We recently interviewed Rick Coste, a writer, podcaster, and philosopher living in New England. His weekly podcast Philosophy Walk is hosted at the official site PhilosophyWalk.com. The podcast currently has a listener base in over 80 countries. A sister site PhilosophyWalkTV.com was launched in the summer of 2013 and is geared towards a younger audience and serves as a video dictionary of philosophy’s terms and concepts
First, a little background for our PLATO readers: Can you tell me a little about philosophywalk and the podcasts you do for it? What got you interested in doing a blog/podcasts? How did it get started and how has it changed as you’ve developed the project?
The idea behind the Philosophy Walk website started with the podcast. Podcasts are a growing medium and have managed to attract some very talented people. I have a background in theater and recording and it felt like a natural progression for me to move from the written word (such as blogging) to the spoken word. There are only a handful of podcasts out there that focus on philosophy as a topic and all are quite good. I saw an opportunity to provide a unique spin on it in a way that might attract listeners, entertain them for a fifteen minutes or so, and leave them with an interest in the topic. The response has been tremendous and the podcast currently has a listener base in 84 countries. As the podcast grew more popular I began to supplement the content on the website with short blog posts and videos to cover the basics.
What are the strengths of this format for young people interested in philosophy, or people doing philosophy with young people?
For the podcast it is all about keeping the listener entertained. Let’s be honest, philosophy can be a dry topic for those unfamiliar with its ideas and its delivery. My goal was to present it in short, digestible portions in a way that would tickle the listener’s interest enough for them to subscribe to the show and to stick with it. That’s been achieved by writing episodes geared towards the newcomer and presenting it with sound effects much like an old-radio show. The podcasts are targeted towards a 16+ audience and the videos to an even younger demographic. We are visual creatures and, as Stephen Pinker has said, “visual things stay put, whereas sounds fade”.
Does blogging/podcasting help you as a philosopher? As a teacher?
Absolutely. One of the pleasant surprises that producing the podcast has brought to me is the opportunity to familiarize myself with concepts that I had learned about and subsequently brushed aside as my philosophical focus, or interests, have changed. One of my main areas of interest is free will and, because of the podcast, I have been re-assessing my thoughts on the subject.
In my involvement doing philosophy with middle school students, we relied a lot upon thought experiments to guide our conversations. I see that many of your podcasts discuss classic thought experiments. Do you find thought experiments important for your podcasts? Do have any thoughts about using them for educators who might be considering them in their teaching?
Thought experiments are the bedrock of philosophy. Our minds are our tools and, as we develop new concepts or ideas, science often steps in to carry the torch. But first, we have to flesh out those concepts and thought experiments are the perfect method to do so. A thought experiment frames the idea being pursued in a way that is accessible to its audience.
I was just perusing through your blog posts (I really liked the one on Davidson’s Swampman, it reminded me of that same issue with Star Trek’s transporter technology) and I was wondering, as someone who does both blog posts and podcasts, what do feel is the relationship between those two mediums? Do you use both writing and speaking because some of your audience prefers one over the other (or because of differing learning styles), or are particular kinds of topics reserved for each medium? I see a lot of blog websites these days using a hybrid approach, with text posts, podcasts and often video posts, and I was wondering what your thought were on this.
I love the swampman thought experiment also. It’s a creepy way to present the concept of ‘self’ in way similar to the cleaner, and more futuristic, transporter analogy. You hit the nail on the head when you asked if different mediums are geared towards different audiences with different learning styles. I currently use the podcast as a tool to provide a wide variety of concepts in a short format on a weekly basis. The blog posts are crafted as opinion pieces or essays that expand on the topics introduced in the podcast. I find that some of the sites visitors tend to move towards the blog posts while others respond better to the podcasts.