Lex Fridman Podcast - #158 - Zev Weinstein The Next Generation of Big Ideas and Brave Minds

The following is a conversation with Zev Weinstein,

a young man with a brilliant, bold and hopeful mind

that I had the great fortune of talking to

on a recent afternoon.

He happens to be Eric Weinstein’s son,

but I invited Zev not because of that,

but because I got a chance to listen to him speak

on a few occasions and was captivated

by how deeply he thought about this world

at such a young age.

And I thought that it might be fun

to explore this world of ours together with him

for a time through this conversation.

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As a side note, let me say that Zev acknowledges

the fear associated with participating in public discourse

and is brave enough to join in at a young age,

to push forward, to change his mind publicly,

to learn, to articulate difficult nuanced ideas

and grow from the conversations that follow.

In this, I hope he leads the next generation of minds

that is joining and steering the collective intelligence

of this big ant colony we think of

as our human civilization.

If you enjoy this thing, subscribe on YouTube,

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on Twitter at Lex Friedman.

And now, here’s my conversation with Zev Weinstein.

You’ve said that philosophy becomes more dangerous

in difficult times.

What do you mean by that?

Interestingly, I think I mean two things by that.

And I think firstly, I should clarify,

when I say philosophy, I sort of mean

in a very traditional sense, just thinking, ideation.

And that could be reconsidering our notions of self

in a very traditional sense, which we consider philosophy,

or that could be like technological innovation.

I think it’s important to recognize all of these

as philosophies that we can not question

whether it’s important to promote thought.

I think the other thing I should clarify

is when I say difficult times,

I mean times when nothing is growing,

and so the risk for real conflict is much greater

because people are incentivized to fight over the things

which already exist.

I think when times are not difficult,

the people with the greatest power

are usually the people who are very creative,

generating a lot, and that really requires ideation

or philosophy of some sort.

I think when times become stagnant,

the important successful people become the people

who are very good at protecting their own pieces of the pie

and taking others.

I think that those people have to be very opposed

to any sort of thinking that could restructure society

or conventions about who should succeed.

And so firstly, I mean by that

that it becomes much more dangerous for a person

to think deeply and question during a time

when the important people are those concerned

with making sure no one rocks the boat.

One example of this would be Socrates and his execution

because everyone was happy enough

to sit through his questions before there was war

and poverty and distress,

and afterwards it just became too dangerous.

The other thing I mean by that is that the consequences

of thinking deeply carry much greater potential

for real catastrophe when everyone is desperate.

So like for example, the communist manifesto

was probably much more dangerous during early 1900s Russia

than it was during the 1848 revolutions

because I think people were in much worse shape

and desperate people are very willing to dive

into anything new that might bring the future

without fully calculating

whatever the consequences or risks might be.

So it is both more dangerous for a person

to have creative ideas and those ideas

are more dangerous when times are tough.

And by dangerous you mean it challenges the people

with power who want to maintain that power

in times of stagnation when there’s not much growth,

innovation, creativity, all that kind of stuff.

Right, and we know that if nothing new is created,

people have promises that they’ve made

about what will be paid to whom, what debt structure is.

The only possibility if stagnation lasts for long enough

is really some kind of great conflict, great war

because people have to take from others

to make good on their own promises.

So we know that by denying any sort of grand ideation

we are accepting that there will be

some kind of great catastrophe.

And so we have to understand that philosophy

is the most important when we’ve seen

too much stagnation for too long.

It is also very dangerous

and it’s dangerous for the people who are doing it

and it’s dangerous for the people who believe it

but it’s kind of our only way out ever.

And again, by philosophy you mean the bigger,

so it’s not academic philosophy

or this kind of games played in the space

of just like moral philosophy and all those metaphysics,

all that kind of stuff.

You mean just thinking deeply about this world,

thinking from first principles.

I think your like Twitter line involves something about like.

Trying to piece everything together from first principles.

So that’s fundamentally what being philosophical

about this world is and that’s where the people

who are thinking deeply about this world

are the ones who are feeding,

who are the catalyst of this growth in society and so on.

Yeah, I mean, I also think that the real implication

of moral philosophy can be something

that most would consider like a real political implication.

So I think all philosophy really ties together

because there has to be some sort of grand structure

to all thought and how it relates.

Do you think this growth and innovation

and improvement can last forever?

We’ve seen some incredible,

the thing that humans have been able to accomplish

over the past several hundred years is just,

I mean, awe inspiring and every moment in that history,

it almost seemed like no more could be done.

Like we’ve solved all the problems that are to be solved.

And there’s just historically,

there’s all these kind of ridiculous

like Bill Gates style quotes,

or like it’s obvious that this new cool thing

is not gonna take off and yet it does.

And so there’s a feeling of the same kind of pattern

that we see in Moore’s law.

There’s constant growth in different technologies

in the modern day era in any kind of automation

over the past hundred years.

Do you think it’s possible that we’ll keep growing this way

if we give power to the philosophers of our society?

I think the only way that we can keep growing this way

is if we give power to real thinkers.

And there’s no guarantee that that will work,

but we sort of don’t have any other choice.

And I think you’re entirely right

that this period of both understanding the universe

at a rate which has never been seen before

and invention and creativity,

that these past hundred years

have been sort of uncharacteristic

for the level of growth that we’ve seen in all of history.

We’ve never seen anything like this.

And I think a lot of our promises rest on this sort of thing


I think that’s very dangerous.

But the one thing that can get us out of this is philosophy

and being ready to radically restructure

all of our notions about what should be, what is.

I think that’s very important.

So you think deeply about this world.

You are clearly the embodiment of a thinker, of a philosopher.

Your dad is also one such guy, Eric Weinstein.

Do you have big disagreements with him

on this topic in particular?

I think, now people should know,

he also happens to be in the room,

but the mics can’t pick him up so he can heckle.

It doesn’t even matter.

But do you have disagreements with him on this point?

Let me try to summarize his argument

that we are actually based a lot of our American society

on the belief that things will keep growing.

And yet it seems that however you break it apart,

maybe from an economics perspective,

that they’re not growing currently.

And so that’s where a lot of our troubles are at.

Do you have the same sense that there’s a stagnation period

that we’re living through over the past couple of decades?

I think stagnation, modern stagnation is completely

undeniable, particularly scientifically.

And I think there have been a few fields

where tremendous progress has been made very recently.

I think my dad might feel that

there is sort of an inevitability

to the ending of this period.

And I’m not so certain that the fall of this great time

is completely inevitable because I don’t know

what thoughts we’re capable of producing,

what we’re able to reconsider.

I think we really have to be open to the possibility

that all of our standard frameworks where,

like he will talk about embedded growth obligations.

If we continue within the same framework,

then we’re very susceptible to the dangers

of whatever these embedded growth obligations are.

I think if we break the frameworks,

we have no reason to believe that the problems

we’re experiencing with our current frameworks

will follow us.

And I think that’s the importance of radical thought

is we don’t know what the solution is,

but if there is a solution,

it will be born from some very fundamental thinking.

And so I have great hope.

So you have optimism about sort of the power

of a single radical idea or a single radical thinker

to break our frameworks and break us out of this,

like, spiral down due to whatever the economic forces

that are creating this current stagnation.

Yeah, I’m very, very hopeful.

The optimism of youth.

Well, I share your optimism.

So let me come back to something you’ve also talked about.

You have very little stuff out there currently,

but the things you have out there, your thoughts,

you could just tell how deeply you think about this world.

And one of the things you mentioned is

as you learn about this world, as you read,

as you sort of go through different experiences,

that you’re open to changing your mind.

How often do you find yourself changing your mind?

Do you think Zev from 10 years into the future

will look back at this conversation we’re having now

and disagree completely with everything you just said?

It’s entirely possible.

And that’s one of the things that scares me so much

about appearing publicly.

I think that the internet can be very intolerant

of inconsistency.

And I am entirely prepared to be very inconsistent

because I know that whatever beliefs I have

when subjected to scrutiny may change

because that’s really the only way

to form your truest, most fundamental conceptions

about the world around you.

And it would take an infinite amount of time

to subject every single one of your beliefs to scrutiny.

And so that’s a process that must follow me

throughout my entire life.

And I know that means that my opinions and perspectives

are always to be changing.

I’m prepared to accept that about myself.

Whether other people are prepared to accept

that my public opinions may change

and vary greatly over time is something I don’t know.

I don’t know how tolerant the world will be,

but I’m very prepared to change anything I believe in

if I think deeply enough about it

or a good enough argument is made so that I might reconsider.

Well, there certainly is currently an intolerance

and that’s one of the problems of our age.

There’s an intolerance towards change.

And I’ll also ask you about labels.

You talked about sort of we like to bin each other

into different categories, the blue or red

or whatever the different categorization is.

But it seems like the task before you

as a young person defining our future

is to make a tolerance of change the norm.

Doing this podcast, for example,

and then changing your mind one or two years later

and doing so publicly without a big dramatic thing

or maybe changing it on a daily basis

and just being open about it and being transparent

about your thought process.

Maybe that is the beacon of hope for the philosophical way,

the path of the philosopher.

So that’s your task in a sense

is to change your mind openly and bravely.

You know, you’re right.

And maybe I will just have to endure some sort of criticism

for doing that, but I think that’s very important.

I think this ties back to this previous facet

of our conversation where we were discussing

if thinkers would win over systems

that are devoted to preventing radical thought

or if who will win the systems or the thinkers.

I think it’s crucial that my generation

take up a hand in this fight.

And I think it’s important that I’m a part of that

because I know that I have some opportunity

to, there is, I think it is my obligation

as a member of a generation whose only real hope

is to think outside of a system

because whatever systems exist are collapsing.

I think it is really my obligation

to try to play some role, whatever role I can

and being an instrument in that change.

Are you, as a young mind, do you have a sense of fear

about just like how afraid were you

to do this podcast conversation?

Do you have a sense of fear of thinking publicly?

Yeah, I don’t even think that that fear is irrational.

It’s very difficult to exist publicly in any form now

because it’s very easy for anyone to take cheap shots

at something which is difficult and as I said,

the people who are trying to have the difficult ideas

and conversations are perhaps putting others

in actual danger because everyone is so desperate

that they might be willing to try anything.

So there’s a certain amount of responsibility

which one has to take going before the public

and there is a certain amount of ridicule

which will be completely unwarranted

that anyone must endure for it.

And I think that means that one has to be afraid

because they could both ruin the world

and be ruined by the world

in an unwarranted and undeserved fashion.

I would like to believe in myself enough

to try to accept this as a task

because I think people need to try

or there’s no getting out of this

and we will end in some kind of crazy, brilliant war.

Awfully put.

You’ve said also that in these times we can’t have labels

because it holds us back.

Maybe we’ve already talked about it a little bit

but this idea of labels is really interesting.

Why do you think labels hold us back?

Well, I think many underestimate the extent

to which language and communication really impacts

and shapes the ideas and thoughts

which are being communicated.

And I think if we’re willing to accept imperfect labels

to categorize particular people or thoughts,

in some sense, we are corrupting an abstraction

in order to represent it and communicate about it.

And I think as we’ve discussed,

those abstractions are particularly important

when everything is on fire.

We should not be sacrificing grand thoughts

for the ability to express it.

I think everyone should work much harder,

including myself, to really be thinking abstractly

in abstract terms instead of using concrete terms

to discuss abstraction while ruining it slightly.

Yeah, it’s kind of a skill actually.

So one really difficult example in the recent time

that maybe you can comment on if you have been thinking

about it is just politics.

And there’s a lot of labels in politics

that it takes a lot of skill to be able

to communicate difficult ideas

without labels being attached to you.

That’s something that I’ve been sort of thinking about a lot

in trying to express, for example,

how much I love various aspects of the foundational ideas

of this country, like freedom,

and just saying, I love America, a simple statement.

I love the ideas that we’re finding to America.

Well, often in the current time,

well, people will try, they desperately try

to attach a label to me, for example,

for saying I love America, that I’m a Republican,

a Donald Trump supporter, and it takes elegance

and grace and skill to avoid those labels

so that people can actually listen

to the contents of your words

versus the summarization that results

from just the labels that they can pin on you.

Are you cognizant of the skill required there

of being able to communicate

without being branded a Republican or a Democrat

in this particular set of conversations?

I’m sure there’s other dangerous labels

that could be attached.

I don’t think there’s any way of avoiding that right now.

It might not be anyone’s best effort to really try.

I think the thing I can say, which will most speak to that,

which I truly believe, is that participating

in modern conventional politics

is not being inherently political

in a generative sense.

It’s this repeated trope where politics now

is not about creating new political ideologies.

It’s about defending ideologies which already exist

so that everyone can keep what they have.

And that’s where all of the name calling

and the labeling really comes in.

It’s an attempt to constrict whatever may be generated

to standard conversations and discussions

so that arguments can be straw manned and defeated

and people can keep what they have

because everyone’s very, very scared.

I want to be very political,

but not in a standard political sense

where I’m defending a particular party

or place on a spectrum.

I would like to play some role in inventing new spectrums

and I think that’s most important politically

because above most else, politics is about real power

and conventional politicians have real power

and that power will find terrible outlets

if new spectrums for that power to live are not invented.

So you’re not afraid of politics.

You’re afraid of political discourse at the deepest,

richest level of what political discourse is supposed to mean.

Actually, I’m very afraid of it, but once again, we have no.

That’s not paralyzing for you.

You feel like it’s a responsibility,

you’re ready to take it on.


This is a good sign.

This is, you’re a special human.

Okay, let’s talk maybe fun, maybe profound.

We talked about philosophers, philosophy.

Who’s your favorite philosopher?

Like somebody in your current time but neither influential

or you just enjoy his, her ideas

or writing or anything like that?

Weirdly, I’ll give an answer

which sort of doesn’t have much to do

with whom I might imagine myself to be.

I like Thomas Aquinas at the moment.

I think he’s very inspirational to me

given what we’re going through

and that’s not because his particular ideas

of religion or God or unmoved movers

are particularly inspirational to me

and I don’t even think they were necessarily right.

But he was introducing aspects of the scientific method

during one of the darkest periods in human history

when we had lost all hope and reason

and ability to think logically.

So I think he was really something of a light in the dark

and I think we need to look to people like that

at the moment.

The other reason why I think I need to learn from him

is that even though he was doing something

which really needed to be done

and introducing scientific thought and reason

to a time that lacked it,

he was not saying anything that would have been offensive

to whatever powers were in play during his time.

He was writing about the importance of faith in God

and how we could prove it.

And so it’s important to remember, I suppose,

that having ideas that shape the world

and which bring the world closer to what we can prove

it’s supposed to be and how it’s supposed to work

does not always take some sort of grand contradiction

of whatever’s in play.

And the most courageous thing to do

may not always be the most helpful thing to do.

And I think it’s very easy for anyone with ideas

about how everything is broken to become very cynical

and say, oh, the system, man, they’re all wrong.

I think it takes another kind of discipline

to be a person with real ideas

and to make the world better

without stepping on anyone’s toes or contradicting anyone.

I have real respect for that.

So being able to be,

when it’s within your principles to operate,

within the current system of thought.

Yeah, and not offend anyone, not say anything outlandish,

but introduce the method

by which progress must be achieved.

I think that takes a kind of maturity,

which is found very rarely now.

And I really look to him for inspiration

despite whatever disagreements I may have

with the minute details of his philosophy.

Yeah, it takes a lot of skill, a lot of character,

and yeah, deep thinking to be able to operate

within the system when needed

and having the fortitude and just the boldness

to step outside and to burn the system down when needed,

but rarely, and opportune moments

that would actually have impact.

I mean, it’s ultimately about impact

within the society that you live in,

not just making a statement that has no impact.

Yeah, and we were talking about how dangerous it is

to do real philosophy at dangerous broken times.

He was going through the most broken time in history

and he questioned the methods

which made a broken system able to survive.

And he was so skilled and so graceful

that he became a saint in that tradition.

And there’s something for me to really learn from there.

Do you draw any inspiration,

have any interest in the sort of more modern philosophers,

maybe the existentialists?

I mean, Nietzsche is one of the early ones.

Do you have thoughts on the guy in general

or any of the other existentialists?

Well, with regard to Nietzsche,

I think Yates might’ve said that he’s the worst.

He was certainly filled with passionate intensity.

I think…

Was that a compliment?

He was the worst or a criticism or both?

Yates had this big line,

that the best lack all conviction,

the worst are filled with passionate intensity.

So I think Nietzsche was destroyed

by the horrors of everything that went on around him.

And I think he never really recovered from it.

I think that’s because if you think about Nietzsche’s

philosophy, he was very opposed to any sort of acceptance

of what one had.

One should always envy those who have more

and use that envy to fuel their ideas.

To fuel their growth and accept whatever

the human condition and desires are

and use those desires to want more and more

and make use of your greed.

I think it’s very difficult to be truly happy

if the thing which you pride yourself most on

is never being satisfied.

And I think Nietzsche was never satisfied

and that was the danger of his philosophy.

I think also with his amoralism,

there is no good or evil.

I sort of disagree with that on a pretty fundamental basis.

I think that our notion of morality

is by no means subjective.

It’s really the proxy for the fitness of a society.

I think whatever we consider ethical,

like don’t steal, don’t murder, don’t do this,

societies have a very difficult time running.

It’s very hard to run a civilization

when everyone is stealing from everyone else

and people are murdering each other

and committing these things,

which we would consider atrocities.

So I think we also, we know this

because I think very similar notions of morality

have evolved convergently from different traditions.

I think good is a proxy for a civilization’s fitness

and the good news is that that means that evil

in being anathema to that good

must therefore be the opposite of stable

in whatever way that it’s evil.

And that means that good will always be more stable

than evil and the only way evil can really win

is like if everyone dies.

So I think that’s a good thing.

Everyone dies, so.

So wait, can you say that again?

Good is a proxy for society’s what?

Good is a proxy for the stability

and fitness of a civilization and evil.

Damn, that’s a good definition.

Thank you.

So you’re throwing some bombs today.

Okay, all right.

Okay, this is exciting.

Sorry, sorry to interrupt your flow there,

but it’s just a damn good line.

Thank you.


So in that sense, that’s a kind of optimistic view

that if by definition good is a proxy for stability,

then it’s going to be stable

unless the entire world just blows itself up.

So good wins in the end by definition.


Or no, well, good wins unless it all goes

to complete destruction.

That’s beautifully put.

Thank you.

On a topic of sort of good and evil being human illusions,

you’ve said that more broadly than that about truth,

that it is easier in some ways to be unified under truth

because it is universal than it is to be unified

under belief, which at times can be completely subjective.

So what is the nature of truth to you?

Can we understand the world objectively

or is most of what we can understand about the world

is just a subjective opinions

that we kind of all agree on in these little collectives

and over time it kind of evolves completely detached

from objective reality.

I think this is the greatest argument for objectivity

is that something that is objectively true

cannot be true to me and untrue to you.

You can feel that it’s untrue,

but that would be unproductive

and create unnecessary tension and conflict.

I think this is one reason for the importance of science

as a tool for stability.

If science is the search for truth and truth can never really be,

I shouldn’t say that,

truth should never be an engine of conflict

because no two people should disagree on something

which is objectively true,

then in some sense, search for truth is searching

for a common ground where we can all exist

and live without contradicting or attacking each other.

Do you have a hope that there is a lot of common ground

to be discovered?

Sure, I mean, if we continue scientifically,

we are discovering truth

and in that discovering common ground

on which we can all agree.

That’s one reason why I think caring about science,

if you have a culture which cares very deeply about science,

that’s a culture which is not necessarily bound

to injure unwarranted internal conflict.

I think that’s one reason that I’m so passionate

about science is it’s search for universal ground.

Let me just throw out an example

of a modern day philosophical thinker.

We’ll keep your dad, Eric Weinstein out of the picture

for a sec, but he does happen to be an example of one,

but Jordan Peterson is an example of another,

somebody who thinks deeply about this world.

His ideas are by a certain percent of the population,

sort of speaking of truth, are labeled as dangerous.

Why do you think his ideas

or just ideas of these kinds of deep thinkers in general

are labeled as dangerous in our modern world?

Is it similar to what you’ve been discussing

that in difficult times, philosophers become dangerous?

Or is there something specific

about these particular thinkers in our time?

Well, I think Jordan Peterson is very anti establishment

in a lot of his beliefs.

He’s an unconventional thinker.

And I think we need, regardless of whatever

Jordan’s particular views and beliefs are,

and if they bring about more danger than truth,

or if they don’t, it’s very important

to have fundamental thinkers

who exist outside of a conventional framework.

So do I think that he’s dangerous?

I think by existing outside of a system which is known,

he is dangerous.

And I think we have to, in some sense,

in some sense, we have to welcome danger in that capacity

because it will be our only way out of this.

So regardless of whether his beliefs are right or wrong,

I’m pretty adamant about the fact

that we need to support thought which may rescue us.

And that thought can appear radical or dangerous at times.

But ultimately, if you allow for it,

this is kind of the difficult discussion of free speech

and so on, is ultimately difficult ideas

will pave the way for progress.

Yeah, and I’d actually, I’d like to slow you down there

because I think like one of the issues

we were discussing previously was the fact

that language often destroys our ability to think.

When we’re talking about whether his ideas are radical,

I don’t know if we mean radical in the traditional sense

of having to do with the root of a problem

or in the more modern sense of being very extreme.

And I think that’s completely by design,

I think fundamental thought,

which semantically would once be considered radical thought

became very dangerous.

And now it’s become synonymous with extreme

or dangerous thought, which means that anyone

who considers themselves a radical thinker

is semantically also a dangerous or extreme thinker.

These are not helpful labels in a sense

that the moment you say radical or extremist thinker,

then you’re just, well, how do I put it?

You’re not helping the public discourse, exchange of ideas.

But through no fault of our own,

the concept of radical as having to do with a root

is it’s an obvious concept for which there must be language

and a lot of the attack on thought has to do

with attacking language, which communicates conceptually.

So like this is an example of how our world

is becoming increasingly Orwellian.

It’s just language is being used to destroy

our ability to think.

I think I can’t remember exactly what the numbers are,

but I read some statistic about how greatly

the average English vocabulary has been used

and the vocabulary has decreased since 1960.

It was like some incredible number.

It really baffled me.

It’s like, how are people less able to think in a time

when the world is supposed to be growing

at a never before seen rate?

It’s like, we can’t keep on, we can’t sustain this growth

if we destroy everyone’s ability to think

because the growth requires thinking

and we’re ruining the tools for it.

I watched your podcast with Noam Chomsky

and I think one interesting thing which he discussed

was how language is more used to develop thoughts

within our own head than it is used to communicate

those thoughts with others.

If the language doesn’t change, even if its usage changes,

when language is destroyed in communication,

it also stymies our ability to think reasonably

and I’m very, very worried.

But the language in communication requires a medium

and there’s a lot of different mediums.

So there’s social media, there’s Twitter,

there’s writing books, there’s blog posts,

there’s podcasts, there’s YouTube videos,

all of things you have dipped a toe in

in your exploration of different mediums of communication.

Which do you see yourself, this might be just a poetic way

of asking are you gonna do a podcast,

but broader picture, what do you think as an intellectual

in this world for you personally

would be the path for communicating your ideas to the world?

What are the mediums you are currently drawn to

out of the ones I mentioned or maybe something I didn’t?

To answer your question concretely before abstractly,

I’m scared but I need to do a podcast.

It’s important, it is my obligation

as a member of my generation.

I really hope that more people my age start to do this

because we will be the people in charge of new ideas

which either sink or swim.

How upset will your dad be

when your podcast quickly becomes more popular than his?

I think he would be negatively upset.

I’ll say he’d be proud, he’s a good dad.

I really think so, yeah.

Sorry to interrupt.

Yeah, so but then zooming out, do you think podcasts,

are you excited by the possibility

of other mediums outside of podcasting to communicate ideas?

I would be if people still read books

or did things like that.

I’m somewhat guilty of this.

A lot of the books I read are very technical

and then my, to absorb like really deep modern conversations

I listen to podcasts and I don’t really read many books

on like the matters that we’re discussing, for example.

It’s fascinating because you’re making me think

of something that I align with you very much

of how I consume deep thinkers currently.

So what happens is somebody who thinks deeply

about the world will write a book, Jordan Peterson example,

and instead of reading their book,

I’ll just listen to podcast conversations

of them talking about the book, which I find to,

this is really sad, but I find that to be

a more compelling way to think about their ideas

because they’re often challenged in certain ways

in those conversations and they’re forced to,

after having boiled them down and really thought

through them enough to write a book.

So it’s almost like they needed to go through the process

of writing a book just so they could think through,

convert the language in their minds

into something more concrete,

and then the actual exchange of ideas,

the actual communication of ideas with the public happens

not with the book, but after the book,

with that person going on a book tour

and communicating the ideas.

Well, there are two meanings I make

of why not too many people spend much

of their time reading anymore.

One interpretation is that we’ve lost our attention spans

to our phones, people can’t concentrate on a page

if it takes them a minute to read,

we’re too busy watching TikToks or whatever people do.

The other interpretation would be that language

and verbal communication has,

as well as some amount of communication,

which is done through facial expression,

tone of voice, et cetera.

These are means of communication

that have evolved along with humanity

over thousands and thousands of years.

So we know that we are built to communicate in this way.

We have had writing for much less time.

It is a system that we invented,

not a system which evolved and is innately part

of humanity or the human mind.

And so we are designed to consume conversation

by our own evolution.

We are designed to consume writing

by some process of symbols

that’s evolved over a couple of thousand years.

It makes sense to me why many are much more compelled

to listen to podcasts, for example,

than they are to read books.

It could be that this is simply a technological progression

which has displaced reading conventionally

instead of some sort of maladaptation of our minds,

which has corrupted our attention spans.

Likely there’s some combination

which determines why people spend much less time reading.

But I don’t think it’s necessarily because we’re all broken.

It may simply have to do with the fact

that we are designed to listen through our ears

and speak through our mouths.

And we are not innately designed to communicate over a page.

Yeah, there’s an exciting coupling to me

between like few second TikTok videos

that are fun and addicting,

and then the three, four hour podcasts,

which are both really popular in our current time.

So people are both hungry for the visual stimulation

of internet humor and memes.

I’m a huge fan of, and also slow moving deep conversations.

And that might, you know, there’s a lot of,

I mean, it’s part of your generation

to define what that looks like moving forward.

There were a lot of people, like Joe Rogan’s

one of the people that kind of started,

accidentally stumbled into the discovery

that this is like a thing.

And now people are kind of scrambling to figure out

why is this a thing?

Like, why is there so much hunger

for long form conversations?

And how do we optimize that medium

for further, further expression of deep ideas

and all that kind of stuff.

And YouTube is a really interesting medium

for that as well.

Like video, sharing of videos,

mostly YouTube is used with a spirit of like

the TikTok spirit, if I can put it in that way,

which is like, how do I have quick moving things

that even if you’re expressing difficult ideas,

they should be quick and exciting and visual and switching.

But there’s a lot of exploration there

to see what can we do something deeper

and nobody knows.

And you’re part of the, you have a YouTube channel

releasing one video every few years.

So, so your momentum is currently quite slow,

but perhaps it’ll accelerate.

You’re one of the people that gets to define that medium.

Is that, do you enjoy that, the visual YouTube medium

of communication as well?

I know that when the topic of conversation

or the means by which a conversation is communicated

or an idea is communicated,

if that is sufficiently interesting to me,

I will read a book on it.

I would listen to a podcast on it.

I would watch a video on it.

I think if I’m very curious about something,

I will consume it however possible.

I think when I have to consume things

which really don’t interest me very much,

I’m indeed much more ready to consume them

through some sort of video or discussion

than I am through like a long tedious book.

So for the breadth of acquiring knowledge,

video is good.

For the depth, the medium doesn’t matter.

I think it’d be fun to ask you about

some big philosophical questions

to see if you have an opinion on them.

Do you think there’s a free will

or is free will just an illusion?

Well, I think classical mechanics would tell us

that if we were to know every piece of information

about a system and understand the rules

which govern that system,

we would be completely able to predict the future

with complete accuracy.

So if something could know everything about our lives,

it could freeze time and understand the position

of every neuron in my mind about to fire,

no decision could be unpredictable.

In some sense, there is that sort of fate.

I think that doesn’t make the decisions we make illegitimate

even if some grand supercomputer could

understand what decisions we would make beforehand

with complete certainty.

I think we’re making legitimate systems

within a system that has no freedom.

We’re making legitimate systems

within a system that has no freedom.

Can you explain what you mean by that?

Yeah, so if we were to have just a simple pendulum

and I told you how long the rope was,

we froze it at a particular point

and I told you how high above the ground the weight was

and the motion of a pendulum is something

which is easy for everyone to imagine, I could,

if we had all of that information,

you could ask me what will the pendulum do

six and a half minutes from now?

And we would have a precise answer.

That’s an example of a very simple system

with a very simple Lagrangian.

And we could completely predict the future.

The pendulum has no ability to do anything

that would surprise us.

Weirdly, that’s true of whatever this four dimensional,

crazy world we live in looks like if we were to understand

where every piece of this system was at any given time

and we understand the laws of motion,

how everything worked,

if we could compute all of that information somehow,

which we will never be able to do,

we would, every decision you will ever make

could be predicted by that computer.

That doesn’t mean that your decisions are illegitimate.

You are really making those decisions,

but with a completely predictable outcome.

So I’m just sort of a little bit high at the moment

on the poetry of a system within a system

that has no freedom.

So the human experience is the system we’ve created.

Within the system that has no freedom,

but that system that we’ve created

has a feeling of freedom that, to us,

ants feels as much more real than the physics,

as we understand it, of the underlying base system.

So it’s almost like not important

what the physics of the base system is,

that for what we’ve created,

the nature of the human experience is there is a free will.

Or there is something that feels close enough to a free will

that it may not be worth spending too much time

on the fact that it’s something of an illusion.

We will never build a computer that knows everything

about every piece of the universe at a given time.

And so for all intensive purposes,

our decisions are up to us.

We just happen to know that their outcomes

could be predicted with enough information.

So speaking of supercomputers,

they can predict every single thing

about what’s going to ever happen.

What do you think about the philosophical thought experiment

of us living in a simulation?

Do you often find yourself pondering

of us living in a simulation of this question?

Do you think it is at all a useful thought experiment?

I think it’s very easy to become fascinated

with all of these possibilities,

and they’re completely legitimate possibilities.

Is there some validity to solipsism?

Well, it can never be falsified or disproven.

So, I mean, sure, you could be a figment of my imagination.

It doesn’t mean that I will act according

to this possibility.

I’m not gonna call you mean names.

And just to test the system,

to see how robust it is to distortions.

Yeah, so, I mean, all of these existential

thought experiments are completely possible.

We could be brains in jars.

It doesn’t mean that our experience will feel any less valid.

And so it doesn’t make a difference to me

if you are some number of ones and zeros,

or you are a figment of my imagination,

which lives in a stored away brain.

It will never really change my experience

knowing that that’s a possibility.

And so I try to avoid making decisions

based on such contemplations.

If we take this previous issue of free will,

I could decide that because I have no choice in my life,

if I lie around in bed all day and eat chips,

I was destined to do that thing.

And if I make that decision, then I was destined

to do that thing.

It would be a really poor decision for me to make.

I have school and a dozen commitments.

There’s somebody listening to this right now,

probably hundreds of people sitting down,

eating chips and feeling terrible about them.

So how dare you, sir?

If they’re listening to this,

they’re clearly curious about possibilities of thought.

It’s not the bed and the chips that makes the man.

It’s not the bed or the chips that makes the man.

Yet another quotable from Zev Weinstein.


But you don’t think of it as a useful thought experiment

from an engineering perspective of virtual reality,

of thinking how we can create

further and further immersive worlds.

Like would it be possible to create worlds

that are so immersive that we would rather live

in that world versus the real world?

I mean, that’s another possible trajectory

of the world that you’re growing up in

is we’re more and more immersing ourselves

into the digital world.

For now it’s screens and looking at the screens

and socializing on the screens.

But it’s possible to potentially create a world

that’s also visually for all of our human senses

as immersive as the physical world.

And then, you know, to me it’s an engineering question

of how difficult is it to create a world

that’s as immersive and more fun

than the world we currently live in.

It’s a terrifying concept and I hate to say it.

We might live happier lives in a virtual reality headset

30 years from now than we are currently living.

This future, the digital future, worries you.

It worries me.

On the other hand, it may be a better alternative

to fighting for whatever people are clinging onto

in our non virtual world or at least the world

that we don’t yet know is virtual.

So embrace the future.

We’ve been talking a lot about thinkers.

Now, in the broad definition of philosophy,

you kind of included innovators of all form.

Do you find it useful to draw a distinction

between thinkers and doers?

I think that the most important gift we’ve ever been given

is our ability to observe the universe

and think deductively about whatever principles,

transcend humanity.

Because as we discussed, that’s the closest thing

we will ever have to a universal experience

is understanding things, which must be true everywhere.

In order for that, so I think if we’re deciding

that life is meaningful and the human experience

is meaningful, you could make a very convincing argument

that its greatest meaning will be understanding

whatever transcends it.

I think that’s only sustainable if people are happy

and well fed and things of market value are invented.

And so I think we really need both to live meaningful

and successful and possible lives.

In terms of who my greatest heroes are,

I can’t decide between figures like Einstein

and Newton and Feynman, and on the other hand,

figures like Carey Mullis, for example.

I think people like Einstein make our lives meaningful

and people like Carey Mullis, who’s probably responsible

for saving hundreds of millions of lives,

make our lives possible and good.

So in terms of where I would like to find myself

with these two different notions of achievement,

I don’t know what I would more like to achieve.

I have an inclination that it will be something scientific

because I would like to bring meaning to humanity

instead of sustenance, but I think both are very important.

We can’t sustain our lives

if we don’t keep growing technologically.

I think people like you are making that possible

with computing because that’s one of the few things

that’s really moving forward in a clear sense.

I think about this a great deal.

So I think both are very important.

So one example that’s modern day inspiring figure

on the latter part, on the engineering part,

on the sustenance, is Elon Musk.

Does that somebody you draw inspiration from?

What are your thoughts in general about the kind

of unique spec of human that’s creating

so much inspiring innovation in this world so boldly?

I know that we will not survive without people like that.

Elon is a ridiculous and sensational example

of one of these figures.

I don’t know if he’s the best example or the worst example,

but he is of his own kind.

He is radically individualistic,

and those are the people who will allow us

to continue as humans.

I’m very happy that we have people like that in this world.

You said this thing about if we are to say

that life has meaning or life is meaningful,

then you could argue that it is a worthy pursuit

to transcend life.

Do you see that, another just, I’m gonna have to go back

and sleep on that one.

Do you draw some, speaking of Elon,

some inspiration of us transcending Earth,

of us moving outside of this particular planet

that we’ve called home for a long time

and colonizing other planets,

and perhaps one day expanding outside the solar system

and expanding, colonizing our galaxy and beyond?

Honestly, I know very little about space exploration.

I think it makes complete sense to me

why we are starting to think very seriously about it.

It’s an amazing and baffling and innovative solution

to a lot of problems we see as a world population.

I can’t really offer very much of interest on the topic.

I think when I’m talking about transcending humanity

and transcending Earth, I’m talking usually

about deriving truth, and that’s one of the things

that makes theoretical math and physics so interesting.

It’s like, I really, really love biology, for example,

but biology is a combination of whatever principles

ensure evolution and whatever weird coincidences

happened billions of years ago.

So do you think it’s more interesting to understand

the fundamental mechanisms of evolution, for example,

than it is the results, the messy results of its processes?

I can’t say which is more interesting.

I can say which I think is more deep.

I think theory and abstraction, which can be achieved

completely deductively, is deeper because it has nothing

to do with circumstance and everything to do

with logic and thought.

So, like, if we were ever to interact with aliens,

for example, we would not have our biology in common

if these were some sort of really intelligent life form.

We would have math and physics in common because the laws

of physics will be the same everywhere in the universe.

Our particular anatomy and biology pertains only to life

on this planet, and the principles may apply

more ubiquitously.

Do you ever think about aliens, like, what they might look like?

I try to, when I deal with thought experiments like these,

I try to keep a very abstract mindset,

and I notice that whenever I try to instantiate

these abstractions, I corrupt whatever thoughts there are

for which they’re useful.

So it’s kind of like the labels discussion.

So, like, the moment you try to make it concrete,

it’s probably going to look like some cute version

of a human, like, it’s the little green fellas

with the eyes and so on, or whatever.

Whatever the movies have instilled,

like, your cultural upbringing, you’re going to project

onto that and the assumptions you have.

That’s interesting.

So you prefer to sort of step away and think

and abstract notions of what it means to be intelligent,

what it means to be a living life form

and all that kind of stuff.

Mm hmm. I try to, I almost try to pretend I’m blind

and I’m deaf and I’m only a mind

with no inductive reasoning capacity

when I’m trying to think about thought experiments like these,

because I know that if I incorporate

whatever my eyes instruct my brain,

I will impede my ability to think as deeply as possible.

Because once again, it’s the thing which shallows our thought

can be the incorporation of circumstance and coincidence.

And for particular kinds of thought, that’s very important.

I’m not discounting the use of inductive reasoning

in many humanities and in many sciences,

but for the deepest of thoughts,

once again, I feel it’s important to try to transcend

whatever methods of observation characterize human experience.

See, but within that, that’s all really beautifully put.

I wonder if there is a common mathematics

and a common physics between us and alien beings,

we still have to make concrete the methods of communication.


And that’s a fascinating question of like,

while remaining in these abstract fundamental ideas,

how do we communicate with them?

I mean, I suppose that that question could be applied

to different cultures on earth,

but it’s finding a common language.

Do you think about that kind of problem

of basically communicating abstract fundamental ideas?

My least favorite aspect of math or physics

or any of these really deep sciences

is the symbolic component. You know, I’m dyslexic.

I don’t like looking at symbols.

They’re too often a source of ambiguity.

And I think you’re entirely right that if one thing

holds us back with communication

with something that behaves or looks nothing like us,

I think if one thing holds us back

it will be symbols and the communication of deep thought.

Because as I said, I think communication

frequently compromises thought by intention

or by just theoretical inadequacy.

So on this topic, actually,

it’d be fun to see what your thoughts are.

Do you think math is invented or discovered?

So you said that math, we might share many different things.

Some ideas of mathematics and physics with alien life forms.

So it’s uniform in some sense of uniform throughout the universe.

Do you think this thing that we call mathematics

is something that’s kind of fundamental to the world we live in

or is it just some kind of pretty axioms and theorems

we’ve come up with to try to describe

the patterns we see in the world?

I think it’s completely discovered

and completely fundamental to all experience.

I think the only component of mathematics

that has been invented is the expression of it.

And I think in some sense, there’s almost an arrogance

required to believe that whatever aspect we invent

having to do with math and physics and theory,

there is an arrogance required to truly believe

that that belongs on any sort of stage

with the actual beauty of the matters being discovered.

So we need our minds and in some sense our pens

to be able to play with these things

and communicate about them.

And those hands and those pens are the things

which smudge the most beautiful thing

that humanity can ever experience.

And maybe if we interact with some intelligent life form,

they will have their own unique smudges.

But the canvas, which is beautiful,

must be identical because that is

universal and ubiquitous truth.

And that’s what makes it deep and meaningful

is that it’s so much more important than whatever

we’re programmed to enjoy as an aspect of human experience.

Yeah, that’s really beautifully put.

The human language is these messy smudges

of trying to express something underlying that

is beautiful.

Speaking of that, on the physics side,

do you think the pursuit of a theory of everything

in physics, as we may call it in our current times,

of understanding the basic fabric of reality

from a physics perspective is an important pursuit?

I think it’s essential.

As I’ve said, I think ideation is our only escape

from the constraints of human condition.

And I think that it’s important that all great thoughts

and ideas are bound together.

And I think the math is beautiful.

And it ensures that the things which

bind great ideas which have already been had

and great discoveries together, it

ensures that those strings will be beautiful.

I think it’s very important to unify

all theories that have brought us to where we are.

Do you think humans can do it?

Do you think humans can solve this puzzle?

Is it possible that we, with our limited cognitive capacity,

will never be able to truly understand this deep,

like deeply understand this underlying canvas?

I think if not, it will be people like you

who invent some sort of, I don’t know,

we’ll call it computation for now,

that will be able to not only discover

that which transcends humanity, but to transcend

human methods of discovering that which is above it.

So superintelligence systems, AGI, and so on,

that are better physicists than us.

I wonder if you might be able to comment.

So your dad does happen to be somebody

who boldly seeks this kind of deep understanding of physics,

the underlying nature of reality from a physics perspective,

from a mathematical physics perspective.

Do you have hope your dad figures it out?

I have great hope.

It’s not supposed to be my journey.

It’s supposed to be his journey.

It’s supposed to be his to express to the world.

Obviously, I’m so proud that I’m connected

to someone who is determined to do such a thing.

And on the other hand, maybe in some sense,

I feel bad for him for having to,

if he’s going to be the thing which discovers

some sort of grand unified theory and expresses it,

I feel sorry that he will have to smudge whatever

canvas this thing is.

Because he’s human.

Really, I think I know I’ve seen a little bit of what

I think great math and great physics looks like.

And it’s unbelievably beautiful.

And then you have to present it to a world

with market constraints and all of this messy sloppiness.

I feel bad in some sense for my dad

because he has to go back and forth

between this beautiful world of math

and whatever the messiness is of his human life.

And then the scientific community

broadly with egos and tensions and just

the dynamics of what makes us human.

He’s also very lucky that he gets to play

with these sorts of things.

It’s a mixed bag.

I both feel a little sorry for him

for having to deal with the beauty as well as

the smudging and the sloppiness of human expression.

And I think it’s difficult not to envy such a beautiful insight

or life or vision.

Well, that’s your own path as well

is this kind of struggle of, as you mentioned,

exploring the beauty of different ideas

while having to communicate those ideas with the best smudges

you can in a world that wants to put labels,

that wants to misinterpret, that wants to destroy

the beauty of those ideas.

And you seem to, at this time, with your youthful enthusiasm,

embracing that struggle despite the fear in the face of fear.

And your dad also carries that same youthful enthusiasm

as well.

But that said, your dad, Eric Weinstein,

he’s a powerful voice, I would say,

a powerful intellect in public discourse.

Is this a burden for you or an inspiration or both

as a young mind yourself?

I think, as I said, there’s this weird contrast of I

know that he has ideas, which I think are very beautiful,

and I know he has to deal with the sort of there’s something

you have to sacrifice in beauty when you bring it

to a world which is not always beautiful.

And there’s an aspect of that which sort of scares me

about this kind of thing.

I also think that, especially since I’m

trying to think about how I should appear publicly,

my dad has been very inspirational

in that I think he brings a sort of fastidious care

to very difficult conversations that.

What does fastidious mean?

It’s just very careful and thoughtful.

He brings that sort of attitude to, I think,

really difficult conversations.

And I know that I don’t have that skill yet.

I don’t think I’m terrible, but.

The care, the nuance, and yet not

being afraid to push forward.

Yeah, I would really like to learn from my dad there.

I think also my dad has been very important to my life

just because I’ve always been a sort of very idiosyncratic


And I think I don’t always know how

to interact with the world for those sorts of reasons.

And I think my dad has always been similar.

And if not for my dad, I don’t know

if I would just believe that I was stupid or something.

Because I don’t know if I would know

how to interpret my differences from convention.

So he gave you the power to be different

and use that as a superpower.

Yeah, I guess you could put it that way.

I don’t know who I would believe I

am if I didn’t have my dad telling me

that it wasn’t my own stupidity which

alienated me from certain aspects of standard life.

So I’m very, very thankful for that.

Is there a fond memory you have about an interaction

with your dad, either funny, profound, that kind of sticks

with you now?

A lot.

Part of the reason I ask that, of course,

is just fascinating to see somebody as brilliant as you,

see how the people that you interact with,

how they form the mind that you have,

but also to give an insight of another public figure

like your dad to see from your perspective of what

kind of little magical moments happen in private life.

I would say I remember I think I just posted about this

on Instagram or something.

Otherwise, it didn’t happen.

If you didn’t post that, yeah.

One person who’s always sort of mattered

to whatever weird life and experience I’ve had

has been this comedian, Tom Lehrer.

Do you know him?


I love him very much.


Anyway, I remember I think I was five or something.

My dad came home with the CD, this Tom Lehrer CD,

and he told me to listen to it.

And it was all of this bizarre satirical writing

about prostitution and cutting up babies

and all kinds of ridiculously vile content

for a five year old.

I think beyond just my love of Tom Lehrer,

I think it was a way for my dad to express

that from a very young age, he was really

ready to treat me like an adult, and he

was ready to trust me and share his life and his enjoyments

with me in a way that was unconventional

because he was willing to discard tradition

for the chance at a really unique and meaningful

parental relationship.

So trusting that his particular brand of weirdness

is something you can understand at a young age

and embrace and learn from it.

Tom Lehrer, we should clarify, is not all about,

what is it, murder and prostitution.

He’s one of the wittiest, most brilliant musical artists.

If you haven’t listened to his work, you should.

He’s just a rare intellect who’s able to sort of,

in catchy rhyme, express some really difficult ideas

through satire, I suppose.

That still, even though it’s decades ago,

still resonates today, some of the ideas that he expressed.

I will say also that I think I am probably

a more cultured person having listened to Tom Lehrer

than I would have been without, I think,

a lot of his comedy draws upon a canon

that I was really driven to research by saying,

oh, what does this mean?

I don’t understand that reference.

There are a lot of references there

to really inspirational things, which he sort of assumes

going into a lot of his songs.

And for many of us, like me, you have

to piece those things together, looking at Wikipedia pages

and whatnot.

But to tie this back to the original question,

I think there’s sort of a break it,

you bought it notion of parenting.

I think, really, if you’re not going to accept a standard,

you have to invent your own.

And I think, in some ways, that was my dad’s way of telling me

that if I was too unstandard as a child,

he would invent his own way of parenting me

because that was worth it to him.

And I think that was very meaningful to me.

I know you’re young.

This is a weird time to ask this question.

Are you cognizant on the role of love

in your relationship with your dad?

Are you at a place mentally, as a man yourself,

to admit that you love the guy?

I love my dad with the connection

that I think I’ve had to very few things in the world.

I think my dad is one of the people that’s

allowed me to see myself.

And I don’t know who I would imagine myself to be

if not for my dad.

That isn’t to say that I agree with him on everything.

But I think he’s given me courage to accept myself

and to believe that I can teach myself where I’m

unable to learn from convention.

So I love my dad very dearly, yes.

Is there ways in which you wish you could be a better son?

Firstly, I’d like to say I’m sure before I figure out

exactly what those are.

I think whenever I come to conclusions

on what that means, I’m eager to take them.

What do you mean by that?

What do you mean by a conclusion?

If I have an idea for how to be a better son,

I think I’m inclined to try to be that person.

I think that’s true of almost anything.

I think if I have ideas for improvement,

it would be wasteful not to act on them.

So I suppose one thing I could say

is that I think idealism and what could almost

be considered naivete is not necessarily

a lacking of maturity, but instead an obligation

to those older than us who have lived and seen too much

to fully believe in what is naive and right

without the assistance of the young

to reinspire traditional idealism.

And so perhaps instead of trying to be more mature all the time,

I should spend some time trying to be an idealistic form of hope

in the lives of people who maybe have seen too much

to retain all of that original hope.

So that’s something that’s difficult,

but especially appearing in public

as someone as young as I am, I think

anything I do, which is juvenile by choice,

will be held against me.

But maybe that’s a sacrifice that I have to make.

I have to retain some sort of youthful hope and optimism.

Yeah, I can’t.

I mean, I’m going to get teary eyed now, but I have allergies.

But also, this is pretty powerful what you’re saying.

I certainly share your ideas.

It’s something I struggle with just by instinct.

You should read The Idiot by Dostoevsky.

By instinct, I love being naive and seeing

the world from a hopeful perspective,

from an optimistic perspective.

And it’s sad that that is something

you pay a price for in this world,

like in the academic world, especially as you’re coming up

through schooling.

But just actually, it’s a hit on your reputation

throughout your life.

And it’s a sad truth, but you have to, for many things,

if it’s a principle you hold, you

have to be willing to pay the costs.

And ultimately, I believe that in part,

a hopeful view will help you realize

the best version of yourself.

Because optimism is a kind of, optimism is productive.

Like believing that the world is and can be amazing

allows you to create a more amazing world somehow.

I mean, I’m not sure if it’s the human nature

of a fundamental law of physics.

I don’t know.

But believe in the impossible in the sense

being optimistic about the thing.

It’s similar, going back to what you’ve said,

is believing that a radical, that a powerful single idea,

that a single individual can revolutionize some framework

that we’re operating in that will change

the world for the better.

Believing that allows you to have the chance

to create that.

And so I’m with you on the optimism.

But you may have to pay a cost of optimism

and naive hopefulness.

I mean, in some sense, optimism limits freedom.

I think if we don’t really have much choice in choosing

what is perfect, if it exists as an ideal,

then there isn’t much room for creativity.

And that’s a danger of optimism, is someone

who would like to be creative.

I think it was Warren Zeevon said,

accepting dreams, you’re never really free.

And that’s something I think about a lot.

He’s an interesting guy, also.

I really like him.

On that topic, you do have a bit of an appreciation

and connection with music.

I saw you play some guitar a few months ago.

Can you put, in a philosophical sense,

your connection to music?

What insights about life, about just the way

you see the world, do you get from music?

I think the role music has played in my life

was originally motivated by wanting

to prove things to myself.

I really have no ear for music.

I have a terrible sense of pitch.

And I think a lot of music relies

on very standard teaching.

If you think about lessons, for example, music lessons,

there’s a routine to them, which is so archaic and traditional

that there’s no room for deviation.

I think all of that suggested to me

that I would never have a relationship with music.

I loved listening to music.

It was just difficult to me.

It saddened me.

I wanted to know if there was any way I could build

a connection to music, given who I am, my own idiosyncrasies,

what challenges I have.

I decided to try to learn music theory

before I touched an instrument.

I think that gave me a very unique opportunity instead

of spending my time fruitlessly at the beginning

on the syntax of a particular instrument.

This is how you, this is your posture on the piano.

This is how you hold your fingers.

I tried instead to learn what made music work.

And the wonderful thing about that

was I’m pretty sure that any instrument with discrete notes

is mine for the taking within a day or so of having

the ability to play with it.

So I think approaching music abstractly

gave me the ability to instantiate it everywhere.

And I think it also taught me something about self teaching.

Recently, I’ve tried getting into classical music

because, at least traditionally, this

is the thing which is thought to require the most

rigor and traditional teaching.

I think it’s essentially taught me,

even if I’ll never be a great classical performer,

that there is nothing one can’t really

teach themself in this era.

So I’ve been enjoying whatever connection I have with music.

The other thing I’ll say about it

is that it’s a very rewarding learning process.

We know, for example, that music accesses our neurochemicals

very directly.

And if you teach yourself a little bit of theory

and are able to instantiate it on an instrument

without wasting your time or spending your time tediously

on learning the particulars of that instrument,

you can instantly sit down and access your own dopamine loops.

And so you don’t really need to motivate yourself with music

because you’re giving your brain drugs.

Who needs motivation to give themselves drugs?

And learn something.

So I think more people should be playing music.

I think a lot of people don’t realize how easy it

can be to approach if you take a sort of unstandard approach.

And the unstandard approach in your sense

was understanding the theory first,

and then just from the foundation of the theory,

be able to then just take on any instrument

and start creating something that sounds reasonably good

or learning something that sounds reasonably good.

And then plugging into the, as you call them,

the dopamine loops of your brain,

allowing yourself to enjoy the process.

What about the pain in the ass rigorous process of practice?

So is there something about my dopamine loops, for example,

that enjoys doing the same thing over and over and over again

and watching myself improve?

I think that’s because music is more effective at accessing us

when it’s played correctly.

And I think you play, I’m positive that you play music

much more correctly than I do.

So if you are going to sit down and play something

that you’ve learned, that piece will be much more satisfying

to your ears and to your brain than if I

were to play that piece just sitting down

with an instrument.

But it’s sort of a trade off with freedom and rigor

because even if I should be spending more of my time

practicing rigorously, I know I don’t have to to make me happy.

Well, Jocko Willink, I think, has this saying

that discipline is freedom.

So maybe the repetition of the disciplined repetition

is actually one of the mechanisms of achieving freedom.

It’s another way to get to freedom,

that it doesn’t have to be a constraint,

but in a sense, unlocks greater sets of opportunity

than results in a deeper experience of freedom.


Particularly if you’re thinking about discipline

and method for improvisation, there

are a million pieces that you could improvise

with the same discipline in how to approach

that improvisation.

So I think it’s true that discipline promotes freedom

if you insert a layer of indirection.

Because I think if you’re trying to learn

one piece that was written 400 years ago

and you’re playing it over and over again,

there is nothing personal or creative about that process,

even if it’s beautiful and satisfying.

There has to be some sort of discipline applied

to the creativity of self.

So I think that is the layer of indirection

which reconciles both approaches to freedom and discipline

and enjoyment of music.

Discipline applied to the creativity of self.

Damn, Zev.

Thank you.

Now, as an aging man yourself, if you

were to give advice to young folks today

of how to approach life and maybe advice to yourself,

is there some way you could condense a set of principles,

a set of advices you would give to yourself

and to other young folks of how to live life?


I would say that with the collapse of systems

that have existed for thousands of years,

whatever is happening with universities

might be an example of some system that may or may not

be decaying.

I think with the destruction of important systems,

there is a unique opportunity to invest in oneself.

And I think that is always the right approach,

provided that the investment one makes in his self

is obligated towards humanity as a whole.

And I think that is the great struggle of my generation.

Will we create our own paths that

are capable of saving whatever is collapsing?

Or will we be squashed by the debris?

And I hope to articulate what patterns

I see this struggle taking over the years

that my generation becomes particularly

active in the world as an important force.

I think already we’re important as a demographic

to particular markets.

But I should hope that our voices will matter as well,

starting very soon.

So I would try to think about that.

That would be my advice.

It’s a silly question to ask, perhaps.

But a bit of a Russian one.

It’s silly because you’re young, but I

don’t think it’s actually silly because you’re young.

Do you ponder your mortality?

And are you just afraid of death in general?

So tying us back to our previous conversations

about abstraction versus experience,

which is determining our notions of our life and our world,

death is interesting in that it is obviously hyper

important to a person’s life.

And it is something that, for the most part,

no human will really experience and be able to reflect upon.

So our notions of death are sort of proof

that if we want to make the most of our lives,

we have to think abstractly and relying not at all at times

on experiential thought and understandings

because we can’t really experience death and reflect

upon it hence and use it to motivate us.

It has to remain some sort of abstraction.

And I think if we have trouble comprehending true abstraction,

we tend to view ourselves as nearly immortal.

And I think that’s very dangerous.

So one concrete implication for my belief in abstraction

would be that we all need to be aware of our own deaths.

And we need to understand concretely

the boundaries of our lifetimes.

And no amount of experience can really motivate that.

It has to be driven by thought and abstraction in theory.

That’s one of the deepest elements

of what it means to be human is our ability

to form abstractions about our mortality versus animals.

I think there’s just something really fundamental

about our interaction with the abstractions of death.

And there’s a lot of philosophers

that say that that’s actually core to everything

we create in this world, which is us struggling

with this impossible to understand idea of mortality.

I mean, I’m drawn to this idea because both the mystery of it

but also just from the human experience perspective,

it seems that you get a lot of meaning from stuff ending.

It’s kind of sad the flip side of that

to think that stuff won’t be as meaningful if it doesn’t end,

if it’s not finite.

But it seems like resources gain value from being finite.

And that’s true for time.

That’s true for the deliciousness of ice cream.

That’s true for love, for everything, for music,

and so on.

And yeah, it seems deeply human to try to, as you said,

concretize the abstractions of mortality

even though we can never truly experience it

because that’s the whole point of it.

Once it ends, you can’t experience it.


Again, another ridiculous question.


What do you think is the meaning of it all?

What’s the meaning of life?

From your deep thinking about this world,

is there a good way to answer any

of the why questions about this existence here on Earth?

And as I said, we’re here in part by principle

and in part by accident.

And a lot of the things which bring us joy

are programmed to bring us joy to ensure

our evolutionary success.

And so I would not necessarily consider

all of the things which bring us joy to be meaningful.

I think they play a very obvious role and a clear pattern,

and we don’t have much choice in that.

I think that outrules the idea of joy

being the meaning of life.

I think it’s a nice thing we get to have,

even if it’s not inherently meaningful.

I think the most wonderful thing that we have ever been given

has been our ability to, as I said,

observe what transcends us as humans.

And I think to live a meaningful life is to see that

and hopefully contribute to that.

So to try to understand what makes us human

and to transcend that and in some small way contribute to it

in the finite time we have here.


Those are some powerful words.

Thank you.

You’re a truly special human being.

It’s really an honor to talk to you.

I can’t, I’m just, I’m a newborn fan of yours

and I can’t wait to see how you push the world.

Please embrace the fear you feel and be bold.

And I think you will do some special things in this world.

I’m confident if the world doesn’t destroy you

and I hope it doesn’t.

Be strong, be brave.

You’re an inspiration.

Keep doing your thing.

And thanks for talking today.

Thank you so much, Les.

Thanks for listening to this conversation with Zev Weinstein

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