Tenshot: The End of the World with Josh Clark
When I take my walks for exercise in the evenings and weekends, I frequently enjoy listening to podcasts. Through advertisements on a few of them I was made aware of a new podcast series, The End of the World with Josh Clark, and so after enough persuasive advertisements, I downloaded and binged them all in sequence.
- I’ve not really binged a podcast series before, at least not this densely. Not even Serial or S Town, which I took in more punctuated does because of circumstances. The effect here is, effectively, an audiobook version of a series of collected essays.
- The subject matter of existential risk is, of course, grim. But it’s also fascinating to learn how we may very well be doomed.
- Josh Clark’s voice, for me, took just a bit of getting used to. But by the end of episode two, he felt like he was one of the cool TA’s from college or a smart, geeky friend. Many other podcast hosts I like inject more overt emotion into their presentation, invoking laughter and laughing themselves, or what one would expect here, invocations of pathos. Clark instead presents with a dry sense of humor that understates rather than underlines some of the humor inherent in particular subjects.
- For a ten-part podcast about existential risks, the number of existential, humanity-ending risks under discussion is surprisingly, and I suppose optimistically, short. There are other very useful concepts discussed though.
- Surprisingly (to me), neither both nuclear war nor anthropogenic climate change are on the show’s list of existential risks. Not risky enough: in both cases, many humans would survive, although their quality of life after the event would obviously be diminished compared to what we enjoy today.
- It is difficult to live in an age when we see polities worldwide, especially democracies, making massively dumb decisions, and remain hopeful about implementing solutions to existential crises. When considering how humanity has reacted to news of climate change, it’s pretty easy to throw up one’s hand’s and proclaim, “We’re doomed.”
- The real intellectual hero from the series is a British philosopher named Nick Bostrum, who gathered some of his colleagues at Oxford and founded an interdisciplinary study group called the Future of Humanity Institute. I wanted to hear more from Bostrum and his colleagues. I also enjoyed the several callouts to one of my own heroes, Carl Sagan.
- The podcasts are generally quiet, and the background music and effects are subtle. It’s not something to listen to while doing strenuous exercise or in a distracting environment like a gym. I took in the spoken-word essays while on solitary walks through generally quiet neighborhoods.
- I couldn’t follow the description of how particle physics experiments might destroy the Earth. Clark tried, hard, to explain the ideas in a way an intelligent layman could understand with a cut-to-the-punchline summary of the science, but it really got past me. I had to wind up deciding to just trust him and the other narrators that the scenarios they discussed were things that were thought, with sobriety, to be risks.
- Don’t miss the epilogue episode, which in some ways is the best of them all. ……But, yeah, we’re doomed.