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Musing Mind Podcast

Author: Oshan Jarow

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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.
26 Episodes
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. Enjoy!
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. Enjoy!
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 Enjoy!
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. Topics include: 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 Enjoy!
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!
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 ( 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. Enjoy!
On this episode, I'm joined by Ruben Laukkonen to describe his new model that makes sense of what meditation does to the mind, through the lens of predictive processing. Ruben is a post-doc cognitive scientist at the University of Amsterdam, a contemplative with experience in traditions like Advaita and Therevada, has consulted for the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, and writes on topics ranging from education, artificial intelligence, to psychedelics. We cover: Predictive processing, meditation, and counterfactual depth How meditation affects precision weighting, leading to changes in phenomenology How deconstructive practices like meditation need guiding frameworks to support reconstruction Some differences between meditation and psychedelics How social institutions, like education, might change if we value things like cognitive flexibility Enjoy!
On this episode, I explore data capitalism, acid communism, and the psychedelic ties between them, with Emma Stamm. Emma holds a PhD in cultural & social thought, and works at the intersections of the philosophy of technology, critical theory, and science and technology studies. She has taught at both NYU & Virginia Tech, and is now a professor in the philosophy department at Villanova University. Our conversation explores the relationship between data capitalism & consciousness, using psychedelic science as a way of illuminating those aspects of consciousness that cannot be rendered via data's language. Enjoy!
In this episode, I’m joined by Dr. Chris Letheby: a philosopher of cognitive science who focuses on psychedelic experience & its implications for our understanding of consciousness. Chris is a Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Western Australia and a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Adelaide. He has a soon-to-be-published book: Philosophy of Psychedelics. Along with Philip Gerrans, Chris is behind one of the most interesting theories of what the self is, a theory that explains why the sensation of being a ‘self’ arises in consciousness, which they call the “predictive self-binding account”. His work goes on to study how high-dose psychedelic experiences disrupt this model of self-consciousness, and weaves the implications into a broader project he calls Naturalizing Spirituality. Our conversation follows three main topics: What is the predictive self-binding account of self-consciousness? How do psychedelics disrupt self-consciousness? What can these psychedelic experiences that alter our self-consciousness tell us about the prospects of a naturalized spirituality suited for the 21st century? This was such a fun conversation, & I find Chris’ work absolutely brilliant. Cannot wait to see his work evolve. Enjoy!
My guest in this episode is (once again!) Erik Hoel: PhD in neuroscience, research assistant professor at Tufts University studying consciousness, and author of the upcoming (phenomenal) novel, The Revelations. We center the conversation around themes from his novel, which lead us into: How fiction, as a form of “intrinsic media”, offers a unique approach for exploring consciousness that non-fiction and TV can’t The theories and potentialities at the frontiers of consciousness research The relationship between evolution, complexity, consciousness, and emergence Some limits of the scientific study of consciousness Why we’d better hope that if aliens are out there, they’re more like mammals than insects If you enjoy this episode, check out my previous conversation with Erik, his stupidly-good essay titled ‘Enter the Supersensorium’, or you can preorder his book here. Enjoy!
In this conversation, intellectual historian Barnaby Raine joins me in a wide-ranging, encyclopedic, and wonderful conversation about capitalism and the self. Barnaby is working on his PhD at Colombia, where he studies the end of capitalism in social & political thought since Marx, with a focus on ‘the problem of transition’: the challenge of seeking to move beyond a system upon which our lives still depend. Barnaby is also a teacher at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research, where he taught a course on “Capitalism and the Self”, which I took and loved, the content of which is the topic of our conversation today. Our basic question is this: how has capitalism, throughout its history, produced not only goods and services, but our subjective experience, our sense of what the self is and how we relate to other people? Barnaby walks us through the intellectual history of this question, from Rousseau, to Dukheim, Lukács, Adorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse, Foucault, and finally, into the present. This is a long (3 hrs) conversation. It’s wonderful in its entirety, but if you’d prefer to jump to specific topics, there is a detailed time map below that can point you to specific segments. Enjoy!
My guest on this episode is Katherine Gibson, a fiercely creative thinker on the relationship between post-capitalism and consciousness. With Julie Graham, she is co-author of a number of books, including The End of Capitalism as We Know It, and Postcapitalist Politics. Katherine is an economic geographer at Western Sydney University, and founded the ‘Community Economies Collective’, which is a project that involves both academics and communities in theorizing and practicing new economic visions. In our conversation, we explore: The relationship between self-transformation and economic transformation How post-capitalism is not something that can be learned or intellectually understood, so much as performed, acted out, and felt, which suggests why new economies require new selves, new configurations of how we experience our bodies and relations How national scale policy like basic income can help support individuals in their own processes of exploration and transformation, Why self-entrepreneurship is the ultimate expression of neoliberal subjectivity, Etc. Enjoy!
My guest today is Julie Nelson: economist, and zen teacher. She co-edited a book in 1993 that became known to many as an early manifesto for feminist economics, and has spent her career questioning assumptions - of both the human mind and the discipline of economics. She is an economics professor (emeritus) at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, a senior research fellow at the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts, and a senior assistant teacher at the Greater Boston Zen Center. She is author of the book Economics for Humans, co-editor of Beyond Economic Man: Feminist Theory and Economics, and a number of others. A polarizing question lingers as the theme for our conversation: what if capitalism isn’t the problem? Julie suggests that many of the ills - greed, environmental degradation, extreme inequality - so many on the left are quick to blame capitalism for have little to do with capitalism. Rather, she targets ‘economism’ - a particular set of economic theories and assumptions, plus a layer of incentives we’ve built atop them. Neither updating our theories to better match reality, nor redesigning the incentive structures that underlie economic outcomes require an exit from capitalism. Viewing capitalism as a rigid and dogmatic system that inherently produces certain outcomes, Julie suggests, are “short-cuts to thinking” that keep us from seeing the agency we already have to change the system. A few other topics we explore: Imaginative rationality. The ‘emptiness’, or ‘no-nature’ of markets. Are consciousness and materialism compatible? Can waged work be intrinsically motivated? How can we change our capitalist system from with? Enjoy!
My guest today is the historian and professor of leisure studies at the University of Iowa, Ben Hunnicutt. His scholarship focuses on a simple, perplexing question: why, after 100 years of shortening working weeks, did America abandon the pursuit of leisure? I feverishly read two of his books - Work Without End, and Free Time: The Forgotten American Dream - that chronicle the history of the relationship between America’s political economy and the pursuit of leisure time for all. He brings the precision of a historian together with the sensibility of a poet (nowhere more visible than his deep study of Walt Whitman) to make sense of a fascinating time period during which America changed its mind. In our conversation, we cover: The history of the ideas of shorter working weeks and leisure time from 1830 until today. The difference between “economic progress” and “higher progress”. How children who spend more time at play grow into adults better suited to handle leisure time The psychologies of labor and leisure Strategies to reintroduce leisure into the U.S. political economy. Enjoy!
My guest today is Michael Brooks: host of The Michael Brooks Show and author of Against the Web. On top of having one of the most popular Leftist political talk shows (full of wonderfully deep political analysis), Michael has a rich background in meditation, integral philosophy, and the general consciousness scene. He regularly speaks about the need to situate the Leftist political project within a broader spiritual context, placing questions of consciousness at the center. In our conversation, we discuss: The (lacking) relationship between ‘consciousness culture’ and politics The politics of free time How to bridge local anti-fragility with deep global interdependence and national social democracies Comparing basic income and a federal jobs guarantee Enjoy! Find full show notes, subjects, and links on the episode page:
My guest today is Gustav Peebles: professor of economic anthropology at The New School, and author of an explosive essay that turns Adam Smith on his head.  In our conversation, we explore: The forgotten “splenetic” philosophy of Adam Smith, and how his Theory of Moral Sentiments challenges the popular notion of his economic vision How the conflation of wealth with wisdom is bad for individuals, but great for society How Adam Smith and Karl Marx agreed on false consciousness, but disagreed on what to do about it Social dividends, public goods, UBI, and pencils as a great example of communism Hope you enjoy!
My guest today is Glen Weyl: co-author of Radical Markets, founder of the RadicalxChange movement, Ph.D. in economics from Princeton, and in his spare time, works as Microsoft’s Chief Technology Political Economist and Social Technologist (OCTOPEST). In our conversation, we explore: How social technologies and economic institutions shape our physical, mental, and social lives The myth of individualism How does RadicalxChange compare & contrast with Piketty’s progressive taxation approach? How to design markets beyond neoliberalism, as mechanisms for complexity UBI, the role of art and artists in creating movements, and a lot more.
My conversation today is with Peter Frase, author of Four Futures: Life After Capitalism, and member of Jacobin Magazine’s editorial board. Peter is among the most cogent writers on complex socioeconomic topics I’ve encountered. He dropped out of a sociology PhD program & began writing for a more popular, inclusive audience both through his personal website, and as a frequent contributor for Jacobin Magazine, a leading voice in radical left politics. We spoke about: The past, present, and future of democratic socialism How economic frameworks create the conditions with human development The technocracy of John Maynard Keynes Universal Basic Income The social contract of a post-work society. What does “post-work” actually mean? What is leisure time for? What kinds of humans do we wish to become? Thomas Piketty and the new proposals for progressive taxation Peter’s selection of reading for the foundations & futures of democratic socialism
Today, I’m speaking with Dr. Alex Williams. Alex is co-author of the fantastically provocative book, titled: Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work. He’s also coauthor of a forthcoming book titled Hegemony Now, which updates Antonio Gramasci’s theory of how power operates in societies in light of complexity science.    When he’s not writing, he’s a lecturer at the University of East Anglia in the UK.    Alex and I discuss his book on post capitalism, including things like full automation, universal basic income, and shortening the working week.    We discuss the role of education in how it conditions our ability to imagine radically different futures, and we discuss specific policy ideas, like Thomas Piketty’s work on progressive taxation, Glen Weyl’s work on Radical Markets, and more broadly asking what can we do, from an institutional standpoint, to reclaim the vibrancy and vitality of our possible futures.
In this conversation, John Vervaeke & I discuss: The meaning crisis as a crisis of interiority The religion that is not a religion Socioeconomic policies as forms of psycho-technologies The cognitive science of capitalist realism The tension between wisdom and commodification John is a professor of cognitive psychology & science at the University of Toronto. He recently completed a 50-episode lecture series on Youtube: Awakening From the Meaning Crisis. The series is a wonderful integration of cognitive science and ‘spirituality’, for lack of a better term. He develops a framework for understanding what wisdom is, how to cultivate it, how central the cultivation of wisdom was to societies in the past, and how the usurpation of wisdom by knowledge leaves us adrift in a meaningless cosmos, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. One way of thinking about the meaning crisis is as a crisis of wisdom cultivation. The monasteries are gone, the commodification of schools is diluting what passes as ‘education’ to mere preparation for uncertain labor markets; where else do we go for wisdom?