The following is a conversation with Grant Sanderson, his second time on the podcast.
He’s known to millions of people as the mind behind 3Blue1Brown, a YouTube channel where
he educates and inspires the world with the beauty and power of mathematics.
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And now here’s my conversation with Grant Sanderson.
You’ve spoken about Richard Feynman as someone you admire.
I think last time we spoke, we ran out of time.
So I wanted to talk to you about him.
Who is Richard Feynman to you in your eyes?
What impact did he have on you?
I mean, I think a ton of people like Feynman.
It’s a little bit cliche to say that you like Feynman, right?
That’s almost like when you don’t know what to say about sports and you just point to
the Super Bowl or something or something you enjoy watching.
But I do actually think there’s a layer to Feynman that sits behind the iconography.
One thing that just really struck me was this letter that he wrote to his wife two years
after she died.
So during the Manhattan Project, she had polio.
Tragically she died.
They were just young, madly in love.
And the icon of Feynman is almost this mildly sexist, womanizing philanderer, at least on
the personal side.
But you read this letter, and I can try to pull it up for you if I want.
And it’s just this absolutely heartfelt letter to his wife saying how much he loves her even
though she’s dead and what she means to him, how no woman can ever measure up to her.
And it shows you that the Feynman that we’ve all seen in Surely You’re Joking is different
from the Feynman in reality.
And I think the same kind of goes in his science, where he sometimes has this output of being
this aw shucks character, like everyone else is coming in with these fancyfalutin formulas,
but I’m just going to try to whittle it down to its essentials, which is so appealing because
we love to see that kind of thing.
But when you get into it, what he was doing was actually quite deep, very much mathematical.
That should go without saying, but I remember reading a book about Feynman in a cafe once,
and this woman looked at me and saw that it was about Feynman.
She was like, oh, I love him.
I read Surely You’re Joking.
And she started explaining to me how he was never really a math person.
And I don’t understand how that can possibly be a public perception about any physicist,
but for whatever reason, that worked into his art that he shooed off math in place of
The reality of it is he was deeply in love with math and was much more going in that
direction and had a clicking point into seeing that physics was a way to realize that and
all the creativity that he could output in that direction was instead poured towards
things like fundamental, not even fundamental theories, just emergent phenomena and everything
So to answer your actual question, like what, what, what I like about, uh, his way of going
at things is this constant desire to reinvent it for himself.
Like when he would consume papers, the way he’d describe it, he’s, he would start to
see what problem he was trying to solve and then just try to solve it himself to get a
sense of personal ownership.
And then from there, see what others had done.
Is that how you see problems yourself?
Like that’s actually an interesting point when you first are inspired by a certain idea
that you maybe want to teach or visualize or just explore on your own.
I’m sure you’re captured by some possibility and magic of it.
Do you read the work of others?
Like do you go through the proofs or do you try to rediscover everything yourself?
So I think the things that I’ve learned best and have the deepest ownership of are the
ones that have some element of rediscovery.
The problem is that really slows you down.
And this is for my, for my part, it’s actually a big fault.
Like this is part of why I’m, I’m not an active researcher.
I’m not like at the depth of the field.
A lot of other people are the stuff that I do learn.
I try to learn it really well.
Um, but other times you do need to get through it at a certain pace.
You do need to get to a point of a problem you’re trying to solve.
So obviously you need to be well equipped to read things, uh, without that reinvention
component and see how others have done it.
But I think if you choose a few core building blocks along the way and you say, I’m really
going to try to approach this, um, before I see how this person went at it, I’m really
going to try to approach it for myself.
No matter what you gain, all sorts of inarticulatable intuitions about that topic, which aren’t
going to be there.
If you simply go through the proof, for example, you’re going to be, um, trying to come up
with counter examples.
You’re going to try to come up with, um, intuitive examples, all sorts of things where you’re
populating your brain with data.
And the ones that you come up with are likely to be different than the one that the text
comes up with and that like lends at a different angle.
So that aspect also slowed Feynman down in a lot of respects.
I think there was a period when like the rest of physics was running away from him.
Um, but in so far as got, it got him to where he was, uh, I, I kind of resonate with that.
I just, I would, I would be nowhere near it cause I not like him at all, but it’s like
a, uh, state to aspire to.
You know, just to link in a small point you made that you’re not a quote unquote active
researcher, do you, you’re swimming often in reasonably good depth about a lot of topics.
Do you sometimes want to like dive deep at a certain moment and say, like, cause you
probably built up a hell of an amazing intuition about what is and isn’t true within these
Do you ever want to just dive in and see if you can discover something new?
I, I think one of my biggest regrets from undergrad is not having built better relationships
with the professors I had there.
And I think a big part of success and research is that element of like mentorship and like
people giving you the kind of scaffolded problems to carry along for my own like goals right
I feel like, um, I’m pretty good at exposing math to others and like want to continue doing
that for my personal learning.
I, are you familiar with like the hedgehog Fox dynamic?
I think this was, um, either the ancient Greeks came up with it or it was pretended to be
something drawn from the ancient Greeks that I don’t know who to point it to, but the probably
It is that you’ve got two types of people or especially two types of researchers.
There’s the Fox that knows many different things and then the hedgehog that knows one
thing very deeply.
So like von Neumann would have been the Fox.
Obviously someone who knows many different things, just very foundational, a lot of different
Um, Einstein would have been more of a hedge thinking really deeply about one particular
thing and both are very necessary for making progress.
Um, so between those two, I would definitely see myself as like the Fox where, uh, I’ll
try to get my pause in like a whole bunch of different things.
And at the moment I just think I don’t know enough of anything to make like a significant
contribution to any of them.
But I do see value in, um, like having a decently deep understanding of a wide variety of things.
Like most people who, uh, know computer science really deeply don’t necessarily know physics
very deeply or, uh, many of the aspects, like different fields in math, even let’s say you
have like an analytic number theory versus an algebraic number theory.
Like these two things end up being related to very different fields.
Like some of them more complex analysis, some of them more like algebraic geometry.
And then when you just go out so far as to take those adjacent fields, place one, you
know, PhD student into a seminar of another ones, they don’t understand what the other
one’s saying at all.
Like you take the complex analysis specialist inside the algebraic geometry seminar, they’re
as lost as you or I would be.
But I think, uh, going around and like trying to have some sense of what this big picture
is certainly has personal value for me.
I don’t know if I would ever make like new contributions in those fields, but I do think
I could make new like expositional contributions where there’s kind of a notion of, uh, things
that are known, but like haven’t been explained very well.
Well, first of all, I think most people would agree your videos, your teaching the way you
see the world is fundamentally often new, like you’re creating something new and it
almost feels like research, even just like the visualizations, uh, the multidimensional
visualization we’ll talk about.
I mean, you’re revealing something very interesting that, uh, yeah, just feels like research feels
like science feels like the cutting edge of the very thing of which like new ideas and
new discoveries are made of.
I do think you’re being a little bit more generous than is necessarily.
And I promise that’s not even false humility because I sometimes think when I research
a video, I’ll learn like 10 times as much as I need for the video itself and it ends
up feeling kind of elementary.
Um, so I have a sense of just how far away like the stuff that I cover is from the actual
I think that’s natural, but I think that could also be a mathematics thing.
I feel like in the machine learning world, you like two weeks in, you feel like you’ve
basically mastered in mathematics.
It’s like, well, everything is either trivial or impossible.
And it’s like a shockingly thin line between the two where you can find something that’s
And then after you get a feel for it, it’s like, Oh yeah, that whole, that whole subject
is actually trivial in some way.
So maybe that’s what goes on.
Every researcher is just on the other end of that hump and it feels like it’s so far
away, but one step actually gets them there.
What do you think about, uh, sort of Feynman’s teaching style or another perspective of use
Well his teaching style is interesting because people have described like the Feynman effect
where while you’re watching his lectures or while he reading his lectures, everything
makes such perfect sense.
So as an entertainment session, it’s wonderful because it gives you this, um, this intellectual
satisfaction that you don’t get from anywhere else that you like finally understand it.
But the Feynman effect is that you can’t really recall what it is that gave you that insight,
you know, even a week later.
And this is, um, this is true of a lot of books and a lot of lectures where the retention
is never quite what we hope it is.
Um, so there is a risk that, uh, the stuff that I do also fits that same bill where at
best it’s giving this kind of intellectual candy on giving a glimpse of feeling like
you understand something, but unless you do something active, like reinventing it yourself,
like doing problems, um, to solidify it, um, even things like space repetition memory to
just make sure that you have like the building blocks of what do all the terms mean.
Unless you’re doing something like that, it’s not actually going to stick.
So the very same thing that’s so admirable about Feynman’s lectures, which is how damn
satisfying they are to consume might actually also reveal a little bit of the flaw that
we should as educators all look out for, which is that that does not correlate with long
We’ll talk about it a little bit.
I think you’ve done some interactive stuff.
I mean, even in your videos, the awesome thing that Feynman couldn’t do at the time is you
could, since it’s programmed, you can like tinker, like play with stuff.
You could take this value and change it.
You can like heroes, take the value of this variable and change it to build up an intuition,
to move along the surface or to, to change the shape of something.
I think that’s almost an equivalent of you doing it yourself.
It’s not quite there, but you as a viewer, um, yeah, do you think there’s some value
in that interactive element?
Yeah, well, so what’s interesting is you’re saying that, and the videos are non interactive
in the sense that there’s a play button and a pause button.
Um, and you could ask like, Hey, while you’re programming these things, why don’t you program
it into an interactable version?
You know, make it a Jupiter notebook that people can play with, which I should do.
And that like would be better.
I think the thing about interactives though is most people consuming them, um, just sort
of consume what the author had in mind.
Uh, and that’s kind of what they want.
Like I have a ton of friends who make interactive explanations.
And when you look into the analytics of how people use them, there’s a small sliver that
genuinely use it as a playground to have experiments.
And maybe that small sliver is actually who you’re targeting and the rest don’t matter.
Um, but most people consume it just as a piece of, um, like well constructed literature that
maybe you tweak with the example a little bit to see what it’s getting at.
But in that way, I do think like a video can get most of the benefits of the interactive,
like the interactive app, as long as you make the interactive for yourself and you decide
what the best narrative to spin is.
Um, as a more concrete example, like my process with, I made this video about, um, SIR models
for epidemics and it’s like this agent based bottling thing where you tweak some things
about how the epidemic spreads and you want to see how that affects its evolution.
Um, my, my, uh, format for making that was very different than others where rather than
scripting it ahead of time, I just made the playground and then I played a bunch, uh,
and then I saw what stories there were to tell within that.
So your, your video had that kind of structure, it had, uh, like five or six stories or whatever
And like, it was basically, okay, here’s a simulation, here’s a model.
What can we discover with this model?
And here’s five things I found after playing with it.
Well, cause here, the thing is a way that you could do that project is you make the
model and then you put it out and you say, here’s a thing for the world to play with,
like come to my website where you interact with this thing.
go to that website and you can test your own hypotheses.
But I think a meaningful part of the value to add is not just the technology, but to
give the story around it as well.
And like, that’s kind of my job.
It’s not just to like make the, uh, the visuals that someone will look at it’s to be the one
to decide what’s the interesting thing to walk through here.
Um, and even though there’s lots of other interesting paths that one could take, that
can be kind of daunting when you’re just sitting there in a sandbox and you’re given this
tool with like five different sliders and you’re told to like play and discover things.
Where do you do?
What do you start?
What are my hypotheses?
What should I be asking?
Like a little bit of guidance in that direction can be what actually sparks curiosity to make
someone want to, um, imagine more about it.
A few videos I’ve seen you do, I don’t know how often you do it, but there’s almost a
tangential like pause where you, here’s a cool thing you say like, here’s a cool thing,
but it’s outside the scope of this video essentially, but I’ll leave it to you as homework essentially
to like figure out it’s a cool thing to explore.
I wish I could say that wasn’t a function of laziness and that’s like, you’ve worked
so hard on making the 20 minutes already that to extend it out even further, it would take
And one of your cooler videos, the homomorphic, like from the Mobius strip to this, yeah,
that’s the super and you’re like, yeah, you can’t, uh, you can’t transform the Mobius
strip into a, into a surface without it intersecting itself, but I’ll leave it to you to see why
Well, I hope that’s not exactly how I phrase it because I think what my hope would be is
that I leave it to you to think about why you would expect that to be true and then
to want to know what aspects of a Mobius strip do you want to formalize such that you can
prove that intuition that you have because at some point now you’re starting to invent
If you have these vague instincts like I want to get this Mobius strip, I want to, um, fit
it such that it’s all above the plane, but it’s boundary sits exactly on the plane.
I don’t think I can do that without crossing itself, but that feels really vague.
How do I formalize it?
And as you’re starting to formalize that, that’s what’s going to get you to try to come
up with a definition for what it means to be orientable or non orientable.
And like once you have that motivation, a lot of the otherwise arbitrary things that
are sitting at the very beginning of a topology stack textbook start to make a little more
And I mean that, that whole video beautifully was a motivation for topology school.
That was my, well, my hope with that is I feel like topology is, um, I don’t want to
say it’s taught wrong, but I do think sometimes it’s popularized in the wrong way where, uh,
you know, you’ll hear these things that people saying, Oh, topologists, they’re very interested
in surfaces that you can bend and stretch, but you can’t cut or glue.
There’s all sorts of things you can be interested in with random, like imaginative manipulations
Is that really what like mathematicians are into?
And the short answer is not, not really.
That’s uh, it’s not as if someone was sitting there thinking like, I wonder what the properties
of clay are by add some arbitrary rules about what, when I can’t cut it and when I can’t
glue it instead, it’s, there’s a ton of pieces of math that, um, can actually be equivalent
to, uh, like these very general structures that’s like geometry, except you don’t have
You just want to maintain a notion of closeness.
And once you get it to those general structures, constructing mappings between them translate
into non trivial facts about other parts of math and that I just, I don’t think that’s
actually like popularized.
Um, I don’t even think it’s emphasized well enough when you’re starting to take a topology
class because you kind of have these two problems.
It’s like either it’s too squishy.
You’re just talking about coffee mugs and donuts, or it’s a little bit too rigor first.
And you’re talking about, um, the axiom systems with open sets and an open set is not the
opposite of closed set.
So sorry about that.
Everyone, we have a notion of clopin sets for ones that are both at the same time.
It’s just, it’s not, it’s not an intuitive axiom system in comparison to other fields
So you as the student like really have to walk through mud to get there and you’re constantly
confused about how this relates to the beautiful things about coffee mugs and Mobius strips
And it takes a really long time to actually see like see topology in the way that mathematicians
But I don’t think it needs to take that time.
I think there’s, um, this is making me feel like I need to make more videos on the topic
because I think you do, but you know, I’ve also seen it in my narrow view.
Uh, like, um, I find game theory very beautiful and I know topology has been used, uh, elegantly
to prove things in game theory.
You have like facts that seem very strange.
Like I could tell you, you stir your coffee and um, after you stir it and like, let’s
say all the molecules settled to like not moving again, one of the molecules will be
basically in the same position it was before.
Um, you have all sorts of fixed point theorems like this, right?
That kind of fixed point theorem directly relevant to Nash equilibriums, right?
Um, so you can imagine popularizing it by describing the coffee fact, but then you’re
left to wonder like who cares about if a molecule of coffee like stays in the same spot?
Is this what we’re paying our mathematicians for?
Um, you have this very elegant mapping onto economics in a way that’s very concrete or
very, I shouldn’t say concrete, very, uh, tangible, like actually adds value to people’s
lives through the predictions that it makes.
Uh, but that line isn’t always drawn because like you have to get a little bit technical
in order to properly draw that line out, um, and often I think popularized forms of media
just shy away from being a little too technical for sure.
Uh, by the way, for people who are watching the video, I do not condone the message in
It’s the only one I have, which is this.
The snuggle is real.
By the way, for anyone watching, I do condone the message of that mug.
The snuggle is real.
Okay, so you mentioned the SIR model.
I think, uh, there are certain ideas there of growth of exponential growth.
What maybe have you learned about, um, pandemics from, from making that video?
Because it was kind of exploratory.
You were kind of building up an intuition and it’s, again, people should watch the video.
It’s kind of an abstract view.
It’s not really modeling in detail.
The whole field of epidemiology, those, those people, they go really far in terms of modeling,
like how people move about.
I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but like there is the mobility patterns, like how, like the
track, like how many people you encounter in a certain situations when you go to a school,
when you go to a mall, they like model every aspect of that for a particular city.
Like they have maps of actual city streets.
They model it really well and natural patterns of the people have it’s crazy.
So you don’t do any of that.
You’re just doing an abstract model to explore different ideas of simple pedigree.
Well, because I don’t want to pretend like an epidemiologist, I’m an epidemiologist.
Like we have a ton of armchair epidemiologists and the spirit of that was more like, uh,
can we through a little bit of play, uh, draw like reasonable ish conclusions.
Um, and also just like, uh, get ourselves in a position where we can judge the validity
of a model.
Like, I think people should look at that and they should criticize it.
They should point to all the ways that it’s wrong because it’s definitely naive, right?
And the way that it’s set up.
Um, but to say like what, what lessons from that hold, like thinking about the are not
value and what that represents and what it can imply.
Um, so are not is if you are infectious and you’re in a population which is completely
susceptible, uh, what’s the average number of people that you’re going to infect during
Um, so certainly during the beginning of an epidemic, this basically gives you kind of
the, um, the exponential growth rate.
Like if every person infects two others, you’ve got that one, two, four, eight, uh, exponential
Um, as it goes on and, uh, let’s say it’s something, um, uh, endemic where you’ve got
like a ton of people who have had it, uh, and are recovered, then, uh, you, you would,
the are not value doesn’t tell you that as directly because a lot of the people you interact
with aren’t susceptible, but in the early phases it does.
Um, and this is like the fundamental constant that it seems like epidemiologists look at
and you know, the whole goal is to get that down.
If you can get it below one, then it’s no longer epidemic.
If it’s equal to one, then it’s endemic, um, and it’s above one, then your epidemic.
So, uh, like just teaching what that value is and giving some intuitions on how do certain
changes in behavior change that value and then what does that imply for exponential
I think those are, um, general enough lessons and they’re like resilient to all of the
chaoses of the world, um, that it’s still like valid to take from the video.
I mean, one of the interesting aspects of that is just exponential growth and we think
Is that the one of the first times you’ve done a video on, on, uh, no, of course not
the whole, uh, well there’s identity.
I guess I’ve done a lot of videos about exponential growth in the circular direction, uh, only
minimal in the normal direction.
I mean, another way to ask, like, do you think we’re able to reason intuitively about exponential
It’s, it’s funny.
I think it’s, um, I think it’s extremely intuitive to humans and then we train it out of ourselves
such that it’s then really not intuitive and then I think it can become intuitive again
when you study a technical field.
Uh, so what I mean by that is, um, have you ever heard of these studies where in a, uh,
like anthropological setting where you’re studying a group that has been disassociated
from a lot of like modern society and you ask what number is between one and nine and
maybe you would ask you, you’ve got like one rock and you’ve got nine rocks, you’re like
what pile is halfway in between these and our instinct is usually to say five.
That’s the number that sits right between one and nine.
Um, but sometimes when a numeracy and, uh, the kind of just basic arithmetic that we
have isn’t in a society, the natural instinct is three because it’s, uh, in between in an
exponential sense and a geometric sense that, uh, one is three times bigger and then the
next one is three times bigger than that.
So it’s like, what’s, you know, if you have one friend versus a hundred friends, what’s
in between that?
Ten friends seems like the social status in between those two states.
So that’s like deeply intuitive to us to think logarithmically like that.
Um, and for some reason we kind of train it out of ourselves to start thinking linearly
So in the sense, yeah, the early, early basic math is, uh, yeah, forces us to take a step
It’s, it’s the same criticism if there’s any of science is the lessons of science make
us like see the world in a slightly narrow sense to where we, we have an over exaggerated
confidence that we understand everything as opposed to just understanding a small slice
But I think that probably only really goes for small numbers cause the real counterintuitive
thing about exponential growth is like as the numbers start to get big.
So I bet if you took that same setup and you asked them, oh, if I keep tripling the size
of this rock pile, you know, um, seven times, how big will it be?
I bet it would be surprisingly big even to like an a society without numeracy.
And that’s the side of it that, um, I think is pretty counterintuitive to us, uh, but
that you can basically train into people like I think computer scientists and physicists
when they’re looking at the early numbers of, um, like COVID were, they were the ones
thinking like, oh God, this is following an exact exponential curve.
Um, and I heard that from a number of people, uh, so it’s, and, and almost all of them are
like techies in some capacity, probably just cause I like live in the Bay area, but, but
for sure they, they’re cognizant of this kind of, this kind of growth is present in a lot
of natural systems and a lot of, in a lot of, in a lot of systems.
Uh, I don’t know if you’ve seen like, I mean, there’s a lot of ways to visualize this obviously,
but Raker as well, I think was the one that had this like chess board where, um, every,
every square on the chess board, you double the number of stones or something in that
I’ve heard, this is like an old proverb where it’s like, you know, someone, the King offered
him a gift and he said, ah, the only gift I would like very modest, give me a single
grain of rice for the first chess board and then two grains of rice for the next square.
Then twice that for the next square and just continue on.
That’s my only modest ask your sire and like, it’s all, you know, more grains of rice than
there are, uh, anything in the world, um, by the time you get to the end.
And I, I, my intuition falls apart there, like, I would have never predicted that, like
for some reason, that’s a really compelling, uh, illustration, how poorly breaks down.
Just like you said, maybe we’re okay for the first few piles, but after, uh, of rocks,
but after a while it’s game over.
You know, the other classic example for, um, gauging someone’s intuitive understanding
of exponential growth is, uh, I’ve got like a Lily pad on a, on like really big lake,
um, like lake Michigan and that Lily pad replicates, it doubles, um, one day and then it doubles
the next day and it doubles the next day.
Um, and after 50 days, um, it actually is going to cover the entire lake.
So after how many days does it cover half the lake?
So you, you have a good instinct for exponential growth.
So I think a lot of, uh, like the knee jerk reaction is sometimes to think that it’s like
half the amount of time or to at least be like surprised that like after 49 days, you’ve
only covered half of it.
I mean, that’s the reason you heard a pause for me.
Um, I literally thought that can’t be right.
So even when you know the fact and you do the division, it’s like, wow.
So you’ve gotten like that whole time and then day 49, it’s only covering half.
And then after that it gets the whole thing.
But I think you can make that even more visceral if rather than going one day before you say
how long until, um, it’s covered 1% of the lake, right.
And it’s, uh, so what would that be?
Um, how many times you have to double to get over a hundred, like seven, six and a half
times, something like that.
So at that point you’re looking at 43, 44 days into it.
You’re not even at 1% of the lake.
So you’ve, you’ve experienced, you know, 44 out of 50 days and you’re like, ah, that’s
It’s just 1% of the lake.
But then next thing you know, it’s the entire lake.
You’re wearing a space X shirt.
So let me ask you, let me ask you one, one person who talks about exponential, you know,
just the miracle of the exponential function in general is Elon Musk.
So he kind of advocates the idea of exponential thinking, you know, realizing that technological
development can, at least in the short term, follow exponential improvement, which breaks
apart our intuition, our ability to reason about what is and isn’t impossible.
So he’s a big one.
It’s a good leadership kind of style of saying like, look, the thing that everyone thinks
is impossible is actually possible because exponentials.
But what’s your sense about, um, about that kind of way to see the world?
Well, so I think it’s, um, it can be very inspiring to note when something like Moore’s
law is another great example where you have this exponential pattern that holds shockingly
Um, and it enables, um, just better lives to be led.
I think the people who took Moore’s law seriously in the sixties, we’re seeing that, wow, it’s
not going to be too long before like these giant computers that are either batch processing
or time shared, you could actually have one small enough to put on your desk on top of
your desk and you could do things.
And if they took it seriously, like you have people predicting smartphones like a long
Um, and it’s only out of like kind of this, I don’t want to say faith in exponentials,
but an understanding that that’s what’s happening.
What’s more interesting I think is to, um, really understand why exponential growth happens
and that the mechanism behind it is when the rate of change is proportional to the thing
in and of itself.
So the reason that technology would grow exponentially is only going to be if, um, the rate of progress
is proportional to the amount that you have.
So that the software you write enables you to write more software.
Um, and I think we see this with the internet, like the advent of the internet makes it faster
to learn things, which makes it faster to, uh, create new things.
Um, I think this is, uh, oftentimes why like investment will grow exponentially that the
more resources a company has, if it knows how to use them, well, the more, uh, the more
it can actually grow.
So, I mean, you know, you referenced Elon Musk.
I think he seems to really be into vertically integrating his companies.
I think a big part of that is because you have the sense, what you want is to make sure
that the things that you develop, you have ownership of in the, they enable further development
of the adjacent parts, right?
So it’s not just this, you, you see a curve and you’re blindly drawing a line through
What’s much more interesting is to ask, when do you have this proportional growth property?
Um, because then you can also recognize when it breaks down, like in an epidemic, as you
approach saturation, that would break down.
Um, as you do anything that, uh, skews what that proportionality constant is, um, you
can make it maybe not break down as being an exponential, but it can seriously slow
what that exponential rate is.
This is the opposite of a pandemic is you want, in terms of ideas, you want to minimize
barriers that, um, prevent the spread.
You want to maximize the spread of impact.
So like you want it to, to grow when you’re doing technological development is so that
you do hold up that rate holds up.
And that’s, that’s almost like, uh, like an operational challenge of like how you run
a company, how you run a group of people is that any one invention has a ripple that’s
And that ripple effect then has its own ripple effects and so on.
And that continues.
Like Moore’s law is fascinating.
And the, like on a psychological level and a human level, cause it’s not exponential.
It’s, it’s just a consistent set of like what you would call like S curves, which is like,
it’s constantly like breakthrough innovations nonstop.
That’s a good point.
Like it might not actually be an example of exponentials because of something which grows
in proportion to itself.
But instead it’s almost like a benchmark that was set out that everyone’s been pressured
And it’s like all these innovations and micro inventions along the way, rather than some
consistent sit back and just let the lily pad grow across the lake phenomenon.
And it’s also that there’s a human psychological level for sure of like the four minute mile,
like it’s something about it.
Like saying that, look, there is, you know, Moore’s law, it’s a law.
So like it’s a, it’s certainly an achievable thing.
You know, we achieved it for the last decade, for the last two decades, for the last three
decades, you just keep going and it somehow makes it happen.
I mean, it makes people, I’m continuously surprised in this world how few people do
the best work in the world, like in that particular, whatever that field is, like it’s very often
that like the genius, I mean, you couldn’t argue that community matters, but it’s certain
like I’ve been in groups of engineers where like one person is clearly like doing an incredible
amount of work and just is the genius and it’s fascinating to see basically it’s kind
of the Steve Jobs idea is maybe the whole point is to create an atmosphere where the
genius can discover themselves, like have the opportunity to do the best work of their
life and yeah, and that the exponential is just milking that.
It’s like rippling the idea that it’s possible and that idea that it’s possible finds the
right people for the four minute mile and the idea that it’s possible finds the right
runners to run it and then expose the number of people who can run faster than four minutes.
It’s kind of interesting to, I don’t know, basically the positive way to see that is
most of us are way more intelligent, have way more potential than we ever realized.
I guess that’s kind of depressing, but I mean like the ceiling for most of us is much higher
than we ever realized.
That is true.
A good book to read if you want that sense is Peak, which essentially talks about peak
performance in a lot of different ways, like chess, London cab drivers, how many pushups
people can do, short term memory tasks, and it’s meant to be like a concrete manifesto
about deliberate practice and such, but the one sensation you come out with is wow, no
matter how good people are at something, they can get better and like way better than we
think they could.
I don’t know if that’s actually related to exponential growth, but I do think it’s a
true phenomenon that’s interesting.
Yeah, I mean, there’s certainly no law of exponential growth in human innovation.
Well, I don’t know.
Well kind of, there is.
I think it’s very interesting to see when innovations in one field allow for innovations
Like the advent of computing seems like a prerequisite for the advent of chaos theory.
You have this truth about physics and the world that in theory could be known.
You could find Lorenz’s equations without computers, but in practice, it was just never
going to be analyzed that way unless you were doing like a bunch of simulations and that
you could computationally see these models.
So it’s like physics allowed for computers, computers allowed for better physics, and
you know, wash, rinse and repeat.
That self proportionality, that’s exponential.
So I think I wouldn’t think it’s too far to say that that’s a law of some kind.
Yeah, a fundamental law of the universe is that these descendants of apes will exponentially
improve their technology and one day be taken over by the AGI.
That’s built in.
That’ll make the video game fun, whoever created this thing.
So I mean, since you’re wearing a space X shirt, let me ask.
I didn’t realize I was wearing a space X shirt.
It’s on point.
So it’s on topic.
I’ll take it.
It’s the first crewed mission out into space since the space shuttle and just by first
time ever by a commercial company, I mean, it’s an incredible accomplishment, I think,
but it’s also just an incredible, it inspires imagination amongst people that this is the
first step in a long, vibrant journey of humans into space.
So how do you feel?
Is this exciting to you?
Yeah, it is.
I think it’s great.
The idea of seeing it basically done by smaller entities instead of by governments.
I mean, it’s a heavy collaboration between space X and NASA in this case, but moving
in the direction of not necessarily requiring an entire country and its government to make
it happen, but that you can have something closer to a single company doing it.
We’re not there yet because it’s not like they’re unilaterally saying like we’re just
shooting people up into space.
It’s just a sign that we’re able to do more powerful things with smaller groups of people.
I find that inspiring.
I hope we see people land on Mars in my lifetime.
Do you think we will?
I think so.
I mean, I think there’s a ton of challenges there, right?
Like radiation being kind of the biggest one.
And I think there’s a ton of people who look at that and say, why?
Why would you want to do that?
Let’s let the robots do the science for us.
But I think there’s enough people who are genuinely inspired about broadening the worlds
that we’ve touched or people who think about things like backing up the light of consciousness
with super long term visions of terraforming, like as long as there’s a backing up the
light of consciousness.
I thought that if Earth goes to hell, we’ve got to have a backup somewhere.
A lot of people see that as pretty out there and it’s like not in the short term future,
but I think that’s an inspiring thought.
I think that’s a reason to get up in the morning and I feel like most employees at SpaceX feel
that way too.
Do you think we’ll colonize Mars one day?
Like either AGI kills us first or if we’re like allowed, I don’t know if it’ll take us
Well, like honestly, it would take such a long time.
Like, okay, you might have a small colony, right?
Something like what you see in the Martian, but not like people living comfortably there.
But if you want to talk about actual like second Earth kind of stuff, that’s just like
way far out there and the future moves so fast that it’s hard to predict.
We might just kill ourselves before that even becomes viable.
I mean, there’s a lot of possibilities where it could be just, it doesn’t have to be on
a planet, we could be floating out in space, have a space faring backup solution that doesn’t
have to deal with the constraints that a planet, I mean, a planet provides a lot of possibilities
and resources, but also has some constraints.
I mean, for me, for some reason, it’s a deeply exciting possibility.
All of the people who were like skeptical about it are like, why do we care about going
Like, what makes you care about anything that’s inspiring?
It actually is hard to hear that because exactly as you put it on a philosophical level, it’s
hard to say, why do anything?
I don’t know.
It’s like the people say like, I’ve been doing like an insane challenge last 30 something
Your pull ups?
The pull ups and push ups and like, a bunch of people are like, awesome.
They’re insane, but awesome.
And then some people are like, why?
Why do anything?
I don’t know.
There’s a calling.
It’s, I’m with JFK a little bit is because we do these things because they’re hard.
There’s something in the human spirit that says like, same with like a math problem.
There’s something you fail once and it’s like this feeling that, you know what, I’m not
going to back down from this.
There’s something to be discovered in overcoming this thing.
So what I like about it is, and I also like this about the moon missions, sure, it’s kind
of arbitrary, but you can’t move the target.
So you can’t make it easier and say that you’ve accomplished the goal.
And when that happens, it just demands actual innovation, right?
Like protecting humans from the radiation in space on the flight there while they’re
hard problem demands innovation.
You can’t move the goalpost to make that easier.
But certainly the innovations required for things like that will be relevant in a bunch
of other domains too.
So like the idea of doing something merely because it’s hard, it’s like loosely productive.
But as long as you can’t move the goalposts, there’s probably going to be these secondary
benefits that like we should all strive for.
I mean, it’s hard to formulate the Mars colonization problem as something that has a deadline,
which is the problem.
But if there was a deadline, then the amount of things we would come up with by forcing
ourselves to figure out how to colonize that place would be just incredible.
This is what people, like the internet didn’t get created because people sat down and try
to figure out how do I, you know, send TikTok videos of myself dancing to people.
They, you know, it was, there’s an application.
I mean, actually I don’t even know what do you think the application for the internet
was when it was, it must’ve been very low level basic network communication within DARPA,
like military based, like how do I send like a networking, how do I send information securely
between two places?
Maybe it was an encryption.
I’m totally speaking totally outside of my knowledge, but like it was probably intended
for a very narrow, small group of people.
Well, so I mean, it was, there was like this small community of people who are really interested
in timesharing computing and like interactive computing in contrast with a batch processing.
And then the idea that as you set up like a timesharing center, basically meaning kind
of multiple people like logged in and using that like central computer, why not make it
accessible to others?
And this was kind of what I had always thought like, Oh, is this like fringe group that was
interested in this new kind of computing and they all like got themselves together.
But the thing is like DARPA wouldn’t act, you wouldn’t have the U S government funding
that just for the funds of it, right?
In some sense, that’s what ARPA was all about was like just really advanced research for
the sake of having advanced research and it doesn’t have to pay out with utility soon.
But the core parts of its development were happening like in the middle of the Vietnam
war when there was budgetary constraints all over the place.
I only learned this recently, actually, like if you look at the documents, basically justifying
the budget for the ARPANET as they were developing it, and not just keeping it where it was,
but actively growing it while all sorts of other departments were having their funding
cut because of the war, a big part of it was national defense in terms of having like a
more robust communication system, like the idea of packet switching versus circuit switching.
You could kind of make this case that in some calamitous circumstance where a central location
gets nuked, this is a much more resilient way to still have your communication lines
that like traditional telephone lines weren’t as resilient to, which I just found very interesting.
Even something that we see as so happy go lucky is just a bunch of computer nerds trying
to get like interactive computing out there.
The actual thing that made it funded and thing that made it advance when it did was because
of this direct national security question and concern.
I don’t know if you’ve read it.
I haven’t read it.
I don’t know if I’ve been meaning to read it, but Neil deGrasse Tyson actually came out
with a book that talks about like science in the context of the military, like basically
saying all the great science we’ve done in the 20th century was like because of the military.
He paints a positive, it’s not like a critical, a lot of people say like military industrial
complex and so on.
Another way to see the military and national security is like a source of, like you said,
headlines and like hard things you can’t move, like almost like scaring yourself into being
It is that.
I mean, Manhattan Project is a perfect example, probably the quintessential example.
That one is a little bit more macabre than others because of like what they were building,
but in terms of how many focused, smart hours of human intelligence get pointed towards
a topic per day, you’re just maxing it out with that sense of worry.
In that context, everyone there was saying like, we’ve got to get the bomb before Hitler
does and that just lights a fire under you that I, again, like the circumstances macabre,
but I think that’s actually pretty healthy, especially for researchers that are otherwise
going to be really theoretical to take these like theorizers and say, make this real physical
Meaning a lot of it is going to be unsexy, a lot of it’s going to be like young Feynman
sitting there kind of inventing a notion of computation in order to like compute what
they needed to compute more quickly with like the rudimentary automated tools that they
I think you see this with Bell Labs also where you’ve got otherwise very theorizing minds
in very pragmatic contexts that I think is like really helpful for the theory as well
as for the applications.
I think that stuff can be positive for progress.
You mentioned Bell Labs and Manhattan Project.
This kind of makes me curious for the things you’ve create, which are quite singular.
Like if you look at all YouTube or just not YouTube, it doesn’t matter what it is.
It’s just teaching content, art, it doesn’t matter.
It’s like, yep, that’s, that’s grant, right?
I know you’re teaching style and everything.
Does it, Manhattan Project and Bell Labs was like famously a lot of brilliant people, but
there’s a lot of them.
They play off of each other.
So like my question for you is that, does it get lonely?
Honestly, that right there, I think is the biggest part of my life that I would like
to change in some way that I look at a Bell Labs type situation and I’m like, God damn,
I love that whole situation and I’m so jealous of it and you’re like reading about Hamming
and then you see that he also shared an office with Shannon and you’re like, of course he
Of course they shared an office.
That’s how these ideas get.
And they actually probably very likely worked separately.
Yeah, totally, totally separate.
But there’s a literally, and sorry to interrupt, there’s a literally magic that happens when
you run into each other, like on the way to like getting a snack or something.
Conversations you overhear, it’s other projects you’re pulled into, it’s like puzzles that
colleagues are sharing, like all of that.
I have some extent of it just because I try to stay well connected in communities of people
who think in similar ways.
But it’s not in the day to day in the same way, which I would like to fix somehow.
That’s one of the, I would say one of the biggest, well, one of the many drawbacks,
negative things about this current pandemic is that whatever the term is, but like chance
collisions are significantly reduced.
I saw, I don’t know why I saw this, but on my brother’s work calendar, he had a scheduled
slot with someone that he scheduled a meeting and the title of the whole meeting was no
I just missed the happenstance serendipitous conversations that we used to have, which
the pandemic and remote work has so cruelly taken away from us.
I’m like, that’s the way to do it.
You just schedule those things, schedule the serendipitous interaction.
That’s like, I mean, you can’t do it in an academic setting, but it’s basically like
going to a bar and sitting there just for the strangers you might meet, just the strangers
or striking up a conversation with strangers on the train.
Harder to do when you’re deeply like maybe myself or maybe a lot of academic types who
are like introverted and avoid human contact as much as possible.
So it’s nice when it’s forced, those chance collisions, but maybe scheduling is a possibility
but for the most part, do you work alone?
I’m sure you struggle a lot.
You probably hit moments when you look at this and you say like, this is the wrong way
to show it.
It’s a long way to visualize it.
I’m making it too hard for myself.
I’m going down the wrong direction.
This is too long.
This is too short.
All those self doubt that could be paralyzing.
What do you do in those moments?
I actually much prefer like work to be a solitary affair for me.
That’s like a personality quirk.
I would like it to be in an environment with others and like collaborative in the sense
of ideas exchanged.
But those phenomena you’re describing when you say this is too long, this is too short,
this visualization sucks, it’s way easier to say that to yourself than it is to say
to a collaborator.
And I know that’s just a thing that I’m not good at.
So in that way, it’s very easy to just throw away a script because the script isn’t working.
It’s hard to tell someone else they should do the same.
Actually last time we talked, I think it was like very close to me talking Don Knuth was
kind of cool.
Like two people that…
I can’t believe you got that interview.
It’s the hard…
No, can I brag about something?
My favorite thing is Don Knuth, after did the interview, he offered to go out to hot
dogs with me.
To get hot dogs.
That was never…
Like people ask me what’s the favorite interview you’ve ever done and that has to be…
But unfortunately I couldn’t, I had a thing after.
So I had to turn down Don Knuth.
You missed Knuth dogs?
So that was a little bragging, but the hot dogs, he’s such a sweet.
But the reason I bring that up is he works through problems alone as well.
He prefers that struggle, the struggle of it.
Writers like Stephen King often talk about their process of what they do, what they eat
when they wake up, when they sit down, how they like their desk on a perfectly productive
What they like to do, how long they like to work for, what enables them to think deeply,
all that kind of stuff.
Hunter S. Thompson did a lot of drugs.
Everybody has their own thing.
Do you have a thing?
If you were to lay out a perfect productive day, what would that schedule look like do
Part of that’s hard to answer because like the mode of work I do changes a lot from day
Like some days I’m writing.
The thing I have to do is write a script.
Some days I’m animating.
The thing I have to do is animate.
Sometimes I’m like working on the animation library.
The thing I have to do is like a little, I’m not a software engineer, but something in
the direction of software engineering.
Some days it’s like a variant of research.
It’s like learn this topic well and try to learn it differently.
So those are like four very different modes.
Some days it’s like get through the email backlog of people I’ve been, tasks I’ve been
It goes research, scripting, like the idea starts with research and then there’s scripting
and then there’s programming and then there’s the showtime.
And the research side, by the way, I think a problematic way to do it is to say I’m starting
this project and therefore I’m starting the research.
Instead it should be that you’re like ambiently learning a ton of things just in the background
and then once you feel like you have the understanding for one, you put it on the list of things
that there can be a video for.
Otherwise either you’re going to end up roadblocked forever or you’re just not going to like have
a good way of talking about it.
But still some of the days it’s like the thing to do is learn new things.
So what’s the most painful one?
I think you mentioned scripting.
Scripting is yeah, that’s the worst.
Yeah, writing is the worst.
So what’s your, on a perfectly, so let’s take the hardest one.
What’s a perfectly productive day?
You wake up and it’s like, damn it, this is the day I need to do some scripting.
And like you didn’t do anything the last two days so you came up with excuses to procrastinate
so today must be the day.
Yeah, I wake up early, I guess I exercise and then I turn the internet off.
If we’re writing, yeah, that’s what’s required is having the internet off and then maybe
you keep notes on the things that you want to Google when you’re allowed to have the
I’m not great about doing that, but when I do, that makes it happen.
And then when I hit writer’s block, like the solution to writer’s block is to read.
Doesn’t even have to be related.
Just read something different just for like 15 minutes, half an hour and then go back
That when it’s a nice cycle, I think can work very well.
And when you’re writing the script, you don’t know where it ends, right?
Like you have a problem solving videos.
I know where it ends, expositional videos.
I don’t know where it ends coming up with a, with the magical thing that makes this
whole story, like ties this whole story together that when does that happen?
That’s that’s the thing that makes it such that a topic gets put on the list of like
Oh, that’s an issue.
You shouldn’t start the project unless there’s one of those and you have, you have so many
nice bags that you haven’t such a big bag of aha moments already that you could just
pull at it.
That’s one of the things.
And one of the sad things about time and that nothing lasts forever and that we’re all mortal.
Let’s not get into that discussion is, you know, if I see like, even when I ask for people
to ask, like ask, I did a call for questions and people want to ask you questions and so
many requests from people about like certain videos they would love you to do.
It’s such a pile and I think that’s a, that’s a sign of like admiration from people for
But it’s like, it makes me sad cause like whenever I see them, people give ideas, they’re
all like very often really good ideas.
And it’s like, it’s such a, it makes me sad in the same kind of way when I go through
a library or through a bookstore, you see all these amazing books that you’ll never
get to open.
So you gotta enjoy the ones that you have, enjoy the books that are open and don’t let
yourself lament the ones that stay closed.
Is there any other magic to that day?
So do you try to dedicate like a certain number of hours?
Do you, Cal Newport has this deep work kind of idea.
There’s systematic people who like get really on top of, you know, they checklist of what
they’re going to do in the day and they like count their hours.
And I am not a systematic person in that way.
Which is probably a problem.
I very likely would get more done if I was systematic in that way, but that doesn’t happen.
So you talk to me later in life and maybe I’ll have like changed my ways and give you
a very different answer.
I think Benjamin Franklin like later in life figured out the rigor is these like very rigorous
schedules and how to be productive.
I think those schedules are much more fun to write.
Like it’s very fun to like write a schedule and make a blog post about like the perfect
productive day that like might work for one person.
But I don’t know how much people get out of like reading them or trying to adopt someone
And I’m not even sure that they’ve ever followed.
You’re always going to write it as the best version of yourself.
You’re not going to explain the phenomenon of like wanting to get out of the bed, but
not really wanting to get out of the bed and all of that.
And just like zoning out for random reasons or the one that people probably don’t touch
at all is I try to check social media once a day, but I’m like only.
So I post and that’s it.
When I post, I check the previous days.
That’s like my, what I try to do.
That’s what I do like 90% of the days.
But then I’ll go, I’ll have like a two week period where it’s just like, I’m checking
the internet like, I mean, it’s some, probably some scary number of times and a lot of people
can resonate with that.
I think it’s a legitimate addiction.
It’s like, it’s a dopamine addiction and it’s, I don’t know if it’s a problem because as
long as it’s the kind of socializing, like if you’re actually engaging with friends and
engaging with other people’s ideas, uh, I think it can be really useful.
Well, I don’t know.
So like for sure I agree with you, but I’m, it’s a, it’s definitely an addiction because
for me, I think it’s true for a lot of people.
I am very cognizant of the fact I just don’t feel that happy.
If I look at a day where I’ve checked social media a lot, like if I just aggregate, I did
a self report, I’m sure I would find that I’m just like literally on like less happy
with my life and myself after I’ve done that check.
When I check it once a day, I’m very like, I’m happy I even like, cause I’ve seen it.
One way to measure that is when somebody says something not nice to you on the internet
is like when I check it once a day, I’m able to just like, like I smile, like, like I virtually,
I think about them positively, empathetically, I send them love.
I don’t, I don’t ever respond, but I just feel positively about the whole thing.
If I check it, if I check like more than that, it starts eating at me.
Like it start, there, there’s an eating thing that, that happens like anxiety.
It occupies a part of your mind that’s not, doesn’t seem to be healthy.
Same with, I mean, you, you, you put stuff out on YouTube.
I think it’s important.
I think you have a million dimensions that are interesting to you, but yeah, one of,
one of the interesting ones is the study of education and the psychological aspect of
putting stuff up on YouTube.
I like now have completely stopped checking statistics of any kind.
I’ve released an episode a 100 with my dad, conversation with my dad.
He checks, he’s probably listening to this stop.
He checks the number of views on his, on his video, on his conversation.
So he discovered like a reason he’s new to this whole addiction and he just checks and
he like, he’ll text me or write to me, I just passed Dawkins and I love that so much.
So he’s, uh, can I tell you a funny story in that effect of like parental use of YouTube?
Uh, early on in the channel, uh, my mom would like text me.
She’s like, uh, the channel, the channel has had 990,000 views.
The channel has had 991,000 views.
I’m like, oh, that’s cute.
She’s going to the little part on the about page where you see the total number of channel
No, she didn’t know about that.
She had been going every day through all the videos and then adding them up and she thought
she was like doing me this favor of providing me this like global analytic that, uh, otherwise
wouldn’t be visible.
It’s just like this addiction where you have some number you want to follow and like, yeah,
it’s funny that your dad had this.
I think a lot of people have it.
I think that’s probably a beautiful thing for like parents cause they’re legitimately,
It’s, it’s born of love.
The downside, I feel one, one of them is this is one interesting experience that you probably
don’t know much about cause comments on your videos are super positive.
Uh, but people judge the quality of how something went.
Like I see that with these conversations by the comments.
Like, I’m not talking about like, you know, people in their twenties and their thirties.
I’m talking about like CEOs of major companies who don’t have time.
They basically, they literally, this is their evaluation metric.
They’re like, Ooh, the comments seem to be positive and that’s really concerning to me.
Most important lesson for any content creator to learn is that the commenting public is
not representative of the actual public.
And this is easy to see.
Ask yourself, how often do you write comments on YouTube videos?
Most people will realize I never do it.
Some people realize they do, but the people who realize they never do it should understand
that that’s a sign.
The kind of people who are like you aren’t the ones leaving comments.
And I think this is important.
A number of respects, like, uh, in my case, I think I would think my content was better
than it was if I just read comments cause people are super nice.
The thing is the people who are bored by it are, are put off by it in some way or frustrated
Usually they just go away.
You’re certainly not going to watch the whole video, much less leave a comment on it.
So there’s a huge under representation of like negative feedback, like well intentioned
negative feedback because very few people actively do that.
Like watch the whole thing that they dislike, figure out what they disliked, articulate
what they dislike.
Um, there’s plenty of negative feedback that’s not well intentioned, but um, for like that
golden kind, uh, I think a lot of YouTuber friends I have, uh, at least have gone through
phases of like anxiety about the nature of comments, um, that stem from basically just
this that it’s like people who aren’t necessarily representative of who they were going for
or misinterpreted what they’re trying to say or whatever have you, or we’re focusing on
things like personal appearances as opposed to like substance.
Um, and they come away thinking like, oh, that’s what everyone thinks, right?
That’s what everyone’s response to this video was.
Um, but a lot of the people who had the reaction you wanted them to have, like they probably
didn’t write it down.
So very important to learn.
It also translates to, um, realizing that you’re not as important as you might think
you are, right?
Because all of the people commenting are the ones who love you the most and are like really
asking you to like create certain things or like mad that you didn’t create like a past
Um, I don’t, I have such a problem.
Like I have a very real problem with making promises about a type of content that I’ll
make and then either not following up on it soon or just like never following up on it.
Like the last time we talked, I think prom, I’m not sure a promise to me that you’ll have
music incorporated into your, like, uh, I’ll share it with you a private link, but there’s
an example of like what I had in mind.
I like did a version of it, um, and I’m like, Oh, I think there’s a better version of this
that might exist one day.
So it’s now on the, like the back burner, it’s like, it’s sitting there.
It was like a live performance at this one thing, I think next, next circumstance that
I’m like doing another recorded live performance that like fits having that then in a better
recording context, maybe I’ll make it nice in public.
Maybe a while, but exactly.
Um, the point I was going to make those, like, I know I’m bad about following up on stuff,
uh, which is an actual problem.
It’s born of the fact that I have a sense of what will be like good content when it
Um, but this can actually be credibly disheartening because a ton of comments that I see are people
who are like, uh, frustrated, usually in a benevolent way that like I haven’t followed
through on like X and X, which I get and I should do that.
But what’s comforting thought for me is that when there’s a topic I haven’t promised, but
I am working on and I’m excited about, it’s like the people who would really like this
don’t know that it’s coming and don’t know to like comment to that effect and like the
commenting public that I’m seeing is not representative of like who I think this other project will
So focus on the future on the thing you’re creating now, just like the, uh, yeah, the
art of it.
One of the people is really inspiring to me in that regard because I’ve really seen it
in persons, um, Joe Rogan, he doesn’t read comments, but not just that he doesn’t give
He like legitimate, he’s not like clueless about it.
He’s like, just like the richness and the depth of a smile he has when he just experiences
the moment with you like offline, you can tell he doesn’t give a damn about like, like
about anything, about what people think about whether if it’s on a podcast, you talk to
them or whether offline about just, it’s not there.
Like what other people think, how, how, um, even like what the rest of the day looks like
is just deeply in the moment, uh, or like, especially like is, is what we’re doing going
to make for a good Instagram photo or something like that?
It doesn’t think like that at all.
It’s I think for actually quite a lot of people, he’s an inspiration in that way, but it was
and in real life, I show that you can be very successful, not giving a damn about, um, about
And it sounds, it sounds bad not to read comments cause it’s like, well, there’s a huge number
of people who are deeply passionate about what you do.
So you’re what ignoring them, but at the same time, the nature of our platforms is such
that the cost of listening to all the positive people who are really close to you, who are
incredible people have been, you know, I’ve made a great community that you can learn
a lot from the cost of listening to those folks is also the cost of your psychology
slowly being degraded by the natural underlying toxicity of the internet.
Engage with a handful of people deeply rather than like as many people as you can in a shallow
I think that’s a good lesson for social media usage.
Um, like platforms in general, like choose, choose just a handful of things to engage
with and engage with it very well in a way that you feel proud of and don’t worry about
Honestly, I think the best social media platform is texting.
That’s my favorite.
That’s my go to social media platform.
Well, yeah, the best social media interactions like real life, not social media, but social
No, no, no question there.
I think everyone should agree with that.
Which sucks because, uh, it’s been challenged now with the current situation and we’re trying
to figure out what kind of platform can be created that we can do remote communication
that still is effective.
It’s important for education.
It’s important for just the question of education right now.
So on that topic, uh, you’ve done a series of live streams called lockdown math and you
know, you want live, which is different than you usually do.
Maybe one, can you talk about how that feel?
What’s that experience like like in your own, when you look back, like, is that an effective
Did you find a being able to teach?
And if so, is there a lessons for this world where all of these educators are now trying
to figure out how the heck do I teach remotely?
For me, it was very different, as different as you can get.
I’m on camera, which I’m usually not.
I’m doing it live, which is nerve wracking.
Um, it was a slightly different like level of topics, although realistically I’m just
talking about things I’m interested in no matter what.
I think the reason I did that was this thought that a ton of people are looking to learn
remotely the rate at which I usually put out content is too slow to be actively helpful.
Let me just do some biweekly lectures that if you’re looking for a place to point your
students, if you’re a student looking for a place to be edified about math, just tune
in at these times.
Um, and in that sense, I think it was, you know, a success for those who followed with
It was a really rewarding experience for me to see how people engaged with it.
Um, part of the fun of the live interaction was to actually like I do these live quizzes
and see how people would answer and try to shape the lesson based on that or see what
questions people were asking in the audience.
I would love to, if I did more things like that in the future, kind of tighten that feedback
loop even more.
Um, I think for, you know, you asked about like if this can be relevant to educators,
like 100% online teaching is basically a form of live streaming now.
Um, and usually it happens through zoom.
I think if teachers view what they’re doing as a kind of performance and a kind of live
stream performance, um, that would probably be pretty healthy because zoom can be kind
Um, and I brought up this little blog post actually just on like just what our setup
looked like if you want to adopt it yourself and how to integrate, um, like the broadcasting
software OBS with zoom or things like that.
It was really sorry to pause on that.
I mean, yeah, maybe we could look at the blog post, but it looked really nice.
The thing is, I knew nothing about any of that stuff before I started.
I had a friend who knew a fair bit.
Um, and so he kind of helped show me the routes.
One of the things that I realized is that you could, as a teacher, like it doesn’t take
that much to make things look and feel pretty professional.
Um, like one component of it is as soon as you hook things up with the broadcasting software,
rather than just doing like screen sharing, you can set up different scenes and then you
can like have keyboard shortcuts to transition between those scenes.
So you don’t need a production studio with a director calling like, go to camera three,
go to camera two, like onto the screen capture.
Instead you can have control of that.
And it took a little bit of practice and I would mess it up now and then, but I think
I had it decently smooth such that, you know, I’m talking to the camera and then we’re doing
something on the paper.
Then we’re doing like a, um, playing with a Desmos graph or something.
And something that I think in the past would have required a production team, you can actually
do as a solo operation, um, and in particular as a teacher.
And I think it’s worth it to try to do that because, uh, two reasons, one, you might get
more engagement from the students, but the biggest reason I think one of the like best
things that can come out of this pandemic education wise is if we turn a bunch of teachers
into content creators.
And if we take lessons that are usually done in these one off settings and like start to
get in the habit of, um, sometimes I’ll use the phrase commoditizing explanation where
what you want is whatever a thing a student wants to learn.
It just seems inefficient to me that that lesson is taught millions of times over in
parallel across many different classrooms in the world.
Like year to year, you’ve got a given algebra one lesson that’s just taught like literally
millions of times, um, by different people.
What should happen is that there’s the small handful of explanations online, uh, that exists
so that when someone needs that explanation, they can go to it, that the time in classroom
is spent on all of the parts of teaching and education that aren’t explanation, which is
most of it.
Um, and the way to get there is to basically have more people who are already explaining,
publish their explanations and have it in a publicized forum.
So if during a pandemic you can have people automatically creating online content cause
it has to be online, but getting into the habit of doing it in a, um, in a way that
doesn’t just feel like a zoom call that happened to be recorded, but it actually feels like
a, a piece that was always going to be publicized to more people than just your students that
can be really powerful.
And there’s an improvement process there, like so being self critical and growing, like,
you know, like I guess YouTubers go through this process of like putting out some content
and like nobody caring about it and then trying to figure out like, and basically improving
figure out like, why did nobody care?
What can I, you know, and they come up with all kinds of answers, which may or may not
be correct, but doesn’t matter because the answer leads to improvement.
So you’re being constantly self critical, self analytical, it should be better to say.
So you think of like, how can I make the audio better?
Like all the basic things.
Maybe one, one question to ask, cause, uh, well, by way of, uh, Russ Tedrick is a robotics
professor at MIT, one of my favorite people, a big fan of yours.
Uh, he watched our first conversation.
I just interviewed him a couple of weeks ago.
He, uh, he teaches this course in the under actuated robotics, which is, um, like robotic
systems when you can’t control everything, like when you’re like, we as humans, when
we walk, we’re always falling forward, which means like it’s gravity.
You can’t control it.
You just hope you can catch yourself, but that’s not all guaranteed.
It depends on the surface.
So like that’s under actuated.
You can’t control everything.
The number of actuators, uh, the degrees of freedoms you have is not enough to fully control
So I don’t know.
It’s a really, I think, beautiful, fascinating class.
He puts it online.
Um, it’s quite popular.
He does an incredible job teaching.
He puts it online every time, but he’s kind of been interested in like crisping it up,
like, you know, making it, uh, you know, innovating in different kinds of ways.
And he was inspired by the work you do, because I think in his work, he can do similar kinds
of explanations as you’re doing, like revealing the beauty of it and spending like months
in preparing a single video.
Uh, and he’s interested in how to do that.
That’s why he listened to the conversation.
He’s playing with manum, but he had this question of, you know, um, of, uh, you know, like in
my apartment where we did the interview, I have like curtains, like the, for like a black
curtain, not this, uh, this is, this is a adjacent mansion that we’re in that I also,
uh, but you basically just have, I have like a black curtain, whatever that, you know,
makes it really easy to set up a filming situation with cameras that we have here, these microphones.
He was asking, you know, what kind of equipment do you recommend?
I guess like your blog post is a good one.
I said, I don’t recommend this is excessive and actually really hard to work with.
So I wonder, I mean, uh, is there something you would recommend in terms of equipment?
Like is, is it, do you re do you think like lapel mics, like USB mics, what do you, for
my narration, I use a USB mic for the streams that used to lapel mic, uh, the narration,
it’s a blue Yeti.
Um, I’m forgetting actually the name of the lapel mic, but it was probably like a road
of some kind.
Um, but is it hard to figure out how to make the audio sound good?
Oh, I mean, listen to all the early videos on my channel and clearly like I’m terrible
at this for, for some reason.
Um, I just couldn’t get audio for awhile.
I think I, it’s weird when you hear your own voice.
So you hear it, you’re like, this sounds weird and it’s hard to notice it sound weird because
you’re not used to your own voice or they’re like actual audio artifacts at play.
Um, so, uh, and then video is just for the lockdown, just the camera, like you said,
it was probably streaming somehow through the, yeah, there were two GH five cameras.
One that was mounted overhead over a piece of paper.
You could also use like an iPad or a Wacom tablet to do your writing electronically,
but I just wanted the paper feel, um, one on the face.
Um, again, I don’t know, I’m like just not actually the one to ask this cause I like
animate stuff usually, but, uh, each of them like has a compressor object that makes it
such that the camera output goes into the computer USB, but like gets compressed before
it does that.
The, the live aspect of it, do you, do you regret doing it live?
Not at all.
Um, I think I do think the content might be like much less sharp and tight than if it
were something, even that I just recorded like that and then edited later.
But I do like something that I do to be out there to show like, Hey, this is what it’s
This is what it’s like when I make mistakes.
Um, this is like the pace of thinking, um, I like the live interaction of it.
I think that made it better.
Uh, I probably would do it on a different channel.
I think, um, if I did series like that in the future, just because it’s, it’s a different
It’s probably a different target audience and, um, kind of keep clean what three blue
and brown is about versus, uh, the benefits of like live lectures.
Do you, uh, suggest like in this time of COVID that people like Russ or other educators tried
to go like the, the shorter, like 20 minute videos that are like really well planned out
You really think through, you slowly design.
So it’s not live.
Do you see like that being an important part of, um, what they do?
Well, what I think teachers like Russ should do is, um, choose the small handful of topics
that they’re going to do just really well.
They want to create the best short explanation of it in the world that will be one of those
handfuls in a world where you have commoditized explanation, right?
Most of the lectures should be done just normally.
Um, so put thought and planning into it.
I’m sure he’s a wonderful teacher and like knows all about that, but maybe choose those
small handful of topics.
Um, do what beneficial for me sometimes is I do sample lessons with people on that topic
to get some sense of how other people think about it.
Let that inform how you want to, um, edit it or script it or whatever format you want
Some people are comfortable just explaining it and editing later.
I’m more comfortable like writing it out and thinking in that setting.
It’s kind of sad.
Sorry to interrupt.
Uh, it’s, it’s a little bit sad to me to see how much knowledge is lost.
Like just, just like you mentioned, there’s professors, like we can take my dad, for example,
to blow up his ego a little bit, but he’s a, he’s a great teacher and he knows plasma,
plasma chemistry, plasma physics really well.
So he can very simply explain some beautiful, but otherwise, uh, complicated concepts.
And it’s sad that like, if you Google plasma or like for plasma physics, like there’s no
And just imagine if every one of those excellent teachers like your father or like Russ, um,
even if they just chose one topic this year, they’re like, I’m going to make the best video
that I can on this topic.
If every one of the great teachers did that, the internet would be replete and it’s already
replete with great explanations.
But it would be even more so with all the niche, great explanations and like anything
you want to learn.
Um, and there’s a self interest to it for, in terms of teachers, in terms of even, so
if you take Russ, for example, it’s not that he’s teaching something like he teaches his
main thing, his thing he’s deeply passionate about.
And from a selfish perspective, it’s also just like, I mean, it’s a, it’s a, it’s like
publishing a paper in a really, uh, like nature has like letters, like accessible publication.
It’s just going to guarantee that your work, that your passion is seen by a huge number
of people, whatever the definition of huge is, doesn’t matter.
It’s much more than it otherwise, uh, would be.
And it’s those lectures that tell early students what to be interested in at the moment.
I think students are disproportionately interested in the things that are well represented on
So to any educator out there, if you’re wondering, Hey, I want more like grad students in my
department, like what’s the best way to recruit grad students?
It’s like, make the best video you can and then wait eight years.
And then you’re going to have a pile of like excellent grad students for that department.
And one of the lessons I think your channel teaches is there’s appeal of explaining just
something beautiful, explaining it cleanly, technically not doing a marketing video about
why topology is great.
There’s yeah, that’s the, there’s people interested in this stuff.
I mean, uh, one of the greatest channels like Matt, it’s not even a math channel, but the
channel with greatest math content is Vsauce, like interviewed.
If imagine you were to propose making a video that explains the Banach Tarski paradox substantively,
Like not shying around it, maybe not describing things in terms of, um, like the group theoretic
terminology that you’d usually see in a paper, but the actual results, um, that went into
this idea of like breaking apart a sphere, proposing that to like a network TV station
saying, yeah, I’m going to, I’m going to do this in depth talk of the Banach Tarski paradox.
I’m pretty sure it’s going to reach 20 million people.
It’s like, get out of here.
Like no, no one cares about that.
No one’s interested in anything even anywhere near that.
But then you have Michael’s quirky personality around it.
And just people that are actually hungry for that kind of depth, um, then you don’t need
like the approval of some higher network.
You can just do it and let the people speak for themselves.
So I think, you know, if your father was to make something on plasma physics or, um, if
we were to have like, uh, underactualized robotics, underactuated, underactuated, yes,
not underactualized, plenty actualized underactuated robotics.
Robotics is under actualized currently.
So even if it’s things that you might think are niche, I bet you’ll be surprised by how
many people, um, actually engage with it really deeply.
Although I just psychologically watching him, I can’t speak for a lot of people.
I can speak for my dad.
I think there’s a, there’s a little bit of a skill gap, but I think that could be overcome.
That’s pretty basic.
None of us know how to make videos when we start the first stuff I made was terrible
in a number of respects.
Like look at the earliest videos I need in the YouTube channel, except for captain disillusion.
And they’re all like terrible versions of whatever they are now.
But the thing I’ve noticed, especially like with world experts is it’s the same thing
that I’m sure you went through, which is like, um, fear of like embarrassment.
Like they, they definitely, it’s, it’s the same reason.
Like I feel that anytime I put out a video, I don’t know if you still feel that.
But like, I don’t know, it’s this imposter syndrome.
Like who am I to talk about this?
And that that’s true for like even things that you’ve studied for like your whole life.
Uh, I don’t know.
It’s scary to post stuff on YouTube.
It is scary.
Uh, I honestly wish that more of the people who had that modesty to say, who am I to
We’re the ones actually posting it.
I mean, the honest problem is like a lot of the educational content is posted by people
who like, we’re just starting to research it two weeks ago and are on a certain schedule
and who maybe should think like, who am I to explain and choose your favorite topic,
quantum mechanics or something.
Um, and the people who have the self awareness, uh, to not post are probably the people also
best positioned to give a good, honest explanation of it.
That’s why there’s a lot of value in a channel like numberphile where they basically trap
a really smart person and force them to explain stuff on a bronze sheet of paper.
So, but of course that’s not scalable as a single channel.
If they, if there’s anything beautiful that it could be done as people take it in their
own hands, uh, educators, which is again, circling back, I do think the pandemic will
serve to force a lot of people’s hands.
You’re going to be making online content anyway.
It’s happening, right?
Just hit that publish button and see how it goes.
See how it goes.
The cool thing about YouTube is it might not go for a while, but like 10 years later, right?
It’ll be like, this, the thing this, what people don’t understand with YouTube, at least
for now, at least that’s my hope with it is, uh, it’s a leg.
It’s a, it’s literally better than publishing a book in terms of the legacy.
It’s it will live for a long, long time.
Of course it’s, um, one of the things I mentioned Joe Rogan before, it’s kinda, there’s a sad
thing cause I’m a fan.
He’s moving to Spotify.
Nine digit numbers will do that to you.
But he doesn’t really that he was one of the person that doesn’t actually care that much
Like having talked to him here, it wasn’t because of money.
It’s because he legitimately thinks that they’re going to do like a better job.
Like, so they’re, so from his perspective, YouTube, you have to understand where they’re
YouTube has been cracking down on people who they, you know, Joe Rogan talks to Alex Jones
and conspiracy theories and stuff.
And YouTube is really like careful that kind of stuff.
And that’s not a good feeling.
Like, and Joe didn’t, doesn’t feel like YouTube was on his side.
You know, he’s often has videos that they don’t put in trending that like are obviously
should be in trending because they’re nervous about like, you know, if this concert is this,
is this content going to, you know, upset people that all that kind of stuff have misinformation.
And that’s not a good place for a person to be in.
And Spotify is giving them a, we’re never going to censor you.
We’re never going to do that.
But the reason I bring that up, whatever you think about that, I personally think as bullshit
because podcasting should be free and not constrained to a platform.
It’s pirate radio.
What the hell?
You can’t, as much as I love Spotify, you can’t just, you can’t put fences around it.
But anyway, the reason I bring that up is Joe’s going to remove his entire library from
I didn’t know that.
His full length, the clips are going to stay, but the full length videos are all, I mean,
made private or deleted.
That’s part of the deal.
And like, that’s the first time where I was like, Oh, YouTube videos might not live forever.
Like things you find like, okay, I’m sorry.
This is why you need an IPFS or something where it’s like, if there’s a content link,
are you familiar with this system at all?
Like right now, if you have a URL, it points to a server.
There’s like a system where the address points to content and then it’s like distributed.
So you, you can’t actually delete what’s at an address because it’s, it’s content addressed.
And as long as there’s someone on the network who hosts it, it’s always accessible at the
address that it once was.
But I mean, that raises a question.
I’m not going to put you on the spot, but like somebody like Vsauce, right?
Spotify comes along and gives him, let’s say $100 billion.
Let’s say some crazy number and then removes it from YouTube, right?
It’s made me, I don’t know, for some reason I thought YouTube is forever.
I don’t think it will be.
I mean, you know, another variant that this might take is like, uh, that, you know, um,
you fast forward 50 years and, uh, you know, Google or Alphabet isn’t the company that
it once was.
And it’s kind of struggling to make ends meet.
And you know, it’s been supplanted by the whoever wins on the AR game or whatever it
And then they’re like, you know, all of these videos that we’re hosting are pretty costly.
So we’re just, we’re going to start deleting the ones that aren’t watched that much and
tell people to like try to back them up on their own or whatever it is.
Um, or even if it does exist in some form forever, it’s like if people are, um, not
habituated to watching YouTube in 50 years, they’re watching something else, which seems
Like it would be shocking if YouTube remained as popular as it is now indefinitely into
So, uh, it won’t be forever.
Makes me sad still, but cause it’s such a nice, it’s just like you said of the canonical
I didn’t mean to interrupt.
You know, you should get Juan Bennett on the, uh, on the thing and then talk to him about
I think you would have a good conversation.
So he’s the one that founded this thing called IPFS that I’m talking about.
And if you have him talk about basically what you’re describing, like, Oh, it’s sad that
this isn’t forever.
Then you’ll get some articulate pontification around it that’s like been pretty well thought
Uh, but yeah, I do see YouTube, just like you said, as a, as a place, like what your
channel creates, which is like a set of canonical videos on a topic.
Now others could create videos on that topic as well, but as a collection, it creates a
nice set of places to go.
Uh, if you’re curious about a particular topic and it seems like coronavirus is a nice opportunity
to, uh, put that knowledge out there in the world at, uh, MIT and beyond, I have to talk
to you a little bit about machine learning, deep learning and so on.
Again, we talked about last time you have a set of beautiful videos on neural networks.
Uh, let me ask you first, what is the most beautiful aspect of neural networks and machine
learning to you, like for making those videos from watching how the field is evolving?
Is there something mathematically or in applied sense, just beautiful to you about them?
Well, I think what I would go to is the layered structure and how, um, you can have what feel
like qualitatively distinct things happening, going from one layer to another, but that
are, um, following the same mathematical rule because you look at it as a piece of math.
It’s like you got a non linearity and then you’ve got a matrix multiplication.
That’s what’s happening on all the layers.
Um, but especially if you look at like some of the visualizations that, uh, like Chris
Ola has done with respect to, um, like convolutional nets that have been trained on image net trying
to say, what does this neuron do?
What do this, uh, does this family of neurons do?
What you can see is that, um, the ones closer to the input side are picking up on very low
level ideas like the texture, right?
And then as you get further back, you have higher level ideas.
Like what is the, where are the eyes in this picture?
And then how do the eyes form like an animal is this animal, a cat or a dog or a deer.
You have this series of qualitatively different things happening, even though it’s the same
piece of math on each one.
So that’s a pretty beautiful idea that you can have like a generalizable object that,
um, runs through the layers of abstraction, which in some sense constitute intelligence
is having, um, those many different layers of an understanding to something form abstractions
in a automated way.
It’s automated abstracting, which, I mean, that just feels very powerful.
Um, and the idea that it can be so simply mathematically represented.
I mean, a ton of like modern ML research seems a little bit like you do a bunch of ad hoc
things, then you decide which one worked and then you retrospectively come up with the
mathematical reason that it always had to work.
Um, but you know, who cares how you came to it when you have like that elegant piece of
Uh, it’s hard not to just smile seeing it work in action.
Well, and when you talked about topology before, one of the really interesting things is, is
beginning to be investigated under kind of the field of like science and deep learning,
which is like the craziness of the surface that, uh, is trying to be optimized, uh, in
I mean, the, the amount of local minima, local optima there is in these surfaces and somehow
a dumb gradient descent algorithm was able to find really good solutions.
That’s like, that’s really surprising.
Well, so on the one hand it is, but also it’s like not, it’s not terribly surprising that
you have these interesting points that exist when you make your space so high dimensional,
like GPT three, what did it have?
175 billion parameters.
So it doesn’t feel as mesmerizing to think about, Oh, there’s some surface of intelligent
behavior in this crazy high dimensional space.
It’s like, there’s so many parameters that of course, but what’s more interesting is
like, how, how is it that you’re able to efficiently get there, which is maybe what you’re describing
that something as dumb as gradient descent does it, but like the re the reason that gradient
descent works well with neural networks and not just, you know, choose however you want
to parameterize this space and then like apply gradient descent to it is that that layered
structure lets you decompose the derivative in a way that makes it computationally feasible.
Um, yeah, it’s just that, that there’s so many good solutions, probably infinitely infinitely
many good solutions, not best solutions, but good solutions.
That’s that’s what’s interesting.
It’s similar to, uh, Steven Wolfram has this idea of like the, if you just look at all
space of computations of all space of basically algorithms that you’d be surprised how many
of them are actually intelligent.
Like if you just randomly pick from the bucket, uh, that’s surprising.
We tend to think like a tiny, tiny minority of them would be intelligent, but his sense
is like, it seems weirdly easy to find computations that do something interesting.
Well, okay, so that from like a calm agor, calm agor of complexity standpoint, almost
everything will be interesting.
What’s fascinating is to find the stuff that’s describable with low information, but still
does interesting things.
Uh, like one fun example of this, you know, um, Shannon’s noisy coding and theorem, uh,
noisy coding theorem and, uh, information theory that basically says if, you know, I
want to send some bits to you, um, maybe, uh, some of them are going to get flipped.
Uh, there’s some noise along the channel.
I can come up with some way of coding it.
That’s resilient to that noise.
That’s very good.
Um, and then he quantitatively describes what very good is.
What’s funny about how he proves the existence of good error correction codes is rather than
saying like, here’s how to construct it or even like a sensible nonconstructive proof.
The nature of his nonconstructive proof is to say, um, if we chose a random encoding,
it would be almost at the limit, which is weird because then it took decades for people
to actually find any that were anywhere close to the limit.
And what his proof was saying is choose a random one.
And it’s like the best kind of encoding you’ll ever find.
But what’s what that tells us is that sometimes when you choose a random element from this
ungodly huge set, that’s a very different task from finding an efficient way to actively
Cause in that case, the random element to actually implement it as a bit of code, you
would just have this huge table of like, um, telling you how to encode one thing into another.
That’s totally computationally infeasible.
So on the side of like how many possible programs are interesting in some way, it’s like, yeah,
tons of them.
But the much, much more delicate question is when you can have a low information description
of something that still becomes interesting.
And thereby this kind of gives you a blueprint for how to engineer that kind of thing.
Chaos theory is another good instance there where it’s like, yeah, a ton of things are
hard to describe, but how do you have ones that have a simple set of governing equations
that remain like arbitrarily hard to describe?
Well, let me ask you, uh, you mentioned GPT three.
It’s interesting to ask, uh, what are your thoughts about the recently released open
AI GPT three model that I believe is already trying to learn how to communicate like Grant
You know, I think I got an email a day or two ago about someone who wanted to, um, try
to use GPT three with manum where you would like give it a high level description of something
and then it’ll like automatically create the mathematical animation, like trying to put
me out of a job here.
I mean, it probably won’t put you out of a job, but it’ll create something visually beautiful
I would be surprised if that worked as stated, but maybe there’s like variants of it like
that you can get to.
Um, I mean like a lot of those demos, it’s interesting.
I think, uh, there’s a lot of failed experiments, like depending on how you prime the thing,
you’re going to have a lot of failed, I’m certainly with code and program synthesis.
Most of it won’t even run, but eventually I think if you, if you’re, if you pick the
right examples, you’ll be able to generate something cool.
And I think that even that’s good enough, even though if it’s, if it’s, if you’re being
very selective, it’s still cool that something can be generated.
That’s a huge value.
Um, I mean, think of the writing process.
Sometimes a big part of it is just getting a bunch of stuff on the page and then you
can decide what to whittle down to.
So if it can be used in like a man machine symbiosis where it’s just giving you a spew
of potential ideas that then you can refine down, um, like it’s serving as the generator
and then the human serves as the refiner.
That seems like a pretty powerful dynamic.
Have you, uh, have you gotten a chance to see any of the demos like on Twitter?
Is there a favorite you’ve seen or?
Oh, my absolute favorite.
Uh, so Tim Blay who runs a channel called acapella science, he was like tweeting a bunch
about playing with it.
Um, and so he, so GPT three was trained on the internet from before COVID.
So in a sense it doesn’t know about the Corona virus.
So what he seeded it with was just a short description about like, um, a novel virus,
uh, emerges in Wuhan, China and starts to spread around the globe.
What follows is a month by month description of what happens, January, colon, right?
That’s what he sees it with.
So then what GPT three generates is like January, then a paragraph of description, February
And it’s the funniest thing you’ll ever read because, um, it predicts a zombie apocalypse,
which of course it would because it’s trained on like the internet, the stories, but what
you see unfolding is a description of COVID 19 if it were a zombie apocalypse.
And like the early aspects of it are kind of shockingly in line with what’s reasonable
and then it gets out of hand so quickly.
And the other flip side of that is, uh, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s onto something
at some point here when, you know, 2020 has been full of surprises, who knows, like we
might all be in like this crazy militarized zone as it predicts just a couple of months
I think there’s definitely an interesting tool of storytelling.
It has struggled with mathematics, which is interesting, or in just even numbers, it’s
able to, it’s not able to generate like patterns, you know, like you give it, um, in like five
digit numbers and it’s not able to figure out the sequence, you know, or like, um, I
didn’t look in too much, but I’m talking about like sequences, like the Fibonacci numbers
and to see how far it can go because obviously it’s leveraging stuff from the internet and
it starts to lose it, but it is also cool that I’ve seen it able to generate some interesting
patterns, um, that are mathematically correct.
I honestly haven’t dug into like what’s going on within it, uh, in a way that I can speak
intelligently to, I guess it doesn’t surprise me that it’s bad at numerical patterns because
I mean, maybe I should be more impressed with it, but like that requires having, um, a weird
combination of intuitive and, uh, and formulaic worldview.
So you’re not just going off of intuition.
When you see Fibonacci numbers, you’re not saying like intuitively, what do I think will
follow the 13?
Like I’ve seen patterns a lot where like 13s are followed by 21s instead.
It’s the, like the way you’re starting to see a shape of things is by knowing what hypotheses
to test where you’re saying, oh, maybe it’s generated based on the previous terms or maybe
it’s generated based on like multiplying by a constant or whatever it is you like have
a bunch of different hypotheses and your intuitions are around those hypotheses, but you still
need to actively test it.
Um, and it seems like GPT three is extremely good at, um, like that sort of pattern matching
recognition that usually is very hard for computers.
That is what humans get good at through expertise and exposure to lots of things.
It’s why it’s good to learn from as many examples as you can rather than just from the definitions
it’s to get that level of intuition, but to actually concretize it into a piece of math,
you do need to, um, like test your hypotheses and if not prove it, um, like have an actual
explanation for what’s going on, not just a, uh, a pattern that you’ve seen.
And, but then the flip side to play devil’s advocate, that’s a very kind of probably correct
intuitive understanding of just like we said, a few, a few layers creating abstractions,
but it’s been able to form something that looks like, uh, a compression of the data
that it’s seen that looks awfully a lot like it understands what the heck it’s talking
Well, I think a lot of understanding is like, I don’t mean to denigrate pattern recognition.
Pattern recognition is most of understanding and it’s super important and it’s super hard.
Um, and so like when it’s demonstrating this kind of real understanding, compressing down
some data, like that, that might be pattern recognition at its finest.
My only point would be that like what differentiates math, I think to a large extent is that, um,
the pattern recognition isn’t sufficient and that the kind of patterns that you’re recognizing
are not like the end goals, but instead they’re, they are the little bits and paths that get
you to the end goal.
That’s certainly true for mathematics in general.
It’s an interesting question if that might, uh, for certain kinds of series of numbers,
it might not be true.
Like you might, um, because that’s a basic, you know, like Taylor’s like certain kinds
of series, it feels like compressing the internet, uh, is, is enough to figure out because those
patterns in some form appear in the text somewhere.
Well, I mean, there’s, uh, there’s all sorts of wonderful examples of false patterns in
math where, um, one of the earliest videos I put on the channel was talking about the
extent of dividing a circle up using these chords.
And you see this pattern of one, two, four, eight, 16, I was like, okay, pretty easy to
see what that pattern is.
It’s powers of two.
You’ve seen it a million times.
Um, but it’s not powers of two.
The next term is 31.
And so it’s like almost a power of two, but it’s a little bit shy.
And there’s, there’s actually a very good explanation for what’s going on.
Um, but I think it’s a good test of whether you’re thinking clearly about mechanistic
explanations of things, how quickly you jump to thinking it must be powers of two because
the problem itself, there’s really no, no good way to, I mean, there can’t be a good
way to think about it as like doubling a set because ultimately it doesn’t, but even before
it starts to, it’s not something that screams out as being a doubling phenomenon.
So at best, if it did turn out to be powers of two, it would have only been so very subtly.
And I think the difference between like, you know, a math student making the mistake and
a mathematician who’s experienced seeing that kind of pattern is that they, they’ll have
a sense from what the problem itself is, whether the pattern that they’re observing is reasonable
and how to test it.
And like, uh, I w I would just be very impressed if there was any algorithm that, um, was actively
accomplishing that goal.
Like a learning base algorithm.
Like a little scientist, I guess.
That’s a fascinating thought because GPT three, these language models are already accomplishing
way more than I’ve expected.
So I’m learning not to doubt, but we’ll get there.
I, I, I’m not saying I’d be impressed, but like surprised, like I’ll be impressed, but
I think we’ll get there on, um, algorithms doing math like that.
So one of the amazing things you’ve done for the world is to some degree, open sourcing
the tooling that you use to make your videos with Madam, uh, this Python library.
Now it’s quickly evolving because I think you’re inventing new things every time you
make a video.
In fact, I wanted, um, I’ve been working on playing around with something.
I wanted to do like an ode to three blue on Brown.
Like I love playing Hendrix.
I wanted to do like a cover, you know, of a concept I wanted to visualize and use Madam.
And I saw that you had like a little piece of code on like Mobia strip and I tried to
do some cool things with spinning a Mobia strip, like continue, um, twisting it, I guess
is the term, uh, and it was easier to, uh, it was tough.
So I haven’t figured it out yet.
Well, so I guess the question I want to ask is so many people love it, uh, that you’ve
put that out there.
They want to, uh, do the same thing as I do with Hendrix and want to cover it.
They want to explain an idea using the tool, including Russ.
How would you recommend they try to, I’m very sorry.
They try to go, they try to go by, uh, about it and what kind of choices should they choose
to be most effective?
That I can answer.
So I always feel guilty if this comes up because, um, I think of it like this scrappy tool.
It’s like a math teacher who put together some code.
People asked what it was, so they made it open source and they kept scrapping it together.
And there’s a lot, like a lot of things about it that make it harder to work with than it
needs to be that are a function of like me not being a software engineer.
Um, I, I’ve, I’ve put some work this year trying to like make it better and more flexible.
Um, that is still just kind of like a work in process.
Um, one thing I would love to do is just get my act together about properly integrating
with what like the community wants to work with and like what stuff I work on and making
that, um, not like deviate, uh, and just like actually fostering that community in a way
that I’ve, I’ve been like shamefully neglectful of.
So I’m just always guilty if it comes up.
So let’s put that guilt aside, just kind of Zen, like I’ll pretend like it isn’t terrible
for someone like Russ.
Um, I think step one is like, make sure that what you’re animating should be done so programmatically
because a lot of things maybe shouldn’t.
Um, like if you’re just making a quick graph of something, uh, if it’s a graphical intuition
that maybe has a little motion to it, use Desmos, use grapher, use GeoGebra, use Mathematica,
certain things that are like really oriented around graph.
GeoGebra is kind of cool.
I did super amazing.
You can get very, very far with it.
Um, and in a lot of ways, like it would make more sense for STEM stuff that I do to just
do in GeoGebra, but I kind of have this cycle of liking to try to improve man and by doing
videos and such.
So, uh, do as I say, not as I do.
The original like thought I had in making manum was that there’s so many different ways
of representing functions other than graphs, um, in particular things like transformations,
like use movement over time to communicate relationships between inputs and outputs instead
of like estimate direction and Y direction, um, or like vector fields or things like that.
So I wanted something that was flexible enough that you didn’t feel constrained into a graphical
Um, by graphical, I mean like graphs with like X coordinate, Y coordinate kind of stuff,
but also make sure that, um, you’re taking advantage of the fact that it’s programmatic.
You have loops, you have conditionals, you have abstraction.
If any of those are like well fit for what you want to teach to, you know, have a scene
type that you tweak a little bit based on parameters or to have conditional so that
things can go one way or another or loops so that you can create these things of like
arbitrarily increasing complexity.
That’s the stuff that’s like meant to be animated programmatically.
If it’s just like writing some text on the screen or shifting around objects or something
like that, um, things like that, you should probably just use keynote, right?
Um, you’d be a lot simpler.
So, uh, try to find a workflow that distills down that which should be programmatic into
manum and that which doesn’t need to be into like other domains.
Again, do as I say, not as I do.
I mean, Python is an integral part of it.
Just for the fun of it, let me ask, uh, what, uh, what’s your most and least favorite aspects
Ooh, most and least.
I mean, I love that it’s like object oriented and functional, I guess that you can kind
of like get both of those, um, uh, benefits for how you structure things.
So if you would just want to quickly whip something together, the functional aspects
It’s your primary language, like for programmatically generating stuff.
It’s home for me.
Sometimes you travel, but it’s home.
Uh, I mean, the biggest disadvantage is that it’s slow.
So when you’re doing computationally intensive things, either you have to like think about
it more than you should how to make it efficient or it just like takes long.
Do you run into that at all?
Like with your work?
Well, so, uh, certainly old man is like way slower than it needs to be because of, uh,
how it renders things on the backend is like kind of absurd.
I’ve rewritten things such that it’s all done with like shaders in such a way that it should
be just like live and actually like interactive while you’re coding it.
If you want to, to have like a 3d scene, you can move around, you can, um, have, um, elements
respond to where your mouse is or things.
That’s not something that user of a video is going to get to experience cause there’s
just a play button and a pause button.
But while you’re developing, that can be nice.
Um, so it’s gotten better in speed in that sense, but that’s basically because the hard
work is being done in the language that’s not Python, but GLSL, right?
Um, but yeah, there are some times when it’s like a, um, there’s just a lot of data that
goes into the object that I want to animate that then it just like Python is slow.
Well, let me ask, quickly ask, what do you think about the walrus operator, if you’re
familiar with it at all?
The reason it’s interesting, there’s a new operator in Python 3.8.
I find it psychologically interesting cause it, the toxicity over it led Guido to resign
the step down from this.
Is that actually true?
Or was it like, there’s a bunch of surrounding things that also, was it actually the walrus
operator that, that.
Well, it was, it was a text, it was an accumulation of toxicity, but that was the, the most, that
was the most toxic one, like the discussion.
That’s the most number of Python core developers that were opposed to Guido’s decision.
Um, he didn’t particularly, I don’t think cared about it either way.
He just thought it was a good idea.
This is where you approve it.
And like the structure of the idea of a BDFL is like you listen to everybody, hear everybody
You make a decision and you move forward.
And he didn’t like the negativity that burdened him after that.
People like some parts of the benevolent dictator for life mantra, but once the dictator does
things different than you want, suddenly dictatorship doesn’t seem so great.
I mean, they still liked it.
He just couldn’t because he truly is the bee in the benevolent.
He’s really, he really is a nice guy.
He, I mean, and I think he can’t, it’s a lot of toxicity.
It’s a difficult job.
And that’s why Linus Torvalds is perhaps the way he is.
You have to have a thick skin to fight off, fight off the warring masses.
It’s kind of surprising to me how many people can like threatened to murder each other over
whether we should have braces or not, or like it’s incredible.
I mean, that’s my knee jerk reaction to the walrus operators.
Like I don’t actually care that much either way.
I’m not going to get personally passionate.
My initial reaction was like, yeah, this seems to make things more confusing to read.
But then again, so does list comprehension until you’re used to it.
So like if there’s a use for it, great, if not great, but like, let’s just all calm down
about our spaces versus tabs debates here and like, be chill.
To me, it just represents the value of great leadership, even in open source communities.
Does it represent that if he stepped down as a leader?
Well, he fought for it.
No, he got it passed.
I guess, but I guess, I could represent multiple things too.
It can represent like failed dictatorships or it can, it can represent a lot of things,
but to me, great leaders take risks.
Even if it, even if it’s a mistake at the end, like you have to make decisions.
The thing is this world won’t go anywhere.
If you constantly, if whenever there’s a divisive thing, you wait until the division is no longer
Like that’s the paralysis we experienced with like Congress and political systems.
It’s good to be slow when there’s indecision, when there’s people disagree, it’s good to
take your time.
But like at a certain point it results in paralysis and you just have to make a decision.
The background of the site, whether it’s yellow, blue, or red can cause people to like go to
war over each other, which I’ve seen this with design.
People are very touch on color, color choices at the end of the day, just make a decision
and go with it.
And that, that’s what the Walrus operator represents to me is it represents the fighter
pilot instinct of like quick action is more important than, than just like hearing everybody
out and really think it through it because that’s going to lead to paralysis.
Like if that’s the actual case that, you know, it’s something where he’s consciously hearing
people’s disagreement, disagreeing with that disagreement and saying he wants to move forward
anyway, that’s an admirable aspect of leadership.
So we don’t have much time, but I want to ask just cause it’s some beautiful mathematics
2020 brought us a couple of in the physics world theories of everything, Eric Weinstein
kind of, I mean, it’s been working for probably decades, but he put out this idea of geometric
unity or started sort of publicly thinking and talking about it more, Steven Wolfram
put out his physics project, which is kind of this hypergraph view of a theory of everything.
Do you find interesting, beautiful things to these theories of everything?
What do you think about the physics world and sort of the beautiful, interesting, insightful
mathematics in that world, whether we’re talking about quantum mechanics, which you touched
on in a bunch of your videos a little bit, quaternions, like just the mathematics involved
or the general relativity, which is more about surfaces and topology, all that stuff.
Well, I think, um, as far as like popularized science is concerned, people are more interested
in theories of everything than they should be like, cause the problem is whether we’re
talking about trying to make sense of Weinstein’s lectures or Wolfram’s project, or let’s just
say like listening to, uh, Witten talk about string theory, whatever proposed path to a
theory of everything, um, you’re not actually going to understand it.
Some physicists will, but like, you’re just not actually going to understand the substance
of what they’re saying.
What I think is way, way more productive is, um, to let yourself get really interested
in the phenomena that are still deep, but which you have a chance of understanding because
the path to getting to like even understanding what questions these theories of everything
are trying to answer involves like walking down that, um, I mean, I was watching a video
before I came here about from Steve mold talking about, um, why sugar polarizes light in a
So fascinating, like really, really interesting.
It’s not like this novel theory of everything type thing, but to understand what’s going
on there really requires digging in in depth to certain ideas.
And if you let yourself think past what the video tells you about what does circularly
polarized light mean and things like that, it actually would get you to a pretty good
appreciation of like two state states and quantum systems, um, in a way that just trying
to read about like, Oh, what’s the, um, what are the hard parts about resolving quantum
field theories with general relativity is never going to get you.
So as far as popularizing science is concerned, like the audience should be less interested
than they are in theories of everything.
Um, the popularizers should be less emphatic than they are about that for like actual practicing
And that might be the case.
Maybe more people should think about fundamental questions, but it’s difficult to create, uh,
like a three blue, one brown video on the theory of everything.
So basically we should really try to find the beauty in mathematics or physics by looking
at concepts that are like within reach.
Yeah, I think that’s super important.
I mean, so you see this in math too with, um, the big unsolved problems.
So like the clay millennium problems, Riemann hypothesis, um, have you ever done a video
on Fermat’s last theorem?
No, I have not yet.
But if I did, do you know what I would do?
I would talk about, um, proving Fermat’s last theorem in the specific case of N equals
Is that still accessible though?
Um, Mathologer might be able to do like a great job on this.
He does a good job of taking stuff that’s barely accessible and making it, but the,
the core ideas of proving it for N equals three are hard, but they do get you real ideas
about algebraic number theory.
And it involves looking at a number field that’s, uh, it lives in the complex plane.
It looks like a hexagonal lattice and you start asking questions about factoring numbers
in this hexagonal lattice.
So it takes a while, but I’ve talked about this sort of like lattice arithmetic, um,
in other contexts and you can get to a okay understanding of that.
And the things that make Fermat’s last theorem hard are actually quite deep.
Um, and so the cases that we can solve it for, it’s like you can get these broad sweeps
based on some hard, but like accessible, um, bits of number theory.
But before you can even understand why the general case is as hard as it is, you have
to walk through those.
And so any other attempt to describe it would just end up being like shallow and not really
productive for the viewer’s time.
Um, I think the same goes for, uh, most like unsolved problem type things where I think,
you know, as a kid, I was actually very inspired by the twin prime conjecture, um, that like
totally sucked me in as this thing that was understandable.
I kind of had this dream like, Oh, maybe I’ll be the one to prove the twin prime conjecture
and new math that I would learn would be like viewed through this lens of like, Oh, maybe
I can apply it to that in some way.
But, uh, you sort of mature to a point where you realize that, uh, you should spend your
brain cycles on problems that you will see resolved because then you’re going to grow
to see what it feels like for these things to be resolved rather than spending your brain
cycles on something where it’s not, it’s not going to pan out.
Um, and the people who do make progress towards these things like James Maynard, uh, is a
great example here of like young creative mathematician who like pushes in the direction
of things like the twin prime conjecture rather than hitting that head on, just see all the
interesting questions that are hard for similar reasons, but become more tractable and let
themselves really engage with those.
Um, so I think people should get in that habit.
I think the popularization of physics should encourage that habit through things like the
physics of simple everyday phenomena, because it can get quite deep.
And um, yeah, I think I, you know, I’ve, I’ve heard a lot of the interest that, you know,
people send me messages asking to explain Weinstein’s thing or asking to explain Wolfram’s
One, I don’t understand them, but more importantly, um, it’s too big a bite to, you shouldn’t
be interested in those, right?
The giant sort of a ball of interesting ideas.
There’s probably a million of interesting ideas in there that individually could be
And to be clear, you should be interested in fundamental questions.
I think that’s a good habit to ask what the fundamentals of things are, but I think it
takes a lot of steps to like, certainly you shouldn’t be trying to answer that unless
you actually understand quantum field theory and you actually understand general relativity.
That’s the cool thing about like your videos, people who haven’t done mathematics, like
if you really give it time, watch it a couple of times and like try to try to reason about
it, you can actually understand the concept that’s being explained.
And it’s not a coincidence that the things I’m describing aren’t like the most, um, up
to date, uh, progress on the Riemann hypothesis cousins or, um, like there’s context in which
the analog of the Riemann hypothesis has been solved in like more, uh, discrete feeling
finite settings that are more well behaved.
I’m not describing that because it just takes a ton to get there.
And instead I think it’ll be like productive to have an actual understanding of something
that can, you can pack into 20 minutes.
I think that’s beautifully put ultimately.
That’s where like the most satisfying thing is when you really understand, um, yeah, really
understand, build a habit of feeling what it’s like to actually come to resolution.
As opposed to, which it can also be enjoyable, but just being in awe of the fact that you
don’t understand anything.
That’s not like, I don’t know.
Maybe we’ll get entertainment out of that, but it’s not as fulfilling as understanding
you won’t grow.
And, but also just the fulfilling, it really does feel good when you first don’t understand
something and then you do, that’s a beautiful feeling.
Hey, let me ask you one, uh, last, last time we got awkward and weird about, uh, a fear
of mortality, which you made fun of me off, but let me ask you on the, the other absurd
question is, um, what do you think is, uh, the meaning of our life of meaning of life?
I’m sorry if I made fun of you about, no, you didn’t.
I’m just joking.
It was great.
I don’t think life has a meaning.
I think like meaning, I don’t understand the question.
I think meaning is something that’s described to stuff that’s created with purpose.
There’s a meaning to, uh, like this water bottle label and that someone created it with
a purpose of conveying meaning.
And there was like one consciousness that wanted to get its ideas into another consciousness.
Um, most things don’t have that property.
It’s a little bit like if I asked you, um, like what is the height, all right, so it’s
You’d be like the height of what you can’t ask.
What is the height without an object?
You can’t ask what is the meaning of life without like an intentful consciousness, putting
it like, I guess I’m revealing I’m not very religious, but you know, the mathematics of
everything seems kind of beautiful.
It seems like, it seems like there’s some kind of structure relative to which, I mean,
you could calculate the height.
Well, so, but what I’m saying is I don’t understand the question.
What is the meaning of life in that?
I think people might be asking something very real.
I don’t understand what they’re asking.
Are they asking like, why does life exist?
Like how did it come about?
What are the natural laws?
Are they asking, um, as I’m making decisions day by day for what should I do?
What is the guiding light that inspires like, what should I do?
I think that’s what people are kind of asking.
But also like why the thing that gives you joy about education, about mathematics, what
the hell is that?
Like what interactions with other people, interactions with like minded people, I think
is the meaning of, in that sense, bringing others joy, essentially, like in something
you’ve created, it connects with others somehow and the same and the vice versa.
I think that that is what, um, when we use the word meaning to mean like you’re sort
of filled with a sense of happiness and energy to create more things, like I have so much
meaning taken from this, like that, yeah, that’s what fuels, fuels my pump at least.
So a life alone on a desert island would be kind of meaningless.
You want to be alone together with someone.
I think we’re all alone together.
I think there’s no better way to end it, Grant.
You’ve been, first time we talked, it was amazing again, it’s a huge honor that you
make time for me.
I appreciate talking with you.
Thanks for listening.
Thanks for listening to this conversation with Grant Sanderson.
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And now let me leave you with some words from Richard Feynman.
I have a friend who’s an artist and has sometimes taken a view which I don’t agree with very
He’ll hold up a flower and say, look how beautiful it is, and I’ll agree.
Then he says, I as an artist can see how beautiful this is, but you as a scientist take this
all apart and it becomes a dull thing.
And I think he’s kind of nutty.
First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people and to me too, I believe.
Although I may not be quite as refined aesthetically as he is, I can appreciate the beauty of a
At the same time, I see much more about the flower than he sees.
I can imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside, which also have a beauty.
I mean, it’s not just beauty at this dimension at one centimeter, there’s also beauty at
smaller dimensions, the inner structure, also the processes.
The fact that the colors in the flower evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it
It means that insects can see the color.
It adds a question.
Does this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms?
Why is it aesthetic?
All kinds of interesting questions which the science knowledge only adds to the excitement,
the mystery and the awe of a flower.
It only adds.
I don’t understand how it subtracts.
Thank you for listening and hope to see you next time.