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The Ralston College Podcast

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The Ralston College Podcast delivers a series of conversations and lectures aimed at fostering a deeper, livelier, and freer intellectual culture for us all.
23 Episodes
Ralston College presents a lecture delivered on October 26th, 2021 by Dr Iain McGilchrist followed by a discussion with Dr Stephen Blackwood and questions from the audience. In his lecture Dr McGilchrist deals with certain themes that are treated at greater length in his recent book The Matter With Things. He focuses especially upon the coincidence of opposites (coincidentia oppositorum), which he explores (providing an extraordinary range of illustrative examples) in such a way as to make manifest both its universality and its particular relevance to our present historical moment.
Ralston College presents a conversation between Stephen Blackwood and award-winning architect and author Marwa Al-Sabouni, followed by an audience Q&A. A voice of penetrating clarity and prophetic power, Al-Sabouni discusses the role of architecture in cultivating or undermining our social fabric, arguing that the seeds of the devastating Syria Civil War were sown by the choices of architects and city planners. Though born of particular and painful experience, Al-Sabouni's insights on the nature of human life and community are universal, and offer consolation and hope amidst the civic alienation and aesthetic degradation facing so many of us today. The event took place online on June 24th, 2021.
In Part II of their discussion Stephen Blackwood and Alexander Stoddart speak about the transhistorical community of past, present, and future. Stoddart explicates his Schopenhauerian view of art as life-denying and thus paradoxically able to help us relinquish our own will to power. He contrasts this view with that of a shallow presentism, a self-absorbed modernist outlook that views the present as inherently superior to both past and future, cutting off its own vital resources and neglecting its fundamental obligations. Stoddart shows another way. Artists, Art, and Writings Mentioned in this Episode: Homer; Palmyra; Br’er Rabbit and the Tar-Baby; Arthur Schopenhauer; Jean-Paul Sartre; Michel Foucault; Friedrich Nietzsche; Walter Scott; Richard Wagner; Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina; Charles Dickens; Walter Pater; Gian Lorenzo Bernini; Buddhas of Bamiyan; Trajan's Forum; The Colosseum; Bartolomeo Colleoni Monument; The Shard of London; Albert Speer’s Volkshalle ("People's Hall"); T. S. Eliot: “Four Quartets”; Gone with the Wind, House of Tara (Antebellum architecture); Richard James Wyatt; Lincoln Memorial; John Flaxman: Am I Not a Man; Thomas Banks profile of Thomas Muir of Huntershill (; Edgar Degas; Paul Cézanne; Pierre-Auguste Renoir; The Acropolis; Tyche; Statue of Tyche and Plutus in Istanbul; Statue of Liberty; Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro; Mount Rushmore
Ralston College presents a conversation between Stephen Blackwood and Alan Dershowitz, followed by an audience Q & A. The discussion begins with Professor Dershowitz describing the early influences that awakened his appreciation for civil liberties—particularly free speech—and the origins of his fiercely independent thinking. The subsequent conversation and response to questions touches on the decline of meritocracy, the principles of the Civil Rights Movement, the role of universities and intellectuals in revolution and tyranny, and the ways in which a culture of free inquiry is fundamental to human flourishing. The event took place online on April 28th, 2021. Works and Artists mentioned: H.N. Bialik, "The City of Slaughter," Adolf von Hildebrand
Have we killed Homer for good? Stephen Blackwood and historian-farmer Victor Davis Hanson examine the state of the contemporary West by returning to its ancient Greek origins. They explore the richness of its first principles, including self-critique, the elevation of rational understanding, the democratization of learning, and the unification of thought and action. They also bring to light our current cultural crisis: the uncritical rejection of the inherited past, an intellectualism divorced from reality, and a surrender to relativism at the cost of true self-reflection. They close by reflecting on the lateness of the hour, and offer a vital call to seek and speak truth, to ignite the fire of independence of mind, and to remember that while we may know more than those who came before, they are, as T.S. Eliot said, that which we know.
Ralston College presents a lecture with Andrew Doyle followed by a discussion and audience Q & A with Stephen Blackwood. Doyle discusses his new book, ‘Free Speech and Why it Matters,’ and offers trenchant examples of recent curtailment of the freedom of speech and thought. He provides a lively account of why free speech and free expression are vital for a thriving culture and describes the kinds of degradation that result when a wide array of ideas are not examined in the public square. The event took place online on March 4, 2021.
Should art be beautiful? This forbidden question guides Stephen Blackwood’s conversation with eminent sculptor and aesthetic luminary, Alexander Stoddart. Stoddart describes, in his usual incandescent fashion, his aesthetic awakening and his views on the failings of modernist and contemporary art. He also speaks about iconoclasm, about art’s battle with nature, and about the power of beauty to still the will. Finally, he offers parting advice for young artists and other seekers of meaning and beauty. The conversation took place in Stoddart's studio in Scotland. Artists, Art, and Writings Mentioned in this Episode: The paintings of Eisenhower, Churchill, and Hitler; The Buddhas of Bamayan; Venus de Milo; Richard Wagner: Tristan and Isolde; Bust of Beatrice in the Palazzo Pitti, Florence; The Statue of Liberty; Mount Rushmore; Gutzon Borglum; Christ of the Andes; The Angel of the North; Jackson Pollock; Desiderio da Settignano; Michelangelo: Staircase in the Laurentian Medicean Library, Medici tombs, Medici Chapel; Michelangelo: The Slaves; Giambologna; Adolf von Hildebrand; Copenhagen, especially the work and museum of Bertel Thorvaldsen; Hermann Ernst Freund; Arthur Schopenhauer; Antonio Canova; Lorenzo Bartolini, Plaster Cast Gallery at the Accademia Gallery
Stephen Blackwood speaks with Harry Lewis, legendary Professor of Computer Science at Harvard University (where he taught both Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg). They discuss the tragic limits of narrowly vocational approaches to education—with which many young people are pressured to conform—by contrast with education that fosters true self-reflection and a meaningful life. They also discuss cancel culture, college admissions, and freedom of speech.
Ralston College presents a lecture by Dr Anthony Daniels (aka Theodore Dalrymple) on Ivan Turgenev’s 1862 “Fathers and Sons”, followed by a conversation about the novel with Dr Stephen Blackwood. Daniels illuminates the depth of Turgenev’s insight into the revolutionary mindset, and its relevance to the nihilism of our own time and culture. This event was held live on January 14th, 2021 and includes questions from participants around the world.The music mentioned is Schubert's “Litanei auf das Fest Allerseelen, D.343” played by Deborah Pae (cello) and Misha Namirovsky (piano), available at
How does humor work and why is it needed more than ever? Stephen Blackwood talks with comedian and political satirist Andrew Doyle (aka, Titania McGrath) as they explore the sovereignty of truth, the metaphysical implications of satire, the role of humor in friendship, and why the asking of real questions is always a reason for hope.
Stephen Blackwood speaks with Freeman Dyson, the late mathematical-physicist and renowned free thinker. They begin with a discussion of education and of the formative experiences that inspired Dyson's intellectual curiosity and courage. The conversation then ranges from evolution to particle physics to consciousness as they discuss the free and non-reductive character of both thought and nature. Along the way, Dyson shares many stories from his long and adventuresome life; this interview was one of his last. One can only be astounded by the depth and breadth and fearlessness of his intellect and the power of his insight and example.    Requiescat in pace.
In this complementary episode to the reading of ‘The Death of Ivan Ilyich,’ Stephen Blackwood speaks with Dr Donna Orwin, professor of Russian literature at the University of Toronto. Dr Orwin provides context for Tolstoy and his world, and the two discuss the style, structure, and unfolding layers of meaning within this masterpiece novella.
In this first episode of a new series, Stephen Blackwood reads Leo Tolstoy’s classic novella, ‘The Death of Ivan Ilyich.’ A masterful text from one of history’s great writers, it tells the story of a man whose fatal illness forces him to confront the shallow assumptions of his life and the slowly encroaching, inevitable reality of death. ‘Ivan Ilyich’ is a timeless meditation on the fundamental content of life: finding purpose, loving others, and understanding our finitude. The translation Dr Blackwood is reading from—easily found online, if you'd like to follow along—is by Louise and Aylmer Maude.
How does one cultivate creativity and independence of mind? Stephen Blackwood talks to physicist and entrepreneur Stephen Wolfram about his precocious and largely self-educated early life and his ascent to become a world-class scientist, an innovator in computational theory, and the founder of a global company. They discuss how to pursue and develop one's gifts, how to think against the grain, and how to approach life with a sense of its unbounded possibility.
Stephen Blackwood talks with Cal Newport, writer and professor of computer science. They begin by reflecting on the historically unparalleled challenges and distractions of the digital age. They then discuss strategies to reclaim our mental autonomy, the generative power of non-instrumental thinking, and the fundamental dynamic of thought and life.
North Korean defector and human rights champion Yeonmi Park speaks with Stephen Blackwood about her journey to freedom: first from an oppressive political regime, then from slavery in China, and then from her own inner humiliation and fear. They speak about agency, resilience, and redemption, as well as the life of the mind, our need for others, and, above all, the relation between freedom and truth.    
What connects truth, imagination, and freedom? Stephen Blackwood talks with philosopher-theologian Douglas Hedley about the human mind and its participation in a fundamentally knowable universe. The conversation begins with an introduction to three foundational aspects of the Platonic tradition — beauty, nature, and self-knowledge — and to the influences of that tradition throughout history, extending from modern science and the Enlightenment to contemporary understandings of beauty and human rights. They discuss the mind's extraordinary and complementary capacities of imagination and rationality in making and understanding the world. They conclude with a discussion of dominant contemporary ideologies — both materialist determinism and the philosophies of power — and consider ways of regaining a more adequate standpoint.
In Part II of their conversation, Stephen Blackwood and Iain McGilchrist discuss questions of theology, science, and philosophy, including: the shared nature of human life, revealed anew by the COVID-19 pandemic; 'unfolding' as a metaphor for actualization; freedom, necessity, and reason; and the fundamental role of the humanities in a thriving culture.
A conversation between Iain McGilchrist and Stephen Blackwood: Dr McGilchrist gives a brief summary of his account of the two sides of the brain and then the two discuss how that account offers a powerful interpretation of the contemporary world.
In this lecture for the Temenos Academy in London, delivered on June 19th, 2019, Stephen Blackwood offers a powerful reading of the ancient Roman writer Boethius and his magnum opus The Consolation of Philosophy. After tracing the Ancient Greek roots from which it draws, Blackwood sketches the Consolation’s investigation of how the individual can attain self-possession and true fulfillment amidst injustice, misfortune, distraction, and the inexorable movement of time. Blackwood also shows how this perennially influential book, written as its author faced unjust imprisonment and torture, relates the inner life of the individual and the wider cultural renewal with which it is intrinsically connected. Ralston College: Don't forget to subscribe!
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