Top 10 Podcast Episodes of 2022
Which conversations did people gravitate towards the most in '22?
As 2022 draws to a close, I’ve been studying my podcast analytics to better understand which topics and guests have resonated with listeners the most. I posted a Twitter thread of the top five episodes of the year. However, this was based on YouTube data, and roughly 80% of people tune in to audio-only versions of the podcast. So, I looked at my audio-only data and took into account how long each episode has been out so that episodes published early in the year didn’t get an unfair advantage.
Here are the top 10 episodes of 2022, with some brief commentary.
#10 | “Population Genetics, Personal Genomics, History & Human Evolution” with Razib Khan
Even though my PhD is in neuroscience, I formally studied evolution and genetics for several years before that. In many ways I identify as an evolutionary biologist even more than a neuroscientist, not only because that’s was my initial scientific training but because, in the words of evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky (great name), “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution.”
My interest in evolution naturally includes human evolution, which has been the subject of several M&M conversations. I even did some coursework in paleoanthropology with John Hawks, an early guest on the podcast.
Razib Khan is a scholar of human evolution, with expertise in understanding the history of our species through genomics. He writes a wonderful Substack of his own. We talked about all things human evolution, including how the general picture of how modern humans evolved has changed over the past two decades, largely due to technology-driven insights stemming from our ability to acquire, sequence, and analyze ancient human DNA. If you’re interested in human evolution, this is one of 2022’s best.
#9 | “How Does Ketamine Work & Is It Addictive?” with Christian Lüscher
This was Dr. Lüscher’s second time on the podcast, following our first conversation about addiction more generally. This episode focused on a recent paper from his lab, demonstrating in rodents that ketamine appears to have a lower addiction liability than cocaine. The reasons for this are to do with ketamine’s mechanisms of action, which are fairly unusual. We got into those details in our conversation, and I’ve previously written about ketamine’s primary mechanisms of action here.
The companion article I wrote to this episode.
#8 | “Depression, Serotonin, SSRIs, Psychiatry & Social Media” with Joanna Moncrieff
Joanna Moncrieff is a British psychiatrist who has been critical of psychiatry’s over-reliance of SSRIs as first-line treatments for depression, as well as the general idea of psychiatric illness being caused by “chemical imbalances” in the brain. I spoke to her shortly after she published a review paper titled, “The serotonin theory of depression: a systematic umbrella review of the evidence.” This review came to the conclusion that, “The main areas of serotonin research provide no consistent evidence of there being an association between serotonin and depression, and no support for the hypothesis that depression is caused by lowered serotonin activity or concentrations.”
While it’s true that SSRIs can provide some help for some people (when used appropriately), I think it’s crystal clear that these drugs have been widely overprescribed and that their chronic use often leads to serious, and sometimes permanent, health problems. This conversation was very much in the spirit of my article, “The Madness of Pop Psychiatry.”
The Madness of Pop Psychiatry by Nick Jikomes
#7 | “The Psychology of Power & Social Status” with Robert Greene
Robert Greene is a well-known author and his books have one of the most unique writing styles you will ever encounter. This conversation focused on topics related to his first book, The 48 Laws of Power. Part history, part psychology, part how-to manual, this book provides a dispassionate study of how a diverse cast of historical figures came to possess, wield, and keep or lose power. If you’re interested in understanding human social psychology, this is a great place to start.
#6 | “How Did the SARS-CoV-2 Virus Originate?” with Alex Washburne
I’ve done several episodes on the origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This one featured computational biologist Dr. Alex Washburne, who recently published a preprint reporting, “a high likelihood that SARS-CoV-2 may have originated as an infectious clone assembled in vitro.” Given the nature of the subject matter, this work has not been without controversy. And because my previous discussion with epidemiologist Dr. Martin Kulldorff was removed by YouTube, I decided not to post the full video version there.
Viral: The Search for the Origin of COVID-19 by Alina Chan & Matter Ridley
#5 | “Neural Computation, AI, Neuromodulators, Dopamine, Serotonin, Psychedelics, Subjective Experience” with Zach Mainen
I got to conduct this interview in-person in Lisbon, Portugal. Zach Mainen is a computational neuroscientist whose lab studies everything from serotonin to decision making. We discussed various topics related to computational neuroscience, including whether the subjective effects of psychedelics are important for their therapeutic effects.
#4 | “Consciousness, Dissociation, Idealism, Materialism, Psychedelics, Death & Mind” with Bernardo Kastrup
Both in terms of the subject matter we covered and how well the conversation flows, this is a contender for one of my best executed podcasts to-date. Bernardo is a philosopher of mind with a background in computer science. He is an advocate of idealism, the philosophy that the universe is composed of just one type of substance, and that substance is mind/consciousness rather than matter. Under his philosophy, we are all part of a larger, singular consciousness. We only seem separate and distinct because we are dissociated from this wider consciousness, analogous to the way that distinct personalities can inhabit the same brain, as in Dissociative Identity Disorder.
This view is distinct from two other schools of thought which, implicitly or explicitly, most people subscribe to. The first is dualism, which states that mind and matter are two ontologically distinct categories. The second is materialism, which, like idealism, is a form of monism (there’s just one kind of thing in the universe). Whether or not you agree with Bernardo’s philosophy, it’s very well thought out and he has mastered the ability of articulating his views with clarity.
The Idea of the World by Bernardo Kastrup
#3 | “MDMA, Microdosing LSD, THC & Memory, Human Psychopharmacology” with Harriet de Wit
This wasn’t exactly the deepest or most fluid conversation I’ve had, so I was a bit surprised to see this episode at number three. But the general subject of psychedelics and psychoactive drugs is very popular with my audience and we touched on some interesting things related to MDMA’s effects that haven’t been covered elsewhere (e.g. how it affects the perception of emotion in human faces).
#2 | “Consciousness, Perception, Evolution & the Nature of Reality” with Donald Hoffman
This conversation dovetails nicely with my conversation with Bernardo Kastrup. It was popular right away, presumably because Dr. Hoffman’s ideas are simultaneously fascinating and provocative. In essence, he argues that the external world you perceive doesn’t actually exist “out there” in the way you probably think it does. Instead, our conscious perceptions have the same status as the computer icons on your computer screen (the “interface theory of perception”). We touched on everything from the neuroscience of perception to language, psychedelic experiences and the nature of reality.
The Case Against Reality by Donald Hoffman
#1 | “Purpose, Value, Evolution, Consciousness, Sentience, Life & Emergence of Mind From Matter” with Terrence Deacon
I was very happy to see this episode do well, as Terrence Deacon is one of my all-time favorite thinkers and someone who I feel does not get enough attention. He has spent much of his career studying the nature and evolution of human language, which was the focus of my first conversation with him in 2021.
In this episode, we discussed topics related to his book, Incomplete Nature. This book is a challenging read, as it covers a lot of ground and because Terrence needs to define and use several neologisms in order to convey certain concepts. I highlighted Incomplete Nature liberally on my first read-through, and went over my highlights a couple of times in preparation for this conversation.
To put things in very simplified terms, Terrence describes how certain dynamical patterns in nature can interact with one another to create new, higher-order dynamical systems. These emergent systems can in turn interact to create yet more higher order dynamical systems. The concepts he develops are not just about explaining how something like conscious experience emerges from the dynamical patterns produced by brains, but how life itself emerges from the inorganic world.