Jonathan Haidt: Religion, evolution, and the ecstasy of self-transcendence Psychologist Jonathan Haidt asks a simple, but difficult question why do we search for self-transcendence? Why do we attempt to lose ourselves? In a tour through the science of evolution by group selection, he proposes a provocative answer.TEDTalks is a daily video podcast of the best talks and performances from the TED Conference, where the world’s leading thinkers and doers give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes. Featured speakers have included Al Gore on climate change, Philippe Starck on design, Jill Bolte Taylor on observing her own stroke, Nicholas Negroponte on One Laptop per Child, Jane Goodall on chimpanzees, Bill Gates on malaria and mosquitoes, Pattie Maes on the “Sixth Sense” wearable tech, and “Lost” producer JJ Abrams on the allure of mystery. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, and TEDTalks cover these topics as well as science, business, development and the arts. Closed captions and translated subtitles in a variety of languages are now available on, at If you have questions or comments about this or other TED videos, please go to
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13 thoughts on “Jonathan Haidt: Religion, evolution, and the ecstasy of self-transcendence

  1. Lol cos you keep responding? Or because you sounded like you were convinced by it- so I assumed you’d be able to say why. Well group selection wouldn’t HAVE to be bad for genes I guess but to find something that would actually validate group selection (and convince people who don’t buy it), you’d surely need something that’s bad for genes but good for groups. That’d be the only way to make sure it’s not really a gene-level selection that you’re just not understanding.

  2. Not sure why you keep asking me. I’m no scientist or moral psychologist. Just reading and pondering the ideas put forth. So far, you’re the first I’ve heard to claim group selection is “bad for genes,” however that’s supposed to work. *shrugs* Probably should read about it if you’re so curious.

  3. Hmmm, not much of an argument really. I don’t see how that would fail to have a gene-centric explanation. Clearly it’s advantageous (for the genes) to be selfish in some situations and cooperative in others. Surely there are better reasons?

  4. “[…] Natural selection works at multiple levels simultaneously, sometimes including groups of organisms. I can’t say for sure that human nature was shaped by group selection—there are scientists whose views I respect on both sides of the debate. But as a psychologist studying morality, I can say that multilevel selection would go a long way toward explaining why people are simultaneously so selfish and so groupish.” — Jonathan Haidt, “The Righteous Mind,” p. 218

  5. Religion: – The pope telling Africans that condoms are worse than AIDS – The retardation of scientific advancement (Stem cell research ban, etc) – The teaching of pseudoscience in public school science classrooms – The assassination of abortion doctors and bombing of abortion clinics – Christians who withhold medical treatment to their children in favor of prayer – Religious terrorism, suicide bombing, “honor” killing – Justification for homophobia and sexism

  6. Well I’d seek answers here but not be willing to read it myself because it’s fairly interesting but I’m a very busy person and it’s not interesting enough to read a book for. I have about 10 things on my reading list as it is, and all of them are more important to me than whether evolution operates at multi-levels. Ok then, can you just answer a simple question- are there any adaptations that are good for groups but bad for genes- that’s surely what’s required to support the claim?

  7. That wasn’t civil? I apologize then. But the character limit makes a conversation of that nature virtually impossible here on YT. I tried adding links but the error message wouldn’t allow it. It would be a lot easier to discuss this matter elsewhere on the internet, or to read the arguments Haidt puts forth in his book, which I do feel are worthwhile and reasonable. Just difficult for me to understand why you’d seek answers here but not be willing to read for yourself on the topic.

  8. Yes I’ve read plenty about it, and it’s never stopped sounding like a confused non-idea. Which is why I asked for clarification as you sounded convinced. Silly me, I should’ve remembered the rule the most people on youtube would just rather spit venom than talk civily.

  9. You read one side of the argument, not the other, then criticize it anyway and ask for a summary on a YT comment board? No hablo Americano. Surely cheap used copies are available. A quick googling of Haidt and/or group selection and inclusive fitness brings up several discussions.

  10. Since I’m unlikely to buy the book, can you explain to me how group selection actually makes sense? Cos I’ve read a fair bit of evolutionary biology and I have to say, it just seems to me that EO Wilson and Haidt are confused about group selection means (or could possibly mean). In what way can a group act like a gene. It seems so obvious to me that it just can’t. They’re completely different in almost every way. What am I missing?

  11. I’m no biologist but I’ve read The Selfish Gene and it still seems to me that Dawkins actually responded to all of these arguments for group selection 40 years ago. It just makes no sense to talk about a group reproducing, or if it does, it’s in no way analogous to a gene reproducing. This seems to be the main problem with the theory to me.

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