David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
from the world's big
Start Learning

How has science changed our understanding of ourselves?

Question: How has science changed our understanding of ourselves?

Adam Bly: I think with each new wave in science we . . . one of the natural consequences is it does force us to think differently about who we are; our relationship with each other; our relationship to the planet; our planet’s relationship to the solar system; our solar system’s relationship to the bigger universe. And I think one of the sort of interesting things that’s happening right now is not only are we getting data and results that are contributing to that – so most certainly in genetics, in evolutionary biology, in theoretical physics, in neuroscience – but also I think there’s an interesting marriage of that kind of research with the sort of physically . . . the new ways we’re looking at things. So not only are we starting to achieve new ways of thinking about ourselves, but we are thinking about ourselves differently as a result of evolutionary genetics, for example; and projects to really see genetic similarities across . . . across populations around the world; to see the relationship that we have with other species in our homologies; how like we are of something contiguous to something else that definitely does change our sense of self. And sometimes it’s humbling forces; you know forces that make us feel less special. I think that’s kind of cool. In other cases it makes us feel incredibly important, and kind of evolved, and like the higher being. And so there is constantly this back and forth between a notion that we are the highest form of evolution, and we are simply but yet another thing that’s come about on this planet at this moment in time under these initial conditions of the planet. But I think the other sort of as interesting dynamic right now is the way we’re seeing all of these things. We are a, you know . . . a visual society, and the images are as important as the ideas. And sometimes it’s an image that’s come from science that has changed our way of thinking about the world. As an example, you know, the first image of the earth from space led to the establishment of the EPA in the United States and the first, you know, silent spring kind of era of environmental concern. It’s about seeing that, you know, as Carl Sagan said, that little blue dot. And feeling like it was this precious little blue dot that we needed to preserve, and that we all live, and all of our fights, and all of our battles and everything we knew was on that little blue dot. That really did change our way of thinking about things and led to very concrete social, political, economic action. And so I think today the new images that we’re getting back from deep space is just a stone’s throw from the big bang; or new images that we’re starting to see of human genome; of new visualizations that are still very, very, very fresh, and are currently the fodder of sort of design science geeks who kind of love to look at all these things – myself included – but that I think will ultimately become the visual language of the 21st century. These are new ways at looking at ourselves, new ways of looking at our human genome. We are going to, in the next little while, start to see images of really comprehensive maps of the human brain. And so we all have this notion of the brain as this organ in a very anatomical way but not in a more computational way. And it could be an image, again, that really does completely transform our notion of intelligence; our notion of nature versus nurture; our notion of complexity versus simplicity. And so I am as excited about the visualizations, the imagings, the functional magnetic resonance imaging that we see as so . . . such a dominant tool in our newspapers and media streams. You know here is the brain. Here’s a red dot. Here is . . . When you love someone it’s red here. There are pros and cons to some of these images. But regardless we’re seeing more images. And I think scientific imaging is going to have just as much an impact on our notion of who we are; our notion of identity as . . . as the ideas themselves.


Recorded on: 10/17/07






Bly discusses how science shapes even our ideas and images of the world.

Live on Tuesday | Personal finance in the COVID-19 era

Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.

Bubonic plague case reported in China

Health officials in China reported that a man was infected with bubonic plague, the infectious disease that caused the Black Death.

(Photo by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Getty Images)
  • The case was reported in the city of Bayannur, which has issued a level-three plague prevention warning.
  • Modern antibiotics can effectively treat bubonic plague, which spreads mainly by fleas.
  • Chinese health officials are also monitoring a newly discovered type of swine flu that has the potential to develop into a pandemic virus.
Keep reading Show less

Education vs. learning: How semantics can trigger a mind shift

The word "learning" opens up space for more people, places, and ideas.

Future of Learning
  • The terms 'education' and 'learning' are often used interchangeably, but there is a cultural connotation to the former that can be limiting. Education naturally links to schooling, which is only one form of learning.
  • Gregg Behr, founder and co-chair of Remake Learning, believes that this small word shift opens up the possibilities in terms of how and where learning can happen. It also becomes a more inclusive practice, welcoming in a larger, more diverse group of thinkers.
  • Post-COVID, the way we think about what learning looks like will inevitably change, so it's crucial to adjust and begin building the necessary support systems today.
Keep reading Show less

How DNA revealed the woolly mammoth's fate – and what it teaches us today

Scientists uncovered the secrets of what drove some of the world's last remaining woolly mammoths to extinction.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Surprising Science

Every summer, children on the Alaskan island of St Paul cool down in Lake Hill, a crater lake in an extinct volcano – unaware of the mysteries that lie beneath.

Keep reading Show less

Why is everyone so selfish? Science explains

The coronavirus pandemic has brought out the perception of selfishness among many.

Credit: Adobe Stock, Olivier Le Moal.
Personal Growth
  • Selfish behavior has been analyzed by philosophers and psychologists for centuries.
  • New research shows people may be wired for altruistic behavior and get more benefits from it.
  • Times of crisis tend to increase self-centered acts.
Keep reading Show less