Susan Cain: The Power of Introverts and Loneliness | Lex Fridman Podcast #298 | Transcription
Transcription for the video titled "Susan Cain: The Power of Introverts and Loneliness | Lex Fridman Podcast #298".
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People whose favorite songs are their happy songs play it on their playlists about 175 times. The people who love sad music play them about 800 times. And they say that they feel connected to the sublime when they're listening to that music. The longing for what you lack is the very thing that gives you what you're longing for. So the longing is the cure. The following is a conversation with Susan Kane, author of "Quiet the Power of Introverts in the World That Can't Stop Talking" and her most recent book "Bitter Suite", "How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole". This is the Lexaried Wind podcast. Support it. Please check out our sponsors in the description. And now, dear friends, here's Susan Kane. You've written on your website that quote, "I prefer listening to talking, reading to socializing, and cozy chats to group settings".
Discussion On Introversion And Artistic Expression
So I think this conversation in the podcast is going to be fun. What's a good definition of an introvert? Is something like those three things a good start? It is a good start in terms of how introverts experience day to day life. I think a good definition is one that some of your listeners will have heard many times before. The idea of where do you get your energy? And for some people, they get their energy more from quieter settings and for other people, they get it more from being out there. So a good rule of thumb is to imagine that you're at a party that you're really enjoying and you've been there for about two hours or so. And it's with people you really like and it's in your favorite place. It's all good. An extrovert in a setting like that is going to feel charged up and they're going to be looking for the after party. And an introvert, no matter how good a time they're having and how socially skilled they are, there's this moment where you just wish that you could teleport and be back at home. Yeah. And at the time before the start of the party to the time of that moment happens, it's different for different people. So like the shorter that is, the more of an inch where you are, is that that kind of thing? The shorter the moment until you get to the place where you've got to teleport home. Not fine. Yeah, teleport home. Yeah. And then for extroverts, it's the opposite, right? Like they're going to feel, you know, maybe they're working on, I don't know, like focused on producing a memo that's really intensely interesting to them. But if they're in that state of like solitary, the solitary mode of really focusing, they might get stir crazy a lot faster than an introvert would. And so it doesn't have so much to do with what you're good at as how you get your energy. And so for an introvert, the source of energy is what? Silence, solitude, and for an extrovert, it's interaction with other people. What I'd really say is that, and this is neurobiological as well, is that it has to do with how your nervous system reacts to stimulation. So for an introvert, you're feeling in a great state of equilibrium when there are fewer inputs coming at you. So they could be social inputs, but that's why an introvert in general would rather hang out with one close friend at a time as opposed to, you know, big party full of strangers. Because that's too many inputs for the nervous system. And for an extrovert, the nervous system needs more stimulants. So if they're not getting enough, they get that list list and sluggish feeling. So if you're just walking through the world, like people listening to this, but in general, how do you know if you're an introvert? Like, how do you empirically start to determine if you are in large part in an introvert? Well, I would start by just asking that question of what happens to you, you know, at around the two hour mark where you're having a good time. Yeah, like I mean, imagine. But I also find I'm curious if you have a different experience from this, but from all the years that I've been out there talking about this topic, I found that most people really seem to know once they're being honest with themselves. And maybe that's the question to ask is like, if you imagine that you have a Saturday or a whole weekend where you can spend your time exactly the way you want to with no professional obligations and no social obligations, who would you spend it with? How many people? What would you be doing? And what is that picture that you're painting start to look like? Yeah. So there's nuance to this though, because I'm sure for extroverts to get energized by stimulation, whether that's stimulation with other people, like it depends what that stimulation is, right? Like maybe you're not surrounded by the kind of people that you enjoy being around. So, you know, maybe that has to do less with whether some characteristics is your personality. More has to do with the fact what like what your environment is like. That's always kind of the question. Do you want to be alone because everybody around you is an asshole or do you want to be alone because you get energized from being? Well, I would hold the variables constant, I guess. I would say, you know, keep the assholes constant and see. But and then there's the other thing you kind of observed that there's a lot of people that will say they get energized from being alone. Like people are exhausting to them or something like that. But at the same time, when you see them at a party, they seem like the life of the party. I know and I hear from those people all the time. There's so many people like what would you classify them as exactly? Is it ultimately is the source of energy? Is the most important thing or like how the heck are they the life of the party? It's a bunch of different things, you know, so first of all, just to say like a big caveat to all of this is humans are just amazingly complex. So you can't like explain every individual human through these parameters, even though I think the parameters are really valuable. But that person at the party, it could be that they're more of an ambivert. So they kind of are more in the middle of the spectrum. So that's it basically means someone who's not extremely introverted or extremely extroverted, they're kind of in the middle. So maybe at a party, they're more extroverted side comes out. Or it could be an introvert who's gotten really good at the skills of acting more like a pseudo extrovert and they pull that up at the moments that they need it. So that learn how to fake it. Yeah. Oh, there's a lot of people like that. And I know this because like I think out of all the people on this planet, you could be talking to you, I've heard from the most number of those people, like they all come and tell me about their experience out in the world presenting a face that's different from what they feel. So one of the things you talk about is at least in the West, we've constructed a picture of success. And that picture is usually one of an extrovert. Like when you imagine somebody who's a leader, who's a successful person, that person has some of the qualities you would associate with an extrovert. And so there's a lot of incentive for faking it. Yeah, exactly. If you want to be successful, you got to be able to fake it, to sort of hang with the rest of the team. You have to be able to be outgoing and all those kinds of things and not be drained by the interaction. Yeah. But I mean, there are also a lot of introverts who figure out ways to draw on their own strengths and they're incredibly connecting and successful and they're great leaders. And they're not actually faking it. They're more just figuring out ways to do it their own way. You see a lot of people like that. Is there advice? Is there lessons you can draw from that from just observing how you can be an introvert and be in a leadership position? Yeah, it's kind of like a mantra of figuring out what your own strengths are and how to draw on them. I think of a guy I know, Doug Conant, who had been the CEO of Campbell Soup for many years. He's very introverted. He's quite shy also by his own description. And he really cares about people. And so when he started at Campbell, the employee engagement ratings of the company were all the way at the bottom of the Fortune 500 and by the time he stepped down 10 years later, they were all the way at the top. And he was it wasn't that he was going out there and moving people, but he really did care. So he would find out who were the people who had really been contributing and he would write to them personal letters of thanks and and people and these letters meant so much to people. They would like carry them around with them. And during his time, the 10 years there, he wrote 30,000 of those letters. So like that was his way of doing it. That was his way of drawing on his own strengths. And you know, like he did that together with, of course, you sometimes have to go outside your comfort zone no matter who you are. So he was doing plenty of that too. It's kind of combination. Yeah, that the writing process and focusing on the one on one interaction, I can definitely relate. There's something deeply draining, which concerns me about like Zoom meetings. Because it's some weird brain manipulation. It's the more well, because you're not really engaged, but it wears on you the same way that does a party. It feels like you're emptying that bucket for the introverts, even though they're not participating at all in the meeting. I mean, I suppose that's true for physical meetings too, but with Zoom meetings or remote meetings, it's so much easier to invite a larger number of people into the meeting. So you're draining more and more of the introvert energy. And I probably X for two, but the introvert definitely. There's, I mean, it's interesting. I would love to understand that more because there's more and more push towards remote work. Without, I think a deep understanding of why these meetings are so draining on people. I just anecdotally have heard from that. But maybe that's because the managers, the people who arrange the meetings are just not sufficiently yet aware of the draining nature of them so that they pull into many people, they schedule them too regularly, so they need to adjust that kind of thing probably. I think people are starting to realize, but I would say one reason that Zoom is so draining is because you can see your own self presentation the whole time if you choose to. And when you go into in person, you can't. So you're kind of freed of thinking about that. Oh, that's brilliant. It's like an extra cognitive load that you're bearing the whole time. Oh, yeah. And like you might want to, you know, turn off the camera so you can't see yourself, but then you feel like, well, I have the ability to, so I probably should be doing it. And then that alone is the decision that you're making. Yeah, there's probably studies on this now happening, either half happened or are happening of the effect of seeing your own face on camera because it's reminding that you're supposed to be acting a certain way. And that's that is especially a stressful thing. Yeah, you can't be in the moment as much. But I mean, for you, you, you make the decision to do all your podcast interviews in person, right? And so. And that's even when it's very costly. If there's any kind of chemistry that contributes at all to the conversation, which I think most conversations have chemistry, even the boring work meetings, there's something there. Because yes, you're trying to solve a particular problem at this particular time. But underneath it, there's a team building that's happening. And honestly, people also have told me about this, why they enjoyed the Zoom meetings during the pandemic is like they're lonely. Yeah. Like they, you know, it's annoying to have to sit and listen to folks talk about nothing and so on. But they tune in anyway, because it's kind of lonely to sit there by yourself. And that, I mean, there's a deep connection there when you would other people. And that is especially true when they're there in person, which is a huge concern for me for like more and more offices from a capitalist perspective, realizing, hey, why are we, why are we have these large office spaces? Why do we have to get people together? But I think in some, in some deep sense, we do. But then you also talk about that once we do, we want to protect the introverts. Like you don't want the open space, which office space, which was a big fad for a while. I don't know where people stand on that at this point. Yeah. I think people are figuring it out in a post-pandemic context. But I mean, I knew what you mean. So before I became a writer, I was a corporate lawyer for like seven years. And literally the only thing I miss from those years is hanging out with people at the office. Like, I don't know, just some of the funniest moments I've had in my life came from being at the office until midnight with the other people I was working with. So I know exactly what you're talking about. So I will say the office is there at that firm and at most firms in those days, everybody had their own office. So it was like a dorm room, you know, where it was like a long hallway with everybody in their own little dorm room. So you had tons of privacy, but you would also come out and hang out with people. You could just kind of roam whenever you want. Yeah. Yeah. And whenever you roam, that means you're kind of open. You're looking for trouble. Yeah. You're open for interaction. And the extent to which you would keep your door open, you know, was it wide open or was it half a jar or just a little bit? Those were all signals. So is there, because you said reenergize, is there? Do you like to think, and again, the human mind is complicated, but do you like to think of it as like a bucket that gets refilled for introverts in terms of energy of social interaction that that that they're able to handle? Do you think of it like that as a bucket that gets empty and needs to be refilled? I think of it. Yeah. More or less because I use the metaphor of a battery that gets recharged or not. It's basically the same thing, different metaphor. But yeah, but just to add on that, that there is a layer of complexity to that because you could be somebody who doesn't want the kind of social life, let's say, where you have to be like on and presenting and interacting with tons of people all the time. But you'd get really lonely if you were just by yourself. You know, so what you want is to maybe be in the company of a couple of people, you know, really well. Like for me, the pandemic was not actually that hard for me personally. I mean, I lost family, but I mean, from the point of view of what we're talking about, it wasn't that hard because I live with my husband and my kids. So I knew it was hard on the kids and I felt badly for them. But for me, I was like, you know what? I kind of I have a lot of social life right here in the house. That's why I know you love your house. And I can focus and do my work. Yeah. That's the cool thing about that pandemic. I think it helped people figure out how much they love their family. That's true. And in the law, you give you a chance to really reconnect with kids with your kids, like really spend time with them. It's just fascinating to watch. Like people actually, it did strengthen the family unit in an often beautiful way, which just sucks to have to leave behind at this point. Yeah. And I think that's part of what people are not going to want to go back to, that we need to solve for, to the extent that work becomes non remote again. Yeah. I think people have just realized how precious those aspects of their lives are. And, you know, for somebody who's in a sort of conventional office job where you're going home and seeing your kids for an hour before bedtime, and that's your interaction with them. That's that's kind of a ridiculous way to set things up. It's cool that you get, I think a lot of places give you the option now, which is interesting. You get to optimize that element of your life. You take the commute and the office working on the social interaction there. Do you focus on the work at home? It's also lonely at home, but then you get to see your kids. If you have kids, that's part of the optimization is like, I have some options now and I'm going to try to optimize. Solitude, loneliness, happiness, productivity, seeing family, seeing coworkers, the chemistry with the team building with the coworkers versus just the raw. Exchange of information with the coworkers is fascinating to see how that kind of evolves. Yeah. And then there's the big, the third space idea of, you know, the spaces where you're in a co-working space or a cafe or something like that. You've got other people around you, but you're not exactly interacting with them, but they're very much there. And that's huge too. We I don't think we think about that enough. Yeah, that energy is there. Yeah. Yeah. I lived in Manhattan for 17 years before we had kids. Yeah. And I absolutely loved it. Like, I loved it. The feeling of all that energy all around you, but you could be anonymous within it. To me, it was perfect. Yeah, it's beautiful. Like I worked this morning for a few hours, programmed for a few hours at a Starbucks. And first of all, like wearing, wearing suits, like Manhattan is the one place you can kind of fit into. Because everyone's wearing suits. You wear suits every day? Well, these days, unfortunately, because I get recognized, I wear usually not suits when I just on my own life. But yeah, I love it. I love the way it feels. I don't know. And the way I think about the world when I wear a suit, I take it seriously as if my life is going to end today. Like, this is what I would want to wear. Not for not physical appearance, but just for some reason, it makes me feel like. Focused. I don't know. So even if you're not going to see anyone, you would still put the suit on when you're doing your work, especially that. Really? Especially that. Yeah. Yeah, I really, I really love doing that. So it like tells you seriousness of purpose, something like. Yeah. Yeah. Like everything that we made it now. I don't know what it is. I don't know what I imagined exactly. But it's some kind of platonic form of like a mixture of James Bond. And like, I don't know who else I wish you're fine men. Can I think about when I think about a suit? You know, I think of Leonard Cohen, but he was always wearing suits too. But you know, Leonard Cohen is definitely one of my is a tragic human is a beautiful human being. Yeah. Through his words, through his own private life. Yes, I definitely would think about. Leonard Cohen. So. Small talk, that's another thing.
Small talk (18:51)
Is that part of the equation of introvert versus extrovert? Well, how much people enjoy small talk? I kind of went into this whole thing thinking that it was. But from what I've seen most people have studies that most people don't like small talk. I think that's why people like your podcasts, because you're like, well, I'm going to get the small talk. I'm going deep into it from the very beginning. Yeah. So it's actually the picture you're painting is like the way you started, like with your with a book quiet. And the way you are today is you realize the picture may be more complicated. Yeah, everything's more complicated. I will say with the small talk thing that I'm curious if you have this experience, but I find it fantastic to have a career where I'm known for anti small talk kinds of topics, because it means that anywhere I go, like if I show up at a conference or something like that, no one does small talk with me. They're like telling me about the deep truth of their lives from the first hello. And I love that. And in normal life, you have to like wade through a lot before, you know, if people are ready to go there. Yeah. Do you have that experience too? No, definitely, definitely with people that know me for sure. But you forget how many people feel like they know you because of your podcasts. Well, that's what no, I, that counts. Yeah. I'm a huge fan of podcasts and I feel it like before ever became friends with Joe Rogan, I felt like I was friends with them because I was a fan of his podcast. So like it was, I feel like it's a friendship. I know it's a one way friendship with all the people I listen to in podcasts. And even people who are no longer with us, like writers, I feel like I have a relationship with them. Maybe I'm insane. No, I totally feel that way. That's the whole reason I became a writer. Like I'm friends with Leonard Cohen. Yeah. And he's not aware of it. No, I, but I think that's the whole reason for writing or making music or whatever people do. It's to be able to have those kinds of connections that don't require having to be in a room together because there's only so many people you can be in a room with in your lifetime. The hard thing is, is unfortunately because I value human connection so much. And I only have just like you mentioned sort of a small circle of people I'm really close with by design. It always hurts me a lot to say goodbye to people. Like you meet people and you can tell they're beautiful people. They're amazing. There's something so fascinating about them. They're. They've had a complicated life. Like you could see in their eyes in the way they tell their story in just a few sentences. They've gone through some shit, but they also found some elements of beauty. And then you get to realize, okay, well, there's a fascinating human here. And all you get to say is a few words here and there. It was like a funny little joke, maybe a dark joke here and there. And then you just say goodbye, maybe hug it out and you go on your way. So like that's a hello and a goodbye and your path will never cross again. That makes me like a sad walk. Walk away. But I guess I wouldn't have it any other way, I suppose is the reality is in you book, you talk about that sorrow. That's sad and it's not being such a bad thing. Yeah. And when you just said that, I just thought of this one moment in my life that I haven't thought of for 20, 30 years or something, but it was when I was in law school and and a classmate of mine had his friend come to visit for the weekend and the three of us hung out a lot and we just had, you know, like an amazing time. And then this other guy who wasn't going to be coming back any time soon, if at all, sent a postcard to me and the only thing written on the postcard was this quote from Oscar Wilde. And I don't remember the exact words, but it basically said that there's no pain as intense as the sorrow of parting from someone to whom you've just been introduced. Yeah. And there's something so intense about that. And so true. I think partly also, because when you've just been introduced to somebody, you don't yet know their difficulties. So you're seeing, you're seeing the most sparkling version of them. You're seeing like a platonic version of love and friendship. And your imagination fills in the rest in some, some beautiful way that matches perfectly the kind of thing you're interested in. That's how I feel about one scoop, like one spoonful of ice cream. And that's why you always finished the whole tub and you regret all of it. Um, you do, you do say, what did you write this? I think this is on your website that one of the best things in the world is that's a blind moment when a writer, artist or musician manages to express something you've always felt, but never articulated or at least never quite so beautifully.
Artistic expression (23:45)
So that's the Oscar Wilde line is one line like that, but just a line from a song or maybe a piece of art that just grabs you. Is there something that jumps out into memory like that for you? I don't know if I have an exact line though. I mean, that feeling that you just quoted happens to me all the time. I'm just bad at recalling exact instances, but, um, on the spot, but the writer Ellen DeBotong regularly makes me feel that way. Uh, he's just this beautiful essayist and like observer of human nature. And he's just constantly expressing things in this gorgeous way that that you've experienced yourself and you feel like, I don't know. It's just this grand act of generosity. You know, you feel less lonely. You feel like this deep sense of communion. It's such an elevating experience. Even when it's like a melancholy line, maybe especially when it is. Yeah, what is that? There's, um, so the Jack Carack on the road definitely makes me feel that way. Like every other line in there, uh, for Lauren Rags of growing old. Do you know, I never read that book. So what, what, what was it about that book that made you feel that way? Well, okay. Well, and since you asked, I'm going to look, I'm going to linger on this. Uh, so this is stories is kind of the book, the, the kind of defining book of the, of the beats of the beat generation. And it's basically a story of a writer who takes a road trip across the United States a couple of times and experiences a few close friends and a few strangers along the way, and there's a lot of just those melancholy goodbyes along the way. You meet all these people with interesting lives. Some of them are defined by struggles. Some of them are defined by drugs, drinking women, all that kind of stuff. And still he just kind of dances around all of that and is defined by the goodbyes and the passing of time. So a lot of the really powerful lines are basically like, uh, there's one on there. Again, I don't remember exactly, but he meets. A beautiful girl at a rest stop. And, uh, the girl is getting her or a woman is getting on a different bus than he's getting on. And so it's that like feeling of falling in love for like a second and realizing that like fate is just ripping that out, which is similar to this idea of it. Sucks to say goodbye just when you met, but it's especially true when you fall in love, just a little bit with that stranger with the, with the, with all the possibilities that could lay there. Uh, so there's a few lines of, of, uh, uh, written down. It's just, I went down this whole rabbit hole of thinking, what are the lines that grabbed me, uh, a couple of lines from on the road. So one is, what is that feeling when you're driving away from people and they recede on the plane till you see their respects dispersing? It's a two huge world vaulting us and it's goodbye, but we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies. So this is him talking about leaving a particular city, the spoiler alert towards the end of the book, rather the end of the book line ever turned too often. It's more poetry, but it's a feeling that captures the book, I would say. The evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all the rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in. And nobody, nobody knows what's going to happen to anybody besides the four Lauren rags of growing old. And it just captures this kind of in the moment appreciation of the beauty of the world and a sadness over the fact that time passes and you leave the people you love behind, you leave the places you love behind, or at least the way they were at the time that you really enjoyed them. And you just leave that all that just just the sadness you feel when you real something about it, like looking at her picture, looking at your kids grow up, looking at all the friends, getting old, something makes you realize that time passes and somewhere deep in there is probably a realization of your mortality. And then it just makes you somehow for sad that everything comes to an end. And then that's immediately followed by sort of an appreciation of the moment, like a gratitude that you get to experience this moment. Yeah, I know it exactly. I mean, that's the whole reason that I wrote Bitter's Week. It's all about that. So I know intensely what you're talking about. And by the way, my husband loves the book, A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway, which I also haven't read, but it talks about that same thing, you know, groups of people traveling around together and the group coalesces into some magical formation. And then one person leaves the group and it's never going to be the same again. And then they move on to the next one. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think that's the deepest essence of human nature. The feeling of longing for some kind of state of perfect completeness, completion, perfect love, the Garden of Eden, all of it. And the feeling that you're never going to quite attain it, but you get glimpses of it here and there and that those glimpses are some of the best things that ever happened to us. And there's a fused with sadness because they're not the real thing or they're not the full thing. They're just a glimpse. There's a, it's a glimpse of what we long for. So the sadness that we might feel. It has always connected to the ways in which we fall short from the perfect thing that were like, there's always a thing here long. And the thing that we're bringing for and the sadness has to do with the getting a glimpse of it, but not quite getting a hold of it. Yeah. Yeah. So there's always losing. It's always losing, but it's also always that, but it's not, that sounds really depressing, but it's, it's not, you know, it's not depressing because you experience this all the time. It's also those are the most beautiful moments I think life offers. I mean, it's intense, intense beauty in those moments because it's getting closer to the real thing that we long for. So what about like loss, losing love? Is that also a beautiful thing? Well, the moments you're talking about, I think it's easier to appreciate the beauty of it all in the moment because you're experiencing, you're kind of experiencing the loss and the love all at the same time. Whereas if you're talking about straight up loss, like a betrayal or a bereavement or whatever it is, that's, it's different. It's quite overwhelming. So losing loved one kind of thing. Losing a loved one. I mean, I will say that the truth that I think that we can come to after a lot of time on this earth is the idea that love exists not only in its particular forms. So not only in the form of the one person, you know, that one person we love or that other person we love, but love itself is a state that we have access to. And so over time, the loss of person A can heal and you can tap into a kind of bigger river of love. Yeah. I mean, I had this comes from Louis, Louis, he gave it a show. Damn, I love that line. I mean, there's a he's talks to an older gentleman. And Louis is all like sad about losing a loved one or like getting rejected, essentially, like a breakup. And then the older gentleman gives him advice saying like, basically criticizes Louis for saying, why are you moping around? Cause this is the most, this is the best part. Like losing love is the best part. Cause it that's the real loss is when you forget. Like feeling shitty about having gone through a breakup is when you most intensely appreciate what that person meant to you. Like you most intensely feel love in some strange way by realizing that you've lost it, by missing it, wishing at this moment, I wish I had that, like that feeling that that's when you feel that love the most, the absence of it. And so the older gentleman gives advice that that's the best part. And it can, if you're good with it, it can last for the longest. It could be the most sort of prolonged experience of deep appreciation and emotion and so on. So that's kind of a, that's a nice way to look at loss, which is a reminder of how much somebody meant to us. Yeah. I mean, I think there's a lot of truth in that. Because yeah, you wouldn't care so much if it weren't something that mattered to you. So it's always a signpost to the direction you really want to go to. That's always what it is. Yeah. And it's interesting to see the way that the mystical versions of many of the great religions all point in this direction, you know, whether you're looking at Sufism or, or the Kabbalah or in Christian mysticism, you see this idea that the longing for what you lack is the very thing that gives you what you're longing for. So the longing is the cure. I mean, that's the way the Sufi poet, Rumi, puts it, the longing is the cure. You know, and he says, be thirsty, like be as thirsty as you possibly can. That's what you want to be. The good stuff is the wanting, not the having. Yeah. Yeah. Of course, tell it to a person that just broke up and they'll be like, shut up, asshole. And vice sucks. I wish I had her him back. Yeah, no, absolutely. Those are the kinds of life lessons that only work when you kind of step away for a while. They don't work in the moment, in the moment of excruciating. There is something about the fact of knowing that all humans are in that experience together that is also incredibly uplifting. Well, that takes time for people to realize like, you know, like heartbreak in your early teenage years or something like that, could feel like this is the completely the most novel and the most dramatic pain that any human has ever felt, right? Or maybe even when you're younger. And then one of the process, one of the things you realize is that everybody goes through this. They can be an awakening to the fact that we're all in this together. This human condition is not just a personal experience. It's an experience we all share. And that's a, that's a kind of love and the unity of it. Yeah. You can get to experience. That's a really deep kind of love. And I feel like, you know, we're, we are prevented from perceiving that love as it's actually like the most obvious kind of love and it's right there and it happens all the time. But we're prevented from perceiving it because we're not really supposed to talk about things like that. It's like there's something unseemly about it. Oh, it's also in the West is this individualist society. So like there's a pressure to sort of see the individual as a distinct sovereign entity that experiences things and it's not the unity between people. It's not, it's not obvious to sort of communicate or talk about who is part of the culture. Yeah, it's not part of the culture. And yet, you know, you see it in our behaviors because we're humans.
Sad music (36:12)
So, you know, why do people listen to sad music? I mean, one reason is they're hearing expressed for them. Like the musician is basically saying to them this thing that you have experienced. I've experienced it too. So have lots of other people and, but they're saying it all without words and it's transformed into something beautiful. And there's something about that that's just incredibly elevating. And people don't know it, but like there's one study that I have in bittersweet. They've found that people whose favorite songs are their happy songs, play it on their playlists about 175 times. The people who love sad music play them about 800 times. And they say that they feel connected to the sublime when when they're listening to that music. What do you think that is? So what is that? What is it in music that connects us to the sublime through sadness? I mean, I've a bunch of different theories. Like the whole reason I started writing this book is because I kept having this reaction reliably to sad music. And I realized that for people who I knew who are religious believers, the way they described their experience of God was what I was experiencing when I would hear that music. At like all the time, it happens over and over again. So you wonder what that is? And yeah, so I started wondering what that is. And lots of people have tried to figure out, you know, what that's all about. And there are different theories that it's expressing. It's like a kind of catharsis for our difficult emotions that it's, as we were saying, a sense of being in it together. We don't react in that sort of uplifted way when you just see like a slideshow of sad faces, which is something researchers have actually tested. No one really cares when they're seeing the slide to the sad faces, but the sad music, they're really reacting. And also they don't really react when they're hearing music expressing other negative emotions, like martial music or something like that. It's just the sad music that gives people this elevated sense of wonder. So I think it's the combination of the sadness and the beauty. And I think it's just tapping into the essence of the human source code, which is a kind of spiritual longing, whether we're atheists or believers. There's this feeling of longing for a state and a place of perfect love and perfect unity and perfect truths and all of it. And like an acute awareness that we're not there in this world. And in religions, we express that through the longing for Mecca or Eden or Zion. And artistically, we express it with Darcy longing for somewhere over the rainbow or Harry Potter enters the story at the precise moment that he's become an orphan. So he's now going to spend the rest of his life longing for these parents who he can never remember. And that's there's something about that state that's at our very core. And I think that's why we love it so much. Well, it could be, you know, you could have the Ernest Becker theory of denial of death, where at the core of that, the warm of the core, as Jung said, is the fear of death. So we're the longing for the perfect thing as to do with sort of becoming immortal, as reaching beyond the absurdity, the cruelty of life that all things come to an end for no particularly good reason whatsoever. One we can rationally explain. I know, you know, I wonder about that all the time. Like, I know, obviously, there's that idea from Becker and throughout philosophy and the tale of Gilgamesh about the idea that the thing we're longing for, most of all, is immortality. But I feel like it's not only that. I think it's more so or also, let's say, a longing for the lions to lay down with the lambs, finally, you know, for like the fundamental calculus of the universe to just be different, where life doesn't have to eat life in order to survive. And yeah, just a completely different situation. I wonder that immortality would not solve. I wonder that could be a very kind of modern thing, because surely so much of human history is defined by violence and glorified violence that doesn't give inklings of this lions and the lambs. So much. I mean, I know all the other stuff is in the Bible to you. There's other stuff in the Bible and the Bible is this that particular aspect doesn't necessarily reveal the fundamental motivation of human nature. That could be deeper stuff, you know. But yeah, that is a beautiful picture. But is it just about humans or is it all about all of life? And you have to think about what is the perfect world look like? It's not just the lines and lambs laying together as, you know, how many lines and how many lambs and you know, what, having just had a few very technical conversation about Marxian economics versus Keynesian economics versus neoclassical economics. What is the economic and the government system look like for the lions and the labs that we're longing for? So that then you start to build society on top of all those things. And you still you return to this. What is it? What are we longing for? And what's the role of love in that? What's the role of that sad melancholy feeling, the feeling of loneliness? Is the feeling of loneliness fundamental to the human condition? Like, are we always striving to sort of channel that feeling of loneliness? To connect with others? Like we want that feeling of loneliness, otherwise we wouldn't be connecting. Is that fundamental? That feeling like you're alone in this, even when you're with other people, sort of alone together, you're born alone, you die alone. Maybe loneliness is fundamental. I think the longing for a union is fundamental. It's just that it looks so different for different people, you know. And coming back to where we were what we were talking about at the beginning, you know, union looks incredibly social for a lot of people and hardly social at all for others, but everybody needs some version of union. Yeah, people have been telling me recently about polyamory and all those kinds of things. And some having probably grown up in a certain part of the world, I'm very, I think I'm very monogamy centric, not in a judgmental way, just for me. What makes me happy is one person for my whole life, basically just dedication. Yeah. Because I've just seen through relationships with people and objects in my life. The longer we stay together, the deeper the tie. So that's just the empirical thing. And yes, that probably is a personalized thing. That's just true for me. It could be very different. There's maybe it's connected to the introverted thing, maybe not. Who knows? Before, before I leave, because you mentioned songs, sad songs, what, um, what are we talking about?
Leonard Cohen (43:50)
What's a good, what's, what songs do you remember last crying to? Oh gosh. Well, I mean, that's, you know, I literally, I literally dedicated my book to Leonard Cohen. He's played such a huge role in my life. Like I love him. I love him. Um, and I loved him with this crazy love that I've never been able to understand for decades. I think I understand it a little better now, but. So you guys, so you're better friends with him than me. I'm so, um, does it make you, is it the musician or the human too? Because the human is a, is a tortures soul in a way. I'd say it's the musician. It's the musician. I actually was thinking about this the other day. I mean, obviously he's not alive anymore, but I was kind of running the thought experiment, you know, if he were alive still and I had the chance to meet him in person, would I want to do that? And I'm not really sure that I would because. He represents for me symbolically everything. Well, everything else in this sentence right there. And so, and I think that's okay. You know, I think people can, can express something through their art that they might or might not express if you were just like hanging out with them and having a coffee. And I'm happy to know him that way. He can express himself, I'm sure in the way that you know him as over coffee to. Yeah. It just requires like a focus of remembering of like a deep focus of connection. That's why I like when I interact with folks. Um, it's so draining for me because I'm putting all my, whatever weapons I got in terms of like deeply trying to understand the person in front of me and doing that dance of human interaction, the humor, the intense kind of, delving into who they are. Um, so it, which requires like navigating around like small talk type of stuff and, and just like compliments and so on. In general, like people, depending on the culture, depending on the place, they'll sometimes flower stuff with smiling and like compliments like, Oh, yeah, I love you. This is great. But like this, that's all great. But you want to get to the core of like, what are the demons in the closet? Let's talk about it. You know, and that could be exhausting. That could be really exhausting. So from a Leonard Coe perspective, you get more and more famous. It can be hard sometimes because he probably is also an introvert. Oh, yeah. I know he was an introvert because he actually tweeted about my book when it came out. Um, so that was a precious moment for me. Something about, we should all be listening to the quiet. I can't remember exactly what he said. Um, but yeah, yeah, no, he definitely was. He struggled with depression, which I wonder if that's something that's also connected to introversion. Um, but perhaps not actually perhaps that they're very disjoint and also connected to sensitivity and many sensitive people are introverts. So it's kind of like a Venn diagram, about 80% of highly sensitive people are introverted, but then some are extroverts and then not all introverts are sensitive. So it's complicated, but he was definitely a sensitive type. Well, there's on top of that, you see like the percent of artists relative to the average that suffer from depression. So creative people. Oh, yeah. It was very high. Very, very crazy. Yeah. And then the number of artists and successful artists who were orphaned, um, when they were young, who lost one parent or both parents, like an astronomical number, I haven't in the book. I don't remember the percentage, but huge. And he was one of them. He lost his father when he was nine. And his first active poetry was, was he took his father made suits. That's why I thought of him when we were talking about hearing her suit. And, um, and he took one of his father's bow ties and wrote a poem in his honor and buried the poem and the bow tie in the backyard. And that was like his first creative act. You know that song, um, Chelsea with all number two, sure, where he met, I guess it's about Janet Joplin. Yeah. Uh, what a fun, intense and cruel person she is. Yeah. Uh, so I guess, um, have you ever seen, uh, I'm sorry to interrupt you, but have you ever seen his son, Adam Cone and Lana Del Rey perform that song together? Oh, wow. No, it's incredible. I have to send it to you. Yeah. So that for people who don't know, I don't, I mean, maybe I don't know. It goes, I remember you well on the Chelsea hotel. You were talking so brave and so sweet, giving me head on the unmade bed while the limousines weighed in the street. There's a good line in there about, um, about being ugly. Oh, yeah, we are ugly, but we have the music. No, before that, from a guy's perspective, it was, uh, oh, you told me again, you preferred handsome man, but for me, you would make an exception. Yeah. So good. Well, she continued that thread in, in later because I think she said that he was lousy in bed. I was that right. Yeah. She publicly said that, which is like, man, did there just, okay, for people don't know, I think this is a true story about them interacting and, and being together for a very brief time, I don't know, dating, but just connecting, falling in love or in, in this only, in this very particular way that I think famous musicians, poets can, can, which is like, it's impossible for that kind of thing to last. Uh, but they, they did it for a brief, um, moment. There's like a sadness to it because it's so momentarily, but it's so epic. Yeah. And that these two paths cross and then you just look at that. We know these famous people and it's, it's, it's, it's interesting to watch. Yeah. And you don't even have the impression that they're thinking it's going to last. They more know that it's like a blaze of an intersection. Yeah. And the, you know, the limousines already waiting while they're in the moment. Yeah. In the middle of it. And then it's done. Um, yeah. But he's talked about how his music. He said, he said something like some people are more inclined to say hello with their music, but I'm rather more validictory. That's what he said. What is validictory? Like saying goodbye, like the valgictorians address. Interesting. You know, it, it, so many of his songs really are about some form of parting or goodbye or an imperfection or something or like the broken hallelujah. Um, but that's the thing that's so incredible about him is, uh, is the way that he's taking all of that and pointing it in the direction of transcendence. Like it's not, it's not just pure sadness. It's sadness and beauty. And that's the thing. Yeah. There is a feeling of transcendence in a lot of the songs. It's like sadness and transcendence. You're right. It's a goodbye, but you're moving on to some bigger thing, uh, but in a sort of a theory away, like not like a proud, arrogant way. Yeah. So his favorite poet was a Garcia Lorka. He actually named his daughter after him. His daughter's name is Lorka. And, um, and he talks about how there's some poem that Lorka had written that made him realize that the universe itself was aching, but the ache was okay because that's the way you embrace the sun and the moon. And that's what I think is. That's why I think there's this whole, um, rich vein in, in this bittersweet tradition that he embodies. That's like the essence of beauty. You know, it's the way you embrace the sun and the moon. The song, how I return to that often. Have been meaning to play it. Um, I have now a friend who wants to sing it with me. Um, it's just a singer. Mm. What it, what it, when somebody says they're a singer, do they have to be good? Because then no, but I would say, yes, I was in a band for a while. I sang for a while. I was always bad, but I, um, I enjoy it. I enjoy it. I enjoy lyrics. I enjoy words. Yeah. When sung or spoken, they capture something like again, that moment. Uh, Tom Waits is a huge favorite of mine for that reason. Um, although he often, his lyrics are often not that, not that simple. I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy. He's always playing with just like these weird word play that's, especially in the English language, just trickier to do. I'm fortunate enough to know another language, which is Russian. So I get to understand that certain languages allow for more world, word play than others. Um, English for that reason, I don't think has a, um, like, like a, like a culture of, you know what? I mean, to push back on what I'm about to say, but there was no, culture of word play until hip hop came along. So like, like distorting words in interesting ways for there to be a rhythm, a rhyme. And at the same time you're capturing some really powerful message, um, plus humor. All of that mixed in actually hip hop does a, there's a really good job with this, but there wasn't a tradition. If you look at poetry in the 20th century, there wasn't really a tradition of that in the United States, but there was in other parts of the world in certain new Russia. Interesting. Empowered also, not just by the language, by the fact that you go through a world war where tens of millions of people die. Something about mass, um, mass death of civilians that inspires great literature and music and art. Yeah. Absolutely. Cause you start telling the real truth. I think. Yes. There's no more reason for small talk. Um, that's funny. I always have thought that if I could choose any other medium besides writing, it would be singing. Um, but then no, I mean, like I'm really not. I just love the idea of it, but then I also think, you know, I'm fundamentally a shy person. So I think it's much better that my medium is writing instead of singing. So like it all worked out. That said, you also accept a good public speaker and you're not supposed to be mathematically speaking.
Public speaking (54:43)
You're not supposed to be a good public speaker. Oh, you mean because of shyness or because of shyness, because of introversion, because of all those kinds of things. Oh, yeah. But lots of introverts are public speakers actually. Like this is one of, I knew this from the studies, but then also when I started going out on the lecture circuit, I realized that all my fellow speakers at all these conferences, I was going to, they're all introverts. Cause, you know, there are people who like spent years figuring out some idea. And now they're out there talking about it. Oh, they're in their head figuring out the idea. Yeah. How do you explain? How do you explain that the public speakers, would you say the good public speakers are usually introverts? No, I think there's just different styles of it. And I think that we just have, when we hear the word public speaker, we have a really limited idea of who that person would be. So for me, I used to be very phobic about public speaking. And part of the reason for it was because I thought that being the kind of person I was didn't equal being able to be a good public speaker. Cause you're only imagining, you know, like the super kind of out there showmen. Um, but I think there's another style of public speaking that's more reflective and thoughtful and conveying ideas and people like that too. Is there advice you can give on how to overcome that? Like if you're a shy person, I'd be a public speaker. Totally give that advice because I used to before I would give speeches, you know, if I had to do it in law school, if I knew like today was the day when I was going to get called on in a law school class, I literally one time vomited on my way to class, like that's how nervous I used to be. Um, and yeah, the way to do it is through desensitization. You know, it's like been figured out. It's the way to overcome any fear. You have to expose yourself to the thing you fear, but in very small doses. So you can't start by giving the TED talk. You have to start. I started by going to this class for people with public speaking anxiety where on the first day, all we had to do was stand up and say our name and sit down. And like that's the victory. That's fun to watch all those people with anxiety. Okay. That's the first step in the step one step at a time. Yeah. And then like with this class, you go back the next week and, and he would have us come to the front of the room and stand up with other people standing next to us so that you didn't have the feeling of being all alone in the spotlight through others sharing it with you. And you would answer some questions about where do you grow up? You know, where do you go to school and you declare victory and you're done. And then little by little by little, you keep ratcheting up the exercises until you get to the point where you can do it. And then you start having successes and you realize, Oh, you know, actually I can do this. What about like writing versus improvising? Because I knew a few people sort of the colleagues of mine that were working on TED Talks and it feels like you're supposed to like write the thing like way ahead of time and you practice it and they, they help you and all that kind of stuff. I don't think I've ever practiced the speech once in my life or a lecture or any of that. Like, I know it's really good to do, but is, do you find that relief, some of your anxiety preparing well or are you not able to do not preparing well at all? Um, I definitely like to prepare before, but the kind of preparation that I've done for my TED Talks is completely different from what I've done for everything else. Cause TED Talks are more like a theatrical event where it's like a one person show. And of course, if you were going to go on Broadway with a monologue, you would know every word. So it's kind of like that. Um, and so I would rehearse it over and over. The way you would do that. Isn't that more anxiety, like knowing every single word? It's so much anxiety because yeah, you're, you're not even so freaked out about being on stage so much as what if I forget something? Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, they do things like the last TED Talk I gave, I actually did forget something halfway through, like I just couldn't remember the next line. Um, and so I had to walk over, like over there were my notes. And so I did that and the audience like very kindly clapped like that and then I came back to the spotlight and kept going and they edit that out. Nice. So there's a family or mode. But still it seems really, it seems really stressful. Like I'm now, I'm not sure if I'll ever publish it, but I've been mostly just for personal journey, but I've been working on a series on wait for it, Hitler and the third Reich sort of looking at the historical context of everything because of my family was so much affected by that whole part of history. So for me to rigorously, I've read a lot about Stalin and Hitler and for me to force myself, one of the best ways to force yourself to really consider material is to have to talk about it. Totally. And so that's, that's why I'm doing it, but I'm playing with ideas of some of it, maybe like 20% is written down on paper, but the rest of it is my thoughts in the moment. And it's a difficult balance to strike. Cause if you write a lot, you're going to be more precise. You're going to be more accurate, but you're going to miss some of the deep, like honest emotion. The silences won't be correct or the silences between the words won't capture. The depth of feeling unless if you're somebody like me, if you're like, I guess that's what actors and actresses have to do, like basically, even though the script is fully written, you improvise between the word, between the lines. Yeah, that's a scale. Well, it also takes so much time. I mean, I experienced that with the TED talks. It's like you get to a stage, so you're memorizing everything word for word. And at first in that process, it comes out in a really wooden way, the way you're saying, like that the emotion's gone. But once you really know it, so you've internalized the words, then all the emotion comes back and you can say them in a completely different way. You know, and you're really speaking it from the heart, but you have to know it so well before you can do that. I would never recommend it because it's just like it's so time consuming. It's an inch. Well, in your case, it works out beautifully. Like when it all comes together, it is a theatrical thing. It's like a musical or whatever. I'm going to think I'm going to come out with a one man show on Broadway singing. Now I'm inspired. But for real, where are you going to, where are you going to talk about Hitler and Stalin and everything you're learning? Me too. Have you ever thought of using the medium of just speaking into a microphone, but without the video? I'm curious about this because like I fell in love with podcasts originally before there was ever this whole video component to it.
And I realized there's something so primal and magical about having someone's voice in your ear. Yeah. And my favorite kinds of interviews still, very few people do it this way nowadays, but my favorite kind or when you're just talking into the microphone. So it's not over zoom. It's not in person. It's just you in the microphone and the other person in the microphone and they're in your ear. Yeah. It's like the ultimate and intimacy. Oh, you mean from the interviewer perspective, this? Yeah. Yeah, but I, but it would be interesting also as with the kind of thing you're talking about of just speaking, like just you and the mic. I would love to be in person, but you can't see the person. I wonder what that's like. Good. What do you mean? Like they're all there, but behind a curtain or your eyes closed. Oh, you're talking, you have your eyes closed or whatever. You have because I think you still have to get the same kind of chemistry. Cause it's not just the visuals. I don't even know that cause obviously I have trouble making eye contact, but is I don't know if the visual stimulation is the necessary thing. There's something about the way audio travels that captures the intimacy where some people actually have headphones on like Joe does this, have headphones on. That's really intimate. Like there's something about that sound going directly into your ear. Yeah. Yeah. There is something primal there. Yeah, for sure. I've, I've, I've thought about it. Definitely. As some of my favorite podcasts are like that WTF with Mark Marin. That's audio only. There's, there's a few audio only pockets that I just love. And what is that? I, I still go on a clubhouse that that was a social media platform with audio only. And so interesting that people, the interesting thing about clubhouse in particular is people from all walks of life can tune in and they just, yeah, it's, it's, it's, uh, somebody needs to do some research in terms of introversion on that one because I don't feel any of my introvert. Um, like triggers happening because, uh, so nobody can see you as just audio and nobody is offended if you're just sitting there quietly, just listening. So you can, you can participate whenever you want or not. Yeah. It's like the ultimate social freedom. You can listen as much as you'd like. You can participate if you want, but you don't have to. It's no big deal. Yeah. Yeah. Nobody can, like, if I'm actually a physical party, somebody's going to look at me and be like, why, you know, there'll be that pressure to speak, but you don't have to, in, uh, in that kind of audio setting. And there's that intimacy. Like you can, when it's audio only, it feels like you can reveal a lot more of yourself and some kind of honest way. I don't know what that is. What is that? But I, I don't know, but I, I assume it's tapping into something really ancient. Like we used to tell stories around the fire, like our whole storytelling tradition was oral originally. So maybe it's that, but we used visual stuff. Like that's true. You could actually see the person. It seems like it seems like the visual elements so fundamental to the social interaction, but there's something primal about audio. I wonder what that is. And still that's why, I mean, most people listen to podcasts, I think audio only. They have it in their ears while they're doing stuff. Yeah. That's how I do it. And then there's, yeah, that's how I do it. And that's what that's where the friendship. Like it's formed. It's weird. The deep connection with other humans is formed because they're in your ear. Uh, and you get to see them grow. You get to see them be bored, experienced excitement and anger and fear and all those kinds of things. It's fascinating. It's fascinating. This, the world of podcasting is fascinating because we're, we're, we're in this world of essentially radio. Even though we all have all this high definition content, all this, like TikTok style, fast stuff and still podcasting. We still choose to do this. It's weird. At the end of the day, I think that's really what people want most is just to talk to each other and to know what people really think. And podcasting of all the media that I've ever seen is the one where people come closest to telling you the truth. And, you know, to telling you like the good and the bad and the bitter and the sweet and all of it, especially long form. There's not enough time. Yeah. Exactly. I had to explain this to people. Like you talk to CEOs and stuff. They don't understand. Um, and they understand, they're starting to understand much better now as a hard requirement with like CEOs and stuff. It's, it has to be three hours. I say, like this. Wow. Because, uh, there's something there, they can't be doing marketing stuff for three hours. They break, they start being human. They start joking. They start relaxing. And if they can't, that also tells the kind of story, uh, but I do that kind of torture for CEOs only. Anyway. Yeah. When I was there getting my publishing house, did media training with me before Bitter Sweet came out and, um, and they were preparing me for like the five to seven minute interview that you might have, you know, if you go on some quick TV thing or something like that. And God, I hate that. It's like, it feels like they're, you're basically having to not tell the full truth somehow because you can't, you can't tell it in such a short amount of time. Well, the other, so to me, podcasting is just the best thing that's ever happened. The other downside of the seven minute interview is, I think you could do a really good job with that, but the, the dance part has to be very good. It's actually challenging for everybody involved. It's much harder for everybody involved. Okay. Cause you, if you can do, you know, I can imagine like a Christopher Hitchens type character who's just super witty. Then that you could do a seven minute thing. You can get to the core, Bitter Sweet, you can get to the core of the book without asking those generic small talk questions. Cause too many people in that short form interview are just asking very generic questions. They're doing small talk for seven minutes. Yeah. That's like, all right. Like you only get seven minutes. You only get one interesting question. Go ask the weirdest, the, the deepest question that, that also energizes the other person. It's, it's, it's an art form that people don't take seriously. I think the seven minute thing, five minutes or even less. And then the commercials, which I. Yeah. And I've noticed that many of the best podcasters or ones where, when you're on my side of the table, you feel like it's more of a conversation and less like an interview where you're answering all the same questions you've asked. You've answered a million times before. Yeah. It's really interesting how different the experiences. And you're right. The audio thing, if you can lose yourself in that, the intimacy of that. And you don't even remember what stupid stuff you said. People, I've seen that. I mean, people don't give them enough credit as you might, you might not be aware, might not be a fan, but Joe Rogan is a incredible conversationalist in that. He makes you forget that anything is being recorded. That you're talking at all, it makes you forget time and you just enjoy yourself. And that's whatever that is. And that plugs, then you plug into that primal connection to other humans. What's your favorite Leonard Cohen song?
Famous Blue Raincoat by Leonard Cohen (01:09:34)
Famous Blue Raincoat. Do you know that one? Yeah. Maybe I'll play it. Yeah. For people who don't know what heard Cohen, and this is your first introduction to him, it's going to sound so gloomy, but it's so good. Because he's got this deep rich voice. Tori Amos covering famous blue raincoat. Yeah. No, we want, we want the original, just like how Louis Jeff Buckley covered Leonard Cohen. That was a really good one. That was a really good one. Yeah. And I also really like Rufus Wayne writes cover. But famous Blue Raincoat for people who don't know it, it's basically about a love triangle and it's told from the perspective of a man whose wife has just been with another guy who is also his friend. And he's writing a letter to that other guy and he's reflecting on the way that all the relationships have changed in the wake of this, this event. So there's still friends. So there's still, well, he, he refers to him as my brother, my killer, which is such a Leonard Cohen thing to do because it's always like, you know, it's light and it's dark all at once. Nothing is ever all one thing. Yeah. I love this song. Yeah, right. I mean. He just speaks in it. It's four in the morning, the end of December. I'm writing. And the fact that it's four in the morning and it's the end of December, like those are transitional moments, you know, night going into day and it's December going into the new year. It's not an accident. There is something about December, this, whatever, there's certain scenes you can paint in your mind. There's a poem by Charles Bukowski called Nirvana and it's a young man traveling through the middle of nowhere in the snow. There's something about the snow, either the rain or the snow. Put you in a certain kind of mood that just what is it? James Joyce, the dead, the snow is falling, a Dublin. Yeah, I can put you in a place. I mean, David Yeiden, who's a he's a researcher in psychedelics and consciousness at Johns Hopkins. He's a great guy. And he's done research that is found that when people are in their transitional moments of life, you know, and it could be a career change. It could be a divorce. It could be that they're nearing the end of their life that they very often will say those are their most meaningful moments and their most spiritual moments. And so I feel like that's what Leonard Cone knows how to tap into instinctively. The year after he died, his son, Adam Cone made a memorial concert for him, where all these famous musicians came to Montreal where they had lived and performed his music. And my husband, who's not a Leonard Cone fan and he's not a bittersweet type at all, but he knows how I feel about him. He's like, you know, you should really go to that concert. Um, and I felt so ridiculous. The whole family went all the way to Montreal on a Monday. Um, on a Monday, it was just like a random Monday and we got on the plane. Like, so like everyone's out of school just so I can go to this concert. And, um, and I got there and at the beginning, I was feeling like, oh, this was all a terrible mistake because it's all these other musicians playing this music and I don't actually really want to hear them. Like, I'd rather listen to him on YouTube. Um, and then, and then a musician named Damien Rice came and played famous Blue Raincoat and he sang it and he did the most amazing thing at the end. The whole thing was amazing, but then at the end, he sang this musical riff that was like, all I could say is it was like a musical lamentation of the ages. And the whole audience just rose silently to its feet. And it was one of the greatest moments that I've ever had. There's sometimes certain artists in a cover can capture in some kind of deeper way, like carrying the thread of the power of the song. So you've been listening a lot to Johnny Cash, Hart, just a nice nails, Trent Reznor Sol. Oh, you talked about it on your podcast with Rick Reuben, which is when I reached out to you. Cause I like, I love that interview and I love that song also. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So there's, there's that there's the Kennedy Center honors where they, they celebrate a certain artist that did that for Led Zeppelin and I forgot what her name is, but the least thing of heart, um, performs that word heaven. And it's like, if you're like, all right, you take one of the great sort of rock songs of all time, what do you do in front of you? Oh, the cool thing is, um, you get to perform this in front of the artist while they're still there, you know, they're still alive. So you get to watch you sort of perform. And in that case, the president and President Obama's there and she's just knocked it out of the park. But at the same time without, um, out doing the original, some how you're just making it your own, you're making your own, it's not, it's not, but not overlapping it. Yeah. Not departing from the, the spirit of the original. It's tough because the original Hollywood by Leonard Cohen, it's just not, it's, it's so powerful, but it's just not as good as some of these covers. Well, I think, I think it's the words and the melody and then the covers take it to a different place. The thing that Leonard Cohen seems to do well, he, I don't think he did it on on, uh, on Hallelujah because he was almost being playful on Hallelujah. Like, uh, I don't know as opposed to that deep melancholy, like painful, longing thing that Jeff Buckley did and others do too. I wonder if it's because in a way he, I don't think that he over edited it, but he apparently worked on that sound for years and went through gazillions of verses and checked most of them out. Yeah. So I wonder if we're hearing his version after he's like a little tired with that process. Yeah. Well, that's the other thing is, uh, like maybe from a book tour, you know, it's like you get tired of saying the same thing over and over and over and over. You forget, you forget the, you forgot like the initial, like the heart of it. Yeah. But I, I, um, I actually got a chance to hang out with Dan Reynolds, who's the lead singer of Imagine Dragons. And this, um, incredible band, super pop. Yeah. The most played band on like Spotify or something. Is that right? It's just, it went through a huge Imagine Dragons face. So we were listening to their music a lot. And it was so surreal to be hanging out with him and he's such a, it's such a good, like very few people I met in my life are just as good of a human being. And that has to do with the fact that he's struggling. He struggles. He still, I think struggles, but he struggled for a long time with depression. And so out of that pain, you see born, this really good human being. This really good relationship with his wife, like that, like when times are good, they lean on each other for like they, they're, they're deeply grateful for those precious moments. So it's beautiful to watch, but he said that it's really important to feel the song every time. Otherwise people know people are really good at detecting your bullshit. You can't fake it. Yeah. You really have to feel it every time. You have to feel the emotion of it, whatever the emotion is of the original time you wrote it. Um, yeah, it's just interesting because it put, I thought you could maybe fake it. But he's, he believes person is that because he played in front of the gigantic crowds and over and over and over and over and over. He's like, no, every time you have to have to be there. But there's got to be times when he's about to go out and he's not feeling it. And he has to figure out some way of getting himself into that heart space. Well, that's what he's saying. You have to otherwise you're just, that's the job. Right. Don't take the job then. Um, and he loves it. He says the biggest struggle in fact is the come down from that, which is like, you have this such a beautiful experience of connected with this large number of people sharing a song that you love. And then it's such a rush of connection. And then you have to, you know, when you get off stage, you're now back to normal life. And that's why a lot of musicians get into heavy drugs and all that kind of stuff because you're, you're looking for that rush again. It's very tough to like, then go into this speaking of intro work because he probably isn't introvert as, is like, you have to find that calmness and how do you find the calmness when you were just playing in front of tens of thousands of people or hundreds of thousands, whatever that number is, that rush of connecting everybody, there's love in the air. And you still have to find that like inner peace and calm. That's interesting. Cause I, so I don't know if this is the introvert in me talking and the writer in me talking, but, um, I don't know, like I, I love most of the moments where, let's say I'll get a letter from a reader who will tell me what something I wrote meant to them. And, and they'll talk about having had that kind of moment of, you know, the communion between the writer and the reader. And obviously I wasn't there physically when it happened. So I wasn't getting that kind of rush that a musician would get in a concert, but just the knowledge of that having happened out there in the world, due to something that I added to it. Yeah. The most amazing thing. But see, imagine, imagine reading like thousands of those letters and then it's such a strong rush that never thing else doesn't. It could be overwhelming, I guess, but like anything else, you have to come down and find a calm place. Like, for example, the danger with getting letters like that, you start taking yourself too seriously. You, you think like you are a special person somehow, but that's, you really want to avoid that feeling too. Yeah. I don't, I don't actually experience it as that much different from when I'm on the other side of it. Like if I'm the, the reader and some other writer has made me feel that way, to me, it's the same thing. Yeah, me too. Yeah. It's a, it's a cool, it's like, it's a virtual hug. I think it's like, I was just listening to something about the different Russian writers. Um, I was mentioning him to you this academic, his name is Gary Salmoreson and he studies Russian literature. And he was talking about, I don't know if I'll be able to get this right, but basically that the people misunderstand a work like Anna Karenina. And that we think of it as telling us that you're supposed to live. Um, you know, you're supposed to have like these grand, tempestuous romances that might end in death or despair or whatever it is, but you know, you should be in it for the intensity of the emotion. And he's saying, actually that's not, that's exactly not, um, what Tullstoy was saying, that actually it was the opposite, that he was really making, he was really advocating for everyday life. He was saying it seems from everyday, like he was juxtaposing Anna Karenina with all these other couples who were just living happily and quietly day by day. And that was what he believed was the ideal. So, as opposed to the grand rush and as opposed to the intensity. I wonder if he, is there a depth to the, is there a romance or just the day to day? So there is a romance to the day to day. And don't get, don't get distracted by the dopamine roll close to ride of the, the grand romantic notions. Yeah. And enjoy it while it's happening. Cause those are life experiences also, but not to mistake those for being everything. Where's he from? He's a professor at Northwestern. And Northwestern. And apparently his lectures are like the most popular on campus. Wow. People love him. Gary Saul Morrison is an American literary critic and slob this. He's particularly known for scholarly work on the great Russian novel lists. Leo Tolstoy and Firo Dostoyevsky. Morrison is Lawrence D professor in arts and humanities in Northwest and university. Yeah. Wow. And there's a lot of incredible work. And then I'm sure looking through the lens of Russian literature and the romance of all of that, he's looking at modern, at the modern world. Yeah. I think you should have him on your podcast. And quiet flows the vodka or when Puschkin comes to shove the curmudgeon's guide to Russian literature and culture. This is like one of the silly books he has on the list. OK, cool. Um, what are you saying? I'm sorry. Oh, no, I was just saying. Yeah, like I find that when I take photos on my phone, I hardly ever take photos at the moment you're supposed to. Like everybody's gathered for some event. I'll forget to take the photo, but I take a lot of like scenes from everyday life. Cause that's what I actually want to remember in the end. Yeah. Yeah. I'm the same. The same. It's actually concerning. Cause it's bad for productivity. Cause I love everyday life so much. Then why do any ambitious big thing? Your productivity is pretty good. I don't know that you have to worry about it. I do. So I want to launch a business. You know, I have a dream outside. This is like a fun side thing that, you know, I want to, that there's been a lifelong passion. Anyway, that's a, I like building. I like building stuff. And I haven't been doing that as much as I would like. That's because largely, cause I like sitting in silence and enjoying the beauty that is just nature and life. And, and when there's people, there's people, I love people. I love everything. And so when you love everything, why go through hell to build a company? Yeah. That's a valid question. I mean, I think you have to have a really good reason for wanting to do it. But then your heart calls you for the certain, sometimes you look out into the mountains and you say, for some reason, I long to go there, even if it means leaving the tribe and putting yourself in danger and doing stupid shit. That's a human imperative for exploration. Yeah, absolutely. Like when we were talking about, um, you know, this idea of longing being like the source code of humanity, I think that's also the source code of our creativity. It's a, it's the same longing for Eden. It's like, uh, you're always reaching for something that you want to get to or that you want to build. Yeah. It's the best of us. What do you think, um, you write about creativity and sadness.
Creativity and sadness (01:24:55)
You, you, practically speaking, how should we leverage sadness for creativity? Is that sort of in the artist domain and the writer's domain and the, um, engineering domains and so on? It's definitely in those domains, but it's in all domains. Um, you know, we're all going to face pain in this life at some point. And we all have the ability to. Whether it was stand with standard and. Live with it for a bit and then try to transform it into something that we find beautiful. Um, you know, and it's very easy to. To notice the grandeur of like the, you know, the painting hanging on the gallery wall or the new company that's just been created, but it takes a thousand different forms, right? You know, you could bake a cake or like in the wake of the pandemic, we've had more people applying to medical school and nursing school. And after nine 11, you had people applying for jobs as firefighters and teachers. So there's something in the human spirit that takes pain and turns it into meaning when we're at our best. And when we're not at our best, we deny the pain and then take it out on ourselves and on other people. So there's a kind of fork in the road of what to do with it. But we know, I mean, there's all these studies that I go through in the book. There was one where the researchers had people watch different movies, like happy movies, sad movies, bittersweet movies. Um, and they found when people watched Father of the Bride, which is like the ultimate bittersweet, you know, you're walking your daughter down the aisle kind of feeling that was. They would give them creativity tasks after watching these different movies and the people who had been primed for bittersweetness were the most creative. And they were like primed to remember finality, you know, like love and finality, basically love and impermanence. There's something about that that's that gets us to our most beautiful state. I wonder if it is. I mean, there's studies like that. There's a, I don't know if you looked into the Terra management theory. Yeah. That's really interesting stuff. So they, especially intensely have you focused on not just sad, but traumatic, like death, prime you with death and see how that changes your mind. But like both, like, I don't, I don't know if this creativity studies, but they have, um, interesting, I think a little bit tainted by political bias, but maybe not. I mean, psychology is a complicated field, but they, they study like who are you likely to vote for? Right. If you're primed by existential, like by thinking about that, a fear of mortality, fear of mortality, I forget what the conclusions are, but I think they find that people become more tribalistic. Yeah. You know, like there was one study where they found that after they primed people that way, that they would then give them the chance to put hot sauce on a meal that their political opponents were going to be eating and they put way too much hot sauce on after they've been primed to worry about death. I think at the core we're simple creatures. So I actually like in the book, I spent a bunch of time with people who are working on radical life extension, you know, or the, the quest to live forever. And people ask them a lot questions like, you know, the kinds of questions you were talking about earlier. Well, like, how are you going to feed everybody? And how is there going to be space for everybody? Um, if everyone really could live forever. And, um, and what about conflict when we haven't intensified conflict? And their answer to that is they point to terror management theory. You know, when they say, because that's the fear of death, they're basically saying it's the fear of death that are causing our conflicts in the first place and that if we removed the fear of death, we'd have less conflict to contend with. And that I don't really buy that. It's possible that that's true, but are you also, how does the expression go throwing out the baby with the bathwater? I, are you also going to remove basically any source of meaning and, um, happiness in the human condition? I guess very possible that death is fundamental to the human condition, the finality. Yeah. And that's the great philosophical question. And I went to a conference of people who are working on this. And I thought that they were going to be talking about those questions all through the conference, but the MO is much more like we're so happy that we're here with people who have gotten past all those quibbles. Um, you know, and we just know there's going to be meaning no matter what. The basic assumption is let's try to extend life indefinitely. And then we'll figure out if that's a good decision or more, like we're sure it's a good decision. We're sure. At least that was good. That was what I felt. It's, it's, it's either. We're less. Let's say sure. It's either we're sure it's a good decision or we're sure that it's good to believe that it's a good decision, meaning like there's no downside to, to that, even if we find out it's wrong. But yes, there's a kind of certainty. Obviously you want to extend human life. That's the kind of assumption that always seemed. Now it could be true, but just like the people who over focus on colonizing other planets, it feels like you neglect the beauty and the, the struggle of our life here on earth. I've sort of the same kind of criticism, whether it's thinking about Valhalla or any other afterlife is you can have, if you're not careful, forget to, uh, to make this life a great one, whatever happens afterwards. So yeah, definitely. But from an engineering, from a biology, from a chemistry perspective, it's very interesting to think, uh, how do we extend this thing? Cause it does seem that nature, the way it designed living organisms, it really wants us to die because that's part of the selection mechanism. That's part of this, it seems to be fundamental to evolution. It, uh, gets, because people young, they need protection. Once they're, once they're young brain, they get to explore a lot, get to figure out the world to come up with their own novel ideas, how to, uh, adapt, how to respond to that world. And then it's get older and older, they get like stubborn and stuck in their ways. And so we need them to die. So we make room for new life that's able to adapt to the changing environment. If the old doesn't die, then you're not, you're going to get stale and not be adaptable to the changing environment. Maybe it doesn't have to happen so soon. Yeah, maybe it doesn't. Second pressing, listen, I'm a big fan of pressing snooze. Um, and the alarm clock, I, I'm a, in the same way. Um, I do. I'm one of the people that believe it's, or I don't definitely believe, of course, um, I don't know, but I think death is a, is a fundamental part of life. Um, but yeah, if I'm out of my death, but I would share his help, our snooze as many times as possible. Yeah. I know. And it's interesting because in some ways I really, I, I share your instinct. Um, there was one scientist who I spoke to at that conference. He's one of the leading advocates. And he said, you know, that's a story that we've invented for ourselves because we have no choice. And if you really believe that you have no choice, then you're, then it's, it's adaptive to tell that story that death gives meaning to life. A good point. But if you really think you don't, if you really think you could try on Foverit, would you still be telling that same story? And I've been thinking about that question ever since. Um, yeah. Yeah. No, they got a good point. They got a good point. No matter what as an engineering and a scientific pursuit, it's a beautiful one. In your own personal life, if we can go there.
Dark moments (01:33:12)
Sure. What's been some dark places you've got in your own mind, grief, loss. Sad moments, moments of sadness that have made you a better writer, a better creator, a better human being. Well, I mean, I've been through a lot of bereavement just in these last couple of years with COVID, but even before that, I mean, there's, there's all kinds of stuff I write about it in the book. And in some ways, I feel like I can write about things, those kinds of things. Better than I can speak them, but I had a really complicated relationship with my mother growing up where, um, we had a kind of garden of Eden during my childhood. Like we were intensely, intensely close. And, um, and my mother because of some vulnerabilities that she had reacted with a lot of trouble to my adolescence and to, you know, growing independent from her and starting to have different religious views and different political views and all kinds of things. And, um, and we had a pretty intense break that I describe in the book. And, and it was so intense that even though after that, we still would get together for holidays and talk to each other on the phone and all that, there was a sense in which, like it was over at that point, the relationship was over. The Garden of Eden was no more. Yeah. Yeah. It was like a feeling of like, yeah, like I know what Eden was like. And it's not there anymore. Um, and I think it was all the more confusing because like if you lose someone to actual bereavement, you go through a mourning process and people have thought for thousands of years about how to do that. But with something like this, there's no process because you're not even admitting to yourself, especially when you're like in your teens and twenties, um, that you're mourning something. So, um, but, but it was the case that for decades, for decades, I could not answer even the simplest question about my mother, like where did she grow up without tears in my eyes or more than tears in my eyes, like embarrassing tears. So I would just try to steer the subject in another place. Um, but I will say, you know, two things happened. One is that I've spent the last six, seven years writing this book about joy and sorrow and loss and love and all of it. And I've really come to terms with all of it. And then the second thing that happened is my mother now has Alzheimer's. And in her Alzheimer's, she's still actually the same person. Like she's forgotten most things, but she still has these conversational lanes that you can travel down that are like the way she always was. And the way that she was when I was a kid, which was like so incredibly loving and so connected and so warm and sweet and funny and all of it, all the things I remembered, like it's all come back. And for all these decades, I had been wondering whether that garden of Eden, I remembered, had actually happened or whether, you know, that was just like the fantasy of a child and, you know, maybe it was always difficult and I had not seen it, but I'm seeing her now. And I realized that it was all true. Everything I remember, it was all true. It all happened because it's happening again. And you returned to the Garden of Eden for time. Yeah. And to childhood, it's always a question of whether you can return to that place. Well, I don't know. I don't even know if I'd say I've returned because I'm a different person now. And I don't need her. And are you sure? Are you sure you're sure you're different than the 10 year old? Well, OK. Feel different. No, I mean, I'm the same person in terms of my need for love and love of love and all of that. But I don't look. I'm not dependent on my mother for it the way I was then. And that makes the experience really different. Yeah, they're younger. She's a she's a God figure. What is that? The roots to parents, such a funny civilization will live. And there's a depth of connection to parents that's that's probably more powerful than anything else in terms of its formative effect on who you are. I think it's the most powerful. And in fact, when this started happening, I got to college and I took a class in creative writing and I tried to write a story, a fictional story, a fictionalized version of what was happening. And I called it the most passionate love because of what you just said. Yeah. And the teacher actually said to me, she's like, you know, you should put this story in a drawer and not take it out again for 30 years because you're way too close to it. Yeah. So I've now finally written it like 30 years later. And yeah, you probably still too close to it though. I don't know though. I mean, I do think like, I think everybody goes through experiences in this life where you're experiencing like a fundamental pain of separation and desire for a union and it takes so many different forms. And this was my primal form of it. But, you know, for someone else, it's a betrayal or a bereavement or an exile from a country of their birth or whatever it is. But And then you get to solve that puzzle for the rest of your life. Yeah. That's active. Like, I really do believe that, you know, that the original love that we long for, like that one of the great things that you learn as you grow older is that the that the love exists in some plane that's more general than the particularized form in which you first knew it. Yeah. I mean, that's why despite all the creepy interpretations was why, even though if it's in mid-fort it is probably wrong in the details, it was the first one to sort of suggest that our experiences, I mean, he said that that was really controversial at the time when young people, they start having sexual thoughts like age two or something, whatever the hell he said. So you develop this kind of connection to the opposite sex or whatever, to your mother, to your parents. And I think while a lot of that is shown to be probably not true, what is like a deeper truth there is your first early experiences of love or depth of connection and probably somehow strongly formative of your conception of love and your definition of the perfect thing you're reaching for for the rest of your life. Yeah, I think that's right. And you can really see it when you become a parent too. You know, you can just see like there's. Don't screw it up. You know, I have to say, like, I mean, knock on wood. I actually feel like like we're doing pretty well. Like my kids are teenagers now. And I really had thought that I wasn't going to repeat the issues that I'd been through with my mom. And I can say I really am not. Yeah, like my mom for various reasons just had a lot of trouble with my independence and I just don't feel that at all. So yeah, there might there might be other things you're totally blind to. I guess that's possible. Is that the way of parenting? Is you you solve the problems of the past? There's another new one. I guess I'll find out in 20 years, but like so far so good.
What wisdom about parenting? Can you can you can you get from your own experience and from your writing? Yeah, well, oh my God, there's a lot to say. So on the bittersweet side of things, the wisdom that I would give is that especially for kids who are growing up in relative comfort with everything going pretty well, they get the idea that real life is when things are going well. And when things don't go well, it's like a detour from the main road, as opposed to understanding that it's all the main road. And I tell the story in the book of this time that we went on the family vacation where we rented a house in the countryside and the house was next to this field where we're lived to donkeys that our kids fell in love with. They were like really little at the time, two boys. And they're spending all this time feeding carrots to the donkeys and it's all beautiful. And then comes the day where they realize that we're leaving in like two days and they're never going to see these donkeys again. And they start crying themselves to sleep. And the usual things that parents might say at a moment like that of like, you know, maybe we'll come back or another family will feed them, will feed these donkeys. None of that made any difference. But when we said to them, you know, goodbye is part of life. And this feeling you're having, everybody has it. You've had it before, you're going to have it again. You'll feel better in a couple of days. But this is the way it's supposed to be. This is natural. That's when they stopped crying because I think that's when they stopped resisting. Yeah. Like it's one thing to feel the pain of goodbye. And it's another thing to be feeling like this isn't supposed to be happening. It's the resistance part of this isn't supposed to be happening that makes life really difficult. Yeah. As opposed to a more clear-eyed view of what it really is. This isn't you supposed to be happening. There's a show called Yellowstone. I recently started watching. Yeah. No, I've heard of it. We actually started watching it, but only a few minutes and didn't get into it. So there's just a quick, it's not a spoiler of any kind, but there's a father taking out the sun for the first time to go hunting and, you know, to shoot their first buck. And the sun is getting really sad because he pulls a trigger and he took a life. And the father says that everybody gets killed in this life. That's the way of nature. That's the way each one of us is going to get killed. And it's interesting because I didn't really think of it that way because you think you die, but he really framed it as killed. Because he's like, there's no such thing as dying of old age. Let's medically discuss that a bit, but basically there's something, whether it's a truck or a bacteria, something's going to kill you in the end. And that was an interesting way to look at it because we tend to think of humans aren't, aren't supposed to be killed. We think of murders, one of the sins, sort of one of the things that you don't do in society. But you know what we do. That's a more technical discussion, whether we ultimately get killed by something in the end, but to some degree, that's true, at least for most of us, that there's something that gets us, whether it's cancer, those kinds of things. It's interesting. But yeah, that reframing of this, it's supposed to be, this is the way of the world. Yeah. So it's funny, I mean, you know, at the same time that I just wrote a whole book about the fact that this is the way it is. Like, I really do believe this is the way it is. And, and with this reality, there's an intense beauty that comes along with it. So we have to accept the reality to get to the beauty. I believe that. And at the same time, there's a part of me that's just like, yeah, but give me the magic wand to make the world different. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I don't know how much of this is a female thing too. Like I was watching with my son and my 12 year old the other day, we were watching this show about the battle of Thermopylae. And yeah. And it was like all about, you know, valor and glory on the battlefield. And, and I said to him something like, gosh, don't you just wish we lived in a world where you didn't have to do all this in order for everyone just to live their lives and just looked at me completely puzzled. Like, no, you know, like to him, it all just seemed self evident that the world would be structured that way. You know, and he had like the 12 year old like admiration for the valor of it all. But you wonder if that's if that's nature or nurture. I wonder what that world looks like. It we do live in a world where murder is seen as bad, but you look at a lot of the human history. I don't know if they had the same kind of conception of that in terms of you have to ask what kind of murder, you know, for what purpose, you know, war was a way of life. It's interesting. It's interesting if we can imagine. Properly a future that is different than ours in terms of operating under the different moral systems, but I'd like saying with living indefinitely or living in a society with no war, like how fundamental is war, how fundamental is death. I mean, I think it's so fundamental to our source code. I just wish that our source code were different, basically. Like I can't get people working on that. Which there's there's brain computer interfaces that try to merge. So greater and greater with smartphones were already kind of cyborgs, but greater and greater merger of computational power. So literally adding source code to our original source code, just different. There's the mushy biology that runs source code, and then there's more cold electrical systems and then they integrate together and potentially one day we offload the magic that is human consciousness also into the machine and then we'll get to see. Maybe maybe they'll be a little bit less as wholeish about the whole war thing that be more. But there is, I think even when I think about engineering, human intelligence or superhuman intelligence systems, I feel like they also need to have the yin of life. They have to be able to be afraid and to be sad and all those kinds of things. But maybe it's because I'm a product in this particular environment. Maybe sadness is a human useful human invention, but not a universal one. This is what I don't know. Because this is where I come back to the, as I told you, like the original reason that I wrote my whole book was the feeling that somehow in the expression of sad music is what other people see when they talk about God. Like there's something so. There's like an ultimate beauty there that I don't know if we have access to without that. But maybe we do. But I can say in this world, that's a great way to get access to that state. Is it within the reach of science to deeply understand this? You think to understand that why you feel sad when you're listening to a song or why you feel so much love when you're listening to a sad song to us as all right. Yeah. Why the sad, why the sad song opens up some kind of deep connection to something where you can call divine or something, whatever the heck that is. Yeah, I do think. I mean, we have like really early signs of it from the research. And I'm sure we're just at the scratching the surface stage. But I mean, like we know, for example, that, you know, the vagus nerve, which is so fundamental that it governs our breathing and our digestion. Our vagus nerve also activates when we see another being in distress. There's like an instinctive impulse to want to make it stop. And the theory is that that's an evolutionary design because we had to be able to respond to the cries of our infants, you know, and from that ability grows the the greater ability to respond to other people's cries to. So that's probably just, you know, the very first step in being able to understand what all that is. We've already given plenty of advice, but broadly, what advice would you give to young folks today about career or about life, whether they want to be writers, lawyers, scientists, musicians and artists, whatever the heck they want to be.
Advice for young people (01:50:08)
How can they live a life they can be proud of? OK, here's what I think. You should absolutely do that thing that you're dying to do, but you should always have a plan B and like a backup plan and a way of earning a living no matter what happens because I feel like people we have this narrative in our culture of like that the glamorous thing is to, you know, figure out the thing you love and then risk everything to achieve that. But first of all, a lot of people aren't comfortable with that level of risk. And second, when you're living with that level of risk, that's a cognitive load, too. And so you don't have the full emotion and heart to be able to focus on the thing that you actually really love because you're like stressed out about it. So I'd say like get the backup plan in place and then do the thing. My advice would be the opposite. I'm moving the romantic. Well, I think the best, the truth is be aware of the cost not having a plan B has to do it deliberately if you don't. But I, you know, I'm with Bukowski and find what you love and let it kill you. I think not you have to actually know your personality. I know if I have a plan B, I will not try as hard on plan A and I would likely take plan B because if plan A is the risky thing, I just work way, much better one in the state of desperation. So I went with my back against the wall and you have to know that about yourself. I think that has to do. So I think we can refine it to say you actually have to really know yourself and how you respond to different kinds of risks. Like I would not do well in that kind of situation. I'd be like up at two in the morning worrying about it. Whereas if I have some, like it doesn't have to be paying the rent in some grand way, but if there's some basic way of paying the rent, then my heart's free to do the thing I really love. That's hilarious. I, for me, the only way I'm free is when I don't know how I'm going to pay the rent. Yeah, because that's because otherwise I'll find a way to pay the rent. That's not at all a source of deep fulfillment for me. So I say, so it's like if you don't have like the, what's the expression? I don't know, something like the dog at your back, you know, then you won't actually do it. I create real or artificial deadlines, anxiety and so on. So yeah, you have to. Yeah. So really the advice is know your triggers, but we're still saying that the same basic thing of like do the thing you really love, but just set up the rest of your life. So it's not necessarily to your personality. Exactly.
Conclusion: Pondering The Meaning Of Life
Meaning of life (01:53:18)
Exactly. What do you think is the meaning of life? The meaning of this whole thing probably has something to do with whatever we feel when we listen to a set song. Yeah, because two things come simultaneously to my mind when you ask that question. And I've been asking it since I was four. I remember the first time I did. The question is more important than the answer probably. Yeah, keep asking. I don't know. The first one is beauty and I don't know why beauty is so important, but I just know that it is. And possibly defined perhaps. Is it is it definable? Yeah. Other than you know it, when you see it, I don't know. I mean, just. Has to do with that line. Yeah. You feel something when you just see it or you hear it. Yeah, you just see it and it's like, like some, it's whatever can deliver you to that mode of transcendence where you're no longer purely in your own self and you're in something higher. And when you're in those states of mind, you know it because you have the temporary sensation that. That you could die at that moment that the people you love could die and it will all be okay because there's something else. So that's my first answer. And then my second answer is the need to relieve psychic pain. Like other people psychic pain. I don't know why that's just that's just like an impulse that I have. Psychic pain is more like like suffering of any form. What it was. Yeah, but I mean. What is there a particular? Yeah, just making the world. Better and less pain. Less pain to go around in general. Hence your sort of optimistic desire and longing for a world without sort of destruction. Without malevolent destruction. Yeah, a world where that wouldn't be necessary. Yeah, exactly. Exactly. But yeah, like I so I had this moment. It wasn't so long ago. I was doing some interview and somebody asked me like, what are you longing for right now? And my answer at that moment was like, you know what? I'm actually at this moment in life where I'm not longing for anything. I'm at this particular way station where everything is the way I want it to be. And of course, the minute you say something like that, you know, you're going to be proven wrong because like an hour later I get a letter from a reader who I've been in touch with over the years and he was telling me about like a psychic struggle that he's going through. And I just feel like, oh my gosh, if there were anything I could do to make it that his life wouldn't have been such that he would be in this position in the first place. Like his struggles had to do with a long life history. So I don't know why I feel that. It's funny, but I do. Those moments when you are just at peace, there's nothing else you want. I feel like that's like a temporary repose, like a pause. Exactly. You bet your ass. A desire follows that at some point, but you get to enjoy those little moments. Yeah. And even when he asked me and I answered that way, I said this is a way station. Like I knew it was temporary, but I didn't realize it would be disrupted like an hour later. And to give you pushback to your statement about the possibility of beauty and basically alleviating suffering is a quarter of a leg from Hunter S Thompson that pushes back against that, which is for every moment of triumph, for every instance of beauty, many souls must be trampled. But that's a very Hunter S Thompson. And you know how you ended up. He's not the greatest philosopher of all times, but he's certainly a beautiful, chaotic human being. Well, that's true. And I will tell you that my nickname for my husband is Gonzo, kind of because of him, you know, he invented that form of Gonzo journalism where like the writer is totally in the story. And my husband, like that's his personality. He's like in everything that he does. He's really in it. He's really present. He just lives that way. So. Well, then his name is Kim, but I call him Gonzo like 90% of the time. Well, then it's a beautiful way to end this season. This is thank you for your work. Thank you for being who you are. Thank you for initially at least making me feel okay about being an introvert and educating and making the rest of us feel great about being introverts. It's like half the world or whatever the heck it is. It's a lot of people. Thank you for being you. Well, thank you for talking today. It was awesome. This is fun. Thank you so much. It was great to talk to you. And I think it was the what I said to you when we first got connected is thank you for your way of being in the world. I really, really love it. Thanks for listening to this conversation with Susan Kane. To support this podcast, please check out our sponsors in the description. And now let me leave you with some words from Susan Kane herself. The highly sensitive introvert tends to be philosophical or spiritual in their orientation rather than materialistic or hedonistic. They dislike small talk. They often describe themselves as creative or intuitive. They dream vividly and can often recall their dreams the next day. They love music, nature, art, and physical beauty. They feel exceptionally strong emotions, sometimes acute bouts of joy, but also sasaro, melancholy, and fear. These sensitive people also process information about their environments, both physical and emotional, unusually deeply. They tend to notice subtleties that others miss. Another person's shift to mood or a light bulb burning a touch too brightly. Thank you for listening. I hope to see you next time.