If you read a half hour a night,
the calculation I came to is that you can read
a thousand books in 50 years.
All of the components are there
to engineer intimate experiences.
Extraterrestrial life is a true mystery,
the most tantalizing mystery of all.
How many humans need to disappear
for us to be completely lost?
The following is a conversation with Tim Urban,
author and illustrator of the amazing blog
called Wait, But Why?
This is the Lex Friedman podcast.
To support it, please check out our sponsors
in the description.
And now, dear friends, here’s Tim Urban.
You wrote a Wait, But Why blog post
about the big and the small,
from the observable universe to the atom.
What world do you find most mysterious or beautiful,
the very big or the very small?
The very small seems a lot more mysterious.
And I mean, the very big I feel like we kind of understand.
I mean, not the very, very big.
Not the multiverse, if there is a multiverse,
not anything outside of the observable universe.
But the very small,
I think we really have no idea what’s going on,
or very much less idea.
But I find that,
so I think the small is more mysterious,
but I think the big is sexier.
I just cannot get enough of the bigness of space
and the farness of stars.
And it just continually blows my mind.
I mean, we still,
the vastness of the observable universe
has the mystery that we don’t know what’s out there.
We know how it works, perhaps.
Like, general relativity can tell us
how the movement of bodies works,
how they’re born, all that kind of things.
But like, how many civilizations are out there?
How many, like, what are the weird things that are out there?
Oh yeah, life.
Well, extraterrestrial life is a true mystery.
The most tantalizing mystery of all.
But that’s like our size.
So that’s maybe it’s that the actual,
the big and the small are really cool,
but it’s actually the things that are potentially our size
that are the most tantalizing.
Potentially our size is probably the key word.
Yeah, I mean,
I wonder how small intelligent life could get.
Probably not that small.
And I assume that there’s a limit that you’re not gonna,
I mean, you might have like a whale,
blue whale size intelligent being,
that would be kind of cool.
But I feel like we’re in the range of order of magnitude
smaller and bigger than us for life.
But maybe not.
Maybe you could have some giant life form.
Just seems like, I don’t know,
there’s gotta be some reason that anything intelligent
between kind of like a little tiny rodent
or finger monkey up to a blue whale on this planet.
I don’t know.
Maybe when you change the gravity and other things.
Well, you could think of life
as a thing of self assembling organisms
and they just get bigger and bigger and bigger.
Like there’s no such thing as a human being.
A human being is made up of a bunch of tiny organisms
And we somehow envision that as one entity
because it has consciousness.
But maybe it’s just organisms on top of organisms.
Organisms all the way down, turtles all the way down.
So like earth can be seen as an organism
for people, for alien species that’s very different.
Like why is the human the fundamental entity
that is living and then everything else
is just either a collection of humans
or components of humans?
I think if it kind of is, if you think about,
I think of like an emergence elevator.
And so you’ve got an ant is on one floor
and then the ant colony is a floor above.
Or maybe there’s even units within the colony
that’s one floor above and the full colony
is two floors above.
And to me, I think that it’s the colony
that is closest to being the animal.
It’s like the individual thing that competes with others
while the individual ants are like cells
in the animal’s body.
We are more like a colony in that regard.
But the humans are weird because we kind of,
I think of it, if emergence happens in an emergence tower,
where you’ve got kind of, as I said,
cells and then humans and communities and societies.
Ants are very specific.
The individual ants are always cooperating
with each other for the sake of the colony.
So the colony is this unit that is the competitive unit.
Humans can kind of go,
we take the elevator up and down
emergence tower psychologically.
Sometimes we are individuals
that are competing with other individuals
and that’s where our mindset is.
And then other times we get in this crazy zone,
you know, a protest or a sporting event
and you’re just chanting and screaming
and doing the same hand motions
with all these other people and you feel like one.
You feel like one, you know, and you’d sacrifice yourself.
And now that’s what, you know, soldiers.
And so our brains can kind of psychologically
go up and down this elevator in an interesting way.
Yeah, I wonder how much of that
is just the narrative we tell ourselves.
Maybe we are just like an ant colony.
We’re just collaborating always,
even in our stories of individualism,
of like the freedom of the individual,
like this kind of isolation,
lone man on an island kind of thing.
We’re actually all part of this giant network
of maybe one of the things that makes humans who we are
is probably deeply social,
the ability to maintain
not just the single human intelligence,
but like a collective intelligence.
And so this feeling like individual
is just because we woke up at this level of the hierarchy.
So we make it special,
but we very well could be just part of the ant colony.
This whole conversation,
I’m either going to be doing a Shakespearean analysis
of your Twitter, your writing,
or very specific statements that you’ve made.
So you’ve written answers to a mailbag of questions.
The questions were amazing, the ones you’ve chosen,
and your answers were amazing.
So on this topic of the big and the small,
somebody asked, are we bigger than we are small?
Or smaller than we are big?
Who’s asking these questions?
This is really good.
You have amazing fans.
Okay, so where do we sit at this level
of the very small to the very big?
So are we bigger or are we small?
Are we bigger than we are small?
I think it depends on what we’re asking here.
So if we’re talking about the biggest thing
that we kind of can talk about without just imagining
is the observable universe, the Hubble sphere.
And that’s about 10 to the 26th meters in diameter.
The smallest thing we talk about is a plank length,
but you could argue that that’s kind of an imaginary thing.
But that’s 10 to the negative 35.
Now we’re about, conveniently, about 10 to the one.
Not quite, 10 to the zero.
We’re about 10 to the zero meters long.
So it’s easy because you can just look and say,
okay, well, for example, atoms are like 10
to the negative 15th or 10 to the negative 16th meters
If you go 10 to the 15th or 10 to the 16th,
which is right, that’s now.
So an atom to us is us to this.
You get to like nebulas, smaller than a galaxy
and bigger than the biggest star.
So we’re right in between nebula and an atom.
Now, if you wanna go down to quark level,
you might be able to get up to galaxy level.
When you go up to the observable universe,
you’re getting down on the small side
to things that we, I think, are mostly theoretically
imagining are there and hypothesizing are there.
So I think as far as real world objects
that we really know a lot about,
I would say we are smaller than we are big.
But if you wanna go down to the Planck length,
we’re very quickly, we’re bigger than we are small.
If you think about strings.
Yeah, strings, exactly, string theory and so on.
But I think like you answered,
no matter what, we’re kind of middleish.
Yeah, I mean, here’s something cool.
If a human is a neutrino, and again, neutrino,
the size doesn’t really make sense.
It’s not really a size.
But when we talk about some of these neutrinos,
I mean, if a neutrino is a human, a proton is the sun.
So that’s like, I mean, a proton is real small,
like really small.
And so, yeah, the small gets like crazy small very quickly.
Let’s talk about aliens.
We already mentioned it.
Let’s start just by with the basic,
what’s your intuition as of today?
This is a thing that could change day by day.
But how many alien civilizations out there?
Is it zero?
Is it a handful?
Is it almost endless, like the observable universe
or the universe is teeming with life?
If I had gun to my head, I have to take a guess.
I would say it’s teeming with life.
I would say there is.
I think running a Monte Carlo simulation,
this paper by Andrew Sandberg and Drexler
and a few others a couple of years ago,
I think you probably know about it.
I think the mean,
running through randomized rake equation multiplication,
you’re ended up with 27 million as the mean
of intelligent civilizations in the galaxy,
in the Milky Way alone.
And so then if you go outside the Milky Way,
that would turn into trillions.
That’s the mean.
Now, what’s interesting is that there’s a long tail
because they believe some of these multipliers
in the Drake equation.
So for example, the probability that life starts
in the first place,
they think that the kind of range that we use
is for that variable or is way too small.
And that’s constraining our possibilities.
And if you actually extend it to some crazy number
of orders of magnitude, like 200,
they think that that variable should be,
you get this long tail where,
I forget the exact number,
but it’s like a third or a quarter
of the total outcomes have us alone.
I think it’s a sizable percentage has us
as the only intelligent life in the galaxy,
but you can keep going.
And I think there’s like a non zero,
like legitimate amount of outcomes there
that have us as the only life
in the observable universe at all is on earth.
I mean, it seems incredibly counterintuitive.
It seems like, you mentioned that people think
you must be an idiot because if you picked up one grain
of sand on a beach and examined it
and you found all these little things on it,
it’s like saying, well, maybe this is the only one
that has that.
And it’s like, probably not.
They’re probably most of the sand probably
or a lot of the sand, right?
So, and then the other hand, we don’t see anything.
We don’t see any evidence, which of course,
people would say that the people who stuff scoff
at the concept that we’re potentially alone,
they say, well, of course, there’s lots of reasons
we wouldn’t have seen anything.
And they can go list them and they’re very compelling,
but we don’t know.
And the truth is if there were,
if this were a freak thing, I mean, we don’t,
if this were a completely freak thing that happened here,
whether it’s life at all or just getting
to this level of intelligence,
that species, whoever it was, would think
there must be lots of us out there and they’d be wrong.
So just being, again, using the same intuition
that most people would use, I’d say there’s probably lots
of other things out there.
Yeah, and you wrote a great blog post about it.
But to me, the two interesting reasons
that we haven’t been in contact, I too have an intuition
that the universe is teeming with life.
So one interesting is around the great filter.
So we either, the great filter’s either behind us
or in front of us.
So the reason that’s interesting is you get to think
about what kind of things ensure
or ensure the survival of an intelligent civilization
or lead to the destruction of intelligent civilization.
That’s a very pragmatic, very important question
to always be asking.
And we’ll talk about some of those.
And then the other one is I’m saddened by the possibility
that there could be aliens communicating
with us all the time.
In fact, they may have visited.
And we’re just too dumb to hear it, to see it.
Like the idea that the kind of life that can evolve
is just the range of life that can evolve is so large
that our narrow view of what is life
and what is intelligent life is preventing us
from having communication with them.
But then they don’t seem very smart
because if they were trying to communicate with us,
they would surely, if they were super intelligent,
they would be very, I’m sure if there’s lots of life,
we’re not that rare, we’re not some crazy weird species
that hears and has different kinds of ways
of perceiving signals.
So they would probably be able to,
if you really wanted to communicate
with an earth like species, with a human like species,
you would send out all kinds of things.
You’d send out radio waves and you send out gravity waves
and lots of things.
So if they’re communicating in a way,
they’re trying to communicate with us
and it’s just we’re too dumb to perceive the signals,
it’s like, well, they’re not doing a great job
of considering the primitive species we might be.
So I don’t know, I think if a super intelligent species
wanted to get in touch with us and had the capability of,
I think probably they would.
Well, they may be getting in touch with us,
they’re just getting in touch with the thing
that we humans are not understanding
that they’re getting in touch with us with.
I guess that’s what I was trying to say is
there could be something about earth
that’s much more special than us humans.
Like the nature of the intelligence that’s on earth
or the thing that’s of value and that’s curious
and that’s complicated and fascinating and beautiful
might be something that’s not just like tweets, okay?
Like English language that’s interpretable
or any kind of language or any kind of signal,
whether it’s gravity or radio signal
that humans seem to appreciate.
Why not the actual, it could be the process
of evolution itself.
There could be something about the way
that earth is breathing essentially
through the creation of life
and this complex growth of life.
There’s like, it’s a whole different way
to view organisms and view life
that could be getting communicated with.
And we humans are just a tiny fingertip
on top of that intelligence.
And the communication is happening
with the main mothership of earth
versus us humans that seem to treat ourselves
as super important and we’re missing the big picture.
I mean, it sounds crazy, but our understanding
of what is intelligent, of what is life,
what is consciousness is very limited.
And it seems to be, and just being very suspicious,
it seems to be awfully human centric.
Like this story, it seems like the progress of science
is constantly putting humans down on the importance,
humans down on the cosmic importance,
the ranking of how big we are, how important we are.
That seems to be the more we discover
that’s what’s happening.
And I think science is very young.
And so I think eventually we might figure out
that there’s something much, much bigger going on,
that humans are just a curious little side effect
of the much bigger thing.
That’s what, I mean, that, as I’m saying,
it just sounds insane, but.
Well, it just, it sounds a little like religious.
It sounds like a spiritual, it gets to that realm
where there’s something that more than meets the eye.
Well, yeah, but not, so religious and spiritual,
often have this kind of whoo whoo characteristic,
like when people write books about them,
then go to wars over whatever the heck
is written in those books.
I mean, more like it’s possible that collective intelligence
is more important than individual intelligence, right?
It’s the ant colony.
What’s the primal organism?
Is it the ant colony or is it the ant?
Yeah, I mean, humans, just like any individual ant
can’t do shit, but the colony can do,
make this incredible structures and has this intelligence.
And we’re exactly the same.
I mean, you know the famous thing that no one,
no human knows how to make a pencil.
Have you heard this?
No. Basically, I mean.
This is great.
There’s not, a single human out there
has absolutely no idea how to make a pencil.
So you have to think about, you have to get the wood,
the paint, the different chemicals
that make up the yellow paint.
The eraser is a whole other thing.
The metal has to be mined from somewhere
and then the graphite, whatever that is.
And there’s not one person on earth
who knows how to kind of collect all those materials
and create a pencil, but together,
that’s one of the, that’s child’s play.
It’s just one of the easiest things.
So, you know, the other thing I like to think about,
I actually put this as a question on the blog once.
There’s a thought experiment
and I actually wanna hear what you think.
So if a witch, kind of a dickish witch comes around
and she says, I’m gonna cast a spell on all of humanity
and all material things that you’ve invented
are gonna disappear all at once.
So suddenly we’re all standing there naked.
There’s no buildings.
There’s no cars and boats and ships and no mines,
It’s just the stone age earth and a bunch of naked humans,
but we’re all the same, we have the same brain.
So we’re all know what’s going on.
And we all got a note from her, so we understand the deal.
And she says, she communicated to every human,
here’s the deal, you lost all your stuff.
You guys need to make one working iPhone 13
and you make one working iPhone 13
that could pass in the Apple store today,
you know, in your previous world
for an iPhone 13, then I will restore everything.
How long do you think?
And so everyone knows this is the mission.
We’re all aware of the mission, everyone, all humans.
How long would it take us?
That’s a really interesting question.
So obviously if you do a random selection
of 100 or a thousand humans within the population,
I think you’re screwed to make that iPhone.
I tend to believe that there’s fascinating specialization
among the human civilization.
Like there’s a few hackers out there
that can like solo build an iPhone.
But with what materials?
So no materials whatsoever.
It has to, I mean, it’s virtually, I mean, okay.
You have to build factories.
I mean, to fabricate.
And how are you gonna mine them?
You know, you gotta mine the materials
where you don’t have any cranes.
You don’t have any, you know.
Okay, you 100% have to have the, everybody’s naked.
Everyone’s naked and everyone’s where they are.
So you and I would currently be naked.
It’s on the ground in what used to be Manhattan.
So no building.
No, grassy island.
So you need a naked Elon Musk type character
to then start building a company.
You have to have a large company then.
He doesn’t even know where he, you know,
where is everyone?
You know, oh shit, how am I gonna find
other people I need to talk to?
But we have all the knowledge of.
Yeah, everyone has the knowledge
that’s in their current brains.
I’ve met some legit engineers.
Crazy polymath people.
Yeah, but the actual labor of,
cause you said, cause like the original Mac,
like the Apple II, that can be built.
Even that, you know.
Even that’s gonna be tough.
Well, I think part of it is a communication problem.
If you could suddenly have, you know, someone,
if everyone had a walkie talkie
and there was, you know, a couple, you know,
10 really smart people were designated the leaders,
they could say, okay, I want, you know,
everyone who can do this to walk west, you know,
until you get to this little hub and everyone else,
you know, and they could actually coordinate,
but we don’t have that.
So it’s like people just, you know,
and then what I think about is,
so you’ve got some people that are like trying to organize
and you’ll have a little community
where a couple hundred people have come together
and maybe a couple thousand have organized
and they designated one person, you know, as the leader
and then they have sub leaders and okay,
we have a start here.
We have some organization.
You’re also gonna have some people that say, good,
humans were scourged upon the earth and this is good.
And they’re gonna try to sabotage.
They’re gonna try to murder the people with the,
and who know what they’re talking about.
The elite that possessed the knowledge.
Well, and so everyone, maybe everyone’s hopeful
for the, you know, we’re all civilized and hopeful
for the first 30 days or something.
And then things start to fall off.
They, you know, people get, start to lose hope
and there’s new kinds of, you know,
new kinds of governments popping up, you know,
new kinds of societies and they’re, you know,
and they don’t play nicely with the other ones.
And I think very quickly,
I think a lot of people would just give up and say,
you know what, this is it.
We’re back in the stone age.
Let’s just create, you know, agrarian.
We don’t also don’t know how to farm.
No one knows how to farm.
There’s like, even the farmers, you know,
a lot of them are relying on their machines.
And so we also, you know, mass starvation.
And that, you know, when you’re trying to organize,
a lot of people are, you know, coming in with, you know,
spears they’ve fashioned and trying to murder everyone
who has food.
That’s an interesting question.
Given today’s society, how much violence would that be?
We’ve gotten softer, less violent.
And we don’t have weapons.
So that’s something. We don’t have weapons.
We have really primitive weapons now.
But we have, and also we have a kind of ethics
where murder is bad.
We used to be less, like human life was less valued
in the past.
So murder was more okay, like ethically.
But in the past, they also were really good
at figuring out how to have sustenance.
They knew how to get food and water because they,
so we have no idea.
Like the ancient hunter gatherer societies would laugh
at what’s going on here.
They’d say, you guys, you don’t know what you’re,
none of you know what you’re doing.
And also the amount of people feeding this amount of people
in a very, in a stone age, you know, civilization,
that’s not gonna happen.
So New York and San Francisco are screwed.
Well, whoever’s not near water is really screwed.
So that’s, you’re near a river or freshwater river.
And you know, anyway, it’s a very interesting question.
And what it does, this and the pencil,
it makes me feel so grateful and like excited about like,
man, our civilization is so cool.
And this is, talk about collective intelligence.
Humans did not build any of this.
It’s collective human super,
collective humans is a super intelligent,
you know, being that is, that can do absolutely,
especially over a long period of time,
can do such magical things.
And we just get to be born, when I go out,
when I’m working and I’m hungry,
I just go click, click, click, and like a salad’s coming.
The salad arrives.
If you think about the incredible infrastructure
that’s in place for that, for that quickly,
or just the internet to, you know, the electricity,
first of all, that’s just powering the things, you know,
how the, where the, the amount of structures
that have to be created and for that electricity to be there.
And then you’ve got the, you’ve of course the internet,
and then you have this system where delivery drivers
and they have, they’re riding bikes
that were made by someone else.
And they’re going to get the salad
and all those ingredients came from all over the place.
I mean, it’s just, so I think it’s like,
I like thinking about these things
because it makes me feel like just so grateful.
I’m like, man, it would be so awful if we didn’t have this.
And people who didn’t have it would think
this was such magic we live in and we do.
And like, cool, that’s fun.
Yeah, one of the most amazing things when I showed up,
I came here at 13 from the Soviet Union
and the supermarket was, people don’t really realize that,
but the abundance of food, it’s not even,
so bananas was the thing I was obsessed about.
I just ate bananas every day for many, many months
because they haven’t had bananas in Russia.
And the fact that you can have as many bananas as you want,
plus they were like somewhat inexpensive
relative to the other food.
The fact that you can somehow have a system
that brings bananas to you without having to wait
in a long line, all of those things,
I mean, also imagine, so first of all,
the ancient hunter gatherers,
you picture the mother gathering and eating
for all this fresh food, no.
So do you know what an avocado used to look like?
It was a little like a sphere and the fruit of it,
the actual avocado part was like a little tiny layer
around this big pit that took up almost the whole volume.
We’ve made crazy robot avocados today
that have nothing to do with like what they,
so same with bananas, these big, sweet, you know,
and not infested with bugs and, you know,
they used to eat the shittiest food
and they’re eating uncooked meat
or maybe they cook it and they’re just, it’s gross
and it’s things rot.
So you go to the supermarket and it’s just,
A, it’s like crazy super engineered cartoon food,
fruit and food.
And then it’s all this processed food,
which, you know, we complain about in our setting.
Oh, you know, we complain about, you know,
we need too much process.
That’s a, this is a good problem.
I mean, if you imagine what they would think,
oh my God, a cracker.
You know how delicious a cracker would taste to them?
You know, candy, you know, pasta and spaghetti.
They never had anything like this.
And then you have from all over the world,
I mean, things that are grown all over the place,
all here in nice little racks organized
and on a middle class salary,
you can afford anything you want.
I mean, it’s again, just like incredible gratitude.
Like, ah, yeah.
And the question is how resilient is this whole thing?
I mean, this is another darker version of your question is
if we keep all the material possessions we have,
but we start knocking out some percent of the population,
how resilient is the system that we built up
where we rely on other humans
and the knowledge that built up on the past,
the distributed nature of knowledge,
how much does it take?
How many humans need to disappear
for us to be completely lost?
Well, I’m trying to go off one thing,
which is Elon Musk says that he has this number,
a million in mind as the order of magnitude of people
you need to be on Mars to truly be multi planetary.
Multi planetary doesn’t mean, you know,
like when Neil Armstrong, you know, goes to the moon,
they call it a great leap for mankind.
It’s not a great leap for anything.
It is a great achievement for mankind.
And I always like think about if the first fish
to kind of go on land just kind of went up
and gave the shore a high five
and goes back into the water,
that’s not a great leap for life.
That’s a great achievement for that fish.
And there should be a little statue of that fish
and it’s, you know, in the water
and everyone should celebrate the fish.
But it’s, but when we talk about a great leap for life,
It’s something that now from now on, this is how things are.
So this is part of why I get so excited about Mars,
by the way, is because you can count on one hand,
like the number of great leaps that we’ve had,
you know, like no life to life and single cell
or simple cell to complex cell
and single cell organisms to animals to come,
you know, multi cell animals and then ocean to land
and then one planet to two planets, anyway, diversion.
But the point is that we are officially that leap
for all of life, you know, has happened
once the ships could stop coming from Earth
because there’s some horrible catastrophic World War III
and everyone dies on Earth and they’re fine
and they can turn that certain X number of people
into 7 billion, you know, population
that’s thriving just like Earth.
They can build ships, they can come back
and recolonize Earth
because now we are officially multi planetary
where it’s a self sustaining.
He says a million people is about what he thinks.
Now that might be a specialized group.
That’s a very specifically, you know,
selected million that has very, very skilled million people,
not just maybe the average million on Earth,
but I think it depends what you’re talking about.
But I don’t think, you know, so one million is one 7,000th,
one 8,000th of the current population.
I think you need a very, very, very small fraction
of humans on Earth to get by.
Obviously you’re not gonna have
the same thriving civilization
if you get to a too small a number,
but it depends who you’re killing off, I guess,
is part of the question.
Yeah, if you killed off half of the people
just randomly right now, I think we’d be fine.
It would be obviously a great awful tragedy.
I think if you killed off three quarters
of all people randomly,
just three out of every four people drops dead.
I think we’d have, obviously the stock market would crash.
We’d have a rough patch,
but I almost can assure you that the species would be fine.
Well, cause the million number,
like you said, it is specialized.
So I think, cause you have to do this,
you have to basically do the iPhone experiment.
Like literally you have to be able to manufacture computers.
If you’re gonna have the self sustaining means
you can, any major important skill,
any important piece of kind of infrastructure on earth
can be built there just as well.
It’d be interesting to list out
what are the important things,
what are the important skills?
Yeah, I mean, if you have to feed everyone,
so mass farming, things like that,
you have to, you have to, you have mining,
these questions, it’s like the materials might be,
I don’t know, five mile, two miles underground,
I don’t know what the actual, but like,
it’s amazing to me just that these things
got built in the first place.
And they never got, no one built the first,
the mine that we’re getting stuff for the iPhone for
probably wasn’t built for the iPhone.
Or in general, early mining was for,
I think obviously I assume the industrial revolution
when we realized, oh, fossil fuels,
we wanna extract this magical energy source.
I assume that like mining took a huge leap
without knowing very much about this.
I think you’re gonna need mining,
you’re gonna need like a lot of electrical engineers.
If you’re gonna have a civilization like ours,
and of course you could have oil and lanterns,
we could go way back,
but if you’re trying to build our today thing,
you’re gonna need energy and electricity
and then mines that can bring materials,
and then you’re gonna need a ton of plumbing
and everything that entails.
And like you said, food, but also the manufacturer,
so like turning raw materials into something useful,
that whole thing, like factories,
some supply chain, transportation.
Right, I mean, you think about,
when we talk about like world hunger,
one of the major problems is,
there’s plenty of food and by the time it arrives,
most of it’s gone bad in the truck,
in a kind of an impoverished place.
So it’s like, again, we take it so for granted,
all the food in the supermarket is fresh, it’s all there.
And which always stresses me,
if I were running a supermarket,
I would always be so like miserable
about like things going bad on the shelves,
or if you don’t have enough, that’s not good,
but if you have too much, it goes bad anyway.
Of course, there’ll be entertainers too.
Like somebody would have a YouTube channel
that’s running on Mars.
There is something different about a civilization on Mars
and Earth existing versus like a civilization
in the United States versus Russia and China.
Like that’s a different,
fundamentally different distance, like philosophically.
Will it be like fuzzy?
We know there’ll be like a reality show on Mars
that everyone on Earth is obsessed with.
And I think if people are going back and forth enough,
then it becomes fuzzy.
It becomes like, oh, our friends on Mars.
And there’s like this Mars versus Earth,
and it become like fun tribalism.
I think if people don’t rarely go back and forth
and it really, they’re there for,
I think if you get kind of like, oh, we hate,
a lot of like us versus them stuff going on.
There could be also war in space for territory.
As a first colony happens, China, Russia,
or whoever the European, different European nations,
Switzerland finally gets their act together
and starts wars as opposed to staying out of all of them.
Yeah, there’s all kinds of crazy geopolitical things
that like we have not even,
no one’s really even thought about too much yet
that like, it could get weird.
Think about the 1500s when it was suddenly like a race
to like colonize or capture land
or discover new land that hasn’t been,
so it was like this new frontiers.
There’s not really, the land is not,
the thing about Crimea was like this huge thing
because this tiny peninsula switched.
That’s how like optimized everything has become.
Everything is just like really stuck.
Mars is a whole new world of like,
territory, naming things and you know,
and it’s a chance for new kind of governments maybe,
or maybe it’s just the colonies of these governments
so we don’t get that opportunity.
I think it’d be cool if there’s new countries
being totally new experiments.
And that’s fascinating because Elon talks exactly
about that and I believe that very much.
Like that should be, like from the start,
they should determine their own sovereignty.
Like they should determine their own thing.
There was one modern democracy in late 1700s, the US.
I mean, it was the only modern democracy.
And now of course, there’s hundreds or dozen, many dozens.
But I think part of the reason that was able to start,
I mean, it’s not that people didn’t have the idea,
people had the idea, it was that they had a clean slate,
new place, and they suddenly were,
so I think it would be a great opportunity to have,
there’s a lot of people who have done that,
oh, if I had my own government on an island,
my own country, what would I do?
And the US founders actually had the opportunity,
that fantasy, they were like, we can do it.
Let’s make, okay, what’s the perfect country?
And they tried to make something.
Sometimes progress is, it’s not held up by our imagination.
It’s held up by just, there’s no blank canvas
to try something on.
Yeah, it’s an opportunity for a fresh start.
The funny thing about the conversation we’re having
is not often had, I mean, even by Elon,
he’s so focused on Starship
and actually putting the first human on Mars.
I think thinking about this kind of stuff is inspiring.
It makes us dream, it makes us hope for the future.
And it makes us somehow thinking about civilization on Mars
is helping us think about the civilization here on Earth.
Yeah, totally. And how we should run it.
Well, what do you think are, like in our lifetime,
are we gonna, I think any effort that goes to Mars,
the goal is in this decade.
Do you think that’s actually gonna be achieved?
I have a big bet, $10,000 with a friend
when I was drunk in an argument.
This is great.
That the Neil Armstrong of Mars,
whoever he or she may be, will set foot by the end of 2030.
Now, this was probably in 2018 when I had this argument.
So, like what if it?
So, a human has to touch Mars by the end of 2030.
Oh, by the year 30.
Yeah, by January 1st, 2031.
Did you agree on the time zone or what?
If it’s coming on that exact day,
that’s gonna be really stressful.
But anyway, I think that there will be.
That was 2018.
I was more confident then.
I think it’s gonna be around this time.
I mean, I still won the general bet
because his point was, you are crazy.
This is not gonna happen in our lifetimes.
I’ve been offered many, many decades.
And I said, you’re wrong.
You don’t know what’s going on in SpaceX.
I think if the world depended on it,
I think probably SpaceX could probably.
I mean, I don’t know this,
but I think the tech is almost there.
Like, I don’t think, of course,
it’s delayed many years by safety.
So, they first wanna send a ship around Mars
and they wanna land a cargo ship on Mars.
And there’s the moon on the way to.
Yeah, yeah, there’s a lot.
But I think the moon, a decade before,
seemed like magical tech that humans didn’t have.
This is like, no, we can,
it’s totally conceivable that this,
you’ve seen Starship,
like it is a interplanetary colonial
or interplanetary transport like system.
That’s what they used to call it.
The SpaceX, the way they do it is,
every time they do a launch,
something fails usually, when they’re testing
and they learn a thousand things.
The amount of data they get and they improve so,
each one has, it’s like they’ve moved up
like eight generations in each one.
Anyway, so it’s not inconceivable that pretty soon
they could send a Starship to Mars and land it.
There’s just no good reason
I don’t think that they couldn’t do that.
And so, if they could do that,
they could in theory send a person to Mars pretty soon.
Now, taking off from Mars and coming back,
again, I think, I don’t think anyone want
to be on that voyage today because there’s just,
you know, they’re still in,
it’s still amateur hour here and getting that perfect.
I don’t think we’re too far away now.
The question is, so every 26 months,
Earth laps Mars, right?
It’s like a sinusoidal, soil orbit
or whatever it’s called, the period, 26 months.
So it’s right now, like in the evens,
like 2022 is gonna have one of these, late 2024.
So people could, this was the earliest estimate I heard.
Elon said, maybe we can send people to Mars in 2024,
you know, to land in early 2025.
That is not gonna happen because that included 2022
sending a cargo ship to Mars, maybe even a one in 2020.
And so I think they’re not quite on that schedule,
but to win my bet, 2027, I have a chance
and 2029, I have another chance.
We’re not very good at like backing up
and seeing the big picture.
We’re very distracted by what’s going on today
and what we can believe
because it’s happening in front of our face.
There’s no way that humans gonna be landing on Mars
and it’s not gonna be the only thing
everyone is talking about, right?
I mean, it’s gonna be the moon landing,
but even bigger deal, going to another planet, right?
And for it to start a colony,
not just to, again, high five and come back.
So this is like the 2020s, maybe the 2030s
is gonna be the new 1960s.
We’re gonna have a space decade.
I’m so excited about it.
And again, it’s one of the great leaps for all of life
happening in our lifetimes, like that’s wild.
To paint a slightly cynical possibility,
which I don’t see happening,
but I just wanna put sort of value into leadership.
I think it wasn’t obvious that the moon landing
would be so exciting for all of human civilization.
Some of that have to do with the right speeches,
with the space race.
Like space, depending on how it’s presented,
can be boring.
I don’t think it’s been that so far, but I’ve actually.
I think space is quite boring right now.
No, SpaceX is super, but like 10 years ago, space.
Some writer, I forget who wrote,
it’s like the best magic trick in the show
happened at the beginning.
And now they’re starting to do this like easy hazard.
It’s like, you can’t go in that direction.
And the line that this writer said is like,
watching astronauts go up to the space station
after watching the moon is like
watching Columbus sail to Ibiza.
It’s just like, everything is so practical.
You’re going up to the space station, not to explore,
but to do science experiments in microgravity.
And you’re sending rockets up,
mostly here and there there’s a probe,
but mostly you’re sending them up to put satellites
for DirecTV or whatever it is.
It’s kind of like lame earth industry usage.
So I agree with you, space is boring there.
The first human setting foot on Mars,
that’s gotta be a crazy global event.
I can’t imagine it not being.
Maybe you’re right.
Maybe I’m taking for granted the speeches
and the space race and that.
I think the value of, I guess what I’m pushing
is the value of people like Elon Musk
and potentially other leaders that hopefully step up
is extremely important here.
Like I would argue without the publicity of SpaceX,
it’s not just the ingenuity of SpaceX,
but like what they’ve done publicly
by having a figure that tweets
and all that kind of stuff like that,
that’s a source of inspiration.
NASA wasn’t able to quite pull off with a shuttle.
That’s one of his two reasons for doing this.
SpaceX exists for two reasons.
One, life insurance for the species.
I always think about this way.
If you’re an alien on some far away planet
and you’re rooting against humanity
and you win the bet if humanity goes extinct,
you do not like SpaceX.
You do not want them to have their eggs
in two baskets now.
Sure, it’s like obviously you could have something
that kills everyone on both planets,
some AI war or something.
But the point is obviously it’s good for our chances,
our longterm chances to be having
two self sustaining civilizations going on.
The second reason, he values this I think just as high
is it’s the greatest adventure in history
going multi planetary and that people need some reason
to wake up in the morning
and it’ll just be this hopefully great uniting event too.
I mean, today’s nasty, awful political environment,
which is like a whirlpool that sucks everything into it.
So you name a thing and it’s become a nasty political topic.
So I hope that space can,
Mars can just bring everyone together,
but it could become this hideous thing
where it’s a billionaire,
some annoying storyline gets built.
So half the people think that anyone who’s excited about Mars
is an evil something.
Anyway, I hope it is super exciting.
So far space has been a uniting, inspiring thing.
And in fact, especially during this time of a pandemic
has been just a commercial entity
putting out humans into space for the first time
was just one of the only big sources of hope.
Totally in awe, just like watching this huge skyscraper
go up in the air, flip over, go back down and land.
I mean, it just makes everyone just wanna sit back
and clap and kinda like,
the way I look at something like SpaceX
is it makes me proud to be a human.
And I think it makes a lot of people feel that way.
It’s like good for our self esteem.
It’s like, you know what?
We’re pretty, we have a lot of problems,
but like we’re kind of awesome.
And if we can put people on Mars,
sticking up an earth flag on Mars,
like damn, we should be so proud
of our like little family here.
Like we did something cool.
And by the way, I’ve made it clear to SpaceX people,
including Elon, many times,
and it’s like once a year reminder
that if they want to make this more exciting,
they send the writer to Mars on the thing.
And I’ll blog about it.
So I’m just continuing to throw this out there.
On which trip?
I’m trying to get them to send me to Mars.
No, I understand that.
So I just wanna clarify
on which trip does the writer wanna go?
I think my dream one, to be honest,
would be like the Apollo eight,
where they just looped around the moon and came back.
Cause landing on Mars.
Give you a lot of good content to write about.
Great content, right?
I mean, the amount of kind of high minded,
and so I would go into the thing
and I would blog about it and I’d be in microgravity.
So I’d be bouncing around my little space.
I get a little, they can just send me in a dragon.
They don’t need to do a whole starship.
And I would bounce around and I would get to,
I’ve always had a dream of going
to like one of those nice jails for a year.
Because I just have nothing to do besides like read books
and no responsibilities and no social plans.
So this is the ultimate version of that.
Anyway, it’s a side topic, but I think it would be.
But also if you, I mean, to be honest,
if you land on Mars, it’s epic.
And then if you die there of like finishing your writing,
it will be just even that much more powerful
for the impact.
Yeah, but then I’m gone.
And I don’t even get to like experience the publication
of it, which is the whole point of some of the greatest
writers in history didn’t get a chance to experience
the publication of their.
I know, I don’t really think that I think like,
I think back to Jesus and I’m like, oh man,
that guy really like crushed it, you know?
But then if you think about it,
it doesn’t like you could literally die today
and then become the next Jesus, like 2000 years from now
in this civilization that’s like, there are, you know,
they’re like in magical in the clouds
and they’re worshiping you, they’re worshiping Lex.
And like, that sounds like your ego probably would be like,
wow, that’s pretty cool, except irrelevant to you
because you never even knew it happened.
This feels like a Rick and Morty episode.
It does, it does.
Okay, you’ve talked to Elon quite a bit,
you’ve written about him quite a bit.
Just, it’d be cool to hear you talk about
what are your ideas of what, you know,
the magic sauces you’ve written about with Elon.
What makes him so successful?
His style of thinking, his ambition, his dreams,
his, the people he connects with,
the kind of problems he tackles.
Is there a kind of comments you can make
about what makes him special?
I think that obviously there’s a lot of things
that he’s very good at.
He has, he’s obviously super intelligent.
His heart is very much in like, I think the right place.
Like, you know, I really, really believe that like,
and I think people can sense that, you know,
he just doesn’t seem like a grifter of any kind.
He’s truly trying to do these big things
for the right reasons.
And he’s obviously crazy ambitious and hardworking, right?
Not everyone is.
Some people are as talented and have cool visions,
but they just don’t wanna spend their life that way.
So, but that’s, none of those alone
is what makes Elon, Elon.
I mean, if it were, there’d be more of him
because there’s a lot of people that are very smart
and smart enough to accumulate a lot of money and influence
and they have great ambition and they have, you know,
their hearts in the right place.
To me, it is the very unusual quality he has
is that he’s sane in a way
that almost every human is crazy.
What I mean by that is we are programmed
to trust conventional wisdom over our own reasoning
for good reason.
If you go back 50,000 years and conventional wisdom says,
you know, don’t eat that berry, you know,
or this is the way you tie a spearhead to a spear.
And you’re thinking, I’m smarter than that.
Like, you’re not.
You know, that comes from the accumulation
of life experience, accumulation of observation
and experience over many generations.
And that’s a little mini version
of the collective super intelligence.
It’s like, you know, it’s equivalent
of like making a pencil today.
Like people back then, like the conventional wisdom,
like had this super, this knowledge
that no human could ever accumulate.
So we’re very wired to trust it.
Plus the secondary thing is that the people who, you know,
just say that they believe the mountain is,
they worship the mountain as their God, right?
And the mountain determines their fate.
That’s not true, right?
And the conventional wisdom is wrong there,
but believing it was helpful to survival
because you were part of the crowd
and you stayed in the tribe.
And if you started to, you know, insult the mountain God
and say, that’s just a mountain, it’s not, you know,
you didn’t fare very well, right?
So for a lot of reasons, it was a great survival trait
to just trust what other people said and believe it.
And truly, you know, obviously, you know,
the more you really believed it, the better.
Today, conventional wisdom in a rapidly changing world
and a huge giant society,
our brains are not built to understand that.
They have a few settings, you know,
and none of them is, you know,
300 million person society.
So your brain is basically,
is treating a lot of things like a small tribe,
even though they’re not,
and they’re treating conventional wisdom as, you know,
very wise in a way that it’s not.
If you think about it this way, it’s like, picture a,
like a bucket that’s not moving very much,
moving like a millimeter a year.
And so it has time to collect a lot of water in it.
That’s like conventional wisdom in the old days
when very few things changed.
Like your 10, you know, great, great, great grandmother
probably lived a similar life to you,
maybe on the same piece of land.
And so old people really knew what they were talking about.
Today, the bucket’s moving really quickly.
And so, you know, the wisdom doesn’t accumulate,
but we think it does because our brain settings
doesn’t have the, oh, move, you know,
quickly moving bucket setting on it.
So my grandmother gives me advice all the time,
and I have to decide, is this,
so there are certain things that are not changing,
like relationships and love and loyalty
and things like this.
Her advice on those things, I’ll listen to it all day.
She’s one of the people who said,
you’ve got to live near your people you love,
live near your family, right?
I think that is like tremendous wisdom, right?
That is wisdom, because that’s happens to be something
that hasn’t, doesn’t change from generation to generation.
Right, she all, right, for now.
She’s also telling, right, so I’ll be the idiot
telling my brain that they’ll actually be in the,
it’s a metaverse, like being like, it doesn’t matter.
And I’m like, you have to, it’s not the same
when you’re not in person.
They’re gonna say, it’s exactly the same, grandpa.
And they’ll also be thinking to me with their near link,
and I’m gonna be like, slow down.
I don’t understand what you’re saying.
You just talk like a normal person.
Anyway, so my grandmother then, but then she says,
you know, you’re, I don’t know about this writing
you’re doing, you should go to law school,
and you know, you want to be secure.
And that’s not good advice for me.
You know, given the world I’m in,
and what I like to do, and what I’m good at,
that’s not the right advice.
But because the world is totally,
she’s in a different world.
So she became wise for a world that’s no longer here, right?
Now, if you think about that,
so then when we think about conventional wisdom,
it’s a little like my grandmother,
and there’s a lot of, no, it’s not maybe, you know,
60 years outdated like her software.
It’s maybe 10 years outdated conventional wisdom,
So anyway, I think that we all continually
don’t have the confidence in our own reasoning
when it conflicts with what everyone else thinks,
when with what seems right.
We don’t have the guts to act on that reasoning
for that reason, right?
You know, we, and so there’s so many Elon examples.
I mean, just from the beginning,
building Zip2 was his first company.
And it was internet advertising at the time
when people said, you know, this internet was brand new,
like kind of thinking of like the metaverse,
VR metaverse today.
And people would be like, oh, we, you know,
we facilitate internet advertising.
People were saying, yeah, people are gonna advertise
on the internet, yeah, right.
Actually, it wasn’t that he’s magical and saw the future,
it’s that he looked at the present,
looked at what the internet was,
thought about, you know, the obvious
like advertising opportunity this was gonna be.
It wasn’t rocket science.
It wasn’t genius, I don’t believe.
I think it was just seeing the truth.
And when everyone else is laughing,
saying, well, you’re wrong.
I mean, I did the math and here it is, right?
Next company, you know, x.com,
which became eventually PayPal.
People said, oh yeah, people are gonna put
their financial information on the internet.
To us, it seems so obvious.
If you went back then, you would probably feel the same.
You’d think this is, that is a fake company that no,
it’s just obviously not a good idea.
He looked around and said, you know, I see where this is.
And so again, he could see where it was going
because he could see what it was that day
and not what it, you know, not people, conventional wisdom
was still a bunch of years earlier.
SpaceX is the ultimate example.
A friend of his apparently bought,
actually compiled a montage, video montage
of rockets blowing up to show him this is not a good idea.
And if, but just even the bigger picture,
the amount of billionaires who have like thought
this was, I’m gonna start launching rockets
and you know, the amount that failed.
I mean, it’s not, conventional wisdom said
this isn’t a bad endeavor.
He was putting all of his money into it.
Yeah, landing rockets was another thing.
You know, well, if you know,
here’s the classic kind of way we reason,
which is if this could be done,
NASA would have done it a long time ago
because of the money it would save.
This could be done, the Soviet Union
would have done it back in the sixties.
It’s obviously something that can’t be done.
And the math on his envelope said,
well, I think it can be done.
And so he just did it.
So in each of these cases, I think actually in some ways,
Elon gets too much credit as, you know,
people think it’s that he’s, you know,
it’s that his Einstein intelligence
or he can see the future.
He has incredible, he has incredible guts.
He’s so, you know, courageous.
I think if you actually are looking at reality
and you’re just assessing probabilities
and you’re ignoring all the noise, which is wrong,
so wrong, right?
And you just, then you just have to be, you know,
pretty smart and pretty courageous.
And you have to have this magical ability to be seen
and trust your reasoning over conventional wisdom
because your individual reasoning, you know,
part of it is that we see that we can’t build a pencil.
We can’t build, you know,
this civilization on our own, right?
So we kind of count, you know,
count to the collective for good reasons.
But this is different when it comes to kind of
what’s possible, you know,
the Beatles were doing their kind of Motowny chord patterns
in the early sixties.
And they were doing what was normal.
They were doing what was clearly this kind of sound is a hit.
Then they started getting weird
because they were so popular.
They had this confidence to say,
let’s just, we’re gonna start just experimenting.
And it turns out that like,
if you just, all these people are in this,
like one groove together doing music,
and it’s just like, there’s a lot of land over there.
And it seems like, you know,
I’m sure the managers would say,
and that the, all the record execs would say,
no, you have to be here.
This is what sells.
And it’s just not true.
So I think that Elon is why,
that’s why the term for this
that actually Elon likes to use
is reasoning from first principles, the physics term.
First principles are your axioms.
And physicists, they don’t say, well, what’s,
you know, what do people think?
No, they say, what are the axioms?
Those are the puzzle pieces.
Let’s use those to build a conclusion.
That’s our hypothesis.
Now let’s test it, right?
And they come up with all kinds of new things
constantly by doing that.
If Einstein was assuming conventional wisdom was right,
he never would have even tried to create something
that really disproved Newton’s laws.
And the other way to reason is reasoning by analogy,
which is a great shortcut.
It’s when we look at other people’s reasoning
and we kind of photocopy it into our head, we steal it.
So reasoning by analogy, we do all the time.
And it’s usually a good thing.
I mean, we don’t, it takes a lot of mental energy and time
to reason from first principles.
It’s actually, you know,
you don’t wanna reinvent the wheel every time, right?
You want to often copy other people’s reasoning
most of the time.
And I, you know, most of us do it most of the time
and that’s good, but there’s certain moments
when you’re, forget just for a second,
like succeeding in like the world of like Elon,
just who you’re gonna marry,
where are you gonna settle down?
How are you gonna raise your kids?
How are you gonna educate your kids?
How you should educate yourself?
What kind of career paths in terms,
these moments, this is what on your death bed,
like you look back on and that’s what,
these are the few number of choices
that really define your life.
Those should not be reasoned by analogy.
You should absolutely try to reason from first principles.
And Elon, not just by the way in his work,
but in his personal life.
I mean, if you just look at the way he’s on Twitter,
he’s not, it’s not how you’re supposed to be
when you’re a super famous, you know, industry titan.
You’re not supposed to just be silly on Twitter
and do memes and getting little quibbles with you.
He just does things his own way,
regardless of what you’re supposed to do,
which sometimes serves him and sometimes doesn’t,
but I think it has taken him where it has taken him.
Yeah, I mean, I probably wouldn’t describe
his approach to Twitter as first principles,
but I guess it has the same element.
I think it is.
Well, first of all, I will say that a lot of tweets,
people think, oh, like he’s gonna be done after that.
He’s fine, he’s just one man, time man of the year.
Like it’s something, it’s not sinking him,
and I think, you know, it’s not that I think
this is like super reasoned out.
I think that, you know, Twitter is his silly side,
but I think that he saw,
his reasoning did not feel like there was a giant risk
in just being his silly self on Twitter,
when a lot of billionaires would say,
well, no one else is doing that.
So it must be a good reason, right?
Well, I gotta say that he inspires me to,
that’s okay to be silly.
Totally. On Twitter.
And, but yeah, you’re right.
The big inspiration is the willingness to do that
when nobody else is doing it.
Yeah, and I think about all the great artists,
you know, all the great inventors and entrepreneurs,
almost all of them,
they had a moment when they trusted their reasoning.
I mean, Airbnb was over 60 with VCs.
A lot of people would say,
obviously they know something we don’t, right?
But they didn’t, they said, eh, I think they’re all wrong.
I mean, that’s, that takes some kind of different wiring
in your brain.
And then that’s both for big picture
and detailed like engineering problems.
It’s fun to talk to him.
It’s fun to talk to Jim Keller,
who’s a good example of this kind of thinking
about like manufacturing, how to get costs down.
They always talk about like,
they talk about SpaceX rockets this way.
They talk about manufacturing this way,
like cost per pound or per ton to get to orbit
or something like that.
This is all the reason we need to get the cost down.
It’s a very kind of raw materials.
Like just very basic way of thinking.
It’s really, yeah.
And the first principles of a rocket
are like the price of raw materials
and gravity, you know, and wind.
I mean, these are your first principles and fuel.
Henry Ford, you know, what made Henry Ford blow up
as an entrepreneur?
The assembly line, right?
I mean, he thought for a second and said,
this isn’t how manufacturing is normally done this way,
but I think this is a different kind of product.
And that’s what changed it.
And then what happened is when someone reasons
from first principles, they often fail.
You know, you’re going out into the fog
with no conventional wisdom to guide you.
But when you succeed, what you notice is that
everyone else turns and says, wait, what, what?
What are they doing?
And they all, they flock over.
Look at the iPhone.
iPhone, you know, Steve Jobs was obviously famously good
at reasoning from first principles
because that guy had crazy self confidence.
He just said, you know, if I think this is right,
like everyone, and that, I mean, I don’t know how,
I don’t know how he does that.
And I don’t think Apple can do that anymore.
I mean, they lost that.
That one brain, his ability to do that was made
that in a totally different company,
even though there’s tens of thousands of people there.
He said, he didn’t say, and I’m giving a lot of credit
to Steve Jobs, but of course it was a team at Apple
who said they didn’t look at the flip phones and say,
okay, well kind of, you know, let’s make a keyboard
that’s like clicky and, you know, really cool Apple.
A keyboard, they said, what should a mobile device be?
You know, what the axioms, what are the axioms here?
And none of them involved a keyboard necessarily.
And by the time they piece it up, there was no keyboards.
It didn’t make sense.
Everyone suddenly is going, wait, what, what are they doing?
What are they?
And now every phone looks like the iPhone.
I mean, that’s, that’s how it goes.
You tweeted, what’s something you’ve changed your mind about?
That’s the question you’ve tweeted.
Elon replied, brain transplants,
Sam Harris responded, nuclear power.
There’s a bunch of people with cool responses there.
In general, what are your thoughts
about some of the responses
and what have you changed your mind about big or small,
perhaps in doing the research for some of your writing?
So I’m writing right now, just finishing a book
on kind of why our society is such a shit place at the moment
And, you know, we have all these gifts
like we’re talking about, just the supermarket, you know,
we have these, it’s exploding technology.
Fewer and fewer people are in poverty.
You know, it’s, Louis CK, you know, likes to say,
you know, everything’s amazing and no one’s happy, right?
But it’s really extreme moment right now
where it’s like, hate is on the rise,
like crazy things, right?
If I could interrupt briefly,
you did tweet that you just wrote the last word.
I sure did.
And then there’s some hilarious asshole who said,
now you just have to work on all the ones in the middle.
Yeah, I’ve heard that.
I mean, when you, when you earned a reputation
as a tried and true procrastinator,
you’re just gonna get shit forever.
And that’s fine.
I accept my fate there.
So do you mind sharing a little bit more
about the details of what you’re writing?
So you’re, how do you approach this question
about the state of society?
I wanted to figure out what was going on
because what I noticed was a bad trend.
It’s not that, you know, things are bad.
It’s that things are getting worse in certain ways.
Not in every way.
Look at Max Roser’s stuff, you know,
he comes up with all these amazing graphs.
This is what’s weird is that things are getting better
in almost every important metric you can think of,
except the amount of people who hate other people
in their own country.
And the amount of people that hate their own country,
the amount of Americans that hate America’s on the rise,
right, the amount of Americans
that hate other Americans is on the rise.
The amount of Americans that hate the president
is on the rise, all these things,
like on a very steep rise.
So what the hell?
What’s going on?
Like there’s something causing that.
It’s not that, you know, a bunch of new people were born
who were just dicks.
It’s that something is going on.
So I think of it as a very simple,
oversimplified equation, human behavior.
And it’s the output.
That I think the two inputs are human nature
and environment, right?
And this is basic, you know,
super kindergarten level like, you know, animal behavior.
But I think it’s worth thinking about.
You’ve got human nature,
which is not changing very much, right?
And then you got, you throw that nature
into a certain environment
and it reacts to the environment, right?
It’s shaped by the environment.
And then eventually what comes out is behavior, right?
Human nature is not changing very much,
but suddenly we’re behaving differently, right?
We are, again, you know, look at the polls.
Like it used to be that the president, you know,
was liked by, I don’t remember the exact numbers,
but, you know, 80% or 70% of their own party
and, you know, 50% of the other party.
And now it’s like 40% of their own party
and 10% of the other party, you know?
It’s, and it’s not that the presidents are getting worse.
Maybe some people would argue that they are,
but more so, and there’s a lot of, you know,
idiot presidents throughout the,
what’s going on is something in the environment is changing.
And that’s, you’re seeing is a change in behavior.
A easy example here is that, you know,
by a lot of metrics,
racism is getting, is becoming less and less of a problem.
You know, it’s hard to measure, but there’s metrics like,
you know, how upset would you be
if your kid married someone of another race?
And that number is plummeting,
but racial grievance is skyrocketing, right?
There’s a lot of examples like this.
So I wanted to look around and say,
and the reason I took it on,
the reason I don’t think this is just an unfortunate trend,
unpleasant trend that hopefully we come out of,
is that all this other stuff I like to write about,
all this future stuff, right?
And it’s this magical, I always think of this,
like I’m very optimistic in a lot of ways.
And I think that our world would be a utopia,
would seem like actual heaven.
Like whatever Thomas Jefferson was picturing as heaven,
other than maybe the eternal life aspect,
I think that if he came to 2021 US, it would be better.
It’s cooler than heaven.
But we live in a place that’s cooler than 1700s heaven.
Again, other than the fact that we still die.
Now, I think the future world
actually probably would have, quote, eternal life.
I don’t think anyone wants eternal life actually,
if people think they do.
Eternal is a long time.
But I think the choice to die when you want,
maybe we’re uploaded, maybe we can refresh our bodies.
I don’t know what it is.
But the point is, I think about that utopia.
And I do believe that like, if we don’t botch this,
we’d be heading towards somewhere
that would seem like heaven, maybe in our lifetimes.
Of course, if things go wrong,
now think about the trends here.
Just like the 20th century would seem like
some magical utopia to someone from the 16th century.
But the bad things in the 20th century
were kind of the worst things ever
in terms of just absolute magnitude.
World War II, the biggest genocides ever.
You’ve got maybe climate change,
if it is the existential threat that many people think it is.
We never had an existential threat on that level before.
So the good is getting better and the bad is getting worse.
And so what I think about the future,
I think of us as some kind of big, long canoe as a species.
5 million mile long canoe, each of us sitting in a row.
And we each have one oar,
and we can paddle on the left side or the right side.
And what we know is there’s a fork up there somewhere.
And the river forks, and there’s a utopia on one side
and a dystopia on the other side.
And I really believe that that’s,
we’re probably not headed for just an okay future.
It’s just the way tech is exploding,
like it’s probably gonna be really good or really bad.
The question is which side should we be rowing on?
We can’t see up there, right?
But it really matters.
So I’m writing about all this future stuff
and I’m saying none of this matters
if we’re squabbling our way into kind of like
a civil war right now.
So what’s going on?
So it’s a really important problem to solve.
What are your sources of hope in this?
So like how do you steer the canoe?
One of my big sources of hope,
and this is I think my answer to what I changed my mind on,
is I think I always knew this, but it’s easy to forget it.
Our primitive brain does not remember this fact,
which is that I don’t think there are very many bad people.
Now, you say bad, are there selfish people?
Most of us, I think that if you think of people,
there’s digital languages, ones and zeros.
And our primitive brain very quickly can get into the land
where everyone’s a one or a zero.
Our tribe, we’re all ones, we’re perfect.
I’m perfect, my family is that other family,
it’s that other tribe.
There are zeros and then you dehumanize them, right?
These people are awful.
So zero is not a human place.
No one’s a zero and no one’s a one.
You’re dehumanizing yourself.
So when we get into this land,
I call it political Disney world,
because the Disney movies have good guys.
Scar is totally bad and Mufasa is totally good, right?
You don’t see Mufasa’s character flaws.
You don’t see Scar’s upbringing that made him like that,
that humanizes him.
No, lionizes him, whatever.
Mufasa’s a one and Scar’s a zero, very simple.
So political Disney world is a place,
it’s a psychological place that all of us have been in.
And it can be religious Disney world,
it can be national Disney world and the war, whatever it is,
but it’s a place where we fall into this delusion
that there are protagonists and antagonists
and that’s it, right?
That is not true.
We are all 0.5s or maybe 0.6s to 0.4s in that.
We are also, on one hand,
I don’t think there’s that many really great people,
frankly, I think if you get into it,
people are kind of, a lot of people,
most of us have, if you get really
into our most shameful memories,
the things we’ve done that are worse,
the most shameful thoughts,
the deep selfishness that some of us have
in areas we wouldn’t want to admit, right?
Most of us have a lot of unadmirable stuff, right?
On the other hand, if you actually got into,
really got into someone else’s brain
and you looked at their upbringing,
you looked at the trauma that they’ve experienced
and then you looked at the insecurities they have
and you look at all their,
if you assemble the highlight reel of your worst moments,
the meanest things you’ve ever done,
the worst, the most selfish,
the times you stole something, whatever,
and you just, people are like,
wow, Lex is an awful person.
If you highlighted your,
if you did a montage of your best moments,
people would say, oh, he’s a god, right?
But of course, we all have both of those.
So, I’ve started to really try to remind myself
that everyone’s a 0.5, right?
And 0.5s are all worthy of criticism
and we’re all worthy of compassion.
And the thing that makes me hopeful
is that I really think that there’s a bunch of 0.5s
and 0.5s are good enough
that we should be able to create a good society together.
There’s a lot of love in every human.
And I think there’s more love in humans than hate.
I always remember this moment,
this is a weird anecdote,
but I’m a Red Sox fan, Boston Red Sox baseball,
and Derek Jeter is who we hate the most.
He’s on the Yankees.
And hate, right?
He was his last game in Fenway, he’s retiring.
And he got this rousing standing ovation
and I almost cried.
And it was like, what is going on?
We hate this guy,
but actually there’s so much love in all humans.
It felt so good to just give a huge cheer
to this guy we hate because it’s like this moment
of like a little fist pound being like,
of course we all actually love each other.
And I think there’s so much of that.
And so the thing that I think I’ve come around on
is I think that we are in an environment
that’s bringing out really bad stuff.
I don’t think it’s, if I thought it was the people,
I would be more hopeful.
Like if I thought it was human nature,
I’d be more upset.
It’s the two independent variables here,
or that there’s a fixed variable.
There’s a constant, which is human nature.
And there’s the independent variable environment
and that it behaviors the dependent variable.
I like that the thing that I think is bad
is the independent variable, the environment,
which means I think we can,
the environment can get better.
And there’s a lot of things I can go into
about why the environment I think is bad,
but I have hope because I think the thing that’s bad for us
is something that can change.
The first principles idea here is that most people
have the capacity to be a 0.7 to 0.9.
If the environment is properly calibrated
with the right incentives.
I think that, well, I think that maybe if we’re all,
yeah, if we’re all 0.5s,
I think that environments can bring out our good side.
Yeah, so maybe we’re all on some kind of distribution
and the right environment can, yes,
can bring out our higher sides.
And I think a lot of, in a lot of ways you could say it has.
I mean, the U.S. environment,
we take for granted how the liberal laws
and liberal environment that we live in.
I mean, like in New York City, right?
If you walk down the street and you like assault someone,
hey, if anyone sees you, they’re probably gonna yell at you.
You might get your ass kicked by someone for doing that.
You also might end up in jail, you know,
if it’s security cameras and there’s just norms,
you know, we’re all trained.
That’s what awful people do, right?
So there’s, it’s not the human nature
doesn’t have it in it to be like that.
It’s that this environment we’re in has made that a much,
much, much smaller experience for people.
There’s so many examples like that where it’s like,
man, you don’t realize how much of the worst human nature
is contained by our environment.
And, but I think that, you know,
rapidly changing environment,
which is what we have right now, social media starts.
I mean, what a seismic change to the environment.
There’s a lot of examples like that,
rapidly changing environment
can create rapidly changing behavior
and wisdom sometimes can’t keep up.
And so we, you know, we can really kind of lose our grip
on some of the good behavior.
Were you surprised by Elon’s answer about brain transplants
or Sam’s about nuclear power or anything else?
Sam’s I think is, I have a friend,
Isabel Boumeke who has a,
who’s a nuclear power, you know, influencer.
I’ve become very convinced
and I’ve not done my deep dive on this.
But here’s, in this case, this is,
this is reasoning by analogy here.
The amount of really smart people I respect
who all, who seem to have dug in,
who all say nuclear power is clearly a good option.
It’s obviously emission free, but you know,
the concerns about meltdowns and waste,
they see that they’re completely overblown.
So judging from those people, secondary knowledge here,
I will say I’m a strong advocate.
I haven’t done my own deep dive yet,
but it does seem like a little bit odd
that you’ve got people
who are so concerned about climate change,
who have, it seems like it’s kind of an ideology
where nuclear power doesn’t fit
rather than rational, you know, fear of climate change
that somehow is anti nuclear power.
It just, yeah.
I personally am uncomfortably reasoning by analogy
with climate change.
I’ve actually have not done a deep dive myself.
Me neither, because it’s so,
man, it seems like a deep dive.
And my reasoning by analogy there
currently has me thinking it’s a truly existential thing,
but feeling hopeful.
So let me, this is me speaking
and this is speaking from a person
who’s not done the deep dive.
I’m a little suspicious
of the amount of fear mongering going on.
Especially over the past couple of years,
I’ve gotten uncomfortable with fear mongering
in all walks of life.
There’s way too many people interested
in manipulating the populace with fear.
And so I don’t like it.
I should probably do a deep dive
because to me it’s, well, the big problem
with the opposition to climate change
or whatever the fear mongering is
that it also grows the skepticism in science broadly.
It’s like, and that,
so I need to make sure I do that deep dive.
I have listened to a few folks
who kind of criticize the fear mongering
and all those kinds of things,
but they’re few and far between.
And so it’s like, all right, what is the truth here?
And it feels lazy, but it also feels like
it’s hard to get to the,
like there’s a lot of kind of activists talking about idea,
versus like sources of objective,
like calm first principles type reasoning.
Like one of the things,
I know it’s supposed to be a very big problem,
but when people talk about catastrophic effects
of climate change,
I haven’t been able to like see really great deep analysis
of what that looks like in 10, 20, 30 years,
raising rising sea levels.
What are the models of how that changes human behavior,
society, what are the things that happen?
There’s going to be constraints on the resources
and people are gonna have to move around.
This is happening gradually.
Are we gonna be able to respond to this?
How would we respond to this?
What are the best,
like, what are the best models
for how everything goes wrong?
Again, I was, this is a question I keep starting
to ask myself without doing any research,
like motivating myself to get up to this deep dive
that I feel is deep,
just watching people not do a great job
with that kind of modeling with the pandemic
and sort of being caught off guard and wondering,
okay, if we’re not good with this pandemic,
how are we going to respond to other kinds of tragedies?
Well, this is part of why I wrote the book.
Cause I said, we’re going to have more and more of these,
like big collective, what should we do here situations?
Whether it’s, how about when, you know,
we’re probably not that far away
from people being able to go and decide the IQ of their kid
or like, you know, make a bunch of embryos
and actually pick the highest IQ.
Can possibly go wrong.
And also like, imagine the political sides of that
and like something that only wealthy people can afford at
first and just the nightmare, right?
We need to be able to have our wits about us as a species
where we can actually get into a topic like that
and come up with where the collective brain can be smart.
I think that there are certain topics
where I think of this and this is again,
another simplistic model, but I think it works
is that there’s a higher mind and a primitive mind, right?
You can, you know, in your head
and these team up with others.
So when the higher minds are in a higher mind
is more rational and puts out ideas
that it’s not attached to.
And so it can change its mind easily
cause it’s just an idea and the higher mind
can get criticized.
Their ideas can get criticized and it’s no big deal.
And so when the higher minds team up,
it’s like all these people in the room,
like throwing out ideas and kicking them
and one idea goes out and everyone criticizes it,
which is like, you know, shooting bows and arrows at it.
And the truth, the true idea is, you know,
the bow, the arrows bounce off and it’s so, okay,
it rises up and the other ones get shot down.
So it’s this incredible system.
This is what, you know,
this is what good science institution is,
is, you know, someone puts out a thing,
criticism arrows come at it and, you know,
most of them fall and the needle is in the haystack
end up rising up, right?
So what that’s happening is a bunch of people,
a bunch of flawed medium scientists
are creating super intelligence.
Then there’s the primitive mind,
which, you know, is the more limbic system part of our brain.
It’s the part of us that is very much not living in 2021.
It’s living many tens of thousands of years ago.
And it does not treat ideas like this separate thing.
It identifies with its ideas.
It only gets involved when it finds an idea sacred.
It starts holding an idea sacred and it starts identifying.
So what happens is they team up too.
And so when you have a topic that a bunch of primitive,
that really rouses a bunch of primitive minds,
it quickly, the primitive minds team up
and they create an echo chamber
where suddenly no one can criticize this.
And in fact, if it’s powerful enough,
people outside the community, you can,
no one can criticize it.
We will get your paper retracted.
We will get you fired, right?
That’s not higher mind behavior.
That is crazy primitive mind.
And so now what happens is the collective
becomes dumber than an individual,
a dumber than a reason, a single reasoning individual.
You have this collective is suddenly attached
to this sacred scripture with the idea
and they will not change their mind
and they get dumber and dumber.
And so climate change, what’s worrisome
is that climate change has in many ways
become a sacred topic,
where if you come up with a nuanced thing,
you might get called branded a denier.
So there goes the super intelligence,
all the arrows, no arrows can be fired.
But if you get called a denier,
that’s a social penalty for firing an arrow
at a certain orthodoxy, right?
And so what’s happening is the big brain
gets like frozen, right?
And it becomes very stupid.
Now, you can also say that
about a lot of other topics right now.
You just mentioned another one, I forget what it was,
but that’s also kind of like this.
The world of vaccine.
Yeah, yeah, COVID, okay.
And here’s my point earlier is that
what I see is that the political divide
has like a whirlpool that’s pulling everything into it.
And in that whirlpool, thinking is done
with the primitive mind tribes.
And so I get, okay, obviously something like race,
that makes sense, that also right now,
the topic of race, for example, or gender,
these things are in the whirlpool.
But that at least is like, okay,
that’s something that the primitive mind
would always get really worked up about.
It taps into like our deepest kind of like primal selves.
COVID, maybe it’s COVID in a way too,
but climate change, that should just be something
that our rational brains are like,
let’s solve this complex problem.
But the problem is that it’s all gotten sucked
into the red versus blue whirlpool.
And once that happens,
it’s in the hands of the primitive minds.
And we’re losing our ability to be wise together,
to make decisions.
It’s like the big species brain is like,
or the big American brain is like,
drunk at the wheel right now.
And we’re about to go into our future
with more and more big technologies,
scary things, we have to make big right decisions.
And not, we’re getting dumber as a collective.
And that’s part of this environmental problem.
So within the space of technologists
and the space of scientists, we should allow the arrows.
That’s one of the saddest things to me about,
is like the scientists, like I’ve seen arrogance.
There’s a lot of mechanisms that maintain the tribe.
It’s the arrogance, it’s how you built up this mechanism
that defends, this wall that defends against the arrows.
It’s arrogance, credentialism,
like just ego, really.
And then just, it protects you
from actually challenging your own ideas.
This ideal of science that makes science beautiful.
In a time of fear, and in a time of division
created by perhaps politicians that leverage the fear,
it, like you said, makes the whole system dumber.
The science system dumber,
the tech developer system dumber,
if they don’t allow the challenging of ideas.
What’s really bad is that like,
in a normal environment,
you’re always gonna have echo chambers.
So what’s the opposite of an echo chamber?
I created a term for it, because I think we need it,
which is called an idea lab, an idea lab, right?
It’s like people treat, it’s like people act like scientists,
even if they’re not doing science,
they just treat their ideas like science experiments
and they toss them out there and everyone disagrees.
And disagreement is like the game.
Everyone likes to disagree.
Certain texts thread where everyone is just saying,
it’s almost like someone throws something out
and just it’s an impulse for the rest of the group to say,
I think you’re being like overly general there.
Or I think like, aren’t you kind of being,
I think that’s like your bias showing.
And it’s like, no one’s getting offended
because it’s like, we’re all just messing,
we all of course respect each other, obviously.
We’re just, you know, trashing each other’s ideas
and that the whole group becomes smarter.
You’re always gonna have idea labs and echo chambers,
right, in different communities.
And most of us participate in both of them.
You know, maybe in your marriage is a great idea lab,
you love to disagree with your spouse and maybe in,
but this group of friends or your family at home,
you know, in front of that sister,
you do not bring up politics
because she’s now enforced when that happens,
her bullying is forcing the whole room
to be an echo chamber to appease her.
Now, what scares me is that usually have these things
existing kind of in bubbles.
And usually there’s like an age
have their natural defenses against each other.
So an echo chamber person stays in their echo chamber.
They don’t like, they will cut you out.
They don’t like to be friends with people
who disagree with them.
You notice that they will cut you out.
They’ll cut out their parents
if they voted for Trump or whatever, right?
So that’s how they do it.
They will say, I’m going to stay inside
of an echo chamber safely.
So my ideas, which I identify with
because my primitive mind is doing the thinking
are not going to ever have to get challenged
because it feels so scary and awful for that to happen.
But if they leave and they go into an idea lab environment,
they’re going to, people are going to say, what?
No, they’re going to disagree.
And they’re going to say,
and the person’s going to try to bully them.
They’re going to say, that’s really offensive.
And people are going to say, no, it’s not.
And they’re going to immediately say
these people are assholes, right?
So the echo chamber person,
it doesn’t have much power once they leave the echo chamber.
Likewise, the idea lab person,
they have this great environment,
but if they go into an echo chamber
where everyone else is, and they do that,
they will get kicked out of the group.
They will get branded as something,
a denier, a racist, a right winger, a radical,
these nasty words.
The thing that I don’t like right now
is that the echo chambers have found ways
to forcefully expand into places
that normally have a pretty good immune system
against echo chambers, like universities,
like science journals,
places where usually it’s like,
there’s a strong idea lab culture there, veritas.
You know, that’s an idea lab slogan.
You have is that these people have found a way to,
a lot of people have found a way
to actually go out of their thing
and keep their echo chamber
by making sure that everyone is scared
because they can punish anyone,
whether you’re in their community or not.
So that’s all brilliantly put.
When’s the book coming out?
June, July, we’re not quite sure yet.
Okay, I can’t wait.
Thanks. It’s awesome.
Do you have a title yet or you can’t talk about that?
Still working on it.
If it’s okay, just a couple of questions from Mailbag.
I just love these.
I would love to hear you riff on these.
So one is about film and music.
Why do we prefer to watch, the question goes,
why do we prefer to watch a film
we haven’t watched before,
but we want to listen to songs
that we have heard hundreds of times?
This question and your answer
really started to make me think like,
yeah, that’s true.
That’s really interesting.
Like we draw that line somehow.
So what’s the answer?
So I think, let’s use these two minds again.
I think that when your higher mind
is the one who’s taking something in
and they’re really interested in,
what are the lyrics or I’m gonna learn something
or reading a book or whatever.
And the higher mind is trying to get information.
And once it has it,
there’s no point in listening to it again.
It has the information.
Your rational brain is like, I got it.
But when you eat a good meal or have sex or whatever,
that’s something you can do again and again,
because it actually, your primitive brain loves it.
And it never gets bored of things that it loves.
So I think music is a very primal thing.
I think music goes right into our primitive brain.
A lot, I think it’s of course, it’s a collaboration.
Your rational brain is absorbing the actual message.
But I think it’s all about emotions
and even more than emotions,
it literally like the music taps into like some very,
very deep, primal part of us.
And so when you hear a song once,
even some of your favorite songs,
the first time you heard it,
you were like, I guess that’s kind of catchy.
And then you end up loving it on the 10th listen.
But sometimes you even don’t even like a song.
You’re like, oh, this song sucks.
But suddenly you find yourself on the 40th time
because it’s on the radio all the time,
just kind of being like, oh, I love this song.
And you’re like, wait, I hated the song.
And what’s happening is that the sound is actually,
the music’s actually carving a pathway in your brain
and it’s a dance.
And when your brain knows what’s coming,
it can dance, it knows the steps.
So your brain is your internal kind of,
your brain is actually dancing with the music
and it knows the steps and it can anticipate.
And so there’s something about knowing,
having memorized the song
that makes it incredibly enjoyable to us.
But when we hear it for the first time,
we don’t know where it’s gonna go.
We’re like an awkward dancer.
We don’t know the steps and your primitive brain
can’t really have that much fun yet.
That’s how I feel.
And in the movies, that’s less primitive.
That’s the story you’re taking in.
But a really good movie that we really love,
often we will watch it like 12 times.
It’s still like it, not that many,
but versus if you’re watching a talk show, right?
If you’re listening to one of your podcasts,
as a perfect example,
there’s not many people that will listen
to one of your podcasts,
no matter how good it is, 12 times.
Because once you’ve got it, you’ve got it.
It’s a form of information that’s very higher mind focused.
That’s how I read it.
Well, the funny thing is there is people
that listen to a podcast episode many, many times.
And often I think the reason for that
is not because of the information, is the chemistry,
is the music of the conversation.
So it’s not the actual.
It’s the art of it they like.
Yeah, they’ll fall in love with some kind of person,
some weird personality, and they’ll just be listening to,
they’ll be captivated by the beat of that kind of person.
Or like a standup comic.
I’ve watched like certain things,
like episodes like 20 times, even though I, you know.
I have to ask you about the wizard hat.
You had a blog about Neuralink.
I got a chance to visit Neuralink a couple of times,
hanging out with those folks, that was one of the pieces
of writing you did that like changes culture
and changes the way people think about a thing.
The ridiculousness of your stick figure drawings
are somehow, it’s like calling the origin
of the universe the Big Bang.
It’s a silly title, but it somehow sticks
to be the representative of that.
And the same way the wizard hat for the Neuralink
is somehow it was a really powerful way to explain that.
You actually proposed that the man of the year
cover of Time should be.
One of my drawings.
One of your drawings.
It’s an outrage that it wasn’t.
Okay, so what are your thoughts about like all those years
later about Neuralink?
Do you find this idea, like what excites you about it?
Is it the big long term philosophical things?
Is it the practical things?
Do you think it’s super difficult to do
on the neurosurgery side
and the material engineering, the robotics side?
Or do you think the machine learning side
for the brain computer interfaces
where they get to learn about each other,
all that kind of stuff.
I would just love to get your thoughts
because you’re one of the people
that really considered this problem,
really studied it, brain computer interfaces.
I mean, I’m super excited about it.
It’s a, I really think it’s actually
Elon’s most ambitious thing.
More than colonizing Mars
because that’s just a bunch of people going somewhere,
even though it’s somewhere far.
Neuralink is changing what a person is eventually.
Now, I think that Neuralink engineers and Elon himself
would all be the first to admit that it is a maybe
that whether they can do their goals here.
I mean, it is so crazy ambitious to try to,
even their eventual goals are,
of course in the interim,
they have a higher probability
of accomplishing smaller things,
which are still huge, like basically solving paralysis,
strokes, Parkinson, things like that.
I mean, it can be unbelievable.
And anyone who doesn’t have one of these things,
like we might, everyone should be very happy
about this kind of helping with different disabilities.
But the thing that is like,
so the grand goal is this augmentation
where you take someone who’s totally healthy
and you put a brain machine interface in any way
to give them superpowers.
It’s the possibilities if they can do this,
if they can really,
so they’ve already shown that they are for real,
but they’ve created this robot.
Elon talks about like, it should be like LASIK,
where it’s not,
it shouldn’t be something that needs a surgeon.
This shouldn’t just be for rich people
who have waited in line for six months.
It should be for anyone who can afford LASIK
and eventually, hopefully something that isn’t covered by
insurance or something that anyone can do.
Something this big a deal should be something
that anyone can afford eventually.
And when we have this, again,
I’m talking about a very advanced phase down the road.
So maybe a less advanced phase,
just maybe right now,
if you think about when you listen to a song,
what’s happening, is you actually hear the sound?
Well, not really.
It’s that the sound is coming out of the speaker.
The speaker is vibrating.
It’s vibrating air molecules.
Those air molecules, you know,
get vibrated all the way to your head pressure wave.
And then it vibrates your eardrum.
Your eardrum is really the speaker now in your head
that then vibrates bones and fluid,
which then stimulates neurons in your auditory cortex,
which give you the perception that you’re hearing sound.
Now, if you think about that,
do we really need to have a speaker to do that?
You could just somehow,
if you had a little tiny thing
that could vibrate eardrums,
you could do it that way.
That seems very hard.
But really what you need,
if you go to the very end
with a thing that really needs to happen,
is your auditory cortex neurons
need to be stimulated in a certain way.
If you have a ton of Neuralink things in there,
and they get really good at stimulating things,
you could play a song in your head
that you hear that is not playing anywhere.
There’s no sound in the room,
but you hear and no one else could.
It’s not like they can get close to your head and hear it.
There’s no sound.
They could not hear anything,
but you hear sound.
You can turn up.
So you open your phone,
you have the Neuralink app.
You open the Neuralink app,
and or just Neuralink.
So basically you can open your Spotify
and you can play to your speaker,
you can play to your computer,
you can play right out of your phone to your headphones,
or you can have a new one.
You can play into your brain.
And this is one of the earlier things.
This is something that seems like really doable.
So no more headphones.
I always think it’s so annoying
because I can leave the house with just my phone
and nothing else,
or even just an Apple watch.
But there’s always this one thing,
I’m like, and headphones.
You do need your headphones, right?
So I feel like that’ll be the end of that.
But there’s so many things that you,
and you keep going,
the ability to think together.
You can talk about like super brains.
I mean, one of the examples Elon uses
is that the low bandwidth of speech.
If I go to a movie and I come out of a scary movie
and you say, how was it?
I said, oh, it was terrifying.
Well, what did I just do?
I just gave you,
I had five buckets I could have given you.
One was horrifying, terrifying, scary, eerie, creepy,
That’s about it.
And I had a much more nuanced experience than that.
And all I have is these words, right?
And so instead I just hand you the bucket.
I put the stuff in the bucket and give it to you,
but all you have is the bucket.
You just have to guess what I put into that bucket.
All you can do is look at the label of the bucket and say,
when I say terrifying, here’s what I mean.
So the point is it’s very lossy.
I had all this nuanced information
of what I thought of the movie.
And I’m sending you a very low res package
that you’re gonna now guess
what the high res thing looked like.
That’s language in general.
Our thoughts are much more nuanced.
We can think to each other.
We can do amazing things.
We could A, have a brainstorm that doesn’t feel like,
oh, we’re not talking in each other’s heads.
Not just that I hear your voice.
No, no, no, we are just thinking.
No words are being said internally or externally.
The two brains are literally collaborating.
It’s something, it’s a skill.
I’m sure we’d have to get good at it.
I’m sure young kids will be great at it
and old people will be bad.
But you think together and together you’re like,
oh, had the joint epiphany.
And now how about eight people in a room doing it, right?
So it gets, you know, there’s other examples.
How about when you’re a dress designer or a bridge designer
and you want to show people what your dress looks like.
Well, right now you gotta sketch it for a long time.
Here, just beam it onto the screen from your head.
So you can picture it.
If, you know, if you can picture a tree in your head,
well, you can just suddenly,
whatever’s in your head, you can be pictured.
So we’ll have to get very good at it, right?
And take a skill, right?
You know, you’re gonna have to,
but the possibilities, my God.
Talk about like, I feel like if that works,
if we really do have that as something,
I think it’ll almost be like a new ADBC line.
It’s such a big change that the idea of like anyone living
before everyone had brain machine interfaces
is living in like before the common era.
It’s that level of like big change if it can work.
Yeah, and like a replay of memories,
just replaying stuff in your head.
Oh my God, yeah.
And copying, you know, you can hopefully copy memories
onto other things and you don’t have to just rely on your,
you know, your wet circuitry.
It does make me sad because you’re right.
The brain is incredibly neuroplastic
and so it can adjust, it can learn how to do this.
I think it’ll be a skill.
Or probably you and I will be too old to truly learn.
Well, maybe we can get, there’ll be great trainings.
You know, I’m spending the next three months
in like a, you know, one of the Neuralink trainings.
But it’ll still be a bit of like grandpa, I can’t.
This is, you know, I was thinking,
how am I gonna be old?
I’m like, no, I’m gonna be great at the new phones.
It’s like, how can it be the phones?
It’s gonna be that, you know,
the kid’s gonna be thinking to me.
I’m gonna be like, I just, can you just talk please?
And they’re gonna be like, okay, I’ll just talk.
And they’re gonna, so that’ll be the equivalent of,
you know, yelling to your grandparents today.
I really suspect, I don’t know what your thoughts are,
but I grew up in a time when physical contact interaction
I just feel like that’s going to go the way
that’s gonna disappear.
I mean, is there anything more intimate
than thinking with each other?
I mean, that’s, you talk about, you know,
once we were all doing that, it might feel like, man,
everyone was so isolated from each other so far.
So I didn’t say that intimacy disappears.
I just meant physical, having to be in the same,
having to touch each other.
If people like that, if it is important,
won’t there be whole waves of people start to say,
you know, there’s all these articles that come out
about how, you know, in our metaverse,
we’ve lost something important and then now there’s a huge,
all first the hippies start doing it
and then eventually it becomes this big wave
and now everyone, won’t, you know,
if something truly is lost, won’t we recover it?
Well, I think from first principles,
all of the components are there to engineer
intimate experiences in the metaverse or in the cyberspace.
And so to me, I don’t see anything profoundly unique
to the physical experience.
Like I don’t understand.
But then why are you saying there’s a loss there?
No, I’m just sad because I won’t,
oh, it’s a loss for me personally, because the world.
So then you do think there’s something unique
in the physical experience.
For me, because I was raised with it.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
So whatever, so anything you’re raised with,
you fall in love with.
Like people in this country came up with baseball.
I was raised in the Soviet Union.
I don’t understand baseball.
I get, I like it, but I don’t love it
the way Americans love it.
Because a lot of times they went to baseball games
with their father and then there’s that family connection.
There’s a young kid dreaming about, I don’t know,
becoming an MLB player himself.
I don’t know, something like that.
But that’s what you’re raised with,
obviously is really important.
But I mean, fundamentally to the human experience,
listen, we’re doing this podcast in person.
So clearly I still value it, but.
But it’s true.
If this were, obviously through a screen,
we all agree that’s not the same.
Yeah, it’s not the same.
But if this were some, we had contact lenses on
and maybe Neuralink, maybe again, forget,
again, this is all the devices,
even if it’s just cool as a contact lens,
that’s all old school.
Once you have the brain machine interface,
it’ll just be projection of,
it’ll take over my visual cortex.
My visual cortex will get put into a virtual room
and so will yours.
So we will see, we will hear, really hear and see
as if where you won’t have any masks, no VR mask needed.
And at that point, it really will feel like you’ll forget.
You’ll say, will we together and physically or not?
You won’t even,
it’d be so unimportant you won’t even remember.
And you’re right.
This is one of those shifts in society
that changes everything.
Romantically, people still need to be together.
There’s a whole set of like physical things
with a relationship that are needed.
You know, like.
Sex, but also just like there’s pheromones.
Like there’s the physical touch is such a,
that’s like music.
It goes to such a deeply primitive part of us
that what physical touch with a romantic partner does,
that I think that,
so I’m sure there’ll be a whole wave of people who,
their new thing is that, you know,
you’re romantically involved people
you never actually are in person with,
but, and I’m sure there’ll be things
where you can actually smell what’s in the room
and you can.
Yeah, and touch.
Yeah, but I think that’ll be one of the last things to go.
I think there’ll be, there’s something,
that to me seems like something that’ll be a while
before people feel like there’s nothing lost
by not being in the same.
It’s very difficult to replicate the human interaction.
Although sex also, again,
you could not to get too like weird,
but you could have a thing where you,
you’re basically, you know, or, you know,
let’s just do a massage because it’s less like awkward,
but like someone, you know,
everyone is still imagining sex.
So go on.
A masseuse could massage a fake body
and you could feel whatever’s happening, right?
So you’re lying down in your apartment alone,
but you’re feeling a full.
There’ll be the new like YouTube or like streaming
where it’s one masseuse massaging one body,
but like a thousand people are experiencing.
Exactly right now.
Think about it right now.
You know what, Taylor Swift doesn’t play for one person
and has to go around and every one of her fans
she has to go play for or a book, right?
You do it and it goes everywhere.
So it’ll be the same idea.
You’ve written and thought a lot about AI.
So AI safety specifically,
you’ve mentioned you’re actually starting a podcast,
which is awesome.
You’re so good at talking, so good at thinking,
so good at being weird in the most beautiful of ways,
but you’ve been thinking about this AI safety question.
Where today does your concern lie
for the near future, for the longterm future?
Like quite a bit of stuff happened,
including with Elon’s work with Tesla Autopilot.
There’s a bunch of amazing robots with Boston Dynamics
and everyone’s favorite vacuum robot, iRobot, Roomba.
And then there’s obviously the applications
of machine learning for recommender systems
in Twitter, Facebook, and so on.
And face recognition for surveillance,
all these kinds of things are happening.
Just a lot of incredible use of not the face recognition,
but the incredible use of deep learning,
machine learning to capture information about people
and try to recommend to them what they wanna consume next.
Some of that can be abused,
some of that can be used for good,
like for Netflix or something like that.
What are your thoughts about all this?
Yeah, I mean, I really don’t think humans are very smart,
all things considered, I think we’re like limited.
And we’re dumb enough that we’re very easily manipulable.
Not just like, oh, like our emotions,
people can, our emotions can be pulled like puppet strings.
I mean, again, I look at like,
I do look at what’s going on in political polarization now
and I see a lot of puppet string emotions happening.
So yeah, there’s a lot to be scared of for sure,
like very scared of.
I get excited about a lot of very specific things.
Like one of the things I get excited about is I like,
so the future of wearables, right?
Again, I think that it would be like,
oh, the wrist, the Fitbit around my wrist
is gonna seem, you know, the whoop
is gonna seem really hilariously old school in 20 years.
Back with Neuralink.
Like a big bracelet, right?
It’s gonna turn into little sensors in our blood probably,
or, you know, even, you know, infrared,
we’re, you know, just things that are gonna be,
it’s gonna be collecting a hundred times more data
than it collects now, more nuanced data,
more specific to our body.
And it’s going to be, you know, super reliable,
but that’s the hardware side.
And then the software is gonna be,
this is, I’ve not done my deep dive.
This is all speculation,
but the software is gonna get really good.
And this is the AI component.
And so I get excited about specific things like that.
Like think about if hardware were able to collect,
first of all, the hardware knows your whole genome
and we know a lot more about what a genome sequence means.
Cause you can collect your genome now
and we just don’t know much.
We, okay, we don’t have much to do with that information.
As AI gets, so now you have your genome,
you’ve got what’s in your blood at any given moment,
all the levels of everything, right?
You have the exact width of your heart arteries
at any given moment, you’ve got.
All the, all the virons,
all the viruses that ever visited your body
cause there’s a trace of it.
So you have all the pathogens,
all the things that like,
you should be concerned about health wise
and might have threatened you,
you might be immune from all of that kind of stuff.
They also, of course it knows
how fast your heart is beating
and it knows how much you know,
exactly the amount of exercise,
knows your muscle mass and your weight and all that,
but it also maybe can even know your emotions.
I mean, make, if emotions, you know, what are they,
you know, where do they come from?
Probably pretty obvious chemicals once we get in there.
So again, Neuralink can be involved here maybe
in collecting information, you know,
cause right now you have to do the thing,
what’s your mood right now?
And it’s hard to even assess, you know,
and you’re in a bad mood, it’s hard to even, but.
By the way, just as a shout out,
Lisa Feldman Barrett, who’s a neuroscientist
at Northeastern just wrote a,
I mean, not just, like a few years ago,
wrote a whole book saying our expression of emotions
has nothing to do with the experience of emotions.
So you really actually want to be measuring.
That, that’s exactly.
I, you can tell because one of these apps pops up
and says, you know, what, how do you feel right now?
I’m like, I don’t know.
Like I feel bad right now because the thing popping up
reminded me that I’m procrastinating.
So I was on my phone, I should have been more,
you know, I’m like, that’s not my, you know.
So I think it will probably be able to very,
get all this info, right?
Now the AI can go to town.
Think about when the AI gets really good at this
and it knows your genome and it knows it can just,
I want the AI to just tell me what to do when it turns up.
Okay, so how about this?
Now imagine attaching that to a meal service, right?
And the meal service has everything, you know,
all the million ingredients and supplements and vitamins
And I give the, I tell the AI my broad goals.
I want to gain muscle or I want to, you know,
maintain my weight, but I want to have more energy
or whatever, I just want, or I want to, you know,
I just want to be very healthy and I want to,
obviously everyone wants the same, like 10 basic things.
Like you want to avoid cancer, you want to, you know,
various things, you want to age slower.
So now the AI has my goals and a drone comes at,
you know, a little thing pops up and it says like,
you know, beep, beep, like, you know, 15 minutes,
you’re going to eat because it knows that’s a great,
that’s the right time for my body to eat.
15 minutes later, a little slot opens in my wall
where a drone has come from the factory,
the eating, the food factory and dropped the perfect meal
for my, that moment for me, for my mood, for my genome,
for my blood contents.
And it’s, it’s because it knows my goals.
So, you know, it knows I want to feel energy at this time
and then I want to wind down here.
So those things you have to tell it.
Well, plus the pleasure thing, like it knows what kind
of components of a meal you’ve enjoyed in the past
so you can assemble the perfect meal.
Exactly, it knows you way better than you know yourself,
better than any human could ever know you.
And a little thing pops up,
you still have some choice, right?
Still, it pops up and it says like, you know, coffee,
because it knows that, you know, my cutoff,
they says, you know, I can have coffee
for the next 15 minutes only because at that point
it knows how long it stays in my system.
It knows what my sleep is like when I have it too late.
It knows I have to wake up at this time tomorrow
because that was my calendar.
And so I think a lot of people’s, this is,
I think something that humans are wrong about
is that most people will hear this and be like,
that sounds awful, that sounds dystopian.
No, it doesn’t, it sounds incredible.
And if we all had this, we would not look back and be like,
I wish I was like making awful choices every day
like I was in the past.
And then this isn’t, these aren’t important decisions.
Your important decision making energy,
your important focus and your attention can go
onto your kids and on your work and on, you know,
helping other people and things that matter.
And so I think AI, when I think about like personal
lifestyle and stuff like that, I really love,
like I love thinking about that.
I think it’s gonna be very, and I think we’ll all be
so much healthier that when we look back today,
one of the things that’s gonna look so primitive
is the one size fits all thing,
getting like reading advice about keto.
Each genome is gonna have very specific,
one, you know, unique advice coming from AI.
And so, yeah.
Yeah, the customization that’s enabled by collection
of data and the use of AI, a lot of people think
what’s the, like they think of the worst case scenario
that data being used by authoritarian governments
to control you, all that kind of stuff.
They don’t think about most likely,
especially in a capitalist society,
it’s most likely going to be used as part of a competition
to get you the most delicious and healthy meal possible
as fast as possible.
Yeah, so the world will definitely be much better
with the integration of data.
But of course, you wanna be able to be transparent
and honest about how that data is misused.
And that’s why it’s important to have free speech
and people to speak out, like when some bullshit
is being done by companies.
That we need to have our wits about us as a society.
Like this is free speech is the mechanism
by which the big brain can think, can think for itself,
can think straight, can see straight.
When you take away free speech, when you start saying
that in every topic, when any topic’s political,
it becomes treacherous to talk about.
So forget the government taking away free speech.
If the culture penalizes nuanced conversation
about any topic that’s political
and the politics is so all consuming
and it’s such a incredible market to polarize people,
for media to polarize people and to bring any topic it can
into that and get people hooked on it as a political topic,
we become a very dumb society.
So free speech goes away as far as it matters.
People say, oh, people like to say outside,
you don’t even know what free speech is.
Free speech is, your free speech is not being violated.
It’s like, no, you’re right.
My first amendment rights are not being violated.
But the culture of free speech,
which is the second ingredient of two,
you need the first amendment
and you need the culture of free speech.
And now you have free speech
and the culture is much more specific.
You obviously can have a culture that believes people
right now take any topic again, that has to do with like,
some very sensitive topics, police shootings,
or what’s going on in K through 12 schools
or even climate change, take any of these.
And the first amendment’s still there.
You’re not gonna get arrested no matter what you say.
The culture of free speech is gone
because you will be destroyed.
Your life can be over as far as it matters
if you say the wrong thing.
But a really vigorous culture of free speech,
you get no penalty at all
for even saying something super dumb.
People will say, like, people will laugh and be like,
well, that was like kind of hilariously offensive
and like, not at all correct.
Like, you know, you’re wrong and here’s why.
But no one’s like mad at you.
Now the brain is thinking at its best.
The IQ of the big brain is like,
as high as it can be in that culture.
And the culture where, and you say something wrong
and people say, oh, wow, you’ve changed.
Oh, wow, like, look, this is his real colors.
He knows the big brain is dumb.
You still have mutual respect for each other.
So like, you don’t think lesser of others
when they say a bunch of dumb things.
You know it’s just the play of ideas.
But you still have respect, you still have love for them.
Because I think the worst case is
when you have a complete free like anarchy of ideas
where it’s like everybody lost hope
that something like a truth can even be converged towards.
Like, everybody has their own truth.
Then it’s just chaos.
Like, if you have mutual respect
and a mutual goal of arriving at the truth
and the humility that you want to listen
to other people’s ideas,
and a forgiveness that other people’s ideas
might be dumb as hell,
that doesn’t mean they’re lesser beings,
all that kind of stuff.
But that’s like a weird balance to strike.
Right now people are being trained, little kids,
college students, being trained
to think the exact opposite way.
To think that there’s no such thing as objective truth,
which is, you know, the objective truth
is the end on the compass for every thinker.
Doesn’t mean we’re necessarily on our way or we’re finding,
but we’re all aiming in the same direction.
We all believe that there’s a place
we can eventually get closer to.
Not objective truth, you know,
teaching them that disagreement is bad, violence.
You know, it’s, you know,
it’s like, you know, you quickly sound like
you’re just going on like a political rant with this topic,
but like, it’s really bad.
It’s like genuinely the worst.
If I had my own country,
I mean, it’s like I would teach kids
some very specific things
that this is doing the exact opposite of,
and it sucks, it sucks.
Speaking of a way to escape this,
you’ve tweeted 30 minutes of reading a day equals,
yeah, this whole video,
and it’s cool to think about reading,
like as a habit and something that accumulates.
You said 30 minutes of reading a day
equals 1000 books in 50 years.
I love like thinking about this,
like chipping away at the mountain.
Can you expand on that sort of the habit of reading?
How do you recommend people read?
Yeah, yeah, I mean, it’s incredible.
If you do something, a little of something every day,
it compiles, it compiles.
You know, I always think about like the people
who achieve these incredible things in life,
these great, like famous, legendary people,
they have the same number of days that you do,
and it’s not like they were doing magical days.
They just, they got a little done every day,
and that adds up to a monument,
they’re putting one brick in a day,
eventually they have this building,
this legendary building.
So you can take writing,
someone who, you know, there’s two aspiring writers,
and one doesn’t ever write,
doesn’t, you know, manages to never zero write,
zero pages a day,
and the other one manages to do two pages a week, right?
Not very much.
The other one does zero pages a week,
two pages a week, 98% of both of their time is the same.
The other person, just 2%, they’re doing one other thing.
One year later, they have written,
they write two books a year.
This prolific person, you know, in 20 years,
they’ve written 40 books,
they’re one of the most prolific writers of all time.
They write two pages a week.
Sorry, that’s not true.
That was two pages a day.
Okay, two pages a week,
you’re still writing about a book every two years.
So in 20 years, you’ve still written 10 books,
also prolific writer, right?
Huge, massive writing career.
You write two pages every Sunday morning.
The other person has the same exact week,
and they don’t do that Sunday morning thing.
They are a wannabe writer.
They always said they could write.
They talk about how they used to be,
and nothing happens, right?
So it’s inspiring, I think,
for a lot of people who feel frustrated
and they’re not doing anything.
So reading is another example
where someone who reads very, you know, doesn’t read,
and someone who’s a prolific reader,
you know, I always think about like the Tyler Cowen types.
I’m like, how the hell do you read so much?
It’s infuriating, you know?
Or like James Clear puts out his like,
his 10 favorite books of the year,
his 20 favorite books of the year.
I’m like, your 20 favorites?
Like I’m trying to just read 20 books,
like that would be an amazing year.
So, but the thing is,
they’re not doing something crazy and magical.
They’re just reading a half hour a night, you know?
If you read a half hour a night,
the calculation I came to is that
you can read a thousand books in 50 years.
So as someone who’s 80 and they’ve read a thousand books,
you know, between 30 and 80,
they are extremely well read.
They can delve deep into many nonfiction areas.
They can be, you know, an amazing fiction reader,
avid fiction reader.
And again, that’s a half hour a day.
Some people can do an hour,
a half hour in the morning audio book,
half hour at night in bed.
Now they’ve read 2000 books.
So I think it’s motivating.
And you realize that a lot of times you think
that the people who are doing amazing things
and you’re not, you think that there’s a bigger gap
between you and them than there really is.
I, on the reading front, I’m a very slow reader,
which is just a very frustrating fact about me,
but I’m faster with audio books.
And also I just, you know, I’ll just,
it’s just hard to get myself to read,
but I’ve started doing audio books
and I’ll wake up, throw it on, do it in the shower,
brushing my teeth, you know, making breakfast,
dealing with the dogs, things like that, whatever,
until I sit down.
And that’s, I can read, I can read a book a week,
a book every 10 days at that clip.
And suddenly I’m this big reader
because I’m just, while doing my morning stuff,
I have it on and also it’s this fun,
it makes the morning so fun.
I’m like having a great time the whole morning.
So I’m like, oh, I’m so into this book.
So I think that, you know, audio books
is another amazing gift to people
who have a hard time reading.
I find that that’s actually an interesting skill.
I do audio books quite a bit.
Like it’s a skill to maintain, at least for me,
probably the kind of books I read,
which is often like history or like,
there’s a lot of content.
And if you miss parts of it, you miss out on stuff.
And so it’s a skill to maintain focus.
At least for me.
Well, the 10 second back button is very valuable.
So I just, if I get lost,
sometimes the book is so good
that I’m thinking about what the person just said.
And I just get, the skill for me is just remembering to pause.
And if I don’t, no problem, just back, back, back, back.
Just three quick backs.
So of course it’s not that efficient,
but it’s, I do the same thing when I’m reading.
I’ll read a whole paragraph
and realize I was tuning out.
Yeah, you know?
You know, I haven’t actually even considered to try that.
I’ve been so hard on myself maintaining focus
because you do get lost in thought.
Maybe I should try that.
Yeah, and when you get lost in thought, by the way,
you’re processing the book.
That’s not wasted time.
That’s your brain really categorizing
and cataloging what you just read and like.
Well, there’s several kinds of thoughts, right?
There’s thoughts related to the book
and there’s a thought that it could take you elsewhere.
Well, I find that if I am continually thinking
about something else, I just say, I’m not,
I just pause the book.
Yeah, especially in the shower or something
when like, that’s sometimes
when really great thoughts come up.
If I’m having all these thoughts about other stuff,
I’m saying clearly my mind wants to work on something else.
So I’ll just pause it.
Yeah, quiet, Dan Carlin.
I’m thinking about something else right now.
Also you can, things like you have to head out to the store.
Like I’m gonna read 20 pages on that trip.
Just walking back and forth, going to the airport.
I mean, flights, you know, the Uber,
and then you’re walking to the,
walking through the airport,
you’re sharing the security line.
I’m reading the whole time, like,
I know this is not groundbreaking.
People know what audio books are,
but I think that more people
should probably get into them than do.
Cause I know a lot of people,
they have this stubborn kind of things.
I don’t like, I like to have the paper book and sure,
but like, it’s pretty fun to be able to read.
I still, I listen to a huge number of audio books
and podcasts, but I still,
the most impactful experiences for me are still reading.
And I read very, very slow.
And it’s very frustrating when like,
you go to these websites like that estimate
how long a book takes on average,
that those are always annoying.
They do like a page a minute when I read like best,
a page every two minutes, at best.
At best, when you’re like really like,
actually not pausing.
I just, my ADD, it’s like, I just,
it’s hard to keep focusing.
And I also like to really absorb.
So on the other side of things,
when I finish a book, 10 years later, I’ll be like,
you know that scene when this happens
and another friend read it,
I’ll be like, what?
I don’t remember any like details.
I’m like, oh, I can tell you like the entire.
So I absorbed the shit out of it,
but I don’t think it’s worth it to like have to read
so less, so much less in my life.
I actually, so in terms of going to the airport,
you know, in these like filler moments of life,
I do a lot of, it’s an app called Anki.
I don’t know if you know about it.
It’s a space repetition app.
So there’s all of these facts I have when I read,
I write it down if I want to remember it.
And it’s these, you review it.
And the one, the things you remember,
it takes longer and longer to bring back up.
It’s like flashcards, but a digital app.
It’s called Anki.
I recommend it to a lot of people.
There’s a huge community of people
that are just like obsessed with it.
A N K I.
So this is extremely well known app and idea,
like among students who are like medical students,
like people that really have to study.
Like this is not like fun stuff.
They really have to memorize a lot of things.
They have to remember them well.
They have to be able to integrate them
with a bunch of ideas.
And I find it to be really useful for like,
when you read history,
if you think this particular factoid,
they’d probably be extremely useful for you.
Cause you’re, that’d be interesting actually thought.
Cause you’re doing, you talked about like opening up
a trillion tabs and reading things.
You know, you probably want to remember some facts
you read along the way.
Like you might remember, okay,
this thing I can’t directly put into the writing,
but it’s a cool little factoid.
I want to.
Oh, all the time.
Store that in there.
And that’s why I go Anki, drop it in.
Oh, you can just drop it in.
You drop it in a line of a podcast or like a video?
I guess I can type it though.
So Anki, there’s a bunch of,
it’s called Space Repetitions.
There’s a bunch of apps that are much nicer than Anki.
Anki is the ghetto, like Craigslist version,
but it has a giant community because people are like,
we don’t want features.
We want a text box.
Like it’s very basic, very stripped down.
So you can drop in stuff.
You can drop it.
That sounds really,
I can’t believe I have not come across this.
You actually, once you look into it,
you’ll realize that how have I not come,
you are the person,
I guarantee you’ll probably write a blog about it.
I can’t believe you actually have it.
Well, it’s also just like.
It’s your people too.
And my people say, what do you write about?
Literally anything I find interesting.
And so for me, once you start a blog,
like your entire worldview becomes,
would this be a good blog post?
Would this be, I mean, that’s the lens
I see everything through,
but I constantly coming across something
or just a tweet, something that I’m like,
ooh, I need to like share this with my readers.
My readers to me are like my friends who I’m like,
I’m gonna, oh, I need to show,
I need to tell them about this.
And so I feel like just a place to,
I mean, I collect things in a document right now,
if it’s like really good,
but it’s the little factoids and stuff like that.
I think, especially if I’m learning something,
if I’m like.
So the problem is when you say stuff,
when you look at it, like tweet and all that kind of stuff
is you also need to couple that with a system for review.
Cause what Anki does is like literally,
it determines for me, I don’t have to do anything.
There’s this giant pile of things I’ve saved
and it brings up to me, okay, here’s, I don’t know.
When Churchill did something, right?
I’m reading about World War II a lot now,
like a particular event, here’s that.
Do you remember when, what year that happened?
And you say yes or no, or like you get to pick,
you get to see the answer and you get to self evaluate
how well you remember that fact.
And if you remember well,
it’ll be another month before you see it again.
If you don’t remember, it’ll bring it up again.
That’s a way to review tweets, to review concepts.
And it offloads the kind of,
the process of selecting which parts
you’re supposed to review or not.
And you can grow that library.
I mean, obviously medical students use it
for like tens of thousands of facts and it’s.
It just gamifies it too.
It’s like you can passively sit back and just,
and the thing will like make sure
you eventually learn it all.
This is, you know, you don’t have to be the executive
calling that like the program,
the memorization program someone else is handling.
I would love to hear about like you trying it out
or space repetition as an idea.
There’s a few other apps, but Anki’s the big master.
I totally want to try.
You’ve written and spoken quite a bit about procrastination.
I like you suffer from procrastination
like many other people, suffering quotes.
How do we avoid procrastination?
I don’t think the suffer is in quotes.
I think that’s a huge part of the problem
is that it’s treated like a silly problem.
People don’t take it seriously as a dire problem,
but it can be.
It can ruin your life.
There’s like, we talked about the compiling concept
with, you know, if you read a little,
you know, if you write, if you write two pages a week,
you write a book every two years,
you’re a prolific writer, right?
And the difference between, you know,
again, it’s not that that person’s working so hard.
It’s that they have the ability to,
when they commit to something like on Sunday mornings,
I’m gonna write two pages.
They respect, they have enough,
they respect the part of them that made that decision
is a respected character in their brain.
And they say, well, that’s, I decided it,
so I’m gonna do it.
The procrastinator won’t do those two pages.
That’s just exactly the kind of thing
the procrastinator will keep on their list
and they will not do.
But that doesn’t mean they’re any less talented
than the writer who does the two pages.
Doesn’t mean they want it any less.
Maybe they want it even more.
And it doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t be just as happy
having done it as the writer who does it.
So what they’re missing out on,
picture a writer who writes 10 books, you know,
bestsellers, and they go on these book tours
and, you know, they, and they just are so gratified
with their career and, you know,
and they think about what the other person is missing
who does none of that, right?
So that is a massive loss, a massive loss.
And it’s because the internal mechanism in their brain
is not doing what the other person’s is.
So they don’t have the respect for the part of them
that made the choice.
They feel like it’s someone they can disregard.
And so to me, it’s in the same boat
as someone who is obese because their eating habits
make them obese over time or their exercise habits.
So that, you know, that’s a huge loss for that person.
That person is, you know, the health problems
and it’s just probably making them miserable.
And it’s self inflicted, right?
It’s self defeating, but that doesn’t make an easy problem
to fix just because you’re doing it to yourself.
So to me, procrastination is another one of these
where you are the only person in your own way.
You are, you know, you are failing at something
or not doing something that you really want to do.
You know, it doesn’t have to be work.
Maybe you’re, you want to get out of that marriage
that you know, you realize it hits you.
You shouldn’t be in this marriage.
You should get divorced and you wait 20 extra years
before you do it or you don’t do it at all.
That is, you know, you’re not living the life
that you know you should be living, right?
And so I think it’s fascinating.
Now, the problem is it’s also a funny problem
because there’s short term procrastination,
which I talk about as, you know,
the kind that has a deadline.
Now, some people, you know,
this is when I bring in, there’s different characters.
There’s the panic monster comes in the room
and that’s when you actually, you know,
the procrastinator can, there’s different levels.
There’s the kind that even when there’s a deadline,
they stop panicking.
They just, they’ve given up
and they really have a problem.
Then there’s the kind that when there’s a deadline,
they’ll do it, but they’ll wait till the last second.
Both of those people, I think have a huge problem
once there’s no deadline because,
and most of the important things in life,
there’s no deadline, which is, you know,
changing your career, you know,
becoming a writer when you never have been before,
getting out of your relationship,
you know, be doing whatever you need to,
the changes you need to make
in order to get into a relation.
There’s a thing after it.
Launching a startup.
Launching a startup, right?
Or once you’ve launched a startup,
firing is the right, someone that needs to be fired, right?
I mean, going out for fundraising
instead of just trying to, you know,
there’s so many moments when the big change
that you know you should be making
that would completely change your life
if you just did it has no deadline.
It just has to be coming from yourself.
And I think that a ton of people have a problem
where they will, they think this delusion
that, you know, I’m gonna do that.
I’m definitely gonna do that, you know,
but not this week, not this month,
not today, because whatever.
And they make this excuse again and again,
and it just sits there on their list collecting dust.
And so, yeah, to me, it is a very real suffering.
And the fix isn’t fixing the habits.
Just like not working on the fix, first of all.
So there’s, okay, there is,
there’s, just that you have a boat that sucks
and it’s leaking and it’s gonna sink.
You can fix it with duct tape for a couple of,
you know, for one ride or whatever.
That’s not really fixing the boat,
but you can get you by.
So there’s duct tape solutions.
To me, so the panic monster is the character
that rushes into the room once the deadline gets too close
or once there’s some scary external pressure,
not just from yourself.
And that’s a huge aid to a lot of procrastinators.
Again, there’s a lot of people who won’t,
you know, do that thing.
They’ve been writing that book they wanted to write,
but there’s way fewer people
who will not show up to the exam.
You know, most people show up to the exam.
So that’s because the panic monster
is gonna freak out if they don’t.
So you can create a panic monster.
If you wanna, you know, you really wanna write music,
you really wanna become a singer, songwriter,
well, book a venue, tell 40 people about it
and say, hey, on, you know, this day, two months from now,
come and see, I’m gonna play you some of my songs.
You now have a panic monster, you’re gonna write songs.
You’re gonna have to, right?
So there’s duct tape things.
You know, you can do things, you know, people do,
I’ve done a lot of this with a friend and I say,
if I don’t get X done by a week from now,
I have to donate a lot of money
somewhere I don’t wanna donate.
And that’s, you would put that
in the category of duct tape solutions.
Yeah, because it’s not, why do I need that, right?
If I really had solved this,
this is something I want to do for me, it’s selfish.
This is, I just literally just want to be selfish here
and do the work I need to do
to get the goals I wanna get, right?
There’s a much, all the incentives
should be in the right place.
And yet, if I don’t say that,
it’ll be a week from now and I won’t have done it.
Something weird is going on, there’s some resistance,
there’s some force that is prevent,
that is in my own way, right?
And so doing something where I have to pay all this money,
okay, now I’ll panic and I’ll do it.
So that’s duct tape.
Fixing the boat is something where I don’t have to do that.
I just will do the things that I,
again, it’s not, I’m talking about super crazy work ethic.
Just like, for example, okay, I have a lot of examples
because I have a serious problem that I’ve been working on.
And in some ways I’ve gotten really successful
at solving it and in other ways I’m still floundering.
Yeah, the world’s greatest duct taper.
Yes, well, I’m pretty good at duct taping.
I probably could be even better and I’m like, and I’m.
You’re procrastinating and becoming a better duct taper.
Literally, like, yes, there’s nothing, I won’t.
So here’s what I know what I should do as a writer, right?
It’s very obvious to me is that I should wake up.
Doesn’t have to be crazy,
I don’t wanna 6 a.m. or anything insane
or I’m not gonna be one of those crazy people at 5.30 jogs.
I’m gonna wake up at whatever, you know, 7.30, 8, 8.30
and I should have a block, like, just say nine to noon
where I get up and I just really quick make some coffee
It’s obvious because all the great writers in history
did exactly that, some.
Some of them have done that, that’s common.
There’s some that I like these writers,
they do the late night sessions,
but most of them they do wake up.
But there’s a session, but there’s a session that’s.
Most writers write in the morning and there’s a reason.
I don’t think I’m different than those people.
It’s a great time to write, you’re fresh, right?
Your ideas from dreaming have kind of collected,
you have all, you know, new answers
that you didn’t have yesterday and you can just go.
But more importantly, if I just had a routine
where I wrote from nine to noon, weekdays.
Every week would have a minimum of 15 focused hours
of writing, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s a lot.
A 15, 15, no, this is no joke.
This is, you know, you’re not, your phone’s away,
you’re not talking to anyone, you’re not opening your email,
you are focused writing for three hours, five.
That’s a big week for most writers, right?
So now what’s happening is that every weekday
is a minimum of a B, I’ll give myself.
You know, an A might be, you know, wow,
I really just got into a flow and wrote for six hours
and had, you know, great.
But it’s a minimum of a B, I can keep going if I want.
And every week is a minimum of a B with those 15 hours.
Right, and if I just had, talk about compiling,
if I, this is the two pages a week.
If I just did that every week,
I’d achieve all my writing goals in my life.
And yet I wake up and most days I just,
either I’ll revenge procrastination late at night
and go to bed way too late and then wake up later
and get on a bad schedule and I just fall
into these bad schedules.
Or I’ll wake up and there’s just, you know,
I’ll say I was gonna do a few emails and I’ll open it up
and I’m suddenly on text and I’m texting.
Or I’ll just go and, you know, I’ll make a phone call
and I’ll be on phone calls for three hours.
It’s always something.
Or I’ll start writing and then I hit a little bit of a wall,
but because there’s no sacred,
this is a sacred writing block,
I’ll just hit the wall and say, well, this is icky
and I’ll go do something else.
So duct tape, what I’ve done is,
White But Why has one employee, Alisha.
She’s the manager of lots of things.
That’s her role.
She truly does lots of things.
And one of the things we started doing is,
either she comes over and sits next to me
where she can see my screen from nine to noon.
That’s all it takes.
The thing about procrastination is there’s usually,
they’re not kicking and screaming.
I don’t want to do this.
It’s the feeling of, you know, in the old days
when you had to go to class,
you know, your lunch block is over and it’s like,
oh, shit, I have class in five minutes.
Or it’s Monday morning, you go, oh.
But you said, you know what?
But you go, you say, okay.
And then you get to class and it’s not that bad
once you’re there, right?
You know, you have a trainer and he says, okay, next set.
And you go, oh, okay.
And you do it.
That’s all it is.
It’s someone, some external thing being like,
okay, I have to do this.
And then you have that moment of like, it sucks,
but I guess I’ll do it.
If no one’s there though, the problem with the procrastinator
is they don’t have that person in their head.
Other people I think were raised with a sense of shame
if they don’t do stuff.
And that stick in their head is hugely helpful.
I don’t really have that.
And so anyway, Alicia is sitting there next to me.
So she’s doing her own work, but she can see my screen
and she of all people knows exactly what I should be doing,
what I shouldn’t be doing.
That’s all it takes.
The shame of just having her see me
while she’s sitting there not working
would just be too, it’s too weird and too embarrassing.
So I get it done and it’s amazing.
It’s a game changer for me.
So duct tape can solve, sometimes duct tape is enough,
but I’m curious to, I’m still trying to, what is going on?
I think part of it is that we are actually wired.
I think I’m being very sane human actually
is what’s happening.
Or not sane is not the right word.
I’m being like, I’m being a natural human
that we are not programmed to sit there and do homework
of a certain kind that we get the results like
six months later.
Like that is not, so we’re supposed to conserve energy
and fulfill our needs as we need them
and do immediate things.
And we’re overriding our natural ways
when we wake up and get to it.
And I think sometimes it’s because the pain,
I think a lot of times we’re just avoiding suffering
and for a lot of people, the pain of not doing it
is actually worse because they feel shame.
So if they don’t get up and take a jog
and get up early and get to work,
I’ll feel like a bad person.
And that is worse than doing those things.
And then it becomes a habit eventually
and it becomes just easy automatic.
It becomes I do it because that’s what I do.
But I think that if you don’t have a lot of shame
necessarily, the pain of doing those things
is worse in the immediate moment than not doing it.
But I think that there’s this feeling
that you capture with your body language
and so on, like I don’t want to do another set.
That feeling, the people I’ve seen that are good
at not procrastinating are the ones
that have trained themselves to like the moment
they would be having that feeling.
They just, it’s like Zen, like Sam Harris style Zen.
You don’t experience that feeling.
You just march forward.
Like I talked to Elon about this a lot actually offline.
It’s like, he doesn’t have this.
No, clearly not.
It’s the way I think, at least he talks about it
and the way I think about it is it’s like
you just pretend you’re like a machine running an algorithm.
Like you know this, you should be doing this.
Not because somebody told you so on.
This is probably the thing you want to do.
Like look at the big picture of your life
and just run the algorithm.
Like ignore your feelings, just run as if.
But it’s framing, frame it differently.
You know, yeah, you can frame it as like,
it can feel like homework or it can feel like
you’re like, you’re living your best life
or something when you’re doing your work.
Yeah, and maybe reframe it.
But I think ultimately is whatever reframing
you need to do, you just need to do it for a few weeks.
And that’s how the habit is formed and you stick with it.
Like I’m now on a kick where I exercise every day.
It doesn’t matter what that exercise is.
It’s not serious.
It could be 200 pushups, but it’s the thing that like
I make sure I exercise every day
and it’s become way, way easier because of the habit.
And I just, and I don’t like, at least with exercise
because it’s easier to replicate that feeling.
I don’t allow myself to go like,
I don’t feel like doing this.
Well, I think about that, even just like little things,
like I brush my teeth before I go to bed
and it’s just a habit.
And it is effort.
Like if it were something else, I would be like,
oh, I’m gonna go to the bathroom and go do that.
And I just want to like, I’m just gonna lie down right now.
But it doesn’t even cross my mind.
It’s just like that I just robotically go and do it.
And it almost has become like a nice routine.
It’s like, oh, this part of the night, you know,
it’s like a morning routine for me stuff is like,
you know, that stuff is kind of just like automated.
Yeah, it’s funny because you don’t like go,
like I don’t think I’ve skipped many days.
I don’t think I skipped any days brushing my teeth.
Like unless I didn’t have a toothbrush,
like I was in the woods or something.
And what is that?
Because it’s annoying.
Well, so to me, there is,
so the character that makes me procrastinate
is the instant gratification monkey.
That’s what I’ve labeled him, right?
And there’s the rational decision maker
and the instant gratification monkey
and these battle with each other.
But for procrastinator, the monkey wins.
I don’t think the monkey is, you know,
you read about this kind of stuff.
I think that this kind of more primitive brain
is always winning.
And in the non procrastinators,
that primitive brain is on board for some reason
and isn’t resisting.
So, but when I think about brushing my teeth,
it’s like the monkey doesn’t even think
there’s an option to not do it.
So it doesn’t even like get, there’s no hope.
Monkey has no hope there.
So it doesn’t even like get involved.
And it’s just like, yeah, you know, we have to,
just like kind of like robotically, just like, you know,
it was kind of like Stockholm syndrome,
just like, oh no, no, I have to do this.
It doesn’t even like wake up.
It’s like, yeah, we’re doing this now.
For other things, the monkey’s like, ooh, no, no, no.
Most days I can win this one.
And so the monkey puts up that like fierce resistance
and it’s like, it’s a lot of it’s like
the initial transition.
So I think of it as like jumping in a cold pool
where it’s like, I will spend the whole day
pacing around the side of the pool in my bathing suit,
just being like, I don’t want to have that one second
when you first jump in and it sucks.
And then once you’re, once I’m in,
once I jump in, I’m usually, you know,
once I start writing, I’m suddenly I’m like,
oh, this isn’t so bad.
Okay, I’m kind of into it.
And then I, then sometimes you can’t tear me away.
You know, then I suddenly I’m like, I get into a flow.
So it’s like, once I get into cold water, I don’t mind it,
but I will spend hours standing around the side of the pool.
And by the way, I do this in a more literal sense.
When I go to the gym with a trainer in 45 minutes,
I do a full full ass workout.
And it’s not because I’m having a good time,
but it’s because it’s that,
oh, okay, I have to go to class feeling, right?
But when I go to the gym alone,
I will literally do a set and then dick around my phone
for 10 minutes before the next set.
And I’ll spend an over an hour there and do way less.
So it is the transition.
Once I’m actually doing the set,
I’m never like, I don’t want to stop in the middle.
Now it’s just like, I’m going to do this.
And I felt happy, I just did it.
So it’s something,
there’s something about transitions that is very,
that’s why procrastinators are late a lot of places.
It’s, I will procrastinate getting ready
to go to the airport,
even though I know I should leave at three,
so I can not be stressed.
I’ll leave at 3.36 and I’ll be super stressed.
Once I’m on the way to the airport,
immediately I’m like, why didn’t I do this earlier?
Now I’m back on my phone doing what I was doing.
I just had to get in the damn car or whatever.
So yeah, there’s some very, very odd irrational.
Yeah, like I was waiting for you to come
and you said that you’re running a few minutes late.
And I was like, I was like, I’ll go get you a coffee
because I can’t possibly be the one who’s early.
I can’t, I don’t understand.
I’m always late to stuff.
And I know it’s disrespectful
in the eyes of a lot of people.
I can’t help, you know what I’m doing ahead of it?
It’s not like I don’t care about the people.
I’m often like, you know, for like this conversation,
I’d be preparing more.
It’s like, I obviously care about the person,
but for some.
Yeah, it’s misinterpreted as like,
there are some people that like show up late
because they kind of like that quality in themselves.
That’s a dick, right?
There’s a lot of those people,
but more often it’s someone who shows up frazzled
and they feel awful and they’re furious at themselves.
They’re so regretful.
I mean, that’s me.
And I mean, all you have to do is look at those people alone
running through the airport, right?
They’re not being disrespectful to anyone there.
They just inflicted this on themselves.
This is hilarious.
You tweeted a quote by James Baldwin saying, quote,
I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates
so stubbornly is because they sense once hate is gone,
they will be forced to deal with the pain.
What has been a painful but formative experience
in your life?
Or what’s the flavor, the shape of your pain
that fuels you?
I mean, honestly, the first thing that jumped to mind
is my own like battles against myself to get my work done
because it affects everything.
When I, I just took five years in this book
and granted it’s a beast.
Like I probably would have taken two or three years,
but it didn’t need to take five.
And that was a lot of, not just, you know,
not just that I’m not working,
it’s that I’m over researching.
I’m making it, I’m adding in things I shouldn’t
because I’m perfectionist, you know,
being a perfectionist about like, oh, well I learned that.
Now I want to get it in there.
I know I’m going to end up cutting it later.
Just, you know, or I over outline, you know,
something until, you know, trying to get it perfect
when I know that’s not possible.
So making a lot of immature kind of,
like, I’m not actually that much of a writing amateur.
I’ve written, including my old blog,
I’ve been a writer for 15 years.
I know what I’m doing.
I could advise other writers really well.
And yet I do a bunch of amateur things
that I know while I’m doing them is an,
I know I’m being an amateur.
So that A, it hurts the actual product.
It makes, you know, B, it’s waste your precious time.
C, when you’re mad at yourself,
when you’re in a negative, you know,
self defeating spiral, it almost inevitably will,
you’ll be less good to others.
Like, you know, I’ll just, just, I used to, you know,
early on in my now marriage,
one of the things we always used to do
is I used to plan mystery dates.
You know, New York city, great, great place for this.
I’d find some weird little adventure for us.
You know, it could be anything.
And I wouldn’t tell her what it was.
I said, I reserving you for Thursday night,
you know, at seven, okay?
And it was such a fun part of our relationship.
Started writing this book and got into a really bad,
you know, personal space where I was like, in my head,
I was like, I can’t do anything until this is done.
You know, like, no.
And I just stopped like ever valuing,
like, like joy of any kind.
Like I was like, no, any, no, that’s when I’m done.
And that’s a trap or very quickly, you know,
cause I always think, you know,
I think it’s going to be a six months away,
but actually five years later, I’m like, wow,
I really wasn’t living fully.
And for five years is not, we don’t live very long.
Like talking about your prime decades,
like that’s like a sixth of my prime years.
Like, wow, like that’s a huge loss.
So to me, that was excruciating.
And, you know, and it was a bad pattern,
a very unproductive, unhelpful pattern for me,
which is I’d wake up in the morning in this great mood,
great mood every morning, wake up thrilled to be awake.
I have the whole day ahead of me.
I’m going to get so much work done today.
And, but you know, first I’m going to do all these other
things and it’s all going to be great.
And then I ended up kind of failing for the day
with those goals, sometimes miserably,
sometimes only partially.
And then I get in bed probably a couple hours later
than I want to.
And that’s when all of the real reality hits me.
Suddenly so much regret, so much anxiety,
furious at myself, wishing I could take a time machine back
three months, six months a year,
or just even to the beginning of that day.
And just tossing and turning now.
I mean, this is a very bad place.
This is what I said, suffering,
procrastinators suffer in a very serious way.
So look, I, you know,
I know this probably sounds like a lot of like first world
problems and it is, but it’s real suffering as well.
Like it’s, so to me, it’s like,
it’s painful because you’re not being,
you’re not being as good a friend or a spouse or whatever,
as you could be.
You’re also not treating yourself very well.
You’re usually not being very healthy in these moments.
You know, you’re often, and you’re not being,
I’m not being good to my readers.
So it’s just a lot of this.
And it’s like, it feels like it’s one small tweak away.
Sometimes it’s like, that’s what I said.
It’s like, you just suddenly are just doing that nine to 12
and you get in that habit.
Everything else falls into place.
All of this reverses.
So I feel hopeful, but it’s like, it is a,
I have not figured, I haven’t fixed the boat yet.
I have some good duct tape though.
And you also don’t want to romanticize it
because it is true that some of the greats in history,
especially writers suffer from all the same stuff.
Like they weren’t quite able.
I mean, you might only write for two or three hours a day,
but the rest of the day is often spent kind of tortured.
This is the irrational thing is if I,
and this goes for a lot of people’s jobs,
people especially who work for themselves,
you’d be shocked how much you could wake up at nine
or eight or seven or whatever.
Get to work and stop at one,
but you’re really focused in those hours.
One or two and do 25 really focused hours of stuff,
product stuff a week, and then there’s 112 waking hours
in the week, right?
So we’re talking about 80 something hours of free time.
You can live, you know, if you’re just really focused
in your, you know, yin and yang of your time,
and that’s what, that’s my goal is black and white time.
I really focused time and then totally like
clean conscience free time.
Right now I have neither, it’s a lot of gray.
It’s a lot of, I should be working, but I’m not.
Oh, I’m wasting this time.
This is bad.
And that’s just as massive.
So if you can just get really good at the black
and the white, so you just wake up
and it’s just like full work.
And then I think a lot of people could have
like all this free time,
but instead I’ll do those same three hours.
It’s like you said, I’ll do them really late at night
or whatever after having tortured myself the whole day
and not had any fun.
It’s not like I’m having fun.
I call it the dark playground, by the way,
which is where you are when you know you should be working,
but you’re doing something else.
You’re doing something fun on paper,
but it’s never, it feels awful.
And so, yeah, I spend a lot of time in the dark.
And you know you shouldn’t be doing it
and you still do it and yeah.
It’s not clean conscience fun.
It’s bad, it’s toxic.
And I think that it’s, there’s something about,
you know, you’re draining yourself all the time.
And if you just did your focused hours
and then if you actually have good, clean fun,
fun can be anything.
Reading a book can be hanging out with someone
who can be really fun.
You can go and do something cool in the city.
You know, that is critical.
You’re recharging some part of your psyche there.
And I think it makes it easier
to actually work the next day.
And I say this from the experiences
when I have had good stretches.
It’s like, you know what it is?
It’s like, you feel like you’re fist pounding.
One part of your brain is fist pounding the other part.
Like, you’re like, we got this.
Like, we treat ourselves well.
Like, this is how you internally feel.
Like, I treat myself.
And it’s like, yeah, no, it’s work time.
And then later you’re like, now it’s play time.
And it’s like, okay, back to work.
And you’re in this very healthy,
like parent child relationship in your head
versus like this constant conflict.
And like the kid doesn’t respect the parent
and the parent hates the kid.
And like, yeah.
And you’re right.
It always feels like it’s like one fix away.
So that there’s hope.
I mean, I guess, I mean,
so much of what you said just rings so true.
I guess I have the same kind of hope.
But you know, this podcast is very regular.
I mean, I’m impressed.
Like, and I think partially what,
there is a bit of a duct tape solution here,
which is you just, the,
cause it’s always easy to schedule stuff
for the future for myself, right?
Because that’s future Tim
and future Tim is not my problem.
So I’ll schedule all kinds of shit for future Tim.
And I will then not do it.
But in this case,
you can schedule podcasts and you have to show up.
Yeah, you have to show up.
Right, it seems like a good medium for procrastinating.
This is not my, this is what I do for fun.
I know, but at least this is the kind of thing,
especially if it’s not your main thing.
Especially if it’s not your main thing,
it’s the kind of thing that you would dream of doing
and want to do and never do.
And I feel like your regular production here
is a sign that something is working,
at least in this regard.
Yeah, in this regard.
I’m just, I’m sure you have this same kind of thing
with the podcast.
In fact, because you’re going to be doing the podcast,
as possible, the podcast becomes what the podcast is for me.
This is you procrastinating.
If you think about being 80
and if you can get into that person’s head
and look back and be like, and just deep regret,
you just, you know, yearning,
you could do anything to just go back
and have done this differently.
That is desperation.
It’s just, you don’t feel it yet.
It’s not in you yet.
The other thing you could do is if you have a partner,
if you want to partner with someone,
now you could say, we meet.
These 15 hours every week.
And that point you’re going to get it done.
So working with someone can help.
Yeah, that’s why they say like a co founder
is really powerful for many reasons,
but that’s kind of one of them.
Because to actually, for the startup case,
you, unlike writing perhaps,
it’s really like a hundred hour plus thing.
Like once you really launch, you go all in.
Like everything else just disappears.
Like you can’t even have a hope of a balanced life
for a little bit.
So, and there co founder really helps.
That’s the idea.
When you, you’re one of the most interesting people
on the internet.
So as a writer, you look out into the future.
Do you dream about certain things you want to still create?
Is there projects that you want to write?
Is there movies you want to write or direct or?
So it’s just endless sea of ideas.
No, there’s specific list of things that really excite me,
but it’s a big list that I know
I’ll never get through them all.
And that’s part of why the last five years really like,
when I feel like I’m not moving as quickly as I could,
it bothers me because I have so much genuine excitement
to try so many different things.
And I get so much joy from finishing things.
I don’t like doing things, but a lot of writers are like that.
Publishing something is hugely joyful
and makes it all worth it.
Or just finishing something you’re proud of,
putting it out there and have people appreciate it.
It’s like the best thing in the world, right?
Every kid makes some little bargain with themselves,
has a little, a dream or something.
And I feel like when I do something that I make something
in this, for me, it’s been mostly writing
and I feel proud of it and I put it out there.
I feel like I like, again,
I’m like fist pounding my seven year old self.
Like there’s a little, like I owe it to myself
to do certain things.
And I just did one of the things I owe.
I just paid off some debt to myself.
I owed it and I paid it and it feels great.
It feels like very like you just feel very,
a lot of inner peace when you do it.
So the more things I can do,
and I just have fun doing it, right?
And so I just, for me that includes a lot more writing.
I just, short blog posts, I write very long blog posts,
but basically short writing
in the form of long blog posts is a great,
I love that medium.
I wanna do a lot more of that.
Books yet to be seen, I’m gonna do this
and I’m gonna have another book I’m gonna do right after.
And we’ll see if I like those two.
And if I do, I’ll do more, otherwise I won’t.
But I also wanna try other mediums.
I wanna make more videos.
I want to, I did a little travel series once.
I love doing that.
I wanna do more of that.
Almost like a vlog.
No, it was, I let readers in a survey
pick five countries they wanted me to go to.
And they picked, they sent me to weird places.
They sent me, I went to Siberia, I went to Japan.
I went from there to, this is all in a row,
into Nigeria, from there to Iraq.
And from there to Greenland.
And then I went back to New York,
like two weeks in each place.
And I got to, each one I got to have some weird experiences.
I tried to like really dig in
and have like some interesting experiences.
And then I wrote about it.
And I taught readers a little bit
about the history of these places.
And it was just, I love doing that.
I love, so, and I’m like, oh man,
like I haven’t done one of those in so long.
And then I have a big like desire to do fictional stuff.
Like I want to write a sci fi at some point.
And I would love to write a musical.
That’s actually what I was doing before Wait But Why.
I was with a partner, Ryan Langer.
We were halfway through a musical
and he got tied up with his other musical
and Wait But Why started taking off.
And we just haven’t gotten back to it.
But it’s such a fun medium.
So it’s such a silly medium, but it’s so fun.
So you think about all of these mediums
on which you can be creative and create something
and you like the variety of it.
Yeah, it’s just that if there’s a chance on a new medium,
I could do something good.
I want to do it.
I want to try it.
It sounds like so gratifying and so fun.
I think it’s fun to just watch you actually sample these.
So I can’t wait for your podcast.
I’ll be listening to all of them.
I mean, that’s a cool medium to see like where it goes.
The cool thing about podcasting and making videos,
especially with a super creative mind like yours,
you don’t really know what you’re going to make of it
until you try it.
Yeah, podcasts I’m really excited about,
but I’m like, I like going on other people’s podcasts.
And I never try to have my own.
So with every medium,
there’s the challenges of how the sausage is made.
So like the challenges of action.
Yeah, but it’s also, I like to like,
I’ll go on like, as you know, long ass monologues
and you can’t do that.
If you’re the interviewer,
like you’re not supposed to do that as much.
So I have to like rein it in and that might be hard,
but we’ll see.
You could also do solo type stuff.
Yeah, maybe I’ll do a little of each.
You know what’s funny?
I mean, some of my favorite is more like solo,
but there’s like a sidekick.
So you’re having a conversation, but you’re like friends,
but it’s really you ranting,
which I think you’d be extremely good at.
That’s funny, yeah.
Or even if it’s 50 50, that’s fine.
Like if it’s just a friend who I want to like really riff
with, I just don’t like interviewing someone,
which I won’t, that’s not what the podcast will be,
but I can’t help.
I’ve tried moderating panels before
and I cannot help myself.
I have to get involved and no one likes a moderator
who’s too involved.
It’s very unappealing.
So I, you know, interviewing someone and I’m like,
I can’t, I don’t even, I don’t, I just, it’s not my,
I can grill someone, but that’s different.
That’s my curiosity being like, wait, how about this?
And I interrupt them and I’m trying to.
I see the way your brain works.
It’s like lights up with fire and excitement.
Yeah, I actually, I love listening.
I like watching people, I like listening to people.
So this is like me right now,
having just listening to a podcast.
This is me listening to your podcast right now.
I love listening to a podcast
because then it’s not even like,
but once I’m in the room, I suddenly can’t help myself.
I jump again.
Big last ridiculous question.
What is the meaning of life?
The meaning of like an individual life?
Your existence here on earth,
or maybe broadly this whole thing we’ve got going on,
descendants of apes,
Yeah, well there’s, yeah.
For me, I feel like I want to be around as long as I can.
If I can, if I can do some kind of crazy life extension
or upload myself, I’m gonna,
because who doesn’t want to see how cool
the year 3000 is?
You did say mortality was not appealing.
No, it’s not appealing at all to me.
Now, it’s ultimately appealing.
As I said, no one wants eternal life, I believe,
if they understood what eternity really was.
And I did Graham’s number as a post,
and I was like, okay, no one wants to live that many years.
But I’d like to choose.
I’d like to say, you know what?
I’m truly over it now, and I’m going to have,
you know, at that point we’d have,
our whole society would have like,
we’d have a ceremony.
We’d have a whole process of someone signing off,
and you know, it would be beautiful,
and it wouldn’t be sad.
Well, I think you’d be super depressed by that point.
Like, who’s gonna sign off when they’re doing pretty good?
Maybe, maybe, yes.
Okay, maybe it’s dark.
But at least, but the point is,
if I’m happy, I can stay around for five, you know.
I’m thinking 50 century sounds great.
Like, I don’t know if I want more than that.
50 sounds like a right number.
And so if you’re thinking, if you would sign up for 50,
if you had a choice, one is what I get, that is bullshit.
Like, if you’re somebody who wants 50,
one is a hideous number, right?
You know, anyway.
So for me personally, I want to be around as long as I can.
And then honestly, the reason I love writing,
the thing that I love most is like,
is like a warm fuzzy connection with other people, right?
And that can be my friends, and it can be readers.
And that’s why I would never want to be like a journalist
where their personality is like hidden behind the writing,
or like even a biographer, you know.
There’s a lot of people who are great writers,
but it’s, I like to personally connect.
And if I can take something that’s in my head
and other people can say, oh my God, I think that too,
and this made me feel so much better,
it made me feel seen, like that feels amazing.
And I just feel like we’re all having
such a weird common experience on this one little rock,
in this one little moment of time,
where this weird, these weird four limb beings,
and we’re all the same.
And it’s like, we’re all, we all, the human experience,
so I feel like so many of us suffer in the same ways,
and we’re all going through a lot of the same things.
And to me, it is very, if I lived,
if I was on my deathbed and I feel like I had,
like I had a ton of human connection,
and like shared a lot of common experience,
and made a lot of other people feel like,
like not alone.
Do you feel that as a writer?
Do you like hear and feel like the inspiration,
like all the people that you make smile,
and all the people you inspire?
Honestly, not, sometimes, you know,
when we did an in person event,
and I, you know, meet a bunch of people,
and it’s incredibly gratifying,
or, you know, you just, you know, you get emails,
but I think it is easy to forget that how many people,
sometimes you’re just sitting there alone,
typing, dealing with your procrastination.
But that’s why publishing is so gratifying,
because that’s the moment when all this connection happens.
And especially if I had to put my finger on it,
it’s like, it’s having a bunch of people who feel lonely,
and their like existence is all realized,
like all, you know, connect, right?
So that, if I do a lot of that,
and that includes, of course, my actual spending,
you know, a lot of really high quality time
with friends and family, and like,
and making the whole thing as heartbreaking
as like mortality and life can be,
make the whole thing like fun,
and at least we can like laugh at ourselves together
while going through it.
And that to me is the, yeah.
And then your last blog post will be written from Mars
as you get the bad news that you’re not able to return
because of the malfunction in the rocket.
Yeah, I would like to go to Mars,
and like go there for a week,
and be like, yeah, here we are, and then come back.
No, I know that’s what you want.
Staying there, yeah.
And that’s fine, by the way.
If I, yeah, if, so you think,
you’re picturing me alone on Mars as the first person there,
and then it malfunctions.
Right, no, you were supposed to return,
but it malfunctions, and then there’s this,
so it’s both the hope, the awe that you experience,
which is how the blog starts,
and then it’s the overwhelming,
like feeling of existential dread,
but then it returns to like the love of humanity.
Well, that’s the thing, is if I could be writing,
and actually like writing something
that people would read back on Earth,
it would make it feel so much better.
You know, if I were just alone,
and no one was gonna realize what happened.
No, no, no, you get to write.
Yeah, no, no, it’s perfectly safe.
Also, that would bring out great writing.
Yeah, I think so.
If you don’t have your deathbed on Mars alone.
I think so.
Well, that’s exactly the future I hope for you, Tim.
All right, this was an incredible conversation.
You’re a really special human being, Tim.
Thank you so much for spending
your really valuable time with me.
I can’t wait to hear your podcast.
I can’t wait to read your next blog post,
which you said in a Twitter reply.
You’ll get more.
Yeah, soon enough, I’ll be back.
After the book, which add that to the long list of ideas
to procrastinate about.
Tim, thanks so much for talking to me, man.
Thanks for listening to this conversation with Tim Urban.
To support this podcast,
please check out our sponsors in the description.
And now, let me leave you with some words
from Tim Urban himself.
Be humbler about what you know,
more confident about what’s possible,
and less afraid of things that don’t matter.
Thanks for listening, and hope to see you next time.