Show Notes for Ep. 4 "What Are... Humans"

What does it mean to be human? What do we mean when we call ourselves humanist? And what does secularism and the idea of God have to do with it all? This episode represents Mary Anne and Ben’s attempts at clarifying what they mean by being humans.

Content note for a comparison (in passing) of meat-eating to baby-killing.

Recorded 24 May 2020 / Published 12 April 2021


  • 0:30: This episode’s intended topics: humanity and humanism.
  • 1:35: Sri Lanka’s colonial religious history and Mary Anne’s family’s Catholicism.
  • 7:15: The problem of evil, and free will. “Omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent: choose two.”
  • 11:00: Mary Anne’s Confirmation and St. Kateri.
  • 13:00: Mary Anne is now agnostic.
  • 13:40: Ben is not a secular humanist.
  • 16:10: The realist world and the supernatural world, and science as a tool for predicting recurring patterns in nature.
  • 19:50: Diane Duane’s Star Trek novel The Wounded Sky, in which the characters encounter a “protoGod.”
  • 24:45: Supposedly-but-not-really secular aspects of Christian-focused cultures.
  • 27:00: What counts as supernatural.
  • 31:10: More on the supernatural, and on God and science.
  • 37:05: Humans telling stories to try to make sense of things.
  • 38:35: The rise of subjectivity; understanding the universe as subjective reality; our mediated/filtered view of the universe.
  • 41:45: Ben doesn’t mind having many worldviews, as long as they’re useful.
  • 46:30: Brief intermission, featuring an ad for the Speculative Literature Foundation.
  • 47:05: An addition from Ben in April, summarizing his earlier argument.
  • 47:50: Treating humans as more important than animals. [Mary Anne and Ben seem to be using the word humanism here to refer to this concept, though that’s not the usual meaning of humanism.]
  • 52:05: The ethics of animal testing and human testing.
  • 1:00:30: Willingness to sacrifice far-away people for the benefit of oneself or people one is close to; also, the trolley problem.
  • 1:05:45: Trolley problems, the Kobayashi Maru, and Cold Equations; and how oversimplifying can get in the way of considering complexity.
  • 1:13:50: What kind of person do I want to be? “What is the next right action?” Setting up structures that produce habits.
  • 1:20:10: Benjamin Franklin’s plan to establish better habits.
  • 1:21:50: Posthumanism and bodies. “Do I want to be uploaded? I don’t even want to be on Twitter!”
  • 1:28:25: The effects of human bodies on human systems.
  • 1:31:15: Credits.

Works Mentioned

Other Clarifying or Explanatory Links