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Brain in a Vat

Brain in a Vat

By Brain in a Vat
Thought experiments and conversations with philosophers. Hosted by Dr Jason Werbeloff and Mark Oppenheimer.
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Is Academic Freedom Under Threat? | Spencer Case

Brain in a Vat

What Is Madness? | Justin Garson
Is 'mental disorder' purely a dysfunction, or are there important advantages to being psychologically different? Do depression and anxiety serve a vital role in healing and bettering one's life?
July 18, 2021
Is it okay to be a slacker? | Alison Suen
What makes Hollywood slackers like The Dude so enchanting? Are slackers the unsung heroes of the pandemic, or a bunch of useless bums?    Read Alison's Book:   Contact us: Mark.Oppenheimer[at]gmail and Jwerbe[at]gmail
July 11, 2021
What Offends You? | Mark Oppenheimer
Should we ban offensive speech? Should we tolerate racism and transphobia? Should everything that is immoral also be illegal?
July 4, 2021
Is evil real? | Spencer Case
Is murder wrong? Can evolution fully explain why we think certain actions are immoral? And can we believe moral truths with even greater certainty than truths about the physical world? Spencer Case offers objections to Shaun Stanley, a moral anti-realist who appeared previously on our show.
June 27, 2021
What if? | Peg Tittle
What if you navigated the world through echo location instead of sight? What if cats could gain all of the traits of humans? What if you were a brain in a vat trying to solve a difficult moral problem.   To learn more about Peg's work check out:     Special offer to podcast listeners:  For any title with an on-site purchase option, Peg is happy to send a complimentary copy (epub or pdf).  No strings attached.  Please make your requests via the site contact form.   Contact us: Mark.Oppenheimer[at]gmail and Jwerbe[at]gmail
June 20, 2021
What Is Happiness? | Shane Gronholz
What makes your life go well? Can you be wrong about whether you are happy? And can happiness be bad for you?
June 13, 2021
Trans, Sex, and Gender | Kathleen Stock
Is sex only a matter of biology? Are there conflicts between trans rights, women's rights, and gay rights? Is it possible to change genders?   Buy Kathleen's Book: Material Girls
June 6, 2021
Do Social Groups Exist? | Jason Werbeloff
What transforms a collection of individuals into a social group? Jason Werbeloff argues the answer is: nothing. There are no social groups. No countries, political parties, marriages, or sports clubs. There are only individuals.
May 30, 2021
12 Mind Blowing Thought Experiments
What can a runaway train, a patient wrapped head to toe in bandages, and man condemned by the gods to roll a rock for eternity teach us about leading a good life? If you enjoy stories that tickle your brain, this episode is for you.
May 23, 2021
The Dangers of Thought Experiments | Roy Sorensen
Are thought experiments useful for telling us about the nature of reality? What are the limitations of thought experiments, and should we trust them in discussions of morality and science?
May 16, 2021
Is Morality Real? | Shaun Stanley
Should we care whether we cause others suffering? Do we have duties or obligations to others? Shaun Stanley thinks there are no moral reasons for action. Do you think morality is real?
May 9, 2021
The Danger of Wokeness | Helen Zille
Many believe Woke ideology to be a source of positive change in society. Helen Zille thinks otherwise. Could Wokeness be dangerous?  You can find Helen's book, #StayWoke: Go Broke, on Amazon and Takealot. Amazon: Takealot:
May 2, 2021
The Second Sexism | David Benatar
Are there some areas of life where men are worse off than women? Are these disadvantages always the product of sexism? If we recognize a second sexism against men, what effect would this have on women?   Prof Benatar's Book: Contact us: Mark.Oppenheimer[at]gmail and Jwerbe[at]gmail
April 25, 2021
Wittgenstein's Poker | David Edmonds
David Edmonds of Philosophy Bites fame regales us with a fiery story about Ludwig Wittgenstein's only meeting with Karl Popper. David also gives us a behind the scenes tour of the world's best loved philosophy show.     David's Book: Contact us: Mark.Oppenheimer[at]gmail and Jwerbe[at]gmail
April 18, 2021
Hate Speech and Pornography | Mari Mikkola
What is hate speech, and what are the limits of free speech? Should pornography be censored in the same way we censor speech?   Mari's Book: Contact us: Mark.Oppenheimer[at]gmail and Jwerbe[at]gmail
April 11, 2021
Animal Welfare | Bob Fischer
Are some animals more equal than others? Do zoos protect animals or are they solely designed for our amusement? Should we test medicines on animals?
April 4, 2021
Who should you believe? | Chris Ranalli
In a polarized world where everyone is certain, who should you believe? Are certain beliefs immoral? And how seriously should we take conspiracy theories?    Mark.Oppenheimer[at]gmail and Jwerbe[at]gmail
March 28, 2021
Can God Right Past Wrongs? | Sam Lebens
Would a just God allow us to suffer? Could God rewrite history to remove the bad bits?    Contact us: Mark.Oppenheimer[at]gmail and Jwerbe[at]gmail
March 21, 2021
Anarchy & Socialism | Mark Lance
Can we construct a society free of state coercion and inequality? Is there a place for Capitalism in that society?   Contact us: Mark.Oppenheimer[at]gmail and Jwerbe[at]gmail
March 14, 2021
What is the Value of Philosophy? | Justin Weinberg
Are there certain questions that should never be asked? Is Philosophy useful? And have philosophers made any progress in answering the BIG questions?  Justin's Daily Nous blog:  Contact us: Mark.Oppenheimer[at]gmail and Jwerbe[at]gmail
March 7, 2021
So You've Been Publicly Shamed | Rebecca Tuvel
What can we learn about public shaming from the Black Mirror episodes Hated in the Nation and Nosedive? Are there ever cases where someone deserves to be shamed? When should someone be forgiven for doing something shameful?   Contact us: Mark.Oppenheimer[at]gmail and Jwerbe[at]gmail
February 28, 2021
Nietzsche: Morality is Dead | Brian Leiter
If God is dead, did morality die with him? Are artists, writers and lovers more valuable than the rest of us mere mortals? Find out what Friedrich Nietzsche thought in our new series on great philosophers.   Brian's Book: Contact Us: Mark.Oppenheimer[at]gmail and Jwerbe[at]gmail
February 21, 2021
Stephen King and Philosophy | Jacob Held
What is horror, and why do some of us willingly terrify ourselves by watching or reading the genre? Is horror poor quality fiction, or can it offer us a unique opportunity for empathy and moral growth?   Jacob's book:
February 14, 2021
Is Academic Freedom Under Threat? | Spencer Case
Are universities a safe space for dangerous ideas? Does a right to academic freedom guarantee a culture that tolerates controversial views? Should universities limit the research fields of professors? Micro Digressions Podcast:  Spencer's Blog:
February 7, 2021
Which God Should You Believe in? | Eron Fasser
Are all Gods created equal? Are certain divine attributes less likely to be real given that multiples faiths exist?  Are religions like different paths leading to the same destination?
January 31, 2021
Is Abortion Immoral? | Nathan Nobis
Does a fetus have a right to life? Should there be any limitations on the choices that a woman makes over her own body?    Nathan's book:  Thomson's violinist:,Fall02/thomson.htm
January 24, 2021
The Argument for Anarchism
Anarchism, or the view that we should not have a government, seems impractical. But Michael Huemer believes there is a way to understand Anarchism that not only resolves these impracticalities - it may provide a better society than the one we have now.  Michael Huemer's book, 'The Problem of Political Authority':
January 17, 2021
Face Blindness with Jeff Waters
What's it like to be unable to recognize faces? 2% of the population have a neurological condition called prosopagnosia, or face blindness - including this week's guest, and one of our hosts.  Listen to Jeff's Face Blind podcast here:
January 10, 2021
Tenet Explained
Christopher Nolan's Tenet is a visual feast, but does it make any sense? Eron Fasser explains if you can you time travel to change the past and if Neil and Protagonist have free will?  Brain in a Vat Book:
January 3, 2021
The Future of Brain in a Vat
A round up of our favorite episodes and some insight into how we make the show. We will be on a hiatus until January. Let us know in the YouTube comments who you want to see us interview in the coming year.
December 7, 2020
Brian Leiter: The Supreme Court
Is the Supreme Court merely a political body made up of warring liberals and conservatives? Should Judges apply laws that are unjust? Will the Supreme Court declare Trump the winner of the election? Leiter Report:
November 29, 2020
Thad Metz: Meaning in Life
What makes life worth living? How valuable are truth, beauty and morality? If life is ultimately meaningless from the perspective of the universe is none the less better to have been born?  Thad on the Meaning of Life :
November 22, 2020
Do You Have Free Will? With Mark Leon
Is it possible for your actions to be free, even if they are determined? And would an indeterministic universe make us any freer? If we don't have free will, should we be held accountable for our actions?
November 15, 2020
Does Your Vote Count? With Jacob Bauer
If your vote has only a tiny chance of influencing the outcome of an election, is it irrational to vote? Does voting grant legitimacy to repugnant candidates? Is voting always an obligation, or are there situations that require you not to vote? Philosopher Games on YouTube: Philosopher Games on Facebook:
November 5, 2020
Black Mirror, Virtual Sex and Trans with Rebecca Tuvel
Is virtual sex outside of a relationship cheating? How should we determine a person's gender? Should the same rules apply to race?  Rebecca's article: In Defense of Transracialism Hypatia transracialism controversy:
November 1, 2020
#2000andlate in 2020 Hindsight
We have a philosophical conversation with an artist about her latest exhibition. Dom's paintings explore the social and sexual mores of the last twenty years through the lens of our current values.
October 25, 2020
Do You Have a Soul? With Tyron Goldschmidt
Are you just a physical body? If you have a brain transplant do you stay with your original body or move with your brain? Could the existence of an immaterial soul solve the mind body problem?   Tyron's Books: The Puzzle of Existence: Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?  Idealism: New Essays in Metaphysics Thumbnail Art: Lateralus Album Cover by Alex Grey
October 18, 2020
Should Robots Have Rights? With Rob Sparrow
Is it wrong to destroy an AI if it can have a conversation with a human being? If a robot expresses suffering is it wrong to torture it? Should we mourn the death of a robot lover?  Sparrow, R. 2004. The Turing triage test. Ethics and Information Technology 6(4): 203-213. Sparrow, R. 2007. Killer robots. Journal of Applied Philosophy 24(1): 62-77, March. Sparrow, R. 2020. Virtue and vice in our relationships with robots: Is there an asymmetry and how might it be explained? International Journal of Social Robotics
October 11, 2020
Should We Save The Polar Bears? With Yolandi Coetzee
Are some animals more equal than others? Are game reserves a part of nature if they are man made?  Is global warming universally bad or does it benefit some species? Brain in a Vat Store: Thumbnail Art: Peace by Lynn Bywaters
October 4, 2020
[Bonus] Mark Oppenheimer²
Atom bombs, diamond billionaires, and hate mail have a special role to play in this bonus episode.   Brain in a Vat Store: 
September 27, 2020
Mark Oppenheimer²: The Limits Of Free Speech?
Is cancel culture destroying our institutions? Should Holocaust deniers have the right to speak? What is hate speech, and should it be illegal? Brain in a Vat Store: Harpers Letter:
September 27, 2020
Let's Talk About Sex With Raja Halwani
Is it wrong to only have a sexual preference for certain races? Can you have sex without being objectified? Is there a moral limit on our sexual fantasies?   Store: Thumbnail Art: The Yoshiwara Prostitute by Kikugawa Eizan 
September 20, 2020
David Benatar: The Meaning of Life
What does it all mean? If we live on a pail blue dot in a vast and uncaring universe can our lives have cosmic meaning? Is it better never to have been born?
September 13, 2020
Should You Volunteer To Get Covid? With Dustin Crummett
Could purposely infecting volunteers with the Coronavirus help us reach herd immunity or develop a vaccine more rapidly? Is it wrong to expose people to the risk of death, even if they consent?  Thumbnail Art: Hold Your Breath Paulina Siniatkina
September 6, 2020
Gorgeous or Grotesque? With Amanda Ballen
Can you be revolted and attracted to the same person? Can concepts be beautiful? Does art need to create sensations to be enjoyed?   IMDB: Thumbnail Art: A Grotesque Old Woman by Quentin Matsys
September 2, 2020
Crime and Punishment With Doug Husak
Who deserves to be punished? Should the State kill killers and rape rapists?  Should we abolish the police and the prison system?   Facebook Group: IMDB:
August 23, 2020
Is Cultural Relativism Racist? With Justin Kalef
Culturals groups have different beliefs about what is morally right and wrong. Does a tolerant outlook mean that we should accept these different beliefs as correct? What if those beliefs are discriminatory?    Facebook Group:  IMDB:  Thumbnail Art: The Dinner Party by Sam Walsh
August 16, 2020
What is Love? With Raja Halwani
Is love everlasting? Can we love more than one person at the same time?   Do we choose our lovers for the wrong reasons?  Facebook Group:  IMDB:  Thumbnail Art: The Lovers by Rene Magritte
August 9, 2020
Are You Evil?
Is it wrong to root for the bad guy in a horror movie? Is evil a matter of who you are or what you do? What makes an action supremely evil? Facebook Group:  IMDB:  Thumbnail Art: The number of the beast is 666 by William Blake
August 2, 2020
What's Wrong with Moral Grandstanding? With Brandon Warmke
What do Greta Thunberg, #BLM and #Metoo have in common? Are these moralising quests to end climate change, racism and sexism motivated by the will to do good, or merely the will to look good?   Grandstanding: The Use and Abuse of Moral Talk    Facebook Group:  IMDB:  Thumbnail Art: J. C. Leyendecker The Politician
July 26, 2020
Is it wrong to eat meat? With Dustin Crummet
Were you outraged when Cecil the lion was killed by a hunter? Are you against rhino poaching? Do you order extra bacon with your cheese burger? Are some animals more equal than others? Facebook Group:  IMDB:  Thumbnail Art: Jeff Lemire from Sweet Tooth
July 19, 2020
Graham Oppy: Does God Exist?
Can God exist if the world is filled with suffering? And are there compelling arguments for or against God's existence? Facebook Group:  IMDB: Thumbnail Art: Terry Gilliam from Monty Python's The Meaning of Life
July 12, 2020
Should Offensive Art be Banned? With Elisa Galgut
What is art? Why is art valuable? If enough people feel hurt by a piece of art or public monument, should we hide or destroy the work? Facebook Group:  IMDB:   Thumbnail Art: Octavia Roodt
July 5, 2020
Peter Boghossian: How to Have Impossible Conversations
"Defund the police. Violent protests are justified. Anyone against Black Lives Matter is a Nazi." How would you engage with these views? We ask Peter Boghossian how to have impossible conversations.   Peter's Book:  New Discourses:     Facebook Group:  IMDB: Animation by Laurynne Gouws: Thumbnail Art: Luke Batha
June 28, 2020
Do You Live in a Simulation? With Kenny Pearce
Do you live in a simulation? And if you do, could you live a valuable life?   We talk with Kenny Pearce this week to find out.  Read Kenny's Berkeley book here:   And his book about Idealism here:   Podcast:  Facebook Discussion Group:  Animation by Laurynne Gouws:  Thumbnail art: By Juane Ivy The Nature of Reality  IMDB:
June 21, 2020
Does Race Exist? With Shaun Stanley
Does the colour of your skin, the texture of your hair, or the shape of your nose make you part of a racial group? Is race a social construct based on collective perception? Do the members of a race share beliefs, cultures and attitudes?  Facebook Discussion Group:  Thumbnail art: By Amazing Ameziane from Muhammad Ali Graphic Novel
June 14, 2020
Does Tuvix Deserve to Die?
When Tuvok and Neelix accidentally merge into a single man in a transporter accident, Captain Janeway has to make a tough decision:  Should she kill Tuvix to restore Tuvok and Neelix? We discuss the philosophy of Star Trek, transporters, and personal identity. 
June 7, 2020
Is the Lockdown Lawful? With Martin van Staden
Are lockdown regulations lawful? Do we have a duty to obey the law? What if the law is immoral, contradictory or unknowable?  The famous philosopher Lon Fuller wrote a thought experiment about King Rex  who failed to make law in eight different ways.  1) A failure to achieve rules at, all so that every issue must be decided on an ad hoc basis. 2)A failure to publicize, or at least make available to the affected party, the rules he is expected to observe. 3)The abuse of retrospective legislation, which not only cannot itself guide action, but undercuts the integrity of rules prospective in effect, since it puts them under the threat of retrospective change. 4)A failure to make rules understandable. 5)The enactment of contradictory rules. 6)Rules that require conduct beyond the powers of the affected party. 7) Introducing such frequent changes in the rules that the subject cannot orient his action by them. 8) A failure of congruence between the rules as announced and their actual administration.
May 31, 2020
Time Travel and The Grandfather Paradox with Helen Robertson
Imagine you build a time machine. Is it possible for you to travel back in time, meet your grandfather before he produces any children, and kill him?  Time travel is a sci-fi staple. Is Back to the Future philosophically accurate? Did J.K Rowling crack the secret of time travel in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban? As a bonus we explain why Rick and Morty's The Vat of Acid Episode isn't about time travel.
May 24, 2020
Belief, Faith, and Hope with Liz Jackson
Your brother has been missing for months and there is mounting evidence that he is dead. Is it rational to hope that he is alive and keep searching for him?   Is it rational to have faith in the existence of God because, if he turns out to exist, your faith may let you into heaven while a lack of faith could condemn you to hell?   Liz Jackson's public interviews:  Her paper on Belief, Faith and Hope:   Thumbnail image by Jeff Lemire from Issue #1 of Royal City
May 17, 2020
Lost in Translation with Shaun Stanley
Language is ambiguous at the best of times, think about how much gets lost in translation. Imagine hearing a tribesman in a remote land utter the word "gavagai" upon seeing a rabbit. A speaker of English could do what seems natural and translate this as "Lo, a rabbit."   But other translations would be compatible with all the evidence she has: "Lo, food"; "Let's go hunting"; "There will be a storm tonight" (he may be superstitious).
May 10, 2020
The Value of Human Life with Eron Fasser
What can eating Marilyn Monroe's thigh and the pain of teenage heartbreak tell us about the value of human life? We discuss what makes life worth living and ending.
May 3, 2020
The Veil of Ignorance and Justice in a Lockdown
John Rawls thought we needed to wear a veil of ignorance to remove our biases before deciding on the rules of a just society. Are his ideas useful in a world where the elderly and the vulnerable are exposed to higher risks? Should the healthy and the well off accept limits on their freedom?
April 26, 2020
Lockdown: A Trolley Problem
An out-of-control trolley is rumbling toward five innocent people trapped on a track. You can divert the trolley onto another track by pulling a switch, but the other track has one person on it. Do you pull the switch?  Governments around the world have used lockdowns to save lives, but this choice has had severe economic consequences. Did they pull the right switch? Hosted by Dr Jason Werbeloff and Mark Oppenheimer.
April 22, 2020