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From ABC, this is the 10 percent happier podcast. I'm Dan Harris. Again, we all remember that fateful week, almost exactly a year ago, when it all seemed to sink in for so many of us, when Tom Hanks got sick, the NBA suspended games and the now former president addressed the nation in prime time. The big question now, one year hence is when and how will this plague finally end? My guest today has a pretty clear vision for how things are likely to play out from this point on.


His name is Dr. Nicholas Christakis. He's a physician, sociologist and director of the Human Nature Lab at Yale University. He's written a number of books, but there are two that we're going to dig into today in this episode. His latest is called Apollo's Arrow The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live. The other book we're going to talk about is on a related subject. It's called Blueprint The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society.


In it, Christakis argues that human beings are fundamentally good. In fact, as you're going to hear, he believes it is our goodness that the virus exploits in order to spread and it is our goodness that will ultimately allow us to beat the virus. One order of business, though, before we dove in. When covid started affecting our lives, most of us were in immediate crisis mode, wondering how to answer very basic questions, such as How do I get food safely?


How do I get to work? How do I care for my kids? When and how will they go to school? How do I do my job under deeply suboptimal circumstances? In response to this changing reality, we hear on the 10 percent happier podcast really scrambled to figure out how to meet the moment and help you navigate this new world. As you know, we've spoken with experts about how to cope with the crisis, from dealing with anxiety and grief to parenting in a pandemic to financial concerns.


As I think you also know, the practice of meditation undergirds pretty much all of the practical takeaways you hear us discuss on the podcast, and as you may or may not know, many of our podcast guests have also contributed to our companion meditation app. We really hope that you will consider subscribing to the aforementioned app, which is also called 10 percent happier. We really think, and I believe this quite strongly, that the content on the app can help you take care of yourself and other people during the various crises which we are currently living through.


And let's be honest, there will always be crises to make subscribing easier.


We're right now offering 40 percent off the price of an annual subscription for our podcast listeners. We don't do discounts of this size all the time. And of course, to get a little Buddhist's, nothing is permanent. So go get this deal before it ends on April 1st by going to 10 percent dotcom March. That's 10 percent. One word all spelled out, dotcom march for 40 percent of your subscription. We'll put a link to that in the show notes.


OK, let's dove in now with my guest today, Dr. Nicholas Christakis. Nicholas, thanks for coming on the show. Great to meet you. Dan, thank you so much for having me. So I've been following your work for a long time. We've been talking about having you on forever. So I'm delighted that we're finally able to make it happen. And we're going to be posting this on the one year anniversary of when the, you know what hit the fan.


And we all kind of hunker down or most of us hunker down. And I'm curious, as we mark this kind of unhappy anniversary, where are we where are we now and how far do we have left to go?


I think we have far in certain ways. It depends on I mean, there's a lot of conversation now about when will the pandemic be over and when will life return to normal. A lot depends on how you define over or normal. So with your indulgence, I'd I'd like to answer the question at somewhat longer length, because what I'm going to say is that we are not at the beginning of the end of this pandemic. We are just at the end of the beginning.


And here's what happens with these diseases, with these serious pandemics like this is that the virus has had an ecological release. What that means is, is that it's like an invasive species that you release on an island somewhere, an untouched terrain, and the species just takes over.


And for the virus, our bodies provide that terrain.


We had no natural immunity to this virus once it left to our species and and was not immediately contained. And it's unclear. It could have been immediately contained and a few thousand people were infected with it. It was just going to spread and spread throughout the planet as it's doing. And ultimately it will become endemic. That is to say, it will live among us forever and infect us in certain ways. And maybe later we can talk to you about certain other aspects of that.


For example, the virus is likely ultimately to become less deadly and harm us less.


But for now, we're still in the acute throes of this virus spreading among us. And I think the pandemic is going to unfold in three phases. The first immediate phase is going to go to the end of twenty twenty one. The second intermediate phase will go to the end of twenty, twenty three. And then and the beginning of these are approximate dates, the beginning of twenty, twenty four.


We'll have the kind of post pandemic period in this first phase. What's happening is, is the virus is just spreading naturally among us and it's killing us. Ultimately, I've been saying for quite some time, and it looks like I'm right about that, that between half a million and a million Americans will die. We've already crossed the lower bound of that before the pandemic is ultimately over. And these pandemics come in waves and we're going to have another wave in a year next winter of twenty, twenty one, twenty, twenty two winter.


It'll be much better than the one we're having now, but it'll still be there. We'll have a nice summer and then a little blip up again next year. So the virus is just spreading now.


We are the first generation of humans to confront this ancient threat of a plague that is able to develop a specific countermeasure in real time in the form of a vaccine.


It's miraculous what we have been able to do, but as people are aware, we have to manufacture hundreds of millions of doses of this vaccine.


We have to distribute those doses and we have to administer those doses and persuade people to take the doses. And that's going to take time. And we have to get at least half of the people vaccinated. Now, there's this concept called herd immunity. Herd immunity is the idea that a population can be immune to an epidemic, even if not every individual within that population is immune. So, for example, if you think about measles, if you vaccinate ninety six percent of the population against measles and one of the four percent unvaccinated people gets ill, you don't get an outbreak because that person has no one to.


In fact, that percentage of people, you know, who needs to be vaccinated in that type of a situation, that that percentage should depend in part on how infectious the diseases and measles is, like the most infectious disease known. So you need large numbers of people vaccinated, but diseases that are less infectious, you need a lower herd immunity threshold. And so for a variety of reasons, we can go into, if you want later on for sars-cov-2, it's at least 50 percent.


So we've got to get at least 50 percent of the people vaccinated. It's going to take time, I would say, to the end of twenty, twenty one. Meanwhile, the virus is spreading and right now maybe 20 percent or twenty five percent of Americans have acquired immunity naturally. But the virus is going to keep spreading. And so by the end of twenty, twenty one, we'll have reached this herd immunity threshold either artificially through vaccination or naturally because the virus is spread through the population and killed us.


And until that time, we're going to live in a changed, acutely changed world, wearing masks, having gathering bands in school and business closure, border closures, travel restrictions, all of this stuff that we're doing now that we revile.


And then we'll finally have put at the end of the immediate pandemic period, will have put the epidemiological and biological force of the pandemic behind us.


But we're going to have it's like a wave, like a tsunami receding from the shore. We're going to have to clean up the debris. We're going to have to address the social, economic, psychological and clinical aftershocks of the virus. And if you look at hundreds of years of epidemics across the world, like the bubonic plague and cholera outbreaks and smallpox outbreaks and so on. It takes time off in a year or two years for a society to recover from the shock.


This economic and social and psychological shock. And then we will enter finally the post pandemic period. And I think that's going to be a little bit like the Roaring Twenties in the twenty first century compared to the roaring 20s of the 20th century. So during times of plague, what you see is that people become more religious and that's been happening for thousands of years during times of plague. Why will when death is afoot, people turn to God, they think about their own mortality during times of plague.


People stay at home. They avoid social interactions happening for thousands of years during times of pain. People stop spending their money either because they've lost their jobs or because the economy has collapsed or because they're risk averse. They want to save their money in case they need it if they get sick. This is typical of plagues and we are seeing all of these things, the heightened religiosity, the the abstemious ness, the risk aversion, the saving of money.


Savings rates are very high in the United States right now. The social avoidance, you know, the fact that people are avoiding each other. And then what you see when the plague finally ends is the reversal of all those trends. So I think by sometime end of twenty, twenty three, beginning of twenty four, we'll begin to see a kind of roaring twenties. The religiosity that had risen will now plummet. The sociality, the fact that people had been restraining their social interactions, people I think will relentlessly seek out social interactions in nightclubs and bars and restaurants and sporting events and musical concerts and political rallies.


We might see some sexual licentiousness, you know, people being cooped up, you know, there. They have desires. People will start spending their money having been restrained. And I think we'll have a booming economy. I think we'll see an efflorescence of the arts and of entrepreneurship. I think it's going to be a quite distinctive time in the history of our country and around the world, too. When the plague is finally behind us, the full biological, epidemiological, clinical, social, economic and psychological impact is finally behind us.


I'll just say one more thing about that intermediate period that I forgot to mention. Which is that people who think that when we vaccinate half of Americans that life will return to normal aren't aware of the ripple effects of a serious plague like this. Millions of people are out of work. Millions of businesses have gone out of business. Millions of children have missed school. Millions of Americans will be disabled. It's hard to know precisely, but probably five times as many people as die will have some form of long term disability.


So if half a million to a million Americans die, that means we have two point five to five million Americans with some significant disability afterwards, even after the wave of the epidemic recedes. So all of these are things that we're going to have to cope with during the intermediate period as we right the ship anyway. That's too long. And the answer, I suspect, to your question. But that sort of sets the stage, at least in my mind, like where we are in this serious event, that once in a century event that we're experiencing definitely not too long an answer and a up in my mind a bunch of questions in particular.


I'm just curious about the interim period that I've had this assumption. Yes, I know that long term effects, the psychological effects, the health effects, the economic effects are profound. And yet I've had this sense that I kind of even after having listened to you speak, I still have this sense which might be firmly in the land of denial, that once we hit herd immunity, both naturally and artificially, the efflorescence you mentioned, the money coming off the sidelines, the humans coming off the sidelines will happen in twenty, twenty two while we clean up the mess.


But you don't think we're going to be prepared for that? Well, no, I don't think it will happen quite so easily.


I mean, I think, first of all, these aren't punctuated moments in time. You know, these are feathered, you know, wave and then another wave of effects and then another wave effect. So it's not going to be some people and some aspects of life will gradually return to normal. And, you know, beginning in less than a year now towards the end of twenty, twenty one. But there are a lot of kids that have missed a lot of school, that have lost a lot of progress on their reading.


For example, those kids will need to remediate that. Tens of thousands of restaurants that went out of business will somehow need to be recapitalized. That capital was lost. You know, you can't just restart. Where is the money come from? How do you reconstitute the workforce, the real estate sector, the hospitality sector? Yes, people will begin to travel and things will pick up. But, you know, it's not like airports are suddenly going to be as full a year from now as they were a year ago.


That's just not going to be the case. Right. The clinical effects, you know, if we have just a benchmark, there are seven hundred and fifty thousand Americans that have end stage renal disease, that are on dialysis, who are disabled. In other words, they have a significant problem with their kidneys. Two and a half million Americans disabled in some other way because of the virus is a very large burden on our society. I mean, we have to provide health care for these people and finance that care.


And those people may be less productive. If you have one of the features of coronaviruses, its so-called neurotrophic, it combined to our nervous tissue as a class. These types of pathogens do this. So some large number of Americans are going to have persistent covid Phog or other deficits. People with cardiac problems have pancreatic problems, pulmonary fibrosis. They'll be all these people will need care and attention and on and on and on. Plus, let's not forget, we are printing money to cope with this pandemic, right?


We're borrowing trillions of dollars. The economic aftershocks of this will also be very material when those appear is very hotly debated by economists. And I honestly don't know exactly when that effect will be felt. But it's not like we could just borrow four trillion dollars and never pay the price for that. Right. I mean, that's happening right now. We are borrowing against the future. The debt will come due. So, no, I don't think it's going to be this sudden.


Everything goes back to normal in the year. Plus, there'll be people who will be shocked. I mean, many people still won't feel comfortable and rightly so, going around without wearing masks, for example. So when you go out, there'll be many people still wearing masks. Even if you're vaccinated, you might quite rationally choose to wear a mask.


You know, vaccines are very, very wonderful, the vaccines we have. But they're not perfect, right? They're ninety five percent effective. So you actually you should wear a mask, at least for the next year, even if you're vaccinated, let alone the public health reasons for that, which is that we can't have some people not wearing masks. And if there's a rule that you must and they say, oh, I'm vaccinated, well, we do have to have a rule that you have to wear a mask, whether you're vaccinated or not, whether you're in public.


So anyway, the point is the world is not going to suddenly return to normal. And I also think that one of the problems we have had as a nation in coping with this pandemic, it was definitely a failure of leadership, definitely at the White House in the prior administration, but also at many governors offices on the left and on the right of the political spectrum. You know, and it is hard for politicians. To level with the public, especially with threats of this nature which are creeping slowly, rising threats, if you were a politician who was want to listen to epidemiologists like me back in February, we would have told you, yes, the case count is low now, but that's deceptive.


There's this long as you learned and in high school mathematics, you know, with exponential growth, there's a long, long, flat part of the curve and it inflects and skyrockets.


And we would have advised politicians to and warn the people that it seems OK right now. But actually, it's bad. It's going to be really bad really soon. But that's a very unpleasant message for any politician to deliver anyone. And it's difficult for the public to hear if a leader comes and says the sky is going to fall soon and you look around and you think nothing is happening, you don't believe them. Right. So the public health messaging challenge in our nation back in the spring was precisely that to invite people to understand, do some basic teaching of the American people.


Here's what happens with epidemics. Here's why you don't think there's a problem. But in fact, there is. Here's what we need to do as a nation to cope with this threat. We are going to suffer. So, first of all, inviting the American people to shared hardship, educating them about what was needed, pointing out the sacrifices that would be required.


Rich people are going to have to pay more taxes, essential workers, people are going to lose their jobs. Working class people are going to lose their jobs. Essential workers are going to have to double duty and take risks. Doctors are going to die and nurses are going to die, as has happened during plagues for thousands of years in the plague of Athens in 240 B.C. facilities. Talks about how all the doctors are dying. Right. It's nothing new about the fact that health care workers die.


During Pope Clement, the sixth in the 14th century with the first attack of the Black Death, talked about how all the nurses, they were nuns, but all the nurses were dying. Right. This is what happened during times of plague. So so the American people should have been leveled with should have been called to sacrifice and duty and collective a confrontational threat. They should have been educated. They should have been encouraged not to be immature, not to be like a child that fantasizes that this bad thing isn't happening.


I mean, this bad thing is happening. This is a once in a century event. We happen to be alive during this event and we need to cope with it, but none of that was done.


So it's difficult for our leaders to do all of that, I grant. But that is their job. That's what they should have done. And we American citizens also have a duty, which is to be willing to hear bad news, not to vote the leader out of office who gives us bad news and then vote in the guy who lied to us. That's not good civics. Right. And that's not a wise or mature way of of operating a great society like I think ours is and can be.


So we fumbled badly as a people, and I'm ashamed, honestly, of how America has done. We're a great nation. We're a rich nation. We do have the world's best scientists. And we had expertize in epidemiology and the history of medicine, many experts knew exactly what was going to happen. We didn't listen to them and we didn't prepare. We didn't deploy our wealth. We didn't deploy our open communications. We didn't deploy our science. And as a result, we've been playing catch up.


From the moment this virus entered our species, we were going to lose one hundred or two hundred thousand Americans, which is bad. It's a third or fourth leading killer on the list of top. We lose about six hundred thousand Americans a year to cancer and six hundred thousand to cardiovascular disease. And then the if you're above two or three hundred thousand, you're like right up there, third or fourth on the list of killers. But we didn't need to lose half a million to a million Americans.


And we are. And it is it is a calamity and I think. One of the reasons that we have done so poorly is that the virus is just deadly enough to harm us. And it kills about one percent of the people that get it and get symptoms from it, which is a serious infectious disease, like if you talk to an ID doctor, that one percent fatality, that's a bad disease. And if you're hospitalized with covid at any age, you have a greater risk of dying than if you have a heart attack.


So if you're worried about having a heart attack in the hospital, you should be more worried about covid just a benchmark. You, no matter your age, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80. But the virus is not deadly enough to really force us to take it seriously. And the amazing thing about that is that there's no God given reason. This virus isn't deadlier. It's intrinsic lethality is a biological property of the virus. And imagine if this virus was like the plague, killed 30 percent or 50 percent of the people that infected.


We would have been facing annihilation, like we would have been having an Armageddon scenario in our country, like the black death in the twenty first century. And unlike things like bubonic plague or cholera, which are bacteria for which we have effective antibiotics, we actually have no drugs to speak of. We have some I'm exaggerating a little effective drugs for viruses. So and we still don't by the way, for sars-cov-2, we have dexamethasone, a steroid which helps, but there's no drugs you can give to cure viral diseases to speak of.


Anyway, we would have been facing an absolute calamity. I think that we would have been taken more seriously anyway. So the point is that the virus is just deadly enough to harm us a lot, but alas, not deadly enough that we really took it seriously, as we should have from the beginning.


Question about your timeline. How might your timeline be affected by. Two things, one, mutations that override the effectiveness of the vaccines, and two, we still don't know how long immunity lasts. So those two variables seem like they have the potential to really warp your timeline.


They would all make it worse. Yes. Let me start by saying that I think that it's likely in the end that we will wind up needing some kind of periodic booster shots for these vaccines, either because the virus continues to with viruses always mutating, but the strains emerge, which are problematic for us or because there's some waning immunity. Although I'm not so worried about the latter, I think it's impossible to know for sure. But I do think actually that the immunity conferred by either vaccination or by natural infection will be sustained, that if you recover from the disease or are vaccinated, then you are exposed a year or two or three or five later that you might get a mild course of the illness, but you won't die, let's say.


I think that's likely, but not certain. So I'll grant you that it's not certain. But anyway, we'll cope with that with the booster shots. What I do think is worrisome is that there could be emergent strains of the virus which throw a spanner in the works and worsen the timeline that you and I discussed a little while ago. And there are three ways that this can happen. You highlighted one. Let me mention the other two. The first is that viral strains could emerge, which are more infectious.


They spread more easily. We are not of this virus. The so-called are Sub-Zero. The basic reproduction number is about three. That means that for each person that's infected in a non immune population that is interacting normally, three new cases will arise. This is an intrinsic property of the pathogen. It's how infectious it is. The most infectious pathogen is measles. For each case of measles, you get 16 or 18 new cases Ebola might have are not of two or lower and sars-cov-2 as an hour, not of three.


That's quite an infectious disease, actually. The ordinary seasonal flu has an alternative like one point five or something. So if you have a case of the flu, you create one point five new cases. You should have the intuition that the fact that that number is above one is what makes it an epidemic. If the number were below one, then the number of cases would decline with time. Each case would not reproduce itself. So if the number is above one, it means the cases arise with time.


That is in fact, what it means to be an epidemic is to have an are not above one. So one thing that could happen and has happened is that the virus, variants of the virus could emerge and come to predominate that are more infectious. And in fact, we know that, for example, with a B one one seven strain, that it's are not is probably closer to four. So that actually can be quite bad. Now, this is a lot of epidemiology now, but the gist is relatively earlier in an epidemic.


Ironically, a germ mutating to become more infectious can be worse than the germ mutating to become more deadly because the germ can spread to infect larger numbers of people and ultimately cause more deaths than a slower spreading germ that just becomes deadlier. So even though it's more likely to kill you if it infects you, it's less likely to infect you, whereas another pathogen that becomes more likely to infect you, even if it's not more likely to kill you, more people die.


So the epidemiologists are actually not so didn't take much solace when the news came out a few months ago that the Mutant's had emerged that were more infectious. They were like less serious. That's a concern for us.


More people will die as a result of that, even if each case is not deadlier because more people will become infected. So that is happening. That's not too uncommon. The second thing that could happen is the variants of the virus that become more deadly could come to predominate. Now, that's typically not what happens.


Usually from a Darwinian point of view, the virus wants, quote unquote, to become less lethal. The virus doesn't really want, quote unquote, to kill you, doesn't want to immobile, in fact, you and then lay low and kill you because then you don't spread it. What it really wants to do is make you sick, but not stop you from moving around because then you infect other people and the milder versions of the virus then come to predominate the less deadly versions.


The virus has no interest in killing you. The virus has an interest in you spreading it. So if it puts you underground and you stop spreading the disease, which is not what it wants, so usually pathogens over time, from a Darwinian point of view, evolve to be less deadly. But there are exceptions. 1918 was a fascinating exception, which we can come back and talk about if you want. And I discussed that in Apollos zero as well.


And we may be seeing a little bit of that right now for very interesting reasons. But in fact, we are seeing is the emergence of some more deadly strains to be one one seven strain data just came out in the middle of February of twenty twenty one, that that strain is probably more deadly as well, which is very concerning. So that's another thing that could put a spanner in the works.


And a third thing which you mentioned, which is the most concerning to me and to you is that we could get strains that evolve to evade the immunity conferred by vaccination. Now, so far, we've not really seen that. We have seen strains that emerge that reduce the efficacy of vaccination. But these vaccines are so powerful that even at reduced efficacy, it's still good. So we haven't really seen that happening in a way that's too concerning yet. But everyone is very frightened and worried about this.


And I know that the vaccine manufacturers, especially those Pfizer and Moderna that have the Marnay technology, can very rapidly prototype and field booster shots that are sensitive to emergent strains that are avoided. The previous version, just like for our flu shots, you know, you get a new flu shot every year. And I read recently that the FDA quite rightly, is going to allow the release of such boosters without a full scale randomized control trial. That would take too long.


By the time you proved it worked, it was too late, similar to what it does with influenza. So that's all good. And I think, again, this technology that we have in the form of these Marnay vaccines is miraculous. We're just very lucky that we are alive at this time. Many people listening to this are probably stunned and shocked and maybe bewildered or annoyed and irritated by the way we've come to live right now. And what we're facing this this this real unpleasant reality that we are enduring right now.


People have lost their jobs that now with half a million deaths, many more Americans know someone who died or had someone in their family who died. It's becoming more real to condition people are stuck at home, their children are stuck at home and people are suffering.


And it is a feature of plagues and has been for hundreds of years that they are grief making plagues. They take our lives. They take our livelihoods. They take our way of life. I mean, this is what they do.


So people are aware that we've come to live in this very unnatural and alien way. But what's important to understand is that plagues are not new to our species. They're just new to us. We think this is nuts, but playoffs are in the Bible there in Homer, right? The opening of the Iliad is Apollo, you know, coming down from Olympus to punish the Greeks there in Shakespeare. They're conservatives. There's nothing new about plagues. They're part of our history of our species on this planet.


Actually, that's not totally true. They probably really became a problem in the last ten thousand years when we abandoned the Hunter-Gatherer way of life and domesticated animals and moved into cities. But that's another conversation. But anyway, so the point is that plagues are not new to our species, are new to us. And, you know, it behooves us to somehow take that fact in and try to do as well as we can during our time in The Crucible.


Well, that's exactly where I was hoping to go to address this question of how we can do the best we can in our time in The Crucible, this question of how to live, what are the ethical quandaries that pop up nanosecond by nanosecond during this plague are intense. I'll just give you an example from my life today. Friend of mine was in town from L.A. He's very covid sensitive and he made us a reservation at a restaurant. I thought, OK, we'll be eating outside because I've only restaurants I've been to during this plague.


I've been either takeout or eating outside. But actually we got there. It was inside. There was nobody in the restaurant. We were the only people there other than my staff.


So I started to feel, OK, I am here, we'll go for it. And then people started to show up, at which point we had already eaten and we double mast. But that was scary for me. And so what was the move? Should I have just told? As soon as I walked in there and saw that it was there wasn't open air, I should have said we're out of here. Like, I don't so much need you to give me individual device, although you can I'm more thinking like, how do we operate in this environment?


Because we all have different risk tolerances, et cetera, et cetera.


No, I think the story of the anecdote you just told is a very good anecdote because it illustrates a more general principle, which is that there's no life without risk during a time of plague. There's no way to unless you become a hermit in the mountains. And then even then, you know, some other hermit might walk by your your cave and say hello and that, you know, you get infected or something for communicable diseases that spread from person to person.


Short of being a complete hermit, there's no life without risk. And so everything one does, you have to sort of decide, you know, is this worth the risk? Should I send my five year old back to school? You know, should I travel by car to visit my ailing parent? Should I go to the restaurant outdoors? You know, even outdoors? It's not a guarantee. If you had had the same meal outside, there's no guarantee it would have substantially lowered your risk, but not eliminated it.


Right. These are all relative statements, even mask wearing. It's not even the vaccine is not 100 percent effective vaccines. Ninety five percent effective mass wearing is, you know. Seventy five percent effective. There's no one thing you can do or even set of things that completely eliminate your risk. And therefore, all actions you see require some consideration. Like most Americans have rightly stopped wiping down their packages that are delivered to their house. Many people probably remember back in March and April, people were wiping down their packages.


And there are all these how to clean your vegetables. Videos were going viral. Probably was at the time. We didn't know that fomites. That is to say, surface transmission wasn't a serious problem. But we now know that it is not a serious problem. No, it's not zero, but it's not a serious problem. And most Americans, the package delivery guy delivers the package and you pick it up and you bring it into your home and you open the package and you're done.


People don't think about that. So but there is some risk, I mean, some non-zero risk there, you know, so the question is, well, what should you do? You know, how do you manage that? And so I think your anecdote is quite a good one. You said, look, you know, there are no issues here. I'm getting some satisfaction from being at this restaurant. Like when you were telling the story. I was very jealous because I have not been to a restaurant to eat out in a year.


We do takeout food, but I haven't been, you know, dinner with another couple. Just sounds like heaven right now. Like my wife and I, we would love to have another couple. Erika and I have had meals and drinks with local friends outdoors at like a distance, you know, so like one of our friends who lives next to us, who's actually a screenwriter, a man I absolutely adore, and his wife, Bob and Elizabeth, they would invite us over to their house.


This was last spring in or over the summer. And they would set up chairs like face to face at like twelve feet apart. And there would be two little tables with a drinks cart. And, you know, we could have I mean, now, as I'm telling the story, I'm like, oh, my God, it's so great. But we've had such limited social interaction.


So anyway, the point is that you might say, you know, screw it, I'm going to go out to a restaurant, have a meal and take some small, non-zero risk. And that's what you have to approach all your problems with right now.


But it's not as simple as the risk I'm taking for myself because it's everybody I see subsequently. It's the burden I would place on an overburdened hospital system. So it's not as simple as my own risk tolerance. So the ethics are murky. Yes. Yes. I'm really glad you emphasize that. And it's that kind of altruistic sensibility. Which I think is so important, you see, there's there's something interesting about a collective threat, contagious disease is intrinsically a collective threat and it requires some so-called other regard.


That is to say you can't a group of selfish people, each independently confronting a collective threat. It's not effective. It's the nature of the threat requires us to work together to fight it. It's like if an army was invading our country and you took your gun and you went to the frontier, you'd be useless against one of you, against the army, you'd be useless. Right. And if everyone took their gun and ran to the frontier, that also wouldn't be effective.


You need an organizing force. You need people to take charge and organize groups to mount a defense and effective defense against this collective threat. That is what a collective threat is, or, for example, air pollution or climate change. I mean, you could reduce your carbon footprint, but it will have no effect on climate change until unless everyone works together to reduce their carbon footprint. So there are certain kinds of threats which are collective or polluting the waters and things of this nature and contagious diseases of that kind.


So we have to work together. And as I discussed in Apollos earlier, this is one of the also the virtues of our US as a species. So in another book called Blueprint, I give an account for the evolutionary origins of a good life. To the title of the book is Blueprint The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society, and I talk about how and why we humans have evolved to have all these wonderful qualities. For example, we don't just have sex with our partners.


We love them. We evolve the capacity to form a sentimental attachment to the people we say reproduce with and incidentally, secondarily, even to the people we don't reproduce with.


And that's very rare in the animal kingdom. We also do something else that's extraordinarily rare, which is we befriend unrelated individuals. We have friends. We form long term non reproductive unions to other members of our species. This is exceedingly rare. We do it certain other primates do it, elephants do it, certain cetacean species do it. We form social networks with unrelated individuals. We cooperate with each other. We act altruistically to strangers. We give money to homeless people.


We adopt children that are not related to us. We band together with unrelated individuals to hunt big game, for example. So this capacity for cooperation that we have is also very distinctive and not common in the animal kingdom. And we even do something that's almost perhaps the most miraculous, which is that we teach each other things so any animal can learn. A little fish in the sea can learn that if it swims up to the light, it'll find food there.


That's called independent learning. But some animals learn socially. For example, you put your hand in the fire and you learn that it burns. That's independent learning. So you get some knowledge. Fire burns, but you pay a price. You know, you have a burned hand or I watch you put your hand in the fire and I get almost as much knowledge fire burns, but I pay. None of the price is incredibly efficient. Or, for example, we go into a forest and I see you eat red berries and then you drop dead.


You paid an enormous price requiring the knowledge that red berries are deadly, but I learned that red berries are deadly and I don't pay any price at all.


That's social learning, which is rare, but also seen in the animal kingdom. But we do something even more rare, which is we teach each other things. I teach you to build the fire and this capacity which we evolved and which is also seen in certain other animal species, but rarely it gives us the capacity for culture, that is to say, our ability to accumulate knowledge and transmit it to each other. And so one of the ironies is that contagious pathogens like sars-cov-2.


Exploit all of that good stuff, the fact that we live in groups and hug and touch each other and form friendships and interact socially and share information. We come together to share information and then we share germs. And in fact, one of the arguments that I've made is that the spread of germs is the price we pay for the spread of ideas. But the irony is that it's all of those same qualities, these wonderful qualities of the ability to work together and the ability to share information, for example, that will allow us to beat back the germ and emerge victorious.


Right. And so you're highlighting our capacity for cooperation, for example, in working together to fight the virus. And there's this tension because that's what the virus exploits to spread. But that's what we need to do in order to win. And the fact that we invented these vaccines reflects thousands of years of our ability to accumulate knowledge in the form of culture and transmitted across time. So we right now are benefiting from the efforts made by scientists and doctors for hundreds of years, each generation contributing to this body of knowledge not only across time, but across place.


So as the epidemic was striking, Chinese scientists were posting preprint, describing the virus online that people like me were reading. Right. That was sharing information that made it easier for me to survive because this Chinese scientists were posting information and so on. And then I just because you highlighted I'll just read it like a kind of an optimistic take on plagues like Albert Camus that who wrote this, a novel called The Plague in nineteen forty seven. It was inspired by bubonic plague attacks from the 19th century, but it was set in the 20th century.


And one of the protagonists is a doctor by the name of Dr. Reia. And this is Camu writing. He goes, Dr Reha resolved to compile this chronicle so that some memorial of the injustice and outrage done them might endure, and to state quite simply what we learn in time of pestilence, that there are more things to admire in men than to despise them. And that's how I feel.


I think that many of us and much of our society is manifesting these wonderful qualities which are making it easier for us to survive.


You have once again magically led me exactly where I wanted to go because I wanted to spend a goodly amount of time on Apollo's Arrow, the new book. But I also do want to spend some time on Blueprint, its predecessor. And I've heard you say this and I hope I'm going to reproduce it correctly. And I not only your sentiment, but also the context of the sentiment. But I believe that one of the arguments you're trying to make in blueprint and an argument you've been trying to make for a while in your role as expert on or student of human nature is that humans are fundamentally good.


Is that true, that that's what you believe and what is the evidence for that? Yes, I believe that. I believe that as a matter of evolutionary biology and I believe that as a philosophical and moral observation about human beings. Now, I need to say I'm not naive. You know, I'm not a doctor Pangalos. I recognize that humans are capable and manifest tremendous evil. I'm quite familiar that every century is replete with horrors, with pogroms and and enslavement and conquest and violence and torture and and warfare and cruelty and all kinds of awful things that we do to each other.


I'm well aware of all of this, but even so, we are good, actually. And I think that the mere fact that we live socially. Is evidence for this in some way, because if every time I came near you. You lied to me or you injured me or you killed me. I would be better off living separately. We would live as isolated individuals. We wouldn't live socially. So the benefits of a connected life must outweigh the costs.


And natural selection has shaped not just the structure and function of our bodies, how our pancreas works, our lungs work, and or why, you know, children are relatively less affected by sars-cov-2 given the distribution of to receptors in their nose and lungs and so on. Natural selection equipped our bodies with these properties that affect our susceptibility to pathogens and so on. So natural selection has shaped not just the structure and function of our bodies, not just even the structure and function of our minds.


How we think, for example, is a product of natural selection, our capacity for language, for example, but also the structure and function of our societies. We evolve to manifest certain collective properties that equip us for social life. And I mentioned some of these before, love, for example, friendship, cooperation, teaching. There are others sort of evolved to live in groups that are what I call a mild hierarchy. There's some intrinsic hierarchy that's necessary for the proper functioning of groups.


Groups that are completely egalitarian do not succeed. And those that are that are too lopsided also do not fair. Well, we've all the capacity for social networks. We we evolved something called ingroup bias, which is very depressing. We prefer the company of people we resemble. All humans do. And the same property, incidentally, is seen in dolphins and elephants and other social mammals. So it's not distinctive to us. These are all things that I call the social suite, the set of eight features.


We we also evolve the capacity. Ironically, part of the capacity for sociality, for living socially is the capacity for identity. Here's an idea. Why are all our faces different? In other words, our kidneys to do their job in principle, should all work the same, but our faces to do their job should all be different. And the region of our genome that codes for the structure and appearance of our faces is in fact very variable and equips us with the ability to have many different kinds of faces.


And not only that, not only do you have a distinctive face, but I can detect and tell the difference between your face and Sam, the sound engineers face and I can tell who's who. And so there's a big part of my brain that's devoted to the ability to distinguish faces from each other. So we have evolved the capacity to signal and detect unique identity. And part of the reason for that is that if you want to avoid forgetting who you've had sex with or you want to be able to signal to your parent, I am your child, not someone else's child, or you want to remember who was nice to you, who shared food with you in the past and you might owe a favor to you need to be able to track individuals.


So to be capable of social life has required us to evolve the capacity, ironically, to have a unique identity. So this whole suite of features, which I call the social suite, I think satisfies many philosophical traditions, avoiding something called the naturalistic fallacy, which maybe some of your listeners are already hearing me and leaping ahead. And I went there, too. But anyway, these I think most people would regard these as good qualities. I don't think anyone would say that love and friendship and teaching and cooperation are bad.


So we evolved to have these qualities, which I revere. So not only do these qualities, I think, have an evolutionary basis, but they also can be defended, as I was suggesting, on on moral and philosophical grounds and finally on dispositional grounds. Like I am an optimist. I am the kind of person who sees good in people. And I'm not a fool. I mean, if someone tries to hold a gun to me, I might recognize that that might have something to do with the way this person was raised.


And they may have had quite a challenging upbringing or they may not know how to restrain themselves or they may need to feed themselves or something. You know, I can provide all those rationalizations, but nevertheless, I don't want you to hold a gun to me.


You know, I don't think that's a good thing to do. So I am an optimist in that way. And I feel like it's quite rational for me to have this disposition.


Let me see if I can sum that up in a way that would convince me and maybe you that I've understood it. Yes, human beings are capable of all sorts of horror. But at our core, we are wired for cooperation and friendliness and love, and when there's horror, that is what, a misfiring?


No, I think we're capable of both. It's just that the good outweighs the bad. I mean, in some ways, the argument I make is the following argument. In Catholic theology, there's this field known as theodicy, which is how can we understand God to be good given all the evil in the world. Right. Given all the suffering and evil? How would a omniscient, omnipotent, beneficent God allow all of these horrors? Right. So this was a serious problem for the Catholic theologians.


How can we provide an account for it? And that branch of theology is called theodicy. It's the vindication of God, despite his, quote unquote failures, vindication of a belief in God, despite the presence of evil.


And I think what I'm attempting to do in blueprint is what I would call Soucy Oddisee, which is a vindication of a confidence in the goodness of society despite the evil in society. As I said, I'm well aware of all of these awful qualities. But still, even so, there are all these wonderful things about us as a species and about our societies. And I believe that we have spent far too much attention on the dark side of our nature and not the bright side has been denied the attention it deserves and furthermore, that the bright side predominates.


Actually, it's a little bit like star, you know, like the dark side of the force and the bright side and the light side of the force. And I think the light side is stronger. And I think the evidence supports my belief, actually, and that's the evidence I try to marshal in blueprint.


I hope this isn't repetitive, but what's the elevator pitch for the evidence? Is that the social suite or is there?


Yes, it's the fact that the simplest way to make that point is just to invite listeners to imagine that if we were always so awful to each other, why do we stick around? It must be some countervailing force that makes us continue to live socially despite the fact that we are so awful. Right. And that is the balance, right, that I'm trying to illustrate. I'm trying to put the weights on the scale or shine a light on the weights of the scale that are tipping the balance towards our living the way that we do.


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I'm very curious, I come out of personally the Buddhist tradition and, you know, there's this idea in certain circles of Buddhism, there's this idea of Buddha nature. You may be familiar with this, but just in case you I'm going to say what it is, just so that you know and that the listeners know. The idea is and I hope I have this right, but basically that human nature is fundamentally good and that the bad stuff is the consequence of confusion.


I think it's sometimes compared to like a gem that's been encrusted by whatever dirt or whatever, some sort of muck that's gotten dry over the gem and that you meditation in ethical life and all sorts of other practices promulgated by the Buddha. That's how you clear away the muck and bring forth our sort of Buddha nature are loving. What how does that land for you as a scientist? I mean, sounds terrific to me. Does it sound true? I mean, whether it was terrific.


I mean, lots of things done terrific.


What would be the empirical test of this philosophical proposition? I suppose the experiment you would want to do is to see. Well, I mean, it's a bit like the thought experiment I do in the book, which is I say, what kind of society would come naturally to us if we were left to our druthers? Would we be evil to each other or would we not? And in not part of the book, what I do is I, I think about potential natural experiments of this.


For example, I consider the case of shipwrecks, which you would really love to do if you could do it, just take a group of people and and raise them without any kind of culture, don't teach them anything. And then see, did they live a virtuous life? Did they manifest love and friendship and cooperation, all these wonderful qualities? And of course, this has been called the forbidden experiment, but it hasn't stopped monarchs for thousands of years for thinking about it.


So analogously, what we would really like to do is to test the idea, I think that you put on the table is to like take a group of people who somehow were put on an isolated island and miraculously raised in some fashion and provided with all the necessities. And then when they grew up, you know, how moral were they and what type of social life did they manifest? And then we could maybe test out, of course, that we can't really do that kind of meandering.


I didn't I'm not answering your question directly because I don't know what right now. The best answer is in coming to me. But I'll say one other thing that is connected to what you said, which is most of our virtues, not all of them. Most of our virtues are social. We don't care if you love yourself or a kind yourself or adjust to yourself, we care whether you love others or kind to others or just to others, that's what we think of as as virtuous.


So most virtues, not all, most virtues are social virtues. And I think it's not a coincidence that our moral and religious systems are so connected to our way of living socially. So I think that if we wanted to test this theory of a gem encrusted in muck, were you born with that muck and then over life you get rid of it, or did you acquire that muck over the course of life? I would have to think about the empirical test of this idea.


I wonder if you said before that our social you know, our virtues are measured socially. That doesn't mean we don't really care how you are with yourself. I wonder if that's a fundamental and disastrous misunderstanding, because how you are with yourself determines, I believe, how you are with other people.


I think that people who are able to cultivate some self forgiveness and some self insight, yes, I think those types of people tend to do better. On the other hand, even that you don't want too much self forgiveness. Right? We don't want you to know or too much self reflection makes you narcissistic. Right. We want you to have some self awareness. Some kindness to yourself in terms of your recognition of your humanity, which I think those dispositions could then equip you to be nice to other people.


So I guess I would grant part of what you said. But on an abstract level, I don't think that's the case. I don't think that if someone was manifesting a lot of self-love, we would think that was a virtue. We would say no. What we really care about is if you're nice to other people.


Yeah, to be clear, I this self compassion, self love thing is something that my listeners would be quite familiar with just because I yammer on about it a lot. It is not self-love in that you feed yourself ice cream in perpetuity. Well, you know, it's not Marie Antoinette. Let them eat cake. It's holding yourself setting high standards, but not ruthlessly kicking your own butt in the process. It's also aware a wise self compassion is aware that it feels better to be nice to other people than to be a homicidal lunatic.


Yes. And so if you just go through the pleasure centers of the brain as your guide, a self compassionate person, I believe, will be a better citizen.


I think you're right in some sense, like the most of the people that I know that are coming to others are also kind to themselves.


So I would agree with that on this question of are we fundamentally good? I've spent some time thinking about this and that. You've got a range from original sin all the way to Buddha nature. And then maybe in the middle you've got the sort of indigenous theory of the two wolves in your mind. You know, one is the good wolf. The other's a bad wolf. And and they're always in combat. And the one that we're in Looney Tunes, the two little devil.


Yes. Angel on your shoulders.


But the punch line and the indigenous thing is that the wolf that wins is the wolf you feed. And so if you spend time feeding the virtuous wolf, it will predominate. And so I wonder, at the end of the day, is this all sort of academic when it comes down to the level of an individual life and when it comes down to the level of an individual life, should we be just paying attention to what I said before, which is that it feels good.


And this there's plenty of science behind to be kind, to be friendly, to be generous, to be cooperative and follow that.


Yes, that is true what you said. But then you must ask the question, why did we evolve to have those warm sensibilities when we act in these altruistic or loving ways? That's exactly the argument that I'm making, is that natural selection shaped us, that many listeners will know that, you know, why do you feel good when you're with your friends?


Such a good feeling to just be with a nice friend of yours. Even as I'm saying this, many people will be like, oh, yeah, I know what he's talking about. It's like being with someone who understands me and it gives us a warm glow. Or why does it feel good to give money to a poor person? You don't know this person, you'll never see them again. There's no expectation that they'll reciprocate. And yet you feel good.


Most people feel good making a donation of that kind. Well, that sensibility is only partly culturally dictated. I would argue it's mostly evolved, this sensibility that you're describing. So and we evolved to have those sensibilities precisely, I would argue, in the service of a certain kind of social life. And one of the many lines of evidence in support of this sensibility is that we see convergent evolution in some of these traits in other animals with whom our last common ancestor was tens of millions of years ago.


So, for example, elephants have friends seem to prefer the company of certain other elephants that other friends. But our last common ancestor with elephants was 90 million years ago, and that animal did not live socially so far as we know. And so elephants independently have evolved this capacity for friendship, which is miraculous, actually, if you think about it, very moving, actually. In fact, one of the arguments I make is that if we can share the capacity for friendship with elephants, surely we can share it with each other, you know, like, you know, like this recognition.


One of the ironies is that when we see these.


Deeply human traits like friendship or cooperation in other species that are very alien to our own. Ironically, if anything, it heightens our recognition of our common humanity, you know, the fact that all of us share these fundamental qualities. Now, I need to be clear. I'm speaking here about us as a species. I mean, there's certain people who are not interested in having friends, and that's fine. There's variation across people in how kind they are to strangers, but also typical, just like there's variation in the other trait, like our capacity to do calculus.


What we're talking about here is that we have a brain as a species that is capable of doing calculus. We're not saying every single one of us can do calculus the same level. That's not what we're saying. We're sort of giving a general description of the powers of our wonderful species.


We're talking about non-human animals. I was thinking about our three rescue cats, none of whom is related biologically to the other. I've seen them cooperate to knock snacks off the counter and eat them together and bittersweet. So final question for me. During this plague, we have seen the best of, I believe, the best of humanity, in particular among our front line workers and in areas of medicine and food delivery and lots of other aspects that are sort of now we call essential.


We've also seen some pretty antisocial behavior in terms of people denying the basic facts of the pandemic, refusing to do basic good citizen things like wearing a mask. We've seen tribalism. We've seen violence. We've seen racism. We've seen misinformation lying. You describe yourself as an optimist who believes that human beings are fundamentally good. You're also described yourself as someone who's not naive. So you see these problems.


What do you think is the best way for us to get over these bugs in our nature?


I don't think we can escape some of these bugs honestly, any more than ants can wake up and make beehives. We are destined to manifest some of these qualities, both good and bad. But I do think that we can buy more thoughtful attention, like you said. Maybe that's a nice way to wrap up this. You know, which, Wolf do you feed? I think if we feed the good wolf, it will inexorably lead us to a better path.


And so I think that making ourselves aware of these wonderful qualities, especially when we are challenged, what's happening here is this the kind of this unstoppable force of a deadly pathogen is meeting the immovable object of a human nature. But it's not the first time these pathogens have afflicted us before. And we have survived and we have seen the other side of these plagues in the past. And we've done so through a variety of means. Both our biological evolution has equipped us in certain ways, but our social evolution has equipped us in certain ways.


So I remain optimistic that we will see the other side of this plague and I retain my confidence in human beings.


So in some ways, the personal is political. If we tune in to that, the fact that it feels good to hold the door open for somebody else or give somebody who needs it money, et cetera, et cetera, to be cooperative, then we can contribute that light to the sum of light, as has been said.


I mean, I would agree with those statements, but maybe I'm preaching to the choir. I mean, there's also a cynical take on this, which is it doesn't really matter what we do. Surgeons, for example, have this joke that all bleeding stops eventually and plagues. And eventually after since I started talking about this joke, I've since learned that firemen have the same joke, which is that all fires stop eventually. Now, the point is that, you know, they could have certain and a certain way, which is not so good.


But I think, like we were saying earlier, I think that, you know, we are in a crucible right now of facing this ancient threat. And I think both as individuals and as a society, we can tilt ourselves towards the better way of coping with this threat, the more humane way, the way that's kinder. And I think ultimately, actually the way that is more effective not only in combating the germ, but in preserving the rectitude of our society.


I promise is the last question, but you mentioned cynicism, so let me just double click on that. What is the argument against just being fully out for yourself? I keep talking yammering on about how it feels good to both of us, about how it feels good to be generous, et cetera, et cetera. Doesn't it feel good to just, like, take all the all the toys?


Yeah, but that's like a science fiction trope. Let's like, you know, in aliens, like every man for himself is not a strategy to combat this type of a pathogen. Right. Like if the boat is sinking, everyone has to work together. Someone has to bail and someone has to row and someone has to steer. You can't just have every person for themselves. This hypothetical sort of cynical example you gave of someone says, well, I'm just going to take care of myself.


That doesn't work in a contagious disease. You you care about whether there's an outbreak in the local homeless shelter because that homeless shelter or the prison or the meatpacking plant or your school, all of these are places where can serve as petri dishes for the virus that can reach you. You cannot just be an island and ignore what's happening around you when there is a contagious disease. Any more than you can ignore climate change, for example, there are certain threats which are individualistic, which you can insulate yourself from and address on your own.


But there are other classes of threats which in their very nature are collective and require some kind of other regard and some kind of collective effort. And epidemic disease is one of those types of threats. Yes, if you want to withdraw completely from society during a time of a contagious disease, that could work. But unless you're willing to do that extreme, then you really are in it with everyone else and you have a stake in working together to address the threat.


Nicholas, it's been a total pleasure to meet you. Do you want to just remind people of the names of your books and where they can find more about you on the interweb?


Today we discussed two books. One is Apollo's Arrow, The profound and enduring impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live, which was published in Twenty Twenty in October. And the other we discussed this blueprint, The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society, which was published in March of twenty nineteen. I wasn't expecting to write another book so fast, but then the plague struck and I was stuck at home and I thought maybe I could help people understand what was happening to us, which is what motivated me to write a arrow.


And I'm privileged to run the Human Nature Lab at Yale University. And if you're interested in any of our work, you can find us there at Human Nature Lab, dot net and all of our scientific publications, videos and other stuff about what we're doing is available.


There was like I said, I've followed your work and listened to you on various podcasts over the years and really appreciate it. And it's a pleasure to speak to you. Thank you so much, Dan.


Thank you so much for having me. Thanks again to Nicholas Christakis. I really enjoyed talking to him. The show is made by Samuel Johns, D.J. Cashmere, Kim BCMA, Maria Wartell and Jen Plant with audio engineering by Ultraviolet Audio. And as always, before we go, a hearty salute to my ABC News comrades, Ryan Kessler and Josh Cohen. We'll see you all on Wednesday with a delightful and fascinating episode with Roshi Norma Long. We're going to be talking about one of the most venerable and imponderable Buddhist and spiritual concepts, oneness.


During the state, there was too much looking down and I think it was a little too fair. How do you feel about it?


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