DiscoverOn Humans
On Humans

On Humans

Author: Ilari Mäkelä

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What kind of animals are we? The On Humans -podcast features conversations about the science and philosophy of what it means to be human. Topics range from the psychology of love to the science of happiness, and from the anthropology of war to the evolution of morality.

Each episode presents a deep dive with a leading scholar, interviewed by your host, Ilari Mäkelä.

About your host: Ilari is a Finnish philosophy graduate with degrees from Oxford (Philosophy and Psychology) and Peking University 北大 (Chinese Philosophy). He lives in London.
23 Episodes
The idea of Universal Basic Income (UBI) is simple: Everyone should have an income. And that they should have it whether they work or not. Indeed, its simplicity has made UBI an attractive policy suggestion for many on both the left and the right. But sometimes the practical virtues of UBI can distract us from the deeper significance of this idea. Karl Widerquist is an economist and political philosopher who has campaigned for UBI since the 90s. And he thinks that it is a practical idea. But he also thinks that it can remedy something deeper than government bureaucracies. He thinks that it can remedy our social contract. For Widerquist, UBI is our best tool to navigate the difficult waters between elitist liberalism and oppressive communism. Yet somewhere beyond those waters lies a genuinely free society. And he thinks we can get there very soon.  This is an important argument. But it is also a very stimulating one. Indeed, Widerquist‘s treatment of the topic takes us from the biases of John Locke to the hunting grounds of medieval peasants. In this discussion, Dr Widerquist and Ilari discuss topics such as: Why UBI has friends on both sides of the political divide Why UBI is needed for a (genuinely) free society Modern poverty and the problem with "negative vs positive freedoms" Why modernity is not a land of the free (or how the masses lost access to the means of food production) The freedoms of our ancestors, from hunter-gatherers to peasants The problem with "owning" natural resources John Locke's mistake The role of the enclosure movements (in Europe) and colonialism (outside of Europe) Why Widerquist is not a Marxist UBI vs the Nordic welfare state What happened in Finland when the government tested a UBI Why UBI promotes respect, kindness, and unselfishness. Technical terms mentioned Universal basic income or UBI (also known as basic income guarantee) Negative income tax (similar in outcome to a UBI) Positive vs negative freedoms The enclosure movement Names mentioned Milton Friedman (20th Century American economist) Isaiah Berlin (20th Century philosopher) Thomas Paine (18th Century philosopher) Henry George (19th Century economist) Herbert Spencer (19th Century philosopher) Gerald Allan Cohen (contemporary Canadian philosopher) Michael Otsuka (contemporary philosopher) John Locke (17th Century philosopher) Thomas Hobbes (17th Century philosopher) Jean-Jacques Rousseau (18th Century philosopher) David Hume (18th Century philosopher) Mentioned work Isaiah Berlin lectures Prehistoric Myths in Modern Political Theory (Widerquist & McCall 2017) Prehistory of Private Property (Widerquist & McCall 2021)
Most histories of the 20th century focus on world wars and ideological conflicts. Others focus on the fall of European empires. Yet others focus on the slow but inevitable progress of social justice movements. Important themes. But according to Brad DeLong, the real story of “the long 20th century” (1870-2010) is an economic story. It is the story of how humanity, for the first time in its existence, was able to generate prosperity for the masses–so much so that it became technically possible to eradicate poverty altogether. DeLong is an economic historian and the author of the magisterial “Slouching Towards Utopia”. In the book, he argues that the so-called “2nd Industrial Revolution” of 1870 changed the human condition in unprecedented ways. During the course of the long 20th century, fewer and fewer humans had to stay on the farm. More and more humans could enjoy a comfortable life. And the speedy development of new technologies meant that most humans saw their professions undergo a revolution in every generation–something that caused great material prosperity, but also social dislocation and a search for ideologies to confront the changing social realities. In many ways, DeLong tells a happy story of unprecedented victories for humanity at large. Yet humanity did not reach utopia. And alas, DeLong argues that the material boom ended in 2010. (The episode doesn’t discuss this latter claim. But if you are curious: DeLong’s argues that 2010 was marked by a sluggish recovery from the Great Recession, a looming climate catastrophe, and a populist turn against the ideologies that had energised the economic growth of the long 20th century.) In this discussion, Prof DeLong and Ilari discuss questions such as: Why 1870 was a landmark moment for the humanity How poor was the average person before 1870? What allowed the economic revolution of 1870 - and how Nikola Tesla symbolises the era. Did the world become less exploitative after 1870? The difficulties in judging the merits of “capitalism” What did Marx and Engels get right? And what not? Was imperialism a fuel or a drag on the economic boom in Europe and US? Why global inequalities became so large Why equality inside rich countries increased throughout the 20th century – until 1970s. How economics explains the rise of ideologies from socialism to fascism and from civil rights to feminism. Names mentioned Eric Hobsbaum, author of The Age of Extremes (1994) Francis Fukuyama, author of End of History (1992) Jason Hickel & Dylan Sullivan, co-authors of “Capitalism and Extreme Poverty…” (2023) Marshall Sahlsin, author of the essay “The Original Affluent Society” (1966) John Maynard Keynes (1883 – 1946) Oded Galor, author of Journey of Humanity (2022) and guest in episodes 12 & 13 Nate Rosenberg, author of How the West Got Rich (1987) Nikola Tesla, inventor (1856 – 1943) George Westinghouse, entrepreneur (1846 – 1914) Eli Whitney, inventor (1765 – 1825) Friedrich Engels & Karl Marx, co-authors of The Communist Manifesto () Friedrich von Hayek (1899 – 1992) Milton Friedman (1912– 2006) Gary Gerstle, author of The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order (2022) Ronald Reagan & Margaret Thatcher Technical terms Malthusianism Demographic transition  Creative destruction (after the ideas of Joseph Schumpeter) The Kuznets curve  Elastic and inelastic supply and demand 
Our mental lives are full of purpose and feeling. Yet the world is governed by laws of physics which seem to lack a sense of either purpose or feeling. So how do we explain consciousness in terms of matter?  The problem of consciousness is at the forefront of many dialogues between philosophy and science. So how deep is it? Dr Bernardo Kastrup argues that it is very deep indeed. Or rather, it is a pseudo-problem that arises from us attacking it incorrectly.  Kastrup's argument is as surprising as it is simple. He claims that we should never have tried to explain consciousness in terms of matter.  After all, the only thing we really know is that consciousness exists. "Matter" is but a concept we create to explain some aspects of our empirical experiences. So we should take consciousness as the starting point.  What follows is a radical reimagining of much of common philosophical sense. It can feel challenging and mind-bending. Maybe it is the wrong path. But it is a path that for too long has been neglected as an unscientific option at the fringes of rational sanity. Kastrup is well-positioned to defend this "idealist" position with scientific rigour. Before becoming a professional philosopher he worked as a computer scientist at CERN - the world’s leading research institute in fundamental physics. Kastrup is pro-science and pro-empiricism. But he believes that to be genuinely empirical, we have to accept that all we ever know about the world is how the world looks, feels, or appears. It is here that our theory of everything should start from. Dr Kastrup and Ilari discuss topics such as: What is metaphysical materialism? Why materialism was historically useful? Why materialism is not nearly as intuitive as it sounds like? The hard problem of consciousness Is materialism compatible with quantum physics? Is materialism compatible with neuroscience of altered states (e.g. psychedelics)? Making sense of idealism  Idealism does not mean that the world is all “my” imagining (cf. Berkeley) Does the world have a Will? (cf Schopenhauer) What about neutral monism (often associated with so-called “panpsychism”)? Why the world is meaningful (according to idealism) Why rocks and lakes are not conscious (even according to idealism) Is there anything special about human consciousness? Technical terms Metaphysical materialism and physicalism (treated here as synonyms) Idealism (in metaphysics) Dualism (in metaphysics) The hard problem of consciousness Occam’s razor (“make your theory as simple as possible”) Einstein’s razor (“make your theory as simple as possible, but not simpler”) Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID, previously known as Dissociative Personality Disorder) Work mentioned You can find links to all mentioned work and more on Kastrup's columns on DID, psychedelics, and fundamental physics, published by the Scientific American.
Social science paints a bleak picture of unprivileged life. Poverty is certainly treated as a social problem - as a harsh condition to live in. But it is also painted as a condition which blunts humanity's capacity for altruism and virtue.  Jacqueline Mattis is a psychologist who has studied altruism and prosociality in deeply deprived areas, such as  majority African-American inner-city housing projects. Her work demonstrates that altruism does not vanish amongst those who struggle for survival. No, living in racialised poverty is not fun. But yes, people are still doing beautiful things daily. And they might even do so more often than in more privileged areas. Dr Mattis and Ilari discuss topics, such as: Is altruism unattainable for those without food and safety? Everyday altruism in poor areas Altruism amongst the homeless The psychological impact of catastrophes Is poverty linked to anti-social behaviour? The difficult dilemma of improving policing for African-Americans Religion and spirituality: dangerous, trivial, or important? The concept of grace Names mentioned Abraham Maslow (humanistic psychologist, famous for his "hierarchy of needs") Vitkrol Frankl (holocaust survivor, author of Man's Search For Meaning) Ta-Nehisi Coates (author of Between the World and Me) Rebecca Solnit (author of A Paradise Built in Hell) Rutger Bregman (author of Humankind) Stanley Milgram & Philip Zimbardo (founding figures in social psychology)  Batja Mesquita (author of Between Us: How Culture Shapes Emotion) Christine McWayne  Get in touch Email:
Why do we care about equality? Is it an invention of the European Enlightenment? Or is it something rooted in human nature? If so, why does equality require constant fighting for? Elizabeth Anderson is a philosopher at the University of Michigan. She is one of the essential egalitarian theorists of our times. Her essay What's the Point of Equality is one of the must-reads of the contemporary philosophy of political equality. And her recent essay on the history of equality and social justice is a tour-de-force on using the long view of history to shed light on our contemporary condition.  In this episode, Prof Anderson talks with Ilari about topics such as: Are humans a naturally egalitarian species? Can human nature explain the logic of social justice movements? The ancient roots of democracy (beyond Athens) How Native American critique of European society shaped the French Enlightenment The conversation then turns to the question of modernity. The 2nd half touches upon topics from 19th Century utopian communes to 20th Century Marxism, including: Challenges with anarchism, communalism, and Marxism. Is social democracy the answer? Are social benefits about pitying the poor? Are taxes on the rich about envying the rich? Economic equality versus other forms of equality Names and work mentioned Christopher Boehm (author of Hierarchy in the Forest) David Graeber & David Wengrow (authors of Dawn of Everything) Kent Flannery & Joyce Marcus (authors of The Creation of Inequality) David Stasavage (author of The Decline and Rise of Democracy) Adam Smith (18th Century Scottish philosopher) Nathaniel Hawthorne & Louisa May Alcott (19th Century American authors) Thomas Piketty (author of Capital & Ideology, A Brief History of Equality, and Capital in the 21st Century) Väinö Linna (author of Under The North Star) Isabel Ferrares (author of Firms as Political Entities) John Rawls (20th Century American philosopher) Jean-Jacques Rousseau (18th Century Swiss philosopher)
What was life like before agriculture? Was it "nasty, brutish, and short?" Or was it quite peaceful and relaxing, making agriculture the "worst mistake in human history"?  There are plenty of theories about our ancestral lives. And these are not just neutral hypotheses about a past epoch. They are often used as an origin story of our species. They shape the way we think of ourselves, our natural inclinations, and the virtues or vices of civilisation.  But how can we go beyond origin myths? Is there a science of the past?  For a long-time, it was common to use modern-day hunter-gatherers as a model of the past. This method has been popularised by books such as Sapiens. But recently, this method came under serious attack by another bestseller, Dawn of Everything, whose authors argue that the project is largely futile. But is it? Are there any methods to study our ancestral past? Dr Vivek V. Venkataraman is a hunter-gatherer expert who recently wrote a clarifying piece on this for The Conversation. He joins Ilari to discuss topics such as: What books like Sapiens or Dawn of Everything get right and wrong Why there is no such a thing as a “hunter-gatherer lifestyle” - but we can still learn something from modern-day hunter-gatherers. Dr Venkataraman’s experience of living with an egalitarian hunter-gatherer community (the Batek in Malaysia) Were our ancestors egalitarian? How archaeology helps anthropology Beyond the "story of the seed": How climate change and population density explain more than agriculture Some speculation about war and violence in the Pleistocene (see also episode 8) Names mentioned: Thomas Hobbes & Jean-Jacques Rousseau Richard Wrangham (author of The Goodness Paradox) Christopher Boehm (author of Hierarchy in the Forest) Jared Diamond (author of Guns, Germs, & Steel) Yuval Noah Harari (author of Sapiens) David Wengrow and David Graeber (authors of Dawn of Everything) Marshall Sahlins (author of the essay, The Original Affluent Society) Karen & Kirk Endicott (author of The Headman Was A Woman) Peter Turchin (referenced paper on complexity) Douglas P. Fry (see episode 8) Richard Dawkins (author of God Delusion) John McPhee (author) Kim Sterelny (philosopher of science) Terms Göbekli Tepe Pleistocene (the era ending c. 11 700 years ago, starting c 2 million years ago) Intensification Scalar stress Self-domestication (see e.g. Survival of the Friendliest) Hunter-gatherer groups mentioned: !Kung (a group of San Bushmen, also known Ju/’hoansi) in the Kalahari Desert The Hadza in Tanzania The Ache in Paraguay The Batek in Malaysia The Northwestern Pacific hunter-gatherers of US and Canada The Calousa of Florida
Wealth on planet Earth is not evenly distributed. Indeed, our country of birth predicts a huge amount of of our access to food and technology.  Although such differences have always existed, they have become dramatically accentuated in the past two centuries. During the early 1800s, the average income of a person living in the richest areas of the world was 3 times higher than that of a person living in the poorest region. Today, it is 15 times, or even 100 times higher.* To understand the human condition today, we have to understand our economic geography. This is the theme of the 2nd part of Oded Galor’s remarkable book, Journey of Humanity (see also episode 12).  In this 2nd episode on Journey of Humanity, Ilari and Professor Galor discuss topics such as: The deep impact of colonialism Could Europe have industrialised without oppressing the rest of the world? Why are some colonial "spinoffs" rich (e.g. the US) and others are not (e.g. Brazil)? Political institutions (e.g. capitalism, liberal democracy), especially the differences between inclusive vs extractive institutions How the Black Death transformed Europe. How cultural norms are shaped by geography (e.g. the quality of the soil) The costs and benefits of a diverse society The conversation also explores: How to use this historical outlook to build a better future: solutions for low- and middle-income countries. What to do about the current inequalities within nations? Will we survive the 21st century? Technical terms Malthusian trap (where increases in wealth are “eaten away” by increases in population size) Human capital (i.e. investment in the skills of the population) Extractive vs inclusive institutions (terms popularised in economics by the work of Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson in Why Nations Fail) Glorious Revolution and the Bill of Rights in England (1688) The middle-income trap (based on the observation that only 14 countries have been able to go from "middle-income" to "high-income" status since 1960. These countries are the East Asian economies of Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan; but also Chile, Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Malaysia, Malta, Portugal, Seychelles, and Spain [e.g. Lee 2019]) Names Kenneth Pomerantz (author of The Great Divergence) James II of England, Louis XIV of France, William of Orange Karl Marx Thomas Piketty Get in touch Feedback? Guest suggestions? Just want to say "hi"? It would be great to hear from you! Feel free to drop a casual line anytime to makela dot ilari at outlook dot com. * The exact number depends on how we define an "area". The estimates are from Journey of Humanity and are discussed in episode 12.
If you take a moment to reflect on the economic condition of our species, you are likely to be puzzled over two mysteries.  One is the mystery of wealth: How is it that humanity has been able to generate such a dramatic increase in wealth (e.g. in access to food, transportation, and medical technology)? The other is the mystery of inequality: Why is this wealth so unevenly distributed? Why are certain countries able to offer historically unprecedented standards of wealth to the majority of their population, while some countries still struggle with dire poverty?  In his truly remarkable book Journey of Humanity - the Origins of Wealth and Inequality, economist Oded Galor sets out to explain both of these mysteries. There will be two On Humans -episodes dedicated to this topic. The first one focuses on the grand story of economic growth in human history, searching for an explanation for the recent boom in humanity’s overall wealth. This will be followed by another episode, which searches for the reasons behind the global inequalities that plague the modern world - and asks what to do about them. In this first episode, Ilari and Prof Galor discuss: The long stagnation: Why humans did not get much richer (or poorer) for many millennia? The modern growth regime: How the overall wealth in the world has increased dramatically but unevenly? Was agriculture the "worst mistake in human history"? How and why did humans escape the Malthusian trap? The surprising effects of the industrial revolution on education, child labour, and fertility Names Mentioned Jared Diamond (author of Guns, Germs, and Steel) Yuval Noah Harari (author of Sapiens) David Graeber (co-author of Dawn of Everything) Robert Solow (author of Growth Theory) Daron Acemoglu (co-author of Why Nations Fail) Thomas Piketty (author of Capital in the 21st Century) Thomas Robert Malthus (British clergyman and economist, 1766-1834) Terms Mentioned Neolithic Revolution (i.e. the beginning of agriculture) Phase transition (e.g. water heating gradually but reaching a “phase transition” at 100 degrees Celsius) Potato blight (leading to the Irish Potato Famine, 1845-1852)
Ilari is taking some time off for Christmas and New Year. Instead of new episodes, this holiday season features some highlights from this fall's conversations. This highlight revisits episode 1, where Ilari and Patricia Churchland discuss free will and neurophilosophy. For links and references, see the original episode.
Ilari is taking some time off for Christmas and New Year. Instead of new episodes, this holiday season features some highlights from this fall's conversations. This highlight revisits episode 3, where Ruth Feldman explores the tricky relationship between the neurobiology of love and xenophobia. The discussion also touches upon early attachment as a source of our capacity to bond with others.  This discussion includes studies on building relationships between Israeli and Palestinian youth, as well as studies on the capacity of fathers, including gay fathers, in providing equal care as primary caregivers. For links and references, see the original episode.
Ilari is taking some time off for Christmas and New Year. Instead of new episodes, this holiday season features some highlights from this fall's conversations. This highlight revisits episode 2, where Philip Kitcher explores the relationship between secular humanism and religion. For links and references, see the original episode. 
In the final episode of 2022, Ilari talks with Helen Fisher about the powers that drive and shape our romantic relationships.  Ilari and Professor Fisher discuss: Is romantic love a modern invention? Is monogamy a social invention?  Do men care more about sex? Do women care more about romance? Why agriculture, especially with the plough, caused havoc in romantic relationships. Why divorces might be on the decline. A science-based guide for maintaining romantic relations (based on couples who are still in love after 25 years) Why (certain) antidepressants can kill the sex drive and blunt romantic love (to read more, see the end of the notes) How common is polygamy or polyandry? Where in the world do we find most "free love"? Why did homosexuality evolve? Names mentioned Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt (as recounted by Alison Gopnik in her The Gardener and the Carpenter) Bill Jankowiak Robert Sternberg (see episode 7) Anderson Thompson Bertrand Russell  Technical terms and ethnic groups mentioned Ventral tegmental area VTA Hypothalamus Dopamine, testosterone, oxytocin, vasopressin, serotonine Monogamy (serial or lifelong; social or biological) Polygamy (several wives) and polyandry (several husbands)  Tlingit (the polyandrous Inuit society with wealthy women) Oneida community (in New York State) Dig Deeper Antidepressants: To read more about the possible effects of SSRIs on sex drive and romantic love, see Tocco and Brumbaugh (2019). Below is a list of possible alternatives or complements to SSRIs (please consult with your doctor in all matters related to pharmaceuticals): Fisher herself suggested that SNRIs could be less risky than SSRIs. Theoretically, dopamine reuptake inhibitors, such as bupropion, could also counter the risks associated with SSRIs (for a review, see Zisook et al. 2006). For alternative or complementary oral treatments of depression, see research on supplementation with a high dosage of Omega 3 (EPA and DHA, not ALA) (for a review, see Bhat & Ara 2015). Polyamory: In the episode, professor Fisher suggests that many Amazonian tribes have informal polyandry, i.e. women have many partners, albeit only one formal husband. However, there are non-academic sources suggesting that formalised polyandry is common in the Zo’é community in Amazon. For some of these photos of Zo’é and other Amazonian tribes, many of whom exhibit remarkably liberal attitudes to sex, see the recent Amazonia exhibition in London Science Museum.
In this episode, a philosopher of science from Cambridge offers us a cautiously optimistic guide to the science of happiness. Dr Anna Alexandrova, the author of A Philosophy for the Science of Well-being, and Ilari discuss questions such as: What do happiness questionnaires measure? Are rich countries happier than poorer ones? Should the science of happiness measure concepts such as “flourishing”? Or focus on simple questions like “how satisfied are you with your life”? Why psychologists and economists are averse to qualitative measures? When is this a problem? Why are some scholars so pessimistic about the science of happiness? Dr Alexandrova's experience of growing up in the Soviet Union and post-soviet Russia Is Ilari actually from the world’s happiest country? Names mentioned Dan Hayburn (philosopher at St Louis University) Max Weber (sociologist 1864-1920) Polly Mitchell (philosopher at KCL) Thomas Kuhn (philosopher of science, 1922-1966) Johanna Thoma (philosopher at LSE) Naomi Oreskes and Eric Conway (authors of Merchants of Doubt) Mark Fabian (political theorists at Cambridge) Jeffrey Sachs (economist at Columbia University) Terms mentioned Utilitarianism Easterlin paradox World Happiness Report WELLBY (measure adopted by the UK government) “Participatory methods” (in construct validation) Turn To Us (UK-based anti-poverty charity) Get in touch Form: Email: makela dot ilari at outlook dot com
What is it like to be a non-human animal? Can neuroscience tell us the answer? In one of the most famous philosophy essays of the 20th century, Thomas Nagel suggested that we can never use science to know what it is like to be another animal, say, a bat. Neuroscience can describe bat physiology. But it can never tell us “what it is like to be a bat”. Gregory Berns is an animal neuroscientist. As you might guess, he disagrees with Nagel. Berns is a pioneer in using fMRI scanning on dogs (who in his lab, participate voluntarily). And Berns believes that studying the dog brain can tell us what it is like to be a dog - or at least, give us a hint. In this discussion, Ilari and Prof Berns discuss: Do dogs love their owners? The origins and findings of the Dog Project. Would Nagel actually disagree with Berns’ conclusions? Is attributing human emotions to dogs a form of anthropomorphism? The Panksepp vs Barrett debate in affective neuroscience: Are emotions hardwired to our brain? Or are they dependent on concepts and language? Animal welfare and speciesism: Are some species "special" in relevant ways? How do Prof Berns and Ilari approach the issue of animal welfare in their diets? Names mentioned Rene Descartes (French philosopher, 1596-1650) Thomas Nagel (20th Century, 1937-) Jeremy Bentham (British philosopher & utilitarian, 1748-1832) Jaak Panksepp (Estonian-American neuroscientist, 1943-2017) Lisa Feldman Barrett (American neuroscientist, 1963-) Hal Hertzhog (anthrozoologist) Technical terms mentioned fMRI (brain scanning technology) PET (brain scanning technology) Chemotaxis Claustrum Brain stem Extra points Get in touch: email or form Ilari’s bonus recommendation (not a paid promotion): Gourmet-level insect foods from YumBug
Thomas Hobbes famously wrote that life in the state of nature was “nasty, brutish, and short”. Recently, various scholars have claimed that Hobbes was basically right: our ancestors lived in a state of constant raiding and chronic warfare. Indeed, some have even suggested that as many as 15% of ancestral humans died due to war. And the claims are made with the utmost confidence. But there is something disturbing about this confidence. The earliest archaeological records of war are not more than 14 000 years old. And many anthropologists working with modern-day hunter-gatherers claim that they tend to be remarkably peaceful.  The literature around this question is dense and difficult to penetrate. This episode aims to make it a notch more accessible.  Douglas P. Fry is an anthropologist and a leading scholar on the topic. He has written extensively about the origins of war in books such as War, Peace and Human Nature. His papers on the matter have been published in top journals such as Science. And his conclusions might be surprising to many. In this discussion, Ilari and Professor Fry talk about: The archaeological evidence for the origins of war. Why do some hunter-gatherers wage war? Why does Fry think that most of them do not? And why is the data in Better Angels of Our Nature so misleading - even fabricated? How common is lethal violence in mammals more generally?  How violent was the human Pleistocene (over 11,700 years ago)? Does it matter? Ethnic groups mentioned Pacific Northwest hunter-gatherers (hunter-gatherer groups well-known for having complex “civilisation”, including social hierarchies, warfare and slavery) Calusa (a complex hunter-gatherer group in Florida) Tiwi (Australian hunter-gathers who are atypical for having clans and a high level of lethal violence) Andaman Islanders (in the Bay of Bengal) Iñupiaq (the warring Inuit group, which was not named in the discussion) Names and technical terms Herbert Manscher Jane Goodall (primatologist who recorded so-called Gombe wars in chimpanzees) Steven Pinker  Samuel Bowles  Leslie Sponsel  Christopher Boehm C. Darwent, J. Darwent  References Misreported “war deaths” in Better Angles of Out Nature (Fry & Söderberg 2019) and lethal violence in hunter-gatherers (Fry & Söderberg 2013) Lethal violence in mammals (Gomez et al. 2016) and in archaeological skeletons (Haas & Piscitelli)  Cooperation in a spatial prisoner’s dilemma (Aktipis 2004) Peace systems (video & the Nature article)
We often treat love as a single emotion. But simple questions like “how much do you love me?” can be misleading. Love is not a single dimension. It is a multitude. To really understand romantic bonds, a more nuanced vocabulary is needed. Robert Sternberg is famous for creating such vocabulary. Sternberg is a professor at Cornell University, where he teaches legendary classes on topics like intelligence (beyond IQ), wisdom, creativity, and of course, love and hate. But he is more than your average psychology professor: he is the 2nd most cited psychologist alive.* In this discussion, Sternberg joins Ilari and his co-host, Blake Robertson, to discuss the elements of love and hate, and how to use these insights to create a better world. Names & technical terms mentioned John Bowlby’s attachment theory Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences Alison Gopnik (quoted from conversation with Ezra Klein) Agatha Christie Joan Crawford Anthony Ray Hinton, the author of The Sun Does Shine Henry Hays, the only KKK member in the 20th Century to suffer capital punishment due to lynchings by the KKK. References The Triangular Theory of Love (1986 paper) Triangular Theory Tested in 25 Countries (2021 paper) (website by Karin & Robert Sternberg) Dutton & Aron high bridge -experiment (1974 paper) Nature of Hate (book by Robert Sternberg & Karin Sternberg) * After Martin Seligman, excluding neuroscientists and behavioural economists. Based on Google Scholar profiles in November 2022.
Humans live long, much longer than any of our closest relatives. For human females, this means living a large part of adulthood without being able to produce new offspring. This is an evolutionary puzzle. Indeed, menopause is exceedingly rare in the animal kingdom, typical only in humans and some species of whales. Kristen Hawkes has a theory to explain this puzzle. Hawkes is an evolutionary anthropologist, best known for her pioneering role around the so-called “grandmother hypothesis”. In this episode, Ilari and Professor Hawkes discuss two aspects of the grandmother hypothesis. First, why would humans have evolved to survive menopause? And second, why is this a big deal? What were the cascading changes that surviving the menopause arguably triggered? The conversation touches upon many topics, such as: Grandmother hypothesis: the basics Rapid birth intervals in humans Pair bonding and romantic partnerships Role of fathers (and grandfathers) Brain size and brain development The “social appetite” in humans Humans vs chimpanzees: why are humans less competitive and more cooperative Climate changes and human origins Technical terms & ethnic groups mentioned The Hadza (Tanzania) The Ache (Paraguay) Pliocene (5.3 million – 2.6 million years ago) Australopithecus (Wikipedia) Altricial (undeveloped, immature) vs precocial (well-matured early on) (Wikipedia) Mau Mau rebellion (a 1950’s rebellion against British rule in Kenya which included systemic torture by British colonial officers, Wikipedia) Names mentioned Jane Goodall  Nicholas Blurton Jones James (Jim) O’Connell Geoff Parker Richard Wrangham Sherwood Washburn Sarah Blaffer Hrdy Barbara Finlay References A 1998 overview of the grandmother hypothesis (by Kristen Hawkes)  Calories produced by mothers and grandmothers in the Hadza (by Kristen Hawkes) Distorting Darwinism (by Ilari)
Why do conspiracy theories seduce the minds of so many?  Michael Shermer is a historian of science, best-selling author, founder of the Skeptic Society, and the host of a popular science podcast, Michael Shermer Show. His most recent book, Conspiracy, explores the causes and consequences of human gullibility regarding conspiracies.  Ilari and Dr Shermer discuss the psychological reasons behind conspiracy theories, and what to do about them. This discussion touches upon topics from QAnon to flat earth, and from the 2020 election to the war in Ukraine.  All of this does raise a question, though. What if we are both wrong? What if it is the conspiracists who have the truth? How would we know? Beyond just conspiracies, this discussion touches upon the very promise and danger of scientific scepticism. In the end, Ilari and Dr Shermer explore the very limits of the territory, in which we should use science as our guide. This is a discussion that ultimately relates to the role that science can play in moral progress - a topic explored by Shermer in his 2015 book, The Moral Arc. Referenced works Whitson and Galinsky’s experiment on pattern recognition See also: A meta-analysis of similar experiments, which is critical of the original findings, but does find some similar effects Princeton study on rejection and conspiratorial tendencies Poll on 33% of Americans believing in 5G Dakota Crash is from work by Chrisopher Bader Ivan Krastev’s interview with Ezra Klein Referenced conspiracy theories and related terms JFK Assassination January 6th Insurrection and the claim that the 2020 election was rigged The claim that Emmy Awards in 2004 and 2005 were rigged when the Apprentice lost against Amazing Race. QAnon OJ Simpson trials Flat earth -theories Holocaust denials 5G Dakota Crash Other technical terms: Bayesian thinking  Type II and Type I errors (in statistics) Theraplay Is-ought gap (similar to the naturalistic fallacy) Other names mentioned: Edward Snowden Carl Sagan Bill Bar Deepak Chopra Thomas Sowell
We like to box things into neat categories. We like to box ourselves into a ‘Self’, a ‘Me’, an independent ‘Soul’, caged away from the rest of the world by the bags of our skin. When something goes wrong in our mental health, we like to box the issue into neat buckets of mental health disorders and search for an answer from within this individuated cage. On the other hand, we like to think of the ‘Self’ as a solid, unified, and permanent ‘Me’, making any fundamental change to ourselves difficult. What if this is all a mistake? Today’s guest is Gregory Berns, a psychiatrist and a professor of neuroscience at Emory University. His most recent book, published today on the 18th of October, is titled 'Self Delusion: The Neuroscience of How We Invent – and Reinvent – Our Identities'. (Order the book from Basic Books or Amazon. ) Ilari and professor Berns discuss topics such as: Does Berns agree with Buddha and David Hume about the illusionary nature of self? Why would a psychiatrist care about this issue? The neuroscience of how fictional stories shape who we are Dissociative identity disorder (DID, also known as multiple personality disorder, MPD) Can social pressure change what we see? Is it problematic to think of mental health problems as neat buckets? Or should we think of them on a continuum? Bern’s answer to ‘what is missing from our biological approach to mental health?’ Why does it feel right to locate the soul in the heart, rather than the brain? Internal family systems therapy (IFST) Work mentioned and other references Metaphors We Live By (George Lakoff & Mark Johnson)  Bowling Alone (By Robert D. Putnam) Bern’s et al. on fiction and the brain Bern’s et al. on the neuroscience of conformity Paper on 3rd person memory & depression  Technical terms and names mentioned David Hume Resting-state fMRI (Wikipedia) Dissociative Identity disorder DID (Wikipedia) Conformity & Solomon Ash’s classic studies DSM (a major diagnostic manual for mental health) Internal family system therapy (IFST, in the episode, mistakenly called internal family dynamics therapy) Cognitive behavioural therapy
Can biology expand our appreciation of love? What is the relationship between jazz and neuroscience? What does it mean to be in "synch" with someone?  Ruth Feldman is a professor of neuroscience at Reichman University, Israel, with a joint appointment at the Yale Child Story Centre. A jazz musician before being a neuroscientist, Feldman combines musical ideas of synchrony into her research on the neurobiology of attachment, bonding, and love. Ilari and professor Feldman discuss topics such as: Why study the biology of love What happens in the brain when we love Brain-to-brain synchrony: How love (and friendship) can synchronize our brains with each other Oxytocin with loved ones, strangers, and enemies Post-partum depression Parental love in gay dads Females and males as primary caregivers The relationship between brain-to-brain synchrony and oxytocin Empathy within and beyond group boundaries with Israeli and Palestinian youth Attachment theory, attachment problems, and ways to overcome them Technical terms mentioned Oxytocin Brain oscillations (i.e. brain waves) EEG (a method to study brain oscillations) Neuropeptide Kangaroo care (after premature birth) Names mentioned Wallace Stevens (American poet) Emmanuel Levinas (French philosopher) John Bowlby (founder of the attachment theory) Other links and reference Brain-to-brain synchrony Gay dads: original research & TIME Magazine article Intervention with depressed moms Intervention with Israeli and Palestinian teenagers Ruth Feldman Lab's website
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