Metaphysics
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Episode 41
Featuring Jim Holt
Jim Holt's on a quest to understand the universe. Why does the world exist? What is infinity? Is time real? Answering the perennial questions posed by metaphysics is no easy task. Here, Holt tests the limits of our explanatory powers, walking us to the edge of science and philosophy, pursuing answers to the cosmos' greatest mysteries.

Jim Holt is on a quest to understand the fundamental nature and meaning of our universe. What is infinity? Is time real? Why does the world exist? These are the most important questions that humanity has ever pondered. When attempting to answer such large, existential questions, it’s not enough to use observational evidence alone. This is where metaphysics comes in.

 

Unlike the hard-nosed, falsifiable propositions that form the foundation of empirical science, metaphysics poses questions for which definitive answers are hard to come by. Aristotle famously heralded the field as “the first philosophy,” since it explores those questions which are generally accepted as being the most basic and vital.

 

In short, this branch of philosophy seeks to explain the nature of being, reality, and the meaning of existence. Since metaphysics is not based on falsifiable propositions, it is is not bounded by the constraints of formal logic or scientific truth. As a result, finding conclusive answers to the perennial questions that it poses may well be impossible.

 

Still, something about these questions jabs at us. Why? Perhaps it is in our nature to question everything, even those things for which answers do not exist. Or perhaps the act of engaging in ontological arguments is itself the goal. In either case, in our answer-based culture, exploring the philosophy of science and metaphysics is a necessarily humbling experience. It forces us to contend with the mystery of our own existence, and it presses the limits of our explanatory powers.

 

In his latest book, “When Einstein Walked with Gödel: Excursions to the Edge of Thought,” Jim Holt explores the nature of logic and truth. And in this episode, he joins host Demetri Kofinas for an hour-long conversation on the philosophy of science and metaphysics. Over the course of the discussion, we explore the questions that have concerned philosophers for more than two thousand years — questions that remain unanswered.

 

Producer & Host: Demetri Kofinas

Editor & Engineer: Stylianos Nicolaou

Join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @hiddenforcespod

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Episode 18
Featuring Samuel Bowles
Episode 18
Featuring Samuel Bowles

Jim Holt is a longtime contributor to the New Yorker, where he has written on string theory, time, infinity, numbers, jokes, logic, truth, and bullshit. He also writes regularly for the New York Times, the New York Review of Books, and the London Review of Books, and he is a former book-columnist for the Wall Street Journal. His latest book, "When Einstein Walked with Gödel: Excursions to the Edge of Thought," will be published in May 2018 by Farrar Straus Giroux. His 2012 book "Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story" was a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist for general nonfiction and was named one of the ten best books of the year by the New York Times Book Review. An international bestseller, "Why Does the World Exist?" has been published worldwide in 18 languages. His 2006 book "Stop Me If You've Heard This: A History and Philosophy of Jokes" was published in the U.S. and the United Kingdom, and in French, Italian, and German translation. He is currently at work on a book titled "Living (Theory and Practice)," to be published in the U.S. by Farrar Straus, in the UK by Penguin, and in German by Rowohlt. Holt has taught mathematics at the University of Virginia, philosophy at Columbia University, and economics at the City University of New York. He lives in Greenwich Village.

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