Thursday, September 20, 2018

Philosophy Rookie

I’ve always felt like a rookie when it comes to philosophy.
I grew up in a blue collar home where work was done to put food on the table and buy things. I stood out from my environment because I was interested in thinking about the reasons why we do things on a bit deeper level, but learning about things in that way was frowned on. “We do things because we have to”, was always the lesson I was given. Thinking deeper, philosophy, was a waste of time. Something that people did when they couldn’t do something useful. That lesson was drilled into me from a pretty young age and it’s something I still hear from my dad pretty regularly.
I could never shake the need to know more though. I started learning about philosophy from friends who lived somewhat less sheltered lives than I did. We shared books about metaphysical ideas that they seemed to understand far more than I did. So I would pretend I understood. I’d listen to them wax on about the illusion of reality and whether god was real or not and I loved it. I didn’t always get it but just hearing the ideas expressed was something that brought me joy. Later, one of those friends went on to study philosophy in university and I sort of tagged along. He would talk about what he was learning while we smoked weed and got drunk and I felt like I was a more knowledgeable person when he was talking. It became a thing that we did. We talked about philosophy because we had the time. We compared ourselves to Socrates and Plato and thought of ourselves as brilliant. Really it was my friend who was brilliant.
Eventually my lack of education caught up with me, so I had to move back to my hometown and work for my dad. Back to the blue collar life where we worked and didn’t worry about the reasons behind our actions. Motivations were for other people to examine and there wasn’t time for questioning existence. There’s something nice about simplicity like that. You work to eat, have fun when there’s time, and deal with problems as they come. Still, philosophy would never quite leave me alone. I still spent my downtime thinking and reading and learning.
I later started a family. I became a blue collar dad, like my own but with a slight twist. I still loved philosophy and despite a lack of education I tried like hell to read it and understand as much as I could. Luckily, I reconnected with some friends from my younger days. A university educated philosopher as a best friend can help you go a long way to understanding concepts and when looking for resources. I was introduced to more and more philosophers and their writings and while some ideas seemed to be blatantly false, others were astonishing and brilliant. This was around when I first discovered podcasts. In an audio format that I could carry in my pocket at work I could listen to excerpts from pop culture and philosophy books, lectures from philosophers who were current, and I could even take mini courses on philosophy. Still my dad said I was wasting my time and still I felt like a rookie with so little understanding and so much to learn, but I loved it.
When I discovered that there was an online atheist community with a love of learning and a passion for science and philosophy I was sucked in very quickly. I was around 30 and I had spent my life thinking that I didn’t know much and not really understanding as much as I wanted to but this explosion of information that was in front of me and a community that validated my identity as well as my love of learning gave me confidence I didn’t know I could have.
By the time I was 35 I was a separated, father of two who was on his own again for the first time in a decade and I needed something else. An outlet that I could focus on and that would help me use some of the things I had learned over the years. I was listening to an atheist podcast after a night out with friends and it occurred to me, “We should start a podcast”. By we I meant my old friends who would sit and drink and talk philosophy, politics, and science for hours on end. Why couldn’t we record that and put it on the internet? Hell, we were brilliant, and people deserved to hear how brilliant we were. That was the origin of The Brainstorm Podcast, a show that puts a group of folks into a room together and records it. Even from the beginning we talked about various philosophical topics from morality, to meaning, metaphysics, to epistemology, to political philosophy, to the value and meaning of postmodernism, and more.
The show is now made up of a few kinds of shows from a current events type show that breaks down topics with a bent towards critical thinking and skepticism, to an interview show that tries to spread the message of critical thinking and compassion, to a round table discussion on the controversial topics of the day. Every single episode is an exercise in critical thinking and philosophy. Though the crew has changed over the years. Brainstorm has been going for almost 5 years and has over 200 episodes published, and a lot of the original crew have gone their separate ways. We lost a philosopher and we gained a physicist. We lost an agricultural scientist and we gained a political scientist.
Philosophy and the practice of logic and critical thinking is key to being a skeptic alongside epistemic humility and a desire to self reflect. That’s what Brainstorm is about, even while we spend our time examining different topics along the way. Our tagline is “The Truth Matters”, and that seems to hold true even more in a time when fake news is an epidemic, and pseudoscience and science denial is promoted by the leaders of a major nation.
After all I’ve learned and all I’ve done I still feel like a rookie when it comes to philosophy, but I think that’s kind of the point. 

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