Diana Walsh Pasulka: Aliens, Technology, Religion & the Nature of Belief | Lex Fridman Podcast #149 | Summary and Q&A

December 27, 2020
Lex Fridman Podcast
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Diana Walsh Pasulka: Aliens, Technology, Religion & the Nature of Belief | Lex Fridman Podcast #149


The belief in communication with extraterrestrial civilizations shapes our understanding of the world, leading to technological innovation and the manifestation of mythology in our collective intelligence.

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Questions & Answers

Q: What is the difference between belief and objective reality?

Belief refers to attitudes that guide our actions, while objective reality is the elusive concept of what truly exists. While beliefs can be wrong, objective reality is challenging to ascertain due to our fallible senses.

Q: How do philosophers approach the concept of reality?

Philosophers, such as Emmanuel Kant, explore the limitations of our understanding of reality. Kant suggested that we can never fully grasp the "thing in itself" and rely on our senses, which can be inaccurate. This has led to ongoing debates about the nature of reality.

Q: How do myths and religion emerge?

Myths and religions often stem from intense experiences that individuals interpret as transformative and sacred. These experiences are shared with others and become the foundation for collective belief systems. Over time, institutions may seek to control and shape these narratives.

Q: Can beliefs become reality?

Beliefs shape our perception of reality and influence our actions. However, beliefs do not always align with objective reality. They can be deeply ingrained, leading to significant social effects, even if they are not connected to the physical world.

Q: What is the difference between belief and objective reality?

Belief refers to attitudes that guide our actions, while objective reality is the elusive concept of what truly exists. While beliefs can be wrong, objective reality is challenging to ascertain due to our fallible senses.

More Insights

  • Belief systems, including religion and myth, have a profound impact on human understanding and behavior, even if they do not align with objective reality.

  • The nature of reality is complex and may never be fully understood or defined by human beings.

  • Technology serves as an extension of our senses, allowing us to approximate a better understanding of reality and refine our beliefs.

  • The belief in extraterrestrial intelligence and technology plays a significant role in shaping our understanding of the world and our place in it.

  • The emergence and spread of religious beliefs and mythologies often involve intense personal experiences, shared narratives, and institutional frameworks.

  • Religion and myth can be adaptive and help societies navigate complex social structures and belief systems.

  • The concept of reality is dynamic and evolves with advancements in science, technology, and human understanding.

  • Beliefs and our interaction with the unknown continue to shape and redefine our understanding of the world, including the possibility of alien life.


In this conversation, Diana Walsh Pasulka, a professor of philosophy and religion, discusses the nature of belief, objective reality, and the role of myth and religion in human civilization. She explores how beliefs shape our actions and how our understanding of reality is a complex and often elusive concept. Pasulka also delves into the influence of technology on our beliefs and how the experiences of individuals can lead to the formation of myths and religions. She examines historical examples of religious movements, the power dynamics involved, and the ways in which beliefs can be interpreted and controlled.

Questions & Answers

Q: What is the difference between our beliefs and objective reality?

Belief can be defined as attitudes toward something that dictate our actions. Our beliefs are not always accurate representations of objective reality, and the concept of what is "real" is difficult to grasp. Philosopher Immanuel Kant argued that we can never truly know the "thing in itself," only our perceptions of it. Thus, the accuracy of our beliefs in relation to objective reality is a complex and ongoing debate.

Q: Do beliefs in themselves become reality?

Our beliefs can have powerful social effects and shape our understanding of the world. For example, past beliefs that women had no souls impacted how they were treated and regarded in society. Beliefs can be influenced by charismatic individuals or movements and can lead to transformative experiences. While beliefs may not always correspond to objective reality, they can have real consequences and shape our collective consciousness.

Q: How close are we to understanding physical reality?

Understanding physical reality is a challenging endeavor. While our direct senses may not always provide accurate perceptions, advancements in technology, such as telescopes and microscopes, have allowed us to gain deeper insights. However, our understanding of reality is still far from complete. Diana argues that technology, as an extension of our senses, plays a crucial role in helping us approach a better understanding of what is real.

Q: Is there more to reality than our current understanding of physics?

It is possible that there are other dimensions or fundamental forces of physics that we are not yet aware of. Diana emphasizes the importance of technology in expanding our understanding of reality, as it allows us to access realms beyond our immediate perception. She also mentions the idea of panpsychism, which posits that consciousness permeates all matter, highlighting the ongoing exploration and potential discoveries in our quest for a deeper understanding of reality.

Q: What defines a religion or myth?

Religion can be defined as a set of beliefs and practices inspired by a perceived transformative and sacred power. It involves a connection to something of great power beyond our own capabilities. The term "myth" is often used interchangeably with religion, but Diana notes that myths are often considered lesser or less real in Western societies. However, within different cultures, the line between religion and myth may be blurred.

Q: How are myths or religions born?

Myths and religions can emerge from intense personal experiences that individuals perceive as sacred or transcendent. When people share these experiences and beliefs with others, a movement or following can form. Stories and writings then shape and solidify these beliefs, which can eventually develop into a powerful myth or religion. The spread and interpretation of these beliefs may be influenced by institutions or powerful figures seeking to control the narrative.

Q: Are myths and religions good for human civilization?

The role of religion in human civilization is complex and multifaceted. Diana suggests that religion can be seen as an evolutionary adaptation that helps individuals and communities navigate the world and maintain social order. Belief structures and practices provide a framework for understanding and coexisting with others. However, the impact of religion on society varies and is influenced by power dynamics, interpretations, and institutional control.

Q: Is there a pattern or structure to the spread of myths and religions?

The spread of myths and religions can take different forms depending on the historical and cultural context. There is no universal pattern, as each era and society has its own unique dynamics and influences. The process often involves personal experiences, belief sharing, written narratives, and the formation of charismatic movements. However, power struggles and institutional control can shape and limit the spread of these beliefs as well.

Q: What is the scope of religion?

Religion encompasses a broad range of beliefs and practices beyond traditional monotheistic religions. It can include non-theistic traditions like Zen Buddhism, which focus on the exploration of consciousness and the removal of conceptual barriers. The definition of religion highlights the transformative and sacred power that individuals perceive and engage with, allowing for diverse interpretations and expressions of religious experiences.

Q: Is contact experience crucial to the formation of myth and religion?

Contact experiences, which can be intense and transcendent, often play a central role in the formation of myths and religions. These experiences, whether with supernatural beings, divine figures, or profound forces, are seen as transformative and inspire believers to share their encounters with others. While contact experiences may vary, they contribute to the mythic and religious narratives that shape beliefs and practices within a community.

Q: Can myths and religions be controlled or interpreted by institutions?

Institutions, often with considerable power and influence, may seek to control the spread and interpretation of myths and religions. Historical examples, such as the Roman Empire's influence on early Christianity, demonstrate how institutions shape and consolidate belief systems. They determine which narratives become accepted and may suppress alternative interpretations. This control over myths and religions speaks to the broader dynamics of power and authority within societies.


Religion and myth are deeply intertwined with human cognition, culture, and social structures. Beliefs shape our actions, and the lines between what is believed to be real and objective reality are often blurry. The formation of myths and religions can stem from intense personal experiences that individuals perceive as transformative and sacred. Communities form around these beliefs, often spreading and solidifying through storytelling and institutional control. The adaptive nature of religion helps societies navigate vast and complex human experiences, even in the face of evolving rationality and technological advancements.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Belief is a set of attitudes that dictate our actions, such as the belief that the sun will rise tomorrow. However, beliefs can be wrong and differ in accuracy towards what is considered objective reality.

  • Objective reality, as defined by philosopher Emmanuel Kant, is a challenging concept to grasp, as we can only approximate it through our senses. Our senses can be fallible, leading to potential errors in our perception of reality.

  • Technology serves as an extension of our senses, allowing us to enhance our understanding of reality. Through the development of better tools and instruments, we can achieve a more accurate depiction of the objective world and refine our beliefs accordingly.

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