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Podcast Profile: Hi-Phi Nation

podcast imageTwitter: @HiPhiNation@ProfBarryLam
64 episodes
2016 to 2023
Average episode: 44 minutes
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Categories: Story/Narrative-Style

Podcaster's summary: Hi-Phi Nation is philosophy in story-form, integrating narrative journalism with big ideas. We look at stories from everyday life, law, science, popular culture, and strange corners of human experiences that raise thought-provoking questions about things like justice, knowledge, the self, morality, and existence. We then seek answers with the help of academics and philosophers. The show is produced and hosted by Barry Lam of UC Riverside.

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List Updated: 2024-Apr-14 06:08 UTC. Episodes: 64. Feedback: @TrueSciPhi.

2023-May-16 • 53 minutes
Rise of the Music Machines
AI Music and the Future of Creativity
2023-May-09 • 61 minutes
Effective Altruism and its Critics
Curtis is setting aside a large chunk of money to donate to charity, and it is up to us to persuade him where he should donate it. Luckily, philosophers, economists, and the nonprofit world have been thinking a lot about this issue in recent years. On this episode, effective altruism’s defenders and critics try to persuade Curtis of where he should donate. Who is the most effective in persuading an ordinary person as to the right way to donate to charity? And do the recent scandals involving effective altru...
2023-May-02 • 55 minutes
The Problem with Gig Work
Willy and Heidi were both gig workers for Shipt, the fast-delivery app for groceries or same-day shopping. In 2020, they both realised: the pay algorithm had changed. Now, they couldn’t tell what a job would pay, or whether it would earn or lose them money. Instead of just taking it, they decided to fight back. In the gig economy, companies like Shipt, Instacart, and UberEats all use black box pay algorithms to try and get workers to accept gigs but hide information from them to do so. Early in the pandemic...
2023-Apr-25 • 54 minutes
Love in the Time of Replika
We explore the lives of people who are in love with their AI chatbots. Replika is a chatbot designed to adapt to the emotional needs of its users. It is a good enough surrogate for human interaction that many people have decided that it can fulfill their romantic needs. The question is whether these kinds of romantic attachments are real, illusory, or good for the people involved. Apps like Replika represent the future of love and sex for a subpopulation of people, so we discuss the ethics of the practice. ...
2023-Apr-18 • 47 minutes
Living in a Zoopolis
A zoopolis is a future society that philosophers envision where wild, domesticated, and denizen animals have full political and legal rights. What would that look like? In this episode, we look at how animals were put on trial in medieval European courts, and how animal rights advocates are bringing animals back into the courtrooms to sue people and the US government. We then look at what the science of animal minds tells us about how much agency animals have, and envision what political and legal rights va...
2023-Apr-11 • 58 minutes
The Digital Future of Grief
When Justin’s mom was diagnosed with cancer, he knew he wanted to keep talking to her after she died. So together they made an AI version of her, training it on her speech patterns and memories. Now he is scaling his findings so that anyone can continue their relationships with loved ones after their deaths. Justin even believes this can one day lead to digital immortality. Grief experts are only now dealing with bereaved people who create digital versions of their loved ones. We look at what they say about...
2023-Apr-04 • 2 minutes
Season 6 Trailer
Coming April 11, 2023, Season 6 of Hi-Phi Nation will look at the future; of work, of love and sex, life and death, our relationship with animals, creativity in music, and philanthropy. Stories include people trying to create digital avatars of dead loved ones, people in exclusive relationships with AI chatbots, animals who are seeking legal protection in courts, the gig economy, AI music, and effective altruism. The episodes will draw out the most interesting moral and philosophical issues from the current...
2022-Feb-12 • 38 minutes
In our final episode on monsters, we investigate why people who eat people are the funkiest people in the afterlife. We talk to a man who has actually eaten parts of other people, many times, about why he thinks consuming human flesh should be normalized. We then consider the age-old question of how God is supposed to resurrect a cannibal and all of his victims when most of the flesh of the victims would also be a part of the cannibal. Some of the best minds in Western philosophy and Christian theology thou...
2022-Jan-22 • 37 minutes
The second in a three-part series on monsters in philosophy. We trace the cultural history of zombies from voodoo folklore, George Romero films, and the zombies used in philosophical thought experiments. Folklore, film and philosophy seem to converge on the idea that consciousness above all else is what a creature needs to have to be worthy of moral concern, something a zombie lacks. But we have no idea when something crosses over from being a zombie to being conscious, particularly current AI systems. What...
2022-Jan-08 • 42 minutes
The first in a three-part series on monsters in philosophy. We trace the cultural history of vampires from Eastern European folklore to Twilight, and even look at the practices of real vampires, people who seek out and consume blood or psychic energy. The vampire went from demon to attractive monster in the course of a few centuries and raises a deep question for us about how different we can be, the limits of human imagination, and whether we can ever reasonably choose to have a transformative experience. ...
2021-Dec-18 • 53 minutes
When tragedy strikes an individual, a nation, or an entire people, artists and architects are tasked with designing a public display that memorializes the event and its victims. But how do you do that? In this episode, art historian and podcaster Tamar Avishai examines the Denkmal Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, the Vietnam War Memorial in DC, and others to look at how respecting and remembering loss collides with the demands of history and politics. We look at why abstract rather than re...
2021-Dec-04 • 45 minutes
Life, Edited
The first two gene-edited species meant to be introduced into the wild are currently in their final stages of approval, with trials already underway for the Oxitec mosquito, and the ESF American Chestnut. In this episode, we examine what these gene-edited species are, what they do, and how they are the beginnings of bio-engineering in the era of massive anthropocentric ecological change. We then look at the ethics of bioengineered wild species and whether they can be the solution to an imminent era of mass ...
2021-Nov-27 • 44 minutes
Hi-Phi Nation Presents: Decoder Ring, The Alberta Rat War
Barry invites Willa Paskin of Slate's Decoder Ring podcast to talk about their recent episode, The Alberta Rat War, as a set up to next week's Hi-Phi Nation episode on genetic engineering. We then proceed to that episode. Rats live wherever people live, with one exception: the Canadian province of Alberta. A rat sighting in Alberta is a major event that mobilizes the local government to identify and eliminate any hint of infestation. Rat sightings makes the local news. Alberta prides itself on being the wor...
2021-Nov-20 • 46 minutes
The Selfless Kidney Donor
Penny Lane gave up months of wages and weeks of her life to have her kidney cut out and given to someone she never knew, and who may never thank her. She is one of about 200 people in the US a year who give up a kidney altruistically. What motivates someone to do that? Evolutionary psychologist Michael McCullough believes that not only is there true altruism amongst the human species, but that it is a unique trait, an emerging and spreading trait, and it is selected for by evolution, even out-competing the ...
2021-Nov-06 • 42 minutes
The Man of Many Worlds IV
David Lewis steps off a plane from Australia in 2000 and falls seriously ill. In the final year of his life, he decides to take on Christianity, but does not live long enough to write a paper, leaving only his notes. His longtime friend Philip Kitcher turns the notes into Lewis' final piece on the evil of the Christian God. In our final episode of the series, we look at the philosophy of religion and examine the lasting legacy of David Lewis. Guest voices include Steffi Lewis, Ellen Lewis, Donald Lewis, Ala...
2021-Oct-30 • 51 minutes
The Man of Many Worlds III
In 1968, David Lewis decides that one truth can unify every theory he's had about the nature of the universe. It is the truth that every possible world is equally real. Lewis not only argues for this view, but devises a distinctive way of arguing for it, a method of doing philosophy that is as influential as his views. Meanwhile, a soon-to-be colleague and rival, Saul Kripke, reads Lewis' paper and fires off eight objections, and on the other side of the world, an entire continent becomes enamored with the ...
2021-Oct-23 • 42 minutes
The Man of Many Worlds II
What was David Lewis like as a person? The consensus is that he did not know how to converse. At Swarthmore, David Lewis discovers he has a knack for philosophy and none at all with women, leading to a lifelong examination of the norms for conversation. By the time he reaches Harvard, he is ready to meet the love of his life, but almost fails out of the program in the process. By the end of his Harvard days, an entire continent on the other side of the Earth is abuzz about a rising star. Guest voices includ...
2021-Oct-16 • 45 minutes
The Man of Many Worlds I
David Lewis was one of the greatest minds of the 20th century, who few outside of academia know much about. By the time of his death in 2001, he was the greatest systematic thinker in metaphysics since the Enlightenment. In Part 1 of a four-part series, we follow his journey from sick little boy in Oberlin, Ohio to teenager learning about free will from Iris Murdoch. We accompany the story of his early life with his theory of time, time travel, and the self. Guest voices include R. Jay Wallace, Mark Schroed...
2020-Oct-21 • 49 minutes
Hi-Phi Nation Presents: Into the Zone (When We Were Cyber)
Barry updates listeners on what to expect in Season 5 of the show, currently in production. In the meantime, he introduces you to Into the Zone, a Pushkin podcast by writer Hari Kunzru. This episode is about the time Hari was in philosophy graduate school in the 90s and attended an early conference about cyberculture that leads him to visit philosopher Manuel DeLanda. Subscribe to Into the Zone on Apple podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
2020-Jun-27 • 55 minutes
Justice and Retribution
A woman spends 40 years in and out of prison for shoplifting and finally gets a break from a judge in her late 50s. She uses the opportunity to abolish a jail and transform her city. This week we look at prison abolition and the arguments for eliminating all punishment from the system. From the denial that we have free will, to the view that perpetuating injustice disqualifies the state from punishing, we look at whether any of us have the right to punish anyone else, and question the very purpose of the cr...
2020-Jun-13 • 44 minutes
The Loophole
Two men committed a double murder in rural Maine in 1990. Only one pulled the trigger. The state prosecutor decided to try them separately, but that was a mistake, and both were acquitted. Then the Feds came in, and sentenced one man to life in prison for a crime he was already acquitted of doing. How is this possible in America? The answer is a loophole in criminal law. Today we examine that loophole by looking at the Thanksgiving Day murders in Maine, and the constitutional challenges this loophole has su...
2020-Jun-06 • 57 minutes
Punishment without End
A teen-aged girl gets caught with a suitcase stuffed with powdered cocaine, and she comes before a federal judge. That judge learns that a felony conviction carries punishments for life for her. He embarks on a mission to get all other judges to shorten prison sentences in light of this. Meanwhile, a researcher learns of a pervasive but secretive practice where prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges skirt the truth to protect defendants from unjust harsh punishments imposed on them from lawmakers. This ...
2020-May-30 • 52 minutes
Redemption in Solitary
Erick Williams tells the story of how one bad night in the chow hall got him into solitary confinement at Walpole. The path out of solitary, and eventually out of prison, took another decade. On this episode, we look at the unique power of the Department of Corrections to do with prisoners what they will at their discretion. Philosopher Lisa Guenther tells the history of solitary in America, and the conceptions of the self that drive its continued use. We end with an examination of what the experiences of s...
2020-May-23 • 58 minutes
Gender Justice
On this episode, we look at feminist and progressive prosecution; how does a prosecutor balance the aims of prosecuting more gender-based crimes while also being sensitive to the problems of mass incarceration? We look at the story of one Maine prosecutor who is winning victories in sexual assault cases that were once deemed unwinnable, and whether this lowers the bar of burden of proof to unjust levels for gender crimes. Finally, we look at how one study in 1984 started a 40-year trend in mandatory arrest ...
2020-May-16 • 53 minutes
The Informant
This week we go inside investigative operations in NYPD internal affairs and in the war and drugs to look at the police use of discretion to selectively break laws in order to pursue the bad guys. One former FBI special agent turned political philosopher argues that local and federal law enforcement are the biggest threat to the rule of law in their ongoing use of discretion to secure informant deals, perform sting operations, and otherwise break laws in order to enforce them. Guest voices include Robert Br...
2020-May-09 • 52 minutes
Police Discretion
Is a mobile home a home or a car? Is a car parked inside a home part of the home? The answer to these stoner philosophical questions determine the scope of police power. Over the last 100 years, the Supreme Court has presided over the expansion of police discretionary powers to stop, search, and arrest people through litigation over automobiles. This week, we look at the stories of those decisions, including Carroll, Ross, and Whren, We then turn to the political morality of police discretion, and why John ...
2020-May-02 • 22 minutes
Hi-Phi Nation Plus: Mens Rea versus Moral Luck
In this Slate Plus segment, Barry is joined by Sarah Lustbader to discuss the issues raised in Episode 1: Criminal Minds. Sarah expresses skepticism about the significance of mens rea in ordinary prosecution of street crimes, Barry uses the opportunity to discuss the issue of moral luck as an explanation of why egregiousness of outcome seems to be the driving factor for prosecution rather than mens rea. The two end with a discussion of why the deontological/consequentialist distinction is so difficult to fi...
2020-May-02 • 56 minutes
Criminal Minds
One place where law and morality are supposed to agree is that there should be no crime without a criminal mind, what is called “mens rea” in criminal law. But there have been a proliferation of crimes that do not require knowledge or intent, contributing to over-prosecution and overincarceration. Conservative and libertarian lawmakers have claimed the moral high ground over progressives in advocating that people who do not intend and do not know they are breaking a law be excused for their criminal conduct...
2020-Apr-16 • 31 minutes
Sponsored: Delivering Extraordinary Experiences with Customer Experience Expert Liliana Petrova
When it comes to closing a deal, generating client referrals, or getting repeat business, understanding how to elevate the customer’s experience can make all the difference, and can often be a philosophical approach. So how do you go above and beyond to deliver extraordinary experiences? To find out, host JulieGurner talks to customer experience guru and former Head of Customer Experience Programs at JetBlue Airways, Liliana Petrova. Together, they dive into the process of thinking through the customer jour...
2020-Apr-11 • 4 minutes
Season 4: Crime and Punishment (Trailer)
From writing criminal laws to rights denied to the formerly incarcerated, every single stage of the criminal justice system runs on unquestioned assumptions about right and wrong, responsibility and excuse, freedom, protection, and discretionary decision-making. This season of Hi-Phi Nation will question and examine those assumptions. The season begins on May 2nd, 2020, and will feature exclusive invite-only Zoom events for select listeners. Go to to find out how to be invited. Also this s...
2019-Jun-22 • 44 minutes
YOLO Apologetics
Drake coined “YOLO,” short for “you only live once” in 2011, and then later apologized for all the douchiness it subsequently engendered. But the spirit is ancient, and cross-cultural, speaking deeply to the kind of decision-making that is supposed to make for the good life. It seems to be saying that risk and spontaneity should be valued above prudence and planning. Is that true? This week we take calls from listeners about their YOLO stories. We follow two college buddies who venture into the Malaysian j...
2019-Jun-08 • 38 minutes
The Illusionist
Pyotr Tchaikovsky composed and conducted his final symphony in 1893. He died 9 days later, after having knowingly drunk an unboiled glass of water during a cholera epidemic. Deep into the symphony, Symphony no. 6, there is a paradoxical passage that, when played, no one will be able to hear. This is because Tchaikovsky scored it to contain a musical illusion. We uncover the mystery of why he put it there. Sound illusions reveal some of the most puzzling features of the human mind, most notably its insiste...
2019-May-25 • 50 minutes
Uncivil Disobedience
In Australia, vegan and animal liberation activism has recently become intense and disruptive, invading farms, restaurants, and city centers. They’re doing everything from rescuing animals to blocking traffic, and occupying steakhouses. Some argue that these new activists are needlessly victimizing innocent farmers, business owners, and consumers. Others argue that the activists are only doing what’s necessary to stand up for the innocent victims of farmers, business owners, and consumers. For any cause, w...
2019-May-11 • 49 minutes
For Women Only (pt. 2)
In the 40 years since the events at Olivia Records, gender categorization seems to pop up sporadically in the mainstream press, leading to what sociologists Laurel Westbrook and Kristen Schilt call "gender panics," and then they disappear only to emerge again at some other time. An analysis of gender panics show that people fear some gender nonconformists but seem perfectly fine with others. It turns out that one thing in particular, just one thing, causes and then quells a gender panic, showing that the p...
2019-Apr-27 • 52 minutes
For Women Only (pt. 1)
It is currently very difficult to get your gender legally changed in the U.K, That might change. In recent months, philosophers have been drafted into making complicated and contentious arguments about what it is to be a man, woman, or any other gender in the service of advancing or blocking the movement for trans-rights and recognition. In particular, it has exposed a conflict between trans-rights advocates and a certain wing of feminism, a conflict that in fact has its roots in America in the 70s. On this...
2019-Apr-13 • 54 minutes
Demons of Democracy
Preschool kids get their first taste of democratic participation when they vote on their class name, and democratic private schools try to display the value of democracy by making kids vote on everything, even the school budget. Does it work or do kids make terrible decisions? One diagnosis of our modern-day political problems is that too many stupid people are voting for stupid things. There are two proposed fixes; mandate that everyone vote, so as to diminish the power of ignorant and irrational voters, ...
2019-Mar-30 • 55 minutes
Name of God (2019)
A few days after the New Zealand Mosque massacre, Dr. Thaya Ashman heard about a woman who was too afraid to come out in public in her hijab for fear of being targeted. So Dr. Ashman had an idea to invite every person in New Zealand to wear a headscarf in public. The result was quite different from what happened in America three years ago, when a woman who tried to make a similar gesture of good will toward Muslims incurred the wrath of evangelical Christians on social media. On this episode, Barry revisits...
2019-Mar-16 • 50 minutes
The Forever War
This year will mark the 18th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan, the forever war characterized by regime change, a surge, drawdowns, and then re-engagement across three Presidential administrations. We take a retrospective of the entire war, from the forgotten events of the lead-up to its total financial and moral costs to date. Journalist Douglas Wissing and Professor Neta Crawford of the Cost of War project take us through the staggering amounts of money spent on prosecuting the war and the development...
2019-Mar-02 • 48 minutes
No Offense
What if you could sue someone for calling you a racial slur? In the 90s, one country that always looked very similar to America decided to allow it, rolling back the rights to free speech in the interest of protecting victims of hate speech. Is the result a slippery slope to government tyranny, or a more harmonious society? The moral right to hate speech does not run as deep in the U.S. as most people believe. Only in the last 80 years of litigation and activism has it become protected. On this episode, we ...
2019-Feb-16 • 50 minutes
Risky Business
How many innocent people should we be allowed to arrest and jail in order to prevent a single dangerous person from being free? The Supreme Court has refused to answer this question, but algorithms have, and many courts across the country are going with the algorithm. At different stages of the criminal justice system, computerized risk-assessment algorithms are slowly replacing bail hearings in determining who goes to jail and who goes free. This is widely seen as progressive reform, but may in fact be l...
2019-Feb-02 • 18 minutes
(Bonus) The Battle over CSOCs
On this bonus episode, I go into some of the history between the LAPD police commission and the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, and feature some of the tape from the Central station CSOC protest that didn't make it into the episode, including some creepy stuff that happened toward the end of the protest. I then talk to Sarah Brayne about the possibility of using surveillance technology to monitor the police themselves. This bonus episode is a teaser of future bonus content available to Slate Plus members. To g...
2019-Jan-31 • 48 minutes
The Precrime Unit
Predictive policing technology is spreading across the country, and Los Angeles is the epicenter. A small group of LA activists are in a lopsided campaign against billions of dollars in city, federal, and Silicon Valley money using algorithms to predict where and when the next crime is going to occur, and even who the perpetrators are going to be. Barry embeds with the Stop LAPD Spying coalition for a week in Skid Row and investigates how state-of-the-art predictive policing programs work. He then talks to ...
2019-Jan-18 • 3 minutes
Season 3 Preview
After two successful seasons, philosophy in story form comes to Slate on January 31st, 2019. On Season 3, we look at stories of risk, experiments in democracy, the reality of social categories, illusions of the senses. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
2018-Jul-23 • 47 minutes
Chamber of Facts
Do people of opposing political parties believe in different facts? The mantra at the moment is that they do, because of media echo chambers, motivated reasoning, and ideological blindspots. But a more careful look reveals a different answer, with perhaps even more startling consequences. This week we follow two conservative Republicans who consumed a liberal newsfeed for two weeks, and we look at the empirical and philosophical problem of the way partisanship affects belief in facts. Guest voices include J...
2018-Jun-19 • 48 minutes
A Night of Philosophy
Hi-Phi Nation stays overnight at the Brooklyn Public Library during the 2018 Night of Philosophy. From 7pm to 7am on a Saturday night, thousands of New Yorkers swarmed the central library for acrobats, musicians, and philosophy. Meanwhile, we present philosophy shorts about the definition of life, the nature of good and the morality of revenge, and moral relativism. At the event, producer Sandra Bertin confronts some white privilege, while Barry wanders the floors trying to get people to differentiate betwe...
2018-May-30 • 58 minutes
Willful Acts
Army veteran Jim McKelvey applied for his VA benefits and was denied for willful misconduct. Thirty years later, Julie Eldred was sent to prison for a willful violation of probation. Both challenged, both got to a Supreme Court with the promise to change the law of the land. The disease model of addiction has been litigated a handful of times in the history of American law. Every time the same issue has come up; free will. We examine this week how the issues of free will and moral responsibility for addicti...
2018-May-01 • 45 minutes
Creed and Credences
Dave has been hunting for the one decisive piece of scientific evidence that will settle one of Christianity's most challenging questions. On this episode we look at two stories of people trying to reconcile their religious and empirical beliefs about the world, and hear from a philosopher whose theory says that their attempts may be futile. Guest voices include Dave Woetzel, Laura Jean Truman, and philosopher Neil Van Leeuwen. This episode is brought to you by The Great Courses Plus. Visit http://www.thegr...
2018-Mar-27 • 46 minutes
The Self and Survival
In ordinary life, it is usually not hard to know who you are and who you used to be. For a small group of children around the world, their knowledge seems to conflict with what modern science believes is possible. On this episode, we tell stories of unusual childhood memories to examine the nature of the self, and what needs to survive in order for a person to survive. We delve into the strange philosophy and science of personal identity, quantum physics, and belief in the afterlife. Guest voices include Ba...
2018-Feb-28 • 50 minutes
Cover Me Softly
When Lori Lieberman was 19 years old, she went to a concert of a singer she didn't know, and ended up writing a poem that would become one of the greatest cover songs of all time. This week we are going to look at the art of covering in popular music, and how that art marked the conversion from a classical model of musical aesthetics to a contemporary one. Popular music in the modern era is metaphysically complex due to the fact that its listeners make very fine-grained judgments about artistic merit and qu...
2018-Jan-23 • 30 minutes
Freedom and Hostile Design
Some acts of expression are awesome, while others suck, and one philosopher has a new theory about the difference. Using this theory as a guide, we look at some of the suckiest things that ever sucked in urban design, and the street artists and compassionate vandals who are trying to fight them. We use these stories to investigate how public spaces are becoming less free and more coercive. Guest voices include Nick Riggle, Leah Borromeo, Rowland Atkinson, Victor Callister, and Richard Rowland. Learn more ab...
2017-Dec-19 • 31 minutes
Drowned at Sea
In the process of preparing to testify in a divorce case, Brian had to study one of the strangest books he had ever come across, where religion, mathematics, and the apocalypse intersect. This week, we look at how a religious cult of number worshipers on the Italian coast gave rise to modern science, mathematics, philosophy, and music. In the interim 2500 years, as we have increased our knowledge of the universe using mathematics, we have lost the ability to explain why math is so successful at describing n...
2017-Nov-28 • 51 minutes
The Ethics Bowl
High school students from around the country converge on the University of North Carolina for a weekend of moral dilemmas. We follow twenty-four of the nation's top ethics teams competing in the 2017 National High School Ethics Bowl, and take a whirlwind tour of moral philosophy in the process. Guest voices include Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Geoff Sayre-McCord, Jeff Sebo, and students from high schools across the country. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
2017-Oct-31 • 39 minutes
The Bottom of the Curve
At the beginning of their adult lives, millennials are trying to find out what it means to be happy in their 20s, not knowing that they have no where to go but down. Meanwhile, three highly successful people find themselves at the bottom of life's happiness curve, and try to find their way back up. The show today is about a demographic inevitability, the midlife crisis, and how we seek happiness in the face of our approaching death. Two mid-lifers leave their careers to gamble on fulfillment, and one philos...
2017-May-03 • 50 minutes
A Better Love
On our season finale, we follow a mother's love through the stages of life to seek wisdom about what love is, what love does, and why love happens. We follow five mothers at five different stages of motherhood, from the joys and anxieties of birth, letting go, coming back, being proud, and saying goodbye. We then turn to the philosophy of love and life, to figure out the role of love in the shape of a human life, and the significance of death in revealing the true value of our loved ones. Guest voices inclu...
2017-Apr-18 • 51 minutes
The Ashes of Truth
Documentary film and science do not appear to have much in common, except that, philosophically, they have everything in common. Two men met in 1971 and had a disagreement, which turned into an assault, and then 45 years of disdain. One of them was the most cited philosopher of the 20th century, the other is one of the most influential documentary filmmakers of his generation. It was a disagreement that ran deep, right down to the nature of truth, history, reference, and the objects and limits of human inqu...
2017-Mar-21 • 37 minutes
Be a Man
Our ideas of manhood and womanhood determine the ways in which we raise and socialize our children, but how much does gender in a particular society depend on that society's relationship with violence? What happens when, all of a sudden, women are allowed to participate in a form of violence once reserved for men? This week, we investigate the effects and side effects of gender norms arising from militarism. Guest voices include two lieutenants in the US Army, LTC Naomi Mercer, Joshua Goldstein, Tom Digby, ...
2017-Mar-14 • 45 minutes
Hackademics II: The Hackers
One scientist decided to put the entire field of psychology to test to see how many of its findings hold up to scrutiny. At the same time, he had scientists bet on the success-rate of their own field. We look at the surprising paradoxes of humans being human, trying to learn about humans, and the elusive knowledge of human nature. Guest voices include Brian Nosek of the Center for Open Science, Andrew Gelman of Columbia University, Deborah Mayo of Virginia Tech, and Matthew Makel of Duke TiP. A philosophica...
2017-Mar-07 • 46 minutes
Hackademics I: The Control
After years of unusual episodes dating back to her childhood, Anita went to the doctor and was told there was nothing medically wrong with her. "She had a gift," she was told, and she was sent down the street to an ESP lab. Parapsychology is the scientific study of telepathy, clairvoyance, telekinesis, precognition, and spirits. Or is it? The field has been pushed to the fringes of science for decades now. In two episodes, I first follow the study of psychics, and then the mainstream sciences of human natur...
2017-Feb-21 • 48 minutes
The Cops of Pop
Two records from 1983 achieved minor novelty fame, and then faded away, only to emerge 20 years later as the originators of a curious genre of pop music in the age of social media. This peculiar genre raises questions about how we should think about genre, musical aesthetics, and artistry in the time of industrially-produced music and digital reproduction. Guest voices include Jordan Roseman, aka DJ Earworm, Steve Stein, aka Steinski, philosopher Chris Bartel, and musicologist Christine Boone. Learn more ab...
2017-Feb-14 • 51 minutes
The Name of God
With a small gesture of good will toward Syrian refugees, one woman incurred the wrath of evangelical Christians on social media. The resulting chaos helped write the next chapter in a thousand year-old controversy concerning Christianity, Islam, their shared origins, and the nature of God. Guest voices include Larycia Hawkins, Michael Mangis, Karly Bothman, Paul Griffiths, and Amir Hussain. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
2017-Feb-07 • 49 minutes
Soldier Philosophers Part 2: The Morality of War
For some reason, when people kill others in wars, we do not judge them morally and legally in the same way as we judge them when they kill in civilian life. Is there a justification for this difference, or is it only a convenient myth? We go to West Point to see what soldiers themselves think and teach about the morality of killing in war. Just as the US winds down two major unconventional wars, philosophers, including many soldier philosophers, are trying to revise hundreds of years of thinking about the m...
2017-Jan-31 • 49 minutes
Soldier Philosophers Part 1: Moral Exploitation
When one Army soldier discovered the propagation of torture tactics during the Iraq war, he engaged in a one-man mission inside the organization to learn about their origins, and the effect they had on lower-level soldiers who were implementing them. From there, he took on the Bush administration. Years later, he is training to be a philosopher. As a new U.S. administration takes hold, with talk of military action against ISIS and the reinstatement of Bush-era torture policies, we embark on a two-week expl...
2017-Jan-24 • 50 minutes
The Wishes of the Dead
Our lives are controlled by the invisible hand from the grave. Trillions of dollars of the economy are devoted to executing the wishes of people who died long ago, rather than satisfying the desires of the living. We follow the story of the Hershey fortune to show how a 19th century industrialist constructed the oddest business structure to ensure that his wishes would be fulfilled hundreds of years after his death. The story raises questions about why we give the dead so much power over our lives, and what...
2016-Dec-24 • 3 minutes
Season One Trailer #1
A brand new show bringing storytelling together with philosophy, Hi-Phi Nation aims to do for philosophy what Freakonomics did for economics, what Invisibilia does for cognitive psychology, and what all of your favorite podcasts do for your entertainment and enlightenment. Our inaugural 10-episode season will launch in late January 2017. Hosted and produced completely independently by Barry Lam, professor at Vassar College and fellow at Duke University, season one will include just war theory, epistemology ...