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Beauty at Work explores how beauty shapes our lives and the work that we do. In this interview-based podcast, sociologist Brandon Vaidyanathan interviews leaders and experts across many fields to reveal new insights into how beauty shapes our brains, behaviors, organizations, and societies. Learn how to harness the power and promise of beauty in your life and work, while avoiding its pitfalls and perils. In our first season, we're looking at beauty in science.

Music: Venkat Subramaniyam | Editing: Dave Visaya, Podcast Engineers

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Forthcoming guests: Marcelo Gleiser, Mark Painter, Marcia Otto, Frank Keil, Carlo Lancellotti

Podcast Episode 9: Why Aesthetics is Essential for Science Education - Dr. Punya Mishra (click for show notes)

Dr. Punya Mishra is Associate Dean of Scholarship & Innovation and Professor in the Division of Educational Leadership & Innovation in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University. He is internationally recognized for his work in technology integration in teaching; the role of creativity and aesthetics in learning; and the application of design-based approaches to educational innovation. He has received over $7 million in grants, published over 100 articles, and edited 3 books. He is an award-winning teacher, an engaging public speaker, as well as an accomplished visual artist and poet. And like any true Douglas Adams fan, he is interested in life, the universe, and everything.

In this episode we talk about:

  1. How Dr. Mishra began seeing the beauty of the world through science
  2. How can we revive the sense of wonder and curiosity in our classrooms?
  3. How education fails to cultivate the skill of curiosity and perception
  4. The role of beauty in science
  5. Dr. Mishra’s framework to better understand aesthetics in science
  6. Can curiosity be both helpful and harmful?
  7. Why do the aesthetics of coding matter?
  8. Can learning about the aesthetics of science help cultivate public trust?
  9. How can we develop generative curiosity?
  10. Why are the aesthetic aspects of science important?

To learn more about Dr. Mishra’s work, visit: https://punyamishra.com/

You can also find him on Twitter: https://twitter.com/punyamishra

Resources Mentioned:

His framework for the role of aesthetics in STEM education: https://punyamishra.com/2019/02/10/aesthetics-stem-education-introducing-a-new-framework/

Creativity & the Mindful Wanderings of Dr. Jonathan Schooler: https://punyamishra.com/2022/06/22/mindful-wandering-creativity-new-article/

Episode 8: The Science of Awe and the Awe of Science - Dr. Dacher Keltner (click for show notes)

Dacher Keltner is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and the faculty director of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. A renowned expert in the science of human emotion, Dr. Keltner studies compassion and awe, how we express emotion, and how emotions guide our moral identities and search for meaning. His research interests also span issues of power, status, inequality, and social class. He is the author of The Power Paradox and the bestselling book Born to be Good, and the co-editor of The Compassionate Instinct. His latest book is titled Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life.

In this episode we talk about:

  1. What drew Dacher to the scientific study of awe
  2. How awe differs from wonder and beauty
  3. What has surprised him the most about what he learned through his research
  4. What are the causes and triggers of awe, and why it matters for us to experience it
  5. How might experiences of awe facilitate scientific inquiry? And conversely, can scientific work deepen our sense of awe and mystery?
  6. Can awe lead us to both action as well as contemplation?
  7. Are there problems with the structure or culture of science that inhibit experiences of awe?
  8. How can we nurture awe in research culture?
  9. What is the relationship between awe and spirituality?
  10. How can we practically cultivate awe in our daily lives?

To learn more about Dr. Keltner’s work, visit: www.dacherkeltner.com

Resources Mentioned:

Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life

Edmund Burke on the Sublime and the Beautiful

Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species

The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf

Episode 7: Beauty, Desire, and Rivalry in Science and Technology - Luke Burgis (click for show notes)

Luke Burgis began his career on Wall Street in investment banking and private equity and went on to found multiple companies in technology, consumer products, and wellness. He is Entrepreneur-in-Residence and Director of Programs at the Ciocca Center for Principled Entrepreneurship at The Catholic University of America, where he is also a professor of business. He graduated from New York University’s Stern School of Business with a degree in Finance and Accounting and later studied philosophy and theology at a pontifical university in Rome. 

Luke is the co-author of the book Unrepeatable: Cultivating the Unique Calling of Every Person, with Dr. Joshua Miller, and the bestselling book Wanting: The Power of Mimetic Desire in Everyday Life (St. Martin’s Press), inspired by the ideas of the social theorist René Girard on the mimetic or imitative nature of human desire.

In this episode, we talk about what beauty has to do with mimetic desire and rivalry, especially in the worlds of science and technology.

We explore:

1. What attracted Luke to pursue finance, entrepreneurship, and then to study philosophy and theology

2. What is mimetic desire, and why does it matter?

3. The work of Rene Girard on mimetic desire

4. How mimetic rivalry relates to unhealthy competition in science

5. How to foster healthy competition instead of mimetic rivalry

6. Comparing the worlds of technology and academia when it comes to mimetic desire

7. Luke’s conceptual framework called The Three-City Problem, examining the relationship between reason, faith, and technology

9. How one can focus on deeper beauty rather than mimetic desire

10. The Scapegoat Mechanism and the Mimetic Crisis

11. How to become anti-mimetic

To learn more about his work, visit https://www.lukeburgis.com and subscribe to his newsletter

Check out his book: Wanting The Power of Mimetic Desire in Everyday Life: https://www.amazon.com/Wanting-Power-Mimetic-Desire-Everyday/dp/1250262488

Episode 6: Does nature prefer symmetry? Beauty at the intersection of physics and biology - Dr. Ard Louis (click for show notes)

Ard Louis is a Professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of Oxford where he leads an interdisciplinary research group studying problems on the border between chemistry, physics, and biology. He was born in the Netherlands, was raised in Gabon, and received his first degree from the University of Utrecht and his PhD in theoretical physics from Cornell University. Prior to teaching at Oxford he taught theoretical chemistry at the University of Cambridge. 

In this episode we explore: 

1. What drew Ard to study physics 

2. Where he encounters beauty in his work 

3. What beauty means to scientists in the fields of biology and physics 

4. The role of awe and the sublime in science 

5. Ard’s recent research of the frequency of symmetry in nature 

6. Is there beauty in asymmetry? 

7. The significance of beauty in science 

8. Can beauty be misleading—a source of bias? 

9. How does beauty in science relate to the beauty we encounter in art? 

10. Why should the public care about beauty in science? 

Visit Dr. Louis’s research group website: https://www-thphys.physics.ox.ac.uk/people/ArdLouis/

Episode 5: Beauty and the brain: The science of neuroaesthetics - Anjan Chatterjee (click for show notes)

Dr. Anjan Chatterjee is a Professor of Neurology, Psychology, and Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania and has served as the Chair of Neurology at Pennsylvania Hospital. His clinical work focuses on cognitive disorders, and the focal points of his research are neuroaesthetics, spatial cognition, language, and neuroethics.

Dr. Chatterjee is the author of The Aesthetic Brain: How We Evolved to Desire Beauty and Enjoy Art and co-editor of Brain, Beauty, and Art: Bringing Neuroaesthetics in Focus. He received the Norman Geschwind Prize in Behavioral and Cognitive Neurology by the American Academy of Neurology and the Rudolph Arnheim Prize for contributions to Psychology and the Arts by the American Psychological Association. Dr. Chatterjee is a founding member of the Board of Governors of the Neuroethics Society, and the past President of the International Association of Empirical Aesthetics and the Behavioral and Cognitive Neurology Society.

Dr. Chatterjee joins us to discuss the following:

1. His academic path from philosophy to neuroscience to neuroaesthetics.

2. Are humans hard-wired for beauty?

3. Is beauty driven by nature or nurture (or is that the wrong question?)

4. The Aesthetic Triad

5. Beauty and morality

6. Using beauty as a heuristic

7. Why humans can find beauty in non-sensory subjects, like mathematics

8. The big questions that neuroaesthetics is seeking to answer

9. What we can learn from exploring aesthetics in science

Visit Dr. Chatterjee’s blog on Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/brain-behavior-and-beauty

Visit his lab page at the Penn Center for Neuroaesthetics: https://neuroaesthetics.med.upenn.edu/chatlab.html

Check out his recent books on aesthetics:

The Aesthetic Brain: How we evolved to desire beauty and enjoy art https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00FHZZYOU/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_tkin_p1_i1

Brain, Beauty, and Art: Essays Bringing Neuroaesthetics into Focus (With Eileen Cardillo) https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B09LVVRY54/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_tkin_p1_i0

Episode 4: Beauty and innovation: Science, art, and entrepreneurship in Italy - Luca Cottini (click for show notes)

Dr. Luca Cottini is Associate Professor at Villanova University and host & creator of the YouTube show Italian Innovators. He holds a PhD from Harvard University, a MA from the University of Notre Dame, and a BA from the University of Milan. He was trained as a classical philologist in Italy, and a cultural historian in the US. His interests touch upon Italian literature, visual arts, and intellectual history of the 19th and 20th centuries, and on the birth of Italian industrial culture, advertising, and design. His books include a monograph on Italo Calvino (2017) and a cultural history of the origins of Italian design (The Art of Objects: The Birth of Italian Industrial Culture, 1878-1928). 

His YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/@ItalianInnovators) explores the Italian model of entrepreneurship and innovation through cultural profiles, interviews, and lessons across different disciplines (fashion, food, technology, sports, music, engineering). 

In our conversation, we discuss: 

1. What attracted Dr. Cottini to study design and innovation

2. His thoughts on Galileo being the father of modern science

3. How Italy’s humanities-focused education influences science

4. How different ideas contribute to each other and create innovation

5. Some examples of encounters with beauty that spurred innovation

6. How aesthetic principles might also hinder innovation 

7. The role of beauty in the future of science

8. How to cultivate intellectual humility and drive in the face of failure

To learn more about Dr. Cottini’s work, visit https://www.italianinnovators.com/

Episode 3: Beauty and mental health - Eloise Ballou (click for show notes)

Dr Eloise Ballou is a psychiatrist specializing in psychotherapy for adolescents and hospital-based emergency psychiatry. She received her medical degree from the University of Ottawa in the French stream and completed her Psychiatry residency at the University of Toronto. She enjoys supervising Psychiatry residents in psychodynamic psychotherapy at the University of Toronto, and also works as a locum psychiatrist in Northern Ontario in acute care and emergency room settings. She studied Art History and Psychology at the University of Toronto prior to starting her medical training, and has a particular interest in applying insights from the humanities to her medical practice.

In our interview, we explore:

  1. What drew Eloise to medicine/psychiatry in the first place
  2. Where she encounters beauty in her work as a psychotherapist
  3. The obstacles to encountering beauty in her work and in the medical profession generally
  4. How beauty might be relevant to mental health
  5. What it might look like for scientists, physicians, and the healthcare field more generally to take beauty more seriously or to cultivate the conditions for professionals to encounter beauty in their work

To learn more about her work, visit drballou.com

Episode 2: Can scientific experiments be beautiful? - Milena Ivanova (click for show notes)

Dr. Milena Ivanova is Bye-Fellow at Fitzwilliam College, University of Cambridge. She studied history and philosophy of science at the University of Athens and holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from the university of Bristol. She is the co-editor of The Aesthetics of Science: Beauty, Imagination and Understanding (Routledge, 2020), author of Duhem and Holism (Cambridge University Press, 2021), and is currently coediting a book on The Aesthetic Nature of Scientific Experiments, forthcoming with Routledge.

In this episode, we explore:

  1. What drew Milena to the topic of beauty in science
  2. What makes beauty relevant as a concept to scientists
  3. What scientists consider a beautiful experiment
  4. How beauty matters both for the design and significance of experiments
  5. Whether beauty can be a source of bias in science
  6. How the role of surprise (e.g., unexpected and even disruptive findings) may affect the aesthetic value of experiments
  7. How understanding the aesthetic dimensions of experiments may be helpful for scientists and philosophers
  8. Implications of her work for those of us who aren’t scientists

You can learn more about Dr. Ivanova’s work at http://www.milenaivanova.co.uk

You can also explore the topic of our interview in the following articles:

When is a scientific experiment like a beautiful work of art?

What is a beautiful experiment?

The aesthetics of scientific experiments

Episode 1: Beauty in Physics - Mario Livio (click for show notes)

Dr. Mario Livio is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. For 24 years, Dr. Livio worked with the Hubble Space Telescope. He has published more than 500 scientific articles on topics such as cosmology, supernova explosions, black holes, extrasolar planets, and the emergence of life in the universe. He is the author of seven books including The Golden Ratio, Is God a Mathematician, and Brilliant Blunders. His latest book is Galileo and the Science Deniers.

In this episode, we explore:

1. What attracted Mario to astrophysics in the first place

2. Mario’s definition of beauty in science, which consists of three specific criteria

3. Mario’s experiences of encountering beauty in science

4. How mathematics may be relevant to our understanding of beauty

5. Whether the beauty we can encounter in science and art are similar or different

6. Whether scientists should care about beauty in their work, and if the public should care about beauty in science

To learn more about Dr. Livio’s work, visit https://www.mario-livio.com

Also check out his books such as

Galileo and the Science Deniers

The Golden Ratio

Is God a Mathematician?

Why? What Makes Us Curious


This podcast is made possible with funding from Templeton Religion Trust and the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies at the University of Southern California.


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