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
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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.
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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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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
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.
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
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
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?
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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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