Welcome to the Huberman Lab Podcast,
where we discuss science
and science-based tools for everyday life.
I’m Andrew Huberman,
and I’m a professor of neurobiology and ophthalmology
at Stanford School of Medicine.
Today, my guest is Rick Rubin.
Rick Rubin is credited with being one of the most creative
and prolific music producers of all time.
The range of artists with whom he’s worked with
and discovered is absolutely staggering,
ranging from artists such as LL Cool J,
Public Enemy, Minor Threat, Fugazi, Beastie Boys,
Jesus and Mary Chain, Jay-Z, Red Hot Chili Peppers,
Metallica, Green Day, Tom Petty, System of a Down,
Joe Strummer, Kanye West, Johnny Cash,
Adele, and many, many more.
Not surprisingly, therefore,
Rick is considered somewhat of an enigma.
That is, people want to know how it is
that one individual is able to extract
the best creative artistry from so many different people
in so many different genres of music.
Well, as today’s discussion reveals,
Rick’s expertise in the creative process
extends well beyond music.
In fact, our conversation takes us into the realm
of what the creative process is specifically
and generally across domains,
including music, of course,
but also writing, film, science,
and essentially all domains in which new original thought,
ideas, and production of anything becomes important.
Our conversation ventures from abstract themes
such as what is creativity and where does it stem from
to the more concrete everyday tool-based approaches
to creativity, including those that Rick himself uses
and that he’s seen other people use to great success.
That took us down some incredible avenues
ranging from a discussion about the subconscious
to how the subconscious interacts with our conscious mind
and how the subconscious and conscious mind interact
with nature around us and within us.
Indeed, our conversation got rather scientific at times,
but all with an eye and an ear
toward understanding the practical tools
that any and all of us can use
in order to access the creative process.
We also spend some time talking about Rick’s new book,
which is all about creativity and ways to access creativity.
The title of the book is
The Creative Act, A Way of Being by Rick Rubin.
This is a book that I’ve now read three times
from cover to cover, and I’m now reading it a fourth time
because it is so rich with wisdom and information
that I’m applying in multiple domains of my life,
not just my work, but my everyday life.
I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Rick has an incredible ability to translate
his understanding of the creative process
in a way that is meaningful for anybody.
So if you’re in music, if you’re a musician,
it will certainly be meaningful for you,
but it is not about music.
It is about the creative process.
And so whether or not you consider yourself
somebody creative or not,
or whether or not you seek to be more creative,
Rick’s book and today’s conversation sheds light
on what I believe to be the fundamental features
of what makes us human beings.
That is what allows us, unlike other animals,
to look out on the landscape around us,
to examine our inner landscape,
and to come up with truly novel ideas that thrill us,
entertain us, entertain other people, scare us,
make us laugh, make us cry.
All the things that make life rich
are essentially contained in the creative process.
And to be able to sit down and learn from the Rick Rubin,
how the creative process emerges in him
and his observations about how it can best emerge in others
is and was truly a gift.
So I’m excited to share his knowledge with you today.
One thing that you’ll quickly come to notice
about today’s conversation
is that Rick is incredibly generous with his knowledge
about the creative process.
In fact, he very graciously and spontaneously,
I should add,
offered to answer your questions about creativity.
So if you have questions
about the creative process for Rick,
please put those in the comment section on YouTube.
And in order to make those questions
a bit easier for me to find,
please put question for Rick Rubin in capitals,
then colon or dash, whichever you choose,
and then put your question there.
I do ask that you keep the questions relatively short
so that I can ask Rick
as many of those questions as possible.
We will record that conversation
and we will post it as a clip
on the Huberman Lab Clips channel.
Before we begin,
I’d like to emphasize that this podcast
is separate from my teaching and research roles at Stanford.
It is, however, part of my desire and effort
to bring zero cost to consumer information
about science and science related tools
to the general public.
In keeping with that theme,
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And now for my discussion with Rick Rubin.
Great to have you here today, Rick.
Thank you for having me.
It’s a pleasure.
So of all the topics in science
and in particular in neuroscience,
I confess that creativity
is the most difficult one to capture
because you can find papers,
scientific studies, that is,
on convergent thinking versus divergent thinking.
And there are definitions to these.
I mean, they take on different forms,
but in a strict definition form,
it seems that creativity has something to do
with either rearranging existing elements
or coming up with new elements.
But as I went into your book,
which I’ve done twice, I’ve read it twice,
and by the way, I feel so blessed and honored
to have gotten an early copy from you,
or a final copy early, that is.
But having gone through it twice,
I’m now convinced that there may not actually be
an internal source of creativity that exists on its own.
Right, and the example that you give
that for me really is serving as an anchor,
and tell me if I’m wrong here,
is this idea that ideas and creativity
are a little bit like a cloud.
If you look at it at one moment,
you might think that it looks like one thing,
where it has a certain shape and texture,
but then you look at it a moment later,
it could be quite a bit different,
and if you look at it an hour later,
it very well could be gone.
And the reason I think that serves as such a powerful hook
for me to think about creativity
and why I think neuroscientists and scientists in general
have never actually captured a way
to even talk about creativity,
stems from somebody that you knew in person,
but that, as you know, I greatly admire.
I don’t have many heroes,
but I would put Joe Strummer
among the short list of heroes that I have.
And I remember once an interview with him,
fairly disjointed, he was sort of off in different tangents
that I couldn’t follow, but at one point,
he just kind of blurted out that if you have an idea,
you have to write it down,
and you may end up throwing it away,
but if you wait, it will be gone.
And I remember that, and as a consequence,
I have a whole system that I use to try and capture ideas,
but what are your thoughts on what Joe said,
this cloud idea that comes up in one form
in one area of the book,
but then I think is thread throughout the book
in different ways, how did that come to you?
And how does it serve you in trying to,
I don’t want to say extract, but trying to access creativity?
I think the best way to think about it is like a dream.
It’s like, if you think about your dreams,
they don’t necessarily make sense.
When you wake up, you might remember part,
but not the whole thing.
Then if you start writing them down, they’ll come back,
and they may not make sense to you.
They’ll be a series of abstract images,
and maybe someday in the future,
you’ll be able to look back and understand what they mean,
and maybe not.
And that’s sort of how the art making process works,
is like we’re making things,
and we’re looking for a feeling in ourselves,
and it could be a feeling of excitement or enthusiasm,
a feeling of interest, a feeling of curiosity,
I want to know more, feeling of leaning forward.
And we’re following that energy in our body
when we feel there’s something here,
there’s something here, I want to know more,
I want to know more, I want to know more.
But it’s not, I’ll say it’s not an intellectual process,
it’s a different thing.
That’s why it’s hard even to talk about it,
because it’s so elusive, you know?
Recently, I was listening to a podcast
by our friend Lex Friedman.
I think it was an episode with Balaji Srinivasan,
where this, with Balaji, who’s a investor type guy,
thinker type guy, this is like an eight hour episode.
He says something at the beginning
that I’d love your thoughts on.
He said, look, you know, we can train a rat
to lever press every other time,
or to expect reward on every even number press,
or every odd number press,
or even every fifth number press.
But a human and a rat can’t do that
for like prime number presses.
You can’t actually train that.
And then you think about the reward systems
and the way that we follow life
from when we get up until we go to sleep.
And what he said is, the fact that we can’t do that
means that we may not actually be in touch
with the best schedules of doing things.
Like every time I’m thirsty, I take a sip.
I assume that’s the right way to do it,
but it might not be optimal, right?
Optimal for whatever purpose.
When I was reading your book,
I was thinking about there’s a set of things to follow,
things to pay attention to.
You talk about this, things to access,
that none of the creative process
comes from just within us.
It can, but it’s always being fed by things outside of it.
And so what I started to do
is the second time I read through the book
was think about it through the lens
of what Balaji was saying was that
there may not even be a language
for this thing that we call accessing creativity.
I mean, there’s a process,
but that language in the form of words
is a little bit like trying to use even numbers
to try and access prime numbers.
The math becomes so convoluted
that we end up in a conversation like this
where I’m confident we can get to the kernels of it
because what’s remarkable about the book is that you do.
You show and inform the process,
but there may not be a English or any other language
for saying do this, then this, then this, then this,
and you’ll have something of creative value.
Does that capture it?
Yes, I think language is insufficient
to drill down on creativity.
It’s more, it’s closer to magic than it is science.
So when kids come into the world,
do you think that they have better access
to this creative process than we do as adults?
Because we start to impart role plays
and books like, will it get likes?
Will people like it?
But also like all the things that are available to us
that we’re not paying attention to,
like the texture of this table, right?
They, we’re discarding things kind of systematically.
We get quote unquote set in our ways.
Do you think kids are more, are just by definition
and by design more creative than adults?
Yes, kids are, they’re open and they have no baggage.
They don’t have any belief system.
They don’t know how things are supposed to work.
They just see what is.
And if we pay attention to what is we learn,
we learn much more than if we,
most of us select from an endless number of data points
available to us to, well, as a species,
to make sure that we don’t die and to procreate
and to feed ourselves are probably
the primary functions first.
And then, and then we learn things
about what’s right and what’s wrong.
And we learn things about how to do certain things
or we’re inspired by someone who makes something we love
and we want to do it the way they do it.
And all of those things undermine the purity
of the creative process.
They can be tools to build your skillset
to be able to do it yourself.
Like if you’re a singer,
you might imitate a singer you really like for a while
to get good at it.
And then eventually come to find your own voice.
It doesn’t always start with your own voice.
But if you’re three years old or five years old
and you try singing, you’re not singing like anyone else.
You’re singing with your own voice.
And when you make something,
you’re making it based on not knowing.
And I think I had the advantage early in my career
of starting making music without any experience,
which was helpful because I didn’t know
what rules I was breaking.
And so it wasn’t intentional breaking of rules.
I just did what seemed right to me.
But I didn’t realize that I was doing things
that other people wouldn’t do.
I mean, there is this idea that there are no new ideas.
I sort of disagree because every once in a while
I’ll see or hear something
that at least seems different enough.
I think it’s a combination of a new combination
of existing ideas presented in a new way.
I think that’s how it works.
I don’t know, but I will say it does seem like
the things that are most interesting to me
have a series of familiar elements joined together
in a way that it’s creating something
that I’ve never seen before.
You mentioned that when you are close to
or you see hints of creativity,
that is of real value, that it’s a feeling.
And I also believe that the body
is a great source of information,
which once people realize that the brain, of course,
is in the skull, but the nervous system
extends everywhere in the body,
the whole mind-body thing just falls away.
Philosophers have argued about this forever,
but it’s a silly argument.
It’s also true that if, God forbid,
I were to amputate all my limbs, have them amputated,
I’d fundamentally still be me, right?
The same is not true if we took out
a big enough chunk of my brain and I still survived,
I would be fundamentally different human being.
I’d still have the same name and identity
and social security number,
but I would behave very differently.
Who knows, maybe better.
The signals from the body,
we know or at least we assume are pretty generic.
Like I can think of 50 different ways
or 100 ways that we could talk about creativity today
and we could define it and redefine it
and carve it up and serve it up like sushi
in a bunch of different ways.
But the body sends signals that most of us
we have a kind of coarse understanding of.
It’s like, oh, my stomach hurts or my stomach feels good
or I’m not sensing my stomach.
Or, oh, that feels good, it feels warm, it feels cold.
Most of us aren’t trained in understanding
how to interpret those signals.
So it’s almost like you have a few vowels, a few syllables,
and there isn’t a lot more.
Whereas when we talk about our thoughts and our experiences,
depending on how hyperverbal somebody is
and how much emphasis they put on different sounds,
it’s kind of near infinite, right?
Not infinite, but near infinite.
So for you personally, when you know
that you’re on the end of a thread of creativity,
maybe you’re listening to an artist
or you’re hearing something and you’re like there
and your antennae start to deflect in a certain way, right?
Do you feel that in your body as a recognizable sensation
or is it a thought and a sensation?
It’s a feeling in my body.
Is it localized?
No, it’s a feeling of,
I would say it’s like a surge of energy.
Do you remember the first time you experienced that?
Probably hearing the Beatles
when I was three or four years old.
Three or four years old?
Is there something wrong with me
that the Beatles have never done it for me?
No, maybe just weren’t exposed at the right time
in the right way.
There’s no right or wrong way.
And everyone, I can love the Beatles and you cannot,
and we’re both right.
You know, there’s not a-
I’m glad we can still be friends.
I was a little concerned.
I was a little scared to ask you that question.
I know my taste in music is a little bit obscure
and kind of fragmentary, but okay, good.
I’ve always felt like, gosh,
there must be something wrong with me.
I like their songs, but there’s no juice for me there.
I think maybe we’ll watch,
there was an eight part series called
The Beatles Anthology, which is out of print,
but I can try to find it somewhere
and we can watch that together.
Maybe that’ll make the case for the Beatles.
Yeah, but I mean, nothing against them.
It’s just, and I’m always bothering you for story,
but like Ramones, I saw that and I was like, wow,
like Genes, Aviators,
everyone had to change their last name to Ramone.
A lot of them hated each other.
There’s so much drama in there and three chords and just,
but to me, it just was like, wow,
like kids from New York, that energy.
So I think different things for different people, right?
So that brings me to a question of
when something feels creatively right
and you’re sensing it and you’re there,
let’s say in the studio,
or maybe even you’re listening to something
that somebody sent you,
how do you translate that given the absence of language?
How do you translate that into a conversation
with the artist?
And again, this could be about writing or comedy or,
you know, or science or podcasting for that matter.
How do you say that, keep going that way
when they might not even recognize that they did it?
And I’m guessing a lot of times they don’t.
Yeah, sometimes they don’t.
It depends when we’re in the,
I’ll try to be in a setting where as we’re talking about it,
we can engage with it in that moment.
So it’s not much good.
Let’s say I was producing your new record
and you played me something
and I had some thoughts about it.
It wouldn’t be so helpful for me
to tell you what those were.
It’d be better for us to wait till we were in a place
where we could try things and see where it goes.
So the first thing is I wouldn’t rely on language to do it.
It would be more of a making a suggestion
of something that’s actionable.
We try it and then we have more data
and either we’re moving in a good direction
or we’re moving away from it.
We’re moving towards it or away from it and we never know.
And so it’s always an experiment
and maybe a simple way to talk about it would be like
if I gave you two dishes of food and asked you to taste them
and tell me which one you like better.
It’s pretty, usually it’s pretty straightforward.
When you have two choices, which you like better.
And I think most creativity can be boiled down to that.
That’s very different than I wonder how this is gonna
perform on certain social media platforms.
That’s different than what is it
when I’m tasting these two things
which is the one I wanna finish eating.
And if I would say, hmm, I like this one better
but it needs a little salt and then put a little salt on it.
It’s like, hmm, maybe I put too much salt
and you know when you taste it.
It’s like, it’s that simple.
Being in tune enough with ourselves
to really know how we feel in the face of knowing
that other people might feel very differently
which is part of the challenge.
It’s like if everyone tells you A, A, A, A, A, A, A
and you listen and you’re like, that’s B.
As an artist, it’s important to be able to say,
to me it’s B.
And it’s a disconnect because so much of, you know
when we go to school, it’s to get us to follow the rules.
And in art, it’s different because the rules are there
as a scaffolding to be chipped away as need be.
Sometimes they’re helpful, sometimes they’re not.
And sometimes we’ll even impose our own rules
to give something its shape.
So we can decide to make a, we’re gonna make a painting
but we’re only gonna use green and red
are the only colors we’re allowed to use.
We decide that in advance.
And then how do we solve the problem
knowing all we have is green and red?
Because otherwise if there’s an infinite number
of choices, anything can be anything.
You know, it’s like, it’s sometimes more choices
is not better.
So limiting your palette to something manageable
forces you to solve problems in a different way.
Now in our digital age, music wise
you can make anything digitally.
There’s no, like in, there was a time when
if you didn’t have a guitar in the studio
you couldn’t record guitar.
Or if you didn’t, if you couldn’t hire an orchestra
there couldn’t be orchestra on your recording.
Now you can just call any of those things up.
So there’s infinite choices and infinite choices
don’t necessarily lead to better compositions
or better final works.
Understanding how you feel
in the face of other voices
without second guessing yourself
is probably the single most important
thing to practice as an artist
or skill set to develop as an artist
is to know how you feel and own your feelings.
And the key to that is not, I know.
So I know what’s right for you.
It doesn’t work that way.
It’s just, I know for me.
And the reason I chose to be an artist
is to demonstrate this is how I see it.
If I’m undermining my taste
for some commercial idea
or it defeats the whole purpose of doing this.
This is not, that’s not what this process is about.
This process is I’m doing me
and I’m showing you who I am
and you can like it or not,
but either way, this is still how I see it.
I love that because in science,
having trained graduate students,
having been a graduate student,
I was very blessed to have mentors.
One of who was a real icon of class.
He’s dead now.
Actually, all my advisors are dead.
Suicide, cancer, cancer.
The joke is you don’t want me to work for you.
They were all had a morbid sense of humor.
So they’re laughing about this someplace right now.
I thought you were going to say
they all ate the poison mushroom.
No, but the last one said to me,
you’re the common denominator, Andrew.
And I thought, oh my goodness.
And he said, kind of just kidding, but not really.
So that’s a little bit eerie.
But in any case, he always said, his name was Ben.
He always said, the one thing I can’t teach is taste.
And the one predictor I have of the people
who will never develop it
are the ones who are perfectionists
because they’re filtering their perfect,
perfectionists that filter their perfection
through the feedback of others.
He was always looking for the person
that was putting up a little bit
of a middle finger to feedback,
not so much that they would get things wrong
because it can be badly wrong in science.
You can be wrong for the right reasons,
but you can also be wrong for the wrong reasons.
But people that just had almost a compulsion
to do it their way or to believe in what they were doing.
And I’m hearing some of that,
or I’m hearing that in what you’re describing.
I also think that there’s something
about the human empathic process or the emotional process
where when we see somebody doing something
and they seem to really not be paying attention
to what anyone else is doing.
I mean, like I said, the crazy person on the street
is one version of it where we go,
they’re just in their experience and it’s just crazy.
But when somebody seems to be enjoying themselves
or the emotion seems to be real,
I think there are a good fraction of people
who feel a kind of gravitational pull.
They go, yeah, that.
And the best example I have of this
is I remember growing up in the skateboard thing.
We were the first to start doing the baggy,
like sagging the clothes thing.
We got teased endlessly one year in school.
Then there was a bunch of hip hop that came out
and guys were wearing, sagging their jeans or their shorts.
Next year we come back and the very same people
who were making fun of us were all doing it.
And that’s when it clicked for me.
I was like, most people don’t actually know what they like.
They like what they like because of the certainty
of the people that they like.
And so the question then is in this landscape
of creative stuff, what’s real, what’s not real?
It’s almost like whoever can create
the most convincing story,
at least captures a good fraction of audiences.
But that’s not what the creative artist needs to do.
They need to actually depart from that.
Do I have that right?
Well, they’re just two different things.
Like coming up with a story
with the purpose of pleasing someone else is a skillset,
but it’s more of a commercial endeavor
than an artistic endeavor.
It’s like tactical.
Yeah, I was seeing it in your book.
You describe, again, when you’re thinking
about the creative processes, the cloud.
For me, again, it serves as such a powerful anchor.
And then I think about the biology,
the neurobiology of like strategy formation
or strategy implementation.
And then almost by sheer luck or miraculously,
I turn a few pages later into the book,
and there’s a description of how animals
that are trying to accomplish something,
eat, mate, find water,
accomplish the requirements of living,
it requires a narrow visual focus.
This is something my lab is kind of obsessed with
and I’ve been obsessed with.
And in that more narrow visual focus,
we know that the playbook becomes more narrow.
The rule set is more narrow.
Now, at some point,
in order to come up with a new creative idea,
that means broadening vision is essential in some way
or broadening thinking.
Well, it could either be a broadening or a narrowing,
but it’s changing the aperture from the standard.
The reason we do this is to present something new
that maybe you already knew, but didn’t know you knew it.
And for that to be the case,
if to be looking at it,
it’s not unlike what a comedian does.
You know, comedian makes you laugh.
Usually what they’re saying, it’s outrageous,
but you know that it’s right.
You know, just no one says it that way
or no one has said it that way before,
but it’s always the truth in it that makes it funny.
It’s like that.
It’s the same idea as recognizing something
that seems really obvious once you see it,
but it seems like nobody else sees it
or no one else points it out.
And I feel like science is like that too,
because how much of science,
when once the light flashes over your head,
it’s like, I got it.
It just seems like, well, we knew that forever.
No one knew it, but do you know what I’m saying?
It’s like, it’s so obvious.
It’s so obvious.
And I think another superpower of artists
is this accepting we don’t know anything.
When we think we know things, that also limits our world.
We think we know, it’s only like this.
This is all that’s possible.
We’re mice in this little box.
But in reality, who’s to say that’s the case?
Who’s to say any of the,
we could take all of the, what we believe in science now
and decide to throw all of that away and start from scratch.
And we would probably create a different,
a whole different one.
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In an offline conversation one time,
you asked a good friend of mine
who’s been a guest on this podcast, Eddie Chang,
who’s Chair of Neurosurgery.
And I would place him in the top, top 1% of neuroscientists.
You know, he’s pulling speech out of people
who are completely paralyzed with Locked-In Syndrome,
et cetera, and you asked him what percentage
of what’s contained in medical textbooks and training-
Yeah, if you went to medical school today
and you learned what was in the textbook,
what percentage of that information is accurate
and what percentage is not?
And he said, maybe half.
Right, and you asked, and what is the consequence of that?
And he said, incalculable.
And I completely agree.
And I asked him a second time
and he still came up with the same answer.
So that’s a good sign.
Reliability from experiment to the next is good.
Yeah, I think that there is this idea
that we really know things.
In science, I mean, you’ve seen,
we’ve observed amazing discoveries from chance.
We’ve observed amazing discoveries
from incredible bouts of hard work.
In both cases, people were spending a lot of time
in the lab.
Like, no one walked into the lab, saw something one day,
and had a Nobel Prize winning discovery
or fundamental discovery.
They were all hanging out in lab a lot.
Just some of them came up with something
that they didn’t expect.
Others were drilling toward an answer.
And in all those cases, when the breakthroughs happen,
I’m guessing, I don’t know this,
that considering we assume this information,
then this discovery is true
based on everything that came before it.
But if everything that came before it is wrong,
then the discoveries are probably built on a,
do you know what I’m saying?
It’s like the context,
everything that happens takes into account
that the context that it’s sitting in,
it fits in that context.
Maybe that context isn’t right.
We don’t know.
So I’m saying we’re too close to most things
in thinking when we think we know things,
where there are a lot of assumptions that go into it.
And that any new discoveries are essentially built
on top of these beliefs, you know?
But they’re beliefs.
I remember, of course I listened to the Beastie Boys
growing up, who didn’t, I was a child of the 90s.
And they were in this, you know,
Sabotage was sort of an outgrowth of a skateboarding movie,
like Spike Jones and like the girl movies.
And those worlds, the Beastie Boys and skateboarding
were really closely interwoven for a while.
Some people know this, some people don’t.
And Spike sort of formed the bridge.
And then Spike went off and started making bigger movies
that more people watch.
But let’s just use them as an example.
I heard you say once before that, you know,
you guys were kind of joking around like Beastie Boys,
like, you know, these guys doing hip hop,
but it was kind of like the hardcore scene in New York,
punk rock scene.
And it was sort of a joke.
There were a lot of inside jokes.
When you were working together,
was there the thought that people might love it,
might hate it, or you just weren’t paying attention at all?
Weren’t paying attention at all.
Never considered it.
There were no, at that point in time,
when we were making Licensed to Ill,
hip hop music was a tiny underground thing.
And there was no one making hip hop at that time
thought it would ever mean anything.
It was not a realistic thought.
So we were making it really for our crazy friends.
And that’s it.
So do you think nowadays the fact that one can create
something and quote, unquote, release it quickly,
I can put something out onto Twitter or Instagram now,
you can do it in 10 seconds from now,
and I will get immediate feedback that,
which is external feedback, of course,
but then I can iterate on the basis of that feedback.
Do you think that’s problematic
for the larger opportunity for creativity?
In other words, if we were to go back 20 years
or even 15 years, when the opportunity to create
was certainly still there,
but you really didn’t know how it was gonna land
until you quote, unquote, released it.
It seems to me there was more opportunity
to stay in that magical rainforest
that is the creativity itself.
I don’t think it’s wrong or right.
It’s just, it’s more information that you can use
or not use and use it in a useful way.
And you can make something and put it out
and people could not like it.
And you’re like, oh, they still don’t get it here.
I’m gonna, I gotta go harder.
I gotta go harder in that direction, not,
do you know what I’m saying?
It’s like not to react away from information.
It can be helpful.
It can be helpful when there could be different stories
that happen at the same time where you’re making something
and you have an idea of what it is
and then other people engage with it
and they have a different idea of what it is
and they like it for a different reason than you did
or dislike it for a reason different
than the reason you like it.
We can’t control any of those things.
The only part of it that we can control
is how we relate to the thing that we make.
And any external information that undermines the clarity
of that connection is probably bad for the art is my guess.
And again, I’m only saying this from my experience.
Like I try to make things, all I’ve ever tried to make
were something I like or something that I felt like
was missing as a fan that I wanted
and nobody was making it, so I’ll make it,
but it wasn’t, it was always in the service of,
I love this thing, I want something like this,
no one else is making one,
I have to make one.
Yeah, it’s beautiful because the word
that keeps coming to mind is this,
it’s almost like a compulsion.
Like there are other options of ways to be
and to behave and to function and work in life,
but if something’s a compulsion,
it yanks us away from those other opportunities
just enough that we have to get back to it.
You’ve talked before about, and you talk in the book,
this notion of the source.
And to me, again, I can’t help
but put my neuroscientist lens on this.
I think of the source as not one brain area,
but some function within the brain
where we are in touch with our bodily signals,
like what feels right, what doesn’t,
sort of like tasting the two foods, I love that example.
And that it’s a playbook that is,
that is far more vast than the short-term adaptive playbook.
Like this is how I’m going to get from point A to point B.
And yet when I listen to an album or a song,
I mean, I have to assume that there,
at some point it becomes not strategy development
or creativity, but strategy implementation.
Like there needs to be,
like the songs are going to come in this order.
And like, I don’t know much about music.
My musician friends are always, you know, laughing.
I don’t either, it’s not so much about music.
Right, well put.
But the ordering of the sequence of the melodies, et cetera.
So at what point does one decide,
okay, like now’s the time to get
into that more narrow focus of effort.
Like we’ve got it, let’s run with this.
Because there is a component of the creative process
that involves packaging and finishing.
And is that part less satisfying to you
or is it just all part of the same larger arc?
It’s all part of the same, it’s nice.
There’s a good feeling.
There’s usually a good feeling when something is done.
On the one hand, it’s a commitment
because up until the time that you say it’s done,
you can keep experimenting and changing it.
You know, if you think,
well, maybe tomorrow I can make it better,
then it’s not finished.
And you keep thinking that for a long time,
you can do that forever and never, never put out anything.
So getting to the point where you’re ready to sign off
is a good feeling.
And it allows you,
one of the things I talk about in the book is
because it is a difficult thing to do,
because it’s fun to play and it’s fun to,
maybe it’s not the best it could be yet, you know?
To use whatever the next project is gonna be
as motivation to finish the one you’re working on now.
Like, I’m working on this,
I’m spending all of my time on this thing.
It’s really good.
I believe it can be better,
but there’s this other thing that I really wanna make.
And if I keep tinkering with this one,
I’ll never get to make the other one.
So using other projects as a impetus to finish something
and release it into the world’s a good one.
And you said your description of source
is something within us.
I don’t know if I would accurate,
if I would say that was accurate.
It’s definitely in us too,
but it’s not only in us.
I think of source as the organizing principle of everything.
And it’s how everything exists.
It’s how the trees grow and why there are mountains
and anything that we can see in the outside world
and every discovery and every piece of art
and every new design and every machine
are all outgrowths of this source energy.
Our part of it is the antenna that like connects to it.
And maybe where the vehicle for source
to allow things to happen in the world.
And thank you for that.
Cause I did indeed miss speak
because I recall very distinctly in the book,
you described how the physical world is constrained
by the laws of physics and certain things.
The imagination is unconstrained.
And I think I have this right.
That you said the work sits somewhere between those.
It’s neither of one nor the other,
that ultimately what feeds into all of that,
our imagination and the way indeed
that our brain is a physical entity,
the nature and the outside world provides
at least what appears to be near infinite,
if not infinite options.
And I love the example of the color palette
that if we restrict me to whatever sorts of paints
or medium I have, then it’s restricted.
But in nature, there’s an infinite number
of shades and tones and combinations.
And even on one, if you pick up a rock
and look at the color of the rock
and tried to find a paint to match that rock,
it would never match.
There’s too much, there are too many variations in nature
within a single color rock for us to get close.
There’s too much information.
We scratch the surface.
We’re only scratching the surface.
And we love when we are able to peer in
at different scales, spatial scales,
time scales too, but spatial scales,
the delight that comes from that.
You know, like these nature pictures,
seem like there were more of these in the eighties,
like where you’d see a drop of oil shot
at high, very high resolution.
There’s beauty in a drop of oil.
And then you’d see the earth and the galaxy,
there’s beauty in that too, right?
And of course our daily perception is mostly
through the filter of these kinds of interactions,
walls and sometimes outdoors.
There’s a brilliant neuroscientists
and not surprisingly, he has a Nobel.
His name is Richard Axel.
He’s at Columbia University.
He’s outrageous personality.
Choose Nicorette nonstop.
You guys would get along great,
not because of the Nicorette,
but because his perspective on things
is very abstract for a guy who’s solved,
he won the Nobel for solving a great problem
within how we smell, perception of odors and taste.
And he says, you know,
everything that the brain does is an abstraction.
Like I could take a photograph of your face
and show it to you and say, yeah, that’s me.
Or let’s say for the moment,
I call myself an abstract artist.
Let’s just play a game.
Cause I’ve never been accused of being an artist,
but, and I do three dots and a squiggly line.
And I say, that’s you.
And you say, well, that doesn’t look like me.
And I say, but that’s my abstraction of you.
Okay, well, the brain essentially does that
because we’re something in between that
because there’s no actual photograph of you in my brain.
It’s just a bunch of neurons playing
what we call an ensemble,
like a different keys on a piano.
And we go, Rick, I recognize you, Rick Rubin.
And so everything is an abstraction.
And it’s only once we start tinkering with the parts,
and this is the essence of science
to remove and add and manipulate.
And the best example I can come up with
would be Rothko.
And I only come up with this example
cause I started off in vision science
and maybe so make the most sense to everyone,
except the folks who’ve been blind since birth
and they can swap something in here.
That if I show you a Rothko
and I don’t tell you it’s a Rothko,
you may or may not actually think it’s that impressive.
It depends on your taste in art.
But what Rothko did, which was amazing,
even if you don’t like Rothko’s, and I happen to,
is that he removed all the white
and high contrasty stuff.
And when you do that, you alter color space.
And so the colors look very different.
Some people saw that dress a few years ago.
Is it orange or is it gold or whatever?
That was a little bit of the same phenomenon.
I doubt, in fact, I’d be willing to bet my left arm
that Rothko knew nothing about
the neuroscience of color perception,
but somehow got to this place
where if there was no canvas showing and no high contrast
and the paintings were large enough
and on the appropriate wall,
you saw them a certain way
that tapped into something fundamental.
And this is where I think art and science really converge
is that every once in a while we see something
that feels amazing to enough people
and not just like the baggy pants phenomenon,
not just because other people think it’s cool,
but there’s something there.
And again, this defies language.
And I have to imagine that in your years of life
and music and other creative endeavors
that every once in a while,
have you ever encountered something
where like something fundamental
keeps showing up in different form
or there’s something almost like a rule or a principle?
Does it ever come about?
Because in science, we think of this as like,
this reveals something about our limitation
to abstract the world.
I hope I made that clear.
Not exactly, but I have a thought.
You talked earlier about the drop of oil,
the photograph of the drop of oil and the photograph,
or we could use the, on the other side,
like Hubble telescope images of these vast things
and high definition.
What we see every day is as impressive as those things,
but we’re numb to them because we see them all the time.
We look at drops of oil every day in a microscope.
A month from now, we would not find wonder in that image.
So it’s, sometimes it’s the novelty
of not seeing it from that perspective before.
That’s really thrilling.
You could, and I could imagine,
and this probably relates to the Rothko idea,
you could see something from a particular angle
and have this magical experience
and then walk three feet to the side
and see it from a different way and it just evaporates.
It only works, it only triggers this thing in us
when we look at it just the right way.
There was a paint, an experiment I just heard about,
heard about the other day that sounds fascinating,
that a painting teacher recommended
where instead of painting, you know,
having a model in the room and painting the model,
that you have the model in the next room
and you go into the next room without your equipment,
you don’t have your equipment
and you can study the model for as long as you want
and then you go into a different room
where you can’t see the model and paint the model.
Instead of, and it changes your relationship
where it’s not, we’re not just painting the lines.
We’re painting what is interesting enough
about what I saw.
What are the data points that stuck in my mind?
And when I string those together, what do I get?
And what do I, how do I form it
to get as close to whatever that,
the experience of that person was,
which the closest of getting to the experience
of that person in the painting
might not look like a photograph.
You know, it might look more different
than more the same to really see what you see.
This, if we think about the Picasso paintings
that were inspired by African art,
where the eyes are on different levels,
they may give us more information
than a photograph would give us.
I’m thinking about the,
when you were describing the sensation
of when something takes your breath away
and we all have that
when we see a dramatic sunset.
Anyone you know, when there’s a really dramatic sunset,
or if there’s a whale,
and if anyone’s on the beach and there’s a whale,
everybody’s really interested that there’s a whale.
Do you know what I’m saying?
These feelings of wonder,
we get to experience them depending on where we are,
or, you know, a dragonfly,
or a bird flies into your space.
These things happen.
And when they happen,
and when they happen,
it’s like we’re confronted with the mystery of the world
when we change the perspective.
Normally, we don’t think of whales in our backyard
or birds in our house, you know, flying freely.
But they do happen.
These things do happen.
And they like break us out of our trance
when these things happen.
It’s like, oh yeah, there are birds like this everywhere.
I’m just not paying attention.
This guy’s coming in to like tap me on the shoulder.
Like, remember me?
Here I am, you know?
So I would say that the whale example
and what you’re describing is it’s revealing to us
how, in a delightful way,
how deficient our perceptual filters normally are.
It’s a little bit like the Rothko is revealing how,
I’ve never thought about it this way until this moment,
is revealing to us how color normally looks
is actually, first of all, not the only way it looks.
Those colors we think are one way, but all color,
this gets into the biology of color vision,
is all about contrast.
What something is next to dictates what it looks like.
And that’s the origin of that dress meme
or whatever you call it.
I still can’t figure out exactly what a meme is.
Someone will eventually tell me.
In the same way, when you see a whale and it’s delightful,
I think it’s revealing to us the extent
to which those whales are, the ocean is vast.
There’s a whole universe there
and we are blind to it all the time.
And I think the misperception or the misconception,
excuse me, is that we’re delighted because we see the whale.
We might be just as delighted
because we’re getting hit with the contrast
of how little we recognize all the time.
And in that way, it reminds me a little bit about comedy,
where, and I’ve been watching more comedy lately,
and sometimes it’s the shock.
Sometimes it’s the absolute truth that’s revealed.
And then other times, what I’ve noticed,
and I saw Rogan do comedy at the Vulcan Club in Austin,
which he does every once in a while,
and it was a small club and he was leading out the story
during his routine or bit, I think, right?
This bit, and everyone knew where it was going.
We all knew.
And then when he finally told us,
it was exactly where we thought it was going
and it was hilarious.
And it felt good.
And it felt amazing.
And I thought in that moment, I was like, wait a second,
how did he pull that off?
That was masterful because normally it’s this thing
like you create one story,
there’s like a scripting out almost like a courtroom lawyer,
and then they kind of pull the curtain
and it’s something different.
And if you look at the science, the neuroscience
and brain imaging of laughter and humor,
which I’ve looked into, to be honest,
and no disrespect to the people in that field,
it’s pretty lame.
It’s lame because it’s always
the jarring nature of a surprise.
But what he led us to was something that,
oh no, he’s actually going there.
Oh wait, he’s really going there.
And it was this anticipation
with a beautiful delivery at the end.
And so I’m convinced that based on
what we’re talking about here,
that there’s something about when we see something,
we think it’s about that,
but that the delight that we feel
could be about all the other experiences
that now become in a subconscious way,
kind of like, ha, it’s almost like laughing
at this perceptual deficit that we have.
It’s almost like laughing at how little we actually know,
which is what you’ve said.
Yeah, it could be that.
It also could be the sense of community
of when you think it’s going to go a particular way
and it goes that way, it’s like reinforcement of you.
You know, it’s like, yeah, he’s saying it,
but in a way we’re saying it together.
I’m listening, he’s saying it,
but we’re in this together and that’s a good feeling.
To think about that for a second,
I was trying to think about why certain music
still can evoke such powerful emotions in me.
And there does seem to be something special
about the music we listen to when we are teenagers,
from about 14 until about 25,
it seems to get routed into our nervous system in some way,
maybe because that phase of our life
is really one of identity crisis.
I mean, you don’t find too many 40-year-olds,
some who are wondering like who they are occasionally,
but almost every young teenager or preteen
and it’s kind of like, who am I?
You’re defining personality.
So I always likened it to that,
but leaving out the sort of critical period biology stuff,
what do you think it is about
the music that we hear at that time?
Are we that much more emotionally tuned?
Have we not shut down our sensors quite as much?
Is there, the songs and the artists don’t matter
because they’re very individual to me.
For other people, it will be the Beatles or something.
Now I just really wish the Beatles did it for me too,
but do you think that’s important?
Because I could see how it’s really terrific.
I could also see how it sets up one of these,
what I’ll just use nerdy language
and call it like a semi-deprived filter,
because if I’m only looking for the way that
like a stiff little fingers track made me feel
the first time I listened to when I was 15,
the feeling is worthwhile.
But if I’m looking for that,
I’m missing all the other stuff.
I’m missing the Beatles.
I’m missing Fleetwood Mac,
which never did it for me either.
I’m like, I’m missing all this stuff that,
people I love and respect really love.
So I’ve never worried about it
because there’s kind of an infinite treasure trove
of other things that I do love.
But I do sometimes wonder whether or not
my life experiences diminish
because I’m not allowing kind of range.
And you’ve obviously worked in a huge number
of different genres of music.
Punk is one thing, hip hop isn’t.
I mean, Neil Diamond too, right?
Eminem too, Slayer too, right?
And in some senses I list these off.
I mean, just think about how much in high school,
maybe nowadays less so,
but even in college and as an adult,
societally we’re sort of asked to constrain ourselves
to one of these groups.
Like, I didn’t know it was okay to love Bob Dylan
and love punk rock as much as I do
until I heard Tim Armstrong said he loved Bob Dylan.
And I was like,
and recently he told me he loves the Grateful Dead.
And I was like, whoa.
But to it, I remember when you had to pick.
Both the Ramones and the Clash loved the Beatles,
so we can-
Okay, I got work to do.
No, but we’ll do it together.
I have a feeling part of it is,
the reason it gets in at that age is,
it’s at a time when we’re defining who we are
and the music is part of the definition
of how we see ourselves.
So it’s like the music that we hear before that
might be the music that’s on the radio
or our parents’ music
or our older brother or sister’s music.
And then when you’re 14 or 15
and you start choosing what you’re listening to,
it’s like, now it’s finally mine.
And my parents might not like it
and my older brothers and sisters may or may not like it,
but this one is mine.
And it always has that impression in us
that this is ours.
That’s my thought of why it continues to last.
How do you wipe the slate clean then?
So for instance, if you’re going to go in
and work with somebody new,
and again, as people are hearing this,
I hope that they’re transplanting this
to whatever it is that they do.
Because in the realm of science and podcasting,
communication, it’s not music,
but there’s a contour and a way,
hopefully this podcast will look nothing
like it does in five years.
That’s my hope,
is it will still have the core features
of the beauty and utility of biology coming through,
but I hope it doesn’t look anything like episode two.
And I think it’ll evolve as you evolve.
It’s just the truer it is to what interests you.
And if you’re not interested in biology
in the same way in five years,
I would hope it’s not the same.
I’ll be doing psychoanalysis in real time here.
We’ll do therapy, we’ll all be lying down on couches.
Whatever it is, whatever it is.
Yeah, we probably won’t be on psychedelics,
but we might be levitating.
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So how do you, let’s talk a little bit, if you would,
because I know I’m very interested in your process, right?
I’ll spare you the daily routine question.
It’s very cliche,
but you and I are both lovers of sunlight, of horizons,
and not as a trivial source,
as an amazing gift of energy, right?
And there aren’t words for it, really.
Aside from your daily routines,
when it comes to somebody,
you’re going from project to project,
and you know you’re going to be doing work with somebody,
could be your own work,
and we’ll talk about the writing of this book
and its structure, which is very unique.
I’ve never encountered a book
with this kind of structure before.
And it’s the most facile read ever,
and yet every single page I underline,
took notes, starred,
and as you’d notice, it’s very worn,
very, very worn already,
and only more so over time.
Do you have a process for removing the functions of the day,
and what you were doing last week,
and what’s going on,
and in order to get more access to this,
I’m going to think of it now more
as a receiver inside of you, right?
Almost like tuning a radio,
and then it comes in,
like the beginning of like a strummer clash, right?
You love the radio, Joe loved the radio, right?
And then it comes in clear, and there it is.
How do you clear the static?
What are some of the operational steps
that you think might be more generalizable
to regardless of where somebody in Africa
is listening to this now?
I would say when I engage in a particular project,
whatever it is,
I dedicate all of myself for that period of time,
whatever it is,
whether it be 20 minutes,
or whether it be five hours,
whatever it is,
and no outside distraction whatsoever.
And when I leave that process,
I do my best not to think about it when I’m away from it.
I don’t bring any materials with me.
I don’t leave the studio with works in progress
and spend time listening to them during the day
or looking for ideas.
I stay as far away from it
when I’m not directly engaging in it as possible.
And in the best of situations,
I have something else to totally engage myself in,
So instead of working on project A for five hours,
and then leaving and doing nothing,
I’m hoping to engage in a project B or B, C, and D
with all of myself before going back to project A again,
which might be the next day, let’s say.
So this relates to an amazing chapter
and series of writings of your book
that I’m not going to describe
because I want people to find it for themselves
about disengaging from the process.
One question I had as I read that chapter,
and as you’re saying this now is,
even though you’re disengaged,
do you believe that your subconscious
is working it through?
I believe so.
I believe so.
And I think in general,
to stew over a problem is not the way to solve a problem.
Think to hold the problem slightly.
And when I say a problem,
you know, when we’re starting a project,
there’s usually this feeling of,
there’s a question mark
at the beginning of every project.
I’m always anxious when I start a new project
because I have no idea what’s going to happen.
I never know.
I never, I never,
I may have in some cases a potential backup plan
if, you know, if nothing works.
But I really try not even to have that.
I prefer not to have that.
I prefer to go in,
maybe to calm myself down enough to be able to show up.
There’ll be an idea of like, nothing works.
Maybe we could try something like this.
But that would only be for my own anxiety.
That would, it wouldn’t be for actual practical use.
But there’s always a sense of anxiety
because I know whatever’s going to happen
is completely out of my control.
Something’s going to,
something either interesting or not will appear.
And then we’re going to follow that wherever it goes.
And until something appears for us to follow,
I have a lot of anxiety.
Even though it has never not come,
you know, it has come every time,
but there’s something about it.
Cause I also feel like there might be expectation on me
that I’m going to make it happen.
And I know that’s not happening.
That’s not how it works.
I show up ready for it to happen
and am open to whatever we have to do
to find that first thread.
And once we find the thread, then it’s like, okay,
we have a, and that thread may lead us to anything,
you know, could lead us to in a million
but something about having that glimmer
that it’s not a blank,
we’re not looking at a blank page.
You know, we’re looking at a blank page.
You know, we’re looking at, okay,
we have the beginnings of,
I would say a map,
but it’s a map that we don’t know where it takes us.
And it’s just the beginning.
It’s just like, it’s just the start, you know,
you are here.
It wasn’t, if you have a map and it says you are here,
even if you can’t see the directions,
knowing where we are feels okay.
And once we get, and usually, again,
usually in the first day, first couple of days,
but up until then,
it’s really an anxiety producing situation.
And then I can’t remember the original question.
It’s like, that was the beginning of,
of something completely different.
But I, do you remember what you asked?
I don’t remember.
Yeah, well, we were talking about,
and then we were talking about, you know,
so I love this.
So like, what are,
what is your process of wading into this thing?
And you’re revealing that now.
I mean, I, I think of anxiety as readiness, you know,
I mean, think about the characteristic features of anxiety.
It tends to be a bit of a constriction of the visual field
into more of a narrow vision,
but that’s appropriate because you want to shed the,
you know, the, the, the, the, the,
the, the, the, the, the, the, the, the,
that’s appropriate because you want to shed the,
what’s going on elsewhere.
And then, you know,
even when people talk about the shakes or this,
like not feeling okay, sitting still,
anxiety was designed to mobilize us
and not always to run away.
This is one of the, I could, you know,
rarely do I talk about the work in my own laboratory,
but one of the things that frankly I didn’t discover,
but it was done in my laboratory,
but this brilliant graduate student,
Lindsay Salay, who’s now at Caltech,
was that we can often observe animals or humans
in very high states of anxiety
as they move forward toward a goal.
And we always think of moving forward
as like this calm thing, you know, we, these heroes,
you know, Rosa Parks telling people like,
F you, like, I’m not getting off the back,
I’m not leaving the, giving up my seat on the bus,
or Muhammad Ali, I bet you,
they were experiencing tremendous anxiety,
but it was in the forward tilt.
And so I think anxiety is least comfortable
when we are forcing ourselves to stand still.
So it’s an activating energy.
And, you know, that brings up a word that, you know,
I have written in my notebook as an extraction
of a lot of themes from within the book
that you and I have talked about before,
which is, and here I’m going to sound very West Coast woo,
but I mean it as seriously as it can be stated
that I feel like everything is energetic, right?
We can do things from a place of anger.
We can do things from a place of joy.
We can do things from a place of delight.
I’m, I like to think maturing into the idea
that joy and delight and love
is kind of the ultimate reservoir of energy.
But, you know, a lot of the music that I liked
from when I was younger,
it was because of the anger that was thread into it
or the sadness.
If you think of your relationship to that music,
it’s a relationship of love.
You didn’t listen to that to get angry.
You listened to it because you loved it.
And I felt loved by it
because it matched where I was at at the time.
It was true to who you were and where you were.
I know that collaboration,
there’s a wonderful chapter on collaboration,
but it’s collaboration, as you mentioned before,
with the universe, not with others.
But in terms of the,
especially the kind of work that you’ve done and do,
when it comes to working with artists,
I do wonder,
and here I’m not looking for any gossip or stories.
I’ve never been interested in gossip.
I love stories, but I’m not interested in gossip.
But once you see that thread kind of dangling there
and you’re going to,
you guys are going to go after this
or you grab onto it and you’re like,
okay, now you have a little bit of a map
and an orientation within that map.
I often wonder, you know, scientists are complicated people.
People think they’re very boring,
but they’re actually very complicated
because they’re often living in one limited rule set
of the prefrontal cortex.
That’s how you get good at getting degrees
is by understanding the rules of academia
and playing by those rules.
People tinker with the rules.
You get your Richard Axels who are very playful
in how they go about it, but they are systematic.
He’s known for rigor, rigor, rigor, right?
When I think of creative artists and musical artists,
I think of a bit more zany or loose,
or you watch the documentary about the Ramones
and you’re like, wow, there’s all this chaos.
How, because so many of the brilliant artists,
musical artists that are out there
seem to have some chaos inside them
or their lives aren’t always structured.
Oftentimes, and science too, by the way,
there are substance abuse issues and personal life issues.
How, since you don’t have 100% control,
they need to play the instruments, sing, et cetera.
How do you work with people who have it in them,
but are getting in their own way, right?
And do you think that that kind of the internal chaos
that a lot of artists seem to have,
do you think that sometimes is actually an essential piece
of the creativity picture, that you can’t disentangle it?
Yeah, I don’t think it’s an essential piece in general,
but certain artists, that’s how they do it.
I would say I rarely get to see the chaotic part of artists
for whatever reason, they rarely show it to me.
And most of them, like most comedians I know,
are much more serious about what they’re doing
than what it looks like from, if you see them on stage.
There’s much more to it and there’s much more focus
on craft going on and digging deep
than would necessarily be obvious
seeing them jump around on stage.
I’m a fan of boxing, track and field and boxing,
the sports nobody really cares about
now that UFC is so popular.
And track and field, it’s a little bit like wrestling.
When you go, the people that there are there
because they really love it.
We’ll talk about wrestling a little bit,
But Floyd Mayweather is obviously a colorful character
and one of the best records in boxing of all time.
And a few years back, I got into watching his stuff
and what one sees is the cars and the money,
they literally call themselves the money team,
and the spending and there’s all the outrageous stuff.
But I know someone who is in camp with him
who actually was a sparring partner for him
and the lore has it, they have very closed door sparring
or camps, but the lore is that he would do,
because nowadays it’s 12, three minute rounds, right?
With a minute in between, used to be 15,
but now neuroscientists stepped in
and it turns out a lot of deaths were occurring
when it was more than 12 rounds.
For whatever reason, you cut off at 12,
really seemed to truncate the death.
There are other things too.
If the dad is apparently a corner man,
we have someone else here at the podcast
who knows more about this than me,
but yeah, the kid not wanting to disappoint the parent
correlated with death.
There’s, and I’ll get some of this wrong
and then they can come after me.
But in any case, this guy who was in Floyd’s camp
said that he would do 30 to 60 minutes of sparring,
bringing in fresh sparring partners with no rest.
That he would run three or four times per 24 hour cycle,
despite all the critical need for sleep.
That his training was unbelievably intense
to the point where he would just chew out,
chew up and destroy all training partners.
And yet the perception that we see
is it’s kind of a, it’s playful for him.
So it sounds very similar.
Like what we see is often not what goes into it,
that people are intensely rigorous.
Yeah, and I think in a way from a psychological perspective,
if you knew you were fighting someone
who wasn’t taking it seriously,
that would give you some confidence
and that would not be a good thing
if the person was actually working really hard
outworking you, do you know what I’m saying?
Like it’s from a psychological perspective
that makes sense to me.
So I keep coming back to is that I’m imagining in my mind
kind of two ends of the continuum.
One that is about fairly narrow focus,
training, training, strategy, implementation,
cultivating craft, building craft.
And then the other side is this, the cloud.
It’s very nebulous, right?
There’s this word that I learned from a colleague of mine
when I was down at the Salk Institute
when my lab was there, because he studies this.
There’s this phenomenon that I don’t want to mispronounce
because then it sounds like something else.
But the correct pronunciation is pareidolia.
And pareidolia is our tendency to look at an amorphous shape
like a cloud or a tree
and think that it looks like something else.
An ice cream cone.
The man in the moon.
And that again, reveals the extent to which the brain
wants to place symbolic filters on things.
And we need this, right?
Because I see you walk in the door and,
Rick, I recognize you.
In fact, we have a brain area
called the fusiform face gyrus.
It literally is a face recognition area.
And you could be at any orientation
or I could just see your eyes and know that it’s you.
There’s a phenomenon called propriocegnosia
where people can see faces,
they can describe everything in the face,
but they don’t know, for instance,
that it’s JFK or Madonna or Lex Friedman.
It’s quite the list.
Quite the list.
There you go, Lex.
Run for office, Lex.
It’s hard enough to get you to respond to my text as it is.
So we have these filters.
And so we’re taking this cloud
and we’re deciding what things are.
And what I want to drill into your process
a little bit more deeply,
when you approach a project,
so everyone meets each other, shakes hands,
here are the engineers,
we’re going to sit down,
everyone knows what they’re doing
because you work with professionals,
and you start going,
are you trying to be with the cloud
or in the implementation?
Like, where are you in that continuum?
And forgive me if I’m trying to surgically
go into your process in a way
that would disrupt it in any way,
but I trust you’ve been doing this for a while
and there’s no threat of that.
I’m in the cloud with the exception of,
I’m aware of what could go wrong on a technical side.
And I might, like, if something good is happening,
I might look over and make sure that we’re rolling.
So that’s a leap over to here momentarily,
but then you’re back in the cloud.
If I feel like,
if I was in the moment,
I would be in the cloud,
and if something good starts happening,
it would trigger something in me,
like, uh-oh, I hope this is,
I hope we’re really doing this
because I don’t know if we could ever do this again.
That would be a thought of when the first time
the real world would come into the picture
would be something good is happening.
Let’s not lose it.
And when that happens, do you,
never been in a studio besides a podcast studio,
do you say, hey guys, that sounded good,
more of that, or do you wait, you let them continue?
Because obviously you don’t want to break their flow.
We’d never want to break any flow once it’s happening.
Yeah, once something’s happening,
just kind of sit back and watch.
And do you think there’s resonance,
like the team of engineers and other people know
when it quote unquote is happening?
If everyone’s paying attention, yes.
When everyone’s paying attention,
it’s usually pretty obvious.
Sometimes the threat will be something different
than expected, and maybe not everybody would pick up on it.
And that might be a particular,
that might be particular based on my taste
or an artist’s taste,
or someone involved might say that was,
let’s listen back to that.
I think that was better than what we thought
that can happen.
You said several things and it was like,
you said enough for there to be several conversations.
I tend to do that, sorry, especially with you.
I don’t get to see you as nearly as often as I would like.
And so when I do,
I confess that I’m a little bit of a kid in a candy shop.
I wrote down the brain tells us stories.
So you talked about, I walk in certain data points,
you recognize me,
but it’s a real like looking at a cloud shorthand.
We go through our lives doing this all day
with everything we see.
And the shorthand, in the case of me, you know me,
the shorthand turns out to be right, it checks out.
If it’s something we don’t know
and something we’re not familiar with,
something happens, we experience something on the street,
something happens and it doesn’t make sense.
Something out of the ordinary happens.
First thing is, is this doesn’t make sense.
Then what we do is again, subconscious, unconsciously,
I don’t know if it’s unconscious or subconsciously
without thinking, we create a story
that explains what just happened, a hypothetical
that makes it okay that what just happened, happened.
And, oh, maybe he’s running
because his dog ran away and he’s chasing his dog.
Maybe that’s why he’s running.
And as soon as we have that thought of what it might be,
we relax because now it’s not just a guy running
and this is weird, but it’s a guy running.
Oh, he’s probably running after his dog.
And now we register that story
that we just made up without even knowing
we were making it up as what happened.
And then later in the day, if someone says,
yeah, do you see that guy running out of the box?
Like, yeah, he was chasing his dog, I saw that.
And you won’t even realize
that it was the maybe hypothetical story
that was the first possible explanation
that allowed you to continue walking.
Do you know what I’m saying?
That’s our whole lives.
Our whole lives are reacting to things,
making up a story of what we think may have happened
without realizing that’s what we’re doing,
and then living the rest of our lives
as if that thing that we made up really happened
and we never know.
I completely agree.
We confabulate from birth until death.
There’s this well-observed phenomenon
in people who have memory deficits.
So there’s the sad example of this,
and then there’s the everyday typical,
not, who knows, sad or not sad example.
So for instance, if somebody has a slight memory deficit
or someone has Alzheimer’s dementia,
they’ll find themselves in the hallway at night
and say, what are you doing here?
And they’ll say, oh, you know,
I was going to get a glass of water,
but they’re walking away from the direction
that would make sense.
People who, alcoholics who drink enough
develop something called Korsakoff syndrome
where a certain brain area gets messed up
and you’ll ask them a question like,
oh, what are you doing here?
And they will come up with incredible stories,
sometimes interesting stories
that have no bearing on reality.
You ask them who their name is.
But do they believe, they believe that’s what happened.
With 100% certainty.
And this actually relates to a lot of the
now better understood controversy around repressed memories.
You know, you can, especially from young people,
you can pull memories from them
of things that never happened.
This has been demonstrated over and over again.
So courtrooms know to be very cautious now
about this whole notion of repressed memories.
That’s good to know.
Yeah, very, very complicated area of the law,
as you can imagine,
because we want, we tend to want to trust victims
for understandable reasons.
But in terms of accuracy of details,
two people have very different accounts of the same,
of the same experiences.
And this has been shown over and over again.
And even that you can do well in the laboratory.
It’s pretty interesting.
So again, because of these selective filtering
and storytelling, and we are,
I think it was Salman Rushdie who said,
we are the storytelling species.
Wow, I was going to say we’re storytelling machines.
Yeah, I think, you know, we are the story.
I would say that the big five,
if I had to pick up sort of brain function is,
we are very limited filters.
The mantis shrimp sees 67 shades of red
for every one that we see.
So they have access to things we don’t have access to.
They’re not, as far as I know, you know,
releasing albums of the, you know,
red hot chili peppers caliber, but who knows,
maybe down there they are.
I did see something, by the way,
as a relevant tangent recently.
And I don’t know if it’s, look,
even if it’s crazy, it’s super cool.
If you take a device that amplifies
the electrical signals coming from cactus,
and you just translate that into a simple rule
of conversion to two or three pitches of sound,
the music that comes out of it is beautiful.
Nothing short of beautiful.
And when I saw that, the teenager in me thought,
you know, when we hear whale song,
we think it’s so beautiful.
Like, what if they’re just like cursing at each other
the whole time, right?
I mean, maybe they’re in there like a Rogan episode
when he invites all his comedian friends in there.
Maybe it’s a psychoanalytic conversation
about their childhood traumas.
I don’t know.
But we decide whale song is beautiful.
We decide cactus are just plants.
And it’s beautiful to us.
And we’re right that it is beautiful to us,
but it doesn’t mean we know anything about it.
Yeah, so we have these filters, perceptual filters.
We only can see and hear, smell and taste what we can.
And then the brain likes to work in symbols.
We tend to like to match that person
whose shoes are messed up must be homeless.
I’ve had a couple instances in life
where I saw what I thought was a homeless vagrant
inside a building at an academics institution.
It turned out it was the most accomplished person
in the field.
That’s always cool.
Yes, that happened at Berkeley.
Then the other thing that we do
is we tend to put symbol,
so we said perception, symbol representations,
and then our memories are entirely confabulated
based on already deficient symbol
and perceptual representation.
And so I never liked the statement
that we don’t know how the brain works.
I think we do know how the brain works,
but that it works through very limited filters.
Knowing that and accepting it.
It seems to me that this idea of looking to nature,
looking outside us is so critical.
And in fact, I hope you won’t mind me sharing this,
but a few years back, I had sent you something by text
and I was kind of in disbelief
about something I’d seen in the media.
I was like, they got it all wrong.
And I knew the person involved
and it was not a good situation for them.
I was like, they got it all wrong.
And you wrote back and you said,
it’s all lies, back to nature, the only truth.
Wow, that’s wild.
And I wrote that down, I put it over my desk.
And I still, I’d tattoo it on my forehead
if I didn’t already have it well committed to memory.
But I think I know that’s true, right?
Nature we can look at and it’s-
But when I say it’s all lies,
you just talked about our ability to,
how limited our facility to see and understand what we see.
So based on that, that leads us to,
we can’t know much.
Do you know what I’m saying?
Our resolution is so low on everything
that we’re really just like, we’re grasping at straws.
We have no idea.
We have no idea.
And there’s great power in knowing that.
Because if you think you know what’s going on,
chances are you’re being deceived.
Not because somebody is deceiving you,
but because they’re telling you what they see
and they don’t know.
It’s all, do you know what I’m saying?
It’s all made up.
It’s all made up.
Everything that we, everything we know is made up.
Maybe, maybe it’s true.
This brings us to pro wrestling.
It’s the reason that pro wrestling is closer to reality
than anything else we can watch or any other content.
It’s, we know it’s made up.
We know that it’s a performance.
And that’s how everything is,
except we think wrestling’s fake and the world is real.
Wrestling’s real and the world’s fake.
You talk about in the book,
we’re definitely going this direction.
In the book, you talk about this notion
of entertaining the idea of the opposite being true, as it.
And there’s our not only emerging,
but established fields of psychology
that are making great ground, I think,
into the human psyche, Byron Katie’s work and others,
where you take a statement
and you start playing with that statement
for you poke at its authenticity.
And when I first heard that, I thought,
this is kind of hokey, right?
It’s just words.
And then I realized how foolish I was being
because she’s really onto something.
And there are others too, of course,
but in science, that’s exactly what you do.
You don’t really ask questions in science.
You are forced to raise hypotheses
and try and say true or false.
Now, there are limitations to that approach, certainly.
I mean, pure observational studies have been incredible
in terms of what they’ve revealed to us,
especially in medicine.
A patient that has a bullet hole
through a certain area of the brain,
you don’t go in and say,
oh, I hypothesize that person will have a deficit
in seeing faces.
No, the person wandered into the clinic
and they go, this person sees faces,
but can’t make sense of them.
And then you reverse,
you forensically arrive at an understanding.
But in general, we go about things in this way.
And considering that the opposite might be true,
well, that’s a little bit, I suppose,
of like seeing the whale at the surface of the water.
It’s like, well, the opposite of my experience,
which is all above water for the most part,
is maybe not the complete experience of life.
You start seeing the inverse all the time.
So I want to-
Consider the inverse all the time.
And it really relates to the way that you described
how we see colors is based on contrast.
So maybe blue’s only blue in relation to yellow.
So if blue is our choice,
if we’re not considering yellow,
blue doesn’t exist.
Do you know what I’m saying?
It’s like, we talk about night.
It’s only night because there’s day.
If there was no day, there is no night.
In all of our cases,
it’s like the yin-yang.
There’s the light and the shadow always.
There’s always another side for everything.
And we focus on one aspect.
But if we look at the other aspect,
chances are we’ll learn something too.
The nervous system is not just able to do this.
It’s the way it does everything.
Two experiments I’ll just briefly describe.
My scientific great-grandparents,
David Hubel and Torrance de Wiesel,
showed that if you force a person
to look at something for a long period of time
without moving their eyes,
there’s a way that you can do this,
the image disappears.
Because normally your eyes are making little micro saccades
and you’re comparing what you’re seeing
to what’s right next to it, pixel by pixel,
pixel by pixel, pixel by pixel.
If we don’t even have to use the example
of pressing on the arm,
we’re sitting in chairs right now.
And until I said,
what’s going on at the level of sensation
on the backs of your thighs,
you were unaware of it
because if you experience a pressure
or a smell in a room,
you ever walk in,
the smell is either good or not good,
pretty soon the smell disappears.
The neurons are still firing like sledgehammers on a bell,
but we become blind and deaf to it
because the nervous system likes to habituate
the value of that signal when it’s there often.
And it’s only the stuff that comes through,
signal the noise,
that kind of jolts us into attention and awareness.
And I want to return to attention awareness,
which are prominent themes in the book.
And I think in an important way,
not just, oh, attention awareness is important,
but you also give insight into how to pay better attention,
how to pay awareness with the understanding
that people are going to go about it differently.
But I do want to ask you about wrestling
because when I was growing up,
I was not, I lived South of the Cow Palace
and there was some wrestling going on there.
I think back then it was WWF.
And there was a short stint in my childhood
where I paid attention to, in particular,
was it Coco Beware, the guy that had a macaw?
I was obsessed with tropical birds.
And he would come in,
he’d put his tropical bird on the thing.
And then who’s that, George the Animal Steel,
the guy that would eat the ring.
Okay, so, and-
I believe he was a professor.
Seriously, seriously, seriously.
Was he really?
In real life.
He was a professor,
George the Animal Steel as a wrestler.
And I loved the movie, The Wrestler.
Darren Aronofsky movie.
It was Mickey Rourke.
Yeah, one of the reasons I liked it
is I once visited Ashbury Park.
Isn’t that where that was filmed?
There’s a vacant, he goes to visit his daughter.
There’s a vacant amusement park
or abandoned amusement park scene there
that was really eerie.
Still kind of haunts me a little bit.
There’s something about the East Coast
in kind of fall,
all the places that people normally go
just for the summer
that we don’t have out here on the West Coast.
People on the East Coast are just tougher than we are.
It still haunts me.
But I remember watching wrestling
and it was at that age,
I think I was probably about 12, 13,
maybe 11, 12, 13,
where you’re kind of entering puberty.
So, and puberty is a fundamental landmark of development.
It’s the most rapid period of aging.
It’s also when we start to change our rule set,
like certain people in certain kinds of interactions
take on profoundly different meaning, right?
It’s not just a reproductive competence time
and when kids change, their bodies change.
The rule book changes fundamentally.
Our understanding of the world changes in that moment.
Yeah, I mean, the moment that a child understands
really what sex is and kind of how they got there
and that a lot of the stuff that we see in the world
is kind of passively or not so passively
being sent through that filter.
It’s like, it’s something,
it changes the rule or the rule book of perception.
I view this age from about 11 to 13,
at least for me was a unique transition point
where the gap between what I perceived as reality
and fiction was kind of blurry.
This is captured pretty well in that movie,
“‘Stand By Me,”
where they’re hanging around the campfire at night
and the kid says,
who do you think would win in a fight
between Superman and Mighty Mouse?
And the other kid says like, you idiot,
Mighty Mouse is a cartoon.
Of course Superman would win.
And like, to me, that’s being 11 and a half or 12 years old
where your understanding of reality as you know it
but it’s not completely crystallized
into an adult form reality.
That sounds like a really healthy place to be to me,
like that, not letting it crystallize.
I think that’s the, there’s where the downfall happens.
So I have questions specifically about wrestling,
but it’s really about process.
I want to know whether or not you watch wrestling
because it allows you to access the energy state
in your body and mind,
and that kind of mode of thinking in which reality
as one conceives it is somewhat blurry,
or is it for a number of other reasons, which is fine?
Is that the energy you’re trying to export
and bring to the creative process elsewhere to life?
Is it that anything is possible
or that we’re dealing with archetypes?
Because it doesn’t matter if it’s Coco Beware
or Randy Macho Man Savage,
or George the Animal Steel and the lovely Elizabeth.
I guess I did watch a little bit of wrestling.
They are archetypes,
much like the Greek myths or the Bible,
or no disrespect to the Bible or to Greek myths
or to wrestling for that matter.
Archetypes are a powerful filter for humans,
but we know that they’re a very limited filter too
because people aren’t built like square wave functions.
We have curves and contours and complexity.
So what is the deal with your relationship to wrestling?
I think it maintains that kind of playfulness.
Anything is possible.
We expect the unexpected all the time in wrestling,
and it’s a way to have a kind of a feeling
of the energy of a sport with no competition.
Everyone is working together
to put on the best show they can.
So it’s more like a ballet than it is like a sporting event.
And there’s great skill involved.
It’s one of the few things that I can watch
and really feel relaxed.
It relaxes me.
I don’t feel like I have to think about it.
I can just relax and enjoy it.
This brings up a topic that is very near and dear
to my heart, which is this notion of balance.
It’s very near and dear to my heart,
which is this notion of dopamine schedules.
I never want to reduce everything to dopamine,
but dopamine is the universal currency
of delight, pleasure, motivation seeking.
There are other chemicals involved too,
but there’s a beautiful experiment
and a couple of examples that I’ll use as a foundation
to more questions about wrestling and why it’s powerful
and why other people may want to use wrestling
or some other endeavor as a way to access
creative energy and source.
Earlier, we talked about, you can train an animal
to press a lever three times and then get reward
and it will learn three’s the magic number for reward.
And then it can switch.
It takes a little bit of training and then they can switch,
but they can’t do prime numbers.
They can’t do high abstraction schedules.
Humans either, we’re not very good at figuring out
the rule set for optimal foraging.
We do it well enough to persist as a species,
at least for now, but it’s very likely
that we are not tapping into that system
as well as we could.
And how would we know if we don’t know?
It’s one of those, you don’t know what you don’t know.
There’s a beautiful experiment that explored
when dopamine is released in the context of watching sport
or watching comedy, believe it or not.
And with the comedy stuff,
it was every time there was a surprise,
it was kind of that jarringly, ha ha,
and they’d measure people’s dopamine output.
They were also brain imaging.
In a game of basketball,
it’s a beautiful opportunity experimentally
because every time one team gets the ball
or shooting free throws or something,
they’re going down court and it’s either going to end up
in the basket or it’s not.
Might end up on the free throw line, but it’s never not.
So what they found is that the schedule of anticipation
was every time there was a switch of which team got it.
So you’re waiting, waiting, and then it’s, ah,
you’re waiting, waiting, yes, waiting, waiting,
three pointer, oh, awesome.
And if something happened where it looked like
they were going to make the three pointer,
but then somebody basically swatted the ball away
and then went for a half court shot,
like you don’t expect that very often,
bigger dopamine release, okay?
So that’s kind of how the dopamine thing works.
When you describe wrestling, I wonder,
because you don’t know the script,
it’s not one team gets it, then the other team gets it.
You don’t know who’s going to win.
Anything could happen is what you said.
The availability of that dopamine surge or drip,
which is a powerful thing,
is completely, it’s completely out of your reach
in terms of anticipation.
You don’t know when it’s going to come,
but it must arrive often enough that you return to it
11 hours a week of watching.
In many ways, the way I’m starting to conceptualize
the creative process is a little bit the same.
You don’t know where those nuggets of gold
and those loose threads are,
but you have enough experience.
And in this case, I am referring to you specifically
to know that they are in there.
The people walking in this room
have a certain level of ability and talent to create
that the map will form itself
as we are going through the voyage.
And those nuggets of, here I’m calling them dopamine,
but they are out there.
And that knowledge is enough to get you to come back again.
And again, to trust the process.
So I actually think the way you described wrestling as,
you know, it’s the energy of the sport.
It’s not the, whether or not it’s this move or that move
or who wins or who loses, it’s the energy.
And I’m guessing it’s the energy that it creates in you
as an observer.
Yes, it’s the energy it creates in me
and the reality that it’s honest in what it is
in a world where seemingly nothing is honest at what it is.
And again, not because people are lying all the time.
We have little data.
We make up a story to explain it.
And then we say, that’s what happened.
And we have trusted sources
who do exactly what I just described
and who pass this down as gospel of what we think
and what we teach and maybe it’s true and maybe it’s not.
With wrestling, we know maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not.
We lean towards it not being true.
But what’s really interesting about wrestling
and maybe one of the most fun things about it
is that sometimes real life works its way into the story.
Like two wrestlers get married.
In real life.
Well, we don’t know.
You never know.
It’s like in the storyline, they’re getting married
or getting divorced or best friends turn on each other.
And it could be part of the story
and it could really be happening because they do, right?
Someone breaks their leg.
So they’re out because their leg is broken.
Did they break their leg?
We don’t know.
Do you know what I’m saying?
We’re told they broke their leg.
So there’s always this like, I wonder what’s true.
I wonder where the line is.
We know that it’s scripted or predetermined.
That’s how they say it.
But we don’t know where reality is and isn’t.
And in some ways, that’s our real experience of the world.
We don’t really know where reality is and isn’t.
We have an idea maybe.
I think in some ways, wrestling is more honest
or legitimate because we start with the idea
that it’s fixed.
When we go to a boxing match,
we don’t go to a boxing match thinking it’s fixed.
Yet it might be.
And historically, it’s happened.
Or there was just something in baseball where,
was it baseball?
I don’t follow baseball.
I should know.
There was just a big sports,
one of the teams that-
The plays, basically.
Was it the call signals of the catcher?
You’re not supposed to deprogram
or deconstruct the call signals of the other team.
And I guess maybe a team got caught doing that.
Yes, and the team that won whatever the World Series was.
So it’s like with wrestling, that wouldn’t be a scandal.
Do you know what I’m saying?
Because almost anything goes.
And that’s what the world is really like.
So in some ways, it’s comforting.
And there’s still this mystery of like,
well, I wonder if that’s true or not
because we never really know.
Someone gets hurt.
Did they really break their back
or are they just going on vacation?
We don’t know.
We’ll never know.
It is fascinating.
And I feel like there are certain people
who show up in a way that is surprising
in not just one direction, but in all directions.
Like it’s one thing for a celebrity to come out
and make a statement.
That can be interesting or not interesting
depending on the celebrity and the statement
and the delivery.
But, and I’m probably going to get this wrong
because I’m terrible at pop culture things,
most of them anyway.
But as I recall, Lady Gaga showed up to some event
wearing an outfit made of meat.
And I can’t tell you for the life of me
whether or not that was a statement against meat
or for meat.
Maybe it was a statement for the carnivore diet.
Maybe it was a statement for veganism.
I don’t know.
Or maybe neither.
Or maybe neither.
But it was definitely a statement
in that it broke with the norm.
And it said to me, okay,
she creates different rules for herself
or sort of breaks boundaries that other people had.
I never heard of anyone doing that before.
It doesn’t mean they hadn’t,
but I never heard of anyone doing it before.
But we do tend to associate outside the current playbook
with quote unquote creativity,
unless it crosses a line,
in which case it becomes something else.
It becomes almost theater for sake of theater.
But what you’re telling me is that
within the realm of wrestling,
theater is the goal at some level.
And everybody knows it who goes into those arenas,
who watches it.
And everyone agrees to kind of suspend outside reality
and say, this is reality.
And they boo for the bad guys
and cheer for the good guys,
knowing that backstage they’re probably friends.
Except for the kids that are 11,
who think it’s really real.
I don’t know.
I don’t even know if they know.
I’m not sure.
The only other person I know
who has vocalized their love of professional wrestling
to the extent that you have
is Lars Fredrickson,
the rhythm guitar player for Rancid,
who loves wrestling.
But his statement,
and forgive me, Lars,
if I’m getting this wrong,
is that because he grew up in an area of the South Bay
where there were no teams,
like now there’s the San Jose Earthquakes,
but there was no football team in San Jose.
He’s from Campbell.
But there were no good teams,
no sports teams,
but they had wrestling.
And he had it where?
On the television set.
And so if you didn’t have a,
I didn’t grow up with any organized sports thing.
The 49ers were up the road,
but for me it was skateboarding.
And I love it for the same reason.
You actually never really know what’s going to happen.
There is no rule book.
The rule book is made up.
But they are very,
it’s a unique sport in that,
surfing’s a bit like this too,
in that they are absolutely maniacal
about making things look a certain way.
It’s not about just doing it.
It’s about doing it and making it look good.
Smooth, catching it with the front foot.
And the trends change.
It’s a style.
Style is this nebulous thing of like,
you know, in fashion or in sport.
Whereas with a football,
there’s some amazing catches.
There’s even like the catch,
which I happen to know is a 49er,
the catch during the Super Bowl.
But in general,
it’s like the goal is get in the end zone,
win the game.
And I’m sure football players are like cringing
as I say this,
but it doesn’t matter if you run ugly,
if you run fastest.
In skateboarding, that would never fly.
In fact, you basically be ridiculed out of the sport.
In wrestling, is it the same?
Is there style to wrestling?
It’s all performance.
It’s all the charisma of the people involved.
There’s the physical ability,
the ability to talk and tell a story,
and how charismatic the performers are.
Whether you want to watch them,
whether you want to see them win,
whether you want to see them lose,
and whether you’re interested in cheering
or booing for them.
I was going to say it reminds me of opera,
but opera get released over and over again.
You know the story and how it ends when you walk in,
if you’ve listened to it before.
So wrestling does seem to be unique in that way.
It’s real-time iteration,
at least from the perspective of the-
And it’s real-time iteration based on,
because people get hurt all the time,
they’re doing really crazy physical stuff.
So if someone gets hurt, the story has to change,
because in real life, they can’t show up next week
and do what was planned in the script.
So it’s very alive,
and there’s a lot of,
something interesting and unexpected is always happening.
Well, in a much more calm form,
I’ll share with you something,
just like your perspective on it.
For years, I used a tool
in order to try and access ideas,
since I was a little kid, actually,
because I have a little bit of OCD,
a little bit of a Tourette’s.
When I get tired, I’ll do that,
and very strategy implementation oriented.
When I was a little, little kid,
I needed all my stuffed animals arranged in a certain way.
Legos had to be a little neurotic, or a lot.
And then science is very much about,
you have to do things with a lot of precision.
And I discovered that the ultimate reset for me
when I was in graduate school or a postdoc,
if I couldn’t make it to a really good,
like agnostic front show, or like chaos,
like the chaos of a punk rock show for me
was kind of this reset.
It was like, ah, could like release all this thing,
and I got energy from it.
First time I saw Transplants play,
and you know, it was like, whoa,
because you don’t know what’s going to happen.
And it was scary, and I loved it.
The other thing that I used over time
to kind of reset this ability to think in a structured way
without it feeling like it was overcoming me,
maybe even access the same thing
in some ways that you’re accessing with wrestling
was I like to stare at Aquaria.
Like I like to go to aquariums or I’d build aquariums,
and I would just sit there
because you never know which way the fish are going to go.
You think it’s going that way,
but then all of a sudden they’ll turn and go the other way.
It’s completely unpredictable.
And I love Aquaria because of the tranquility
and had them in my lab for a long time.
I just adore aquariums
because of the non-linearity of it.
It’s not A, B, C, it’s A, Z, Z, Q, you know?
And I think this is what some people try
and access through psychedelics,
but that didn’t seem to me like a very good way
to do it on a regular basis.
Whereas with Aquaria, you just, the tanks are there.
So in your book, you talk about something
that I also share a love for,
which is how the ocean and aspects of nature,
like clouds and ocean, they have a predictability to them.
We know where they are and where to find them.
Fortunately, the sun rises and sets every day,
at least for now.
And we can count on them with 100% reliability.
And yet they are from the perspective
of like what physicists would say, they’re very chaotic.
You can’t look at a wave
and know exactly how the foam is going to roll out.
You know, it’s going to roll in and roll out.
We have the tides.
But when I hear about wrestling,
when I think about my love of Aquaria,
when I think about my love of punk rock music, for instance,
or I think about the ocean,
I think of it in that way that we actually have a need
to source from things that have both a combination
of structure and no structure.
I think it’s interesting that there are some places
that don’t change and some places that change a lot.
And I can remember thinking about this.
I was walking, there’s a beach that I walk on in Hawaii.
That I walk on every morning when I’m there.
And if you walk on the same beach every day,
you kind of get a sense of what it’s like.
And I remember I was in Hawaii,
walked on the beach every day for a year,
however long it was.
And then I left for six months and I came back.
And the next time I walked on the beach,
it was an entirely different beach, entirely different.
And I remember thinking in that moment,
it’s like, this is an unusual place
because I pictured the house that I didn’t even grow up in.
The house I lived in maybe for the first seven years
of my life.
And I think about what the backyard looked like.
And I think about a particular old tree that was there.
And I don’t know this for sure,
but my sense is if I were to go back to where I grew up
and go to that place and look in that yard,
it would probably look pretty similar.
Yet here was this beach that I was walking on in Hawaii
that in the course of six months,
completely changed its face.
And just how interesting both of those things are.
And that depending on the project we’re working on,
to be able to go to a place that we know
has the potential to change a lot
and what that would do to our connection with the earth
when we’re experiencing that,
versus going to a place that has very little change.
And you can kind of count on it being the way
it’s always been.
That both of those are interesting things
to be able to draw upon,
depending on what we want to open in our psyche.
I have an almost unhealthy fascination with New York
in the mid 80s and 90s.
You didn’t live there though.
No, but since I was a kid,
I went there when I was a little kid
and I was fascinated by it.
There’s also a very interesting migration
of East Coast to West Coast creatives,
that played an important part of my life,
just seeing things and hearing things
that were meaningful to me.
But I like, for instance, I love the movie.
I haven’t seen the documentary,
but the one about Jean-Michel Basquiat,
because of the characters that are in it
and the huge number of people in that,
like Parker Posey, Dennis Hopper, and Christopher Wall,
and on and on.
Those images of New York at that time
are so exciting and what was happening.
I wish I could transplant myself to that.
If I had a time machine, that’s where I’d land first.
I hear a lot of people say,
New York isn’t what it used to be.
San Francisco isn’t what it used to be, whatever.
LA isn’t what…
There does seem to be something
that feels a little bit disruptive to people
about cities changing.
But the idea that natural landscapes change
is actually, we even accept like,
if fires sweep through places
and assuming they weren’t started by humans,
we accept that, that change
and the reordering of landscapes is normal and healthy.
And I always tell myself,
they have the kids growing up in New York
or San Francisco or Chicago now,
they only know it that way.
So to them, it’s as cool or as uncool
as it’s ever gonna be, right?
They either wanna get out
or they’re loving every piece of it.
And this happened for all the people that came before us.
So my question is a very basic one.
Do you miss the New York that you came up in?
Are you somebody who is attached to the past?
I’m not attached at all.
I’m not attached to anything in the past.
I don’t look back at all.
You don’t think about like,
oh, in my dorm room at NYU, Beastie Boys, this,
like I miss…
No, your optics are forward, present and forward.
Only present and forward.
Is there a process to that
or it just happens to be where you default to?
I don’t know.
I’m not sure, but that’s how I do it.
Nostalgia is not in Rick Rubin’s brain.
Oh, lucky you, man.
I say that with genuine admiration.
So you can hear a song
that maybe you had a role in producing or not,
something from the past,
and you’re accessing a state presumably,
but you’re not pining for or wishing how it was.
I’m no psychologist,
but I’m going to venture to say
that I think that’s a very unique quality.
I think a lot of people wish for
or wish that things did not happen the way they did,
that there’s a lot of living in the past.
There’s a lot of this notion of like people future trip.
I don’t actually think
that’s the default state of the brain.
I think a lot of people live in emotional anchors
to the past, good and bad.
No, I have none.
And watching wrestling is one way
that you cleanse the palate.
Yeah, it’s true.
You go to a meal and they pass around this,
that don’t really do the same more,
but pass around a little bit of sorbet
to cleanse the palate.
Turns out there’s a biological reason for that.
There’s a kind of neutralization of the taste receptors
between savory and sweet, et cetera.
So if wrestling is your palate neutralizer.
I know that if I watch wrestling before I go to sleep,
it’s going to be a good night’s sleep.
Do you dream about wrestling?
But it’s just relaxing.
It’s just relaxing.
Do you anticipate when you watch it?
Like here comes the dopamine hit.
Sometimes, sometimes when it happens,
Yeah, sometimes it’s exciting.
But do you enjoy it?
But even men, it’s like the stakes are low.
It’s like, I don’t really care what happens,
which feels good.
You know that I’m just being entertained.
Do they actually get hurt sometimes?
You said they do.
I mean, they’re basically stuntmen.
So imagine stuntman getting hurt, doing a crazy stunt.
Happens all the time.
Well, in the movie, The Wrestler,
I remember he got staples stapled into him.
And I thought that’s pretty intense.
I once went and saw,
I guess they called it Mexican wrestling.
I don’t know if they call it that anymore,
where the guys dip their hands.
Yeah, they dipped their hands in glass.
This was in Sacramento.
And I went and saw it.
I honestly didn’t have a stomach for it.
I really didn’t.
I couldn’t believe it was legal.
It might not have been legal.
But I thought.
There’s crazy stuff in wrestling sometimes.
So before sleep,
is that typically when you watch wrestling?
Do you think it’s useful for people to have some activity
that allows them to kind of clear their mind
and create peace before heading off to sleep?
I think so.
And I think yoga nidras would be good.
It’s like yoga nidra pro wrestling.
Any of the, any of those type things.
Yeah, not watching the Dalmer thing.
I won’t watch that.
I don’t watch any horror, anything,
or I don’t like violent things.
I know it exists.
I know horrible things happen in the world,
but I certainly don’t want to do that before sleep.
I think these liminal states before
and emerging from sleep are very powerful.
When you wake up in the morning,
are your thoughts immediately structured
or do you enjoy the kind of clearing of the clouds?
It’s a slow process for me to wake up.
And I like that.
I like not engaging too much too soon.
I also, another, I usually fall asleep
listening to a lecture or something speaking
because if I’m, if I don’t,
I can get caught in my own thoughts
and listening to something is enough of a focus point
that it stops me from talking to myself.
Yeah, I do the same.
My grandfather listened to the radio,
to sports on the radio, and he would fall asleep.
Oftentimes he was a smoker with a cigarette in his mouth.
His wife’s responsibility was to stay up later than he did
to make sure he didn’t burn everything down.
And then when you wake up, you said it’s a slow process.
Is it an hour or two before you feel like you’re?
I would say probably an hour.
I usually wake up and try to get in the sun
as soon as I possibly can
and hope to spend, hope to spend about an hour.
And then I’ll usually go for a walk on the beach
for another hour, 90 minutes, depending.
Are you with family members and other people at that time?
I’m usually focused by myself.
I’ll be listening to something.
I don’t look at the phone, but I listen.
I listen to, again, a lecture or a podcast or audio book.
I like audio books a lot.
Yeah, I do too.
If an idea comes to mind, do you write it down?
I like to.
I usually would do a note in my phone.
I don’t usually carry pen and paper with me
when I’m walking.
Yeah, I do the same.
I do a long Sunday hike or jog
and I will audio script into my phone.
People sometimes give me funny looks
because I’m talking to myself.
That’s a nice way to do it though.
I’d like to learn more of the audio methods of doing it
instead of the typing methods.
Right now I type and I don’t think it’s the best way.
The voice memos function in the iPhone
and other phones is really good.
And there are now companies like Rev.com
that will turn those into Word doc scripts
that are fairly well corrected, fairly inexpensive.
No, they’re not a sponsor of the podcast.
I just happen to use it.
I actually learned that trick from Richard Axel,
the Nicorette chewing wild man, Nobel prize winner.
He writes manuscripts and by walking around his office,
pacing and talking into his phone.
I always think of the Woody Allen movie
where the Alan Alda character is talking about,
yeah, he’s speaking comedy ideas into the phone.
It’s really pretentious.
I liked that movie about Harvey Milk,
that Sean Penn played Harvey Milk.
Because that all took place before I was alive,
mostly in the Bay Area.
But there’s these beautiful scenes of him,
as I recall, sitting there at his kitchen table
talking into a tape recorder at night,
talking about how he predicted
that he would be possibly assassinated, et cetera.
And this goes back to the Strummer thing
about writing things down.
I think that a lot of people, including myself,
feel a little bit of like egotistical guilt
around like, who am I to think that my ideas
could be worthwhile or something?
But I think over time, I’ve come to realize
that the ideas about experiments
or health questions I have about health,
they don’t always, but oftentimes can lead to real seeds
that grow into big trees.
But it’s something that’s interesting to you.
It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.
Most of my notes are not for anyone else’s use.
I hear about something that’s interesting to me
and I think about, okay,
I want to learn more about this, whatever it is.
And then sometimes those things work their way
into things I’m doing because the universe
seems to work in that way.
But I rarely am learning something
with the idea of using it.
I learn things with the idea of, this is what I want to know.
This is what’s interesting to me.
And then often those things that are interesting to me
can find their way into other projects just because they do.
Yeah, that’s almost like Kohler kindling.
But the moment that you think of it that way,
it sort of, it sounds so extractive, right?
But if you, so you take this walk
and you’re writing down the occasional idea perhaps,
and then what is the next sort of the way that,
here are less than do this, than this, than that.
I’m interested in like, where does your mind shift to?
Does it become more structured as the day goes on?
Does your thinking become more structured
around projects and plans?
I try to deal with things that need dealing with after that
and in preparation for going to work.
And then when I go to work, it’s more like free,
this free thing where I’m, again,
hoping something good comes, welcoming something good,
paying attention and maybe trying to will it to happen,
but never, but knowing I don’t have the ability
to make it happen.
I can just be present for it and be ready if it does arrive.
Some of the more surprising,
and I found really interesting and useful features
of the book were about dancing with structure
and lack of structure.
So when I think of structure, I think of like deadlines.
So when you are in the process of creating something,
obviously deadlines are relevant, time of day, right?
There’s only so many hours in the day
where one can stay in the groove
or in this like readiness to receive.
Have you ever found yourself in that mode
where you’re kind of grinding, like, ah, like here we are,
like, okay, I’m not coming home for dinner tonight.
It’s the next, you know, we’re going to push.
We’re like, put on the coffee pot kind of thing.
A lot, a lot in the, over the course of my life, a lot,
not as much now.
And one of the things that I discovered
through working on the book was the phases of work
were not required to treat the different phases of work
in the same way.
Whereas before I did,
before everything was in this state of play,
everything had a wide open time schedule.
It happens when it happens.
And if it takes two years or three years,
it doesn’t matter, it’s not about that.
It’s only about this thing has to be great.
And what I came to realize in working on the book
is that there are different phases.
And the first phase is this seed collecting phase,
which is kind of an ongoing part of life in general.
I do that.
I do that always, whether I’m,
whether I’m working on something or not,
I’m always in the seed collecting phase
and there’s no deadline or just anything that interests me
that I think I want to learn more about
or has potential to be something, anything,
something, I hear something, I think, hmm,
I’d like to read more about that.
Or I wonder if there’s a movie about that.
Is there a movie about that?
If not, maybe there’s a movie to be made.
You know, like, again, I want,
this is something I want in my life.
Let’s see if it exists.
If it doesn’t exist,
then maybe that’s something interesting to pursue.
But I know that the desire is there because I have it.
So in the seed phase, there’s no deadlines.
It’s just a wide open part.
And then the next phase is called the experimentation phase
where you start experimenting
to see what the seeds want to do.
You’re involved, but you’re more of a,
you’re not really dictating the action.
You’re setting the stage for something to happen,
but it’s not about you yet.
So it’d be like the equivalent of you’d plant the seed,
you would water it,
you would make sure it was in the sun, and you’d wait.
So you’re involved, but you can’t make it grow, you know?
And then when it sprouts and it grows
and if it turns into a plant,
then you can look at the plants,
like, okay, how does this plant,
what’s the potential of this plant?
And then the third phase is the crafting phase
where it’s like, okay, I have this plant,
maybe I’m gonna trim it,
or maybe I’m gonna combine it with these other plants
to make something else with it.
Now it’s like material that you have.
And then finally is the completion or finishing phase,
which is the final edit, getting to the version of it.
The version of it that’s the one
that you can share with the world
if that’s something you’re gonna do.
And I’ve come to realize that by the time
you’re going into the completion phase,
you can have a deadline and it won’t hurt the project.
In fact, it might help the project.
And I didn’t know that before.
So I’ve worked on projects that have gone longer
than they necessarily needed to.
And maybe not in the best interest of the project
because I didn’t know that.
I didn’t understand the timing of that
because I am so aware of the necessity
in the experimental phase to not have a deadline
that I assumed that that held through the whole project.
And it’s not a clear phase one finishes
and then you start phase two,
phase two finishes and then you start phase three.
You move back and forth between them.
I’m collecting seeds all the time.
I’m always in phase one.
And then probably to some degree,
there’s always some version of experimentation going on.
Maybe not now, but if something’s on a list of things
I wanna look at, hopefully I’ll get to the list
and give them some experimentation
and see what they can turn into.
And then if they do turn into something,
then they get to the crafting phase
where it’s more, okay, now I have this thing.
What do I know about this kind of thing?
What can I match this with?
What can I use this for?
How can I be involved as a craftsman?
And by the end of the crafting phase
or deep into the crafting phase,
you can start seeing the end.
You can start seeing an end
and then you can even dictate an end.
But I recommend if you do just dictate it for you,
not for anyone else,
because if something comes up where you learn,
if you set a deadline, a public deadline,
and then a new discovery happens along the way
and you realize, oh, this could actually be much better
than I thought, but I need more time.
It’s harder to do that if you set the deadline.
So I would say have an internal deadline
to get to finish it.
That said, if an unusual situation comes up
and it’s better for everything not to meet that deadline,
it’s one of those rules that you set the rule to break it
if it’s what’s best for the project.
But that was a new thing for me and it helped me a lot.
When did you realize that?
In collecting the material for the book
and thinking about it.
When I realized that it was phases,
I didn’t know any of this.
When I started writing the book,
I didn’t know hardly any of the things in the book.
They’re more, most of it would be reverse engineering
something that I had experienced, a successful experience,
using these methods without knowing they were methods,
just following my instincts, got me to something good.
And then I would look back at why did I want to do that?
And is there a principle at play
that could be of use outside of this case?
And how do I explain that?
And that’s what the book is,
is these reverse engineered principles
that have led to good decision-making
and trying to make things.
The chapter on self-doubt was really interesting to me.
As we’re all-
Tell me what it says,
because I can’t remember.
I’ll read the first sentence of it,
which is that self-doubt lives in all of us.
And while we may wish it was gone, it is there to serve us.
And it goes on to describe how to dance with self-doubt
in not so many words.
I think there’s a saying
that is actually from the landscape of psychology,
which is generally discussed
in a kind of pathological context,
which is, if nothing matters, anything goes.
This is usually the phrase used to describe people
who feel as if there’s no use in living,
so just go crazy, often to self-destruct.
But there’s a light version of this, I realize,
where in some sense,
the creative process seems to have something to do with,
if you’re not paying attention to what outcomes are,
like who likes it, who doesn’t like it,
and you’re just doing it for you,
you make the rule play, I want to delight myself,
well then, anything goes,
and you have an infinite rule set there
to extract from, at least initially.
So, as one gets better at their craft,
you can imagine self-doubt goes down.
I think that’s the perception of a lot of people, right?
You get better at what you’re doing,
you can land more free throws as a basketball player,
you can hit more home runs as a baseball player,
you can produce more platinum albums as an artist,
self-confidence goes up, self-doubt goes down,
but I think you and I both know a number of people
who are successful enough to know that,
oftentimes, there’s a mirror image to that
where people feel pressure because they did it once,
now they got to do it again.
Yes, or that you think you’re so good at it
that it comes easily and you don’t have to apply yourself.
Yeah, so self-doubt, it’s like a check on yourself.
It can either be really helpful, or it can undermine you.
So, it’s something we all have,
and if we let it undermine us,
then we don’t make anything, and that’s not good.
But when used as a balancing tool in our lives,
it serves a great function, where we really do,
it’s okay to have all the confidence in the world,
and still second guess, is this the best it can be?
You can doubt, I think the phrase is in the book,
you can doubt your way to a great work,
to a masterpiece, but it’s okay to doubt your way.
To a great work, to a masterpiece.
Sometimes that questioning allows you to push further
than just accepting I made it so it’s good.
Yeah, I’ve encountered more people
that seem to be driven by self-doubt
and the need to constantly perform and perform again
than I have real arrogance.
Just that’s been my experience, fortunately.
I’ve met some arrogant people in my life,
but, and of course, we never, as a psychiatrist,
who I admire a lot, and bioengineer,
who was a guest on this podcast, Karl Deisseroth,
said we never really know how other people feel.
I mean, most of the time, we don’t even know how we feel.
Again, language is a very deprived format
for explaining feelings, so we think somebody feels one way,
but we can observe, and it could be another,
but we observe their behavior.
So, in the sense of returning to the work,
just always returning to process,
it sounds like your routine is fairly scripted,
at least now, but the things that you are getting
in touch with, wrestling, sleep and dreaming, the ocean,
there’s a predictability of them
because you can access them in a predictable way,
but they seem to have a lot of unpredictability in them.
The ocean is completely unpredictable.
I also listen to a lot of music that I don’t know,
so I listen to a lot of classical music,
less so, but some jazz,
and a lot of old music that I never heard before,
and I like being surprised by music,
and sometimes it really catches me off guard,
like I shazam a lot when I hear something I like.
Have you ever encountered music that really works well live,
but just does not work in a recording?
Or that is that much better live,
but the recording is sort of, meh.
You don’t have to name names.
Yeah, I don’t think so.
I feel like maybe there are some artists who are great live
who’ve never captured it well on record.
Example would probably be the Grateful Dead’s
good example of a band where I feel like their albums
are not their strong point,
but they’re, if you hear live recordings,
they’re really interesting
and really different from each other,
and that’s kind of part of what makes
the Grateful Dead interesting is their unpredictability.
I confess, I had a sister who listened to the Grateful Dead,
and I got taken to a few shows when I was younger,
and they would do that, what is it called, space?
It was like these drum solos
that would go on for hours and hours.
This is like the antithesis of punk rock shows
where songs are like 90 to 120 seconds,
and I remember thinking like, what is this?
But people I know who love the Grateful Dead
love that uncertainty about where that drum thing,
I think they do call it space.
Forgive me, Deadheads, I’m not enough of one
to get it right.
But they’re looking for something,
and sometimes they find it,
and if you’re there when they find it, it feels exciting,
because it’s not just following a script.
It’s like something is really happening.
It’s a real moment.
It’s something that I aim for in the studio
is to create real moments that when you hear them,
they don’t necessarily sound perfect.
They sound like something that really happened,
and in that moment, something happened,
and it’s a special moment.
And you can feel that if they were to play it again,
it wouldn’t be like that.
There’s something really exciting about that.
It’s really how jazz works as well,
and I think bringing some of that jazz mentality
into other types of music is really interesting,
makes for compelling things,
because when you hear them,
there’s a certain amount of,
you really have to pay attention to do it.
When you’re doing it, you’re really paying attention.
It’s like, I don’t really know.
There’s no music.
There’s no map to follow,
and now we’re working together to make something.
Do I play or not play?
When do I play?
And you’re really paying attention,
can I add, or you go to start adding something,
and someone else added something,
and you’re like, oh, I can’t do that.
And it’s like, everyone’s just in this moment,
experiencing this thing at once
that you can feel as a listener,
and we get to hear their excitement of finding it,
and it’s thrilling when it happens.
So I like that experience.
I feel like that’s kind of what the dead do live.
They’ll play songs in different ways,
and again, I don’t know very much about the dead,
and it’s sort of a newer,
it’s newer for me to listen to the dead.
Growing up, I never listened to the dead,
but probably because I heard songs on their albums
and thought, this doesn’t really speak to me,
but I think that the albums don’t really reflect
what’s special about them.
I think a lot of their shows were recorded, right,
But by fans, which they supported.
They supported that everybody come, everybody tape,
everybody trade tapes.
It made sense for who that band was.
They redefined, or they defined, excuse me,
the notion of followers.
I mean, people literally gave up their lives
or spent much of their lives
literally driving from city to city to follow them.
Because it’s not like going from city to city
to watch a movie over and over,
because it’s not a movie.
It’s different every night.
Pretty incredible phenomenon.
I don’t know of anything else quite like it except cults,
and those often don’t end well.
I think a guy that mixed the punch
for the Jonestown Massacre went to my high school.
That was the-
Is that true?
I think so, yeah.
My sister is really good at all this kind of like 70s, 80s,
like dark psychology trivia.
She’s a very light person, but-
Did you read Season of the Witch?
It’s about San Francisco in the 60s.
You’ll love it.
I’ll have to check it out.
The way you describe experiences going by in time
or things emerging in time
and the creative process being a way
of sort of capturing those moments,
maybe rearranging, maybe watering, et cetera,
I thought was beautifully captured
in the analogy you gave
about a kind of a conveyor belt going by of things, right?
That we think of the creative process
like it’s going to land in us or we’re going to enter it,
or that we’re going to sit there in a chair
and like grit our teeth.
You know, there’s like a some Hemingway quote
where you just sit there and stare at the page
until the beads of blood form on your forehead or something.
Maybe it was him.
Maybe it was, I don’t know,
it sounds like Bukowski or something.
Anyway, I’m going to get this wrong.
People tell me in the comments,
maybe no one said it.
It was a dream.
But I love this conveyor belt thing.
That reminds me of being in laboratory,
doing experiments thinking I was trying to solve one thing
and then seeing something else
and then having to make the decision like,
is that really cool enough to drop everything
and go that direction
or to kind of spend a night or a week
or a career going that way?
I mean, these are kind of big decisions
given that at least as far as we know,
we’re going to live 100 years or less.
But this idea that we have, you know,
thoughts and experiences in our past
and we can draw on and like try and make good decisions.
Do we like grab these things off the conveyor or not?
I’m hearing you and I’m starting to realize
that being attached to the past
might be the worst thing that one could do
in terms of being able to make good decisions
in this context.
Because if we have a kind of a playbook
of what’s worked and what hasn’t worked,
but you actually talk about this.
There’s a passage in the book, you know,
that I’ll just read it.
To be aware of the assumption
that the way you work is the best way
simply because it’s the way you’ve done it before.
I sat with this page for almost 10 full minutes,
which is not something I do very often.
Maybe you could elaborate on this a little bit.
I mean, we want to have, you know,
mechanisms and routines we can trust.
But this is, I think, an important warning.
Yeah, when something works,
it’s easy to be fooled into believing
that’s the way to do it or that’s the right way.
It’s just a way and it’s just a way
that happened to work that time.
And this plays into when you get
advice from people who have more experience than you.
You explain your situation, they tell you their advice.
The advice that they’re giving you
is not based on your life or your experience.
It’s based on their life and their experience.
And the stories that they’re telling
are based on experiences they’ve had
that have very different data points than yours.
So maybe they’re giving you good advice,
but maybe they’re giving you good advice for them
and not giving you good advice for you.
And it’s easy when we try something
and have a result, a positive result,
thinking this is, everybody can do this.
You know, the way I was vegan for a long time, 22 years,
and then I started eating animal protein,
and then eventually changed my diet a few times
to the point where I lost a lot of weight.
The way that I did it worked for me.
Right before that happened,
I did something that I was told
that everyone else who did what you did,
they all lost weight for whatever reason I didn’t.
So the idea that we know what’s right for someone else,
I think it’s hard enough to even figure out
what’s right for ourselves.
And if we do somehow crack the code of what’s right for us,
be happy we have it, and then still know,
I wonder if that’s the only way.
Maybe there’s an even better way that we’re not considering.
Like not to get comfortable with thinking
we know how it works,
just because we get the outcome we want.
I was raised in science with a principle.
It was literally dictated to me as a principle,
almost like a rule of religion,
which was that the brain is plastic.
It can change and learn until you’re about 25,
and then the critical periods end and that’s it.
And this was a rule,
essentially it was dictated a Nobel Prize,
which was very deserved,
given to my scientific great-grandparents,
they deserve it.
But I was told there was no changing
of brain structure function in any meaningful way
after age 25 or so.
Turns out that’s completely wrong.
Sorry, David and Torsten, but they knew it was wrong.
Wow, that’s interesting.
Yeah, it was actively suppressed
because of the competitive nature
of prizes and discoveries at that time.
And a guy named Mike Merzenich
and a student, Greg Reckin’s own,
were showing that adult plasticity exists.
And only now is this really starting to emerge as a theme.
There were so many reasons and the textbook said it,
we were all told it, and it changed our behavior.
Now we know this to be completely false.
There’s plasticity throughout the lifespan.
There’s limits to it here and there,
but it’s just far and away a different story.
So why would that be the only time that ever happened?
But the field was run by a very small cabal
of people at that time.
All fields are run by a very small cabal of people
who have an investment in things being the way they are now
because they’re in charge.
And one of the great things about getting older
is that, well, fortunately, everyone eventually ages.
And I hope that, you know, David unfortunately passed away.
He was lovely, Torsten’s lovely, he’s still alive.
And they would say, I think Torsten would say,
yeah, we should have been a little more open or kind
in allowing these other ideas.
But I think that-
But just think about all the years that were wasted
with this misunderstanding.
And it went beyond that.
And there were BBC specials that helped propagate this.
And, you know, one of the goals of the podcast
has been to try and shine light on ideas
that at first seemed crazy.
Like I know you and I are both semi-obsessed
with the health benefits of light.
And you hear about this stuff like negative ion therapy.
Sounds crazy, right?
Sounds like something you would only hear about
at Esalen or in Big Sur.
Turns out negative ionization therapy for sleep and mood
is based on really amazing work out of Columbia
by a guy named Michael Terman.
The Nobel Prize, I think it was in 1916,
was given for phototherapy for the treatment of lupus.
Like this idea that certain wavelengths of light
can help treat medical conditions is not a new idea.
But somehow we see a red light.
We’re not used to seeing red lights
except in sunsets and on stoplights.
And somehow it bothers people or it makes them feel like-
Well, it undermines a business model
that doesn’t take red light into consideration.
Right, until it does.
And then it was, and then it’s co-opted there.
And the place, what I look to is acupuncture.
You know, for a lot of years people said,
well, acupuncture, this is like no mechanism,
no mechanism, no mechanism.
There’s a lab at Harvard, a guy named Chufu Ma,
who I know reasonably well, whose laboratory is dedicated
to trying to figure out the biological mechanisms
And they’re discovering what everyone has known
for thousands of years, which is that incredible effects
on anti-inflammation, the gut microbiome.
I have a friend who was having a terrible back problem.
And I suggested that he see an acupuncturist.
And he went to the acupuncturist that I suggested
and his back problem completely healed
And I asked him, you know, have you been keeping up?
Because he had another flare up.
He’s like, no, I can’t go back there
because acupuncture doesn’t work.
I said, well, you saw it work for you.
He’s like, yeah, but there’s no science.
Oh, he’s got it.
There is, now there’s good science.
And published in premier journals.
It, you know, what’s interesting is,
this is a little bit of science editorial,
but since we like to exchange information about health
and things of that sort,
the editorial staff of a journal dictates
what gets published and what doesn’t.
And the premier journals have an outsized effect
on what the media covers.
And so the beautiful thing is the journal staff now
is of the age that they grew up
hearing about acupuncture.
Hypnosis has a powerful clinical effect,
if it’s done right.
Yoga Nidra and similar practices.
And so the tides are changing,
but I sometimes like to take a step back and think,
what are we confronted with now that seems crazy
that in 10 years, the kids that will be the,
because to me, they’re kids, will be journal editors.
Like, oh yeah, absolutely.
You know, I’m making this up,
but putting tuning forks against your head
or something like that.
Like sound wave therapy.
I think when one adopts a stance of,
we have to filter everything through
the limitations of our biology,
but also through the sociology of like the way culture goes,
it becomes a different story.
How do you deal with that?
Not just in terms of health,
but in terms of thinking about anything.
It sounds like you don’t spend a whole lot of time
thinking about what people are gonna think is cool or not.
No, I can’t.
You’re a punk rocker at heart.
You still are.
Yes, I can’t, I can’t.
I just know what I like and what I don’t.
I know what works for me and what doesn’t.
You know, I try things and I’m constantly looking
for new, better solutions to anything.
And wherever they come from, it doesn’t matter.
It could come from, it could come from Stanford
or it could come from the guy talking to himself
on the street.
If it works, I’m good.
You know, it doesn’t really matter to me at all.
I don’t hold, I don’t hold any of it tightly.
Well, fortunately there’s now a division
of the National Institutes of Health
called Complementary Health,
Complementary and Alternative Health.
And it’s amazing.
NCCIH is run by a woman who has published on,
this is interesting, some of the anti-cancer effects
of things like acupuncture.
Not that acupuncture can cure all cancers,
but real, you know, real data.
That I think for a lot of people, you know,
certainly of the generation above us, you know,
they just are like not interested.
It sheds new light on the Andrew Wiles,
the Paul Stamets’, you know, the wild ones.
Ozone therapy or there’s so many,
there’s so many we can look at.
I mean, for a long time,
nutrition was just thought of as something
that doesn’t matter what you eat.
It’s what medicine you take and what, you know,
it’s like the food is everything.
Food is a powerful, powerful variable.
In the landscape of online nutrition,
it’s sort of one of the third rails
for anyone like myself who’s out there on social media.
You do a very good job of putting out posts
on Twitter and Instagram, but each day you take it down,
you put up a new one.
And I don’t talk about any, I only talk about, you know,
I talk about creative ideas.
I don’t talk about anything specific related to anything
other than, you know, maybe something like
don’t believe what you hear.
Well, in the landscape of nutrition,
sometimes I now place it through the filter
of professional wrestling.
You’ve got your vegans and your omnivores
and your carnivore MD, and you’ve got liver king,
and you’ve got everything in between, right?
So you could translate that to any number
of different areas.
Fashion probably has its people,
I’m just not aware of who they are.
Music has theirs, and sports has theirs,
and science has theirs, characters.
So are we all just pro-wrestling like characters
in these different domains?
And we’re taking ourselves and each other
way too seriously?
Yeah, it’s all, we don’t know anything.
It’s all, if someone has an idea
and it sounds interesting to you, try it.
And if it doesn’t work, it’s okay, try something else.
You’re an empiricist.
Yeah, whatever works, whatever works.
And if something seems interesting to you
and you’re excited by it, why not try it?
It’s, you know, I try very fringy things.
I like, in some ways, the more unrealistic it seems,
the more interesting it is to me.
Because I feel like that’s getting closer
to something that somebody doesn’t want me to know,
But you’re not a big drug guy,
like the big psychedelic craze that’s happening now
and that happened some years back.
I’m not against it, it just has never been
something that I’ve done.
Yeah, yeah, it’s an interesting area
that’s definitely making it headway
inside of standard academic science and medicine now.
I’m interested in non-pharmalogical approaches to things,
whatever they are.
Well, I’m a big believer that also
that behavioral do’s and don’ts first
are the, they’re the most fun to explore.
Because in general, unless it’s something like, you know,
jumping between buildings, doing parkour or something,
most of the time, you’re not going to injure
or harm yourself.
There’s more room for iteration
than there is with a pill or a potion.
Although, you know, certainly pharmacology has its place.
So you’ve had creative works,
certainly within the realm of music,
also comedy and producing film and other things.
For somebody out there who, of whatever age,
maybe they’re creating,
maybe they know they have this creative antennae,
not the sources outside.
What was it that Strummer said?
I actually wrote this on the wall of my laboratory.
No input, no output.
That’s Strummer’s law.
It’s written in my laboratory.
The people in my lab were so like, what’s going on here?
I think one guy under knew what that was,
but it was a picture of him and picture of my bulldog.
And, you know, no input, no output.
I don’t think I can just stay in a room
with four walls and a ceiling and nothing else and create.
I mean, I know that there’s a certain number
of things in here,
but I do think accessing the world is important.
The world is giving us clues all the time
for paying attention.
That’s another part of it.
Like if you’re paying attention,
the thing that you are looking for
is being either whispered or screamed at you
in the outside world, if you’re paying attention.
Well, and I forget the exact title of the chapter,
but there’s a chapter about staying open to clues
or being on the lookout for clues.
Now I feel tempted to look for the exact title
of that chapter, but-
It’s probably look for clues.
It was look for clues.
Sounds like it sounds right.
And since you wrote it, I’m guessing that’s right.
So do you think there are clues in everywhere?
Yes, I think there are clues everywhere.
If we pay attention, we’ll hear a phrase,
we’ll trigger a thought, we’ll see something unexpected.
If someone recommends something to you,
maybe it’s a coincidence.
If three people recommend the same thing to you,
maybe it’s not, you know, who knows?
I do believe the universe is on the side of creativity.
And the universe is supporting things to happen.
And they can happen through you,
or they could happen through someone else.
So if you’re paying attention,
maybe it’ll happen through you.
We had a guest on the podcast named Justin Sonnenberg.
He’s an expert in the gut microbiome.
And he applied something that, without knowing,
he applied the opposite principle.
The opposite is true principle.
We were talking about these trillions of gut microbiota
that clearly are doing amazing things to create
neurotransmitters and govern our brain,
and even decision-making,
how much sugar is in our system, driving appetite, et cetera.
And he said, you know, we think of them as cargo.
But like, maybe we’re just vehicles and they’re in charge.
That all of our interactions,
like every time we shake hands or touch our eyes,
we’re exchanging gut microbiota.
And we think of intelligence as thinking and intelligence.
And he’s a microbiologist.
And in all seriousness, he said,
maybe we’re the ones being manipulated.
We’re the house cats.
And we think here we are,
we’re falling in love and kissing and shaking hands
and washing hands and doing all sorts of things
to isolate or connect with one another.
And maybe the gut microbiota are really trying
to optimize their survival.
That’s what Laird Hamilton said that one point in the sauna,
that when you’re in the sauna and it’s really hot,
the feeling that you have of wanting to get out
could be the bad critters in your body that can’t handle it.
Like, let’s get out of here.
Are trying to convince you from the inside to get out.
Maybe that’s where that feeling of being compelled
to get out comes from.
So Elon, getting us all to Mars might be a bit of,
maybe they just want to get to Mars.
And so they’re-
I’m starting to feel like I’m channeling Lex Friedman here
for a moment.
No, I think this considering the opposite is really key.
And while it might sound mystical to people
or a little bit like we’re just playing with ideas,
it’s exactly what you do in science.
Someone walks in with a result and says,
I found this, this is true.
And you say, but what if it’s all something else?
A good example might be here,
I’m pulling from podcast episodes that we’ve had,
but Aaliyah Crum is this amazing psychologist
who works on belief effects.
Your knowledge strongly shapes the physiological outcome.
And she had this amazing graduate thesis where she said,
what if all of exercise is placebo?
All of it.
Yeah, it burns some calories and does some things.
Turns out this isn’t the case,
but it turns out a lot of the effects of exercise,
positive effects, lowering blood pressure,
relieving stress, positive, are placebo.
But nobody thinks of it like that
because we’re so attached to calories burned, et cetera.
I think that’s a big point that the belief part of it
is a huge part of the conversation about everything.
You know, what we believe has power.
If we believe we can make something great,
the chances of us making something great are better
than if we don’t believe we can.
So I would say any ability to harness your belief
on your behalf is a really healthy thing to do.
And one thing that you make very clear
is that while our own abilities may come into question
from time to time, you absolutely believe
that the elements from which to create are out there.
All the elements are here.
Everything is here.
We get to pick and choose.
We get to, the conveyor belt’s going by
with the little gifts.
And we can, first we have to notice
there’s a conveyor belt.
Then we notice the gifts.
And then that’s the starting point.
And then we may even feel empowered enough
to grab one of the gifts and open it up
and see what’s inside.
And then maybe that’s the start
of something really beautiful
that we wouldn’t have done.
Everything that I make or have made
has always been based on something that I see or hear
that allows me to see something that I didn’t see before.
So I was going to ask you whether or not
it’s important to be happy in order to create,
but certainly a lot of people that were unhappy
were still able to create.
But the more I listened to you,
it seems that it’s really about an ability
to pay attention.
So if I’m unhappy or if I’m happy,
may not be as relevant as whether or not
I’m able to stay undistracted.
I would say that’s, I would say being able
to stay present in the work
is probably the most important part of it.
And how you feel is less of an issue
unless how you feel gets in the way of you feeling
how the work makes you feel.
Do you know what I’m saying?
If you’re in a lot of pain
and you’re looking at a piece of art,
it may be hard to know how that art makes you feel
because the big signal in your body is the physical pain.
I’m sure there are some people who can do that too,
who can even through the physical pain can feel it.
And there’s this idea of transmutation
of taking one emotion and contorting it
and co-opting it into another action in an adaptive way.
But this idea of distraction being a problem,
this really resonates, I think,
when I think of times of great productivity
is when I was able to be undistracted.
I could also see how success can be its own distraction.
This is often discussed in the context of fighting sports
where someone starts making a lot of money
and pretty soon their focus becomes all the things
they can access with their success
as opposed to the thing that got them there
in the first place.
Keeping an underdog mentality.
Before we conclude, I do want to ask you
about one other aspect of process, which is meditation.
Meditation is interesting to me
because when we close our eyes,
as most meditations are done,
and we focus on our brain, our brain has no sensation.
Like if we-
I wouldn’t say we focus on our brain.
Or we focus on something other than our normal experience.
How would you define meditation?
Well, it’s different.
There are different types of meditation.
Usually, either way,
I would say there’s no form of meditation
where we’re focused on our brain.
I’m glad we disagree.
I would say here are the things that happen.
We either are engaging in a mantra,
which would be a version of almost like
creating a trance for ourselves,
not unlike listening to something when we go to sleep
that would distract our conscious mind
We would be overriding the talking mind
with just a sound that we’re generating,
or a word, or a phrase, series of phrases.
A meta meditation is a loving kindness meditation
Could be that.
Or it could be focused on the breath.
But the purpose of being focused on the breath
is to not hear the self-talk that we normally have.
It’s a single-pointed focus exercise
in those that I described.
The other version is an awareness meditation
where you’re closing your eyes
and you’re being with whatever is and noticing.
So if we were to do it now,
and you could do it eyes open or eyes closed
with an awareness practice.
But the first thing that I would do is I would feel,
I feel a little ringing in my ears.
It might be from the electronic equipment around us,
and I don’t mean that I hear the sound.
It’s like a vibration.
I hear cars passing in the distance.
See what else comes up.
I can feel a feeling in my chest.
I can feel this part of my face, not sure why.
Feels like it’s related to my jaw.
More car sounds.
I’m aware of a little feeling of warmth.
So now I would say the room feels a bit warm.
I wasn’t aware of that before
when I wasn’t just being with what’s happening.
Feel a little itch on my left shoulder.
So that would be an awareness practice,
which is another kind of meditation
where you’re just paying attention to what’s going on.
There’s no story.
There’s no this means this, none of those things.
Just like an inventory almost
of everything that comes up when it comes up,
and you do that for a period of time.
But in all of those cases,
in the example of doing the awareness meditation
or doing a mantra meditation or focusing on the breath,
in none of them am I thinking,
in none of them am I concentrating on,
I’m being aware of sense perceptions in the awareness one,
or in the other meditations, I’m doing a practice
so that I’m not aware of thinking about anything else.
When did you start meditating
and how often do you meditate now?
I learned when I was 14 and I started with TM,
and that’s probably the meditation
that I’ve done the most in my life.
And I come back to, although I tried many different kinds
and also different physical forms of meditation,
Tai Chi, things like that.
I meditated for five or six years,
and then I stopped when I went to school to university.
And then I started again several years later.
And when I started again,
I realized how profound it was in me
that I had done it when I did it.
So I usually have some sort of a practice.
In some ways, the beach walks could be a form of meditation.
But for me, typically I would wake up,
it’d be the first thing I would do
during that sort of in-between time,
maybe go out in the sun, close my eyes and meditate
before starting my day.
If I’m doing it twice a day,
the second time would probably be right before dinner
if I’m doing it on a regular schedule.
Then if I find myself on an airplane,
I might meditate for an hour or for the…
I can remember one time meditating the entire flight
from New York to LA,
just was a great opportunity to do a deep dive.
And time passes, you lose track of time.
You don’t even know.
It’s like going to sleep and waking up.
You don’t feel like that was eight hours.
It’s just time stops.
Not always, but when it does, it’s a great feeling.
Yeah, you’ve sent me some meditations,
including the one that you did on that transatlantic
or transcontinental flight.
And I’ve been trying to do longer and longer meditations,
but I’ve always meditated a little bit,
but your meditation practice is one
that I’m starting to adopt.
Maybe we could convince you to give us
suggestions of one or two,
and we can link out to them for listeners.
I’m sure they’d appreciate that.
And there’s also meditation-like practices to do
that involve, like there’s something called
the surgical series from the Monroe Institute,
which I used when I had a surgery.
You listen to this recording
and it both allows your body to heal much faster.
And remove some of the trauma that goes on
when getting cut open, it’s traumatic.
But just through listening to certain things,
you can have a really powerful effect, heal much faster.
I remember I was about to be put under for a surgery,
and my eyes were closed and I wasn’t communicating
with anyone there because I was going inside.
And my wife was with me and they came in and they said,
oh, so they already gave Rick the sedative
because he’s ready to wheel in.
She’s like, I didn’t give him anything.
He’s like, but look at his numbers, like, yeah.
I love it.
Yeah, it’s an amazingly powerful practice.
I like, because anyone can cultivate.
And there’s no good or bad version.
It really is just, if you learn a technique
and show up and do it, it works.
Well, I love that you’re so willing to share
what you do and your process.
And listen, I just want to say thank you
for a number of things.
I want to thank you for the music you’ve created
and that you are to create
because we want to be still ongoing.
Certainly for your time today
and sharing your thought process
and a bit of what goes into this incredible
And I want to thank you for writing the book.
You know, I don’t talk about or feature many books
on the podcast.
It’s just not something we typically do,
but I’ve seen a little bit of the evolution of it.
And then I’ve seen it now and read through it
in its final form twice, as I mentioned,
and I’m going to continue to read through it again.
It is one of those books where it is so filled with gems,
like every chapter, like I could take notes on this
and take notes on this.
And it’s assembled in a very digestible way
that allows people to extract the meaningful parts
in every chapter.
And there’s so many in a way that’s very straightforward.
So I love the book.
So thank you for doing it
because you certainly didn’t have to write a book,
but I’m so happy that you did.
And I know that I’ve already benefited.
I know so many people are going to benefit.
It’s an amazing book
and I couldn’t help but put my neuroscience lens on it.
But I also about halfway through,
I learned to discard my preexisting lens a bit
and start to see things through what I think
is a different perspective.
So I just want to thank you
for being such an incredible portal
and also for being an amazing friend.
I’m so happy to be here with you.
And anytime I get to see you, it’s a good day.
Thank you for joining me today
for my discussion with Rick Rubin,
all about creativity and the creative process.
Please also be sure to check out his new book,
The Creative Act, A Way of Being by Rick Rubin.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s an incredible book
and such a wealth of knowledge
for you creative types out there,
for those of you that seek to be more creative
or to understand the creative process generally.
And as I mentioned at the beginning of today’s episode,
Rick has very generously offered
to answer your questions about creativity.
So if you have questions for Rick Rubin about creativity
or the creative process or anything else for that matter,
please put those in the comment section on YouTube
by writing in capital letters,
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[“In the Life”]