The Casual Blog

Tag: Rationally Speaking

Eno River wildflowers, a good spin, and some favorite podcasts

The Eno River, near the ruin of the old pump station

On Friday, I had a mini-adventure exploring Eno River State Park.   I asked a friendly staffer  at the park office for a good place to look for wildflowers, and so found my way to the pump station trail.  

It was a lovely calming place.   I walked slowly, looking for tiny blossoms, some of whom are shy and easy to miss.   Sometimes I got down on my belly for an extreme close up.   I heard the river and a  number of migrant warblers singing, though I couldn’t see them in the new leaves.  

On Saturday morning I did a 45-minute spin class at Flywheel, which I’ve been trying to do once a week.  As usual, it was hard.   I met my objectives of getting 300 points ( though barely, with 301), and staying out of last place.  In fact, I finished first in the class.  I also set a new record for my average heart rate, with 158, and a peak of 168.  And I didn’t die!

Eno flowers-3Most mornings I’ve been getting up at 5:05 and heading to the gym.  I’ve been swimming one day a week, and on the others I do a combination of various aerobic machines (stairs, treadmill, elliptical, bike, row) and weights.

During the non-wet workouts I’ve been listening to some stimulating and fun podcasts.  I usually start with some news in Spanish (Voz de America) and French (RFI), and then explore some history, science, or other interesting domain.  Here are some recent favorites.

S-Town.  I finished the seventh of seven episodes last week, and loved it!    This was done by  some of the same creative folks that did Serial and has a similar format.  It starts out being about a crime in a small Alabama town, but ends up being about a quirky and mercurial guy and his community.  Parts of it are shocking and tragic, but it’s also funny and compelling.     

Radiolab.  These folks focus on science and social issues, and sometimes they’re very lively.  I particularly liked their recent episode on our nuclear command structure, which gives the President complete and unconstrained control of a nuclear force that could end the world as we know it.    That is, we put the question of whether the human race survives or not in one person’s hands.  I learned there’s a pending bill that would add some congressional oversight, which could mitigate this existentially risky situation a little.

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Common Sense.  From time to time, Dan Carlin does long form podcasts on public policy matters, and they are well researched and thought-provoking.   His most recent one concerns America’s health care system, which he points out is not by any measure the best in the world, but is far and away the most expensive.   Carlin has some ideas on how we got to this absurd state of affairs, and how we might get out.

Rationally Speaking.  The format here is Julia Galef interviewing smart people about social and philosophical issues.  This week I went into the archive and listened to her conversation with Peter Singer about ethics and animal rights, and liked it a lot. 

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Waking Up.  This is another podcast where a smart person, here Sam Harris, interviews another smart person.  The most recent one is a conversation with Lawrence Krauss, which covers a wide range, from quantum physics to the under-appreciated nuclear threat to the overhyped threat of Islamic terrorism.

The New Yorker Radio Hour.  Somehow David Remnick manages to edit the New Yorker, read everything, watch a lot of television, and do this podcast. Each episode has several segments, which usually include an author talking about a recent piece in the magazine.  Those are usually goods, though just as with the magazine, there are some that I would skip.  

This American Life.  Even after all these years on NPR, Ira Glass and company are still almost always fresh and original.  

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A family visit, defending against motivated reasoning, Mozart’s Figaro, and swimming

Sally’s flowers, with snow falling on Sunday morning

The weather in Raleigh was sunny and mild this week, and the trees started to leaf in.  I was looking forward to some outdoor activities for the weekend, but the temperature dropped into the thirties on Saturday, and on Sunday there was light snow.  

Jocelyn came down from New York to visit us this weekend, along with her friend Kyle.  Gabe and our granddog, Mowgli, also stopped by.  We had some of Sally’s good cooking and some lively conversation.  Among other topics, we considered what’s happening to journalism, including fake news, imaginary fake news, and partisan attacks on media, and how it is possible to be both highly intelligent and deeply deluded.

Jocelyn, ready for dinner

I told them about a podcast by Julia Galef called Rationally Speaking  in which Galef talks with intellectuals about their ideas.  She likes a good argument, and keeps things popping along.  I find her openness to new ideas and curiosity to be really cheering and inspiring.  

Kyle, ready for dinner

This week I came upon a talk Galef did last year at a Tedx conference titled Why You Think You’re Right, Even When You’re Wrong, in which she gives a good way of thinking about  motivated reasoning and how to do less of it.  She analogizes different thought habits to two types of army soldiers:  regular fighters and scouts. 

She summed up the idea here:

Our judgment is strongly influenced, unconsciously, by which side we want to win. And this is ubiquitous. This shapes how we think about our health, our relationships, how we decide how to vote, what we consider fair or ethical. What’s most scary to me about motivated reasoning or soldier mindset, is how unconscious it is. We can think we’re being objective and fair-minded and still wind up ruining the life of an innocent man. …

So  . . . what I call “scout mindset” [is] the drive not to make one idea win or another lose, but just to see what’s really there as honestly and accurately as you can, even if it’s not pretty or convenient or pleasant. This mindset is what I’m personally passionate about. And I’ve spent the last few years examining and trying to figure out what causes scout mindset. Why are some people, sometimes at least, able to cut through their own prejudices and biases and motivations and just try to see the facts and the evidence as objectively as they can?

And the answer is emotional. So, just as soldier mindset is rooted in emotions like defensiveness or tribalism, scout mindset is, too. It’s just rooted in different emotions.For example, scouts are curious. They’re more likely to say they feel pleasure when they learn new information or an itch to solve a puzzle. They’re more likely to feel intrigued when they encounter something that contradicts their expectations. Scouts also have different values. They’re more likely to say they think it’s virtuous to test your own beliefs,and they’re less likely to say that someone who changes his mind seems weak. And above all, scouts are grounded, which means their self-worth as a person isn’t tied to how right or wrong they are about any particular topic. So they can believe that capital punishment works. If studies come out showing that it doesn’t, they can say, “Huh. Looks like I might be wrong. Doesn’t mean I’m bad or stupid.”

Galef comes at some of these same issues from a different direction in a short (5:41) YouTube talk titled How to Want to Change Your Mind.  Here again, she proposes looking at reasoning as having an emotional component that needs to be addressed in the interest of better thinking.  We tend to get defensive and closed off when we feel threatened, and Galef has some helpful tips for counteracting that tendency.  For example, she suggests picturing your opinion as separate from your self.  She also notes that it’s possible to get comfortable and even pleased to discover your belief is mistaken — because you’ve just gotten wiser!

Gabe with beer

The Marriage of Figaro

Last week we saw and heard The Marriage of Figaro by W.A. Mozart and G. de Ponti in a performance by the N.C. Opera.  It was sublime.  The music all by itself is brilliant, well worth listening to even without benefit of story.  The story is essentially a comedy of love, but a unique and strange one — startlingly dark and cynical by moments, but also poignant by moments.

The leads all sang beautifully, and just as important, created believably human characters with their acting.  Jennifer Cherrest as Susanna brought wry saucy humor along with her tonal strength and range.  She had good chemistry with Figaro, her betrothed, the very fine Tyler Simpson.  Other standouts included D’Ana Lombard as Countess Almaviva, who had a lovely voice and musicality.  Cherubino (Jennifer Panara) was wonderfully comic.

Swimming again

Earlier in the week, I added back some lap swimming to my exercise regime.  I’d gotten out of the habit when the Pullen Park pool closed for repairs and then quit having morning hours.  The gym I joined earlier this year has a small lap pool, but I found it hard to get motivated to head toward the water in the early hours, when it’s cold and dark.  But once back in,  I quickly remembered what I like about swimming.  The water feels good on your skin.  There’s a rhythm to it, and quietness.

Our granddog, Mowgli