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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 # 240

Leonard Mlodinow — Emotional: How Feelings Shape Our Thinking

Emotional: How Feelings Shape Our Thinking (book cover)

We’ve all been told that thinking rationally is the key to success. But at the cutting edge of science, researchers are discovering that feeling is every bit as important as thinking.

You make hundreds of decisions every day, from what to eat for breakfast to how you should invest, and not one of those decisions would be possible without emotion. It has long been said that thinking and feeling are separate and opposing forces in our behavior. But as Leonard Mlodinow, the best-selling author of Subliminal, tells us, extraordinary advances in psychology and neuroscience have proven that emotions are as critical to our well-being as thinking.

How can you connect better with others? How can you make sense of your frustration, fear, and anxiety? What can you do to live a happier life? The answers lie in understanding your emotions. Journeying from the labs of pioneering scientists to real-world scenarios that have flirted with disaster, Mlodinow shows us how our emotions can help, why they sometimes hurt, and what we can learn in both instances.

Using deep insights into our evolution and biology, Mlodinow gives us the tools to understand our emotions better and to maximize their benefits. Told with his characteristic clarity and fascinating stories, Emotional explores the new science of feelings and offers us an essential guide to making the most of one of nature’s greatest gifts.

Leonard Mlodinow received his PhD in theoretical physics from the University of California, Berkeley, was an Alexander von Humboldt fellow at the Max Planck Institute, and was on the faculty of the California Institute of Technology. His previous books include the best sellers The Grand Design and A Briefer History of Time (both with Stephen Hawking), Subliminal (winner of the PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award), The Drunkard’s Walk, and Elastic. His previous book, Stephen Hawking, was a memoir of his friendship with Hawking and their work together to understand the nature of the cosmos.

Shermer and Mlodinow discuss:

  • What are emotions and how do they differ from feelings, moods, drives, & passions?
  • How has the scientific understanding of emotions changed?
  • thought vs. feeling, system 1 vs. system 2 cognition,
  • the evolutionary origins of emotions: what are they “for”?
  • mind-body connection: how does our physical state influence what we think & feel?
  • the hard problem of conscious emotions,
  • the neuroscience of emotions: how the brain constructs emotions,
  • wanting vs. liking,
  • the nature/nurture of emotions: which dominates when and where?
  • Paul Ekman and the universal nature of emotions,
  • Lisa Feldman Barrett challenge to Paul Ekman’s theory of universal emotions,
  • Schachter-Singer theory of emotion and its competitors,
  • the effects of social context on emotions,
  • love, hate, anger, fear, disgust, pleasure/pain,
  • hunger, thirst, lust, attraction, desires, passions,
  • emotional profiles,
  • managing your emotions, or channeling your inner stoic,
  • witch crazes/pogroms: what were these people thinking and feeling?
  • A.I. and emotions: Does Data have emotions? Does Watson know he won Jeopardy?
  • the future of emotions: will we all feel the same once Western culture has spread globally through the Internet?

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This episode is sponsored by Wondrium:

Wondrium (sponsor)
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