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Bursting “The Reality Bubble” – Ziya Tong – Science Broadcaster & Author – Sentientism Episode 146

Find our Sentientist Conversation here on the Sentientism YouTube and here on the Sentientism Podcast.

Ziya is a television presenter, producer, author and board member. She was the co-host of Discovery Channel’s long-running primetime science magazine, Daily Planet. In 2019 she wrote the book “The Reality Bubble“. Ziya serves on the boards of a range of NGOs and charities, including PEN Canada, We Animals Media and WWF International.

In Sentientist Conversations we talk about the two most important questions: “what’s real?” & “what matters?”

Sentientism is “evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” The audio is on our Podcast here on Apple & here on all the other platforms.

We discuss:

00:00 Welcome
01:46 Ziya’s Intro
– Science broadcasting @discoverycanada
– Author of “The Reality Bubble” exposing human blind-spots
– NGO board roles including @WeAnimalsMedia (animal photojournalism led by Jo-Anne McArthur)
Tweeting about earthlings

03:32: What’s Real?
– “Being a bi-racial person gives you a sort of split view… Chinese… Eastern European”
– Communism & capitalism, eastern & western
– “I never really… took one true dogmatic reality”
– “I consistently shed layers of what I previously thought of as reality”
– Yoda: “You must unlearn what you have learned”
– A science journalist career “naturalistic in one sense”
– “With science you can reveal a lot… the whole book [The Reality Bubble] is about that… but it always puts a lens between you and the subject”
– Black holes & mites on our eyelashes
– “The humanities are much more subjective”
– Polymaths spanning humanities & the sciences “that blend is what’s interesting to me”
– “Indigenous perspectives… have so much to share with us about how we perceive reality”
– Swimming sea wolves in British Columbia “new to science – but indigenous peoples had known about these wolves for their entire histories”
– The Consilience Model: Science and indigenous perspectives “Two eyed seeing”
– Plant medicines like #ayahuasca “which open up an entirely new door to reality”
– “I don’t believe reality stands on firm ground… I’m happy to run around the ice flow as it shifts… reality should never be solid”
– Science & indigenous perspectives “are both based on observation”
– “To a neutrino this mug wouldn’t be here at all”
– “We have to question our every-day common sense notions of reality”
– Humilty & error-correction
– Risks of dogma within science “we looked at animals as if they were machines”
– Brought up Roman #catholic , dabbled with #buddhism / #sufiism
– Rumi: “There’s a hundred ways to kiss the ground”
– #Vipassna #meditation – a 10 day silent retreat “you are really guided by yourself”
– Feeding ants & saving an ant “I promised not to kill anything” as part of the 10 Buddhist precepts
– “Since that day I can’t… kill things” even mosquitoes
– “Small creatures have as much right to live as big creatures”
– “I love facts & I love peer-reviewed science… a wonderful way of accruing evidence… reality testers”
– The subjective, immersive reality accessed through plant-based medicines is “just as real”
– “My supernatural worldview has blown open in a really wonderful & enriching way”
– “I’ll subscribe to science for what I need… but there are other ways & other views”
– “We’re a very young species… and we have tremendous hubris”
– “Humility for me is understanding that there are other ways of knowing”
– “Understanding the nature of reality and the connectedness of all beings”
– “I’d been thinking of other species & creatures as part of my world-family for a long period of time – but for some people that’s really new.”
– @JannArdenOfficial ‘s podcast. Visualising The Tree of Life

22:50 What Matters?
– Working in neuroscience with two of the world’s foremost forensic psychologists
– Understanding #psychopathy #evil #empathy #compassion
– “One of the marks of a serial killer is animal cruelty” #DontFuckWithCats movie
– “What happens when you’re a truly transactional being?” #capitalism
– “The earth’s engineers… are bacteria”
– “If the food chain is gone – we are toast”
– #egoism #nihilism #relativism
– “You can have a nihlist who loves dogs”
– “The brain & the heart”
– #Carnism & #speciesism “Somehow we’ve managed to… lavish all this empathy & love & connection with a few small species of animals whereas everything else can get murdered…”
– “We are the biggest killers on earth… we are operating in a highly psychopathic manner… despite all these things we tell ourselves about our morality”

31:28 Who Matters?
– “I was a David Attenborough nerd” #janegoodall
– Working on #DailyPlanet for a decade
– Swimming with 50,000 beluga whales in the Arctic
– Posting as Earthling on Twitter “species that many people have never seen before… it brings people so much joy”
– “We are all earthlings”
– “If I ever post about the plight of animals… there’s this automatic cringe effect… people absolutely turn away… #disgustology”
– Stopping eating meat the first time after reading sister’s book report. The second time – learning about live animal export
– “Then I went right down deep… I watched a lot of horror”
– Everyone loves cats and dogs on the internet “but the minute you try to show people what’s really happening to animals… one of the greatest sadnesses of my life”
– From “Isn’t it pretty!” to “what must it be like to be them?”
– Environmentalists who ignore animal agriculture “a serious logical inconsistency”
– “Some people cling to what they need to cling to… defend their rights to pick-up trucks… it’s our culture!”
– “I like to present activism as a gift rather than as something that’s being taken away”
– LA blackouts. People called the police to report seeing the Milky Way for the first time. “What would it mean if we could just turn off the lights at night… a 12 hour rather than a 24 hour society”
– Cellular / cultivated agriculture “the ability to grow meat from cells without harming”
– Scientists, sceptics, humanists, atheists for whom non-human animal agriculture ethics are like kryptonite (e.g. Neil DeGrasse Tyson) “These people are potential role models for the world… but they only go to humans!”
– The Octopus Teacher, the Elephant Whisperer, Lions… “that person will act as the compassionate portal to that species”
– David Attenborough took a long time to get on to the climate issue
– “You would think that biologists would be with it, but… I’m going to examine you as a specimen… all those things separate you from your ‘object’ of study… that object ceases to be a being”
– Rights of nature when we don’t grant rights to non-human animals
– George Monbiot “started with an environmental drive… now starting to see animals as individuals in their own right… breaking the taboo [re: animal agriculture]”
– Sentience & consciousness “but not necessarily mirror-test awareness…” Bees play, insects dream… “all the ways that animals kick our asses”
– Lori Marino
– Sentience as the most basic, morally salient part of consciousness “I would frame it in terms of value”
– Dr Tim Cockerill
– “We actually would lose our minds if we found a fly on Mars… it would have incredible value… although we have billions upon billions of species here on Earth that we simply do not pay attention to”
– “We need to value one life… once it becomes millions or trillions… once it becomes a statistic… no one cares”
– Previous guest Mark Solms’ “Hidden Spring”
– “The plants know what’s going on too” Christmas trees “there’s a dead thing… or a dying thing!”
– The @Cryptonaturalist (on Twitter)
– Hierarchy, theocentrism and anthropocentrism vs. spiritual / naturalistic worldviews
– The Old Testament “man dominating nature” vs. Jainism, ahimsa…
– “Where are you going to get your protein?… people have been doing it for thousands of years!”
– Huston Smith’s “The World Religions”
– The risks of dogma
– “Jamie you’ve got to go and do ayahuasca and we’ll have a chat 😊… it would be highly inadvisable to do it as a test”
– Could artificial intelligences be sentient?
– Can rocks be conscious? Re: Japanese Buddhism. Rupert Spira “the experience of existing… a unified common existence”
– Philosophy of mind: functionalism, physicalism, panpsychism
– ChatGPT. Pattern recognising, compliation, but no creativity?
– “Ultimately… DNA is code… we could just be code… but I think there is so much more”
– Anthropology and the symbolism of the snake “ayahuasca… everybody sees snakes”… links to the double helix of DNA
– “Plant medicine I think is opening up the door to sentience… that is the mysticism behind it… the beingness that exists on earth”
– Can naturalism and mysticism be different paths to a similar place?
– A man who spent a year with a single square foot of a forest
– “You can reach awe and wonder and connection and union in many different ways”
– The risks of flattening “everything matters so nothing does”
– “We’ve been tamed by the plants” to help them replicate

01:10:55 How Can We Make a Better Future?
– How can we shift humankind’s role re: sentientkind? “There’s no one solution”
– Using AI to understand animal language (e.g. whales) “Imagine what will happen… when we live in the Dr Doolittle world of being able to understand what animals say… that we’ve been so deaf to for all this time. We’ll certainly have a lot to answer for when we start listening…”
– “Our family dog Bowie… she understands us”
– “They have been dealing with us and listening to us for such a long time… yet we know nothing”
– “The minute we give them the microphone… they have rich languages… what a tremendous opening to the world…”
– “Twitter is being dismantled by Elon Musk…” but still there and on Mastodon and Post News
– Working on a new documentary film on microplastics.

… & much more!

Sentientism is “Evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” More at Sentientism.info.

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Thanks to Graham for the post-production and to Tarabella and Denise for helping to fund this episode via our Sentientism Patreon.

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