A broad-ranging talk with James Burke

As part of promoting a new Connections series on Curiosity Stream launching on Nov. 9, I got the chance to interview historian of science and technology, science communicator, and series host James Burke:

The more interview-intensive part begins at 3:10.

Life in an inhospitable future

Because you’re going to need shelter — and people don’t give their homes away. They barricade themselves in.

So, sooner or later, exhausted and desperate, you may have to make the decision to give up and die — or, to make somebody else give up and die because they won’t accept you in their home voluntarily.

And what, in your comfortable urban life, has ever prepared you for that decision?

From episode 1 of James Burke’s 1978 TV series “Connections”, entitled: “The Trigger Effect“.

Reviewing an unreleased book and TV show

While it won’t help with my rent, I nonetheless have some very interesting work for the next few days.

I am doing a close read twice of Professor Peter Russell’s forthcoming memoirs, which has been a privelege because of the respect I have for him as a thinker and a person, and a joy because of their colour, humour, and personality.

I am also previewing a new series of James Burke’s TV show Connections, which previously ran in 1978, 1994, and 1997. I have seen those old shows many times, and I thought a lot about his book The Axemaker’s Gift back in high school. I have the chance to interview him from Monaco on Wednesday, so I am giving the new material a careful viewing and thinking through how to make the best use of the conversation. There is scarcely a person I can think of who has a more educated and wide-ranging understanding of the relationships between science, technology, and human society. Since human civilization is presently hurtling toward a brick wall which threatens to rather flatten us all, it may be invaluable to get Burke’s views on how a defensive strategy from here can be undertaken.

Related:

After a PhD

I am not depressed, but I definitely feel a lot of what this video from Andy Stapleton discusses:

I have certainly experienced the odd stutter-step ending of the program, which never brings a single day or moment when you are really done. There is such a moment, but it is mundane, private, and undramatic — probably the last time you make a formatting correction for the unknown administrator who reviews your dissertation for conformity to writing standards like which page numbers in the front matter are Roman numerals. That creates an odd sense of the thing being unfinished, even when there is nothing left to do.

The points about needing to prove yourself in the job market after finishing, as well as anxiety about whether a PhD was necessary, are also familiar from my recent thinking.

I wouldn’t say the video provides any useful and non-obvious advice, but reading within the broad category of writing by current and recent PhD students actually has immense psychological value by demonstrating the reality of shared experience and shared struggle, engaging about all the things we didn’t known when we began and (even more juicily and importantly) all the things your university will lie to you about to keep their business model going. A post by Bret Devereaux is a fine example of the genre, and was discussed here before.