When I left Wall Street 20 years ago, I had an inkling that our environment and energy challenges were primarily due to a mismatch between how we’ve evolved as humans and our modern energy/tech rich environment. I actually started to write my PhD on this, and today’s guest -Dr. Peter Whybrow – was an early member of my dissertation committee. I eventually switched my thesis to “net energy”, yet the centrality of human behavior to explain and constrain our situation has continued to fascinate me. This week, I’m privileged to speak with my friend, advisor, and coach, Dr. Peter Whybrow, who is a neuroscientist and psychologist, the (recently retired) head of the Semel Institute at UCLA, and author of many scientific papers and books, among them: A Mood Apart: Depression, Mania, and Other Afflictions of the SelfAmerican Mania: When More is Not Enough, and The Well-Tuned Brain: The Remedy for a Manic Society .

Today, Peter and I discuss how dopamine, evolution, and modern culture push many of us toward a lifestyle of excess and overconsumption. Peter explains how habits that were designed to be an evolutionary advantage become problematic by making us susceptible to addictions. Finally, we discuss how we can overcome these mental challenges, both as individuals and – more importantly – as a culture.

I hope you enjoy and learn from this conversation with Peter Whybrow.

Show Notes

00:42 – Peter’s works + info

03:15A Mood Apart

03:34The Dot-Com Bubble


04:04American Mania: When More is Not Enough

04:27The Well Tuned Brain

08:111800s Irish migration 

08:58Migrant gene DRD4-7R* Allele and correlation with the pursuit of novelty

10:31Dennis Meadows and TGS Episode

11:32Reflective vs reflexive thought

14:12Evolutionary Psychology

14:44Discount rate

15:05 Evolutionary creation of the parts of the brain

16:15Adam Smith – The Wealth of Nations

16:25Humans are social creatures

17:30Feedback loops

18:07Adam Smith – The Theory of Moral Sentiments

20:19Loss aversion

21:27We are just as smart now as we were in the ice age

22:23People are addicted to “more”

22:45We are polluting the planet

23:45The neurology of chemical addiction can also apply to things like gambling and shopping

24:40The proximate vs the ultimate

25:32We have no social constraints anymore

28:19We try to compete for status with our peers

30:15Why it’s so difficult for us to constrain ourselves

31:15The importance of trust and empathy for human societies and self-constraint

33:25The importance of oil to plastic

34:11Rats and cocaine experiment

35:41 The problem with infinite economic growth

36:10 Waste from electric cars

37:35Evolutionary benefits of habits

38:10The mechanism of habits can be used to create addiction/bad habits

39:38 Issues with current U.S. education system

42:09The frontal lobes and decision making

42:28Perception-action cycle

48:17John Gowdy TGS Episode

51:01 Teaching social behavior in schools

52:13Finland education system + Book recommended by Peter Whybrow

54:40The US wealth gap – 50% of the population makes less than a living wage

56:05How much of our consumption stems from comparison to others?

57:28Analysis of the slums in post-world war London

1:04:20 Social media can’t substitute for face-to-face interactions

1:06:54Humans shape each other’s behaviors

1:10:01The US is one of the only democratic countries in the world with just two parties

Teaser photo credit: By Jens Maus (http://jens-maus.de/) – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=404690