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The Michael Shermer Show

A series of conversations between Dr. Michael Shermer and leading scientists, philosophers, historians, scholars, writers and thinkers about the most important issues of our time.

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EPISODE # 245

Frank Sulloway on How Lives Turn Out: Genes, Environment, Pluck, and Luck

Darwin and His Bears: How Darwin Bear and His Galápagos Islands Friends Inspired a Scientific Revolution (book cover)

Dr. Frank J. Sulloway is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Psychology and is also a member of the Institute of Personality and Social Research, at the University of California, Berkeley. He has a Ph.D. in the history of science from Harvard University (1978) and is a recipient of a MacArthur Award (1984–1989). His book Freud, Biologist of the Mind: Beyond the Psychoanalytic Legend (1979) provides a radical reanalysis of the origins and validity of psychoanalysis and received the Pfizer Award of the History of Science Society. In addition, Dr. Sulloway has written about the nature of scientific creativity, and, on this general topic, he has published extensively on the life and theories of Charles Darwin.

For the last two decades, Dr. Sulloway has employed evolutionary theory to understand how family dynamics affect personality development, including that of creative geniuses. He has a particular interest in the influence that birth order exerts on personality and behavior. In this connection, he is the author of Born to Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics, and Creative Lives (1996). Dr. Sulloway’s researches on birth order and family dynamics have been featured on a variety of national television shows including Nightline, the Today Show, Dateline NBC, the Discovery Channel, the The Charlie Rose Show, and the The Colbert Report.

Dr. Sulloway has been the recipient of fellowships from the Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton, New Jersey), the Miller Institute for Basic Research in Science (University of California, Berkeley), the National Science Foundation, the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (Stanford, California). In addition, Dr. Sulloway is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Association for Psychological Science, and the Linnean Society of London, and is a recipient of the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement (1997). He lives in Berkeley, California.

Shermer and Sulloway discuss:

  • relative roles of genes, environment, hard work, and luck in how lives turn out,
  • the culture at Harvard in the late 60s and early 70s,
  • his relationship and work with E. O. Wilson, who was recently defamed by Scientific American as a racist (Sulloway says Wilson was the least racist person in science),
  • personality and to what extent it can be scientifically measured and studied,
  • birth order and family dynamics in how personalities are formed,
  • autocratic personality traits and why people follow and support Trump and other autocrats,
  • why we need a moderate GOP to counter the far left,
  • personality traits of conservatives and liberals,
  • why if you know a person’s stance on one issue (e.g., abortion) you can predict their stance on many other issues (there are underlying features of personality tying them together),
  • how and when Darwin actually discovered natural selection and became an evolutionist (Sulloway debunked the myth that Darwin discovered evolution in the Galapagos),
  • what made Darwin such a successful scientist (perseverance together with self-doubt anchored in modesty, which prompted Darwin to endlessly question and test his ideas. Thus, Darwin was a devoted user of the hypothetico-deductive method, rather ahead of his time.), and
  • how and why he wrote Darwin and his Bears: How Darwin Bear and His Galapagos Islands Friends Inspired a Scientific Revolution.

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This episode was released on January 29, 2022.

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