Lex Fridman Podcast - Lex Fridman: Ask Me Anything – AMA January 2021

The following is an AMA episode

where I answer a few questions that folks asked

on Patreon, YouTube, and other social networks.

I’ll try to do these episodes on occasion

if it’s of interest to anyone at all.

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And now, on to the AMA episode

with the questions and the answers.


The question is, Lex,

I’m a young man that has battled with depression.

Do you think when trying to develop a human-like AI,

we will reach a stumbling point

where the AI themselves suffer from depression

and other complex mental issues?

Do you think it will be a simple fix

like rewriting a piece of code or a new patch or update?

Or maybe when trying to create something human-like

with high fidelity, you need to leave in the possibility

of the AI suffering from such complex mental issues

that a human can.

What are your thoughts generally and philosophically

about AI suffering from depression?

I think that suffering is a deep fundamental property

of consciousness.

I would like to probably say quite a bit about depression.

I have friends who suffer from depression,

but that’s for another time.

That’s for when we talk about depression in humans.

I think depression is just one flavor of suffering

that is part of the human condition.

I see it as a kind of dark side street

on the path to intelligence.

So in terms of robot suffering,

if we are to create systems that are truly intelligent

in the way that they’re able to interact

in intelligent and deeply meaningful ways

with other humans, it’s going to have

many of the properties, many of the characteristics

of the human condition, of the full human experience.

I think depression is part of that.

There’s of course a part in us humans

that longs to remove all that is cruel in this world.

That’s why people that believe in God,

often the biggest question is of why does God

allow there to be suffering in the world?

There’s this longing to understand

why is there so much unfairness in this world?

And so building on that, there’s an inclination

to then in our systems engineer something

that is void of those things that we cannot understand

why that’s part of the human condition.

But I think it is intricately part

of the experience that is to be human.

And I think if we were to build intelligence systems

that are interacting with humans,

there has to be in some ways properties

of consciousness baked in.

And if we’re to have properties of consciousness baked in,

we have to have the full mystery

and uncertainty of the human experience,

which yes, includes all the different flavors

of suffering of which depression is part.

I think the yin and the yang in all of its versions,

the ups and downs of moods,

but also the more sort of rational intellectual

interpretations of different concepts

that are less sort of dramatic,

all have to oscillate back and forth.

I think that’s where the interesting aspect

of interactions happens.

Just like when I have conversations in the podcast,

the interesting stuff happens when there’s disagreements,

when there’s a bit of turmoil,

when there’s a push and pull,

when there’s a changing of minds,

or even just a morphing of your own opinions

about something, your own thoughts.

I think that’s part of it.

So I really do think all of that mess of humanity

has to be engineered in,

into AI systems that are interacting with humans

and are trying to create meaningful interactions

with those humans.

There’s of course a huge amount of AI systems

that are going to be more intelligent

than humans at particular tasks.

Those do not need to have those properties

of the human experience,

like suffering and all those kinds of things.

But for the ones that move among us,

I think unfortunately depression

has to be part of the experience,

or the possibility of depression

has to be part of the experience.

Of course I tend to focus on the positive aspects

of the human experience,

like love, beauty, joy, all those kinds of things,

but it’s the yin and the yang.

They go together.

They’re lifelong partners, unfortunately, I think.

Now of course all of this is just hypothesis,

and most of my answers to all of these questions

are going to be just my own thoughts,

but I am thinking about all of this

from an engineering perspective,

and maybe I’ll have more to say in the future

about how we actually build these kinds of things

into our AI systems that interact with humans.

Thanks for the great question.

It’s a tough one.

Question is, Lex, I was wondering

if you would be willing to talk

about your immigrant experience.

I myself started off as an international student

studying and working in America,

not from Russia, I’m from India,

but there was a constant push and pull

that I experienced given my life circumstance.

I would be curious to hear how you assimilated.

Do you feel like you belong, et cetera?

Thank you for the AMA.


Your statements about do you feel like you belong

hit hard for some reason.

Maybe it’s because of late at night,

maybe because I’m a bit over-caffeinated.

Maybe what pops to mind to focus on

is the aspect of loneliness, the aspect of belonging.

I think a lot of us in the early teenage years

go through that process of feeling like an outsider,

an outcast of different kinds.

I think it hit me the hardest personally

because I was a popular kid in Russia,

and when we moved here,

I went to the opposite of being popular,

or feeling like that, I felt like an outcast.

The place I moved to in America had more of an emphasis,

maybe it’s a cultural thing,

of emphasizing material possessions

over two things that were deeply meaningful to me,

which is human connection, like friendship,

and also knowledge, like mathematics

and scientific discovery, all those kinds of things.

It’s just the emphasis of what was valued was different,

and that for me was a catalyst to feel like a total outcast,

as opposed to being this person

who looks out into the world

and enjoys the beauty of the world.

I kind of went to this brooding phase of,

first of all, learning the English language,

but starting to read books, more philosophical books.

The first one I remember reading in English was The Giver.

That sort of helped me start thinking about this world.

I was so fortunate to be so in love with people for so long,

and have close friends in Russia,

that I didn’t notice in my childhood

how deeply alone we all are.

So for me, the immigrant experience

involved in a small way, at least the first,

realizing that hard human truth

that we all are born alone, live alone, die alone.

Even when we’re in the arms of somebody we love,

we’re still somehow fundamentally alone

with our thoughts, with our hopes, with our fears,

trapped in this conscious meat vessel between our ears.

I think the immigrant experience for me

was the catalyst to realizing and being terrified

and also liberated by the idea that

I’m alone in this world.

And at the same time was the realization

that this beautiful feeling I felt

from the connection to other humans

was this gift that took me away

from this dark realization.

So it’s almost that love is a kind of escape

from the reality of life, from the muck of life.

And so the journey began in that way,

to think about this world in this way,

both the burden of being alone,

coupled with the frequent escape from that feeling

by being lost in the company of friends, loved ones.

So early on, coupled with this love of the human mind

and curiosity about the human mind

was the love of programming

and actually building little programs

and engineering systems, of course,

building robots in college and so on.

I think the gift of the immigrant experience

of feeling like the outcast

was the love of experiencing

the deep connection with others,

like a deep appreciation of it when it’s there.

I guess because it was taken away,

because I was ripped out of it through moving here,

I got to really appreciate it

and start becoming cognizant of it

to where I can start looking for it

and being more grateful when I do have it.

And at the same time, a kind of curiosity

started boiling up of the perspective

on artificial intelligence systems

from that kind of longing for a connection.

So as opposed to looking at robots or AI systems

or even just programs that accomplish a particular task,

can these programs accomplish the same richness of task

and richness of experience

that I came to appreciate as a human being?

So when I talk about kind of love,

there’s echoes of that in my longing

of the kind of experiences I would like to create

in artificial intelligence systems

that was born out of the immigrant experience,

of the loss of childlike innocence experience,

of all of it combined, of starting to read books

and thinking deeply about this world experience,

all of that coupled in.

I really think sometimes, unfortunately,

the first step of deep gratitude is loss.

So for me, I lost quite a bit during that time

and through that loss, I was able to discover the things

that I truly appreciate about life.

So let me leave it at that.

Question is, if you were able to ask an alien some questions,

what would they be?

This is a really good question

and I find it to be actually a really good thought experiment.

Let me put out some candidate questions out there

and see what sticks.

So first, I’ll probably ask for advice

for the human species as a whole, for our civilization,

of what we might do to survive and prosper

for a long time to come,

assuming the alien is from a civilization

that’s far older than ours or far wiser.

I think there could be some really interesting,

clear statements about the things we’re doing here on Earth

that are getting us into trouble from an alien perspective.

So I think that’s the number one thing

and maybe I’ll bring up along those lines,

bring up questions of great filters.

If you look at the history of your civilization,

when did you almost destroy the entirety of your species?

It would be informative from a historical perspective

to see, for us, it’s currently what the nuclear age

and the few moments in the history

that could have resulted in an all-out nuclear war.

It’d be interesting to see

if they mentioned something about AGI,

something about viruses or wars

or just things that we don’t even think about.

So I guess question number one

would be some basic life advice,

hoping that this alien is a Naval type character

who can, in a crisp, short way, give some profound advice.

Second, I would probably ask,

now this is a very selfish conversation

because it’s just following along the things

on top of my head that follow my curiosity.

I would ask about the difference

between their civilization and ours.

I would ask whether they have some of these things

that make us human, like love.

Like, do you guys have love where you come from?

Do you have death, mortality?

You know, I suspect it’s possible to have mortality

not even be a concept that makes any sense

to an alien species.

That, of course, everybody’s immortal

and there might be some kind of enforced selection mechanism

like evolution in general.

I would ask about consciousness,

try to tease apart the question of this thing

of subjective experience.

Is this some kind of self-centered,

weird, over-dramatized quirk of evolution that we have

that’s not actually special at all?

And then we make a kind of big deal about it.

That’s some kind of useful feature of our brain

to think of ourselves as individuals

that’s completely silly.

It’d be interesting to try to tease apart

whether they have consciousness

and what form their intelligence takes

that is distinct from consciousness

in the way that we think of humans

as being conscious entities

that are also able to do intelligent things.

Are those intricately connected?

Are those separate?

It’d be interesting to sort of tease that apart

of how their alien minds work.

So that includes intelligence, consciousness,

love, and death, all the greatest hits.

Okay, then I would probably go to physics.

Of course, you gotta ask about physics.

I would look into the alien’s eyes, if they have eyes,

and try to determine if we can actually even find

the same language of mathematics or physics or sciences.

In general, I would probably ask about the big mysteries

of physics and science of what’s outside our universe.

Why is there something rather than nothing?

Why is there stuff?

And what’s outside the stuff we think of as stuff?

So like, what’s outside the universe?

I’d be hesitant to ask the why questions,

but I’ll try a few out to see maybe there is a good answer

to the why questions of like, why did it start?

Like, why is there something rather than nothing?

Then I would probably ask slightly more detailed

about what’s the universe made of?

Like, what’s up with this dark matter and dark energy stuff?

Like, what are the basic building blocks of reality?

And what are the laws of physics that govern that reality?

So I would, of course, ask, kind of sneak in there,

just like casually, can you maybe give a few hints

of how to unify?

First of all, are we on the right track

in terms of quantum mechanics and general relativity?

And then how do you unify all the laws of physics?

Maybe sneak in there in a different angle,

trying to ask about the singularity in the black hole,

or maybe what happens at the very beginning of the Big Bang,

like where those laws are all unified.

Maybe try to get a sense of what are the kind of physics

required to fully describe these events.

I think the physics discussion would be a good time

to ask, is there a God?

Maybe not use the G word, but instead say,

is there a kind of a centralized designer

or team of designers that have launched the universe

and are actively managing the universe?

And of course, another version of asking that,

I would probably talk about the simulation

of looking at the universe as we see it,

as a computation, as a computer

that’s doing information processing,

see if that rings a bell to the alien,

if there’s a connection to that.

In general, I would ask about what kind of computers

you have and also what kind of computer games.

That’d be really useful.

Like, what do you do for fun?

You come here often?

But that’s like usual icebreakers.

Of course, I’m not mentioning those.

That’s just like chatter at the bar.

So I guess outside the big physics questions,

I would ask the more engineering-centric questions.

First, my interest, AI, about superintelligence.

How do we build superintelligent systems,

ones that are far more intelligent than humans?

How do we travel close to the speed of light

or faster than the speed of light?

Like, how do the aliens get to where we’re at

that we’re meeting and talking?

Related to that would be a question of energy.

How do we harness the energy of a sun or multiple suns

or all of the suns in our galaxy?

And then also kind of an engineering question.

Can we travel through time?

And if we can, how do we build a time-traveling machine?

And is it a good idea?

I think a lot of these questions will be appended

with a sort of caveat of like,

if you know the answer to this question,

will I be better off if you told me this answer?

Sometimes knowledge is not power.

Sometimes knowledge is a burden

that leads to self-destruction.

So we wanna be careful about that.

Of course, as the alien gets tired of talking to me

at this intergalactic bar,

probably gets up sort of politely, starts walking away,

I would definitely ask some questions

from my own personal knowledge bank.

Is P equals NP?

Good question.

Theoretical computer science,

one of the big questions all in mathematics.

I just need to know the answer.

Just give me the answer, I’ll work from there, okay?

We’ll figure out the rest, just the answer.

So yes or no?

Probably won’t ask him for investment advice.

Probably thinks that the whole concept of money is silly,

but I might ask about Bitcoin.

Good long-term investment or bad?

What do you think?

The digital currency in general.

And of course, we’ll probably ask,

is Elon Musk one of you guys or a different species?

Do you know which galaxy,

which group of planets he came from?

It’d be nice to sort of localize things.

Is there others like it that visit and build companies?

Just get some of the details.

This AMA has suddenly become ridiculous,

but I think this is a really nice thought experiment,

and I’ll think about this a little bit more.

I’m sure there is a list of really precise questions

that could most efficiently unlock the mysteries

before the human race

that are both useful for our progress

and useful for our survival.

Question is, what advice would you give

an intermediate life stage 36-year-old

who wants to career pivot from medical technology

and research to computer science?

So first, by computer science,

I think you mean the broad field

that includes software engineering, machine learning,

robotics, just computing in general,

maybe with less emphasis on the mathematical sides

like theoretical computer science.

I think the best advice on this that I could give

is find a simple project to get excited about

and allow yourself to get really excited by it.

Have fun, fall in love with it,

be proud of the thing you create.

And I should say there’s a big emphasis on the simple.

Don’t go super ambitious.

I believe that most people, if they allow themselves,

can derive a huge amount of joy

for creating some simple little things.

Even if it’s following a tutorial,

if you just allow yourself to experience

the joy of creation, it’s there for you.

That’s one of the magical things about computer science

is it allows you to create things

that are almost like entities on their own.

That’s what programs are.

So I think a career in computer science

starts first with allowing yourself to be passionate

and getting that, stoking that flame

and allowing it to build.

So it’s not about any of the practical,

like which job do I get, what thing I work on.

It’s just really giving yourself over

to the simple passion of creating stuff.

I think there’s just a quick set of steps

that I think I followed early on

that I would also recommend you

at least consider following is,

first is basic software engineering.

So finding maybe Python or JavaScript,

like super popular, accessible programming language

and build just like a hello world program

or something just a little bit more complicated,

but not much more.

Beyond that is using that newly acquired

set of tools of programming,

build something that automates something you do

on the computer.

Maybe another way to phrase that is just like scripts

that are helping you in your interaction with the computer.

So maybe finding different files in your computer

that you try to look for often

or reorganizing things in an automated way,

like folder structures, or maybe renaming files.

Like I have a script that finds all the files

that have spaces in the file name

and it renames them after confirmation

to underscores, all those kinds of things.

There’s a bunch of little helpful scripts

I have all over the place.

And those are just really joyful

because you get to use them every day.

And it’s something that you’ve created

that made your life a little bit easier.

For me at least, that’s a source of joy

that helps feed that like love of programming,

of just being a part of the computing

of the computer science world.

And I’ve been doing that really my whole life.

It started with C and C++,

but now it’s a lot of other languages,

primarily Python and yes, JavaScript.

Next is a branching into two separate little worlds

in computer science of algorithms

and then like data science.

I think both are full of beautiful things

to fall in love with.

The thing you can really enjoy with algorithms

is learning how to build more and more

efficient algorithms.

On the data side is learning

how to process different data sets,

how to clean them up,

how to reorganize them

and do different kind of statistics on them,

processing on them.

So we’re not even talking about machine learning yet.

It’s just being able to visualize those data sets,

all those kinds of stuff,

just working with data.

And now we’re starting to talk about a career

because there’s a lot of jobs

that have to do with the use of computing techniques

to process, visualize, interpret, aggregate, analyze data.

So I guess you would call that field data science.

So that’s a really cool career trajectory.

And there’s so many cool things to get into

with I think a very reasonable small learning curve

that you can really, if you push yourself,

do within weeks, maybe months, not years.

And once you become comfortable with the data science world,

you can start building on top of that quite naturally,

doing some boilerplate machine learning,

supervised learning projects,

and then building out into more specific,

more useful, more novel,

cutting edge applications of machine learning,

reinforcement learning, that whole world.

Maybe even taking that into physical systems

of actually building robots.

And I should backtrack.

It sounds like I’m building

towards something super complicated, but it’s not.

All of these can be really small projects.

Even robotics projects,

you can build a little robot that does some basic tasks,

maybe does some basic computer vision.

And it’s a nice way to learn on the robotics side

and better systems programming.

So it’s just getting more comfortable with hardware

and seeing if that’s something you’re interested in.

Or on the data science side,

where you’re sticking much more to the software.

Both of those, you now start to figure out

what is the exciting career possibility.

I think two things,

I would even see them as skills that are important here.

Passion and Google.

I see passion as a skill

because it’s allowing yourself to be excited.

So it’s finding things you could be excited about

and allowing yourself to be excited.

And seeing that as an actually essential part of progress

is allowing yourself to be excited.

And the reason I mentioned Google is because

I find that in a lot of fields,

but especially in computer science,

with software engineering and machine learning,

there’s so many amazing resources out there

that the key skill actually ends up being

is how good are you at discovering the exact page

and resources that is allowing you to take the next step

in your journey of exploration of learning.

And that’s fundamentally a skill of

how do I Google the right thing?

What pages do I click on?

And all those kinds of things.

I think it sounds almost kind of ridiculous

to say that that’s a skill,

but that is one of the most essential skills

of the modern day student, lifelong student,

is how to Google.

So yeah, passion and Google.

Allow yourself to fall in love with the project

and keep taking the next step, the next step, the next step

with the help of a good search engine

and a bit of curiosity.

Question is, what form factor of robots

are you most excited about for the future?

Bipeds, quads, arms, humanoids,

maybe something else more obscure.

This is a really tough question

because I really like robots.

I think that love is born in software

and the hardware stuff just makes it a little more fun.

So I think the things I’m really excited about,

even in terms of form factors, is in the software.

I think much of the exciting developments in robotics

is actually in simulated worlds currently.

And I think that will be true for quite a while to come.

And so I think in terms of human robot interaction,

the robots that’ll be really exciting

are the ones that live in virtual worlds,

like in virtual reality or even just on a screen.

So I think what we would see more and more

is entities, human-like entities,

or entities that allow us to anthropomorphize

a consciousness, a spirit onto them

living in the digital world.

I think that’s what I’m really excited about.

And of course, slowly those entities taking a form

in the physical space in terms of,

I think probably the humanoid form.

Unfortunately, though very difficult to engineer

and create a realistic and natural

or fulfilling experience with,

I think it’s still probably the most, to me, exciting form.

Although I do really like Boston Dynamic Spot,

the robot dog, from a kind of having a pet perspective

is a really exciting form.

Again, very difficult to do stuff in the physical space.

It’s a huge engineering challenge

that as far as I can tell is several orders of magnitude

more difficult than the same challenge in digital space.

So I just see the digital simulated robotics advancing

much quicker and having a much larger scale impact

on the world, especially if we start seeing

more and more virtual worlds being created.

And that doesn’t necessarily mean virtual reality

or like augmented reality.

It just means ability and mediums within which

you can interact with artificial intelligence systems

in the digital space.

And I do see that as a form factor,

which is entities in digital space

having a humanoid or a semi-humanoid form,

something that we can anthropomorphize,

something we can connect with on a human level.

Question is, on the topic of suffering and growth,

is happiness a healthy pursuit?

Or do you agree with Einstein’s view on happiness

as the aspiration of a pig?

Okay, let me quickly look up the Einstein quote here

that you referenced about a pig and happiness.

Okay, Einstein writes,

I have never looked upon ease and happiness

as ends in themselves.

This critical basis I call the ideal of a pigsty.

The ideals that have lighted my way and time after time

have given me new courage to face life cheerfully

have been kindness, beauty, and truth.

Without the sense of kinship with men of like mind,

without the occupation with the objective world,

the eternally unattainable in the field of art

and scientific endeavors,

life would have seemed empty to me.

The trite objects of human efforts, possessions,

outward success, luxury,

have always seemed to me contemptible.

Okay, where do I start with this?

I think I usually agree with Einstein,

especially when he talks philosophy on most things.

And I do here as well in terms of material possessions

and all those kinds of things.

But I think he unfairly attacks the word happiness

and also pigs.

So let me disagree with Einstein

and try to defend the word happiness

and also maybe defend pigs,

if I can somehow figure that out.

So the word happiness,

I think is one of those words

that could mean a lot of things to a lot of people.

And I think in this case,

Einstein is using it as almost,

or the pursuit of happiness

as a kind of synonym for hedonism.

So a kind of very narrow definition of what happiness is.

I think I see happiness as a indicator

that is much bigger than direct pleasures,

but as a word that includes those pleasures,

but also includes more meaningful,

deep fulfillment in life.

And so I’d like to reclaim the word happiness

as a good thing,

which is slightly applied in this discussion

that happiness is a kind of distraction

that shouldn’t be thought about.

I do think that happiness is a side effect

of a life well lived, not a goal.

I think the moment it becomes a goal in itself,

I think it’s easy to lose your way.

And perhaps that’s what in part Einstein means,

but I do think it’s a really good signal

of progress, happiness.

So in losing yourself in the focus of battle,

of just focusing on excellence and progress

and improving and challenging yourself

and growing all the time,

I think a kind of running average

measure of your happiness,

day-to-day happiness,

so you average that over a period of weeks and months,

is a good measure of how you’re doing.

And I think a more actionable process

of collecting that signal

is a process of just gratitude,

of sitting back and thinking how grateful I am,

how grateful you are for how it started

and how it’s going,

for the progress that you’ve made.

So I do think it’s a good signal,

not momentary happiness,

but over a period of time, several weeks, several months,

if there’s not happiness,

that you’ve probably lost your way as well.

So it’s a useful signal,

not a goal in itself, but a useful signal.

And kindness, beauty, and truth,

as Einstein puts it, are good ideals,

but they’re a bit ambiguous

in a practical day-to-day sense.

I share them, of course,

but I think practically,

if I were to put it into words,

at least for myself,

struggle is the process

and happiness is the measure.

So day-to-day life actually looks

like a constant struggle to improve yourself.

And then the flip side of that

is the gratitude of how amazing life is,

the progress you’ve made,

but also just the opportunity to struggle.

You have to imagine this if it’s happy.

And ultimately, when I look back at my life,

most days are spent truly happy to be alive.

So in that sense, the pursuit of happiness is a good one.

So not hedonistic in the moment,

local optima of kind of pleasure,

but more like stepping back,

looking at the running average

over the past few weeks and months

and making sure you’re at a good level.

So that’s a bit of a disagreement with Einstein.

And I also have to say that I think

pigs are one of the most intelligent animals.

So I’m still holding out for the possibility

that pigs or maybe dolphins

have life figured out quite a bit better than us humans.

So on those two things,

the pursuit of happiness and on the brilliance of pigs,

me and Einstein part ways for a brief moment.

Question is, hey Lex,

I was curious how you pick people

to come on to the podcast.

I think this process is actually quite difficult

and it evolved over time.

So let me mention a few factors.

I think first and foremost,

it’s important that a person is really passionate

about what they do.

And that passion can take all kinds of different forms.

I know I sometimes or all the time

completely lack emotion in my face,

but I truly am passionate about the things I do.

And so that passion can express itself in different ways.

And so coupled with that passion,

I look for people who are sort of not only passionate,

but they appreciate, enjoy,

are drawn to the long form conversation format

as a way to express that passion, which is not everybody.

Some people love to express their passion,

their interests, their expertise,

their ideas in written form.

Maybe that’s more kind of edited

over several passes of editing

versus a conversation format,

especially long form conversation

where there’s very little editing.

In addition to that,

I also try to make sure the person

actually wants to come on to this particular podcast.

You know, there’s so many amazing podcasts out there

and it’s also just surprising to see

how much better they are than me

at talking and conversations, explaining stuff.

It’s humbling, it’s also inspiring

because it pushes me to kind of improve

seeing what’s possible.

So I don’t know.

If people don’t actually listen to this particular podcast

or at least have listened a little bit

and are not drawn to the particular flavor of weirdness

that is me, like some kid who wears a suit all the time

and like mumbles, speaks slowly,

asks these weird questions.

I mean, if they’re not drawn

to whatever the hell that weird mystery is

of this particular human,

then there’s no reason to talk.

If they’re drawn, I think there’s a possibility

of something magical happening.

Me with my weirdness and them with their weirdness

kind of colliding in interesting ways

that creates something new

that both of us are surprised by.

And on that topic, more and more,

I’m looking for people that are different than me.

And that means the full spectrum of diversity.

So it could be different backgrounds,

different worldviews, different personalities.

Like you can tell there’ll be a clash of flavors.

It’s like chocolate and salt,

but it can also turn out to be like a pineapple pizza

that actually some people love, but I don’t understand.

It doesn’t make any sense.

Why it doesn’t make any sense.

So it could be taking that risk

of embracing that clash in the chemistry

can sometimes result in a pineapple pizza.

So there’s a cost to that risk,

but I seek it out more

because I think that’s the possibility

of some magical experience of a magical conversation.

And on that topic, I should mention

there’s this kind of idea of platforming,

which is I’ve been fortunate enough

to have sort of enough listeners and viewers

that the question of platforming even comes up.

Meaning if you have this kind of guest

with these kind of controversial viewpoints,

why give them a platform

that further spreads their viewpoints?

And I understand, I empathize with this kind of view,

but I don’t like it because to me, if I’m successful,

now that’s the problem.

I’m not very good at this thing,

especially in challenging conversations.

But if I’m successful, the tension in worldviews,

the tension in personalities,

the clash will create wisdom.

So I really want to talk to very challenging people.

I want to have really difficult conversations.

And that means talking to people

that are at the outskirts of society.

I think it’s something that I’m thinking about a lot.

It’s important to say that I’m not afraid of being canceled.

I do think I’m afraid,

or perhaps the better word is concerned,

about doing a terrible job

on a important, difficult conversation.

Where as a result of me doing a terrible job,

I don’t add love or knowledge or inspiration to the world,

but fuel further division.

Not because of the guests I have on,

but because of my failure to catalyze

and steer an inspiring conversation.

I see my skill in conversation as not,

I mean, I don’t know how to put it nicely,

but not very good.

I’m striving to improve constantly.

So some of the guest selection has to do

with the difficulty of the conversation

and how prepared I am for that level of difficulty.

I think the way I think about difficult conversations

is some of them might take years to prepare for,

just intellectually.

There’s certain people and certain spaces of ideas

that takes a lot of time.

You have to remember that I’m just an engineer.

I have a set of things that preoccupied my mind for years,

and there’s a lot of difficult topics

that I just won’t do a good job of.

So part of it is I have to work hard to learn more,

to kind of constantly look outside the Overton window

to try to explore difficult ideas.

And at the same time,

build enough sort of reputation-driven freedom

to take risks and make mistakes,

or try to inspire people in the community

to allow me, to allow each other,

all of us to make mistakes in conversation.

So it’s the coupling of extreme, thorough preparation

and allowing yourself to make mistakes.

It’s like excellence and not giving a damn combined.

But overall, the thing I’m concerned about,

and I take back the fear, I’m not afraid of it.

I’m just concerned of doing a bad job of conversation.

I’m not concerned of being canceled or derided

or criticized after having done a reasonably good job.

I’m concerned on myself.

It doesn’t matter if I’m canceled or not.

Just when I look in the mirror,

when I look at the results of the conversation

being a failure, something that doesn’t add love

to the world, but something that adds derision.

And also, this is the problem with words.

I don’t even like how I’m expressing myself currently.

I really try not to have some kind of agenda

or strategy going into a conversation.

I really wanna be fragile, open-minded,

almost boring and naive, and just giving my trust

to a person, even when I challenge or play devil’s advocate,

all those kinds of things.

I really want to place trust in the mutual respect

and the love that the other person gives.

And I trust that they won’t take advantage of that.

And so some of the guest selection has to do with,

do I have enough trust yet that this person

won’t take advantage of my open-mindedness,

of my childlike curiosity, all those kinds of things.

But all of this is just a giant learning experience.

I do wanna be careful not to let my curiosity run,

what should I say, too far ahead of me,

where my preparation doesn’t meet

the level of curiosity I exhibit.

So again, like I said, I’m willing and I’m trying

to be more and more willing to take risks

and make mistakes in conversations,

but I’m also not letting myself off the hook

in terms of the level of preparation I put.

And I really hope that we give each other the freedom

and are patient with each other in nuanced conversation.

That’s what seems to be really missing in public discourse,

is this kind of patience and allowing each other

to make statements that we later change our mind on

and not putting that statement on us

as this kind of scarlet letter

that forever puts us in a bin of red or blue

or some other bin.

So I’m trying to navigate all of this

while still being naive and open-minded as best I can.

Question is, hey Lex, I was wondering how you manage

to remain optimistic in the face of adversity

when you encounter hostile people

that don’t want to even consider

offering constructive criticism

and would rather try to tear you down

and force their ideology.

I find pieces of hope for short periods of time

and then they fade after I see the argument

surrounding whatever brought about hope to begin with.

I guess to put it simply,

how do you hold on to hope and optimism?

Thank you for the question.

There’s probably a lot to be said about this,

but I’ll try to keep it brief and simple.

I try to ignore the noise of the world,

the bickering of the moment.

I find that if you give yourself a chance

to see how amazing people are,

that those people will reveal themselves to be amazing,

that you will see it.

That if you give yourself a chance to see it,

you will see it, I see it.

And I see gratitude for how amazing things are

and optimism for how much even better things could be

as a kind of superpower.

It makes life exciting in a way

that first is just fun to live.

And two, from just a productivity perspective,

as an engineer or anybody who creates anything,

it’s fuel to create.

I believe that to create new things,

and especially for things that others will say

is not possible to create,

I find that optimism is a necessary precondition

to give you the energy, the fuel, the drive,

the inspiration to go for months, for years,

to carry the fire of belief.

That’s where that optimism truly is,

a superpower that enables that kind of perseverance.

So I think the most important thing

is it makes life more exciting and fun.

And it’s a good productivity hack, is the second thing.

You also asked how, so I tried to,

my personal life and the influences I take in,

the books I read and the people I talk to,

I try to surround myself with people

that are also full of optimism.

And in general, I’m unapologetically a fan

of a lot of people, especially sort of big thinkers,

wild engineers and scientists

and creators of all walks of life.

People that shine in ways that surprise me or excite me.

There’s really thousands, to be honest.

Just off the top of my head,

even people I talked to on this podcast,

Chris Lattner always brings a smile to my face,

one of the greatest engineers of the world.

Jim Keller’s from that ilk as well,

though slightly different personalities,

but also inspires me, makes me smile,

such a deep and kind and brilliant human being.

Along that line of engineers, Elon Musk, of course,

also the embodiment of optimism about this world

is an inspiration.

And then maybe down the dimension of more wild,

even George Hotz, with a chaotic style of thinking

that’s very different than my own,

but one that I find just inspiring.

Of course, Joe Rogan, for me, has been for many years

a kind of example of somebody

who doesn’t take themselves too seriously.

Like he’s been for a lot of people.

He has been for me a role model for a successful life

that’s not full of jealousy and kind of derision,

but it’s more being supportive of others,

being a fan of others, all those kinds of things.

I mean, on the darker side, Dan Carlin, of course,

you don’t often think of him as optimistic,

but I truly think he’s optimistic.

He’s just been so deeply soaking in the muck

of the darkness of human history

that I think sometimes the thing he talks about

come off as deeply cynical

about the future of human civilization,

but they’re not.

There’s a shining optimism to him.

And I wasn’t, in my conversation with him,

even though his words were saying

that he’s not always optimistic,

I think his heart, his spirit was clearly optimistic.

There’s a hope for us in him.

And at least to me, that’s what I see.

And to me, that hope glows pretty bright

in the stuff that he creates

and the passion that he has for human history.

Of course, the scientist, Stephen Wolfram,

on the computer science side,

I can’t tell you how much I love cellular automata.

Sean Carroll, the way he loves everything about physics,

this incredible communicator.

Eric Weinstein, the way he loves everything geometrical,

shapes of all things, whether they’re mathematical

or whether they’re connected to physics,

just his loves for symmetry, asymmetry,

for topology, for the weird curvature of things

in the visible dimensions of space-time

or the invisible ones.

And that’s just sticking to people I’ve talked to

on this podcast.

Of course, Joshua Bach,

whose flow of consciousness is full of so much brilliance,

it breaks my brain any time I try to process it.

My Commodore 64 brain takes in his Pentium.

I don’t know what the analogy is,

but it always breaks my brain.

I’m especially inspired by the creations

of software engineers, for example,

because there’s an inherent optimism

to the creative process.

A lot of people in the cryptocurrency space,

Vitalik Buterin is a constant inspiration.

It just goes on and on.

And of course, the hundreds,

probably thousands of dead folks,

from Nietzsche to Dostoevsky, Freud, Jung,

Camus, Hasse, Kerouac, everybody.

I mean, I just kind of feel like I exist in this world

of people that are excited about the future

and then, of course, the noise of the world

that is lost in the bickering of the moment can seep in.

And that’s where a kind of meditation comes in.

I don’t fully ignore it.

I think that’s kind of running away from the world

in a way that I don’t find constructive,

at least at this time in my life.

I just take it in, but I don’t let it linger.

If there is any kind of harshness or trolling

or just maybe destructive criticism,

I try to pick from it pieces that I can use to grow,

to inspire me and let the rest go.

And that’s the kind of muscle you have to build.

And every once in a while, just disconnect from it all

and recharge the mind in a way

from just simple silence of nature.

Question is, what is something you changed your opinion

about in the past few years?

Thank you for everything you’re doing.

Love from Brussels.

I love Belgium.

Thank you for that question and the kind words.

I changed my mind on a lot of things

and I change my mind all the time.

I’m in a constant flux.

I’m constantly learning.

I guess my mind is a quantum mechanical system.

But I can mention a few things

that have been stable big shifts

in my thinking at least over the past year or two,

especially related to the podcast.

So on the topic of psychedelics,

I’ve always found those fascinating.

What I’ve changed my mind over the past couple years

is a hopeful message.

I think that psychedelics can actually

enter the realm of science

and that there’s a bunch of places

that are starting to conduct large scale

research studies on psychedelics.

And that’s really exciting to me

because I have a sense that that’s just another perspective

into the world of neuroscience

that will help us understand the way the mind works

and potentially how to engineer different aspects

of what makes the human mind so special

in our artificial intelligence systems.

On the topic of social media,

I’ve changed my mind over the past two years.

I always felt that it had a bunch of complicated,

bad influences on society,

but they were balanced with a lot of positive effects

that build community, that give people a voice,

all those kinds of things.

More and more, I’m starting to think

that the possible set of destructive trajectories

that social media can take human civilization

is much wider, much more destructive than I accounted for.

So it’s something that I worry about.

In the space of existential risk

of artificial intelligence that people talk about,

I think my mind more and more over the past two years

has been focused on social media

as the greatest threat of artificial intelligence.

I also think it’s the greatest set of possibilities.

So what I wanna say is it’s the set of trajectories

is wider than I expected.

The set of possible trajectories then society might go

as driven by, managed by, directed by our platforms.

Hence, it’s been something that I’ve been working on

to see if I can help.

The biggest thing I probably changed my mind on

is that extraterrestrial life, intelligence, consciousness,

is worthy of serious scientific investigation.

It’s similar how I felt before about consciousness,

human consciousness, is that we lack the tools

and we’re very early in our ability to explore,

to understand, to engineer consciousness.

And the same with extraterrestrial life.

The tools are very crude in terms of the SETI efforts

of trying to communicate with faraway civilizations,

and also the listening.

Then there’s the detection in faraway exoplanets

and whether they’re habitable in life forms

on those planets.

Also the hundreds of thousands of reports of UFO sightings,

actually getting some high-resolution sensory data

around that.

So we’re in the very early days

of any of that kind of understanding.

But what I’ve changed my mind on,

or rather what I’ve come to understand,

is closing my mind, closing the mind of other scientists

to these fields of consciousness and extraterrestrial life

prevents us from actually discovering new things.

Basically what happens when you close your mind

to these fascinating, inspiring, mysterious

spaces of exploration,

you leave the exploration of these topics

to people that are not well-equipped to explore them.

They’re just curious minds.

And by the way, those curious minds are magical

and they’re inspiring and I’m one such curious mind.

But the rigors of science, the tools of science,

the funding of science can crack these wide open

and give us better data, better understanding,

inspire totally new ways of thinking

about consciousness, about extraterrestrial life,

have entire paradigm shifts of the way we approach

our understanding of intelligence,

of life forms in general.

And there’s a lot of things that kind of open my eyes

to this fascinating world.

The David Fravor conversation of the pilot

that saw the Tic-Tac UFO was just recent,

a more and more conversation, but that was in 2017.

I remember seeing Avi Loeb’s thoughts

about a more and more when it first came out.

And even just thinking about the Drake equation

more seriously and thinking about

the different possibilities built

into the uncertainty of the parameters,

just opened my eyes to the mystery and the wonder

of the amazing universe we’re in

and how little we know about it.

And so I’ve definitely kind of become

much more intellectually open to the exploration

of what extraterrestrial life might look like,

what are the ways we might be able to communicate with it,

how we might be able to understand it,

what does it teach us about ourselves?

And also, importantly, this very fascinating

psychological effect of being open to these mysteries

that we know very little about,

what does that do to the actual productivity,

the creative output of an engineering mind,

that opening your mind in this way,

to think outside of the little box

of things we understand well,

what does that do in terms of the things

you might be able to build,

the ideas that might visit you

and result in you being able to build something totally new?

I think all of that changed my mind about aliens.

That’s why I’ve been having conversations

about extraterrestrial life.

I’m, of course, very careful walking down this line

because I am first and foremost a scientist and engineer

and I wanna stay in that world,

but I really do want to cultivate an open mind

and a childlike curiosity.

And I generally hope to see that in other scientists as well.

That’s what science is all about.

I think incremental progress is essential for science,

but it has to be coupled to that childlike wonder

about the world and an open-minded, out-of-the-box,

thinking that results in major paradigm shift

that throw all those silly citations out the window

and build totally new sciences, totally new approaches

that make everything we did in the decades past meaningless

or actually counterproductive.

So they have to be coupled together.

Incremental progress and first principles,

deep thinking that results in paradigm shifts.

Question is, what was your decision behind going

on the keto diet, mainly meat-based,

and how has it helped you?

So the decision, or rather process,

of discovering the diets that work for me

has to do with the fact that I wrestled

in combat sports my whole life.

That has weight classes, so you’re constantly figuring out

how to perform optimally physically and mentally

while going to school and so on, while also cutting weight.

So grounded in that, I’ve developed a fascination

with different diets.

I’ve never thought about diet

as a prescriptive thing for others.

I’ve always thought of myself

as a kind of a nutritional scientist

running a study of N of one.

So just studying myself and not trying

to extrapolate to others, just understanding

what makes me happy, what makes me perform the best,

and that’s where that journey took.

I’ve tried everything.

I think about 15 or more years ago,

I discovered the power of intermittent fasting

or fasting in general, and I can talk about that forever.

I used to do a lot of weight lifting,

sort of power lifting, all that kind of stuff.

And in the world of men’s health,

or rather men’s muscle and fitness, kind of,

where you eat six, seven times a day,

small meals, chicken and broccoli, all that kind of stuff,

in that kind of world, to realize that you can eat

once a day and still train two, three times that day

and actually have more energy, more focus,

and perform better than you ever have was mind-blowing.

So I think fasting was the biggest paradigm shift for me

because it made me realize that I really need

to study myself better, try new things all the time

to allow myself the opportunity to discover

something that’s totally transformative on my life,

makes my life easier, makes my body, my mind work better,

all that kind of stuff.

I discovered intermittent fasting and fasting in general

from the ultra-endurance athlete’s world.

And that’s where also I came across the ideas

of fat-adapted athlete, which is this kind of idea

that you can use fat as an energy source,

and then quickly discover that there is diets

similar to like a keto diet that are extremely low-carb

that could allow you to perform well physically

and mentally, all those kinds of things.

I think it all sounded a little bit crazy to me.

I grew up thinking low-fat is good, high-fat is bad.

So it was always weird to eat something with fat in it

and for it not to be like a cheat meal or something,

but to be something that’s part of the diet.

So it was strange, but once I gave it a chance

and did it properly with all the electrolytes

and water and all those kinds of things,

you can look it up.

When you do it properly, it just felt great,

and there was just a huge number of benefits

I felt immediately, and I’ve been doing it ever since.

So let me maybe quickly comment on some pros and cons

of the keto diet.

And again, this is all personal experience.

I don’t want to extrapolate this to others,

but I do encourage people to try, to explore,

to be their own scientists of their own body.

So for me, pros is the physical energy.

First of all, the energy levels are more stable,

but also I just feel more energized for exercise.

This is both for explosive movements, heavy lifts,

or jiu-jitsu, grappling, judo, wrestling,

all those kinds of things,

and also for prolonged endurance exercise.

I find both a really benefit for me.

I think for explosive exercise,

the biggest benefit for me is the mental focus,

at least the way I approach the grappling sports,

but even lifting.

It’s certainly very important how my body feels,

but it’s also important that the mind

is really focused on the technique.

And I find that the biggest benefit of keto

combined with fasting is that my mind can achieve

a greater level of stable, prolonged focus,

which is useful for exercise, funny enough for me.

Obviously, it’s really useful for work,

for deep work sessions, for thinking deeply

for prolonged periods of times,

whether that’s programming, whether that’s writing,

or whether that’s sitting behind a sheet of paper

and designing new systems.

It’s both the energy of mental focus

and the kind of clarity, I don’t know how else to put it,

but there’s just a cleanness to the focus

that I really enjoy.

Also, when you acclimate to it,

I find that the sort of number of hours in the day

that I have a positive mood is just larger.

I can be cranky sometimes,

especially when I’m sleep deprived

or especially when stuff is just not working.

So there will always be parts of the day when I’m cranky,

but it just feels, I haven’t quantified it,

but I’m pretty sure sort of anecdotally speaking

that the number of hours I feel just good

about the day is just grateful to be alive

is higher with keto.

Other benefits are better sleep.

I fall asleep easier.

That might have to do with just the lower volume of food.

I don’t know, but I enjoy naps and sleep better.

There’s also just in general small aches and pains

from joints when you’re exercising,

all that kinds of stuff.

Seems to be less on keto.

So that’s just my own personal experience.

Also, when you’re doing fasting and keto,

because of the stable energy,

you find that you can actually skip meals quite easily.

And so that gives you a nice gateway into fasting

for longer periods of times if you like.

There’s a lot of benefits to fasting

that I could talk about, but that’s for another time.

But in general, it gives you this freedom to live life,

to enjoy life, and not be so obsessed about food.

I think that’s the biggest liberating thing about keto

is that if you do the keto diet well,

that food ceases to be a kind of habitual obsession

that drives the progress of the day.

More of the day is spent kind of lost in the passions

and the things you love doing.

I just found that when I was doing

the kind of many meals a day,

I would find myself thinking about food a lot.

It drove the structure of the day.

It influenced a lot of the things I would talk about

and think about.

You don’t really think of it that way until it’s gone.

And you notice with keto and fasting

that you can spend really long hours of the day

just doing some cool stuff that you love

and food doesn’t come into play

in your mind and your actual activity.

My personal cons of the keto diet is

I enjoy eating higher volume.

It gives you a feeling of fullness.

And I think with the keto diet

is a lower volume of food in general.

You’re still full in terms of your body

not saying you’re hungry,

but there’s not a feeling of real fullness.

Now that’s also a benefit because you just feel better,

you feel lighter, less bloated, and so on.

I find this is actually changing a lot,

but keto used to be a little bit less socially friendly.

Most of the fun foods, foods you associate

with kind of just like going crazy at parties

or restaurants and so on, have a ton of carbs.

And so in social settings,

it often feel like you’re being restrictive

and not partaking in the fun if you’re doing a keto diet.

I think that’s changing a lot.

People are becoming much more accepting of it.

For example, at McDonald’s,

you can order just the beef patties for $1.50

as I’ve talked about.

And people don’t look at you weird,

at least in my experience,

if you just get the burger without a bun.

Another con is keto and carnivore just doesn’t sound healthy

so I usually try not to talk about it too much

because it just makes me feel really good,

my mind focused, my body performs well.

But I don’t know if I want to sort of prescribe it to others.

It’s definitely something I recommend you try,

but I just don’t feel like conclusively saying

this diet is great for everybody, I really don’t.

I certainly don’t know enough to be able to say that

and also it just doesn’t sound right to say that.

And while I’ve loved meat my whole life,

I feel the best when I eat a lot of meat.

I do think about the ethical side of veganism.

It’s something I’m reading about now,

I’m thinking a lot about.

It’s an ongoing journey, perhaps I’ll have more to say,

more of my mind to be changed in the future, we’ll see.

But for now, for many years now,

I’ve been really enjoying the keto diet,

a mix of keto and carnivore diets.

We’ll see what the future holds.

What was the darkest time in your life

and what did your road to recovery look like?

In general, I love life, so it’s difficult for me

to talk about these kinds of things.

But let me briefly say that I think the darkest times

have been when I’ve put my faith in people,

when I opened my heart to them

and they turned out not to be

the best versions of themselves

or maybe the kind of amazing people that I’d hope,

I thought they might be.

So my heart has been broken in small ways in my life,

as I’m sure it has been for many people.

But the fire of hope still burns bright,

perhaps even brighter.

You mentioned road to recovery.

I think with the people I mentioned,

I focus on the positive moments, and there always are,

and just have gratitude for those

and just don’t linger on the negative.

I just remember the good times.

That’s how I recover, that’s how I keep my optimism,

and that’s how I keep my heart open

for future amazing people to take the risk.

And I’m sure my heart will be broken again,

perhaps many times in the future.

But I think it’s always worth the risk.

I like the, I wrote this down, the Marcus Aurelius quote,

“‘Love the people with whom fate brings you together

“‘and do so with all of your heart.’”

I think that’s all we can do.

I hope some of these answers

were at least somewhat interesting or useful.

If so, I’ll try to do it again in the future.

It is currently 4, oh, it’s 421.

When I started saying that sentence, it was 420 a.m.

A good time to end as any, perhaps the best.

Good night, I love you all.

Thanks for listening to this AMA episode,

and thank you to our sponsors, Brooklyn and Sheetz,

Indeed hiring website, ExpressVPN,

and Theragun muscle recovery device.

So the choice is sleep, employment,

privacy, or muscle recovery.

Choose wisely, my friends.

And if you wish, click the sponsor links below

to get a discount and to support this podcast.

And now, since we talked about Einstein’s thoughts

about happiness and pigs,

let me leave you with some words from Winston Churchill.

I’m fond of pigs.

Dogs look up to us.

Cats look down on us.

Pigs treat us as equals.

Thank you for listening, and hope to see you next time.


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