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On Wisdom

Author: Charles Cassidy and Igor Grossmann

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On Wisdom features a social and cognitive scientist in Toronto and an educator in London discussing the latest empirical science regarding the nature of wisdom. Igor Grossmann runs the Wisdom & Culture Lab at the University of Waterloo in Canada. Charles Cassidy runs the Evidence-Based Wisdom project in London, UK. The podcast thrives on a diet of freewheeling conversation on wisdom, decision-making, wellbeing, and society and includes regular guests spots with leading behavioral scientists from the field of wisdom research and beyond. Welcome to The On Wisdom Podcast.
23 Episodes
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Does that which doesn’t kill you make you weaker? Should we always follow our emotions? Is life a battle between good people and bad people? And critically, what might the adoption of these three popular, but unwise, ideas be doing to a rising generation of young adults? Jonathan Haidt joins Igor and Charles to discuss the three great untruths of modern life, the nature of antifragility, the 'great awokening,' rising violence on US university campuses, and the origin story of the Heterodox Academy. Igor suggests that diversity can help some projects while hindering others, Jon shares his ultimate conflict-resolving ninja skill, and Charles learns that conservative voters come in radically different shapes and sizes. Welcome to Episode 23. Special Guest: Jonathan Haidt.
Patients always receive treatment in agreement with the best scientific evidence available, right? Well, no. Not really. Clinical practitioners seem to suffer from many of the cognitive biases that affect the rest of us, and treatment decisions are often much less science-based that we might like to think. Scott Lilienfeld joins Igor and Charles to discuss evidence-based practice in psychotherapy, the importance of doubting, clinical psychology’s dirty little secret, Scarlett Johansson’s brain, confirmation bias, how science really works, and why people just can’t let go of the idea that a full moon triggers werewolf-style behaviour. Igor reveals he learnt his English from TV detective ‘Columbo’, Scott discusses the fine art of planting seeds of doubt in conversations, and Charles learns from Abraham Lincoln that intellectual humility can ultimately be a path to earned intellectual confidence. Welcome to Episode 22. Special Guest: Scott Lilienfeld.
We live in confusing times. Politics is polarizing. Opinions clash on many topics leading to heated discussions. Take environmental change and what to do about it, the best ways to achieve prosperity, or the threats and opportunities of our globalized economy. Are we ready to admit that we often actually don’t understand what’s going on? Mark Alfano joins Igor and Charles to discuss the importance of ‘intellectual humility’ when seeking a more accurate grasp of reality, the perils of poorly designed virtue education programmes, Nietzsche and his take on the intellectual virtues, and the training of machine-learning algorithms to mine our digital footprints for signs of virtuous behaviour. Igor raises concerns that embracing uncertainty may hobble vital action, Mark talks of the dangers of creaking open your social media newsfeed too wide, and Charles learns that fostering contempt for oneself and one’s group may be essential on the path to truth. Welcome to Episode 21. Special Guest: Mark Alfano.
What exactly is ‘awe’ and does it bring us, as individuals or as a society, any benefit? Dacher Keltner joins Igor and Charles to discuss why Canadians feel differently about awe than the Chinese, how to take an ‘awe walk’, why emotions vary across historical time, and the importance of experiencing diverse emotions and how to balance them, while the 'Dacher-Guesses-Emotions' game reveals the alarmingly fine line between disgust and desire. Igor digs into controversies over different theories of emotion, Dacher talks of inequality and elation as the new frontiers of social psychology, and Charles learns that awe may play a key role in the very process of scientific discovery itself. Welcome to Episode 20. Special Guest: Dacher Keltner.
Can an individual really change a culture? Adam Grant joins Igor and Charles to discuss cultures of non-conformity and giving in the workplace, the perils of cognitive entrenchment, the critical role of culture carriers, and why we should be managing our attention rather than our time. Igor delights in learning of the astoundingly high frequency of dancers among Nobel prize winners, Adam suggests that moral arguments still trump bottom-line arguments in the boardroom, and Charles learns that the secret route to culture-change might be found in asking your boss for advice. Welcome to Episode 19. Special Guest: Adam Grant.
How did politics get so damn polarised? Jay Van Bavel joins Igor and Charles to discuss political polarisation, the partisan brain, the inexorable rise of superheroes in dark times, the misperceptions of polarisation levels, and how to reach out to other tribes. Igor highlights the partisanship-transcending benefits of a Watchmen-style alien invasion, Jay proposes the judicious use of ‘off-ramps’ when engaging with loved-ones from across the political divide, and Charles learns that even the abstract purity of Mathematics is not immune from the tentacles of partisanship when guns are involved. Welcome to Episode 18. Special Guest: Jay Van Bavel.
Our current productivity culture appears to peddle a false promise: If we can just get better organised, we really can do everything - no tough life choices or trade-offs need to be made! Guardian journalist and author Oliver Burkeman joins Igor and Charles to discuss the ironic effects of the pursuit of productivity, the inbox zero phenomenon, the futile denial of limitations, the Jevons paradox, Keynes’ concerns about a future society drowning in leisure time, Nietzsche’s suspicions regarding our beloved busyness, the social complexities of sending back a poorly made coffee, and the importance of living a life that is larger than politics. Igor wonders if the ‘slow-food’ philosophy can be extended to start a ‘slow-work’ movement in social and medical sciences to help address replication concerns, Oliver explains why he sat on the London underground loudly calling out the names of approaching stations to a carriage full of strangers, and Charles reveals how a ‘free-coffees-for-nice-customers’ policy can badly backfire, particularly if your customers are British. Welcome to Episode 17. Special Guest: Oliver Burkeman.
Do highly intelligent people actually take better decisions in their daily lives than everyone else? And if not, what’s missing from our picture of what it means to be ‘smart’? Can you be highly intelligent, yet flunk a rationality test? And rather than noise to be ignored, might our emotions help us make decisions that are actually more rational? David Robson joins Igor and Charles to discuss intelligence traps, Terman’s Termites, the Monte Carlo fallacy, Damasio’s Somatic Marker hypothesis, the competitive humility of the start-up culture, and the ‘brutal pessimism’ baked in to the dark history of the Intelligence test. Igor wrangles with the challenge of convincing leaders of the merits of intellectual humility in a culture obsessed with certainty, David advocates for widespread cognitive inoculations, and Charles learns that butterflies in the stomach after a date may mean love, but also may mean gastric flu. Welcome to Episode 16. Special Guest: David Robson.
‘Wholeness quiets infinite phenomena?’ Does it, really?! Why do some people fall for pseudo-profound bullshit and others don’t? When we share fake news stories, is this because we're motivated to think they're real, or because we don't bother to think at all? And why do scientists fight tooth-and-nail over the mechanisms involved, such as “System I vs. System II”, “Fast vs. Slow” and other frameworks? Gordon Pennycook joins Igor and Charles to discuss the critical distinction between a liar and a bullshitter, the cognitive reflection test, the random Deepak Chopra quote generator, the Ig Nobel prize, motivated reasoning, climate change beliefs, academic turf wars among dual process theorists, and how to stop yourself from compulsively retweeting fake news. Igor suggests that Gord only thought of studying bullshit after disbelief at one of Igor’s early talks, Gord reminds us that even the most enlightened social media platforms are in no hurry to help people STOP sharing news, and Charles unexpectedly finds common ground with the Chinese government. Welcome to Episode 15. Special Guest: Gordon Pennycook.
Is it wiser for a society to be ‘tight’ – strictly enforcing social rules, or ‘loose’ – in which social rule-breaking barely raise an eyebrow? What do social norms have to do with a sense of threat? And might wise leaders have worked out how to dynamically calibrate the tightness or looseness of their organisations as the situation demands? Michele Gelfand joins Igor and Charles to discuss the role of threat in ‘tight vs loose’ societies, the goldilocks principle, ‘real vs perceived’ threat’s in Trump’s America, autocratic recidivism, rum-fuelled meetings, transgressive hand puppets, and the case for recalibrating the internet. Igor reflects on the tight-loose contradictions at the beating heart of the Disney Corporation, Michele cautions against ‘flipping-off’ drivers in the honour culture of the southern states, and Charles makes peace with his inner spirit muppet, Kermit the frog. Welcome to Episode 14. Special Guest: Michele Gelfand.
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