Exploring Philosophy and Writing with Author Jonny Thomson | Glasp Talk #1

Exploring Philosophy and Writing with Author Jonny Thomson | Glasp Talk #1

This is the first session of Glasp Talk!

Glasp Talk delves deep into intimate interviews with luminaries from various fields, unraveling their genuine emotions, experiences, and the stories that lie behind them.

The first guest speaker is Jonny Thomson from the United Kingdom. He is a writer at BigThink and is teaching philosophy to students at St Edward's School, Oxford.


Kei: Hello

Kazuki: Hi

Jonny: Hi, how are you guys?

Kei: Good, I'm good. How about you? How are you?

Jonny: Yeah, I'm really well, thank you. Can you hear me?

Kazuki: Yes, thank you for the time.

Kei: So yeah, I'm okay from class. Nice to meet you.

Kazuki: Hello, so this is like a graphic talk session, and we want to start this kind of like a hub, you know, like TED Talk and Google Talk. We even have Glasp Talk where we interview great minds like writers, content creators, YouTubers, and many influencers to understand what they care about, their philosophy, and their curiosity. This is our first interview, so yeah, it's great. Thank you so much.

Jonny: Oh, thank you very much. I'm very flattered, thanks. Yeah, let's get started.

Kei: Welcome Jonny to Glasp Talk. Today, we'd like to ask you some questions about your philosophy, writing, and your history. First of all, can you introduce yourself for the people who don't know you yet?

Jonny: Ah, yeah, okay. So, I’m Jonny Thomson. I am the author of one book already out called "Mini Philosophy: A Little Book of Big Ideas," and my second book is coming out in two weeks' time. It’s called "Many Big Ideas." I’m also a staff writer at Big Think, an American outlet that focuses on smart ideas and academic pieces, including explainers, videos, and written content. I mainly cover philosophy and psychology but branch out wherever needed. I also run an Instagram account called "Mini Philosophy," which explains philosophy. Essentially, I’m a writer for Big Think and for Hachette, my publisher.

Kei: Cool. I’ve been following your Instagram account. It’s great.

Kazuki: Yeah, that's interesting. Philosophy is a really interesting topic. People have different definitions of philosophy. In your case, from your perspective, what is philosophy?

Jonny: Yeah, no, it comes up quite a lot, that question actually. The basic roots of the word mean "the love of wisdom," but I think that's such a broad term. Different people have different answers. Some say philosophy is an academic discipline requiring university study or writing. Others say it’s just asking big questions about the world. I come somewhere in between. Anyone with academic curiosity is a philosopher of sorts. Historically, philosophy was the study of everything, including the sciences. Philosophers like Descartes did everything—maths, science, philosophy, literature, poetry. If you're using Descartes or Plato as representatives of philosophy, it's about curiosity and wanting to learn and study things.

Kazuki: Yeah, that totally makes sense. I know philosophy comes from "philosophia," meaning the love of wisdom.

Kei: Yeah, and it's interesting. People who finish their doctorate are called doctors of philosophy.

Jonny: Yeah, I've got some friends with PhDs in sciences like physics and chemistry. I always wind them up, saying they’re doing philosophy. In their minds, they’re doing serious, proper, intense stuff, but yeah, they are doctors of philosophy.

Kazuki: So you write about philosophy for Big Think. What kind of philosophy or areas do you cover?

Jonny: It varies. I started with basic explainers of major philosophical schools. The first article I wrote was about Democritus and the atom. Since then, I’ve covered American pragmatism, skepticism, stoicism, Nietzsche, Descartes, and more. Now, I like to talk about the philosophy of anything because everything has a philosophy. We can debate anything, really. For example, the philosophy of cringe humor or why shows like "The Office" are funny, which branches into psychology. I’ve covered ethics, like who programs the ethics into driverless cars, and technology, like CRISPR and genetic manipulation. It starts with explainers and now covers the philosophy of anything and everything.

Kei: I see. You mentioned pitching ideas. Do you usually decide what to write about, or do your editors tell you?

Jonny: It’s a combination. Sometimes my editors suggest topics, or someone in the wider company has a good philosophical idea. Other times, I pitch ideas to them. I have a joke with my friends that I note down interesting conversation topics in my phone. My editor recently told me to stagger my pitches instead of sending 20 at a time. But yes, ideas come from conversations with friends, magazines, newspapers, and social media.

Kazuki: That’s interesting. I’m curious about your process. How do you come up with ideas? Do you read books, articles, or listen to podcasts?

Jonny: I subscribe to magazines and newspapers like the London Review of Books and Philosophy Now, which inspire ideas. Social media is also interesting for trending hashtags and what others are talking about. Books I’m reading can also inspire ideas. For example, I was into Taoism recently and pitched several articles on it. I also write a newsletter for The Well, part of Big Think, and you can tell what I’ve been reading based on my newsletters.

Kei: How do you simplify complex ideas for people? Your Instagram account does a good job of making philosophy easy to understand.

Jonny: Thank you. I was a teacher for 12 years, which taught me to simplify language for students of different abilities. I believe everyone has philosophical ideas. Philosophy just has a specific language and structure. I strip away the complex language and present the questions in an accessible way. Philosophers often use Latin or ancient Greek, which I explain in English before moving on. Primary texts can be dense, so I introduce the ideas first and then suggest reading the originals to get used to the language.

Kazuki: You have an interesting background. What made you become a teacher and then a writer?

Jonny: Honestly, I liked philosophy and being able to afford food. Teaching was the only way to do both unless you become a professional philosopher or a writer, which wasn’t an option at the time. But I ended up loving teaching, staying for 12 years. Philosophy allows deep conversations with students, transforming their lives. When I left teaching last year, I received heartwarming messages from students.

Kei: What sparked your interest in philosophy?

Jonny: Both of my parents are psychologists, so we had academic curiosity around the table. If they weren't psychologists, I might have studied psychology. But I had an inspirational teacher who got me into philosophy. I started reading to impress him and got hooked. I began with Nietzsche, who was provocative and exciting, then moved to William James and Bertrand Russell, who were readable and evocative. University threw dense texts at me like Plato, Descartes, and Hegel.

Kazuki: Do you recommend any books for beginners in philosophy?

Jonny: Other than my own book, I recommend Nigel Warburton’s "A Little History of Philosophy." It’s accessible. For primary texts, Nietzsche is provocative and exciting. William James and Bertrand Russell are also good. I also recommend science fiction, which often explores philosophical ideas. Ted Chiang’s short stories are like extended thought experiments. My new book coming out in two weeks is about the history of ideas that changed human history.

Kei: Can you share your writing tools and process? Do you use any note-taking systems?

Jonny: I used to use Google Reader for RSS feeds, then switched to Feedly. But I over-subscribed and got overwhelmed, so I let it go. I tried Pocket, but never went back to read what I saved. Now, I keep multiple Chrome tabs open and dip into them. I also WhatsApp myself articles or notes. For writing, I use Microsoft Word for articles and Google Docs for collaborative work with editors. For research, I use JSTOR for academic articles.

Kazuki: How long does it take you to write an article?

Jonny: Most articles take about a day. I spend the morning researching and structuring, and the afternoon writing. The actual writing takes half an hour to an hour, but researching, editing, formatting, and spell-checking take time. Editing is the time-consuming part.

Kei: How do you use AI in your writing process?

Jonny: AI is useful for editing and idea generation. It helps with spelling, grammar, and critiquing my work. Sometimes, it helps me find the right word or phrase. However, it doesn't fully capture my voice or style. It’s good for inspiration but requires fact-checking. In the future, AI might produce indistinguishable content from human writers, which is concerning. Human-made content might become a luxury product.

Kazuki: Any advice for aspiring writers?

Jonny: Read a lot and write regularly. Reading gives you ideas and a voice. Writing is about habits and practice. Don't obsess over perfection. Confidence is key. Share your work and learn from feedback.

Kei: How can people reach out to you?

Jonny: Instagram is the best way. I’m also on Facebook under "Mini Philosophy." I’m happy to chat and hear from people.

Kazuki: Any message for Glasp users who capture and share knowledge?

Jonny: Capturing and sharing quotes is important. It makes you interesting and creative. Having a repertoire of anecdotes, quotes, and stories enriches your writing and conversations. It’s a great idea to pull things into one document or speech.

Kei: Thanks so much, and we hope some people capture some quotes from this video or podcast.

Jonny: Exactly, I'll be very kind. I'll be very humbled if that's true. Thank you very much, guys. It's been great chatting, and I hope we'll do it again sometime.

Kazuki: Thank you for joining.

Kei: Thank you, see you later.

Jonny: Bye.

Jonny is managing Instagram and Facebook, @philosophyminis, that explains philosophical ideas. Follow him on Instagram and Facebook to learn together!

Also, his 2nd book will be published on August 31, 2023.
"Mini Big Ideas: A Little Book of Big Innovations"

Mini Big Ideas: A Little Book of Big Innovations : Thomson, Jonny: Amazon.nl: Boeken
Mini Big Ideas: A Little Book of Big Innovations : Thomson, Jonny: Amazon.nl: Boeken

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