68 minutes | Apr 1, 2019

Nicholas Christakis | Evolutionary Origins of Ethics, Morality, and a Good Society

In Episode 82 of Hidden Forces, Demetri Kofinas speaks with Dr. Nicholas Christakis about the evolutionary origins of ethics, morality, and a good society.

A renowned sociologist and physician, Dr. Christakis was named to Time Magazine’s 2009 list of the 100 most influential people in the world. He is known for his research on social networks and on the socioeconomic, biosocial, and evolutionary determinants of behavior, health, and longevity. He directs the Human Nature Lab and is the Co-Director of the Yale Institute for Network Science, as well as the Sterling Professor of Social and Natural Science at Yale University.

Listeners to this show will recall our prior episode with social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, where we discussed a 2015 incident at Yale, involving Dr. Christakis, who was accosted and berated by a horde of belligerent students for approximately two hours over the contents of an email sent by his wife, an esteemed childhood educator, in what was one of the earliest examples of a bizarre phenomenon of public shaming and moral outrage that has overtaken college campuses in recent years.   

Though Demetri and Nicholas do discuss that experience, as well as this larger move to moderate or in some cases, shut down speech entirely, the episode focuses on the professor’s book, which is an exploration of the evolutionary origins of a good society. Their conversation explores the biological foundations of culture-making and the features that define the social landscape that we have evolved to create. Dr. Christakis highlights some of the profound similarities that can be seen, not just cross-culturally, but across time and space. He shares research into what is known about some of the earliest groups of hunter-gatherers, impromptu societies formed by the survivors of shipwrecks, as well as the deliberately constructed communes of 19th-century transcendentalists.

Nicholas Christakis also explains the biological origins of romantic love, examines polyamorous cultures like those of the Na people of the Himalayas, and compares human societies with those of chimpanzees, elephants, and whales.

This is an episode full of fascinating stories, statistics, and scientific research that weave together insights from the fields of evolutionary psychology, moral philosophy, and genetics. It is a conversation that cuts right to the heart of society’s resurgent interest in human origins, social norms, and moral values.

Producer & Host: Demetri Kofinas

Editor & Engineer: Stylianos Nicolaou

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