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Five Questions with Helen De Cruz

Five Questions with Helen De Cruz

In this episode of Five on Fridays, we asked philosopher Helen De Cruz about her scientific fascinations, her biggest inspiration, and more.

You can read an excerpt of her new book, Wonderstruck: How Wonder and Awe Shape the Way We Think, and be sure to check out our interview between De Cruz and host Robert Lawrence Kuhn on our YouTube channel.

1. What are you optimistic about?

Our ability to draw on and develop cultural resources to help us find better ways to live together and to find joy and meaning. I know that there’s a flip side to this, namely the sort of terminator-like scenarios of AI, destructiveness of weapons, but ultimately I think we must realize that culture is there to serve us and that we can be resourceful in using it to improve our lot.

2. What are you reading right now? 

Right now I am reading both scientific and popularizing work on oneness, the Neo-Confucian authors such as Zhu Xi and Wang Yangming, but also for instance Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot.

Sagan is a rare science communicator, whose reflections on our fragile planet continue to be inspirational.

3. What topic in science do you find particularly fascinating right now?

Lately I am interested in ontology; particularly interesting to me is how epistemology, ontology, and ethics blend together in visions of oneness.

I am also part of a team investigating oneness views in scientists. We’re interviewing natural scientists from various disciplines to investigate how they see the world as one, and what epistemological and ethical consequences they draw from this.

4. What is your biggest inspiration as of late? 

I am currently working on pre-Qin and neo-confucian Chinese philosophy and early modern (17th century) philosophy. While they seem quite different, there are many similarities, namely their sophisticated ideas about human nature: whether humans are inherently sociable, or inherently good, and how we can use our observations about human nature to build better societies and political structures.

5. What is your favorite quote?

"If the way I have shown to lead to these things now seems very hard, still, it can be found. And of course, what is found so rarely must be hard. For if salvation were at hand, and could be found with­ out great effort, how could nearly everyone neglect it? But all things excellent are as difficult as they are rare."

Helen De Cruz’s book, Wonderstruck, is available for purchase now.