Welcome back folks! Today’s episode circles some big questions. What does it mean to be human? What’s distinctive about the human mind and the human mode of being? What is human nature—if such a thing exists—and how could we catch a glimpse of it? Should we go looking for it in other primate species? Should we look deep in our fossil record?
My guest today is Dr. Agustín Fuentes, Professor of Anthropology at Princeton University. He is the other of a number of books, most recently The Creative Spark, in 2017, and Why We Believe, in 2019. Agustín was trained as a biological anthropologist, but as, you’ll hear, he’s very much interested in the whole human, not just our skulls and teeth and genes. He’s spent the better part of his career trying to build a more integrated, more fully fleshed out view of our species—one that takes seriously our bodies and brains, our culture and cognition, our primate heritage and our Pleistocene past.
Here we talk about Agustín’s career—how he got into anthropology in the first place, and how he went from observing langurs in Indonesia, to writing about human creativity and belief. We discuss the human niche and why it’s distinctive (but maybe not unique). We touch on monogamy and how it’s not a monolith. We talk about maleness and masculinity. And, for those who’ve been following recent hubbubs online, rest assured that we also talk about Darwin—and specifically what Darwin got wrong about biological sex and race.
I’ve been following Agustín’s work for some time and was thrilled to get him on the show. He’s an unusually expansive and boundary-crossing thinker—and that’s on full display in this conversation. He also doesn’t shy away from messiness. He welcomes the mess. He celebrates complexity. He enthuses about the richly, entangled human condition. Whether or not you yourself celebrate mess and complexity and entanglement—I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy hearing what Agustín has to say about it.
One quick announcement before he get to it: we’d like to welcome a new member of the Many Minds team: Cecilia Padilla. She is our new Assistant Producer, and we’re super excited to have her on board!