54 episodes

Where do we come from? What brings us together? Why do we love? Why do we destroy?

On Humans Podcast features conversations with leading scholars about human nature, human condition, and the human journey. From the origins of war to the psychology of love, each topic brings fresh insights into perennial questions about our self-understanding.

Support: Patreon.com/OnHumans
Articles: OnHumans.Substack.com

About your host: Ilari Mäkelä is a London-based science communicator with training in Philosophy and Psychology at Oxford and Peking Universities.

On Humans Ilari Mäkelä

    • Science
    • 5.0 • 5 Ratings

Where do we come from? What brings us together? Why do we love? Why do we destroy?

On Humans Podcast features conversations with leading scholars about human nature, human condition, and the human journey. From the origins of war to the psychology of love, each topic brings fresh insights into perennial questions about our self-understanding.

Support: Patreon.com/OnHumans
Articles: OnHumans.Substack.com

About your host: Ilari Mäkelä is a London-based science communicator with training in Philosophy and Psychology at Oxford and Peking Universities.

    40 | Mothers, Fathers, And The Many Myths We Have Held ~ Sarah Blaffer Hrdy

    40 | Mothers, Fathers, And The Many Myths We Have Held ~ Sarah Blaffer Hrdy

    Over half a century, Sarah Blaffer Hrdy has challenged many of our myths about parenting, attachment, and "human nature".

    In this conversation, we dive into her remarkable career, culminating in her new book, Father Time.

    [You can now order Father Time via Amazon or Princeton Uni Press]

    We discuss a variety of topics, from hunter-gatherer parenting to the limitations of comparing humans to chimpanzees. We also discuss "allomothers", attachment theory, and the tragedy of infanticide. We finish with a discussion on the remarkable social changes in fatherhood and the neuroscience that has enabled it.

    As always, we finish with Hrdy’s reflections on humanity.

    Timestamps

    (04:15) Myths

    (10:10) Attachment Theory 

    (20:50) Hunter-Gatherers

    (24:30) Modern Parenting 

    (26:00) Infanticide 

    (34:00) Monkey parenting (in South America)

    (36:10) Why we share 

    (40:00) Husbands, grannies, or aunties?

    (43:10) Father Brains



    ANNOUNCEMENT

    I'm writing a book! It is about the history of humans, for readers of all ages. Do you want access to early drafts? Become a member on Patreon.com/OnHumans⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠



    LINKS

    Want to support the show? Checkout ⁠⁠⁠⁠Patreon.com/OnHumans⁠⁠⁠⁠

    Want to read and not just listen? Get the newsletter on ⁠⁠⁠⁠OnHumans.Substack.com⁠⁠⁠⁠



    MENTIONS

    Terms: allomothers, mobile hunter-gatherers (i.e. immediate return foragers), matrilineal and patrilineal kin

    Names: Edward O. Wilson, Robert Trivers, John Bowlby, John Watson, Charles Darwin, Mary Ainsworth, Melvin Konner, Barry Hewlett, Nikhil Chaudhary (#34), Nancy Howell, Martin Daly, Margot Wilson, Amanda Reese, Judith Burkart, Carl Von Schaik, Alessandra Cassar, Ivan Jablonka, Kristen Hawkes (#6), Ruth Feldman (#3), Richard Lee

    • 59 min
    39 | Did Humans Evolve In Small Groups? ~ Cecilia Padilla-Iglesias

    39 | Did Humans Evolve In Small Groups? ~ Cecilia Padilla-Iglesias

    Modern cities are unique. Never before have so many people lived so close to each other. But just how unique is our modern cosmopolitanism?

    Completely unique, says a traditional theory.

    Humans evolved in groups. These groups were not only smaller than modern cities. They were smaller than medieval towns. Indeed, hunter-gatherers often move in bands of 25 people or so. These bands might draw people from a "meta-group" of 150 people — but not more. And so, 150 people is the natural group size for humans. Or so the theory goes.

    My guest today thinks that this is wrong. 

    Cecilia Padilla-Iglesias is an evolutionary ecologist who studies hunter-gatherer societies. And her work points to a very different conclusion. Yes, hunter-gatherers spend much of their time in small bands. But these bands can form much larger groups of connections, extending further and further away, even to areas with different languages. Even in the rainforest, cosmopolitanism is the norm.

    So what do hunter-gatherer societies look like? And are they really good models of our deep past? We discuss these and other topics in this episode, touching upon topics such as:

    (04:00) Living with hunter-gatherers

    (10:30) Fluid societies

    (14:20) Dunbar’s mistake 

    (17:20) Dawkins’s mistake

    (21:20) ANcient DNA of hunter-gatherers

    (23:20) What made Sapiens special?  

    (25:40) Mobility, diversity, and technology

    (28:20) Sympathy and xenophobia

    (34:00) Ancient DNA (again)

    (41:30) Jungle cosmopolitanism

    (43:40) Was agriculture a mistake?

    As always, we end with my guest's reflections on humanity.



    LINKS

    Want to support the show? Checkout ⁠⁠⁠Patreon.com/OnHumans⁠⁠⁠

    Want to read and not just listen? Get the newsletter on ⁠⁠⁠OnHumans.Substack.com⁠⁠⁠



    MENTIONS

    Names: Richard Dawkins, Kim Hill, David Reich, Andrea Migliano

    Books: God Delusion (Dawkins), Who We Are And How We Got Here (Reich), The Human Swarm (Moffett)

    Ethnic groups: Bayaka (Congo), Hadza (Tanzania), Ache (Paraguay), Agta (Philippines)

    Articles: For links to articles, see OnHumans.Substack.com/p/Links-for-Episode-39-Hunter-Gatherer

    • 48 min
    38 | Can We Understand Infinity? ~ Adrian Moore

    38 | Can We Understand Infinity? ~ Adrian Moore

    Infinity is a puzzling idea. Even young children are fascinated by its various manifestations: What is the biggest number? Does the universe have an edge? Does time have a beginning?

    Philosophers have tried to answer these questions since time immemorial. More recently, they have been joined by scientists and mathematicians. Indeed, a whole branch of mathematics has become dedicated to the study of infinity. 

    So what have we learned? Can we finally understand infinity? And what has this quest taught us about ourselves? 

    To explore this topic, I am joined by philosopher Adrian W. Moore. 

    Professor Moore is a special guest for two reasons. First, he is a world expert on infinity, known for an excellent BBC series, "History of the Infinite". More personally, he is the head tutor of Philosophy at St Hugh’s College, Oxford, where I studied my BA in Philosophy and Psychology. It has now been ten years since Prof Moore interviewed me and, for whatever reason, accepted me as a student. I feel honoured to mark the occasion with this episode.

    In this episode, we discuss:

    (02:35) Why infinity fascinates

    (12:20) Greeks on infinity

    (20:05) A finite cosmos? 

    (25:00) Zeno’s paradoxes

    (32:35) Answering Zeno

    (42:35) Measuring infinities? Georg Cantor

    (54:05) Infinity vs human understanding

    (66:20) Mystics on infinity



    As always, we finish with Prof Moore’s reflections on humanity.



    LINKS

    Want to support the show? Checkout ⁠⁠Patreon.com/OnHumans⁠⁠

    Want to read and not just listen? Get the newsletter on ⁠⁠OnHumans.Substack.com⁠⁠



    MENTIONS

    Names: Aristotle; Zeno; Archytus; Ludwig Wittgenstein; Kurt Gödel; Alan Turing; Georg Cantor; William Blake; Immanuel Kant 

    Terms: Pythagoreans; Zeno’s paradoxes; calculus; transfinite arithmetic; counting numbers, i.e. positive integers; absolute infinities, or inconsistent totalities

    Books: The Infinite (Moore)

    Other scholarship: For games on infinite boards, see e.g. the work of Davide Leonessi: https://leonessi.org/

    • 1 hr 17 min
    37 | How Did Humans Evolve? Why Did We? ~ Ian Tattersall

    37 | How Did Humans Evolve? Why Did We? ~ Ian Tattersall

    Why are we furless? Why do we cook our food and use spoken language? And how does climate change, sashimi, or the banks of Central America relate to human origins? 

    Human evolution is a deeply puzzling topic. But behind this dense mist lies many keys to our self-understanding. To guide us through the foggy territory, I am joined by Dr Ian Tattersall, a curator emeritus at the American Museum of Natural History (New York).

    In this episode, Dr Tattersall and I discuss:

    (04.00) An ancient climate change

    (07:20) First humans

    (11:20) Fire

    (17:50) Fish

    (21:40) Rocks

    (24:00) Evolution vs Innovation

    (25:30) Brain growth

    (36:10) Children

    (39:50) Language

    (48:20) Why?



    As always, we finish with Dr Tattersall's reflections on humanity.



    LINKS

    Want to support the show? Checkout ⁠Patreon.com/OnHumans⁠

    Want to read and not just listen? Get the newsletter on ⁠OnHumans.Substack.com⁠



    MENTIONS

    Names: Richard Wrangham (see ep. 21), Susan Schaller, Ildefonso, Jane Goodall, Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, Yuval Noah Harari 

    Books: Masters of the Planet (Tattersall), Man Without Words (Schaller), Sapiens (Harari)

    Technical terms: Oldowan tool culture (first stone tools, c. 2.5 million years ago), Acheulean hand axe (first major update in stone tools, c. 1.6 million years ago)

    Fossils: Lucy (3.2 million years old); Turkana Boy (aka. Nariokotome Boy, 1.6 million years old)

    Hominin species: Australopithecines, Homo ergaster, Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, Homo neanderthalensis, Homo sapiens

    A note on hominin taxonomy: Homo habilis was traditionally considered the first human and the first maker of stone tools. Dr Tattersall is among the many critics of this old idea. According to him and many others, there is no separate tool-making species called Homo habilis. Rather, Australopithecines started making stone tools without any change in the biology of the species. Also, it is worth noting that Dr Tattersall rejects the traditional view which gives a big role for Homo erectus in the human story. In this traditional view, Turkana Boy’s species, Homo ergaster, is called an African Homo erectus. Dr Tattersall and many others argue that this is a historic hangover with little basis in the biological evidence.

    • 1 hr 9 min
    36 | How Did Consciousness Evolve? Did It? ~ Eva Jablonka

    36 | How Did Consciousness Evolve? Did It? ~ Eva Jablonka

    We are conscious creatures. But why? Why did consciousness evolve? Can we use biology to explain the origins of feeling and meaning? Or will consciousness forever escape the grip of the scientific method? 

    Eva Jablonka has thought hard about these issues. An eminent evolutionary biologist, she became famous for her pioneering work on epigenetic inheritance. More recently, she has produced very original work on the evolution of consciousness with her colleague, neuroscientist Simona Ginsburg. So invited him on the show to discuss the evolution of consciousness, or what she beautifully calls "the sensitive soul".

    In this episode, we discuss themes such as:

    (03:00) What is consciousness? 

    (10:45) Four links between evolution and consciousness

    (27:30) Are robots conscious? Consciousness and vulnerability

    (30:45) Which animals are conscious? Consciousness and the Cambrian Explosion.

    (34:30) Can science fully explain consciousness?

    (48:00) The future of consciousness

    As always, we end with Jablonka’s reflections on humanity.



    LINKS

    Want to support the show? Checkout Patreon.com/OnHumans

    Want to read and not just listen? Get the newsletter on OnHumans.Substack.com



    MENTIONS

    Books: Evolution of the Sensitive Soul, Picturing the Mind (both my Eva Jablonka & Simona Ginsburg)

    Terms: Sensitive soul, phenomenal consciousness, intentionality (i.e. "aboutness"), the Cambrian explosion, cephalopods, anthropods, vertebrates

    Names: Aristotle, Simona Ginsburg, Jonathan Birch, Antonio Damasio

    • 55 min
    35 | Why Do We Love? ~ Arthur Aron

    35 | Why Do We Love? ~ Arthur Aron

    Why do we love? What brings us together? How to heal ethnic hatred?

    According to my guest, the answer to all these questions lies in the human desire to grow ourselves through connecting with others.

    Arthur Aron is a psychologist who studies human bonding in all its forms. A pioneer in the field, he has studied topics from connecting with strangers to maintaining romance in life-long marriages. And many of his findings are ultimately hopeful.

    In this conversation, we discuss topics such as:

    (4:30) Why we love 

    (12:50) Tools to cultivate love

    (24:30) Friendships with the ethnic "other” 

    (31:30) Are we naturally xenophobic?



    MENTIONS

    Names: Elaine Aron, Helen Fisher, Stephen Wright

    Articles: For links to videos, articles, and the 36 Questions, see https://onhumans.substack.com/p/links-for-episode-35



    MORE LINKS

    Read the On Humans newsletter at OnHumans.Substack.com

    Support On Humans at Patreon.com/OnHumans

    • 38 min

Customer Reviews

5.0 out of 5
5 Ratings

5 Ratings

HelloYip ,

Thoughtful and eye opening conversations...

With amazing people from different areas. Strongly advised to expand your horizon!

SunshineAndSand ,

I love it!

Fantastical and thoughtful. I have found each episode to be profound and thought provoking in its own way. Truly influencing my perspective as how to approach and navigate the vagaries of life.

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