Welcome to the Huberman Lab Podcast,
where we discuss science
and science-based tools for everyday life.
Recently, the Huberman Lab Podcast hosted a live event
at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles.
It was entitled the Brain-Body Contract.
The first part of the evening was a lecture
about science and science-based tools
for mental health, physical health, and performance.
The second half was a question and answer period
in which the audience asked me questions from the podcast
or related to their own interests
or things that they’ve gleaned from social media
or just general questions about mental health,
physical health, and performance.
And I answered those questions for them.
We wanted to make the recorded version
of that question and answer session available to everybody,
regardless of who could attend.
So what follows is the question and answer period
from the Wiltern Theater Brain-Body Contract
live Huberman Lab event.
Want to be sure to thank the sponsors from that event.
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And now without further ado,
the question and answer period
from the Huberman Lab live event in Los Angeles.
[“The Daily Show with Dr. Z”]
[“The Daily Show with Dr. Z”]
What occurs in the mind body when you have ADHD?
Are there ways to address it without medication?
Thank you for this question.
So attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
used to be called ADD.
The hyperactivity part is a little misleading.
And again, I’m not a clinician here.
Here’s what we know works for some people,
and yet there are always going to be side effects
of any kind of chemical manipulation,
which is that we know that people,
kids and adults with ADHD,
actually have a tremendous capacity to focus
if they like what they’re focusing on.
You take a kid with ADHD who can’t focus
and you give them their favorite video game
and they are a laser.
The threshold to access the dopamine system is higher.
And dopamine has this incredible ability
to focus the brain and other aspects of the nervous system.
Certainly if people require medication,
I’m not going to tell you to stop taking that medication.
But the focus training exercises
that have been explored mainly in China,
but they’re starting to be explored over here as well,
do seem to be of benefit.
And these are, as they sound,
they use them in schools in China now,
which are literally visual focus exercises.
Your mental focus,
that is your ability to focus on things cognitively,
follows your visual focus.
And of course, your stress will anchor your,
essentially put you in a soda straw view of the world.
So yes, there are non-medication-based treatments.
By medication, I’m assuming you mean prescription medication.
There are, of course, supplement-based medications
that will increase dopamine, mainly L-tyrosine.
Again, this is something to think carefully about
before you start tampering with your dopamine system.
The L-tyrosine is the precursor to dopamine,
so it will raise your dopamine levels.
But I believe, and you’ll hear me say this
as many times as necessary,
that one should, if you can,
rely on behavioral tools first.
Then, of course, sleep and nutrition are prerequisite,
again, for all mental health, physical health performance.
You simply can’t neglect those.
And then, and only then, if all of that isn’t working,
to rely on supplement-based tools
or on prescription medication.
So it’s clear that Vyvanse, Adderall, Ritalin, et cetera,
work for ADHD, but some people choose to rely
on more subtle forms of pharmacologic manipulation
And this focusing exercise essentially consists
of spending one to three minutes
trying to maintain visual focus.
And yes, you are allowed to blink.
I don’t know why we tend to stare
at something we don’t blink,
but don’t let your eyes dry out.
And that can increase your ability
to focus cognitively, and it works.
And keep in mind that focusing always involves refocusing.
We covered a beautiful data set,
not collected by my lab,
by Wendy Suzuki’s lab at NYU,
that at roughly 10 minute,
it’s actually 13 minute a day meditation of the sort
where you just focus on your breathing,
has been shown to improve focus significantly.
Why don’t we hear about this more?
Well, she’s now Dean of Arts and Sciences at NYU,
and all the students are hearing about it.
Hopefully they’re doing it,
but it takes a little bit of discipline.
For some reason, 10 minute a day type meditation
is something that very few people follow consistently.
But if you’re looking for non-medication based treatments
for ADHD, or you’re somebody who just struggles with focus,
the focusing exercise or the meditation I just described
can be very useful.
So say the data.
Yeah, thanks for bringing up space-time bridging.
Are people familiar with what space-time bridging is?
I haven’t talked a lot about it.
Okay, thanks for bringing that up.
We actually have an episode on meditation
coming up soon where I cover it.
And I talked about it long ago,
and then I kind of abandoned it
because, well, we wanted more data.
And it’s a pretty interesting technique.
You know, if you think about the nervous system
and vision in particular,
but if you’re not a sighted person,
you’re low vision or no vision,
you could do this with your hearing.
But I’m gonna assume most people here are sighted.
If not, just translate this to the auditory system.
You have this incredible ability to close your eyes
and focus, for instance, on,
people talk about the third eye center,
you know, focusing right behind your forehead.
Do you know why people do that when they meditate?
The reason is that you actually have no sensation
in your brain.
It’s the one place to focus your attention
for which you abandon sensation.
If I think about any portion of my body or my breathing,
I’m either, I’m going to sense what’s happening.
I’m going to perceive my inner landscape,
or my outer, if I look out into the world,
When you focus your attention with your eyes closed,
just, you do have to close your eyes
just behind your forehead,
you are focusing on your thinking.
Sort of obvious, but I don’t,
at least to me, it had never been stated that clearly.
Again, one of the problems
with some of the more traditional practices,
but also the problem with science,
is that there’s a shrouding of everything
in very complex language, which sucks.
Why does it suck?
Because it’s a separator.
You eliminate the number of people
that could be brought to potentially useful practices.
And I don’t like it when people, including myself,
overuse mechanism and descriptions of, you know,
fancy phrases to mask basic principles.
So simplest language, I think is a,
it tends to unify people around the practices.
So when you focus on this so-called third eye center,
right, or a spot right behind your forehead,
or on your breath,
it’s a little tricky with the breath,
but when you focus on your frontal cortex,
there’s nothing to sense,
because there’s no sensory neurons there.
There’s no touch, there’s no pain, nothing.
That’s why in these gory movies, you know,
you can take the skull off,
or in neurosurgeries, they’re poking around in there,
and the person’s playing a violin.
Like no anesthetic, no anesthetic,
doesn’t require anesthetic, there’s no sensory neurons.
Can’t sense anything there.
So space-time bridging involves,
it’s essentially a meditation,
but it’s really a perceptual exercise.
I think that’s where we’re going with this,
is it starts by closing your eyes
and focusing on that location
for which there’s no sensation,
there’s only thought,
and then opening your eyes and focusing on a location,
maybe about the distance of your hand,
and you focus also on your breathing.
So you sort of imagine a kind of a tether between that.
You can split your attention to these two locations.
You’re thinking about your body,
and you’re thinking about a location outside of you,
and then you, while continuing to think about your body,
so-called interoception, focused on your breathing,
you focus further out, and then further out,
and then further out,
and then ultimately, you know that little cartoon
or meme where they’re like,
we’re just a little blue dot floating in a big universe,
and it’s supposed to make all your problems go away?
It kind of works because what you’ve done
is you’ve expanded your perception,
and you go, oh yeah, the stuff that’s happening in here
is really important when I’m focused
on what’s happening in here,
but when I’m focused on what’s going on
and the vastness of all this,
and we’re just a little pale blue dot and all that,
it changes your perception,
not just your visual perception, obviously.
Changing your visual perception
changes your cognitive perception,
which changes your emotional experience.
So the space-time bridging is a perceptual exercise
where you step from focusing internally
to focusing externally at a short distance,
then a further distance, further distance, further distance,
and then trying to imagine yourself
in this larger landscape.
It sounds very mystical,
but it’s actually very neurobiological,
and it captures something really amazing.
Why is the T in there, the time, space-time bridging?
Because this is space, but time is in there
because when you focus in close,
your slicing of time is finer.
You notice the subtle fluctuations in your breathing
and things that are happening up close,
whereas when you focus further out,
your perception of time actually changes,
which is why in panoramic vision we are calm.
And when you think about we’re just a pale blue dot
and we mostly only live to about 85 or maybe 100 years old,
what’s happening right now,
my boss being a jerk and all that doesn’t really matter
because the earth is spinning and all that kind of stuff,
which is all true and is the stuff of philosophy
and mindfulness and I think is beautiful.
What you’re really doing
is you’re changing your time perception
by changing your space perception.
So space-time bridging is very useful
because most people get locked at one step,
one of these stations,
especially under conditions of stress.
And people who have trouble focusing,
I’m glad you brought this up in this context of ADHD,
people who have a hard time focusing
whether or not they have ADHD or not
tend to skip back and forth
between different space-time domains
as we call them in science.
So this is a simple exercise that you can do
focusing internally, then stepping out externally,
then stepping back in,
all the while paying attention to your inner landscape
just simply by focusing on your breathing.
It’s a tool that we’re still collecting data on
in terms of its utility, but people are already using it.
And I don’t think of it as a meditation,
I think of it as a perceptual exercise.
Thanks for asking that.
Okay, as a teenager, what are five things
you would recommend to physically feel my best?
I’m a 15-year-old surfer
who attends high school and plays soccer.
It sounds like you’re doing a lot of things right.
To physically feel your best.
Okay, so I’m gonna grasp at some context here
that I’m not, that’s not within reach.
I’m assuming if you are doing all these things,
you’re hopefully doing a bunch of other things too,
and they’re going to be demands on you
that you, probably some of them you don’t wanna do,
school and things like that,
are going to have varying levels of joy and delight
and demand of things you don’t want to do.
I don’t wanna default always to the simplest of tools,
but I certainly think that even as a 15-year-old,
if you’re not already getting lots and lots of sleep,
that’s going to be great.
Tell your parents that I said
you should get lots and lots of sleep,
while you’re not sleeping through classes.
I am a professor after all.
I couldn’t tell you otherwise.
You know, I would say if I could travel back in time
as a 15-year-old, I would encourage you
to cultivate some sort of mindfulness practice.
I know this sounds a little cliche,
but having some awareness of your thinking
about your thinking is good,
but I’m actually not going to say sit down
and meditate for 10 minutes a day or do NSDR.
I’m actually not gonna tell you that.
I think given how plastic your brain is,
how much it’s changing at 15,
I would encourage you,
and maybe you would set a timer for this,
to actually develop just a really keen awareness
of what stresses you out, what relaxes you,
what delights you, et cetera,
and just to simply develop an awareness of that,
because those are your antennae.
And I certainly had a meditation practice as a youth,
mostly given to me because I was a little haywire
and I needed it, and it worked pretty well.
But I think in retrospect,
what I wish I had developed was more of a sense
of how I navigated stress or things,
and things I enjoyed and things I didn’t enjoy.
And I would just encourage you to have a general awareness,
try and detect and learn about what raises your adrenaline,
what raises your dopamine, what raises your serotonin,
and then start thinking about tools.
But again, the awareness is going to be very valuable.
And gosh, as a 15-year-old,
you are in this amazing blessed period
of heightened neuroplasticity.
Should we all be so lucky?
So enjoy it.
Next question, please.
Clarity on adrenaline regarding cold water.
Should we wait to feel the rise of adrenaline
that get me out of here feeling,
and the fall of it before bailing?
Yes, provided it doesn’t kill you.
You know, I don’t wanna say cold water,
it’s hard to kill yourself with cold water,
provided your head’s above and you’re breathing.
But it’s, sorry, my podcast producer’s always like,
I can’t help that, anyway.
It’s a great tool.
And different days, it’ll feel different.
So for instance, doing cold,
any kind of adrenaline and deliberate cold exposure
or adrenaline increasing activity early in the day,
you might find that you are more,
quote unquote, resilient than later.
In other words, the wall, like,
I really don’t wanna do this.
This is actually interesting for,
I think it extends beyond cold water.
Let’s say you really don’t wanna do something.
Pay attention to the fact
that maybe it’s not the right thing to do.
But assuming it’s something that you know you should do,
but you don’t want to do,
you are already in the first wall of adrenaline.
You don’t experience it necessarily
as heightened levels of stress.
You might experience it as heightened levels of fatigue
or a hard time shifting on that kind of activation state
that’s required to move through the thing.
But I do encourage you to take advantage of that.
Of course, and we have an episode coming out tomorrow,
actually, that answers questions like,
should you train if you’re sick?
And what if you travel?
And there’s context always.
But I think that you do want to experience,
if you wanna get the most out of the cold water exposure,
and to be more specific, the adrenaline,
then you want to get to that point of,
I really wanna get out of here,
but I know I can stay in safely,
but I really wanna get out of here.
And it’s a little hard to explain,
but there’s just so much learning in those short moments
about where your mind goes.
And this sounds very kind of, again, subjective
and maybe a little wishy-washy,
but you can realize great things about yourself
in those moments.
You can find insight in those moments.
Also keep in mind that the degree of discomfort,
not just physical, but mental discomfort,
is directly predictive of the pain to pleasure wave
that you’ll experience afterwards.
The reason it feels so good
when you get out of the ice bath and you’re showered off,
I always do the warm shower after,
I don’t do this end on cold thing.
I don’t know, it just seems a little too painful.
And then take a warm shower and then you feel great.
And that’s the surge of dopamine that we know,
based on a paper published
in the European Journal of Physiology,
lasts many hours and it’s a 100 to 200% increase in dopamine.
It is not a subtle effect.
And then people say, well, wait,
is that dopamine gonna crash my dopamine system?
No, because it’s a nice slow rise.
In fact, I’m actually not aware of many things
besides love and delight
that can create this long, slow arc of dopamine
lasting many hours.
Maybe you’re aware of other things.
If you are, let me know.
But it turns out that long arc is a true antidepressant.
And my colleague at Stanford, Dr. Anna Lembke,
who’s a head of our Dual Diagnosis Addiction Clinic,
has talked about in her amazing book,
Dopamine Nation, about patients of hers
that have really helped themselves along
and out of the more depressive phases
of working through addiction
and in just depression in general
through directed cold water therapy.
So I’m obviously a fanatic about it
in the sense that it’s a powerful,
relatively safe, if done properly,
safe, if done properly,
way to modulate your internal dopamine.
Hopefully I answered your question.
Next question, please.
Sorry, I caught it right as it went off.
The fall as well.
Yes, I think you should get out
once you’ve accomplished something.
Don’t get out when you panic, unless it’s dangerous.
How can you train your brain
to feel more confident in moments
where you tend to feel intimidated?
These are hard questions.
Because context is tricky here,
because I don’t know what the context is.
And confidence on short time scales
and then long time scales.
So confidence in school, confidence in career,
those are long, long arc things,
whereas confidence to be able to do something
in the short term is different.
But remember those action sequences
that trigger the release of dopamine.
Dopamine, I’ve mainly talked about
the dark side of dopamine,
but I hopefully also talked about
the sort of upward spiral that dopamine can cause,
mainly by thinking about delight
and things that you really enjoy.
That carries over.
And I would say that you want to micro-slice
the demands of what’s maybe got you back
on your heels a bit.
Actually, a good friend of mine who’s here tonight,
I think also, my friend Pat,
he has a great way of conceptualizing this,
which is for most all endeavors,
we either feel back on our heels, flat-footed,
or forward center of mass.
Like we can really do something.
We’re flat-footed, we’re back on our heels.
And sometimes getting from back on our heels,
let’s call that lack of confidence
to just on two feet and confident enough
to move forward or at least stay in the game.
That’s going to require,
you could lean on different tools.
I can’t say which would be ideal
for the circumstance you have in mind,
but I do think that having a way to calm yourself
will give you access to more resources,
We know this.
This was something I meant to bring up
during the discussion about fear versus love, et cetera,
trying to access delight and love.
When we are in a state of fear or stress or anxiety,
the rule set, the options available to us,
and indeed our creativity, is greatly diminished.
And this has to do with the way
that the prefrontal cortex interacts
with an area of the brain called the insula,
which relates to our internal landscape.
And there’s this weird phenomenon,
which is that normally our brain, our thinking brain,
and our rule-setting brain,
it leads the brain parts that control
and pay attention to how we feel internally.
And that’s why, for instance, if you feel a little nervous,
you can still do something.
At some point, you get stressed enough,
and we know this from work by my colleague, David Spiegel,
it reverses, and these areas of the brain
that are paying attention, like how flushed my face is
or whether or not I’m sweating or am I breathing,
actually start to shut down creative decision-making.
So I would say the way to have more confidence
is to learn to control that stress
and keep the part of your brain,
the prefrontal cortex is that part,
that can come up with new rules that can be funny,
that can be creative, that keeps that brain part leading.
The way I think about this is the prefrontal cortex
is sort of like the coach,
and the rest of your brain are sort of like the players.
And if you get too stressed,
the players start to lead the game,
and the coach follows and kind of drags them along.
So I would encourage you to focus
on real-time stress modulation
and to raise your stress threshold
using the sorts of tools we talked about,
and to register your wins.
I didn’t get into this in too much detail,
but one of the amazing things about the dopamine system
is that it’s highly subject to your interpretation.
If you tell yourself that a fail was a win,
and you can see or conceptualize some way
in which that’s actually true,
you get to tap into the dopamine system.
You might think that’s crazy.
You can cheat your own brain.
You can cheat your own neurochemistry, and indeed you can.
You can change the time, space-time referencing.
We see this with examples
like Nelson Mandela or Viktor Frankl.
You know, you read their stories, right?
Trapped in little cells, right?
And they come up with new ways to access the dopamine system
by now not thinking about what they’re not getting,
but thinking about what they can control
in their immediate experience.
Many, many examples of this
throughout literature and history.
And the dopamine system is the life force system.
I don’t say that in any loose way.
Dopamine is life force.
It’s the wish and the desire to continue.
And so if you can think about
what might seem like a failure
and really spend some time thinking about
not the potential wins on the outside,
but how you can conceptualize
that as a potential win internally,
you really do get to achieve an internal chemical win.
And that chemical win sets you up for more real wins,
if that makes sense.
It’s incredible how contextualized the dopamine system is,
but if it weren’t, why would it matter
if we’re talking about money or mates or food
or job or school?
You don’t get 50 reward systems and motivation systems.
You get one, and that’s the dopamine system.
Next question, please.
What is the competing mechanism
behind bilateral eye movement, EMDR,
that helps resolve psychological trauma?
The competing mechanism.
Well, let me try and answer as best I can.
I’m not sure I understand the full extent of the question,
but let me, EMDR, moving your eyes from side to side,
right, and then recounting a trauma is a very common
and actually one of the four approved treatments
that are behavioral for trauma.
So it’s taken seriously in the psychiatric
and psychological community for good reason.
It tends to work best for single event traumas
as opposed to like entire childhoods.
No joke there, like, you know,
some people have their entire childhood was traumatic.
Other people, they experience a trauma,
a single event trauma or repeated periods
of the same or similar type of trauma.
Eye movements from side to side have been shown
in a number of studies to very potently reduce
the activity of a brain structure called the amygdala,
which most people are familiar with
because of the character from the Star Wars movie,
There’s a neuroscientist somewhere on that team.
It is indeed a threat detection center.
And when you move through space, not outer space,
but when you walk like this,
your eyes actually generate these subtle side to side shifts
unless you’re focusing on a specific target.
And my lab and other laboratories have found
that that leads to a very potent quieting
of the threat detection system.
And then EMDR is essentially a process of pairing
that calmer state with no threat detection system
activated with the recount of something
that normally would be quite triggering.
So it’s, you’ve heard of Pavlovian conditioning,
like a bell rings and the animal gets fed
and animal salivates,
eventually just the bell will evoke the salivation.
You’re doing the reverse of that.
It’s called behavioral desensitization.
It has an underlying mechanism, et cetera.
But the idea is to pair a calm state
with recount of something.
It has been shown to be successful.
There are people who think
that the side to side eye movements
and the recount of trauma may actually be invoking
some form of hypnosis.
My colleague, David Spiegel, expert in clinical hypnosis.
He’s appeared on my podcast, Rich Roll’s podcast
and a few other podcasts and talks about this.
It is not stage hypnosis, it’s clinical hypnosis.
So there may be something going on there.
EMDR, again, some people get great relief from it.
Other people don’t.
What’s kind of nice is that this eye movements
from side to side or simply taking a walk,
as long as you’re not looking at your phone
and not allowing your eyes to move from side to side
is a very good way to shut down the fear and stress system.
So taking a walk, I think is relaxing for obvious reasons.
And there are data showing that part of the reason
why animals scratch at the door and wanna go for a walk
may not actually be the exercise.
There’s kind of an anxiety
and then an anxiety relief that occurs.
Of course, they probably have to go to the bathroom too.
One of Costello’s great joys in life
was just peeing on everything.
So the psychological trauma rewiring,
unfortunately, there haven’t been
a lot of brain imaging studies
looking at this long-term of how well EMDR works.
What I think is going to happen in the next few years,
by the way, is it is not going to be a discussion around,
should you do EMDR?
Should you do transcranial magnetic stimulation?
Should you do behavioral therapy?
It’s going to be combination therapies,
including pharmacologic manipulations
to essentially give a boost to the systems
that encourage neuroplasticity,
like dopamine and serotonin and adrenaline,
and then also then perform EMDR.
And if you wanna talk about what’s happening
in the landscape of clinical trials
on some of the psychedelics, I’m happy to talk about it.
They’re still illegal,
but they are being used in clinical trials
and very interesting stuff is happening there.
Okay, next question, please.
What new research or interventions
are you most excited about
in the realm of health and wellness?
So what I think is going to be very interesting
in the next few years really reflects my obsession
that you’ve seen a little bit of tonight,
but the thing that I think is going to be most useful,
and I’ve seen this in science before,
and I think we’re going to see it in health and wellness,
is that there are all these tools and all these people,
and he’s saying this and she’s saying that,
and what we’re going to start paying attention to
is what are the common themes, right?
And a broader and more important theme
is going to be one of modulation versus mediation.
What do I mean?
Well, if someone were to pull a fire alarm right now,
and please don’t, that will shift our attention
and make it hard to focus on what I’m saying
and knowing me, I’d probably just stay up here talking.
Do we think that fire alarms mediate attention?
No, they modulate it, right?
If it were very, very cold in this room
like it was when we first got here tonight,
the Arctic cold, hopefully it’s warmed up a bit.
It hasn’t, I’m so sorry, so sorry.
Yeah, I attempted to, yeah.
I almost thought maybe we all just do a bunch of breathing
to heat up like adrenaline release,
but these days getting groups of people
all breathe on each other is not exactly,
I can see that might go the wrong way
in terms of what people interpret.
So the idea here is that certain things
directly mediate something,
like a physiological side directly calms you down quickly.
It mediates the calming response.
Getting good sleep makes you less easily triggered.
It modulates stress.
But is sleeping directly mediating stress control?
No, and I think this is really important
and this brings up the topic of the gut brain axis.
The gut is rich with these little bugs,
bacteria, trillions of them,
which is an eerie thought to me,
but also the surface of your skin,
the surface of your eyes,
you have a skin microbiome, a nasal microbiome,
every mucosal lining has a microbiome.
In fact, think about this.
This is a crazy but worthwhile tangent.
Have you ever bitten the inside of your mouth?
It sucks, right?
And you get a cut and it hurts.
But guess what?
The inside of your mouth heals without a scar.
Think about that.
You cut anywhere else on your body
and depending on how well you heal
and your age and your immune status,
you get a scar.
Your mouth is filled with bacteria
and it’s open to the world.
But the gut microbiome, provided it’s healthy,
provides an incredible ability to heal quickly.
And, you know, I’m not somebody
who’s done a lot of acupuncture.
I’ve went a few times
and now there’s interesting science
happening on acupuncture,
but what’s the first thing they do
when you walk in there?
And then they go, oh yeah.
And they have this cool intuition
that’s not based on Western mechanistic science.
It’s more of an intuition based on millions,
if not billions of data points
that have been put into these charts.
It’s pretty cool, right?
And what they are looking at, I believe,
and from what my colleagues who work on microbiome
tell me is they can look at the pallor of your tongue,
in particular, in the back
and get a sense of whether or not
the microbiome there is of the appropriate stuff.
But they don’t go, oh, lactobacillus,
and then bacillus,
they all end in illus, right?
But then, oh, you’re dysbiotic.
Instead, they get a sense.
Now, parents of small babies
learn to detect all sorts of things
coming out of essentially every orifice of the child.
As a readout of health,
because the child doesn’t have language.
And the dog owners, you know,
unfortunately, you learn to do this, too.
For better or for worse, probably for better, right?
So we have this intuition about gut health,
but gut health would be another example
where it’s very clear now that fiber can be helpful,
but it’s mostly consuming these fermented foods
that have been used for ages,
but low-sugar fermented foods of the natto,
kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, et cetera,
like all these things,
depending on which culture you’re in,
they come in different forms,
certain yogurts, et cetera,
that allow the gut to be healthy,
and it modulates a huge number of systems.
So I don’t think that you’re going to cure depression
by adjusting your gut microbiome,
but if your gut microbiota are not well,
and you improve that,
it will indeed shift the neurotransmitter systems
of your brain and give you a elevated mood.
That shouldn’t come as a surprise anymore,
but I think that the whole world thinks like,
gosh, it must be the serotonin in the gut.
No, it’s actually not serotonin in the gut,
it’s that the gut microbiota create chemicals
that actually become serotonin in the brain,
or become dopamine in the brain.
And so I think that the gut microbiome,
I would put in the same category,
although not quite as important,
I would put it in the category of like sleep.
It modulates a huge number of other processes,
it doesn’t mediate them.
So sunlight, sleep, healthy gut microbiome,
exercise, good nutrition, social connection,
these things all create this general milieu
or environment of health.
I would like to see more distinction
between modulating and mediating effects
and tools out there,
because I also see a lot of unnecessary argument.
People are like, there’s no example
that improving your gut microbiome cures depressions.
Of course there’s not,
but there are really good examples
if your gut microbiome is off
that improving it can improve mood,
which depending on where you are
on that spectrum of depression can really relieve things.
So I think that the future of health,
we hear so much about personalized medicine
and match to your genome,
but we don’t even have the basic,
most people don’t even have the basics right.
And if you watch or listen to the podcast long enough,
hopefully certain themes start to kind of repeat themselves.
But a key theme that you learn in science,
you teach your students,
does it modulate or does it mediate it?
You need to be careful with your language there.
And there’s great information
or as we say, interpretational power there.
If you understand the difference,
then I think we can go a long way
by making that distinction modulating versus mediating.
There are probably other things that modulate health
that I’m overlooking now,
just because of the flow that I’m in.
The cool mitt.
Yeah, the cool mitt.
Okay, I promised to talk about Palmer cooling.
Well, I’ll do it now.
Palmer cooling, they changed the Q&A format.
What can I say?
This is like teaching in the classroom.
All right, very briefly,
that Palmer cooling,
which is essentially placing,
you can cool the core of the body most quickly
by placing cold objects on the hands,
the bottoms of the feet,
or on the top of the face
because of the arrangement of vasculature.
Normally, you’ve got this arteries,
capillaries, veins things,
but at those locations in the body,
you skip the capillaries
and you can basically,
you’re not really passing cool into the body,
but you’re cooling off the core of the body more quickly.
And if you do that in between sets of exercise
or during a run or cycling,
you can dramatically increase your ability to continue.
I actually use the cool mitt for cognitive work,
but you don’t need a cool mitt.
Sorry, cool mitt, guys.
You can just get a thing of ice water
or just very cold water.
And I know it sounds trivially easy,
but you’re actually just cooling your core
by putting your hands or even one hand
on a relatively cold thing of water or ice,
but not so cold that it constricts the vasculature there.
This is the incredible work of my colleague at Stanford,
Dr. Craig Heller.
Why wouldn’t more people do this
if you can double the amount of endurance,
believe it or not,
double the number of sets of exercise you can do
or feel more alert and do more cognitive work?
Why wouldn’t more people do it?
Because people just don’t do it.
And it sounds crazy.
It really sounds crazy, but it’s a real thing.
And I wish more people would do it.
The athletes at Stanford do it.
People in the military do it.
So people who know, know, and they use it, enjoy it.
It’s just, it’s almost like seems too off target
from what you’re trying to accomplish.
I don’t know, for some reason,
people are finally on board breathing,
like in a specific way as a useful tool.
A few years ago, no one was into that.
I mean, just think of how far we’ve come.
People are talking about psychedelics,
I think the pandemic for all its pains
and what a challenging period for all sorts of reasons
did wake people up to the idea
that you have to take control over your health
because there’s no magic fairy coming to do it for you.
And with all due respect, there’s no government agency
that’s gonna like drop off the kit at your front door
of like, here’s how you take good care of yourself.
So it’s just not gonna happen.
And it wouldn’t happen under any circumstances.
So it’s a personal responsibility issue.
Huh, all right, what lessons from skateboarding?
The failure part, you know, the failure, failure, failure.
I mean, for me, you know, skateboarding
never was a good skateboarder.
Still have close friends in that community
and our photographer and the guy who does all the visuals
and the other guys that do the visuals for our podcast,
Mike Blayback and Chris and Martin
are all of that community.
You know, I think that for me, that community was really,
as Mike will sometimes say, skateboarders hate everything,
meaning they have a very high threshold
for what they consider acceptable.
It’s not just what you do, it’s how you do it.
And I think in neuroscience, there’s a lot of stuff.
In science in general, there’s so many papers
and there’s so many experiments,
like how do you navigate that landscape?
I think it helped me develop a sense of taste.
But the taste that I’m referring to
is not necessarily a taste of which science is cool
or not cool, that too.
But it came through a few times tonight
when I was talking about my mentors.
You know, I picked back then skateboarding
because I really liked the people.
And also you didn’t need your parents to go to a game.
And so that worked for me.
And you could kind of make your own schedule.
And I do think it’s very important to the extent
that you can in science and in everything
to surround yourself with the kinds of people
that you just really enjoy being around.
And so to me, the podcast running a lab
feels a lot like skateboarding.
It’s the same energy.
It’s the same neurochemical systems firing.
So that’s, yeah, that one.
Next favorite fun.
Oh, oh wait, no, that’s inappropriate.
I do have a Feynman story, but it’s inappropriate.
This is why I don’t drink.
Good decision making.
Well, I read all of Feynman’s books.
So I had the pleasure, I never met him.
He was dead before I was born.
But my dad did and he had good Feynman stories
and they’re inappropriate.
So the cool thing about Feynman, right,
was that he didn’t really care
if people understood the specifics
of what he was talking about.
He just wanted people to get turned on
to how amazing physics was.
And he loved general principles.
And one of the things, you know,
the example that’s sometimes given,
I don’t know how many of you are familiar
with the Feynman books, but surely you’re joking,
Mr. Feynman, or what do you care?
What do other people think?
All of that stuff, it’s wonderful.
He picked locks.
You know, we worked at Los Alamos Labs.
They were working on the bomb.
And he basically, well, there and elsewhere.
And every morning, the offices used to come in
and he would spread all the top secret papers
out on the floor.
He would break into the safes at night
and then they were perplexed who could do this.
And he liked safe cracking.
Literally like national security secrets,
just for fun, prankster.
He also bongo drum naked on the roof of Caltech.
And he did most of his writing of theorems in strip clubs.
Learned to draw late in life,
was really into flotation tanks,
and very curious about, but never did psychedelics.
That’s as I understand.
But one of the cool Feynman factoids
is that when he was a kid,
he talked about when he was a child
that his dad used to take him birdwatching
and he’d say, oh, well, that’s a whatever scrub jay
and that’s a whatever, whatever thrush.
And his dad said, no,
don’t cloud your mind with naming and taxonomy.
That’s not meaningful
because then what if it’s the different,
you know, the pygmy thrush or the lesser this or that.
The more important thing is to start to identify principles
of why certain birds behave one way
and certain birds behave another
and to start finding the commonalities and the regularities.
And that’s a theme that I obviously tonight
have tried to impose.
And it’s actually something
that I can’t do in podcasts necessarily
because I can’t thread across 40 episodes
or something like that in the same way
that I could in an evening like this.
So that’s an appropriate Feynman story.
Also, it just seemed like a delightful guy.
And he’s kind of cool.
He’s a little bit street, right?
He had that thick accent.
He was from far Rockaway,
but he didn’t really care much what people thought
or he did and he pretended he didn’t.
Careful when people tell you
they don’t care what people think.
But I think he did to the extent
that it still allow him to get the message out there.
Okay, next question, please.
I love this.
I delight in all things animals,
but especially horses
because my high school girlfriend had a horse
and they do that thing where people go,
oh, you know, horses can detect
how they know more about you than you know.
And then I get into the horse
and the horse is like, you know, this.
It’s like a litmus test.
Having a girlfriend with a horse
was very intimidating for me, actually.
I felt like I had to compete with the horse.
She spent all this time with the horse.
He was very large, very like, you know.
Anyway, eventually I broke the horse.
Okay, my horse does the double inhale-long exhale often.
He’s a bit of a stressy guy.
Warm blood, yeah?
I used to work at the barn.
I used to shovel manure and work at the barn.
She brought her horse to college.
That’s how she followed her off to college.
He never would have gone to college
if she hadn’t gone to college.
And the horses are interesting animals.
They do tell you a lot.
The horse does the double inhale-long exhale often.
He’s a bit of a stressy guy.
Do you suppose this physiological stress
In fact, I mentioned warm bloods, right?
I have a colleague at Stanford.
Her name is Sue McConnell,
and she is an expert in dog genetics.
So you can imagine I’m always asking her questions.
And we talk about dogs and we talk about horses
because she also, I think she raises warm bloods.
And you hear about hot bloods and warm bloods.
And you also, if you have any familiarity with dogs,
there are dogs like Costello,
where like a nuclear bomb could go off
and Costello might open an eye.
That’s the bulldog.
Economy of effort.
They’re not going to get activated
unless there’s a reason to do it.
They are very, as we call, parasympathetic dominant.
That seesaw of autonomic arousal
is just really, really relaxed.
Getting them into action is more of an effort.
There are other animals, like the whippet, right?
Or the Italian greyhound.
Like they’re always cold.
That are very sympathetic dominant.
And then of course, within a breed or within a species,
there’s a range.
And humans also out within a range.
I think anyone who’s had children will tell you,
you know, he or she has been like this since birth.
Calm, easygoing, or like really easily stressed.
I think that seesaw, we didn’t get into tonight too much,
but there’s a concept with the autonomic regulation
of a hinge.
So don’t think so much about being really stressed out
or really relaxed, but certain animals,
the hinge is tightened so that the seesaw
just kind of tilts mellow, like Costello.
A bulldog almost seems like a different animal
than a whippet.
They’re so very different.
And within the category of horses,
and I’m not an expert in horse genetics,
but they are selected for,
not just for their physical attributes,
but for their psychological or temperament attributes.
And you see this in dogs too.
In fact, the reason I picked Costello,
and Elvis can verify this story,
is I read, I wanted a dog for so many years.
And I went there and there were all these puppies.
And I was like, I heard you need to take them
in the other room, one by one.
And then if it barks for its siblings,
and you’re like, oh, it’s a healthy puppy.
So I walk in and all the dogs are running around like crazy.
It was right around Christmas time, right Elvis?
And they’re running around,
and then there’s one in the back.
And he’s taking advantage of the fact
that all the other ones are waiting,
and he’s just eating out of all of their bowls.
And I was like, I want that one.
So I took that chubby little bastard in the next room,
and I thought, okay, he’s gonna bark for his siblings.
And he laid down and he took a nap.
And I was like, this one, I want this one.
Why did I want that one?
Well, this completes the principle,
which is I wanted a dog like that
because I’m not like that.
And I was very interested in a dog I could take care of,
but also a dog that would help regulate my nervous system.
And so for me, having a dog like that
as opposed to a Whippet or something
that was constantly around, it’s a very calming effect.
And to this day, memory of his snoring
still puts me to sleep.
So I think that your horse probably has,
it kind of idles a little bit higher.
Think about the RPM, revs a little bit higher
at a given speed, higher, more RPM at a given speed.
That’s the way I think about the autonomic system.
How do you reset that?
Well, this is why a lot of exercise is good, right?
Incidentally, my girlfriend’s horse was crazy.
It was gelded late and it was crazy.
I almost said nuts, but that’s like a bad pun.
So, all right.
It was not nuts, but it was crazy.
It was gelded late.
Is there any science behind staying motivated
or developing discipline?
Ooh, so this represents kind of the higher tier
of where I think things are gonna go in the next few years
where we’re going to start seeing this
convergence of psychology and biology
where we can get to these harder concepts.
I like to think that we can stay motivated
through a simple process that now will make sense to you
because the last thing I covered was
toggling back and forth between our ability
to be gritty and lean in, kind of in friction,
maybe even a little anger, fear, competitiveness, et cetera,
that kind of grinding in, but that the more sustaining fuel,
the sort of hybrid version, right?
Hybrid fuel model would be one in which you can access that,
but that’s a depletable and not so renewable resource
without a lot of rest.
Meaning working hard out of anger, determination,
and kind of grit will work, but when you are depleted,
you have to stop for a long while.
Whereas if you can access this delight system,
which is really one of dopamine and serotonin both,
in other words, and I wanna think of a,
not of a different way to put this,
but to try and think about what sorts of things
and tools allow you to be and feel most loving,
I know it sounds weak, but it’s anything but weak,
to be most loving in the verb sense of the word
toward what you’re doing.
I actually used to use this trick in college
when I’d encounter a topic I hated.
I would tell myself, I’m really,
I’m just gonna fall in love with this
by trying to find the gems within it.
Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t,
but the wish to do it that way as opposed to,
okay, I’m just gonna grind this out,
at least for me at the time, was a powerful tool.
So motivation and discipline is a tricky one.
That’s sort of the just do it thing.
You need tools to modulate your stress
and to get your sleep, do all the basic things right,
set the right context for you to be in your best chance
of being disciplined,
and that itself is its own form of discipline.
But in terms of continual motivation,
you’re not gonna manage to go against the grain
for very long.
People have managed to go against challenge
for very long time, for very long times.
In fact, I was reading recently about the psychology
of people being kidnapped,
and they have this odd trick that they use.
Have you heard about this?
It’s sort of like Stockholm syndrome,
but they actually convince themselves
to fall in love with their captors,
and then they come up with new ways to escape them,
which is kind of cool.
So there’s something about mentally feeling
like you’re trying to go from back on your heels
to flat-footed that’s very energetically costly.
So again, these systems are very susceptible
to what we call context or top-down regulation.
Hopefully that helps.
I know it’s a little bit abstract.
I wish I could give you a one-minute exercise
that would make you motivated,
but we do talk about tools to get adrenaline going
and things like that.
But spend some time thinking about what would allow you
to sustain effort through positive feelings.
It’s not a light concept at all.
Okay, next question, please.
What would be your biggest piece of advice
for achieving one’s dreams?
Oy, that’s a tough one.
Again, this is gonna be a little abstract.
You know, I’m a believer in this idea
of kind of a seed message.
Robert Green has talked a lot about this,
that we can all kind of think back to a event
or stage of our life.
Typically it’s before puberty,
for other reasons that are kind of interesting,
but where we delight in something, right?
So for me it was fish.
And obviously now I don’t need to work on fish.
It wasn’t about the fish.
I hope that came through.
I mean, aquaria are really cool,
but it’s not about the fish.
It was something about the way they moved.
It was something about the way
that it tickled my excitement.
I used to get dropped off at this little pet shop
in California Avenue in Palo Alto called Moni’s Pet Shop.
My mom used it as childcare.
She would drop me off there and I had this book
and I would log all the tropical fish
and which ones could be with which ones.
And then I was obsessed, right?
But for me, it was something about organizing
and being able to make reliable predictions.
It was about parsimony.
It was about principles as opposed to,
and the colors delighted me and all that kind of stuff.
The equipment delighted me, but then I had puberty
and then like it was something else.
And then I went to college and it was something else
and I got a girlfriend and it was something else.
So it changes over time,
but this is why I recommended
to that young 15 year old person
that they learn to tap into that sense of like,
oh, like this is cool.
Like this feels cool.
I know not everyone else thinks it’s cool.
Maybe they do.
Like this feels good.
I actually have a somatic experience of this.
I’m not a very somatically oriented person.
I’m more up here, but I actually know
if I’m on to something,
if this left arm just kind of starts fidgeting,
like it’s like I want to move or like some people,
you can start to identify ways
in which you suddenly have this positive energy.
It’s not a fear energy.
It’s almost like a magnetism to things.
And just don’t be confused or misdirected
in thinking that it’s that thing.
It’s that, again, energy or that attraction
to something that feels right,
that is your, you know,
I wish we had these divining rod to find water.
That’s your tool.
It’s like antennae.
You want to grow your antennae.
So how do you follow your dreams?
Well, I never thought I’d do a podcast.
I never thought I’d become a neuroscientist.
You have to be willing, of course,
to take risks and to iterate quickly,
but not so quickly that you, you know,
you fail out of the game, et cetera.
If you do get back in, et cetera.
But it’s really about developing an awareness.
Now, the key thing is you’re not going to find this
by going up a mountain and sitting there
or waiting for your passion to just kind of rocket,
you know, does this sort of piano fall onto your head?
It’s not going to happen that way.
You have to interact with the sensory world
and different kinds of people.
And you have to be a little bit of a adventurer
in a safe way, of course,
an adventurer and learn to recognize the signals.
And some people are very in tune with this.
You know, there’s an amazing podcast
with Rick Rubin recently on Joe Rogan’s podcast
where he talks about the creative processes,
kind of this, like, it seems like whatever’s going on
in that beard of his is just connects to the world
and he can just like, there,
like that’s where you need to go.
And that’s, you know, but that’s part of the magic
is you don’t really know.
And because it’s all energetic, it’s all energetic.
And when I say energetic,
I don’t mean in the mystical sense.
I mean, you have to learn to sense
those fluctuations in energy.
Some people can sense them very easily
because they’re very mellow.
And if something gets them really excited,
they notice as a big Delta, as we say in science,
Other people, they ride kind of high all the time.
And so everything’s exciting to them.
And they miss a lot of the subtle fluctuations
in what’s really special and right for them.
In fact, mania is characterized
by hyper elevated levels of dopamine
and everything’s a good idea, right?
And depression is the opposite.
Nothing’s a good idea.
Nothing’s gonna work, right?
And those are the extremes
and those are rough conditions, obviously.
But for most people, it’s about learning
to detect those subtle fluctuations.
And every time, every single time you find somebody
who is exceptional at their craft
and doing well in life, okay?
There are a lot of people who are exceptional
at their craft, but not necessarily doing well on the whole.
Those people have a kind of intuition
about what feels good to them.
This year’s Nobel Prize winner in chemistry
is my colleague, Carolyn Bertozzi.
And all I know of her,
except the fact that she’s an amazing chemist,
is they did this interview with her.
And she said that when everyone would go out in college,
she was finding excuses to stay home
and read organic chemistry.
Now that, to me, sounds like a bad night.
But for her, it was pure delight.
And she’s wired for that.
And I think her work is gonna be vitally important
and transformative for humanity, I really do.
So how do you succeed in chasing your dreams?
You succeed in identifying what they are,
but you don’t know at the outset.
You wanna find the energy to find the right path
and continually course correct
when you will undoubtedly be off your path.
That’s essentially what I’ve done.
I still look for the feeling of delighting
in Costello or the cuttlefish.
That’s what I’m looking for.
It’s not a template I have to match,
but that’s my like, oh yeah, I know what that feels like.
It’s like a texture.
It’s like if you think about a bunch
of different textures of sandpaper,
it’s like this one that just feels really good.
And so you’re comparing everything to that.
Because the system that involves all these chemicals,
you’ll find it if you learn to pay attention to it.
But you won’t find it sitting,
staring at your belly button or going up a mountain.
You have to be in sensory experience in order to find it.
Reflection is good, but you need to get into action.
Wow, all right, well, okay.
So psilocybin, opinion of the psychedelics generally.
We just had an episode with my colleague, Nolan Williams,
who’s a triple board certified neurologist, psychiatrist.
This is a fun thing about working at Stanford.
It’s also very humbling because you’re like,
well, who are these people?
Got three board certifications.
You know, the psilocybin, first of all, not for everybody.
People with psychosis, it is still illegal,
decriminalized certain places.
So obviously the cautionary notes,
people who have drug addiction issues
or other kinds of addiction issues need to be thoughtful
about diving into a neurochemical landscape like that.
But it does appear that the clinical trials
on one macro dose, this is what’s interesting to me.
A lot of people talk about microdosing psilocybin,
but the data, at least according to Matthew Johnson,
who was also on the podcast,
the data for microdosing are not really there, frankly.
The data on single session macro dose,
the sort of heroic doses that have been talked about
in the psychonaut community for depression
and to some extent PTSD and for eating disorders
and sort of end of life preparation are quite encouraging.
In fact, the current data suggests that about 2 3rds
of people achieve lasting relief from one session.
Now, keep in mind, those are guided sessions
with physicians in the room, et cetera.
I do think there’s a potential hazard of all psychedelics,
which is they alter, this includes MDMA or especially MDMA,
they alter the chemical landscape in you
such that a lot of things can serve as attractors
in that state, meaning you can get really
into the sound of music in an MDMA session,
feel connected to that and waste the opportunity
for some more meaningful transformative rewiring.
And I do think that that’s worth paying attention to.
So that’s the usefulness of having a therapeutic guide
there is they can continually steer you back
to what at least for you is the more meaningful work.
But it’s very encouraging and Nolan Williams,
who I trust is again, triple board certified MD,
said that in the studies of lifetime perceived individual
and societal risk of all the compounds out there,
except for caffeine, psilocybin is at the bottom of the list
whereas things like heroin, cocaine, alcohol,
methamphetamine sit at the top of the list,
actually alcohol quite high on that list
at certain amounts of consumption.
So I’m very excited about what’s happening
in the landscape of psilocybin,
but I’m not so excited about the micro dosing data,
very excited about the single heroic dose data.
One interesting thing there perhaps,
what seems to be the unifying feature
of a successful psilocybin session
is that at some point the person feels
as if it’s like too much of an autonomic thing,
they kind of get to this point
and then they are encouraged to quote unquote, let go.
And I’m fascinated by this concept of letting go
because I’m a neuroscientist,
we don’t know what that means,
but it seems like being able to ride the wave
of autonomic arousal from top to bottom
seems to be very powerful
for trauma and depression treatment.
And this is interesting,
a lot of people think that one of the major issues
in humans nowadays is we’re stressed about a lot of things,
but we never actually get to go
into the full stress response and then let it relax again.
And catharsis was big at one point,
scream therapy, Steve Jobs is really into scream therapies.
Whether or not catharsis is healthy or not
has been debated,
but the data are kind of pointing to the fact
that it may be provided that the catharsis
is not obviously someone damaging themself or somebody else.
So maybe we should all be screaming a lot more.
Why does my desire to eat disappear after I use the sauna?
I can go in hungry and get out with no desire to eat.
I can only speculate.
You know, the sauna or any kind of deliberate heat exposure
that’s uncomfortable releases this molecule dynorphin.
This is actually the same molecule
that’s released under conditions of alcohol withdrawal,
makes you feel agitated and not good.
And then there’s this rebound.
The way it feels good is later,
it causes this up-regulation
in the so-called mu-opioid receptors.
So the chemicals that you have,
your so-called endogenous opioids,
not the opioids that are related to the opioid crisis,
but the ones that you naturally make
are able to have a more robust effect after the sauna.
Dynorphin is an appetite suppressant
and for reasons related to kind of general discomfort
in the body.
So that’s the only reason I can speculate.
There are a number of other things that sauna does,
including massive increases in growth hormone,
provided you don’t sauna too much.
So if you do it once a week for four 20-minute sessions,
spaced five minutes apart,
you get these enormous increases in growth hormone.
If you start doing it more often,
you get still significant,
but smaller increases in growth hormone.
And my team, this is how the podcast goes too.
At some point, Rob just goes, it’s enough.
So if you think that the episodes are long now,
they’d be a lot longer.
Listen, I just want to, before we part,
I know it’s a Sunday night and people have to go.
I want to thank everyone for coming out tonight.
I know that, at least for me,
I’m still sort of baffled, but pleasantly so,
that people are interested in investing time
to come out and hear hours of a nerd like me
talk about science and tools.
And I’m delighted that people
are hopefully gleaning some useful information.
Please do pass along the information.
I didn’t invent this stuff.
As I mentioned before,
I was not consulted at the design phase.
I have no domain over it.
This is the stuff of mother nature
and whatever other beliefs you have,
they’re here in us.
And of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t finish by saying,
have a wonderful night
and thank you for your interest in science.