Lex Fridman Podcast - #194 - Bret Weinstein: Truth, Science, and Censorship in the Time of a Pandemic

The following is a conversation with Brett Weinstein,

evolutionary biologist, author, cohost

of the Dark Horse podcast, and, as he says,

reluctant radical.

Even though we’ve never met or spoken before this,

we both felt like we’ve been friends for a long time,

I don’t agree on everything with Brett,

but I’m sure as hell happy he exists

in this weird and wonderful world of ours.

Quick mention of our sponsors,

Jordan Harmon’s show, ExpressVPN, Magic Spoon,

and Four Sigmatic.

Check them out in the description to support this podcast.

As a side note, let me say a few words about COVID 19

and about science broadly.

I think science is beautiful and powerful.

It is the striving of the human mind

to understand and to solve the problems of the world.

But as an institution,

it is susceptible to the flaws of human nature,

to fear, to greed, power, and ego.

2020 is the story of all of these

that has both scientific triumph and tragedy.

We needed great leaders and we didn’t get them.

What we needed is leaders who communicate

in an honest, transparent, and authentic way

about the uncertainty of what we know

and the large scale scientific efforts

to reduce that uncertainty and to develop solutions.

I believe there are several candidates for solutions

that could have all saved hundreds of billions of dollars

and lessened or eliminated

the suffering of millions of people.

Let me mention five of the categories of solutions.

Masks, at home testing, anonymized contact tracing,

antiviral drugs, and vaccines.

Within each of these categories,

institutional leaders should have constantly asked

and answered publicly, honestly,

the following three questions.

One, what data do we have on the solution

and what studies are we running

to get more and better data?

Two, given the current data and uncertainty,

how effective and how safe is the solution?

Three, what is the timeline and cost involved

with mass manufacturing distribution of the solution?

In the service of these questions,

no voices should have been silenced,

no ideas left off the table.

Open data, open science,

open, honest scientific communication and debate

was the way, not censorship.

There are a lot of ideas out there

that are bad, wrong, dangerous,

but the moment we have the hubris

to say we know which ideas those are

is the moment we’ll lose our ability to find the truth,

to find solutions,

the very things that make science beautiful and powerful

in the face of all the dangers that threaten the wellbeing

and the existence of humans on Earth.

This conversation with Brett

is less about the ideas we talk about.

We agree on some, disagree on others.

It is much more about the very freedom to talk,

to think, to share ideas.

This freedom is our only hope.

Brett should never have been censored.

I asked Brett to do this podcast to show solidarity

and to show that I have hope for science and for humanity.

This is the Lex Friedman podcast

and here’s my conversation with Brett Weinstein.

What to you is beautiful about the study of biology,

the science, the engineering, the philosophy of it?

It’s a very interesting question.

I must say at one level, it’s not a conscious thing.

I can say a lot about why as an adult

I find biology compelling,

but as a kid I was completely fascinated with animals.

I loved to watch them and think about why they did

what they did and that developed into a very conscious

passion as an adult.

But I think in the same way that one is drawn to a person,

I was drawn to the never ending series of near miracles

that exists across biological nature.

When you see a living organism,

do you see it from an evolutionary biology perspective

of like this entire thing that moves around

in this world or do you see from an engineering perspective

that first principles almost down to the physics,

like the little components that build up hierarchies

that you have cells, the first proteins and cells

and organs and all that kind of stuff.

So do you see low level or do you see high level?

Well, the human mind is a strange thing

and I think it’s probably a bit like a time sharing machine

in which I have different modules.

We don’t know enough about biology for them to connect.

So they exist in isolation and I’m always aware

that they do connect, but I basically have to step

into a module in order to see the evolutionary dynamics

of the creature and the lineage that it belongs to.

I have to step into a different module to think

of that lineage over a very long time scale,

a different module still to understand

what the mechanisms inside would have to look like

to account for what we can see from the outside.

And I think that probably sounds really complicated,

but one of the things about being involved

in a topic like biology and doing so for one,

really not even just my adult life for my whole life

is that it becomes second nature.

And when we see somebody do an amazing parkour routine

or something like that, we think about what they must

be doing in order to accomplish that.

But of course, what they are doing is tapping

into some kind of zone, right?

They are in a zone in which they are in such command

of their center of gravity, for example,

that they know how to hurl it around a landscape

so that they always land on their feet.

And I would just say for anyone who hasn’t found a topic

on which they can develop that kind of facility,

it is absolutely worthwhile.

It’s really something that human beings are capable

of doing across a wide range of topics,

many things our ancestors didn’t even have access to.

And that flexibility of humans,

that ability to repurpose our machinery

for topics that are novel means really,

the world is your oyster.

You can figure out what your passion is

and then figure out all of the angles

that one would have to pursue to really deeply understand it.

And it is well worth having at least one topic like that.

You mean embracing the full adaptability

of both the body and the mind.

So like, I don’t know what to attribute the parkour to,

like biomechanics of how our bodies can move,

or is it the mind?

Like how much percent wise,

is it the entirety of the hierarchies of biology

that we’ve been talking about,

or is it just all the mind?

The way to think about creatures

is that every creature is two things simultaneously.

A creature is a machine of sorts, right?

It’s not a machine in the,

I call it an aqueous machine, right?

And it’s run by an aqueous computer, right?

So it’s not identical to our technological machines.

But every creature is both a machine

that does things in the world

sufficient to accumulate enough resources

to continue surviving, to reproduce.

It is also a potential.

So each creature is potentially, for example,

the most recent common ancestor

of some future clade of creatures

that will look very different from it.

And if a creature is very, very good at being a creature,

but not very good in terms of the potential

it has going forward,

then that lineage will not last very long into the future

because change will throw at challenges

that its descendants will not be able to meet.

So the thing about humans is we are a generalist platform,

and we have the ability to swap out our software

to exist in many, many different niches.

And I was once watching an interview

with this British group of parkour experts

who were being, they were discussing what it is they do

and how it works.

And what they essentially said is,

look, you’re tapping into deep monkey stuff, right?

And I thought, yeah, that’s about right.

And anybody who is proficient at something

like skiing or skateboarding, you know,

has the experience of flying down the hill

on skis, for example,

bouncing from the top of one mogul to the next.

And if you really pay attention,

you will discover that your conscious mind

is actually a spectator.

It’s there, it’s involved in the experience,

but it’s not driving.

Some part of you knows how to ski,

and it’s not the part of you that knows how to think.

And I would just say that what accounts

for this flexibility in humans

is the ability to bootstrap a new software program

and then drive it into the unconscious layer

where it can be applied very rapidly.

And, you know, I will be shocked

if the exact thing doesn’t exist in robotics.

You know, if you programmed a robot

to deal with circumstances that were novel to it,

how would you do it?

It would have to look something like this.

There’s a certain kind of magic, you’re right,

with the consciousness being an observer.

When you play guitar, for example, or piano for me,

music, when you get truly lost in it,

I don’t know what the heck is responsible

for the flow of the music,

the kind of the loudness of the music going up and down,

the timing, the intricate, like even the mistakes,

all those things,

that doesn’t seem to be the conscious mind.

It is just observing,

and yet it’s somehow intricately involved.

More, like, because you mentioned parkour,

the dance is like that too.

When you start up in tango dancing,

if when you truly lose yourself in it,

then it’s just like you’re an observer,

and how the hell is the body able to do that?

And not only that, it’s the physical motion

is also creating the emotion,

the, like, the damn is good to be alive feeling.

So, but then that’s also intricately connected

to the full biology stack that we’re operating in.

I don’t know how difficult it is to replicate that.

We’re talking offline about Boston Dynamics robots.

They’ve recently been, they did both parkour,

they did flips, they’ve also done some dancing,

and it’s something I think a lot about

because what most people don’t realize

because they don’t look deep enough

is those robots are hard coded to do those things.

The robots didn’t figure it out by themselves,

and yet the fundamental aspect of what it means to be human

is that process of figuring out, of making mistakes,

and then there’s something about overcoming

those challenges and the mistakes

and, like, figuring out how to lose yourself

in the magic of the dancing or just movement

is what it means to be human.

That learning process, so that’s what I want to do

with the, almost as a fun side thing

with the Boston Dynamics robots,

is to have them learn and see what they figure out,

even if they make mistakes.

I want to let Spot make mistakes

and in so doing discover what it means to be alive,

discover beauty, because I think

that’s the essential aspect of mistakes.

Boston Dynamics folks want Spot to be perfect

because they don’t want Spot to ever make mistakes

because it wants to operate in the factories,

it wants to be very safe and so on.

For me, if you construct the environment,

if you construct a safe space for robots

and allow them to make mistakes,

something beautiful might be discovered,

but that requires a lot of brain power.

So Spot is currently very dumb

and I’m gonna give it a brain.

So first make it see, currently it can’t see,

meaning computer vision, it has to understand

its environment, it has to see all the humans,

but then also has to be able to learn,

learn about its movement, learn how to use its body

to communicate with others, all those kinds of things

that dogs know how to do well,

humans know how to do somewhat well.

I think that’s a beautiful challenge,

but first you have to allow the robot to make mistakes.

Well, I think your objective is laudable,

but you’re gonna realize

that the Boston Dynamics folks are right

the first time Spot poops on your rug.

I hear the same thing about kids and so on.

I still wanna have kids.

No, you should, it’s a great experience.

So let me step back into what you said

in a couple of different places.

One, I have always believed that the missing element

in robotics and artificial intelligence

is a proper development, right?

It is no accident, it is no mere coincidence

that human beings are the most dominant species

on planet Earth and that we have the longest childhoods

of any creature on Earth by far, right?

The development is the key to the flexibility.

And so the capability of a human at adulthood

is the mirror image, it’s the flip side

of our helplessness at birth.

So I’ll be very interested to see what happens

in your robot project if you do not end up

reinventing childhood for robots,

which of course is foreshadowed in 2001 quite brilliantly.

But I also wanna point out,

you can see this issue of your conscious mind

becoming a spectator very well

if you compare tennis to table tennis, right?

If you watch a tennis game, you could imagine

that the players are highly conscious as they play.

You cannot imagine that

if you’ve ever played ping pong decently.

A volley in ping pong is so fast

that your conscious mind, if your reactions

had to go through your conscious mind,

you wouldn’t be able to play.

So you can detect that your conscious mind,

while very much present, isn’t there.

And you can also detect where consciousness

does usefully intrude.

If you go up against an opponent in table tennis

that knows a trick that you don’t know how to respond to,

you will suddenly detect that something

about your game is not effective,

and you will start thinking about what might be,

how do you position yourself so that move

that puts the ball just in that corner of the table

or something like that doesn’t catch you off guard.

And this, I believe, is we highly conscious folks,

those of us who try to think through things

very deliberately and carefully,

mistake consciousness for the highest kind of thinking.

And I really think that this is an error.

Consciousness is an intermediate level of thinking.

What it does is it allows you,

it’s basically like uncompiled code.

And it doesn’t run very fast.

It is capable of being adapted to new circumstances.

But once the code is roughed in,

it gets driven into the unconscious layer,

and you become highly effective at whatever it is.

And from that point, your conscious mind

basically remains there to detect things

that aren’t anticipated by the code you’ve already written.

And so I don’t exactly know how one would establish this,

how one would demonstrate it.

But it must be the case that the human mind

contains sandboxes in which things are tested, right?

Maybe you can build a piece of code

and run it in parallel next to your active code

so you can see how it would have done comparatively.

But there’s gotta be some way of writing new code

and then swapping it in.

And frankly, I think this has a lot to do

with things like sleep cycles.

Very often, when I get good at something,

I often don’t get better at it while I’m doing it.

I get better at it when I’m not doing it,

especially if there’s time to sleep and think on it.

So there’s some sort of new program

swapping in for old program phenomenon,

which will be a lot easier to see in machines.

It’s gonna be hard with the wetware.

I like, I mean, it is true,

because somebody that played,

I played tennis for many years,

I do still think the highest form of excellence in tennis

is when the conscious mind is a spectator.

So the compiled code is the highest form of being human.

And then consciousness is just some specific compiler.

You used to have like Borland C++ compiler.

You could just have different kind of compilers.

Ultimately, the thing that by which we measure

the power of life, the intelligence of life

is the compiled code.

And you can probably do that compilation all kinds of ways.

Yeah, I’m not saying that tennis is played consciously

and table tennis isn’t.

I’m saying that because tennis is slowed down

by the just the space on the court,

you could imagine that it was your conscious mind playing.

But when you shrink the court down,

It becomes obvious.

It becomes obvious that your conscious mind

is just present rather than knowing where to put the paddle.

And weirdly for me,

I would say this probably isn’t true

in a podcast situation.

But if I have to give a presentation,

especially if I have not overly prepared,

I often find the same phenomenon

when I’m giving the presentation.

My conscious mind is there watching

some other part of me present,

which is a little jarring, I have to say.

Well, that means you’ve gotten good at it.

Not let the conscious mind get in the way

of the flow of words.

Yeah, that’s the sensation to be sure.

And that’s the highest form of podcasting too.

I mean, that’s what it looks like

when a podcast is really in the pocket,

like Joe Rogan, just having fun

and just losing themselves.

And that’s something I aspire to as well,

just losing yourself in conversation.

Somebody that has a lot of anxiety with people,

like I’m such an introvert.

I’m scared.

I was scared before you showed up.

I’m scared right now.

There’s just anxiety.

There’s just, it’s a giant mess.

It’s hard to lose yourself.

It’s hard to just get out of the way of your own mind.

Yeah, actually, trust is a big component of that.

Your conscious mind retains control

if you are very uncertain.

But when you do get into that zone when you’re speaking,

I realize it’s different for you

with English as a second language,

although maybe you present in Russian and it happens.

But do you ever hear yourself say something

and you think, oh, that’s really good, right?

Like you didn’t come up with it,

some other part of you that you don’t exactly know

came up with it?

I don’t think I’ve ever heard myself in that way

because I have a much louder voice

that’s constantly yelling in my head at,

why the hell did you say that?

There’s a very self critical voice that’s much louder.

So I’m very, maybe I need to deal with that voice,

but it’s been like, what is it called?

Like a megaphone just screaming

so I can’t hear the other voice that says,

good job, you said that thing really nicely.

So I’m kind of focused right now on the megaphone person

in the audience versus the positive,

but that’s definitely something to think about.

It’s been productive, but the place where I find gratitude

and beauty and appreciation of life is in the quiet moments

when I don’t talk, when I listen to the world around me,

when I listen to others, when I talk,

I’m extremely self critical in my mind.

When I produce anything out into the world

that originated with me,

like any kind of creation, extremely self critical.

It’s good for productivity,

for always striving to improve and so on.

It might be bad for just appreciating

the things you’ve created.

I’m a little bit with Marvin Minsky on this

where he says the key to a productive life

is to hate everything you’ve ever done in the past.

I didn’t know he said that.

I must say, I resonate with it a bit.

And unfortunately, my life currently has me putting

a lot of stuff into the world,

and I effectively watch almost none of it.

I can’t stand it.

Yeah, what do you make of that?

I don’t know.

I just yesterday read Metamorphosis by Kafka,

we read Metamorphosis by Kafka

where he turns into a giant bug

because of the stress that the world puts on him.

His parents put on him to succeed.

And I think that you have to find the balance

because if you allow the self critical voice

to become too heavy, the burden of the world,

the pressure that the world puts on you

to be the best version of yourself and so on to strive,

then you become a bug and that’s a big problem.

And then the world turns against you because you’re a bug.

You become some kind of caricature of yourself.

I don’t know, you become the worst version of yourself

and then thereby end up destroying yourself

and then the world moves on.

That’s the story.

That’s a lovely story.

I do think this is one of these places,

and frankly, you could map this onto

all of modern human experience,

but this is one of these places

where our ancestral programming

does not serve our modern selves.

So I used to talk to students

about the question of dwelling on things.

Dwelling on things is famously understood to be bad

and it can’t possibly be bad.

It wouldn’t exist, the tendency toward it

wouldn’t exist if it was bad.

So what is bad is dwelling on things

past the point of utility.

And that’s obviously easier to say than to operationalize,

but if you realize that your dwelling is the key, in fact,

to upgrading your program for future well being

and that there’s a point, presumably,

from diminishing returns, if not counter productivity,

there is a point at which you should stop

because that is what is in your best interest,

then knowing that you’re looking for that point is useful.

This is the point at which it is no longer useful

for me to dwell on this error I have made.

That’s what you’re looking for.

And it also gives you license, right?

If some part of you feels like it’s punishing you

rather than searching, then that also has a point

at which it’s no longer valuable

and there’s some liberty in realizing,

yep, even the part of me that was punishing me

knows it’s time to stop.

So if we map that onto compiled code discussion,

as a computer science person, I find that very compelling.

You know, when you compile code, you get warnings sometimes.

And usually, if you’re a good software engineer,

you’re going to make sure there’s no,

you know, you treat warnings as errors.

So you make sure that the compilation produces no warnings.

But at a certain point, when you have a large enough system,

you just let the warnings go.

It’s fine.

Like, I don’t know where that warning came from,

but, you know, just ultimately you need to compile the code

and run with it and hope nothing terrible happens.

Well, I think what you will find, and believe me,

I think what you’re talking about

with respect to robots and learning

is gonna end up having to go to a deep developmental state

and a helplessness that evolves into hyper competence

and all of that.

But I live, I noticed that I live by something

that I, for lack of a better descriptor,

call the theory of close calls.

And the theory of close calls says that people

typically miscategorize the events in their life

where something almost went wrong.

And, you know, for example, if you,

I have a friend who, I was walking down the street

with my college friends and one of my friends

stepped into the street thinking it was clear

and was nearly hit by a car going 45 miles an hour,

would have been an absolute disaster, might have killed her,

certainly would have permanently injured her.

But she didn’t, you know, car didn’t touch her, right?

Now you could walk away from that and think nothing of it

because, well, what is there to think?

Nothing happened.

Or you could think, well, what is the difference

between what did happen and my death?

The difference is luck.

I never want that to be true, right?

I never want the difference between what did happen

and my death to be luck.

Therefore, I should count this as very close to death

and I should prioritize coding

so it doesn’t happen again at a very high level.

So anyway, my basic point is

the accidents and disasters and misfortune

describe a distribution that tells you

what’s really likely to get you in the end.

And so personally, you can use them to figure out

where the dangers are so that you can afford

to take great risks because you have a really good sense

of how they’re gonna go wrong.

But I would also point out civilization has this problem.

Civilization is now producing these events

that are major disasters,

but they’re not existential scale yet, right?

They’re very serious errors that we can see.

And I would argue that the pattern is

you discover that we are involved in some industrial process

at the point it has gone wrong, right?

So I’m now always asking the question,

okay, in light of the Fukushima triple meltdown,

the financial collapse of 2008,

the Deepwater Horizon blowout, COVID 19,

and its probable origins in the Wuhan lab,

what processes do I not know the name of yet

that I will discover at the point

that some gigantic accident has happened?

And can we talk about the wisdom or lack thereof

of engaging in that process before the accident, right?

That’s what a wise civilization would be doing.

And yet we don’t.

I just wanna mention something that happened

a couple of days ago.

I don’t know if you know who JB Straubel is.

He’s the co founder of Tesla,

CTO of Tesla for many, many years.

His wife just died.

She was riding a bicycle.

And in the same thin line between death and life

that many of us have been in,

where you walk into the intersection

and there’s this close call.

Every once in a while, you get the short straw.

I wonder how much of our own individual lives

and the entirety of the human civilization

rests on this little roll of the dice.

Well, this is sort of my point about the close calls

is that there’s a level at which we can’t control it, right?

The gigantic asteroid that comes from deep space

that you don’t have time to do anything about.

There’s not a lot we can do to hedge that out,

or at least not short term.

But there are lots of other things.

Obviously, the financial collapse of 2008

didn’t break down the entire world economy.

It threatened to, but a Herculean effort

managed to pull us back from the brink.

The triple meltdown at Fukushima was awful,

but every one of the seven fuel pools held,

there wasn’t a major fire that made it impossible

to manage the disaster going forward.

We got lucky.

We could say the same thing about the blowout

at the Deepwater Horizon,

where a hole in the ocean floor large enough

that we couldn’t have plugged it, could have opened up.

All of these things could have been much, much worse, right?

And I think we can say the same thing about COVID,

as terrible as it is.

And we cannot say for sure that it came from the Wuhan lab,

but there’s a strong likelihood that it did.

And it also could be much, much worse.

So in each of these cases, something is telling us,

we have a process that is unfolding

that keeps creating risks where it is luck

that is the difference between us

and some scale of disaster that is unimaginable.

And that wisdom, you can be highly intelligent

and cause these disasters.

To be wise is to stop causing them, right?

And that would require a process of restraint,

a process that I don’t see a lot of evidence of yet.

So I think we have to generate it.

And somehow, at the moment,

we don’t have a political structure

that would be capable of taking

a protective algorithm and actually deploying it, right?

Because it would have important economic consequences.

And so it would almost certainly be shot down.

But we can obviously also say,

we paid a huge price for all of the disasters

that I’ve mentioned.

And we have to factor that into the equation.

Something can be very productive short term

and very destructive long term.

Also, the question is how many disasters we avoided

because of the ingenuity of humans

or just the integrity and character of humans.

That’s sort of an open question.

We may be more intelligent than lucky.

That’s the hope.

Because the optimistic message here that you’re getting at

is maybe the process that we should be,

that maybe we can overcome luck with ingenuity.

Meaning, I guess you’re suggesting the processes

we should be listing all the ways

that human civilization can destroy itself,

assigning likelihood to it,

and thinking through how can we avoid that.

And being very honest with the data out there

about the close calls and using those close calls

to then create sort of mechanism

by which we minimize the probability of those close calls.

And just being honest and transparent

with the data that’s out there.

Well, I think we need to do a couple things for it to work.

So I’ve been an advocate for the idea

that sustainability is actually,

it’s difficult to operationalize,

but it is an objective that we have to meet

if we’re to be around long term.

And I realized that we also need to have reversibility

of all of our processes.

Because processes very frequently when they start

do not appear dangerous.

And then when they scale, they become very dangerous.

So for example, if you imagine

the first internal combustion engine vehicle

driving down the street,

and you imagine somebody running after them saying,

hey, if you do enough of that,

you’re gonna alter the atmosphere

and it’s gonna change the temperature of the planet.

It’s preposterous, right?

Why would you stop the person

who’s invented this marvelous new contraption?

But of course, eventually you do get to the place

where you’re doing enough of this

that you do start changing the temperature of the planet.

So if we built the capacity,

if we basically said, look, you can’t involve yourself

in any process that you couldn’t reverse if you had to,

then progress would be slowed,

but our safety would go up dramatically.

And I think in some sense, if we are to be around long term,

we have to begin thinking that way.

We’re just involved in too many very dangerous processes.

So let’s talk about one of the things

that if not threatened human civilization

certainly hurt it at a deep level, which is COVID 19.

What percent probability would you currently place

on the hypothesis that COVID 19 leaked

from the Wuhan Institute of Virology?

So I maintain a flow chart of all the possible explanations,

and it doesn’t break down exactly that way.

The likelihood that it emerged from a lab is very, very high.

If it emerged from a lab,

the likelihood that the lab was the Wuhan Institute

is very, very high.

There are multiple different kinds of evidence

that point to the lab,

and there is literally no evidence that points to nature.

Either the evidence points nowhere or it points to the lab,

and the lab could mean any lab,

but geographically, obviously,

the labs in Wuhan are the most likely,

and the lab that was most directly involved

with research on viruses that look like COVID,

that look like SARS COVID 2,

is obviously the place that one would start.

But I would say the likelihood that this virus

came from a lab is well above 95%.

We can talk about the question of could a virus

have been brought into the lab and escaped from there

without being modified.

That’s also possible,

but it doesn’t explain any of the anomalies

in the genome of SARS COVID 2.

Could it have been delivered from another lab?

Could Wuhan be a distraction

in order that we would connect the dots in the wrong way?

That’s conceivable.

I currently have that below 1% on my flowchart,

but I think…

A very dark thought that somebody would do that

almost as a political attack on China.

Well, it depends.

I don’t even think that’s one possibility.

Sometimes when Eric and I talk about these issues,

we will generate a scenario just to prove

that something could live in that space, right?

It’s a placeholder for whatever may actually have happened.

And so it doesn’t have to have been an attack on China.

That’s certainly one possibility.

But I would point out,

if you can predict the future in some unusual way

better than others, you can print money, right?

That’s what markets that allow you to bet for

or against virtually any sector allow you to do.

So you can imagine a simply amoral person

or entity generating a pandemic,

attempting to cover their tracks

because it would allow them to bet against things

like cruise ships, air travel, whatever it is,

and bet in favor of, I don’t know,

sanitizing gel and whatever else you would do.

So am I saying that I think somebody did that?

No, I really don’t think it happened.

We’ve seen zero evidence

that this was intentionally released.

However, were it to have been intentionally released

by somebody who did not know,

did not want it known where it had come from,

releasing it into Wuhan would be one way

to cover their tracks.

So we have to leave the possibility formally open,

but acknowledge there’s no evidence.

And the probability therefore is low.

I tend to believe maybe this is the optimistic nature

that I have that people who are competent enough

to do the kind of thing we just described

are not going to do that

because it requires a certain kind of,

I don’t wanna use the word evil,

but whatever word you wanna use to describe

the kind of disregard for human life required to do that,

that’s just not going to be coupled with competence.

I feel like there’s a trade off chart

where competence on one axis and evil is on the other.

And the more evil you become,

the crappier you are at doing great engineering,

scientific work required to deliver weapons

of different kinds, whether it’s bioweapons

or nuclear weapons, all those kinds of things.

That seems to be the lessons I take from history,

but that doesn’t necessarily mean

that’s what’s going to be happening in the future.

But to stick on the lab leak idea,

because the flow chart is probably huge here

because there’s a lot of fascinating possibilities.

One question I wanna ask is,

what would evidence for natural origins look like?

So one piece of evidence for natural origins

is that it’s happened in the past

that viruses have jumped.

Oh, they do jump.

So like that’s possible to have happened.

So that’s a sort of like a historical evidence,

like, okay, well, it’s possible that it have…

It’s not evidence of the kind you think it is.

It’s a justification for a presumption, right?

So the presumption upon discovering

a new virus circulating is certainly

that it came from nature, right?

The problem is the presumption evaporates

in the face of evidence, or at least it logically should.

And it didn’t in this case.

It was maintained by people who privately

in their emails acknowledged that they had grave doubts

about the natural origin of this virus.

Is there some other piece of evidence

that we could look for and see that would say,

this increases the probability that it’s natural origins?

Yeah, in fact, there is evidence.

I always worry that somebody is going to make up

some evidence in order to reverse the flow.

Oh, boy.

Well, let’s say I am…

There’s a lot of incentive for that actually.

There’s a huge amount of incentive.

On the other hand, why didn’t the powers that be,

the powers that lied to us about weapons

of mass destruction in Iraq,

why didn’t they ever fake weapons

of mass destruction in Iraq?

Whatever force it is, I hope that force is here too.

And so whatever evidence we find is real.

It’s the competence thing I’m talking about,

but okay, go ahead, sorry.

Well, we can get back to that.

But I would say, yeah, the giant piece of evidence

that will shift the probabilities in the other direction

is the discovery of either a human population

in which the virus circulated prior to showing up in Wuhan

that would explain where the virus learned all of the tricks

that it knew instantly upon spreading from Wuhan.

So that would do it, or an animal population

in which an ancestor epidemic can be found

in which the virus learned this before jumping to humans.

But I point out in that second case,

you would certainly expect to see a great deal of evolution

in the early epidemic, which we don’t see.

So there almost has to be a human population

somewhere else that had the virus circulate

or an ancestor of the virus that we first saw

in Wuhan circulating.

And it has to have gotten very sophisticated

in that prior epidemic before hitting Wuhan

in order to explain the total lack of evolution

and extremely effective virus that emerged

at the end of 2019.

So you don’t believe in the magic of evolution

to spring up with all the tricks already there?

Like everybody who doesn’t have the tricks,

they die quickly.

And then you just have this beautiful virus

that comes in with a spike protein

and through mutation and selection,

just like the ones that succeed and succeed big

are the ones that are going to just spring into life

with the tricks.

Well, no, that’s called a hopeful monster.

And hopeful monsters don’t work.

The job of becoming a new pandemic virus is too difficult.

It involves two very difficult steps

and they both have to work.

One is the ability to infect a person and spread

in their tissues sufficient to make an infection.

And the other is to jump between individuals

at a sufficient rate that it doesn’t go extinct

for one reason or another.

Those are both very difficult jobs.

They require, as you describe, selection.

And the point is selection would leave a mark.

We would see evidence that it would stay.

In animals or humans, we would see.

Both, right?

And we see this evolutionary trace of the virus

gathering the tricks up.

Yeah, you would see the virus,

you would see the clumsy virus get better and better.

And yes, I am a full believer in the power of that process.

In fact, I believe it.

What I know from studying the process

is that it is much more powerful than most people imagine.

That what we teach in the Evolution 101 textbook

is too clumsy a process to do what we see it doing

and that actually people should increase their expectation

of the rapidity with which that process can produce

just jaw dropping adaptations.

That said, we just don’t see evidence that it happened here

which doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist,

but it means in spite of immense pressure

to find it somewhere, there’s been no hint

which probably means it took place inside of a laboratory.

So inside the laboratory,

gain of function research on viruses.

And I believe most of that kind of research

is doing this exact thing that you’re referring to

which is accelerated evolution

and just watching evolution do its thing

and a bunch of viruses

and seeing what kind of tricks get developed.

The other method is engineering viruses.

So manually adding on the tricks.

Which do you think we should be thinking about here?

So mind you, I learned what I know

in the aftermath of this pandemic emerging.

I started studying the question and I would say

based on the content of the genome and other evidence

in publications from the various labs

that were involved in generating this technology,

a couple of things seem likely.

This SARS CoV2 does not appear to be entirely the result

of either a splicing process or serial passaging.

It appears to have both things in its past

or it’s at least highly likely that it does.

So for example, the fern cleavage site

looks very much like it was added in to the virus

and it was known that that would increase its infectivity

in humans and increase its tropism.

The virus appears to be excellent

at spreading in humans and minks and ferrets.

Now minks and ferrets are very closely related to each other

and ferrets are very likely to have been used

in a serial passage experiment.

The reason being that they have an ACE2 receptor

that looks very much like the human ACE2 receptor.

And so were you going to passage the virus

or its ancestor through an animal

in order to increase its infectivity in humans,

which would have been necessary,

ferrets would have been very likely.

It is also quite likely

that humanized mice were utilized

and it is possible that human airway tissue was utilized.

I think it is vital that we find out

what the protocols were.

If this came from the Wuhan Institute,

we need to know it

and we need to know what the protocols were exactly

because they will actually give us some tools

that would be useful in fighting SARS CoV2

and hopefully driving it to extinction,

which ought to be our priority.

It is a priority that does not,

it is not apparent from our behavior,

but it really is, it should be our objective.

If we understood where our interests lie,

we would be much more focused on it.

But those protocols would tell us a great deal.

If it wasn’t the Wuhan Institute, we need to know that.

If it was nature, we need to know that.

And if it was some other laboratory,

we need to figure out what and where

so that we can determine what we can determine

about what was done.

You’re opening up my mind about why we should investigate,

why we should know the truth of the origins of this virus.

So for me personally,

let me just tell the story of my own kind of journey.

When I first started looking into the lab leak hypothesis,

what became terrifying to me

and important to understand and obvious

is the sort of like Sam Harris way of thinking,

which is it’s obvious that a lab leak of a deadly virus

will eventually happen.

My mind was, it doesn’t even matter

if it happened in this case.

It’s obvious that it’s going to happen in the future.

So why the hell are we not freaking out about this?

And COVID 19 is not even that deadly

relative to the possible future viruses.

It’s this, the way I disagree with Sam on this,

but he thinks about this way about AGI as well,

not about artificial intelligence.

It’s a different discussion, I think,

but with viruses, it seems like something that could happen

on the scale of years, maybe a few decades.

AGI is a little bit farther out for me,

but it seemed, the terrifying thing,

it seemed obvious that this will happen very soon

for a much deadlier virus as we get better and better

at both engineering viruses

and doing this kind of evolutionary driven research,

gain of function research.

Okay, but then you started speaking out about this as well,

but also started to say, no, no, no,

we should hurry up and figure out the origins now

because it will help us figure out

how to actually respond to this particular virus,

how to treat this particular virus.

What is in terms of vaccines, in terms of antiviral drugs,

in terms of just all the number of responses

that we should have.

Okay, I still am much more freaking out about the future.

Maybe you can break that apart a little bit.

Which are you most focused on now?

Which are you most freaking out about now

in terms of the importance of figuring out

the origins of this virus?

I am most freaking out about both of them

because they’re both really important

and we can put bounds on this.

Let me say first that this is a perfect test case

for the theory of close calls

because as much as COVID is a disaster,

it is also a close call from which we can learn much.

You are absolutely right.

If we keep playing this game in the lab,

if we are not, if we are,

especially if we do it under pressure

and when we are told that a virus

is going to leap from nature any day

and that the more we know,

the better we’ll be able to fight it,

we’re gonna create the disaster,

all the sooner.

So yes, that should be an absolute focus.

The fact that there were people saying

that this was dangerous back in 2015

ought to tell us something.

The fact that the system bypassed a ban

and offshored the work to China

ought to tell us this is not a Chinese failure.

This is a failure of something larger and harder to see.

But I also think that there’s a clock ticking

with respect to SARS CoV2 and COVID,

the disease that it creates.

And that has to do with whether or not

we are stuck with it permanently.

So if you think about the cost to humanity

of being stuck with influenza,

it’s an immense cost year after year.

And we just stop thinking about it because it’s there.

Some years you get the flu, most years you don’t.

Maybe you get the vaccine to prevent it.

Maybe the vaccine isn’t particularly well targeted.

But imagine just simply doubling that cost.

Imagine we get stuck with SARS CoV2

and its descendants going forward

and that it just settles in

and becomes a fact of modern human life.

That would be a disaster, right?

The number of people we will ultimately lose

is incalculable.

The amount of suffering that will be caused is incalculable.

The loss of wellbeing and wealth, incalculable.

So that ought to be a very high priority,

driving this extinct before it becomes permanent.

And the ability to drive extinct goes down

the longer we delay effective responses.

To the extent that we let it have this very large canvas,

large numbers of people who have the disease

in which mutation and selection can result in adaptation

that we will not be able to counter

the greater its ability to figure out features

of our immune system and use them to its advantage.

So I’m feeling the pressure of driving it extinct.

I believe we could have driven it extinct six months ago

and we didn’t do it because of very mundane concerns

among a small number of people.

And I’m not alleging that they were brazen about

or that they were callous about deaths that would be caused.

I have the sense that they were working

from a kind of autopilot in which you,

let’s say you’re in some kind of a corporation,

a pharmaceutical corporation,

you have a portfolio of therapies

that in the context of a pandemic might be very lucrative.

Those therapies have competitors.

You of course wanna position your product

so that it succeeds and the competitors don’t.

And lo and behold, at some point through means

that I think those of us on the outside

can’t really intuit, you end up saying things

about competing therapies that work better

and much more safely than the ones you’re selling

that aren’t true and do cause people to die

in large numbers.

But it’s some kind of autopilot, at least part of it is.

So there’s a complicated coupling of the autopilot

of institutions, companies, governments.

And then there’s also the geopolitical game theory thing

going on where you wanna keep secrets.

It’s the Chernobyl thing where if you messed up,

there’s a big incentive, I think,

to hide the fact that you messed up.

So how do we fix this?

And what’s more important to fix?

The autopilot, which is the response

that we often criticize about our institutions,

especially the leaders in those institutions,

Anthony Fauci and so on,

some of the members of the scientific community.

And the second part is the game with China

of hiding the information

in terms of on the fight between nations.

Well, in our live streams on Dark Horse,

Heather and I have been talking from the beginning

about the fact that although, yes,

what happens began in China,

it very much looks like a failure

of the international scientific community.

That’s frightening, but it’s also hopeful

in the sense that actually if we did the right thing now,

we’re not navigating a puzzle about Chinese responsibility.

We’re navigating a question of collective responsibility

for something that has been terribly costly to all of us.

So that’s not a very happy process.

But as you point out, what’s at stake

is in large measure at the very least

the strong possibility this will happen again

and that at some point it will be far worse.

So just as a person that does not learn the lessons

of their own errors doesn’t get smarter

and they remain in danger,

we collectively, humanity has to say,

well, there sure is a lot of evidence

that suggests that this is a self inflicted wound.

When you have done something

that has caused a massive self inflicted wound,

self inflicted wound, it makes sense to dwell on it

exactly to the point that you have learned the lesson

that makes it very, very unlikely

that something similar will happen again.

I think this is a good place to kind of ask you

to do almost like a thought experiment

or to steel man the argument against the lab leak hypothesis.

So if you were to argue, you said 95% chance

that the virus leak from a lab.

There’s a bunch of ways I think you can argue

that even talking about it is bad for the world.

So if I just put something on the table,

it’s to say that for one,

it would be racism versus Chinese people

that talking about that it leaked from a lab,

there’s a kind of immediate kind of blame

and it can spiral down into this idea

that’s somehow the people are responsible for the virus

and this kind of thing.

Is it possible for you to come up

with other steel man arguments against talking

or against the possibility of the lab leak hypothesis?

Well, so I think steel manning is a tool

that is extremely valuable,

but it’s also possible to abuse it.

I think that you can only steel man a good faith argument.

And the problem is we now know

that we have not been engaged in opponents

who were wielding good faith arguments

because privately their emails reflect their own doubts.

And what they were doing publicly was actually a punishment,

a public punishment for those of us who spoke up

with I think the purpose of either backing us down

or more likely warning others

not to engage in the same kind of behavior.

And obviously for people like you and me

who regard science as our likely best hope

for navigating difficult waters,

shutting down people who are using those tools honorably

is itself dishonorable.

So I don’t feel that there’s anything to steel man.

And I also think that immediately at the point

that the world suddenly with no new evidence on the table

switched gears with respect to the lab leak,

at the point that Nicholas Wade had published his article

and suddenly the world was going to admit

that this was at least a possibility, if not a likelihood,

we got to see something of the rationalization process

that had taken place inside the institutional world.

And it very definitely involved the claim

that what was being avoided was the targeting

of Chinese scientists.

And my point would be,

I don’t wanna see the targeting of anyone.

I don’t want to see racism of any kind.

On the other hand, once you create license to lie

in order to protect individuals when the world has a stake

in knowing what happened, then it is inevitable

that that process, that license to lie will be used

by the thing that captures institutions

for its own purposes.

So my sense is it may be very unfortunate

if the story of what happened here

can be used against Chinese people.

That would be very unfortunate.

And as I think I mentioned,

Heather and I have taken great pains to point out

that this doesn’t look like a Chinese failure.

It looks like a failure

of the international scientific community.

So I think it is important to broadcast that message

along with the analysis of the evidence.

But no matter what happened, we have a right to know.

And I frankly do not take the institutional layer

at its word that its motivations are honorable

and that it was protecting good hearted scientists

at the expense of the world.

That explanation does not add up.

Well, this is a very interesting question about

whether it’s ever okay to lie at the institutional layer

to protect the populace.

I think both you and I are probably on the same,

have the same sense that it’s a slippery slope.

Even if it’s an effective mechanism in the short term,

in the long term, it’s going to be destructive.

This happened with masks.

This happened with other things.

If you look at just history pandemics,

there’s an idea that panic is destructive

amongst the populace.

So you want to construct a narrative,

whether it’s a lie or not to minimize panic.

But you’re suggesting that almost in all cases,

and I think that was the lesson from the pandemic

in the early 20th century,

that lying creates distrust

and distrust in the institutions is ultimately destructive.

That’s your sense that lying is not okay?

Well, okay.

There are obviously places where complete transparency

is not a good idea, right?

To the extent that you broadcast a technology

that allows one individual to hold the world hostage,

obviously you’ve got something to be navigated.

But in general, I don’t believe that the scientific system

should be lying to us.

In the case of this particular lie,

the idea that the wellbeing of Chinese scientists

outweighs the wellbeing of the world is preposterous.

Right, as you point out,

one thing that rests on this question

is whether we continue to do this kind of research

going forward.

And the scientists in question, all of them,

American, Chinese, all of them were pushing the idea

that the risk of a zoonotic spillover event

causing a major and highly destructive pandemic

was so great that we had to risk this.

Now, if they themselves have caused it,

and if they are wrong, as I believe they are,

about the likelihood of a major world pandemic

spilling out of nature

in the way that they wrote into their grant applications,

then the danger is the call is coming from inside the house

and we have to look at that.

And yes, whatever we have to do

to protect scientists from retribution, we should do,

but we cannot protecting them by lying to the world.

And even worse,

by demonizing people like me, like Josh Rogin,

like Yuri Dagan, the entire drastic group on Twitter,

by demonizing us for simply following the evidence

is to set a terrible precedent, right?

You’re demonizing people for using the scientific method

to evaluate evidence that is available to us in the world.

What a terrible crime it is to teach that lesson, right?

Thou shalt not use scientific tools.

No, I’m sorry.

Whatever your license to lie is, it doesn’t extend to that.

Yeah, I’ve seen the attacks on you,

the pressure on you has a very important effect

on thousands of world class biologists actually.

At MIT, colleagues of mine, people I know,

there’s a slight pressure to not be allowed

to one, speak publicly and two, actually think.

Like do you even think about these ideas?

It sounds kind of ridiculous,

but just in the privacy of your own home,

to read things, to think, it’s many people,

many world class biologists that I know

will just avoid looking at the data.

There’s not even that many people

that are publicly opposing gain of function research.

They’re also like, it’s not worth it.

It’s not worth the battle.

And there’s many people that kind of argue

that those battles should be fought in private,

with colleagues in the privacy of the scientific community

that the public is somehow not maybe intelligent enough

to be able to deal with the complexities

of this kind of discussion.

I don’t know, but the final result

is combined with the bullying of you

and all the different pressures

in the academic institutions is that

it’s just people are self censoring

and silencing themselves

and silencing the most important thing,

which is the power of their brains.

Like these people are brilliant.

And the fact that they’re not utilizing their brain

to come up with solutions

outside of the conformist line of thinking is tragic.

Well, it is.

I also think that we have to look at it

and understand it for what it is.

For one thing, it’s kind of a cryptic totalitarianism.

Somehow people’s sense of what they’re allowed

to think about, talk about, discuss

is causing them to self censor.

And I can tell you it’s causing many of them to rationalize,

which is even worse.

They’re blinding themselves to what they can see.

But it is also the case, I believe,

that what you’re describing about what people said,

and a great many people understood

that the lab leak hypothesis

could not be taken off the table,

but they didn’t say so publicly.

And I think that their discussions with each other

about why they did not say what they understood,

that’s what capture sounds like on the inside.

I don’t know exactly what force captured the institutions.

I don’t think anybody knows for sure out here in public.

I don’t even know that it wasn’t just simply a process.

But you have these institutions.

They are behaving towards a kind of somatic obligation.

They have lost sight of what they were built to accomplish.

And on the inside, the way they avoid

going back to their original mission

is to say things to themselves,

like the public can’t have this discussion.

It can’t be trusted with it.

Yes, we need to be able to talk about this,

but it has to be private.

Whatever it is they say to themselves,

that is what capture sounds like on the inside.

It’s a institutional rationalization mechanism.

And it’s very, very deadly.

And at the point you go from lab leak to repurposed drugs,

you can see that it’s very deadly in a very direct way.

Yeah, I see this in my field with things

like autonomous weapon systems.

People in AI do not talk about the use of AI

in weapon systems.

They kind of avoid the idea that AI’s use them

in the military.

It’s kind of funny, there’s this like kind of discomfort

and they’re like, they all hurry,

like something scary happens and a bunch of sheep

kind of like run away.

That’s what it looks like.

And I don’t even know what to do about it.

And then I feel this natural pull

every time I bring up autonomous weapon systems

to go along with the sheep.

There’s a natural kind of pull towards that direction

because it’s like, what can I do as one person?

Now there’s currently nothing destructive happening

with autonomous weapon systems.

So we’re in like in the early days of this race

that in 10, 20 years might become a real problem.

Now where the discussion we’re having now,

we’re now facing the result of that in the space of viruses,

like for many years avoiding the conversations here.

I don’t know what to do that in the early days,

but I think we have to, I guess, create institutions

where people can stand out.

People can stand out and like basically be individual

thinkers and break out into all kinds of spaces of ideas

that allow us to think freely, freedom of thought.

And maybe that requires a decentralization of institutions.

Well, years ago, I came up with a concept

called cultivated insecurity.

And the idea is, let’s just take the example

of the average Joe, right?

The average Joe has a job somewhere

and their mortgage, their medical insurance,

their retirement, their connection with the economy

is to one degree or another dependent

on their relationship with the employer.

That means that there is a strong incentive,

especially in any industry where it’s not easy to move

from one employer to the next.

There’s a strong incentive to stay

in your employer’s good graces, right?

So it creates a very top down dynamic,

not only in terms of who gets to tell other people

what to do, but it really comes down to

who gets to tell other people how to think.

So that’s extremely dangerous.

The way out of it is to cultivate security

to the extent that somebody is in a position

to go against the grain and have it not be a catastrophe

for their family and their ability to earn,

you will see that behavior a lot more.

So I would argue that some of what you’re talking about

is just a simple predictable consequence

of the concentration of the sources of wellbeing

and that this is a solvable problem.

You got a chance to talk with Joe Rogan yesterday.

Yes, I did.

And I just saw the episode was released

and Ivermectin is trending on Twitter.

Joe told me it was an incredible conversation.

I look forward to listening to it today.

Many people have probably, by the time this is released,

have already listened to it.

I think it would be interesting to discuss a postmortem.

How do you feel how that conversation went?

And maybe broadly, how do you see the story

as it’s unfolding of Ivermectin from the origins

from before COVID 19 through 2020 to today?

I very much enjoyed talking to Joe

and I’m undescribably grateful

that he would take the risk of such a discussion,

that he would, as he described it,

do an emergency podcast on the subject,

which I think that was not an exaggeration.

This needed to happen for various reasons

that he took us down the road of talking about

the censorship campaign against Ivermectin,

which I find utterly shocking

and talking about the drug itself.

And I should say we talked, we had Pierre Corey available.

He came on the podcast as well.

He is, of course, the face of the FLCCC,

the Frontline COVID 19 Critical Care Alliance.

These are doctors who have innovated ways

of treating COVID patients and they happened on Ivermectin

and have been using it.

And I hesitate to use the word advocating for it

because that’s not really the role of doctors or scientists,

but they are advocating for it in the sense

that there is this pressure not to talk about

its effectiveness for reasons that we can go into.

So maybe step back and say, what is Ivermectin

and how much studies have been done

to show its effectiveness?

So Ivermectin is an interesting drug.

It was discovered in the 70s

by a Japanese scientist named Satoshi Omura

and he found it in soil near a Japanese golf course.

So I would just point out in passing

that if we were to stop self silencing

over the possibility that Asians will be demonized

over the possible lab leak in Wuhan

and to recognize that actually the natural course

of the story has a likely lab leak in China,

it has a unlikely hero in Japan,

the story is naturally not a simple one.

But in any case, Omura discovered this molecule.

He sent it to a friend who was at Merck,

scientist named Campbell.

They won a Nobel Prize for the discovery

of the Ivermectin molecule in 2015.

Its initial use was in treating parasitic infections.

It’s very effective in treating the worm

that causes river blindness,

the pathogen that causes elephantitis, scabies.

It’s a very effective anti parasite drug.

It’s extremely safe.

It’s on the WHO’s list of essential medications.

It’s safe for children.

It has been administered something like 4 billion times

in the last four decades.

It has been given away in the millions of doses

by Merck in Africa.

People have been on it for long periods of time.

And in fact, one of the reasons

that Africa may have had less severe impacts from COVID 19

is that Ivermectin is widely used there to prevent parasites

and the drug appears to have a long lasting impact.

So it’s an interesting molecule.

It was discovered some time ago apparently

that it has antiviral properties.

And so it was tested early in the COVID 19 pandemic

to see if it might work to treat humans with COVID.

It turned out to have very promising evidence

that it did treat humans.

It was tested in tissues.

It was tested at a very high dosage, which confuses people.

They think that those of us who believe

that Ivermectin might be useful in confronting this disease

are advocating those high doses, which is not the case.

But in any case, there have been quite a number of studies.

A wonderful meta analysis was finally released.

We had seen it in preprint version,

but it was finally peer reviewed and published this last week.

It reveals that the drug, as clinicians have been telling us,

those who have been using it,

it’s highly effective at treating people with the disease,

especially if you get to them early.

And it showed an 86% effectiveness as a prophylactic

to prevent people from contracting COVID.

And that number, 86%, is high enough

to drive SARS CoV2 to extinction if we wished to deploy it.

First of all, the meta analysis,

is this the Ivermectin for COVID 19

real time meta analysis of 60 studies?

Or there’s a bunch of meta analysis there.

Because I was really impressed by the real time meta analysis

that keeps getting updated.

I don’t know if it’s the same kind of thing.

The one at ivmmeta.com?

Well, I saw it at c19ivermeta.com.

No, this is not that meta analysis.

So that is, as you say, a living meta analysis

where you can watch as evidence rolls in.

Which is super cool, by the way.

It’s really cool.

And they’ve got some really nice graphics

that allow you to understand, well, what is the evidence?

It’s concentrated around this level of effectiveness,

et cetera.

So anyway, it’s a great site, well worth paying attention to.

No, this is a meta analysis.

I don’t know any of the authors but one.

Second author is Tess Lorry of the BIRD group.

BIRD being a group of analysts and doctors in Britain

that is playing a role similar to the FLCCC here in the US.

So anyway, this is a meta analysis

that Tess Lorry and others did

of all of the available evidence.

And it’s quite compelling.

People can look for it on my Twitter.

I will put it up and people can find it there.

So what about dose here?

In terms of safety, what do we understand

about the kind of dose required

to have that level of effectiveness?

And what do we understand about the safety

of that kind of dose?

So let me just say, I’m not a medical doctor.

I’m a biologist.

I’m on ivermectin in lieu of vaccination.

In terms of dosage, there is one reason for concern,

which is that the most effective dose for prophylaxis

involves something like weekly administration.

And because that is not a historical pattern of use

for the drug, it is possible

that there is some longterm implication

of being on it weekly for a long period of time.

There’s not a strong indication of that.

The safety signal that we have over people using the drug

over many years and using it in high doses.

In fact, Dr. Corey told me yesterday

that there are cases in which people

have made calculation errors

and taken a massive overdose of the drug

and had no ill effect.

So anyway, there’s lots of reasons

to think the drug is comparatively safe,

but no drug is perfectly safe.

And I do worry about the longterm implications

of taking it.

I also think it’s very likely

that because the drug is administered

in a dose something like, let’s say 15 milligrams

for somebody my size once a week

after you’ve gone through the initial double dose

that you take 48 hours apart,

it is apparent that if the amount of drug in your system

is sufficient to be protective at the end of the week,

then it was probably far too high

at the beginning of the week.

So there’s a question about whether or not

you could flatten out the intake

so that the amount of ivermectin goes down,

but the protection remains.

I have little doubt that that would be discovered

if we looked for it.

But that said, it does seem to be quite safe,

highly effective at preventing COVID.

The 86% number is plenty high enough

for us to drive SARS CoV2 to extinction

in light of its R0 number of slightly more than two.

And so why we are not using it is a bit of a mystery.

So even if everything you said now

turns out to be not correct,

it is nevertheless obvious that it’s sufficiently promising

and it always has been in order to merit rigorous

scientific exploration, investigation,

doing a lot of studies and certainly not censoring

the science or the discussion of it.

So before we talk about the various vaccines for COVID 19,

I’d like to talk to you about censorship.

Given everything you’re saying,

why did YouTube and other places

censor discussion of ivermectin?

Well, there’s a question about why they say they did it

and there’s a question about why they actually did it.

Now, it is worth mentioning

that YouTube is part of a consortium.

It is partnered with Twitter, Facebook, Reuters, AP,

Financial Times, Washington Post,

some other notable organizations.

And that this group has appointed itself

the arbiter of truth.

In effect, they have decided to control discussion

ostensibly to prevent the distribution of misinformation.

Now, how have they chosen to do that?

In this case, they have chosen to simply utilize

the recommendations of the WHO and the CDC

and apply them as if they are synonymous

with scientific truth.

Problem, even at their best,

the WHO and CDC are not scientific entities.

They are entities that are about public health.

And public health has this, whether it’s right or not,

and I believe I disagree with it,

but it has this self assigned right to lie

that comes from the fact that there is game theory

that works against, for example,

a successful vaccination campaign.

That if everybody else takes a vaccine

and therefore the herd becomes immune through vaccination

and you decide not to take a vaccine,

then you benefit from the immunity of the herd

without having taken the risk.

So people who do best are the people who opt out.

That’s a hazard.

And the WHO and CDC as public health entities

effectively oversimplify stories in order to make sense

of oversimplify stories in order that that game theory

does not cause a predictable tragedy of the commons.

With that said, once that right to lie exists,

then it turns out to serve the interests of,

for example, pharmaceutical companies,

which have emergency use authorizations

that require that there not be a safe

and effective treatment and have immunity from liability

for harms caused by their product.

So that’s a recipe for disaster, right?

You don’t need to be a sophisticated thinker

about complex systems to see the hazard

of immunizing a company from the harm of its own product

at the same time that that product can only exist

in the market if some other product that works better

somehow fails to be noticed.

So somehow YouTube is doing the bidding of Merck and others.

Whether it knows that that’s what it’s doing,

I have no idea.

I think this may be another case of an autopilot

that thinks it’s doing the right thing

because it’s parroting the corrupt wisdom

of the WHO and the CDC,

but the WHO and the CDC have been wrong again and again

in this pandemic.

And the irony here is that with YouTube coming after me,

well, my channel has been right where the WHO and CDC

have been wrong consistently over the whole pandemic.

So how is it that YouTube is censoring us

because the WHO and CDC disagree with us

when in fact, in past disagreements,

we’ve been right and they’ve been wrong?

There’s so much to talk about here.

So I’ve heard this many times actually

on the inside of YouTube and with colleagues

that I’ve talked with is they kind of in a very casual way

say their job is simply to slow

or prevent the spread of misinformation.

And they say like, that’s an easy thing to do.

Like to know what is true or not is an easy thing to do.

And so from the YouTube perspective,

I think they basically outsource of the task

of knowing what is true or not to public institutions

that on a basic Google search claim

to be the arbiters of truth.

So if you were YouTube who are exceptionally profitable

and exceptionally powerful in terms of controlling

what people get to see or not, what would you do?

Would you take a stand, a public stand

against the WHO, CDC?

Or would you instead say, you know what?

Let’s open the dam and let any video on anything fly.

What do you do here?

Say you were put, if Brent Weinstein was put in charge

of YouTube for a month in this most critical of times

where YouTube actually has incredible amounts of power

to educate the populace, to give power of knowledge

to the populace such that they can reform institutions.

What would you do?

How would you run YouTube?

Well, unfortunately, or fortunately,

this is actually quite simple.

The founders, the American founders,

settled on a counterintuitive formulation

that people should be free to say anything.

They should be free from the government

blocking them from doing so.

They did not imagine that in formulating that right,

that most of what was said would be of high quality,

nor did they imagine it would be free of harmful things.

What they correctly reasoned was that the benefit

of leaving everything so it can be said exceeds the cost,

which everyone understands to be substantial.

What I would say is they could not have anticipated

the impact, the centrality of platforms

like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, et cetera.

If they had, they would not have limited

the First Amendment as they did.

They clearly understood that the power of the federal

government was so great that it needed to be limited

by granting explicitly the right of citizens

to say anything.

In fact, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook may be more powerful

in this moment than the federal government

of their worst nightmares could have been.

The power that these entities have to control thought

and to shift civilization is so great

that we need to have those same protections.

It doesn’t mean that harmful things won’t be said,

but it means that nothing has changed

about the cost benefit analysis

of building the right to censor.

So if I were running YouTube,

the limit of what should be allowed

is the limit of the law, right?

If what you are doing is legal,

then it should not be YouTube’s place

to limit what gets said or who gets to hear it.

That is between speakers and audience.

Will harm come from that? Of course it will.

But will net harm come from it?

No, I don’t believe it will.

I believe that allowing everything to be said

does allow a process in which better ideas

do come to the fore and win out.

So you believe that in the end,

when there’s complete freedom to share ideas,

that truth will win out.

So what I’ve noticed, just as a brief side comment,

that certain things become viral

irregardless of their truth.

I’ve noticed that things that are dramatic and or funny,

like things that become memes are not,

don’t have to be grounded in truth.

And so that what worries me there

is that we basically maximize for drama

versus maximize for truth in a system

where everything is free.

And that is worrying in the time of emergency.

Well, yes, it’s all worrying in time of emergency,

to be sure.

But I want you to notice that what you’ve happened on

is actually an analog for a much deeper and older problem.

Human beings are the, we are not a blank slate,

but we are the blankest slate that nature has ever devised.

And there’s a reason for that, right?

It’s where our flexibility comes from.

We have effectively, we are robots

in which a large fraction of the cognitive capacity

has been, or of the behavioral capacity,

has been offloaded to the software layer,

which gets written and rewritten over evolutionary time.

That means effectively that much of what we are,

in fact, the important part of what we are

is housed in the cultural layer and the conscious layer

and not in the hardware hard coding layer.

So that layer is prone to make errors, right?

And anybody who’s watched a child grow up

knows that children make absurd errors all the time, right?

That’s part of the process, as we were discussing earlier.

It is also true that as you look across

a field of people discussing things,

a lot of what is said is pure nonsense, it’s garbage.

But the tendency of garbage to emerge

and even to spread in the short term

does not say that over the long term,

what sticks is not the valuable ideas.

So there is a high tendency for novelty

to be created in the cultural space,

but there’s also a high tendency for it to go extinct.

And you have to keep that in mind.

It’s not like the genome, right?

Everything is happening at a much higher rate.

Things are being created, they’re being destroyed.

And I can’t say that, I mean, obviously,

we’ve seen totalitarianism arise many times,

and it’s very destructive each time it does.

So it’s not like, hey, freedom to come up

with any idea you want hasn’t produced a whole lot of carnage.

But the question is, over time,

does it produce more open, fairer, more decent societies?

And I believe that it does.

I can’t prove it, but that does seem to be the pattern.

I believe so as well.

The thing is, in the short term, freedom of speech,

absolute freedom of speech can be quite destructive.

But you nevertheless have to hold on to that,

because in the long term, I think you and I, I guess,

are optimistic in the sense that good ideas will win out.

I don’t know how strongly I believe that it will work,

but I will say I haven’t heard a better idea.

I would also point out that there’s something

very significant in this question of the hubris involved

in imagining that you’re going to improve the discussion

by censoring, which is the majority of concepts

at the fringe are nonsense.

That’s automatic.

But the heterodoxy at the fringe,

which is indistinguishable at the beginning

from the nonsense ideas, is the key to progress.

So if you decide, hey, the fringe is 99% garbage,

let’s just get rid of it, right?

Hey, that’s a strong win.

We’re getting rid of 99% garbage for 1% something or other.

And the point is, yeah, but that 1% something or other

is the key.

You’re throwing out the key.

And so that’s what YouTube is doing.

Frankly, I think at the point that it started censoring

my channel, in the immediate aftermath

of this major reversal over LabLeak,

it should have looked at itself and said,

well, what the hell are we doing?

Who are we censoring?

We’re censoring somebody who was just right, right?

In a conflict with the very same people

on whose behalf we are now censoring, right?

That should have caused them to wake up.

So you said one approach, if you’re on YouTube,

is this basically let all videos go

that do not violate the law.

Well, I should fix that, okay?

I believe that that is the basic principle.

Eric makes an excellent point about the distinction

between ideas and personal attacks,

doxxing, these other things.

So I agree, there’s no value in allowing people

to destroy each other’s lives,

even if there’s a technical legal defense for it.

Now, how you draw that line, I don’t know.

But what I’m talking about is,

yes, people should be free to traffic in bad ideas,

and they should be free to expose that the ideas are bad.

And hopefully that process results

in better ideas winning out.

Yeah, there’s an interesting line between ideas,

like the earth is flat,

which I believe you should not censor.

And then you start to encroach on personal attacks.

So not doxxing, yes, but not even getting to that.

There’s a certain point where it’s like,

that’s no longer ideas, that’s more,

that’s somehow not productive, even if it’s wrong.

It feels like believing the earth is flat

is somehow productive,

because maybe there’s a tiny percent chance it is.

It just feels like personal attacks, it doesn’t,

well, I’m torn on this

because there’s assholes in this world,

there’s fraudulent people in this world.

So sometimes personal attacks are useful to reveal that,

but there’s a line you can cross.

There’s a comedy where people make fun of others.

I think that’s amazing, that’s very powerful,

and that’s very useful, even if it’s painful.

But then there’s like, once it gets to be,

yeah, there’s a certain line,

it’s a gray area where you cross,

where it’s no longer in any possible world productive.

And that’s a really weird gray area

for YouTube to operate in.

And that feels like it should be a crowdsource thing,

where people vote on it.

But then again, do you trust the majority to vote

on what is crossing the line and not?

I mean, this is where,

this is really interesting on this particular,

like the scientific aspect of this.

Do you think YouTube should take more of a stance,

not censoring, but to actually have scientists

within YouTube having these kinds of discussions,

and then be able to almost speak out in a transparent way,

this is what we’re going to let this video stand,

but here’s all these other opinions.

Almost like take a more active role

in its recommendation system,

in trying to present a full picture to you.

Right now they’re not,

the recommender systems are not human fine tuned.

They’re all based on how you click,

and there’s this clustering algorithms.

They’re not taking an active role

on giving you the full spectrum of ideas

in the space of science.

They just censor or not.

Well, at the moment,

it’s gonna be pretty hard to compel me

that these people should be trusted

with any sort of curation or comment

on matters of evidence,

because they have demonstrated

that they are incapable of doing it well.

You could make such an argument,

and I guess I’m open to the idea of institutions

that would look something like YouTube,

that would be capable of offering something valuable.

I mean, and even just the fact of them

literally curating things and putting some videos

next to others implies something.

So yeah, there’s a question to be answered,

but at the moment, no.

At the moment, what it is doing

is quite literally putting not only individual humans

in tremendous jeopardy by censoring discussion

of useful tools and making tools that are more hazardous

than has been acknowledged seem safe, right?

But it is also placing humanity in danger

of a permanent relationship with this pathogen.

I cannot emphasize enough how expensive that is.

It’s effectively incalculable.

If the relationship becomes permanent,

the number of people who will ultimately suffer

and die from it is indefinitely large.

Yeah, currently the algorithm is very rabbit hole driven,

meaning if you click on Flat Earth videos,

that’s all you’re going to be presented with

and you’re not going to be nicely presented

with arguments against the Flat Earth.

And the flip side of that,

if you watch like quantum mechanics videos

or no, general relativity videos,

it’s very rare you’re going to get a recommendation.

Have you considered the Earth is flat?

And I think you should have both.

Same with vaccine.

Videos that present the power and the incredible

like biology, genetics, virology about the vaccine,

you’re rarely going to get videos

from well respected scientific minds

presenting possible dangers of the vaccine.

And the vice versa is true as well,

which is if you’re looking at the dangers of the vaccine

on YouTube, you’re not going to get the highest quality

of videos recommended to you.

And I’m not talking about like manually inserted CDC videos

that are like the most untrustworthy things

you can possibly watch about how everybody

should take the vaccine, it’s the safest thing ever.

No, it’s about incredible, again, MIT colleagues of mine,

incredible biologists, virologists that talk about

the details of how the mRNA vaccines work

and all those kinds of things.

I think maybe this is me with the AI hat on,

is I think the algorithm can fix a lot of this

and YouTube should build better algorithms

and trust that to a couple of complete freedom of speech

to expand what people are able to think about,

present always varied views,

not balanced in some artificial way, hard coded way,

but balanced in a way that’s crowdsourced.

I think that’s an algorithm problem that can be solved

because then you can delegate it to the algorithm

as opposed to this hard code censorship

of basically creating artificial boundaries

on what can and can’t be discussed,

instead creating a full spectrum of exploration

that can be done and trusting the intelligence of people

to do the exploration.

Well, there’s a lot there.

I would say we have to keep in mind

that we’re talking about a publicly held company

with shareholders and obligations to them

and that that may make it impossible.

And I remember many years ago,

back in the early days of Google,

I remember a sense of terror at the loss of general search.

It used to be that Google, if you searched,

came up with the same thing for everyone

and then it got personalized and for a while

it was possible to turn off the personalization,

which was still not great

because if everybody else is looking

at a personalized search and you can tune into one

that isn’t personalized, that doesn’t tell you

why the world is sounding the way it is.

But nonetheless, it was at least an option.

And then that vanished.

And the problem is I think this is literally deranging us.

That in effect, I mean, what you’re describing

is unthinkable.

It is unthinkable that in the face of a campaign

to vaccinate people in order to reach herd immunity

that YouTube would give you videos on hazards of vaccines

when this is, how hazardous the vaccines are

is an unsettled question.

Why is it unthinkable?

That doesn’t make any sense from a company perspective.

If intelligent people in large amounts are open minded

and are thinking through the hazards

and the benefits of a vaccine, a company should find

the best videos to present what people are thinking about.

Well, let’s come up with a hypothetical.

Okay, let’s come up with a very deadly disease

for which there’s a vaccine that is very safe,

though not perfectly safe.

And we are then faced with YouTube trying to figure out

what to do for somebody searching on vaccine safety.

Suppose it is necessary in order to drive

the pathogen to extinction, something like smallpox,

that people get on board with the vaccine.

But there’s a tiny fringe of people who thinks

that the vaccine is a mind control agent.

So should YouTube direct people to the only claims

against this vaccine, which is that it’s a mind control

agent when in fact the vaccine is very safe,

whatever that means.

If that were the actual configuration of the puzzle,

then YouTube would be doing active harm,

pointing you to this other video potentially.

Now, yes, I would love to live in a world where people

are up to the challenge of sorting that out.

But my basic point would be, if it’s an evidentiary

question, and there is essentially no evidence

that the vaccine is a mind control agent,

and there’s plenty of evidence that the vaccine is safe,

then while you look for this video,

we’re gonna give you this one, puts it on a par, right?

So for the mind that’s tracking how much thought

is there behind it’s safe versus how much thought

is there behind it’s a mind control agent

will result in artificially elevating this.

Now in the current case, what we’ve seen is not this at all.

We have seen evidence obscured in order to create

a false story about safety.

And we saw the inverse with ivermectin.

We saw a campaign to portray the drug as more dangerous

and less effective than the evidence

clearly suggested it was.

So we’re not talking about a comparable thing,

but I guess my point is the algorithmic solution

that you point to creates a problem of its own,

which is that it means that the way to get exposure

is to generate something fringy.

If you’re the only thing on some fringe,

then suddenly YouTube would be recommending those things,

and that’s obviously a gameable system at best.

Yeah, but the solution to that,

I know you’re creating a thought experiment,

maybe playing a little bit of a devil’s advocate.

I think the solution to that is not to limit the algorithm

in the case of the super deadly virus.

It’s for the scientists to step up

and become better communicators, more charismatic,

fight the battle of ideas, sort of create better videos.

Like if the virus is truly deadly,

you have a lot more ammunition, a lot more data,

a lot more material to work with

in terms of communicating with the public.

So be better at communicating and stop being,

you have to start trusting the intelligence of people

and also being transparent

and playing the game of the internet,

which is like, what is the internet hungry for, I believe?

Authenticity, stop looking like you’re full of shit.

The scientific community,

if there’s any flaw that I currently see,

especially the people that are in public office,

that like Anthony Fauci,

they look like they’re full of shit

and I know they’re brilliant.

Why don’t they look more authentic?

So they’re losing that game

and I think a lot of people observing this entire system now,

younger scientists are seeing this and saying,

okay, if I want to continue being a scientist

in the public eye and I want to be effective at my job,

I’m gonna have to be a lot more authentic.

So they’re learning the lesson,

this evolutionary system is working.

So there’s just a younger generation of minds coming up

that I think will do a much better job

in this battle of ideas

that when the much more dangerous virus comes along,

they’ll be able to be better communicators.

At least that’s the hope.

Using the algorithm to control that is,

I feel like is a big problem.

So you’re going to have the same problem with a deadly virus

as with the current virus

if you let YouTube draw hard lines

by the PR and the marketing people

versus the broad community of scientists.

Well, in some sense you’re suggesting something

that’s close kin to what I was saying

about freedom of expression ultimately

provides an advantage to better ideas.

So I’m in agreement broadly speaking,

but I would also say there’s probably some sort of,

let’s imagine the world that you propose

where YouTube shows you the alternative point of view.

That has the problem that I suggest,

but one thing you could do is you could give us the tools

to understand what we’re looking at, right?

You could give us,

so first of all, there’s something I think myopic,

solipsistic, narcissistic about an algorithm

that serves shareholders by showing you what you want to see

rather than what you need to know, right?

That’s the distinction is flattering you,

playing to your blind spot

is something that algorithm will figure out,

but it’s not healthy for us all

to have Google playing to our blind spot.

It’s very, very dangerous.

So what I really want is analytics that allow me

or maybe options and analytics.

The options should allow me to see

what alternative perspectives are being explored, right?

So here’s the thing I’m searching

and it leads me down this road, right?

Let’s say it’s ivermectin, okay?

I find all of this evidence that ivermectin works.

I find all of these discussions

and people talk about various protocols and this and that.

And then I could say, all right, what is the other side?

And I could see who is searching, not as individuals,

but what demographics are searching alternatives.

And maybe you could even combine it

with something Reddit like where effectively,

let’s say that there was a position that, I don’t know,

that a vaccine is a mind control device

and you could have a steel man this argument competition

effectively and the better answers that steel man

and as well as possible would rise to the top.

And so you could read the top three or four explanations

about why this really credibly is a mind control product.

And you can say, well, that doesn’t really add up.

I can check these three things myself

and they can’t possibly be right, right?

And you could dismiss it.

And then as an argument that was credible,

let’s say plate tectonics before

that was an accepted concept,

you’d say, wait a minute,

there is evidence for plate tectonics.

As crazy as it sounds that the continents

are floating around on liquid,

actually that’s not so implausible.

We’ve got these subduction zones,

we’ve got a geology that is compatible,

we’ve got puzzle piece continents

that seem to fit together.

Wow, that’s a surprising amount of evidence

for that position.

So I’m gonna file some Bayesian probability with it

that’s updated for the fact that actually

the steel man arguments better than I was expecting, right?

So I could imagine something like that

where A, I would love the search to be indifferent

to who’s searching, right?

The solipsistic thing is too dangerous.

So the search could be general,

so we would all get a sense

for what everybody else was seeing too.

And then some layer that didn’t have anything to do

with what YouTube points you to or not,

but allowed you to see, you know,

the general pattern of adherence

to searching for information.

And again, a layer in which those things could be defended.

So you could hear what a good argument sounded like

rather than just hear a caricatured argument.

Yeah, and also reward people,

creators that have demonstrated

like a track record of open mindedness

and correctness as much as it could be measured

over a long term and sort of,

I mean, a lot of this maps

to incentivizing good longterm behavior,

not immediate kind of dopamine rush kind of signals.

I think ultimately the algorithm on the individual level

should optimize for personal growth,

longterm happiness, just growth intellectually,

growth in terms of lifestyle personally and so on,

as opposed to immediate.

I think that’s going to build a better society,

not even just like truth,

because I think truth is a complicated thing.

It’s more just you growing as a person,

exploring the space of ideas, changing your mind often,

increasing the level to which you’re open minded,

the knowledge base you’re operating from,

the willingness to empathize with others,

all those kinds of things the algorithm should optimize for.

Like creating a better human at the individual level

that you’re, I think that’s a great business model

because the person that’s using this tool

will then be happier with themselves for having used it

and will be a lifelong quote unquote customer.

I think it’s a great business model

to make a happy, open minded, knowledgeable,

better human being.

It’s a terrible business model under the current system.

What you want is to build the system

in which it is a great business model.

Why is it a terrible model?

Because it will be decimated by those

who play to the short term.

I don’t think so.


I mean, I think we’re living it.

We’re living it.

Well, no, because if you have the alternative

that presents itself,

it points out the emperor has no clothes.

I mean, it points out that YouTube is operating in this way,

Twitter is operating in this way,

Facebook is operating in this way.

How long term would you like the wisdom to prove at?

Well, even a week is better when it’s currently happening.

Right, but the problem is,

if a week loses out to an hour, right?

And I don’t think it loses out.

It loses out in the short term.

That’s my point.

At least you’re a great communicator

and you basically say, look, here’s the metrics.

And a lot of it is like how people actually feel.

Like this is what people experience with social media.

They look back at the previous month and say,

I felt shitty on a lot of days because of social media.


If you look back at the previous few weeks and say,

wow, I’m a better person because of that month happened.

That’s, they immediately choose the product

that’s going to lead to that.

That’s what love for products looks like.

If you love, like a lot of people love their Tesla car,

like that’s, or iPhone or like beautiful design.

That’s what love looks like.

You look back, I’m a better person

for having used this thing.

Well, you got to ask yourself the question though,

if this is such a great business model,

why isn’t it devolving?

Why don’t we see it?

Honestly, it’s competence.

It’s like people are just, it’s not easy to build new,

it’s not easy to build products, tools, systems

on new ideas.

It’s kind of a new idea.

We’ve gone through this, everything we’re seeing now

comes from the ideas of the initial birth of the internet.

There just needs to be new sets of tools

that are incentivizing long term personal growth

and happiness.

That’s it.

Right, but what we have is a market

that doesn’t favor this, right?

I mean, for one thing, we had an alternative to Facebook,

right, that looked, you owned your own data,

it wasn’t exploitative and Facebook bought

a huge interest in it and it died.

I mean, who do you know who’s on diaspora?

The execution there was not good.

Right, but it could have gotten better, right?

I don’t think that the argument that why hasn’t somebody

done it a good argument for it’s not going to completely

destroy all of Twitter and Facebook when somebody does it

or Twitter will catch up and pivot to the algorithm.

This is not what I’m saying.

There’s obviously great ideas that remain unexplored

because nobody has gotten to the foothill

that would allow you to explore them.

That’s true, but you know, an internet

that was non predatory is an obvious idea

and many of us know that we want it

and many of us have seen prototypes of it

and we don’t move because there’s no audience there.

So the network effects cause you to stay

with the predatory internet.

But let me just, I wasn’t kidding about build the system

in which your idea is a great business plan.

So in our upcoming book, Heather and I in our last chapter

explore something called the fourth frontier

and fourth frontier has to do with sort of a 2.0 version

of civilization, which we freely admit

we can’t tell you very much about.

It’s something that would have to be,

we would have to prototype our way there.

We would have to effectively navigate our way there.

But the result would be very much

like what you’re describing.

It would be something that effectively liberates humans

meaningfully and most importantly,

it has to feel like growth without depending on growth.

In other words, human beings are creatures

that like every other creature

is effectively looking for growth, right?

We are looking for underexploited

or unexploited opportunities and when we find them,

our ancestors for example, they happen into a new valley

that was unexplored by people.

Their population would grow until it hit carrying capacity.

So there would be this great feeling of there’s abundance

until you hit carrying capacity, which is inevitable

and then zero sum dynamics would set in.

So in order for human beings to flourish longterm,

the way to get there is to satisfy the desire for growth

without hooking it to actual growth,

which only moves and fits and starts.

And this is actually, I believe the key

to avoiding these spasms of human tragedy

when in the absence of growth,

people do something that causes their population

to experience growth, which is they go and make war on

or commit genocide against some other population,

which is something we obviously have to stop.

By the way, this is a hunter gatherers guide

to the 21st century coauthored.

That’s right.

With your wife, Heather, being released in September.

I believe you said you’re going to do

a little bit of a preview videos on each chapter

leading up to the release.

So I’m looking forward to the last chapter

as well as all the previous ones.

I have a few questions on that.

So you generally have faith to clarify that technology

could be the thing that empowers this kind of future.

Well, if you just let technology evolve,

it’s going to be our undoing, right?

One of the things that I fault my libertarian friends for

is this faith that the market is going to find solutions

without destroying us.

And my sense is I’m a very strong believer in markets.

I believe in their power

even above some market fundamentalists.

But what I don’t believe is that they should be allowed

to plot our course, right?

Markets are very good at figuring out how to do things.

They are not good at all about figuring out

what we should do, right?

What we should want.

We have to tell markets what we want

and then they can tell us how to do it best.

And if we adopted that kind of pro market

but in a context where it’s not steering,

where human wellbeing is actually the driver,

we can do remarkable things.

And the technology that emerges

would naturally be enhancing of human wellbeing.

Perfectly so?

No, but overwhelmingly so.

But at the moment, markets are finding

our every defective character and exploiting them

and making huge profits

and making us worse to each other in the process.

Before we leave COVID 19,

let me ask you about a very difficult topic,

which is the vaccines.

So I took the Pfizer vaccine, the two shots.

You did not.

You have been taking ivermectin.


So one of the arguments

against the discussion of ivermectin

is that it prevents people

from being fully willing to get the vaccine.

How would you compare ivermectin

and the vaccine for COVID 19?

All right, that’s a good question.

I would say, first of all,

there are some hazards with the vaccine

that people need to be aware of.

There are some things that we cannot rule out

and for which there is some evidence.

The two that I think people should be tracking

is the possibility, some would say a likelihood,

that a vaccine of this nature,

that is to say very narrowly focused on a single antigen,

is an evolutionary pressure

that will drive the emergence of variants

that will escape the protection

that comes from the vaccine.

So this is a hazard.

It is a particular hazard in light of the fact

that these vaccines have a substantial number

of breakthrough cases.

So one danger is that a person who has been vaccinated

will shed viruses that are specifically less visible

or invisible to the immunity created by the vaccines.

So we may be creating the next pandemic

by applying the pressure of vaccines

at a point that it doesn’t make sense to.

The other danger has to do with something called

antibody dependent enhancement,

which is something that we see in certain diseases

like dengue fever.

You may know that dengue, one gets a case,

and then their second case is much more devastating.

So break bone fever is when you get your second case

of dengue, and dengue effectively utilizes

the immune response that is produced by prior exposure

to attack the body in ways that it is incapable

of doing before exposure.

So this is apparently, this pattern has apparently blocked

past efforts to make vaccines against coronaviruses.

Whether it will happen here or not,

it is still too early to say.

But before we even get to the question

of harm done to individuals by these vaccines,

we have to ask about what the overall impact is going to be.

And it’s not clear in the way people think it is

that if we vaccinate enough people, the pandemic will end.

It could be that we vaccinate people

and make the pandemic worse.

And while nobody can say for sure

that that’s where we’re headed,

it is at least something to be aware of.

So don’t vaccines usually create

that kind of evolutionary pressure

to create deadlier, different strains of the virus?

So is there something particular with these mRNA vaccines

that’s uniquely dangerous in this regard?

Well, it’s not even just the mRNA vaccines.

The mRNA vaccines and the adenovector DNA vaccine

all share the same vulnerability,

which is they are very narrowly focused

on one subunit of the spike protein.

So that is a very concentrated evolutionary signal.

We are also deploying it in mid pandemic

and it takes time for immunity to develop.

So part of the problem here,

if you inoculated a population before encounter

with a pathogen, then there might be substantially

enough immunity to prevent this phenomenon from happening.

But in this case, we are inoculating people

as they are encountering those who are sick with the disease.

And what that means is the disease is now faced

with a lot of opportunities

to effectively evolutionarily practice escape strategies.

So one thing is the timing,

the other thing is the narrow focus.

Now in a traditional vaccine,

you would typically not have one antigen, right?

You would have basically a virus full of antigens

and the immune system would therefore

produce a broader response.

So that is the case for people who have had COVID, right?

They have an immunity that is broader

because it wasn’t so focused

on one part of the spike protein.

So anyway, there is something unique here.

So these platforms create that special hazard.

They also have components that we haven’t used before

in people.

So for example, the lipid nanoparticles

that coat the RNAs are distributing themselves

around the body in a way that will have unknown consequences.

So anyway, there’s reason for concern.

Is it possible for you to steel man the argument

that everybody should get vaccinated?

Of course.

The argument that everybody should get vaccinated

is that nothing is perfectly safe.

Phase three trials showed good safety for the vaccines.

Now that may or may not be actually true,

but what we saw suggested high degree of efficacy

and a high degree of safety for the vaccines

that inoculating people quickly

and therefore dropping the landscape of available victims

for the pathogen to a very low number

so that herd immunity drives it to extinction

requires us all to take our share of the risk

and that because driving it to extinction

should be our highest priority that really

people shouldn’t think too much about the various nuances

because overwhelmingly fewer people will die

if the population is vaccinated from the vaccine

than will die from COVID if they’re not vaccinated.

And with the vaccine as it currently is being deployed,

that is a quite a likely scenario

that everything, you know, the virus will fade away.

In the following sense that the probability

that a more dangerous strain will be created is nonzero,

but it’s not 50%, it’s something smaller.

And so the most likely, well, I don’t know,

maybe you disagree with that,

but the scenario we’re most likely to see now

that the vaccine is here is that the virus,

the effects of the virus will fade away.

First of all, I don’t believe that the probability

of creating a worse pandemic is low enough to discount.

I think the probability is fairly high

and frankly, we are seeing a wave of variants

that we will have to do a careful analysis

to figure out what exactly that has to do

with campaigns of vaccination,

where they have been, where they haven’t been,

where the variants emerged from.

But I believe that what we are seeing is a disturbing pattern

that reflects that those who were advising caution

may well have been right.

The data here, by the way, and the small tangent is terrible.

Terrible, right.

And why is it terrible is another question, right?

This is where I started getting angry.


It’s like, there’s an obvious opportunity

for exceptionally good data, for exceptionally rigorous,

like even the self, like the website for self reporting,

side effects for, not side effects,

but negative effects, right?

Adverse events.

Adverse events, sorry, for the vaccine.

Like, there’s many things I could say

from both the study perspective,

but mostly, let me just put on my hat of like HTML

and like web design.

Like, it’s like the worst website.

It makes it so unpleasant to report.

It makes it so unclear what you’re reporting.

If somebody actually has serious effect,

like if you have very mild effects,

what are the incentives for you to even use

that crappy website with many pages and forms

that don’t make any sense?

If you have adverse effects,

what are the incentives for you to use that website?

What is the trust that you have

that this information will be used well?

All those kinds of things.

And the data about who’s getting vaccinated,

anonymized data about who’s getting vaccinated,

where, when, with what vaccine,

coupled with the adverse effects,

all of that we should be collecting.

Instead, we’re completely not.

We’re doing it in a crappy way

and using that crappy data to make conclusions

that you then twist.

You’re basically collecting in a way

that can arrive at whatever conclusions you want.

And the data is being collected by the institutions,

by governments, and so therefore,

it’s obviously they’re going to try

to construct any kind of narratives they want

based on this crappy data.

Reminds me of much of psychology, the field that I love,

but is flawed in many fundamental ways.

So rant over, but coupled with the dangers

that you’re speaking to,

we don’t have even the data to understand the dangers.

Yeah, I’m gonna pick up on your rant and say,

we, estimates of the degree of underreporting in VAERS

are that it is 10% of the real to 100%.

And that’s the system for reporting.

Yeah, the VAERS system is the system

for reporting adverse events.

So in the US, we have above 5,000 unexpected deaths

that seem in time to be associated with vaccination.

That is an undercount, almost certainly,

and by a large factor.

We don’t know how large.

I’ve seen estimates, 25,000 dead in the US alone.

Now, you can make the argument that, okay,

that’s a large number,

but the necessity of immunizing the population

to drive SARS CoV2 to extinction

is such that it’s an acceptable number.

But I would point out

that that actually does not make any sense.

And the reason it doesn’t make any sense

is actually there are several reasons.

One, if that was really your point,

that yes, many, many people are gonna die,

but many more will die if we don’t do this.

Were that your approach,

you would not be inoculating people who had had COVID 19,

which is a large population.

There’s no reason to expose those people to danger.

Their risk of adverse events

in the case that they have them is greater.

So there’s no reason that we would be allowing

those people to face a risk of death

if this was really about an acceptable number of deaths

arising out of this set of vaccines.

I would also point out

there’s something incredibly bizarre.

And I struggle to find language that is strong enough

for the horror of vaccinating children in this case

because children suffer a greater risk of longterm effects

because they are going to live longer.

And because this is earlier in their development,

therefore it impacts systems that are still forming.

They tolerate COVID well.

And so the benefit to them is very small.

And so the only argument for doing this

is that they may cryptically be carrying more COVID

than we think, and therefore they may be integral

to the way the virus spreads to the population.

But if that’s the reason that we are inoculating children,

and there has been some revision in the last day or two

about the recommendation on this

because of the adverse events

that have shown up in children,

but to the extent that we were vaccinating children,

we were doing it to protect old, infirm people

who are the most likely to succumb to COVID 19.

What society puts children in danger,

robs children of life to save old, infirm people?

That’s upside down.

So there’s something about the way we are going about

vaccinating, who we are vaccinating,

what dangers we are pretending don’t exist

that suggests that to some set of people,

vaccinating people is a good in and of itself,

that that is the objective of the exercise,

not herd immunity.

And the last thing, and I’m sorry,

I don’t wanna prevent you from jumping in here,

but the second reason, in addition to the fact

that we’re exposing people to danger

that we should not be exposing them to.

By the way, as a tiny tangent,

another huge part of this soup

that should have been part of it

that’s an incredible solution is large scale testing.

Mm hmm.

But that might be another couple hour conversation,

but there’s these solutions that are obvious

that were available from the very beginning.

So you could argue that iveractin is not that obvious,

but maybe the whole point is you have aggressive,

very fast research that leads to a meta analysis

and then large scale production and deployment.

Okay, at least that possibility

should be seriously considered,

coupled with a serious consideration

of large scale deployment of testing,

at home testing that could have accelerated

the speed at which we reached that herd immunity.

But I don’t even wanna.

Well, let me just say, I am also completely shocked

that we did not get on high quality testing early

and that we are still suffering from this even now,

because just the simple ability to track

where the virus moves between people

would tell us a lot about its mode of transmission,

which would allow us to protect ourselves better.

Instead, that information was hard won

and for no good reason.

So I also find this mysterious.

You’ve spoken with Eric Weinstein, your brother,

on his podcast, The Portal,

about the ideas that eventually led to the paper

you published titled, The Reserved Capacity Hypothesis.

I think first, can you explain this paper

and the ideas that led up to it?

Sure, easier to explain the conclusion of the paper.

There’s a question about why a creature

that can replace its cells with new cells

grows feeble and inefficient with age.

We call that process, which is otherwise called aging,

we call it senescence.

And senescence, in this paper, it is hypothesized,

is the unavoidable downside of a cancer prevention

feature of our bodies.

That each cell has a limit on the number of times

it can divide.

There are a few cells in the body that are exceptional,

but most of our cells can only divide

a limited number of times.

That’s called the Hayflick limit.

And the Hayflick limit reduces the ability

of the organism to replace tissues.

It therefore results in a failure over time

of maintenance and repair.

And that explains why we become decrepit as we grow old.

The question was why would that be,

especially in light of the fact that the mechanism

that seems to limit the ability of cells to reproduce

is something called a telomere.

Telomere is a, it’s not a gene, but it’s a DNA sequence

at the ends of our chromosomes

that is just simply repetitive.

And the number of repeats functions like a counter.

So there’s a number of repeats that you have

after development is finished.

And then each time the cell divides a little bit

of telomere is lost.

And at the point that the telomere becomes critically short,

the cell stops dividing even though it still has

the capacity to do so.

Stops dividing and it starts transcribing different genes

than it did when it had more telomere.

So what my work did was it looked at the fact

that the telomeric shortening was being studied

by two different groups.

It was being studied by people who were interested

in counteracting the aging process.

And it was being studied in exactly the opposite fashion

by people who were interested in tumorigenesis and cancer.

The thought being because it was true that when one looked

into tumors, they always had telomerase active.

That’s the enzyme that lengthens our telomeres.

So those folks were interested in bringing about a halt

to the lengthening of telomeres

in order to counteract cancer.

And the folks who were studying the senescence process

were interested in lengthening telomeres

in order to generate greater repair capacity.

And my point was evolutionarily speaking,

this looks like a pleiotropic effect

that the genes which create the tendency of the cells

to be limited in their capacity to replace themselves

are providing a benefit in youth,

which is that we are largely free of tumors and cancer

at the inevitable late life cost that we grow feeble

and inefficient and eventually die.

And that matches a very old hypothesis in evolutionary theory

by somebody I was fortunate enough to know, George Williams,

one of the great 20th century evolutionists

who argued that senescence would have to be caused

by pleiotropic genes that cause early life benefits

at unavoidable late life costs.

And although this isn’t the exact nature of the system,

he predicted it matches what he was expecting

in many regards to a shocking degree.

That said, the focus of the paper is about the,

well, let me just read the abstract.

We observed that captive rodent breeding protocols designed,

this is the end of the abstract.

We observed that captive rodent breeding protocols

designed to increase reproductive output,

simultaneously exert strong selection

against reproductive senescence

and virtually eliminate selection

that would otherwise favor tumor suppression.

This appears to have greatly elongated

the telomeres of laboratory mice.

With their telomeric failsafe effectively disabled,

these animals are unreliable models

of normal senescence and tumor formation.

So basically using these mice is not going to lead

to the right kinds of conclusions.

Safety tests employing these animals

likely overestimate cancer risks

and underestimate tissue damage

and consequent accelerated senescence.

So I think, especially with your discussion with Eric,

the conclusion of this paper has to do with the fact that,

like we shouldn’t be using these mice to test the safety

or to make conclusions about cancer or senescence.

Is that the basic takeaway?

Like basically saying that the length of these telomeres

is an important variable to consider.

Well, let’s put it this way.

I think there was a reason that the world of scientists

who was working on telomeres

did not spot the pleiotropic relationship

that was the key argument in my paper.

The reason they didn’t spot it was that there was a result

that everybody knew, which seemed inconsistent.

The result was that mice have very long telomeres,

but they do not have very long lives.

Now, we can talk about what the actual meaning

of don’t have very long lives is,

but in the end, I was confronted with a hypothesis

that would explain a great many features

of the way mammals and indeed vertebrates age,

but it was inconsistent with one result.

And at first I thought,

maybe there’s something wrong with the result.

Maybe this is one of these cases

where the result was achieved once

through some bad protocol and everybody else

was repeating it, didn’t turn out to be the case.

Many laboratories had established

that mice had ultra long telomeres.

And so I began to wonder whether or not

there was something about the breeding protocols

that generated these mice.

And what that would predict is that the mice

that have long telomeres would be laboratory mice

and that wild mice would not.

And Carol Greider, who agreed to collaborate with me,

tested that hypothesis and showed that it was indeed true,

that wild derived mice, or at least mice

that had been in captivity for a much shorter period of time

did not have ultra long telomeres.

Now, what this implied though, as you read,

is that our breeding protocols

generate lengthening of telomeres.

And the implication of that is that the animals

that have these very long telomeres

will be hyper prone to create tumors.

They will be extremely resistant to toxins

because they have effectively an infinite capacity

to replace any damaged tissue.

And so ironically, if you give one of these

ultra long telomere lab mice a toxin,

if the toxin doesn’t outright kill it,

it may actually increase its lifespan

because it functions as a kind of chemotherapy.

So the reason that chemotherapy works

is that dividing cells are more vulnerable

than cells that are not dividing.

And so if this mouse has effectively

had its cancer protection turned off,

and it has cells dividing too rapidly,

and you give it a toxin, you will slow down its tumors

faster than you harm its other tissues.

And so you’ll get a paradoxical result

that actually some drug that’s toxic

seems to benefit the mouse.

Now, I don’t think that that was understood

before I published my paper.

Now I’m pretty sure it has to be.

And the problem is that this actually is a system

that serves pharmaceutical companies

that have the difficult job of bringing compounds to market,

many of which will be toxic.

Maybe all of them will be toxic.

And these mice predispose our system

to declare these toxic compounds safe.

And in fact, I believe we’ve seen the errors

that result from using these mice a number of times,

most famously with Vioxx, which turned out

to do conspicuous heart damage.

Why do you think this paper and this idea

has not gotten significant traction?

Well, my collaborator, Carol Greider,

said something to me that rings in my ears to this day.

She initially, after she showed that laboratory mice

have anomalously long telomeres

and that wild mice don’t have long telomeres,

I asked her where she was going to publish that result

so that I could cite it in my paper.

And she said that she was going to keep the result in house

rather than publish it.

And at the time, I was a young graduate student.

I didn’t really understand what she was saying.

But in some sense, the knowledge that a model organism

is broken in a way that creates the likelihood

that certain results will be reliably generateable,

you can publish a paper and make a big splash

with such a thing, or you can exploit the fact

that you know how those models will misbehave

and other people don’t.

So there’s a question, if somebody is motivated cynically

and what they want to do is appear to have deeper insight

into biology because they predict things

better than others do, knowing where the flaw is

so that your predictions come out true is advantageous.

At the same time, I can’t help but imagine

that the pharmaceutical industry,

when it figured out that the mice were predisposed

to suggest that drugs were safe,

didn’t leap to fix the problem because in some sense,

it was the perfect cover for the difficult job

of bringing drugs to market and then discovering

their actual toxicity profile, right?

This made things look safer than they were

and I believe a lot of profits

have likely been generated downstream.

So to kind of play devil’s advocate,

it’s also possible that this particular,

the length of the telomeres is not a strong variable

for the drug development and for the conclusions

that Carol and others have been studying.

Is it possible for that to be the case?

So one reason she and others could be ignoring this

is because it’s not a strong variable.

Well, I don’t believe so and in fact,

at the point that I went to publish my paper,

Carol published her result.

She did so in a way that did not make a huge splash.

Did she, I apologize if I don’t know how,

what was the emphasis of her publication of that paper?

Was it purely just kind of showing data

or is there more, because in your paper,

there’s a kind of more of a philosophical statement as well.

Well, my paper was motivated by interest

in the evolutionary dynamics around senescence.

I wasn’t pursuing grants or anything like that.

I was just working on a puzzle I thought was interesting.

Carol has, of course, gone on to win a Nobel Prize

for her co discovery with Elizabeth Greider

of telomerase, the enzyme that lengthens telomeres.

But anyway, she’s a heavy hitter in the academic world.

I don’t know exactly what her purpose was.

I do know that she told me she wasn’t planning to publish

and I do know that I discovered that she was

in the process of publishing very late

and when I asked her to send me the paper

to see whether or not she had put evidence in it

that the hypothesis had come from me,

she grudgingly sent it to me

and my name was nowhere mentioned

and she broke contact at that point.

What it is that motivated her, I don’t know,

but I don’t think it can possibly be

that this result is unimportant.

The fact is, the reason I called her in the first place,

an established contact that generated our collaboration,

was that she was a leading light in the field

of telomeric studies and because of that,

this question about whether the model organisms

are distorting the understanding

of the functioning of telomeres, it’s central.

Do you feel like you’ve been,

as a young graduate student, do you think Carol

or do you think the scientific community

broadly screwed you over in some way?

I don’t think of it in those terms.

Probably partly because it’s not productive

but I have a complex relationship with this story.

On the one hand, I’m livid with Carol Greider

for what she did.

She absolutely pretended that I didn’t exist in this story

and I don’t think I was a threat to her.

My interest was as an evolutionary biologist,

I had made an evolutionary contribution,

she had tested a hypothesis and frankly,

I think it would have been better for her

if she had acknowledged what I had done.

I think it would have enhanced her work

and I was, let’s put it this way,

when I watched her Nobel lecture,

and I should say there’s been a lot of confusion

about this Nobel stuff.

I’ve never said that I should have gotten a Nobel prize.

People have misportrayed that.

In listening to her lecture,

I had one of the most bizarre emotional experiences

of my life because she presented the work

that resulted from my hypothesis.

She presented it as she had in her paper

with no acknowledgement of where it had come from

and she had in fact portrayed the distortion

of the telomeres as if it were a lucky fact

because it allowed testing hypotheses

that would otherwise not be testable.

You have to understand as a young scientist

to watch work that you have done presented

in what’s surely the most important lecture

of her career, it’s thrilling.

It was thrilling to see her figures

projected on the screen there.

To have been part of work that was important enough

for that felt great and of course,

to be erased from the story felt absolutely terrible.

So anyway, that’s sort of where I am with it.

My sense is what I’m really troubled by in this story

is the fact that as far as I know,

the flaw with the mice has not been addressed.

And actually, Eric did some looking into this.

He tried to establish by calling the Jack’s lab

and trying to ascertain what had happened with the colonies,

whether any change in protocol had occurred

and he couldn’t get anywhere.

There was seemingly no awareness that it was even an issue.

So I’m very troubled by the fact that as a father,

for example, I’m in no position to protect my family

from the hazard that I believe lurks

in our medicine cabinets, right?

Even though I’m aware of where the hazard comes from,

it doesn’t tell me anything useful

about which of these drugs will turn out to do damage

if that is ultimately tested.

And that’s a very frustrating position to be in.

On the other hand, there’s a part of me

that’s even still grateful to Carol for taking my call.

She didn’t have to take my call

and talk to some young graduate student

who had some evolutionary idea

that wasn’t in her wheelhouse specifically, and yet she did.

And for a while, she was a good collaborator, so.

Well, can I, I have to proceed carefully here because

it’s a complicated topic.

So she took the call.

And you kind of, you’re kind of saying that

she basically erased credit, you know,

pretending you didn’t exist in some kind of,

in a certain sense.

Let me phrase it this way.

I’ve, as a research scientist at MIT,

I’ve had, and especially just part of

a large set of collaborations,

I’ve had a lot of students come to me

and talk to me about ideas,

perhaps less interesting than what we’re discussing here

in the space of AI, that I’ve been thinking about anyway.

In general, with everything I’m doing with robotics, people

have told me a bunch of ideas

that I’m already thinking about.

The point is taking that idea, see, this is different

because the idea has more power in the space

that we’re talking about here,

and robotics is like your idea means shit

until you build it.

Like, so the engineering world is a little different,

but there’s a kind of sense that I probably forgot

a lot of brilliant ideas have been told to me.

Do you think she pretended you don’t exist?

Do you think she was so busy that she kind of forgot,

you know, that she has like the stream

of brilliant people around her,

there’s a bunch of ideas that are swimming in the air,

and you just kind of forget people

that are a little bit on the periphery

on the idea generation, like, or is it some mix of both?

It’s not a mix of both.

I know that because we corresponded.

She put a graduate student on this work.

He emailed me excitedly when the results came in.

So there was no ambiguity about what had happened.

What’s more, when I went to publish my work,

I actually sent it to Carol in order to get her feedback

because I wanted to be a good collaborator to her,

and she absolutely panned it,

made many critiques that were not valid,

but it was clear at that point

that she became an antagonist,

and none of this adds up.

She couldn’t possibly have forgotten the conversation.

I believe I even sent her tissues at some point in part,

not related to this project, but as a favor.

She was doing another project that involved telomeres,

and she needed samples that I could get ahold of

because of the Museum of Zoology that I was in.

So this was not a one off conversation.

I certainly know that those sorts of things can happen,

but that’s not what happened here.

This was a relationship that existed

and then was suddenly cut short

at the point that she published her paper by surprise

without saying where the hypothesis had come from

and began to be a opposing force to my work.

Is there, there’s a bunch of trajectories

you could have taken through life.

Do you think about the trajectory of being a researcher,

of then going to war in the space of ideas,

of publishing further papers along this line?

I mean, that’s often the dynamic of that fascinating space

is you have a junior researcher with brilliant ideas

and a senior researcher that starts out as a mentor

that becomes a competitor.

I mean, that happens.

But then the way to,

it’s almost an opportunity to shine

is to publish a bunch more papers in this place

to tear it apart, to dig into,

like really make it a war of ideas.

Did you consider that possible trajectory?

I did.

A couple of things to say about it.

One, this work was not central for me.

I took a year on the T. Lemire project

because something fascinating occurred to me

and I pursued it.

And the more I pursued it,

the clearer it was there was something there.

But it wasn’t the focus of my graduate work.

And I didn’t want to become a T. Lemire researcher.

What I want to do is to be an evolutionary biologist

who upgrades the toolkit of evolutionary concepts

so that we can see more clearly

how organisms function and why.

And T. Lemire’s was a proof of concept, right?

That paper was a proof of concept

that the toolkit in question works.

As for the need to pursue it further,

I think it’s kind of absurd

and you’re not the first person to say

maybe that was the way to go about it.

But the basic point is, look, the work was good.

It turned out to be highly predictive.

Frankly, the model of senescence that I presented

is now widely accepted.

And I don’t feel any misgivings at all

about having spent a year on it, said my piece,

and moved on to other things

which frankly I think are bigger.

I think there’s a lot of good to be done

and it would be a waste to get overly narrowly focused.

There’s so many ways through the space of science

and the most common ways is just publish a lot.

Just publish a lot of papers, do these incremental work

and exploring the space kind of like ants looking for food.

You’re tossing out a bunch of different ideas.

Some of them could be brilliant breakthrough ideas, nature.

Some of them are more confidence kind of publications,

all those kinds of things.

Did you consider that kind of path in science?

Of course I considered it,

but I must say the experience of having my first encounter

with the process of peer review be this story,

which was frankly a debacle from one end to the other

with respect to the process of publishing.

It did not, it was not a very good sales pitch

for trying to make a difference through publication.

And I would point out part of what I ran into

and I think frankly part of what explains Carol’s behavior

is that in some parts of science,

there is this dynamic where PIs parasitize their underlings

and if you’re very, very good, you rise to the level

where one day instead of being parasitized,

you get to parasitize others.

Now I find that scientifically despicable

and it wasn’t the culture of the lab I grew up in at all.

My lab, in fact, the PI, Dick Alexander, who’s now gone,

but who was an incredible mind and a great human being,

he didn’t want his graduate students working

on the same topics he was on,

not because it wouldn’t have been useful and exciting,

but because in effect, he did not want any confusion

about who had done what because he was a great mentor

and the idea was actually a great mentor

is not stealing ideas and you don’t want people

thinking that they are.

So anyway, my point would be,

I wasn’t up for being parasitized.

I don’t like the idea that if you are very good,

you get parasitized until it’s your turn

to parasitize others.

That doesn’t make sense to me.

Crossing over from evolution into cellular biology

may have exposed me to that.

That may have been par for the course,

but it doesn’t make it acceptable.

And I would also point out that my work falls

in the realm of synthesis.

My work generally takes evidence accumulated by others

and places it together in order to generate hypotheses

that explain sets of phenomena

that are otherwise intractable.

And I am not sure that that is best done

with narrow publications that are read by few.

And in fact, I would point to the very conspicuous example

of Richard Dawkins, who I must say I’ve learned

a tremendous amount from and I greatly admire.

Dawkins has almost no publication record

in the sense of peer reviewed papers in journals.

What he’s done instead is done synthetic work

and he’s published it in books,

which are not peer reviewed in the same sense.

And frankly, I think there’s no doubting

his contribution to the field.

So my sense is if Richard Dawkins can illustrate

that one can make contributions to the field

without using journals as the primary mechanism

for distributing what you’ve come to understand,

then it’s obviously a valid mechanism

and it’s a far better one from the point of view

of accomplishing what I want to accomplish.

Yeah, it’s really interesting.

There is of course several levels

you can do the kind of synthesis

and that does require a lot of both broad

and deep thinking is exceptionally valuable.

You could also, I’m working on something

with Andrew Huberman now, you can also publish synthesis.

That’s like review papers that are exceptionally valuable

for the communities.

It brings the community together, tells a history,

tells a story of where the community has been.

It paints a picture of where the path lays for the future.

I think it’s really valuable.

And Richard Dawkins is a good example

of somebody that does that in book form

that he kind of walks the line really interestingly.

You have like somebody who like Neil deGrasse Tyson,

who’s more like a science communicator.

Richard Dawkins sometimes is a science communicator,

but he gets like close to the technical

to where it’s a little bit, it’s not shying away

from being really a contribution to science.

No, he’s made real contributions.

In book form.

Yes, he really has.

Which is fascinating.

I mean, Roger Penrose, I mean, similar kind of idea.

That’s interesting, that’s interesting.

Synthesis does not, especially synthesis work,

work that synthesizes ideas does not necessarily need

to be peer reviewed.

It’s peer reviewed by peers reading it.

Well, and reviewing it.

That’s it, it is reviewed by peers,

which is not synonymous with peer review.

And that’s the thing is people don’t understand

that the two things aren’t the same, right?

Peer review is an anonymous process

that happens before publication

in a place where there is a power dynamic, right?

I mean, the joke of course is that peer review

is actually peer preview, right?

Your biggest competitors get to see your work

before it sees the light of day

and decide whether or not it gets published.

And again, when your formative experience

with the publication apparatus is the one I had

with the telomere paper, there’s no way

that that seems like the right way

to advance important ideas.

And what’s the harm in publishing them

so that your peers have to review them in public

where they actually, if they’re gonna disagree with you,

they actually have to take the risk of saying,

I don’t think this is right and here’s why, right?

With their name on it.

I’d much rather that.

It’s not that I don’t want my work reviewed by peers,

but I want it done in the open, you know,

for the same reason you don’t meet

with dangerous people in private, you meet at the cafe.

I want the work reviewed out in public.

Can I ask you a difficult question?


There is popularity in martyrdom.

There’s popularity in pointing out

that the emperor has no clothes.

That can become a drug in itself.

I’ve confronted this in scientific work I’ve done at MIT

where there are certain things that are not done well.

People are not being the best version of themselves.

And particular aspects of a particular field

are in need of a revolution.

And part of me wanted to point that out

versus doing the hard work of publishing papers

and doing the revolution.

Basically just pointing out, look,

you guys are doing it wrong and then just walking away.

Are you aware of the drug of martyrdom,

of the ego involved in it,

that it can cloud your thinking?

Probably one of the best questions I’ve ever been asked.

So let me try to sort it out.

First of all, we are all mysteries to ourself at some level.

So it’s possible there’s stuff going on in me

that I’m not aware of that’s driving.

But in general, I would say one of my better strengths

is that I’m not especially ego driven.

I have an ego, I clearly think highly of myself,

but it is not driving me.

I do not crave that kind of validation.

I do crave certain things.

I do love a good eureka moment.

There is something great about it.

And there’s something even better about the phone calls

you make next when you share it, right?

It’s pretty fun, right?

I really like it.

I also really like my subject, right?

There’s something about a walk in the forest

when you have a toolkit in which you can actually look

at creatures and see something deep, right?

I like it, that drives me.

And I could entertain myself for the rest of my life, right?

If I was somehow isolated from the rest of the world,

but I was in a place that was biologically interesting,

hopefully I would be with people that I love

and pets that I love, believe it or not.

But if I were in that situation and I could just go out

every day and look at cool stuff and figure out

what it means, I could be all right with that.

So I’m not heavily driven by the ego thing, as you put it.

So I am completely the same except instead of the pets,

I would put robots.

But so it’s not, it’s the eureka, it’s the exploration

of the subject that brings you joy and fulfillment.

It’s not the ego.

Well, there’s more to say.

No, I really don’t think it’s the ego thing.

I will say I also have kind of a secondary passion

for robot stuff.

I’ve never made anything useful, but I do believe,

I believe I found my calling.

But if this wasn’t my calling,

my calling would have been inventing stuff.

I really enjoy that too.

So I get what you’re saying about the analogy quite well.

But as far as the martyrdom thing,

I understand the drug you’re talking about

and I’ve seen it more than I’ve felt it.

I do, if I’m just to be completely candid

and this question is so good, it deserves a candid answer.

I do like the fight, right?

I like fighting against people I don’t respect

and I like winning, but I have no interest in martyrdom.

One of the reasons I have no interest in martyrdom

is that I’m having too good a time, right?

I very much enjoy my life and.

It’s such a good answer.

I have a wonderful wife.

I have amazing children.

I live in a lovely place.

I don’t wanna exit any quicker than I have to.

That said, I also believe in things

and a willingness to exit if that’s the only way

is not exactly inviting martyrdom,

but it is an acceptance that fighting is dangerous

and going up against powerful forces

means who knows what will come of it, right?

I don’t have the sense that the thing is out there

that used to kill inconvenient people.

I don’t think that’s how it’s done anymore.

It’s primarily done through destroying them reputationally,

which is not something I relish the possibility of,

but there is a difference between

a willingness to face the hazard

rather than a desire to face it because of the thrill, right?

For me, the thrill is in fighting when I’m in the right.

I think I feel that that is a worthwhile way

to take what I see as the kind of brutality

that is built into men and to channel it

to something useful, right?

If it is not channeled into something useful,

it will be channeled into something else,

so it damn well better be channeled into something useful.

It’s not motivated by fame or popularity,

those kinds of things.

It’s, you know what, you’re just making me realize

that enjoying the fight,

fighting the powerful and idea that you believe is right

is a kind of optimism for the human spirit.

It’s like, we can win this.

It’s almost like you’re turning into action,

into personal action, this hope for humanity

by saying like, we can win this.

And that makes you feel good about the rest of humanity,

that if there’s people like me, then we’re going to be okay.

Even if you’re like, your ideas might be wrong or not,

but if you believe they’re right

and you’re fighting the powerful against all odds,

then we’re going to be okay.

If I were to project, I mean,

because I enjoy the fight as well,

I think that’s the way I, that’s what brings me joy,

is it’s almost like it’s optimism in action.

Well, it’s a little different for me.

And again, I think, you know, I recognize you.

You’re a familiar, your construction is familiar,

even if it isn’t mine, right?

For me, I actually expect us not to be okay.

And I’m not okay with that.

But what’s really important, if I feel like what I’ve said

is I don’t know of any reason that it’s not okay,

or any reason that it’s too late.

As far as I know, we could still save humanity

and we could get to the fourth frontier

or something akin to it.

But I expect us not to, I expect us to fuck it up, right?

I don’t like that thought, but I’ve looked into the abyss

and I’ve done my calculations

and the number of ways we could not succeed are many

and the number of ways that we could manage

to get out of this very dangerous phase of history is small.

The thing I don’t have to worry about is

that I didn’t do enough, right?

That I was a coward, that I prioritized other things.

At the end of the day, I think I will be able to say

to myself, and in fact, the thing that allows me to sleep,

is that when I saw clearly what needed to be done,

I tried to do it to the extent that it was in my power.

And if we fail, as I expect us to,

I can’t say, well, geez, that’s on me, you know?

And frankly, I regard what I just said to you

as something like a personality defect, right?

I’m trying to free myself from the sense

that this is my fault.

On the other hand, my guess is that personality defect

is probably good for humanity, right?

It’s a good one for me to have the externalities

of it are positive, so I don’t feel too bad about it.

Yeah, that’s funny, so yeah, our perspective on the world

are different, but they rhyme, like you said.

Because I’ve also looked into the abyss,

and it kind of smiled nervously back.

So I have a more optimistic sense that we’re gonna win

more than likely we’re going to be okay.

Right there with you, brother.

I’m hoping you’re right.

I’m expecting me to be right.

But back to Eric, you had a wonderful conversation.

In that conversation, he played the big brother role,

and he was very happy about it.

He was self congratulatory about it.

Can you talk to the ways in which Eric made you

a better man throughout your life?

Yeah, hell yeah.

I mean, for one thing, you know,

Eric and I are interestingly similar in some ways

and radically different in some other ways,

and it’s often a matter of fascination

to people who know us both because almost always

people meet one of us first, and they sort of

get used to that thing, and then they meet the other,

and it throws the model into chaos.

But you know, I had a great advantage,

which is I came second, right?

So although it was kind of a pain in the ass

to be born into a world that had Eric in it

because he’s a force of nature, right?

It was also terrifically useful because A,

he was a very awesome older brother

who made interesting mistakes, learned from them,

and conveyed the wisdom of what he had discovered,

and that was, you know, I don’t know who else

ends up so lucky as to have that kind of person

blazing the trail.

It also probably, you know, my hypothesis

for what birth order effects are

is that they’re actually adaptive, right?

That the reason that a second born is different

than a first born is that they’re not born

into a world with the same niches in it, right?

And so the thing about Eric is he’s been

completely dominant in the realm of fundamental thinking,

right, like what he’s fascinated by

is the fundamental of fundamentals,

and he’s excellent at it, which meant

that I was born into a world where somebody

was becoming excellent in that, and for me

to be anywhere near the fundamental of fundamentals

was going to be pointless, right?

I was going to be playing second fiddle forever,

and I think that that actually drove me

to the other end of the continuum

between fundamental and emergent,

and so I became fascinated with biology

and have been since I was three years old, right?

I think Eric drove that, and I have to thank him for it

because, you know, I mean.

I never thought of, so Eric drives towards the fundamental,

and you drive towards the emergent,

the physics and the biology.

Right, opposite ends of the continuum,

and as Eric would be quick to point out

if he was sitting here, I treat the emergent layer,

I seek the fundamentals in it,

which is sort of an echo of Eric’s style of thinking

but applied to the very far complexity.

He’s overpoweringly argues for the importance of physics,

the fundamental of the fundamental.

He’s not here to defend himself.

Is there an argument to be made against that?

Or biology, the emergent,

the study of the thing that emerged

when the fundamental acts at the cosmic scale

and then builds the beautiful thing that is us

is much more important.

Psychology, biology, the systems

that we’re actually interacting with in this human world

are much more important to understand

than the low level theories of quantum mechanics

and general relativity.

Yeah, I can’t say that one is more important.

I think there’s probably a different time scale.

I think understanding the emergent layer

is more often useful, but the bang for the buck

at the far fundamental layer may be much greater.

So for example, the fourth frontier,

I’m pretty sure it’s gonna have to be fusion powered.

I don’t think anything else will do it,

but once you had fusion power,

assuming we didn’t just dump fusion power on the market

the way we would be likely to

if it was invented usefully tomorrow,

but if we had fusion power

and we had a little bit more wisdom than we have,

you could do an awful lot.

And that’s not gonna come from people like me

who look at the dynamics of it.

Can I argue against that?


I think the way to unlock fusion power

is through artificial intelligence.

So I think most of the breakthrough ideas

in the futures of science will be developed by AI systems.

And I think in order to build intelligent AI systems,

you have to be a scholar of the fundamental

of the emergent, of biology, of the neuroscience,

of the way the brain works,

of intelligence, of consciousness.

And those things, at least directly,

don’t have anything to do with physics.


You’re making me a little bit sad

because my addiction to the aha moment thing

is incompatible with outsourcing that job.

Like the outsource thing.

I don’t wanna outsource that thing to the AI.

You reap the moment.

And actually, I’ve seen this happen before

because some of the people who trained Heather and me

were phylogenetic systematists,

Arnold Kluge in particular.

And the problem with systematics

is that to do it right when your technology is primitive,

you have to be deeply embedded in the philosophical

and the logical, right?

Your method has to be based in the highest level of rigor.

Once you can sequence genes,

genes can spit so much data at you

that you can overwhelm high quality work

with just lots and lots and lots of automated work.

And so in some sense,

there’s like a generation of phylogenetic systematists

who are the last of the greats

because what’s replacing them is sequencers.

So anyway, maybe you’re right about the AI.

And I guess I’m…

What makes you sad?

I like figuring stuff out.

Is there something that you disagree with the error con,

even trying to convince them you failed so far,

but you will eventually succeed?

You know, that is a very long list.

Eric and I have tensions over certain things

that recur all the time.

And I’m trying to think what would be the ideal…

Is it in the space of science,

in the space of philosophy, politics, family, love, robots?

Well, all right, let me…

I’m just gonna use your podcast

to make a bit of a cryptic war

and just say there are many places

in which I believe that I have butted heads with Eric

over the course of decades

and I have seen him move in my direction

substantially over time.

So you’ve been winning.

He might win a battle here or there,

but you’ve been winning the war.

I would not say that.

It’s quite possible he could say the same thing about me.

And in fact, I know that it’s true.

There are places where he’s absolutely convinced me.

But in any case, I do believe it’s at least…

It may not be a totally even fight,

but it’s more even than some will imagine.

But yeah, we have…

There are things I say that drive him nuts, right?

Like when something, like you heard me talk about the…

What was it?

It was the autopilot that seems to be putting

a great many humans in needless medical jeopardy

over the COVID 19 pandemic.

And my feeling is we can say this almost for sure.

Anytime you have the appearance

of some captured gigantic entity

that is censoring you on YouTube

and handing down dictates from the who and all of that,

it is sure that there will be

a certain amount of collusion, right?

There’s gonna be some embarrassing emails in some places

that are gonna reveal some shocking connections.

And then there’s gonna be an awful lot of emergence

that didn’t involve collusion, right?

In which people were doing their little part of a job

and something was emerging.

And you never know what the admixture is.

How much are we looking at actual collusion

and how much are we looking at an emergent process?

But you should always walk in with the sense

that it’s gonna be a ratio.

And the question is, what is the ratio in this case?

I think this drives Eric nuts

because he is very focused on the people.

I think he’s focused on the people who have a choice

and make the wrong one.

And anyway, he may.

Discussion of the ratio is a distraction to that.

I think he takes it almost as an offense

because it grants cover to people who are harming others.

And I think it offends him morally.

And if I had to say, I would say it alters his judgment

on the matter.

But anyway, certainly useful just to leave open

the two possibilities and say it’s a ratio,

but we don’t know which one.

Brother to brother, do you love the guy?

Hmm, hell yeah, hell yeah.

And I’d love him if he was just my brother,

but he’s also awesome.

So I love him and I love him for who he is.

So let me ask you about back to your book,

Hunter Gatherer’s Guide to the 21st Century.

I can’t wait both for the book and the videos

you do on the book.

That’s really exciting that there’s like a structured,

organized way to present this.

A kind of from an evolutionary biology perspective,

a guide for the future,

using our past as the fundamental, the emergent way

to present a picture of the future.

Let me ask you about something that,

I think about a little bit in this modern world,

which is monogamy.

So I personally value monogamy.

One girl, ride or die.

There you go.

Ride or, no, that’s exactly it now.

But that said, I don’t know what’s the right way

to approach this,

but from an evolutionary biology perspective

or from just looking at modern society,

that seems to be an idea that’s not,

what’s the right way to put it, flourishing?

It is waning.

It’s waning.

So I suppose based on your reaction,

you’re also a supporter of monogamy

or you value monogamy.

Are you and I just delusional?

What can you say about monogamy

from the context of your book,

from the context of evolutionary biology,

from the context of being human?

Yeah, I can say that I fully believe

that we are actually enlightened

and that although monogamy is waning,

that it is not waning because there is a superior system.

It is waning for predictable other reasons.

So let us just say it is,

there is a lot of pre trans fallacy here

where people go through a phase

where they recognize that actually

we know a lot about the evolution of monogamy

and we can tell from the fact

that humans are somewhat sexually dimorphic

that there has been a lot of polygyny in human history.

And in fact, most of human history was largely polygynous.

But it is also the case that most of the people

on earth today belong to civilizations

that are at least nominally monogamous

and have practiced monogamy.

And that’s not anti evolutionary.

What that is is part of what I mentioned before

where human beings can swap out their software program

and different mating patterns are favored

in different periods of history.

So I would argue that the benefit of monogamy,

the primary one that drives the evolution

of monogamous patterns in humans

is that it brings all adults into child rearing.

Now the reason that that matters

is because human babies are very labor intensive.

In order to raise them properly,

having two parents is a huge asset

and having more than two parents,

having an extended family also very important.

But what that means is that for a population

that is expanding, a monogamous mating system makes sense.

It makes sense because it means that the number of offspring

that can be raised is elevated.

It’s elevated because all potential parents

are involved in parenting.

Whereas if you sideline a bunch of males

by having a polygynous system

in which one male has many females,

which is typically the way that works,

what you do is you sideline all those males,

which means the total amount of parental effort is lower

and the population can’t grow.

So what I’m arguing is that you should expect to see

populations that face the possibility of expansion

endorse monogamy.

And at the point that they have reached carrying capacity,

you should expect to see polygyny break back out.

And what we are seeing

is a kind of false sophistication around polyamory,

which will end up breaking down into polygyny,

which will not be in the interest of most people.

Really the only people whose interest

it could be argued to be in

would be the very small number of males at the top

who have many partners and everybody else suffers.

Is it possible to make the argument

if we focus in on those males at the quote unquote top

with many female partners,

is it possible to say that that’s a suboptimal life,

that a single partner is the optimal life?

Well, it depends what you mean.

I have a feeling that you and I wouldn’t have to go very far

to figure out that what might be evolutionarily optimal

doesn’t match my values as a person

and I’m sure it doesn’t match yours either.

Can we try to dig into that gap between those two?


I mean, we can do it very simply.

Selection might favor your engaging in war

against a defenseless enemy or genocide, right?

It’s not hard to figure out

how that might put your genes at advantage.

I don’t know about you, Lex.

I’m not getting involved in no genocide.

It’s not gonna happen.

I won’t do it.

I will do anything to avoid it.

So some part of me has decided that my conscious self

and the values that I hold trump my evolutionary self

and once you figure out that in some extreme case,

that’s true and then you realize

that that means it must be possible in many other cases

and you start going through all of the things

that selection would favor

and you realize that a fair fraction of the time,

actually, you’re not up for this.

You don’t wanna be some robot on a mission

that involves genocide when necessary.

You wanna be your own person and accomplish things

that you think are valuable.

And so among those are not advocating,

let’s suppose you were in a position

to be one of those males at the top of a polygynous system.

We both know why that would be rewarding, right?

But we also both recognize.

Do we?

Yeah, sure.

Lots of sex?


Okay, what else?

Lots of sex and lots of variety, right?

So look, every red blooded American slash Russian male

can understand why that’s appealing, right?

On the other hand, it is up against an alternative

which is having a partner with whom one is bonded

especially closely, right?


And so.

A love.


Well, I don’t wanna straw man the polygyny position.

Obviously polygyny is complex

and there’s nothing that stops a man presumably

from loving multiple partners and from them loving him back.

But in terms of, if love is your thing,

there’s a question about, okay, what is the quality of love

if it is divided over multiple partners, right?

And what is the net consequence for love in a society

when multiple people will be frozen out

for every individual male in this case who has it?

And what I would argue is, and you know,

this is weird to even talk about,

but this is partially me just talking

from personal experience.

I think there actually is a monogamy program in us

and it’s not automatic.

But if you take it seriously, you can find it

and frankly, marriage, and it doesn’t have to be marriage,

but whatever it is that results in a lifelong bond

with a partner has gotten a very bad rap.

You know, it’s the butt of too many jokes.

But the truth is, it’s hugely rewarding, it’s not easy.

But if you know that you’re looking for something, right?

If you know that the objective actually exists

and it’s not some utopian fantasy that can’t be found,

if you know that there’s some real world, you know,

warts and all version of it, then you might actually think,

hey, that is something I want and you might pursue it

and my guess is you’d be very happy when you find it.

Yeah, I think there is, getting to the fundamental

and the emergent, I feel like there is some kind of physics

of love.

So one, there’s a conservation thing going on.

So if you have like many partners, yeah, in theory,

you should be able to love all of them deeply.

But it seems like in reality that love gets split.


Now, there’s another law that’s interesting

in terms of monogamy.

I don’t know if it’s at the physics level,

but if you are in a monogamous relationship by choice

and almost as in slight rebellion to social norms,

that’s much more powerful.

Like if you choose that one partnership,

that’s also more powerful.

If like everybody’s in a monogamous,

this pressure to be married and this pressure of society,

that’s different because that’s almost like a constraint

on your freedom that is enforced by something

other than your own ideals.

It’s by somebody else.

When you yourself choose to, I guess,

create these constraints, that enriches that love.

So there’s some kind of love function,

like E equals MC squared, but for love,

that I feel like if you have less partners

and it’s done by choice, that can maximize that.

And that love can transcend the biology,

transcend the evolutionary biology forces

that have to do much more with survival

and all those kinds of things.

It can transcend to take us to a richer experience,

which we have the luxury of having,

exploring of happiness, of joy, of fulfillment,

all those kinds of things.

Totally agree with this.

And there’s no question that by choice,

when there are other choices,

imbues it with meaning that it might not otherwise have.

I would also say, I’m really struck by,

and I have a hard time not feeling terrible sadness

over what younger people are coming

to think about this topic.

I think they’re missing something so important

and so hard to phrase that,

and they don’t even know that they’re missing it.

They might know that they’re unhappy,

but they don’t understand what it is

they’re even looking for,

because nobody’s really been honest with them

about what their choices are.

And I have to say, if I was a young person,

or if I was advising a young person,

which I used to do, again, a million years ago

when I was a college professor four years ago,

but I used to talk to students.

I knew my students really well,

and they would ask questions about this,

and they were always curious

because Heather and I seemed to have a good relationship,

and many of them knew both of us.

So they would talk to us about this.

If I was advising somebody, I would say,

do not bypass the possibility

that what you are supposed to do is find somebody worthy,

somebody who can handle it,

somebody who you are compatible with,

and that you don’t have to be perfectly compatible.

It’s not about dating until you find the one.

It’s about finding somebody whose underlying values

and viewpoint are complimentary to yours,

sufficient that you fall in love.

If you find that person, opt out together.

Get out of this damn system

that’s telling you what’s sophisticated

to think about love and romance and sex.

Ignore it together, all right?

That’s the key, and I believe you’ll end up laughing

in the end if you do it.

You’ll discover, wow, that’s a hellscape

that I opted out of, and this thing I opted into?

Complicated, difficult, worth it.

Nothing that’s worth it is ever not difficult,

so we should even just skip

the whole statement about difficult.

Yeah, all right.

I just, I wanna be honest.

It’s not like, oh, it’s nonstop joy.

No, it’s fricking complex, but worth it?

No question in my mind.

Is there advice outside of love

that you can give to young people?

You were a million years ago a professor.

Is there advice you can give to young people,

high schoolers, college students about career, about life?

Yeah, but it’s not, they’re not gonna like it

because it’s not easy to operationalize,

and this was a problem when I was a college professor, too.

People would ask me what they should do.

Should they go to graduate school?

I had almost nothing useful to say

because the job market and the market of prejob training

and all of that, these things are all so distorted

and corrupt that I didn’t wanna point anybody to anything

because it’s all broken, and I would tell them that,

but I would say that results in a kind of meta level advice

that I do think is useful.

You don’t know what’s coming.

You don’t know where the opportunities will be.

You should invest in tools rather than knowledge.

To the extent that you can do things,

you can repurpose that no matter what the future brings

to the extent that if you, as a robot guy,

you’ve got the skills of a robot guy.

Now, if civilization failed

and the stuff of robot building disappeared with it,

you’d still have the mind of a robot guy,

and the mind of a robot guy can retool

around all kinds of things, whether you’re forced to work

with fibers that are made into ropes.

Your mechanical mind would be useful in all kinds of places,

so invest in tools like that that can be easily repurposed,

and invest in combinations of tools, right?

If civilization keeps limping along,

you’re gonna be up against all sorts of people

who have studied the things that you studied, right?

If you think, hey, computer programming

is really, really cool, and you pick up computer programming,

guess what, you just entered a large group of people

who have that skill, and many of them will be better

than you, almost certainly.

On the other hand, if you combine that with something else

that’s very rarely combined with it,

if you have, I don’t know if it’s carpentry

and computer programming, if you take combinations

of things that are, even if they’re both common,

but they’re not commonly found together,

then those combinations create a rarefied space

where you inhabit it, and even if the things

don’t even really touch, but nonetheless,

they create a mind in which the two things are live

and you can move back and forth between them

and step out of your own perspective

by moving from one to the other,

that will increase what you can see

and the quality of your tools.

And so anyway, that isn’t useful advice.

It doesn’t tell you whether you should go

to graduate school or not, but it does tell you

the one thing we can say for certain about the future

is that it’s uncertain, and so prepare for it.

And like you said, there’s cool things to be discovered

in the intersection of fields and ideas.

And I would look at grad school that way,

actually, if you do go, or I see,

I mean, this is such a, like every course

in grad school, undergrad too,

was like this little journey that you’re on

that explores a particular field.

And it’s not immediately obvious how useful it is,

but it allows you to discover intersections

between that thing and some other thing.

So you’re bringing to the table these pieces of knowledge,

some of which when intersected might create a niche

that’s completely novel, unique, and will bring you joy.

I mean, I took a huge number of courses

in theoretical computer science.

Most of them seem useless, but they totally changed

the way I see the world in ways that I’m not prepared

or is a little bit difficult to kind of make explicit,

but taken together, they’ve allowed me to see,

for example, the world of robotics totally different

and different from many of my colleagues

and friends and so on.

And I think that’s a good way to see if you go

to grad school was as a opportunity

to explore intersections of fields,

even if the individual fields seem useless.

Yeah, and useless doesn’t mean useless, right?

Useless means not directly applicable,

but a good, useless course can be the best one

you ever took.

Yeah, I took James Joyce, a course on James Joyce,

and that was truly useless.

Well, I took immunobiology in the medical school

when I was at Penn as, I guess I would have been

a freshman or a sophomore.

I wasn’t supposed to be in this class.

It blew my goddamn mind, and it still does, right?

I mean, we had this, I don’t even know who it was,

but we had this great professor who was highly placed

in the world of immunobiology.

The course is called Immunobiology, not immunology.

Immunobiology, it had the right focus,

and as I recall it, the professor stood sideways

to the chalkboard, staring off into space,

literally stroking his beard with this bemused look

on his face through the entire lecture.

And you had all these medical students

who were so furiously writing notes

that I don’t even think they were noticing

the person delivering this thing,

but I got what this guy was smiling about.

It was like so, what he was describing,

adaptive immunity is so marvelous, right?

That it was like almost a privilege to even be saying it

to a room full of people who were listening, you know?

But anyway, yeah, I took that course,

and lo and behold, COVID.

That’s gonna be useful.

Well, yeah, suddenly it’s front and center,

and wow, am I glad I took it.

But anyway, yeah, useless courses are great.

And actually, Eric gave me one of the greater pieces

of advice, at least for college, that anyone’s ever given,

which was don’t worry about the prereqs.

Take it anyway, right?

But now, I don’t even know if kids can do this now

because the prereqs are now enforced by a computer.

But back in the day, if you didn’t mention

that you didn’t have the prereqs,

nobody stopped you from taking the course.

And what he told me, which I didn’t know,

was that often the advanced courses are easier in some way.

The material’s complex, but it’s not like intro bio

where you’re learning a thousand things at once, right?

It’s like focused on something.

So if you dedicate yourself, you can pull it off.

Yeah, stay with an idea for many weeks at a time,

and it’s ultimately rewarding,

and not as difficult as it looks.

Can I ask you a ridiculous question?


What do you think is the meaning of life?

Well, I feel terrible having to give you the answer.

I realize you asked the question,

but if I tell you, you’re gonna again feel bad.

I don’t wanna do that.

But look, there’s two.

There can be a disappointment.

No, it’s gonna be a horror, right?

Because we actually know the answer to the question.

Oh no.

It’s completely meaningless.

There is nothing that we can do

that escapes the heat death of the universe

or whatever it is that happens at the end.

And we’re not gonna make it there anyway.

But even if you were optimistic about our ability

to escape every existential hazard indefinitely,

ultimately it’s all for naught and we know it, right?

That said, once you stare into that abyss,

and then it stares back and laughs or whatever happens,

then the question is, okay, given that,

can I relax a little bit, right?

And figure out, well, what would make sense

if that were true, right?

And I think there’s something very clear to me.

I think if you do all of the,

if I just take the values that I’m sure we share

and extrapolate from them,

I think the following thing is actually a moral imperative.

Being a human and having opportunity

is absolutely fucking awesome, right?

A lot of people don’t make use of the opportunity

and a lot of people don’t have opportunity, right?

They get to be human, but they’re too constrained

by keeping a roof over their heads to really be free.

But being a free human is fantastic.

And being a free human on this beautiful planet,

crippled as it may be, is unparalleled.

I mean, what could be better?

How lucky are we that we get that, right?

So if that’s true, that it is awesome to be human

and to be free, then surely it is our obligation

to deliver that opportunity to as many people as we can.

And how do you do that?

Well, I think I know what job one is.

Job one is we have to get sustainable.

The way to get the maximum number of humans

to have that opportunity to be both here and free

is to make sure that there isn’t a limit

on how long we can keep doing this.

That effectively requires us to reach sustainability.

And then at sustainability, you could have a horror show

of sustainability, right?

You could have a totalitarian sustainability.

That’s not the objective.

The objective is to liberate people.

And so the question, the whole fourth frontier question,

frankly, is how do you get to a sustainable

and indefinitely sustainable state

in which people feel liberated,

in which they are liberated,

to pursue the things that actually matter,

to pursue beauty, truth, compassion, connection,

all of those things that we could list as unalloyed goods,

those are the things that people should be most liberated

to do in a system that really functions.

And anyway, my point is,

I don’t know how precise that calculation is,

but I’m pretty sure it’s not wrong.

It’s accurate enough.

And if it is accurate enough, then the point is, okay,

well, there’s no ultimate meaning,

but the proximate meaning is that one.

How many people can we get to have this wonderful experience

that we’ve gotten to have, right?

And there’s no way that’s so wrong

that if I invest my life in it,

that I’m making some big error.

I’m sure of that.

Life is awesome, and we wanna spread the awesome

as much as possible.

Yeah, you sum it up that way, spread the awesome.

Spread the awesome.

So that’s the fourth frontier.

And if that fails, if the fourth frontier fails,

the fifth frontier will be defined by robots,

and hopefully they’ll learn the lessons

of the mistakes that the humans made

and build a better world with more awesome.

I hope they’re very happy here

and that they do a better job with the place than we did.



I can’t believe it took us this long to talk,

as I mentioned to you before,

that we haven’t actually spoken, I think, at all.

And I’ve always felt that we’re already friends.

I don’t know how that works

because I’ve listened to your podcasts a lot.

I’ve also sort of loved your brother.

And so it was like,

we’ve known each other for the longest time,

and I hope we can be friends and talk often again.

And I hope that you get a chance to meet

some of my robot friends as well and fall in love.

And I’m so glad that you love robots as well.

So we get to share in that love.

So I can’t wait for us to interact together.

So we went from talking about some of the worst failures

of humanity to some of the most beautiful

aspects of humanity.

What else can you ask for from a conversation?

Thank you so much for talking today.

You know, Lex, I feel the same way towards you,

and I really appreciate it.

This has been a lot of fun,

and I’m looking forward to our next one.

Thanks for listening to this conversation

with Brett Weinstein,

and thank you to Jordan Harbridge’s show,

Express CPN, Magic Spoon, and Four Sigmatic.

Check them out in the description to support this podcast.

And now, let me leave you with some words

from Charles Darwin.

Ignorance more frequently begets confidence

than does knowledge.

It is those who know little, not those who know much,

who so positively assert that this or that problem

will never be solved by science.

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

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