Conversations that go beyond the everyday, where big ideas and life stories meet. Join us as we speak with leaders in business, research, and culture to hear about their journeys, discoveries, and the big ideas that drive their life’s work.
Ep. 16 - Prof. Sam Gosling: What Your Room Says About Your Personality, and How Physical Spaces Affect Our Psychology
In today’s episode, I spoke with Prof. Sam Gosling, a personality researcher from UT Austin. To start with - we should first ask ourselves - what is personality? There are endless theories and frameworks that try to describe, explain, and predict a person’s characteristic nature - as well as many different approaches to studying and measuring an individual’s personality.
In this episode, Sam gave us his take on what personality actually means and explained the different levels of analysis that we should pay attention to when venturing into this field. Throughout his career, Sam has studied how our personalities are reflected in the physical spaces that we inhabit. What do our rooms, offices, and homes say about who we are? How can we learn more about someone’s personality, just by observing their room or office for instance? We spoke about all of the different clues we should look for when observing someone’s space - as well as which personality traits are the most easily detectable.
Sam’s fascination with physical spaces doesn’t stop there however. Recently, he’s focused on the question of how can architecture after our psychology? How can the layout and design of a physical space influence our moods, cognitions, and behavior? What kinds of rooms promote inspiration and creativity on the one hand, or rest and rejuvenation on the other. Our physical environments can have a profound impact on our psychological states, but to this day, little research has focused on systematically asking and answering these questions. We explored how architects can use psychology research to design spaces that take these psychological effects into account - and how, hopefully, one day, this could mean an evolution in the entire field of architecture itself. So if you’d like to know how our personalities shape the spaces we inhabit, as well as how these same spaces can affect us - stay tuned for today’s episode.
Ep. 15 - Prof. Bernard Berofsky: Having Free-Will in a Somewhat Determined World, A Compatibilist's View
In today’s episode, I had the pleasure of speaking with Prof. Bernard Berofsky, an Emeritus Professor of Philosophy from Columbia University, who in his career has explored topics such as free-will, determinism, liberation, autonomy, and creativity. Bernard is an exceptional philosophical thinker, and his devotion to the pursuit of knowledge and truth is an inspiring one.
This conversation was a deep dive into the mind of an analytical philosopher. In some parts, we explored the deeper philosophical arguments around these ideas, and in others we spoke about how they can be related and applied to our everyday lives.
First of all, you might be asking yourself, what is this idea of free-will and determinism? What is the big dilemma here? Well this is a huge question that has been occupying philosophers for ages - and it asks - do we, as humans, have free-will over our choices? Or is the universe we live in already predetermined, which would mean that everything that ever was and ever will be is like a play with a clear script that’s just waiting to play out. And in this predetermined world, the choices we feel we have full control over are just an illusion and are actually a result of all of these different forces unfolding.
There are different schools of thought around this matter - some philosophers are incompatibilists, meaning they believe that we can’t have both free-will and determinism, it must be either or. Of these, we have the determinists, who are adamant about there being no free-will whatsoever, and that if we do have any feeling of being able to freely make decisions in our lives - this is simply an illusion. Other philosophers believe that nothing is determined and that everything is up for grabs so to speak, that we are free, autonomous agents able to freely make decisions and to control our own fates.
Prof. Berofsky, on the other hand, is a compatibilist. He believes that free-will and determinism can coexist. Certain things about our world and our existence are indeed determined, however, we still have quite a bit of free-will that allows us to actively participate in the shaping of our destinies.
Ep. 14 - Prof. Ran Barkai: The Life of Prehistoric Man, Cave Paintings, & Altered States of Consciousness
In today’s episode, I got to speak to Prof. Ran Barkai, an archeologist from Tel Aviv university. Archeology is a fascinating field that provides us with a very real, physical, sensory connection with our past. By uncovering certain objects, remnants, and markings left behind by prehistoric man, we can paint a picture of what the life of our early ancestors was really like. Each new discovery adds to this tapestry of history, and the new technological advancements we have today help make our estimations of the past even more accurate.
One of the exciting discoveries that Ran and his team have found is that of cave paintings - that were so deep within the caves - that the prehistoric humans that ventured in there must have used fire to light their way. What Ran and his colleagues were able to show was that at such depths - due to the lack of circulation - lighting a fire would cause oxygen levels to lower to such a degree - that a state of hypoxia would be induced in these early painters. In other words, early humans were no strangers to altered states of consciousness.
They would enter these trance-like states in which they would embark on spiritual journeys and paint on the cave walls. We spoke about the possible meanings behind these cave paintings, and Ran’s ideas on how these altered states of consciousness were intentional and deliberate, and were used by prehistoric man to expand their awareness, call forth insights, and ultimately - to find solutions to different existential problems they may have been facing.
We ventured into some Jungian territory in this episode as well, discussing how in the psyche of early man, there was much less distinction between the subject and the object, or the internal world and the external world. Early humans were most likely much more in tune with their environments.
There always remains the question though of whether or not we’re romanticizing the past and wishfully projecting characteristics onto early humans - such as their heightened awareness and respect for nature and strong sense of community. We can only do the best we can in painting this picture of the life of our early ancestors. But I believe that even if we are romanticizing certain elements of our history, this longing for simpler times - in which we were more connected with nature, family, and community - can help shed light on precisely those elements that we are most hungry for today in our modern world.
Ep. 13: Science for the Public Good, the Future of Innovation, and Uniting the Humanities and the Sciences
How can scientific innovations transform society? What can learning about different cultures teach us about ourselves? What can learning about our past teach us about our future? And what do we truly need in order to drive scientific progress?
In today’s episode, I spoke with Prof. Nicholas Dirks, the President of the New York Academy of Sciences, former Chancellor of UC Berkeley, and former dean of the Humanities at Columbia university. Nicholas started his academic journey in history and anthropology, having been fascinated with Eastern cultures, especially India, from a young age. Throughout his career, Nick has embodied the spirit of the interdisciplinary approach and the pursuit of furthering human knowledge through investigation and exploration.
This conversation was definitely a hopeful one. We spoke about the role of science in our society, the wonderful innovations that science is able to produce, and we also spoke about the importance of interdisciplinary dialogue and collaboration, for true scientific progress to be made. Another theme we explored is that science cannot exist on its own, it must be grounded in fundamental questions of how it can benefit the public good.
Some questions came up of how we can communicate the principles of science to the public in a better, more effective way and we explored the question of where the public’s mistrust for science actually comes from. One thing that really hit home for me was Nick’s call for an open minded, curious, and exploratory approach to the scientific pursuit. It’s easy for us to lose that child-like curiosity for the world when met with the demands of daily lives, but Nick has found a way to keep that spirit of inquiry very much alive in his own career, and helps instill it in those around him, now in a large and meaningful scale through his role as President of the Academy.
Science is beautiful, and I hope that this conversation in some small way helps to get that message out there. When Nick refers to the New York Academy of Sciences as the Academy, for me it brings forth images of Ancient Greece and Plato’s Academy - which was devoted to the pursuit of knowledge and understanding the mysteries of the universe. The movement of the Enlightenment - on which our modern world of science is based on, was inspired by the philosophy of the Ancient Greeks, who held up the principles of reason, virtue, and liberty. The New York Academy of Sciences is carrying that legacy onward, working to further science and our understanding of the universe - with the goal being to better society and to improve our lives here as humans on this Earth.
Ep. 12 - Prof. Reuven Dar: A New Outlook on OCD, How It Differs from OCPD, and Why Internal Awareness Matters
In today’s episode, I spoke with Prof. Reuven Dar, a clinical psychologist and researcher, who studies OCD.
Ruvi and his colleagues have developed a model that approaches OCD in a different way from the mainstream consensus. They’ve come up with a framework for OCD called “Seeking Proxies for Internal States”. The idea behind this is that individuals suffering from OCD have a harder time accessing their own internal states. And in order to deal with this, they seek proxies, or things that are external to them, in order to gauge what exactly their internal states are. This is quite a different way of looking at OCD, and it shines a light on the difficulties that these individuals often experience when trying to understand what exactly they themselves are feeling. And so their ritualized and compulsive behavior become these kinds of external crutches that help them gain more certainty around their uncertain evaluations of their own internal worlds. We talked about the different symptoms of OCD and how they can manifest on a spectrum. One of the important notes that came from this was that, like other psychological disorders, a diagnosis of OCD is only made when the symptoms are truly interfering with the individual’s life, functioning, and well-being.
Ruvi and his colleagues have done something that I particularly admire. They’ve looked at a certain accepted consensus and said “we’re not quite sure it’s accurate”. When ideas are widely accepted in any field in science, it’s hard to reopen that area of inquiry for further examination and to perhaps reevaluate certain things that were held to be true. Any endeavor that takes a second look at things with fresh eyes is a laudable step towards the pursuit of truth and is in my opinion, embodying the true spirit of science.
Ep. 11 - Prof. Leo Corry: The Evolution of Science, Science & Religion, and the Importance of the Humanities
In today's episode, I spoke with Prof. Leo Corry, a historian and philosopher of mathematics and science, and the former dean of the Humanities at Tel Aviv university. Leo has studied mathematics, history, and philosophy, and has such an extensive mapping of the history and evolution of science and mathematics, as well as how different cultural and social movements worked together and created the environment that made certain technological advancements and progressions in humanity’s understanding of the world.
We spoke at length about the philosophy of science, how we need to stay humble in the face of uncertainty, and how for the greater part of history, science and religion have been married to one another, science having been born out of religion, with the fundamental goal of both being to understand the world and the universe we find ourselves in.
We talked about the point at which science became divorced from religion, to the extent that today most people would find the two antithetical to one another. I believe that taking this zoomed out approach helps us better understand how science evolved to where it is today and gives us context for our own modern ways of thinking.
For more information on Leo: