2 June 2020
Science of Spirituality
The Wright Show
Emotions and the Brain
The Meaning of Future Life
The Weirdness of Physics
Subscribe to MeaningofLife.tv videos via podcast or email
Jun 2, 2020 — Robert Wright & Paul Bloom
Paul describes the view from Toronto
Zero- and non-zero-sum aspects of the pandemic
Paul: Canada’s multiparty system helps defuse polarization
A disaster without solidarity
How our emotions caused us to underreact to the pandemic
Masks and mobs
Trump’s fragile feelings
Why has the external threat of the disease not united humanity?
A deep dive into the meaning of statistical significance
May 27, 2020 — Robert Wright & Andrew Sullivan
Remembering Andrew’s recently deceased dog Eddy
Can we explain the bond between dogs and people?
The many disgusting things that dogs love
Andrew angers the cat lovers in the audience
Are there actually “cat people” and “dog people”?
Dogs’ use of affection as a tool
What can we learn from dogs about how to be present?
Andrew: “I do think that after death I will be with my dogs”
Andrew wants the economy to open up—a little
May 24, 2020 — Robert Wright & Jacqueline Novogratz
Jacqueline’s new book,
Manifesto for a Moral Revolution: Practices to Build a Better World
Female saints as childhood role models
How Jacqueline helped start Rwanda’s first microfinance bank
Jacqueline’s “patient capital” investment nonprofit, Acumen
The four steps toward building moral imagination
Toilet entrepreneurship in Nairobi
Changing the market for coffee and chocolate farmers
Can identity connect as well as it divides?
Jacqueline: A moral revolution must come from inside us
May 20, 2020 — Daniel Kaufman & Crispin Sartwell
Dan’s in-progress book,
Prolegomena for a Pluralist Metaphysics
Avoiding the “crazy positions”
A stereoscopic view of the “scientific” and “manifest” images
Dan: A world with people in it is only explainable in fragmentary terms
Crispin sees the leading edge of the new dualism
On the ontological status of coming-of-age stories
Previewing future fights
May 12, 2020 — Robert Wright & John Horgan
John fails the coronavirus antibody test; Bob consoles him
Science fiction, free will, and robot sex
interpretation of quantum mechanics
The Wright-Horgan interpretation of
, part 1 (spoilers)
The Wright-Horgan interpretation of
, part 2 (lots of spoilers)
John: we need the concept of free will more than we need God
Is the many worlds interpretation consoling or terrifying?
May 11, 2020 — Daniel Kaufman & Jesse Singal
The continuing battle over gender in philosophy
Harm avoidance vs. competing interests
Jesse: There’s disagreement within the trans community over what it means to be trans
Dan: “This is madness to everyone other than the people inside the tent”
The social dynamics of philosophy
Ordinary language and “they”
Will the trans movement moderate?
Dan: Philosophy is in trouble and the pandemic is making it worse
Apr 28, 2020 — Robert Wright & Evan Thompson
Evan’s new book,
Why I Am Not a Buddhist
Evan’s critique of “Buddhist modernism” and “Buddhist exceptionalism”
Which of Buddhism’s major claims are naturalistic?
Is Buddhism fundamentally different than other religions?
Bob defends Buddhist insights into human psychology
Evan’s case against “neural Buddhism”
Does a clearer view of reality make you more equanimous?
All about nirvana
Debating evolutionary psychology
Evan: This book is friendly criticism
Apr 23, 2020 — Epidemiological Modeling, Policy, and Covid-19 (Daniel Kaufman, Eric Winsberg, & John Symons)
How to model an epidemic
The costs and benefits of cost-benefit analysis
Turning coronavirus models into coronavirus policy
Eric: Your intuitions about the virus’s spread are “useless”
The use and abuse of epidemiological models
Pandemic models and failures of political leadership
Our scandalous lack of infection-rate data
Why suppressing the virus “is a marathon, not a sprint”
Apr 20, 2020 — John Horgan & Errol Morris
Can we ever really know the world?
Debating the ideas of Thomas Kuhn, famous philosopher of science
Will we ever see the end of war?
Errol’s book about Kuhn,
The Ashtray: (Or the Man Who Denied Reality)
Errol: Science without truth cannot live
John sticks up for Kuhn
Errol’s vexed personal relationship with Kuhn
Stephen Hawking’s sense of humor
Errol: “We’re a dumbass species”
The glass is half empty and filled with poison
Apr 9, 2020 — Daniel Kaufman & Massimo Pigliucci
Will the pandemic forever change college education?
Laying out the “hard problem” of consciousness
Why panpsychism is not a solution to the problem
The battle between radicals and conservatives in physics
Physicalism vs. idealism
Massimo explains “scientific metaphysics”
Why illusionism is not a solution to the problem
Misrepresentations vs. useful representations
Apr 7, 2020 — Robert Wright & Scott Barry Kaufman
Scott’s new book,
Transcend: The New Science of Self-Actualization
Debunking myths about Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs
The origins of humanistic psychology
Optimism for the thinking person
Psychological security in an era of new threats and superficial social connections
Psychological growth: exploration, love, and purpose
Defining “peak experiences”
Scott says Bob is a “transcender.” Bob is skeptical.
Is this a kind of secular spirituality?
Evaluating peak experiences achieved through psychedelics
Mar 31, 2020 — Daniel Kaufman & Robert B. Talisse
Robert’s new book,
The revealing differences between Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts
The diminishing importance of place in American culture
How homogeneity distorts groups
Partisan identity has become the core of our social selves
Is this the inevitable product of late capitalism?
What happens after Trumpism runs its course?
Robert finds optimism in a Nashville bluegrass club
Mar 27, 2020 — Robert Wright & Ruth Whippman
America the Anxious
Ruth is skeptical that meditation leads to happiness
Is being in the moment overrated?
Is there a mindful view of the coronavirus pandemic?
Radical self-help at the Landmark Forum
The CEO of Zappos created a happiness city in Las Vegas. It did not go well.
A plea for tolerance in the battle over attachment parenting
Why are Mormons so gosh darn happy?
Happiness in the UK vs. the US
Mar 24, 2020 — Aryeh Cohen-Wade & Jesse Singal
Jesse’s new article, “The Rise of PTSD”
How society viewed traumatized veterans of WWII vs. Vietnam
Effective treatments for PTSD
The danger of trauma becoming an identity
From 9/11 to coronavirus, we live in traumatic times
Speech policing and social climbing in the name of trauma
Jesse’s forthcoming book,
The Quick Fix
Mar 20, 2020 — Robert Wright & Narayan Helen Liebenson
Is Bob a bad yogi?
The Magnanimous Heart
Narayan’s journey from Janet to Narayan
How Narayan entered contemplative practice
Learning from snakes and lizards in Thailand
Defining the Buddhist term dukka as “a constant squeeze”
Dealing with feelings of grief and loss after a divorce
Narayan: Not taking sides is not the same as passivity
Mindfulness and the death of a loved one
Mar 10, 2020 — Robert Wright & Robin Wang
Dao De Jing
‘s famous opening line, “The Dao that can be told is not the eternal Dao”
“The way” as a descriptive and prescriptive moniker
Rising above the perspective of the moment
The relationship among Daoism, Confucianism, and Zen Buddhism
Spirituality and transcendence in Daoism
Robin’s work as a consultant on
The Karate Kid
Why Robin’s book uses “yinyang” instead of “yin and yang”
Mar 6, 2020 — Daniel Kaufman & Helen Joyce
Helen’s forthcoming book on gender
Why are younger women attracted to novel gender theories?
Social constructivism vs. self-constructivism
Did feminists bring this upon themselves?
Helen: Immigration caused Britain’s political realignment
Helen’s narrative of the evolution of trans identity
Why is it harder to be a girl now, when society is less sexist?
Dan: Online porn has made teenage boys undateable
Mar 2, 2020 — Nikita Petrov & John Horgan
Nikita’s new project, Psychopolitica.com
A collection of DMT stories
The drama and the silliness of life as experienced by children
The ontological status of DMT entities
Three big pretenses: “I exist,” “I know what’s going on,” “Everything is ok”
Between a zombie and a madman
The paradoxical writings of Jorge Luis Borges
John’s new book,
Podcasting is the new rock’n’roll
Feb 26, 2020 — Robert Wright & David Bentley Hart
David’s new book,
That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation
What does the New Testament actually say about Hell?
Original sin and the crucifixion of Jesus
David’s case against eternal damnation
Free will, sin, and freedom
What did “the Kingdom of Heaven” mean to Jesus?
David: Envisioning the afterlife “always results in a kind of cartoon”
David’s quick thoughts on the mind-body problem
Mysticism in the Eastern Orthodox Church
Feb 24, 2020 — Daniel Kaufman & Robert Gressis
Robert’s essay examining whether pansexuality is obligatory
Orientation vs. desire
Is the push for trans rights undermining gay and lesbian rights?
Dan: Sexual attractions can’t be subject to moral scrutiny
Kant and the malleability of sexual consciousness
Dan fears the totalitarian impulse
Trans activists vs. lesbians
Feb 18, 2020 — Daniel Kaufman & Milton Lawson
In praise of
Why does Adam Sandler’s dirtbag character evince such sympathy?
Punishment and forgiveness in narrative storytelling
In praise of
Dolemite Is My Name
Eddie Murphy’s triumphant return to
Is offensive comedy coming back?
Why were these two films snubbed by the Oscars?
Expertise vs. experience in cultural criticism
Feb 11, 2020 — Robert Wright & Alexander Wendt
In a new TEDx talk, Alex calls for a science of UFOs
Why Bob finds two naval sightings credible
Alex: “There’s some decent chance that these things are alien”
Alex’s proposal for a UFO monitoring system
Might it be suicidal to let ETs know that we know about them?
Alex: Maybe the aliens are waiting for us to figure it out
What explains the taboo against academic study of UFOs?
Alex’s willingness to be misperceived as a crank
Feb 8, 2020 — Daniel Kaufman & Spencer Case
Spencer describes being quarantined in Wuhan, China
What is “moral realism”?
Can you be a moral realist and a moral subjectivist at the same time?
Revisiting Plato’s Ring of Gyges
Dan: There’s no evidence of morality beyond performances
The trouble with giving advice
“All things considered,” what ought you to do?
What we lost in the Scientific Revolution
Feb 5, 2020 — How to Live a Good Life (Robert Wright, Massimo Pigliucci, & Skye Cleary)
Skye and Massimo’s new co-edited book, with Daniel Kaufman,
How to Live a Good Life
Existentialism’s intersections with Stoicism
How Skye encountered Existentialism while in business school
Sartre and de Beauvoir’s famous attempt to live a life of freedom
Are philosophers a bunch of hypocrites?
Personal authenticity vs. social convention
Why Stoicism doesn’t mean passive acceptance
Skye and Massimo on the philosophies they found most interesting
How Wittgenstein would view this book
Jan 28, 2020 — John Horgan & Massimo Pigliucci
How Massimo’s midlife crisis moved him from biologist to philosopher
What’s the point of philosophy?
Philosophical doubt as as a counterweight to scientific confidence
John mistrusts science’s yearning for certainty
Massimo’s path to stoicism
Can reason make you happier?
Abusive Buddhist gurus and other unexpectedly bad people
Was Seneca a hypocritical asshole?
Jan 16, 2020 — John Horgan & Steve Taylor
Steve’s childhood experiences of euphoria in nature
Why Steve prefers “wakefulness” to “enlightenment”
Does being “awakened” make you a better person?
Steve: “Being a parent is a spiritual path”
Steve’s new book,
“Panspiritism” as an alternative to panpsychism
How is “the spirit” different than God?
Was there a point in prehistory when man behaved morally?
Brexit, Trump, and encounters with death that lead to transformation
Jan 6, 2020 — Robert Wright & Gideon Rosen
Defining “moral realism”
Cognitivists vs. noncognitivists
Are moral beliefs just expressions of human desires?
Human happiness is better than human suffering…right?
Considering whether you can be both a Darwinian and a moral realist
Moral progress, teleology, and mysticism
Why you “have to take something for granted” in any philosophical system
The bedrock sources of meaning in life
If life has meaning, does moral realism logically follow?
Dec 28, 2019 — Daniel Kaufman & Joseph Biehl
Why Joe left academia
Bemoaning the apathy of today’s college students
Joe’s nonprofit, the Gotham Philosophical Society
How can philosophers help improve a place like New York City?
Should philosophy be parochial or universalist?
Philosophical anti-realism and parochialism
Neighborhood pride in the cosmopolitan city
Dec 24, 2019 — Robert Wright & Rhonda Magee
Rhonda’s path to meditation and Buddhism
Rhonda’s new book,
The Inner Work of Racial Justice
Is equanimity the enemy of activism?
Using mindfulness to overcome biases and stereotypes
How Rhonda deploys contemplative practices in her law school classroom
Can one feel compassion for a cop who shot an unarmed black man?
Dec 17, 2019 — Daniel Kaufman & Spencer Case
In praise of non-elite institutions
Spencer’s journey from Mormonism to professional philosophy
Does philosophy matter?
The role of temperament in shaping philosophers’ views
Does moral philosophy contribute to moral progress?
Dan: It doesn’t matter whether God exists
Dan and Spencer’s concerns about the role of activism in philosophy
Does it matter if philosophy matters?
Spencer: Trying to live with integrity is central to philosophy
Dec 8, 2019 — Robert Wright & Catherine Wilson
Catherine’s new book,
How to Be an Epicurean
How Epicureanism is like and unlike utilitarianism
How the ancient Epicureans viewed nature and reality
Comparing Epicureanism with its big rival, Stoicism
On suffering and death
Epicurean influence on post-Enlightenment science and philosophy
Dec 4, 2019 — Daniel Kaufman & Massimo Pigliucci
Are philosophers experts?
Socrates didn’t have a PhD
Massimo hates when teachers claim to learn “just as much” from their students
What does philosophers’ expertise actually consist of?
How much is philosophy like mathematics?
What philosophers of science can teach scientists
The disappointing personal morality of moral philosophers
Grandmothers, the examined life, and the people who live best
Dec 2, 2019 — Robert Wright & Jay Michaelson
Jay’s new book,
Enlightenment by Trial and Error
Why Jay embarked on a path of mysticism
Ayahuasca, unitive experiences, and bad trips
Jews who are “religious but not spiritual”
Finding “real happiness” through meditation
Varieties of enlightening experience
What’s distinctive about Jewish mysticism?
The things Jay still takes from Judaism
Nov 25, 2019 — Robert Wright & Paul Bloom
A new study says empathy can increase political polarization
How empathy operates in today’s political environment
Is cognitive empathy a form of intelligence?
The Machiavellian uses of cognitive empathy
A counterproductive #Resistance view of Trump supporters
Paul doesn’t understand how anyone can still support Trump
Why “dehumanization” isn’t the real problem
Paul’s core message: “Don’t listen to your heart”
Nov 22, 2019 — David Ottlinger & J.P. Messina
How should we define censorship?
The sort of censorship that has no inherent moral valence
Various ways non-state actors can censor
When private censorship has moral stakes
Examining moral grandstanding
A changed heart vs. a false front
Could we ever resolve all our disagreements?
Reason, passion, and the founding of the Republic
Nov 11, 2019 — Daniel Kaufman & Meghan Daum
Meghan’s new book, The Problem with Everything
The premature obsolescence of Generation X
Meghan’s positive reaction to negative reviews of her book
Joan Didion’s critique of the Women’s Movement
The effect of online porn on Millennials
Why do institutions capitulate to Twitter mobs?
How Gen Xers are dealing with aging
Nov 8, 2019 — Robert Wright & Roger Haight
Why Pope John Paul II did not like Roger’s book
Jesus Symbol of God
Roger’s new book,
Faith and Evolution: Grace-Filled Naturalism
The intractability of the problem of evil
Ways to understand God not as a big person in the sky
Is natural selection an instrument of divine creation?
Roger’s heterodox view of Jesus of Nazareth
Roger’s problem with original sin
What is a “grace-filled naturalism”?
Nov 1, 2019 — Robert Wright & Preston Greene
Why many intelligent people think we’re living in a simulation
The philosophical argument that you’re probably not real
How cosmic rays might (and might not) reveal that reality is fake
Preston’s dire warning against trying to determine if we’re in a simulation
Is the simulation hypothesis non-falsifiable?
Is “the simulation” just religion for atheists?
Oct 22, 2019 — Daniel Kaufman & Crispin Sartwell
Why Crispin loves writing takedowns of cultural icons
Crispin: Ludwig Wittgenstein is overrated
Dan objects to people who try to live their lives philosophically
Hume and the limits of human reason
Wittgenstein’s critique of representationalism
Did Wittgenstein debunk philosophical skepticism?
Crispin: I want my metaphysics to be compatible with my common sense
Oct 21, 2019 — Robert Wright & Nicholas Diakopoulos
Nick’s new book,
Automating the News
Why Nick is not an alarmist about the automation of journalism
The types of journalism jobs that algorithms can’t replace
Successful collaborations between human journalists and machines
The perils of algorithmic fact-checking
Nick’s current research
Bob hopes for a bot that can assign blame for international law violations
Can the power of Twitter bots be used for good?