Show 543: Does Altruism Exist?

Does Altruism Exist? A Conversation with Evolutionary Biologist, David Sloan Wilson

Altruism gets a bad rap in the US.  Concerning ourselves with the welfare of others, extending empathy to all citizens here and in other countries, and looking at humanity as one diverse, if complex, collective is something some of us give much lip service to while leading their self-concerned busy lives, and others actively try to squash if it means their small piece of the pie might be nibbled at.

Regarding both political and religious institutions, altruism is at best a Utopian fantasy or at worse – as so-called libertarians who embrace the philosophy of Ayn Rand – dangerous and an abomination.  Even scientists working in various fields – especially evolutionary psychologists – argue that altruism is not what it seems to be, and that true altruism as we tend to think about it does not exist in the human animal.

But others disagree, and disagree strongly.  Among scientists who have written in favor of pure altruism are primatologist Franz De Waal, neuroscientist Donald Pfaff, bioethicist Peter Singer, anthropologist Christopher Boehm, physicist Stefan Klein, psychologist Dacher Keltner, biopsychologist Nigel Barber, evolutionary anthropologist Douglas Fry, and today’s guest, biologist David Sloan Wilson — author of Does Altruism Exist?: Culture, Genes, and the Welfare of Others.

Show 542: Steven Pinker

Our Better Angels? Have humans turned over a new leaf?  A Discussion with Steven Pinker

Matthew LaClair interviewed evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker on his most recent work which includes an examination of his claim that humans have become more altruistic and less violent over the last 50,000 years.  Many contest this hypothesis — from social scientists to historians — and some have suggested that quite the opposite is the case.

We asked Dr. Pinker about his work in the hopes to better understand his argument and what is indeed the reality concerning human nature in this special LIVE program!

Show 442: Stephen G. Post

Stephen G. Post on his new book, The Hidden Gifts of Helping: How the Power of Giving, Compassion, and Hope Can Get Us Through Hard Times

Stephen speaks widely on themes of benevolent love and compassionate care at the interface of science, health, spirituality, and philanthropy. His work has been featured in periodicals such as Parade Magazine and O: The Oprah Magazine, and on such media venues as The Daily Show, John Stossel, 20/20 and Nightline. He has addressed the U.S. Congress on volunteerism and public health.

Research has revealed that when we show concern for others—empathizing with a friend who has lost a loved one, mowing the lawn for an elderly neighbor, or volunteering to mentor a school-aged child—we improve our own health and well-being and embrace and give voice to our deeper identity and dignity as human beings. The Hidden Gifts of Helping explores the very personal story of Stephen and his family’s difficult move and their experience with the healing power of helping others, as well as his passion about how this simple activity—expressed in an infinite number of small or large ways—can help you survive and thrive despite the expected and unexpected challenges life presents.