John Krakauer Part 2: Learning, Curiosity, and Consciousness

Episode Notes

What makes us human?  Over the last several decades, the once-vast island of human exceptionalism has lost significant ground to wave upon wave of research revealing cognition, emotion, problem-solving, and tool-use in other organisms. But there remains a clear sense that humans stand apart — evidenced by our unique capacity to overrun the planet and remake it in our image. What is unique about the human mind, and how might we engage this question rigorously through the lens of neuroscience? How are our gifts of simulation and imagination different from those of other animals? And what, if anything, can we know of the “curiosity” of even larger systems in which we’re embedded — the social superorganisms, ecosystems, technospheres within which we exist like neurons in the brain?

Welcome to COMPLEXITY, the official podcast of the Santa Fe Institute. I’m your host, Michael Garfield, and every other week we’ll bring you with us for far-ranging conversations with our worldwide network of rigorous researchers developing new frameworks to explain the deepest mysteries of the universe.

This week we conclude a two-part conversation with SFI External Professor John Krakauer, Professor of Neurology and Director of the Center for the Study of Motor Learning and Brain Repair at Johns Hopkins. In this episode, we talk about the nature of curiosity and learning, and whether the difference between the cognitive capacities and inner lifeworld of humans and other animals constitutes a matter of degree or one of kind…

Be sure to check out our extensive show notes with links to all our references at  . If you value our research and communication efforts, please subscribe, rate and review us at Apple Podcasts or Spotify, and consider making a donation — or finding other ways to engage with us — at Please also note that we are now accepting applications for an open postdoc fellowship, next summer’s undergraduate research program, and the next cohort of Complexity Explorer’s course in the digital humanities. We welcome your submissions!

Lastly, for more from John Krakauer, check out our new six-minute time-lapse of notes from the 2022 InterPlanetary Festival panel discussions on intelligence and the limits to human performance in space…

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Referenced in this episode:

Prospective Learning: Back to the Future
by The Future Learning Collective (Joshua Vogelstein, et al.)

The Learning Salon: Toward a new participatory science
by Ida Momennejad, John Krakauer, Claire Sun, Eva Yezerets, Kanaka Rajan, Joshua Vogelstein, Brad Wyble

Artificial Intelligence Hits the Barrier of Meaning
by Melanie Mitchell at The New York Times

Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren
by John Maynard Keynes

The Intelligent Life of the City Raccoon
by Jude Isabella at Nautilus Magazine

The maintenance of vocal learning by gene-culture interaction: the cultural trap hypothesis
by R. F. Lachlan and P. J. B. Slater

Mindscape Podcast 87 - Karl Friston on Brains, Predictions, and Free Energy
by Sean Carroll

The Apportionment of Human Diversity
by Richard Lewontin

From Extraterrestrials to Animal Minds: Six Myths of Evolution
by Simon Conway Morris

I Am a Strange Loop
by Douglas Hoftstadter

Coarse-graining as a downward causation mechanism
by Jessica Flack

Daniel Dennett

Susan Blackmore

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Complexity 52 - Mark Moffett on Canopy Biology & The Human Swarm

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Complexity 87 - Sara Walker on The Physics of Life and Planet-Scale Intelligence

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