Nicholas Christakis is an author, physician and a social scientist. He was trained in internal medicine and worked as a hospice doctor for many years, taking care of people who were in the process of dying.
His interest in social networks originally began twenty years ago, when he became interested in the “widowhood effect.” This is a known phenomenon which occurs after the death of a spouse, in which the surviving spouse’s risk of death goes up so dramatically that it actually doubles in the first six months.
Christakis also runs the “Human Nature Lab” at Yale University. He and his large research group explore a variety of topics at the intersection of the social and biological sciences. The doctor and his group explore how social exposures and biological heritage work together to shape human experience.
The researcher told the Greek Reporter that “My lab is trying to understand the deep origins of human nature — and in particular, I am trying to study and understand how natural selection has shaped the kind of things we do with each other.”
The Greek-American author also explained that “We look at our probability or propensity to love each other, or to cooperate with each other, or to spread germs to each other. How does our social interaction shape our risk of infection, for instance? All of these things are things that arise because of how people interact with each other.”
Christakis’ most recent book, “Blueprint,” explores the benefits of a connected life and how human beings came to forge the the social ties that we have.
He told the Greek Reporter that “It’s a book of popular science that has been written in a way that is approachable to a lay audience.
“The book starts from the premise that, for too long, both scientists and people on the street have been preoccupied with the dark side of human nature, with our propensity to violence, selfishness, tribalism and mendacity, but equally we humans are prone to love, friendship, cooperation and teaching,” he notes.
“So,” the scientist added, “the bright side has been denied the attention it deserves.”
Christakis argues that these wonderful qualities must necessarily have outweighed the bad qualities throughout human history, because if every time a person approached someone who fed him lies, was mean to him or even killed him, he would be better off having evolved to live a solitary life, to be alone.
But this is clearly not the case in our world, in which we have built extraordinarily complex social networks of all kinds.
“Blueprint” has become one of entrepreneur Bill Gates’ favorite books.
According to CNBC, Gates has said that “The author’s conclusions raise big questions,” adding, “How we can leverage that commonality to get things done? Can we really get seven billion people to work together and solve big problems like climate change? Are our similarities powerful enough to overcome the few differences we do have?”
Gates’s opinion is that “It’s an optimistic (and terrific) book that explores why humans have evolved to work together and cooperate.”
When asked by the Greek Reporter how he felt about what Gates wrote about his book, the doctor and social scientist replied “I was very gratified that Bill Gates read my book ‘Blueprint’ and thought well of it.”
Christakis is married with four children, who can all speak Greek.
His ancestors originally came from the island of Crete about four generations ago, but for the last two or three generations they live in Athens. He was born in the United States from Greek parents who had migrated there in the 1950’s.
The doctor’s father, who studied nuclear physics, and his mother, who studied physical chemistry, were both graduate students at Yale University.
They met through the Greek community and were married in the United States, but traveled back to Greece to have a church wedding.
The Greek scientist spent his summers back in the homeland of his parents. In fact, when he was ten years of age, in 1972, Christakis’ parents sent him to be a boarding school student in Athens in order to learn to read and write the Greek language.
“It was awful”, he remembers. “They beat us. Those days, they still beat students, they didn’t know. But I did learn to read and write Greek, so I feel quite connected to my Greek heritage.”