When John and Ken began shopping around their idea for a philosophy-on-the-radio show nearly 20 years ago, many believed it would never work, let alone stay on the air.
Philosophy Talk just celebrated our 500th episode. Quite an accomplishment from the point of view of the 1st episode.
Let me reminisce for a bit. Long a fan of public radio’s Car Talk, I had the idea of something similar based on philosophy. After all, most philosophical problems are more interesting than spark plug problems or transmission problems.
So I tried to get a couple of philosophy friends at Stanford interested. David Israel wasn’t interested. Michael Bratman wasn’t interested. But then after Ken Taylor arrived at Stanford and I got to know him, he seemed perfect. So I gave it a try. And he liked the idea.
That was the very beginning of Philosophy Talk, back in 2002. Ken took the idea and ran with it. Within a week or two he had persuaded Provost John Etchemendy to give us some seed money to prepare a pilot episode.
We eventually took that episode to the public radio conference in Portland, where we got longtime San Francisco broadcaster and radio producer Ben Manilla interested. Now there were two powerhouses, Ken and Ben, running down the field, while I struggled to keep up.
We tried to get picked up by KQED, where I had some friends. No interest there. But then Ben talked to the station managers at KALW and OPB and convinced them to pick up the show. Our first episode of Philosophy Talk was aired in January, 2004. And now—500 episodes later—the program has been broadcast on over 100 stations nationwide.
In 2006, Ben recruited Devon Strolovich to the team. If Ben was the senior producer, Devon became responsible for the day-to-day production of the show. A few years later, Laura Maguire joined us and we had the core team that still continues with the important work of producing Philosophy Talk, with help from many others over the years, now especially Cindy Prince Baum.
Except for Ken and me. When I turned 75 a couple of years ago, I told Ken it was time to find a younger co-host. That turned out well, with the wonderful Josh Landy and Debra Satz taking over my duties, mainly Josh once Debra became a dean last year. But then Ken died unexpectedly in December.
Philosophy Talk without Ken Taylor? It seems unthinkable. Like breakfast without coffee, or Paris without the Eiffel Tower. But then Josh was joined by Ray Briggs as co-host, who is doing a masterful job. The two of them make a great team. I’m very proud of the present program, and I think it will go on for at least another 500 episodes.
The 500th episode is on the topic of time. Given my age and years in the business, I think I am permitted to vent a little bit about this problem. The philosophy of time is one of my favorite topics, but also one of the most irritating. The main problem is that physicists can’t quite figure out what time is. A fair percentage of them get philosophical in their old age, and announce that the problem isn’t with them but with time: there is no such thing. It’s just an illusion humans find useful in scheduling.
Accordingly, our first guest is physicist Carlo Rovelli, author of The Order of Time and many other popular physics books, to talk about the different things we mean when we talk about “time.” Then Josh and Ray are joined by political scientist Elizabeth Cohen to talk about her fascinating book, The Political Value of Time, from election cycles to criminal justice. Prolific poet and essayist (and one of Philosophy Talk’s favorite guests) Jane Hirshfield discusses the various ways poetry can play with time, reading a couple of poems from her new book, Ledger. In the last segment, Josh talks to philosopher Jorah Danenberg about one of their favorite Ted Chiang sci-fi stories, “Story of Your Life,” which explores the concept of time from the perspective of an alien life form that visits Earth.
We hope you enjoy our 500th episode and continue to listen for another 500—at least.