This month at The Psychology Podcast we discussed the origins of the universe and the search for meaning with physicist Sean Carroll, how the mind and culture evolve with evolutionary psychologist Steve Stewart-Williams, the importance of gratitude with author and self-experimenter A.J. Jacobs, and the laws of human nature with author Robert Greene.
On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe
Dr. Sean Carroll is a theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology. Recently, Carroll has worked on the foundation of quantum mechanics, the arrow of time, and the emergence of complexity. He has been awarded prizes and fellowships by the National Science Foundation, NASA, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, among others. Dr. Carroll has given a TED talk on the multiverse that has more than 1.5 million views, and he has participated in a number of well-attended public debates concerning material in his latest book, which is entitled “The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself.”
- The meaning of “post-existentialism”
- What is “poetic naturalism”?
- What is the fundamental nature of reality?
- Do “tables” and “chairs” really exist?
- The difference between rich ontology and sparse ontology
- The Bayesian probability of the existence of God
- How the universe evolved
- The analogy between psychological entropy and naturalistic entropy
- Can we think about the brain in useful terms entropically?
- In what sense do we have free will?
- How hard is the hard problem of consciousness?
- The importance of “existential gratitude”
- The link between quantum mechanics and consciousness
- Is there life (consciousness) after death?
- How can we create purpose, meaningfulness, mattering, morality, and ethics in a natural world?
How the Mind and Culture Evolve
Dr. Steve Stewart-Williams is a New Zealander who moved to Canada, then to Wales, and then to Malaysia, where he is now an associate professor of psychology at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus. His first book, Darwin, God, and the Meaning of Life, was published in 2010 and his latest book is The Ape That Understood the Universe: How the Mind and Culture Evolve.
In this episode we cover the following topics:
- What would the human species look like from the perspective of an alien?
- Are humans just evolved fish?
- How far does evolutionary psychology take us in understanding human nature?
- What are some common myths about the evolutionary process?
- How we can be evolutionary “losers” and still be human success stories
- The distinction between altruism and selfishness
- Why the evolutionary psychology perspective is not enough to understand human nature
- How culture evolved among humans
- The link between human creativity and cultural evolution
- The potential human conflict between passing on genes vs. passing on memes
- How culture can amplify our nature
- Steve answers questions from Twitter
A Gratitude Journey
A.J. Jacobs is the author of It’s All Relative, Drop Dead Healthy, and the New York Times bestsellers The Know-It-All, The Year of Living Biblically, and My Life as an Experiment. He is a contributor to NPR, and has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Entertainment Weekly. He lives in New York City with his wife and kids. His latest book is Thanks a Thousand: A Gratitude Journey. Get a handwritten thank you card at ajjacobs.com/thanks.
In this episode we discuss:
- What is Project Gratitude?
- How A.J. went from grumpy to grateful
- Why A.J. chose coffee as his main source of gratitude
- The importance of savoring coffee (and everything else in life that matters)
- Why we should be grateful for the barrister
- The enemy of gratitude
- The importance of the “zarf”
- Where gratitude emerges, according to gratitude expert Bob Emmons
- They importance of reframing your life
- Some strategies to increase gratitude in daily life
The Laws of Human Nature
Robert Greene is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The 48 Laws of Power, The 33 Strategies of War, The Art of Seduction, and Mastery, and is an internationally renowned expert on power strategies. His latest book is The Laws of Human Nature.
In this episode we discuss:
- What is human nature?
- How to transform self-love into empathy
- The deep narcissist vs. the the heathy narcissist
- Abraham Maslow’s encounter with Alfred Adler
- How to confront your dark side
- Returning to your more authentic self
- How people who are one-sided are concealing the opposite trait
- The importance of not taking yourself too seriously
- How to see through people’s masks
- The importance of assessing people’s actions over time
- Why toxic types have a peculiar sort of charm
- Healthy people-pleasers vs. toxic people-pleasers
- How to get in deep contact with your purpose
- The importance of becoming aware of the "spirit of the generation"
- How to confront your mortality and open your mind to the sublime