Finally, a podcast that addresses our crisis of meaning

How can we learn from the lessons of the past and build a better future?

Jamie Wheal

Jaime Wheal, host Home Grown Humans.

Credit: Courtesy of Neurohacker
  • Jamie Wheal's new podcast, Home Grown Humans, combines neuroanthropology and culture architecture to help us create a better future.
  • The author of Stealing Fire has invited forward-thinking experts on to launch this podcast series, which is produced by Neurohacker Collective and is hosted on the Collective Insights podcast.
  • Through these discussions, Wheal hopes to catalyze inspiration, healing, and connection towards better understanding who we are, why we are here, and where we are going

Language evolves to reflect our understanding of existence. Before Hippocrates, healing was a system of theurgy—divine influence on human events—and religious philosophy. The Greek physician is credited with separating medicine from those previous beliefs. As our understanding of science evolved, new fields emerged: astronomy, biology, physics, sociology, psychology, neuroanthropology.

That last one is still so relatively new that spell checkers don't recognize it. During a 2008 conference, the University of South Florida anthropology professor Daniel Lende revived the notion that anthropologists benefit when studying neuroscience. He argued that knowledge of the evolution of the brain offers insights into intentions, helping anthropologists better understand the motivations of past cultures.

Whereas neuroanthropology looks backward, culture architecture takes that same lens and looks forward, according to bestselling author Jamie Wheal. Wheal co-wrote the Pulitzer Prize-nominated book, Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, Navy SEALs and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work. Founder of the Flow Genome Project, he's the new host of the new Collective Insights podcast series Home Grown Humans, which focuses on the intersection of neuroanthropology and culture architecture.

Like Hippocrates building on past knowledge to create new systems, Wheal wants to learn from the lessons of the past and build a better future. Summating the objective of the podcast in a single question, he frames it this way:

"How do we stop seeking and stop searching and stop thrashing around, making a mess behind us, and come to fully embrace the human experience?"

The essence of the human condition, he says, lies in simplicity, reminiscent of the Golden Rule from the Talmud. A gentile asked Rabbi Hillel to explain the entirety of the Torah while standing on one foot, to which Hillel replied, "That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary."

Wheal recognizes that humans love commentary as well. Storytelling is the foundation of culture. He invokes Dorothy, who went on an epic heroine's journey only to discover that there's no place like home. As with any Campbellian character, she had to leave Kansas in order to love Kansas.

How do we stop seeking and stop searching and stop thrashing around, making a mess behind us, and come to fully embrace the human experience?

When contemplating Home Grown Humans, Wheal wanted to foster conversations that include critical thought and mystical inclinations. He was inspired by a debate between Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson, in which neither thinker would concede an inch to find common ground. Instead, he wants to find such ground—less New Atheist and more New Platonist. As he puts it:

"What is it like to tap people that are well-versed in reason, logic, and evidence, but also have their eye on the mystery? They've had in their own lives, or in their career or readings, some glimpse of more. Hopefully, that's come around to inform their perspective on their field of expertise and what they hold as both the liabilities and possibilities of us going forward."

To better understand the implications of neuroanthropology, Wheal recommends Jared Diamond's Pulitzer-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel and Yuval Noah Harari's Sapiens and Homo Deus, books that reveal how we arrived here. For the culture architecture piece, he cites Daniel Kahnemann's Thinking, Fast and Slow and Richard Thaler's Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness. You have all this knowledge, now what are you going to do with it?

This synthesis of ideologies creates the central thesis of Home Grown Humans.

"It's taking optimal psychology, neuroscience, and historical analysis and really using it to get under the hood of culture and use all of the tools we have from the hard sciences and social sciences to get a better understanding of what makes us tick."

To help him answer such questions, Wheal has invited a range of experts to appear on Home Grown Humans, including Sue Phillips, an instructor at Harvard Divinity School and co-founder of Sacred Design Lab; Erik Davis, author of TechGnosis and High Weirdness; Adam Gazzaley, the founder and executive director of Neuroscape; and Dennis McKenna, an ethnopharmacologist who's been leading the way in the psychedelic renaissance for decades.

With each conversation, Wheal hopes to address our crisis in meaning by provoking inspiration, healing, and connection. The distance between the past and future is this moment we're collectively experiencing right now. Through our ingenuity and determination, Wheal believes we can construct a better world. Home Grown Humans is his contribution to the conversation.

The first episode of Home Grown Humans, 'Care for Your Soul: Designing Sacred Practices That Work', with Harvard's Sue Phillips, is out today. Subscribe here.


A brief history of human dignity

What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.

Credit: Benjavisa Ruangvaree / AdobeStock
Sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies
  • Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
  • That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
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Urban foxes self-evolve, exhibiting Darwin’s domestication syndrome

A new study finds surprising evidence of the self-evolution of urban foxes.

A fox at the door of 10 Downing Street on Janurary 13, 2015.

Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • A study from the University of Glasgow finds urban foxes evolved differently compared to rural foxes.
  • The skulls of the urban foxes are adapted to scavenging for food rather than hunting it.
  • The evolutionary changes correspond to Charles Darwin's "domestication syndrome."

How much can living in the city change you? If you were an urban fox, you could be evolving yourself to a whole new stage and becoming more like a dog, according to a fascinating new study.

Researchers compared skulls from rural foxes around London with foxes who lived inside the city and found important variations. Rural foxes showed adaptation for speed and hunting after quick, small prey, while urban fox skulls exhibited changes that made it easier for them to scavenge, looking through human refuse for food, rather than chasing it. Their snouts were shorter and stronger, making it easier to open packages and chew up leftovers. They also have smaller brains, not meant for hunting but for interacting with stationary food sources, reports Science magazine.

Interestingly, there was much similarity found between the male and female skulls of the urban foxes.

The observed changes correspond to what Charles Darwin called the "domestication syndrome," comprised of traits that go along with an animal's transition from being wild, to tamed, to domesticated.

The study was led by Kevin Parsons, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Glasgow.

"What's really fascinating here is that the foxes are doing this to themselves," Parsons told the BBC. "This is the result of foxes that have decided to live near people, showing these traits that make them look more like domesticated animals."

The researchers are not suggesting you should go out and get a fox as a house-pet just yet. But they are seeing the evolutionary process taking place that's moving the urban foxes along the path towards becoming more like dogs and cats, explained the study's co-author Dr. Andrew Kitchener from National Museums Scotland.

A fox beneath a tree in Greenwich park, south east London

A fox beneath a tree in Greenwich park, south east London on May 14, 2020.

Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP

"Some of the basic environmental aspects that may have occurred during the initial phases of domestication for our current pets, like dogs and cats, were probably similar to the conditions in which our urban foxes and other urban animals are living today," said Kitchener. "So, adapting to life around humans actually primes some animals for domestication."

The specimen came from the National Museum Scotland's collection of around 1,500 fox skulls.

You can read the study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

fox sleeping beneath stadium seats

A fox at the LV County Championship, Division two match between Surrey and Derbyshire at The Brit Oval on April 9, 2010 in London, England.

Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

​'The time is now' for cryptocurrencies, PayPal CEO says

Is Bitcoin akin to 'digital gold'?

Technology & Innovation
  • In October, PayPal announced that it would begin allowing users to buy, sell, and hold cryptocurrencies.
  • Other major fintech companies—Square, Fidelity, SoFi—have also recently begun investing heavily in cryptocurrencies.
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"Clean meat" approved for sale in Singapore

Singapore has approved the sale of a lab-grown meat product in an effort to secure its food supplies against disease and climate change.

Credit: Adobe Stock / Big Think
Politics & Current Affairs
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  • So-called "clean meats" may reduce our reliance on livestock farming, which kills billions of animals worldwide every year.
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