On 29 April 2021, Templeton World Charity Foundation (TWCF) announced the initial investment in a $60 million commitment for bold research that pushes the boundaries of scientific knowledge to help people flourish.
LSE’s Dr Michael Muthukrishna was selected as one of 11 teams of researchers to receive inaugural awards of the Grand Challenges for Human Flourishing with a project titled ‘What does cultural evolution look like in the 21st century, and how can we use the answer to ensure continued human flourishing?’.
More than 500 teams of scientists from over 350 academic institutions across the world answered the request for ideas, which push beyond traditional measures of physical and mental health to include happiness, meaning and purpose, spiritual well-being and striving in adversity. The 11 awards represent the work of more than 40 researchers at over two dozen institutions and amount to more than $1 million to encourage further exploration of these ideas and the advancement of science in human flourishing.
Some of the questions that Dr Muthukrishna hopes to tackle include:
- What does cultural evolution look like when people are united by a global Internet, but separated by filtered social network feeds? How does our social learning psychology interpret this information to decide what is true, what others think, and whom we can trust?
- What does cultural evolution look like when people separated by geographic and cultural distance regularly interact and even live together in the same country? How do societies with very different cultural evolutionary histories find common ground to cooperate on global challenges?
Dr Michael Muthukrishna said:
“Cultural evolution and dual inheritance theory are the closest we have come to a "theory of human behaviour" and "theory of social change". But so far, we've focused our efforts on understanding the past - human origins and human history - rather than understanding the present or preparing for the future. The framework offers answers for what has led to human flourishing thus far, how we’ve overcome challenges on the path toward greater cooperation, and why some societies have diverged from others. I will be helping the Templeton World Charity Foundation (TWCF) strategise about how cultural evolution works in the 21st century. How this framework that helps explain human flourishing can also help ensure continued flourishing—support economic development, strengthen democratic institutions, and catalyse collective action to tackle the challenges of a post-climate changed world. “
Beyond the research itself, Muthukrishna’s team will influence the Foundation’s thought leadership initiatives exploring innovations at the heart of human flourishing. The awardees will also advise the foundation on its next initiatives, as well as participate in webinars, articles, and other opportunities to amplify the science.
“Human flourishing is an enormous, and as yet still largely uncharted, field for scientific inquiry,” said Templeton World Charity Foundation President Andrew Serazin. “We are incredibly pleased with the high caliber and scientific ambition of the ideas submitted. Successful ideas were those which had global relevance and comprised deep interdisciplinary teams.”
Templeton World Charity Foundation launched the Grand Challenges for Human Flourishing request for ideas in September 2020 with the intention to support a robust pipeline of projects aimed at improving key aspects of human flourishing. Broadly, human flourishing can include a range of dimensions under which human beings are at their best—physical, mental, social, and spiritual well-being—and it further suggests growth, resilience, and progress. The contemporary study of human flourishing encompasses vast subject matter from the role of artificial intelligence in democracies to the health benefits of forgiveness. Research in the field often joins disciplines as disparate as neuroscience, engineering, and philosophy in pursuit of deeper understanding and new innovations.
More about the Grand Challenges for Human Flourishing can be found on the TWCF website: https://www.templetonworldcharity.org/rfi/ideas
Dr Michael Muthukrishna is Associate Professor of Economic Psychology in the Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science at LSE. https://www.lse.ac.uk/PBS/People/Dr-Michael-Muthukrishna
Any requests for interview or comment from Dr Muthukrishna can be made by emailing Gemma Hutchinson, Communications Manager in the Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science, LSE: firstname.lastname@example.org