Episode 95

Published on:

2nd Mar 2024

Sean Carroll: The Worst Guru Yet?!?

Controversial physics firebrand Sean Carroll has cut a swathe through the otherwise meek and mild podcasting industry over the last few years. Known in the biz as the "bad boy" of science communication, he offends as much as he educ....

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No, we can't back any of that up obviously, those are all actually lies. Let's start again.

Sean Carroll has worked as a research professor in theoretical physics and philosophy of science at Caltech and is presently an external professor at the Santa Fe Institute. He currently focuses on popular writing and public education on topics in physics and has appeared in several science documentaries.

Since 2018 Sean has hosted his podcast Mindscape, which focuses not only on science but also on "society, philosophy, culture, arts and ideas". Now, that's a broad scope and firmly places Sean in the realm of "public intellectual", and potentially within the scope of a "secular guru" (in the broader non-pejorative sense - don't start mashing your keyboard with angry e-mails just yet).

The fact is, Sean appears to have an excellent reputation for being responsible, reasonable and engaging, and his Mindscape podcast is wildly popular. But despite his mild-mannered presentation, Sean is quite happy to take on culture-war-adjacent topics such as promoting a naturalistic and physicalist atheist position against religious approaches. He's also prepared to stake out and defend non-orthodox positions, such as the many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics, and countenance somewhat out-there ideas such as the holographic principle.

But we won't be covering his deep physics ideas in this episode... possibly because we're not smart enough. Rather, we'll look at a recent episode where Sean stretched his polymathic wings, in the finest tradition of a secular guru, and weighed in on AI and large-language models (LLMs).

Is Sean getting over his skis, falling face-first into a mound of powdery pseudo-profound bullshit or is he gliding gracefully down a black diamond with careful caveats and insightful reflections?

Also covered the stoic nature of Western Buddhists, the dangers of giving bad people credit, and the unifying nature of the Ukraine conflict.


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About the Podcast

Decoding the Gurus
A psychologist and an anthropologist try to make sense of the world's greatest self-declared Gurus.
An exiled Northern Irish anthropologist and a hitchhiking Australian psychologist take a close look at the contemporary crop of 'secular gurus', iconoclasts, and other exiles from the mainstream, offering their own brands of unique takes and special insights.

Leveraging two of the most diverse accents in modern podcasting, Chris and Matt dig deep into the claims, peek behind the psychological curtains, and try to figure out once and for all... What's it all About?

Join us, as we try to puzzle our way through and talk some smart-sounding smack about the intellectual giants of our age, from Jordan Peterson to Robin DiAngelo. Are they revolutionary thinkers or just grifters with delusions of grandeur?

Join us and let's find out!
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About your hosts

Christopher Kavanagh

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A Northern Irish cognitive anthropologist who occasionally moonlights as a social psychologist. Chris has long standing interests in the psychology of conspiracy theorists and pseudoscience. His academic research focuses on the Cognitive Science of Religion and ritual psychology. He lives happily in Japan with his family.

Matthew Browne

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An Australian psychologist and numbers-guy. He does research on all kinds of stuff, but particularly enjoys looking into why people believe the things they do: religion, conspiracy theories, alternative medicine and stuff. He's into social media in the same way people slow down for car accidents.