Pomona professor Ellie Anderson wants you to ‘Overthink’ with new podcast

A phone open to a podcast screen that says "Overthink."
Pomona College assistant professor of philosophy Ellie Anderson is co-hosting a new philosophy podcast called “Overthink.” (Justin Sleppy • The Student Life)

Don’t overthink. It’s not that deep.

Phrases like these populate the American psyche, giving the concept of overthinking a decidedly negative connotation.  

“If you’re overthinking, you might be accused of being caught up in your own head — maybe you’re not acting in the world; maybe you’re stuck in some sort of paralysis with respect to action,” said Pomona College assistant professor of philosophy Ellie Anderson.

But Anderson and San Francisco State University assistant professor of philosophy David M. Peña-Guzmán are here to challenge that assumption with their new philosophy podcast, appropriately titled “Overthink.”

“We actually think that there is a lot of beauty in overthinking if you don’t limit overthinking to being something that inhibits action,” Anderson said. “It’s a sort of fun play on words for us, where we want to signify that overthinking can be a good thing.”

Good friends from graduate school, Anderson and Peña-Guzmán co-host “Overthink,” a podcast that seeks to blend current events and pop culture with theory and philosophy. The podcast mainly features conversations between them, but they are also hoping to address listeners’ questions and feedback in the future.

“In general, we are trying to find the sorts of topics that you might have a conversation about in your dorm room or at a party, where you are looking to find meaning in some experience that you have had, and you know that there might be something in the history of many millennia of humans having incredible thoughts that might help you figure it out,” Anderson said.

Episodes vary widely in focus, from discussions on existentialism and Netflix’s “Emily in Paris” to millennials’ obsession with houseplants and the TikTok craze over Le Creuset Dutch ovens. But all episodes are grounded by a connection to theory and Peña-Guzmán and Anderson’s shared intellectual and moral paradigm.

Peña-Guzmán and Anderson are specialists in continental European philosophy and share intellectual commitments to intersectional feminism, anti-racism and critiques of capitalism, all of which are elements that inform the lens of conversation in episodes. Since finishing graduate school, both have found that they miss the casual and purposeful intellectual conversations that were abundant in that setting.

“I really miss having conversations with good friends about intellectual topics, the kinds of conversations that I had in graduate school, and I suspect that a lot of my friends and peers feel the same way,” Anderson said.

This sense of loss was concerning to Anderson and Peña-Guzmán and paved the way for the start of “Overthink.”

“As folks living in the U.S., we are very concerned with the rise of anti-intellectualism and the increasing sense that there is a gap between everyday life and current events and the kind of discourses that we can have in the classroom,” Anderson said. “One of the great things about being a professor at a liberal arts college is that I get to take for granted that my students understand that the kinds of things we talk about in the classroom are relevant for daily life and relevant to themselves as individuals as well as citizens in a democracy. But I want to make those kinds of discourses accessible outside of a liberal arts setting.”

Philosophy might seem intimidating, an emotion that Anderson acknowledged. But she and Peña-Guzmán are committed to making theory as accessible as possible. 

“We’re not dumbing down philosophy in the podcast but also describing it in a way that engages people and makes it clear that there is some sort of relevance to the discourses that philosophers are having and the kinds of things that people have been writing about,” Anderson said. 

That this discourse would take place through a podcast seemed immediately natural to Anderson. Podcasting is increasingly popular, and it’s relatively easy to get involved with. But even more important is the way that philosophy and podcasting intersect.

“Philosophy originates in human conversations; regardless of what philosophical tradition you are coming from, philosophy is rooted in language and rooted in people talking to each other and talking about what life is, and I think podcasting lends itself really well to that format because it’s so easily able to represent a dialogue,” she said. “It picks up on an oral tradition that is a really central feature of human thought.”

Anderson and Peña-Guzmán had planned to use the Hive, a creative space at Pomona College, to record episodes, but the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent closure of the Claremont Colleges prevented this arrangement. Instead, the two have been recording over Zoom from their closets, with Anderson in California and Peña-Guzmán in France, where he is conducting research. While this format was not necessarily the original plan, Anderson still feels grateful for Pomona’s continued support of the podcast.

“I’ve wanted for a long time to be putting my philosophical work as a professor, as a scholar, into public discourse … I’m really grateful for the time and freedom that I get as a professor at Pomona that allows me to do something like this,” she said. “I don’t think it’s any coincidence that I’m able to make good on this project the first semester that I have secure employment at Pomona.”

While this transition hasn’t been terribly difficult for the co-hosts, identifying the correct tone for episodes has taken more practice.

“One thing that’s been a big learning curve for us is figuring out how to synthesize our professor selves with our millennial friend selves,” Anderson said. “The first few episodes that we recorded were extremely dry, to the point that we actually had to re-record an episode. It’s been a process of trial and error to figure out how much banter and laughter to bring in relative to the philosophical concepts.”

This synthesis has become more automatic, thanks to production assistant Anna Koppelman PZ 22, who started leading Anderson and Peña-Guzmán through improvisation exercises before recording episodes. Koppelman became involved with “Overthink” after hearing Anderson say that she wanted to start a podcast last year.

A dedicated student in many of Anderson’s philosophy classes, Koppelman was immediately intrigued by “the idea of a philosophy podcast that wasn’t so erudite that I felt like I couldn’t understand it because it was a bunch of people talking really seriously about Aristotle or something,” she said. 

Instead, the podcast features hosts who are “super approachable and thinking about similar things that I was but doing from this angle of theory and applying it to life,” Koppelman added. 

But even as Anderson and Peña-Guzmán become accustomed to their new roles in the project, they are already thinking ahead to the future. With a list of more than 80 ideas for episodes, Anderson and Peña-Guzmán are confident that “Overthink” introduces listeners to a new blend of thinking. 

“Podcasting is blowing up, and it’s a really exciting genre to me because it’s rapidly growing and the barrier for entry is very low,” Anderson said. “There are a lot of great podcasts out there, and there are a number of good philosophy podcasts out there that I really like. But there isn’t a philosophy podcast of the type that we want to do, which is a conversation between two people that synthesizes philosophical concepts and current events.”

“Overthink” is available now on Spotify, Apple and most other podcasting platforms, with episodes dropping every one to two weeks. Find and contact “Overthink” on Instagram and Twitter or at dearoverthinkpod@gmail.com.

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