Sunday, June 22, 2014

Steven Pinker: The Better Angels of Our Nature (Rerun)

I’ll return with something brand-new next week, but this week I had a wedding to attend, so I replayed my 2011 conversation with psychologist/cognitive scientist Steven Pinker on his book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. Steve argues that, modern mayhem notwithstanding, human violence has been trending downward for centuries. We discussed whether, how and why people have been getting more peacable. Topics include natural selection, game theory, the civilizing effects of civilization, the origin and nature of morality, and Steve’s own feelings about violence.

Click the play arrow above to hear the interview, or the download icon on the upper right to get your own mp3.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Show for June 30, 2013. Philosopher Daniel Dennett on Matter, Mind and Meaning.

If you fretted that you were merely a billiard ball on the pool table of life, Dan Dennett says take heart: you’re actually a team of tiny robots. Dennett is often cast as the arch-reductionist, but he’s really more of an emergentist, as you’ll hear in this interview. I’ve been wanting to talk to him again ever since we discussed his religion-as-biology book Breaking the Spell in 2006. We didn’t have time then to get around to what he considers his life’s work on mind, consciousness and free will. So when an opportunity finally came up last week, I did my best to cover all that ground in the hour Dan granted me. 

Click the Play arrow at the top of this post to listen to the show, or you can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Show for Jan 13, 2013. Human Evolution Marches On?

People love to trip out on the subject of future human evolution, usually conjuring some form of twinkly transcendence (a seraphic super-race) or dystopian degeneracy (machine-dependent dullards enfeebled by our own technology). But those stories owe more to wishful thinking or baseless anxiety than to actual evolutionary theory. I decided to forgo the fantasizing and explore the science itself: the forces that shaped our species and that are still at work, however subtly, today. Evolutionary biologist Barry Sinervo joined me to explain the fundamentals and offer some educated guesses on what comes next. 

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Barry has been on the 7th Avenue Project twice before, discussing lizard evolution and game theory here and a major new study of climate-related extinctions here.

You can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Show for Jan 29, 2012: Pulling the Wool Over Our Own Eyes—Robert Trivers on the Evolution of Self-Deception

Robert Trivers is a widely influential evolutionary thinker (as these tributes from Steven Pinker et. al. attest). His theoretical work on the genetic trade-offs underlying altruism, parent-child relationships and other social interactions are a cornerstone of behavioral ecology and evolutionary psychology. His new book, The Folly of Fools, applies an evolutionary framework to another set of behaviors: deception and especially self-deception. Subjects discussed in our interview include: self-deception in nature, our capacity to simultaneously know and blind ourselves to the truth, the field formerly known as sociobiology, and Robert’s own life and career, including his friendship with the late Black Panther leader Huey Newton.

Click the Play arrow above to listen to the show, or you can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Show for Oct. 24, 2010: Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin on Musicality and Evolution

The best-selling author of This is Your Brain on Music returns to our show. Neuroscientist, musician and record producer Dan Levitin discusses his most recent book, The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature. Levitin contends that music played a key role in human evolution. (Interview originally boradcast in 2008.)

Click the “play” arrow above to listen, or download the MP3 here.

Monday, March 15, 2010
Orange bullies, true blues and sneaky yellow bastards: Three types of lizards locked in an endless round of rock-paper-scissors. Biologist Barry Sinervo, subject of the Feb 28th show, uses game theory to decode the evolutionary strategies of blotch-sided lizards. Click the photo to go to Barry Sinervo’s lab (including videos). Photo credit: B. Sinervo.

Orange bullies, true blues and sneaky yellow bastards: Three types of lizards locked in an endless round of rock-paper-scissors. Biologist Barry Sinervo, subject of the Feb 28th show, uses game theory to decode the evolutionary strategies of blotch-sided lizards. Click the photo to go to Barry Sinervo’s lab (including videos). Photo credit: B. Sinervo.

Show for Feb 28, 2010. Adventures in Lizardland with Evolutionary Biologist Barry Sinervo.

What Jane Goodall was to chimps, biologist Barry Sinervo is to lizards. He’s spent the last 20 years studying lizards in the wild, gaining remarkable insights into the workings of evolution, social behavior and cooperation. He shares his discoveries, along with some very funny lizard stories.

To hear the show, click the play arrow above, or download the MP3 here.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Show for Nov 22, 2009. Building the Genome Zoo: The Genome 10K Project

In the most ambitious effort of its type ever attempted, scientists are hoping to map the genes of 10,000 different animals. Proponents say the Genome 10K Project will provide vast new insights into the biology, evolution and preservation of species. Project coordinator David Haussler of UC Santa Cruz discusses the effort.

Visit the Genome 10K Project Website