359. Evolution and Human Nature with Sam Wilkinson

What is the meaning of life? And what role does evolution play in our search for purpose? Join us in a conversation with Dr. Samuel Wilkinson, author of “Purpose: What Evolution and Human Nature Imply About the Meaning of Our Existence.” We cover some big, philosophical questions that don’t have clear answers but are so important to ponder. Our modern fears, our overactive stress responses, and the age-old struggle between good and evil—all these layers make up the complex human experience. Sam’s take on how our evolutionary history impacts our present-day lives is fascinating. So, wonderful listeners, tune in and reflect on these big ideas, and as always, we invite you to share your thoughts and takeaways. 

Listen and Learn: 

  • How Sam’s personal struggle with the meaning of life intersected with scientific inquiry and ultimately led to him writing Purpose
  • Can you believe in evolution while maintaining religious or spiritual faith?
  • The importance of understanding genetics in the context of evolution
  • Exploring multi-level selection by redefining “survival of the fittest” across genes, individuals, kin, or groups, and discussing the implications for social traits and human nature
  • The tension between altruism and selfishness
  • How much of human aggression is rooted in biology versus culture?
  • Do environmental factors and expectations influence testosterone levels?
  • Compelling evidence from psychology that our thoughts influence our behaviors 
  • The significance of family relationships in shaping our sense of meaning and purpose


About Samuel T. Wilkinson, MD

Samuel T. Wilkinson, MDis Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Yale University, where he also serves as Associate Director of the Yale Depression Research Program. He received his MD from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. His articles have been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal. He has been the recipient of many awards, including Top Advancements & Breakthroughs from the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation; Top Ten Psychiatry Papers by the New England Journal of Medicine, the Samuel Novey Writing Prize in Psychological Medicine (Johns Hopkins); the Thomas Detre Award (Yale University); and the Seymour Lustman Award (Yale University). He is the author of Purpose: What Evolution and Human Nature Imply about the Meaning of Our Existence (Pegasus; March 5, 2024).

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Episode 359