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Many Minds

Oct 4, 2023

Hi friends, we're on hiatus for the fall. To tide you over, we’re putting up some favorite episodes from our archives. Enjoy!


A pharmacologist and a philosopher walk into a bar... This is not the start of a joke—it’s the start of our 2021 finale and our first ever theme episode. The idea with these theme episodes is that we have not one but two guests, from different fields, coming together to discuss a topic of mutual interest.

Our theme for this first one—in the spirit of the holiday season—is intoxication and our guests are Dr. Oné Pagán and Dr. Edward Slingerland. Oné is a Professor of Biology at West Chester University and our pharmacologist in residence for this episode. He just published Drunk flies and stoned dolphins: A trip through the world of animal intoxication. Ted is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of British Columbia and our resident philosopher. He is the author of the recent book Drunk: How we sipped, danced, and stumbled our way into civilization.

We range over a lot of ground in this conversation. We talk about alcohol as a kind of pharmacological “hand grenade”—whereas other substances are more like “scalpels”. We touch on catnip, cannabis, psychedelic fungi, and poison toads. We discuss Asian flushing genes and what they might suggest about the functions of alcohol. We talk about self-medication in the animal kingdom and in Neanderthals. We size up the "drunken monkey”, "stoned ape”, and "beer before bread" hypotheses. And though we mostly keep things light and festive here, we also do delve into the dark side of intoxication—which may have gotten that much darker with the advent of distilled liquor.

Whether you're a tippler or a teetotaler, I’m guessing you’ll find this to be a heady conversation. Did you really think I was going to make it to the end of this intro without a single intoxication-related pun? You know me better.

Alright friends—be well, be merry, and be safe this holiday season. We’ll be back in mid-January after a not so long winter’s nap. Now on to my conversation with Dr. Oné Pagán and Ted Slingerland. Cheers!


A transcript of this episode is now available.


Notes and links

4:00 – The “write drunk, edit sober” idea is sometimes (mis)attributed to Ernest Hemingway.

8:00 – Dr. Pagán wrote an earlier book about his favored model organism, the planaria (or flatworms). You may recall we discussed planaria in our recent episode with Dr. Michael Levin.

10:10 – Dr. Slingerland wrote an earlier book about the Chinese ideal of wu-wei. See this brief discussion of his ideas in The Marginalian.

13:00 – The idea of alcohol as pharmacological “hand grenade” is a metaphor due to Steven Braun.

19:30 – An article in Science about “why cats are crazy for catnip.”

21:20 – A recent article in The Conversation about Asian flushing genes.

26:00 – Thomas Hunt Morgan, who won the Nobel Prize in 1933, pioneered the use of drosophila as an animal model.

28:20 – An article on the inebriometer (with an accompanying illustration).

33:00 – The biologist Robert Dudley introduced the “drunken monkey” hypothesis. A recent synopsis by Dudley.

38:00 – Not to be confused with the “stoned ape” hypothesis, which was introduced by Terrence McKenna. A recent popular article on the hypothesis.  

41:00 – The idea of psychedelics as introducing “mutagens” into culture comes from How to Change Your Mind, by Michael Pollan.

44:00 – A recent popular article on the “beer before bread” hypothesis. The idea was originally proposed in 1953.

48:50 – Pharmaceutical practices of non-human animals are called “zoopharmacognosy.” A 2014 summary of findings about animal self-medication.

53:00 – The original report in Science on the “flower burial” in Shanidar cave.

56:20 – The Laussel Venus appears to be drinking (alcohol?) from a horn.

59:20 – An article describing the tragic case of Tusko the elephant.

1:03:50 – One example of practices that moderate alcohol’s dangerous effect is the Greek symposium.

1:08:00 – A brief history of distillation, which is a relatively recent invention.

1:11:00 – Planaria are widely used as an animal model for understanding nicotine, among other intoxicating substances.


Dr. Slingerland recommends the following books:

Buzz, by Steven Braun

Drink, by Iain Gately

A Short History of Drunkenness, by Mark Forsyth


Dr. Pagán recommends the following book:

Intoxication, by Ronald Siegel


You can find Dr. Slingerland on Twitter (@slingerland20) and follow him at his website; you can find Dr. Pagán on Twitter (@Baldscientist), follow him at his website, and listen to his podcast.


Many Minds is a project of the Diverse Intelligences Summer Institute, which is made possible by a generous grant from the Templeton World Charity Foundation to UCLA. It is hosted and produced by Kensy Cooperrider, with help from Assistant Producer Urte Laukaityte and with creative support from DISI Directors Erica Cartmill and Jacob Foster. Our artwork is by Ben Oldroyd. Our transcripts are created by Sarah Dopierala.

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