Q&A with Jack Symes
Tell us about your podcast.
The Panpsycast (pronounced pan-sci-cast) is a weekly philosophy podcast that aims to entertain and guide students, teachers, academics, and the everyday Jack and Jill, through the lively and treacherous waters of philosophy. I’m blessed to host the podcast alongside my good friends Andrew Horton, Olly Marley, and Gregory Miller (listed in order of preference).
In our interview-style episodes, we drag philosophers out of their ivory towers and into the public square. We also release in-depth conversations on a range of big questions and philosophers, with casual discussions and offensive impersonations from the show’s hosts.
The podcast is supported by the wonderful folk at Culham St Gabriel’s Trust and Westhill Endowment, as well as through our generous patrons. Every episode is freely available on all major platforms and at our website, thepanpsycast.com.
Why did you start doing a podcast?
To paraphrase Mary Midgley, in our day-to-day lives, we’re constantly engaging in philosophy, whether we notice it or not. We find ourselves discussing democracy, immigration, animal welfare, and from an early age, our own place in the world. Existential questions concerning the meaning of our lives, psychological questions regarding the evasive nature of “happiness”, and political questions on whether or not society is treating us fairly.
Plato was keen to remind us that most people don’t do a good job of deliberating these questions; recall that Plato’s prisoners would sooner kill the philosopher than hear what he has to say. As my new catchphrase goes, I think Plato’s returning prisoner just sucked at marketing.
So, we started a podcast to make ourselves, and hopefully our listeners, better thinkers — but it needed to be entertaining. The key? Talk of philosophy with a smile. It’s not a perfect dictum, but it’s made the podcast a success … and nobody’s tried to kill us yet.
What are the best three episodes you’ve aired so far, in your opinion?
One of my favourites is episode 48, our interview with Rebecca Goldstein on ‘why philosophy won’t go away’. It’s a really warm discussion; you can tell that Olly, Rebecca, and I are really enjoying the conversation. Our focus is the nature and value of philosophy, which makes it a great place to start if you’re new to the show. As the conversation moves forward, we push Rebecca on questions concerning morality, animal welfare, and what we might call the “cosmic insignificance of existence” on the atheistic worldview. She responds to these concerns well and in good spirit, succeeding in her rebuttals and demonstrating the virtues of a good public-facing philosopher. A fortnight after the interview Rebecca visited London, and knowing of Olly’s keen interest in all things Jewish, she had brought him a copy of her book Betraying Spinoza. I like this example because it speaks of Rebecca’s kindness and the passion that she has for her work, and this really comes across in the episode.
We’ve recently released two brilliant episodes (55 and 60) on Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Albert Camus’ The Fall. Novels provide a great entry point to philosophical ideas, and they suit the format of the show wonderfully. In both episodes we gave our own “creative performances” of the novels, before unpacking the themes behind the stories. I think the informal, light-hearted nature of these episodes is the most authentic expression of The Panpsycast to date. We want the listener to feel that they’re hanging out with their friends, or at least like they’re attending a seminar that their fellow attendees are really enjoying; you know, everyone’s done the reading and nobody’s having a panic attack. Again, these episodes are a great place to start because they’re fun and they assume no prior knowledge. But hey, I’m biased – check them out for yourself.
Can you recommend one other philosophical podcast and tell us about one good episode?
There are heaps of brilliant philosophy podcasts that I’d like to recommend, so this question puts me in an invidious position. Lately I’ve been listening to some old-school episodes of The Partially Examined Life. I have a vivid memory of being enthralled by their episode on Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State and Utopia as an undergraduate. No doubt, the PEL folks do a brilliant job. We’ve had Mark Linsenmayer on The Panpsycast and Greg (my co-producer) recently joined them for a discussion on philosophy of mind. I’m also a long-time listener of Peter Adamson’s History of Philosophy without any gaps. Peter’s the cat’s pyjamas; the bee’s knees!
Beside straight up philosophy podcasts, could you recommend another podcast?
Outside of philosophy, I tend to jump between comedy podcasts. Growing up, I was a big fan of the Ricky Gervais Show and I’ll go back to it occasionally. More recently, I’ve been listening to Drunken Philosophy (which isn’t “straight up philosophy”), following a recommendation from my co-host Andrew. It’s quite a peculiar show. Dan Neilan explains philosophical ideas and Connor Holmes … erm … I’m not sure how to describe what Connor does; but he’s good at it. Anyhow, fun and very informal. Andrew appeared on their show a while back where he tried to speak to them about Kierkegaard. Check it out!