Category Archives: Media

Interview with Kensy Cooperrider on Many Minds

I had a fun, far-reaching, free-ranging conversation about my research and research motivations with Kensy Cooperrider on Many Minds.

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Description

Today’s episode is a conversation with Dr. Michael Muthukrishna, an Associate Professor of Economic Psychology at the London School of Economics.

Michael’s research takes on a suite of topics that all start from a single big question: Why are we so different from other animals? Part of the answer has to do with our neural hardware. There’s no question we’ve got big brains—and Michael has some cool things to say about why they may have gotten so big. But Michael is just as focused on our cultural software—the tools and ideas we develop, tweak, share, and accumulate over time. You might say he’s more impressed by our collective brains than by our individual brains. To study all this, Michael builds formal theories and computational models; he runs experiments; and he constructs and analyzes huge databases.

We cover a lot of ground in this episode. We talk about the finding that the size and interconnectedness of a social group affects the cultural skills that group can develop and maintain. We consider what actually powers innovation (hint: it’s not lone geniuses). We discuss how diversity is a bit double-edged and why psychology needs to become a historical science. And that, my friends, is hardly all—we also touch on cetaceans, religious history, and spinning plates.

I’ve been hoping to have Michael on the show for months now. His work is deeply theoretical, advancing the basic science of what it means to be human. But it’s also engaged with important practical issues—issues like corruption and cultural diversity. Without further ado, here’s my conversation with Dr. Michael Muthukrishna. Enjoy!

A transcript of this show will be available soon.

Notes and links

4:30 – An introduction to “dual inheritance theory.”

11:00 – A 2013 paper by Dr. Muthukrishna and colleagues about the relationship between sociality and cultural complexity.

12:15 – A paper on the loss of cultural tools and traditions in the Tasmanian case.

21:20 – A 2016 paper by Dr. Muthukrishna and Joseph Henrich on innovation and the collective brain.

28:30 – The original paper on the notion of cultural “tightness” and “looseness.”

30:20 – A recent short piece by Dr. Muthukrishna on the paradox of diversity.

34:50 – A 2019 popular piece of mine on the phenomenon of “global WEIRDing.”

40:27 – The so-called Flynn Effect refers to the puzzling rise of IQ scores over time. It is named after James Flynn, who died only weeks ago.

42:30 – A paper about the significance of Luria’s work on abstract reasoning in Uzbekistan.

50:26 – A paper on the “cultural brain hypothesis,” the subject of Dr. Muthukrishna’s dissertation.

51:00 – A paper on brains as fundamentally “expensive.”

58:00 – Boyd & Richardson, mentioned here, have authored a number of highly influential books. The first of these was Culture and the Evolutionary Process.

59:35 – A 2015 paper on head size and emergency birth interventions.

1:01:20 – The stylized model we mention here is discussed and illustrated in this lecture from the 2020 Diverse Intelligences Summer Institute.

1:03:15 – The paper by Dr. Muthukrishna and colleagues on cetacean brains and culture.

1:11:38 – The paper by Dr. Muthukrishna and colleagues on ‘Psychology as a Historical Science.’

1:14:00 – The 2020 paper by Dr. Muthukrishna and colleagues introducing a tool for the measurement of cultural distance.

1:20:20 – Dr. Muthukrishna is part of the team behind the Database of Religious History.

1:24:25 – The paper by Dr. Muthukrishna and Joe Henrich on ‘The Origins and Psychology of Human Cooperation.’

Dr. Muthukrishna’s end-of-show reading recommendations:

Joseph Henrich, The Secret of Our Success & The WEIRDest People in the World

Matt Ridley, How Innovation Works

Matthew Syed, Rebel Ideas

You can keep up with Dr. Muthukrishna’s work at his personal website and on Twitter (@mmuthukrishna).

Many Minds is a project of the Diverse Intelligences Summer Institute (DISI) (https://www.diverseintelligencessummer.com/), which is made possible by a generous grant from the Templeton World Charity Foundation to UCLA. It is hosted and produced by Kensy Cooperrider, with creative support from DISI Directors Erica Cartmill and Jacob Foster, and Associate Director Hilda Loury. Our artwork is by Ben Oldroyd (https://www.mayhilldesigns.co.uk/). Our transcripts are created by Sarah Dopierala (https://sarahdopierala.wordpress.com/).

You can subscribe to Many Minds on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Google Play, or wherever you like to listen to podcasts.

We welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions. Feel free to email us at: manymindspodcast@gmail.com.

For updates about the show, follow us on Twitter: @ManyMindsPod.

PBS Documentary: First Civilizations “Cities”

PBS has a new 4-part documentary series on First Civilizations; a sequel to their successful series First Peoples. The new series charts the rise of civilization clustered around 4 topics: War, Religion, Cities, and Trade. I’m the key contributor for episode 3 on Cities, which premieres tonight. I travel through Tokyo, Japan discussing innovation, inequality, sociality, and collective brains. A short clip from the episode below:

You can read more about the research behind this episodes in these review papers (written to be accessible to the general reader):

Introduction to Cultural Evolution

Chudek, M., Muthukrishna, M. & Henrich, J. (2015) Cultural Evolution. In Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology, 2nd Edition. Edited by D. M. Buss. [Download]

Introduction to Collective Brains

Muthukrishna, M. & Henrich, J. (2016). Innovation in the Collective Brain. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 371(1690).  [Telegraph] [Scientific American] [Video] [Evonomics] [LSE Business Review] [Summary Post] [Download]

If you want to learn more, I recommend 3 recent books on the topic:

Interview with Focus Magazine

I was recently interviewed by Focus Magazine, a popular magazine in the Russian-speaking world. It was a wide-ranging interview, where we discussed my research on cultural evolution and the implications for some of the events taking place in the world today, including the Migration Crisis, climate change, and the rise of populist politicians.

The first part was a brief introduction to the science of cultural evolution: https://focus.ua/society/367070/

The second part dealt with contemporary societal-level implications: https://focus.ua/society/367860/

 

 

SSHRC Impact Awards Talk in Ottawa, Ontario

As a Top 5 winner of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada’s (SSHRC) Research for a Better Life: The Storytellers challenge, I was invited to present our research on the Database of Religious History at the SSHRC Impact Awards ceremony in Ottawa, Ontario.

It was an honor to meet the the Governor General of Canada, His Excellency the Right Honourable David Lloyd Johnston, SSHRC’s Executive Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer, Ted Hewitt, SSHRC’s Associate Vice-President, Future Challenges, Ursula Gobel (who I previously met at SSHRC Congress), CBC host of Ideas, Paul Kennedy, and the winners of the SSHRC Impact AwardsBeverley DiamondThomas LemieuxNico TrocméWendy Craig, and Kirk Luther.

You can watch my talk below:

The Database of Religious History has been featured in several places, including canada.ca. See my previous News post for more details.

SSHRC Impact Awards

Top Row (Left to Right): Robin MacEwan, Michael Muthukrishna, James O’Callaghan, Ted Hewitt (Executive Vice President, SSHRC), Hon. David Johnston, Ursula Gobel (Associate Vice-President, Future Challenges, SSHRC), Vineeth Sekharan, Marylynn Steckley

Bottom Row (Left to Right): Thomas Lemiux (Insight Award), Nico Trocmé (Connection Award), Beverley Diamond (Gold Medal), Wendy Craig (Partnership Award), Kirk Luther (Talent Award)

SSHRC Storytellers Competition Top 5 Winner, St Catharines, Ontario

As one of the 25 finalists, I spent the last few days at Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences 2014 at Brock University in St Catharines, Ontario. My talk on the Database of Religious History was selected as one of 5 winners of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada’s Research for a Better Life: The Storytellers challenge. The research was featured on the Federal Government’s official website, canada.ca (image below).

I was invited by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council to elaborate on the vision and achievements of the Database of Religious History, complementing the winning video, which you can watch below:

The panel of 4 judges included Shari Graydon, author, journalist and founder of Informed Opinions; Antonia Maioni, president of the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences; Pierre Normand, Vice-President, External Relations and Communications at the Canada Foundation for Innovation; and Bruce Wallace, editor of Policy Options magazine and former foreign editor for the Los Angeles Times.

I will be presenting the same talk to a VIP audience at SSHRC’s 2014 Impact Awards ceremony in early November.

canada.ca

SSHRC Storytellers Competition

The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada announced the winners of of their Research for a Better Life: The Storytellers challenge. Our entry was one of the winners. We presented the broad vision of The Database of Religious History. I am the Technical Director of the project, but this project was done unofficially in my capacity as a researcher and writer. My friend and collaborator, Jordan Levine, was the narrator. The talented Risto Turunen, created the animations. Mike Woods wrote the score.

Our projects have since diverged, but credit for the concept and vision also goes to Seshat: The Global History Databank led by Peter Turchin, Harvey Whitehouse, and Pieter Francois. The Database of Religious History is led by Ted Slingerland and Mark Collard.

I will be presenting the entry at Congress 2014 in May and we will be presenting The Database of Religious History at the Digital Humanities Conference in Lausanne, Switzerland in July.

You can watch the video below: