2020-07-04

Why Rationally Speaking is my favourite podcast

In general, I think educational podcasts are a great way for hearing about new ideas (exploring), but a poor way of understanding anything deeply (exploiting).

I know of one exception: the Rationally Speaking podcast.

In each episode of the Rationally Speaking (RS) podcast, Julia Galef interviews a guest on a topic from their field of expertise, most often their latest research or book.

Despite listening attentively to RS episodes, I have forgotten most of the facts, statistics, and arguments discussed in the podcast. The same is true for all other podcasts I have listened too, and with books I have read. Without a sincere attempt to remember things, you will forget them. On top of this, it is rare for me to gain more than a superficial understanding of the topic through podcasts. This is not to say the majority of podcasts are bad at all because you don’t learn anything. They can be entertaining, and expose you to new ideas.

What is different about the Rationally Speaking podcast?


The crucial difference is the style of conversation. It sounds like Galef is genuinely seeking to engage the topic at hand, and will iron out any misunderstandings, ask probing questions and is not afraid to challenge lines of reasoning or point out hidden assumptions.

When learning a language, it is useful to be immersed in it. Similarly, when trying to improve your ability to form accurate beliefs about the world, it is useful to listen to someone fluent in the art of productive disagreement and rigorous inquiry. Listening to RS you’ll quickly pick up new cognitive tools, such as steel-manning and Bayesian updating.

Whatever the content of an RS episode (which I’m sure to later forget), there is great value in being taught how to think well on a meta-level. It is both a joy to hear Galef apply her sharp reasoning to such a broad range of topics and a reminder that it is possible to train your ability to find the truth.


Recommended episodes


RS 234 — Dylan Matthews on “Global poverty has fallen, but what should we conclude from that?”

RS 216 — Diana Fleischman on “Being a transhumanist evolutionary psychologist”

RS 176 — Jason Brennan on “Against democracy”
5 Tristan Cook: Why Rationally Speaking is my favourite podcast In general, I think educational podcasts are a great way for hearing about new ideas ( exploring ), but a poor way of understanding anything...
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