The following is a conversation with Eric Weinstein, the second time we’ve
spoken on this podcast, he’s a mathematician with a bold and piercing
intelligence, unafraid to explore the biggest questions in the universe and
shine a light on the darkest corners of our society.
He is the host of the portal podcast, a part of which he recently released his
2013 Oxford lecture on his theory of geometric unity that is at the center of
his lifelong efforts to arrive at a theory of everything that unifies the
fundamental laws of physics.
This conversation was recorded recently in the time of the coronavirus pandemic
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And now here’s my conversation with Eric Weinstein.
Do you see a connection between world war II and the crisis
we’re living through right now?
The need for collective action, reminding ourselves of the fact that all of these
abstractions, like everyone should just do exactly what he or she wants to do
for himself and leave everyone else alone.
None of these abstractions work in a global crisis.
And this is just a reminder that we didn’t somehow put all that behind us.
When I hear stories about my grandfather who was in the army.
And so the Soviet union where most people die, when you’re in the army,
there’s a brotherhood that happens.
There’s a love that happens.
Do you think that’s something we’re going to see here?
Uh, since we’re not there, I mean, what the Soviet union went through, I mean,
the enormity of the war on, uh, the Russian doorstep, this is different.
What we’re going through now is not, we can’t talk about Stalingrad and
COVID in the same breath yet.
We’re not ready.
And the, the sort of, uh, you know, just the sense of like the great patriotic
war and the way in which I was very moved by the Soviet custom of,
of newlyweds going and visiting war memorials on their wedding day.
It’s like the happiest day of your life.
You have to say thank you to the people who made it possible.
We’re not there.
We’re, we’re just restarting history.
We, you know, I’ve called this on the Rogan program.
I called it the great nap, the 75 years with, um, very little by historical
standards in, in terms of really profound disruption.
And so when you call it the great nap, meaning lack of deep global tragedy,
well, lack of realized global tragedy.
So I think that the development, for example, of the hydrogen bomb, you know,
was something that happened during the great nap.
And that doesn’t mean that people who lived during that time didn’t feel
feared and no anxiety, but it was to say that most of the violent potential
of the human species was not realized.
It was in the form of potential energy.
And this is the thing that I’ve sort of taken issue with, with the description
of Steven Pinker’s optimism is that if you look at the realized kinetic
variables, things have been getting much better for a long time, which is the
great nap, but it’s not as if, uh, our fragility has not grown our dependence
on electronic systems, our vulnerability to disruption.
And so all sorts of things have gotten much better. Other things have gotten
much worse and the destructive potential is skyrocketed.
The only way we wake up from the big nap.
Well, no, you could also have a, you know, jubilation about positive things, but
it’s harder to get people’s attention.
Can you give an example of a big global positive thing that could happen?
I think that when, for example, just historically speaking, uh, HIV
went from being a death sentence to something that people could live with
for a very long period of time.
It would be great if that had happened on a Wednesday, right?
Like all at once, like you knew that things had changed.
And so the bleed in somewhat kills the, the sort of the Wednesday effect
where it all happens on a particular day at a particular moment.
I think if you look at the stock market here, you know, there’s a very clear
moment where you can see that the market absorbs the idea of the coronavirus.
I think that with respect to, um, positives, the moon landing was the best
example of a positive that happened at a particular time or, uh, recapitulating
the Soviet American, uh, link up in terms of, um, Skylab and Soyuz, right?
Like that was a huge moment when you actually had these two nations connecting.
Uh, in orbit.
And so, yeah, there are great moments where something beautiful and wonderful
and amazing happens, you know, but it’s just, there are fewer of, that’s why,
that’s why as much as I can’t imagine proposing to somebody at a sporting event,
when you have like 30,000 people waiting and you know, like she says, yes,
it’s pretty exciting.
So I think that we shouldn’t, we shouldn’t discount that.
So how bad do you think it’s going to get in terms of, um,
of the global suffering that we’re going to experience with this, with this crisis?
I can’t figure this one out.
I’m just not smart enough.
Something is going weirdly wrong.
They’re almost like two separate storylines.
We in one storyline, we aren’t taking things nearly seriously enough.
We see people using food packaging lids as masks who are doctors or nurses.
Um, we hear horrible stories about people dying needlessly due to triage.
And that’s a very terrifying story.
On the other hand, there’s this other story, which says there are
tons of ventilators someplace.
We’ve got lots of masks, but they haven’t been released.
We’ve got hospital ships where none of the beds are being used.
And it’s very confusing to me that somehow these two stories give me the feeling
that they both must be true simultaneously, and they can’t both be true in any kind
of standard way, whether I don’t know whether it’s just that I’m dumb, but I
can’t get one or the other story to quiet down.
So I think weirdly, this is much more serious than we had understood it.
And it’s not nearly as serious as some people are making it out to be at the
same time and that we’re not being given the tools to actually understand, Oh,
here’s how to interpret the data, or here’s the issue with the personal protective
equipment is actually a jurisdictional battle or a question of who pays for it
rather than a question of whether it’s present or absent.
I don’t understand the details of it, but something is wildly off in our
ability to understand where we are.
So that’s, that’s policy that’s institutions.
What about, do you think about the quiet suffering of millions of
people that have lost their job?
Is this a temporary thing?
I mean, what I’m my ears, not to the suffering of those people who have
lost their job or the 50% possibly a small businesses that are going to go
bankrupt, do you think about that?
Well, and how that might arise itself could be not quiet too.
I mean, right.
That’s the, could be a depression.
This could go from recession to depression and depression could go
to armed conflict and then to war.
So it’s not a very, um, abstract causal chain that gets us to the point where
we can begin with quiet suffering and anxiety and all of these sorts of things
and people losing their jobs and people dying from stress and all sorts of things.
But, um, look, anything powerful enough to put us all indoors in a, I mean,
I think about this as an incredible experiment. Imagine that you proposed,
Hey, I want to do a bunch of research.
Let’s figure out what changes in our emissions, emissions profiles for our
carbon footprints when we’re all indoors or what happens to traffic patterns or
what happens to the vulnerability of retail sales, uh, as Amazon gets stronger,
you know, et cetera, et cetera.
I believe that in many of those situations, um, we’re running an incredible
experiment and I, am I worried for us all?
Yes, there are some bright spots.
One of which is that when you’re ordered to stay indoors, people are
going to feel entitled and the usual thing that people are going to hit when
they hear that they’ve lost your job, you know, there’s this kind of tough,
um, tough love attitude that you see, particularly in the United States, like,
Oh, you lost your job, poor baby.
Well, go retrain, get another one.
I think there’s going to be a lot less appetite for that.
Um, because we’ve been asked to sacrifice, to risk, to act collectively.
And that’s the interesting thing.
What does that reawaken in us?
Maybe the idea that we actually are nations and that, you know, you’re
fellow countrymen may, may start to mean something to more people.
It certainly means something to people in the military, but I wonder how many
people who aren’t in the military start to think about this as like, Oh yeah,
we are kind of running separate experiments and we are not China.
So you think this is kind of a period that might be studied for years to come.
From my perspective, we are a part of experiment, but I don’t feel like
we have access to the full range of knowledge.
But I don’t feel like we have access to the full data, the full data of the
experiment, we’re just like little mice in a large, does this one make sense to you?
I’m, I’m romanticizing it and I keep connecting it to world war II.
So I keep connecting to historical events and making sense of them through that way
or reading the plague by Camus, like almost kind of telling narratives and
stories, but it might, I’m not hearing the suffering that people are going
through because I think that’s quiet there.
Everybody’s numb currently.
They’re not realizing what it means to have lost your job and
to have lost your business.
There’s kind of a, I don’t, I, um, I’m afraid how that fear will materialize
itself once the numbness wears out.
And especially if this lasts for many months, then if it’s connected to
the incompetence of the CDC and the WHO and our government and perhaps the
election process, you know, my biggest fear is that the elections get delayed
or something like that.
So the, the, the basic mechanisms of our democracy get slowed or
damaged in some way that then mixes with the fear that people have that
turns to panic, that turns to anger, that anger.
Can I just play with that for a little bit?
What if in fact, all of that structure that you grew up thinking about, and
again, you grew up in two places, right?
So, uh, when you were inside the U S we tend to look at all of these things as
museum pieces, like how often do we amend the constitution anymore?
And in some sense, if you think about the Jewish tradition of Simha Torah,
you’ve got this beautiful scroll that has been lovingly hand drawn and
calligraphy, um, that’s very valuable.
And it’s very important that you not treat it as a relic to be revered.
And so we, one day a year, we dance with the Torah and we hold this incredibly
vulnerable document up and we treat it as if, uh, you know, it was Ginger
Rogers being, uh, led by Fred Astaire.
Well, that is how you become part of your country.
In fact, maybe the, maybe the election will be delayed.
Maybe extraordinary powers will be used.
Maybe any one of a number of things will indicate that you’re
actually living through history.
This isn’t a museum piece that you were handed by your great, great grandparents.
But you’re kind of suggesting that there might be a, like a
community thing that pops up like, like, um, as opposed to, uh, an angry revolution.
It might have a positive effect of, well, for example, are you telling me
that if the right person stood up and called for us to sacrifice PPE, uh, for
our nurses and our, our MDs who are on the front lines, that like people wouldn’t
reach down deep in their own supply that they’ve been like stocking and carefully
storing them just say, like, say here, take it.
Like right now, an actual leader would use this time to bring out the heroic
character and I’m going to just go wildly patriotic cause I frigging love this
country, we’ve got this dormant population in the us that loves leadership
and country and pride in our freedom and not being told what to do.
And we still have this thing that binds us together and all of them,
the merchants of division just be gone.
I totally agree with you.
There’s a, I think there is a deep hunger for that leadership.
Why hasn’t that, why, why hasn’t one of us, we don’t have the right search
surgeon general, we have a guy saying, you know, come on guys, don’t buy masks.
They don’t really work for you.
Save them for our healthcare professionals.
No, you can’t do that.
You have to say, you know what, these masks actually do work and they more
work to protect other people from you, but they would work for you.
They’ll keep you somewhat safer if you wear them.
Here’s the deal.
You’ve got somebody who’s taking huge amounts of viral load all the time
because the patients are shedding.
Do you want to protect that person who’s volunteered to be on the front
line, who’s up sleepless nights?
You just changed the message.
You stop lying to people.
You just, you level with them.
It’s like, it’s bad.
But that’s a, that’s a little bit specific.
So you, you have to be just honest about the facts of the situation.
But I think you were referring to something bigger than just that inspiring,
like, you know, rewriting the constitution, sort of rethinking how
we work as a nation.
I think you should probably, you know, amend the constitution once
or twice in a lifetime so that you don’t get this distance from the foundational
documents and, you know, part of the problem is that we’ve got two generations
on top that feel very connected to the U S they feel bought in and we’ve got three
generations below it’s a little bit like watching your parents riding the tricycle
that they were supposed to pass on to you.
And it’s like, you’re now too old to ride a tricycle and they’re still
whooping it up, ringing the bell with the streamers coming off the handlebars.
And you’re just thinking, do you guys never get bored?
Do you never pass a torch?
Do you really want it?
We had five septuagenarians all born in the forties running for president of the
United States when Clovis sure dropped out.
The youngest was Warren.
We had Warren Biden, Sanders, Bloomberg, and Trump from like 1949 to 1941.
All who had been the oldest president at inauguration and nobody’s, nobody says
grandma and grandpa, you’re embarrassing us except Joe Rogan.
Let me put it on you.
You have a big platform.
You’re somewhat of an intelligent, eloquent guy.
What, what role do you somewhat, what role do you play?
Why aren’t you that leader?
Well, you’re, I mean, I would argue that you’re in, in ways becoming a leader.
In ways becoming that leader.
So I haven’t taken enough risk.
Is that your idea?
What should I do or say at the moment?
No, you’re a little bit, no, you have taken quite a big risks
and we’ll, we’ll talk about it.
But you’re also on the outside shooting in, meaning, um, you’re, uh, dismantling
the institution from the outside as opposed to becoming the institution.
Do you remember that thing you brought up when you were on the view, the view?
When you were on Oprah, I didn’t make, I didn’t get the invite.
When you were on Bill Maher’s program, what was that thing you were saying?
They don’t know we’re here.
They may watch us.
They may quietly slip us a direct message, but they pretend that this
internet thing is, uh, some dangerous place where only lunatics play.
Well, who has the bigger platform, the portal or Bill Maher’s program or the
view, Bill Maher and the view in terms of viewership or in terms of what’s
the metric of size?
Well, first of all, the key thing is, um, take, take a newspaper and even
imagine that it’s completely fake.
And then there’s very little in the way of circulation.
Yet imagine that it’s an a hundred year old paper and that it’s still part of
this game, this internal game of media.
The key point is, is that those sources that have that kind of, um, mark of
respectability to the institutional structures matter in a way that even if
I say something on a very large platform that makes a lot of sense, if it’s
outside of what I’ve called the gated institutional narrative or gin, I’m
sorry, institutional narrative or gin, it sort of doesn’t matter to the
institutions. So the game is if it happens outside of the club, we can
pretend that it never happened.
How can you get the credibility and the authority from outside the, the
gated institutional narrative?
Well, first of all, you and I both share, um, institutional credibility coming
from organizations. So you, we were both at MIT, were you at Harvard at any
point? Nope. Okay.
Well, I lived in Harvard square.
So did I, but you know, at some level, the issue isn’t whether you have
credentials in that sense.
The key question is, can you be trusted to file a flight plan and not deviate
from that flight plan when you are in an interview situation, will you stick to
the talking points?
Not, and that’s why you’re not going to be allowed in the general
conversation, which amplifies these sentiments, but I’m still trying to, um,
so your, your point, it would be, is that we’re, let’s say both.
So you’ve done how many Joe Rogan for I’ve done for two, right?
So both of us are somewhat frequent guests. The show is huge.
You know, the power as well as I do, and people are going to watch this
conversation. A huge number watched our last one, by the way, I want to thank
you for that one. That was a terrific, terrific conversation.
Really did change my life. Like you’re brilliant interviewer. So thank you.
Thank you. That was that you changed my life too.
That you gave me a chance. So I was so glad I did that one.
What I would say is, is that we keep mistaking how big the audience is for
whether or not you have the kiss and the kiss is a different thing.
Yes. Yeah. Well, it doesn’t, it’s not an acronym yet. Okay. Um,
it’s uh, but thank you for asking. It’s a question of,
are you part of the inter interoperable institution friendly discussion?
And that’s the discussion which we ultimately have to break into.
But that’s what I’m trying to get at is how do we, how do you,
how does Eric Weinstein become the president of the United States?
I shouldn’t become the president of the United States. Not interested.
Thank you very much for asking. Okay.
Get into a leadership position where I guess I don’t know what that means,
but where you can inspire millions of people to, uh,
the inspire the sense of community, inspire the,
the kind of actions required to overcome hardship,
the kind of hardship that we may be experiencing to inspire people,
to work hard and face the difficult,
hard facts of the realities we’re living through all those kinds of things that
you’re talking about. That leader, you know,
can that leader emerge from the current institutions or
alternatively, can it also emerge from the outside?
I guess that’s what I was asking.
So my belief is,
is that this is the last hurrah for the elderly centrist kleptocrats.
Can you define each of those terms? Okay. Elderly.
I mean people who were born at least a year before I was,
that’s a joke. You can laugh. Uh, no,
because I’m born at the cusp of the gen X boomer divide. Um,
centrist they’re pretending, you know,
there are two parties, Democrat and Republican party in the United States.
I think it’s easier to think of the mainstream of both of them as part of a,
an aggregate party that I sometimes call the looting party,
which gets us to kleptocracy, which is ruled by thieves.
And the great temptation has been to treat the U S like a trough.
And you just have to get yours because it’s not like we’re doing anything
So everybody’s sort of looting the family mansion and somebody stole the silver
and somebody is cutting the pictures out of the frames and you know,
roughly speaking, we’re watching our elders, uh,
we’ll live it up in a way that doesn’t make sense to the rest of us.
Okay. So if it’s the last hurrah,
this is the time for leaders to step up.
We’re not ready yet. We’re not ready.
I just disagree with that. I call, I call out, you know,
the head of the CDC should resign, should resign.
The surgeon general should resign. Trump should resign. Pelosi should resign.
De Blasio should resign. I understand that. So that’s why. So we’ll wait.
No, but that’s not how revolutions work. You don’t wait for people to resign.
You, uh, step up and inspire the alternative.
Do you remember the Russian revolution of 1907? It’s before my time,
but there wasn’t a Russian revolution of 1907.
So you’re thinking we’re in 1907. I’m saying we’re too early.
But we got this, you know, Spanish flu came in 17, 18.
So I would argue that there’s a lot of parallels there or there were one.
I think it’s not time yet. Like John Prine, the, uh,
uh, the songwriter just died of COVID. That was a pretty big,
really? Yeah. By the way, you, yes, of course. I, um,
every time we do this, uh,
we discover our mutual appreciation of obscure brilliant witty
songwriter. He’s really, he’s really quite good, right? He’s, he’s really good.
Yeah. He died.
My understanding is that he passed recently due to complications of Corona.
Yeah. So we haven’t had large enough,
enough large, large enough shocking deaths yet,
picturesque deaths, deaths of a family that couldn’t get treatment.
There are stories that will come and break our hearts and we have not had enough
of those. The visuals haven’t come in, but I think they’re coming. Well,
we’ll find out.
But that you gotta, you have to be there. He has to be there when they come.
but we didn’t get the visual for example of falling man from nine 11.
Right. So the outside world did, but Americans were not,
it was thought that we would be too delicate.
So just the way you remember Pulitzer prize winning photographs from the Vietnam
you don’t easily remember the photographs from all sorts of things that have
happened since because something changed in our media.
We are in sense that we cannot feel or experience our own lives and the tragedy
that would animate us to action.
Yeah. But I think there, again,
I think there’s going to be that suffering that’s going to build and build and
build in terms of businesses,
mom and pop shops that close. And I, like,
I think for myself, I think often that,
that I’m being weak and,
and like I feel like I should be doing something.
I should be becoming a leader on a small scale.
You can’t, this is not world war II, and this is not Soviet Russia.
Why not? Why not?
Because our internal programming,
the malware that sits between our ears is much different than the propaganda is
malware of the Soviet era. I mean,
people were both very indoctrinated and also knew that some level it was BS.
They had a double mind. I don’t know.
There must be a great word in Russian for being able to think both of those
You don’t think people are actually sick of the partisanship,
sick of incompetence.
Yeah, but I called for revolt the other day on Joe Rogan.
People found it quixotic.
Well, because I think you’re not, I think revolt is different.
I think that’s like, okay, I’m really angry. I’m, I’m furious.
I cannot stand that this is my country at the moment. I’m embarrassed.
So let’s build a better one. Yeah. Right. That’s the, I’m in.
Okay. So, well, okay, so let’s take over a few universities.
Let’s start running a different experiment at some of our better universities.
Like when I did this experiment and I said, what,
at this, if this were 40 years ago, the median age,
I believe of a university president was 51 that would have the person in gen X
and we’d have a bunch of millennial presidents, a bunch of, you know,
more than half gen X it’s almost 100% baby boom at this point.
Um, and how did that happen?
We can get into how they changed retirement,
but this generation of people are not going to be able to do that.
But this generation above us does not feel for even even the older generous
silent generous. I had Roger Penrose on my program.
Excellent. And I thank you. I really appreciate that.
And I asked him a question that was very important to me. I said, look,
you’re in your late eighties.
Is there anyone you could point to as a successor that we should be watching?
We can get excited. You know, I said,
here’s an opportunity to pass the baton and he said, well, let me,
let me hold off on that. It was like, Oh,
is it ever the right moment to point to somebody younger than you to keep your
flame alive after you’re gone? And also like, I don’t know whether,
I’m just going to admit to this.
People treat me like I’m crazy for caring about the world after I’m dead
or wanting to be remembered after you’re gone. Like, well,
what does it matter to you? You’re gone.
It’s this deeply sort of secular somatic perspective on everything where we
don’t, you know, that phrase in a, as time goes by,
it says it’s still the same old story, a fight for love and glory,
a case of do or die.
I don’t think people imagined then that there wouldn’t be a story about
fighting for love and glory.
And like we are so out of practice about fighting, you know,
rivals for love and and and and fighting for glory and something bigger than
But the hunger is there.
Well, that was the point then, right? The whole idea is that Rick was,
you know, it was like Han Solo of his time. He’s just like,
I stick my neck out for nobody. You know, it’s like, Oh, come on, Rick,
you’re just pretending you actually have a big soul. Right.
And so at some level, that’s the question. Do we have a big soul or is it just
So yeah, I think, I think there’s huge Manhattan project style projects,
whether you talk about physical infrastructure or going to Mars, you know,
the SpaceX NASA efforts or huge,
huge scientific efforts.
we need to get back into the institutions and we need to remove the weak
leadership that we have weak leaders and the weak leaders need to be removed and
they need to seat people more dangerous than the people who are currently sitting
in a lot of those chairs.
Yeah. Or build new institutions. Good luck. Well,
so one of the nice things of, uh,
from the internet is for example,
somebody like you can have a bigger voice than almost anybody at the particular
institutions we’re talking about.
That’s true. But the thing is I might say something.
You can count on the fact that the, you know,
provost at Princeton isn’t going to say anything.
Yeah. What do you mean to, to afraid?
Well, if that person were to give an interview,
how are things going in research at Princeton? Well,
I’m hesitant to say it,
but they’re perhaps as good as they’ve ever been and I think they’re going to
get better. Oh, is that right? All fields? Yep. I don’t see a weak one.
It’s just like, okay, great. Who are you and what are you even saying?
We’re just used to total nonsense. 24 seven.
What do you think might be a beautiful thing that comes out of this?
Like what is there a hope that like a little inkling,
a little fire of hope you have about our time right now?
I think one thing is coming to understand that the freaks, weirdos,
mutants, and other, uh,
near do wells, uh, sometimes referred to as grifters. I like that one.
Grifters, uh, and gadflies were very often the earliest people on the coronavirus.
That’s a really interesting question. Why was that?
And it seems to be that they had already paid such a social price that they
weren’t going to be beaten up by being, um,
told that, Oh my God, you’re xenophobic. You just hate China, you know,
or wow, you sound like a conspiracy theorist. Um,
so if you’d already paid those prices, you were free to think about this.
And everyone in an institutional framework was terrified that they didn’t want
to be seen as the alarmist, the, um,
chicken little. And so that’s why you have this confidence where, you know,
the Blasio says, you know, get on with your lives,
get back in there and celebrate Chinese new year in Chinatown.
Uh, despite coronavirus, it’s like, okay, really?
So you just always thought everything would automatically be okay if you,
if you adapted, sorry, if you adopted that posture.
So you think, uh,
this time reveals the weakness of our institutions and reveals the strength of
our gadflies and the weirdos and the.
No, not necessarily the strength, but the, the, the value of freedom,
like a different way of saying it would be, wow,
even your gadflies and your grifters were able to beat your institutional folks
because your institutional folks were playing with a giant mental handicap.
So just imagine like we were in the story of Harrison Bergeron by Vonnegut and
our smartest people were all subjected to, uh,
distracting noises every seven seconds. Well,
they would be functionally much dumber because they couldn’t continue a thought
through all the disturbance.
So in some sense, that’s a little bit like what belonging to an institution is,
is that if you have to make a public statement,
of course the surgeon general is going to be the worst because they’re,
they’re just playing with too much of a handicap.
There are too many institutional players are like, don’t screw us up.
And so the person has to say something wrong.
We’re going to back propagate a falsehood. And this is very interesting.
Some of my socially oriented friends say, Eric,
I don’t understand what you’re on about. Of course masks work,
but you know what they’re trying to do.
They’re trying to get us not to buy up the masks for the doctors. And I think,
so you imagine that we can just create scientific fiction at will so that you can
run whatever social program you want. This is what I, you know,
my point is get out of my lab, get out of the lab.
You don’t belong in the lab. You’re not meant for the lab.
You’re constitutionally incapable of being around the lab.
You need to leave the lab.
You think the CDC and WHO knew that masks work and we’re trying to,
and we’re trying to sort of imagine that people are kind of stupid and they would
buy masks in excess if they were told that masks work.
Is that like, uh,
cause this does seem to be a particularly clear example of mistakes made.
You’re asking me this question. No, you’re not. What do you think, Lex?
Well, I actually probably disagree with you a little bit. Great. Let’s do it.
I think it’s not so easy to be honest with the populace when the danger of
panic is always around the corner.
So I think the kind of honesty you exhibit appeals to a certain class of brave
intellectual minds that, uh, it appeals to me,
but I don’t know from the perspective of WHO,
I don’t know if it’s so obvious that they should,
um, be honest 100% of the time with people.
I’m not saying you should be perfectly transparent and 100% honest.
I’m saying that the quality of your lies has to be very high and it has to be
public spirited. There’s a big difference between, so I’m not,
I’m not a child about this. I’m not saying that when you’re at war,
you turn over all of your plans to the enemy because it’s important that you’re
transparent with 360 degree visibility. Far from it.
What I’m saying is something has been forgotten and I forgot who it was who
told it to me,
but it was a fellow graduate student in the Harvard math department and he said,
I learned one thing being out in the workforce because he was one of the few
people who had had a work life in the department as a grad student.
And he said, you can be friends with your boss,
but if you’re going to be friends with your boss,
you have to be doing a good job at work.
And there’s an analog here,
which is if you’re going to be reasonably honest with the population,
you have to be doing a good job at work as the surgeon general or as the head of
the CDC. So if you’re doing a terrible job,
you’re supposed to resign.
And then the next person is supposed to say, look,
I’m not going to lie to you. I inherited the situation.
It was in a bit of disarray.
But I had several requirements before I agreed to step in and take the job
because I needed to know I could turn it around.
I needed to know that I had clear lines of authority.
I needed to know that I had the resources available in order to rectify the
And I needed to know that I had the ability and the freedom to level with the
American people directly as I saw fit. All of my wishes were granted.
And that’s why I’m happy here on Monday morning. I’ve got my sleeves rolled up.
Boy, do we got a lot to do.
So please come back in two weeks and then ask me how I’m doing then.
And I hope to have something to show you. That’s how you do it.
So why is that excellence and basic competence
The big net. You see,
you come from multiple traditions where it was very important to remember
The Soviet tradition made sure that you remembered the sacrifices that came in
that war and the Jewish tradition we’re doing this on Passover,
right? Okay. Well, every year we tell one simple story.
Well, why can’t it be different every year?
Maybe we could have a rotating series of seven stories because it’s the one
story that you need. It’s like, you know, you work with the men in black group,
right? And it’s the last suit that you’ll ever need.
This is the last story that you ever need.
Don’t think I fell for your neuralyzer last time.
In any event, we tell one story because it’s the,
get out of Dodge story.
There’s a time when you need to not wait for the bread to rise.
And that’s the thing, which is even if you live through a great nap,
you deserve to know what it feels like to have to leave everything that has
become comfortable and, and unworkable.
It’s sad that you need, you need that tragedy.
I imagine to have the tradition of remembering
it’s, it’s sad to to think that because things have been
nice and comfortable means that we can’t have great competent leaders,
which is kind of the implied statement.
Like, can we have great leaders who take big risks,
who are, who inspire hard work,
who deal with difficult truth, even though things have been comfortable?
Well, we know what those people sound like. I mean, you know, if,
for example, Jaco Willink suddenly threw his hat into the ring,
everyone would say, okay, right.
Party’s over. It’s time to get up at four 30 and really work hard.
And we’ve got to get back into fighting shape. And yeah,
but Jaco is a very special, I think,
that whole group of people by profession,
put themselves in the way of, and into hardship on a daily basis.
And he’s not, I don’t, well, I don’t know,
but he’s probably not going to be, well, could Jaco be president?
Okay. But it doesn’t have to be Jaco, right? Like in other words,
if it was Kai Lenny or if it was Alex
Honnold from rock climbing, right. But they’re just serious people.
They’re serious people who can’t afford your BS.
But why do we have serious people that do rock climbing and uh,
don’t have serious people who lead the nation? That seems to.
Because that was a,
those skills needed in rock climbing are not good during the big nap.
And at the tail end of the big nap, they would get you fired.
But I don’t,
don’t you think there’s a fundamental part of human nature that desires to,
to excel, to be exceptionally good at your job?
Yeah. But what is your job? I mean, in other words, my, my,
my point to you is if you,
if you’re a general in a peacetime army and your major activity is playing war
what if the skills needed to win war games are very different than the skills
needed to win wars? Because you know how the war games are scored and you’ve,
you’ve done money ball, for example, with war games,
you figured out how to win games on paper.
So then the advancement skill becomes divergent from the, uh,
ultimate skill that it was proxying for.
Yeah. But you create this, we’re good as human beings to, I mean,
I, at least me, I can’t do a big nap.
So at any one moment when I finish something,
a new dream pops up. So going to Mars,
what do you like to do? You like to do Brazilian jujitsu?
Well, first of all, I like to do every, you like to play guitar,
guitar, you do this podcast, you do theory. You’re always,
you’re constantly taking risks and exposing yourself. Right? Why?
Because you’ve got one of those crazy, I’m sorry to say it.
You’ve got an Eastern European Jewish personality, which I’m still tied to,
and I’m a couple of generations more distant than you are.
And I’ve held on to that thing because it’s valuable to me.
You don’t think there’s a huge percent of the populace,
even in the United States. That’s that’s that might be a little bit dormant,
but do you know Anna Hatchian from the red scare podcast?
Did you interview her? Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I listened. Yeah, yeah, she was great.
She was great, right? Yeah. She’s fun. She’s, she’s terrific.
But she also has the same thing going on.
And I made a joke in the liner notes for that episode,
which is somewhere on the road from Stalingrad to forever 21,
something was lost. Like how can Stalingrad and forever 21 be in the same
sentence? And, you know, in part it’s that weird thing.
It’s like trying to remember even words like I’m in Russian and Hebrew things,
like it’s like what pom yet then the score, you know,
these words have much more potency about memory and I don’t know.
I do, I think, I think there’s still a dormant populace that craves leaders on a
small scale and large scale.
And I hope to be that leader on a small scale.
And I think you sir have a role to be a leader.
You kids go ahead without me. I’m just gonna,
I’m going to do a little bit of weird podcast.
I see now you’re, you’re putting on your, uh, Joe Rogan hat.
Uh, he says, I’m just a comedian. Oh no, I’m not saying I’m just a,
it’s not that if I say I want to lead too much because of the big nap,
there’s like a group, a chorus of automated idiots and their first thought is
like, ah, I knew it. So it’s a power grab all along. Why should you lead?
You know, it’s just like,
and so the idea is you’re just trying to skirt around,
not stepping on all of the idiot landmines. It’s like, okay,
so now I’m going to hear that in my inbox for the next three days.
Okay. So lead by example, just live. No, I mean, the issue platform, look,
we should take over the institutions. There are institutions.
We’ve got bad leadership.
We should mutiny and we should inject a, I don’t know,
15% 20% uh, disagreeable, dissident,
very aggressive loner, individual mutant freaks,
all the people that you go to see Avengers movies about or the X men or whatever
it is and stop pretending that everything good comes out of some great giant
inclusive, communal, uh, 12 hour meeting.
It’s like, stop it. That’s not how shit happens.
You recently published the video of a lecture you gave at Oxford presenting
some aspects of a theory, uh,
theory of everything called geometric unity.
So this was a work of 30, 30 plus years.
This is life’s work.
Let me ask her the, the silly old question.
How do you feel as a human? Excited, scared,
the experience of posting it.
You know, it’s funny. One of the, one of the things that you,
you learn to feel as an academic is, um,
the great sins you can commit in academics, uh,
is to show yourself to be a non serious person to show yourself to have
to avoid the standard practices,
which everyone has signed up for.
And you know,
it’s weird because like, you know that those people are going to be angry.
He did what, you know, why would he do that? And,
and what we’re referring to, for example,
there’s traditions of sort of publishing incrementally,
certainly not trying to have a theory of everything,
perhaps working within the academic departments, all those things.
So that’s true. And so you’re going outside of all of that.
Well, I mean, I was going inside of all of that and we did not come to terms
when I was inside and what they did was so outside to me was so weird,
so freakish, like the most senior, respectable people at the most senior,
respectable places were functionally insane as far as I could tell.
And again, it’s like being functionally stupid.
If you’re the head of the CDC or something where, you know,
you’re giving recommendations out that aren’t based on what you actually
believe. They’re based on what you think you have to be doing. Well,
in some sense,
I think that that’s a lot of how I saw the math and physics world as
the physics world was really crazy and the math world was considerably less
crazy, just very strict and kind of dogmatic.
Well, we’ll psychoanalyze those folks,
but I really want to maybe linger on it a little bit longer of how you feel
because yeah, so this is such a, such a special moment in your life.
I really appreciate it. It’s a great question.
So that if we can pair off some of that other, those other issues. Um,
it’s new being able to say what the observers is,
which was my attempt to replace space time with something that is both closely
related to space, time and not space time. Um,
so I used to carry the number 14 as a closely guarded secret in my life and uh,
we’re 14 is really four dimensions of space and time plus 10.
Extra dimensions of rulers and protractors or for the cool kids out there,
uh, symmetric two tensors.
She had a geometric,
a complicated, beautiful geometric view of the world that you cared with you
for a long time. Yeah. Did you,
did you have friends that you, um, colleagues, essentially? No.
Talked. No. In fact, part of these, part of some of these stories are me,
coming out of the world,
to my friends, um, and I use the phrase coming out because I think that gays
have monopolized the concept of the closet.
Many of us are in closets having nothing to do with our sexual orientation.
Um, yeah, I didn’t really feel comfortable talking to almost anyone.
So this was a closely guarded, uh, secret.
And I think that I let on in some ways that I was up to something and probably
I was, I was, I was, I was, I was, I was, I was, I was, I was, I was,
I was up to something and probably, but it was a very weird life. So I had to,
I had to have a series of things that I pretended to care about so that I could
use that as the stalking horse for what I really cared about. And to your point,
um, I never understood this whole thing about theories of everything.
Like if you were going to go into something like theoretical physics,
isn’t that what you would normally pursue?
Like wouldn’t it be crazy to do something that difficult and that poorly paid if
you were going to try to do something other than figure out what this is all
Now I have to reveal my cards,
my sort of weaknesses and lack and understanding of the music of physics and
But there’s an analogy here to artificial intelligence and often folks come in
and say, okay,
so there’s a giant department working on quote unquote artificial intelligence,
right? But why is nobody actually working on intelligence?
Like you’re all just building little toys, right?
You’re not actually trying to understand. And that breaks a lot of people. Uh,
they, it confuses them because like, okay, so I’m at MIT,
I’m at Stanford, I’m at Harvard, I’m here.
I dreamed of being working on artificial intelligence.
Why is everybody not actually working on intelligence?
And I have the same kind of sense that that’s what working on the theory of
everything is that strangely you somehow become an outcast for even,
but we know why this is right. Why? Well, it’s because let’s take the artificial,
let’s, let’s play with AGI for example.
I think that the idea starts off with nobody really knows how to work on that.
And so if we don’t know how to work on it,
we choose instead to work on a program that is tangentially related to it.
So we do a component of a program that is related to that big question because
it’s felt like at least I can make progress there.
And that wasn’t where I was, where I was in,
it’s funny there was this book of a called Frieden Uhlenbeck and it had this
weird mysterious line in the beginning of it.
And I tried to get clarification of this weird mysterious line and everyone said
wrong things. And then I said, okay, well,
so I can tell that nobody’s thinking properly because I just asked the entire
department and nobody has a correct interpretation of this.
And so, you know, it’s a little bit like you see a crime scene photo
and you have a different idea.
Like there’s a smoking gun and you figure that’s actually a cigarette lighter.
I don’t really believe that. And then there’s like a pack of cards and you think,
that looks like the blunt instrument that the person was beaten with. You know,
so you have a very different idea about how things go.
And very quickly you realize that there’s no one thinking about that.
There’s a few human sides to this and technical sides,
both of which I’d love to try to get down to. So the human side,
I can tell from my perspective, I think it was before April 1st, April Fools,
maybe the day before, I forget,
but I was laying in bed in the middle of the night and somehow it popped up,
you know on my feed somewhere that your beautiful face is speaking live and I
clicked. And you know,
it’s kind of weird how the universe just brings things together in this kind of
And all of a sudden I realized that there’s something big happening at this
particular moment. It’s strange. On a day,
like any day and all of a sudden you were thinking of,
you had this somber tone, like you were serious,
like you were going through some difficult decision and it seems strange.
I almost thought you were maybe joking,
but there was a serious decision being made and it was a wonderful experience
to go through with you.
I really appreciate it. I mean it was April 1st.
Yeah, it was, it’s kind of fascinating. I mean it’s just the whole experience.
And so I want to ask,
I mean thank you for letting me be part of that kind of journey of decision
making that took 30 years, but why now?
Why did you think,
why did you struggle so long not to release it and decide to release it now?
While the whole world is on lockdown on April Fools,
is it just because you like the comedy of absurd ways that the universe comes
I don’t think so.
I think that the COVID epidemic is the end of the big nap.
And I think that I actually tried this seven years earlier in Oxford.
So I, uh, and it was too early.
Which part was too, is it the platform?
Cause your platform is quite different now actually the internet. I remember you,
uh, I read several of your brilliant answers that people should read for the
edge questions. One of them was related to the internet.
And it was the first one. Was it the first one? Yeah.
An essay called go virtual young man. Yeah. Yeah. That seemed,
that’s like forever ago now. Well that was 10 years ago.
And that’s exactly what I did is I decamped to the internet,
which is where the portal lives, the portal, the portal, the portal.
Well, so the whole, the theme, that’s the ominous theme music,
which you just listened to forever.
I actually started recording a tiny guitar licks, uh,
for the audio portion, not for the video portion. Um,
you’ve kind of inspired me with bringing your guitar into the story,
but keep going.
So you thought, so the Oxford was like step one and you kind of,
you put your foot into the, in the water to sample it,
but it was too cold at the time. So you didn’t want to step in.
I was just really disappointed.
What was disappointing about that experience?
It’s very, it’s a hard thing to talk about.
It has to do with the fact that, and I can see this,
this, you know, this mirrors a disappointment within myself.
There are two separate issues.
One is the issue of making sure that the idea is actually heard and explored.
And the other is the,
I is the question about will I become disconnected from my work because it will
be ridiculed. It will, it will be immediately improved.
It will be found to be derivative of something that occurred in some paper in
- When the community does not want you to gain a voice,
it’s a little bit like a policeman deciding to weirdly enforce all of these
little known regulations against you. And you know,
sometimes nobody else. And I think that’s kind of, you know,
this weird thing where I just don’t believe that we can reach the final theory
necessarily within the political economy of academics.
So if you think about how academics are tortured by each other and how they’re
paid and where they have freedom and where they don’t,
I actually weirdly think that that system of selective pressures is going to
eliminate anybody who’s going to make real progress.
So that’s interesting.
So if you look at the story of Andrew Wiles, for example,
with from our last term, I mean, he,
as far as I understand,
he pretty much isolated himself from the world of academics in terms of the big,
the bulk of the work he did.
And it from my perspective is dramatic and fun to read about,
but it seemed exceptionally stressful. The first step he took,
the first steps he took when actually making the work public that seemed to me
it would be hell, but it’s like so artificially dramatic, you know,
he leads up to it at a series of lectures.
He doesn’t want to say it. And then he finally says it at the end,
because obviously this comes out of a body of work where, I mean,
the funny part about from us last theorem is that wasn’t originally thought to
be a deep and meaningful problem.
It was just an easy to state one that had gone unsolved.
But if you think about it,
it became attached to the body of regular theory.
So he built up this body of regular theory gets all the way up to the end
announces. And then like, there’s this whole drama about, okay,
somebody’s checking the proof. I don’t understand what’s going on in line 37,
you know, and like, Oh, is this serious?
It seems a little bit more serious than we knew.
I mean, do you see parallels?
Do you share the concern that your experience might be something similar?
Well, in his case, I think that if I recall correctly,
his original proof was unsalvageable.
He actually came up with a second proof with a
colleague, Richard Taylor.
And it was that second proof which carried the day.
So it was a little bit that he got put under incredible pressure and then had
to succeed in a new way, having failed the first time,
which is like even a weirder and stranger story.
That’s an incredible story in some sense. But I mean, are you,
I’m trying to get a sense of the kind of stress.
I think that this is okay, but I’m rejecting what I don’t think people
understand with me is the scale of the critique.
It’s like, I don’t, you, people say, well,
you must implicitly agree with this and implicitly agree. It’s like, no,
try me ask before you,
you decide that I am mostly in agreement with the community about how these
things should be handled or what these things mean.
Can you, can you elaborate? And also just why, um,
does criticism matter so much here?
So you seem to dislike the burden of criticism that it will choke away all
different kinds of criticism.
There’s constructive criticism and there’s destructive criticism.
And what I don’t like is I don’t like a community that can’t,
first of all, like if you take the physics community,
like just the way we screwed up on masks and PPE, uh,
just the way we screwed up in the financial crisis and mortgage backed
securities, we screwed up on string theory.
Can we just forget the string theory happened or sure,
but somebody should say that, right? Somebody should say, you know,
it didn’t work out. Yeah. But okay.
But you’re asking this,
like why do you guys get to keep the prestige after failing for 35 years?
Yeah. That’s an interesting question. You guys, because to me,
look these things, if there is a theory of everything to be had, right?
It’s going to be a relatively small group of people where this will be sorted
out. Absolutely. It’s, it’s, it’s not tens of thousands.
It’s probably hundreds at the top.
But within that, within that community,
there is the assholes.
There’s the, I mean, they, you have,
you always in this world have people who are kind, open minded.
It’s a question about, okay,
let’s imagine for example,
that you have a story where you believe that ulcers are definitely
caused by stress and you’ve never questioned it.
Or maybe you felt like the Japanese came out of the blue and attacked us at
Pearl Harbor, right?
And now somebody introduces a new idea to you, which is like,
what if it isn’t stress at all?
Or what if we actually tried to make resource star of Japan attack us somewhere
in the Pacific so we could have cast this belly to enter the Asian theater
person’s original idea is like, what, what are you even saying? You know,
it’s like too crazy. Well,
when Dirac in 1963
talked about the importance of beauty as a guiding principle in physics and he
wasn’t talking about the scientific method, that was crazy talk,
but he was actually making a great point and he was using Schrodinger.
And I think it was Schrodinger was standing in for him and he said that if your
equations don’t agree with experiment, that’s kind of a minor detail.
If they have true beauty in them,
you should explore them because very often the agreement with experiment is
that it is an issue of fine tuning of your model of the instantiation.
And so it doesn’t really tell you that your model is wrong.
And of course Heisenberg told Dirac that his model was wrong because that the
proton and the electron should be the same mass if they are each other’s
And that was an irrelevant kind of silliness rather than a real threat to the
Dirac theory. But okay. So amidst all this silliness,
I’m hoping that we could talk about the journey that geometric unity has taken
and will take as an idea and an idea that we’ll see the light.
Yeah. That. So first of all, let’s,
I’m thinking of writing a book called geometric unity for idiots. Okay.
And I need you as a consultant. So can we, first of all,
I hope I have the trademark on geometric unit. You do. Good.
Can you give a basic introduction of the goals of geometric unity?
The basic tools of mathematics use the viewpoints in general for idiots.
Sure. Like me. Okay. Great. Fun.
So what’s the goal of geometric unity?
The goal of geometric unity is to start with something so completely bland that
you can simply say, well,
that’s a something that begins the game is as close to a mathematical.
Nothing is possible. In other words, I can’t answer the question.
Why is there something rather than nothing?
But if there has to be a something that we begin from,
let it begin from something that’s like a blank canvas.
Let’s even more basic. So what is something, what are we trying to describe here?
Right now we have a model of our world and it’s got two sectors.
Two sectors. One of the sectors is called general relativity.
The other is called the standard model.
So we’ll call it GR for general relativity and SM for standard model.
What’s the difference between the two? What are the two described?
So general relativity gives pride of place to gravity and everything else is
acting as a sort of a back, a backup singer.
Gravity is the star of the show. Gravity is the star of general relativity.
And in the standard model,
the other three non gravitational forces.
So if there are four forces that we know about three of the four non
gravitational, that’s where they get to shine. Great.
So tiny little particles and how they interact with each other.
So photons, gluons and so called intermediate vector bosons.
Those are the things that the standard model showcases and general relativity
showcases gravity. And then you have matter,
which is accommodated in both theories,
but much more beautifully inside of the standard model.
So what, what is a theory of everything do?
So, so first of all, I think that that’s,
that’s the first place where we haven’t talked enough.
We assume that we know what it means,
but we don’t actually have any idea what it means.
And what I claim it is, is that it’s a theory where the questions beyond that
theory are no longer of a mathematical nature.
In other words, if I say, let us take, um,
X to be a four dimensional manifold
to a mathematician or a physicist. I’ve said very little.
I’ve simply said there’s some place for calculus and linear algebra to,
to, uh, to dance together and to play.
And that’s what manifolds are. They’re the most natural place where,
where our two greatest math theories can really, uh,
Which are the two? Oh, you mean calculus and linear algebra. Right. Okay.
Now the question is beyond that. So it’s sort of like saying,
I’m an artist and I want to order a canvas.
Okay. Now the question is, does the canvas paint itself?
Does the can, does the canvas come up with an artist
and paint an ink, which then paint the canvas? Like that’s the,
that’s the hard part about theories of everything,
which I don’t think people talk enough about.
Can we just, you bring up Escher and the hand that draws itself.
Is it the fire that lights itself or drawing hands, the drawing hands. Yeah.
And, uh, every time I start to think about that, my mind like, uh,
shuts down. Well, don’t do that. There’s a spark and this is the most beautiful
part. We should do this together. No, it’s beautiful, but, uh,
this robot’s brain, uh, sparks fly.
So can we try to say the same thing over and over in different ways about what,
what, what you mean by that having to be a thing we have to contend with?
Sure. Like why,
why do you think that creating a theory of everything,
as you call the source code are understanding our source code require a view
like the hand that draws itself. Okay.
Well here’s what goes on in the regular physics picture.
We’ve got these two main theories, general relativity and the standard model.
Okay. Think of general relativity as more or less,
the theory of the canvas. Okay.
Maybe you have the canvas in a particularly rigid shape.
Maybe you’ve measured it. So it’s got length and it’s got angle,
but more or less it’s just canvas and length and angle.
And that’s all that really general relativity is,
but it allows the canvas to warp a bit.
Okay. Then we have the second thing,
which is this import of foreign libraries where,
which aren’t tied to space and time.
So we’ve got this crazy set of symmetries called SU three cross SU two cross U
We’ve got this collection of 16 particles in a generation,
which are these sort of twisted spinners.
And we’ve got three copies of them.
Then we’ve got this weird Higgs field that comes in and like Deus ex machina
solves all the problems that have been created in the play that can’t be
So that’s the standard model of quantum field theory just plopped on top.
It’s a problem of the double origin story.
One origin story is about space and time.
The other origin story is about what we would call internal quantum numbers and
And then there was an attempt to get one to follow from the other called
Kaluza Klein theory, which didn’t work out.
And this is sort of in that vein.
So you said origin story. So in the hand that draws itself,
what is it?
So it’s, it’s as if you had the canvas and then you ordered
up also give me paint brushes, paints, pigments, pencils, and artists.
But you’re saying that’s like, if you want to create a universe from scratch,
the canvas should be generating the paintbrushes and the paintbrushes and the
artists, right? Like you should, who’s the artist in this analogy?
Well, this is sorry.
Then we’re going to get into a religious thing and I don’t want to do that.
Okay. Well, you know my shtick, which is that we are the AI.
We have two great stories about the simulation and artificial general
intelligence. In one story,
man fears that some program we’ve given birth to will become self aware,
smarter than us and we’ll take over in another story.
There are genius simulators and we live in their simulation and we haven’t
realized that those two stories are the same story. In one case,
we are the simulator. In another case,
we are the simulated and if you buy those and you put them together,
we are the AGI and whether or not we have simulators,
we may be trying to wake up by learning our own source code.
So this could be our Skynet moment,
which is one of the reasons I have some issues around it.
I think we’ll talk about that cause I,
well that’s the issue of the emergent artist within the story just to get back
to the point. Okay. So,
so now the key point is the standard way we tell the story is that Einstein sets
the canvas and then we order all the stuff that we want and then that paints the
picture that is our universe.
So you order the, the, the paint,
you order the artist,
you order the brushes and that then when you collide the two gives you two
separate origin stories.
The canvas came from one place and everything else came from somewhere else.
So what are the mathematical tools required to,
to construct consistent geometric theory?
You know, make this concrete.
Well, somehow you need to get three copies,
of generations with 16 particles each,
right? And so the question would be like, well, there’s a lot,
there’s a lot of special personality in those symmetries.
Where would they come from? So for example,
you’ve got what would be called grand unified theories that sound like,
um, SU five, uh, the George I.
Glashow theory. There’s something that should be called spin 10,
but physicists insist on calling it SO 10.
There’s something called the petit salon theory that tends to be called SU four
cross SU two cross SU two, which should be called spin six cross spin four.
I can get into all of these.
What are they all accomplishing?
They’re all taking the known forces that we see and packaging them up
to say, we can’t get rid of the second origin story,
but we can at least make that origin story more unified.
So they’re trying grand unification is the attempt to.
And that’s a mistake in your, in your.
It’s not a mistake that the problem is, is it was born lifeless. When,
when George I.
And Glashow first came out with the SU five theory, um,
it was very exciting because it could be tested in a South Dakota, um,
mine filled up with like, I dunno, cleaning fluid or something like that.
And they looked for proton decay and didn’t see it.
And then they gave up because in that day,
when your experiment didn’t work, you gave up on the theory.
It didn’t come to us born of a fusion between Einstein and,
and, and bore, you know,
and that was kind of the problem is that it had this weird parenting where it
was just on the bore side. There was no Einsteinian contribution.
Lex, how can I help you most? I’m trying to figure,
what questions do you want to ask so that you get the most satisfying answers?
Uh, there’s, there’s a, there’s a bunch,
there’s a bunch of questions I want to ask. I mean, one,
and I’m trying to sneak up on you somehow to reveal
in a accessible way, then the nature of our universe.
So I can just give you a guess, right?
We have to be very careful that we’re not claiming that this has been accepted.
This is a speculation, but I will, I will make the speculation that what,
I think what you would want to ask me is how can the canvas generate all the
stuff that usually has to be ordered separately? All right. Should we do that?
Let’s go there. Okay.
Okay. So the first thing is,
is that you have a concept in computers called technical debt.
You’re coding and you cut corners and you know,
you’re going to have to do it right before the thing is safe for the world,
but you’re piling up some series of IO use to yourself and your project as
you’re going along.
So the first thing is we can’t figure out if you have only four degrees of
freedom. And that’s what your canvas is.
How do you get at least Einstein’s world? Einstein says, look,
it’s not just four degrees of freedom,
but there need to be rulers and protractors to measure length and angle in the
world. You can’t just have a flabby four degrees of freedom.
So the first thing you do is you create 10 extra variables,
which is like if we can’t choose any particular set of rulers and protractors to
measure length and angle, let’s take the,
take the set of all possible rulers and protractors.
And that would be called symmetric non degenerate two tensors on the tangent
space of the four manifold X four.
Now because there are four degrees of freedom,
you start off with four dimensions.
Then you need four rulers for each of those different directions.
So that’s four that gets us up to eight variables.
And then between four original variables, there are six possible angles.
So four plus four plus six is equal to 14.
So now you’ve replaced X four with another space, which in the lecture,
I think I called you 14, but I’m now calling Y 14.
This is one of the big problems of working on something in private is every time
you pull it out, you sort of can’t remember it. You name something, something new.
Okay. So you’ve got a 14 dimensional world,
which is the original four dimensional world plus a lot of extra gadgetry for
Yeah. And because you’re not in the four dimensional world,
you don’t have the technical debt.
No, now you’ve got a lot of technical debt because now you have to explain away
a 14 dimensional world, which is a big,
you’re taking a huge advance on your payday check, right?
But aren’t more dimensions allow you more freedom to, I mean,
maybe, but you have to get rid of them somehow because we don’t perceive them.
So eventually you have to collapse it down to the thing that we perceive or you
have to sample a four dimensional filament within that 14 dimensional world known
as a section of a bundle.
Okay. So how do we get from the four 14 dimensional world where I imagine a lot
of, oh, wait, wait, wait. Yep. You’re cheating.
The first question was how do we get something from almost nothing?
Like how do we get the,
if I’ve said that the who and the what in the newspaper story that is a theory
theory of everything are bosons and Fermions. So let’s make the who,
the Fermions and the what the bosons think of it as the players and the
equipment for a game.
Are we supposed to be thinking of actual physical things with mass or energy?
Okay. So think about everything you see in this room.
So from chemistry, you know, it’s all protons, neutrons and electrons,
but from a little bit of late 1960s physics,
we know that the protons and neutrons are all made of up quarks and down quarks.
So everything in this room is basically up quarks, down quarks,
and electrons stuck together with, with the, the, what the equipment.
Now the way we see it currently is we see that there are space time indices,
which we would call spinners that correspond to the who that is the Fermions,
the matter, the stuff, the up quarks, the down quarks, the electrons.
And there are also
16 degrees of freedom that come from this in this space of internal quantum
numbers. So in my theory,
in 14 dimensions,
there’s no internal quantum number space that figures in.
It’s all just spin oriel.
So spinners in 14 dimensions without any festooning with extra linear algebraic
There’s a concept of a, of, of, of spinners,
which is natural if you have a manifold with length and angle and Y 14 is almost
a manifold with length and angle. It’s,
it’s so close. It’s in other words,
because you’re looking at the space of all rulers and protractors,
maybe it’s not that surprising that a space of rulers and protractors might come
very close to having rulers and protractors on it itself.
Like can you measure the space of measurements and you almost can’t in a space
that has length and angle.
If it doesn’t have a topological obstruction comes with these objects called
Now spinners are the stuff of of our world.
We are made of spinners. They are the most important,
really deep object that I can tell you about. They were very surprising.
What is a spinner? So famously,
there are these weird things that require 720 degrees of rotation in order to
come back to normal. And that doesn’t make sense.
And the reason for this is that there’s a knottedness in our three dimensional
world that people don’t observe. And you know,
you can famously see it by this Dirac string trick.
So if you take a glass of water,
imagine that this was a tumbler and I didn’t want to spill any of it.
And the question is if I rotate the cup without losing my grip on the base,
360 degrees and I can’t go backwards,
is there any way I can take a sip? And the answer is this weird motion,
go over first and under second.
And that that’s 720 degrees of rotation to come back to normal so that I can
take a sip. Well, that weird principle,
which sometimes is known as the Philippine wine glass dance because waitresses
in the Philippines apparently learned how to do this.
so that that move defines if you will,
this hidden space that nobody knew was there of spinners,
which Dirac figured out when he took the square root of something called the
Klein Gordon equation, uh, which I think had earlier,
um, work incorporated from Cartan and killing and company in mathematics.
So spinners are one of the most profound aspects of human existence.
I mean, forgive me for the perhaps dumb questions, but, uh,
would a spinner be the mathematical objects that’s the basic unit of our
When you, when you start with a manifold,
um, which is just like something like a donut or a sphere circle or a Mobius
a spinner is usually the first wildly surprising thing that you found was
hidden in your original purchase.
you order a manifold and you didn’t even realize it’s like buying a house and
finding a panic room inside that you hadn’t counted on.
It’s very surprising when you understand that spinners are running around on
Again, perhaps a dumb question,
but we’re talking about 14 dimensions and four dimensions.
What is the manifold we’re operating under?
So in my case, it’s proto space time. It’s before,
it’s before Einstein can slap rulers and protractors on space time.
What do you mean by that? Sorry to interrupt is space.
Time is the four D manifold.
Space time is a four dimensional manifold with extra structure.
What’s the extra structure?
It’s called a semi Ramanian or pseudo Ramanian metric.
there is something akin to a four by four symmetric manifold.
Four symmetric matrix from which is equivalent to length and angle.
So when I talk about rulers and protractors,
or I talk about length and angle,
or I talk about Ramanian or pseudo Ramanian or semi Ramanian met manifolds,
I’m usually talking about the same thing.
Can you measure how long something is and what the angle is between two
different rays or vectors?
So that’s what Einstein gave us as his arena, his place to play, his his canvas.
So there’s a bunch of questions I can ask here.
But like I said, I’m working on this book, Geometric Unity for Idiots.
And and I think what would be really nice as your editor
to have like beautiful, maybe even visualizations that people could try to
play with, try to try to reveal small little beauties about the way you’re
thinking about the score.
Well, I usually use the Joe Rogan program for that.
Sometimes I have him doing the Philippine wine glass dance.
I had the hop vibration.
The part of the problem is that most people don’t know this language about
spinners, bundles, metrics, gauge fields.
And they’re very curious about the theory of everything, but they have no
understanding of even what we know about our own world.
Is it, is it a hopeless pursuit?
So like even gauge theory, right?
Just this, I mean, it seems to be very inaccessible.
Is there some aspect of it that could be made accessible?
I mean, I could go to the board right there and give you a five minute lecture
on gauge theory that would be better than the official lecture on gauge theory.
You would know what gauge theory was.
So it is, it’s, it’s possible to make it accessible, but nobody does.
Like, in other words, you’re going to watch over the next year, lots of
different discussions about quantum entanglement or, you know, the multiverse.
Where are we now?
Or, you know, many worlds, are they all equally real?
I mean, yeah, that’s okay.
But you’re not going to hear anything about the hop vibration except if
it’s from me and I hate that.
Why, why can’t you be the one?
Well, because I’m going a different path.
I think that we’ve made a huge mistake, which is we have things we can show
people about the actual models.
We can push out visualizations where they they’re not listening by analogy.
They’re watching the same thing that we’re seeing.
And as I’ve said to you before, this is like choosing to perform sheet music
that hasn’t been performed in a long time.
Or, you know, the experts can’t afford orchestras.
So they just trade Beethoven symphonies as sheet music.
And they, Oh, wow, that was beautiful.
But it’s like, nobody heard anything.
They just looked at the score.
Well, that’s how mathematicians and physicists trade papers and ideas is that
they, they write down the things that represent stuff.
I want to at least close out the thought line that you started, which is how does
the canvas order all of this other stuff into being so I at least want to say some
incomprehensible things about that.
And then we’ll, we’ll have that much done.
And that just point, does it have to be incomprehensible?
Do you know what the Schrodinger equation is?
Do you know what the Dirac equation is?
What does no mean?
Well, my point is you’re going to have some feeling that, you know, what the
Schrodinger equation is, as soon as we get to the Dirac equation, your eyes are
going to get a little bit glazed, right?
So now why is that?
Well, the answer to me is, is that you, you want to ask me about the theory
of everything, but you haven’t even digested the theory of everything as
we’ve had it since 1928 when Dirac came out with his equation.
So for whatever reason, and this isn’t a hit on you, you haven’t been motivated
enough in all the time that you’ve been on earth to at least get as far as the
And this was very interesting to me after I gave the talk in Oxford new scientist.
Who had done kind of a hatchet job on me to begin with sent a reporter to come to
the third version of the talk that I gave.
And that person had never heard of the Dirac equation.
So you have a person who’s completely professionally, not qualified to ask
these questions wanting to know, well, how does, how does your theory solve
new problems and like, well, in the case of the Dirac equation, well, tell me
I don’t know what that is.
So then the point is, okay, I got it.
You’re not even caught up minimally to where we are now.
And that’s not a knock on you.
Almost nobody even knows where you are.
And that’s not a knock on you, almost nobody is.
But then how does it become my job to digest what has been available
for like over 90 years?
Well, to me, the open question is whether what’s been available for over 90 years
can be, um, there could be, uh, a blueprint of a journey that one takes to
understand it, not to do that with you.
And I, I, one of the things I think I’ve been relatively successful at, for
example, you know, when you ask other people what gauge theory is, you get
these very confusing responses and my response is much simpler.
It’s, oh, it’s a theory of, uh, differentiation where when you calculate
the instantaneous rise over run, you measure the rise, not from a flat
horizontal, but from a custom endogenous reference level.
What do you mean by that?
It’s like, okay.
And then I do this thing with Mount Everest, which is Mount Everest is how
high then they give the height I say above what then they say sea level.
And I say, which sea is that in Nepal?
Like, oh, I guess there isn’t a sea cause it’s landlocked.
It’s like, okay, well, what do you mean by sea level?
Oh, there’s this thing called the geoid I’d never heard of.
Oh, that’s the reference level.
That’s a custom reference level that we imported.
So you, all sorts of people have remembered the exact height of Mount
Everest without ever knowing what it’s a height from.
Well, in this case, engage theory, there’s a hidden reference level where
you measure the rise in rise over run to give the slope of the line.
What if you have different concepts of what, of where that rise should be
measured from that vary within the theory that are endogenous to the theory.
That’s what gauge theory is.
We have a video here, right?
I’m going to use my phone.
If I want to measure my hand and its slope, this is my attempt to
measure it using standard calculus.
In other words, the reference level is apparently flat and I measure the
rise above that phone using my hand.
If I want to use gauge theory, it means I can do this or I can do that, or
I can do this, or I can do this, or I could do what I did from the beginning.
At some level, that’s what gauge theory is.
Now that is an act.
No, I’ve never heard anyone describe it that way.
So while the community may say, well, who is this guy and why does he
have the right to talk in public?
I’m waiting for somebody to jump out of the woodwork and say, you know,
Eric’s whole shtick about rulers and protractors, uh, leading to a derivative.
Derivatives are measured as rise over run above reference level.
The reference levels don’t fit together.
Like I go through this whole shtick in order to make it accessible.
I’ve never heard anyone say it.
I’m trying to make Prometheus would like to discuss fire with everybody else.
I’m going to just say one thing to close out the earlier line, which is what I
think we should have continued with.
When you take the naturally occurring spinners, the unadorned spinners, the
naked spinners, not on this 14 dimensional manifold, but on something very closely
tied to it, which I’ve called the chimeric tangent bundle, that is the object
which stands in for the thing that should have had length and angle on it,
but just missed.
When you take that object and you form spinners on that and you don’t adorn them.
So you’re still in the single origin story.
You get very large spin oriel objects upstairs on this 14 dimensional world.
Why 14, which is part of the observers.
When you pull that information back from Y 14 down to X four, it miraculously
looks like the adorned spinners, the festoon spinners, the spinners that
we play with in ordinary reality.
In other words, the 14 dimensional world looks like a four dimensional world
plus a 10 dimensional compliment.
So 10 plus four equals 14, that 10 dimensional compliment, which is called
a normal bundle, generates spin properties, internal quantum numbers that look like
the things that give our, our particles personality that make let’s say up quarks
and down quarks charged by negative one third or plus two thirds, you know, that
kind of stuff, or whether or not, you know, some quarks feel the weak side.
Quarks feel the weak force and other quarks do not.
So the X four generates Y 14 Y 14 generates something called the chimeric
tangent bundle chimeric tangent bundle generates unadorned spinners.
The unadorned spinners get pulled back from 14 down to four where they
look like adorned spinners.
And we have the right number of them.
You thought you needed three.
You only got two, but then something else that you’d never seen before
broke apart on this journey and it broke into another copy of the thing that you
already have two copies of one piece of that thing broke off.
So now you have two generations plus an imposter third generation, which is, I
don’t know why we never talk about this possibility in regular physics.
And then you’ve got a bunch of stuff that we haven’t seen, which has descriptions.
So people always say, does it make any falsifiable predictions?
Yes, it does.
It says that the matter that you should be seeing, um, next has particular
properties that can be read off like, like a weak ISIS spin, weak hypercharge,
like the responsiveness to the strong force.
The one I can’t tell you is what energy scale it would happen at.
So you would, if you can’t say if those characteristics can be
detected with the current, but it may be that somebody else can.
I’m not a physicist.
I’m not a quantum field theorist.
I can’t, I don’t know how you would do that.
The hope for me is that there’s some simple explanations for all of it.
Like, should we have a drink?
You’re having fun.
No, I’m trying to have fun with you.
You know, there’s a bunch of fun things to talk about here.
Anyway, that was how I got what I thought you wanted, which is,
if you think about the fermions as the artists and the bosons as the brushes
and the paint, what I told you is that’s how we get the artists.
What are the open questions for you in this?
What were the challenges?
So you’re not done.
Well, there’s, there’s things that I would like to have in better order.
So a lot of people will say, see, if you’re going to do this, you have to
say, see, the reason I hesitate on this is I just have a totally different
view than the community.
So for example, I believe that general relativity began in 1913
with Einstein and Grossman.
Now that was the first of like four major papers in this line of thinking.
To most physicists, general relativity happened when Einstein produced, uh,
a divergence free, um, gradient, which turned out to be the gradient of the,
of the so called Hilbert or Einstein Hilbert action.
And from my perspective, that wasn’t true.
This is that it began when Einstein said, look, this is about, um, differential
geometry and it’s the final answer is going to look like a curvature tensor
on one side and matter and energy on the other side.
And that was enough.
And then he published a wrong version of it where it was the Ricci tensor,
not the Einstein tensor.
Then he corrected the reach, the Ricci tensor to make it into the Einstein
tensor, then he corrected that to add a cosmological constant.
I can’t stand that the community thinks in those terms.
There’s some things about which, like there’s a question about
which contraction do I use?
There’s an Einstein contraction.
There’s a Ricci contraction.
They both go between the same spaces.
I’m not sure what I should do.
I’m not sure which contraction I should choose.
This is called a shiab operator for ship in a bottle and my stuff.
You have this big platform in many ways that inspires people’s
curiosity about physics and mathematics.
Now, and I’m one of those people and, but then you start using a lot of words
that I don’t understand and, or like I might know them, but I don’t understand.
And what’s unclear to me, if I’m supposed to be listening to those words, or if
it’s just, if this is one of those technical things that’s intended for
a very small community, or if I’m supposed to actually take those words and start,
you know, a multi year study, not, not a serious study, but a, the community
study, but the kind of study when you, you’re interested in learning about
machine learning, for example, or any kind of discipline, that’s where
I’m a little bit confused.
So you’ve, you’ve speak beautifully about ideas.
You often reveal the beauty in math, in geometry, and I’m unclear in what
are the steps I should be taking.
I, I’m curious, how can I explore?
How can I play with something?
How can I play with these ideas?
And, and, and enjoy the beauty of not necessarily understanding the
depth of the theory that you’re presenting, but start to share in the
beauty, as opposed to sharing and enjoying the beauty of just the way,
the passion with which you speak, which is in itself fun to listen to, but
also starting to be able to understand some aspects of this theory that I can
enjoy it to, and start to build an intuition, what the heck we’re even
talking about, because you’re basically saying we need to throw a lot of our
ideas of, of views of the universe out.
And I’m trying to find accessible ways in, not in this conversation.
No, I appreciate that.
So one of the things that I’ve done is I’ve, I’ve picked on one
paragraph from Edward Witten, and I said, this is the paragraph.
If I could only take one paragraph with me, this is the one I’d take.
And it’s almost all in prose, not an equation.
And he says, look, this is, this is our knowledge of the
universe at its deepest level.
And he was writing this during the 1980s.
And he has three separate points that constitute our deepest knowledge.
And those three points refer to equations, one to the Einstein field
equation, one to the Dirac equation, and one to the Yang Mills Maxwell equation.
Now, one thing I would do is take a look at that paragraph and say, okay,
what do these three lines mean?
Like it’s a finite amount of verbiage.
You can write down every word that you don’t know.
And you can say, what do I think done now?
There’s a beautiful wall in Stony Brook, New York built by someone
who I know you will interview named Jim Simons and Jim Simons.
He’s not the artist, but he’s the guy who funded it.
World’s greatest hedge fund manager.
And on that wall contain the three equations that Witten
refers to in that paragraph.
And so that is the transmission from the paragraph or graph to the wall.
Now that wall needs an owner’s manual, which Roger Penrose has written
called the road to reality.
And let’s call that the tome.
So this is the subject of the so called graph wall tome project that is going
on in our discord server and our general group around the portal community, which
is how do you take something that purports in one paragraph to say what the deepest
understanding man has of the universe in which he lives, it’s memorialized on a
wall, which nobody knows about, which is an incredibly gorgeous piece of, uh, of
And that was written up in a book, which is, has been written for no man.
Maybe, maybe it’s for a woman.
I don’t know, but no, no one should be able to read this book because either
you’re a professional and you know, a lot of this book, in which case it’s kind of
a refresher to see how Roger thinks about these things, or you don’t even know that
this book is a self contained, uh, invitation to understanding our deepest
So I would say find yourself in the graph wall tome transmission sequence and join
the graph wall tome project if that’s of interest.
Uh, now just to linger on a little longer, what kind of journey do you
see geometric community taking?
I don’t know.
I mean, that’s the thing is that.
First of all, the professional community has to get very angry and outraged and
they have to work through their feeling that this is nonsense.
This is bullshit or like, no, wait a minute.
This is really cool.
Actually, I need some clarification over here.
So there’s going to be some sort of weird coming back together process.
Are you already hearing murmurings of that?
It was very funny.
Officially I’ve seen very little.
So it’s perhaps happening quietly.
You, you often talk about, we need to get off this planet.
Can I try to sneak up on that by asking what in your kind of view is the
difference, the gap between the science of it, the theory and the actual
engineering of building something that leverages the theory to do something?
Like how big is that?
We don’t know.
I mean, if you have 10 extra dimensions to play with that are the rules of
protractors of the world themselves, can you gain access to those dimensions?
Do you have a hunch?
So I don’t know.
I don’t want to get ahead of myself because you have to appreciate, I can
have hunches and I can, I can jaw off.
But one of the ways that I’m succeeding in this world is to not bow down to my
professional communities nor to ignore them.
Like I’m actually in the middle of a world where I’m not
going to ignore them, like I’m actually interested in the criticism.
I just want to denature it so that it’s not mostly interpersonal and irrelevant.
I believe that they don’t want me to speculate and I don’t
need to speculate about this.
I can simply say I’m open to the idea that it may have engineering prospects
and it may be a death sentence.
We may find out that there’s not enough new here that even if it were right, that
there would be nothing new to do.
Can’t tell you that’s what you mean by death sentences.
There would not be exciting breakthroughs.
Wouldn’t it be terrible if you couldn’t, like you can do new things in an
Einsteinian world that you couldn’t do in a Newtonian world, right?
You know, like you have twin paradoxes or Lorentz contraction of length or
any one of a number of new cool things happen in relativity theory
that didn’t happen for Newton.
What if there wasn’t new stuff to do at the next and final level?
Yeah, that would be quite sad.
Let me ask a silly question, but we’ll say it with a straight face.
So let me mention Elon Musk.
What are your thoughts about he’s more, you’re more on the physics theory side
of things, he’s more on the physics engineering side of things in terms of
SpaceX efforts, what do you think of his efforts to, uh, get off this planet?
Well, I think he’s the other guy who’s semi serious about getting off this planet.
I think there are two of us who are semi serious about getting off the planet.
What do you think about his methodology and yours when you look at them?
Don’t, and I don’t want to be against you because like I was so excited that like
your top video was Ray Kurzweil and then I did your podcast and we had some
chemistry, so it zoomed up and I thought, okay, I’m going to beat Ray Kurzweil.
So just as I’m coming up on Ray Kurzweil, you’re like, and now Alex Fridman
special Elon Musk and he blew me out of the water.
So I don’t want to be petty about it.
I want to say that I don’t, but I am.
But here’s the funny part.
Um, he’s not taking enough risk.
Like he’s trying to get us to Mars.
Imagine that he got us to Mars, the moon, and we’ll throw in Titan and nowhere
good enough, the diversification level is too low.
Now there’s a compatibility.
First of all, I don’t think Elon is serious about Mars.
I think Elon is using Mars as a, as a narrative, as a story, as a dream to
make the moon jealous to make the, uh,
uh, I think he’s using it as a story to organize us, to reacquaint ourselves
with our need for space, our need to get off this planet.
It’s a concrete thing.
He shown that, um, many people think that he’s shown that he’s the most
brilliant and capable person on the planet.
I don’t think that’s what he showed.
I think he showed that the rest of us have forgotten our capabilities.
And so he’s like the only guy who has still kept the faith and is like,
what’s wrong with you people?
So you think the lesson we should draw from Elon Musk is there’s, uh, there’s
a capable person within, within a lot of us, Elon makes sense to me in what way
he’s doing, what any sensible person should do.
He’s trying incredible things and he’s partially succeeding, partially failing
to try to solve the obvious problems before, you know, when he comes up with
things like, uh, you know, I got it.
We’ll come up with a battery company, but batteries aren’t sexy.
So we’ll, we’ll make a car around it.
It’s like, great, you know, or, um, any one of a number of things.
Elon is behaving like a sane person and I view everyone else is insane.
And my feeling is, is that we really have to get off this planet.
We have to get out of this.
We have to get out of the neighborhood.
To linger on a little bit.
Do you think that’s a physics problem or an engineering problem?
I think it’s a cowardice problem.
I think that we’re afraid that we had 400 hitters of the mind, like Einstein
and Dirac and that, that era is done.
And now we’re just sort of copy editors.
So it’s some of it money, like if we become brave enough to go outside the
solar system, can we afford to financially?
Well, I think that that’s not really the issue.
The issue is look what Elon did well, he amassed a lot of money and then he,
you know, he plowed it back in and he spun, spun the wheel and he made more
money and now he’s got F you money.
Now the problem is, is that a lot of the people who have F you money are not
people whose middle finger you ever want to see.
I want to see Elon’s middle finger.
I want to see what he’s doing by that.
Or like when you say, fuck it, I’m going to do the biggest possible.
Do whatever the fuck you want, right?
Fuck anything that gets in his way that he can afford to push out of his way.
And you’re saying he’s not actually even doing that enough.
No, I’m he’s not going, please.
I’m going to go.
Elon’s doing fine with his money.
I just want him to enjoy himself, have the most, you know, Dionysian, but
you’re saying Mars is playing it safe.
He doesn’t know how to do anything else.
He knows rockets and he might know some physics at a fundamental level.
I guess, okay, just, let me just go right back to how much physics do you really,
how much brilliant breakthrough ideas on the physics side do you
need to get off this planet?
I don’t know.
And I don’t know whether like in my most optimistic dream, I don’t know
whether my stuff gets us out of this.
Like in my most optimistic dream, I don’t know whether my stuff gets us off the
planet, but it’s hope it’s hope that there’s a more fundamental theory that
we can access that we don’t need.
Um, you know, whose elegance and beauty will suggest that this is probably
the way the universe goes.
Like you have to say this weird thing, which is this, I believe, and this,
I believe is a very dangerous statement, but this, I believe, I believe that my
theory, um, points the way now, Elon might or might not be able to access my
I don’t know.
I don’t know what he knows, but keep in mind, why are we all so focused on Elon?
It’s really weird.
It’s kind of creepy too.
Why he’s just the person who’s just asking the, the obvious questions
and doing whatever he can, but he makes sense to me.
You see Craig Venter makes sense to me.
Jim Watson makes sense to me, but we’re focusing on Elon.
Because he’s, he’s somehow is rare.
Well, that’s the weird thing.
Like we’ve come up with a system that eliminates all Elon from our pipeline
and Elon somehow, uh, snuck through when they weren’t quality adjusting
everything, you know?
And this, this idea of, uh, of disc, right?
Distributed idea suppression complex.
Is that what’s bringing the Elans of the world down?
You know, it’s so funny.
It’s like, he’s asking Joe Rogan, like, is that a joint, you know, it’s like,
well, what, what will happen if I smoke it?
What will happen to the stock price?
What will happen if I scratch myself in public?
What will happen if I say what I think about Thailand or COVID or who knows what?
And everybody’s like, don’t say that, say this, go do this, go do that.
Well, it’s crazy making, it’s absolutely crazy making.
And if you think about what we put through people through, um, we, we
need to get people who can use FU money, the FU money they need to insulate
themselves from all of the people who know better, because the, the, my
nightmare is, is that why did we only get one Elon?
What if we were supposed to have thousands and thousands of Elans?
And the weird thing is like, this is all that remains you’re, you’re looking
at like OB one and Yoda, and it’s like, this is the only, this is all that’s
left after X, uh, order 66 has been executed.
And that’s the thing that’s really upsetting to me is we used, we
used to have Elon’s five deep.
And then we could talk about Elon in the context of his cohort.
But this is like, if you were to see a giraffe in the Arctic with no
trees around, you’d think why the long neck, what a strange sight, you know?
You know, how do we get more Elans?
How do we change these?
So I think the use, so we know MIT and Harvard, so maybe returning to our
previous conversation, my sense is that the Elans of the world are supposed
to come from MIT and Harvard, right?
And how do you change?
Let’s think of one that MIT sort of killed.
Have any names in mind?
Aaron Schwartz leaps to my mind.
Are we MIT supposed to shield the Aaron Schwartz’s from, I don’t know, journal
publishers, or are we supposed to help the journal publishers so that we can
throw 35 year sentences in his face or whatever it is that we did that depressed
So here’s my point.
I want MIT to go back to being the home of Aaron Schwartz, and if you want to
send Aaron Schwartz to a state where he’s looking at 35 years in prison or
something like that, you are my sworn enemy.
You are not MIT.
You are the traitors, uh, irresponsible, middle brow, pencil pushing green
eyeshade fool that needs to not be in the seat at the, at the presidency of MIT
period, the end, get the fuck out of there and let one of our people sit in that
And the thing that you’ve articulated is that the people in those chairs are not
the way they are because they’re evil or somehow morally compromised is that it’s
just the, that’s the distributed nature is that there’s some kind of aspect of
the system that people who wed themselves to the system, they adapt every instinct.
And the fact is, is that they’re not going to be on Joe Rogan smoking a blunt.
Let me ask a silly question.
Do you think institutions generally just tend to become that?
We get some of the institutions, we get Caltech.
Here’s what we’re supposed to have.
We’re supposed to have Caltech.
We’re supposed to have a read.
We’re supposed to have deep springs.
We’re supposed to have MIT.
We’re supposed to have a part of Harvard.
And when the sharp elbow crowd comes after the shelf, sharp, uh, mind crowd,
we’re supposed to break those sharp elbows and say, don’t come around here
So what are the weapons that the sharp minds are supposed to use in our modern
So to reclaim MIT, what, what is the, what’s the future?
Are you kidding me?
First of all, assume that this is being seen at MIT.
Hey everybody is okay.
Hey everybody, try to remember who you are.
You’re the guys who put the police car on top of the great dump.
You guys came up with the great breast of knowledge.
You created a Tetris game in the green building.
Now, what is your problem?
Is your problem they killed one of your own.
You should make their life a living hell.
You should be the ones who keep the mayor memory of Aaron Schwartz alive and all
of those hackers and all of those mutants, you know,
it’s like it’s either our place or it isn’t.
And if we have to throw 12 more pianos off of the
If Harold Edgerton was taking those photographs, you know,
uh, with slow mo back in the forties,
if Noam Chomsky is on your faculty,
what the hell is wrong with you kids?
You are the most creative and insightful people and you can’t figure out how to
defend Aaron Schwartz. That’s on you guys.
So some of that is giving more power to the young, like you said,
no, it’s taking power from taking power from the feeble and the middle
Brown. Yeah. But how do you, what is the mechanism to me?
I don’t know. You, you have some nine volt batteries, copper wire.
I, uh, I tend to, do you have a capacitor?
I tend to believe you have to create an alternative and, uh,
make the alternative so much better that it makes MIT obsolete unless
they change. And that’s what forces change. So as opposed to somehow,
okay, so use projection mapping, what’s projection mapping,
where you take some complicated edifice and you map all of its planes.
And then you actually project some unbelievable graphics,
re skinning a building, let’s say at night. That’s right. Yeah. Okay.
So you want to do some graffiti art with like basically want to hack the system.
No, I’m saying, look, listen to me. Yeah. We’re smarter than they are.
And they, you know what they say? They say things like,
okay, I think we need some geeks. Get me two PhDs.
Right. You treat PhDs like that. That’s a bad move.
Because PhDs are capable and we act like our job is to peel
grapes for our betters.
Yeah. That’s a strange thing. And I,
I you speak about it very eloquently is how we treat basically
the greatest minds in the world, which is like at their prime,
which is PhD students like that. We pay them nothing.
Uh, I’m done with it. Yeah. Right. We got to take what’s ours.
So, so take back MIT, become ungovernable,
become ungovernable. And by the way, when you become ungovernable,
don’t do it by throwing food.
Don’t do it by pouring salt on the lawn, like a jerk,
do it through brilliance, because what you Caltech and MIT can do,
and maybe Rensselaer Polytechnic or Worcester Polytech, I don’t know.
Lehigh. God damn it. What’s wrong with you technical people?
You act like you’re a servant class.
It’s unclear to me how you reclaim it except with brilliance,
like you said. Uh,
but to me that the way you reclaim it with brilliance is to go outside the
Aaron Schwartz came from the Elon Musk class.
What are you guys going to do about it? Right.
The super capable people need to flex,
need to be individual. They need to stop giving away all their power to,
you know, a zeitgeist or a community or this or that you’re not,
you’re not indoor cats. You’re outdoor cats. Go be outdoor cats.
Do you think we’re going to see this, this kind of one asking me, you know,
before, like what about the world war II generation? Right.
and I’m trying to say is that there’s a technical revolt coming here’s you want
to talk about it, but I’m trying to lead it. I’m trying to see,
no, you’re not trying to lead it. I’m trying to get a blueprint here.
All right, Lex. Yeah.
How angry are you about our country pretending that you and I can’t actually do
technical subjects so that they need an army of, uh,
kids coming in from four countries in Asia.
It’s not about the four countries in Asia. It’s not about those kids.
It’s about lying about us that we don’t care enough about science and
technology that we’re incapable of it as if we don’t have Chinese and Russians
and Russians and Koreans and Croatians. Like we’ve got everybody here.
The only reason you’re looking outside is,
is that you want to hire cheap people from the family business because you don’t
want to pass the family business on. And you know what?
You didn’t really build the family business. It’s not yours to decide.
You the boomers and you the silent generation, you did your bit,
but you also fouled a lot of stuff up and you’re custodians.
You are caretakers. You were supposed to hand something.
What you did instead was to gorge yourself on cheap foreign labor,
which you then held up as being much more brilliant than your own children,
which was never true.
But I’m trying to understand how we create a better system without anger,
without revolution, not, not,
not by kissing and hugs and, and,
but by any,
I don’t understand within MIT what the mechanism of building a better MIT is.
We’re not going to pay Elsevier. Aaron Schwartz was right.
JSTOR is an abomination.
But why, who within MIT, who within institutions is going to do that?
When just like you said,
the people who are running the show are more senior.
I don’t know, get Frank Wilczek to speak out.
So you’re, it’s basically individuals that step up. I mean,
one of the surprising things about Elon is that one person can inspire so
He’s got academic freedom. It just comes from money.
I don’t agree with that. That you think money. Okay.
So yes, certainly. Sorry.
And testicles. Yes.
I think that testicles are more important than money or guts.
I think I do agree with you.
You speak about this a lot that because the money in academic institutions
has been so constrained that people are misbehaving and horrible.
But I don’t think that if we reverse that and give a huge amount of money,
people will all of a sudden behave well. I think it also takes guts.
No, you need to give people security. Security. Yes.
Like you need to know that you have a job on Monday when on
Friday you say, I’m not so sure I really love diversity and inclusion.
And somebody is like, wait, what? You didn’t love diversity?
We had a statement on diversity and you wouldn’t sign.
Are you against the inclusion part or are you against diverse?
Do you just not like people like you?
Like actually that has nothing to do with anything.
You’re making this into something that it isn’t.
I don’t want to sign your goddamn stupid statement and get out of my lab,
right? Get out of my lab. It all begins from the middle finger.
Get out of my lab. The administrators need to find other
Yeah. Listen, I agree with you and I hope to seek your advice
and wisdom as we change this, because I’d love to see…
I will visit you in prison if that’s what you’re asking.
I have no… I think prison is great.
You get a lot of reading done and good working out.
Well, let me ask something I brought up before is the Nietzsche quote
of beware that when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster.
For when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes into you.
Are you worried that your focus on the flaws in the system
that we’ve just been talking about has damaged your mind
or the part of your mind that’s able to see the beauty in the world
in the system that because you have so sharply been able to see
the flaws in the system, you can no longer step back and appreciate its beauty?
Look, I’m the one who’s trying to get the institutions to save themselves
by getting rid of their inhabitants, but leaving the institution
like a neutron bomb that removes the unworkable leadership class,
but leaves the structures.
So the leadership class is really the problem.
The leadership class is the problem.
But the individual, like the professors, the individual scholars…
No, the professors are going to have to go back into training
to remember how to be professors.
Like people are cowards at the moment because if they’re not cowards,
Yeah, that’s one of the disappointing things I’ve encountered is to me, tenure…
But nobody has tenure now.
Whether they do or not, they certainly don’t have the kind of character
and fortitude that I was hoping to see.
But they’d be gone.
See, you’re dreaming about the people who used to live at MIT.
You’re dreaming about the previous inhabitants of your university.
And if you looked at somebody like, you know, Isidore Singer is very old.
I don’t know what state he’s in, but that guy was absolutely the real deal.
And if you look at Noam Chomsky, tell me that Noam Chomsky has been muzzled.
Now, what I’m trying to get at is you’re talking about younger energetic people,
but those people…
Like when I say something like, I’m against…
I’m for inclusion and I’m for diversity, but I’m against diversity and inclusion TM,
like the movement.
Well, I couldn’t say that if I was a professor.
Oh my God, he’s against our sacred document.
Well, in that kind of a world, do you want to know how many things I don’t agree with you on?
Like we could go on for days and days and days, all the nonsense that you’ve parroted inside of the institution.
Any sane person like has no need for it.
They have no want or desire.
Do you think you have to have some patience for nonsense when many people work together in a system?
How long has string theory gone on for?
And how long have I been patient?
So you’re talking about…
There’s a limit to patience.
You’re talking about like 36 years of modern nonsense and string theory.
So you can do like eight to 10 years, but not more.
I can do 40 minutes.
This is 36 years.
Well, you’ve done that over two hours already.
No, but I appreciate it.
But it’s been 36 years of nonsense since the anomaly cancellation in string theory.
It’s like, what are you talking about about patience?
I mean, Lex, you’re not even acting like yourself.
You’re trying to stay in the system.
I’m not trying…
I’m trying to see if perhaps… So my hope is that the system just has a few assholes in it,
which you highlight, and the fundamentals of the system are broken.
Because if the fundamentals of the systems are broken, then I just don’t see a way for MIT to succeed.
Like, I don’t see how young people take over MIT.
I don’t see how…
By inspiring us.
You know, the great part about being at MIT, like when you saw the genius in these pranks,
the heart, the irreverence, it’s like, don’t…
We were talking about Tom Lehrer the last time.
Tom Lehrer was as naughty as the day is long.
Was he also a genius?
Was he well spoken?
Was he highly cultured?
He was so talented, so intellectual that he could just make fart jokes morning,
noon and night.
Well, in part, the right to make fart jokes, the right to, for example, put a functioning
phone booth that was ringing on top of the great dome at MIT has to do with we are such
bad asses that we can actually do this stuff.
Well, don’t tell me about it anymore.
Go break the law.
Go break the law in a way that inspires us and makes us not want to prosecute you.
Break the law in a way that lets us know that you’re calling us out on our bullshit, that
you’re filled with love, and that our technical talent has not gone to sleep, it’s not incapable.
And if the idea is that you’re going to dig a moat around the university and fill it with
tiger sharks, that’s awesome because I don’t know how you’re going to do it.
But if you actually manage to do that, I’m not going to prosecute you under a reckless
That’s beautifully put.
I hope those, first of all, they’ll listen, I hope young people at MIT will take over
in this kind of way.
In the introduction to your podcast episode on Jeffrey Epstein, you give to me a really
moving story, but unfortunately for me, too brief, about your experience with a therapist
and a lasting terror that permeated your mind.
Can you go there, can you tell?
I don’t think so.
I mean, I appreciate what you’re saying.
I said it obliquely, I said enough.
There are bad people who cross our paths and the current vogue is to say, oh, I’m a survivor,
I’m a victim, I can do anything I want.
This is a broken person and I don’t know why I was sent to a broken person as a kid.
And to be honest with you, I also felt like in that story, I say that I was able to say
no and this was like the entire weight of authority and he was misusing his position
and I was also able to say no.
What I couldn’t say no to was having him re inflicted in my life.
Right, so you were sent back a second time.
I tried to complain about what had happened and I tried to do it in a way that did not
immediately cause horrific consequences to both this person and myself because we don’t
have the tools to deal with sexual misbehavior.
We have nuclear weapons, we don’t have any way of saying this is probably not a good
place or a role for you at this moment as an authority figure and something needs to
be worked on.
So in general, when we see somebody who is misbehaving in that way, our immediate instinct
is to treat the person as Satan and we understand why.
We don’t want our children to be at risk.
Now I personally believe that I fell down on the job and did not call out the Jeffrey
Epstein thing early enough because I was terrified of what Jeffrey Epstein represents and this
recapitulated the old terror trying to tell the world this therapist is out of control.
And when I said that, the world responded by saying, well, you have two appointments
booked and you have to go for the second one.
So I got re inflicted into this office on this person who was now convinced that I was
about to tear down his career and his reputation and might have been on the verge of suicide
for all I know.
I don’t know.
But he was very, very angry and he was furious with me that I had breached a sacred confidence
of his office.
What kind of ripple effects does that have?
Has that had to the rest of your life?
The absurdity and the cruelty of that?
I mean, there’s no sense to it.
Well, see, this is the thing people don’t really grasp, I think there’s an academic
who I got to know many years ago, um, named Jennifer fried, who has a theory of betrayal,
which she calls institutional betrayal.
And her gambit is, is that when you were betrayed by an institution that is sort of like a fiduciary
or a parental obligation to take care of you, that you find yourself in a far different
situation with respect to trauma than if you were betrayed by somebody who’s a peer.
And so I think that my, in my situation, um, I kind of repeat a particular dynamic with
I come in not following all the rules, trying to do some things, not trying to do others,
blah, blah, blah.
And then I get into a weird relationship with authority.
And so I have more experience with what I would call institutional betrayal.
Now, the funny part about it is that when you don’t have masks or PPE in a influenza
like pandemic and you missing ICU beds and ventilators, that is ubiquitous institutional
So I believe that in a weird way, I was very early, the idea of, and this is like the really
hard concept pervasive or otherwise universal institutional betrayal where all of the institutions
you can count on any hospital to not charge you properly for what their services are.
You can count on no pharmaceutical company to produce the drug that will be maximally
beneficial to the people who take it.
You know that your financial professionals are not simply working in your best interest.
And that issue had to do with the way in which growth left our system.
So I think that the weird thing is, is that this first institutional betrayal by a therapist
left me very open to the idea of, okay, well maybe the schools are bad.
Maybe the hospitals are bad.
Maybe the drug companies are bad.
Maybe our food is off.
Maybe our journalists are not serving journalistic ends.
And that was what allowed me to sort of go all the distance and say, huh, I wonder if
our problem is that something is causing all of our sensemaking institutions to be off.
That was the big insight and that tying that to a single ideology.
What if it’s just about growth?
They were all built on growth and now we’ve promoted people who are capable of keeping
quiet that their institutions aren’t working.
So we’ve, the privileged silent aristocracy, the people who can be counted upon, not to
mention a fire when a raging fire is tearing through a building.
But nevertheless, it’s how big of a psychological burden is that?
It’s very, it’s very comforting to be the parental, I mean, I don’t know.
I treasure, I mean, we were just talking about MIT.
We can, until I can intellectualize and agree with everything you’re saying, but there’s
a comfort, a warm blanket of being within the institution and up until Aaron Schwartz,
let’s say, in other words, now, if I look at the provost and the president as mommy
and daddy, you did what to my big brother?
You did what to our family?
You sold us out in which way?
What secrets left for China?
You hired which workforce?
You did what to my wages?
You took this portion of my grant for what purpose?
You just stole my retirement through a fringe rate.
What did you do?
But can you still, I mean, the thing is about this view you have is it often turns out to
be sadly correct.
Well, this is the thing.
But let me just, in this silly, hopeful thing, do you still have hope in institutions?
Can you within your, psychologically, I’m referring not intellectually, because you
have to carry this burden, can you still have a hope within you?
When you sit at home alone and as opposed to seeing the darkness within these institutions,
seeing a hope.
Well, but this is the thing.
I want to confront, not for the purpose of a dust up.
I believe, for example, if you’ve heard episode 19, that the best outcome is for Carol Greider
to come forward, as we discussed in episode 19, and say, you know what, I screwed up.
He did call.
He did suggest the experiment.
I didn’t understand that it was his theory that was producing it.
I was slow to grasp it.
But my bad.
And I don’t want to pay for this bad choice on my part, let’s say.
For the rest of my career, I want to own up, and I want to help make sure that we do what’s
right with what’s left.
And that’s one little case within the institution that you would like to see made.
I would like to see MIT very clearly come out and say, Margot O’Toole was right when
she said David Baltimore’s lab here produced some stuff that was not reproducible with
Teresa Imanishi Kari’s research.
I want to see the courageous people.
I would like to see the Aaron Schwartz wing of the computer science department.
Yeah, wouldn’t, no, let’s think about it.
Wouldn’t that be great if we said, you know, an injustice was done and we’re going to write
that wrong just as if this was Alan Turing?
Which I don’t think they’ve righted that wrong.
Well then let’s have the Turing Schwartz wing.
They’re starting a new college of computing.
It wouldn’t be wonderful to call it the Turing Schwartz wing.
I would like to have the Madame Wu wing of the physics department.
And I’d love to have the Emmy Nerder statue in front of the math department.
I mean, like you want to get excited about actual diversity and inclusion?
Well, let’s go with our absolute best people who never got theirs because there is structural
bigotry, you know?
But if we don’t actually start celebrating the beautiful stuff that we’re capable of
when we’re handed heroes and we fumble them into the trash, what the hell?
I mean, Lex, this is such nonsense.
We just pulling our head out.
You know, on everyone’s cecum should be tattooed, if you can read this, you’re too close.
Beautifully put and I’m a dreamer just like you.
So I don’t see as much of the darkness genetically or due to my life experience, but I do share
From my teeth, the institution that we care a lot about.
You both do.
And a Harvard institution I don’t give a damn about, but you do.
So I love Harvard.
I’m just kidding.
I love Harvard, but Harvard and I have a very difficult relationship.
And part of what, you know, when you love a family that isn’t working, I don’t want
I didn’t bring up the name of the president of MIT during the Aaron Schwartz period.
It’s not vengeance.
I want the rot cleared out.
I don’t need to go after human beings.
Just like you said with the, with the disc formulation, the individual human beings aren’t
don’t necessarily carry them.
It’s those chairs that are so powerful that in which they sit.
It’s the chairs, not the humans, not the humans without naming names.
Can you tell the story of your struggle during your time at Harvard, maybe in a way that
tells the bigger story of the struggle of young bright minds that are trying to come
up with big, bold ideas within the institutions that we’re talking about?
You can start.
I mean, in part, uh, it starts with, uh, coffee with, uh, a couple, uh, of Croatians in the
math department at MIT.
And, um, we used to talk about, um, music and dance and math and physics and love and
all this kind of stuff as Eastern Europeans, uh, love to, and I ate it up and my friend
Gordon, uh, who was, uh, an instructor in the MIT math department when I was a graduate
student at Harvard said to me, I’m probably gonna do a bad version of her accent, but
here we go.
It, um, will I see you tomorrow at the secret seminar?
And I said, w what secret seminar, Eric, don’t joke.
I said, I’m not used to this style of humor.
Then she’s Eric, the secret seminar that your advisor is running.
I said, what are you talking about?
Ha ha ha, uh, you know, your advisor is running a secret seminar on this aspect.
I think it was like the churn Simon’s invariant.
I’m not sure what the topic was again, but she gave me the room number and the time and
she was like not cracking a smile.
I’ve never known her to make this kind of a joke.
And I thought this was crazy and I was trying to have an advisor.
I didn’t want an advisor, but people said you have to have one.
So I took one and I went to this room at like 15 minutes early and there was not a soul
It was outside of the math department and it was still in the same building, the science
center at Harvard.
And I sat there and I let five minutes go by, I let seven minutes go by, 10 minutes
I thought, okay, so this was all an elaborate joke.
And then like three minutes to the hour, this graduate student walks in and like sees me
and does a double take.
And then I start to see the professors in geometry and topology start to file in and
everybody’s like very disconcerted that I’m in this room.
And finally the person who was supposed to be my advisor walks in to the seminar and
sees me and goes white as a ghost.
And I realized that the secret seminar is true, that the department is conducting a
secret seminar on the exact topic that I’m interested in, not telling me about it.
And that these are the reindeer games that the Rudolph’s of the department are not invited
And so then I realized, okay, I did not understand it.
There’s a parallel department.
And that became the beginning of an incredible odyssey in which I came to understand that
the game that I had been sold about publication, about blind refereeing, about openness and
scientific transmission of information was all a lie.
I came to understand that at the very top, there’s a second system that’s about closed
meetings and private communications and agreements about citation and publication that the rest
of us don’t understand.
And that in large measure, that is the thing that I won’t submit to.
And so when you ask me questions like, well, why wouldn’t you feel good about, you know,
talking to your critics or why wouldn’t you feel the answer is, oh, you don’t know.
Like if you stay in a nice hotel, you don’t realize that there is an entire second structure
inside of that hotel where like there’s usually a worker’s cafe in a resort complex that isn’t
available to the people who are staying in the hotel.
And then there are private hallways inside the same hotel that are parallel structures.
So that’s what I found, which was in essence, just the way you can stay hotels your whole
life and not realize that inside of every hotel is a second structure that you’re not
supposed to see as the guest.
There is a second structure inside of academics that behaves totally differently with respect
to how people get dinged, how people get their grants taken away, how this person comes to
have that thing named after them.
And by pretending that we’re not running a parallel structure, um, I have no patience
for that anymore.
So I got a chance to see how the game, how hard ball is really played at Harvard.
And I’m now eager to play hard ball back with the same people who played hard ball with
Let me ask two questions on this.
So one, do you think it’s possible, so I call those people assholes, that’s the technical
Do you think it’s possible that that’s just not the entire system, but a part of the system?
Sort of that there’s, you can navigate, you can swim in the waters and find the groups
of people who do aspire to the openness.
The guy who rescued my phd was one of the people who filed in to the secret seminar.
But are there people outside of this, right?
Is he an asshole?
Well, yes, I was, it was a bad, no, but I’m trying to make this point, which is this isn’t
my failure to correctly map these people.
You, you have a simplification that isn’t going to work.
I think, okay.
If I asked what was the wrong term, I would say lacking of character and what would you
have had these people do?
Why did they do this?
Why have a secret seminar?
I don’t understand the exact dynamics of a secret seminar, but I think the right thing
to do is to, I mean, to see individuals like you, there might be a reason to have a secret
seminar, but they should detect that an individual like you, a brilliant mind who’s thinking
about certain ideas could be damaged by this.
I don’t think that they see it that way.
The idea is we’re going to sneak food to the children we want to survive.
So that that’s highly problematic and there should be people within that room.
I’m trying to say this is the thing, the ball that can’t is thrown, but won’t be caught.
The problem is they know that most of their children won’t survive and they can’t say
Sorry to interrupt.
You mean that the fact that the whole system is underfunded, that they naturally have to
They live in a world which reached steady state at some level, let’s say, you know,
in the early seventies and in that world before that time you have a professor like Norman
Steenrod and you’d have 20 children that is graduate students and all of them would go
on to be professors and all of them would want to have 20 children, right?
So you start like taking higher and higher powers of 20 and you see that the system could
not, it’s not just about money, the system couldn’t survive.
So the way it’s supposed to work now is that we should shut down the vast majority of PhD
programs and we should let the small number of truly top places populate, um, mostly teaching
and research departments that aren’t PhD producing.
We don’t want to do that because we use PhD students as a labor force.
So the whole thing has to do with growth, resources, dishonesty, and in that world you
see all of these adaptations to a ruthless world where the key question is where are
we going to bury this huge number of bodies of people who don’t work out?
So my problem was I wasn’t interested in dying.
So you clearly highlight that there’s aspects of the system that are broken, but as an individual,
is your role to, uh, exit the system or just acknowledge that it’s a game and win it?
My role is to survive and thrive in the public eye.
In other words, when you have an escapee of the system, like yourself, such as, and that
person says, you know, I wasn’t exactly finished, let me show you a bunch of stuff.
Let me show you that, uh, the theory of telomeres never got reported properly.
Let me show you that all of, uh, marginal economics, uh, is supposed to be redone with
a different version of the differential calculus.
Let me show you that you didn’t understand the self dual Yang Mills equations correctly
in topology and physics because they’re in fact, uh, much more broadly found and it’s
only the mutations that happen in special dimensions.
There are lots of things to say, but this particular group of people, like if you just
take, where are all the gen X and millennial university presidents?
They’re all, they’re all in a holding pattern.
Now where, why in this story, you know, was it of telomeres?
Was it an older professor and a younger graduate student?
It’s this issue of what would be called interference competition.
So for example, orcas try to drown minke whales by covering their blow holes so that they
suffocate because the needed resource is air.
Well, what do the universities do?
They try to make sure that you can’t be viable, that you need them, that you need their grants.
You need to be, uh, zinged with overhead charges or fringe rates or all of the games that the
locals love to play.
Well, my point is, okay, what’s the cost of this?
How many people died as a result of these interference competition games?
You know, when you take somebody like Douglas Prasher who did green fluorescent protein
and he drives a shuttle bus, right?
Cause he, his grant runs out and he has to give away all of his research and all of that
research gets a Nobel prize and he gets to drive a shuttle bus for $35,000 a year.
What do you mean by died?
You mean their career, their dreams, their passions?
Yeah, the whole, as an academic, Doug Prasher was dead for a long period of time.
So as a, as a person who’s escaped the system, can’t you at this, cause you also have in
your mind a powerful theory that may turn out to be a useful, maybe not.
So can’t you also play the game enough?
Like with the children, so like publish and, but also if you told me that this would work,
really what I want to do, you see, is I would love to revolutionize a field with an H index
of zero, like we have these proxies that count how many papers you’ve written, how cited
are the papers you’ve written.
All of this is nonsense.
What do you mean by field with an H index as your, so a totally new field.
H index is count somehow.
How many papers have you gotten that get so many citations?
Let’s say H index undefined, like for example, um, I don’t have an advisor for my PhD, but
I have to have an advisor as far as something called the math genealogy project that tracks
who advised who, who advised whom down the line.
So I am my own advisor, which sets up a loop, right?
How many students do I have?
An infinite number.
Um, your descendants, they don’t want to have that story.
So I have to be, I have to have formal advisor, Raul bought, and my Wikipedia entry, for example,
says that I was advised by Raul bought, which is not true.
So you get fit into a system that says, well, we have to know what your H index is.
We have to know, um, you know, where are you a professor?
If you want to apply for a grant, it makes all of these assumptions.
What I’m trying to do is in part to show all of this is nonsense.
This is proxy BS that came up in the institutional setting.
And right now it’s important for those of us who are still vital, like Elon, it would
be great to have Elon as a professor of physics and engineering.
It seems ridiculous to say, but just as a shot, just as a shot in the arm.
You know, like it’d be great to have Elon at Caltech even one day a week, one day a
Well, why can’t we be in there?
It’s the same reason.
Well, why can’t you be on the view?
Why can’t you be on bill Martin?
We need to know what you’re going to do before we take you on the show on the show.
Well, I don’t want to tell you what I’m going to do.
Do you think you need to be able to dance the dance a little bit?
I can dance the dance fun to be on the view.
Oh, come on.
So you can, yeah, you do.
You’re not, I can do that.
Here’s where the place that it goes south is there like a set of questions that get
you into this more adversarial stuff.
And you’ve in fact asked some of those more adversarial questions, the setting, and they’re
not things that are necessarily aggressive, but they’re things that are making assumptions.
So when you make a, I have a question is like, you know, Lex, are you avoiding your critics?
You know, it’s just like, okay, well why did you?
You frame that that way.
Or the next question would be like, um, do you think that you should have a special exemption
and that you should have the right to break rules and everyone else should have to follow
Like that question I find innervating.
It doesn’t really come out of anything meaningful.
It’s just like we feel we’re supposed to ask that of the other person to show that we’re
not captured by their madness.
That’s not the real question you want to ask me.
If you want to get really excited about this, you want to ask, do you think this thing is
Weirdly I do.
Do you think that it’s going to be immediately seen to be right?
I think it’s going to, it’s going to have an interesting fight and it’s going to have
an interesting evolution and well, what do you hope to do with it in nonphysical terms?
Gosh, I hope it revolutionizes our relationship of well with people outside of the institutional
framework and it re inflicts us into the institutional framework where we can do the most good to
bring the institutions back to health.
You know, it’s like these are positive, uplifting questions and if you had Frank will check,
you wouldn’t say, Frank, let’s be honest, you have done very little with your life after
the original, a huge show that you used to break onto the physics scene.
Like we weirdly ask people different questions based upon how they sit down.
That’s very strange, right?
But you have to understand that.
So here’s the thing.
I get these days, a large number of emails from people with the equivalent of a theory
of everything for AGI and I use my own radar, BS radar to detect unfairly, perhaps whether
they’re full of shit or not, because I love where you’re going with this, by the way.
My concern I often think about is there’s elements of brilliance in what people write
to me and I’m trying to right now, as you made it clear, the kind of judgments and assumptions
we make, how am I supposed to deal with you who are not an outsider of the system and
think about what you’re doing because my radar is saying you’re not full of shit.
But I’m also not completely outside of the system.
You’ve danced beautifully.
You’ve actually got all the credibility that you’re supposed to get, all the nice little
stamps of approval, not all, but a large enough amount.
I mean, it’s hard to put into words exactly why you sound, whether your theory turns out
to be good or not, you sound like a special human being.
I appreciate that and thank you in a good way.
So but what am I supposed to do with that flood of emails from AGI?
Why do I sound different?
I don’t know.
And I would like to systemize that.
I don’t know.
Look, you know, when you’re talking to people, you very quickly can surmise, like, am I claiming
to be a physicist?
No, I say it every turn.
I’m not a physicist, right?
When I say to you, when you say something about bundles, you say, well, can you explain
You know, I’m pushing around on this area, that lever over there.
I’m trying to find something that we can play with and engage.
And you know, another thing is that I’ll say something at scale.
So if I was saying completely wrong things about bundles on the Joe Rogan program, you
don’t think that we wouldn’t hear a crushing chorus.
And you know, same thing with geometric unity.
So I put up this video from this Oxford lecture.
I understand that it’s not a standard lecture, but you haven’t heard, you know, the most
brilliant people in the field say, well, this is obviously nonsense.
They don’t know what to make of it.
And they’re going to hide behind, well, he hasn’t said enough details.
Where’s the paper?
I’ve seen the criticism.
I’ve gotten the same kind of criticism.
I’ve published a few things and like, especially stuff related to Tesla that we did studies
on Tesla vehicles and the kind of criticism I’ve gotten, which showed that they’re completely.
Like the guy who had Elon Musk on his program twice is going to give us an accurate assessment.
It’s just very low level.
Like without actually ever addressing the content.
You know, Lex, I think that in part you’re trying to solve a puzzle that isn’t really
I think, you know, that I’m sincere.
You don’t know whether the theory is going to work or not.
And you know that it’s not coming out of somebody who’s coming out of left field, like the story
There’s enough that’s new and creative and different in other aspects where you can check
me that your real concern is, are you really telling me that when you start breaking the
rules, you see the system for what it is and it’s become really vicious and aggressive.
And the answer is yes, and I had to break the rules in part because of learning issues
because I came into this field, you know, with a totally different set of attributes.
My profile just doesn’t look like anybody else’s remotely, but as a result, what that
did is it showed me what is the system true to its own ideals or does it just follow these
weird procedures and then when it, when you take it off the rails, it behaves terribly.
And that’s really what my story I think does is it just says, well, he completely takes
the system into new territory where it’s not expecting to have to deal with somebody with
these confusing sets of attributes.
And I think what he’s telling us is he believes it behaves terribly.
Now, if you take somebody with perfect standardized tests and you know, a winner of math competitions
and you put them in a PhD program, they’re probably going to be okay.
I’m not saying that the system, um, you know, breaks down for any everybody under all circumstances.
I’m saying when you present the system with a novel situation at the moment, it will almost
certainly break down with probability approaching 100%.
But to me, the painful and the tragic thing is it, uh, sorry to bring out my motherly
instinct, but it feels like it’s too much.
It could be too much of a burden to exist outside the system, maybe, but psychologically,
first of all, I’ve got a podcast that I kind of like and I’ve got amazing friends.
I have a life which has more interesting people passing through it than I know what to do
And they haven’t managed to kill me off yet.
So, so far, so good.
Speaking of which you host an amazing podcast that we’ve mentioned several times, but should
mention over and over the portal, uh, where you somehow manage every single conversation
is a surprise.
You go, I mean, not just the guests, but just the places you take them, uh, the, the kind
of ways they become challenging and how you recover from that.
I mean, it’s, uh, there’s just, it’s full of genuine human moments.
So I really appreciate what you’re, it’s a fun, fun podcast to listen to.
Uh, let me ask some silly questions about it.
What have you learned about conversation about human to human conversation?
Well, I have a problem that I haven’t solved on the portal, which is that in general, when
I ask people questions, they usually find their deeply grooved answers and I’m not so
interested in all of the deeply grooved answers.
And so there’s a complaint, which I’m very sympathetic to actually that I talk over people
that I won’t sit still for the answer.
And I think that that’s weirdly sort of correct.
It’s not that I’m not interested in hearing other voices.
That I’m not interested in hearing the same voice on my program that I could have gotten
on somebody else’s.
And I haven’t solved that well.
So I’ve learned that I need a new conversational technique where I can keep somebody from finding
their comfortable place and yet not be the voice talking over that person.
I can sense like your conversation with Brett, I can sense you detect that the line he’s
going down, you know how it’s going to end and you think it’s a useless line, so you’ll
just stop it right there and you take them into the direction that you think it should
But that requires interruption.
Well, and it does so far.
I haven’t found a better way.
I’m looking for a better way.
It’s not like I don’t hear the problem.
I do hear the problem.
I haven’t solved the problem.
And you know, on the, on the bread episode, um, I was insufferable.
It was very difficult to listen to.
It was so overbearing.
But on the other hand, I was right.
You know, it’s like funny.
You keep saying that, but I didn’t find it maybe because I heard brothers, like I heard
a big brother.
It was pretty bad.
I think so.
I didn’t think it was bad.
Well, a lot of people found it interesting.
And I think it also has to do with the fact that this has become a frequent experience.
I have several shows where somebody who I very much admire and think of as courageous,
um, you know, I’m talking with them, maybe we’re friends and they sit down on the show
and they immediately become this fake person.
Like two seconds in there, they’re sort of saying, well, I don’t want to be too critical
or too harsh.
I don’t want to name any names.
I wanted this story.
He was like, okay, I’m going to put my listeners through three hours of you being sweetness
Like at least give me some reality and then we can decide to shelve the show and never
let it hear, uh, you know, the, the, the call of freedom in the, in the bigger world.
But I’ve seen you break out of that a few times.
I’ve seen you to be successful that, uh, I forgot to guess, but she was dressed with,
um, um, you were at the end of the episode, you had an argument about Brett.
She was one of the philosophers for at the university of Chicago.
You’ve continuously broken out of her.
Uh, you guys went, you know, uh, I didn’t even seem pretty genuine.
I like her.
I’m completely ethically opposed to what she’s ethically for.
Well, she was great.
And she wasn’t like that.
You’re both going hard.
She’s a grownup.
And she knows that I care about her.
So that was awesome.
But you’re saying that some people are difficult to break out.
Well, it’s just that, you know, she was bringing the courage of her convictions.
She was sort of defending the system and I thought, wow, that’s a pretty indefensible
system that you’re doing.
That’s great though.
She’s doing that.
I mean, it made for an awesome, it’s very informative for the world.
You just hated.
I just can’t stand the idea that somebody says, well, we don’t care who gets paid or
who gets the credit as long as we get the goodies.
Cause that seems like insane.
Have you ever been afraid leading into a conversation?
By the way, I mean, I know I’m just a fan taking requests, but I started, I started
the beginning in Russian and in fact I used one word incorrectly.
Is that terrible?
You know, it was, it was pretty good.
It’s pretty good Russian.
What was terrible is I think he complimented you.
Did he compliment you or was that me?
Did he compliment you on your Russian?
Well, he said almost perfect Russian.
Like he was full of shit.
That was not great Russian, but that was not great Russian.
That was great.
That was hard.
That was, you tried hard, which is what matters.
That is so insulting.
I hope so.
But I do hope you continue.
It felt like, I don’t know how long it went.
It might’ve been like a two hour conversation, but it felt, I hope it continues.
Like I feel like you have many conversations with Gary.
I would love to hear.
There’s certain conversations I would just love to hear a long, much longer.
He’s coming from a very, it’s this issue about needing to overpower people in a very dangerous
And so Gary has that need.
He wasn’t, he was interrupting you.
It was an interesting dynamic.
It was a, it was an interesting dynamic.
Two Weinsteins going at you.
I mean, two powerhouse egos, brilliant.
No, don’t say egos, minds, spirits.
You don’t have an ego.
You’re the most humble person I know.
Is that true?
No, that’s a complete lie.
Do you think about your own mortality, death?
Are you afraid?
Well, I released a theory during something that can kill older people.
Oh, is there a little bit of a parallel there?
I don’t want it to die with me.
What do you hope your legacy is?
Oh, I hope my legacy is accurate.
I’d like to write on my accomplishments rather than how my community decided to ding me while
I was alive.
That would be great.
What about if it was significantly exaggerated?
I don’t want it.
You want it to be accurate.
I’ve got some pretty terrific stuff and whether it works out or doesn’t that I would like
it to reflect what I actually was.
I’ll settle for accurate.
What would you say, what is the greatest element of a Eric Weinstein accomplishment in life
in terms of being accurate?
What are you most proud of?
The idea that we were stalled out in the hardest field at the most difficult juncture and that
I didn’t listen to that voice ever that said, stop, you’re hurting yourself.
You’re hurting your family.
You’re hurting everybody.
You’re embarrassing yourself.
You’re screwing up.
You can’t do this.
You’re a failure.
You’re a fraud.
Turn back, save yourself.
That voice, I didn’t ultimately listen to it and it was going for 35, 37 years.
And I hope you never listen to that voice.
That’s why you’re an inspiration.
I appreciate that.
I’m just infinitely honored that you would spend time with me.
You’ve been a mentor to me, almost a friend.
I can’t imagine a better person to talk to in this world.
So thank you so much for talking to me.
I can’t wait till we do it again.
Lex, thanks for sticking with me and thanks for being the most singular guy in the podcasting
In terms of all of my interviews, I would say that the last one I did with you, many
people feel was my best and it was a nonconventional one.
So whatever it is that you’re bringing to the game, I think everyone’s noticing and
keep at it.
Thanks for listening to this conversation with Eric Weinstein.
And thank you to our presenting sponsor, Cash App.
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And now let me leave you with some words of wisdom from Eric Weinstein’s first appearance
on this podcast.
Everything is great about war, except all the destruction.
Thank you for listening and hope to see you next time.