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Life Examined


KCRW's Life Examined is a one-hour weekly show exploring science, philosophy, faith — and finding meaning in the modern world. The show is hosted by Jonathan Bastian. Please tune in Saturdays at 9 a.m., or find it as a podcast.


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KCRW's Life Examined is a one-hour weekly show exploring science, philosophy, faith — and finding meaning in the modern world. The show is hosted by Jonathan Bastian. Please tune in Saturdays at 9 a.m., or find it as a podcast.




Distilling life on the page - the beauty of storytelling with Yiyun Li

Yiyun Li, writer and author most recently of a collection of short stories Wednesday’s Child: Stories, talks about the beauty of storytelling and how she uses stories to explore the relationship between parents and their children - including mothers, like her, who suffer the loss of a child: “That's one thing that literature does well, is to examine losses in life.” In the 20 years since Li arrived in the US from China, Li has become a prolific writer; publishing five novels, three short story collections, and a memoir. She’s also currently director of Princeton University’s creative writing program. While achieving professional success, Li has navigated private tragedy and loss. She shares how the garden and gardening have become both sanctuary and metaphor for life - “it’s a place” - Li says, where “nothing works perfectly.”


Midweek Reset: Toxic positivity

This week, cognitive scientist and professor of psychology at Yale University Lori Santos explains that negative emotions are very much part of the human experience and essential to leading a happy life. Leaning into these emotions and accepting them is better for us than trying to dismiss or suppress them.


Dopamine Nation: Living in an addicted world

Jonathan Bastian talks with Dr. Anna Lembke, director and chief of the Stanford Addiction Medicine Dual Diagnosis Clinic, about the role of dopamine in the brain. She also offers advice on keeping the pursuit of pleasure in check and maintaining balance and contentment, and discusses her New York Times bestseller “Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence.” “We're living in an adicto-genic world,” says Lembke. “In which almost all substances and human behaviors, even behaviors that we typically think of as healthy and adaptive, like reading, have become addicted, have become drug refined, in some way made more potent, more accessible, [and] the internet has absolutely exploded this phenomenon.” Delve deeper into life, philosophy, and what makes us human by joining the Life Examined discussion group on Facebook.


The science of spirituality — and why it’s good for our mental health

Lisa Miller, professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University and author of “The Awakened Brain; The New Science of Spirituality and Our Quest for an Inspired Life,” talks about the connections between a spiritual life and mental health, specifically what happens inside the brain when a religious or a spiritual practice are introduced. Miller, a scientist and not a theologian, talks about her personal experience, work and research to develop a “new foundationally spiritually based treatment to help awaken our natural spiritual awareness..the awakened brain.”


Midweek Reset: The Power of Subtraction

This week, professor and director of the Convergent Behavioural Science Initiative at the University of Virginia Leidy Klotz explains why when it comes to solving problems or finding ways to improve our lives - subtraction rather than addition can be the less instinctive but often the most effective solution.


Time management: A guide to more sanity and less anxiety

Oliver Burkeman, journalist and author of Four Thousand Weeks; Time Management for Mortals, explores our relationship with time and the modern obsession with time management, efficiency, and making the most of this valuable resource. Depressing as it may sound, Burkeman says, the average person has about 4,000 weeks. Drawing on history and philosophy, Burkeman offers a sane and sensible approach to how we spend our time, and suggests that we “not buy into the idea that more and more efficiency, and processing more and more tasks, is the path to happiness.”


Midweek Reset: Why relational conflict is good

This week, psychology and education professor Peter Coleman explains that conflicts and disagreements are not just normal in relationships but actually a good thing - we don’t learn without conflict.


Living in reciprocity with nature, with Indigenous ecologist Robin Wall Kimmerer

Professor of American Indian Studies Mishuana Goeman addresses the common misconceptions about Native American land and the ties between the land and language. Indigenous ecologist and author of Braiding Sweetgrass Robin Wall Kimmerer draws on the knowledge of Indigenous peoples and speaks to the value of living in reciprocity with the natural world. A member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Kimmerer explains how our relationship with the planet can improve through a better understanding and appreciation of Indigenous culture. “Human beings are newcomers here to this earth, and our existence is entirely dependent upon the gifts of the other beings who are already here,” she says. Mishuana Goeman (Tonawanda Band of Seneca) is a professor of Gender Studies and American Indian Studies at UCLA’s Institute of Environment and Sustainability and Special Advisor to the Chancellor on Native American and Indigenous Affairs. She says Indigenous communities held strong ties to the land, and those ties varied from tribe to tribe through language, art, and song. Robin Wall Kimmerer is a guest speaker at UC Santa Barbara’s Arts and Lecture Series Tuesday November 14th at 7:30pm at Campbell Hall. Learn more about this and other events at


Midweek Reset: Creativity has no age

Welcome to the Midweek Reset from Life Examined, where host Jonathan Bastian takes a small pause for a new perspective.


The process of dying: From hospice care to meditating monks

Doctor Sunita Puri and hospice and palliative RN Hadley Vlahos share their perspectives and first-hand experiences helping people approach the end of life. Puri, who is the Program Director for the Hospice and Palliative Medicine Fellowship at the UMass Chan School of Medicine, says that more and more Americans are electing to die at home. Vlahos, author of The In- Between: Unforgettable Encounters During Life's Final Moments, recounts some of the humbling and “beautiful” first hand experiences she’s had with her patients in the last stages of life. Later, biocultural anthropologist and Tibetan medical doctor Tawni Tidwell talks about some of the work she does with the Thukdam Project at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Healthy Minds and how neuroscientists are learning more about what happens to the body after death.


Midweek Reset: Life: less itinerary - more flow

Welcome to the Midweek Reset from Life Examined, where host Jonathan Bastian takes a small pause for a new perspective.


Conflict, resolution, and the human need to get along, with Peter Coleman

Psychology and education professor Peter Coleman explains that conflict is “a necessary component of the human condition.” As the Director of the Morton Deutsch International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution at Columbia University, Coleman has worked with families, communities, and entire nations on building constructive resolutions and sustainable peace. Coleman says that humans have the ability to cooperate, resolve conflict, and solve problems together because we're “fundamentally hardwired to need each other. We don't learn without conflict.”


Midweek Reset: Better listening

Welcome to the Midweek Reset from Life Examined, where host Jonathan Bastian takes a small pause for a new perspective. This week, mentor and author of “Deep Listening: Impact Beyond Words” Oscar Trimboli shares his tips on how and why to become a better listener.


The agents of change: How women are altering the power paradigm

Kemi Nekvapil, executive coach and author of POWER: A Woman’s Guide to Living and Leaving without Apology, shares how women are shifting the landscape when it comes to leadership and power. Allowing for an abundance of power enables us to promote and support each other, rather than hold power over each other and compete. “I'm not afraid of your power,” says Nekvapil. “If I have power, I will happily stand alongside you, support you, and elevate your power in the same way that you will elevate my power, because we're both standing in who we truly are in the world.” Katty Kay, journalist and coauthor of THE POWER CODE: More Joy. Less Ego. Maximum Impact for Women (and Everyone), further explores the history and meaning of power. “Most of the studies of power and what power is, what it means, who has it, and how it should be wielded, have been drawn up by men over the centuries,” says Kay. “Understandably, they were the ones that had power.”


Midweek Reset: Sharon Salzberg and emotional balance

Welcome to the Midweek Reset from Life Examined, where host Jonathan Bastian takes a small pause for a new perspective. This week, educator and meditation specialist Sharon Salzberg shares an instruction from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition on finding a Middle Path and maintaining a healthy emotional life.


A 1000 mile trek: Lessons in fortitude and healing from distance walker Raynor Winn

Long-distance walker, writer, and author Raynor Winn describes her 1000 mile walk from Scotland to the South West of England. With tents, backpacks, and minimal supplies, their plan was to walk the 230-mile Cape Wrath Trail — some of the toughest terrain in Britain. But after they completed that trek, they kept on walking. Winn talks about her passion for walking, how she feels “intrinsically enmeshed with the natural world,” and why she finds walking incredible distances to be transformative. Walking, Winn explains, had been the only thing that helped Moth, whose symptoms from a Parkinson’s-like disease had become increasingly dire. “When we walked on the coast path, it had just been about a walk,” she says. “It had been about walking because we had nowhere to be, but we discovered this change in his health and we'd sort of hung onto that over the years after, because we’ve tried to keep walking as much as possible. “


The art of quitting: Is there wisdom in walking away?

Jonathan Bastian talks with Annie Duke, corporate speaker, former poker player, and author of “Quit: The Power Of Knowing When To Walk Away” about how poker informed her decision making. Duke sees quitting a vital skill and shares some of her tools and strategies. Whether you're an athlete, partner, or employee, Duke provides a better understanding when to quit and when to show grit. “There's no doubt that my previous life as a professional poker player, which went from 1994 to 2012, definitely informs my thinking about the importance of quitting as a skill. Because when to fold and when not to fold and being really good at that decision, is probably the single biggest thing that separates great poker players from amateurs.” Delve deeper into life, philosophy, and what makes us human by joining the Life Examined discussion group on Facebook.


Big life decisions and uncertainty: a toolkit

Jonathan Bastian talks with economist Russ Roberts, author of “Wild Problems: A Guide to the Decisions That Define Us,” about a variety of approaches to tackling some of life’s big decisions, and how those decisions play a part in who we are and will become. Later, Susannah Furr, entrepreneur and co-author of “The Upside of Uncertainty: A Guide to Finding Possibility in the Unknown,” shares her life story on starting a new business and offers tips on how to move forward and deal with fear and regret. Delve deeper into life, philosophy, and what makes us human by joining the Life Examined discussion group on Facebook.


Trauma, PTSD, and human resilience, with George Bonanno

Psychologist George Bonanno, author of “The End of Trauma: How the New Science of Resilience Is Changing How We Think About PTSD,” explores the history, science, and nature of trauma. He says that contrary to popular opinion, trauma plays a significant role in building human resilience and that people are overwhelmingly resilient to adversity. Trauma or traumatic events, Bonanno says, have “become an easy and convenient excuse as to why we can’t function.”


The language of grief, with writers Ross Gay and Chloe Honum

Ross Gay, poet, essayist, and author of Inciting Joy, shares how losing his father impacted not only his writing, but more or less everything else that he now does. Witnessing his own sorrow, Gay says, was both terrifying and a revelation: “If you can't be close to your sorrow, then you're gonna miss your life.