About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Rationally Speaking podcast: Live From NECSS With Jim Holt On Why Does the World Exist?

Why does the universe exist? And is that even a sensical question to ask? Philosopher Jim Holt has written extensively for publications such as the New Yorker, the New York Times and Harper's, and most recently embarked on this "existential detective story" in his new book, Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story.

Jim discusses his book with Massimo and Julia in this live episode of Rationally Speaking, taped at the 2013 Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism in New York City.


  1. I listened to this the other day. It's a *fantastic* discussion. Really, one of the best on this topic.

  2. I just finished reading the book. It's a good intro to some of what's out there in modern philosophy for people who might otherwise run like hell from that word. That said, note to Jim Holt: It's still *sauerkraut* you're eating, no matter how much Alsatian French try to fancify it.

  3. Everything comes from randomness and the void.
    You can bet on that.

  4. I will have to read the book. It was published at the same time as my own book dealing with the same broad subject The Human Design, An Introduction to the Design in Nature. I provide a simple geometrical design to reconcile the four forces, and the Design also serve as a blueprint for the human anatomy - an interesting dual purpose. In my terms, 'it takes one to know one' when humans inquire into nature. You can have a read, its free at my site thehumandesign.net See how it compares to Jim Holt's book.

  5. Great podcast. Jim Holt does great work with his countering of high-profile ill-informed views about philosophy, among other things, and is very interesting to listen to, even if the universe is not quite up to his aesthetic standards ;)


    Inspired by arguments by Richard Swinburne on the matter, I wonder whether your argument that fine-tuning may not be so weird when distributions of probabilities are taken into account gets into a regress. Couldn't we ask why it happens to be that the universe that supports life happens to be the more probable? Doesn't this just change the perplexity from why our fine-tuned universe exists to that of why our fine-tuned universe is more probable? What is it about reality that makes our universe more probable? That that reality is more probable?

    1. You'll find the answer for the Universe only when you remove the probability or doubt from the problem or equation. =

  6. Very entertaining podcast – thanks!

    I hope the New York Public Library posts a video of the discussion Holt had with Daniel Dennett last night. Holt was surprisingly testy (given his pleasant demeanor at NECSS) and launched into a series of attacks against Dennett’s position on consciousness, trotting out some of the usual arguments (zombies, Mary, the Chinese room and nation). For about ten minutes he *refused to shut up* and was actually called out for this by an audience member. Dennett for his part waited patiently and then proceeded to refute Holt’s points, calmly explaining how his (Dennett’s) “deflationary” positions are in no way inconsistent with a sense of awe and wonder toward the phenomena under discussion. By the end of the evening it’s not clear that either convinced the other of anything, but as theater it was riveting.

  7. Swinburne's kind of philosophy is exactly the kind of stuff that gives philosophy a bad reputation.
    It seems to me that after after everything is said and done, there's nothing you can tell about the origin or the nature of the universe through pure thought alone. It's not that philosophy doesn't have a role to play here. Philosophers should always be there to stop the scientists from doing bad philosophy. But it seems to me that when it comes to something like the origin of the universe, if anything can settle the matter, it's science. This is the kind of problem that I think would never be solved by logically arguing about it.
    I also think that David Albert's attack on Krauss was pretty unfair. There are versions of string theories where space and time are derived values, and do not even appear in the most basic equations of the theory. So when science comes up with something that complicated, Albert's view seems pretty naive.


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