Massimo Pigliucci: How to Be a Stoic


My favorite part of the podcast:

How do we flourish as human beings? 

“My thinking about that has changed over time and gotten more sophisticated. But basically my intuition was the same early on since I was a kid. For me, life was about doing something I was excited about that had some sort of consequence. Science is one way to do it, but there are a number of ways of doing it. Human creativity is astounding. 

As long as it was something I would enjoy doing and would actually add value to human society. Even a small amount of value would suffice. You don’t have to be working for an international rescue organization to make a difference. You can make a difference in a number of different ways. 

That intuition was there early on. It has to be something I like and enjoy because it would otherwise be dreadful to spend eight or ten hours per day doing something I don’t enjoy. And as I said earlier, my work also needs to have positive value for society, so doing research as a scientist and being a teacher definitely adds value.

To me, that was my initial intuition. There have been a number of times in my life where I’ve had the luxury to think about things a little more carefully. As Socrates would say, the unexamined life is not worth living. You don’t want to be examining your life every minute, but once in a while it is important to step back and reconsider things. 

A crisis is typically when people re-examine their lives. If something happens like you lose a loved one or you reach one of those arbitrary pivotal points in your life like turning 30 or 40, we tend to reconsider things. It doesn’t matter when we do it, as long as from time to time we reevaluate and step outside of ourselves. 

Now I’ve gotten to the point where this kind of process is essentially continuous. My blog, my teaching, and everything I do is merging into one. There is not much of a different between my private life, my work life, my teaching, my research career… its all one big thing. 

It can be done and I’ve found it enriching. I don’t mean that I work 14 hours a day and don’t have time for a private life. I mean that my private life, and my work life, and my philosophy, and my science have all merged into one another. That means I get to spend time with good friends and some of those things inform a blog post.”

This episode covers a wide ranging mix of topics from Pigliucci’s interest in astronomy, to biology to practical philosophy. Pigliucci’s academic resume is impressive. He received a PhD from the University of Connecticut where he studied biology and another one from the University of Tennessee where he studied the philosophy of science. Today, his interests have extended to the relationship between science and religion, and the philosophy of pseudoscience. 

While Pigliucci has spent his entire career in academia, he is committed to spreading his knowledge outside of the classroom. He is active on Twitter, co-hosted the Rationally Speaking Podcast, and leads a monthly meet up (The Stoic School of Life) in New York City focused on Stoicism. 




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