fbpx

“Forget Survival of the Fittest: It Is Kindness That Counts” (Scientific American)

Published by Greg Heffron on

A psychologist probes how altruism, Darwinism and neurobiology mean that we can succeed by not being cutthroat.

An interview of Dacher Keltner, director of the Berkeley Social Interaction Laboratory by David DiSalvo.

Image: Dacher Keltneer

 

Dacher Keltner, director of the Berkeley Social Interaction Laboratory, investigates these questions from multiple angles, and often generates results that are both surprising and challenging. In his new book, Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life, Keltner weaves together scientific findings with personal narrative to uncover the innate power of human emotion to connect people with each other, which he argues is the path to living the good life. Keltner was kind enough to take some time out to discuss altruism, Darwinism, neurobiology and practical applications of his findings with David DiSalvo.

DISALVO: You have a book that was just released called Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life. What in a nutshell does the term “born to be good” mean to you, and what are you hoping people learn from reading the book?

KELTNER: “Born to be good” for me means that our mammalian and hominid evolution have crafted a species—us—with remarkable tendencies toward kindness, play, generosity, reverence and self-sacrifice, which are vital to the classic tasks of evolution—survival, gene replication and smooth functioning groups. [cc_blockquote_right]We so often assume both in the scientific community, and in our culture at large, that Darwin thought humans were violent and competitive and self-interested in their natural state. That is a misrepresentation of what Darwin actually believed, and where the evolutionary study of human goodness is going.[/cc_blockquote_right]These tendencies are felt in the wonderful realm of emotion—emotions such as compassion, gratitude, awe, embarrassment and mirth. These emotions were of interest to Darwin, and Darwin-inspired studies have revealed that our capacity for caring, for play, for reverence and modesty are built into our brains, bodies, genes and social practices. My hopes for potential readers are numerous. I hope they learn about the remarkable wisdom of Darwin and the wonders of the study of emotion. I hope they come to look at human nature in a new light, one that is more hopeful and sanguine. I hope they may see the profoundly cooperative nature of much of our daily social living.

DISALVO: You’ve said that one of the inspirations for your work was Charles Darwin’s insights into human goodness. Because most people equate his name with “survival of the fittest,” it’ll probably be surprising to many that Darwin focused on goodness at all. What were a few of your take aways from Darwin’s work that really inspired you?

>> click for more


Greg Heffron

Greg Heffron

Greg Heffron directs Green Zone Institute. He was the first certified teacher of Mindful Communication authorized by Susan Gillis Chapman. He has been teaching Mindful Communication workshops since 2009, and has been a mindfulness meditation teacher since 2005. In 2005, he apprenticed with senior Mudra Space Awareness teacher Craig Smith, and became authorized to teach this unique mind-body meditation technique — included in nearly every workshop. In 2007, Greg co-taught with Smith to fourth year students in the Dance Division at the Julliard School in New York. Greg has taught Mindful Communication and Mudra Space Awareness workshops in Holland, France, Belgium, Poland, Ukraine and across North America. In 2003 Greg graduated with an MFA in Nonfiction Creative Writing from the University of Iowa. He coaches individuals, teaches workshops, and consults with businesses and organizations like Shambhala Mountain Center, Dechen Choling Buddhist Retreat Center and others.