Tom Stoppard has said that the intellectual origins of The Hard Problem lie in a debate he read in The New York Review of Books between the philosopher John Searle and the cognitive scientist David J. Chalmers. The discussion’s relationship to metaphysics and atheism subsequently exploded in a series of best-selling books by such writers as Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins. To research his role as the play’s scientifically minded Spike, Chris O’Shea explored such thinkers not only via books but via debates available on YouTube. I asked O’Shea to select a few of the relevant videos and what distinguishes each one.

O’Shea replied:

1) This is a relevant excerpt from a wider debate between Deepak Chopra and Sam Harris, on whether consciousness originates in the material world and the differences between subjective and objective consciousness.

2) This is the full debate between Hitchens and Lane Craig, an American analytic philosopher and Christian theologian. Eventually, they get into whether morality has or needs an objective (divine) foundation.

3) This is one of the Hitch’s last interviews. (I thought about choosing his very last appearance in public but, as he said, “I am not as I was.”) He’s with the British broadcaster Jeremy Paxman. What’s important about this is that the debate is no longer academic. Hitchens is suffering from cancer and is quite literally contemplating the extinguishing of his own consciousness from the very precipice of its occurrence. So staunchly maintaining the integrity of his argument in the face of death is bravery of the very highest order. 

4) This is a Dawkins explanation for the origin of morality, which echoes a debate in The Hard Problem.

O’Shea, who grew up in London and went there to The Central School of Speech and Drama, may have an appetite for grand ideas, but if you ask him what whetted his interest as a boy in acting, his response is very basic: “Because we had theatre facilities!” He’s similarly direct when you ask him why he moved a few years ago to the U.S.: “I got a job.”

Bravo, Spike.

Brendan Lemon is the editor of