Mark Linsenmayer

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Apr 122014

I was recently alerted to the existence of an up-and-coming podcast that just started last summer called Modern Day Philosophers. Hmmmm, is that like the New Books in Philosophy podcast, bringing to light the work of under-appreciated academics?

No, as you can see by the guest list: These are for the most parts established comedians like Artie Lang, or Bill Burr, or Lewis Black, and the idea is that these thoughtful people have a lot to say about religion, society, the good life, and reality.

So it’s a comedy podcast, and to get these comedian guests to wax philosophical, each episode assigns them one historic philosopher. Now, at PEL I’ve long looked for a famous comedian (or rock star, etc.) to actually read some philosophy and come on to represent their profession. I’ve found it’s very hard to get these famous people to read anything and so prep in the way that we do here (Lucy Lawless being the exception).

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Apr 122014

Listen now to Tamler Sommers’s summary of the two Strawson articles.

On 4/6, Mark, Wes, and Seth were joined by Tamler Sommers of the Very Bad Wizards podcast to discuss the following articles:

1. P.F. Strawson’s “Freedom and Resentment” (1960)
2. Galen Strawson’s “The Impossibility of Moral Responsibility” (1994)
3. Gary Watson’s “Responsibility and the Limits of Evil: Variations on a Strawsonian Theme” (1987)

We also brought a bit of insight in from a great article by Thomas Nagel: “Moral Luck” (1979)

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Apr 112014

On “An Introduction to Metaphysics” (1903)

How does metaphysics differ from science? While Kant had dismissed metaphysics as groundless speculation about things beyond human knowledge, Bergson sees it as a matter of grasping things “from the inside.” He calls this “intuition”: the kind of understanding we have of our own inner lives. If you try to describe this with concepts or images, you falsify it, you freeze it into position. That’s necessarily what science does, and is very useful, but doesn’t get at what’s metaphysically fundamental for Bergson, which is the unbroken flow of duration.

The regular foursome are joined by Matt Teichman to try to figure out how this proto-phenomenology is supposed to actually amount to metaphysics, like how you can sympathetically have an intuition about anything besides your own experience.

Listen to Matt’s introduction. Read more about the topic and get the text.

End song: “I Recall” by Mark Lint & the Simulacra (recorded mostly in 2000, completed just now).

Please support the podcast by becoming a PEL Citizen or making a donation.

Apr 082014

Guest Tamler Sommers (from the Very Bad Wizards podcast) summarizes Galen Strawson’s “The Impossibility of Moral Responsibility” (1994) and his father P.F. Strawson’s “Freedom and Resentment” (1960).

Read more about the topic and get the articles.

Apr 042014

Our main man Philosophy Bro was way futurist compared to us, and covered transhumanism way back in 2011. Go check it out.

I quote:

So, broadly transhumanism is a movement that seeks to move past our human limitations by using technology. Think of all the cool shit we can do – we are already giving injured bros robotic limbs. And not shitty arms that just open and close like they’re trying to pick up a stuffed animal – these arms are getting more and more badass by the day. If we invent an arm strong enough to throw a car and articulate enough to write in cursive, why wait to lose an arm the hard way? Just tack that shit on…

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Apr 012014

Much like rockers Brent Bourgeois, Neal Morse, and Dan Peek, doing this PEL thing, with all the sex and drugs that has come with it, has over the last year brought me to rock bottom, as I found myself reading Ayn Rand and Jacques Lacan by choice, and after spending a night rolling in my own puke, I saw a light, and the light spoke to me, saying:

Too long has secular philosophy permeated our culture. You can’t even turn on the TV these days without hearing “Descartes this” and “Quine that” and “You Kant!” It’s time for you to turn the PEL ship to the task of promoting that nearly unknown, vastly underfunded, underrepresented figure, Jesus Christ Our Lord And Savior.™

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Mar 302014

If you wanted to hear or read more from David, the place to start is his blog Contrary Brin. Here also is a collection of articles, nicely categorized, which in turn links to this collection of interviews.

A couple of the topics he touched on with us include the “disputation arenas” and self-righteousness as an addiction.

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Mar 292014
300- 2

Continuing discussion of David Brin’s novel Existence (without him) and adding Nick Bostrom’s essay “Why I Want to Be a Posthuman When I Grow Up” (2006).

Are our present human capabilities sufficient for meeting the challenges our civilization will face? Should we devote our technology to artificially enhancing our abilities, or would that be a crime against nature, a God-play that would probably lead to disaster? Is thinking about this issue a juvenile waste of time?

Mark, Seth, Dylan, and Brian Casey are rejoined by Wes to reflect on ep. 90′s discussion with David Brin and figure out how his project is related to transhumanism. While you’ll get a more thorough introduction to transhumanism from Rationally Speaking or many other web sources, we did confront Bostrom’s argument that extending our lives and enhancing our IQ and emotional range would be good, and human-all-too-human fun was had. Read more about the topic and get the text.

End song: “Waygo” from The MayTricks (1992). Read about and get the whole album for free.

Please support the podcast by becoming a PEL Citizen or making a donation.

Mar 282014

Some of the initial listener reaction to our David Brin episode harkens back to similar comments we got about our Pat Churchland episode, our first attempt at including a celebrity author in the discussion.

As Seth commented right after the recording with David, there was little purchase on his edifice in which to plant a foothold in real time. I did my best to engage him in discussing what philosophy is and how it really differs from science and sci-fi, and Dylan hit him about the same issue from a different angle a few times, but his answers tended to be in the form of “OK, but what you’ve got to understand is…” and then lapsing into one of his stump speeches whose relevance to the question was only evident about 5 minutes in. I’ll admit at the time that by half way through the episode I had more or less given up and was starting to tune out a bit, particularly since I had just listened to David on maybe three other podcasts deliver many of the same points that we were hearing. This was not what I had in mind, but as he was essentially doing us a favor by participating, I didn’t see a lot of options to change the dynamic then and there without massively violating the spirit of PEL congeniality. It was good to have the follow-up discussion (which Wes did join us on) a week later, and I hope to post that early next week for you.

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Mar 262014

Discussing David Brin’s novel Existence (2012) with the author.

What’s the point of thinking? Brin sees the future as a pressing threat, and Existence speculates that the reason we don’t see evidence of life on other planets is that no species survives its technological adolescence. The solution? We need to be smarter than our parents and work to give our kids the tools to be smarter than we are. In the book, the ultimate hope comes from a concerted effort to develop and diversify the coalition of Earth’s intelligent life, to make “humanity” encompass more than just the biological humans that we currently are.

In our present political difficulties, Brin sees the solution as positive-sum games: institutions like science and markets that (are supposed to) result in everybody benefiting overall. We need to keep elites (whether corporate or governmental) from screwing these games up, and to use technology to foster reciprocal accountability. The government is illicitly spying on people? Spy back and call them out when power is abused! Instead of vainly trying to hold back technology, just make sure that it’s not restricted to elites, that there can be effective debate re. its uses.

The point of thinking for Brin is to “be a good ancestor.” Philosophy and science fiction can help through thought experiments that visualize the outcomes of our ideas and can help in developing scientific theories. Philosophy’s most Brin-approved task is to promote the critical argumentation needed for reciprocal accountability. The “examined life” is not just for navel-gazers, but for societies prone to catastrophic mistakes.

As this is largely a Brin monologue (with a few interjections by Mark, Seth, Dylan, and also Brian Casey), we recorded a follow-up without him that you can listen to after this. Be sure to listen to Mark’s introduction, and then read more about the topic and get the book.

End song: “Persevere” by Mark Lint & the Simulacra (recorded mostly in 2000, sung and mixed now).

Our sponsor for this episode is Squarespace: Go to and use the offer code Examine to get a free trial offer and 10% off.

Please support the podcast by becoming a PEL Citizen (which will get you access to that exclusive draft Brin essay) or making a donation.

Mar 262014

Johnson refutes BerkeleyA few listeners have pointed us at Melvyn Bragg’s recent podcast on Berkeley (listen to it here). It starts off with the oft-cited anecdote about Samuel Johnson claiming to have refuted Berkeley by kicking a stone: obviously, such a stone that I can kick is not an “idea in my head.” As should have been clear from our episode (and my recent post), this is an elementary misunderstanding of Berkeley.

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Mar 202014

Guest Matt Teichman (from the Elucidations podcast) introduces Bergson’s essay “An Introduction to Metaphysics.”

Read more about the topic at

Mar 182014

spirits!The word “idealism,” when understood as the metaphysical position “everything is ideas” rather than some kind of optimism or high goal-setting, carries a lot of baggage with it that I hope we dispelled in the episode.

To repeat: it’s not solipsism, i.e. the notion that I (or my mind) is the only thing that’s real, and so everything must be an idea in my mind. No, for Berkeley, other minds (and God’s!) are just as real as mine.

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Mar 122014
George Berkeley

On Bishop George Berkeley’s Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous (1713).

While only a goon would deny the real existence of things like tables and chairs, does “real” existence have to mean existence as matter, i.e. as something that could exist in the absence of any mind to think about it? Berkeley says no! Tables and chairs are ideas! But not just my ideas, or yours, as they obviously don’t disappear when we leave the room, and certainly trees and the like were around before people. So they’re God’s ideas! And hey, this chain of reasoning actually provides a proof for God’s existence! Sweet!

Wes tries to convince Mark and Dylan that this is actually compelling, well argued, and motivated by deep philosophical concerns that were historically central and still relevant today. By all means, listen to Wes’s lengthy and excellent summary before tackling this discussion, and you can also read more about the topic and get the text.

End song: “I Am the Cosmos,” a new recording by Mark Lint of a 1970s song by Chris Bell.

Our sponsor for this episode is Squarespace: Go to and use the offer code Examine to get a free trial offer and 10% off.

Please support the podcast by becoming a PEL Citizen or making a donation.

Mar 102014

As I read the whole of Intention for our Anscombe episode and didn’t want to promptly forget the whole thing, I ran a small Not School group last month that just had its discussion this last weekend; you can hear it on the Free Stuff for Citizens page (provided that you go become a Citizen, of course).

I was joined by Stanley Martin and Shira Coffee. All of us had some trouble with the overall drift of the book: every page has some bit of interesting analysis, e.g. what is the difference between an intention and a prediction? Between an intention and a command? Do Aristotelian practical syllogisms actually work according to modern logic? And you’ve already heard us talk on the PEL episode, I hope, about the guy pumping poison water. But what do all these individual insights add up to? She more often tries out a theory and then shows why it doesn’t work than puts forth anything positive, and the positive data doesn’t coalesce neatly into a theory. Nonetheless, it’s a fun read, and we had a good time going through it a bit, so if you liked the Anscombe episode and wanted to hear the other side of her story, I hope this bonus recording helps.

-Mark Linsenmayer

Mar 042014

Listen to Matt Teichman’s introduction to the reading.

Henri Bergson is an early 20th century French philosopher that PEL listeners may recall from our philosophy of humor episode, and we’ll be tackling his philosophy proper via the entrance drug “An Introduction to Metaphysics,” a short essay from 1903 (freely available online) that is essentially pheonomenology without the jargon (Husserl, Heidegger, and Sartre are all in his debt, as is on other grounds Whitehead’sprocess philosophy“). Deleuze explicitly identified him as a key influence.

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Feb 282014
Not School

Excerpts from PEL podcaster & listener discussions on Sartre’s Nausea, Heidegger’s “The Question Concerning Technology,” Slavoj Zizek’s Year of Dreaming Dangerously, Marx and Engels’s “Communist Manifesto,” Peter Schaffer’s play Equus, and Cormac McCarthy’s The Sunset Limited: A Novel in Dramatic Form. Plus an interview with Hillary Sydlowski, leader of the Not School Introductory Readings in Philosophy Group.

This Digest (our first since last August) is jam-freakin’ packed, with folks moaning over difficult texts and crooning over easy ones. We’ve got good microphones side by side with terrible microphones so you can learn the difference! Wacky sound effects! A song (“Messed Up People” by The MayTricks, from 1994′s Happy Songs Will Bring You Down) spread out over two places but yet still not adding up to one whole song! The first minutes of several conversations, you know, before everyone got warmed up and comfortable! A commercial that sounds like real content, and some real content that sounds like a commercial! Such a thing is to be missed only if you have an ear infection! (We do that so you get the summary: you still learn what these works are about even just listening to these little bits, and you don’t have time to get bored.)

Please support our sponsor Squarespace: Go to and use the offer code Examine to get a free trial offer and 10% off.

And of course, become a Citizen to get the full discussions and join the new Not School groups for March.

Feb 282014

CrystalsWe had a very pleasant recording with David Brin this last Tuesday, and he gave us permission in the course of that to post for our Citizenry an exclusive draft of a philosophical work he’s hashing out at present: “Sixteen Modern Questions About Humanity’s Relationship With its Creator in the Context of an Age of Science,” a whopping 60+ page essay that considers such questions as:

What debt or obedience does a “creation” owe to its creator?
Must we be coerced, or bribed, to do what is right?
Are people basically frail, and are ideas intrinsically dangerous?
What is our purpose?

…And 12 more that sound less cool when just written down out of context like that! To access this document, become a PEL Citizen and go to the Free Stuff page. He would appreciate feedback on this from the philosophically educated, so I’ll ask that you record any such as comments on this blog post, and I’ll point David to it as a big, unorganized mass around when ep. #91 comes out. Needless to say, folks that download this should not repost it anywhere or send it to friends. If you do, your avatar will not be included in the crystal spheres that represent our only shot at immortality and inter-stellar travel!

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Feb 242014

David BrinListen to Mark’s Precognition framing our discussion now.

We talked on the evening of Tuesday 2/25 with David Brin, one of our most philosophical science fiction authors, whose most recent novel Existence (2012) certainly has a philosophical sounding name. But no, it’s not about ontology, about Being, or about existentialism, but about our continued existence as a species on the planet. Is it inevitable that humanity will die off, or do we actually have a chance at spreading out over the galaxy a la Star Trek et al?

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Feb 242014

Mark Linsenmayer frames our upcoming discussion with sci-fi author David Brin about his 2012 novel Existence.

Read more about the topic at Listen to the episode.

Get a transcript from our Free Stuff for Citizens page.