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The Michael Shermer Show

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Jim Davies — How to Be a Better Person

Being the Person Your Dog Thinks You Are: The Science of a Better You (book cover)

Shermer and Davies discuss:

  • an operational definition of the “good life” or “happiness” or “well being”
  • religion, happiness, and the good life
  • morality: What is actually right and wrong
  • utilitarianism vs. deontology vs. virtue ethics
  • effective altruism
  • marriage and children
  • happiness vs. meaningfulness/purposefulness
  • the value of a human life (Worth, Michael Keaton/Kenneth Feinberg 9/11 victim fund)
  • objective moral values
  • Do we have a moral obligation to help those who cannot help themselves?
  • Does America have a moral obligation to help oppressed peoples in dictatorships?
  • the Is-Ought problem of determining right and wrong in some objective manner
  • immigration, abortion, the welfare state, prostitution
  • reparations: what do we owe others?

Jim Davies is a full professor at the Institute of Cognitive Science at Carleton University and the School of Computer Science. He is the director of the Science of Imagination Laboratory and he co-hosts, along with Dr. Kim Hellemans, the podcast Minding the Brain. He is the author of Riveted: The Science of Why Jokes Make Us Laugh, Movies Make Us Cry, and Religion Makes Us Feel One with the Universe; Imagination: The Science of Your Mind’s Greatest Power, and his new book Being the Person Your Dog Thinks You Are: The Science of a Better You. He lives in Ottawa, Canada.

About the Book

Why do we feel like in order to be productive, happy, or good, we must sacrifice everything else? Is it possible to feel all three at once? Without even knowing it, we’re doing things everyday to sabotage ourselves and our societies, habits that prevent us from optimizing long term happiness. Where most books imagine solutions that, when enacted, fail to fundamentally improve our lives, Jim Davies grounds his research in cognitive science to show you not only what works, but how much it works. Being the Person Your Dog Thinks You Are shows us how we can use science to become our best selves, using resources we already have within our own brains.

Davies challenges and inspires us to approach the big picture while also staying mindful of the everyday details in real life. Davies proves why multitasking is bad for you, when a little unmindfulness can be good for you, how to best justify which charities to donate to, and how to hack your brain. The most surprising truth Davies offers us spreads across these pages like wildfire: you too can lead an optimally good life, not through uprooting your life from the ground up, but from adapting your mentality to your given present. A better life doesn’t need to look like a massive change — like our beloved dogs who already view us as our best selves, it’s already much closer than you think.

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This episode is sponsored by

Fathom (sponsor)

This episode was released on March 7, 2023.

For those seeking a sound scientific viewpoint


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