Lex Fridman Podcast - #365 - Sam Harris: Trump, Pandemic, Twitter, Elon, Bret, IDW, Kanye, AI & UFOs

The following is a conversation with Sam Harris, his second time on the podcast.

As I said two years ago, when I first met and spoke with Sam,

he’s one of the most influential pioneering thinkers of our time

as the host of the Making Sense podcast, creator of the Waking Up app

and the author of many seminal books on human nature and the human mind,

including The End of Faith, The Moral Landscape, Lying, Free Will and Waking Up.

In this conversation, besides our mutual fascination with AGI and free will,

we do also go deep into controversial, challenging topics of Donald Trump,

Hunter Biden, January 6th, vaccines, lab leak, Kanye West,

and several key figures at the center of public discourse,

including Joe Rogan and Elon Musk,

both of whom have been friends of Sam and have become friends of mine.

Somehow, in an amazing life trajectory that I do not deserve in any way

and in fact believe is probably a figment of my imagination.

And if it’s all right, please allow me to say a few words

about this personal aspect of the conversation of discussing Joe, Elon and others.

What’s been weighing heavy on my heart since the beginning of the pandemic,

now three years ago, is that many people I look to for wisdom in public discourse

stop talking to each other as often, with respect, humility and love,

when the world needed those kinds of conversations the most.

My hope is that they start talking again, they start being friends again,

they start noticing the humanity that connects them,

that is much deeper than the disagreements that divide them.

So let me take this moment to say with humility and honesty

why I look up to and I’m inspired by Joe, Elon and Sam.

I think Joe Rogan is important to the world

as a voice of compassionate curiosity and open-mindedness

to ideas, both radical and mainstream, sometimes with humor,

sometimes with brutal honesty, always pushing for more kindness in the world.

I think Elon Musk is important to the world as an engineer, leader,

entrepreneur and human being who takes on the hardest problems

that face humanity and refuses to accept the constraints

of conventional thinking that made the solutions to these problems seem impossible.

I think Sam Harris is important to the world as a fearless voice

who fights for the pursuit of truth against growing forces of echo chambers

and audience capture, taking unpopular perspectives

and defending them with rigor and resilience.

I both celebrate and criticize all three privately,

and they criticize me, usually more effectively,

for which I always learn a lot and always appreciate.

Most importantly, there is respect and love for each other as human beings.

The very thing that I think the world needs most now in a time of division and chaos.

I will continue to try to mend divisions, to try to understand, not deride,

to turn the other cheek if needed, to return hate with love.

Sometimes people criticize me for being naive, cheesy, simplistic, all that.

I know, I agree, but I really am speaking from the heart and I’m trying.

This world is too fucking beautiful not to try in whatever way I know how.

I love you all.

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And now, dear friends, here’s Sam Harris.

What is more effective at making a net positive impact on the world?

Empathy or reason?

It depends on what you mean by empathy.

There are two, at least two kinds of empathy.

There’s the, the cognitive form, which is, you know, I would argue even

a species of reason, it’s, it’s just understanding another person’s point

of view, you know, you understand why they’re suffering or why they’re

happy or what, you know, just, you have a theory of mind about another

human being that is, is accurate.

And so you can, you can navigate in relationship to them more effectively.

And then there’s another layer entirely, not incompatible with that, but

just distinct, which is what people often mean by empathy.

Which is more a kind of emotional contagion, right?

Like you feel depressed and I begin to feel depressed along with you

because, you know, it’s just, it’s contagious, right?

I, I, you know, we’re so close and I’m so, I’m so concerned about you and

your problems become my problems and it bleeds through right now.

I think both of those capacities are very important, but the emotional

contagion piece, and this is not really my thesis, this is something I have

more or less learned from, from Paul Bloom, the psychologist who wrote a

book on this topic titled Against Empathy.

The emotional social contagion piece is a bad guide rather often for ethical

behavior and ethical intuitions.

Oh boy.

And, uh, so I’ll give you the clear example of this, which is, uh, we find

stories with a single identifiable protagonist who we can effortlessly

empathize with far more compelling than data, right?

So if I tell you, you know, this is the classic case of the little

girl who falls down a well, right?

You know, this is some, somebody’s daughter.

You see the parents, uh, distraught on television.

Uh, you hear her cries from the bottom of the well, the whole country stops.

I mean, this, there was an example of this, you know, 20, 25 years ago, I think

where it was just wall to wall on CNN.

This is just the perfect use of CNN.

It was, you know, 72 hours or whatever it was of continuous coverage of

just extracting this girl from a well.

So we effortlessly pay attention to that.

We care about it.

We will donate money toward it.

I mean, it’s just, it marshals a hundred percent of our

compassion and altruistic impulse.

Um, whereas if you hear that there’s a genocide raging in some country, you’ve

never been to, and it never intended to go to, and the numbers don’t make a dent.

And the, and we, we find the story boring, right?

And we’ll change the channel in the face of a genocide, right?

It doesn’t matter.

So it literally, perversely, it could be 500,000 little girls have fallen

down wells in that country, and we still don’t care, right?

So, um, it’s, uh, you know, many of us have come to believe that this is a bug

rather than a feature of our moral psychology, and so the empathy

plays an unhelpful role there.

So ultimately I think when we’re making big decisions about what we should do and

how to mitigate human suffering and what’s worth valuing and how we should

protect those values, um, I think reason is the better tool, but it’s not that I

would want to dispense with any part of empathy either.

Well, there’s a lot of dangers to go on there, but briefly to mention, you’ve

recently talked about, uh, effective altruism on your podcast.

I think you mentioned some interesting statement.

I’m going to horribly misquote you, but that you’d rather live in a world, like

it doesn’t really make sense, but you’d rather live in a world where you care

about maybe your daughter and son, more than a hundred people that live across

the world, something like this, where the calculus is not always perfect, but

somehow it makes sense to live in a world where it’s irrational in this way, and

yet empathetic in the way you’ve been discussing.


I’m not sure what the right answer is there, or even whether there is one right


There could be multiple peaks on this part of the moral landscape, but so the

opposition is between an ethic that’s articulated by someone like the Dalai

Lama, right, or really any exponent of, of, um, you know, classic Buddhism would

say that sort of the ultimate enlightened ethic is true dispassion with respect to

friends and strangers, right?

So that you would, the, you know, the, the mind of the Buddha would be truly


You would love and care about all people equally.

Uh, and by that light, it seems some kind of ethical failing, or at least, you

know, failure of, of, to fully actualize compassion in the limit, or, you know,

enlightened wisdom in the limit, um, to care more or even, and much more about

your kids than the kids of other people, or, and to, and to prioritize your, your

energy in that way, right?

So you spend all this time trying to figure out how to keep your kids healthy

and happy, and you’ll attend to their minutest concerns, however superficial.

And, and again, there’s a genocide raging in Sudan or wherever, and it takes up

less than 1% of your bandwidth.

I’m not sure it would be a better world if everyone was running

the Dalai Lama program there.

I think some prioritization of, of one’s nearest and dearest, uh, ethically might

be optimal because we will all be doing that and we’ll all be doing that in a

circumstance where we have certain norms and, and laws and, and other structures

that force us to be dispassionate where that matters, right?

So like when I go to, when my daughter gets sick and I have to take her to, to

a hospital, you know, I really want her to get attention, right?

And I’m worried about her more than I’m worried about everyone else in the lobby.

But the truth is I actually don’t want a totally corrupt hospital.

I don’t want a hospital that treats my daughter better than anyone else in the

lobby because she’s my daughter and I’ve, you know, bribed the guy at the door or

whatever, you know, or the guy’s a fan of my podcast or whatever the thing is.

You don’t want starkly corrupt, unfair situations.

And when you’re, when you sort of get pressed down the hierarchy of Maslow’s

needs, you know, individually and, and, and societally, a bunch of the, a bunch

of those variables change and they change for the worse, understandably.

But yeah, when things are, when everyone’s corrupt and it’s, you’re, you’re in a, in

a state of, of, uh, collective emergency, you know, you’ve got a lifeboat problem.

You’re scrambling to get into the lifeboat.


Then, then fairness and norms and, and, um, the, you know, the, uh, the other

vestiges of civilization begin to get stripped off.

We can’t reason from those emergencies to normal life.

I mean, in normal life, we want justice.

We want fairness.

We want, we’re all better off for it.

Even when the spotlight of our concern is focused on the people we know, the people

who are friends, the people who are family, people we, we, we have good reason to care

about, we still by default want a system that protects the interests of strangers


And we know that generally speaking, and just in game theoretic terms, we’re all

going to tend to be better off in a fair system than a corrupt one.

One of the failure modes of empathy is our susceptibility to anecdotal data.

Just a good story will get us to not think clearly.

But what about empathy in the context of just discussing ideas with other people?

And then there’s a large number of people like in this country, you know,

red and blue, half the population believes certain things on immigration or on the

response to the pandemic or any kind of controversial issue.

Even if, if the election was fairly executed, having an empathy for their world

view, trying to understand where they’re coming from, not just in the explicit

statement of their idea, but the entirety of like the roots from which their idea

stems, that kind of empathy while you’re discussing ideas, what is, in your pursuit

of truth, having empathy for the perspective of a large number of other

people versus raw mathematical reason.

I think it’s important, but I just, it only takes you so far, right?

It doesn’t, it doesn’t get you to truth, right?

It’s not, the truth is not a, it’s not decided by, you know, democratic

principles and, um, certain people believe things for understandable reasons, but

those reasons are nonetheless bad reasons, right?

They don’t scale, they don’t generalize.

They’re not reasons anyone should adopt for themselves or, or respect, you know,

epistemologically and yet their, their circumstance is understandable and it’s

something you can care about, right?

And so, yeah, like, I mean, just take, I think there’s many examples of this.

You might be thinking of, but I mean, one, one that comes to mind is I’ve been super

critical of Trump, obviously.

And, um, I’ve been super critical of certain people for endorsing him or not

criticizing him when he really made it, you know, patently obvious who he was, you

know, if, if there had been any doubt initially, there was no doubt when we have

a sitting president who’s not, uh, not, um, agreeing to a peaceful transfer of

power, right?

So, um, I’m, I’m critical of all of that.

And yet the fact that many millions of Americans didn’t see what was wrong with

Trump or bought into the, um, didn’t see through his con, right?

I mean, they bought into the idea that he was a brilliant businessman who could,

might just be able to change things because he’s so unconventional.

And so, you know, his heart is in the right place.

You know, he’s really a man of the people, even though he’s a, you know, gold-plated

everything in his life.

Um, they bought the myth somehow, uh, of, you know, largely because they had seen him

on television for almost a decade and a half, uh, pretending to be this genius

businessman who could get things done.

Um, it’s understandable to me that many very frustrated people who have not had

their hopes and dreams actualized, uh, who have been the victims of globalism and,

and, um, many other, you know, current trends, uh, it’s understandable that they

would be confused and, and, and not see the liability of electing a grossly

incompetent, morbidly narcissistic person into the, into the presidency.

Um, so I don’t, so which is to say that I don’t blame, there are many, many millions

of people who I don’t necessarily blame for the Trump phenomenon, but I can

nonetheless bemoan the phenomenon as, as indicative of, you know, very bad, uh,

state of affairs in our society, right?

So it’s, it’s, there’s two levels to it.

I mean, one is, I think you have to call a spade a spade when you’re talking

about how things actually work and what things are, are likely to happen or not.

But then you can recognize that people are, have very different life experiences.

And, and yeah, I mean, I think empathy and, you know, probably the better word

for what I would hope to embody there is compassion, right?

Like really, you know, to really wish people well, you know, and to really wish,

you know, strangers well, effortlessly wish them well, I mean, to realize

there is no opposition between in the, at bottom, there’s no real opposition

between selfishness and selflessness because why is selfishness really takes

into account other people’s happiness?

I mean, you, you know, which do you, do you want to live in a society where you

have everything, but most other people have nothing, uh, or do you want to live

in a society where you’re surrounded by happy, creative, self-actualized people

who are having their hopes and dreams realized?

I think it’s obvious that the second society is much better, however much

you can guard your good luck.

But what about having empathy for certain principles that people believe, for

example, the, the pushback, the other perspective on this, because you said

bought the myth of Trump as the great businessman, there could be a lot of

people that are supporters of Trump who could say that Sam Harris bought the

myth that we have this government of the people by the people that actually

represents the people as opposed to a bunch of elites who are running a giant

bureaucracy that is corrupt, that is feeding themselves and they’re actually

not representing the people.

And then here’s this chaos agent Trump who speaks off the top of his head.


He’s flawed in all this number of ways.

He’s a more comedian than he is a presidential type of figure.

And he’s actually creating the kind of chaos that’s going to shake up this

bureaucracy, shake up the elites that are so uncomfortable because they don’t want

the world to know about the game that got running on everybody else.

So that’s, that’s the kind of perspective that they would take and say, yeah,

there’s these flaws that Trump has, but this is necessary.

I agree with the first part of it.

So I haven’t bought the myth that it’s a, you know, a truly representative

democracy in the way that we would, you might idealize.

And, you know, on some level, I mean, this is a different conversation, but on some

level, I’m not even sure how much I think it should be right.

Like, I’m not sure we want in the end, everyone’s opinion given equal weight

about, you know, just what we should do about anything.

And I include myself in that.

I mean, there are many topics around which I don’t deserve to have a strong

opinion because I don’t know what I’m talking about, right.

Or what I would be talking about if I had a strong opinion.

So, um, and I think we’ll probably get to that, to some of those topics because

I’ve declined to have certain conversations on my podcast just because I think I’m

the wrong person to have that conversation.


And, and it’s, um, and I think it’s important to see those bright lines in, in

one’s life and in, in the moment politically, uh, and ethically.

Um, so yeah, I think, um, so leave aside the, the, the viability of democracy.

Uh, I’m, I’m under no illusions that all of our institutions are, you know, worth

preserving precisely as they have been up until the moment this great orange wrecking

ball came swinging through our lives.

But I just, it was a very bad bet to elect someone who is grossly incompetent

and, um, worse than incompetent, um, genuinely malevolent in his selfishness.


I think, and this is something we know based on literally decades

of him being in the public eye.


He’s not as, he’s not a public servant in any normal sense of that term.

And he couldn’t possibly give an honest or sane answer to the question, the

question you asked me about empathy and reason and, and like, how should

we, you know, what should guide us?

Um, I genuinely think he is missing some necessary moral and,

and psychological tools.


And this, this is, I can feel compassion for him as a human being, because I

think having those things is incredibly important and genuinely loving other

people is incredibly important.

And, and knowing what all it’s about is, is, is that’s really the good stuff in


And I, I, um, I think he’s missing a lot of that, but I think we, we don’t want

to promote people to, to the highest positions of power in our society who are

far outliers in, in pathological terms.


We want them to be far outliers in, in, if, if in the best case in wisdom and

compassion and some of the things you’ve, some of the topics you’ve brought up.

I mean, we want someone to be deeply informed.

We want someone to be, um, uh, unusually curious, unusually alert to how they may

be wrong or getting things wrong consequentially.

Um, he’s none of those things.

And if, in so far as we’re going to get normal mediocrities in that role, which

I think, you know, is often the best we could expect, let’s get normal mediocrities

in that role.

Not, uh, you know, once in a generation, uh, narcissists and, um, uh, frauds.

I mean, it is like the, I mean, just take honesty as a single variable, right?

I think you want, yes, it’s possible that, uh, most politicians lie at

least some of the time.

I don’t think that’s a good thing.

Um, I think people should be gen, you know, generally honest, um, even to a fault.

Um, yes, there are certain circumstances where lying, I think is necessary.

It’s, it’s kind of on a continuum of self-defense and violence.

So it’s like, if you’re going to, you know, if the Nazis come to your door and ask you

if you’ve got Anne Frank in the attic, I think it’s okay to lie to them.

Um, but, uh, you know, Trump, there’s, I, arguably there’s never been a person

that anyone could name in human history who’s lied with that kind of velocity.

Um, I mean, it’s just, it was, he was just a blizzard of lies, great and small, you

know, to, to pointless and, and to, and effective, but it’s just, it, it says

something, uh, fairly alarming about our society that a person of that character

got promoted and so, uh, yes, I have compassion and concern for, for half of

the society who didn’t see it that way.

And that’s going to sound elitist and, and, uh, and smug or something to, for

anyone who’s, who’s on that side listening to me, but, um, it’s genuine.

I mean, I’m, I understand that like, like I barely have the, I’m like one of the

luckiest people in the world and I barely have the bandwidth to pay attention to

half the things I should pay attention to in order to have an opinion about half

of the things we’re going to talk about.


So how much less bandwidth is somebody who’s working two jobs or, you know, a

single mom who’s, who’s, you know, raising, you know, multiple kids, you know,

even a single kid, it’s just, it’s unimaginable to me that people have the,

the bandwidth to, to really track this stuff.

And so then they jump on social media and they, they see, they get inundated by

misinformation and they see what their favorite influencer just said.

Um, and now they’re worried about vaccines and they’re, it’s, it’s just,

it’s, we’re living in an environment where our, our, the information

space has become so corrupted.

Uh, and we’ve built machines to, to further corrupt it.

You know what I mean?

We’ve built a business model for the internet that it further corrupts it.

Uh, so it’s, it is just, um, it’s chaos in informational terms.

And I don’t fault people for being confused and impatient and, uh, at the,

at their wits end and, um, yes, Trump was a, an enormous fuck you to the

establishment and, and that’s, that was understandable for many reasons.

To me, Sam Harris, the great Sam Harris is somebody I’ve looked up to for a long

time as a beacon of voice of reason.

And there’s this meme on the internet, and I would love you to steel man the

case for it and against that Trump broke Sam Harris’s brain, that there’s

something is disproportionately to the actual impact that Trump had on our

society, he had, um, an impact on the, on the ability of balanced, calm, rational

minds to see the world clearly, to think clearly you being one of the beacons of

that, is there, is there a degree to which he broke your brain, uh, otherwise

known as Trump derangement syndrome, medical, medical condition.


I mean, I think Trump derangement syndrome is a, is a very clever meme

because it, it just, uh, throws the, you know, the, the problem back on the

person who’s criticizing Trump.

In truth, the true Trump derangement syndrome was not to have seen how

dangerous and divisive it would be to promote someone like Trump to that

position of power and to not, and in the, in the final moment, not to see how, uh,

untenable it was to still support someone who, uh, you know, a sitting

president who was not committing to a peaceful transfer of power.

I mean, that was, if, if, if that wasn’t a bright line for you, you have been

deranged by something, uh, because that was, you know, the, that was one minute

to midnight for our democracy as far as I I’m concerned, and I think it really

was, but for the, the integrity of, uh, a few people that we didn’t suffer some

real constitutional crisis and real emergency, you know, after January 6th.

I mean, if, if Mike Pence had caved in and decided to not certify the election,

right, uh, if it literally, you can count on two hands, a number of people who held

things together at that moment.

And so it was, so it wasn’t for want of trying on Trump’s part that we, we, um,

didn’t succumb to some real, truly uncharted, uh, uh, catastrophe with our


So the fact that that didn’t happen is not a sign that those of us who were

worried that it was so close to happening were exaggerating the problem.

I mean, it’s like, you know, you almost got run over by a car, but you didn’t.

And so, you know, you’re the fact that you’re adrenalized and you’re thinking,

you know, but boy, that was dangerous.

I probably shouldn’t, you know, you know, wander in the middle of the street, uh,

with my eyes closed.

Um, you weren’t wrong to feel that you really had a problem, right?

Um, and came very close to something truly, uh, terrible.

So I think that’s where we were.

And I think we shouldn’t do that again.


So the fact that he’s, he’s still, he’s coming back around as

potentially a viable candidate.

You know, I’m not spending much time thinking about it, frankly, because it’s,

you know, I’m, I’m waiting for the moment where it re it requires some thought.

Um, I mean, it, it did, it took up, uh, I don’t know how many podcasts I

devoted to the topic.

It wasn’t that, I mean, it wasn’t that many in the end, you know, against

the, the number of podcasts I, I devoted to other topics, but there are people

who look at Trump and just find him funny, entertaining, not especially

threatening, it’s like not a, you know, just, it’s just good fun to see somebody

who’s like, who’s just not taking anything seriously and it’s just, just

putting a, you know, a stick in the wheel of, of business as usual again

and again and again and again.

Um, and they don’t really see anything much at stake, right?

It doesn’t really, it doesn’t really matter if we don’t support NATO.

It doesn’t really matter if he says he trusts Putin more than

our intelligence services.

Uh, I mean, none of this is, it doesn’t matter if he’s on the one hand saying

that he loves, uh, the leader of North Korea and on the other threatening,

it threatens to, to, you know, bomb them back to the stone age right on Twitter.

It’s all, it all can be taken in the spirit of kind of reality television.

It’s like, this is just, this is the part of the movie that’s

just fun to watch, right?

And I understand that I can even inhabit that space for a few minutes at a time,

but there’s a deeper concern that we’re in the process of entertaining ourselves

to death, right?

That we’re just not taking things seriously.

And this is, it’s a problem I’ve had with several other people we might name

who just, who just appear to me to be goofing around at scale and they

lack a kind of moral seriousness.

I mean, they’re, they’re touching big problems where lives hang in the

balance, but they’re just fucking around.

And I think there are really important problems that we have to

get our head straight around.

And we need, you know, it’s not to say that, that institutions don’t become

corrupt, I think they do.

And I think, and I’m quite worried that, you know, both about the loss of trust

in our institutions and the fact that trust has eroded for good reason, right?

That they have become less trustworthy.

I think, you know, they’ve become infected by, you know, political

ideologies that are not truth tracking.

I mean, I worry about all of that.

But I just think the, we need institutions, we need to rebuild them.

We need, we need experts who are real experts.

We need to value expertise over, you know, amateurish speculation and

conspiracy thinking and just, you know, and bullshit.

What kind of amateur speculation we’re doing on this very podcast?

I’m usually alert to the moments where I’m just guessing or where I actually

feel like I’m talking from within my wheelhouse and I try to telegraph

that a fair amount with people.

Um, so yeah, I mean, but it’s, it’s not, it’s different.

Like, I mean, you, you can invite someone onto your podcast who’s an expert about

something that you’re, you, you’re not an expert about, and then you, you in the

process of getting more informed yourself, your, your audience is getting more

informed, so you’re asking smart questions and you might be pushing back at the

margins, but you know that when push comes to shove on that topic, you really

don’t have a basis to have a strong opinion.

And if you were going to form a, a, a strong opinion that was this counter to

the expert you have in front of you, it’s going to be by deference to some other

expert who you’ve brought in or who you’ve heard about or whose work you’ve,

you’ve read or whatever.

But there, there’s a paradox to how we value authority in science that most

people don’t understand.

And I think we should at some point unravel that because it’s, it’s the basis

for a lot of public confusion.

And, and frankly, it’s the basis for a lot of, you know, criticism I’ve received on

these topics where it’s, you know, people think that I’m a, you know, I, I’m against

free speech or I’m an establishment shill, or it’s, it’s like, I just think I’m a


I just think people with PhDs from Ivy league universities should run everything.

It’s not true, but there’s a ton of, there’s, there’s a lot to cut through to get

to daylight there because people are very confused about how we value authority in

the service of rationality generally.

You’ve talked about it, but it’s, it’s just interesting.

The intensity of feeling you have, you’ve, you’ve had this famous phrase about Hunter

Biden and children in the basement.

Can you just revisit this case?

So let me, let me give another perspective on the situation of January 6th and Trump

in general.

It’s possible that January 6th and things of that nature revealed that our democracy

is actually pretty fragile and that Trump is not a malevolent and ultra-competent

malevolent figure, but it’s simply a jokester.

And he just, by creating the chaos revealed that it’s all pretty fragile.

Because you’re a student of history and there’s a lot of people like Vladimir

Lenin, Hitler, who are exceptionally competent at controlling power, at being

executives and taking that power, controlling the generals, controlling all the

figures involved and certainly not tweeting, but working in the shadows behind the

scenes to gain power.

And they did so extremely competently.

And that is how they were able to gain power.

The pushback with Trump, he was doing none of that.

He was creating what he’s very good at, creating drama, sometimes for humor’s sake,

sometimes for drama’s sake, and simply revealed that our democracy is fragile.

And so he’s not this once in a generation, horrible figure.

Once in a generation narcissist.

No, I don’t think he’s a truly scary, sinister, Putin-like or Hitler, much less

Hitler-like figure, not at all.

I mean, he’s not ideological.

He doesn’t care about anything beyond himself.

So it’s not, no, no, he’s much less scary than any really scary totalitarian, right?

I mean, and he’s-

He’s more brave in your world than 1984?

This is what, you know, Eric Weinstein never stops badgering me about, but, you

know, he’s still wrong, Eric.

You know, I can, you know, my analogy for Trump was that he’s an evil Chauncey


I don’t know if you remember the book or the film being there with Peter Sellers.

But, you know, Peter Sellers is this gardener who really doesn’t know anything.

But he gets recognized as this wise man and gets promoted to immense power in

Washington because he’s speaking in these kind of, in a semblance of wisdom.

He’s got these very simple aphorisms or what seem to be aphorisms.

He’s just talking, all he cares about is gardening.

He’s just talking about his garden all the time.

But, you know, he’ll say something, but yeah, you know, in the spring, you know,

the new shoots will bloom and people read into that some kind of genius, you know,

insight politically.

And so he gets promoted.

And so that’s the joke of the film.

For me, Trump has always been someone like an evil Chauncey Gardner.

I mean, he’s, he’s, it’s not to say he’s totally, yes, he has a certain kind of


He’s got a genius for creating a spectacle around himself, right?

He’s got a genius for getting the eye of the media always coming back to him.

Um, but it’s only, it’s a kind of, it’s a kind of, you know, self-promotion that

only works if you actually are truly shameless and don’t care about having a

reputation for anything that, that, that I, or you would want to have a reputation

for, right?

It’s like, it’s pure, the pure pornography of attention, right?

He just, and he just wants more of it.

Um, I think the truly depressing and genuinely scary thing was that we have a

country that at least half of the country, given how broken our society is in many

ways, we have a country that didn’t see anything wrong with that.

Bringing someone who’s, who obviously doesn’t know what he should know to be

president and who’s obviously not a good person, right?

Obviously doesn’t care about people, can’t even pretend to care about people

really, right?

In a credible way.

Um, and so, I mean, this, if there’s a silver lining to this, it, it’s, it’s along

the lines you just sketched.

It shows us how vulnerable our system is to a truly brilliant and sinister figure.


I mean, like, uh, I, I think we are, um, we really dodged a bullet.


Someone far more competent and conniving and ideological could have exploited our

system in a way that Trump didn’t.

And I, and that’s, um, yeah.

So if, if we plug those holes eventually, um, that would be a good thing and he

would have done a good thing for our society.


I mean, one of the things we realized, and I think nobody knew, I mean, I

certainly didn’t know it and I didn’t hear anyone talk about it, is how much

our system relies on norms rather than laws.


Civility almost.


It’s just like, it’s, it’s quite possible that he never did anything illegal, you

know, truly, truly illegal.

I mean, I think he probably did a few illegal things, but like illegal such

that he really should be thrown in jail for it, you know?

Um, at least that remains to be seen.

So all of the chaos, all of the, you know, all of the diminishment of our

stature in the world, all of the, just the, the opportunity costs of spending

years focused on nonsense, um, all of that was just norm violations.

All of that was just, that was just all a matter of not saying the thing you

should say, but that doesn’t mean they’re insignificant, right?

It’s not that it’s like, it’s not illegal for a sitting president to say, no, I’m

not going to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, right?

We’ll wait and see whether I win.

If I win, it, it, it, it, it was, the election was, was, was valid.

If I lose, it was fraudulent, right?

But aren’t those humorous perturbations to our system of civility such that we

know what the limits are, and now we start to think that and have these kinds of


But that, that wasn’t a humorous perturbation because he did everything he

could, granted he wasn’t very competent, but he did everything he could to try to

steal the election.

I mean, the irony is he claimed to have an election stolen from him all the while

doing everything he could to steal it, declaring it fraudulent in advance,

trying to get the votes to, to, to not be counted as the evening wore on, knowing

that they were going to be disproportionately Democrat, Democrat votes,

um, because of the, you know, because of the position he took on mail-in ballots.

I mean, all of it was fairly calculated.

Um, the whole circus of, of, of, you know, the clown car that crashed into, you

know, four seasons landscaping, right.

And, and you got Rudy Giuliani with his hair dye and you got Sidney Powell and

all the, all these grossly incompetent people lying as freely as they could

breathe about election fraud, right.

And all of these things are getting thrown out by, you know, Republican,

largely Republican election officials and Republican judges.

Um, it wasn’t, it wasn’t for want of trying that he didn’t

maintain his power in this country.

He really tried to steal the presidency.

He just was not competent and the people around him weren’t competent.

So that’s a good thing.

And it’s worth not letting that happen again.

But he wasn’t competent.

So he didn’t do everything he could.

Well, no, he did everything he could.

He didn’t do everything that could have been done by someone more competent.


But the, the tools you have as a president, you could do a lot of things.

You can declare emergencies, especially during COVID, you could

postpone the election, you can create military conflict that, you know, any

kind of reason to postpone the election.

There’s, there’s a lot of.

Well, he, he tried to do things and he would have to have done those

things through other people.

And there are people who refuse to do those things.

There are people who said they would quit.

They would, they would quit publicly.


I mean, this is, you start, again, there are multiple books written

about the last hours of, of this presidency.

And the details are shocking in what he tried to do and try to get others to do.

And it’s awful, right?

I mean, it’s, it’s just awful that we were that close to something, to, to a

true unraveling of our political process.

I mean, it’s the only time in our lifetime that anything like this has happened.

And, um, it’s deeply embarrassing, right?

If we’re at, you know, on the world stage, it’s just like, we, we looked like a

banana republic there for a while.

And we’re the lone superpower.

It’s a bit, it’s, it’s not good.


And so we shouldn’t, like, there’s no, there’s no, the, I, the people who

thought, well, we just need to shake things up and this is a great, great way

to shake things up and having people, you know, storm our Capitol and smear shit

on the walls, that’s just more shaking things up, right?

Uh, it’s all just for the lulz.

Um, there’s a nihilism and cynicism to all of that, which again, in certain

people, it’s understandable, you know, frankly, it’s not understandable if

you’ve got a billion dollars and you’re, you, you know, have a compound in

Menlo Park or wherever it’s like, there are people who are cheerleading this

stuff who shouldn’t be cheerleading this stuff and who know that they can get on

their Gulf stream and fly to their compound in New Zealand if everything

goes to shit, right?

So there’s a cynicism to all of that, that I think we should be deeply critical of.

But what I’m trying to understand is not, and analyze, is not the behavior of this

particular human being, but the effect it had in part on the division between

people, as to me, the degree, the meme of Sam Harris’s brain being broken by

Trump represents, you’re like the person I would look to, to bridge the division.

Well, I don’t think there is something profitably to be said to someone who’s

truly captivated by the, the, the personality cult of Trumpism, right?

Like there’s nothing that I’m going to say to, there’s no conversation I’m

going to have with Candace Owens, say, about Trump that’s going to converge

on something reasonable, right?

You don’t think so?

No, I mean, I’ve tried, I haven’t tried with Candace, but I’ve tried with, you

know, many people who are in that particular orbit.

I mean, I’ve, I’ve had conversations with people who won’t admit that there’s

anything wrong with Trump, anything.

So I’d like to push for the empathy versus reason, because when you operate

in the space of reason, yes, but I think there’s a lot of power in you showing,

in you, Sam Harris, showing that you’re willing to see the good qualities of

Trump, publicly showing that.

I think that’s the way to win over Candace Owens.

But he has so few of them.

He has fewer good qualities than any, virtually anyone I can name, right?

So he’s funny.

He, I’ll grant you that he’s funny.

He’s a, he’s a good entertainer.

There’s others look at just policies and actual impacts he had.

I’ve, I’ve admitted that.

No, no.

So like, so I’ve admitted that many of his policies I agree with.

Many, many of his policies.

So probably more often than not, I mean, at least on balance, I agreed.

That’s why I agreed with his policy that, you know, we should take China

seriously as an adversary, right?

And we’re, and I think, I mean, again, you have to, there’s a lot of fine print

to a lot of this, because the way he talks about these things and many of his

motives that are obvious are things that I don’t support, but I mean, take

immigration, I think there’s, it’s obvious that we should have control of our

borders, right?

Like, I don’t see the argument for not having control of our borders.

We should let in who we want to let in and we should keep out who we want to keep

out and we should have a sane immigration policy.

So I don’t, I didn’t necessarily think it was a priority to build the wall, but I

didn’t, I never criticized the impulse to build the wall because if, you know, tens

of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people are coming across that border and

we are not in a position to know who’s coming, that seems untenable to me.

So, and I can recognize that many people in our society are on balance, the victims

of immigration, and there is, in many cases, a zero sum contest between the

interests of actual citizens and the interests of immigrants, right?

So I think we should have a, we should have control of our borders.

We should have a sane and compassionate immigration policy.

We should have, we should let in refugees, right?

So I did, you know, Trump on refugees was terrible.

But no, like I would say 80% of the policy concerns people celebrated in him are

concerns that I either share entirely or certainly sympathize with, right?

So like, that’s not, that’s not the issue.

The issue is, well, the issue is largely what you said it was.

It’s not so much the person, it’s the effect on everything he touches, right?

He just, he has this, this superpower of deranging and destabilizing almost

everything he touches and sullying and compromising the integrity of almost

anyone who comes into his orbit.

I mean, so you looked at these people who served as chief of staff or, you know, in

various cabinet positions, people who had real reputations, you know, for, for

probity and, and level-headedness, you know, whether you share their politics or

not, I mean, these were real people.

These were not, you know, some of them were goofballs, but, you know, many

people who, who just got totally trashed by proximity to him and then trashed by

him when they finally parted company with him.

Yeah, I mean, it’s just people bent over backwards to accommodate his norm

violations and it, it was, it was bad for them and it was bad for our, our, our

system and, but that, but none of that discounts the fact that we have a system

that really needs proper house cleaning.

Yes, there are bad incentives and entrenched interests, and I’m not a fan

of the concept of, of the deep state, but cause it, you know, it’s been so

propagandized, but yes, there’s, there’s something like that, you know, that is

not flexible enough to re to respond intelligently to the needs of the moment.


So there’s a lot of rethinking of government and of institutions in general

that I think we should do, but we need smart, well-informed, well-intentioned

people to do that job, and the well-intentioned part is, is hugely

important, right?

It’s just, just give me someone who is not the most selfish person anyone has

ever heard about in their lifetime, right?

And what we got with Trump was the, like the, literally the one most selfish

person I think anyone could name.

I mean, and you, and again, you, there’s so much known about this man.

That’s the thing.

It was like, it predates his presidency.

We knew this guy 30 years ago.


And, and this, and this is what, to come back to the, those inflammatory

comments about Hunter Biden’s laptop.

The reason why I can say with confidence that I don’t care what was on his, his

laptop is that there is, and, and that includes any evidence of corruption

on the, on the part of his father, right?

Now there’s been precious little of that that’s actually emerged.

So it’s like, there is no, as far as I can tell, there’s not a big story

associated with that laptop as much as people bang on about a few emails.

But even if there were just obvious corruption, right?

Like Joe Biden was at this meeting and he took, you know, this amount of money

from this shady guy, uh, for bad reasons, right?

Given how visible the lives of these two men have been, right?

I mean, given how much we know about Joe Biden and how much we know about Donald

Trump and how they have lived in public for almost as long as I’ve been alive,

both of them, the, the, the, the scale of corruption can’t possibly balance

out between the two of them, right?

We, I, if, if you show me that Joe Biden has this secret life where he’s driving

a Bugatti and he’s living like Andrew Tate, right?

And he’s doing, he’s doing all these things I didn’t know about.


Then I’m going to start getting a sense that, all right, maybe this guy

is way more corrupt than I realized.

Maybe there is some deal in Ukraine or with China that is just like,

this guy is not who he seems.

He’s not the public servant he’s been pretending to be.

He’s been on the take for decades and decades.

And he’s just, he’s as dirty as can be.

He’s all mobbed up and it’s a nightmare.

Um, and he can’t be trusted, right?

That’s possible.

If you show me that his life is not at all what it seems, but on the assumption

that I, having looked at this guy for literally decades, right.

And ha and knowing that every journalist has looked at him for decades, just

how many affairs is he having?

Just how much, you know, uh, how many drugs is he doing?

How many houses does he have where, you know, what, what, what is, what are

the obvious conflicts of interest?

You know, you hold that against what we know about Trump, right?

And I mean, the litany of indiscretions you can put on Trump’s side that, that

testify to his personal corruption, to testify to the fact that he has no ethical

compass, there’s simply no comparison, right?

So that’s why I don’t care about what’s on the laptop when now, if you tell me

Trump is no longer running for president in 2024, and we can put Trumpism behind

us, and now you’re saying, listen, there’s a lot of stuff on that laptop

that makes Joe Biden look like a total asshole.


I’m all ears, right?

I mean, it was a forced in 2020.

It was a forced choice between a sitting president who wouldn’t commit to a

peaceful transfer of power and a guy who was obviously too old to be president,

who has a crack addicted son who, who, you know, who lost his laptop.

And I just knew that I was going to take Biden in spite of whatever litany of

horrors was going to come tumbling out of that laptop.

And that might involve sort of, so the actual quote is, Hunter Biden literally

could have had the corpses of children in the basement.

There’s a dark humor to it, right?

Which is, I think you speak to, I would not have cared.

There’s nothing, it’s Hunter Biden, it’s not Joe Biden.

Whatever the scope of Joe Biden’s corruption is, it is infinitesimally

compared to the corruption we know Trump was involved in.

It’s like a firefly to the sun is what you’re speaking to.

But let me make the case that you’re really focused on the surface stuff that

it’s possible to have corruption that masquerades in the thing we mentioned,

which is civility.

You can spend hundreds of billions of dollars or trillions towards the war in

the Middle East, for example, something that you’ve changed your mind on in

terms of the negative impact it has on the world.

And that, you know, the military industrial complex, everybody’s very

nice, everybody’s very civil, just very upfront.

Here’s how we’re spending the money.

Yeah, sometimes somehow disappears in different places, but that’s the way,

you know, war is complicated.

And it’s, everyone is very polite.

There’s no Coke and strippers or whatever is on the laptop.

It’s very nice and polite.

In the meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of civilians die of hate.

And just an incredible amount of hate is created because people lose their family

members, all that kind of stuff.

But there’s no strippers and Coke on a laptop.

So, yeah, but it’s not just superficial.

It is when you, when someone only wants wealth and power and fame and that is

their, their, their objective function, right?

They’re like a, like a robot that is calibrated just to those variables.


And they don’t care about the risks we run on any other front.

They don’t care about environmental risk, pandemic risk, nuclear

proliferation risk, none of it.


They just, they’re just tracking fame and money and, and whatever can, can

personally redound to their self-interest along those lines.

And they’re not informed about the other risks we’re running, really.

I mean, in Trump, you had a president who was repeatedly asking his generals,

why couldn’t we use our nuclear weapons?

Why can’t we have more of them?

Why do I have fewer nuclear weapons than JFK?


As though that were a sign of, of, of anything other than progress.


And this is the guy who’s got the, the button, right?

I mean, he’s got, somebody’s following him around with a bag waiting

to take his order to, to launch.


That is a, it’s just, it’s a, it’s a risk we should never run.

One thing Trump has going for him, I think, is that he’s, he doesn’t drink or do drugs.


I don’t know, there’s, you know, people allege that he does speed, but, you

know, let’s take him at his word.

He’s, he’s not deranging himself with, with pharmaceuticals at least.

But apart from Diet Coke, but.

There’s nothing wrong, just for the record, let me push back on that.

There’s nothing wrong with Diet Coke.


I’ve been consuming a very large amount.

I occasionally have some myself.

There’s no medical, there’s no scientific evidence that I observed the negatives of,

you know, all those studies about aspartame and all of that is, I’m, no, I don’t know.

I like, I hope, I hope you’re right.

Um, yeah, I mean, everything you said about the military industrial complex is true.


And, and it’s been, we’ve been worrying about that on both sides

of the aisle for a very long time.

I mean, that’s just, you know, that phrase came from, from Eisenhower.

Um, it’s, uh, I mean, so much of what ails us is a story of bad incentives.


And bad incentives are so powerful that they corrupt even good people.


How much more do they corrupt bad people?


Like, so it’s like you want to, at minimum, you want reasonably good people,

at least non-pathological people in us, in the system, trying to navigate

against the grain of bad incentives and better still, all of us can get together

and try to diagnose those incentives and change them, right.

And, and, and we will really succeed when we have a system of incentives where.

The, the good incentives are so strong that even bad people are effortlessly

behaving as though they’re good people because they’re so successfully

incentivized to behave that way.


That’s, you know, so, so it’s, it’s almost the inversion of our current situation.

So yes.

And you say, I changed my mind about the war.

Uh, I, not quite.

I mean, I, I was never a supporter of the war in Iraq.

I was always worried that it was a distraction from the war in Afghanistan.

I was a supporter of the war in Afghanistan.

And I will admit in hindsight, that looks like, uh, you know, at best a highly

ambiguous and painful exercise, you know, more likely a fool’s errand, right.

It’s like that, you know, it did not turn out well.

It’s, it’s, it wasn’t for want of trying.

I don’t, you know, I have not done a deep dive on, on all of the failures there.

And maybe all of these failures are failures in principle.

I mean, maybe it’s just, maybe that’s not the kind of thing that can be done

well by anybody, whatever our intentions.

Um, but yeah, the, the move to Iraq always seemed questionable to me.

And, um, when we knew the problem, the immediate problem at that moment, you

know, Al Qaeda, uh, uh, was in Afghanistan and, you know, and then bouncing to

Pakistan, um, anyway, you know, so yes, but my, my, my sense of the possibility

of nation building, my sense of, of, um, you know, in so, in so far as the,

the, the neocon, um, spirit of, of, uh, you know, responsibility and idealism

that, you know, America was the kind of nation that should be functioning in

this way as, as the world’s cop.

And we’ve got, we have to get in there and, and untangle some of these knots

by force, um, uh, rather often because, you know, if we don’t do it over there,

we’re going to have to do it over here kind of thing.

Um, yeah, some of that has definitely changed for me and my thinking.

And there are obviously cultural reasons why it failed in Afghanistan.

And if you can’t change the culture, um, it’s, uh, you’re not going to force

a change at gunpoint in the culture.

Or it certainly seems that that’s not going to happen.

And it took us, you know, over 20 years to apparently to realize that.

That’s one of the things you realize with a war is there’s not going to be a

strong signal that things are not working.

If you just keep pouring money into a thing, a military effort.

Well, also there, there are signs of it working too.

You have all the stories of girls now going to school, right?

You know, the girls are getting battery acid thrown in their

faces by religious maniacs.

And then we come in there and we stop that.

And now girls are getting educated and there’s, and that’s all good.

And our intentions are good there.

And I mean, we’re on the right side of history.

Good girls should be going to school.

You know, Malala Yousafzai should have the Nobel prize and she shouldn’t have

been shot in the face by, by the Taliban.


Um, we know what the right answers are there.

The question is, what do you do when there are enough in this particular case,

religious maniacs who are willing to die and let their children die in defense of

crazy ideas and moral norms that belong in the seventh century.

Um, and it’s a problem we couldn’t solve and we couldn’t solve it even though we

spent trillions of dollars to solve it.

This reminded me of, um, the thing that you and, and Jack Dorsey, uh, jokingly

had for a while is the discussion about banning Donald Trump from Twitter.

Um, but does any of it bother you now that Twitter files came out that, I mean,

this has to do with sort of the Hunter laptop, Hunter Biden laptop story.

Does it bother you that there could be a collection of people that make

decisions about who to ban and not, and then that could be susceptible to

bias and to ideological influence?

Well, I think it always will be, or in the absence of perfect AI, it always will be.

And this becomes relevant with AI as well.


Because there’s some censorship on AI happening and it’s an

interesting question there as well.

I don’t think Twitter is as important as people think it is.


And, and I, I used to think it was more important when I was on it.

And now that I’m off of it, I think it’s, it’s, uh, I mean, first let me

say, it’s just an unambiguously good thing in my experience to

delete your Twitter account, right?

It’s like, it is just, even the good parts of Twitter that I miss were

bad in the aggregate, in the degree to which it was fragmenting my attention.

The degree to which my life was getting doled out to me in periods between

those moments where I checked Twitter, right.

And had my attention divert.

And, and I was, you know, I was not a crazy Twitter addict.

I mean, I was, I was probably a pretty normal user.

I mean, I was not someone who was tweeting multiple times

a day or even every day.


I probably, I think I probably averaged something like one tweet a day.

I think I averaged, but in reality it was like, you know, there’d be like four tweets

one day and then I wouldn’t tweet for the better part of a week.

And, but I was looking a lot because it was my newsfeed.

I was just following, you know, 200 very smart people.

And I would just want her to see what they were paying attention to.

And they would recommend articles and I would read those articles.

And, and then when I would read an article that then I would, that I

would thought I should signal boost.

I would tweet.

And so all of that seemed good.

And like that’s all separable from all of the odious bullshit that came back

at me in response to this, largely in response to this Hunter Biden thing.

But even the good stuff has a downside and, and it comes at just this point of

your phone is this perpetual stimulus of which is intrinsically

fragmenting of time and attention.

And now my phone is, is a much less of a presence in my life.

And it’s, it’s not that I don’t check Slack or check email.

I mean, I, you know, I, I use it to work, but my sense of just what the

world is and my sense of my place in the world, the sense of where I exist

as a person has changed a lot by deleting my Twitter account.

I mean, I had a, and it’s just, it’s and the, and the things that I think,

I mean, we all know this phenomenon.

I mean, we say of someone that person’s too online, right?

Like, what does it mean to be too online?

And where do you draw that, that boundary?

You know, how do you know what constitutes being too online?

Well, in some sense, just be, I think being on, on social

media at all is to be too online.

I mean, given what it does to, given the kinds of information it, it

signal boosts and given the, given the impulse it kindles in each of us to

reach out to our audience in, in specific moments and in specific ways, right?

It’s like there, there are lots of moments now where I have an opinion

about something, but there’s nothing for me to do with that opinion, right?

Like there’s no Twitter, right?

So like there are lots of things that I would have tweeted in the last

months that are not the kind of thing I’m going to do a podcast about.

I’m not going to roll out 10 minutes on that topic on my podcast.

I’m not going to take the time to really think about it, but had I been on

Twitter, I would have reacted to this thing in the news or this thing

that some, somebody did, right?

What do you do with that thought now?

I just let go of it.

Like chocolate ice cream is the most delicious thing.

Yeah, it’s usually not that sort of thing, but it’s,

it’s just, but then you look at the kinds of problems people

create for themselves.

You look at the life deranging and reputation destroying

things that people do.

And, and I look at the things that, that have the analogous

things that have happened to me.

I mean, the things that have really bent my life around professionally

over the past decade, so much of it is Twitter.

I mean, honestly, in my case, almost a hundred percent of it was Twitter.

The controversies I would get into, the things I would think I would have to

respond to in a pod, like I would release a podcast on a certain topic.

I would see some blowback on Twitter.

You know, it would give me the sense that there was some signal

that I really had to respond to.

Now that I’m off Twitter, I recognize that most of that was just,

it was totally specious, right?

It was, it was not something I had to respond to, but yet I would then do

a cycle of podcasts responding to that thing that like taking my foot out of my

mouth or taking someone else’s foot out of my mouth, and it became this, this

self-perpetuating cycle, which, I mean, it’s, you know, if you’re having fun,

great, I mean, if it’s, if it’s, if it’s generative of useful information

and, and engagement professionally and, and psychologically, great.

But, and, and there, you know, there was some of that on Twitter.

I mean, there were people who I’ve connected with because, because I just,

you know, one, one of us DM’d the other on Twitter and it was hard to see how

that was going to happen otherwise.

But it was largely just a machine for manufacturing unnecessary controversy.

Do you think it’s possible to avoid the drug of that?

So now that you’ve achieved the Zen state, is it possible for somebody like

you to use it in a way that doesn’t pull you into the whirlpool?

And so anytime there’s attacks, you just, I mean, that’s how I tried to use it.


But it’s, it’s not the way I wanted to use it.

It’s not the way it, it, it promises itself as, as a, I wanted to actually

communicate with people.

I want, I wanted to hear from the person because again, it’s, it’s like

being in Afghanistan, right?

It’s like there, there, there are the, the potted cases where it’s obviously

good, right?

It’s like in Afghanistan, the girl who’s getting an education that is just here.

That’s why we’re here.

That’s, that’s obviously good.

I’ve had those moments on Twitter where it’s okay.

I’m hearing from a smart person who’s detected an error I made in my podcast

or in a book, or they’ve just got some great idea about something that I should

spend time on and I would never have heard from this person in any other

format and now I’m actually in dialogue with them and it’s fantastic.

That’s the promise of it to actually talk to people.

And so I, I kept getting lured back into that.

Um, no, the, the way, the sane or, you know, sanity preserving way of, of using

it is, is just as a marketing channel.

You just put your stuff out there and you don’t look at what’s coming back at you.

Um, and that’s, you know, for, you know, I’m on other social media

platforms that I don’t even touch.

I mean, my team put, post stuff on Facebook and on Instagram.

I never even see what’s on there.

So you don’t think it’s possible to see something and not let it affect your mind?

No, that’s definitely possible.

But the question is, and I did that for vast stretches of time, right?

And, but then the, the promise of the platform is dialogue and feedback, right?

So like, so why am I, if I know for whatever reason, I’m going to see like 99

to one awful feedback, you know, bad faith feedback, malicious feedback.

Some of it’s probably even bots.

And I’m not even aware of who’s a person, who’s a bot, right.

But I’m just going to stare into this funhouse mirror of acrimony and dishonesty.

Um, that is going to, I mean, the, the, the reason why I got off is not because I

couldn’t recalibrate and find equanimity again with all the, the, the, the nastiness

that was coming back at me and not that I couldn’t ignore it for vast stretches of

time, but I could see that I kept coming back to it, hoping that it would be

something that I could use a real tool for communication.

And I was noticing that it was insidiously changing the way I felt about

people, both people I know and people I don’t know, right?

Like people I, you know, mutual friends of ours who are behaving in certain ways

on Twitter, which just seemed insane to me.

Uh, and then I, that became a signal.

I felt like I had to take into account somehow, right.

You’re seeing people at their worst, both friends and strangers.

Um, and I, I felt that it was as much as I could sort of try to recalibrate for it.

I felt that I was losing touch with what was real information because

people are performing, people are faking.

People are not themselves or they’re, you’re seeing people at their worst.

And so I felt like, all right, what’s at, what’s being advertised to me here on a,

not just a daily basis, I, you know, a hourly basis or, you know, an increment

sometimes of, you know, multiple times an hour, I mean, I probably check Twitter,

you know, at minimum 10 times a day.

And maybe I was checking it a hundred times a day on some days, right.

Where I would, things were really active and I was really engaged with something.

Um, what was being delivered into my brain there was a, was

subtly false information about how dishonest and, um, you know, just generally

unethical, totally normal people are capable of being right.

It was like, it was, it is a funhouse mirror.

It was, I was seeing the most grotesque versions of people who I know, right.

People who I know I could sit down at dinner with and they would never behave

this way.

And yet they were, they were coming at me on Twitter in, I mean, it was essentially

turning ordinary people into sociopaths, right.

It’s like, people are just, um, you know, it’s their analogies that many of us have


It’s like, it’s like one analogy is road rage, right?

Like people behave in the confines of a car in ways that they never would if they

didn’t have this metal box around them, you know, moving at speed.

And it’s, it’s, you know, all of that becomes quite hilarious and, and, um, you

know, obviously dysfunctional when they’re actually have to stop at the light next to

the person they just flipped off.

And they realized they didn’t realize, they didn’t understand that the person

coming out of that car next to them with cauliflower ear is someone who they never

would have rolled their eyes at in public because they would have taken one look at

this person and realized this is the last person you want to fight with.

That’s one of the heartbreaking things is to see, see people who I know, who I

admire, who I know are friends be everything from snarky to downright, uh, mean, um, uh,

derisive towards each other.

It doesn’t make any sense.

Like this, this is the only place where I’ve seen people I really admire who have

had a calm head about most things, like really be shitty to other people.

It’s probably the only place I’ve seen that.

And I, I don’t, I tend, I choose to maybe believe that that’s not really them.

There’s something about the system.

Um, like if you go paintballing, if you, Jordan Peterson and, uh, you’re going to

shoot your friends.



You’re going to shoot your friends, but you kind of accept that that’s kind of

what you’re doing in this little game that you’re playing, but it’s sometimes

hard to remind yourself of that.

Well, and I, I think I was guilty of that.


Um, you know, I, I don’t think there’s nothing I, I don’t think I ever did

anything that I really feel bad about, but yeah, it was always pushing me to

the edge of snideness somehow.

And, um, it’s just not healthy.

It’s not, it’s not, uh, I’m so, so the, so the reason why I deleted my Twitter

account in the end was that it was obviously making me a worse person.

And, and so, and yeah, is there some way to be on there where he’s

not making you a worse person?

I I’m sure there is, but it’s given the nature of the platform and given what

was coming back at me on it, the way to do that is just to basically use it as

a one-way channel of, of communication.

Just, it’s just, just marketing.

And I was like, here, here’s what I, what I’m paying attention to look at it if

you want to, and you just push it out.

And then you don’t, you don’t look at what’s coming back at you.

I put out a call for questions on Twitter and then actually quite

surprising, there’s a lot of good.

I mean, they’re, they’re like, even if they’re critical, they’re like

being thoughtful, which is nice.

I used it that way too.

And that was what kept me hooked.

But then there’s also, uh, TouchBalls69 wrote a question.

Ask what?

I can’t imagine.

This is part of it.

But one way to solve this is, you know, we’ve got to get rid of anonymity for this.

It’s like, let me ask the question, ask Sam why he sucks was the question.

Well, one, one reason why I sucked was Twitter.

That was, uh, and I, I’ve since solved that problem.

So TouchBalls69 should be happy that I suck a little bit less now that I’m off

Twitter, I don’t have to hear from TouchBalls69 on the regular.

The fact that you have to see that it probably can have a negative effect,

just even a moderation, just to see that there is like, for me, the negative

effect is, um, slightly losing faith in the underlying kindness of humanity.

Yeah, that was for me.


You can also just reason your way out of it saying that this is anonymity and

this is kind of fun and this kind of just the shit show of Twitter.

It’s okay.

But it does mentally affect you a little bit.

Like, I don’t read too much into that kind of comment.

It’s like, it’s just, that’s just, uh, trolling and it’s, you know, I, I get

what’s I, I get, I understand the fun the person is having on the other side of that.

It’s like, do you though?

I do.

Well, I do.

I don’t, I mean, I don’t behave that way, but I do.

And for all I know that person could be, you know, 16 years old.


So it’s like, it could be also an alt account for Elon.

I don’t know.

Well, yeah, that’s right.


Um, no, I’m pretty sure Elon would just tweet that, uh, under his own name at this


Oh man, you love each other.


So the, do you think, so speaking of which, now that Elon has taken over Twitter, uh,

is there something that he could do to make this platform better?

This Twitter and just social media in general, but because of the aggressive

nature of his innovation that he’s pushing, is there any way to make Twitter a

pleasant place for Sam Harris?

Uh, maybe.

Like in the next five years.

I don’t know.

I’m, I think I’m agnostic as to whether or not he or anyone could make a social

media platform that really was healthy.

So you were just observing yourself week by week, seeing the effect it has on your

mind and on how much you’re actually learning and growing as a person.

And it was negative.


And I’d also seen the negativity in other people’s lives.

I mean, it’s obviously, I mean, he’s not gonna, he’s not going to admit it, but I

think it’s obviously negative for Elon.


I mean, it’s just not, it’s, uh, that was one of the things that, you know, you

know, when I was looking into the fun house mirror, I was also seeing the fun

house mirror on his side of Twitter.

And it was just even more exaggerated.

It’s like, when I, when I was asking myself, why is he spending his time this

way, I then reflected on why, why, you know, why was I spending my time this way

to a lesser degree, right.

And at lesser scale and at lesser risk, frankly, right.

And so, um, and it was just so, it’s not just Twitter.

I mean, it’s, it’s, this isn’t part, an internet phenomenon.

It’s like the, the, the whole Hunter Biden mess that you, you, um, explored.

That was based on, I mean, it was on, I was on somebody’s podcast, but that was

based on a clip taken from that podcast, which was highly misleading as to the,

the general shape of my remarks on that podcast.

Even, you know, I, I had to then do my own podcast, uh, untangling all of that

and admitting that even in, even in the full context, I was not speaking

especially well and didn’t say exactly what I thought in a way that was, would

have been recognizable to anyone, you know, even someone with not functioning

by a, a spirit of charity, but, but the clip was quite distinct from the podcast

The reality is, is that we’re living in an environment now where people are so

lazy and there’s, their, their, their attention is so fragmented that they,

they only have time for clips, but 99% of people will see a clip and we’ll

assume there’s no relevant context.

I need to understand what happened in that clip, right?

And obviously the people who make those clips know that, right.

And they’re doing that quite, doing it quite maliciously.

And in this case, the person who made that clip and subsequent clips of other

podcasts was quite maliciously trying to engineer, you know, some

reputational, uh, immolation for me.

Um, and being signal boosted by Elon and other prominent people who can’t take

the time to watch anything other than a clip, even when it’s their friend or

someone who’s ostensibly their friend in that clip, right?

So it’s a total failure, an understandable failure of ethics that everyone is so

short on time and they’re so fucking lazy that they’re just, and, and, and we now

have these contexts in which we react so quickly to things, right?

Like Twitter is inviting an instantaneous reaction to this clip, um, that it’s, um,

it’s just too tempting to just say something and not know what you’re even

commenting on.

And most of, most of the people who saw that clip don’t understand what I, what I

actually think about any of these issues.

And the irony is people are going to find clips from this conversation that are just

as misleading and they’re going to export those.

And then people are going to be dunking on those clips and, you know, we’re all

living and dying by clips now.

And it’s, um, it’s dysfunctional.

See, I think it’s possible to create a platform.

I think we will keep living on clips, but you know, when I saw that clip of you

talking about children and so on, just knowing that you have a sense of humor,

you just went to a dark place in terms of humor.


So like, I didn’t even bother.

And then I knew that the way clips work is that people will use it for virality’s

sake, but the giving, giving a person benefit of the doubt, that’s not even the

right term.

It’s not like I was, it’s really like interpreting it in the context of knowing

your past.

The truth is you even need, like, I even give Trump the benefit of the doubt when

I see a clip of Trump.

I mean, so, because there are famous clips of Trump that are very misleading as to

what he was saying in context.

And I’ve been honest about that.

Like the whole, you know, there were good people on both sides scandal around the

his remarks after Charlottesville, like the clip that got exported and got promoted

by everyone, you know, left of center from Biden on down, you know, the New York

Times, CNN, there’s nobody that I’m aware of who has honestly, you know,

apologized for what they did with that clip.

That clip, he did not say what he seemed to be saying in that clip about the Nazis

at Charlottesville.


And I have always been very clear about that.

So it’s just, you know, even people who I think should be marginalized and people

who should be defenestrated because they really are terrible people who are doing

dangerous things and for bad reasons.

I think we should be honest about what they actually meant in context.


And this goes to anyone else we might talk about, you know, who’s more where the

case is much more confusing.

But yeah, so everyone’s it’s just so and then I’m sure we’re going to get to AI,

but, you know, the prospect of being able to manufacture clips with AI and deep

fakes and that where it’s going to be hard for most people most of the time to even

figure out that whether they’re in the presence of something real, you know,

forget about being divorced from context.

There was no context.

I mean, that’s a misinformation apocalypse that we’re right on the cusp of and, you

know, it’s terrifying.

Or it could be just a new world like where Alice going to Wonderland where humor is

the only thing we have and that will save us.

Maybe in the end, Trump’s approach to social media was the right one after all.

Nothing is true and everything is absurd.

Yeah, but we can’t live that way.

People function on the basis of what they assume is true, right?

They think people have functioned to do anything.

It’s like, I mean, you have to know what you think is going to happen or you have to

at least give a probabilistic waiting over the future.

Otherwise, you’re going to be incapacitated by, you’re not going to, like, people want

certain things and they have to have a rational plan to get those desires gratified.

And they don’t want to die.

They don’t want their kids to die.

You tell them that there’s a comet hurtling toward Earth and they should get outside and

look up, right?

They’re going to do it.

And if it turns out it’s misinformation, you know, it’s going to matter because it

comes down to like, what medicines do you give your children, right?

Like, we’re going to be manufacturing fake journal articles.

I mean, this is, I’m sure someone’s using chat GPT for this reader as we speak.

And if it’s not credible, if it’s not persuasive now to most people, I mean, honestly,

I don’t think we’re going to, I’ll be amazed if it’s a year before we can actually

create journal articles.

They would take, you know, a PhD to debunk that are completely fake.

And there are people who are celebrating this kind of, you know, coming cataclysm,

but I just, it’s just, they’re the people who don’t have anything to lose, who are

celebrating it or just are so confused that they just don’t even know what’s at


And then there are the people who have met the few people who we could count on a few

hands, who have managed to insulate themselves, or at least imagine they’ve

insulated themselves from the downside here enough that they’re not implicated in

the great unraveling we are witnessing or could witness.

The shaking up of what is true.

So actually that returns us to experts.

Do you think experts can save us?

Is there such thing as expertise and experts at something?

How do you know if you’ve achieved it?

I think it’s important to acknowledge upfront that there’s something paradoxical

about how we relate to authority, especially within science.

And I don’t think that paradox is going away and it’s just, it doesn’t have to be


It’s just, and it’s not truly a paradox.

It’s just like there are different moments in time.

So it is true to say that within science or within rationality generally, I mean,

whenever you’re having a fact-based discussion about anything, it is true to say

that the truth or falsity of a statement does not even slightly depend on the

credentials of the person making the statement, right?

So it doesn’t matter if you’re a Nobel laureate, you can be wrong, right?

The thing you could, the last sentence you spoke could be total bullshit, right?

And it’s also possible for someone who’s deeply uninformed to be right about

something or to be right for the wrong reasons, right?

Or someone just gets lucky or someone, or, or, and there are, there are middling

cases where you have like a, a backyard astronomer who’s got no credentials, but

he just loves astronomy and he’s got a telescope and it’s, he’s spent a lot of

time looking at the night sky and he discovers a comet that no one else has

seen, you know, not even the professional expert astronomers.

I mean, I got to think that happens less and less now, but, but some version of

that keeps happening and it may always keep happening in every area of expertise.


So it’s true that truth is orthogonal to the reputational concerns we have among

apes who are talking about the truth.

Um, but it is also true that most of the time real experts are much more reliable

than frauds or people who are not experts, right?

Or, you know, so, and expertise really is a thing, right?

And when it’s, you know, when you’re flying an airplane in a, in a storm, you

don’t want just randos come into the cockpit saying, listen, I’ve got a new

idea about how to, you know, how we should tweak these controls, right?

You want someone who’s a trained pilot and, and, and that training gave them

something, right?

It gave them a set of competencies and intuitions and they, they know what all

those dials and switches do, right?

And I don’t, right?

I shouldn’t be flying that plane.

Um, so when things really matter, you know, and putting this at 30,000 feet in a

storm sharpens this up, we want real experts to be in charge, right?

And we are at 30,000 feet a lot of the time on a lot of issues, right?

And whether they’re public health issues, whether it’s issue, whether it’s a

geopolitical emergency like Ukraine, what you made the climate change.

I mean, just pick your, pick your topic.

Um, there are real problems and the clock is rather often ticking and

their solutions are non-obvious, right?

And, and so expertise is a thing and deferring to experts much of

the time makes a lot of sense.

It’s at minimum, it, it prevents either spectacular errors of incompetence

and, and, uh, just, uh, you know, foolhardiness, but even in, in the

case of some where you’re talking about someone, I mean, people like

ourselves who are like, we’re well-educated, we, we’re not the, the

worst possible candidates for, you know, the Dunning-Kruger effect when we’re

going into a new area where we’re not experts, we’re fairly alert to the

possibility that we don’t, you know, it’s not as simple as things seem at first.

And we don’t, you know, we don’t know how our tools translate to this new area.

We can be fairly circumspect, but we’re also, because we’re well-educated.

We, we can, we’re, and we’re pretty quick studies.

We can learn a lot of things pretty fast and we can begin to play a language

game that sounds fairly expert, right?

And in that case, the, the invitation to do your own research, right?

Is in, when, when times are good, I view as an invitation to

waste your time pointlessly, right?

When times are good.

Now, the truth is times are not all that good, right?

And we have the, the ongoing public display of failures of expertise.

We have experts who are obviously corrupted by bad incentives.

We’ve got experts who, you know, perversely won’t admit they were wrong

when they in fact, you know, are demonstrated to be wrong.

We’ve got institutions that have been captured by a political

ideology that’s not truth tracking.

I mean, this, this, this whole woke encroachment into really every place,

you know, whether it’s universities or science journals or government, or,

I mean, it’s just like, that is, that has been genuinely deranging.

So there’s a lot going on that where, where experts and, and the very concept

of expertise has seemed to discredit itself, but the reality is that there

is a massive difference when anything matters, when there’s anything to know

about anything, there is a massive difference most of the time between

someone who has really done the work to understand that domain

and someone who hasn’t.

And if I get sick or someone close to me gets sick, you know, I, I have

a PhD in neuroscience, right?

So I can read a medical journal article and understand a lot of it.


And I, you know, so I’m, I’m just fairly conversant with, you

know, medical terminology.

And I understand its methods and I, I’m alert to the difference because

I’ve, you know, because in neuroscience, I’ve spent hours and hours in

journal clubs, you know, diagnosing, you know, the different, analyzing

the difference between good and bad studies, I’m alert to the difference

between good and bad studies in medical journals, right?

And I understand that bad studies can get published and, you know, et cetera.

And, and, and experiments can be poorly designed.

I’m alert to all of those things, but when I get sick or when someone

close to me gets sick, I don’t pretend to be a doctor, right?

I don’t, I’ve got no clinical experience.

I don’t go down the rabbit hole on Google for days at a stretch trying

to become a doctor, much less a specialist in the domain of problem

that has been visited upon me or my family, right?

So if someone close to me gets cancer, I don’t pretend to be an oncologist.

I don’t go out and start, I don’t start reading, you know, in journals

of oncology and try to really get up to speed as an oncologist because it’s,

it’s not, it’s, one is a, one is a bad and potential and very likely

misleading use of my time, right?

And it’s, if I decide, if I had, if I had a lot of runway, if I decided,

okay, it’s really important for me to know everything I can at this point.

I want to, I know someone’s going to get cancer.

I may not go back to school and become an oncologist, but what I want to do is I want

to know everything I can know about cancer, right?

So I’m going to take the next four years and spend most of my time on cancer.


I could do that, right?

I still think that’s a waste of my time.

Uh, I still think at the end of, even at the end of those four years, I’m not

going to be the best person to, to form intuitions about what to do in the face

of the next cancer that I have to confront.

Um, I’m still going to want a better oncologist than I’ve become to tell me

what he or she would do if they were in my shoes or in the shoes of my family

member, I’m going to, you know, what I’m, what I’m not advocating, I’m not

advocating a, a blind trust in authority.

Like if you get cancer and you’re talking to one oncologist and they’re

recommending some course of treatment, by all means, get a second opinion,

get a third opinion, right?

But it matters that those opinions are coming from real experts and not

from, you know, Robert Kennedy Jr.

You know, who’s telling you that, you know, you got it because

you got a vaccine, right?

It’s like, it’s, it’s just, it, it, there’s, we’re swimming in a sea of

misinformation where you’ve got people who are moving the opinions of millions

of others who, who should not have an opinion on these topics.

There’s no, there is no scenario in which you should be getting your opinion

about vaccine safety or, or climate change or the war in Ukraine or anything

else that we might want to talk about from Candace Owens, right?

It’s just like, like, like she, she’s not a relevant expert on any of those

topics and what’s more, she doesn’t seem to care, right?

And, and, and she’s living in a culture that has had, that has amplified that

not caring into a business model and an effective business model, right?

So it’s just, it’s, and that is something very Trumpian about all that.

Or like, that’s, that’s the problem, the problem is, is the culture.

It’s not these specific individuals.

So, so the paradox here is that expertise is a real thing.

And we defer to it a lot as a, as a labor-saving device.

And it’s just as, and just based on the, the, the, the, the reality that it’s

very hard to be a polymath, right?

And specialization is a thing, right?

And so there are people who specialize in a very narrow topic.

They know more about that topic than the next guy, no matter how smart that,

that guy or gal is, and, and that those differences matter.

But it’s also true that when you’re talking about facts, sometimes the,

the, the, the best experts are wrong.

The scientific consensus is wrong.

You get a, a, a sea change in the thinking of a whole field because one

person who’s an outlier for whatever reason decides, okay, I’m, you know,

I’m going to prove this point and they prove it, right?

So somebody like the doctor who believed that, that stomach ulcers were not due

to stress, but were due to, to H. pylori infections, right?

So he just drank a vial of H. pylori bacteria and, and proved, and then

quickly got an ulcer and convinced the field that, that at minimum H.

pylori was involved in, in that process.


So yes, everyone was wrong.

That doesn’t disprove the reality of expertise.

It doesn’t disprove the utility of relying on experts most of the time,

especially in an emergency, especially when the clock is ticking,

especially when you’re, you know, you’re, you’re in this particular cockpit and

you only have one chance to land this plane, right?

You want the real pilot at the controls.

But there’s just a few things to say.

So one, you mentioned this example with cancer and doing your own research.

There, there’s several things that are different about our particular time in


One, doing your own research has become more and more effective because you can

read, the internet made information a lot more accessible, so you can read a lot of

different meta-analyses.

You can read blog posts that describe to you exactly the flaws in the different

papers that make up the meta, meta-analyses.

They, and, and you can read a lot of those blog posts that are conflicting with each

other, and you can take that information in, and in a short amount of time,

you can start to make good faith interpretations.

For example, I don’t know, I don’t want to overstate things, but if you suffer from

depression, for example, then there, you could go to an expert and a doctor that

prescribes you some medication, but you could also challenge some of those ideas

and seeing like, what are the different medications?

What are the different side effects?

What are the different solutions to depression?

All that kind of stuff, and I think depression is just a really difficult

problem that’s very, I don’t want to, again, state incorrect things, but I think

it’s, there’s a lot of variability of what depression really means, so being

introspective about the type of depression you have and the different possible

solutions you have, just doing your own research as a first step before

approaching a doctor, or as you have multiple opinions, could be very

beneficial in that case.

Now, depression, that’s something that’s been studied for a very long time.

With a new pandemic that’s affecting everybody, it’s, you know, with the

airplane, equated to like 9-11 or something, like, a new emergency just

happened, and everybody, every expert in the world is publishing on it and

talking about it, so doing your own research there could be exceptionally

effective in asking questions, and then there’s a difference between experts,

virologists, and it’s actually a good question, who is exactly the expert in a

pandemic, but there’s the actual experts doing the research and publishing stuff,

and then there’s the communicators of that expertise, and the question is, if

the communicators are flawed, to a degree where doing your own research is

actually the more effective way to figure out policies and solutions,

because you’re not competing with experts, you’re competing with the

communicators of expertise, that could be WHO, CDC in the case of the pandemic,

or politicians, or political type of science figures like Anthony Fauci,

there’s a question there of the effectiveness of doing your research,

your own research in that context, and the competing forces there, incentives

that you’ve mentioned, is you can become quite popular by being contrarian, by

saying everybody’s lying to you, all the authorities are lying to you, all the

institutions are lying to you, so those are the waters you’re swimming in, but I

think doing your own research in that kind of context could be quite effective.

Let me be clear, I’m not saying you shouldn’t do any research, right, I’m not

saying that you shouldn’t be informed about an issue, I’m not saying you

shouldn’t read articles on whatever the topic is, and yes, if I got cancer,

or someone close to me got cancer, I probably would read more about cancer

than I’ve read thus far about cancer, and I’ve read some, so I’m not

making a virtue of ignorance and a blind obedience to authority, and again, I

recognize that authorities can discredit themselves, or they can be

wrong, they can be wrong even when there’s no discredit,

there’s a lot we don’t understand about the nature of the world, but

still, this vast gulf between truly informed opinion and bullshit exists, it

always exists, and conspiracy thinking is rather often, you know, most of the

time, a species of bullshit, but it’s not always wrong, right, there are real

conspiracies, and there really are just awful corruptions born of

bad incentives within our scientific processes, within institutions,

and again, we’ve mentioned a lot of these things in passing, but what woke

political ideology did to scientific communication during the pandemic was

awful, and it was really corrosive of public trust, especially on the right,

for understandable reasons, I mean, it was just, it was crazy, some of the things

that were being said, and still is, and these cases are all different, so like

you take depression, we just don’t know enough about depression for, you know,

anyone to be that confident about anything, right, and there are many

different modalities in which to interact with it as a problem, right, so

pharmaceuticals have whatever promise they have, but there’s certainly

reason to be concerned that they don’t work well for everybody, and I mean,

it’s obvious they don’t work well for everybody, but they do work for some

people, but again, depression is a multifactorial problem, and there are

different levels at which to influence it, and there are things like

meditation, there are things like just life changes, and you know, one of the

perverse things about depression is that when you’re depressed, all of the things

that would be good for you to do are precisely the things you don’t want to

do, you don’t have any energy to socialize, you don’t want to get things

done, you don’t want to exercise, you know, and all of those things, if you got

those up and running, they do make you feel better, you know, in the aggregate,

but the reality is that there, you know, there are clinical level depressions

that are so bad that it’s just, we just don’t have good tools for them, and it’s

not enough to tell you, there’s no life change someone’s going to embrace

that is going to be an obvious remedy for that.

I mean, pandemics are obviously a complicated problem, but I would

consider it much simpler than depression in terms of, you know, what’s on the menu

to be chosen among the various choices. It’s less multifactorial. The logic by

which you would make those choices, yeah. So it’s like, we have a virus, we have a

new virus, it’s some version of bad, you know, it’s human transmissible, we’re

still catching up, we’re catching up to every aspect of it. We don’t know how it

spreads. We don’t know how effective masks are. Well, at a certain point, we

knew it was respiratory, and whether it’s spread by fomites,

we were confused about a lot of things, and we’re still confused. It’s

been a moving target this whole time, and it’s been changing this whole time, and

our responses to it have been, you know, we ramped up the vaccines as quickly

as we could, but, you know, too quick for some, not quick enough for

others. We could have done human challenge trials and got them out more

quickly with better data, and I think that’s something we should probably

look at in the future, because to my eye, that would make ethical sense

to do challenge trials. And so much of my concern about COVID, I mean,

many people are confused about my concern about COVID. My concern about

COVID has, for much of the time, not been narrowly focused on COVID itself, how

dangerous I perceive COVID to be as a illness. It has been, for the longest

time, even more a concern about our ability to respond to a truly scary

pathogen next time. Like, for, you know, outside those initial months, you

know, give me the first six months to be quite worried about COVID and the

unraveling of society, but… And the supply of toilet paper. You want to secure a steady

supply of toilet paper. But beyond that initial period, when we had a sense

of what we were dealing with, and we had every hope that the vaccines are

actually going to work, and we knew we were getting those vaccines in

short order, right? Beyond that, and we knew just how dangerous the

illness was and how dangerous it wasn’t. For years now, I’ve just been worrying

about this as a failed dress rehearsal for something much worse, right? I think

what we prove to ourselves at this moment in history is that we have built

informational tools that we do not know how to use, and we have made ourselves…

We’ve basically enrolled all of human society into a psychological experiment

that is deranging us and making it virtually impossible to solve

coordination problems that we absolutely have to solve next time, when things are

worse. Do you understand who’s at fault for the way this unraveled? The way

we didn’t seem to have the distrust in institutions and the institution of

science that grew seemingly exponentially or got revealed through

this process. Who is at fault here? And what’s to fix? So much blame to go

around, but so much of it is not a matter of bad people conspiring to do bad

things. It’s a matter of incompetence and misaligned incentives and just

ordinary, you know, plain vanilla dysfunction. But my problem was that

people like you, people like Brett Weinstein, people that I look to for

reasonable, difficult conversations on difficult topics, have a little bit lost

their mind, became emotional and dogmatic in style of conversation, perhaps not in

the depth of actual ideas. But there, you know, a tweet something of that nature,

not about you, but just it feels like the pandemic made people really more

emotional than before. And then Kimball Musk responded, I think something I think

you probably would agree with. Maybe not. I think it was the combo of Trump and

the pandemic. Trump triggered the far-left to be way more active than they

could have been without him. And then the pandemic handed big government, nanny

state, lefties a huge platform on a silver platter, a one-two punch, and here

we are. I would agree with some of that. I’m not sure how much to read into the

nanny state concept, but… But yet, like, basically got people on the far-left

really activated. Yeah. And then gave control to, I don’t know if you say

nanny state, but just control to government that, when executed poorly, has

created a complete distrust in government. My fear is that there was

going to be that complete distrust anyway, given the nature of the

information space, given the level of conspiracy thinking, given the gaming of

of these tools by an anti-vax cult. I mean, there really is an anti-vax cult

that just ramped up its energy during this moment. But it’s a small one.

It’s not to say that everything, every concern about vaccines is a species of,

is born of misinformation or born of this cult, but there is a cult that is

just, you know, and the core of Trumpism is a cult. I mean, QAnon is a

cult. And so there’s a lot of lying and there’s a lot of confusion. You know,

there are… It’s almost impossible to exaggerate how confused some people are

and how fully their lives are organized around that confusion. I mean,

there are people who think that the world’s being run by pedophile cannibals

and that, you know, Tom Hanks and Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama are among

those cannibals. I mean, like, they’re… Adjacent to the pure crazy, there’s the

semi-crazy, and adjacent to the semi-crazy, there’s the grifting opportunist

asshole. And the layers of bad faith are, you know, hard to fully

diagnose. But the problem is, all of this is getting signal boosted by an

outrage machine that is preferentially spreading misinformation. It has a

business model that is guaranteed that it is preferentially sharing

misinformation. Actually, just on a small tangent, how do you defend yourself

against the claim that you’re a pedophile cannibal? It’s difficult. Here’s the case

I would make, because I don’t think you can use reason. I think you have to

use empathy. You have to understand. But what, like, part of it, I mean, I find it very

difficult to believe that anyone believes these things. I mean, I think

that there’s, and there’s, I’m sure there’s some number of people who are

just pretending to believe these things because it’s just, again, this is

sort of like the 4chanification of everything. It’s just, it’s just a,

it’s just Pepe the Frog, right? Like, none of this is what it seems. They’re not

signaling an alliance with white supremacy or neo-nazism, but they’re not

doing it. Like, they just don’t fucking care. It’s just cynicism overflowing its

banks, right? It’s just fun to wind up the normies, right? Like, look at all the

normies who don’t understand that a green frog is just a green frog, even

when it isn’t just a green frog, right? It’s like they’re just, it’s just gumming up

everyone’s cognitive bandwidth with bullshit, right? I get that that’s fun if

you’re a teenager and you just want to vandalize our newsphere, but at a

certain point, we have to recognize that real questions of human welfare are in

play, right? There’s like, they’re really, there is this, there are wars getting

fought or not fought, and there’s a pandemic raging, and there’s medicine to

take or not take. But I mean, to come back to this issue of COVID, I don’t think my,

I don’t think I got so out of balance around COVID. I think people are quite

confused about what I was concerned about. I mean, like, there was a, yes, there was

a period where I was crazy because anyone who was taking it seriously was

crazy because they had no idea what was going on. And so it’s like, yes, I was

wiping down packages with alcohol wipes, right? Because people thought it

was transmissible by touch, right? That’s so, and then when we realized

that was no longer the case, I stopped doing that. But so there, again, it was a

moving target, and a lot of things we did in hindsight around masking and school

closures looked fairly dysfunctional, right? But unnecessary. I think the

criticism that people would say about your talking about COVID, and maybe

you can correct me, but you were skeptic, or you were against skepticism of the

safety and efficacy of the vaccine. So people who get nervous about the vaccine

but don’t fall into the usual anti-vax camp, which I think there was a

significant enough number, they’re asking, they’re getting nervous. I mean,

especially after the war in Afghanistan or Iraq, I too was nervous about anything

where a lot of money could be made. And you start, you just see how the people

who are greedy, they come to the surface all of a sudden, and a lot of them

that run institutions, actually really good human beings, I know a lot of them,

but it’s hard to know how those two combine together when there’s hundreds

of billions, trillions of dollars to be made. And so that skepticism, I guess you,

the sense was that you weren’t open enough to the skepticism.

I understand that people have that sense. I’ll tell you how I thought about it and

think about it. One, again, it was a moving target. So there was a point in the

timeline where it was totally rational to expect that the vaccines were both

working, both they were they were reasonably safe, and that

COVID was reasonably dangerous, and that the trade-off for basically everyone was

it was rational to get vaccinated, given the level of testing

and how many people had been vaccinated before you, given what we were seeing

with COVID, that that was a forced choice. You’re eventually going to get COVID,

and the question is, do you want to be vaccinated when you do? There was a

period where that forced choice, where it was just obviously reasonable to get

vaccinated, especially because there was every reason to expect that while

it wasn’t a perfectly sterilizing vaccine, it was going to knock down

transmission a lot, and that matters. And so it wasn’t just a personal choice. You

were actually being a good citizen when you decided to run whatever risk you

were going to run to get vaccinated, because there are people in our

society who actually can’t get vaccinated. I mean, I know people who can’t

take any vaccines. They’re so allergic. I mean, they, in their own

person, seem to justify all of the fears of the anti-vax cult. I mean, it’s like

they’re the kind of person who Robert Kennedy Jr. can point to and say, see,

vaccines will fucking kill you, right? Because of the experience, and

we’re still, I know people who have kids who fit that description, right? So

we should all feel a civic responsibility to be vaccinated against egregiously

awful and transmissible diseases for which we have relatively safe vaccines

to keep those sorts of people safe. And there was a period of time when it was

thought that the vaccine could stop transmission. Yes. And so again, all of

this has begun to shift. I don’t think it has shifted as much as Brett Weinstein

thinks it’s shifted, but yes, there are safety concerns around the mRNA vaccines,

especially for young men, right? As far as I know, that’s the purview of actual

heightened concern. But also, there’s now a lot of natural immunity out there. Basically,

everyone who was going to get vaccinated has gotten vaccinated. The virus has evolved to

the point in this context where it seems less dangerous. Again, I’m going more on

the seemings than on research that I’ve done at this point, but I’m certainly less worried

about getting COVID. I’ve had it once. I’ve been vaccinated. It’s like, so you ask me now,

how do I feel about getting the next booster? I don’t know that I’m going to get the next booster,

right? So I was somebody who was waiting in line at four in the morning, hoping to get some

overflow vaccine when it was first available. And at that point, given what I thought I knew

based on the best sources I could consult and based on anecdotes that were too vivid to ignore,

both data and personal experience, it was totally rational for me to want to get that vaccine as

soon as I could. And now, I think it’s totally rational for me to do a different kind of cost

benefit analysis and wonder, listen, do I really need to get a booster, right? How many of these

boosters am I going to get for the rest of my life, really? And how safe is the mRNA vaccine for

a man of my age, right? And do I need to be worried about myocarditis? All of that is

completely rational to talk about now. My concern is that at every point along the way,

I was the wrong person and Brett Weinstein was the wrong person, and there’s many other people

I could add to this list, to have strong opinions about any of this stuff, right?

I just disagree with that. I think, yes, in theory, I agree 100%, but I feel like experts

failed at communicating, not at doing- They did.

And I just feel like you and Brett Weinstein actually have the tools with the internet,

given the engine you have in your brain of thinking for months at a time,

deeply about the problems that face our world, that you actually have the tools

to do pretty good thinking here. The problem I have with experts-

But there would be deference to experts and pseudo-experts behind all of that.

Well, the papers, you would stand on the shoulders of giants, but you can surf those

shoulders better than the giants themselves.

Yeah, but I knew we were going to disagree about that. I saw his podcast where he brought on these

experts who had, many of them had the right credentials, but for a variety of reasons,

they didn’t pass the smell test for me. One larger problem, and this goes back to the problem of

how we rely on authority in science, is that you can always find a PhD or an MD

to champion any crackpot idea, right? I mean, it is amazing, but you could find PhDs and MDs who

would sit up there in front of Congress and say that they thought smoking was not addictive,

or that it was not harmful. There was no direct link between smoking and lung cancer.

You could always find those people. Some of the people Brett found were people who had obvious

tells, to my point of view, to my eye, and I saw some of the same people were on Rogan’s podcast,

and it’s hard, because if a person does have the right credentials, and they’re not saying

something floridly mistaken, and we’re talking about something where they’re genuine unknowns,

how much do we know about the safety of these vaccines? At that point, not a whole hell of a

lot. I mean, we have no long-term data on mRNA vaccines, but to confidently say that millions of

people are gonna die because of these vaccines, and to confidently say that ivermectin is a

panacea, right? Ivermectin is the thing that prevents COVID, right? There was no good reason

to say either of those things at that moment, and so, given that that’s where Brett was,

I felt like there was just no, there was nothing to debate. We’re both the wrong people to be

getting into the weeds on this. We’re both gonna defer to our chosen experts. His experts look like

crackpots to me, or at least the ones who are most vociferous on those edgiest points that seem most-

And your experts seem like, what is the term, mass hysteria? I forgot the term.

Well, no, but it’s like with climate science. I mean, this old, it’s received as a canard

in half of our society now, but the claim that 97% of climate scientists agree that

human-caused climate change is a thing, right? So, do you go with the 97% most of the time,

or do you go with the 3% most of the time? It’s obvious you go with the 97% most of the time for

anything that matters. It’s not to say that the 3% are always wrong. Again, things get overturned,

and yes, as you say, and I’ve spent much more time worrying about this on my podcast than I’ve

spent worrying about COVID, our institutions have lost trust for good reason, right? And

it’s an open question whether we can actually get things done with this level of transparency

and pseudo-transparency given our information ecosystems. Can we fight a war,

really fight a war that we may have to fight, like the next Nazis? Can we fight that war when

everyone with an iPhone is showing just how awful it is that little girls get blown up when we drop

our bombs, right? Could we as a society do what we might have to do to actually get necessary

things done when we’re living in this panopticon of just, you know, everyone’s a journalist,

right? Everyone’s a scientist, everyone’s an expert, everyone’s got direct contact with the

facts or a semblance of the facts. I don’t know. I think yes, and I think voices like yours are

exceptionally important, and I think there’s certain signals you send in your ability to

steal me on the other side in your empathy, essentially. So that’s the fight, that’s the

mechanism by which you resist the dogmatism of this binary thinking. And then if you become a

trusted person that’s able to consider the other side, then people will listen to you as the

aggregator, as the communicator of expertise. Because the virologists haven’t been able to be

good communicators. I still, to this day, don’t really know what am I supposed to think about the

safety and efficacy of the vaccines today? As it stands today, what are we supposed to think? What

are we supposed to think about testing? What are we supposed to think about the effectiveness of

masks or lockdowns? Where’s the great communicators on this topic that consider all the other

conspiracy theories, all the communication that’s out there, and actually aggregate it

together and be able to say this is actually what’s most likely the truth? And also some of

that has to do with humility, epistemic humility, knowing that you can’t really know for sure.

Just like with depression, you can’t really know for sure. I’m not seeing those communications

being effectively done, even still today. Well, the jury is still out on some of it. And again,

it’s a moving target. And some of it, I mean, it’s complicated. Some of it’s a self-fulfilling

dynamic where, so like lockdowns, in theory, a lockdown would work if we could only do it.

But we can’t really do it. And there’s a lot of people who won’t do it because they’re convinced

that this is the totalitarian boot finally on the neck of the good people who

are always having their interests introduced by the elites. So like this is, if you have enough

people who think the lockdown, for any reason, in the face of any conceivable illness,

is just code for the new world order coming to fuck you over and take your guns. Okay, you have

a society that is now immune to reason, right? Because there are absolutely certain pathogens

that we should lock down for next time, right? And it was completely rational in the beginning

of this thing to lock down, to attempt to lock down. We never really locked down.

To attempt some semblance of a lockdown just to, quote, bend the curve, to spare our healthcare

system, given what we were seeing happening in Italy, right? Like that moment was not hard to

navigate, at least in my view. It was obvious at the time. In retrospect, my views on that haven’t

changed, except for the fact that I recognize maybe it’s just impossible, given the nature of

people’s response to that kind of demand, right? We live in a society that’s just not gonna lock

down. Unless the pandemic is much more deadly. Right, so that’s a point I made, which was

maliciously clipped out from some other podcast, where someone’s trying to make it look like,

I wanna see children die. It’s a pity more children didn’t die from COVID, right?

This is actually the same person who… And that’s the other thing that got so poisoned here. It’s

like that person, this psychopath, or effective psychopath, who’s creating these clips of me on

podcasts. The second clip of me seeming to say that I wish more children died during COVID,

but it was so clear in context what I was saying, that even the clip betrayed the context,

so it didn’t actually work. This psycho, and again, I don’t know whether he actually is a

psychopath, but he’s behaving like one because of the incentives of Twitter. This is somebody who

Brett signal boosted as a very reliable source of information, right? He kept retweeting this guy

at me, against me, right? And this guy, at one glance, I knew how unreliable this guy was,

right? But I think I’m not at all… One thing I think I did wrong, one thing that I do regret,

one thing I have not sorted out for myself, is how to navigate the professional and personal

pressure that gets applied at this moment, where you have a friend, or an acquaintance,

or someone you know, who’s behaving badly in public, or behaving in a way that you think

is bad in public, and they have a public platform where they’re influencing a lot of people,

and you have your own public platform where you’re constantly getting asked to comment

on what this friend, or acquaintance, or colleague is doing.

I haven’t known what I think is ethically right about the choices that seem forced

on us at moments like this. So I’ve criticized you in public about your interview with Kanye,

in that case, I reached out to you in private first, and told you exactly what I thought.

And then when I was gonna get asked in public, or when I was touching that topic on my

podcast, I more or less said the same thing that I said to you in private, right? Now,

that was how I navigated that moment. I did the same thing with Elon, at least at the beginning.

You know, we have maintained good vibes, which is not what I want to say about Elon.

I don’t think, I disagree with you, because good vibes in the moment,

there’s a deep core of good vibes that persists through time, between you and Elon, and I would

argue probably between some of the other folks you mentioned.

I think with Brett, I failed to reach out in private to the degree that I should have.

And we never really had, we had tried to set up a conversation in private that never happened, but

there was some communication, but it would have been much better for me to have made more of an

effort in private than I did before it spilled out into public. And I would say that’s true with

other people as well. What kind of interaction in private do you think you should have with Brett?

Because my case would be beforehand, and now still. The case I would like, and this part of

the criticism you sent my way, maybe it’s useful to go to that direction. Actually, let’s go to

that direction, because I think I disagree with your criticism, as you stated publicly, but this

is very… You’re talking about your interview with Kanye? Yeah, yeah. The thing you criticized

me for is actually the right thing to do with Brett. Okay, you said Lex could have spoken with

Kanye in such a way as to have produced a useful document. He didn’t do that because he has a

fairly naive philosophy about the power of love. Let’s see if you can maintain that philosophy

in the present. Let’s go. No, it’s beautiful. He seemed to think that if he just got through the

minefield to the end of the conversation, where the two of them still were feeling good about one

another and they can hug it out, that would be by definition a success. Let me make the case for

this power of love philosophy. First of all, I love you, Sam. You’re still an inspiration and

somebody I deeply admire. Okay. Back at you. To me, in the case of Kanye, it’s not only that you

get to the conversation and have hugs. It’s that the display that you’re willing to do that

has power. So even if it doesn’t end in hugging, the actual turning the other cheek, the act of

turning the other cheek itself communicates both to Kanye later and to the rest of the world that

we should have empathy and compassion towards each other. There is power to that. Maybe that is

naive, but I believe in the power of that. So it’s not that I’m trying to convince Kanye that

some of his ideas are wrong, but I’m trying to illustrate that just the act of listening and

truly trying to understand the human being, that opens people’s minds to actually questioning

their own beliefs more. It takes them out of the dogmatism. It de-escalates the kind of

dogmatism that I’ve been seeing. So in that sense, I would say the power of love is the philosophy

you might apply to Brett, because the right conversation you have in private is not about,

hey, listen, the experts you’re talking to, they seem credentialed, but they’re not actually

as credentialed as they’re illustrating. They’re not grounding their findings in actual meta

analyses and papers and so on, like making a strong case, like what are you doing? This is

gonna get a lot of people in trouble. But instead just saying, like being a friend in the dumbest of

ways, being like respectful, sending love their way, and just having a conversation outside of

all of this. Like basically showing that like, removing the emotional attachment to this debate,

even though you are very emotionally attached, because in the case of COVID specifically,

there is a very large number of lives at stake. But removing all of that, and remembering that

you have a friendship. Yeah, well, so I think these are highly non-analogous cases, right?

So your conversation with Kanye misfired, from my point of view, for a very different reason.

And it has to do with Kanye. I mean, so Kanye, I don’t know, I’ve never met Kanye,

so obviously I don’t know him. But I think he’s either obviously in the midst of a mental health

crisis, or he’s a colossal asshole, or both. I mean, those aren’t mutually exclusive. So one of

three possibilities, he’s either mentally ill, he’s an asshole, or he’s mentally ill and an

asshole. I think all three of those possibilities are possible for the both of us as well.

No, I would argue none of those are likely for either of us. But not to say we don’t have our

moments. So the reason not to talk to Kanye, so I think you should have had the conversation you

had with him in private, that’s great. And I’ve got no criticism of what you said, had it been

in private. I just thought you’re not doing him a favor. If he’s mentally ill, right? He’s in the

middle of a manic episode, or I’m not a clinician, but I’ve heard it said of him that he is bipolar.

You’re not doing him a favor sticking a mic in front of him and letting him go off on the Jews,

or anything else, right? We know what he thought about the Jews. We know that there’s not much

illumination that’s going to come from him on that topic. And if it is a symptom of his mental

illness that he thinks these things, well, then you’re not doing him a favor making that

even more public. If he’s just an asshole and he’s just an antisemite, an ordinary

garden variety antisemite, well, then there’s also not much to say unless you’re really going

to dig in and kick the shit out of him in public. And I’m saying you can do that with love. I mean,

that’s the other thing here is that I don’t agree that compassion and love always have

this patient, embracing, acquiescent face, right? They don’t always feel good to the recipient,

right? There is a sort of wisdom that you can wield compassionately in moments like that where

someone’s full of shit and you just make it absolutely clear to them and to your audience

that they’re full of shit. And there’s no hatred being communicated. In fact, you could just say,

listen, I’m going to do everyone a favor right now and just take your foot out of your mouth.

And the truth is, I just wouldn’t have aired the conversation. I just don’t think it was

a document that had to get out there, right? I get that many people… This is not a signal

you’re likely to get from your audience, right? I get that many people in your audience thought,

oh my God, that’s awesome. You’re talking to Kanye and you’re doing it in Lex style,

where it’s just love, and you’re not treating him like a pariah. And you’re holding this tension

between he’s this creative genius who is work we love, and yet he’s having this moment that’s

so painful. And what a tightrope walk. And I get that maybe 90% of your audience saw it that way.

They’re still wrong. And I still think that was on balance, not a good thing to put out

into the world. You don’t think it opens up the mind and heart of people that listen to that,

just seeing a person? If it does, it’s opening up in the wrong direction where just gale force

nonsense is coming in, right? I think we should have an open mind and an open heart, but there’s

some clear things here that we have to keep in view. One is the mental illness component is its

own thing. I don’t pretend to understand what’s going on with him. But insofar as that’s the

reason he’s saying what he’s saying, do not put this guy on camera and let no people see it.

Sorry, on that point, real quick, I had a bunch of conversation with him offline,

and I didn’t get a sense of mental illness. That’s why I chose to sit down.

I mean, mental illness is such a…

But when he shows up in a gimp hood on Alex Jones’s podcast, either that’s more genius

performance in his world, or he’s unraveling further.

I wouldn’t put that under mental illness. I think there’s another conversation to be had about

how we treat artists, because they’re weirdos. They’re very… I mean, taking words from Kanye

as if he’s Christopher Hitchens or something like that, very eloquent, researched,

written many books on history, on politics, on geopolitics, on psychology. Kanye didn’t do any

of that. He’s an artist just spouting off. And so there’s a different style of conversation

and a different way to treat the words that are coming out of his mouth.

Let’s leave the mental illness aside. So if we’re gonna say that there’s no reason to think he’s

mentally ill, and this is just him being creative and brilliant and opinionated, well, then that

falls into the asshole bucket for me. It’s like then he’s someone… And honestly, the most

offensive thing about him in that interview, from my point of view, is not the antisemitism,

which we can talk about, because I think there are problems just letting him

spread those memes as well. But the most offensive thing is just how delusionally

egocentric he is, or was coming off in that interview and in others. He has an estimation

of himself as this omnibus genius, not only to rival Shakespeare, to exceed Shakespeare.

I mean, it’s like he is the greatest mind that has ever walked among us. And he’s more or less

explicit on that point, and yet he manages to talk for hours without saying anything actually

interesting or insightful or factually illuminating. So it’s complete delusion

of a very Trumpian sort. It’s like when Trump says he’s a genius who understands everything,

but nobody takes him seriously, one wonders whether Trump takes himself seriously.

Kanye seems to believe his own press. He actually thinks he’s just a colossus.

And he may be a great musician. It’s certainly not my wheelhouse to compare him to any other

musicians. But one thing that’s patently obvious from your conversation is he’s not who he thinks

he is intellectually or ethically or in any other relevant way. And so when you couple that to

the antisemitism he was spreading, which was genuinely noxious and ill-considered and

has potential knock-on effects in the Black community. I mean, there’s an ambient level

of antisemitism in the Black community that is worth worrying about and talking about anyway.

There’s a bunch of guys playing the knockout game in Brooklyn, just punching Orthodox Jews in the

face. And I think letting Kanye air his antisemitism that publicly only raises the likelihood

of that rather than diminishes it. I don’t know. So let me say just a couple of things. So one,

my belief at the time was it doesn’t, it decreases it. Showing empathy while pushing back

decreases the likelihood of that. It might on the surface look like it’s increasing it,

but that’s simply because the antisemitism or the hatred in general is brought to the surface.

And then people talk about it. But I should also say that you’re one of the only people that wrote

to me privately criticizing me. And like out of the people I really respect and admire. And that

was really valuable that I had to, painful, because I had to think through it for a while.

It still haunts me because the other kind of criticism I got a lot of, people basically said,

things towards me based on who I am that they hate me.

You mean antisemitic things or that you wrote?

Antisemitic things. I just hate the word antisemitic. It’s like racist.

But here’s the reality. So I’m someone, so I’m Jewish, although obviously not religious.

I have never taken, I’ve been a student of the Holocaust, obviously. I know a lot about that.

And there’s reason to be a student of the Holocaust. But in my lifetime and in my experience,

I have never taken antisemitism very seriously. I have not worried about it. I have not made a

thing of it. I’ve done exactly one podcast on it. I had Barry Weiss on my podcast when her book came

out. But it really is a thing. And it’s something we have to keep an eye on societally because it’s

a unique kind of hatred. It’s unique in that it seems it’s knit together with, it’s not just

ordinary racism. It’s knit together with lots of conspiracy theories that never seem to die out.

And it can by turns equally animate the left and the right politically. I mean,

what’s so perverse about antisemitism, look in the American context, with the far right,

with white supremacists, Jews aren’t considered white. So they hate us in the same spirit in

which they hate black people or brown people or anyone who’s not white. But on the left,

Jews are considered extra white. I mean, we’re the extra beneficiaries of white privilege.

And in the black community, that is often the case. We’re a minority that has thrived. And it

seems to stand as a counterpoint to all of the problems that other minorities suffer,

in particular African-Americans in the American context. And yeah, Asians are now getting a

little bit of this, like the model minority issue. But Jews have had this going on for

centuries and millennia, and it never seems to go away. And again, this is something that I’ve

never focused on, but this has been at a slow boil for as long as we’ve been alive. And there’s

no guarantee it can’t suddenly become much, much uglier than we have any reason to expect it to

become, even in our society. And so there’s kind of a special concern at moments like that where

you have an immensely influential person in a community who already has a checkered history with

respect to their own beliefs about the Jews and the conspiracies and all the rest. And he’s just

messaging, not especially fully opposed by you and anyone else who’s given him the microphone at that

moment, to the world. And so that made my Spidey sense tingle.

Yeah, it’s complicated. The stakes are very high. And as somebody who’s been, obviously, family and

also reading a lot about World War II, and just this whole period is a very difficult conversation.

But I believe in the power, especially given who I am, of not always, but sometimes,

often turning the other cheek. Oh, yeah. And again, things change

when they’re for public consumption. The cut for me that has just the use case I keep

stumbling upon is the kinds of things that I will say on a podcast like this, or if I’m giving a

public lecture, versus the kinds of things I will say at dinner with strangers or with friends.

If you’re in an elevator, if I’m in an elevator with strangers, and I hear someone say something

stupid, I don’t feel an intellectual responsibility to turn around in the confines of that space with

them and say, listen, that thing you just said about X, Y, or Z is completely false, and here’s

why. But if somebody says it in front of me on some public dais where I’m actually talking about

ideas, that’s when there’s a different responsibility that comes online.

The question is how you say it, how you say it.

Or even whether you say anything in those. I mean, there are moments, there are definitely

moments to privilege civility or just to pick your battles. I mean, sometimes it’s just not

worth it to get into it with somebody out in real life.

I just believe in the power of empathy, both in the elevator and when a bunch of people are

listening, that when they see you willing to consider another human being’s perspective,

it just gives more power to your words after.

Well, yeah, but until it doesn’t. Because you can extend charity too far, right? It can be

absolutely obvious what someone’s motives really are, and they’re dissembling about that, right?

And so then you’re taking at face value their representations, it begins to look like you’re

just being duped and you’re not actually doing the work of putting pressure on a bad actor.

And again, the mental illness component here makes it very difficult to think about

what you should or shouldn’t have said to Kanye.

So I think the topic of platforming is pretty interesting. What’s your view on

platforming controversial people? Let’s start with the old, would you interview Hitler

on your podcast? And how would you talk to him? Oh, and follow-up question. Would you interview

him in 1935, 41, and then like 45? Well, I think we have an uncanny valley

problem with respect to this issue of whether or not to speak to bad people, right? So if a

person is sufficiently bad, right, if they’re all the way out of the valley, then you can talk to

them and it’s just totally unproblematic to talk to them. Because you don’t have to spend any time

signaling to your audience that you don’t agree with them. And if you’re interviewing Hitler,

you don’t have to say, listen, I just got to say before we start, I don’t agree with the whole

genocide thing. And I just think you’re killing mental patients in vans and all that. That was

all bad. It’s a bad look, Adolf. So you just, it can go without saying that you don’t agree with

this person and you’re not platforming them to signal boost their views. You’re just trying to,

if they’re sufficiently evil, you can go into it very much as an anthropologist would.

You just want to understand the nature of evil, right? You just want to understand

this phenomenon, like how is this person who they are, right? And that strikes me as a

intellectually interesting and morally necessary thing to do, right? So yes,

I think you always interview Hitler. Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait.

Well, when you know, once he’s Hitler. But when do you know it?

Once he’s legitimately Hitler. But when do you know it?

Is genocide really happening? It’s not 42, 43?

No, if you’re on the cusp of it where it’s just, he’s someone who’s gaining power and you don’t

want to help facilitate that, then there’s a question of whether you can undermine him while

pushing back against him in that interview, right? So there are people I wouldn’t talk to just

because I don’t want to give them oxygen. And I don’t think that in the context of my interviewing

them, I’m going to be able to take the wind out of their sails at all, right? So it’s like,

for whatever, either because an asymmetric advantage, because I just know that they can

do something within the span of an hour that I can’t correct for. It’s like they can light many

small fires and it just takes too much time to put them out.

That’s more like on the topic of vaccines, for example,

having a debate on the efficacy of vaccines.

Yeah. It’s not that I don’t think sunlight is usually the best disinfectant. I think it is.

Even these asymmetries aside, I mean, it is true that a person can always make a mess faster than

you can clean it up, right? But still there are debates worth having, even given that limitation.

And they’re the right people to have those specific debates. And there’s certain topics where

I’ll debate someone just because I’m the right person for the job and it doesn’t matter how

messy they’re going to be. It’s just worth it because I can make my points land at least to

the right part of the audience.

So some of it is just your own skill and competence and also interest in preparing correctly?

Well, yeah. And the nature of the subject matter. But there are other people who just by default,

I would say, well, there’s no reason to give this guy a platform. And there are also people

who are so confabulatory that they’re making such a mess with every sentence that insofar as you’re

even trying to interact with what they’re saying, you’re by definition going to fail and you’re

going to seem to fail to a sufficiently large uninformed audience where it’s going to be a net

negative for the cause of truth, no matter how good you are. So for instance, I think

talking to Alex Jones on any topic for any reason is probably a bad idea because I just think he’s

just neurologically wired to just utter a string of sentences. He’ll get 20 sentences out,

each of which contains more lies than the last. And there’s not time enough in the world

to run down and certainly not time enough in the span of a conversation to run down each of those

leads to bedrock so as to falsify it. I mean, he’ll just make shit up or make shit up and then

weave it in with half-truths and micro-truths that give some semblance of credibility to somebody

out there. I mean, apparently millions of people out there. And there’s just no way to untangle

that in real time with him. I have noticed that you have an allergic reaction to


Yeah, confabulation.

Confabulation. That if somebody says something a little micro-untruth, it really stops your brain.

Here, I’m not talking about micro-untruths. I’m just talking about making up things out

of whole cloth. If someone says something, well, what about, and then the thing they put

at the end of that sentence is just a set of pseudo-facts that you can’t possibly authenticate

or not in the span of that conversation, whether it’s about UFOs or anything else.

They will seem to make you look like an ignoramus when, in fact, everything they’re saying is

specious, whether they know it or not. I mean, there’s some people who are just

crazy. There’s some people who are just bullshitting, and they’re not even tracking

whether it’s true. It just feels good. And there’s some people who are consciously lying

about things.

But don’t you think there’s just a kind of jazz masterpiece of untruth that you should be able

to just wave off by saying like, well, none of that is backed up by any evidence, and just almost

like take it to the humor place.

Well, but the thing is, the place I’m familiar with doing this and not doing this is

on specific conspiracies like 9-11 truth. Because of what 9-11 did to my intellectual

life, it sent me down a path for the better part of a decade. I became a critic of religion.

I don’t know if I was ever going to be a critic of religion, but it happened to be in my wheelhouse

because I spent so much time studying religion on my own. And I was also very interested in the

underlying spiritual concerns of every religion. And so I devoted more than a full decade of my

life to just what is real here? What is possible? What is the nature of subjective reality? And how

does it relate to reality at large? And is there anything to… Who was someone like Jesus or Buddha?

And are these people frauds? Or are these just myths? Or is there really a continuum of insight

to be had here that is interesting? So I spent a lot of time on that question through the full

decade of my 20s.

And that was launched in part by 9-11 truth there?

No, but then when 9-11 happened, I had spent all this time reading religious books,

empathically understanding the motivations of religious people,

knowing just how fully certain people believe what they say they believe. So I took religious

convictions very seriously. And then people started flying planes into our buildings. So I knew that

there was something to be said about that.


The core doctrines of Islam. Yeah, exactly. So that became my wheelhouse for a time,

terrorism and jihadism and related topics. And so the 9-11 truth conspiracy thing

kept getting aimed at me. And the question was, well, do I wanna debate these people?

Yeah. Alex Jones, perhaps.

Yeah. So Alex Jones, I think, was an early purveyor of it, although I don’t think I knew

who he was at that point. And privately, I had some very long debates with people who… One

person in my family went way down that rabbit hole. And every six months or so, I’d literally

write the two-hour email that would try to deprogram him, however ineffectually.

And so I went back and forth for years on that topic in private with people. But I could see

the structure of the conspiracy. I could see the nature of how impossible it was to play whack-a-mole

sufficiently well so as to convince anyone of anything who was not seeing the problematic

structure of that way of thinking. I mean, it’s not actually a thesis. It’s a proliferation of

anomalies that you can’t actually connect all the dots that are being pointed to. They don’t connect

in a coherent way. They’re incompatible theses, and their incompatibility is not being acknowledged.

But they’re running this algorithm of things are never what they seem. There’s always malicious

conspirators doing things perfectly. We see evidence of human incompetence everywhere else.

No one can tie their shoes expertly anywhere else. But over here, people are perfectly

competent. They’re perfectly concealing things. Thousands of people are collaborating

inexplicably. I mean, incentivized by what? Who knows? They’re collaborating to murder

thousands of their neighbors, and no one is breathing a peep about it. No one’s getting

caught on camera. No one’s breathed a word of it to a journalist. And so I’ve dealt with

that style of thinking, and I know what it’s like to be in the weeds of a conversation like that,

and the person will say, okay, well, but what do you make of the fact that all those F-16s

were flown 800 miles out to sea on the morning of 9-11 doing an exercise that hadn’t even been

scheduled for that day, but it was… And now all of these are… I dimly recall some thesis of that

kind, but I’m just making these things up now, right? So that detail hadn’t even been scheduled

for that day. It was inexplicably run that day. So how long would it take to track that down,

the idea that this is anomalous? There was an F-16 exercise run, and it wasn’t even supposed

to have been run that day. Someone like Alex Jones, their speech pattern is to pack as much

of that stuff in as possible at the highest velocity that the person can speak. And unless

you’re knocking down each one of those things to that audience, you appear to just be uninformed.

You appear to just not be… Wait a minute, he didn’t know about the F-16s?

Yeah. Sure.

He doesn’t know about Project Mockingbird? You haven’t heard about Project Mockingbird? I just

made up Project Mockingbird. I don’t know what it is, but that’s the kind of thing that comes

tumbling out in a conversation like that. That’s the kind of thing, frankly, I was worried about

in the COVID conversation, because not that someone like Brett would do it consciously,

but someone like Brett is swimming in a sea of misinformation, living on Twitter,

getting people sending the blog post and the study from the Philippines that showed that

in this cohort, ivermectin did X. To actually run anything to ground, you have to actually

do the work, journalistically and scientifically, and run it to ground. So for some of these

questions, you actually have to be a statistician to say, okay, they used the wrong statistics in

this experiment. Now, yes, we could take all the time to do that, or we could at every stage along

the way, in a context where we have experts we can trust, go with what 97% of the experts are

saying about X, about the safety of mRNA, about the transmissibility of COVID, about whether to

wear masks or not wear masks. And I completely agree that that broke down unacceptably over the

last few years. But I think that’s largely… Social media and blogs and the efforts of

podcasters and sub-stack writers were not just a response to that, I think it was a

symptom of that and a cause of that. And I think we’re living in an environment where

people… We’ve basically… We have trained ourselves not to be able to agree about facts

on any topic, no matter how urgent. What’s flying in our sky? What’s happening in Ukraine?

Is Putin just denazifying Ukraine? There are people who we respect

who are spending time down that particular rabbit hole. This is… Maybe there are a lot

of Nazis in Ukraine and that’s the real problem. Maybe Putin’s not the bad actor here.

How much time do I have to spend empathizing with Putin to the point of thinking, well,

maybe Putin’s got a point and it’s like, well, what about the polonium and the nerve agents and

the killing of journalists and Navalny? And does that count? Well, no. Listen, I’m not paying so

much attention to that because I’m following all these interesting people on Twitter and they’re

giving me some pro-Putin material here. And there are some Nazis in Ukraine. It’s not like there are

no Nazis in Ukraine. How am I going to weight these things? I think people are being driven

crazy by Twitter. Yeah. But you’re kind of speaking to conspiracy theories that pollute

everything. But every example you gave is kind of a bad faith style of conversation.

But it’s not necessarily knowingly bad faith. I mean, the people who are worried about

Ukrainian Nazis, I mean, they’re some of the same people. They’re the same people who are

worried about ivermectin got suppressed. Ivermectin is really a panacea, but it got

suppressed because no one could make billions on it. It’s literally, in many cases, the same people

and the same efforts to unearth those facts. You’re saying it’s very difficult to have

conversations with those kinds of people. What about a conversation with Trump himself?

Would you do a podcast with Trump? No. I don’t think so. I don’t think I’d be learning

anything about him. It’s like with Hitler, and I’m not comparing Trump to Hitler, but…

Clipse guy, here’s your chance. You got this one.

With certain world historical figures, I would just feel like, okay, this is an opportunity

to learn something that I’m not going to learn. I think Trump is among the most superficial people

we have ever laid eyes on. He is in public view. I’m sure there’s some distance between who he is

in private and who he is in public, but it’s not going to be the kind of distance that’s

going to blow my mind. For instance, I think Joe Rogan was very wise not to have Trump on his

podcast. I think all he would have been doing is he would have put himself in a situation where he

couldn’t adequately contain the damage Trump was doing, and he was just going to make Trump seem

cool to a whole new, potentially new cohort of his massive audience. They would have had a lot

of laughs. Trump’s funny. The entertainment value of things is so influential. There was

that one debate where Trump got a massive laugh on his line, only Rosie O’Donnell.

The truth is we’re living in a political system where if you can get a big laugh during a political

debate, you win. It doesn’t matter who you are. That’s the level of… It doesn’t matter how

uninformed you are. It doesn’t matter that half the debate was about what the hell we should do

about a threat of nuclear war or anything else. We’re monkeys, and we like to laugh.

Because you brought up Joe. He’s somebody like you I look up to. I’ve learned a lot from him

because I think who he is privately as a human being. Also, he’s kind of the voice of curiosity

to me. He inspired me. That’s an unending open-minded curiosity, much like you are the

voice of reason. They recently had a podcast. Joe had recently had a podcast with Jordan Peterson,

and he brought you up saying they still have a hope for you. Any chance you talk to Joe again and

reinvigorate your friendship? I reached out to him privately when I saw that.

Did you use the power of love? Joe knows I love him and consider him a friend,

so there’s no issue there. He also knows I’ll be happy to do his podcast

when we get that together. I’ve got no policy of not talking to Joe or not doing his podcast.

I mean, I think we got a little sideways along these same lines where we’ve talked about Brett

and Elon and other people. It was never to that degree with Joe because

Joe’s in a very different lane, and consciously so. I mean, Joe is a stand-up comic who interviews,

is interested in everything, interviews the widest conceivable variety of people,

and just lets his interests collide with their expertise or lack of expertise. I mean,

again, it’s a super wide variety of people. He’ll talk about anything, and he can always

pull the ripcord saying, I don’t know what the fuck I’m saying. I’m a comic. I’m stoned.

We just drank too much, right? It’s very entertaining. To my eye, it’s all in good

faith. I think Joe is an extraordinarily ethical, good person. Also doesn’t use Twitter.

Doesn’t really use Twitter. Yeah, yeah. The crucial difference, though,

is that because he is an entertainer first, I mean, I’m not saying he’s not smart and doesn’t

understand things. I mean, what’s potentially confusing is he’s very smart, and he’s also very

informed. His full-time job is taught. When he’s not doing stand-up or doing color commentary for

the UFC, his full-time job is talking to lots of very smart people at great length. He’s created

the Joe Rogan University for himself, and he’s gotten a lot of information crammed into his head.

So it’s not that he’s uninformed, but he can always, when he feels that he’s uninformed or

when it turns out he was wrong about something, he can always pull the ripcord and say, I’m just a

comic. We were stoned. It was fun. Don’t take medical advice from me. I don’t play a doctor

on the internet, right? I can’t quite do that, right? You can’t quite do that. We’re in different

lanes. I’m not saying you and I are in exactly the same lane, but for much of Joe’s audience,

I’m just this establishment shill who’s just banging on about the universities and medical

journals. And it’s not true, but that would be the perception. And as a counterpoint to a lot

of what’s being said on Joe’s podcast, or certainly Brett’s podcast on these topics,

I can see how they would form that opinion. But in reality, if you listen to me long enough,

you hear that I’ve said as much against the woke nonsense as anyone, even any lunatic on the right

who can only keep that bright shining object in view, right? So there’s nothing that Candace

Owens has said about wokeness that I haven’t said about wokeness insofar as she’s speaking

rationally about wokeness. But we have to be able to keep multiple things in view, right?

If you could only look at the problem of wokeness and you couldn’t acknowledge the problem of Trump

and Trumpism and QAnon and the explosion of irrationality that was happening on the right

and bigotry that was happening on the right, you were just disregarding half of the landscape.

And many people took half of the problem in recent years. The last five years is a story

of many people taking half of the problem and monetizing that half of the problem and getting

captured by an audience that only wanted that half of the problem talked about in that way.

And this is the larger issue of audience capture, which I’m sure it’s an ancient problem, but

it’s a very helpful phrase that I think comes to us courtesy of our mutual friend, Eric Weinstein.

And audience captures a thing, and I believe I’ve witnessed many casualties of it. And if

there’s anything I’ve been on guard against in my life professionally, it’s been that. And when

I noticed that I had a lot of people in my audience who didn’t like my criticizing Trump,

I really leaned into it. And when I noticed that a lot of the other cohort in my audience

didn’t like me criticizing the far left and wokeness, they thought I was exaggerating that

problem, I leaned into it because I thought those parts of my audience were absolutely wrong,

and I didn’t care about whether I was going to lose those parts of my audience.

There are people who have created, knowingly or not, there are people who’ve created different

incentives for themselves because of how they’ve monetized their podcasts and because of the kind

of signal they’ve responded to in their audience. And I worry about… Brett would consider this a

totally invidious ad hominem thing to say, but I really do worry that that’s happened to Brett.

I think I cannot explain how you do 100… With all the things in the universe to be interested

in, and of all the things he’s competent to speak intelligently about, I don’t know how you do 100

podcasts in a row on COVID, right? It’s just, it makes no sense.

You think, in part, audience capture can explain that?

I absolutely think it can, yeah.

What about, do you, for example, do you feel pressure to not admit that you made a mistake

on COVID or made a mistake on Trump? I’m not saying you feel that way, but do you feel this

pressure? So you’ve attacked audience capture within the way you do stuff, so you don’t feel

as much pressure from the audience, but within your own ego?

I mean, again, the people who think I’m wrong about any of these topics are gonna think,

okay, you’re just not admitting that you’re wrong. But now we’re having a dispute about specific

facts. There are things that I believed about COVID or worried might be true about COVID two

years ago that I no longer believe or I’m not so worried about now, and vice versa. I mean,

things have flipped. Certain things have flipped upside down. The question is, was I wrong?

So here’s the cartoon version of it, but this is something I said probably 18 months ago,

and it’s still true. When I saw what Brett was doing on COVID, let’s call it two years ago,

I said, even if he’s right, even if it turns out that ivermectin is a panacea and the mRNA vaccines

kill millions of people, he’s still wrong right now. His reasoning is still flawed right now.

His facts still suck right now, and his confidence is unjustified now. That was true then,

that was true then, that will always be true then. And not much has changed for me to revisit

any of my time points along the way. Again, I will totally concede that if I had teenage boys

and their schools were demanding that they be vaccinated with the mRNA vaccine,

I would be powerfully annoyed. I wouldn’t know what I was going to do, and I would be doing more

research about myocarditis, and I’d be badgering our doctors, and I would be worried that we have

a medical system and a pharmaceutical system and a healthcare system and a public health system

that’s not incentivized to look at any of this in a fine-grained way, and they just want one

blanket admonition to the entire population, just take the shot, you idiots.

I view that largely as a result, a panicked response to the misinformation explosion that

happened and the populist resistance animated by misinformation that just made it impossible to get

anyone to cooperate. Part of it is, again, a pendulum swing in the wrong direction,

somewhat analogous to the woke response to Trump and the Trumpist response to woke. A lot of people

have just gotten pushed around for bad reasons, but understandable reasons. But yes, there are

caveats. Things have changed about my view of COVID, but the question is, if you roll back the

clock 18 months, was I wrong to want to platform Eric Topol, a very well-respected cardiologist on

this topic, or Nicholas Christakis to talk about the network effects of whether we should close

schools, right? He’s written a book on COVID, his network effects are his wheelhouse, both as an MD

and as a sociologist. There was a lot that we believed we knew about the efficacy of closing

schools during pandemics, during the Spanish flu pandemic and others, but there’s a lot we

didn’t know about COVID. We didn’t know how negligible the effects would be on kids compared

to older people. We didn’t know. My problem, I really enjoyed your conversation with Eric Topol,

but also didn’t. So he’s one of the great communicators in many ways on Twitter,

like distillation of the current data, but he, I hope I’m not overstating it, but there is a bit

of an arrogance from him that I think could be explained by him being exhausted by being

constantly attacked by conspiracy theory, like anti-vaxxers. To me, the same thing happens with

people that start drifting to being right-wing, is they get attacked so much by the left,

they become almost irrational and arrogant in their beliefs. And I felt your conversation

with Eric Topol did not sufficiently empathize with people that have skepticism, but also did

not sufficiently communicate uncertainty we have. So many of the decisions you made, many of the

things you were talking about, were kind of saying there’s a lot of uncertainty, but this is the best

thing we could do now. Well, it was a forced choice. You’re going to get COVID. Do you want to be

vaccinated when you get it? Right. That was always, in my view, an easy choice. And it’s up until you

start breaking apart the cohorts and you start saying, okay, wait a minute, there is this myocarditis

issue in young men. Let’s talk about that. Before that story emerged, it was just clear that

if it’s not knocking down transmission as much as we had hoped,

it is still mitigating severe illness and death. And I still believe that it is the

current view of most people competent to analyze the data that we lost something like 300,000

people unnecessarily in the U.S. because of vaccine hesitancy. But I think there’s a way

to communicate with humility about the uncertainty of things that would increase the vaccination rate.

I do believe that it is rational and sometimes effective to signal impatience with certain

bad ideas and certain conspiracy theories and certain forms of misinformation.

I think so. I just think it makes you look a douchebag most times.

Well, I mean, certain people are persuadable, certain people are not persuadable, but

it’s… No, because there’s not enough… It’s the opportunity cost. Not everything can be

given a patient hearing. So you can’t have a physics conference and then let people in to

just trumpet their pet theories about the grand unified vision of physics when they’re obviously

crazy or they’re obviously half crazy or they’re just not… You begin to get a sense for this

when it is your wheelhouse. But there are people who declare their irrelevance to the conversation

fairly quickly without knowing that they have done it. And the truth is, I think I’m one of

those people on the topic of COVID. It’s never that I felt, listen, I know exactly what’s going

on here. I know these mRNA vaccines are safe. I know exactly how to run a lockdown.

No, this is a situation where you want the actual pilots to fly the plane, right? We needed experts

who we could trust. And insofar as our experts got captured by all manner of thing, I mean,

some of them got captured by Trump. Some of them were made to look ridiculous just standing next

to Trump while he was bloviating about whatever, that it’s just going to go away. There’s just 15

people. There’s 15 people in a cruise ship and it’s just going to go away. There’s going to be

no problem. Or it’s like when he said, many of these doctors think I understand this better

than them. They’re just amazed at how I understand this. And you’ve got doctors, real doctors,

the heads of the CDC and NIH standing around just ashen faced while he’s talking.

All of this was deeply corrupting of the public communication of science. And then again,

I’ve banged on about the depredations of wokeness. The woke thing was a disaster,

right? It still is a disaster. But it doesn’t mean that… But the thing is, there’s a big

difference between me and Brett in this case. I didn’t do a hundred podcasts on COVID. I did

two podcasts on COVID. The measure of my concern about COVID can be measured in how many podcasts

I did on it, right? It’s like, once we had a sense of how to live with COVID,

I was just living with COVID, right? Like, okay, get vaxxed or don’t get vaxxed. Wear a mask or

don’t wear a mask. Travel or don’t travel. You’ve got a few things to decide, but my kids were stuck

at home on iPads for too long. I didn’t agree with that. It was obviously not functional.

Like, I criticized that on the margins, but there was not much to do about it. But the thing I

didn’t do is make this my life and just browbeat people with one message or another. We need a

public health regime where we can trust what competent people are saying to us about what

medicines are safe to take. And in the absence of that, craziness is going to… Even in the presence

of that, craziness is going to proliferate given the tools we’ve built. But in the absence of that,

it’s going to proliferate for understandable reasons. And that’s going to… It’s not going

to be good next time when something orders of magnitude more dangerous hits us. And that’s…

I spent, you know… And so far as I think about this issue, I think much more about next time than

this time. Before this COVID thing, you and Brad had some good conversations. I would say we’re

friends. What do you admire most about Brett outside of all the criticism we’ve had about this

COVID topic? Well, I think Brett is very smart, and he’s a very ethical person who wants good

things for the world. I mean, I have no reason to doubt that. So the fact that we’re crosswise on

this issue does not mean that I think he’s a bad person. I mean, the thing that worried me about

what he was doing, and this was true of Joe, and this was true of Elon, and this was true of many

other people, is that once you’re messaging at scale to a vast audience, you incur a certain

kind of responsibility not to get people killed. And I did worry that, yeah, people were making

decisions on the basis of the information that was getting shared there. And that’s why I was,

I think, fairly circumspect. I just said, okay, give me the center of the fairway expert opinion

at this time point, and at this time point, and at this time point, and then I’m out. Right? I don’t

have any more to say about this. I’m not an expert on COVID. I’m not an expert on the safety of MRNA

vaccines. If something changes so as to become newsworthy, then maybe I’ll do a podcast. I just

did a podcast on the lab leak. Right? I was never skeptical of the lab leak hypothesis.

Brett was very early on saying, this is a lab leak. Right? At a point where my only position was,

who cares if it’s a lab leak? Right? The thing we have to get straight is, what do we do given

the nature of this pandemic? But also we should say that you’ve actually stated that it is a

possibility. You just said it doesn’t quite matter. I mean, the time to figure that out.

Now, I’ve actually, I have had my podcast guest on this topic changed my view of this, because

one of the guests, Elena Chan, made the point that, no, actually the best time to figure out

the origin of this is immediately. Right? Because you lose touch with the evidence. And I hadn’t

really been thinking about that. If you come back after a year, there are certain facts you

might not be able to get in hand. But I’ve always felt that it didn’t matter for two reasons. One is

we had the genome of the virus and we could design, we’re very quickly design, immediately

designing vaccines against that genome. And that’s what we had to do. And then we had to figure out

how to vaccinate and to mitigate and to develop treatments and all of that. So the origin story

didn’t matter. Generically speaking, either origin story was politically inflammatory

and made the Chinese look bad, right? And the Chinese response to this looked bad,

whatever the origin story, right? They’re not cooperating. They’re stopping their domestic

flights, but letting their international flights go. I mean, it’s just, they were bad actors and

they should be treated as such regardless of the origin, right? And I would argue that the wet

market origin is even more politically invidious than the lab leak origin. I mean-

Why do you think?

Because lab leak, to my eye, the lab leak could happen to anyone, right? We’re all running,

all these advanced countries are running these dangerous labs. That’s a practice that we should

be worried about in general. We know lab leaks are a problem. There’ve been multiple lab leaks of

even worse things that haven’t gotten out of hand in this way, but worse pathogens.

We’re wise to be worried about this. And on some level, it could happen to anyone, right?

The wet market makes them look like barbarians living in another century. You got to clean up

those wet markets. Like, what are you doing putting a bat on top of a pangolin on top of a

duck? It’s like, get your shit together. So like, if anything, the wet market makes them look worse

in my view. Now, I’m sure that what they actually did to conceal a lab leak, if it was a lab leak,

all of that’s going to look odious.

Do you think we’ll ever get to the bottom of that? I mean, one of the big negative,

I would say, failures of Anthony Fauci and so on is to be transparent and clear and just a good

communicator about gain-and-function research, the dangers of that, why it’s a useful way of

research, but it’s also dangerous. Just being transparent about that, as opposed to just coming

off really shady. Of course, the conspiracy theorists and the politicians are not helping,

politicians are not helping, but this just created a giant mess.

Yeah, no, I would agree. So that exchange with Fauci and Rand Paul that went viral,

I would agree that Fauci looked like he was taking refuge in kind of very lawyered language

and not giving a straightforward account of what we do and why we do it. So yeah,

I think it looked shady, it played shady, and it probably was shady. I mean, I don’t know how

personally entangled he is with any of this, but yeah, the gain-of-function research is something

that I think we’re wise to be worried about. And insofar as I judge myself adequate to have an

opinion on this, I think it should be banned, right? Like probably a podcast I’ll do if you

or somebody else doesn’t do it in the meantime. I would like a virologist to defend it against a

virologist who would criticize it. Forget about just the gain-of-function research.

I don’t even understand virus hunting at this point. It’s like, I don’t even know why you need

to go into a cave to find this next virus that could be circulating among bats that may jump

zoonotically at us. Why do that when we can sequence in a day and make vaccines in a weekend?

I mean, what kind of head start do you think you’re getting? That’s a surprising new thing,

how quickly you can develop a vaccine. Exactly. Yeah, that’s really interesting. But the shadiness

around LabLeak. I think the point I didn’t make about Brett’s style of engaging in this issue is

people are using the fact that he was early on LabLeak to suggest that he was right about

ivermectin and about mRNA vaccines and all the rest. No, none of that connects.

And it was possible to be falsely confident. You shouldn’t have been confident about LabLeak.

No one should have been confident about LabLeak early, even if it turns out to be LabLeak, right?

It was always plausible. It was never definite. It still isn’t definite. Zoonotic is also quite

plausible. It certainly was super plausible then. Both are politically uncomfortable.

Both at the time were inflammatory to be banging on about when we were trying to secure some kind

of cooperation from the Chinese, right? So there’s a time for these things. And it’s possible to be

right by accident, right? Your reasoning, the style of reasoning matters whether you’re right

or not. It’s like because your style of reasoning is dictating what you’re going to do on the next

topic. Sure. But this multivariate situation here, it’s really difficult to know what’s

right on COVID, given all the uncertainty, all the chaos, especially when you step outside the

pure biology, virology of it, and you start to get into policy. It’s really-

Yeah, it’s just trade-offs, yeah.

Like transmissibility of the virus. Just knowing if 65% of the population gets vaccinated,

what effect would that have? Just even knowing those things, just modeling all those things.

Given all the other incentives, I mean, Pfizer, I don’t know what to think.

But you had the CEO of Pfizer on your podcast. Did you leave that conversation feeling like

this is a person who is consciously

reaping windfall profits on a dangerous vaccine and putting everyone at intolerable risk? Or do

you think this person was making a good faith attempt to save lives and had no

taint of bad incentives or something?

The thing I sensed, and I felt in part it was a failure on my part,

but I sensed that I was talking to a politician. So it’s not thinking of there was malevolence

there or benevolence. There was a-

He just had a job to do.

He put on a suit, and I was talking to a suit, not a human being. Now,

he said that his son was a big fan of the podcast, which is why he wanted to do it.

So I thought I would be talking to a human being. And I asked challenging questions,

what I thought the internet thinks otherwise. Every single question in that interview

was a challenging one, but it wasn’t grilling, which is what people seem to want to

do with pharmaceutical companies. There’s a deep distrust of pharmaceutical companies.

Well, what’s the alternative? I mean, I totally get that windfall profits at a time of public

health emergency looks bad. It is a bad look, right? But how do we reward and return capital

to risk takers who will spend a billion dollars to design a new drug for a disease

that maybe only harms a single digit percentage of the population? It’s like, well, what do we

want to encourage? And who do we want to get rich? I mean, so the person who cures cancer,

do we want that person to get rich or not? We want the person who gave us the iPhone to get

rich, but we don’t want the person who cures cancer to get rich. I mean, what are we trying

to do? I think it’s a very gray area. So what we want is the person who declares that they have a

cure for cancer to have authenticity and transparency. I think we’re good now as a

population smelling bullshit. And there is something about the Pfizer CEO, for example,

just CEOs of pharmaceutical companies in general, just because they’re so lawyered up,

so much marketing and PR people, that they are, you just smell bullshit. You’re not talking to

a real human. It just feels like none of it is transparent to us as a public. So this whole

talking point that Pfizer’s only interested in helping people just doesn’t ring true,

even though it very well could be true. It’s the same thing with Bill Gates,

who seems to be at scale helping a huge amount of people in the world. And yet there’s something

about the way he delivers that message where people like, this seems suspicious. What’s

happening underneath this? There’s certain kinds of communication styles that seem to be more,

serve as better catalysts for conspiracy theories. And I’m not sure what that is,

because I don’t think there’s an alternative for capitalism in delivering drugs that help people.

But also at the same time, there seems to need to be more transparency. And plus regulation,

that actually makes sense, versus it seems like pharmaceutical companies are susceptible

to corruption. Yeah, I worry about all that. But I also do think that most of the people

going into those fields and most of the people going into government-

Yeah, they want to do good.

Doing it for good. And they’re non-psychopaths trying to get good things done and trying to

solve hard problems. And they’re not trying to get rich. I mean, many of the people are…

Bad incentives are something… Again, I’ve uttered that phrase 30 times on this podcast,

but it’s just almost everywhere it explains normal people creating terrible harm. It’s not

that there are that many bad people. And yes, it makes the truly bad people that much more

remarkable and worth paying attention to. But the bad incentives and the power of bad ideas

do much more harm. Because I mean, that’s what gets good people running in the wrong direction,

or doing things that are clearly creating unnecessary suffering.

You’ve had, and I hope still have, a friendship with Elon Musk,

especially over the topic of AI. You have a lot of interesting ideas that you both share,

concerns you both share. Well, let me first ask, what do you admire most about Elon?

Well, I had a lot of fun with Elon. I like Elon a lot. I mean, Elon, I knew as a friend, I like

a lot. And it’s not going to surprise anyone. I mean, he’s done and he’s continuing to do

amazing things. And I think many of his aspirations are realized, the world will be a

much better place. I think it’s just, it’s amazing to see what he’s built and what he’s attempted to

build and what he may yet build. So with Tesla, with SpaceX, with-

Yeah, no, I’m a fan of almost all of that. I mean, there are wrinkles to a lot of that,

or some of that. All humans are full of wrinkles.

There’s something very Trumpian about how he’s acting on Twitter. I mean, Twitter, I think

Twitter’s, he thinks Twitter’s great. He bought the place because he thinks it’s so great. I think

Twitter’s driving him crazy, right? I think he’s needlessly complicating his life and harming his

reputation and creating a lot of noise and harming a lot of other people. I mean, so like he,

the thing that I objected to with him on Twitter is not that he bought it and made changes to it.

I mean, that was not, again, I remain agnostic as to whether or not he can improve the platform.

It was how he was personally behaving on Twitter, not just toward me, but toward the world.

I think when you forward an article about Nancy Pelosi’s husband being attacked,

not as he was by some lunatic, but that it’s just some gay trist gone awry, right? That’s

not what it seems. You link to a website that previously claimed that Hillary Clinton was dead

and that a body double was campaigning in her place. That thing was exploding in Trumpistan

as a conspiracy theory, right? It was having its effect. It matters that he was signal boosting it

in front of 130 million people. It is with saying that your former employee, Yoel Roth, is a

pedophile, right? I mean, it’s like that has real consequences. It appeared to be complete bullshit.

And now this guy’s getting inundated with death threats, right? And Elon, all of that’s totally

predictable, right? And so he’s behaving quite recklessly. And there’s a long list of things

like that that he’s done on Twitter. It’s not ethical. It’s not good for him. It’s not good

for the world. It’s not serious. It’s a very adolescent relationship to real problems

in our society. And so my problem with how he’s behaved is that he’s purported to touch

real issues by turns. Like, okay, do I give the satellites to Ukraine or not? Do I minimize

their use of them or not? Should I publicly worry about World War III or not, right?

He’s doing this shit on Twitter, right? And at the same moment, he’s doing these other very

impulsive, ill-considered things, and he’s not showing any willingness to really clean up the

mess he makes. He brings Kanye on, knowing he’s an anti-Semite who’s got mental health problems,

and then kicks him off for a swastika, which I probably wouldn’t have kicked him off for a swastika.

That’s even—can you really kick people off for swastikas? Is that something that you get banned

for—I mean, are you a free speech absolutist if you can’t let a swastika show up? I’m not even

sure that’s an enforceable terms of service, right? There are moments to use swastikas that

are not conveying hate and not raising the risk of violence.

Clip that.

Yeah. But so much of what he’s doing, given that he’s—again, scale matters. He’s doing

this in front of 130 million people. That’s very different than a million people, and that’s very

different than 100,000 people. And so when I went off the tracks with Elon, he was doing this about

COVID, and again, this was a situation where I tried to privately mitigate a friend’s behavior,

and it didn’t work out very well.

Did you try to correct him, sort of highlighting things he might be wrong on?


Or did you use the Lex Powell love method? I should write a pamphlet for Sam Harris to follow.

Well, no, but it was totally coming from a place of love because I was concerned about his

reputation. I was concerned about what he—I mean, there was a twofold concern. I could see what was

happening with the tweet. I mean, he’d had this original tweet that was, I think it was,

panic over COVID is dumb, or something like that, right? This is in March. This is early March 2020.

Oh, super early days of COVID.

Super early. When nobody knew anything, but we knew we saw what was happening in Italy,

right? It was totally kicking off.

God, that was a wild time. That’s when the toilet paper—

It was totally wild, but that became the most influential tweet on Twitter for that week. I

mean, it had more engagement than any other tweet, more than any crazy thing Trump was tweeting. I

mean, it went off, again, it was just a nuclear bomb of information. And I could see that people

were responding to it like, wait a minute, okay, here’s this genius technologist who must have

inside information about everything, right? Surely he knows something that is not on the surface

about this pandemic. And they were reading into it a lot of information that I knew wasn’t there,

right? And at the time, I didn’t think he had any reason to be suggesting that. I think he was

just firing off a tweet, right? So I reached out to him in private, and I mean, because it was a

private text conversation, I won’t talk about the details, but I’m just saying, that’s a case,

you know, among the many cases of friends who have public platforms and who did something that I

thought was dangerous and ill-considered, this was a case where I reached out in private

and tried to help, genuinely help, because it was just, I thought it was harmful in every sense,

because it was being misinterpreted. And it was like, okay, you can say that panic over anything

is dumb, fine, but this was not how this was landing. This was like, non-issue conspiracy,

there’s gonna be no COVID in the US, it’s gonna peter out, it’s just gonna become a cold. I mean,

that’s how this was getting received. Whereas at that moment, it was absolutely obvious how

big a deal this was gonna be, or that it was gonna, at minimum, going to be a big deal.

I don’t know if it was obvious, but it was obvious there was a significant probability

that it could be a big deal. I remember in March, it wasn’t unclear, like, how big,

because there were still stories of it, like, it’s probably going to, like, the big concern,

the hospitals might overfill, but it’s gonna die out in, like, two months or something.

Yeah, no, but there was no way we weren’t going to have tens of thousands of deaths

at a minimum at that point. And it was totally rational to be worried about hundreds of

thousands. And when Nicholas Christakis came on my podcast very early, he predicted quite

confidently that we would have about a million people dead in the US, right? And that didn’t

seem, you know, it was, I think, appropriately hedged, but, I mean, it was still, it was just,

like, okay, it’s just gonna, you just look at the, we’re just kind of riding this exponential,

and we’re, and it’s gonna be, you know, it’d be very surprising not to have that order of

magnitude and not something much less. And so anyway, I mean, again, to close the story on Elon,

I could see how this was being received, and I tried to get him to walk that back. And then we

we had a fairly long and detailed exchange on this issue. And that, so that intervention didn’t

work. And it was not done, you know, I was not an asshole. I was not, I was just concerned,

concerned, you know, for him, for the world, for, and, you know.

And then there are other relationships where I didn’t take the, again, that’s an example where

taking the time didn’t work, right, privately. There are other relationships where I thought,

okay, this is just gonna be more trouble than it’s worth, and I just ignored it, you know. And

there’s a lot of that. And I, again, I’m not comfortable with how this is all netted out,

because I don’t know if, you know, and I’m not, you know, frankly, I’m not comfortable with how

much time in this conversation we’ve spent talking about these specific people. Like,

what good is it for me to talk about Elon or Brett or any of these people in public?

I think there’s a lot of good, because those friendships, listen, as a fan,

these are the conversations I loved, love as a fan, and it feels like COVID has robbed the

world of these conversations, because you are exchanging back and forth on Twitter,

but that’s not what I mean by conversations, like long-form discussions, like a debate about COVID,

like a normal debate.

But there’s no, there is no, Elon and I shouldn’t be debating COVID.

You should be. Here’s the thing, with humility, like basically saying, we don’t really know,

like the Rogan method, we don’t, we’re just a bunch of idiots, like one is an engineer,

you’re a neuroscientist, but like, it just kind of, okay, here’s the evidence, and be like normal

people. That’s what everybody was doing. The whole world was like trying to figure out what the hell,


Yeah, but the issue was that at that, so at the moment I had this collision with Elon,

certain things were not debatable, right? It was just, it was absolutely clear where this was

going. It wasn’t clear how far it was going to go or how quickly we would mitigate it, but

it was absolutely clear that it was going to be an issue, right? The train had come off the tracks

in Italy. We knew we weren’t going to seal our borders. There were already people, you know,

who, there are already cases known to many of us personally in the U.S. at that point.

And he was operating by a very different logic that I couldn’t engage with.

Sure, but that logic represents a part of the population, and there’s a lot of

interesting topics that have a lot of uncertainty around them, like the effectiveness of masks,


Yeah, but no, but where things broke down was not at the point of, oh, there’s a lot to talk about,

a lot to debate, this is all very interesting, and who knows what’s what. It broke down very early

at, this is, you know, there’s nothing to talk about here. Like, either there’s a water bottle

on the table or there isn’t, right? Like, it…

Well, technically, there’s only one-fourth of a water bottle.

So what defines a water bottle? Is it the water inside the water bottle,

or is it the water bottle? What I’m giving you is an example of it’s worth a conversation.

This is difficult because this is, we had an exchange in private, and I want to…

Sure, sure, sure.

I want to honor not exposing the details of it, but, you know, the details convinced me

that there was not a follow-up conversation on that topic.

On this topic. That said, I hope, and I hope to be part of helping that happen,

that the friendship is rekindled because one of the topics I care a lot about,

artificial intelligence, you’ve had great public and private conversations about this topic.

Yeah, and Elon was very formative in my taking that issue seriously. I mean, he and I went to

that initial conference in Puerto Rico together, and it was only because he was going and I found

out about it through him, and I just wrote his coattails to it, you know, that I got

dropped in that side of the pool to hear about these concerns at that point.

It would be interesting to hear how has your concern evolved with the coming out of Chad GPT

and these new large language models that are fine-tuned with reinforcement learning and

seemingly to be able to do some incredible human-like things. There’s two questions. One,

how has your concern in terms of AGI and superintelligence evolved, and how impressed

are you with Chad GPT as a student of the human mind and mind in general?

Well, my concern about AGI is unchanged. I’ve spoken about it a bunch on my podcast, but I did

a TED Talk in 2016, which was the kind of summary of what that conference and various conversations

I had after that did to my brain on this topic. Basically, that once superintelligence is

achieved, there’s a takeoff. It becomes exponentially smarter, and in a matter of

time, we’re ants and they’re gods. Well, yeah, unless we find some way of

permanently tethering a superintelligent, self-improving AI to our value system,

and I don’t believe anyone has figured out how to do that or whether that’s even possible in

principle. I mean, I know people like Stuart Russell, who I just had on my podcast, are…

Oh, really? Have you released it yet?

I haven’t released it yet, yeah.

Oh, great.

He’s been on a previous podcast, but we just recorded this week.

Because you haven’t done an AI podcast in a while, so it’s great.


It’s great. He’s a good person to talk about alignment with.

Yeah, so Stuart has been probably more than anyone my guru on this topic. I mean,

just reading his book and doing, I think I’ve done two podcasts with him at this point.

I think it’s called The Control Problem or something like that.

His book is human compatible.

Human compatible.

He talks about the control problem. And yeah, so I just think the idea that we can

define a value function in advance that permanently tethers a self-improving,

superintelligent AI to our values as we continue to discover them, refine them, extrapolate them,

in an open-ended way, I think that’s a tall order. And I think there are many more ways,

there must be many more ways of designing superintelligence that is not aligned in that way,

and is not ever approximating our values in that way. So I mean, Stuart’s idea to

put it in a very simple way is that he thinks you don’t want to specify the value function up front.

You don’t want to imagine you could ever write the code in such a way as to admit of no

loophole. You want to make the AI uncertain as to what human values are, and perpetually uncertain,

and always trying to ameliorate that uncertainty by hewing more and more closely to what our

professed values are. So it’s always interested in saying, oh no, no, that’s not what we want.

That’s not what we intend. Stop doing that. No matter how smart it gets, all it wants to do is

more perfectly approximate human values. Now I think there are a lot of problems with that,

you know, at a high level. I’m not a computer scientist, so I’m sure there are many problems

at a low level that I don’t understand. Like how to force a human into the loop always,

no matter what. There’s that, and like what humans get a vote, and just what is, you know,

what do humans value, and what is the difference between what we say we value and our revealed

preferences, which, I mean, if you just, if you were a super intelligent AI that could look at

humanity now, I think you could be forgiven for concluding that what we value is driving

ourselves crazy with Twitter, and living perpetually on the brink of nuclear war,

and, you know, just watching, you know, hot girls in yoga pants on TikTok again, and again,

and again. It’s like- And you’re saying that is not?

This is all revealed preference, and it’s what is an AI to make of that, right? And what should

it optimize? Like, so, part of, this is also Stuart’s observation that one of the insidious

things about like the YouTube algorithm is it’s not that it just caters to our preferences,

it actually begins to change us in ways so as to make us more predictable. Like it finds ways to

make us a better reporter of our preferences, and to trim our preferences down so that it can

further train to that signal. So, the main concern is that most of the people in the field

seem not to be taking intelligence seriously. Like, as they design

more and more intelligent machines, and as they profess to want to design true AGI,

they’re not, again, they’re not spending the time that Stuart is spending trying to figure out how

to do this safely, above all. They’re just assuming that these problems are going to

solve themselves as we make that final stride into the end zone. Or they’re saying very,

you know, Pollyanna-ish things like, you know, an AI would never form a motive to harm human-

like, why would it ever form a motive to be malicious toward humanity, right, unless we

put that motive in there, right? And that’s not the concern. The concern is that in the presence of

vast disparities in competence, and certainly in a condition where the machines are improving

themselves, they’re improving their own code, they could be developing instrumental goals

that are antithetical to our well-being without any intent to harm us, right? It’s analogous to

what we do to every other species on Earth. I mean, you and I don’t consciously form the intention

to harm insects on a daily basis, but there are many things we could intend to do that

would, in fact, harm insects, because, you know, you decide to repave your driveway,

or whatever you’re doing, you’re just not taking the interest of insects into account,

because they’re so far beneath you in terms of your cognitive horizons. And

so the real challenge here is that if you believe that intelligence, you know, scales up on a

continuum toward heights that we can only dimly imagine, and I think there’s every reason to

believe that. There’s no reason to believe that we’re near the summit of intelligence.

And you can define, you know, define, maybe there’s some forms of intelligence for which

this is not true, but for many relevant forms, you know, like the top hundred things we care

about cognitively, I think there’s every reason to believe that many of those things, most of those

things, are a lot like chess or Go, where once the machines get better than we are, they’re going to

stay better than we are. Although they’re, I don’t know if you caught the recent thing with

Go, where this guy actually came out of Stuart’s lab. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. One time a human beat a

machine in Go. Yeah, they found a hack for that. But anyway, ultimately,

there’s going to be no looking back. And then the question is,

what do we do in relationship to these systems that are more competent than we are in every

relevant respect? Because it will be a relationship. The people who think we’re

just going to figure this all out without thinking about it in advance, the solutions

are just going to find themselves, seem not to be taking the prospect of really creating

autonomous superintelligence seriously. What does that mean? It’s every bit as

independent and ungovernable, ultimately, as us having created… I mean, just imagine if we

created a race of people that were 10 times smarter than all of us. How would we live with

those people? They’re 10 times smarter than us, right? They begin to talk about things we don’t

understand. They begin to want things we don’t understand. They begin to view us as obstacles

to their solving those problems or gratifying those desires. We become the chickens or the

monkeys in their presence. And I think that it’s… But for some amazing solution of the sort that

Stuart is imagining, that we could somehow anchor their reward function permanently,

no matter how intelligent scales, I think it’s really worth worrying about this. I do buy the

sci-fi notion that this is an existential risk if we don’t do it well.

I worry that we don’t notice it. I’m deeply impressed with Chad GPT, and I’m worried

that it will become superintelligent. These language models will become superintelligent

because they’re basically trained in the collective intelligence of the human species.

And they will start controlling our behavior if they’re integrated into our algorithms,

the recommender systems. And then we just won’t notice that there is a superintelligent system

that’s controlling our behavior. Well, I think that’s true even before, far before superintelligence,

even before general intelligence. I mean, I think just the narrow intelligence

of these algorithms and of what something like Chad GPT can do,

I mean, it’s just far short of it developing its own goals that are at cross purposes with ours.

Just the unintended consequences of using it in the ways we’re going to be incentivized to use it,

and the money to be made from scaling this thing, and what it does to our information space and our

sense of just being able to get to ground truth on any facts, it’s super scary.

Do you think it’s a giant leap in terms of the development towards AGI, Chad GPT, or

we still, is this just an impressive little toolbox? So when do you think the singularity

is coming? Or is it T, it doesn’t matter, it’s eventually?

I have no intuitions on that front apart from the fact that if we continue to make progress,

it will come. So it’s just, you just have to assume we continue to make progress.

There’s only two assumptions. You have to assume substrate independence. So there’s

no reason why this can’t be done in silico. It’s just, we can build arbitrarily intelligent

machines. There’s nothing magical about having this done in the wetware of our own brains.

I think that is true. And I think that’s scientifically parsimonious to think that

that’s true. And then you just have to assume we’re going to keep making progress. It doesn’t

have to be any special rate of progress. It doesn’t have to be Moore’s law. It can just be,

we just keep going. At a certain point, we’re going to be in relationship to minds leaving

consciousness aside. I don’t have any reason to believe that they’ll necessarily be conscious

by virtue of being super intelligent. And that’s its own interesting ethical question. But

leaving consciousness aside, they’re going to be more competent than we are. And then that’s like,

you know, the aliens have landed, you know, that’s literally, that’s an encounter with, again,

leaving aside the possibility that something like Stewart’s path is actually available to us.

Actually available to us. But it is hard to picture

if what we mean by intelligence, all things considered, and it’s truly general, if that scales

and, you know, begins to build upon itself, how you maintain that perfect,

slavish devotion until the end of time- The tether.

In those systems. The tether to humans.

Yeah. I think my gut says that that tether is not,

there’s a lot of ways to do it. So it’s not this increasingly impossible problem.

Right. So I have no, you know, as you know, I’m not a computer scientist. I have no intuitions

about just algorithmically how you would approach that and what’s possible.

My main intuition is maybe deeply flawed, but the main intuition is based on the fact that

most of the learning is currently happening on human knowledge. So even Chad GPT is just

trained on human data. Right.

I don’t see where the takeoff happens where you completely go above human wisdom. The current

impressive aspect of Chad GPT is that’s using collective intelligence of all of us.

Well, from what I gleaned from, again, from people who know much more about this than I do,

I think we have reason to be skeptical that these techniques of deep learning are actually going to

be sufficient to push us into AGI. Right. So it’s just, they’re not generalizing in the way they

need to. They’re certainly not learning like human children. And so they’re, there’s brittle

in strange ways. It’s not to say that the human path is the only path, you know, and maybe there’s,

we might learn better lessons by ignoring the way brains work, but we know that they don’t

generalize and use abstraction the way we do. And so they have strange holes in their competence.

But the size of the holes is shrinking every time. And that’s, so the intuition starts to

slowly fall apart. You know, the intuition is like, surely it can’t be this simple

to achieve super intelligence. But it’s becoming simpler and simpler. So I don’t know. I don’t,

the progress is quite incredible. I’ve been extremely impressed with Chad GPT and the

new models, and there’s a lot of financial incentive to make progress in this regard.

So it’s, we’re going to be living through some very interesting times.

In raising a question that I’m going to be talking to you, a lot of people brought up this topic,

probably because Eric Weinstein talked to Joe Rogan recently, and said that he and you were

contacted by folks about UFOs. Can you clarify the nature of this contact? Can you, that you were

contacted by? Well, I mean, I’ve got very little to say on this. I mean, he has much more to say.

I think he went down this rabbit hole further than I did, which wouldn’t surprise anyone.

He’s got much more of a taste for this sort of thing than I do. But I think we were contacted

by the same person. It wasn’t clear to me who this person was, or how this person got my

cell phone number. They didn’t seem, it didn’t seem like we were getting punked. I mean,

the person seemed credible to me. And they were talking to you about the release of different

videos on UFOs. Yeah, and this is when there was a flurry of activity around this. So there was like,

there was a big New Yorker article on UFOs, and there was rumors of congressional hearings,

I think, coming, and there were the videos that were being debunked or not.

And so this person contacted both of us, I think, around the same time. And I think

he might have contacted Rogan or other… Eric is just the only person I’ve spoken to about it,

I think, who I know was contacted. And what happened is the person kept writing a check

that he didn’t cash. Like, he kept saying, okay, next week, I’m going to, you know, I understand

this is sounding spooky, and, you know, you have no reason to really trust me. But next week,

I’m going to put you on a Zoom call with people who you will recognize. And they’re going to be,

you know, former heads of the CIA, and, you know, people who just, you’re going to, within five

seconds of being on the Zoom call, you’ll know this is not a hoax. And I said, great, just let

me know, just send me the Zoom link, right? And I went, that happened maybe three times,

you know, there was just one phone conversation, and then it was just texts,

you know, just a bunch of texts. And I think Eric spent more time with this person,

and I’m not, I haven’t spoken to him about it, I know he’s spoken about it publicly, but…

So I, you know, it’s not that my bullshit detector ever really went off in a big way,

it’s just the thing never happened, and so I lost interest.

So you made a comment, which is interesting, that you ran the, which I really appreciate,

you ran the thought experiment of saying, okay, maybe we do have alien spacecraft,

or just the thought experiment the aliens did visit, and then this very kind of nihilistic,

sad thought that it wouldn’t matter, it wouldn’t affect your life. Can you explain that?

Well, no, I was, I think many people noticed this, I mean, this was a sign of how crazy

the news cycle was at that point, right? Like we had COVID, and we had Trump, and I forget when

this, the UFO thing was really kicking off, but it just seemed like no one had the bandwidth

to even be interested in this. It’s like, I was amazed to notice in myself

that I wasn’t more interested in figuring out what was going on. It’s like, and I considered,

okay, wait a minute, this is, if this is true, this is the biggest story in anyone’s lifetime.

I mean, contact with alien intelligence is by definition the biggest story in anyone’s lifetime,

in human history. Why isn’t this just totally captivating? And not only was it not totally

captivating, it was just barely rising to the level of my being able to pay attention to it.

And I view that, I mean, one as a, to some degree, an understandable defense mechanism against

the bogus claims that have been made about this kind of thing in the past.

The general sense is probably bullshit, or it probably has some explanation that is purely

terrestrial and not surprising. And there is somebody who, what’s his name, Mick West,

I forget, is it a YouTuber? Yeah, Mick West, yeah. He debunks stuff.

I mean, I have since seen some of those videos, I mean, now this is going back still at least a

year, but some of those videos seem like fairly credible debunkings of some of the optical

evidence. And I’m surprised we haven’t seen more of that. Like there was a

fairly credulous 60 minutes piece that came out around that time looking at some of that video,

and it was the very video that he was debunking on YouTube. And his video only had like

50,000 views on it or whatever. But again, it seemed like a fairly credible debunking. I haven’t

seen debunkings of his debunkings, but… I think there is, but he’s basically saying that there is

possible explanations for it. Right.

And usually in these kinds of contexts, if there’s a possible explanation,

even if it seems unlikely, it’s going to be more likely than an alien civilization visiting us.

Yeah. It’s the extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence principle,

which I think is generally true.

Well, with aliens, I think generally, I think there should be some humility about what

they would look like when they show up. I tend to think they’re already here.

The amazing thing about this AI conversation though, is that we’re talking about a circumstance

where we would be designing the aliens, and there’s every reason to believe that eventually

this is going to happen. Like I said, I’m not at all skeptical about the coming reality of the

aliens that we’re going to build them.

Now, here’s the thing. Does this apply to when superintelligence shows up?

Will this be trending on Twitter for a day? And then we’ll go on to complain about

something Sam Harris once again said in his podcast the next day. You tend to trend on Twitter,

even though you’re not on Twitter, which is great.

Yeah. I haven’t noticed. I did notice when I was on, but…

You have this concern about AGI basically, same kind of thing, that we would just look the other

way. Is there something about this time where even World War III, which has been throwing around

very casually, concerningly so, even that, the news cycle wipes that away?

Yeah. Well, I think we have this general problem that we can’t make

certain information, even unequivocally certain information, emotionally salient. Like we respond

quite readily to certain things. I mean, as we talked about, we respond to the little girl who

fell down a well. I mean, that gets 100% of our emotional resources. But the abstract probability

of nuclear war, even a high probability, even an intolerable probability, even if we put it at

30%, right? It’s just like that’s Russian roulette with a gun with three chambers. And it’s aimed at

the heads, not only your head, but your kid’s head and everyone’s kid’s head. And it’s just

24 hours a day. And I mean, I think people who… This is pre-Ukraine. I think the people who have

made it their business to… Professionally, to think about the risk of nuclear war and to

mitigate it, people like Graham Allison or William Perry. I mean, I think they were putting

the ongoing risk. I mean, just the risk that we’re going to have a proper nuclear war at some point

in the next generation, people were putting it at something like 50%, right? They were living

with this sort of Damocles over our heads. Now, you might wonder whether anyone can have

reliable intuitions about the probability of that kind of thing, but the status quo is truly

alarming. I mean, we’ve got ICBMs on. I mean, leave aside smaller exchanges and tactical nukes

and how we could have a world war based on incremental changes. We’ve got

the biggest bombs aimed at the biggest cities in both directions. And it’s old technology,

right? And it’s vulnerable to some lunatic deciding to launch or misreading bad data.

And we know we’ve been saved from nuclear war, I think at least twice by

Soviet submarine commanders deciding, I’m not going to pass this up the chain of command,

right? It’s like, this is almost certainly an error. And it turns out it was an error.

And we need people to… I mean, in that particular case, he saw, I think it was five,

what seemed like five missiles launched from the US to Russia. And he reasoned if America was going

to engage in a first strike, they’d launch more than five missiles, right? So this has to be

fictional. And then he waited long enough to decide that it was fictional. But

the probability of a nuclear war happening by mistake or some other species of inadvertence,

misunderstanding, technical malfunction, that’s intolerable. Forget about the intentional use

of it by people who are driven crazy by some ideology.

And more and more technologies are enabled to kind of scale destruction.

And misinformation plays into this picture in a way that is especially scary. I mean,

once you can get a deep fake of any current president of the United States claiming to

have launched a first strike, and just send that everywhere.

But that could change the nature of truth. And then that might change the

engine we have for skepticism, sharpen it, the more you have deep fakes.

Yeah, and we might have AI and digital watermarks that help us. Maybe we’ll not trust any

information that hasn’t come through specific channels, right? I mean, so in my world,

it’s like, I no longer feel the need to respond to anything other than what I put out in my

channels of information. It’s like, there’s so many people who have clipped stuff of me

that shows the opposite of what I was actually saying in context. I mean, the people have

like re-edited my podcast audio to make it seem like I said the opposite of what I was saying.

It’s like, unless I put it out, you can’t be sure that I actually said it. I mean, it’s just…

But I don’t know what it’s like to live like that for all forms of information. And

I mean, strangely, I think it may require a greater siloing of information in the end.

It’s like, we’re living through this sort of Wild West period where everyone’s got a newsletter,

and everyone’s got a blog, and everyone’s got an opinion. But once you can fake everything…

There might be a greater value for expertise, for experts, but a more rigorous system for

identifying who the experts are.

Yeah, or just knowing that it’s gonna be an arms race to authenticate information. So it’s like,

if you can never trust a photograph unless it has been vetted by Getty Images,

because only Getty Images has the resources to authenticate the provenance of that photograph,

and attest that it hasn’t been meddled with by AI. And again, I don’t even know if that’s

technically possible. I mean, maybe whatever the tools available for this will be commodified,

and the cost will be driven to zero so quickly that everyone will be able to do it. It could

be like encryption, but…

And it would be proven and tested most effectively first, of course, as always in porn.

Yeah, right.

Which is where most of human innovation technology happens first.

Well, I have to ask, because Ron Howard, the director, asked us on Twitter,

since we’re talking about the threat of nuclear war and otherwise, he asked,

I’d be interested in both your expectations for human society if, when we move beyond Mars.

Will those societies be industrial-based? How will it be governed? How will criminal

infractions be dealt with? When you read or watch sci-fi, what comes closest to sounding

logical? Do you think about our society beyond Earth? If we colonize Mars, if we colonize space?

Yeah, well, I think I have a pretty…


…humbling picture of that, because we’re still going to be the apes that we are. So,

when you imagine colonizing Mars, you have to imagine a first fistfight on Mars.


You have to imagine a first murder on Mars.

Also, infidelity.



Extramarital affairs on Mars. So, it’s going to get really homely and boring really fast,

I think. It’s like only the spacesuits or the other exigencies of just living in that

atmosphere or lack thereof will limit how badly we can behave on Mars.

But do you think most of the interaction will be still in meatspace versus digital?

Do you think there’ll be… Do you think we’re living through a transformation of a kind

where we’re going to be doing more and more interaction in digital space?

Like, everything we’ve been complaining about Twitter, is it possible that Twitter’s just the

early days of a broken system that’s actually giving birth to a better working system that’s

ultimately digital?

I think we’re going to

experience a pendulum swing back into the real world. I mean, I think many of us are experiencing

that now anyway. I mean, just wanting to have face-to-face encounters and spend less time

on our phones and less time online. I mean, I think maybe everyone isn’t going in that direction, but

I do notice it myself. And I notice… I mean, once I got off Twitter, then I noticed the people

who were never on Twitter, right? And the people who were never… I mean, I know I have a lot of

friends who are never on Twitter, and they actually never understood what I was doing on

Twitter. It’s like they just… It wasn’t that they were seeing it and then reacting to it,

they just didn’t know. It’s like being on… It’s like I’m not on Reddit either, but I don’t spend

any time thinking about not being on Reddit, right? It’s like I’m just not on Reddit.

Do you think the pursuit of human happiness is better achieved,

more effectively achieved outside of Twitter world?

Well, I think all we have is our attention in the end, and we just have to notice what

these various tools are doing to it. And it’s just… It became very clear to me that

it was an unrewarding use of my attention. Now, it’s not to say there isn’t some digital

platform that’s conceivable that would be useful and rewarding, but…

Yeah, I mean, we just have… Our life is doled out to us in moments, and we have… And we’re

continually solving this riddle of what is going to suffice to make this moment engaging and

meaningful and aligned with who I want to be now and how I want the future to look, right?

And we have this tension between being in the present and becoming in the future.

And it’s a seeming paradox. Again, it’s not really a paradox, but it can seem like…

I do think the ground truth for personal well-being is to find a mode of being where

you can pay attention to the present moment. And this is meditation by another name.

You can pay attention to the present moment with sufficient gravity that

you recognize that just consciousness itself in the present moment, no matter what’s happening,

is already a circumstance of freedom and contentment and tranquility. You can be happy

now before anything happens, before this next desire gets gratified, before this next problem

gets solved. There’s this kind of ground truth that you’re free, that consciousness is free and

open and unencumbered by really any problem until you get lost in thought about all the problems

that may yet be real for you. So the ability to catch and observe consciousness, that in itself

is a source of happiness. Yeah, without being lost in thought. And so this happens haphazardly

for people who don’t meditate because they find something in their life that’s so captivating,

it’s so pleasurable, it’s so thrilling. It can even be scary, but even being scared is

captivating. It gets their attention, whatever it is. Sebastian Junger wrote a great book about

people’s experience in war here. Strangely, it can be the best experience anyone’s ever had

because everything, it’s like only the moment matters, right? The bullet is whizzing by your

head. You’re not thinking about your 401k or that thing that you didn’t say last week to the person

you shouldn’t have been talking about. You’re not thinking about Twitter. It’s like you’re just

fully immersed in the present moment. Meditation is the only way… I mean, that word can mean

many things to many people, but what I mean by meditation is simply the discovery that there is a

a way to engage the present moment directly, regardless of what’s happening. You don’t need

to be in a war. You don’t need to be having sex. You don’t need to be on drugs. You don’t need to

be surfing. There doesn’t have to be a peak experience. It can be completely ordinary,

but you can recognize that in some basic sense, there’s only this, and everything else is

something you’re thinking. You’re thinking about the past. You’re thinking about the future.

Thoughts themselves have no substance. It’s fundamentally mysterious that any thought

ever really commandeers your sense of who you are and makes you anxious or afraid or angry or

whatever it is. The more you discover that, the half-life of all these negative emotions that

blow all of us around get much, much shorter. You can literally just… The anger that would

have kept you angry for hours or days lasts four seconds, because the moment it arises,

you recognize it, and you can get off that. You can decide. At minimum, you can decide whether

it’s useful to stay angry at that moment. Obviously, it usually isn’t.

And the illusion of free will is one of those thoughts.

Yeah. It’s all just happening. Even the mindful and meditative response to this is just happening.

It’s just like even the moments where you recognize or not recognize is just happening.

This does open up a degree of freedom for a person, but it’s not a freedom that gives any

motivation to the notion of free will. It’s just a new way of being in the world.

Is there a difference between intellectually knowing free will is an illusion and

really experiencing it? What’s the longest you’ve been able to experience?

The escape, the illusion of free will.

Well, it’s always obvious to me when I pay attention. Whenever I’m mindful, the term of

jargon in the Buddhist and increasingly outside the Buddhist context is mindfulness, right? But

there are different levels of mindfulness, and there’s different degrees of insight into this.

What I’m calling evidence of lack of free will and lack of the self, I’ve got two sides of the

same coin. There’s a sense of being a subject in the middle of experience to whom all experience

refers, a sense of I, a sense of me. And that’s almost everybody’s starting point when they start

to meditate. And that’s almost always the place people live most of their lives from. I do think

that gets interrupted in ways they get unrecognized. I think people are constantly losing

the sense of I. They’re losing the sense of subject, object, distance, but they’re not

recognizing it. And meditation is the mode in which you can recognize. You can both consciously

precipitate it. You can look for the self and fail to find it and then recognize its absence.

And that’s just the flip side of the coin of free will. The feeling of having free will is

what it feels like to feel like a self who’s thinking his thoughts and doing his actions

and intending his intentions. And the man in the middle of the boat who’s rowing,

that’s the false starting point. When you find that there’s no one in the middle of the boat,

or in fact, there’s no boat, there’s just the river, there’s just the flow of experience,

and there’s no center to it, and there’s no place from which you would control it.

Again, even when you’re doing things, this does not negate the difference between voluntary

and involuntary behavior. It’s like, I can voluntarily reach for this, but when I’m

paying attention, I’m aware that everything is just happening. The intention to move is just

arising. And I’m in no position to know why it didn’t arise a moment before or a moment later,

or a moment 50% stronger or weaker, or so as to be ineffective or to be doubly effective,

where I lurched for it versus I move slow. I can never run the counterfactuals.

All of this opens the door to an even more disconcerting picture along the same lines,

which subsumes this conversation about free will. And it’s the question of whether

anything is ever possible. This is a question I haven’t thought a lot about it, but

it’s been a few years I’ve been kicking this question around.

It’s, I mean, what if only the actual is possible? So we live with this feeling of possibility. We

live with the sense that, let me tell you, so I have two daughters. I could have had a third

child. So what does it mean to say that I could have had a third child? You don’t have kids,

I don’t think. So- Not that I know of.

So the possibility might be there. Right. So what do we mean when we say

you could have had a child or you might have a child in the future? What is the space in reality?

What’s the relationship between possibility and actuality and reality? Is there a reality in which

non-actual things are nonetheless real? And so we have other categories of non-concrete things.

We have things that don’t have spatial, temporal dimension, but they’re nonetheless,

they nonetheless exist. So like, you know, the integers, right? So numbers.

There’s a reality, there’s an abstract reality to numbers. And this is, it’s philosophically

interesting to think about these things. So they’re not like, in some sense, they’re real

and they’re not merely invented by us, they’re discovered because they have structure that we

can’t impose upon them, right? It’s not like, they’re not fictional characters like, you know,

Hamlet and Superman also exist in some sense, but they exist at a level of our own fiction and

abstraction. But it’s like, there are true and false statements you can make about Hamlet.

There are true and false statements you can make about Superman, because our fiction,

the fictional worlds we’ve created have a certain kind of structure. But again,

this is all abstract. It’s like, it’s all abstractable from any of its concrete instantiations.

It’s not just in the comic books and just in the movies. It’s in our, you know, ongoing ideas about

these characters. But natural numbers or the integers don’t function quite that way. I mean,

they’re similar, but they also have a structure that’s purely a matter of discovery. It’s not,

you can’t just make up whether numbers are prime. You know, if you give me two integers,

you know, of a certain size, you mentioned two enormous integers. If I were to say,

okay, well, between those two integers, they’re exactly 11 prime numbers, right?

That’s a very specific claim about which I can be right or wrong, whether or not anyone knows

I’m right or wrong. It’s like, that’s just, there’s a domain of facts there, but these are

abstract. It’s an abstract reality that relates in some way that’s philosophically interesting,

you know, metaphysically interesting to what we call real reality, you know, the spatial,

temporal order, the physics of things. But possibility, at least in my view,

occupies a different space. And this is something, again, my thoughts on this are pretty

inchoate, and I think I need to talk to a philosopher of physics and or physicist about

how this may interact with things like the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.

That’s an interesting, right, exactly. So, I wonder if discoveries in physics,

like further proof or more concrete proof that many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics

has some validity, if that completely starts to change things.

But even, that’s just more actuality. So, if I took that seriously,

that’s a case of, and truth is, that happens even if the many worlds interpretation isn’t true,

but we just imagine we have a physically infinite universe, the implication of infinity is such that

things will begin to repeat themselves, you know, the farther you go in space, right? So,

if you just head out in one direction, eventually you’re going to meet two people just like us

having a conversation just like this, and you’re going to meet them an infinite number of times

in every, you know, infinite variety of permutations slightly different from this

conversation, right? So, I mean, infinity is just so big that our intuitions of probability

completely break down. But what I’m suggesting is maybe probability isn’t a thing, right? Maybe

there’s only actuality. Maybe there’s only what happens, and at every point along the way,

our notion of what could have happened or what might have happened is just that, it’s just a

thought about what could have happened or might have happened.

So, it’s a fundamentally different thing. If you can imagine a thing, that doesn’t make it real.

So, because that’s where that possibility exists, it’s in your imagination, right?

Yeah, and possibility itself is a kind of spooky idea because it too has a sort of structure,

right? So, like if I’m going to say,

you know, you could have had a daughter, right, last year.

So, we’re saying that’s possible but not actual, right? That is a claim. There are things that

are true and not true about that daughter, right? Like, it has a kind of structure. It’s like…

I feel like there’s a lot of fog around the possibility. It feels like almost like a useful


But what does it mean? So, like, what does it mean if we say, you know, I just did that,

but it’s conceivable that I wouldn’t have done that, right? Like, it’s possible that I just

threw this cap, but I might not have done that.

So, you’re taking it very temporally close to the original, like what would appear as a decision.

Whenever we’re saying something is possible but not actual, right? Like this thing just happened,

but it’s conceivable, it’s possible that it wouldn’t have happened or that it would have

happened differently. In what does that possibility consist? Like, where is that?

For that to be real, for the possibility to be real, what claim are we making about the universe?

Well, isn’t that an extension of the idea that free will is an illusion,

that all we have is actuality, that the possibility is an illusion?

Right. Yeah, I’m just extending it beyond human action.

This goes to the physics of things. This is just everything. Like, we’re always telling

ourselves a story that includes possibility.

Possibility is really compelling for some reason.

Well, yeah, because it’s… I mean, so this… Yeah, I mean, this could sound just academic,

but every backward-looking regret or disappointment and every forward-looking worry

is completely dependent on this notion of possibility. Like, every regret is based

on the sense that something else… I could have done something else, something else could

have happened. Every disposition to worry about the future is based on the feeling that there’s

this range of possibilities. It could go either way. And whether or not there’s such a thing as

possibility, I’m convinced that worry is almost never psychologically appropriate, because the

reality is that in any given moment, either you can do something to solve the problem you’re

worried about or not. So if you can do something, just do it. And if you can’t, your worrying is

just causing you to suffer twice over, right? You’re going to get the medical procedure next

week anyway. How much time between now and next week do you want to spend worrying about it,

right? The worry doesn’t accomplish anything.

How much do physicists think about possibility?

Well, they think about it in terms of probability more often, but probability just describes…

And again, this is a place where I might be out of my depth and need to

talk to somebody to debunk this, but the…

To do therapy with a physicist.

Yeah. But probability, it seems, just describes a pattern of actuality that we’ve observed,

right? I mean, there are certain things we observe, and those are the actual things that

have happened. And we have this additional story about probability. I mean, we have the frequency

with which things happen, have happened in the past. I can flip a fair coin and know in the

abstract that I have a belief that in the limit, those flips, those tosses should converge on 50%

heads and 50% tails. I know I have a story as to why it’s not going to be exactly 50% within any

arbitrary timeframe. But in reality, all we ever have are the observed tosses, right? And then we

have an additional story that, oh, it came up heads, but it could have come up tails.

Why do we think that about that last toss? And what are we claiming is true about the physics

of things if we say it could have been otherwise? I think we’re claiming that probability is true,

that it allows us to have a nice model about the world, gives us hope about the world.

Yeah. It seems that possibility has to be somewhere to be effective. It’s a little bit

like what’s happening with the laws of… There’s something metaphysically interesting about the

laws of nature too, because the laws of nature… So the laws of nature impose their work on the

world, right? We see their evidence. But they’re not reducible to any specific set of instances,

right? So there’s some structure there, but the structure isn’t just a matter of the actual

things. We have the actual billiard balls that are banging into each other. All of that actuality can

be explained by what actual things are actually doing. But then we have this notion that in

addition to that, we have the laws of nature that are explaining this act. But how are the laws of

nature an additional thing in addition to just the actual things that actually affect causally?

And if they are an additional thing, how are they effective if they’re not among the actual

things that are just actually banging around? And so to some degree…

For that… Possibly it has to be hiding somewhere for the laws of nature to be…

To be possible. For anything to be possible, it has to be…

It has to have…

Closet somewhere, I’m sure, is where all the possibility goes.

It has to be attached to something. So…

You don’t think many worlds is that? Because many worlds still exist.

Well, because we’re in this strand of that multiverse.


Right? So still you have just a local instance of what is actual.


And then if it proliferates elsewhere where you can’t be affected by it, there’s more actuality.

You can’t really connect with the other.



And so many worlds are just a statement of

basically everything that can happen, happens somewhere.


And maybe that’s not an entirely kosher formulation of it, but it seems pretty close.

But there’s whatever happens, right? In fact, relativistically, there’s a…

Einstein’s original notion of a block universe seems to suggest this. And it’s been a while

since I’ve been in a conversation with a physicist where I’ve gotten a chance to ask about the

standing of this concept in physics currently. I don’t hear it discussed much, but the idea of a

block universe is that space-time exists as a totality. And our sense that we are traveling

through space-time where there’s a real difference between the past and the future,

that that’s an illusion of just the weird slice we’re taking of this larger object.

But on some level, it’s like you’re reading a novel. The last page of the novel exists

just as much as the first page when you’re in the middle of it. And they’re just…

If we’re living in anything like that, then there’s no such thing as possibility. It would

seem there’s just what is actual. So as a matter of our experience moment to moment,

I think it’s totally compatible with that being true, that there is only what is actual. And

that sounds to the naive ear, that sounds like it would be depressing and disempowering and

confining, but it’s anything but. It’s actually… It’s a circumstance of pure discovery. You have

no idea what’s going to happen next. You don’t know who you’re going to be tomorrow. You’re

only by tendency seeming to resemble yourself from yesterday. There’s way more freedom in all

of that than it seems true to many people. And yet, the basic insight is that you’re not…

The real freedom is the recognition that you’re not in control of anything. Everything is just

happening, including your thoughts and intentions and moods.

So life is a process of continuous discovery.

You’re part of the universe. You are just this… It’s the miracle that the universe is illuminated

to itself as itself where you sit, and you’re continually discovering what your life is.

And then you have this layer at which you’re telling yourself a story that you already know

what your life is, and you know exactly who you should be and what’s about to happen, or you’re

struggling to form a confident opinion about all of that. And yet, there is this

fundamental mystery to everything, even the most familiar experience.

We’re all NPCs in a most marvelous video game.

Maybe, although my sense of gaming does not run as deep as to know what I’m committing to. It’s

a non-playing character.

You’re more… Yeah. Oh, wow. Yes. You’re more of a Mario Kart guy, I can tell.

I was an original video gamer, but it’s been a long time since I… I was there for Pong.

I remember when I saw the first Pong in a restaurant in… I think it was like

Benihana’s or something. They had a Pong table, and that was just an amazing moment when you…

You, Sam Harris, might live from Pong to the invention and deployment of a superintelligent


Yeah, well, that happened fast, if it happens any time in my lifetime.

From Pong to AGI.

What kind of things do you do purely for fun that others might consider a waste of time?

Purely for fun?

Because meditation doesn’t count, because most people would say that’s not a waste of time.

Is there something like Pong that’s a deeply embarrassing thing you would never admit?

I don’t think… Well, I mean, once or twice a year, I will play a round of golf,

which many people would find embarrassing. They might even find my play embarrassing, but it’s…

Do you find it embarrassing?

No, I mean, I love… Golf just takes way too much time,

so I can only squander a certain amount of time on it. I do love it. It’s a lot of fun.

But you have no control over your actual performance. You’re ever discovering…

No, I do have control over my mediocre performance, but I don’t have enough control

as to make it really good. But happily, I’m in the perfect spot, because I don’t invest

enough time in it to care how I play, so I just have fun when I play.

Well, I hope there’ll be a day where you play around golf with the former president,

Donald Trump, and I would love to be…

I would bet on him if we played golf. I’m sure he’s a better golfer.

I miss the chaos of human civilization in modern times, as we’ve talked about. What gives you hope

about this world in the coming year, in the coming decade, in the coming 100 years,

maybe 1,000 years? What’s the source of hope for you?

Well, it comes back to a few of the things we’ve talked about. I think I’m hopeful. I know that

most people are good and are mostly converging on the same core values. We’re not surrounded by

psychopaths. The thing that finally convinced me to get off Twitter was how different life

was seeming through the lens of Twitter. I just got the sense that there are way more psychopaths

or effective psychopaths than I realized, and then I thought, okay, this isn’t real. This is

either a strange context in which actually decent people are behaving like psychopaths,

or it’s a bot army or something that I don’t have to take seriously.

Yeah, I just think most people… If we can get the incentives right,

I think there’s no reason why we can’t really thrive collectively. There’s enough wealth to go

around. There’s no effective limit. I mean, again, within the limits of what’s physically possible,

but we’re nowhere near the limit on abundance. Forget about going to Mars. On this, the one

rock. We could make this place incredibly beautiful and stable if we just did enough work to

solve some rather longstanding political problems.

The problem of incentives. To you, the basic characteristics of human nature are such that

we’ll be okay if the incentives are okay. We’ll do pretty good.

I’m worried about the asymmetries, that it’s easier to break things than to fix them. It’s

easier to light a fire than to put it out. I do worry that as technology gets more and more

powerful, it becomes easier for the minority who wants to screw things up to effectively screw

things up for everybody. It’s easier. A thousand years ago, it was simply impossible for one person

to range the lives of millions, much less billions. Now that’s getting to be possible.

On the assumption that we’re always going to have a sufficient number of crazy individuals or

malevolent individuals, we have to figure out that asymmetry somehow. There’s some

cautious exploration of emergent technology that we need to get our heads screwed on straight

about, so gain-of-function research. Just how much do we want to democratize

all the relevant technologies there? Do we really want to

give everyone the ability to order nucleotides in the mail and give them the blueprints for

viruses online because you’re a free-speech absolutist and you think all PDFs need to be

exportable everywhere?

There are limits to… Many people are confused about my take on free speech because I’ve come

down on the unpopular side of some of these questions. My overriding concern

is that in many cases, I’m worried about the free speech of individual businesses or individual

platforms or individual media people to decide that they don’t want to be associated with certain

things. If you own Twitter, I think you should be able to kick off the

Nazi you don’t want to be associated with because it’s your platform, you own it. That’s your

free speech. That’s the side of my free speech concern for Twitter. It’s not that every Nazi has

the right to algorithmic speech on Twitter. I think if you own Twitter, you should be… Whether

it’s just Elon or in the world where it wasn’t Elon, just the people who own Twitter and the

board and the shareholders and the employees, these people should be free to decide what they

want to promote or not. I view them as publishers more than as platforms in the end, and

that has other implications. But I do worry about this problem of misinformation

and algorithmically and otherwise supercharged misinformation.

And I do think we’re at a bottleneck now. I guess it could be the hubris of every present

generation to think that their moment is especially important. But I do think with

the emergence of these technologies, we’re at some kind of bottleneck where we really have to

figure out how to get this right. And if we do get this right, if we figure out how to not drive

ourselves crazy by giving people access to all possible information and misinformation at all

times, I think, yeah, we could… There’s no limit to how happily we could collaborate with

billions of creative, fulfilled people. It’s just…

And trillions of robots, some of them sex robots, but that’s another topic.

Robots that are running the right algorithm, whatever that algorithm is.

Whatever you need in your life to make you happy. Sam, the first time we talked is one of the huge

honors of my life. I’ve been a fan of yours for a long time. The few times you were respectful

but critical to me means the world. And thank you so much for helping me and caring enough about the

world and for everything you do. But I should say that the few of us that try to put love in the

world on Twitter miss you on Twitter, but… Well, enjoy yourselves.

Don’t break anything, kids. Have a good party without me.

Thanks so much.

Very happy to do this. Thanks for the invitation.

Thank you.

Great to see you again.

Thanks for listening to this conversation with Sam Harris. To support this podcast,

please check out our sponsors in the description. And now let me leave you with some words from

Martin Luther King Jr. Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.

Thank you for listening. I’d hope to see you next time.

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