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Fundamental forces of physics somehow determine everything that happens, “from the birth of a child to the birth of a galaxy.” Yet physicist Leonard Mlodinow has an intriguing perspective on the gap between theory and reality — and the fascinating interplay between a life in science and life in the world. As the child of two Holocaust survivors, he asks questions about our capacity to create our lives, while reflecting on extreme human cruelty — and courage.

Xavier Le Pichon, one of the world’s leading geophysicists, helped create the field of plate tectonics. A devout Catholic and spiritual thinker, he raised his family in intentional communities centered around people with mental disabilities. He shares his rare perspective on the meaning of humanity — a perspective equally informed by his scientific and personal encounters with fragility as a fundament of vital, evolving systems. Le Pichon has come to think of caring attention to weakness as an essential quality that allowed humanity to evolve.

Few features of humanity are more fascinating than creativity; and few fields are more dynamic now than neuroscience. Rex Jung is a neuropsychologist who puts the two together. He’s working on a cutting edge of science, exploring the differences and interplay between intelligence and creativity. He and his colleagues unsettle long-held beliefs about who is creative and who is not. And they’re seeing practical, often common-sense connections between creativity and family life, aging, and purpose.

Sculptural artist Dario Robleto is famous for spinning and shaping unconventional materials — from dinosaur fossils to pulverized vintage records, from swamp root to cramp bark. He joins words and objects in a way that distills meaning at once social, poetic, and scientific. He reveals how objects can become meditations on love, war, and healing.

Dr. Sherwin Nuland died this week at the age of 83. He became well-known for his first book, How We Die, which won the National Book Award. For him, pondering death was a way of wondering at life — and the infinite variety of processes that maintain human life moment to moment. He reflects on the meaning of life by way of scrupulous and elegant detail about human physiology.

The coming stage of evolution, Teilhard de Chardin said, won’t be driven by physical adaptation but by human consciousness, creativity, and spirit. We visit with his biographer Ursula King, and we experience his ideas energizing New York Times Dot Earth blogger Andrew Revkin and evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson.

David Sloan Wilson believes that evolution is not just a description of how we got here. He says it can also be a tool kit for improving how we live together. He’s taken what he’s learned in studying evolution in animals and is now applying it to the behavior of groups in his hometown of Binghamton, New York. His goal is to help people behave pro-socially — at their best, and for the good of the whole.

A mission scientist with NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, Natalie Batalha hunts for exoplanets — Earth-sized planets beyond our solar system that might harbor life. She speaks about unexpected connections between things like love and dark energy, science and gratitude, and how “exploring the heavens” brings the beauty of the cosmos and the exuberance of scientific discovery closer to us all.

Michael McCullough describes science that helps us comprehend how revenge came to have a purpose in human life. At the same time, he stresses, science is also revealing that human beings are more instinctively equipped for forgiveness than we’ve perhaps given ourselves credit for. Knowing this suggests ways to calm the revenge instinct in ourselves and others and embolden the forgiveness intuition.

Many of history’s greatest scientists considered their work to be a religious endeavor, a direct search for God. Pioneers like Newton, Copernicus, and Galileo believed that their discoveries told humanity more about God’s nature than had been known. Beginning in the early 18th century, science and religion came to be at odds — the gap widening most famously with the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.

In recent years, a new dialogue has begun, driven by leading scientists across the world. Host Krista Tippett explores with three scientists, each of whom is working in a field that’s rapidly advancing our understanding of what it means to be human. From very different perspectives, they suggest that our most sophisticated 21st-century discoveries may be driving us back to questions of faith.

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