Theory Of Everything

True Lessons (False Alarm! part xi)

I set out on this False Alarm! journey with a quest to figure out how to better deal with this blurry line between fiction and reality. Phase Three of False Alarm! begins with a return to this question… can fiction help us see the truth? Jeffery Lewis, Nuclear expert tired of people ignoring his direct warnings, thinks it can. So he just wrote a novel – a fictional account of what led to North Korea bombing America.

I also recently came across a non-fiction book, a book that argues it is Logic that will enable us to better deal with our new reality  Dr. Eugenia Cheng wants us to think about logic in a brand new way.  Plus ToE’s Andrew Callaway gives us an update on our False Alarm! Hero Stormy Daniels.

New series logo by Val Dorito.

Fictional Warnings

Jeffery Lewis is a Nuclear arms expert who has turned to fiction to get his message out. He believes that his new novel The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against The United States is perhaps the most effective way for him to warn us that we wouldn’t learn much of a lesson from nuclear war.

Emotional Logic

Dr. Eugenia Cheng has spent her whole life fighting for math and logic–but in her new book, The Art of Logic in an Illogical World, she argues that emotions are just as important. For me, she dispelled a myth that logical and emotional are opposites. She believes that we need a lot of logic and emotions to make good decisions

Stormy Save Us

We revisit Stormy Daniels who we saw at the Gossip Gentleman’s club back in Fake Nudes (part 2 of False Alarm!). Suffice it to say, a lot has happened since then!

Photographed by Annie Leibowitz for Vogue


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Second Time as Fake (False Alarm! part x)

The Nazis believed the secret to turning a lie into a truth was repetition, for the Spiritualists it was denial, have computers come up with something new? Phase two of our mega-mini series concludes and we return from our tour of the 1930s and 1880s. ToE’s Special correspondent Chris wraps up his liar’s guide to American history and your host is forced to deal with the Backfire effect! 2018 is not the first time truth, fiction and lies have merged together. In the 1850s, people turned to the dead for answers. In the 1930’s, Hitler and the Nazis tried to remake the world using magic and pseudoscience. 


New series logo by Val Dorito.

Torture as Alchemy

Special correspondent Chris wraps up his five part liar’s guide to American history with a story about George W Bush and torture.

Spiritualism's Afterlife

On the evening of October 21, 1888, Maggie Fox delivered what she thought would be the death-blow to Spiritualism. She was wrong.

Ada Calhoun concludes her telling of The Sisters Who Spoke To Spirits and your host examines how Spiritualism beat the death-blow.

The Backfire Effect

In 2005, political scientist Brendan Nyhan coined the term, “Backfire Effect.” add definition

In 2015, it was debunked… but your host can’t let it go.

from The Oatmeal

Artificially Intelligent News

Blaise Agüera y Arcas is at distinguished scientist and the founder of the Artist and Machine Intelligence program at Google. He’s not frightened of sentient AI blowing up the planet or AI robots taking all our jobs, he’s scared about fake news.

portrait of Blaise made by old AI

Going Fascist

We also are saying goodbye to historian Erik Kurlander auther of hitlers monsters, he tells us why its possible that it could all happen again.


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Heavenly Truths (False Alarm! part ix)

A prehistory of post-truth and an alternative history of the Civil War. Our exploration of the Nazi Supernatural concludes with Werewolves and Mass Suicide. Plus: another installment in our False Alarm fairy tale, the little boy from part one (now designing clothes for the Emperor) gets a surprise visit from a little girl in a red coat!

2018 is not the first time truth, fiction and lies have merged together. In the 1850s, people turned to the dead for answers. In the 1930’s, Hitler and the Nazis tried to remake the world using magic and pseudoscience. 

In phase two of False Alarm! we’re going to bounce between the second half of the 19th century, the interwar years and the present to find out if we are doomed for a repeat.

New series logo by Val Dorito.

The Lost Cause

Special correspondent Chris reminds us that the leadership of the Confederacy didn’t wait long to change their whole story about their reason for starting the Civil War. Just one month after the end of the war, everything was suddenly different.

Post-Modernism for the Right

Marci Shore explains how the political right adopted post-modern language of the left for their own purposes… and why we should all be reading more Hannah Arendt.

Hannah Arendt

Check out Peter Pomerantsev’s Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible and some of those Eastern European dissidents.

Nazi Werewolves are REAL!

Erik Kurlander’s story of the supernatural and the Third Reich concludes the same way the Third Reich did… with Werewolves!

Nazi mass suicides

Dutch radio producer Julie Blussé shares a story about the German civilians who killed themselves at the end of the war.


Julie Blussé’s new season of Tijdgeest will air on Dutch radio around mid-November in OVT,  (Season 1 is available already). 

Florian Huber’s book is called Kind, ersprich mir dass du dich erschiesst, der Untergang der kleinen Leute 1945 (Child, promise me that you will shoot yourself – the demise of the ordinary man 1945) is available in German. For German speakers: there was also a documentary made about life in Demmin after the mass suicide epidemic, which hit this town especially hard. It’s called Über Leben in Demmin.


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pseudoscience (False Alarm! part viii)

As the border between border science and science dissolves we continue our examination of two other time periods when science tried to account for both the real and the unreal. In the 1800’s, so much new technology was revolutionizing the world… why not the ability to talk to the dead? And in the 1930s Hitler championed World Ice Theory as an alternative to the Jewish science of Albert Einstein. PLUS ToE’s Chris on Operation Paperclip!

2018 is not the first time truth, fiction and lies have merged together. In the 1850s, people turned to the dead for answers. In the 1930’s, Hitler and the Nazis tried to remake the world using magic and pseudoscience. 

In phase two of False Alarm! we’re going to bounce between the second half of the 19th century, the interwar years and the present to find out if we are doomed for a repeat.


New series logo by Val Dorito.

Operation Paperclip

Special correspondent Chris tells us why the US used tech built on Nazi slave labor!

Werner Von Braun on the left

World Ice Theory

We learned last week from Eric Kurlander, author of Hitler’s Monsters, that Nazi leadership was plugged into the supernatural. This week we dive into the official Nazi response to Einstein’s Jewish science… a better, more Aryan “Big Bang”… World Ice Theory!


The Fox Sisters didn’t get so popular because they were selling a new religion. People loved Spiritualism because it was presented as science. 

Ada Calhoun continues to read from her essay called The Sisters Who Spoke To Spirits and your host reflects on the search for the white crow… and the work that William James could still be doing… from beyond the grave.

Check out the Van Sounds podcast for an episode directly inspired by False Alarm!


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The Power of Magical Thinking (False Alarm! part vii)

Magic! That’s what alt-right face-punchee Richard Spencer claims brought Trump to the White House. Esoteric historian Gary Lachman investigates and discovers an unholy alliance of memes, chaos, and positive thinking. Michael Hughes, author of Magic for the Resistance offers us some counterspells. Also the Hitler’s Magician controversy, the magician at the heart of the CIA, and the Fox Sisters take their spirit knocking to Rochester. Plus your host takes a magical ride down the Trump Tower escalator.

2018 is not the first time truth, fiction and lies have merged together. In the 1850s, people turned to the dead for answers. In the 1930’s, Hitler and the Nazis tried to remake the world using magic and pseudoscience. 

In phase two of False Alarm! we’re going to bounce between the second half of the 19th century, the interwar years and the present to find out if we are doomed for a repeat.


New series logo by Val Dorito.

Magical Intelligence

Special correspondent Chris tells us why one of the CIA’s first hires was a magician.

Hitler's Magicians

We learned last week from Eric Kurlander, author of Hitler’s Monsters, that Nazi leadership was plugged into the supernatural… but they wanted stuff that worked. This is why they hired debunkers to help sort through the real and the fake magic.

Hitler with the head of the Magician's Circle

 Hitler loved magic and was good friends with the head of the Magician’s Circle… so suffice to say the magic did not stop. 

The Dark Side of Fame

As the Fox Sister’s ability to talk to the dead got attention in the media, a series of tests were conducted to prove that they were for real. Tests that made them understand the uncouth treatment they had been receiving from men.

Ada Calhoun continues to read from her essay called The Sisters Who Spoke To Spirits.

The Chaos Magicians

Richard Spencer believes that the alt-right dreamed Trump into the White House with meme magic. Gary Lachman, author of Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the age of Trump traces chaos magic all the way to Trump’s childhood minister, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, author of The Power of Positive Thinking.

Resistance Magic and Offensive Magic

I turn to Michael Hughes author of Magic for the resistance for some spells to fight back. Then I take matters into my own hands and head to Trump Tower to do my own spell… Can I summon Trump’s mother to fix her mistake?


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It is happening again (False Alarm! part vi)

Little girls who can talk to ghosts! The Nazi Supernatural! The legacy of artist Iris Häussler’s first fictional character Joseph Wagenbach. Plus America’s Greatest Lie!

2018 is not the first time truth, fiction and lies have merged together. In the 1850s people turned to the dead for answers. In the 1930’s, Hitler and the Nazis tried to remake the world using magic and pseudoscience. 

In phase two of False Alarm! we’re going to bounce between the second half of the 19th century, the interwar years and the present to find out if we are doomed for a repeat.


New series logo by Val Dorito.

Fiction vs Lies

We all know the story of George Washington and the cherry tree isn’t real–but is it a fiction or a lie? 

The First Sounds of Spiritualism

In 1847, two little girls, Maggie and Katy Fox, told their mother they heard a mysterious sound coming from inside the walls of their house.

 In 1926, Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle credited the Fox Sisters for “the most important thing that America has given to the commonweal of the world.” He was talking about Spiritualism.

Ada Calhoun read for us from her essay called The Sisters Who Spoke To Spirits.

The Supernatural Imaginary

There is a reason we have so many fictions –  movies, comic books, thrillers – about the Nazis and the occult.  As Eric Kurlander, author of Hitler’s Monsters, discovered early in his research – almost the entire Nazi leadership were true believers.

Kurlander’s book certainly isn’t the first scholarly work to delve into the strange world of Nazi occultism… but what’s different about this one is that it provides us with a grand unified Nazi theory of the weird or supernatural. 

Over the next few episodes we will hear more from Eric Kurlander about how the Nazis deployed the supernatural imaginary to merge fiction truth and lies… and reshape reality.

The Legacy of Joseph Wagenbach

Iris Häussler is a German artist based in Toronto who creates fictional characters. We featured her most recent exhibit a few episodes back — but I caught up with her recently to discuss one of her first fictional artists: Joseph Wagenbach.

In 2006, Iris working with the fictitious Municipal Archives opened up a house to the public, offering tours in which audiences could see hundreds of sculptures supposedly made by the reclusive resident, Joseph Wagenbach. 

She was outed by the National Post as a hoaxer… but the media failed to break her spell. 


Real costs extra (False Alarm! part v)

Many of us are struggling with the real and the fake – but if you’re willing to pay enough, you don’t have to worry about it. Your host collaborates with 99% Invisible on a story about the Emeco Navy chair (the real one and the knockoffs). Artist Sam Stewart introduces us to a creature and his luxurious useless furniture. Starlee Kine of Mystery Show explains that my real podcasting problem isn’t the real vs fake but ads… and it’s true, dear listeners, because without more ad money, this means I might have to let my amazing producer Andrew Callaway go! Unless our new ICO pulls in millions! Learn all about it.

Illustration by Jordan Crane and new series logo by Val Dorito.

The Torpedo Proof Chair

The Navy needed an indestructible chair. Emeco got the contract because it had a lightweight aluminum super strong chair – and the founder proved this by throwing it off an eight story building. The contract this feat won them kept the company afloat for decades… but things weren’t looking so great for Emeco when Gregg Buchbinder took over in the 1990s. But he discovered the chair was beloved by designers and architects around the world and he turned things around.

But this newfound popularity led to some new challenges.

A real Emeco Navy chair vs. a Restoration Hardware Naval chair.

Gregg Buchbinder uses Emeco’s trade dress protection to fight the fakes.  For him, the worst things about the knockoffs chairs are how disposable they are. His chair is made with a 77-step process in the USA and will last forever — Navy Chairs made in the 1940s are still in circulation — while the knockoffs rust, break and fill landfills.

He’s been pretty successful at taking down the knockoffs from bigger companies. He’s won battles IKEA and Restoration Hardware — but the one chair that he can’t take down is Crate & Barrel’s Delta chair.

A real Emeco Navy chair vs. a Crate & Barrel Delta chair.

The Delta chair is just different enough that Emeco can’t go after them but he still believes them to be knockoffs. Sure, they took out the crossbar, but the butt divot is still there… and they even kept the signature welds on the back of the vertical bars.

Christopher Sprigman wrote a book called the Knockoff Economy in which he argues that lookalikes and fakes are actually a net good for society. The Emeco Navy chair costs over $500 — not a seat for the masses. The knockoffs are  democratizing, allowing for regular people to make similar aesthetic choices to rich people.

But how real is  this knockoff? To find out, I decided to use the same test that won over the Navy… the throwing-it-off-an-eight-story-building-story test. It didn’t do well.

The Cryptid

Artist Sam Stewart took over a commercial/residential space in the former meat packing district of NYC and filled it with art pieces and furniture he made for a fictional client, the Cryptid


Mystery Show

To conclude my rounds of getting advice from podcasters, I talk to one of the masters of helping people… Starlee Kine. It turns out she’s been thinking a lot about the real and the fake.

She told me that this thing about having ads in the middle of shows is the real/fake problem manifesting itself in the podcasting world. In fact, it’s part of the reason she has no plans to come back to podcasting… because it almost seems like there’s no way to do this without relying on the ad model.

But we here at Theory of Everything are trying out another way. That’s right… our ICO is real.


A Fake in the Crowd (False Alarm! part iv)

The power of the fake person, multiplied! Curator Karen Patterson puts a fake artist in the museum and artist David Levine puts on a museum show about the fake crowd. We hear from a 1937 radio play that featured both Orson Welles and the first fake crowd ever broadcast on the radio. And backstage on the Radiotopia live tour, your host turns to fellow ‘topes Roman Mars and Helen Zaltzman for help deciphering an unexpected laugh.  PLUS!!!! The long awaited return of ToE’s original extra: Peter Choyce.

Illustration by Jordan Crane and new series logo by Val Dorito.

Dispassionate Participation

According to artist David Levine, analogue fake crowds still matter in the digital age, perhaps more than ever. He tells us about his new show, Some of the People, All of the Time, opening May 24th at the Brooklyn Museum. He also shares a bit from the lecture he is doing May 23rd (let’s all go!).

Meanwhile at the Kohler Arts Center it’s a real crowd with a fake artist. Curator Karen Patterson tells us about her show on Florence Hasard, a fake person created by the real artist Iris Häussler. This show is up until August 19th, 2018… and btw, Karen is the one who commissioned my Wisconsin series from last year.

Orson Welles and the birth of the fake crowd

The fake crowd makes its radio debut on March 4th, 1937 in Archibald MacLeash’s Fall of the City. This radio drama used innovative sound techniques to create the illusion of an enormous crowd awaiting the arrival of a conquering dictator.  Orson Welles is brilliant in the role of the radio announcer. Although he didn’t perform in MacLeash’s next radio play, Air Raid, you can see in the photo below that he visited the set. MacLeash was using even more advanced techniques to create super realistic sounds of an attack on an American city. Just four days later, Orson Welles debuted a radio piece that would shake America

You gotta let the crowd laugh

Meanwhile, at the live Radiotopia tour, your host got some lessons from Roman Mars and Helen Zaltzman on how to accept reality and roll with the laughs.

The return of Peter Choyce

It’s been three years since we last heard from Peter Choyce–he’s moved from Hollywood to Tennessee where the kinds of job offers he’s getting as an actor have changed quite a bit.

S-Coin (False Alarm! part iii)

Our investigation of the real and the fake continues as your host hunts for a way to monetize it! We ask Alex Goldmark from Planet Money and Bitchcoin artist Sarah Meyohas for advice and author David Golumbia explains how bitcoin really works. Lyn Jeffrey takes us to China to learn about the multi level marketing craze of the mid 1990s and Jed Rothstein tells us about his new movie The China Hustle. Journalist Zeke Faux explains why scammers love Facebook and Toe’s Andrew Callaway visits Supreme to learn how to get rich off Streetwear. PLUS… the ToE coin!

Illustration by Jordan Crane and new series logo by Val Dorito.

Monetizing the Fake

We’ve been talking to an artist and a podcaster looking for advice, so this week we hit up Alex Goldmark from Planet Money and Sarah Meyohas, the creator of Bitchcoin. This time, instead of getting tips on how to deal with the fake, I wanted to learn how to monetize it!

Technology that doesn't work

David Golumbia believes that bitcoin is classic snake oil. It doesn’t even work as a currency! He sees the fanatical faith in bitcoin as making it like a cult — a cult that’s backed by right wing ideology.

How can you face the real if you can't handle the fake?

A recent ICO in China that was supercharged by MLMs led me to Lyn Jeffery to tell me about her experiences in China so I can understand how to make people believe in the fake. I also spoke to Jed Rothstein, director of The China Hustle about reverse mergers and the inherent fakeness of the global financial system.

Finding the suckers.

I sent ToE’s Andrew Callaway to the Supreme store to find out how to become a millionaire off of street wear — and Zeke Faux explains how Facebook helps affiliate marketers find the suckers.

Plus: sign up for the newsletter to get exclusive access to the first round of our ICO

Fake Nudes (False Alarm! part ii)

The future of face-swapping! The REAL deepfakes speaks! Artist Lynn Hershman Leeson tells us how technology has transformed the way she plays with fact and fiction. Dipayan Ghosh warns us about AI powered ad-targeting. Criminal’s Phoebe and Lauren drop knowledge on the untrue in true crime. Plus your host meets STORMY DANIELS!

Illustration by Jordan Crane and new series logo by Val Dorito.

Age of American Unreason in a Culture of Lies

When Susan Jacoby published her book on anti-intellectualism and public ignorance The Age of American Unreason in 2008, it was timely — so now that she’s updated it for 2018, we settled on this new edition being… bigly timely.

The new edition is subtitled “In a Culture of Lies.”

Susan is not a technologist or even a technology critic. She is a scholar of ideas, a scholar of culture. In 2008, she told me she felt like a technophobe. The main reason she updated her book was a realization that she gets culture better than the real technologists and the real technology critics. 

The real deepfakes

We have an exclusive interview with the one… the only… deepfakes. I’m not even sure how to describe what went down… but this meme from 4chan will give you the basic idea.

Building a fake you can believe in

The blurring of fiction and reality is central to the art practice of Lynn Hersman Leeson. You will find a reference to it in almost everything she does, including her latest film Vertighost.

Vertighost was made for San Francsico’s Legion of Honor — an important location in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Lynn uses archival footage of Kim Novak along with interviews of several woman discussing their relationships with the real and the fake. Natasha Boaz is an art critic who explains that we’re not at war with the fake: we prefer it.

Being a San Francisco Artist, Lynn Hershman Leeson has taken full advantage of the technology booms. For example, she made dolls with webcams in their eyes that were livestreaming onto the internet… in 1996!

In 2000, she made Agent Ruby and Dina, chat bots that could do more than Siri, which didn’t come out til 2012. For example, Agent Ruby’s mood would be affected by how many people were talking to it at once and Dina ran for election!

But perhaps Lynn’s most famous invented person was analog. When one of her pieces was kicked out of a gallery show for using sound (!!) in 1966, she decided she needed a space of her own, safe from the closed minds of curators. She filled this room with artifacts of a fake person. This was the birth of ROBERTA BREITMORE.

There were some similarities between Lynn and Roberta but they were totally separate people. Roberta went to her own psychiatrist and worked her own job as a secretary to pay her rent at her own apartment. Roberta had bank accounts and a driver’s license. She even went out on dates!

Lynn also created a few male alter egos. Art critics! Hebert Goode, Prudence Juris and Gay Abandon. These men would write reviews for journals and newspapers — of her work! She also made a series of fake fires… sometimes the fire department came, even though Lynn says they had permits.

Pieces like that I have a hard time imagining being possible to do today — but Lynn thinks Roberta would be the hardest piece to do today… because of computers.

Targeted advertising is the sun

Dipayan Ghosh is a fellow at New America where he studies disinformation and internet platforms, but unlike pretty much everyone — he’s NOT focused on bad actors like Cambridge Analytica or Russian Trolls. He’s focused on the digital advertising infrastructure that makes disinformation campaigns possible. He’s recently co-authored a report called Digital Deceit on the technology – the tools and services both real advertisers and fake disinformation campaigns use to get their message out. As platforms like Facebook augment these tools and services with AI, we warns that the good the bad and the ugly will all use them to target us.

AI makes it so easy to not only target, but to create custom content for individual users. This was once called a “dark post” since it didn’t show up to anyone except for you, but they prefer to call them unpublished posts.

Since he wrote a paper warning us about AI enhanced tools, I figured Dipayan would agree with me that Mark Zuckerberg’s faith in AI tools to battle fake news and misinformation was ridiculous… but he didn’t! He felt that AI was essentially inevitable– that for these companies to use AI  like that is as natural as a plant reaching for the sun. 

Murder Podcasts

Phoebe Judge and Lauren Spohrer are the producers of Criminal, a widely loved true crime podcast — which is why i was surprised to hear that some true crime diehards aren’t into their show. These people prefer, “murder podcasts” — where they can confirm that fucked up things actually happen.

I too have listeners who complain — who are confused about what’s true and not. Phoebe and Lauren told me how they deal with the unknowns in their stories: admitting that they’re unknown!

But Phoebe ultimately doesn’t believe that the true part of the crime in her show matters… people just like crime.

I believe Stormy Daniels

A few weeks before Stormy Daniels got her new awesome lawyer and went on 60 Minutes to tell the world about her relationship with Donald Trump she went on a tour of stip clubs across america — the Make America Horny Again tour.

We were disappointed to find the place was full of journalists. They all were hoping to find a real Trump supporter. We weren’t looking, but we did end up finding a Trump supporter– Toni-Ann who was opening for Stormy Daniels. She loved Trump because he understands how to lure people into the world of fantasy and then run away with their money. According to her, Trump would have made an excellent stripper.

Finally at Midnight, Stormy Daniels strode out on to the stage in her little red riding hood outfit and as she took off her cape and then her cap… I realized all of my hopes are riding on this woman!

Which is unfair I know… but if an unabashed, unashamed exibitionist can’t make us see that the emperor has no clothes… then who can???