of U.S. law. It might not be. Guest voices include Sonny Sidhu, Tim Soutphommasane, philosopher Jeffrey Howard, and philosopher Seana Shiffrin.This episode is brought to you by Warby Parker. Try their home try-on program for free today at warbyparker.com/nation. This episode of brought you by Care/Of. For 50% your first month of personalized vitamins, go to TakeCareOf.com and enter promo code Slate50. Join Slate Plus to get ad-free and bonus content for this and every other Slate podcast. Go to slate.com/hiphiplus
How many innocent people should we be allowed to arrest and jail in order to prevent a single dangerous person from being free? The Supreme Court has refused to answer this question, but algorithms have, and many courts across the country are going with the algorithm. At different stages of the criminal justice system, computerized risk-assessment algorithms are slowly replacing bail hearings in determining who goes to jail and who goes free. This is widely seen as progressive reform, but may in fact be leading to more incarceration, not less. While many are warning that these algorithms are biased, racist, or based on bad data, the real problems are in fact much deeper, and even harder to solve. Guest voices include Megan Stevenson, John Raphling, Renee Bolinger, Georgi Gardiner, and Seth Lazar.Please help the show by taking a listener survey to give us feedback. slate.com/podcastsurvey To sign up for Slate Plus to get bonus content for this and every episode, and every episode ad-free, go to slate.com/hiphiplus
On this bonus episode, I go into some of the history between the LAPD police commission and the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, and feature some of the tape from the Central station CSOC protest that didn't make it into the episode, including some creepy stuff that happened toward the end of the protest. I then talk to Sarah Brayne about the possibility of using surveillance technology to monitor the police themselves. This bonus episode is a teaser of future bonus content available to Slate Plus members. To get an ad-free feed for this and all other Slate podcasts, and to get the bonus content for the rest of the season, sign up for Slate Plus. Just go to slate.com/hiphiplus. It really helps support the show.
Predictive policing technology is spreading across the country, and Los Angeles is the epicenter. A small group of LA activists are in a lopsided campaign against billions of dollars in city, federal, and Silicon Valley money using algorithms to predict where and when the next crime is going to occur, and even who the perpetrators are going to be. Barry embeds with the Stop LAPD Spying coalition for a week in Skid Row and investigates how state-of-the-art predictive policing programs work. He then talks to sociologists and philosophers about how big data is changing the relationship between police and the communities they serve. We then turn to the justice of using statistical predictions for the purposes of profiling and police intervention. This is part 1 of 2 on the use of statistical algorithms in criminal justice. Guest voices include the LAPD police commissioners, Hamid Khan, Jamie Garcia, Sarah Brayne, Flora Salim, and Renee Bolinger.To get an ad-free feed for this and all other Slate podcasts, and to get bonus content for this season, sign up for Slate Plus. Just go to slate.com/hiphiplus This episode is brought to you by Care/Of. For 50% off your first month of personalized Care/of vitamins, go to TakeCareOf.com and enter promo code HIPHI50 at check out.
After two successful seasons, philosophy in story form comes to Slate on January 31st, 2019. On Season 3, we look at stories of risk, experiments in democracy, the reality of social categories, illusions of the senses.
Do people of opposing political parties believe in different facts? The mantra at the moment is that they do, because of media echo chambers, motivated reasoning, and ideological blindspots. But a more careful look reveals a different answer, with perhaps even more startling consequences. This week we follow two conservative Republicans who consumed a liberal newsfeed for two weeks, and we look at the empirical and philosophical problem of the way partisanship affects belief in facts. Guest voices include Janalee Tobias, Trent Loos, philosophers Daniel Wodak and Eric Schwitzgebel, and political scientist John G. Bullock. The episode is brought to you by the Great Courses Plus. Sign up for one month free at www.thegreatcoursesplus.com/hiphi.
Hi-Phi Nation stays overnight at the Brooklyn Public Library during the 2018 Night of Philosophy. From 7pm to 7am on a Saturday night, thousands of New Yorkers swarmed the central library for acrobats, musicians, and philosophy. Meanwhile, we present philosophy shorts about the definition of life, the nature of good and the morality of revenge, and moral relativism. At the event, producer Sandra Bertin confronts some white privilege, while Barry wanders the floors trying to get people to differentiate between philosophy and bullshit. Guest voices include George Yancy, Cian Dorr, Kieran Setiya, Ian Olasov, with philosophy by Emily Parke, Joshua Gert, and David Wong. This episode brought to you by The Great Courses Plus.
Army veteran Jim McKelvey applied for his VA benefits and was denied for willful misconduct. Thirty years later, Julie Eldred was sent to prison for a willful violation of probation. Both challenged, both got to a Supreme Court with the promise to change the law of the land. The disease model of addiction has been litigated a handful of times in the history of American law. Every time the same issue has come up; free will. We examine this week how the issues of free will and moral responsibility for addiction play out in the U.S. legal system. Guest voices include Sue McKelvey, Deborah Pearman, James McKelvey, Lisa Newman-Polk, and philosopher Hanna Pickard.This episode was brought you by the Great Courses Plus, where you can learn more philosophy. Visit to get one month free. http://www.thegreatcoursesplus.com/hiphi
Dave has been hunting for the one decisive piece of scientific evidence that will settle one of Christianity's most challenging questions. On this episode we look at two stories of people trying to reconcile their religious and empirical beliefs about the world, and hear from a philosopher whose theory says that their attempts may be futile. Guest voices include Dave Woetzel, Laura Jean Truman, and philosopher Neil Van Leeuwen. This episode is brought to you by The Great Courses Plus. Visit http://www.thegreatcoursesplus.com/hiphi to sign up for one month free.
In ordinary life, it is usually not hard to know who you are and who you used to be. For a small group of children around the world, their knowledge seems to conflict with what modern science believes is possible. On this episode, we tell stories of unusual childhood memories to examine the nature of the self, and what needs to survive in order for a person to survive. We delve into the strange philosophy and science of personal identity, quantum physics, and belief in the afterlife. Guest voices include Barbro Karlen, Dr. Jim Tucker, and philosophers Alyssa Ney and Yuval Avnur. This episode is sponsored by Warby Parker. Visit warbyparker.com/hiphi to support the show.
When Lori Lieberman was 19 years old, she went to a concert of a singer she didn't know, and ended up writing a poem that would become one of the greatest cover songs of all time. This week we are going to look at the art of covering in popular music, and how that art marked the conversion from a classical model of musical aesthetics to a contemporary one. Popular music in the modern era is metaphysically complex due to the fact that its listeners make very fine-grained judgments about artistic merit and quality. We are going to talk about the stories behind some of the most iconic cover songs in the rock era, analyze an iconic song with Switched on Pop podcast host Nate Sloan, and transform all of it into the philosophy of music. Guests include Ray Padgett, Nate Sloan, Cristyn Magnus, and P.D. Magnus.
Some acts of expression are awesome, while others suck, and one philosopher has a new theory about the difference. Using this theory as a guide, we look at some of the suckiest things that ever sucked in urban design, and the street artists and compassionate vandals who are trying to fight them. We use these stories to investigate how public spaces are becoming less free and more coercive. Guest voices include Nick Riggle, Leah Borromeo, Rowland Atkinson, Victor Callister, and Richard Rowland.
In the process of preparing to testify in a divorce case, Brian had to study one of the strangest books he had ever come across, where religion, mathematics, and the apocalypse intersect. This week, we look at how a religious cult of number worshipers on the Italian coast gave rise to modern science, mathematics, philosophy, and music. In the interim 2500 years, as we have increased our knowledge of the universe using mathematics, we have lost the ability to explain why math is so successful at describing nature. Guest voices include Brian Frye, Errol Morris, Monte Johnson, and Gideon Rosen.
High school students from around the country converge on the University of North Carolina for a weekend of moral dilemmas. We follow twenty-four of the nation's top ethics teams competing in the 2017 National High School Ethics Bowl, and take a whirlwind tour of moral philosophy in the process. Guest voices include Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Geoff Sayre-McCord, Jeff Sebo, and students from high schools across the country.
At the beginning of their adult lives, millennials are trying to find out what it means to be happy in their 20s, not knowing that they have no where to go but down. Meanwhile, three highly successful people find themselves at the bottom of life's happiness curve, and try to find their way back up. The show today is about a demographic inevitability, the midlife crisis, and how we seek happiness in the face of our approaching death. Two mid-lifers leave their careers to gamble on fulfillment, and one philosopher seeks answers to life's most common existential crisis. Guest voices include recent graduates of Vassar College, Philosopher Kieran Setiya, Neil Hayward, and Diane Hope.
On our season finale, we follow a mother's love through the stages of life to seek wisdom about what love is, what love does, and why love happens. We follow five mothers at five different stages of motherhood, from the joys and anxieties of birth, letting go, coming back, being proud, and saying goodbye. We then turn to the philosophy of love and life, to figure out the role of love in the shape of a human life, and the significance of death in revealing the true value of our loved ones. Guest voices include Yael Goldstein Love, Tiffany Ward, Randy Scott Carroll, Diana Carroll, The J Family, Rachel Matlow, Elaine Mitchell, philosopher Susan Wolf, and philosopher Kieran Setiya. Special thanks to CBC radio's The Sunday Edition.
Documentary film and science do not appear to have much in common, except that, philosophically, they have everything in common. Two men met in 1971 and had a disagreement, which turned into an assault, and then 45 years of disdain. One of them was the most cited philosopher of the 20th century, the other is one of the most influential documentary filmmakers of his generation. It was a disagreement that ran deep, right down to the nature of truth, history, reference, and the objects and limits of human inquiry.Guest voices include Errol Morris, Lydia Patton, Thomas Rankin, James Challey, and Dan Epstein.
Our ideas of manhood and womanhood determine the ways in which we raise and socialize our children, but how much does gender in a particular society depend on that society's relationship with violence? What happens when, all of a sudden, women are allowed to participate in a form of violence once reserved for men? This week, we investigate the effects and side effects of gender norms arising from militarism. Guest voices include two lieutenants in the US Army, LTC Naomi Mercer, Joshua Goldstein, Tom Digby, and Graham Parsons.
One scientist decided to put the entire field of psychology to test to see how many of its findings hold up to scrutiny. At the same time, he had scientists bet on the success-rate of their own field. We look at the surprising paradoxes of humans being human, trying to learn about humans, and the elusive knowledge of human nature. Guest voices include Brian Nosek of the Center for Open Science, Andrew Gelman of Columbia University, Deborah Mayo of Virginia Tech, and Matthew Makel of Duke TiP. A philosophical take on the replication crisis in the sciences.
After years of unusual episodes dating back to her childhood, Anita went to the doctor and was told there was nothing medically wrong with her. "She had a gift," she was told, and she was sent down the street to an ESP lab. Parapsychology is the scientific study of telepathy, clairvoyance, telekinesis, precognition, and spirits. Or is it? The field has been pushed to the fringes of science for decades now. In two episodes, I first follow the study of psychics, and then the mainstream sciences of human nature, to see if they differ enough to make one worthy of belief, and the other scorn. Guest voices include Anita Woodley, John Kruth and Sally Rhine Feather of the Rhine Research Center, and philosopher Massimo Pigliucci.
Two records from 1983 achieved minor novelty fame, and then faded away, only to emerge 20 years later as the originators of a curious genre of pop music in the age of social media. This peculiar genre raises questions about how we should think about genre, musical aesthetics, and artistry in the time of industrially-produced music and digital reproduction. Guest voices include Jordan Roseman, aka DJ Earworm, Steve Stein, aka Steinski, philosopher Chris Bartel, and musicologist Christine Boone.
With a small gesture of good will toward Syrian refugees, one woman incurred the wrath of evangelical Christians on social media. The resulting chaos helped write the next chapter in a thousand year-old controversy concerning Christianity, Islam, their shared origins, and the nature of God. Guest voices include Larycia Hawkins, Michael Mangis, Karly Bothman, Paul Griffiths, and Amir Hussain.
For some reason, when people kill others in wars, we do not judge them morally and legally in the same way as we judge them when they kill in civilian life. Is there a justification for this difference, or is it only a convenient myth? We go to West Point to see what soldiers themselves think and teach about the morality of killing in war. Just as the US winds down two major unconventional wars, philosophers, including many soldier philosophers, are trying to revise hundreds of years of thinking about the morality of warfare. Guest voices include Ian Fishback, Jeff McMahan, Helen Frowe, Steve Woodside, Graham Parsons, Scott Parsons, Courtney Morris, Timothy Leone, and Saythala Phonexyaphova.
When one Army soldier discovered the propagation of torture tactics during the Iraq war, he engaged in a one-man mission inside the organization to learn about their origins, and the effect they had on lower-level soldiers who were implementing them. From there, he took on the Bush administration. Years later, he is training to be a philosopher.As a new U.S. administration takes hold, with talk of military action against ISIS and the reinstatement of Bush-era torture policies, we embark on a two-week exploration of the philosophy of war. We follow the story of soldier philosophers, the first generation who served in a large-scale American war since Vietnam, returning to bring new thinking about the morality of warfare. On this episode, we look at the side-effects of moral decision-making on the soldiers who are asked to carry-out a President's orders. Guest voices include Michael Robillard and Ian Fishback.
Our lives are controlled by the invisible hand from the grave. Trillions of dollars of the economy are devoted to executing the wishes of people who died long ago, rather than satisfying the desires of the living. We follow the story of the Hershey fortune to show how a 19th century industrialist constructed the oddest business structure to ensure that his wishes would be fulfilled hundreds of years after his death. The story raises questions about why we give the dead so much power over our lives, and what this says about how we find meaning in our own lives given foreknowledge of our mortality. Guest voices include Ray Madoff, Jim Mcmahon, Bob Fernandez, Joe Berning, Carole Hite, James Stacey Taylor, Barbara Baum Levenbook, Russ Shaffer-Landau, and Samuel Scheffler.
A brand new show bringing storytelling together with philosophy, Hi-Phi Nation aims to do for philosophy what Freakonomics did for economics, what Invisibilia does for cognitive psychology, and what all of your favorite podcasts do for your entertainment and enlightenment. Our inaugural 10-episode season will launch in late January 2017. Hosted and produced completely independently by Barry Lam, professor at Vassar College and fellow at Duke University, season one will include just war theory, epistemology of science, the possibility of posthumous harm, semantics, philosophy of religion, music aesthetics, and metaphysics.