23: Agnes Callard - Courage, Meta-cognitive detachment and their limits
|Courage, Meta-cognitive detachment and their limits|
|Release Date||24 February 2020|
|YouTube Date||11 March 2020|
Philosopher and University of Chicago Professor Agnes Callard sits down with Eric on this episode of The Portal. Agnes is a champion of the philosophical tradition of attempting to detach the capacity for inquiry and reason from the fog of feelings and societal taboos that often keep us from delving deeper into the questions that animate our lives.
Agnes began this unusual back and forth by writing an article about status negotiation in first meetings shortly after the pair first met. Eric and Agnes then use the opportunity of this episode to continue this line of thought by exploring the limits of courage and meta-cognition within the examined life of a modern Philosopher. This results in a real-time exploration by two people who mutually respect each other as to whether they can actually negotiate a detached discussion in real time on the very issues of status, feeling, and taboo that may divide them and/or arise between them.
As Agnes has written thoughtfully about the many layers of anger, the conversation culminates by exploring dyadic feelings of hurt and indignation with which we all struggle and suffer in our relationships. Ultimately the two finish this experimental conversation with good cheer, together with a wish to continue the discussion at a later date under continuing mutual fondness and admiration.
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Eric Weinstein Hello, you've found The Portal. I'm your host Eric Weinstien and today I am here with University of Chicago Professor of Philosophy, Agnes Callard.
Agnes Callard Hi.
Eric Weinstein Agnes welcome!
Agnes Callard Thank you.
Eric Weinstein I want to talk to you about everything,
Agnes Callard Okay.
Eric Weinstein Do you mind?
Agnes Callard No.
Eric Weinstein 0:23 So you just had an interesting and bizarre game, but I didn't know that you were coming out to Southern California. And you said to me that after a meeting we had at in your office at the University of Chicago. Hey, you should take a look at this article I wrote partially based on our meeting. And the meat. The article is one about negotiating initial meetings and what are all of the layers of dynamics that are going on when two people collide for the first time?
Agnes Callard 0:55 Yeah, I think that when two people collide for the first time, I guess they're sort of Two things at the base level that are happening. One of them is like they're trying to figure out how to get along how to cooperate. And the other is they're trying to take the measure of one another. And those activities aren't totally separate from one another.
Eric Weinstein 1:12 And I've noticed a pattern with you, which is that you take great delight in talking about the things that many of us do sort of, naturally or unconsciously, and might be very uncomfortable to promote to full consciousness, so that you can use your metacognitive facility to interrogate and dissect what is going on many, many different levels, some of them philosophy, philosophical, some of them rooted in biology. Some of them may be with allusions to literature. When you and I met, were you aware of what you were going through in real time, or did it come to you later, that this was going to be grist for an article
Agnes Callard 2:00 Totally later I was my mind was completely another article I was working on
Eric Weinstein 2:03 was you weren't concentrating when we were when we were meeting? Our meeting?
Agnes Callard 2:08 No, not really. I mean, I mean, I think that a lot of the time. You know, I feel like um, a lot of the thinking that I do is like unpacking thinking I did earlier but wasn't realizing I was doing or something like that. So like
Eric Weinstein 2:25 tarred with the language when you have to say, I and you're actually realizing that you have so many different processes. Right? Yeah. Okay, keep going.
Agnes Callard 2:32 Um, but I guess maybe one common thread. I do like to, yeah, maybe I have a kind of affinity towards like the provocative or something, but maybe at a, at a deeper level. I think that there's just like, when we talk about ourselves, when we think about our lives, there are all these sort of cracks in the facade of like, who we take ourselves to be and how we represent ourselves and but the thing is that like, we've kind have convinced ourselves that the cracks are parts of the design because we've been looking at them for so long, right? Like, what a pretty pattern. And I just want to split those cracks open and be like, Look, there's something incoherent in the way that we think about ourselves. And we've covered that incoherence over with certain kind of language. And just a lot of the time, those cracks are to be found exactly in the places that you would call maybe provocative or something like that. But sometimes they're not. And I'm interested in them in those places, too. It's just other people who are not philosophers are less interested in those cracks, right. So I wrote my dissertation on weakness of will, where I think that there's something
Eric Weinstein 3:34 this will like Ulysses lashing himself to the mass.
Agnes Callard 3:38 Well, that would be a case of strength of well, right. But yes, he's responding to the prospect to the possibility of weakness. So he's
Eric Weinstein 3:43 using his agency ahead of time with a strong will, so that he can actually go through an adaptive valley of weak will that he anticipates correctly.
Agnes Callard 3:52 He's Yeah, he's sort of turning a synchronic problem into a diachronic problem right into he's giving the diachronic solution to a synchronic problem, but like, so which I can do say if I know that I'm very susceptible to certain forms of temptation, I could in advance make sure that I don't encounter those forms of temptation. Right. So what Ulysses is to see us doing, but I'm just I was very interested in just how we describe a situation in which we say, I know I shouldn't have another cookie, but I take one anyway. It's totally familiar. We're totally comfortable talking in that way. I think it's an incoherent way of talking. So that's where that's an example where it's not particularly provocative. It's not, like, controversial in the sense of sensitive topic, but it's just a place where our speech about ourselves is cracked, and incoherent, but we just have done it for so long that we don't notice
Eric Weinstein 4:40 it only because the cookie isn't a threesome or a pile of cocaine.
Agnes Callard 4:45 No, I think it would be just as incoherent in those cases, if you could say to yourself
Eric Weinstein 4:49 or but it would be provocative.
Agnes Callard 4:51 Oh, yes, absolutely. Right.
Eric Weinstein 4:52 The issue of provocation doesn't have to do with the abstract universality class of the problem. It has to do Simply with its particular instantiation
Agnes Callard 5:02 correct, though, I think that there are problems where even like, there, the correct level of abstraction is to abstract from the difference between cookies or cocaine, cookies and cocaine because that difference isn't philosophically interesting. But there are some problems where the correct level of abstraction is the provocative level. Right. So I think the status one, it's the provocative level,
Eric Weinstein 5:22 say more about that.
Agnes Callard 5:24 Um, I think that, I guess I think it's not the case that the problem that I raised there about status about, you know, wanting on some level to be worth more than other people, but then also recognizing that that desire is somehow not one that you can ask another person to recognize, right, that problem isn't some instance of a more general problem. I don't see it as an instance of a more general problem, where the solution would live that abstract level, I think that's the correct level at which to address it.
Eric Weinstein 5:54 Why do you imagine that? Why do you imagine this status. So in your article, you say that the status game is one in which you can't really discuss your desire or need for status. Yeah. Is that true?
Agnes Callard 6:09 It's not. It's not true in all contexts. Like I could I got, you know, I wrote a column about it, obviously, I can discuss it, and I can discuss it with you right now. But there's this
Agnes Callard 6:27 there would be something wrong. Like, you know, I had this interaction with somebody who I felt was asking me to acknowledge their status recently. And I had this instinct to say, I would like to acknowledge your status, you're more important than me now. Can we just go on and I couldn't do that. That wasn't allowed. I knew that was not allowed within the game that would have been offensive, right? So it's a rule of the game that you have to pretend that you're not playing it, but you can then sort of like, take a step back, right and then be like, oh, let's animal you can always Do that. And I'm sorry, can't always do it, but you can sometimes do it. But that's not the that's almost like putting the game on pause, and then stepping back and analyzing what was happening.
Eric Weinstein 7:10 So in other words, you have the game in a debugger, and you're stepping through line lines of the code in a different facility than that, which is actually running the code.
Agnes Callard 7:19 Yes.
Eric Weinstein 7:20 Okay. So if that's the case,
Agnes Callard 7:24 why is that I can't interview there, there's no guarantee that you won't then be reprising the game at the second level.
Eric Weinstein 7:31 Well, so that's the issue, which is that each layer of analysis that you put on it becomes non meta relative to the following level of meta analysis that includes that layer. And then you have a question of convergence, in essence, where you have an initial game, then you have a meta game. So your article was extensively in the second level of that game, but then effectively, what you did was you communicated to me whatever status game you and I negotiated in your office, I have a different status game, which is that I have access to a learned journal in which I can write articles. I thought you were important enough to write an article, in part inspired by our meeting. And then I'm communicating that I to you know, have leavers that may not be available to you. And I wish to let you know that you're both important enough to warrant this thinking simultaneously. Don't think that you've got away with something because in fact, I can see things. Awesome.
Agnes Callard 8:29 Yeah, I think that's right. So I think what that reveals is like, so notice you use in a couple of your practices were metacognitive. And I think that I'm much more of a skeptic about how much work the medic can do, at least immediately for exactly this reason. I think that like, like, when you step back, it doesn't matter what you're stepping back from, okay, like you're in a situation you're like, let me step back and think about this or let me step back and cool. My, you know, from my emotions, let me step back. You're never stepping back. You're always just the same person. You were It's an illusion to think you can step back. Um, but I think what what does happen when you step back is like stepping back happens at least a moment later than what
Eric Weinstein 9:09 what was happening? I don't think so in some sense, because really what I, the way I see it and I'm eager to hear if I'm wrong in your eyes is that what we just did is we had zero with layer, which is our initial meeting, then we had the issue where you wish to notify me that you'd written an article partially inspired by this and then I wish to bring this up on the podcast, which is the next layer. And then we can talk about the fact that I just in my point in doing this is that we build an infinite tower of analyses of the previous level analysis. So meta is not a different facility but simply the recognition that layer i plus one is commenting on layer Hi,
Agnes Callard 9:50 I but the thing that that the metaphor of the tower, the problem of that is that it's synchronic. And so I think that I've changed between our initial meeting and Like the writing that article, it was like, I just sat down and wrote it, I had to think really hard about that meeting, I had an initial version that was totally scrapped. I learned in between our meeting and writing that article, and I've even learned in between, like, you know, talking about it with you. And now, right, so I'm like a different person, you're talking to a different person than you were talking to when we first met?
Eric Weinstein 10:23 In one sense,
Agnes Callard 10:24 in one sense, yes. In the sense that I've, it's not a tower, like I've sort of incorporated some of the lessons from that interaction.
Agnes Callard 10:35 So
Agnes Callard 10:38 and I think one thing is like, you notice a little bit like I remember there were these when, when my son's preschool when he first started, there were these charts that were like diagrams of how kids move around a room in like a point. So he's like two or three years old, right? Like so it was like this line, like First they go to the sandbox, and they go to The block sunlight, right? So it was amazing as you look at the lines for like, a three year old. Yeah. And it's like just this like scribble Scrabble, they randomly wander around and then and then they had these diagrams for like the five, you know, not even though I think it would be like a couple months later towards the end of the year of the same. So they're the same age, but they're like a little bit older, and they're like, much more organized. Right. So I see that as happening with conversation with you. Where part of what's happening is like learning to focus, right. And that's not really well captured, I think with the idea of a meta level.
Eric Weinstein 11:37 Not sure that I understood that.
Agnes Callard 11:39 Well, um, the
Eric Weinstein 11:42 so can we talk a little bit about the particular status game in our in our subsequent interpretations of what it meant? Okay. So was very interesting. When I was just talking to before the show, you talked to me about saying, I'm not even sure that status is exactly the right word for what we were negotiating. And that was an intuition we're having Hadn't grounded yet in language. It's in some sort more primitive, kind of intangible state. And I'd forgotten exactly what the issue was. But that you'd note you'd known very little about me. I think Tyler Cowen had maybe alerted us to me. Yes. And that wasn't particularly surprising to me. I didn't don't expect people to know who I am. But what little you did know about me was that somehow, I was part of a money machine as a managing director of a family office, and that that was going to be the kind of the expansion points that that was going to be like, the zero width approximation, and then we'd add first and second third order approximations based on that expansion point, right, which drove me nuts. Right, because that would never be the expansion point that I would choose for myself, nor do I think it is the correct one. And then we had some interesting other issues, if I yeah, which is that I've heard a great deal. About you more than I've read of your thinking and work, and many people that I like, regard you highly. And I thought, Okay, well, this is likely to be a singular person. And it would be a shame to lose a singular person based on a wrong expansion point in a conversation. So there was sort of an emergency need to rebase the conception of the other around a more fruitful point. So it's not to lose a potentially interesting interaction. And then, when I communicated this to you, you and I both share an aversion to talking about the world of exceptional people, which often the members of the world of exceptional people constantly regard themselves and the other is exceptional in a kind of self congratulatory display. So the whole thing kind of descends into an orgy of analysis on analysis and analysis. And I wonder why we're not just more capable of doing this. More simply like hey, I'm worried you're forming a an incorrect impression of me or I need some acknowledgement from you that there is an issue of accomplishment or you know, so that you don't start lecturing me about basic mathematics if I'm a mathematician, let's say,
Agnes Callard 14:14 right, so, first of all, like, I think I actually do think this is probably a sort of a difference between us in that suppose that I thought you knew me as just all that you knew about me was that I was a mother or something. Okay? Like, I'm not sure. Like, I guess what I thought you knew about me was that I was like, an academic or something. And I'm not sure that that would have mattered to me, like which of those you had picked. But, um, so so. So, um, but in terms of why we can't just directly ask for this, I think we could have if, like, we were like, teenagers or something, but I think we learned not to do it. Like we learned. We learned how to interact If people right, and that's a rule, and so we're both following the rule,
Eric Weinstein 15:04 somewhat. I mean, I think that there's also this problem, maybe I'll pose it to you. Why truth doesn't work. Like I'm not a huge fan of truth the way some people are. And
Agnes Callard 15:15 I'm a huge fan of truth. Oh,
Eric Weinstein 15:17 that's beautiful. So I posed them the problem of, if I have only mildly bad breath, and you wish to let me know that for my own benefit, what's a way in which you could communicate to me that I have mildly bad breath? And I've actually never met anyone who solved this puzzle. So you should try the zeroeth order first, and we'll see why it gets into trouble.
Agnes Callard 15:39 Right. So that would just be saying you have mildly bad breath.
Eric Weinstein 15:42 Right now because of the context of that the interpretation of that statement is my god is such a taboo to talk about someone's breath must be horrible. It must be horrible for you to say that it is mild and so what you've done is you've communicated an untruth even though you intended so then you start thinking about the problem. have like your eyeball is distorted. So you need a second distortion in this in this case your spectacles so that the aggregate of the two is undistorted.
Agnes Callard 16:10 Can I give my answer?
Eric Weinstein 16:11 Yeah, please. I think of the philosopher. It'd be awesome.
Agnes Callard 16:14 Um, I think I would be like, Oh my god, I can't believe this is actually happening because this one time, I talked to Eric Weinstein, and he posed this as a problem. What do you do? What do you tell someone when they have my Libra breath? And now I'm in that situation? That's what I would say to the person.
Eric Weinstein 16:32 Do you think it gets read that way?
Agnes Callard 16:34 I have no idea. I mean, I'm giving you an answer in the abstract, no renting from the person. Right. Right. Trying
Eric Weinstein 16:40 to I'm trying to make the point that
Agnes Callard 16:42 my point is that would be a cool way that like, I would say that just because I would be curious with how the person is going to respond. So like, there's a question how do you how do you do this? What's a successful interaction? Right? For me, that's a that's a promising response because it might generate an interesting conversation. It
Eric Weinstein 16:59 will generate interesting conversation. The issue though is to my way of thinking that you have to give up on truthful communication, because of its impossibility in order to start seeing what is possible, but we're truth is a component and an interest, but it can't be a goal. In other words, if I say, you know, what is the fractional representation of pi doesn't mean you can can't come close. But you're never going to get there with two integers dividing one by the other. So, my claim is, is that it's very important to give up on the possibility of truth from the from the get go.
Agnes Callard 17:38 So that doesn't seem right to me. So um, I mean, one thing is, it may be that I cannot immediately communicate to you the truth,
Eric Weinstein 17:47 I think was I learn you that I will realize that you speak in in that undistorted fashion you believe
Agnes Callard 17:52 no, um, I think that one thing that happens is that people they learn In like a new shared language, like they learn how to communicate with one another, right? And they become better at doing that. And it may be that it seems to me that the goal of that process is always to communicate better and more truthfully though, it's also I think, really important to distinguish which truths are important and unimportant to communicate or less important to communicate, because you have to focus somewhere to write. But I think that the only goals you can have in modulating that process, the only possible goal is being able not not just to communicate but to learn truths from that person. That's the fueling the whole process. Otherwise, why would you be in it for?
Eric Weinstein 18:49 Well, the four things that I try to reduce my objectives to us, this is subject to change. In fact, you somewhat frightened me, maybe I will have to Based on what you're about to say next, our truth meaning fitness and grace. So something can be truthful, but it can lead to a reduction in my fitness as a creature. So a self extinguishing truth is not an interesting truth to be Jordan Peterson tried to fold fitness into truth itself. And he got into trouble with Sam Harris who was having none of it, then there's a question of meaning maybe I'm something is true, and it means that I will be fit, but it actually robs my life of meaning when somebody I care about deeply is regarded as an aggregate of hadrons and leptons and forced particles. That may be true, but it it completely robs that person of meaning. If I if I realized that, you know, with 26 letters, let's say, and a few spaces, I can take, let's say an alphabet of 40 characters or less, and raise it to a very high power and instead, Hamlet is somewhere found within that Isn't that maybe truthful? Maybe that there are a finite number of works possible and Shakespeare merely selected one from a giant lookup table. But that tends to rob the work of any majesty in meaning. And then there's an aspect of grace, which is that even if I can find meaning and fitness and truth together, if the solution is brutal, and cruel and lacks some sort of ineffable quality of, of mercy and, and kind of, I don't know simplicity of heart, I tend to turn against those things where one has to do something absolutely despicable, for example, to perpetuate one's group's fitness. So I don't know how to get beyond those four object, those four sub components of an objective function and what I'm always astounded by is people who are crazy about truth.
Agnes Callard 20:54 Yeah, good. So
Agnes Callard 20:57 maybe Can I defend being crazy about truth? Okay. So So first of all, like, I think anytime you divide things and like philosophers disagree about this, like some philosophers are fine with a certain thing I'm about to describe, but like, I think you can't just divide things into four things. You're like, here are the four things. These are the things I found. I'm like, well, what's the principle of division? Like? Is that just something you made up? Like, what if we come up with a fifth one? So I want to understand it. I want to understand sort of how the whole is articulated into those things. Until I understand that I just don't feel like I've, I've understood anything. Like why not? Okay, why not pleasure? Why isn't pleasure one of them enjoyment?
Eric Weinstein 21:36 Well, in part that is part of meaning and it's also part of grace as long as the proximate of pleasure. See, pleasure arises in my concept concept as the proximate to fitness. So the way in which that we're structured as animals is that our ultimate concerns like nutrition and reconsolidation of long term Memory are encoded as hunger and sleepiness and the approximates caused us to take actions to service the ultimates. So pleasures that is, in some sense, the divorcing of the approximates from their ultimate goals. I just did a cupcake I really shouldn't have. But the proximate pleasure because my body thinks that I'm starved for sugar when in our current environment, it's abundant. So I,
Agnes Callard 22:29 you just gave an argument that suggested that pleasure does not fit into fitness because the proximate measures
Eric Weinstein 22:34 can be divorced from its ultimate goals.
Agnes Callard 22:37 Right. So at least some people might think that would warrant putting closure into its own into a separate category,
Eric Weinstein 22:44 but I don't want it right.
Agnes Callard 22:46 But what I'm saying is the fact that you don't want to that indicates that for some reason, you're wedded to this quadripartite Division, that which is not
Eric Weinstein 22:53 pleasant. quadripartite Yes, never said that.
Agnes Callard 22:57 Um, but so let me let me tell you how I would divide. Okay, okay. So I would start with thinking, Okay, there's thinking right anytime you do, and I think conversation is a form of thinking, in fact, a lot of times it's the best form of thinking. And I think that any thinking has to have a goal.
Agnes Callard 23:13 While there's an exception, but
Agnes Callard 23:15 the main case thinking has to have a goal. And I think there are two goals I think you can have one of them is understanding, okay, where truth is a necessary condition has to arrive at the truth in order to be understanding, it's not sufficient, because there are just truths that are not important to know. And so so a lot of thinking that we do will end when you've understood whatever it was, you're trying to understand, you're like, I got it. There. We're done. And some forms of thinking are wonderful. Like, a lot of mathematical forms of thinking are wonderful precisely because you reckon it's really clear when you've gotten to that point, and you have this like aha moment. Plato actually describe that as almost like you're remembering something you knew before because it has that recognition, like memory. Okay, that's understanding. Then there's another kind of thinking I think of it as very different and you are right that some people want to collapse these two and I don't think they should be called laughs which is thinking that aims at the good in some way. And that's deliberation. So it's reasoning about how to achieve some good. And I also think we often do that with other people. And so we might want to bring something about and we think about how to do that. Okay.
Agnes Callard 24:17 I think those are the basic
Agnes Callard 24:20 aims of thinking, either understanding or some good that we're trying to bring about. And I don't think they're the same. And some people like specially like, some, like economists, I think are especially prone to collapsing them. You know, Marx's idea, the point of philosophy, philosophers have tried to understand the world. The point is to change it. It's amazing because the humbled the philosophy department in Germany in the you know, the humble University actually has that as their slogan and I was like, Guys, you are philosophers. How can that be your slogan? You're trying to you're not trying to do this. You're the one people should not have this as your slogan. But in any case, that idea that marks but not just marks is trying to collapse the theoretical and the practical the the idea that understanding is a goal. And it's like, the only reason you would ever have to understand is that you want to achieve something good. That's a way to collapse the two. So I don't think they should be collapse. I think they're separate. But that's the basic division. I actually think we do some thinking that doesn't fall into this division. That's very, very interesting. I think some of the kind of emotional upheaval in our life doesn't fall into this division. But for me, see, that's a principle just division, right? And truth has a part in it. Now, I think a lot of the things you're worried about with meaning, like, are these truths that robbed my life of meaning. What I would say is that those are situations in which you have accepted a descriptive analysis as a reductive one. So like, it's true that I made of atoms. Okay, that's true. I think it's true. But that doesn't tell you who I really am. It's, it's a truth about me, but it's not a good answer to a certain question. And so you shouldn't confuse the idea that something is a true proposition with the idea that it's a good answer to a question, in a sense, the question Who am I who am I really is like the Question you were seeking an answer to when we first met? And if I had said, Oh, I'm a bunch of atoms like that wouldn't have satisfied you wouldn't been an answer to your question. So I would fold the meaning into understanding with the proviso that you have to, you have to hold on tight to your question and make sure that what someone has said in answer to it isn't just a true statement, but actually an answer to the question.
Eric Weinstein 26:22 But my way of thinking I would not say it's a category or that questions are, as physicists would call them. observables are tied to a strata, and that there are certain questions that are badly suited to a particular strata. So your description is Adams and your description as Agnus, corresponded to different let's say, effective theories, which is sort of the tower of lies where there are more allies when when I call you Agnes than when I specify each of the atoms in your body. But the point is, is that the question about what is Agnus? Like is not really question at the atomic layer. It's a question At this personality layer with it with. So in fact, it is a kind of category error to explore meaning doesn't belong at the atomic layer, there is no atomic meaning.
Agnes Callard 27:13 Right, exactly. But that's why I think that you don't need a separate meaning box, you just need to keep track of your questions.
Eric Weinstein 27:20 Well, that would be so you know, just the way polar versus rectangular coordinates are two different ways of talking about something. I think you could, you could make that point. But what I think what I'm trying to get at is that I watch people, you know, the reason I've never taken a particular interest interest in philosophy is that once you've taken a particular interest in mathematics, you understand just how sensitive many of these things are to small issues of language. Right? And this is partially what happened to philosophy is that there were a lot of big interesting questions and then there was a period of time where it became a focus on language rather than on big meaning Full meaty questions. I don't know that the human layer supports this level of analysis because of some of the reasons that we're talking about. So, you know, we can notice, I don't even think, for example, that there is a status game. I think that there's a panoply of status games, and that they're taking place simultaneously in a million different dimensions. And the key question is, can we isolate the principal components of some of those so that we understand what like, what, what is, what is where's the majority of the action happening? Or are we actually doing violence to the problem by virtue of the fact that we've singled out a few of them, and then we've mis named it? Well, that was going on in the status game. So for example, any univariate measure has the property that it has an ordering on it, but every by variant measure unless there's a metric does not imply an ordering, like if you have one attribute that that's positive that is greater than mine and one that is worse until we can To say in some sense how those two things interrelate. We can't say Agnus is better than Eric or Eric is better than Magnus. However, if there's only one attribute, like, who can run faster than one of us is better than the other? This is worse unless there's a bizarre tie. Now, what what I'm trying to get at is here we are 21st century beings. And we're outside of the confines of the Academy. And the key question is, what is this philosophical modality doing in our lives? How does it is the is the examined life, really aided by philosophy? Or is there a sort of infinite tower of questions and that it's sort of a an intellectual check kiting scheme by which you keep getting into deeper and deeper water by noticing something only to find out that the noticing created a larger problem than the previous one that you had?
Agnes Callard 29:55 I think one way to put the case for philosophies like you have To have a right you have to you can't just draw a distinction you're just not allowed to just draw a distinction. That's why so the thing about the quadripartite you're not just allowed to slash the world up into bits. The place where this come to place where philosophy comes from, is permanent permanent ease was really the first philosophy okay. And you know, this is pre Plato, right? This is the pre Socratic philosophers. And you know, he, he likes Zeno's paradoxes are sort of woven into permitted dn ism. But the basic idea of base parentis basic thought is that there's only one thing you can say it is. So there's just there's just one thing it and there's one thing you can say about it, that it is and you're like, well, I'm permitted he's no Look, there's also like this chair is and from entities is saying says, Well, if you say that the chair is and you want to say that the chair is something and is different from say that table, right, then you're saying that the chair is not table. So you're saying that the chair is not.
Agnes Callard 31:06 But you're also saying that it is
Agnes Callard 31:08 permittees. And generations of people have to prime entities thought this was like just this really terrible puzzle about how non being can be, how can how can there be anything that isn't like this chair not being this table? And the problem of non being is has a lot of different manifestations. So differences, one manifestation change over time, how can the chair at one time exists and then later it's collapsed and it's not there anymore? And, you know, permittees thought was that our like, our thinking cannot support this way of talking. It's like, it's just words when we when we when we talk about the diversity out in the world, and there's only one thing we can coherently say there's only one thing where when we say it, we've understood what we said. And that's, it is Now Plato comes along and he's like, not permitted. That's nuts. We have to be able to talk about some kinds of difference. But you're right that the entire world as we see it, right, the entire sensible world, that's just nonsense. That doesn't make any sense. That's a bunch of contradictions. But there are these things called forms. Okay, like the beautiful or the just or whatever, at least the beautiful, it's always beautiful. The only thing is true about it is that it is beautiful. And that's something I can say the beautiful is beautiful. The Justice just so at least I'm, I'm like one step beyond permittees. Right. I'm like, I can talk about these forms. I still can't talk about the chair. Right. Okay, and then you get Aristotle and Aristotle is like, no, guys, we have to be able to talk about like human beings and things and, and we need to enrich our language further. Now. The reason I bring all this up is that the basic philosophical impulse is that when you draw distinctions and you carve things up, and you talk about layers, okay? You've in a sense, even a sense, collapse your own thought into a bunch of different things that are like, not unified, right? And you need to Be able to see the unity of them. If you can't, you haven't actually had a thought, like you haven't thought anything. You just said words. So philosophers are constantly attuned to this worry that we might just be saying words and not having thoughts and that there's a standard for the unity of a thought that's like a pretty high standard. And, and so like, if you draw a distinction, you need to understand the unity that underlies that distinction and what legitimates the distinction and so, like, if I say, you know, if I say even like, I ate the cookie, even though I knew that it wasn't the right thing to do, and you're like, Well, wait a minute, you freely the cookie you chose to the cookie. Yes. So that was an intentional action. Yes. So unintentional actions when we have a reason Yes. So reason means that you think that all things considered the best thing to do yes, that's what a reason is, wait a minute, you just said you thought it was all things considered the best thing to do and you thought there was something better that you should do you just contradicted yourself right and permitted to stop the contradicting yourself was written into this is a chair and this is a table right? And so you know so we've come really far we can talk about so much now, but only I think because only if we can sort of back those checks that these distinctions have some way of like holding together
Eric Weinstein 34:18 breathe with me um yeah I don't I don't know why I'm so singularly unmoved by this kind of thinking
Agnes Callard 34:30 well I object to it well, what did I What did I Where did I go wrong? I don't want to waste I went wrong.
Eric Weinstein 34:35 You know hickel at some point said the absolute idea the idea is unity of the subject of an object of idea is the notion of the idea a notion whose object is the idea is such and for which objective is idea and object embracing all characteristics and its unity. Okay. When I talk like that, I sound insane to myself. And The key question for me is what is an idea that settles down? When it's analysis doesn't sort of alter and destroy it, it's sort of a fixed point, if you will under analysis. So, if I communicated the problem with, let's say, with the status game with which we began our discussion is that in some cases, when you call attention to your need for status, you diminish your status.
Agnes Callard 35:25 That's also true. I think that's not the only reason why you can't call
Eric Weinstein 35:28 it but there are ways in which you can try to call attention to your status in which the amount of status that you achieve by calling attention to your status remains constant, that the calling doesn't effectively alter the problem. For example, you might signal that you're comfortable enough in your own skin to talk about a part of your minds petty needs and a part of your minds reasonable needs for status. I have both, for example, and I don't think it's a terrible thing to say that there are times when I simply want to be regarded because I am And that there are times that I want to be regarded because it is important not to arrange a conversation. Let's say I only have 45 minutes for something. And if we begin with the wrong notion of who I am, it will take too long. So there's always this question in the bad breath example. The problem is, is that the talking about it has to do with an interpretive complex run client side and your internal inside your interlocutors mind. And so your input stimulates a process that is transpiring within the client side architecture. And it leads to an uncomfortable and unpleasant and not untrue outcome. If I could find the input, which when processed remains the input. Right? In other words, it's like an eigenvalue of truth and Eigen vector of truth, then that's something which is philosophically interesting to me. What What concerns me is the Tower of concepts and conflict Which don't seem to settle down, the more we understand them, you know that.
Agnes Callard 37:07 So one thing is, I really liked what you said about hago. When I talk like that I sound crazy to myself. So I think that is permanent ease this point about saying that something is not permanent. These is the guy who realized, when I talk like that, when I say the chairs, not the table, I sound crazy to myself, you're really used to talking that way, because that's just how we talk primenenie saw the giant crack and everything. And, and so if you think about how, like when I hear someone say, I know I shouldn't have this cookie, but I really feel like it's I'm gonna have it. If I talk like that, I sound crazy to myself. And so I'm like, I can't I can't talk like this. I have to find another way of talking.
Eric Weinstein 37:48 Okay, so that's the idea that at some level, first of all, you need a primary description. Most of us understand weakness of will intuitively but we don't understand weaknesses. Well as a is emergent from fundamental principles,
Agnes Callard 38:03 I think you don't understand it intuitively you just think you do.
Eric Weinstein 38:06 Well, again, you can pick out the phenomenon you can make, to your point about the practicality, you may be able to work with it at a practical level. So for example, I might be able to sell a product where you put cookies in a time release safe. And so you can't get as your own cookies until one is dispensed to you. People will immediately understand that. But the key question is, you know, can I take a placebo and get the placebo effect if it's labeled placebo? You know, these are the sort of unstable non fixed points of the of the philosophical problem. One of the reasons that I really love physics as an alternative to philosophy at its ground level is that it tends to be stable under analysis when we have an idea of it now in quantum mechanics, the propagation in quantum mechanics has a very stable interpretations. It may be wrong, but we think we know what's going on when we're asking how an electron moves. It's one of those electron gets measured when you're asking a bad question, which is, are you in state a or state B and it was in state a plus b, then the multiple choice nature of that quantum mechanical question is bizarrely accommodated by the system. Somewhat randomly falling into state a or state B is a weighted probability. Now that bothers us because we have the sense that maybe that's not really a fixed point. How did we know what we were when we asked the question where we part of the quantum system did we hold ourselves aside and keep ourselves classical while asking that the electron be considered quantum mechanically was in a semi quantum semi classical state, so we're not really sure whether we've committed a sin against God and logic in that case.
Agnes Callard 39:49 Yet good. I mean, I think that a lot of your worries about the the tower and the I still think they go back to something
Agnes Callard 40:03 There's a question whether we ever make any progress in a conversation, that seems to me to be the real question. They're like, can we learn from each other? And can we learn from each other in some sense?
Agnes Callard 40:19 without making
Agnes Callard 40:23 any
Agnes Callard 40:28 without taking as the frame of our conversations, something that we just happen to get slotted into and that we don't question, right.
Agnes Callard 40:36 And,
Agnes Callard 40:38 and I actually think that it's true about philosophy that you are not guaranteed in any way that the answer to that question is yes, you don't know that it's Yes. And that you've had epiphanies in conversations which have changed your life. Ah, my problem is that I have too many of them but yeah, I'm awesome. thought a dearth of epiphany. That's a total state instability. But can I just say there's, there's, there's this moment, okay? I'm like, I feel like you're, you're mean okay? This is the soccer. This is Plato's Mino. And they're having this conversation Socrates is like your your big opponent of excellence. Socrates Mino comes to Socrates. He's like, I want to I want excellence. How do I, how do I get it? And Socrates is like, well, let's start by figuring out what it is. And means like, that's not hard, right? That's super easy. meno says it's easy about like seven times in a row. It's really funny. He's like, here's what it is. Here's what it and Socrates like refutes a bunch of times and a certain point, he knows, like, Look, this is not going anywhere. Like, obviously, you can just sort of come up with more words against my words. How do we ever know we'll ever get anywhere with this, right? And Socrates, actually, at that point turns to math and they use a mathematical example about finding the double square. So if you have a square, and you want to find the square whose area is twice as big as that square and how somebody who's goes into problem making a certain set of assumptions will never find the answer type that he wants. It's great example. But the point is afterward Socrates is like, yeah, the truth is,
Agnes Callard 42:11 there is no guarantee we don't know. Right? But
Agnes Callard 42:16 I think that it is better. We will be better men. And braver. If we believe that we ought to inquire, then not. And, you know, you say you'd like physics, but I don't see it as an alternative in the sense that it's not going to give me it's the layers levels problem I it's just physics is not going to give me the answer to the questions I have. And I can't just abandon those questions, and I will be a coward if I didn't try to find answers to
Eric Weinstein 42:42 them. Coward isn't a very high state of the stack for high level of the stack. Right. In some sense. The questions that really have come to animate me throughout my adult life, have to do with this question is how how can we improve upon it is without involving ourselves, In the equation
Agnes Callard 43:03 maybe that's a good. I'm mostly interested in equations that essentially involve me. Right? So that may be a big difference when you say coward. Like, I think in some sense courage is what makes life worth living. Like, I wouldn't if I didn't,
Agnes Callard 43:21 if I thought it was person.
Agnes Callard 43:23 If I thought I didn't care about courage, like if I thought I was okay being a coward, yeah, I would think that my life might not be worth living. I think courage is the sense. The at least the sense of the importance of courage is the sense that life is not merely a biological
Agnes Callard 43:40 but life is worth something.
Eric Weinstein 43:41 Well, okay, so think about your background. You are not only Jewish, but Hungarian Jewish. Yes, that's notice anything. I mean, you want to talk about a group of non cowardly human beings, I would say Hungarian Jews are about one of the most courageous groups of people I've ever dealt with ethnically. Courage is a huge trait different even from other parts of the Ashkenazi.
Agnes Callard 44:10 I think it was very courageous of my parents to come here. Yeah, yeah.
Agnes Callard 44:15 But I don't think that they like
Agnes Callard 44:20 I don't know, did they? Did they I don't think courage is something you can like hand down in that way though I do think that you can facilitate the conditions of its acquisition and you can kind of
Eric Weinstein 44:29 there's a system of selective pressures that existed in Hungary in the Jewish community that produced an exaggerated extreme a file response right I mean, Edward Teller came from a firm there was the you can't look at a giraffe in isolation from the trees on which it feeds.
Agnes Callard 44:51 sure that that could be right. That mode of thinking is one that it's a little bit like the atoms You know, it doesn't for me shed light on like Like the circumstances in which I have to fight and what I have to fight for under this
Eric Weinstein 45:05 point courage and take another look at it. I mean, in other words, this is the this is part of the problem which is that there there is that what you feel, and I'm not gonna use anything personal because I i eschew going into somebody's like I, you know, I had this erotic actress in your chair not too long ago, and I didn't want to ask her about the details of her sex life. I wanted to talk around sex, not about her sexuality, which is what happens in every. So I don't want to talk about anything that you haven't already surface. But for example, you held a seminar at the University of Chicago with an ex husband talking about divorce. Now that is an incredibly courageous position from many from many perspectives. Right, because you're dealing with something that would usually cause feelings to well up and might touch on things that would actually alter and perhaps deform your life but you You felt that you had enough ability to do that with strength and distance, that it was something that you were not only willing to do but interested in doing in front of an audience.
Agnes Callard 46:10 Right. So maybe one thing, it's interesting about the personal You know, I think I wrote this tune an email that I, it's just I guess this is just a psychological factor. But no, it isn't just us. I think it is. It's connected to some philosophical things, but I don't things that other people would find, like too personal and uncomfortable to share. I often have to consciously classify in my head which of those which are those things and be like, don't say it that way. Yeah. Yeah. And so like, I like I've just learned by experience, it will make other people uncomfortable. If I say things to somebody I don't know, that are too personal, but it doesn't make me uncomfortable. So I don't have an inner sense of that. So there isn't really anything where I would be like, I mean, maybe there But think of it.
Eric Weinstein 47:02 It wouldn't be interesting for me to go there to prove to you that that exists for you. Right. But
Agnes Callard 47:07 that's relevant, I guess, to the divorce thing. Like, I think it's not as courageous as it would be for other people because it's
Eric Weinstein 47:12 not as courageous for you as it would be for other people. Are you really looking? Like I think, you know, another person who sat in that chair was Bryan Callen, the comedian an actor, and he made the point that there are no tough guys, that ultimately, the human condition is so frail and so prone to abuse and insult that in the face of actually, you know, incredibly destructive pressures, we all fold. And you can discuss That's true. Okay. So then courage is also important to me. One of the reasons I'm doing this, the show and the whole idea of naming the intellectual darkweb and all that stuff has to do for me with answering the question, what would I have done during the McCarthy Is that I watched my family terrorized by this government. And I wanted to know what I would I have stood up, or what I've coward under a table. So it's a particular kind of courage. And by the way, it has been very unpleasant many days. But it's also a kind of courage to which I am partially well suited. Okay, so my question is, isn't it a question of marginal courage and the marginal courage to which you in particular Agnus are particularly well suited? I mean, the act of bringing another life into the world turns us all into cowards. I guarantee you that you are a coward when it comes to your child.
Agnes Callard 48:40 Um, I actually think that question of courage with respect to one's children is much, much more fine grained, like it comes up 1000 times a day in my interactions with them. So it's, um, but certainly, certainly there are circumstances in which that you could say I'm a coward with respect to my children in other circumstances. I think I have to exercise a lot of courage with respect to
Eric Weinstein 48:59 no no but it I don't want to talk about your child because I find it actually, I brought that up. And I would like to, that would be the last time I would actually bring up your actual child. Okay. If I think about Sophie's Choice, yeah, I get very angry at the existence of that book. Right, because the issue of deforming people by choices involving their own children, where they lack the power to choose what items should be on the smorgasbord, and they're forced to choose between the ship souffle, the ship salad and the ship soup. Yeah, there's an evilness to simply making us participate. I'm thinking about Saddam Hussein's penchant for executing a family member in selling sending the bill for the ammunition used to the family so that they're forced to become complicit. Right. Everyone who brings a child into this world is almost without exception, either a monster or coward. And in fact, this is the Abrahamic sin.
Agnes Callard 50:02 I'll tell you the version of that thought that I have. And then I want to answer the marginal question about current version I've thought of that thought that I've had is, like, there are things that so when you invest yourself in anything, right, it's a point of vulnerability. And if it's your child, then, in a sense, you've invested, like your mind into them in this way where there are things that could happen to them that you would never recover from. And so it's almost like you've made yourself someone who could become insane. Because you have opened your mind to be wounded by the world in certain ways that you cannot control anymore. Right. And I don't know what that is. I don't know what the name for that if that's it. Certainly, in order to prevent those things from happening, you might do anything. And so that would be the cowardice maybe, right? But it's more than that, right? It's this kind of It's kind of exposure of yourself where like, in a way your mind isn't your own anymore. That in a way, maybe that's even deeper than the question about courage. Marginal question about courage. So the way Aristotle would think about this, is that there's a lot of different circumstances a person can be in, and we call them courageous, relative to a set of circumstances that are also relative to them. And that's how you think about the margin point. So, like, there are certain circumstances so extreme that we couldn't expect of anyone to do anything but be crushed by the pressure of the circumstances. And we wouldn't call them a coward for not responding. But then there are also circumstances where we would sort of expect of anyone that they would stand up, and we would call them a coward. Right. And then there's the intermediate case. And of course, it's intermediate relative to us in some way. So what I mean is you have to care about courage and that is a way of putting the mark at the point about the margin. I have to I have to care about not just not just immediately caving to certain pressures. I mean, can I give an example that I actually think is a better idea In the divorce one,
Eric Weinstein 52:01 please be told, I will never attempt to interrogate your person if you don't offer it up.
Agnes Callard 52:06 Yeah, that's good. Um, um, you know, in a way it would this this this, this sort of reveals our differences. Like I think through my personal life, that that's like the lens or something you
Eric Weinstein 52:15 think you think through your personal life, that's all there is. But there are levels of which I could interrogate that would be different than the levels at which you're interrogating.
Agnes Callard 52:23 Yes, absolutely. But I might still have those in my head, even if I'm not saying I'm so like, when I'm
Agnes Callard 52:39 when I like having that conversation with my ex husband, who I'm good friends with. We were divorced, you know? 2011 A long time ago, right? Yeah. That really wasn't so hard. But there's a thing I did in 2011 which is that I gave a talk about getting getting divorced in 2011. Because our divorced caused a huge, he's a faculty member in Chicago and it caused this huge sort of emotional response in the whole community. And a lot of people hated me. A lot of people still don't really talk to me as a result of it. Just because of your divorce, even though the two of you have accepted yourself. Correct. But it was like, you know, sometimes there are wounds that are created, and then they get supported. Um, they, they, they, they I don't know what the right word is. It's like they they get scarred over.
Eric Weinstein 53:40 Sounds like it comes from the divorce. It comes from the etiology of the divorce.
Agnes Callard 53:45 Yes, right. So it um, but I give a talk about this, about getting divorced and falling in love and what love and marriage and divorce are. And I gave this talk because I was worried. I didn't mind if people were didn't like me or my choices or whatever, except my students, I was worried about my students, I was worried that if the students that I had taught, came to, sort of, I don't know, accept a bunch of gossip and rumor about me that I would that it would both undo the teaching that I had done of them, and get in the way of potential for teaching in the future, that it was like, a professional obligation that I had to clarify the situation for my students. Like, I don't mind if people gossip about me, but I do mind if the people I'm trying to teach
Eric Weinstein 54:36 I don't even think you're I mean, I don't believe you that you don't mind. If people gossip about you, you may not be able to sorrow
Agnes Callard 54:42 i do i right. That's all I meant. What I meant was, I don't have a moral obligation to try to correct that. But I did feel I had an obligation and there was a lot of pressure, like people, you know, through backchannels were telling me like don't give this talk. Do not like you know, do not give a public talk about your life. And, and it was like,
Eric Weinstein 55:02 Can you say what the contents of the talk were about or Absolutely. Okay,
Agnes Callard 55:07 someday?
Agnes Callard 55:09 Um, it was. Um,
Agnes Callard 55:14 so
Agnes Callard 55:16 I mean, really, in some ways the talk was quite academic, it was a talk about love. So it was it started with the circumstances, which is I was married to someone, and I fell in love with someone else. And then I was like, I didn't think that that was like the kind of person I was the kind of person to whom that could happen. But it did happen. And I tried to explain it and I tried to explain it using some of some of the texts that I think shed the most light on my own situation. So they were I think I talked about this passage from Henry James is wings of the dove and from Plato's symposium, about what I thought love was and how it was related. Did to the kind of quest to become a person. So that that's what the talk was about. But it was like, it was like I wanted to give to my students my own understanding of what had happened to me. I felt very much like this might be self aggrandizing. But I felt like Socrates, when Socrates says, In the simple in the apology, I want to show to you the meaning of what has happened to me. And he's, he's speaking there after they've condemned him to death. And he says, and he's already spoken to the people who condemned him, he's like, to the people who voted not to condemn me to my students or my friends, I want to show to you the meeting, I want you to understand. And it was really important to him that those people understand because he didn't want to sabotage the educational project that they had been involved in. And that's what I felt at that time. So in
Eric Weinstein 56:48 other words, in order for me to infer why you would do this, because it's a rather odd thing to do at one level or understandable at another. I would have to surmise and infer that you would in fact, invest to certain teachings of yours to your students with the personal, therefore calling it means see one thing I
Agnes Callard 57:07 know actually no, that's not quite right. So first of all, I don't have any teachings. So I didn't hadn't invested in teach ethics.
Agnes Callard 57:15 Absolutely. Okay.
Eric Weinstein 57:17 I can't imagine wanting to teach ethics. Because if I'm aware of my own ethical failings, and you know, there are many there are many and varied and unremarkable. Yeah. The idea of getting up and talking about ethical failings of others and why you shouldn't fail ethically. You know, I'm friends with Sam Harris, and he really doesn't believe much in lying. Now, he's not absolutely fanatical about it. He knows that there are certain cases where he has to lie. But I would never want because I'm trying to be aware of truthfulness and fickleness and all these sorts of things. You know status. For example, I have a need for status. It's not a standard need for status in some ways, in some ways, it's boring. But I don't mind talking about it, because I can make contact with it. I don't feel diminished. By inheriting a human condition. The thing that really distorts me is that I feel like we're all handed this white suit that we don't want at birth. And then as we live our lives, all of the things that we do when we spill our soup, or, you know, we spend time in the barn and up soiling this white suit, and people look at us and say, My God, you know, look at you. My question is, well, who ordered the white suit to begin with? Wouldn't I rather start with a baseline that says, I bet I'm a fairly standard person and if lying is a problem, and if hypocrisy is a problem if injustice and bigotry are problems, wouldn't I want to give myself a budget in all of those areas? And the key question is trying to live within one's means.
Agnes Callard 59:00 I think that's absolutely right. So when you said like, I have all these flaws, like, that's why you want to teach ethics, because you want to understand them. I mean, the thing about the white suit so I think that's a really pervasive myth in our society. And it's maybe a bad, a lot of good legacies of Christianity, but it's a bad one kind of virtues of innocence idea, the idea that we all start out ethically good, right, and that's related to the status game point about how we get something for free, right. But then the idea is, well, maybe you can sell it, maybe you can sort of and then and then and then clean it up again. And that that can be your ethical agency. Right. But I don't think that children have some kind of innate virtue. I think virtue is something you have to acquire like you have to you have to come to an understanding of what
Eric Weinstein 59:40 matters but the point is society foist the white suit upon right? You can't that's the so you have to say I reject this white suit. I will fashion my own. Yeah. If you don't want to disappoint people right now. The problem there is that I believe that your privacy like for example, We see very few of our colleagues naked.
Agnes Callard 1:00:03 Yeah, there was a,
Eric Weinstein 1:00:05 there was a there was a professor that was probably the closest to being my official advisor. I didn't have a PhD advisor, but the person who signed my thesis as if he was my PhD advisor, had a homerun in in Martha's Vineyard. And we would we would swim naked together, you know, that was what one did, he was a sun worshipper. And, and a Hungarian Jew. The the fact that we don't see each other naked means that we're stunned whenever we do catch a glimpse of somebody out of context in which they are in their most natural state. And this has to do with the fact that we are handed these clothes and told to wear them at all times. And then our simple underlying reality is totally shocking. So it seems to me very sad that you would have to give the lecture I'm not saying that you might want to give the lecture you might enjoy the actual submission of it, you might enjoy the courage exercise of it, you might enjoy the intellectual puzzle of it. But the idea that there's a compulsion so as not to ruin your students has to do with the flaw of having accepted the white suit to begin with, and therefore losing your privacy.
Agnes Callard 1:01:18 Um, it's a really good point. So I think that
Eric Weinstein 1:01:21 I do a victory dance.
Agnes Callard 1:01:24 I think but I think and I see what you mean. And I think what you're helping me to see is that I've somewhat framed what I was doing slightly wrong. Like, I it's the point what the thought isn't like, well, if people if I don't give this talk, then my students will think I did something evil and then they won't respect me anymore. And now and so instead, I need to like, excuse myself, right? And I need to show that actually I'm as white as they thought. Was and that's definitely not like, like, for instance, it's not at all what Socrates does at that moment in the apology. Actually, what he says is that he's like, you might think that you know, some really bad thing has happened. But he goes on to say you might think some really bad thing has happened to me, you might think this is terrible that they're putting me to death, which is what everyone thinks about Socrates. Oh, look, this Plato's showed that you can't have philosophy because look at this terrible result. And the whole point of the apology is Socrates. Like, this isn't a bad thing. No bad thing happened to me. Yes, they're putting me to death. But a good man can't be harmed. Neither life nor death. And I'm not you know, like it's bad for them because they're doing something unjust. So it's bad for their souls, but it's not bad for me. Don't like don't feel sorry for me, don't feel bad for me. Okay. Um, and I guess so I guess as much as and, like, I think you were right, and picking up on the kind of self excusing nature of the way that I put it. But like, if you think about what I told you, is the content 10 of the talk, right? Um, it was more like as much as anything. It was an opportunity, like to say something truthful about love that I had never, I'd never had such an opportunity because I had met
Agnes Callard 1:03:13 someone that one of my one of my colleagues came to the talk and he's like,
Agnes Callard 1:03:18 this was not a compliment. This was a criticism. He's like, you've talked as if you were Moses, come down from the mountain like you, like you. Like as though you had so much knowledge, like as though you thought you were Socrates or something, you know? And I'm like, yeah, that's what I felt like, I felt like I had all this knowledge. And it was wonderful. And I had to share it with my students. And I, so it was sort of it was almost like, there's a, there's two points of correction, right. So one point of correction would be to get to the white suit, but the actual content of the talk was to go a step further, like this was an educational opportunity. And, and I think that I, I let myself not frame it that way in telling the story, maybe somewhat under the pressure of the idea of so purification. But it's not a truthful way of telling the story.
Eric Weinstein 1:04:03 Well, but but this is the question about whether to use the avenue of truth, you see, because at some level, there's an aspect of, of grace and meaning that is present here, which is the, you know, whether you know it or not. And I don't know that you know, this, at least in the male arousal takes place on two different systems, both of them within the autonomic nervous system when sympathetic and parasympathetic called psychogenic and reflects a genic arousal. And it's not under the conscious control of the prefrontal cortex. It's a much more primitive system, nature's not going to trust the reproductive system, to the prefrontal cortex, and friend of mine, Leisha Lee just came out with a company, I think called rosebud AI that generates faces of people who never were You can find that you know, she I'm sure she will release a tool at some point in which she finds your phenotype and can hone to a fairly well and creative person that you cannot tell has never existed and put them in all sorts of situations. So that you can find fall hopelessly in love with that, which is not. Okay. Now because that's taking place, effectively, your prefrontal cortex is like your parent, trying to get control of a child has been asked the terrible question Who wants ice cream and the child is now out of control? Okay. You can't really talk about this because this is happening everywhere in a certain sense. I mean, we can talk about it in the general but not the specifics. So for example, you can say that self gratification is natural and normal, and that the world engages in this almost without exception. You cannot say I'm sorry, I was late for the meeting. I spent the morning lost in onanism. Right. And as a result, that kind of layer of indirection, including in this situation, using a language layer of indirection, is a necessary part of the distortion of the truth that's needed for meaning fitness and grace. Different from pure truth. And I think that you're caught in the bad breath problem in this story. Right in the self purification, we come from a tradition with a ritual bath known as a mikvah. And these purifying rituals are necessary to do what you know we don't have to, unfortunately got tied to the issue of menstruation and whether or not women are intrinsically dirty through the process of renewing themselves, but simply the concept of a mikvah as a ritual and the fact that our brains have a place to allow To be reborn is an incredibly powerful facility that people focused on truth very often. They try to do things to the truth channel, it doesn't work as well as doing it through the ritual and meaning channels.
Agnes Callard 1:07:14 It's interesting that mixes are used for conversion to. Yeah. Right and born as
Eric Weinstein 1:07:21 well. And another thing if you've ever read what prayers we say, on Yom Kippur War or the Day of Atonement it's terrifying because you sort of start by atoning for your sins and then you get into We're sorry for pretending to atone for our sins when actually we're not really sorry at all. You know, it's like holy cow that's written in.
Agnes Callard 1:07:47 So I think that the idea that we can step away from being so concerned with truth and move over to, you know, ritual and meaning and something else. It's like It's as though you can step outside of thinking and do something else with your mind then thinking, like, and my view is there's only thinking there isn't some other operation. There are other things that happen. Like there are other things that happen to your brain, right? But there's only kind of one thing you can do with your mind. And there is no way to not care about truth, even in your dream.
Eric Weinstein 1:08:27 Don't care about truth. In no way. Look, if you asked when when Rabbi Wolpe sat in your chair, we got to the end, and there was an issue about how does a final Theory of Everything affect our concepts of ourselves? Yeah, right. And I said to him, you know, at some point, the hard thing is to conceive of what we mean by a theory of everything because there's that which is left undone in the theory of everything, and it usually would, what I believe it means is that we are no longer searching for mathematical improvements at that point, but searching for something ineffable, some kind of go somewhere that we can't touch without disintegrating at our touch, or, you know, this issue of what is the meaning of life and to the extent that I've been able to try to distill it into a sentence that doesn't crumble on me, I've said that the meaning of life to me is the struggle to impart meaning to meaning. And as soon as the reason I constructed it that way, is that if you just say that you're 100%, clear, like even on what that means, then you're no longer struggling. And so as soon as the struggle disappears, the meaning disappears. On the other hand, if you say there is no meaning to life, you know, the Shakespeare quote about sound and fury signifying nothing, then you've also lost the meaning of life because you've sort of crapped out of the game. And so it's only the active part of turning this thing over in your mind that keeps us animated.
Agnes Callard 1:09:55 I think there have to be completion points, even if they're provisional that is I don't think it can just be struggle, like because the short version of your answer is the meaning of life is struggle.
Eric Weinstein 1:10:07 No. without qualification,
Agnes Callard 1:10:11 Yeah,
Eric Weinstein 1:10:11 it is. The It is essential. It's a struggle to impart meaning to, right. It's a particular aspect of struggle.
Agnes Callard 1:10:19 Okay. But my point is the genus is struggle, right? Correct. Which is like something kinetic, right?
Agnes Callard 1:10:26 It's emotion.
Eric Weinstein 1:10:29 it necessarily, is if I'm struggling to to pry the top off of a ketchup bottle. There can be a static moment where I'm simply putting pressure there's not much kinetic. There metaphorically. I mean, obviously, it's not really about ketchup.
Agnes Callard 1:10:47 Right? But like, like, even if there isn't, in order. Imagine you just saw a frozen picture of you like this with the bottle, right? Even if your muscles were tensed, you wouldn't know what Whether you were trying to get the top on, take it off or just keep it the way that it was right? struggle is in a way diachronic and we can see the struggle through a longer
Eric Weinstein 1:11:10 By the way, every time you say diachronic The next time we meet, we're going to drink.
Agnes Callard 1:11:16 I don't usually say it this is not you working this out in me. I love that.
Eric Weinstein 1:11:20 This conversations going incredibly well.
Agnes Callard 1:11:24 Um, um, so I think that, um, look, there's this something else you said in your conversation with Rabbi Wolpe was that you hate when people say that happiness is the meaning of life. So I'm going to say that I think happiness is the meaning of life.
Eric Weinstein 1:11:39 It is the meaning of life.
Agnes Callard 1:11:40 I think it's true, but I think the obvious there's no other answer. It's completely trivial truth. No one can disagree with this. Um, because so because of something I would call the value deferral problem. Okay. So, and I think this is like the number one ethical insight of the ancient world it's super simple, okay. Which is that Like it's something like this like the value of my life my life yeah can never be somehow something outside of me something to be found outside of me. So like, I mean suppose like okay, here's a thing that Aristotle considers a bunch of possibilities for like what a really good life looks like. Yeah, the most interesting thing about the possibilities that he considers is one that he leaves out he so nowhere he has at the end of the life of money making life of honor the life of the intellectual life, the the political life, etc. It goes on, but when he does not consider is like, what about altruism? Okay, what are the altruistic life? Like, suppose that I say the entire point of my life, right is to make you happy? Okay. I'm an altruist.
Eric Weinstein 1:12:41 Is that what it means? Well,
Agnes Callard 1:12:43 let me give that as an All right. Give that as an instance. Suppose you suppose you're an actress too, though, right? Okay. So you go on and you make someone else happy, right?
Eric Weinstein 1:12:51 You just double the number of counterfactuals I'm entertaining.
Agnes Callard 1:12:55 I'm gonna keep going. Okay, here's here's here's why Aristotle didn't consider the possible ability of that right as a good life is that as an altruist, it's like deferring the problem of the meaning of my life onto you. And I'm like, well, the point is like, the point is that Eric be happy, right? And suppose you differ also, right to somebody else. It's like, we can't keep deferring somewhere along line, someone's actually got to do the happying. Right. And I think it's got to be me, who does it for my life. It's not my children. It's not my students, no one can do the meaning of my life for me. And that's just what sort of ancient you diamond ism is, is the realization that the, the value of someone's life has to come home to them and be available to them in the form of something like an experience something, you know, not at pleasure, but no one. I mean, no, one of the people that was pleasure, but something that is in a way transparent to them and available to them as meaning as an experience. And that's what the word happiness is supposed to capture, at least insofar as it's a translation of the Greek like demonia right? Um,
Agnes Callard 1:14:01 so, um,
Agnes Callard 1:14:05 so like, and I think the idea of struggle is kind of another way to get into a worrisome deferral problem, right? Like, you're always struggling and the thing never happens, then oh, no, no, wait, no,
Eric Weinstein 1:14:18 come on,
Agnes Callard 1:14:18 if the meaning is the struggle,
Eric Weinstein 1:14:20 yeah, but no, no, look, there is so much work to do. And there's so many parts, you know, to your point where you didn't say the word milestone, but I think what you talked about is partial completions on the road, right. So there are so many milestones and partial completions that are part of the struggle, I would never wish to suggest that it's just pure Sisyphean, pointless struggle.
Agnes Callard 1:14:43 Well, you defined it as a struggle. It can change your definition. And you can say
Eric Weinstein 1:14:48 that, I'm sorry, implicit within the struggle is progress movement, partial completions. Okay.
Agnes Callard 1:14:56 I mean, I guess I wouldn't hear that as employee lycett like that is to me the arrival somewhere. Like it's like there's going somewhere and then there's arriving. Right? I'm a huge fan of it right? And
Eric Weinstein 1:15:16 this idea that the journey is what's important never makes sense to me.
Agnes Callard 1:15:20 Right. But I think your definition
Agnes Callard 1:15:23 suggests that you're that the definition that the meaning of life is the struggle to impart meaning to meaning is a version of the journey view.
Eric Weinstein 1:15:34 In the long but the idea that life is one airline, long airline flight with no landings or takeoffs, doesn't really enter into that.
Agnes Callard 1:15:45 Well, so I get that, like, you don't think that but what I'm saying is you're saying that, so so there's like, there's like how you view life and then there's the way that you have articulated
Eric Weinstein 1:15:54 with like, academic support footnotes. So there's a footnote on that.
Agnes Callard 1:15:58 Yeah, okay. But I actually want To bring the footnote up in the main text, oh, modify your definition and say that, you know, the pursuit of meaning, essentially involves these two components that are actually really hard to fit together. And this is one of those distinctions we're going to need to like back up, right to, to be able to cash that check. But it involves both the, you know, a kind of movement kind of struggle towards something like and, you know, putting meaning and meaning or understanding or maybe there's more than one it kind of endpoint. And then and then there's something like being at the end point, right. And there has to be a what it is like to be at the end point, and that has to be part of what the meaning of life is what
Eric Weinstein 1:16:44 happened. Let me give you a little completion story that actually made a huge difference. Okay. Have you ever heard somebody say, when you complain that you keep having a problem, and somebody says, well, what's the only common factor to the seven problematic relationships you just described? Right, you're supposed to say, It's me, isn't it? Right, right. Okay, so I was going around and saying to a close friend of mine named Michael Grossberg. I keep having the following bizarre hierarchical relationship problems. It's clearly me. He said no, not in the sense that you mean it. So what do you mean? He said, Look, I know you very well, and you're imagining that you're doing something really wrong. He said, in fact, think about a different problem. You've got someone with a compromised immune system. They're the only person who's actually seeing the world of pathogens correctly, because they're actually not defended against the pathogen. Everyone with a non compromised immune system is oblivious to what's actually going on in their environment. He says, The problem that you have is that you're the only guy who isn't oblivious to the problems in these hierarchical relationships. Because for whatever reason, you do not have the immune system that the rest of us carry implicitly. So to that extent, if you want to say that that's what you're doing. wrong, but that's a really bad example because the pathogens are real, they're not imagined. Okay, that totally changed my life it completely reframe something, I thought I effectively had a defect of proof of one thing. And somebody better insight came in and made my life much richer, and I stopped worrying about that particular problem. Now I could move on to the next problem. That's an example of a milestone of completion. I never had to go back. It's a very durable insight. Okay. That is part of the struggle to impart meaning to meaning to get to these higher forms where you're not trapped in the same problems that everyone else has. He gives you an ability to teach, to share, to give paradigms. And I don't think that they're tied to personality. So one of the things that's really important to me, for example, and I talk about it a lot on this show, I think or in other interviews, is the fact that in mathematics, we honor our Nazis, that there were Nazis who contributed more Major insights and it doesn't mean that they're not sons of bitches, but they part of them that contributed mathematical and physical insight is not compromised by their goddamn evil Nazis and those fuckers right? Okay. So the ability to divorce to some extent the human, you don't have any choice in mathematics if somebody finds something essential, and that person happens to be a son of a bitch, right? You don't have the right to edit that person out of history, because it's inconvenient for you that that happened. Right? So I think that the moral failings of the people who do the teachings should be assumed by the students. Now the key question is do those moral failings compromise? Let's say the the teachings themselves in some cases they do particularly comes from a point of sanctimony if the teacher has not struggled as much as the student In fact, the relationship maybe would be more profitable if reversed.
Agnes Callard 1:20:05 But I think it matters a lot. So here the theoretical practical divide is really helping you out. Because I think that mathematics is very squarely theoretical. And the more we move towards the theoretical, the easier it's going to be to make that kind of divorce. A lot of people would find it harder with music, my mom is very torn about vogner. It look, for me the very hardest case, and it's one that I personally struggled with is Aristotle. So I think that Aristotle's views on like, women and natural slavery are deeply embedded in his ethical theory. So I don't think that they're like some kind of little extra bit that you can just ignore those,
Eric Weinstein 1:20:46 the ways in which something is infected with a problem and you have to refactor the teaching.
Agnes Callard 1:20:52 It's, it's and it's not just that it's that it's like, even what it's even connected to what's good about the teaching. There were years when I didn't teach it for this exact reason. Like maybe it's just morally And we shouldn't teach it. I came to think differently about it. But my point is the question of like, how should we deal with the kind of ethical infractions? of people who have something to teach us, I think, has to be combined with the question, what kind of thing? Do they have to teach us? How theoretical is it? How practical is it?
Eric Weinstein 1:21:18 Are they the reliable or the unreliable? narrator? That's another question.
Agnes Callard 1:21:23 Right? I mean, in philosophy, the question of reliability is almost given that,
Eric Weinstein 1:21:26 you know, as a literary device, in other words, are they speak to us in a way in which we can rely upon their words or their words, in fact, tell us that they in fact, have a hidden truth,
Agnes Callard 1:21:36 right. And like, and like, in some sense, like with Aristotle's like, we know he's not reliable, like we know, and yet and yet, there's stuff. There's insights from him that we I think we don't have another source. And so it's like, so for me, that was like a deep, deep tension. That's in a way harder than the the Nazi mathematician case. But I don't think that there's A single answer here like that is I think that the theoretical practical divide makes a big difference. And in a way, the Nazi mathematician case is too easy.
Eric Weinstein 1:22:08 Okay, should we tear down the Arch of Titus that celebrates the sacking of Jerusalem? I'm stood there for a while.
Agnes Callard 1:22:15 So you asked, you asked me this question to you. Yeah. I don't have a view about it. But I also like the question, that's a very different question, right? Because that's not a question about there's some knowledge and then there's the source of that knowledge, we have a different set of questions about cultural artifacts, and their and their history and what they mean. And I'm like, I guess what, like one thing that, to me is important in asking myself that question is like, about this sort of question. Like, it's why I raised the Aristotle case. It's a kind of deliberation that I would be engaging in. Because no one is ever going to come to me and be like, should we tear this down? No,
Eric Weinstein 1:23:07 I'm willing to start this campaign because I'm really getting tired of people saying that you cannot teach.
Agnes Callard 1:23:14 But you say you think it should be torn down.
Eric Weinstein 1:23:17 I'm willing to entertain your the extension of your ideas until you start to recognize First of all, here's what I'm having. I'm an I'm an incredible hypocrite. Okay, and the reason I've chosen hypocrisy as a life strategy is is that it offered the greatest benefits per unit of responsibility of all major philosophies. Right? Okay. I'm always troubled when people tell me that hypocrisy is terrible. Now I struggle to minimize my hypocrisy.
Agnes Callard 1:23:49 So you don't think it's okay? you struggle to minimize
Eric Weinstein 1:23:52 the ID within me struggles to maximize it because like what a great deal right? But the supervisory capacity within me is sort of it's an embarrassment of riches by embracing hypocrisy that you know the world becomes your candy store. So that that
Agnes Callard 1:24:08 distinction between it I'm sorry I interrupted between it and that like that's one of those FFO distinctions that I don't think you have a right to in the sense that I think you're one person and you make decisions so you dear sweet so it's like you struggle with your own hypocrisy and you try to minimize it because you think there's something wrong with apostasy
Eric Weinstein 1:24:27 I don't love my hypocrisy in one region of my mind in other regions of my mind, I certainly enjoy my hypocrisy. I love steak dinners and if I actually think about what you know what wood veal is it changes the enjoyment of veal because feels pretty sick thing to to really take pleasure from To be blunt. Right? And so there's this issue, you know, and I bring this up is in Cambridge, Massachusetts, there's a store in North Cambridge I think it says like fresh killed poultry. It's just there on its advertising what it is, and if you buying from that store you're pretty much not going to have the the shock when you actually think about what it is that you're consuming because you bought it with that kind of thought in mind. So there's this issue about, you know, obviously when I when I, when I'm saying that I'm a hypocrite and that embraces the philosophy, there's a there's a playful aspect to it, which is that I'm recognizing that most people don't see their own hypocrisy they they're structured to see it in others and not in themselves. That's a very easy teaching, to just walk around watching for your own hypocrisy and then you know, kind of make yourself sick before pointing the finger at other people. What is very odd to me is how few people are aware of how deep their own hypocrisy is. And then to lead a naive rallying cry of you know, I can't believe this is this hypocrisy in in other people it's shocking. to not have an idea of what baseline hypocrisy is based on yourself seems a bit rich.
Agnes Callard 1:25:57 I think you're the true Crusader against hypocrisy.
Eric Weinstein 1:26:00 Some weird way but it's tends to be institutional hypocrisy. In other words, the thing that really bothers me. If we had a two by two grid, there's individual versus individual conflicts, there's institution versus institution. What I really detest, is instead is institutions against individuals. Institutional hypocrisy, the jackboot, of the institution on the windpipe of the individual is the thing that is so offensive to me, that I'm pretty consistent that that's what I fight. So I always try.
Agnes Callard 1:26:30 What if the institution is right and the individual is wrong?
Eric Weinstein 1:26:33 Well, then I don't view that as being a that's not one of the cases. It's not one of the cases. What really bothers me is the institution using institutional power to humiliate to destroy the reputation of the challenging individual who's making an excellent point on behalf of other individuals, right, there's certain institutional versus individual games, Goliath against David's, and when I'm when I'm up against that case, I'm pretty sure ticularly animated, having turned down opportunities to behave within the institutional structure, I'm pretty sure I really care about this case.
Agnes Callard 1:27:09 Can I just go back to something that I
Eric Weinstein 1:27:12 say you have to be critical institutions are different from hypocritical individuals?
Agnes Callard 1:27:16 Yeah. But like, you know, you you brought up the arch case, right. And so so the thing that I really don't like,
Agnes Callard 1:27:24 is like, when a
Agnes Callard 1:27:26 question is posed, but it's really masquerading as a point or something else, right. So it's like, I'm actually totally willing to deliberate about whether or not we should take this arch down. But that wasn't really why you raised it. Right. What do you think? Um, I think you raised it as a potential point of inconsistency. Um, but I don't know when I think about the art. I think it's an interesting question whether or not to, to the
Eric Weinstein 1:27:48 fact that you find an interesting question means that you are not convinced that it that the question is settled.
Agnes Callard 1:27:55 Correct. But that was sort of my point about all the cases. I don't think there is one way to
Eric Weinstein 1:27:59 understand I deal with a lot of people who find that these things are settled. Right, the
Agnes Callard 1:28:04 fair enough. But then but But see, that's my point you wanted to know maybe whether I find the question to be settled or not. Right. And so you asked me a question, should we turn it on? Or not? And your desire and asking me that question was maybe to figure out whether I thought a certain question was settled. Right. But I think that's an actually a deliberative question like, should we turn on the arch or not? Right? And so what I mean is like, and that's the distinction I drew between practical and theoretical,
Eric Weinstein 1:28:27 but but by doing that, you're going to move it closer to the like, when you say that something is a live question. It's not a neutral frame, which is I think it's an interesting question. I'm not sure either way. If I said to you, what do you think about the violent overthrow the United States? And you were to say, I think it's an interesting question. That's a very strong statement. Yes. To find it an interesting question,
Agnes Callard 1:28:50 right. I think though, that, you know, this goes deep into something like conversational trust, but I could find almost anything to be an interesting question. But I would need, it would be pretty important to me that the person posed it to me as a question rather than as a test, right?
Agnes Callard 1:29:07 Because sometimes questions aren't questions, but
Eric Weinstein 1:29:09 there's something parasitic about this. You see, you can't have a society in which everybody finds whether the, the violent overthrow of the United States is to be an interesting question, in general, the substrate that makes this country possible so that a few people can find that an entertaining question, have to make sure that that question is, in fact true.
Agnes Callard 1:29:27 I mean, I, with respect to that particular one, I haven't yet seen the interest that is you sold me on the interest of the previous one on the grounds of the discussion right. On the face of it, it doesn't. We haven't yet established the grounds that might make it interesting, but a
Eric Weinstein 1:29:42 destruction of Monticello like I if I found things that you know, had been built with slave labor, right, you know, that. I start to create a great deal of destruction by opening up a lot of interesting questions there by moving the midpoint of the discussion. Quite a bit farther, these are not in fact neutral. This is part of why I find philosophy. troubling because it doesn't recognize often that the act of asking these questions is in fact, a non neutral action. If you remember the Dukakis question where there was a question about Willie Horton.
Agnes Callard 1:30:25 Yep, very vaguely.
Eric Weinstein 1:30:26 Okay, read the memory holds pretty amazing. So I think he was asked a question about what should happen if somebody raped his wife?
Agnes Callard 1:30:33 Yes, yes. Yes, that's right.
Eric Weinstein 1:30:35 Yes. And in general, the correct answer is I'm not going to answer that question. And don't make me tell you a second time. My wife is sitting right here. Right. Thank you very much. I will not be entertaining that don't make that mistake again, sir. Right. Because the point is, I don't wish to open this up. Right. Now the philosophers impulses. Oh, it's an interesting question very often.
Agnes Callard 1:30:56 Not if, like sometimes you can tell that the person asked it No as a test, you may not even if it wasn't asked. I'm
Eric Weinstein 1:31:02 just saying that very often the philosophical Gambit is a pretend state in which we are quite comfortable entertaining anything, you know? Oh, yes. Let's imagine that the Jane uses her steak knife to kill Billy across the table at the fulfill philosophers dinner. Right, right. And then you start talking about these, all these sorts of things. In general, this is again that there are no tough guys, we all should have personal boundaries and limits in places where we wish to said I would prefer that that question not be asked because the question itself is a form of violence.
Agnes Callard 1:31:35 So you say Oh, the philosopher has this pretend interesting curiosity, but I would say the non philosopher has these pretend questions that they put before us. And and then if we if we say back to them, Look, there are circumstances under which that could be a real question. If somebody were really asking me of it, it of me. And there is no question such that I could rule out in advance that anyone could honestly ask it of me in any conversation. That's not the same thing as saying, like I'm buying into your Gambit. And I'm going to answer your pretend question as though it were a real question. Well, if I were to do that, I would have to do it with pretend interest. But
Eric Weinstein 1:32:11 let's talk about a situation in which a question that maybe should not have been asked too much, in my opinion, must now be asked because of the changing landscape. So for example, the Tesla problem, which is that you might have thought trolley problems were bizarre and academic. Well, now you have to commit it to code. And you have to say, Well, what what should I do? How many baby carriages should I write? Okay, that's an incredibly interesting situation where we can no longer afford to leave an expression on evaluate.
Agnes Callard 1:32:40 Exactly. Right. So there, there can't really be questions we can't ask because we might be in a situation with my point is,
Eric Weinstein 1:32:45 is that there can't be a question that we can't ask under any circumstances, but that we may find that a question that was better off being annexed now must be like that that Pandora's Box could survive on open for this many Yours, but circumstances have changed it. Right. Right. So,
Agnes Callard 1:33:05 right. And, um, and a lot of I mean, in that situation, it might even be that I think what what we'll probably end up doing is trying to find a lot of ways to avoid exactly answering it. Right, managing the situation in which the question has been asked rather than answering it. I mean, I guess, right. These kind of, like, I thought we'd have self driving cars away before now. And I think we do right, but we don't have them. Because of these.
Eric Weinstein 1:33:33 I thought we were going to get stuck here. That having to commit things to code forces us to promote to consciousness and to responsibility, things that we would prefer, like I believe that one of the reasons that we tend to have more sex while drunk than than sober, at least the early stages of relationship is because what we're actually interested in is an excuse, and that we want to find an excuse, which is I panicked. You know, that's a great thing to do behind the wheel, I panicked. Everybody understands a momentary split second decision to have a series of documented meetings, in which we deliberated over this, and then it plays out in an actual intersection somewhere, you know, in North Dakota, and suddenly, you know, two baby carriages are taken out so that a collection of schoolchildren are spared, right. That situation is like, well, who made this decision? And then it becomes a very thorny issue, that we're not capable of it and we may choose to exist in an ignorant state and forego the benefit of a technology because we can't bear to take responsibility deliberatively for what we must commit to do.
Agnes Callard 1:34:42 Right. Right. And that there this question is existed a lot of different levels, right. And so it's like, one question is, you know, you're right, that we can hide behind the panic, but like, suppose that I just had the time so many of these TV shows, you know, like 24 or whatever. are about, like cases where like, yeah, there's time pressure, but the person has like a minute to think about it, and they make a decision, right? And like I might have to make a decision. And I think, you know, it, it at least has to be possible for me not necessarily to approve of the decision I make, even to be able to live with the decision I make, but to accept the fact that I made a decision. I think that has to be possible. And so it has to be possible for me to entertain the question. But the question of whether we can as a society deliberate together about that question, yeah, and come up with sort of like an answer that we can then all live with, and in some sense, be governed by that's like a whole other level. And there are many levels in between, right?
Eric Weinstein 1:35:40 Well, the question of should we arrange what it is that we know about the world so that we can live with a noble truth that may be foundational to our society? You know, if we came to understand cognitive noble
Agnes Callard 1:35:51 truth or noble lies
Eric Weinstein 1:35:53 or a noble lie, right, noble truths are easy. Yes, correct. Thanks for
Agnes Callard 1:35:57 catching vignoble on top of things
Eric Weinstein 1:36:00 But like, it's very disturbing to those of us who believe in evolutionary theory that people who claim to believe in systems of selective pressures are unable to accept the basic premise, which is that they operate on systems with heredity variation and differential success. And the differential success is the aspect by which one group, you know, carries an evolutionary advantage over another. The idea that there should be evolutionary advantages and disadvantages relative to different environments is toxic to many of the lies that we've told ourselves to create the foundation of our society. And so to be able to say, Well, I absolutely I would never question Darwin's theory of of selection. However, I also believe in all of the lies that are necessary and this is an unresolved conflict has to do with a partitioning of the mind. I don't see how you could do it otherwise. And the deep partition mind doesn't seem to be a healthy state. I know that my friend Sam Harris, you know, has this idea that he should have kind of a uniform, interoperable access to all aspects of his mind. But that seems like madness to me.
Agnes Callard 1:37:06 I mean, it's one thing to think like I should, at any given time have access to all of it. It's another thing to think that with respect to any particular bit, or I don't have access, I can be sort of okay with that and be okay with the awareness of not having access. Like, you can't just straight up deceive yourself, right? You have to sort of deceive yourself behind your back.
Eric Weinstein 1:37:31 So true.
Agnes Callard 1:37:32 I mean, I can't say to myself, like if you go to synagogue, sometimes,
Eric Weinstein 1:37:36 okay, don't don't you find yourself straight up deceiving yourself.
Agnes Callard 1:37:41 Let me give you an example of what I mean by strip skimming and you can see what I would say no, but, um, but like, suppose that you were like, Look, I'll pay you a million dollars. If you believe that I'm wearing like a red suit, right? I can't form that belief it would be so advantageous To me to believe it right? But like, I can't do a self believe it. No, it doesn't work. It doesn't work like that, right? That's what I mean by I can't deceive myself. There's a kind of, there's a kind of fundamental will to truth that is just built into thinking and that I can't override manually. So I could certainly come to believe that you're wearing a red suit through very funny channels, right? I might even be able to take a pill, if I knew a certain pill would induce me that belief, I could decide to take the pill and then take the pill, right. And that would be kind of obscure way of coming to have the belief. So that's what I meant by you can't straightforwardly right. You can indirectly I think, and people
Agnes Callard 1:38:37 do
Eric Weinstein 1:38:38 very few layers of indirection.
Agnes Callard 1:38:40 I think that's right, but not with zero. All right,
Eric Weinstein 1:38:42 that's it. I like this point a lot.
Agnes Callard 1:38:45 Um, and, and so I think that that, like, that limit, is like a certain kind of, that's maybe where Sam Harris is like there's a certain con or something that's right about his position. There is that there's this certain kind of thing. I couldn't accept a relation I couldn't accept to myself of opacity. And when I, you know, feel like the story that you told about the hierarchy case, right, and the way in which somebody sort of unraveled that for you the romantic hierarchy, right? And brought it brought to your own understanding what was happening and gave you a, like, it's like shuttle a light on yourself
Agnes Callard 1:39:29 such that you now can
Agnes Callard 1:39:33 can articulate it in a way that like, makes sense to you, right? When we're not when we're not in that position with respect to something it bothers us. And when we get into that position, that's a real and very significant kind of progress.
Eric Weinstein 1:39:50 Interesting, let me ask you a different question. That's been bugging me a lot. Yeah. I think that the rauzein veil of ignorance is there's something terribly wrong with it. And I see it as having a Trump. It's an example of a piece of philosophy. That is got a lot of purchase outside of philosophy departments. And I'm worried that it may be arranging us as a society, that this idea that identity should somehow be fungible. And we should say, okay, we don't know who we're going to come back as. And in fact, it means something very bizarre to say that we would come back as as the other. Is there something wrong with rolls, in which if we predicate too much, and we lean on that pillar too heavily? We may do ourselves great damage. That's an intuition.
Agnes Callard 1:40:39 Yeah. So um, I think Yes, actually, I think I may be a little bit. I'm somewhat in agreement with you. Let me tell you how I would put this problem to myself. The rawlsian move is a species of the genus of stepping back moves, right. It's like look, there. Are these facts about you, but you can imagine that they were not the case. Just abstract them away and now make your decision. Okay? But, um, why assume you can do that? That is why assume you have that kind of metacognition available to you, right? And it's like, Look, look at Rawls, and look at all the people that Rawls influenced and the rawlsian tradition, like, there was, it's like, there's a very characteristic set of say, political and social and economic views that go along with those people. And like, did they really step did they abstract from them sufficiently in in in producing the theory? Like maybe not right.
Agnes Callard 1:41:42 And so I think that there is
Agnes Callard 1:41:47 that, at the very least, there's that assumption there. That it is that it is possible. And it may be possible it just maybe that you can't do it so easily. Maybe you can't do it merely by entertaining like a thought experiment or something like that. Maybe to really learn to extract away certain parts of your identity through a lot of work right through a lot of cognitive work and through like experience and stuff that you do, but the idea that you could do a just by entertaining, a counterfactual, I think is not right. I'm not sure exactly what the implications are of that. I mean, that is it seems to me that this problem is like, it's an instance of something more general that I've criticized, but
Eric Weinstein 1:42:25 you ever seen john Belushi and Joe Cocker singing feeling all right on Saturday Night Live? No. One of the great moments in television
Agnes Callard 1:42:39 history I listen to
Eric Weinstein 1:42:40 john Belushi becomes Joe Cocker and Joe Cocker is so idiosyncratic that to have Joe Cocker watching himself acted by john Belushi. they collaborate on the song is disturbing and funny and beautiful because Balu she's actually amazing as Joe Cocker as a singer in that moment, I came to believe that john Belushi could run a version of Joe Cocker at least to first, second and third order and emulation.
Agnes Callard 1:43:09 Right. To your point, talent that right?
Eric Weinstein 1:43:12 Well, this is the thing, which is I have people that I could come back as and I have people that I couldn't come back as to varying orders of approximation. And so that aspect of non fungible identity to me dooms the entire rawlsian project in a way that I can't explain to people who are under its spell.
Agnes Callard 1:43:31 Um, I guess
Agnes Callard 1:43:34 the.
Agnes Callard 1:43:38 So, maybe what I'm willing to agree to is slightly more limited. That is, I'm willing to agree with you that the idea that one can subtract away the commitments and concerns of identity and in effect, right, what we're really arguing about is sort of Rawls is the sort of the conceit that we can separate away comprehensive doctrines, right? Oh, imagine if I didn't believe in God or something. And like, you know, but I'm gonna be really important to me that I believe in God, it is important to me, right? So. And so I'm like, I'm so so so. So I sort of agree that the sort of conceit, that identity is so thin and trivial, that you can separate it away and then do your reasoning, right? That's a real problem. But the thing I don't agree with is that, um, there is some particular barrier of identity, namely, like, say, the set of people who you couldn't be born as, right, where you couldn't, over time. spend enough time with those people and talk to them to the point where at the end of that process, you're like, I could be boring as them, right. It's, it's like now you can't imagine it. We have the diachronic again, for our drinking game. Like, you know, and so, so the the the real for me, the real Objection like is that there is a difference between what I can do merely through the OP like through a mental operation that we're engaging alone, right? And what I can do by learning from people and I think
Eric Weinstein 1:45:14 I work with somebody who I can't run very well in emulation, I do a really basic Peter teal impression, then it can only go for about 20 or 30 seconds. And then it becomes very clear that it's just mannerisms because the guy's operating system is wildly idiosyncratic. There's one guy who can do a better job of it named Jay Ryan, who probably get to second order, and I'm kind of just blown away by it because Peters just too hard to model. I don't think that that's a convergent process in general, even when you spend a lot of time with me, let me let me switch gears. You can have the last word on that one if you want. I don't mean to cut you off the two topics I want to get to after
Agnes Callard 1:45:51 I save quickly. I think that um, I want to distinguish the question of whether you could model them from whether you could get yourself into position You can imagine being born as them, I guess. Okay, and so,
Eric Weinstein 1:46:03 but yeah, assuming that's okay good that I want to get into one issue, which is that this doesn't really talk a lot about feeling. And I get worried that critical thinking is something we talk a lot about and critical feeling is something we neglect. I agree groupthink. Yes. Group feel no overthinking. Yes over feeling though these every place that you talk about something in terms of thinking, if you substitute the word feeling, and you realize that feeling is a kind of enhanced cognition, we somehow don't feel comfortable. So I want to talk about something that happened as we sat down in these chairs, where I'm very comfortable talking to you about thinking and I'm not very comfortable talking to you about feeling. Okay, so you were saying that you'd reviewed some episodes of the show, and I said, Did you find them interesting, and you quite truthfully said you did. And then I said something like, were they worth your while because you'd also expressed an idea that you prefer to read things rather than to listen because you you value your time and the time is very expensive in long form podcast.
Agnes Callard 1:47:03 It Sorry, can I correct one thing? It's not only that it's that I process information much better when I'm reading. And so in terms of what I can remember and think about, etc, given that I heard it, it's like less than
Eric Weinstein 1:47:14 That's true. But it's also the case that something is lost without seeing the inflections the body language, hearing the warmth of the coldness of the tone. So it's an interesting point as to whether or not the transcript is the interview.
Agnes Callard 1:47:27 Right? What information is there for the cause? What information do I prefer to preserve?
Eric Weinstein 1:47:31 Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Right. Yeah. But then you sort of said that, no, that wasn't really a great exercise for you or something like that. That hurt me. What are your reactions to that? I think that the show is quite a bit better. And particularly one or two of the episodes that you listen to, I think are extraordinary and it made me feel that you could not possibly have seen what it is that I saw in the in those one or two episodes because It would have been worth 10 hours of your time because it was so rare. Now I could be wrong. So it's very interesting that of course, I have a vested interest. And so I'm budgeting something for my own distortion. I'm also thinking about what the feedback I've had how specific the feedback made me question whether or not I viewed you as a reliable receiver of the content of the show. And I over invested in my image of you as the person capable of processing what we're doing here. And it made me wonder whether or not I'm doing something outside of the Academy, which the academy sort of realizes is some cheap version of intellectual ism, and storytelling and narrative that would never survive in a rigorous academic context. So I went through a bunch of self doubt, accusation, negative feeling, question and uncertainty about you, myself and the project that we were going to sit down to create an episode together.
Agnes Callard 1:48:58 It's a great question. So Guess let me report a bunch of different things. So the first thing when you said, You asked me, like, how does that feel to me when you said like that hurt me and immediately, I felt hurt, like I felt like reflexive totally not conscious, empathetic response. So I didn't at the time when I first said it, it didn't hurt me to say that to you. But it often I don't
Eric Weinstein 1:49:20 want you to say both of us are quite disagreeable as people. And that's that's my perception that both of us feel comfortable contradicting something if we it's an issue about the courage of your convictions, I think that you in general, a very high courage of your convictions are willing to share.
Agnes Callard 1:49:35 But also it's an issue of I had no perception at all that it hurt you when I said it, and I'm often bad at picking up on those signals. And that makes it easier to be clear. I was
Eric Weinstein 1:49:42 masking it because it was obviously a vulnerable question. So the last thing I wanted to do is to signal to you that I could easily hurt
Agnes Callard 1:49:48 fair enough perhaps also I could have you know, if I were somewhat otherwise I would predict that or something but I didn't at all. Okay, um, so, um, um, I guess so. That was just my instinctive response. And now like, you know, yeah, I think that your your your subsequent ruminations. Maybe the most interesting bit in them. Is that the bit about academia right, so what's interesting to me is that at the moment at which I have this response, it is, uh, the is attributed to me as an academic. Right?
Agnes Callard 1:50:24 Like, it's
Eric Weinstein 1:50:25 Episode 19 of the show. Yeah, is about the kind of things that take place in universities all over the country that I'm alleging that has not filtered out, to some extent, to the general public. Like there's a tremendous amount of pressure to survive in academics causing people in my opinion, just as we say that constantly Well, let me say differently. Concentration Camp survivors from World War Two Deaf camp survivors will often say something if they trust you, which is don't celebrate us because the ones who survived weren't the good ones. We do. Did what we had to do to survive. It's the ones who perish that you're really thinking about. It's a very tough thing to say, in general, when I meet somebody who's succeeded in academics, they're always under a cloud, if they did it under this era, because the pressures are simply too severe. Now, it some people do better than that, you know, if you're if you're good enough, you can have a peacocks tail that you In fact, are an ethical akademischen. But in general, people are going to have to take intellectual and moral half measures in order to survive in this competitive an environment. So I was trying to talk about that in Episode 19. Not actually attempting to single at an individual, there's the weirdness that simply talking about a problem in a particular case, when people haven't understood that problem, will tend to privilege an individual but by the hundredth case of it, you start to realize, Oh, this is a general feature pervading the society.
Agnes Callard 1:51:54 Good. Um, so like, maybe a couple of different responses. So I found that, um, that the sort of First of all, just the scientific kind, it was all new to me, I didn't know anything about this way in which the kind of the propensity of a cell towards becoming tumorous. Like that, that cuts against its ability, like if you want to, if you want to cut down on that you have to make it bad at repair. And that there's a that that was so interesting to me to
Eric Weinstein 1:52:24 learn that that is in weirdly the central insight rather than the, the narrative and the drama of interpersonal warfare within the Academy. Just what is death? Right? Why is it baked in? Right?
Agnes Callard 1:52:39 Yeah. Um, so but like so. So so so as I say, there are a lot of different things. And for me, that was actually super interesting. And I went and looked and read the abstract of the paper and your awesome thing and, um, and but I guess the thing is, like, I did feel that the sort of thrust of the episode was supposed to be like, this is how things can go wrong, and I get After on an interpersonal level it is that, but the way I hear the story, yeah, there was this incredible scientific discovery that happened partly because of an academic context. And it happened and the truth got out, and like, it's your brother, and so you love him. And you're heartbroken about stuff that happened to him, but he's not my brother. And from my point of view, like, look what academia did it got this amazing, Are you fucking kidding? Angliss? Look, let's actually do this as a emotional and cognitive good, who gets to leave children, people get to become professors. If you look at the professors, who are left by a great professor, the idea that the thought is what got out there. And by virtue of the fact you know, in some sense that
Eric Weinstein 1:53:47 there was a conflict. To this I called the horse and rider problem, which is the idea let's not the rider off of the horse. And as long as we have the horse, then that's what matters. This is a question plete misreading of history because the key thing that we find is a Michael atea, for example, great mathematician will leave multiple fields medalist, his students, people who are at the very top of their game. This whole thing is about the train, the train of transmission, when you actually effectively castrate or give it a hysterectomy to a professor so they cannot reproduce. What you're doing is you're harming the ability to propagate, the specialness that allows that the machine tools of those discovery, you're confusing the important measure of the tool and the machine tool. The machine tool is the tool that makes tools. Mm hmm. It's it. I just, I think it's an incredible opportunity. And, you know, you also have written on the subject of anger, right? Yeah. This is a question of functional anger. Mm hmm. I find that outrageous Just what you just said. And I don't think that I find it outrageous because I'm flush with chemicals. And I don't think it's because it's my brother, if if you were to talk to me about Douglas pressure, Douglas pressure was one of the people who gave us green fluorescent protein or GFP. He was driving a shuttle bus in Huntsville, Alabama. Before I was championing my brother, I was championing Douglas pressure because how could it be that the person who should have been on the Nobel Prize for GFP in full view of the academic community was driving not only a shuttle bus in Huntsville, Alabama, but after being featured in The New York Times with a full you know, top above the folds picture of Doug A year later, he was still driving a shuttle bus and Phil about it. So and I mean this with all academic rigor, what the fuck is wrong with that thought process that that's what you think.
Agnes Callard 1:55:55 So, I think
Agnes Callard 1:55:57 like, I'm not sure you're clearing your own mind as to exactly which bit of this you find offensive. It seems to me that from the way that you were just talking about the dogs pressure, that a lot of it for you is about credit. And who gets credit and it's about reproduction. So your your problem is that Douglas Prasher didn't get to have Stu Douglas
Eric Weinstein 1:56:19 pressure didn't get to have students that this is just like an amazing inability to understand what the game is. If you your brother did get half
Agnes Callard 1:56:31 student No, he didn't. Well,
Eric Weinstein 1:56:34 I mean, No, he didn't. t t went on to teach. Didn't he have student taught at an a weird undergraduate institution with no graduate program? You're really not getting it.
Agnes Callard 1:56:46 But did he choose to teach there and didn't he see that teaching? his description of that teaching there was that it was extremely valuable to him?
Eric Weinstein 1:56:53 Yes, it's
a very sweet story. And right now for example, I have a discord group and I'm teaching people With no formal background, how to see gauge theory, the key point is that you don't understand what a university is, it's a very special place and who gets to reproduce and who doesn't, is the story of our future. I mean, this is about so we belong to this Jewish tradition. And I always use the same phrase, the door, the door from generation to generation. What has gone wrong in the academy, that it sees things in terms of credit status, and all these things, it's about the resources and the ability to reproduce students in an incredibly intensive relationship, where there's a transmission. You see in my field in mathematics, the top mathematicians, they have not externalized what they know, into their papers. It's a fraction of what they know, you still can't get at these relationships from reading work. You actually have to go and you have to sit With the people who produce the papers, because it's the machine tools.
Agnes Callard 1:58:04 I mean, it's weird to me that like in some way, we agree more than I thought I would we thought we would on that point. In that, look, I think that teaching is the fundamental activity of a university. I don't think so. But you so there's some other magic way that this reproduces.
Eric Weinstein 1:58:25 Research is the fundamental activity, the research universities, the problem with the university is that it's a confusion. And if you think about the Biafra lawn, which is what I always give as an example, I was, first time I heard about the biathlon, I left cross country skiing and riflery What the hell are these two activities doing in one sport? Well, if you live in Finland, you know exactly why you would want to combine those two activities because you've got Russians on your eastern border. Right. And so in general, this is an activity that's important in Norway and Sweden, and Finland and Russian places like Because you shoot the enemy while on skis, okay. The teaching University is an incredibly confusing object to many people. Because of the vat of our bush pact called the endless frontier, we agreed that we were going to have the federal government's investment in blue sky research only done through the universities effect. And that meant we took an incredibly important facility. And we confused it with teaching. Now there's an extent to which those are symbiotic that they boost each other that teaching and research are sort of happy complements to each other and there's a way in which they conflict
Agnes Callard 1:59:39 better understand how you think this reproduction how so so so so there's suppose you're going to reproduce yourself in me? How do you do that without teaching me?
Eric Weinstein 1:59:50 Well, the kind of teaching that we usually talk about when we talk about teaching, it tends to be very focused on the undergrad. So when you said didn't my brother get to leave Students you're talking about a relationship of graduates and and you're talking about a relationship to undergraduate students because there is no graduate student there.
Agnes Callard 2:00:08 For me that line is not as
Eric Weinstein 2:00:11 as heavy. How many members of your department on the faculty don't have PhDs
Agnes Callard 2:00:17 don't have PhDs. Freeman Dyson does never HD I believe all of them have PhDs. So that's Knuth in philosophy that is like the older generation, there were a number that
Eric Weinstein 2:00:26 they all did. Now you have a situation in which you have a requirement in order to be able to reproduce where you've done research, this kind of close teaching this apprenticeship.
Agnes Callard 2:00:39 Good. And so like, I think that
Agnes Callard 2:00:44 you can say, so this, this helps clarify situation. So you can say your brother was deprived of an opportunity to do a certain kind of teaching, let's talk
Eric Weinstein 2:00:52 about Douglas
Agnes Callard 2:00:52 presh Douglas pasture was fully deprived of the opportunity to do any kind of teaching, right.
Eric Weinstein 2:00:57 Furthermore, he wasn't able to do any more of that. kind of research, he didn't get resources. He in fact gave over his work because as grant, right, I'm thinking, Okay, I don't I'm not as interested in the person who's good at administrative games who got to stay in the game. I'm more interested in the Douglas pressures and getting the predators the hell out of the way. So that these guys can continue to work. In other words, they need to start, right, the Yiddish for a strong, you know, muscle. Yeah. So you need muscle to make sure that the sweet people who actually can do great work aren't preyed upon the, you have sharp minds and sharp elbows. And the key point, somebody's got to break the sharp elbows, right. That's very important to me.
Agnes Callard 2:01:42 I mean, um, but look, there's, there's a question about, and maybe you've seen many hundreds or thousands of these cases,
Eric Weinstein 2:01:50 I would say thousands I would say 10s. Right.
Agnes Callard 2:01:54 And like in, you know, in listening to that podcast that was listening to it for me one case, right? Okay. And then I also have to go with my
Eric Weinstein 2:02:02 own if you haven't seen much of this, I mean, you're at the philosophy department. I know nothing about how you guys do, right? What I will say is that in situations, like, let's take a situation where there's no skullduggery within academics, but a career stops. So every scale wha couldn't be a more important mathematician. More or less created group theory and Galois theory the the day before he died in a duel, right. Does it matter that he died? Yes, hugely Well, why we have Galois theory. We have group theory. Thank you very
Agnes Callard 2:02:36 much, right? We could have more,
Eric Weinstein 2:02:38 we could have much more. And so the issue of just sort of the casual indifference to saying that the system works, that the story and the work could proceed is a stunning fact to me, like to me, you know, res IPSA loquitur the thing speaks for itself and the idea that that is a normal part of academics is effectively the proof to me that there's something wildly wrong.
Agnes Callard 2:03:06 I mean, I guess I just think that there's a question like so part of that story was a lot of like venality and pressures that come from people wanting credit for things and people wanting,
Eric Weinstein 2:03:20 you know, caring about name and reputation and etc. And there's a question there. Suppose we got rid of that suppose we could somehow change people's psyche so that they didn't care about that. Suppose we had the ability to leave students and gain resources within the system without needing to care about that. Let's proceed from there. I think there's going to be more or less almost the last thing. So it comes back to status, which is where we began with. So my claim is, is that status is approximate. And the ultimate is the ability to transmit and create knowledge. And the key issue here is that lacking a PhD and lacking the ability to compete for grants handling which are status mediated means that your line becomes self extinguishing. That's the real issue.
Agnes Callard 2:04:04 Yeah, but I do think that this actually where it gets back to his happiness, right, okay, um, that my life can't be about whether my line is extinguished or not, my life has to be something the meaning of which comes home to me.
Agnes Callard 2:04:22 And,
Agnes Callard 2:04:24 like, it's not that that's not integrated into an activity in which I try to put something forward. But like the, the point of the pursuit of knowledge can't be to be always handing down the tools to get 10 down the tools some more, right when it came to different ways
Eric Weinstein 2:04:40 for our next disagreement. You were taking the point of view of Soma, I have germ, you have the self and I have lineage. So I think we have a great opportunity to begin our next conversation. And I just want to say I find you utterly charming, a huge workout mentally. It's a great pleasure. You're welcome to come back anytime and thank you. So much for dropping by.
Agnes Callard 2:05:01 Thank you.
Eric Weinstein 2:05:02 All right, you've been through the portal portal with Dr. Agnes Callard from the University of Chicago's philosophy department. Please subscribe to us on Apple Stitcher, Spotify wherever you listen to podcasts. And if we could ask you to go over to YouTube and not only subscribe but click the bell icon to be notified whenever we drop our next video episode. We'll try to tighten up the time between the audio and the video releases.
Transcript of the last 20 minutes
This section of the podcast is where they discuss Agnes Callard's reaction to Episode 19 of The Portal with Bret Weinstein.
Transcript starts at 1 hour, 51 minutes of the audio from Apple podcasts
They are talking about episodes of The Portal that she has listened to. She said she found them interesting but then he asked her about whether they were "worth her while"?
E - But then you sort of said that "no, that wasn't really a great exercise for you, or something like that".
A - yep
E - That hurt me. What are your reactions to that? I think that the show is quite a bit better, particularly one or two of the episodes that you listened to, I think are extraordinary and it made me feel that you could not possibly have seen what it is that I saw in those one or two episodes, because it would have been worth 10 hours of your time because it was so rare. Now, I could be wrong so it's very interesting that, of course, I have a vested interest so I'm budgeting something for my own distortion. I'm also thinking about what the feedback I've had, how specific the feedback has been
A - u-huh
E - made me question whether or not I viewed you as a reliable receiver of the content of the show. Had I over-invested in my image of you as the person capable of processing what we're doing here. And it made me wonder whether or not I'm doing something outside of the academy which the academy sort of realises is some cheap version of intellectualism and story telling and narrative that would never survive in a rigorous academic context. So I went through a bunch of self doubt, accusation, negative feeling, question and uncertainty about you , myself and the project that we were going to sit down and create an episode together.
A - that's a great question. So, I guess - let me report a bunch of different things. So, the first thing, when you said... you asked me, like, how does that feel. To me when you said "that hurt me". Immediately I felt hurt. Like I felt a reflexive, totally non-conscious empathetic response. Though I didn't at the time when I first said it. It didn't hurt me to say that to you. But it, often, I don't...
E - well, I should say both of us are quite disagreeable as people and it's my perception that both of us feel comfortable contradicting something if we... it's an issue of the courage of your convictions and I think that you in general have a very high courage of your convictions and are willing to share.
A - oh, but also it's an issue of I had no perception at all that it hurt you when I said it and I'm often bad at picking up on those signals and it makes it easier to be (corrupted?)...
E - I was asking it because it was obviously a very vulnerable question and so the last thing I wanted to do was signal to you that I could be easily hurt
A - fair enough. But perhaps also I could also have, if I were somewhat otherwise, I would predict that, but I didn't at all actually
E - cool, ok
A - so, um, I guess that was just my instinctive response.and now, like, you know, yeah - I think that your subsequent ruminations, maybe the most interesting bit in them is the bit about academia. So, what's interesting to me is that, at the moment at which I have this response, it is attributed to me as an academic, right? Like...
E - well, episode 19 of this show...
A - yeah
E - it is about the kinds of things that take place in universities all over the country that I'm alleging that has not filtered out to some extent to the general public.
E - right
E - there is a tremendous amount of pressure to survive in academics causing people in my opinion - just as we say... well, let me say it differently. Concentration camp survivors from World War Two, death camp survivors, will often say something if they trust you, which is "don't celebrate us because the ones who survived weren't the good ones. We did what we had to do to survive.It's the ones who perished that you're really thinking about."
A - h-hm
E - it's a very tough thing to say. In general when I meet someone who has succeeded in academics, they are always under a cloud. If they did it under this era, because the pressures simply too severe. Now, some people do better than that, y'know if you're good enough you can have a peacock's tale that you are in fact an ethical academician but in general people are going to have to take intellectual and moral half-measures in order to survive in this competitive of an environment. So, I was trying to talk about that in episode 19, not actually attempting to single out an individual. The weirdness that simply talking about a problem in a particular case when people haven't understood that problem will tend to privilege an individual but by the hundredth case of it you start to realise that this is a general feature pervading the society.
A - good. So, maybe a couple of different responses. So, I found that the scientific content was all new to me. I didn't know anything about this way in which the, kind of, the propensity of a cell to become tumorous - if you want to cut down on that you have to make it bad at repair and that was so interesting to me
E - that is weirdly the central insight rather than the narrative and the drama of interpersonal warfare within the academy, just, what is death? Why is it baked in.
A - right. So, as I say there are a lot of different things and for me that was actually super interesting and I went and looked and read the abstract of a paper and...
E - you're awesome, thank you
A - but I guess the thing is I did feel that the sort of thrust of the episode was supposed to be - this is how things can go wrong and I get that on an interpersonal level I get that it is that but the way I hear the story, there was this incredible scientific discovery that happened partly because of an academic context, and it happened and the truth got out. And like it's your brother, and so you love him and you're heartbroken about stuff that happened to him, but he's not my brother and from my point of view, look at what academia did, it got this truth out....
E - are you fucking kidding, Agnes? Let's actually do this as emotional and cognitive.
A - good
E - who gets to leave children? People who become professors. If you look at the professors who are left by a great professor, the idea that the thought is what got out there and by virtue of the fact that in some sense there was a conflict. This is what I calll the horse and rider problem. Let's knock there order off of the horse and as long as we have the horse then that is what matters. This is a complete misreading of history because the key. thing that we find is a Michael Atiyah, for example, a great mathematician will leave multiple fields medalists as students. People who are at the very top of their game. This whole thing is about the train of transmission. When you actually effectively castrate or give a hysterectomy to a professor so that they cannot reproduce what you're doing is you're harming the ability to propagate the specialness that allows... the machine tools of those discoveries. You're confusing the important measure, with the tool and the machine tool. The machine tool is the tool that makes tools.
A - u-huh
E - it's a... I think it's an incredible opportunity and, you know, you have also written on the topic of anger, right?
A - Yeah
E - This is a question of functional anger. I find that outrageous, what you just said and I don't think I find it outrageous because I am flush with chemicals and I don't think it's because it's my brother. If you were to talk to me about Douglas Prasher (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Douglas_Prasher) Douglas Prasher was one of the people who gave us green flourescent protein or PFP, he was driving a shuttle bus in Huntsville Alabama. Before I was championing my brother, I was championing Douglas Prasher because how could it be that the person who should have been on the Nobel Prize for GFP in full view of the academic community was driving not only a shuttle bus in Huntsville Alabama but after being featured in the New York Times with a full, top, above the fold picture of Doug, a year later he was still driving a shuttle bus in Huntsville Alabama. So, and I mean this with all academic rigour - "what the fuck is wrong with that thought process that that's what you think?"
A - So, I think, like, I'm not sure you're clear in your own mind as to which bit of this you find offensive. It seems to me that from the way that you were just talking about Douglas Prasher that a lot of it for you is about credit and who gets credit
E - it's about reproduction
A - so your problem is that Douglas Prasher didn't get to have students.
E - Douglas Prasher didn't get to have students. This is just like an amazing inability to understand what the game is
A - Well, your brother did get to have students
E - No, he didn't
A - well, I mean
E - No, he didn't
A - well, he went on to teach, didn't he have students?
E - he taught at a weird undergraduate institution with no graduate program. You're really not getting it.
A - But, didn't he choose to teach there? And didn't he see that teaching... his description of that teaching there was that it was extremely valuable to him....
E - yes, it's a very sweet story and, right now for example, I have a discord group and I'm teaching people with no formal background how to see gauge theory. The key point is that you don't understand what a university is. It's a very special place and who gets to reproduce and who doesn't is the story of our future. I mean this is about... so we belong to this Jewish tradition and I always use the same phrase, L'dor va'dor, https://jel.jewish-languages.org/words/302 - from generation to generation. What has gone wrong in the academy that it sees things it terms of credit, status and all these things? It's about the resources and the ability to reproduce students in an incredibly intensive relationship where there's a transmission. You see, in my field, in Mathematics, the top mathematicians they have not externalised what they know into their papers - it's a fraction of what they know. You still can't get at these relationships from reading work, you actually have to go and you actually have to sit with the people who produced the papers, it's the machine tools.
A - u-huh, I mean, it's weird to me that in some way we agree more than I thought we would on that point in that, look, I think teaching is the fundamental activity of a university
E - I don't think so.
A - but you... so there's some other magic way that this reproduces?
E - research is the fundamental activity of the research university. The problem with the University is that it's a confusion. If you think about the biathlon, which I always use as an example. The first time I heard about the biathlon, I laughed. Cross-country skiing and riflery. What the hell are these two activities doing in one sport? Well, if you live in Finland you know exactly why you would want to combine those two activities because you've got Russians on your eastern border, so in general there's an activity that's important in Norway and Sweden and Finland and Russia and places like that, because you shoot the enemy while on skis. OK. The teaching university is an incredibly confusing object to many people. Because of the Vanevar Bush pact called the Endless Frontier, we agreed that we were going to have the federal governments investment in blue-sky research only done through the Universities effectively and that meant that we took an incredibly important facility and we confused it with teaching. Now, there's an extent to which those are symbiotic, that they boost each other, that teaching and research are sort of happy complements to each other and there's a way in which they conflict.
A - but I don't understand how you think this reproduction, how you think, so... suppose you're going to reproduce yourself in me. How do you do that without teaching me?
E - well, the kind of teaching that we usually talk about when we talk about teaching, it tends to be very focussed on the undergraduates, so when you said 'didn't my brother get to leave students?' you're talking about relationship... to undergraduate students, because there's no graduate students there
A - I find that for me that line is not as heavy
E - how many members of your department, on the faculty don't have PhDs?
A - Don't have PhDs?
E - like Freeman Dyson doesn't have a PhD
A - Right, I believe all of them have PhDs but that's new in Philosophy. The older generation there were a number that didn't.
E - I understand but now you have a situation in which you have a requirement to be able to reproduce where you have done research. This kind of close teaching, this appreticeship
A - Good. And so, like, I think that you can say. So, this helps to clarify the situation. So, you can say that your brother was deprived of an opportunity to do a certain kind of teaching.
E - Let's talk about Douglas Prasher
A - Douglas Prasher was fully deprived of an opportunity to do any kind of teaching...
E - Furthermore, he wasn't able to do any more of that kind of research. He couldn't get resources. He in fact gave over his work because his grant ran out.
A - Right
E - I'm thinking.. I'm not as interested in the person who's good at administrative games who got to stay in the game, I'm interested in the Douglas Prasher and getting the predators the hell out of the way so that these guys can continue to work. In other words, they need a https://jel.jewish-languages.org/words/1693, yiddish for a strong, you know muscle. So you need muscle to make sure that the sweet people who can actually do great work aren't prayed upon. You have sharp minds and sharp elbows and the key point is that somebody's got to break the sharp elbows. That's very important to me.
A - I mean... but look, there's a question about... and maybe you've seen many hundreds or thousands of these cases
E - I wouldn't say thousands. I would say tens
A - right, and in listening to that podcast. That was listening, to me, to one case. And then I also have to go with my own experience...
E - so, you haven't seen much of this. I mean you're in a Philosophy department. I know nothing about how you guys do. What I will say is that in situations... like let's take a situation where there's no skullduggery within academics, but a career stops. So, Évariste Galois https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Évariste_Galois couldn't be a more important mathematician. More or less created group theory and Galois theory the day before he died...
A - in a duel
E - in a duel, right. Does it matter that he died? Yes. Hugely. Why? We have Galois theory, we have Group Theory. Thank you very much
A - right. We could have more.
E - we could have much more. And so the issue of just sort of the casual indifference to saying that the system works. That the story and the work could proceed, is a stunning fact to me. Like, to me, you know Res ipsa loquitur https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Res_ipsa_loquitur and the idea that that is a normal piece of academics is effectively the proof to me that there's something wildly wrong
A - Yeah, I mean I guess I just think that there's a question. So, like part of that story was a lot of venality and pressures that come from people wanting credit for things and people wanting y'know... caring about name and reputation etc. and there's a question there about suppose we got rid of that. Suppose we changed people's psyches so that they didn't care about that
E - Suppose we had the ability to leave students and gain resources without needing to care. Let's proceed from there because I think this is going to be almost the last thing. So, it comes back to status where we began. So it comes back to status where we began
A - yeah
E - so my claim is that status is a proximate and the ultimate is the ability to transmit and create knowledge and the key issue is that, lacking a PhD and lacking the ability to compete for grants handily, which are status-mediated, means that your line becomes self-extinguishing. That's the real issue.
A - yeah. I do think that this actually, where it gets back to is happiness. That my life can't be about whether my line is extinguished or not. My life has to be something the meaning of which comes home to me and it's not that that's not integrated into an activity where I try to put something forward, but the point of the pursuit of knowledge can't be to always be handing down the tools to hand down the tools some more
E - what a beautiful place for our next disagreement. You were taking the point of view of soma, I of germ, you of the self and I of lineage, so I think we have a great opportunity to begin our next conversation. Agnes, I just want to say. I find you utterly charming. A huge work out mentally. It's a great pleasure, you're welcome to come back any time and thank you so much for dropping by
A - thank you.