The Gray Area with Sean Illing

The Gray Area with Sean Illing

The Gray Area with Sean Illing takes a philosophy-minded look at culture, technology, politics, and the world of ideas. Each week, we invite a guest to explore a question or topic that matters. From the the state of democracy, to the struggle with depression and anxiety, to the nature of identity in the digital age, each episode looks for nuance and honesty in the most important conversations of our time. New episodes drop every Monday.


May 13, 2024 50 mins
Ozempic and other new weight loss drugs are being touted as potential miracle cures for diabetes and obesity. Journalist Johann Hari experimented with the drug and dropped 40 pounds. In his new book, Magic Pill, Hari discusses his experience with Ozempic and speaks to many of the leading scientists to better understand how the drug works. He joins Sean to talk about what he’s learned and the complicated trade-offs involved in the d...
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Religious studies professor Diana Pasulka was a total nonbeliever in alien life, but she began to question this after speaking with many people who claim to have had otherworldly encounters. She also noticed how these accounts parallel the foundational texts of many religions. She has since written two books on the topic, the most recent of which is Encounters: Experiences with Nonhuman Intelligences. She joins Sean to talk about e...
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April 29, 2024 55 mins
Most of us don’t know how to truly listen, and it’s causing all sorts of problems. Sean Illing is joined by journalist Kate Murphy, the author of You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters, to discuss what it means to be a good listener, the problems that are caused when we don’t listen to each other, and the positive impacts on our health when we do. Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), host, The Gray Area Guest: Ka...
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April 22, 2024 53 mins
The internet has fractured our world into a million little subcultures catering to the specific identities and habits of everyone online. Writer Derek Thompson believes this has led to a widespread cult-like mentality that has crept into all facets of modern life — pop culture, media, politics, and religion itself. He joins Sean to explain this theory, and why it’s maybe not such a bad thing. Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), host,...
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Is it possible that we are living through one of the most revolutionary periods in human history? CNN’s Fareed Zakaria believes that we are and argues that the convergence of AI and the global backlash against liberal democracy are upending political orders around the world. He joins Sean to talk about how this period relates to history’s most impactful revolutions, both political and technological.  Click here to take the Vox podc...
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April 8, 2024 51 mins
Philosophy may seem like a theoretical or abstract discipline in which unanswerable questions are debated to the point of tedium. But MIT professor Kieran Setiya believes that philosophical inquiry has a very practical and applicable purpose outside of the classroom — to help guide us through life’s most challenging circumstances. He joins Sean to talk about self-help, FOMO, and midlife crises.  Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), ho...
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Jane Marie is an expert in American bullshit. Her podcast The Dream explores life coaching, wellness, marketing, and other fraudulent industries and exposes their exploitative practices. Her book, Selling the Dream, takes an even closer look at multilevel marketing schemes like Amway and Herbalife and gives historical context to this multibillion-dollar — and distinctly American — enterprise.  Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), host...
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March 25, 2024 48 mins
As a non-believer, Devin Moss never thought he would become a chaplain or a spiritual adviser, much less one who counsels hospital patients with terminal illnesses and inmates on death row. Devin joins Sean to talk about his improbable journey, the death penalty, and the role of religion in an increasingly secular society. Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), host, The Gray Area Guest: Devin Moss. His podcast is The Adventures of Meme...
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Journalist Rhaina Cohen believes that modern culture undervalues friendships and discusses the ways in which deep friendships are distinct from but no less meaningful than romantic partnerships.  Guest host: Sigal Samuel (@sigalsamuel) Guest: Rhaina Cohen (@rhainacohen). Her book is The Other Significant Others.  Enjoyed this episode? Rate The Gray Area ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ and leave a review on Apple Podcasts. Be the first to hear new episodes ...
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March 11, 2024 47 mins
Stephen Markley’s novel, “The Deluge,” is an ambitious and terrifyingly realistic look at our collective future on a warming planet. He joins Sean to talk about the 10-year process of writing the book, the current political struggle over climate action, and how we can confront and mitigate the worst effects of climate change.   Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), host, The Gray Area Guest: Stephen Markley. His book is “The Deluge.” E...
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March 4, 2024 45 mins
It’s been 50 years since Ernest Becker’s breakthrough book The Denial of Death was first published, and its thesis has become more relevant than ever. Filmmaker Jef Sewell is the co-creator of a new documentary about Becker called All Illusions Must Be Broken. It features never-before-heard audio of the enigmatic anthropologist and puts his theories in a modern context.  Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), host, The Gray Area Guest: ...
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February 26, 2024 50 mins
Silicon Valley is in the middle of an AI frenzy, and many of its leaders believe this technology could eventually result in human extinction. Tyler Austin Harper breaks down the most outlandish predictions, some of the more plausible problems AI poses, and how this moment reminds him of earlier extinction panics. Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), host, The Gray Area Guest: Tyler Austin Harper (@Tyler_A_Harper). Read his piece in the...
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February 19, 2024 42 mins
America solidified its dominant posture in the international order following World War II and largely held that position for the following half-century. But as problems have accumulated at home and abroad, Americans are reconsidering their country’s role in the world, and so are its leaders. Alex Ward, author of The Internationalists: The Fight to Restore American Foreign Policy After Trump, joins us.  Host: Sean Illing (@seanill...
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February 12, 2024 54 mins
Sean Illing talks with economic historian Brad DeLong about his new book Slouching Towards Utopia. In it, DeLong claims that the "long twentieth century" was the most consequential period in human history, during which the institutions of rapid technological growth and globalization were created, setting humanity on a path towards improving life, defeating scarcity, and enabling real freedom. But... this ran into some problems. Sea...
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February 5, 2024 47 mins
Musician Laraaji joins Sean to talk about improvisation as meditation, the transcendent nature of laughter, and lessons from a long life in sound and spirit.  Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), host, The Gray Area Guest: Laraaji. His music can be found at Enjoyed this episode? Rate The Gray Area ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ and leave a review on Apple Podcasts. Be the first to hear new episodes of The Gray Area by follow...
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January 29, 2024 53 mins
Political philosopher Ingrid Robeyns believes that there should be a maximum amount of money and resources that one person can have. She tells Sean how much is too much and why limiting personal wealth benefits everyone, including the super rich.  Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), host, The Gray Area Guest: Ingrid Robeyns. Her book is Limitarianism: The Case Against Extreme Wealth. Enjoyed this episode? Rate The Gray Area ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ and...
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January 22, 2024 48 mins
For much of her life, author Maggie Jackson disliked uncertainty and thought of it as something to eradicate as quickly as possible. But when she began to explore the uncertain mind, she discovered new scientific findings showing that uncertainty is critical for astute problem-solving and creativity.  She joins Sean to talk about what she learned and how being unsure can lead to a better, more hopeful life. Host: Sean Illing (@sean...
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January 15, 2024 41 mins
Americans have absorbed the “Protestant work ethic” — the idea that our value as human beings is determined by how hard we work and how much money we make. Elizabeth Anderson explains how this evolved, why it pervades everything, and why it sucks. Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), host, The Gray Area Guest: Elizabeth Anderson, professor of public philosophy at the University of Michigan.  Enjoyed this episode? Rate The Gray Area ⭐⭐...
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January 8, 2024 37 mins
If you’ve felt that learning new information or developing a new skill seems harder as you get older, you are not wrong. Neuroscientist Gul Dolen has studied brain capability and joins us to talk about the times in human development when our brains are especially adept at learning and retaining new information, and how MDMA and other psychedelics can be used to induce these moments and unlock the brain’s potential. Host: Sean Illi...
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December 26, 2023 55 mins
When we find ourselves in a dark place, what if we didn't "lighten things up"? Sean Illing talks with philosopher Mariana Alessandri, whose new book Night Vision offers a new way of understanding our dark moods and experiences like depression, pain, and grief. Alessandri describes the deep influence of what she calls the "light metaphor" — the belief that light is good and darkness is bad — and the destructive emotional cycles it h...
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