The Scientific Landscape of Human Flourishing
TWCF Number
Project Duration
June 30 / 2022
- December 30 / 2023
Core Funding Area
Big Questions
North America
Amount Awarded

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Simon DeDeo
Institution Carnegie Mellon University

Human flourishing is a complex topic that is not completely covered by any traditional academic domain. What it means to flourish as a human being involves questions of individual psychology and health, but also the ways in which an individual lives and interacts with others, and how they connect to wider cultures of human endeavor and meaning.

This diversity presents a challenge. Even with a clear idea of what flourishing means, if investigations are spread over multiple communities—with multiple approaches, operationalizations, conceptualizations, and theoretical frameworks—questions arise. It becomes increasingly difficult to determine which approaches and conceptualizations are the most promising; which have been neglected;and where opportunities for collaboration between different communities can be found. It’s important to assess where research has stalled and what conceptual monopolies — overly constraining operationalizations or styles of investigation — might be fruitfully disrupted.

In a new TWCF-funded project, a team led by Simon DeDeo at Carnegie Mellon will conduct a systematic analysis of the human flourishing literature and produce a report about the state of the field and key clusters within it. This research builds on the recent success of DeDeo’s lab in identifying bottlenecks and strategic opportunities for research in the science of consciousness. It also draws on the team’s related investigations into the history of science, and on identifying emergent opportunities in the biological and physical sciences.

Using tools from natural language processing, operating on large-scale corpora of published scientific literature, the team aims to identify both the network of ideas and approaches, and the network of scientists and laboratories that have examined the question of human flourishing. These two types of networks will be mapped, providing new ways to understand the kind of work that scientists are doing on human flourishing. Idea Networks show how different concepts, methods, and approaches tend to be combined together; Agent Networks reveal who is responsible for different combinations, and provide a sociological angle into the system, showing the collaborations along which ideas propagate, and showing where opportunities for productive "adversarial" collaborations might be found. The team will then use quantitative tools to identify both opportunity and risk for future scientific investigation.

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