MetaLearning

ML164: Joel Christensen on Storytelling for Sensemaking, The Many Minded Man and Lessons from The Odyssey

Learn about the concept of agency and how The Odyssey helps us to understand what we can control, how to use the power of storytelling to make sense of your life, and what modern psychology can learn from Homer's Odyssey and Iliad.
By Nasos Papadopoulos

Joel Christensen is a Professor of Classics at Brandeis University and author of the book The Many Minded Man. He also posts regularly on the popular Classics-oriented website Sententiae Antiquae. 

At the end of 2020 I hosted a series of 5 long form conversations on the theme of calling and meaning, using Homer's Odyssey as an anchor, so when I came across Joel's book The Many Minded Man, I had to reach out to him.

The book explores Homer's Odyssey through a modern psychological lens, focusing on how it reflects the workings of the human mind and provides a model for coping with the challenges of chance and fate.

In this episode we discuss:

- The concept of agency and how The Odyssey helps us to understand what we can control
- How to use the power of storytelling to make sense of your life and the world around you
- What modern psychology can learn from Homer's Odyssey and Iliad

This was a wonderful conversation centred on some of the greatest stories ever told, which will show you how storytelling can shape a sense of agency and provide solutions to help you avoid destructive patterns.

Show Notes

  • Introducing Joel Christensen [00:37]
  • Why does Joel consider his home life to be more important than school in his early years and how did his perspective change when he started university? [02:41]
  • Joel recalls his history with the Iliad and the Odyssey, how the classics helped him reflect on life, and the key lessons ingrained in the epics [05:54]
  • How do culture and community strengthen the timelessness of the Iliad and the Odyssey? [13:34]
  • What were the questions that inspired Joel to write about the Odyssey from a modern psychological standpoint? [16:55]
  • How does the intersection of modern psychology and the Homeric epics help inform the nature vs nurture debate [19:26]
  • How does our sense of freewill affect the way we exercise our agency? [22:18]
  • Is fate pre-determined or is it constructed through our own actions? What does Odysseus’ perseverance prove about agency and its role in his fate? [24:22]
  • How does Homer’s storytelling make use of Odysseus’ personal narrative both as a disempowering tool and as a tale of redemption? [26:59]
  • What mistake do readers make when identifying only with the hero of the epic? [34:15]
  • Does the Odyssey fully represent the limits of human agency? And how does this epic explore the dangers of power? [35:30]
  • Closing remarks [39:16]

Resources

Follow Joel online

Website | Portfolio

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