In this post, PhD student, Liv Coombes, presents a podcast initiative, which she developed with fellow student, Elliott Gruzin, to build an online community of listeners for anyone interested in philosophy and pop culture…
My PhD research involves the philosophy of time travel, looking at how traditional theories of free will are affected by the logical possibility of time travel. Something I’ve found intriguing on my philosophical journey is that though many people know what time travel is (and can identify it in popular culture contexts), few understand what studying it in a philosophical context entails.
This seems to me a common theme amongst most philosophical disciplines. As a result, I’ve been interested in determining both why philosophy is such a scary, alien subject to the public, and why people often find it difficult to engage with, despite it being everywhere. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do about it but ultimately I knew I wanted to bridge the gap between terrifying academic philosophy culture and the general public. I know that everyone can benefit in some way from a basic knowledge of philosophical issues and why they are important.
I approached my good friend Elliott, a final year undergraduate student doing a joint honors in philosophy and economics. We became friends due to our joint passion for the philosophy of time travel, both being under the supervision of the time travel genius that is Dr Alasdair Richmond, and our love of films, especially those which portray logically consistent time travel. I wanted to collaborate together on something that would hopefully make philosophy more accessible to the general public.
The podcast, Two Philosophers, One Podcast, No Problems, was Elliott’s idea, and I was sceptical. I had no idea how to go about making a podcast, whether it would be well received, or how it would be structured. But we soon found it to be relatively straightforward. The format of the podcast is pretty simple. We revolve each episode around a broad philosophical issue. More specifically, we spend a little time talking about the philosophical topic and some common intuitions about it before relating the philosophical topic to an example in popular culture, usually a film. We speak about the how the topic is brought out in the film and whether the film does a good/bad job of exploring it. We finally talk about a piece of academic literature relating to the topic. We normally release the reading/watching list before we release the podcast.
The format of bringing an academic text towards the end tries to ensure that we don’t alienate anyone right at the beginning. We always explain terms fully and never rely on unnecessary jargon, and we try to make the way that we interact with each other as informal as possible. There’s a culture in academia of seriousness and stoicism that I think is partially responsible for some alienation of the public, hence Elliott and I make an effort to be silly and informal.
How has it worked so well? Partly, because Elliott and I do not claim to be experts in all philosophical topics. Sure, the first episode we did was on time travel and that is our specialty, but the following episodes have consisted in subjects ranging from death to AI. Quite often we are as new to the topics as many of the listeners. What we can bring is our ability to understand philosophical literature and apply its methodology, and then communicate that to a wide audience. The fact that so many non-philosophers have found it accessible and enjoyable (and have even learnt something new) is beyond rewarding. My aim, to show non-philosophers that philosophy is not scary, that it is in the films we watch, the books we read, even the songs we sing, feels all the more fulfilled with every episode released.
It’s all the more amazing when we get comments and emails from listeners. Getting to engage with an interested community is a gift, and goes to show that philosophy really is everywhere and can be enjoyed and engaged with by any interested person. We really feel like we have been able to build a community of listeners both from the academic and non-academic side of things, and it is exciting to get to listen and hear from our listeners via email and social media.
This project was funded by the Student Partnership Agreement.
You can read about another University of Edinburgh student’s (Moriah McCauley) podcasting experience (also funded by the Student Partnership Agreement) on her ‘That Vet Life’ blog post.