Eric Weinstein Interview (Full Episode) | The Tim Ferriss Show (Podcast) | Transcription
Transcription for the video titled "Eric Weinstein Interview (Full Episode) | The Tim Ferriss Show (Podcast)".
Note: This transcription is split and grouped by topics and subtopics. You can navigate through the Table of Contents on the left. It's interactive. All paragraphs are timed to the original video. Click on the time (e.g., 01:53) to jump to the specific portion of the video.
"Optimal minimal." "I did this altitude, I can run flat out for a half mile before my hands start shaking." "Can I ask you a question?" "Now what is it?" "I'm a cybernetic organism. Living tissue will never end the sky." This episode is brought to you by Wealthfront, and this is a very unique sponsor. Wealthfront is a massively disruptive, in a good way, set it and forget it investing service, led by technologists from places like Apple and world famous investors. It has exploded in popularity in the last two years, and they now have more than two and a half billion dollars under management. In fact, some of my very good friends, investors in Silicon Valley, have millions of their own money in Wealthfront. So the question is why? Why is it so popular? Why is it unique? Because you can get services previously reserved for the ultra wealthy, but only pay pennies on the dollar for them. This is because they use smarter software instead of retail locations, bloated sales teams, etc. I'll come back to that in a second. I suggest you check out Wealthfronts.com/Tim. Take the risk assessment quiz, which only takes two to five minutes, and they'll show you for free exactly the portfolio they put you in. If you just want to take their advice, run with it, do it yourself, you can do that. Or, as I would, you can set it and forget it. Here's why. The value of Wealthfront is in the automation of habits and strategies that investors should be using on a regular basis, but normally aren't. Great investing is a marathon, not a sprint, and little things that you may or may not be familiar with, like automatic tax loss harvesting, rebalancing your portfolio across more than 10 asset classes, and dividend reinvestment add up to very large amounts of money over longer periods of time. Wealthfront, as I mentioned, since it's using software instead of retail locations, etc., can offer all of this at low costs that were previously impossible. Right off the bat, you never pay commissions or account fees. For everything they charge, 0.25% per year on assets above the first 15,000, which is managed for free if you use MyLink, Wealthfront.com/Tim. That is less than $5 a month to invest a $30,000 account, for instance. Normally, when I have a sponsor on this show, it's because I use them and recommend them. In this case, it's a little different. I don't use Wealthfronts yet because I'm not allowed to. Here's the deal. They wanted to sponsor this podcast, but because of SEC regulations, companies that invest your money are not allowed to use client testimonials, so I couldn't be a user and have them on the podcast. But I've been so impressed by Wealthfront that I've invested a significant amount of my own money, at least for me, in the team and the company itself. So I am an investor and hope to soon use it as a client. Now back to the recommendation. As a Tim Ferriss show listener, you'll get $15,000 managed for free if you decide to open an account. But just start with seeing the portfolio that they would suggest for you. Take two minutes, fill out their questionnaire at Wealthfront.com/Tim. It's fast, it's free. There's no downside that I can think of. Now, I do have to read a mandatory disclaimer. Wealthfront, Inc., is an SEC registered investment advisor. Investing in securities involves risks, and there's the possibility of losing money. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Please visit Wealthfront.com to read their full disclosure. So check it out, guys. This is one of the hottest, most innovative companies coming out of Silicon Valley, and they're killing it. They become massively popular. Just take a look, see what portfolio they would create for you, and you can use that information however you want. Wealthfront.com/Tim. This episode is brought to you by 99 Designs. 99 Designs is a great partner for creating and growing your business. It's a one-stop shop for all of your graphic design needs, whether that's a logo, website, business card, or anything else. I use 99 Designs to get book cover prototypes for the four-hour body, which went on to become a number one New York Times bestseller. I also use them for banner ads, illustrations, and other things. With 99 Designs, designers around the world compete to create the best design for you. You give feedback and then pick your favorite. You end up happy or you get your money back. It's very simple. You can check out a few of my own designs and those of yours, meaning Tim Ferris Show listeners, at 99designs.com/Tim. And right now, my listeners, you guys, will get a free $99 upgrade on your first design. That's 99designs.com/Tim. Check it out. Greetings, lads and lasses. Welcome to another episode of the Tim Ferris Show. I'm sitting at my kitchen table with Mr. Eric. Now, I've always, this is embarrassing to say, and I've done this with a number of friends now, is it Weinstein, Weinstein? How do you say you're last night? I think it's Weinstein. Weinstein. I agree. That's the more Germanic way to go about it. Now, I'm going to read a short bio. I'm sure I'm going to bastardize this because I realized that we have so many wide-ranging conversations. And I was wondering and asking myself where to start. And I realized there's no real good place or no particular place to start. So you can start anywhere. So I'll start with your bio. Eric Weinstein, managing director of Teal Capital, PhD in mathematical physics from Harvard, research fellow at the Mathematical Institute of Oxford University. But as you and I have discussed, that does not quite capture the eclectic combination of life experiences that is Eric. So what are some other sort of colorful aspects of this collage of as yourself?
Eric'S Journey And Insights
An accidental economist (05:23)
All right. So sometimes I pretend to be an immigration expert, particularly with respect to skilled labor. I'm also a member of the advisory board for a group called Drugs Over Dinner, trying to get a rational and healthy drug policy for the US. I was pretty early on sounding the alarm over mortgage-backed securities and failed to alert the world with a bunch of other people who also failed. But we gave it an ill college try. I guess that makes it uncrowded trade. It was well, the problem is that early is another name for wrong. And also, you can't quite believe what you're saying, that Goldman Sachs and the rest of the world is going to blow up. It's hard to have the courage of your convictions. But oh gosh, I mean, I think if you've taken a lot of economics classes to inform all of these insights, I've dated women and married them who have taken a lot of economics classes. So I haven't taken any. But in order to get some attention for the work we've done in economics, I decided to start referring to myself as an economist. I figured if I got called out, then I would get to push the work in front of a world that was asking for my credentials. And so, strangely, economists don't call you out when you call yourself an economist. And so I ended up as an economist rather than having the attention that I was hoping to drag to this new theory of gauge theoretic and geometric economics. And to provide just a little bit of context, which I think is fairly normal for our interactions. So I'm just going to read one line from an email exchange. And this was from Eric to me. Do you want to try a podcast on this and we'll get into maybe what this is? Psychedelics, theories of everything and the need to destroy education in order to save it. How did we first meet? Was it summit series or was it somewhere else? I think it was summit series. I think you were talking about the potential of the human mind and how to unlock it. And I think I became very curious as to what the domain of applicability was and whether some of these techniques that would help you shoot baskets or learn tango could be applied to let's say quantum field theory, which seemed like kind of the next logical place to go after tango dancing. And how I think many people would ask themselves managing director of teal capital.
The mathematician at Thiel Capital (08:03)
So how does someone who from a lay person's perspective is a mathematician pretending to be an economist very effectively and pretending to be a mathematician or pretending to be a mathematician get recruited and end up working with Peter Thiel at teal capital? It's a really good question. I knew Peter slightly before, geez we are going to be just entering at a random point. So it's quite good. The best attempt I can make in trying to be quantum. So I had met Peter when I had been sort of living in New York and playing in the Bay Area a little bit with the tech crowd. And I was told by some friends you have to come out for this crazy being human conference. And so any conference named being human seemed too California to be a good idea, but I was forced into coming out. And there was sort of a circle of people, which Peter was in. And I was in talking about what it means to really look at the human condition from a rational but also open-hearted perspective. And Peter and I started talking. And I told him that I was thinking that I might have a theory of everything that I should debut. And I think he probably haircut the possibility that what I was saying was true. But then I was invited to give these lectures at Oxford, the Simone special lectures. And of Simone, the named after the Simone who went to space also created Microsoft Office. Charles Simone, yeah, I think he was like the original engineer at Microsoft. And he had endowed a professorship in at Oxford, which is held now by Marcus DeSotoi after Richard Dawkins held it, which has some lectures attached. And I was invited to give lectures under this program. And it, you know, I was giving technical talks, but a story or two came out about how a potential theory of everything was being debuted. And I guess Peter probably saw that. He invited me to a quiet conference. He was holding in the South of France shortly afterwards. And then he invited me to a breakfast after that. And at the breakfast, I think I was midway through some breakfast sausage. And he just blurts out. He says, you have to leave New York. I didn't understand why. And I said it really and go where he says, you could come here. And I said, and do what? And he said, you could work for me. So I didn't know whether he was like suffering from too much sleep. But it turned out he was quite serious. And it's been one of the most rewarding intellectual relationships of my life. He's just a stunning, sparkling mind and somebody who has not only the courage of his convictions, but has been right so many times and over enough things that he has had the freedom to break with all tradition when he thinks the world is wrong. And one or two people may have it right, which is that's exactly my cup of tea. Did he have a clear idea of what you would be doing when he hired you or made the offer? Probably less important to him, is my guess, is that the first issue is that there are, it's so difficult to think for yourself. I mean, I find it very difficult to think for myself. I have all sorts of ideas in my head that aren't mine. I'm subjected to all sorts of pressures I find difficult to resist. And so I think Peter is looking for the tiny universe of people who are attempting to think things through from first principles. And it's become very tough because socially constructed reality is so much a part of our lives. So I think first his feeling would be find the people who are capable of seeing something really new and then figure out what to do with them later. Escaping the, or verding the consensus reality as you've mentioned. Whenever possible. What outside pressures do you find tempting or difficult to mitigate? Oh, I mean, everybody wants to be loved to fit in. The fear that happens when you start swimming away from the shore that you're not going to find a next island before your strength gives out. I think it's very rational to be afraid of thinking for yourself because you may very easily find yourself at odds with the community on which you depend. And I think for some of us, it's just a compulsive behavior. It's not even necessarily the smartest evolutionary strategy. It's just hard to do it any other way. Hugging the shore. Well, or not. I mean, if you keep trying to screw your eyes up so you can see the world the way other people are reporting that they see it and it just doesn't work, you realize at some point that it's a losing battle. You might try, you might as well try being yourself. What is the first example that comes to mind of a time when you had that fear of swimming away from the consensus and facing the scrutiny or criticism of people in a given community?
First-principle thinking and facing criticism (13:28)
Well, sometimes it happens by accident. So I remember, for example, being in a guitar store in Philadelphia and having a crowd of people gather around as they played something badly. And I couldn't figure out why they would want to listen to somebody who is not very good at classical guitar. And this isn't like bragging that I'm great at class. I was really not that good. And it turned out that I had taught myself from sheet music. And I believed that the notation for using your thumb is to use the letter P, which I interpreted as pinky. So I was using my weakest finger for everything that needed to be done by my strongest finger. And so my guitar was completely, completely wrong. And that was a, you know, a clear example of, well, this didn't come from a guitar teacher. It didn't come from a normal experience with music. It came from teaching yourself something and having the scars to prove it. So I think in that case, you also learn how much power there is that you can shortcut all sorts of things. So as you know, you've showed us with the Pareto principles and trying to eschew the work of the 10,000 hours, you start to realize that the world is meant to be jailbroken. And then you get into really scary stuff where you come up with political conclusions that aren't shared by others. So for example, I don't have the usual convictions of my groups about immigration. I am of the opinion that what most people think of as progressive immigration is actually regressive. And so, you know, at some point I came out with a free market model to open borders, but without adversely affecting American workers. And have you written about that? Oh, yeah. I published a peer-reviewed model for how to do it for a layperson interested in exploring your opinion on that, or your perspective on that. Is that would you point them to a given paper? Sure. There's one called migration for the benefit of all in the international labor review. Think of 2002. And the funny thing about this paper is that it takes what US corporations always claim they want, which is access to any workers anywhere in the world. And it achieves it through a market mechanism. But unfortunately, what they were really interested in wasn't the small gain in efficiency that comes from being able to hire on a global market. They were really much more interested in the wealth transferred from American workers to American business owners. And so, it was a great example that they thought they'd make a free market argument. But in fact, they weren't interested in the free market advantage. They were interested in transfer payments. And so when you give them a free market model, they lose all interest in the free market, which is, I think, just really funny. You mentioned guitar. I can recall we had dinner at your house, which was not drugs over dinner, it was death over dinner, where we talked about death. And I think that was somehow related to NPR or some radio station. Yeah, capital radio, some NPR affiliate. That's right. And we discussed death over dinner. But one thing I noticed at your home was that you have a lot of musical instruments. When did you start experimenting with music?
On playing music (17:18)
And how many musical instruments have you experimented with? Am I right that the federal government hasn't made musical instruments illegal? So I've been experimenting with musical instruments for some time. I think at some point you learn that music is an abstraction and that each particular instrument is just a way to instantiate the same common abstraction. And so this was extremely powerful for me. Could you explain what you mean by that? Well, I don't really hear music very well. I don't have a lot of intuitive feel for it. To me, it looks like systems. And the idea that music was so highly systematized and that this was covered up by the standard relationship that we pick up, where we take music lessons, we learn to read music in this country. Lots of people are bad at reading music and lots of people are bad at following instructions. But you find that in other areas of the world in which notation isn't a big part of musical education, people very casually pick up an instrument and start playing. And I think it's because the systems, if you will, the math behind the music is so powerful that it allows you to improvise. It allows you to compose and to understand that there are canonical songs. At some point, for example, I wrote a tiny computer program in Python and put it in a tweet. And its only purpose was to reproduce the chord progression for Paco Bell's canon as an algorithm. Did you say Taco Bell? No. I can't believe that I heard that correctly. Okay. I thought I said Paco Bell's canon. Oh, there we go. All right. Now, when you're talking about the ability to improvise, pick up an instrument and start playing. I mean, Paul McCartney, I believe, is one example of that. I've heard it. He's such a gifted, intuitive musician. But I heard, and this could be a completely off-base that he, at least for a period of time, couldn't read music. And is that because humans have potentially some type of innate grammar that they are for music in the same way they might have some type of innate language grammar, like along the lines of a Chomsky and his theories, or is it something else? I think you're right. I mean, I think that it comes down a lot of it to the physics of vibrating string or air column. So if you look at the harmonics, the patterns of vibration that are encoded into simply taking a cat gut and stretching it between a wall and the ground and then twanging it, there's seen my spa room in other words. That so much of our musical system is in the math and in the physics of a vibrating string. There's really, you know, there's one crazy innovation, which is even temperament, which the West figured out, which has to do with a strange math fact that if you raise the number two for twice the frequency, which gives us the octave to the 19th power and then take the 12th root thereof, that's almost exactly equal to three. And that weird numerical accident is what makes it possible to both have extremely beautiful intervals, but have them also so regular that you can do harmony and make chords. And I don't think most musicians probably even know why we use a 12 tone system. And that's what you just described before the 12 tone system. That's even temperament. So that's gone. So I've always been somewhat insecure as it relates to music. I've never thought I was how interesting innately capable of being good with musical instruments. And I grew up trying a lot of musical instruments and quitting them, whether it was piano, trumpet, etc. The drums are one example or exception rather, where I have so much fun playing even poorly that I will continue to practice. On the flip side though, so how many if you had to just take a stab, how many different instruments would you say you've toyed around with in one capacity or another? I would say that the ones that I regularly check in with would be mandolin, harmonica, guitar, piano, and occasionally some funkier stuff than that. But you've also dug into natural human languages.
On learning languages (21:58)
Yeah. What languages have you in the past? I've given you go. Well, oh gosh. The ones I love, Turkish and Indonesian, were great fun to learn about and learn some of. Russian is extremely emotional, but grammatically, fairly unforgiving. I enjoyed the little bit of tie that I started trying to learn because tones are not a big part of any of the other languages that I've tried. But when I tried a little bit of Vietnamese, the tones were so hard that there was no satisfaction. I spent three weeks and I couldn't say my first word convincingly. Why do you end up in the eye-promises going somewhere? Not that it has to, but why? So the question I get asked oftentimes is why do you study these languages that don't seem to have any practical application in your life? How would you answer that? Like Turkish, for example. There was a girl. All right. Let's try another one. Indonesian? Same answer. Well, Indonesian is just brilliant. It's everything that can go right with a language for a US language learner has happened to Indonesian. So for example, it's not inflected for tense. If you want to say, I came, you would say, I already come. Right. Right. So if you wanted to, it's not injected for, inflected for number. So if the word for child is a knock, the word for children is a knock squared or a knock. Yeah. Orang orang. Orang orang person person. Yeah. Those people wondering, orang hutang, man of the forest. Very good. So in them, it's in a Latin script. And so I would say that if you wanted to figure out your bang for your buck with a language, try Indonesian. If nothing else has worked for you, you may find that you have over 100 million new friends and a facility you never thought you could develop. Indonesian is super cool. I remember spending a month in Bali and just drilling down into it. And it was such a relief after studying languages like Mandarin, which similar to the Vietnamese, it's just so unforgiving. If you don't get the tones right, you could have a vocabulary of 5,000 words and no one will be able to communicate with you in any meaningful way. I think also when you try one of these languages that's less common to learn, people are so much more appreciative than if you're yet the enth person they've met who's trying to speak French. Yeah. The psychic payback and the gratitude that you get is a factor that I think is undervalued. Because people will say, well, the utility of Spanish is X because I could travel to Y number of countries and talk to Z number of people. And it's like, well, that might be true, but if you say, go to Greece, as I did at one point and pick up 20 different lines and make sure you throw in two or three that are kind of ridiculous just for comedic effect, the added value to your vacation there will be 100 X versus say a 2 X with Spanish. I completely agree. And that makes it so much fun. Turkish oddly enough, and we won't for those people who are not interested in languages, we're not going to spend the entire time talking about languages, but I'm going to try to tie this into music. Turkish, for instance, and this is pointed out to me by Turk, is grammatically extremely similar to Japanese. It's really, really weird. I mean, eerily similar. So it was very easy for me to start to pick up Turkish from having spent time as an exchange student in Japan. And so there brings up all sorts of interesting theories about migration patterns and so on from long, long ago. But what does, if anything, studying music have in common with studying natural languages, because the latter is where I'm more comfortable, even though I thought I was bad at languages until halfway through high school. Yeah, I think that these areas that are so intrinsically human, and we don't even realize that there are these systems that are undergirding it. I think that there's at least that as a formal similarity where, you know, until Chomsky and his thoughts on grammar, we didn't understand the way in which this could be potentially an innate process, just the way the hairs in your ear and in the organ of Corti, you know, may predispose you to love particular intervals. You know, when you hear wasman say, you know, that's really going from the fundamental frequency to three halves times that frequency back to the fundamental frequency. And if you can hear the difference between that and going to two times, it would be somewhere. I can't do that very well, but you know, these iconic intervals are really based on physics. If you think about your phoneme production, the way in production, yeah, so the sounds that you can make with your mouth are really based on a five dimensional lattice, which I didn't understand. I don't understand that either. I'll need to explain. Well, you can either turn your nasalization on or off. You can have your vocal cords vibrating. So vocalization can be on or off. So those are two degrees of freedom. You can have your lips in one of several positions, a third degree. And then Chinese retroflex. That's a hard one. There you go. So instead of saying, nassas, I'm a shit. Oh, fuck that up. Hold on. Nassas, I'm a sizching. Like in Taiwan, go to Beijing and they say, not sure if I'm a shirching. They do that like, sure, sure. I see. It sounds very like Bengali and Portuguese with this heavy. I love doing that. Anyway, not not interrupt. So that's three degrees of freedom. And then you have where on the on the tongue, the where what location on the roof of the mouth, your tongue is attempting to make contact and how how raised or lowered it is. And so these five degrees of freedom generate the phonemes. And if you ask opera singers to sing in a really squirrely language that they don't know, like maybe they know Italian and French, but they don't know Hungarian, they may be able to produce all of these sounds because they've been forced to understand exactly what the degrees of freedom are to produce the sounds, even if they don't know what they mean. Right. They have the conscious awareness and control of oral articulation and reuse that for. But much like a, say, ballerina with a vocabulary of different types of pirouettes and movements would be able to replicate a lot of what you would find in tango because they have this vocabulary and awareness. As a side note, for people who might be wondering, Japanese people have a really tough time learning almost any foreign language because they have a very very limited set of phonemes in their language. So they kind of got short changed when you know, God was handing out sounds and which is why I say with with R and L, you know, they have nadi du de as opposed to R or L. But as soon as you point out to them the position of the tongue, like la, you touch the tip of your tongue to the back of your teeth, then all of a sudden just like a snap of the fingers, they can figure it out. But no one's ever tried to explain it to them. They're just like, repeat this sound, repeat this sound. But once you explain that that one factor and you're like, no, no, touch your tongue to the back of your teeth, they're like, Oh, I got it. And of course it takes practice to do quickly. But that is why Japanese have a very tough time with almost every language, Spanish, maybe one exception. Let's let's come back to something you said earlier, which is navigating from first principles.
Explaining the Overton Window (29:58)
Because I think this is a really important concept to understand what does that mean? I think that and why is it important? Well, very often we have some spectrum of difference that we're allowed. Frequently in politics or news, somebody will talk about the overt and window. What can we discuss? What can't we discuss? Yeah, overton window. The overton window. You mean in a context of say a debate or news flash? So for example, when Donald Trump said that he wanted to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the US, that was considered outside the overton window. It was not something that was discussable. And I think that a lot of us may benefit from the overton window. This idea that we're going to make certain ideas too hot, too dangerous for people to express and apply company. But on the other hand, what we've started to do is to hamstring all the cognitive power in our contrarian thinkers, where they don't feel comfortable or safe thinking aloud. If somebody tells you, for example, or asks you the question, do you believe in intelligence is perfectly evenly distributed between genders or among ethnic groups? Statistically, it would be crazy to say, yes, I believe it's perfectly distributed. On the other hand, socially, it would be crazy to suggest that it isn't perfectly distributed. And so we have all of these really funny situations where the top down thinking tells us what's acceptable and what isn't. But the bottom up leads us to ask all sorts of questions that are framed out, if you will, by the usual terms of discussion. And I think that this is really animating a lot of people who feel that social justice, which they always thought was a positive, is starting to metastasize into kind of a thought police where, yeah, well, it seems to have turned into this sort of internet lynch mob version of McCarthyism. And actually, I'm going to put this out there, because I was thinking about writing a blog post about this, but blog posts take a long time to write. So I'm just going to there's a term that I currently isn't much of a penalty for labeling people whatever it might be, fill in the blank Ist. So you can be accused and guilty until proven innocent of being sexist, racist, film the blank misogynist, whatever it might be, classist, you name it. And that can be really damaging to people who are accused of such things, often with no evidence or very questionable evidence, or even contrary evidence. And so what I was hoping is there should be a term that you can apply to people who go on these witch hunts and apply these labels. And I was thinking that big a tear could be a good one. That's good. What do you think? So therefore, like if a journalist, let's just say, is taking the lazy route for cheap applause, I eat cheap page views, and they're just accusing people of being these really career damaging things like sexist or racist, whatever, that they themselves could then be labeled a well known big a tear, for instance. And then there would be some type of social consequence, which I don't see currently to acting in such a haphazard and damaging way. So currently we have this other weird term SJW for social justice warrior. So I like big a tear. Why don't we try it in the wild and see what happens. Yeah, I'd love to hear anyone's thoughts on this, but big a tear. And then I thought a lot about this because I figured you needed a term that was sort of phonetically similar enough, or just talking about phonemes, phonetically similar enough to an already loaded term, so that people would immediately get the negative connotation. Like being called a big a tear, even though, as far as I know, it hasn't existed, can't really be a good thing. I mean, you have like big a t and any of the tear of in most people's minds associated with racketeering or something else, but does a decent job of kind of describing the sin against intellectual honesty that is what we're talking about, this type of out of control, social justice, warrior ship. But I agree with you that it's, I think that even more than top down, the phenomenon is so puzzling in a way because it seems like people are creating prisons of their own making. And in creating these lynch mobs or participating in them, you're creating this momentum for this type of activity that ultimately has to come back and bite you in the ass, or it'll just create these barriers to honest communication. And it ended, sorry, I'm like up on my soapbox now that we brought up the stuff. It also seems like, and I'd love to hear your opinion on this, but the oftentimes the most important conversations to have are the most uncomfortable that would fall outside of this overtimmer, by definition. And even the conversation that you most want to have to try to remediate the long term problem is prevented by the evident relish that some big a tears, if you will, the relish that they obviously enjoy and take for themselves in sort of taking, settling for the short ride rather than really trying to get some kind of structural change. And I think that because the level of distrust is so high in the US at the moment, we have a problem that people are trying to shut down conversation because they just don't know where it's going to go. And so as soon as anyone starts talking about something sensitive, you can always try to check your privilege or something that doesn't even have to be, it can be completely content independent, because everybody's enjoying some privilege at the moment. And so if you're spending all of your time checking it, you're probably not going to be able to say much of anything. So I want to shift to a very serious topic.
When an innovator leaves a successor (36:33)
And that is Kung Fu Panda. Oh boy, keep getting weighty. It's getting weighty. Now, I recall visiting the offices of Teal Capital, and we had a fun lunch chat with a whole group of folks. And I remember going to your office and seeing all sorts of toys of various types, and then a, I guess a figurine of Kung Fu Panda. What is your relationship to Kung Fu Panda? This is this is emotional, embarrassing, and rather weighty. But I went reluctantly. I can't say that I relished going to a children's film, even though I had two kids who were excited to see it. But my wife said it would be a good idea. And as I sat there in the theater, I got deeper and deeper into the story. And when the film was finally over, I found myself weeping. And were your kids okay with that? I don't think anybody was okay with that. It was a little weird. And what I realized was that it was the only film that I'd ever seen that struggled with the issue that I felt almost defines my quest, which is why can't a self teacher leave pupils? And if you think about that for a second, you realize that Einstein wasn't successful in leaving any Einstein's. And Francis Crick didn't leave Francis Crick's and Winston Churchill didn't leave any Winston Churchill's. If there was some way for a Newton to leave a Newton dependably, the world would be a completely different place. And what Kung Fu Panda was trying to do, in my opinion, was to struggle with this question of how would an innovator leave a successor when it's his time to go? And at some point, somebody on Quora asked a question, you know, this story doesn't make any sense to me. How does a Panda Slob become the ultimate Kung Fu warrior? And I wrote up my explanation. And the thing is probably the most viral thing I've ever written. What is the title for people who will, and we'll link to this in the show notes for everybody just for our workweek.com/how does Po become an awesome Kung Fu warrior in the film Kung Fu Panda or something like that? I'm sure if we look up your name in Kung Fu Panda, it'll pop right up. And so my claim was that the original innovator in the film is a turtle, which is an even more inappropriate Kung Fu archetype than a Panda, because they're obviously slow moving. And the turtle works out the secrets of harmony and focus at the pool of sacred tears. But when the kingdom is threatened by a Kung Fu student of great ability who's gone wrong, all that the kingdom can muster is the usual collection of over-trained students. So think aspirants to Princeton and Stanford and Harvard. And so these are all the kids who would get like perfect SATs and have amazing extracurricular activities. But fundamentally what we don't realize is that they've all been rendered incomplete in a way because they can't tap into the self-teaching modality because they have been so thoroughly overtaught. And so the turtle recognizes that the Panda is the only one who can save the day. And all the turtle has to go on in choosing a successor is that the Panda has innovated one silly thing, which is to turn a fireworks cart into a makeshift rocket to jump a wall. And so from this humble beginning, the magic unfolds. And it's really about the magic of how a one self-teacher leaves a successor and solves the problem.
How autodidacts can pave a path for successors (40:43)
Have you come to any conclusions or beliefs outside of that essay related to how autodidax or newtons can leave newtons when they travel on from this world? I think so. I can't prove it. But I think where I'm headed with this is that most of us who wind up using these sort of strange high agency hacks to negotiate the world have some kind of a traumatic birth that we may flatter ourselves that were in touch with reality. But in fact, reality is a second best strategy. If you're lucky, your family works pretty well and you never leave social reality. It's only when something goes wrong that you discover, "Okay, the world doesn't work in any way the way I was told. Here's the underlying structure." And what you then have to realize is if you want to do this at scale, you've got to stop relying on these traumatic births. It's like you're waiting for somebody to get bit by a spider to become Spider-Man. Now, you have to do this in a more controlled fashion. You have to harvest spiders. That's right. You've got to you've got to regularize it. So I think what we need to do is we need to create a completely secondary parallel educational structure for people who are going to be in the high agency creativity discovery idiom and realize that we know how to impart expertise, but we don't know how to impart creativity and genius. Can you define high agency? Sure. High agency. We'll just explain what you mean by it. Well, I think what I mean is are you constantly, when you're told that something is impossible, is that the end of the conversation or does that start a second dialogue in your mind? How to get around whoever it is that's just told you that you can't do something? So how am I going to get past this bouncer who told me that I can't come into this nightclub? How am I going to start a business when my credit is terrible and I have no experience? You're constantly looking for what is possible in a kind of MacGyverish sort of a way and that's your approach to the world. I'm not going to take us off the rails here. Have you seen the Martian? Yes. Did you love it? The ultimate high agency film I just saw it last night, man. It was just like two hours of MacGyver on steroids. I loved it. Yeah. And I'm glad you brought it up. I think it heralds a return, at least among Americans, to our previous way of being. I think there was some terrible thing that happened starting around 1970 that is just cracking now. So really about 45 years of a low agency, super safe, timid, frightened, kind of societal aspiration. If you just stay on track, can we keep the American prosperity machine going? I think we now realize that you can't do it without a bunch of really marginal characters. People who have might be described as disruptive, have bad attitudes. These are my people and they're tough to deal with and I don't always enjoy them. But I do think that without them, it's not much of a football team.
How to see the world like a high-agency person (44:28)
What can someone do who's listening to this, let's say, and they live in a community where that is clearly low agency and they want to train themselves to be able to look at options, CDE, and that when people say, "Do you want A or B?" Or if they're given, let's say, the "no" from the bouncer, from the admissions officer, from the film, the blank, they look for a way around it instead of just being stopped in their tracks. Are there any recommendations or tools or resources, exercises that they could use to cultivate that higher agency? I don't think there's a community on Earth where somebody isn't modifying their car beyond what's street legal. I don't think that there's any community in which nobody is cooking something up in the basement that probably is prescribed by law. I don't think that there's a community on Earth where somebody isn't trying to break into their own computer in order to see how it works from the inside. There are high agency people everywhere. What there isn't necessarily is critical mass. I think that sometimes I refer to the Bay Area as the innovation ghetto. You have all of the people who are too high-agency to behave properly and wait their turn in the rest of the country. They've been given the nicest piece of real estate, an ungodly amount of cash, and the pleasure of each other's company. You have to stay the terms of your probation, so you have to stay within the Bay Area. What I'd love to see is I'd love to see more of us violating our parole and going into the rest of the country and trying to bring that irreverent spirit. I think one of the things that the US still has over, let's say, a competitor like China is that we tolerate the middle finger. It is perfectly acceptable to be disruptive here in San Francisco where you and I are conducting this interview, whereas if I'm told that my child is disruptive in Kansas or South Carolina, I'm probably being told that he's being sent home for bad behavior. I think it's really important to start respecting our marginal citizens of greatest ability and looking for the unusual personality types that are irreverent and committed enough to making things happen and to really do things. This is going to seem like a detour, but it might be related. What book or books have you gifted most to other people?
Most gifted books (47:18)
For my science friends, I tell them to read The Emperor of Sent by Chandler Burr about my friend Luca Turin. It talks about a renegade scientist being stymied by the journal Nature, by various conferences, by the established research centers. It's just a wonderful introduction to how the dissident voice is marginalized. Because Luca is such a genius of old faction and chemistry, he's able to take a perspective which may or may not be true, but keep pushing it forward and battling it through. That's one of my favorites. I have another weird recommendation, which is this book, Heraclesian Fire. Who was the guy who effectively shorted Watson and Crick. He told Watson and Crick that he didn't think that they were very good, very smart. They weren't qualified to work on DNA, and it turned out that they got it right and he got it wrong. When I heard that there was somebody who bet against Watson and Crick, I thought, "Well, this is just going to be the laugh of the century." But it turned out just to short those guys required another genius. He writes about trying to suppress these guys and failing because they were right and he was wrong, and he has enough presence of mind to struggle with it. These are books that I think are incredibly powerful because they talk about what it's like to be one against the many. If you were advising, say, you might hate this question. If you were advising, say, a senior in high school, non-technical, no, I'm sorry, senior in college, non-technical, probably too late. Probably too late. Well, let's just say that. I mean, that was me, right? I had fairies and sugar plums in my head about Silicon Valley and wanted to come here and attempt to build something amazing. What books resources would you suggest or what advice would you give?
Contemplating a move to the Bay Area? (49:58)
Well, first of all, if you can do anything else with your life other than innovate, other than create, go do that. Don't come. If you're still here listening, saying, "Okay, I can't really do anything else," you have a compulsion that you cannot resist. Yeah, fundamentally, you are zagging when other people are zigging. You're not even thinking outside the box. You haven't seen the box for years. If that's who you are, my feeling is just get here. And I can't promise that your first week or your first month and a half is going to be the greatest week or month and a half of your life, but you will fall in with people. There's enough open-hearted assistance that's given. There's enough money that there's a different culture of abundance. Now, that may not last this more than this particular cycle. But even if this is a bubble, I think it'll re-inflate in the same place, because fundamentally, we've run out of all other options other than innovation. If we don't create and we don't think our way out of this, I don't think we have a great plan for steady state. So it's grow or die. And that means that we'll have another bubble. And bubbles aren't terrible things. A lot of wonderful things happen during them. What to you is the most powerful idea or few ideas in zero to one or the material that helped generate that from the class that Peter taught, which was transcribed by Blake Masters.
Understanding Peter Thiel’s Zero to One (51:33)
Yeah. So the entire book is about what to do if you think you have a secret. If you really understand something, the rest of the world is confused about it. And it's an important truth. Zero to one says, here are the all the ways you might want to make that work. I think the problem is the average person has never had an idea, a really powerful personal idea. And so most people don't have a single secret. And so the real reason most people shouldn't start a company is that they don't know or believe anything that the rest of the world knows thinks of as being nonsense. And so this is the engine behind the book. And what's disturbing is to watch people reading this book, not realizing that it's the whole thing is predicated on you must have a secret. And it's trying to imagine somebody building a car with no engine. It doesn't really matter how nice you get the upholstery. It's not going to work. Now, I there, I suppose there are different schools of thoughts here as with many different domains. Some people would say, well, you either have the hard wiring to come up with these secrets or spot these unpopular opinions or unpropagated opinions that very few people or no other people hold. Then there are the folks I tend to lean this way who think that that can be facilitated by forcing people to ask, for instance, absurd questions. So if you had to 10x, not just 10% increase, but like 10x your output in whatever it might be, how would you do it? And forcing people to break whatever systems they might have in place, the current incremental approach to what they're doing. These minute optimizations won't answer the question. They have to delve into this kind of terror and cognate, things they haven't explored. Do you think this can be? Do you think it can be taught? Or you can help people to get better at spotting or coming up with these secrets, seeing things that other people don't see? Well, yeah, I do. And I think that in part, this is why it's so difficult coming back to the sort of kung fu panda pedagogy question.
Problem Solving And Concepts Of Success
Seeing what others can’ see (54:23)
Assume that I hit one or two of these secrets and I am successful at them. It doesn't have to be in business, could be in science, could be in literature, anywhere. The problem is, is that you want to lead someone through the process of succeeding at something and seeing what blocked the path. And what do you mean by that? Well, here's a problem I give people. Oh, well, no, I haven't solved it. Okay. If I'd solved it, then in fact, nobody solved it. I was getting sort of pre-makinsian review jitters. Okay. How many golf balls can you fit into? No, this is exactly what I hate about those problems is, if there are answers in the back of the book, it's not a good problem. It has to be an actual problem that the asker doesn't know. So I don't know how to solve the problem of the umbrella. There's nothing I like about umbrellas. They seriously, Tim, they blow up in wind so that they're easily wrecked under the conditions that they're supposed to be, in which they're supposed to be used. They have these long metal spikes at about eye level. So they're clearly a safety hazard. Your legs always get drenched. There you go. Everything about the umbrella strikes me as wrong. Now, what I believe is that there are, and I've seen people try to innovate in the umbrella situation. They're ones that have air blowers that blow the water away from you. There are funky folding designs, but I am almost positive that there exists some very simple mechanical design that would improve the umbrella. On the other hand, I don't have that same confidence about the coffee mug. Yes, you could put some electronics in it. You can make it smarter than it is, but fundamentally, it seems to be in such a simple state that I wouldn't think that I should innovate there. If I can give the example where there is a solution known, luggage before 1989. It's just going to ask you about this. It turns out that nobody really knew how to do wheeled luggage before 1989 until just mind-flowing. It's hard to imagine that the whole world their heads wedged so far up there that they couldn't think to put in these large recessed wheels with a telescoping handle. This was the invention of a guy named Robert Plath, who was a pilot for Northwest, I think. In one fell swoop, he convinced everyone that their old luggage was terrible. Even though there wasn't a lot of growth, he created the growth because nobody wanted their old luggage. You could compare these discrete brainwave innovations across fields. For example, in table tennis in the early 50s, the worst player on the Japanese team at the Bombay table tennis championships was this guy, Hiroshi Satoj, and he glued two foam expanses to both sides of a sandpaper table tennis bat. Nobody could queue off of the sounds because it changed the sound of the ball. It's like having a silencer on a guy. Exactly. If you put a suppressor on your paddle, it's a suppressor. Just in fact, they use that word and it makes me think that you have a bunch of firearms hiding in your basement. Anyway, I can either confirm it or not. I digress. The idea that the worst player on one of the lower rated teams would be the undisputed champion simply through an innovation that was that profound shows you what the power of one of these ideas is. The power laws are just so unbelievably in your favor if you win that it makes it worthwhile. We're Dick Fosbury, who went backwards over the high jump. 1968. You got it. Very good. Ridiculed and then mimicked and eventually standard. In the case of say the umbrella or the luggage, is there a process for trying to tackle and innovate in these areas along the lines of something you might find that's saying an idea or exercises that you guys do at teal capital when looking at different markets or trying to assess an idea and it's validity or promise in a market. Are there any particular questions, I guess, is what I'm asking that you find very useful when trying to spot these breakthrough ideas?
How Thiel Capital approaches problems (59:18)
Well, it depends situation by situation. For example, in science, I try to use various intellectual arbitrage techniques where if you have a bunch of smart people who've been focused on a problem, I try to look at what as a group their weaknesses are. How is their bread buttered? What is it that they can't afford to say or think? What might be an example? Well, so for example, in theoretical physics, there are all sorts of shibileths where if you can't say that you believe that quantum mechanics is intrinsically probabilistic, you're not a member of the club because it's assumed that you can't accept a difficult reality or if you can't sign up for one of the major schools, you have no way to get funding because there's no one who will support your grant applications. So you start to look at what causes, what should be a diverse portfolio of ideas to collapse in terms of the diversity where everybody starts representing the same point of view with tiny variations. If you're looking at a problem that's never been attempted, you don't want to use intellectual arbitrage because it's just blue sky. There's no reason that the first attempts to think through the problem won't yield fruit. But in the case of the umbrella, I would start to think about, well, what made me think or what made one think that this was a problematic object? So count the number of moving parts that in general, as things reach final form, they tend to get radically simple. So there's too many moving parts. If there's some innovation that's happened since the problem was originally considered, so for example, in the case of Oculus Rift and virtual reality, maybe virtual reality was considered years before Oculus, but nobody had rethought it in the presence of economies of scale that bring the screens and smartphones down in price. And so suddenly you have the high quality screens that are affordable that way back when would have cost prohibitive amount. So ask yourself, well, what's changed recently? Where is the object that currently inhabits the space violating some sort of aspect of canonical design?
Canonical design and commonplace solutions (01:01:58)
What do you mean by canonical design? Well, let's look at nature. If I look at the, there's a great great virus called T4 bacteriophage. And if you look it up, it looks like a lunar lander. It's really cool. And the genetic material is held in a capsule called a capsid that has the form of an icosahedron. And so you wonder something with some sides. 20 sides. There we go. 20 sides platonic solid. Wait a second. What's a dodecahedron? 12. Goddamnit. They're dual to each other. I might need to brush up on my Dungeons and Dragons. Die references. Okay. So please continue. So it's a little crazy to think that before Plato ever existed, nature had figured out this complicated 20-sided object. But because it was so natural at a mathematical level, even if it was complex, nature found the canonical design, even though there was no canonical designer. There was no God given. Because it was a God given form, it didn't need to be thunk up, if you will, by any individual. Or the recent discovery of grasshoppers that use gear mechanisms for jumping. You would think we invented gears. But in fact, gears are such a natural idea that natural selection found it long before we did. So is this natural idea then roughly synonymous with canonical? Or is that a different connotation? I mean, I sort of think about it. If we get visited by aliens from another planet who are pretty advanced, they're going to know about platonic solids. They're not going to call them platonic solids because they didn't have Plato. And in fact, they were known before Plato. But these forms that really don't have an inventor so much as a discoverer. Got it. These are things that just sort of have to be. I took us down the rabbit hole a little bit. We were talking about umbrellas. Yeah. And the number of elements are moving pieces is a clue that something is wrong. Right. Right. It's not as elegant as it should be. So I would, for example, immediately think about, you know, let's say the Japanese and their love of origami and the mathematics of paper folding. So that would be a place that I might see whether I could mine that silo of expertise for any application to the umbrella. Very often it's a question of being the first person to connect two things that have never been connected before. And that's something that is a commonplace solution in one area is not thought of in another. So I think that it involves recognizing when something is likely to allow an innovation, figuring out where the information might be. And as a last resort, thinking really hard about what the form of the solution might be before you actually push yourself to be concrete. I think very often you see people get very impatient with hand waving. Well, there's a lot of hand waving for my taste. Well, if you stay practical, you'll probably be part of a lot of incremental improvements, but you may never be part of one of these moments where that idea changes everything. I was reading a quote today, and I'm blanking on this philosopher's first name, last name, Dennett, maybe you know, Daniel? You know, I wanted to say that. And then I said, and then I thought to myself, it sounds too much like Daniel, damn it, who's the subject of this documentary called Brainman. But I think it is Daniel, and I'm going to butcher this. But he said something along the lines of people look down upon those who say it seemed like a good idea at the time, but that is actually a sign of brilliance in some capacity, because you're able to look back and admit that and have that type of self-awareness. I apologize, Daniel, if I'm getting this mostly wrong. But what do you think if you had to create a class for any grade level from ninth grade to the end of college, what would the class be and when would you teach it? I'm going to go grab a copy of this quote because it's going to bug me, but I'm listening.
And ideal high school class (01:06:38)
Okay, so it's a really interesting question. Part of the problem surrounds where would I be allowed to teach this class? So first where you like? Well, the first question is, are you really allowed to deeply question your teacher or your school? Yes, so I would look to, for example, the Milgram experiment and the Ash conformity experiment. So in the Ash conformity experiment, one person was led into a room and asked simple questions, which a bunch of Confederates of the experimenter, Confederates, those people cooperating with the experiment. Right, agreed to answer the question. Yes, the actors answer the question in an obviously wrong way. And then when it comes time for the only real participant to answer the question, they often falsify their answer just to fit in. So you should be able to pass the Ash conformity test. And then there's the Milgram obedience experiment where an experimenter appeared to ask the only participant to administer a series of increasing electric shocks. And it's really important that most people continued to administer the shocks even when they heard screaming from the actor in that case. If they were assured that it was expected of them and that they would not be held responsible. And so I think what you're always looking for is you're looking for an education which makes students unteachable by standard methods. And this is where we get into the trouble, which is we don't talk about teaching disabilities. We talk about learning disabilities. And a lot of the kids that I want, that's so true, I think, such a good way to put our kids who have been labeled learning disabled, but they're actually super learners. They're like learners on steroids who have some deficits to pay for their superpower. And when teachers can't deal with this, we label those kids learning disabled to cover up from the fact that the economics of teaching require that one central actor, the teacher, be able to lead a room of 20 or more people in lockstep. Well, that's not a good model. And so what I want is I want to get as many of my dangerous kids out of that idiom, whether it requires dropping out of high school, dropping out of college, but not for no purpose, drop into something, start creating, building, join a lab, skip college. So this would be, what was the program? It's not 20 under 20, the scholarship program that the Teal Fellowship. Could you describe that for people who are in how, can you describe that in brief and then does that, is that an example of what you're describing or is it different? Well, so a lot of, there's a lot of confluence between how Peter thinks and how I think, even though we start from radically different places. The Teal Fellowship pre-existed my coming on and it's a program that will pay kids $100,000 over two years to leave college to try something like start a company or a nonprofit or do something of high agency. And roughly speaking, a lot of the kids drop out of the Stanford's and Princeton's and Harvard's, they're incredibly impressive and we're not that worried that in life they're going to be set back because they're going to do just fine under any circumstances. And they get now in fairness too, most of those schools will allow them to come back. That's true, but two years is a little bit longer than it's comfortable. A lot of people understand that there's a gap year. But one of the things that we hope is that if they do go back, they will go back maybe as graduate students, that maybe the undergraduate degree is unnecessary. In fact, we at some point did a little study and we found that for every advanced professional degree we could think of, there was somebody who held that degree who had never gotten a BA or a BS. And so the idea of skipping college is now quite appealing to me. And with the idea being that a master's degree or a PhD or a JD or an MD has an embedded assumption of a BA or a BS, but in fact, you'll never be asked about that lower degree because the leading degree, the professional degree credentials, usually the one that matters. Now, what would you say to those out there who might look at your credentials and say, well, how would you have been able to obtain these very helpful degrees from places like Harvard and Oxford if you hadn't had the prerequisites set by going to undergrad? Well, because I would imagine there are critics who would say, there's a survivorship bias. Sure. You hear about the Zuckerbergs, but you don't hear about the 999 other people who might drop out, but then end up feeling or being restricted in their career options because they can't show a college degree. That at least is a common refrain. So what would you say to those people? Well, so my undergraduate wasn't from Oxford, it was from Penn. And there was a language requirement at the University of Pennsylvania. And I at the time couldn't figure out how to satisfy it. So I assumed that I would not graduate from Penn. And then I just broke all the rules. They had a program that actually helped you break all the rules if you could find it. And I have to ask, so what did that look like? So it looked like one guy, his name was Mike Zuckerman. He was a professor in the history department. And he's what we would call in Yiddish as "Starker." He's the guy who breaks kneecaps for his people. Stalker. Stalker. It's like German. Stalker. Like the strong guy? The strong guy. And so every time I would sign up for a class that had a prerequisite and I would be kept held back, he'd get on the phone and he'd say, "I understand your hold." This is Mike Zuckerman at the office of University Scholars. I understand that you're holding one of my kids hostage with red tape. And it wasn't like he had any power, but the sound of it caused other professors to let go. And what was his official job? I mean, it's just like the history of the professor. Oh, he was. It wasn't just like the secret mercenary in the basement. This was a brilliant idea that he thought up and it was sort of a secret kind of a secret program so you didn't know that it was there. And it had power. It allowed you to, I think, immediate access to any of Penn's graduate schools. Who is the program called? University Scholars. So it sounded respectable. It sounds very respectable. And it was just an anti-red tape program for kids who wanted to do research while undergraduate. And it was created by the history professor. Yeah, amazing. Yeah. And this shows you what, you know, all through corporate America and the Ivy League universities, there are rebels who can't quite leave these institutions, but I call it the rebel end of corporate and the corporate end of rebel. So I end up as the corporate end of rebel, but I've always had help from the rebel end of corporate. And he was a guy who was the rebel end of corporate. The rebel end of corporate. He was the maverick within the machine. That's right. Let's switch gears a little bit because for this part one, I have to get to the airport shortly.
Embodiments of success (01:14:43)
So I want to ask a couple of my favorite questions that are short questions that you don't have to give short answers to, but we'll see what we can knock off when you think of the word successful, who's the first person who comes to mind and wife. Paul Dirac, because he found what must be the strangest and most bizarre piece of physics I ever hoped to encounter. How do you spell his last name? D-I-R-A-C. Paul Dirac. I don't know why I put a weird Turkish dichritical mark on his name. I just really wanted to. What else can you say about him that leads you to call him successful? Is it just that discovery or is it the way he went about it? So I'm very focused on physics in the 20th century. There were really three guys who were the main forces behind the three major equations. What I noticed about all three of them, Einstein, Dirac and a guy named C. N. Yang, is that they all followed the same weird path, which was to use aesthetics rather than experiment as their guide. So the entire rest of the field has had to use experiment and be an irregular science idiom. These are the three guys who more than anyone just sort of close their eyes and tried to figure out, "Okay, how should this game go?" and then prove that the world more or less went the way they said it should. Now by aesthetics, do you mean looking for what they perceived as beautiful or elegant? Right. So this is like the, I often make this joke that the scientific method is the radio edit of great science. Great science doesn't look much like the story you've been told about people diligently trying to falsify things and all sorts of statistical significance. Great science looks like breaking into graveyards and digging up bodies when you know you shouldn't or trusting your aesthetic sense when the data tells you otherwise. And I've always loved this aspect of science. It's that you may want to tame this thing. It won't be tamed. It will always be the case that the leaders of the field are the misfits in the back throwing spitballs rather than the good kids who are always there on time raising their hands. We asked about books earlier, so we won't hit that. Do you have a favorite documentary or movie besides Kung Fu Panda or any that come to mind? Well, there was a brilliant one that I haven't ever heard of since I saw it called Rate It X, which had the great idea that it's it X. Yes, and it was about pornographers and it was an anti-pornography movie and its gambit was to just let pornographers talk at length without interruption or editing. And so it made its point by just giving these people a mic when they really shouldn't have said anything. I thought that was absolutely ingenious. I really want to watch that. Yeah, sometimes the the best sort of refutation and debating tactic is just letting somebody talk. Just let them bury themselves. What $100 or less purchase has most positively impacted your life in recent memory last six months a year, whatever. I just bought my punk 10 year old kid a mandolin and suddenly that's all we hear in the house.
A favorite purchase under $100 (01:18:33)
And I just think what a completely bizarre instrument to fall in love with. And I think I got it for 98 bucks. Ooh, just on the hairs breath away and why the mandolin is supposed to do a different instrument. You know, I think it's really important like we're talking about with old with with languages that are less commonly studied. I think that the mandolin is the loser of an old battle between the mandolin and the guitar. It was very popular at the end of the 19th century when a bunch of I think they were called like the Italian students or the Spanish students came through and everyone went crazy for mandolins. But they weren't quite as versatile. It's the same fingering patterns as a violin so that everything that you learn to pluck you can then learn to bow later. But it's also compact and it's highly melodic in its nature. So you can alternate between chords like a little bit of a ukulele on steroids. Do you have any favorite mandolin player? Oh gosh, well, there's this guy who just got the MacArthur Fellowship that I can't think of his name. Of course, I'm imagining there can't be that many mandolin playing MacArthur winners. Maybe I'm wrong. But I guess if you search, you know, Marco, Marco Connor, who was the great bluegrass prodigy first of violin. I think he won the fiddle championship three years in a row. They outlawed him ever winning again. So he became the flat picking champion on guitar. I think he's pretty terrific. What was his name again? Mark O'Connor. So the MacArthur award, this is the, this is another, this is a different person. But MacArthur award for this people not familiar. It's actually a cool award worth looking into. That's called the Genius Grant. Is that the nicknames?
Self-Reflection And Advice
Morning rituals and work cycles (01:20:33)
Do you have any particular mourning rituals that are important to you? Okay, each mourning is basically a struggle against a new day, which I view as a series of opponents who must be defeated. I'm not a mourning person. So every morning I get out of bed, I'm just astounded that I've done. You've gotten on your feet. Well, you know, there was a, was it Julian Schwinger, the great Harvard physicist, I think was asked if he would teach the 9 a.m. quantum mechanics course. And he stopped for a second. The person who was asking said, what's the problem Professor Schwinger says? I don't know if I can stay up that light. So what if you are trying to do deep creative work that requires a lot of synthesis or just as as Navall might, Ravakant might say orthogonal thinking and so on, what would your, what would your kind of work cycle like? When do you do that type of work? So I use a weird technique. I use coprolalia, where I say, sounds, sounds pornographic a little bit. It's, you know, the strings of obscenities that Tourette's patients involuntarily utter. Sure. So I was the term. I think it's coprolalia. Coprolalia. Coprolalia. Okay. Got it. Like just talking streams of shit. Yeah. So I find that when we use words that are prohibited to us, it tells our brain that we are inhabiting unsafe space. And it's, it's a bit of a sign that you're going into a different mode. So I tend to become sort of faculty autistic. That is, I think I can be social and personable if I'm trying to do that. But when I'm going to do deep work, very often, it's kind of very powerful aggressive energy to it. It's not easy to be around. It's very exacting. And I think I would probably look very autistic to people who know me to be social where they ever to see me in work. So how do you, how do you incite that? How do you invoke that? So do you just going back to the expression that I still, or the term I still can't say? Do you just start trying to string together as many as obscenities as possible? I have my same sequence. It's like an invariant mantra that I have to say. Can you share it or don't stop secret? It's like, you can't share your meditation work. It's like TM. Yeah, exactly. How will just some hints then? How long is it? Probably takes me seven seconds to say it. Oh my god, the curiosity is killing. Right. But, but it starts to, you have to, you have to decamp from normal reality where you start thinking about everything in positive terms. How am I negatively going to impact my neighbor? No, this is your time. You're stealing the time. And it's, the act of creation is itself a violent action. What time of day would you typically bring up this mantra and go into that mode? Well, if, do you have a preferred time? Sure. So this is a politically incorrect statement, but mathematicians of an older generation discuss the hour of the night when all theorems are true and all women are beautiful. The pleasure of doing math or physics at 3 a.m. when the phone stops ringing, when you have no FOMO because everybody's asleep. It's a Monday night and it's just you in an expansive whiteboard. That's when the magic happens. Yeah. Unfortunately, for my social life, that's also when I do my not saying it's good, my best writing and synthesis happens. Yeah. Is that right? Yeah. It's, it's typically between one and five a.m. I find five stuff that I come up with is a little bit unreliable. Five is only if I've managed to catch the wave. Oh, nice. That's the way you've been waiting for, for like an entire season of my disirthing and you're like, okay, there's no way I can paddle in now and miss that set that's coming. And you just have to ride it at least. What I will do is ride it until I just collapse from exhaustion. If I have it, if the muse has somehow been captured in the bottle. I mean, I may cycle over 24 hour, I may not go to sleep in that state, but you know, that's rare. It's not. You have to. Yeah. It is rare for me also, not to compare the, the funny how to stuff that I write to complex physics. If you could have one billboard anywhere with anything on it, what would it say?
Eric’s billboard (01:25:18)
One billboard. Anything on it. Just because a large number of well credentialed experts believe something in common doesn't mean that it's necessarily wrong. But if they've reached consensus, that's the way to bet some somehow people have to learn that consensus is a huge problem. If there's no arithmetic consensus because it doesn't require a consensus, but there is a Washington consensus, there is a climate consensus. In general, consensus is how we bully people into pretending that there's nothing to see, you know, move along everyone. And so I think that in part, you should start to learn that when people are, people don't naturally come to high levels of agreement unless something is either absolutely clear, in which case consensus isn't present, or there's an implied threat of violence to livelihood or self. What advice would you give to your 30 year old self? And if you could just place us in time, what were you doing at that age?
Advice to Eric’s 30-year-old self (01:26:43)
So when I was 30, I guess I was still struggling to stay in or get out of academics. And I think what I didn't realize is that the structure of the universities was that they were either hitting steady state or growing very very little or shrinking. And that was not a healthy place to be because most of the good seats in the musical chairs competition had already been found in the 60s and they had occupants. And we were in some sort of a game where we were doing work for the system, but we weren't set to inherit it. And I think what I needed to do was to decamp and to realize that technology was going to be a boom area. And even though I wanted to do science rather than technology, it's better to be in an expanding world and not quite in exactly the right field than to be in a contracting world where people's worst behavior comes out. And your mind is grooved in defensive and rent seeking types of ways that I just life is too short to be petty and defensive and cruel to other people who are seeking to innovate alongside you. And the last question, maybe the last of one or two, that doesn't make any sense. But here we go. Do you have any ask or requests for my audience, for people listening, anything they should think on, do or otherwise? Well, first of all, I would really like a high quality umbrella from one of you, just to prove the point that that was actually a reasonable problem to set.
A request of the audience (01:28:28)
I guess what I would really like is for those of you who've been told that you're learning disabled or you're not good at math or that you're terrible at music or something like that, seek out unconventional ways of proving that wrong. Believe not only in yourselves, but that there are structures that are powerful enough to make things that look very difficult, much easier than you ever imagined. That is great advice. And for those people who particularly have this music and security as I do, one thing that is seemed to me like a life raft in the Sea of Complexity is the three chord song by the Axis of Awesome four chords. I knew I was going to do that four chords song. There we go. So you can look that up on YouTube or elsewhere for a real hilarious, but also potential, what the hell am I trying to say here? I just ran out of caffeine. This is the moment that I'm going to do. No, no, no, it's an amazing playing act that they put together, which shows you how complexity can be created through simplicity or perceived complexity. Well, and it shows you that your mind has stored over a hundred songs that you think of as being completely different in different places, even though there was a simple fact bringing them all together. I liken it to the moment that people realize that in almost every advertisement for wrist watches, the watches are set to 10/10. And before you realize that, you can't really believe that it's true. But afterwards, you realize that the world has just pulled one over on you because 10/10 looks like a smile to watch advertisers. I guess it's very symmetrical, isn't it? Yeah. But what's funny is that the wisdom has crept into the point that sometimes you'll see digital watch ads, and they'll still be set to 10/10, even though it doesn't look like a smile. So I'm just going to throw out a teaser here, because we don't have time to get into it today. But you and I have privately spoken quite a bit about psychedelics. I am either by the time people hear this or very shortly going to be helping to raise funds for a very interesting study that Johns Hopkins is putting together. You said to me not too long ago, something along the lines of you'd be amazed, or you wouldn't believe how straight and narrow I was for so long.
Experience With Psychedelic Drugs
Eric’s first experience with psychedelic drugs (01:31:33)
When was the first time that you tried psychedelics? Relatively recently. And it was because I was, I'd been propagandized so thoroughly that even to this day, I don't like the association. I don't like the word cloud around them. There were all sorts of confusions that the power of one of these substances must come from killing brain cells, like pouring acid on your brain and leaving it as Swiss cheese. It wasn't until I started meeting some of the most intellectually gifted people in the sciences and beyond. And I realized that this was sort of the open secret of what I call the hallucinogenic elite, whether it's billionaires or Nobel laureates or inventors and coders that a lot of these people were using these agents either for creativity or to gain access to the things that are so difficult to get access to through therapy and other conventional means. So tune in next time. When you'll hear Tim say, I will dig into this, into this font of knowledge, this gold mine, and give a Google guys search my name and Johns Hopkins. By the time you hear this, you might see some very interesting stuff up about this and you could actually get involved and learn a lot more about it. But before that and in closing, I suppose I should ask, where can people find you on the internet? Where can they ping you if they want to share with you their incredible origami umbrella solution? That's a good question. I'm on Twitter or wherever you might be more than less. Yes. I'm on Twitter at ericrwintstein and you can find some of my essays at edge.org, particularly one on professional wrestling as a metaphor for living in a constructed and false reality. Well, Eric, I love hanging out. This is always so much fun and I appreciate you taking the time to join us and to brainstorm and share your wisdom with me and with everybody listening. Thank you so much. Tim, thanks for inviting me into your world and allowing me to talk to your base. All right, folks. So let us know what you think. Definitely say hi to Eric at ericrwintstein. Say hi to me also. If you have any feedback, if you'd like to hear around to @tferris T-F-E-R-I-S-S on Twitter and until next time, thank you for listening. Hey guys, this is Tim again. Just a few more things before you take off. Number one, this is 5 Bullet Friday. Do you want to get a short email from me? Would you enjoy getting a short email from me every Friday that provides a little more soul of fun before the weekend? And 5 Bullet Friday is a very short email where I share the coolest things I've found or that I've been pondering over the week. That could include favorite new albums that I've discovered. It could include gizmos and gadgets and all sorts of weird shit that I've somehow dug up in the world of the esoteric as I do. It could include favorite articles that I've read and that I've shared with my close friends, for instance. And it's very short. It's just a little tiny bite of goodness before you head off for the weekend. So if you want to receive that, check it out. Just go to 4hourworkweek.com. That's 4hourworkweek.com all spelled out and just drop in your email and you'll get the very next one. And if you sign up, I hope you enjoy it. This episode is brought to you by 99 Designs. 99 Designs is a great partner for creating and growing your business. It's a one-stop shop for all of your graphic design needs, whether that's a logo, website, business card, or anything else. I use 99 Designs to get book cover prototypes for the 4hour body, which went on to become a number one New York Times bestseller. I also use them for banner ads, illustrations, and other things. With 99 Designs, designers around the world compete to create the best design for you. You give feedback and then pick your favorite. You end up happy or you get your money back. It's very simple. You can check out a few of my own designs and those of yours, meaning Tim Ferris Show listeners, at 99designs.com/Tim. And right now, my listeners, you guys will get a free $99 upgrade on your first design. That's 99designs.com/Tim. Check it out. This episode is brought to you by Wealthfront. And this is a very unique sponsor. Wealthfront is a massively disruptive, in a good way, set it and forget it investing service, led by technologists from places like Apple and world famous investors. It has exploded in popularity in the last two years and they now have more than $2.5 billion under management. In fact, some of my very good friends, investors in Silicon Valley have millions of their own money in Wealthfront. So the question is why? Why is it so popular? Why is it unique? Because you can get services previously reserved for the ultra wealthy, but only pay pennies on the dollar for them. And this is because they use smarter software instead of retail locations, bloated sales teams, etc. And I'll come back to that in a second. I suggest you check out wealthfronts.com/Tim. Take the risk assessment quiz, which only takes two to five minutes, and they'll show you for free exactly the portfolio they put you in. And if you just want to take their advice, run with it, do it yourself, you can do that. Or, as I would, you can set it and forget it. And here's why. The value of Wealthfront is in the automation of habits and strategies that investors should be using on a regular basis, but normally aren't. Great investing is a marathon, not a sprint, and little things that you may or may not be familiar with, like automatic tax loss harvesting, rebalancing your portfolio across more than 10 asset classes, and dividend reinvestment add up to very large amounts of money over longer periods of time. Wealthfront, as I mentioned since it's using software instead of retail locations, etc., can offer all of this at low costs that were previously completely impossible. Right off the bat, you never pay commissions or account fees. For everything they charge 0.25% per year on assets above the first 15,000, which is managed for free if you use my link, wealthfront.com/Tim. That is less than $5 a month to invest a $30,000 account, for instance. Now, normally, when I have a sponsor on this show, it's because I use them and recommend them. In this case, it's a little different. I don't use wealthfront yet because I'm not allowed to. Here's the deal. They wanted to sponsor this podcast, but because of SEC regulations, companies that invest your money are not allowed to use client testimonials, so I couldn't be a user and have them on the podcast. But I've been so impressed by Wealthfront that I've invested a significant amount of my own money, at least for me, in the team and the company itself. So, I am an investor and hope to soon use it as a client. Now, back to the recommendation. As a Tim Ferriss show listener, you'll get $15,000 managed for free if you decide to open an account, but just start with seeing the portfolio that they would suggest for you. Take two minutes, fill out their questionnaire at wealthfront.com/Tim. It's fast, it's free. There's no downside that I can think of. Now, I do have to read a mandatory disclaimer. Wealthfront Inc is an SEC registered investment advisor. Investing in securities involves risks, and there's the possibility of losing money. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Please visit wealthfront.com to read their full disclosure. So, check it out, guys. This is one of the hottest, most innovative companies coming out of Silicon Valley, and they're killing it. They become massively popular. Just take a look, see what portfolio they would create for you, and you can use that information however you want. Wealthfront.com/Tim. And until next time, thank you for listening.