CONTROL And LEVERAGE Dopamine To Never Lack MOTIVATION Again! | Andrew Huberman | Transcription
Transcription for the video titled "CONTROL And LEVERAGE Dopamine To Never Lack MOTIVATION Again! | Andrew Huberman".
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Now, you talk a lot about meaning. Walk me through like the how we assign meaning, how we leverage the reward and punishment to really get us in a situation where we can push through something other people might not be able to push through. Yeah.
Techniques For Mental Control And Self Improvement
How We Assign Meaning (00:12)
So when you start thinking about things like growth mindset in terms of how they convert to neurochemical signatures, it leads us to this place of, okay, if it's all subjective, then, you know, if I just say, look, I'm going to stand up out of my chair and that's going to feel amazing. Is that going to work? It depends on the meaning that I attached to something. And this subjective part can be a little tricky and a little bit hard for people. So I want to try and lay it out in a concrete way so that if they want to apply this, they can. Incidentally, or not so incidentally, I should say, when you look at communities of very high performers and unfortunate enough to do some consulting with some people from special forces communities and so forth, they're very good, as are you, at attaching a reward to specific behaviors in subjective ways. So growth mindset and these dopamine rewards that we subjectively apply are not about saying, oh, you know, I had a terrible day, I performed poorly, but you know what, it's great. I just feel great anyway. It's not about that. It's not about attaching your sense of reward to the ultimate goal. It's about attaching your sense of reward to the fact that you're making action steps that are generally in the right direction. The more you can reward the effort process, the better off you are at building these kinds of neural circuits and these kind of tendencies to be able to lean into anything challenging over essentially any duration. So how does this work? Like how would somebody do this, right? Well, keeping in mind that adrenaline and epinephrine are all great for getting us into action. This is Mother Nature's way of chemically making us feel kind of agitated. Remember, stress was designed to agitate us to move us away from things and toward things, but realizing that that's a limited resource that eventually that same chemical is what makes you have a negative mindset. It feels painful. It's the burn in your body. It's uncomfortable. And realizing that dopamine can push back on that neurochemically. It can suppress those sensations of wanting to quit. You say, well, then how do I get this dopamine to work for me before I hit a goal? Because not every day is going to be a real win. There are some days, I mean, I know from my science career, there were days that were really hard, experiments didn't work, papers got rejected and yet, you know, I've spent two decades or more just drilling on and drilling on. It's been a sheer pleasure at times, but there's been some pain points along the way. So what is this process really about? And how would somebody implement these dopamine and epinephrine type neurochemical events in their own life? Well, we all know the example of like wanting to run a marathon. I've never run a marathon, but that'd be a nice goal to have. Let's say tomorrow morning, I set my shoes near the door. Now a lot of people have talked about this day one, you set your shoes near the door, day two, you go out the door, day three, you run around the block, day four. But the key thing is not just to go through the actions, but when you hit each one of those self-designated milestones, the milestones that you're setting out for yourself, you have to pause for a moment and tell yourself, I'm heading in the right direction. I haven't run the marathon yet, but this is the foundation upon which I'm going to lay another foundation upon which I'm going to lay another foundation. And those little pulses of dopamine allow you to get that action step without the depletion that it would normally bring. Otherwise it's like you're spending money. This is like replenishing this bank account that you have, and it's a neural bank account. And so dopamine is the thing that you can control the dosing of. And so if you say, today it's my shoes at the door, but tomorrow it's around the block, and that's it. But that's in the direction I want to go.
Control The Dosing Of Internal Rewards (03:42)
What you do is you now get those two events, plus the next day, the mile-long runners, and so forth, without it depleting you. It actually builds this capacity to build more reward. And this is what you've done. This is what people from elite special forces can do. They know how to make small, simple physical steps in the real world that allow them to build on these reward circuitries, but they don't get delusional about how they're doing. They keep the end in mind, but they get very micro. They move the horizon in very close. And so if you can move the horizon to something you know you can complete and you reward that, you essentially are where you were before. You're just as strong, if not stronger, but you're heading in the direction you need to go. You're not depleting, you're not spending out anything. And it feels a little weird because none of us like to reward things that aren't external, but the ability to control these internal reward schedules is everything. One thing that you've talked about that I think is along these lines, be interesting to see if they feel as related to you when you know so much about it, but for me at a high level, these feel very related. Talked about somebody gets in a car accident, a cedal choline, if I'm not mistaken, is released. This says, "Fucking pay attention to this. Pay attention right now." And it basically responds to peaks and valleys. So something really bad happens or something really good happens. It's present. It's a hard wire, the association of whatever emotion is with that thing. And so if you have something, a traumatic event or whatever, and you now see something is very negative, you can actually flip that by getting in a state where you're secreting a cedal choline again and now in a positive, right, so that you can feel good about that thing. So how do people take that, take control of that process? So if you've been in a car accident and you now have this negative association with driving, how do you grab a hold of the production of cedal choline? How do you reframe?
How To Reframe & Take Control Of Your Life (05:39)
Yeah, so it's great you're mentioning a cedal choline. So a cedal choline is the neurochemical that we want to think about. Anytime we're talking about neural plasticity and in particular, attention, high-attentional states. So everyone knows that the brain is very plastic early in life. So from birth until about age 25, you can learn so much for better or for worse. I always say the downside is that early in life, you have less control over your life circumstances, but your brain is very plastic. So there's a dark and light to that. Later in life, you have a lot more control generally over your life circumstances, but the brain becomes less plastic. However, we know, based on Nobel Prize winning work and recent work in addition to that, that the neuromodulator, acetylcholine, is secreted when we pay attention to something very specific. It acts as sort of a spotlight in the brain, making certain synapses, the connections between neurons, more active and more likely to be active again than others. So when you hear that song that you love so much and it moves you and you feel dopamine being pulsed into your body, that's a real thing. You're actually getting dopamine secretion. You form that deep association with that and acetylcholine draws your attention to that. And that song is essentially wired in a very indelible way into your nervous system. You can probably even with certain songs, you can feel your body start to energize because of course the brain through connections with your muscles controls your body. So for things that are traumatic or negative, what we're really talking about is neural plasticity that's focused on unlearning. And most of the therapies for this, whether or not it's EMDR, eye movement, desensitization, reprocessing, or it's traditional psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, or it's somatic and body release, kundalini breathing type, almost all of those are designed to do something, which is to bring the person or you bring yourself into a state of heightened alertness. You can't do this stuff when you're half asleep. Heightened alertness and then focusing your attention on the traumatic or negative event. This is the way that it works. And then pairing that with something new. Traditionally this was done with things like NLP or in talk therapy where people would feel the positive relationship with the therapist. That was kind of the main rationale in association with this very traumatic, sometimes even you know, shameful type events. And the idea is that you would simultaneously have those two experiences, the negative one and the feeling of safety and you would rewire those circuaries. I actually believe that can work, but it can take a lot of times. It can take a lot of visits to the therapist, which is not to say it's bad, it's just not everyone has access to those resources. Things like eye movement desensization reprocessing, simply moving the eyes laterally while recounting these negative events. The woman who devised this figured out that somehow when people recount these traumatic experiences when they're doing these lateralized eye movements, not vertical eye movements, they somehow separate out the negative emotions. And I thought for years, people would ask me about this stuff, Tom, and I thought this is ridiculous. First of all, I'm a vision scientist and I work on stress. It's like there's no way. And then I really ate my words because four papers, two in humans, two in mice, and then a fifth paper published in Nature, which is kind of our super bowl of scientific publishing, showed that these lateralized eye movements quiet the amygdala. They actually suppress activation of this threat detection center in the amygdala.
How Lateralized Eye Movement Can Suppres The Amygdala (09:07)
Why would that be true? Ah, so this is really where it gets cool. Turns out because of when the way that we view the visual world when we move through space, when our head moves or when we walk and things flow past us, that these lateralized eye movements are what happens when you move forward in space, when you're walking, when you're moving forward towards something. And that suppresses activation of the amygdala. Now you say why? Well, okay, so then 2018, my laboratory did an experiment. There was actually a graduate student in my laboratory where we're looking at fear. In this case, we're looking at fear to big looming objects that either trigger freezing or running and hiding. There's a brain area that's in your brain and my brain that mice also have that triggers a third option, not run and hide, not freeze, but forward confrontation. This is the, no, I'm going to fight. I'm going to move forward in the face of adversity. This is the growth mindset I'm going to lean into friction. And it turns out that this circuit is linked to the dopamine reward pathway. When we move forward in the face of a threat, and obviously we want to do this in healthy, adaptive ways, we suppress activity of the amygdala through physical action of moving forward and there's a signal sent to the areas of the brain that control dopamine reward. Those reward centers then trigger the release of dopamine to reward forward effort in the face of stress or threat. So when you hear about people saying, look, take some physical action when you're feeling exhausted. Take some forward physical action when you're feeling overwhelmed by this traumatic experience. Now that could be in the form of a walk in the, now this therapist, she figured out with EMDR because you can't take people walking around for therapy sessions, she figured out that these lateralized eye movements are what triggers suppression of the amygdala and it makes perfect sense because the amygdala, this threat detection center in our brain, it doesn't connect to the limbs. So how does it know if you're moving forward? Well, because the eyes are moving. You have these reflex in my movements that move in time you're moving through space. So to make this a little more succinct, it's really forward movement action pushing yourself across that threshold, not only rewards you, but it suppresses activity of the fear centers in the brain. And these are ancient hardwired mechanisms. These aren't hacks. These are things that mother nature installed in us. So I love this more than you could possibly imagine. This is so interesting. One of the things that I've heard talked about, I think it's really powerful, is that overcoming a fear isn't about diminishing the fear response.
fear responding (11:42)
It's about making more robust a sense of being brave in the face of that fear. So moving forward to translate it to, like you say, if your brain is meant to interpret stimuli, what at a stimulus level, what is that thing that's going to trigger the response? Talk about the, I don't know if it was mycer rats, I think it was rats, where you force them to fight and they're like in a tube and you like that study to me tied with what you just said is insanely powerful, especially for people who've allowed themselves to become paralyzed by fear or whatever. Third movement provided it doesn't endanger you or kill you is absolutely the remedy for fear stress and at least in the clinical literature to these trauma events that people carry with them for many years. Of course, trauma needs to be dealt with, hopefully with a professional, but we can all apply these mechanisms and these neurochemical reward schedules. So the study that you're referring to is a beautiful one. There's a classic study where researchers, not my lab, put two rats or you could do this with mice into a tube and the tendency is for them to try and push one or the other one out. One always wins and pushes the other one out. We call the one that got pushed out the loser, the one that pushed them out the winner. Here are the interesting things about this. First of all, the winner will tend to win with other, in other battles, even though these are just pushing battles, more because it's simply one the time before. The loser by losing will tend to lose. And so people say, oh, well, that explains a lot about society, et cetera. Well, here's where it gets really interesting. You can even take a mouse or a rat and push it from behind and make it the winner. And then on subsequent trials where you're not pushing it, it will tend to win more often. So the win doesn't even have to come from itself. So last year, there was a very important paper published about this where a set of researchers just said, well, what is it? What is this winning circuit and this losing circuit enough with the demonstration that this happens? Like what's happening on? What's under the hood? And so they went into the brain and they identified a brain area, which is part of the frontal cortex, the area that we typically think about planning, action, executive function, all the kind of high level stuff. And what they discovered was this brain area is more active in the winner than in the loser. In fact, they could take the loser and overstimulate this area and turn the losers into winners. Now, it gets even more ridiculous than that. If you quiet this brain area, winners become losers. And if you take a winner and let's say at this tube battle and you put them into, let's say, a cold environment with a bunch of other mice and you have just a warm corner, mice don't like to be cold, and you say, who gets the warm corner? Who gets the luxury spot? It's always the winner. So it even breaks down at the level of social interactions. And so you say, OK, all right, now we know that this brain area is this one area of the frontal cortex. But what's it actually doing? Right? OK, how can we translate this? Turns out this brain area that's responsible and required for winning in this series of experiments is actually driving up the level of activation, what you and I would call agitation or stress, to the point where that animal is more likely to move forward. It's simply taking stress, which is wired into us in order to make us feel agitated. Instead of suppressing us, instead of saying, you know what, I'm just going to sit here, I'm overwhelmed, I'm just going to move into action. So there's a circuit for winning. There's the same circuit when it's hypoactive, not active enough, is what causes losing in these competitive scenarios. And similarly, there's a circuit for quitting. There's a norepinephrine circuit in the brainstem. This was published in the last couple of years, showing that when animals or people are in constant effort, eventually that level of norepinephrine gets so high that it triggers a circuit that shuts down the motor control over the limbs and you just say, that's it, I give up, I'm done. So these mechanisms were hardwired into us. We all have them. Whether or not it's from evolution, mother nature, God, the universe, it's irrelevant to the discussion that these circuits exist in everybody. And I think it's a select few people who really understand that forward action is what drives these circuits. It's the ability to take that agitation, stress, agitation, increase our focus and they bias us for movement. And nature wanted that. They want us to move forward in the face of challenge, not to be quiescent.
resiliency in the face of fear (16:31)
We weren't sitting around battling tigers and saber tooth tigers all the time. More likely we were in caves and we were getting hungry and we had to go out and search for things. And we're designing stress, we're designed to get us up and move us. And when we try and fight that too much and we try and quiet that stress, that actually can be problematic. You have to decide, are you going to try and quiet stress or are you going to actually lean into action? That's a critical choice point for everybody who's experienced anything negative or positive for that matter. Dude, that is so useful in terms of getting people to understand how to get themselves out of it. And I'll go back to this notion that your thoughts are ultimately a choice. Like you get to decide what you think about and when you understand that you're living. And this VR environment and that there are things like simply moving forward is going to make you feel entirely different, that you're being essentially manipulated by evolution, by nature, however you want to think about it, to get you agitated enough to go out and do the things you need to do. But that it has this just feedback loop of how it makes you feel about yourself, that winning begets, winning and losing begets, losing. But it isn't like at some sort of grand, untangible level that it's happening at the level of neurochemistry that there are regions of the brain that are designed for this. So how can somebody begin to turn things around in their life? Because I know one thing that people really struggle with is they have this negative voice in their head that's just playing this loop. And so even if they understand the mechanisms, some part of them is going to discount it, because it's like, well, you're just trying to say that because you think you can manipulate neurochemistry, but you, you're a loser. Like you just fall in and that's what's playing in their head. How do people go in and really take the reins of that process so that they can start winning? Yeah, great question. So I'm never going to argue that we can subjectively control all of our experience because there's some things that just genuinely suck, right? And it's important to register those not-so-great events or terrible events because they can drive us also.
Dopamine Reward System (18:29)
We can be driven from a place of anger, frustration, and revenge, or we can be driven from a place of love, gratitude, and et cetera. I'm not here to judge which one is better or worse, but the nervous system doesn't distinguish between them. So if you're the kind of person that needs to budge yourself into something, great. If you're the kind of person that wants to do things from more of a warm, fuzzy feeling, that's fine too. What I will say is this. The ability to tap into this dopamine reward system, which is activated anytime you're in pursuit of something that's outside the boundaries of your skin and literally the boundaries of your body, as well as the reward system, the serotonin oxytocin system, which is really about the things that are contained within your own body and immediate experience, things like gratitude and touch and comfort and things like that with loved ones, the ability to tap into both is crucial. Now you said something really important, which was, well, negative thoughts, negative thoughts, what to do. I don't believe that it's very easy to suppress negative thoughts. However, when you realize that thoughts can be deliberately introduced, you can start replacing negative thoughts with new types of thoughts. So you can always add something in, but when people start to realize that thoughts are very much like physical actions of reaching and picking up a glass of water or taking a jog around the block or typing an email perfectly. This is something I sometimes do because I struggle to do the perfect email. Not all my emails are perfect, but when I do one, I make sure that I complete it and I think, okay, it's possible. It's not because the email being perfect is so important. It's because I want to remind myself that my thoughts and my actions are essentially the same. The nervous system can organize thoughts. So for somebody that's struggling, we have these examples like, oh, they were really back on their heels or they were so depleted, no money, no all this stuff. We have so many examples like that, but in trying to make it actionable, it's really about saying, yep, that's all true, but I'm going to introduce a thought, which is, I made it through today. I made it through today and that's actually worth celebrating at a micro level. So if you can give yourself dopamine rewards in small increments, right, you're not trying to celebrate that you made it through one day. Sometimes that's a huge feat, but most of the time you just want to dose yourself with a little bit of that internal release of dopamine. You start rewarding incremental steps. And if there's anything that your listeners could take away from this whole thing about dopamine and reward schedules and being in movement, it's reward incremental steps in particular incremental steps that are about forward action. So maybe that's writing an email. Maybe that's that run around the block. Maybe that's something much grander for you. As you do better at things, right, the stairs get further and further away from one another because you achieve more success and so they tend to be, you have to take the rungs on the ladder further apart, so to speak. That's a time when you really need to implement not only the dopamine rewards, but also those serotonin, oxytocin rewards, et cetera. So make it actionable. I would say remember, don't spend so much time trying to suppress negative thoughts. If you need trauma therapy, pursue that with a professional. But if you have negative thoughts, just remember, I can also introduce positive thoughts. The same way I can control running around the block, positive thoughts are the equivalent of forward physical action. And if you reward them internally, you buffer yourself against the quitting circuit, this norepinephrine circuit we were talking about before, you are building a stronger version of yourself completely between your own ears. And some people say, well, that's silly. It's like you're saying, oh, I'm going to jump up and down, reward myself for doing nothing. No, you're building the neural circuits that you can control self-reward. And in doing that, you can push through days and weeks of effort consistently. I don't mean necessarily all-nighters, but you can push and push and push. My career is one that was made over two decades. We had our big peaks and we had a lot of alleys, but learning to control these rewards is absolutely key. And I know you've done this too, Tom. It's like, the huge wins are great, but it's really about rewarding these increments so you can keep going another 30, another 40 years, 50 or 100 years, if that's a long year, if David Sinclair has his way, we'll live 100 more years, all of us. Yeah, people learned to tie things to the process, then they've got a real shot. The success is not guaranteed, but the struggle is. So if you are able to get to the point where you get excited about the learning process, you get excited about trying something even if you fail, that if you can associate in your own mind that I feel better about who I am because I tried this thing, then it begins to stack because even the failures become something that you learn. And so you actually have made some progress because you took action, because you tried something, and now understanding some of the brain mechanisms around it, it really gets super powerful. Now for people to make use of every tool that they have at their disposal, something that you've talked about that I've always been really interested in at the periphery, but never have doven into it enough is hypnosis. When people think of hypnosis, I think they think of stage hypnosis, what's the real deal, why is it useful and how do people actually use it? The truth is hitting your career goals is not easy. You have to be willing to go the extra mile to stand out and do hard things better than anybody else. But there are 10 steps I want to take you through that will 100x your efficiency so you can crush your goals and get back more time into your day. You'll not only get control of your time, you'll learn how to use that momentum to take on your next big goal. To help you do this, I've created a list of the 10 most impactful things that any high achiever needs to dominate. And you can download it for free by clicking the link in today's description. Alright my friend, back to today's episode. Yeah, so I'm really glad you asked about this.
So I have a colleague, his name is David Spiegel in our Department of Psychiatry at Stanford. And he and I have a collaboration going now looking at how respiration or breathing can be used to shift the brain into different states. And I've talked to David about this and so I'm sort of borrowing from his words here so I want to be fair that these are from those conversations. So hypnosis inevitably involves relaxing the nervous system, taking the nervous system into states that are more like sleep. Now what I mean by that is in high alert states where you're talking and planning and in action and stress in particular, the brain is very linear. It's saying okay, if this, then this, if then, then that. This is why we tend to be forward thinking when we're stressed. We tend to be not in our immediate experience but really kind of forward thinking. So clinical hypnosis involves going into a state of deeper relaxation so that our analysis of space and time, meaning the way that the brain is perceiving events is slightly dismantled so that it's a little bit dreamlike. And then the hypnotist, and this could be by listening to a script or listening to a hypnotherapist, starts in narrow our context. Take our thoughts, if you will, down a particular path. And that path could be one of stress reduction or smoking cessation. Hypnosis is very good for treatment of smoking cessation or for feelings of well-being or confronting traumas. So what it is is it's really opening up the window for neural plasticity, which is of course the brain's ability to change in response to experience. To trigger neural plasticity, you have to have focus, especially as an adult. You need acetylcholine released. But high levels of attention, acetylcholine and norepinephrine together, norepinephrine to create that sense of urgency and acetylcholine to bring that spotlight of focus in really, really tight. That triggers plasticity. But the actual, it marks certain synapses in the brain for change. But the actual changes in the synapses, the rewiring, okay? That happens during states of sleep and deep rest. So this is why when you're trying to learn a motor skill, you go and you go and you're a tennis service, not happening, it's not happening. You take a break, you come back and you nail it. You're like, wait, what happened? well, you need time to set those circuits in motion and allow them to do the rewiring, the sort of adaptation. Hypnosis seems to capture both the high attentional state and the deep relaxation at the same time. It's this very unusual state of mind where you're neither asleep nor awake and in tight focus or narrow focus. And it's very clear that it leads to these rapid changes in behavior because you're rewiring the brain. And what you're able to rewire the brain so quickly is because you're getting the trigger event, the focus, and you're also getting the relaxation event simultaneously. And so it's much faster than separating out the learning trigger from the actual rewiring of the brain. My lab has a deep interest and David Spiegl's lab has a deep interest now in using respiration or breathing to shift our state to either heightened states of focus and alertness to open up neural plasticity, right? There are going to be lots of ways to access. Can you give me some examples like what are we doing very specifically? Breathwork, I find incredibly interesting. Changed my life through meditation, just shifting my breathing to diaphragmatic breathing was no joke. It changed my life. It changed my relationship to anxiety, my feeling of being able to control my state as it started to spiral. So I'd be very curious to know what type of breathing are we talking about here? Yeah. So I'm really glad you mentioned the diaphragm.
Diaphragm, of course, being this muscle inside of all of us, at least all mammals, that works all the time to move our lungs because all the cells aren't by need oxygen. Of course, we get rid of carbon dioxide. It does that, but it's done reflexively, but we can also take voluntary control over it. I want to just mention about the diaphragm, why it's so important for what these state changes is that a lot of people talk about the vagus nerve and all this stuff. The vagus and these connections between the brain and this vagus nerve are the gut. So what gets activated when you're really full and you eat a big meal and you feel relaxed, those are great, but it's very slow. The diaphragm is skeletal muscle, just like your bicep, just like your tricep, just like your quadricep. It is the only internal organ, except maybe a couple of muscles in your throat, that are actually skeletal muscle, meaning it was designed to be voluntarily moved. And the diaphragm isn't just designed to move your lungs. It also sends a signal through the so-called phrenic nerve back to the brain to inform your brain about the status of your body. So when you breathe fast deliberately, the reason you feel kind of an elevated sense of alertness is because, yeah, there are chemicals secreted, but mostly because the phrenic nerve is firing off, it's telling you, hey, the body's moving, we're really running now, even though you're stationary in a chair, if you're doing breathing, or if you're breathing very slowly and rhythmically, right, box-type breathing or slow breathing, your diaphragm is telling your brain, hey, we're calm, we're good, and you calm down very quickly on the order of seconds. And so once you start tapping into this, you start realizing, okay, movement of the body was designed to inform the brain of where to be, not just the brain telling the body, and how does the body communicate with the brain through the phrenic nerve from the diaphragm? So my lab is really pursuing two questions, and this is still being worked out, so I just want to highlight that it's still in progress. But certain patterns of breathing will calm you very much like entering a hypnotic state. And so you have a subset of neurons in your brainstem that are responsible for sighing. You have a subset of neurons in your brainstem responsible for coughing, subset of neurons responsible for laughter, and a subset of neurons in your brainstem for sighing. This was a paper published in Nature, this is a real thing. These neurons are every so often, and your dog does this too. You inhale twice, and then you exhale long. Now that double inhale, best done through the nose on the inhales, and then long exhale through the mouth, activates these side neurons that trigger the so-called calming reflex, the parasympathetic arm of the nervous system. So we have a hardwired mechanism, a set of neurons connection to the diaphragm, and back again from the diaphragm to the brain that was designed to activate calm. And when people ask me, how should I breathe to calm myself down, I always say double inhale through the nose followed by exhales. Two or three of those will reset your autonomic nervous system faster than any other mechanism we're aware of, because it's really capitalizing on a set of neural circuits. Now once you're calm, you say, well, how do I get into plasticity states? There you want to go the other direction. That's going to be inhaling a lot more than you exhale. You're going to be driving in more oxygen than you are breathing out generally carbon to oxide, and that will lead to states that are kind of more elevated. This is typical of things like tumo breathing, Wim Hof breathing, Kundalini breathing. And when people enter those states, their whole world changes because it shuts off the frontal cortex. It really, this is why sometimes people pass out or they feel like they want to get up and move, you know, you get some odd behavior when you're doing this kind of thing. So the key is if you want to access states of heightened plasticity, let's say you want to learn faster, or you want to bring more out of some physical training that you're doing, the key is to apply those principles. First you need to focus, you need to bring yourself to that heightened state of alertness. You can breathe to do that. So this would be super oxygenated breathing. Then you want to drop into a state of calm and you do that by these, a couple, maybe two or three rounds of inhale, inhale, exhale, inhale, inhale, exhale. And then now your brain is in a state we believe this is still again being worked out in labs like mine and David's, but then you're in a state for heightened learning because you're in a state where neurochemicals like acetylcholine are going to be at levels that are higher than they typically would be. Things like noradrenaline slightly higher than they typically would be, but not in a discombobulated way, in a very regulated way. And the cool thing is you're regulating them. So you could argue, you know, earlier we were talking about subjective emotions and thoughts and you know, all these things. But one thing that's absolutely concrete is breathing. I always think of physical exercise, movement, writing, whatever, singing, dancing, talking, those are physical actions in the universe. Then you have thoughts and somewhere in between those is controlling your respiration. Once you can control everything that's within the confines of your skull and skin, once you can really control that relationship, that brain-body relationship, you start to realize that relationship is a lot like any other relationship to forward action. It's just all happening within the confines of my body. So it's heightened states of focus followed by states of relaxation that are going to prime your nervous system for learning and plasticity, just like hypnosis. So if somebody's watching this right now and they're thinking, "Okay, wait, do I make better decisions when I'm hungry or fall, night, day, what are you looking for and what can they look for at home?" So I would say what we do with a lot of people who are kind of in senior positions in companies that want to actually make decisions better, we have a protocol that's a little bit tedious, so it's not easy to do it, but I'll tell you what it is and then you can think of ways to maybe try it yourself. So we have them basically walk for a week with a diary and make choices and just write them down. So tell us, "Okay, you know, I had this fish at the stake for lunch and I chose this and this I chose," and they also write whether they were happy or not with the choice. Now this is done the way they would normally, but we also had one more thing. We put the EEG cap on their head all day for more than 24 hours. So they walk with something that measures their brain activity and there's moments where we have to replace the batteries, there's a lot of gaps there, but altogether we have them walk through life with both living life the way they do and they reflect on the soil choices but also have us look at their brain. And what we do at the end of the three days, one week as long as they would do that, it's kind of uncomfortable and burst sometimes. We ask them to kind of look at all the choices and tell us which ones were good, which ones were bred and then we look at their brains and we see what was their brain looking like, what did it look like when they made choices that they were happy with. And we sometimes see that there are things in their brain that are kind of repeated. So maybe they make choices more using this part of the brain. I'm trying to simplify it but looking at part of the brain that are more emotional rather than rational. We see that they activate more part of the brain that are buried deep inside, that has to do with reflection rather than thinking. So we kind of, and we tell them, "You know, here's what we learned about you. You are better in this and that state." So that's one thing. So it's kind of not easy to apply because you still have to have this thing on your head. So not everyone can do that but at least people in senior positions who feel that, you know, the choices are critical, come to us and they say, "Okay, help me.
Self Control (35:18)
I want to know who I am better." Now what about the study you did where you've got the cyclist on the bike, they're going "Hard, hard, hard, hard, hard." And you watch for certain brain states where you know, "Okay, they're going to quit." And then you use that information over time to get them to delay quitting farther and farther. So behind that lies the idea that the brain is kind of like a muscle. And specifically there's a part of the brain that we really care about. It's the part that's doing self-control. So if you think about it in simple way to look at it is that you start running, you go running. The first mile your legs say, "Let's run." And the brain controls themselves, "Let's run." And the other part within says, "No problem at all." After one mile your legs say, "It's a little bit painful but the other brain controls them and say, 'Keep going.'" After 10 miles the legs say, "I want to quit." And the other part say, "No, keep going." And there's like a battle there and at some point you're going to break. Now when you're going to break depends on a lot of things, your muscles, but it also depends on this kind of control coming from the front of your brain that overrides your experience, your pain. And if we can see this moment where you break, the moment where you stop despite the fact that you can do a little more, we can come back to you tomorrow and say, "Let's do the same thing you did yesterday. Have you run?" Only this time when you get to the moment when we see that you're about to break we're going to play a sound. We're going to tell you that we can see that you're about to break and we ask you to just continue for one more minute at this moment that is beyond what you did yesterday. What in that moment how do you appeal to them? It's like, "Come on motherfucker, you got this." That's basically it. There's a question in sports for a while. Why is it that people do better when they play home game versus outside game? What is it about your mum being in the audience that makes you win the game? In theory they shouldn't matter. Throwing the basketball should be the same but somehow we know that if your friends are out there, if you're feeling better, we know that people do better when they're all ready. There's a lot of things that affect our brain and what we try to understand right now is why is it in their brain? What is this part of your brain that gets better when your emotions are highlighted and more heightened? Now we're seeing it. That is so this is life. Like what you're talking about right now, boys and girls at home, I'm telling you there's a banality to being an entrepreneur. There is a willingness to suffer to being an entrepreneur. To being a great mom, like whatever it is that you're trying to do, suffering is involved. And it literally like being able to extend your break point is what it's about. And when I read what we're going to say is that we all face those moments when the alarm passes at 6 a.m. We set the alarm at 10 p.m. and suddenly in the morning we're different people. We're not the person who wants to wake up anymore. It's the same brain that set the alarm at 10 p.m. but now suddenly it's the same guy. This is the moment like that. We have to make a choice. When we're going running, when we're about to eat a cake there's a tasty cake and we're not a diet. And we say, "Oh, I shouldn't eat the cake." But there's a conflict. And now is the moment where those two parts of the brain come to life and the more you know about yourself, the more you're aware of those situations, the better you can do in controlling them. And the more you know about yourself, you can do better in all of those tasks. And that's kind of the ultimate thing. That's why we're here. We're giving you the knowledge. And once you know it doesn't work anymore. Once you know that 699 isn't 7, it's how they're for you to work. So just knowing is enough for people to do better. Know that it's in your capacity to change. That's what we want.
How does somebody become more self-aware? (38:43)
Like how does somebody become more self-aware? How do they begin to identify those things that are particular to them so that they can extend their breaking point or so that they can improve whatever. So, what we need to do is we need to communicate science in tangible ways so people would know all the options. And I said that there's 100,000 options but there are actually a couple of hundreds of biases that we humans have. I can give you an example in a second. Once you know them, they don't work anymore. So the job of scientists is to just translate the knowledge of their brain into words that they can be then spoken to an audience who then leaves by them. And that's it. So all we need to do is just do this. Speak to people and list the biases. Then it doesn't work anymore. Then at least when it happens, you become a little bit better in controlling that. That's all we need. It's pretty simple. It's very simple. So how about, I mean, let's use an example from your life. So I love this story, by the way, of you're about to be published in nature. It's your first big break in science. I mean, this is really going to set up your career and then someone wakes you up from a nap and you basically say, "Yeah, recording dreams is possible." You can't take it back. You're like, "Wait, wait, wait. That's not quite what I meant." And it goes crazy. But the part that I love is Christopher Nolan calls you up. He says, "Hey, I just did this movie, Inception. You're now the dream recording guy. I want you to come with me and do a worldwide tour, which would be a huge break for you and just be, I'm sure, money and certainly notoriety." And you had to think about it, even though you knew going means essentially reinforcing this opinion that I actually don't agree with, but turning it down means that I pass up that opportunity. What did you go through in the 24 hours before you gave the answer? So to give you the full story, I'm finishing my PhD. I've decided what I do next. Am I continuing in science? Do I go back to being a hacker? This is like a moment of folk in my life. And suddenly this comes this moment where the end of my five-year PhD is getting a lot of attention, but all wrong. This is my career hinges of this thing. Then I have suddenly an option to actually own this thing and become this dream expert, even though it's based on a lie.
Realizing I could do anything I set my mind to. (40:54)
So I was fortunate enough to have enough checks and balances that I didn't really have to go far with that. So here's the interesting reflection that I have right now. So I knew it's impossible to look at people's dreams and I knew that I kind of set it in sleepy state and created this amazing story for people that scientists are now recording dreams. And the mistake was to leave this, to say, "No, it's not possible. I'm not going to own this thing even though the world cares about it." So if anything can be learned from this thing, is that the world really wanted to have people to call dreams because that's why it's such a big thing because people cared about it. It was dreams are interesting. And I went and I said it's impossible and I want to heal this story. This was the mistake. Interesting. Three years later, I'm sitting at home now 2013 and I got a call from BBC again. BBC were the first ones to kind of let the story go away. And they called me again and they say, "Professor Serf, we want you to comment on dream recording and the possibility of doing that." And I say, "Guys, are you kidding me? We've done with that. This is not true. Like, let's not even begin going there." I said, "No, no. We know that you cannot do that. But we wanted to comment on the work of Professor Kamitani from Japan who's doing it right now." So someone in Japan didn't know that it was impossible. He just didn't hear me going anywhere public and saying it's impossible. So he just did it. So three years after I said it was impossible, someone did it. And two years after that, I joined. So now half the thing we do in my lab is actually looking at people's dreams. So we, the mistake I made wasn't to say it's possible when it was not. It was to say something was impossible before I knew that because I think that science is all about going to those dark places and trying to find it's impossible. My mistake was to say it was impossible before I was sure about that. So I should have said, "We don't know yet. We didn't do it yet, but we should investigate." I was quick to say I didn't do it. It's impossible. So I delayed things by three years, five years after I'm doing it right now. Dude, can I shake your hand? I fucking love that so much. Like most people cannot look at something like that and say the mistake that I made was actually in the opposite direction and I should have been bolder. I should have made a wiser proclamation and then to actually join the team. That's so cool. Dreams is something that I was told not to study. Now that's what I do in my lab every day. Now I'm never saying something is impossible before. I'm certain that it's impossible. Wow, I love that. I'd love it even more if you would go so far as to say nothing is truly impossible. Then you'd really have me. I'll go with that. So you mentioned that I teach screenwriter and I work with TV. The reason I do that is because I feel that the best ideas for my research come from those hours with the kids' right place. The Fellows at the American Film Institute who writes science fiction from movies that inspired me, like the Matrix. You mentioned that this inspired us. We were kids of 1999. What happened then affected us. Star Trek affected my dad's generation. The best paper that I ever written has a thousand of citation. The episode of Limitless that I worked on last week and came out has five million people watching it. Those are the kids who are going to be me in 20 years and if they think, "Oh, this is maybe possible," they're going to do that. You ask me how to change behavior. This is how to know what the possibilities are. I love that so much. So here's the people watching this show. They know my story very, very well and I'll run it into the ground because it's so important. I am not an example of what happens when innate talent meets hard work. I'm an example of what happens with a human being anytime hard work is applied because I didn't show early signs of promise. I got a 990 on my SATs. That was taking it twice. I don't qualify for men or anything like that. I have an average IQ. It's like none of my sort of raw materials are very impressive but I work hard and I work hard over a very long period of time. In doing so, I've completely transformed my life and I've transformed my mind to the point where now people just assume I'm smart. The same people that were looking at me 20 years ago did not assume I was smart but they do now. The reason this conversation is so important to be having with a neuroscientist is it all comes down to me to the narrative that you tell yourself. When I was under educated and lost and bordering under pressed and all of that, it was because the narrative that I told myself was that I was a victim of something. Once I gave up the victim mentality and I realized I can do anything that I set my mind to, so now it's a spiritual question. If you really believe you can do anything you set your mind to, then how you spend your time is a spiritual question. Once I said, "Okay, what I'm going to spend my time on is self improvement. I'm going to see how much can I manipulate my own brain." I began researching the brain to understand what's malleable, what's not learning about myelin. If you don't even know what myelin is, to think that you've already sort of maxed yourself out, it's fucking crazy. Reaching the brain, finding out the anatomical mechanisms that are at play and then coming to, "Okay, this comes down to self-narrative." If I'm telling myself dreams can't be recorded, then they really can't because I will stop, shy of that. When you're talking about never saying that something's impossible and you're not really sure, what I started thinking about is thinking big, thinking really big and watching the matrix and saying, "Okay, either that level of VR is actually possible or stopping bullets is actually possible." Whatever the thing is that you sort of take away from it and time travel was one of the things on your list. The promise I make to people watching this show is from watching this show, you will accomplish more than you would have if you didn't watch the show.
Understanding Brain Functions And Mental State
Your Brain Carries the History of Memories in Neuronic Connections (46:43)
One of the key reasons for that is you'll finally understand that if you fail to think big, that's on you. The only reason you're not thinking big is because you're scared because there's nothing in the machinations of the brain, there's nothing in what has come before you in science, nothing that would lead you to believe the thing you currently think is impossible actually is. Let me say this in neuroscience words. I love it. Here's how I'm going to say it. Your brain goes with you and it carries all of the history in the form of memories. All you have from what happened before you is stored in the form of memories and they're not accurate and they're kind of compressed. That's all you have about the past. You have no idea in the future even though your brain tries to predict it all the time. This is what dreams are for, this is what decisions are for. You try to kind of simulate the future and make predictions. You don't know what's going on. All you have is this kind of sliver of reality which is the present which is all you have and you control everything that happens there. The nice thing about the present is that actually it interacts with everything in your brain and you can change things. What we learned in the last five years is that memories are different in how they work and if I summarize it in one sentence, they change every time you use them. If you have a memory stored here of what you had for lunch yesterday and I ask you what did you have for lunch, you basically open the memory right now and you tell me a story but whatever happens right now goes into the story and you save it differently. If I ask you tomorrow what you had for lunch, you'll open the modified version. Every time I ask you the same question, you open a different version which means you can actually change the past. You can actually change your experience of things. This is why therapy works. You go, your girlfriend breaks up with you, you go to the therapist, she asks you what happened, you tell the story, she intervenes, you save it differently. You ask, a week after, what happened, you tell a different story. After five meetings you have a different version of the reality. And that is powerful because it means that we control the narrative that we have. We don't really have to be kind of confound to the story that we experience. We can actually change it. This is what the brain is for. To simulate and change and adjust and synthesize better version of life. We can make ourselves happy, we can make bad things look better, we can control things and it's all by virtue of just telling a story, looking it differently and saving it again. It's as simple as that. We have the ability to actually change the story all the time. So learning is one way to do that. Thinking and reflecting about ourselves and other way to do that, having more experiences allows us to do that. We know all of this now. So suddenly there's kind of essence to this self-help book that we've read when we're kids and we know how to implement it. I become a preacher but I love it. I hope people are listening to your sermon because that is the most important thing anybody struggling to have success should know is the narrative that you tell yourself about yourself is the most important thing you have. And if you tell yourself a story of struggle and adequacy, not being good enough, failure, all of that, then that's going to reinforce because that literally becomes your identity. And going back to what you're saying at the very beginning, you've got people and they're justifying why they made some choice. And when you said you want the fish to the steak, dude inside, I was like, my narrative as a human being is I'm the guy who chooses the steak. So I didn't know that wasn't even difficult. It would have been easier if you said steak or cake because I'm really the guy that chooses the steak over cake. But it's like that's pure narrative, right? That's what I want to tell myself. And so when I like the big breakthrough in my life, the big breakthrough on a map of my timeline, if you were going to put a demarcation point, it is the day I stopped thinking of myself as smart because I wasn't and I started thinking of myself as a learner. That changed everything because now the narrative that I was reinforcing, the memories I was pulling out, changing just a little bit and then putting back all revolved around reimagining myself as somebody who learns faster than other people is willing to learn. We'll put in the time and the effort to learn. And so it became this identity which was anti-fragile, right? Because now you could tell me that I was stupid and it didn't hurt me. It just compelled me to learn more. The reason I shook your hand earlier is I really am moved when you say I was wrong about that. I should have done this. Anytime people can say that, can just own a mistake and see a better solution, that's somebody who's polishing a self-image in a way that's anti-fragile. The more they look at that failure, the harder they go in a new and better direction. It's really incredible. All right. I want to ask you all the questions that I get asked to which I have no answer. And I'm hoping because I get to ask these questions a lot. All right. Number one, how can I get more motivation? It's the one thing because I've never lacked motivation. I don't know how to help people. Tough. So here's how I would think about that. So motivation is a word, right? It's a label that we put a set of events in our brain. What you actually want is the outcome of that. You want to do things that when it's held. So I think that there are a few kind of things that we know work. One is evidence of past successes. If I see video and I go back to your memories and I reframe them as successes, suddenly the current event that's the same is a success. So I think that one thing is having success stories and identification stories. As in you find there's a lot of people out there. There was a person that is like you that had similar experience and chose the thing that you want to choose. Find this person or these people and it's going to rub into you. So I get asked by my students often, how do I become funnier? How do I become a smaller and my one tip that I give them all the time is surround yourself with people that you want to be like. You want to be funny, just sit next to comedians, just go to the same room they are and just sit next to them.
Surround Yourself with People That You Want to be like (52:43)
It's going to rub onto you by your smoothness because it's the environment that's around us that really changes everything and other people said it before but I'll tell you the neuroscience behind it. We know now that brains interact with each other through language in a way that synchronizes the brains. So when I talk to you right now, if you're engaged with what I say, it means that if we scan our brain right now, our brains are going to look alike. More than yours and someone on the street that isn't here. So two people in the same room, as soon as they interact, their brains literally start to kind of, if you want, pulsing in the same way. Lots of the brain light up in the same way, parts shut down. So we actually are affected. This is how we affected each other. This is how communication made humans who they are. This is the one thing that makes us better than all the animals because we are able to communicate using language, affect each other's brain and create narrative that doesn't exist together. We both believe in things that we've never seen before, like God or ideas that's like democracy or money. Those things we invented and we can communicate them and create this image in people's brains and they all share this thing. So in the same way, if you surround yourself by people that you want to be like, you hear them communicate, they change your brain and it's going to rub onto you. You are going to actually become funnier. If you sit and listen to funny people, next you actually become more motivated if you're next to people that are motivated. The next version of that, if you cannot find them, if you're sitting right now in a rural part of Alaska and you can't just find yourself in Los Angeles with the people you want to be with, is to actually just look at them on videos, on books. And that's the way our brain basically gets content and change. So changing brains happens many, many ways, but the easiest one that everyone can try is to say what kind of world I want to be in and bring this world to you in the form of movies, stories, TV shows or people. That's the ways to kind of get things that you want next to you.
A Quick Peek of How Dr. Drori Dayan Looks at Brains (54:39)
And do you think when you're doing that, that you're getting into a repetitive brain firing pattern that ultimately wires, you actually change your brain. So we didn't mention that there's science behind it much, like in terms of what we do, but we put a lot of people's brains and we look at their brains while things happen to them and we actually see it in action. We see how the brain changes when people communicate. We see how the brain looks when you watch a movie, we see how your brain aligns with the movie and when you tell someone else the story of the movie, their brain aligns with your brain but aligns also with the brain of the director of the movie. So communication is this mechanism by which information flows between brains and changes the brains. Actually, if you want to take it one step above, this is also how we change ourselves because we talk to ourselves all the time. You drive your car, you walk to work and you're just alone with yourself and you communicate, you also change your brain. You kind of solidify the things that you want to be more like and you suppress the ones in the one. So we always talk and those voices, those are basically the other characters in our brain that talk to each other. You kind of choose which ones to give more weight to. So this is how you become the better person you want to be.
Look at all those different yous. (55:47)
So we actually now play with things that change behavior during the night when you're sleeping in the following way. Yes. We actually... Talk about this. So this is another new thing from the last 10 years in neuroscience that was kind of finally discovered which is you can learn, change and transfer overnight. So if you look at the night, if you go to sleep for eight hours sleep, it's not really a uniform experience. Night is not really just the full asleep and you spend eight hours just in the same state. You actually have phases. We call them stages and cycles. And there have different things that happen in them. And one of them is the stage where we are dreaming. That's when our brain basically simulate future options and shows us a movie of things that could happen and allow us to live to them. Thinking their reality, it's the ultimate VR. We actually live life thinking that we are there. Thinking how it would be to live with her in Alaska or to quit the job in Mootenbunkoover. Really, have this experience, filter it to our emotions and then wake up with the answer what to do. This is one stage but there's another stage. It's really interesting. Stage three and four of the sleep. We call it slow if sleep. It's a stage of the night where your brain essentially takes all the experiences from the day before and weights them and chooses which ones to keep and which ones to take out. So if you think about life when you go through your day, there are many, many moments that you call the present about every one and a half second. You have a different present and then it goes into the past and becomes a memory. Then you go to the next moment and you leave it and then you start in a memory. Then when you go to sleep, your brain looks at all those 50,000 moments that you had and says, "Okay, when I walked from home to the bank, I had 20 of those moments. They're not really important. I should compress them into one. Keep just one. Remove the others." When I kissed her, it was a moment that I want to remember every fraction of. So I want to keep all of them individually as one big stock of experiences. Your brain does that. Join slower sleep during this moment. It kind of chooses out of all of them and picks the ones that are important. What we learned in the last five years, 10 years, is that you can actually do things to you at this stage when you're sleeping that will make you change the pointer. We can choose for you to focus on the work to the bank rather than the kiss. In doing so, we're going to basically make you strengthen those memories at the expense of others. We do that by using smells or sounds that we play to your ears in the right moment, the smell of the... You judge that right moment because you're actually watching a readout. It has to be done. The more things that you can't do at the time, you can't just spray the smell in the room all the time. You have to do it in the right moment because if you just spray the smell in the room, it's going to wash out. You have to kind of target the brain in the right moment. But then the brain is going to say, "I smell this thing. This means that I want to focus on this moment and strengthen that." And what the experiments that we're doing and others are doing right now show is that you can actually make a person learn things when they're sleeping. You can actually change their behavior. You can make them choose to focus on different behaviors that they want to change and wake up not doing this thing. You can actually do things. So the classical experiment that was really popular in the last three years of 2015 was people come to the lab and they're smokers and they want to quit. They go to sleep for two hours and the experimenters wait for the moment when their brain is in this state where it's kind of listening to the outside world and reassessing life and they spray the smell of nicotine into their nose. And then they think, "Okay, out of all memories I have, let's focus on those that have to do with smoking." And then immediately after they blast the brain with a smell of water and eggs, which basically makes the brain rewire and take nicotine and wire it with bad experiences. So you do that a few times when they're sleeping, they wake up, they have no idea what happened, but then suddenly they say, "I don't really want to smoke anymore." For a few days they actually change their behavior. They don't want to smoke, not knowing what happened. They just came to connect, wake up, and they don't want to smoke. This is changing behavior, neuroscience. You find the moment you hit the brain with it, you change the wiring, and the person wakes up, a different person. That is amazing.
The parallel between this neuroscience and astronomy. (59:40)
Do people freak out about that? Like good or bad? The answer is they do, but they shouldn't. And I have an analogy that's going to be the kind of way I look at it. Go back four hundred and six years ago. Sixteen, ten. Gareto, garelais, points his telescope to the moons of Jupiter and he looks at their orbit and he expects it to go in one way, but it doesn't. It goes in a different way. And he tries to understand what's going on there. The only way to solve the equation is to re-align the planets of our Milky Way galaxy and specifically the solar system by putting the sun in the center and putting Earth as the number three planet in the system. Which to him is a de-thronomer to humankind. What does it mean that we're just one more planet out of many? It feels horrible to him. It changes everything, but the equations require that, so he does it. In doing so, he basically allows us to now see the wide, rigid universe. Suddenly we see that the universe is much bigger than we imagined and we can explore it. And in the next four hundred years, we saw more of the universe and we learned a lot about what is out there. Now in the same way, in the last five years, we're beginning to understand that in our own brain, there are many, many voices and we are not the most important one, we're not even in the center. We're just one more voice out of many in our head and we're the one who thinks the most important, but actually they're quiet ones that don't really talk to us all the center of our universe. Now this to us again feels like I did one of the humankind. What does it mean that I'm not the center of my own universe? But the reality is that this will allow us to understand the most important and interesting thing in the universe, which is us. That's I think the profound understanding. Yes, it's scary that we're not responsible for choices, that they happen to us, that we're creating a narrative based on things that we're not really full in control, but that's the beauty of us. Because now we can actually explore more things in the brain and learn how things happen and maybe we'll understand how to become better people. I'm writing a book right now and it's about how to use basically how to take control of your mindset, but I believe that the process by which you do that is values, beliefs, identity, it's a priority.
How to take control of your mindset. (01:01:32)
It's like this whole and I often use when I'm talking to people about it, the analogy of your identity being like cancer and that cancer is not like a little ball that you can just reach in and pluck out. It's got all these crazy fucking tendrils and because it's so intertwined with the healthy tissue that like getting it out is very, very difficult. And there's so many things that are just intertwined. There's no way for me to tell you, oh, it's about values, oh, it's about identity, oh, it's about repetition or whatever. It's all of it fucking mashed together, but it all comes back to the brain is this malleable thing and they can change both form and function and agree. What are the things that make it change form and function? So while I have you as a captive person here to talk about the brain, what is that process? So like forming a new, maybe habits the wrong way to think about it, but I think about part of your job, if you want to change your, I'll even go so far as to say you're the affectations of your personality. Because I think there are some parts that are just it's who you are, it's hard wired, all that.
Pathways To Mental Health And Stability
Habiting your identity. (01:02:48)
But there are certain elements of your personality, what you desire, what you pursue, things like that that are manipulatable. How do we go about moving some of that to the default networks so that it's so ingrained in you've done it so many times that it becomes second nature? I love this question. It's the hardest question because I went out magical with these jellyfish spraying things and you're like, well, so how do we harness that? Yeah, exactly. So it's three pounds and it uses 20% of blood flow. That said, the way I think habits function, these are my ideas, is that because it's such an energy hog, it wants to be efficient. So this whole myth about you only use 20% of your brain, no, we use 100% of brain and pictures show that. But to get things done, we might only use 15. To get something complicated then we might only use 35. Otherwise, otherwise you wouldn't be an efficient animal or a human in the savannah if you couldn't really control this important but not having it in fifth gear all the time is an evolutionary strategy in my opinion. So I explain to my kids, okay, so then it falls into ruts because efficiency is about ruts like dominoes falling in a certain path. The best way I can explain it is as you grow the brain, the way the electricity flows, the way the connections prioritize is a bit like skiing down a mountain. It starts creating these electrical grooves of sort where if you see something, you see a cliff, a fear, it goes down a certain path.
Electrical grooves and ski paths. (01:04:22)
And every time you do that and you've reinforced it, it actually becomes less expensive energy wise to follow and fall into that habit. So these pathways, these habits in our mind, these rituals, these things that are good for us, we want to hold on to those, but a lot of them have become deeply carved, you know, routes down the mountain and filling those in, bearing them and finding healthier ones is going to be an energy expending process, okay? The effort will be harder in the beginning and then as you create a new route down the mountain, you can condition yourself to having more favorable and constructive responses. That's the best way I can explain is why effort will lead to change and your most effort will be spent in the beginning and then you can change your emotional and cognitive responses by conditioning yourself to find a different route down the mountain. What is that process at a cellular level? What does that look like? What's happening? So here's how I've always thought of it. You don't actively undo a habit.
Clean The Weeds (01:05:45)
You create a new habit and the old habit atrophies and now it's trying to basically remap this new pattern. But in remapping, you're sort of breaking that old, or not breaking it, but it's over time it's just beginning to atrophy. I don't know a better way to say it. Dendritic plasticity, neuronal plasticity at the cellular level is all about use it or lose it as a very old phrase, but it applies. If it's reaching out, looking for an electrical signal to come by and trigger it, release the shower with some chemicals. After a while, if it's not bathed in what it wants, the brain will say let those dendrites wither and morph and reach out to other tentacles. That's the cellular basis of steering electricity within your brain. That's the cellular basis for creating a new electrical groove down the mountain. Let me give you some examples of people that sounds very off the wall. No, no, no, not at all. You were born with more brain cells than as a kid than you are as an adult because we're losing them slowly over time. You were equipped with a lot that we can't hold onto. You're going to reinforce the ones that you're using and the ones you don't use, your brain will say I don't need to hold on them because they're just using energy. But the plasticity is we start off with more brain cells than we hold onto, yet we get smarter than when we are at one for the most part. We are from our kids. When we get more coordinated as we lose brain cells, that's the example that shows you that it's about the connections and reinforcing those patterns. I hope that empowers people to be like wait a second, it's not a static thing. I would exercise for my body there are things maybe I should do for my brain and mind, especially while the window is still here to set those into actions and make them constructive habits and maybe pass them on to the generation. What are you calling that window? I want to believe that window is open until the day I fucking die. It is for everybody, but not to the same degree. I will say that window is less than 40, less than 30 even is the most bang for your buck. But there's no doubt that the ability, this plasticity we're talking about is highest in your teens. That's actually when you get a lot of mental health disorders, weird thing. The most dynamic shape shifting is in adolescence. We come into our identity, but it's also a peak of mental health issues. You're setting your cognitive and emotional thermostat. Then 20s and 30s and 40s and 50s. It does slow down, but it doesn't wither to zero. That's interesting. My thesis in life is that we're far more malleable than we think. The science that I've read pegs it at about 50/50. 50% genetics, it is what it is. We all have predilections. There's things that we're better at. Intelligence certainly has a genetic component. Let's say that's 50%. You're just 50% unmutable. You can't fucking change it. It's like height. It is what a fucking is. 50% of it, on the other hand, is to really be scientific is epigenetic. It's going to be your response to the environment. If you had a radical case and you had somebody come to you and they were all... I don't want to get lost in the word depression, but they're sort of depressive. They're lost in their life. They're 35. Things haven't worked out the way that they want. They're a bit temperamental. They don't really have hold over their environment. How would you get them in line? What are things that... I have a list of things I would tell them to do, but I would think they're suboptimal compared to somebody who's actually looked inside of a brain. Yeah, that's a tough question because I don't take care of people with mental health issues. In neurosurgery, sometimes we do place catheters into the emotional hubs inside our brain. The thinking brain is like a mushroom cap. It's a what-end. You can electrically break an obsessive compulsive disorder habit if we've seen patients come in. So, okay, you talked about something I'd never heard of before. You called it electrical plasticity. Is that where you're trying to disrupt? Yeah, exactly. That's fucking interesting. So, wait a second. So, if I'm disrupting the electrical... Or resetting it, changing the oscillations. It's not on or off. What is that coming out of? So in the heart, you can put a pacemaker and get it to beat on a certain rhythm. What's driving that in the brain that creates a certain electrical pattern? So you're basically the electricity in the brain is shooting through hubs. Is this all come down to repetition?
Let the Plasticity Settle (01:10:42)
Well, I think right now, repetition can ingrain a physical habit. But what we're talking about just to go backwards on this is if you look at a snake, then you've never seen one before. A lot of people will reflexively jump back. Let's say it's a plastic snake. First time you might jump. Second time you say, "I've seen that before." Your instinct was tapped down by your frontal lobes. And those structures are our emotional and instinctive responses to our environment. They should be under... They should be malleable by our thought. The thought of these giant frontal lobes behind our forehead should say to them, "You don't just because you're angry doesn't mean you should physically reach out and hurt somebody. Just because you've seen a snake, you know it's plastic. You don't have to jump every time. Just because you're afraid of public speaking doesn't mean after a while you have to be afraid of it." So that... It's not conditioning. It's a thought that taps down instincts. We feel our destructive or not useful. So when I see... Going back to the electrical stimulation, when I grab a doorknob, I sometimes think, "Well, you know, I mean I should wash my hands." But if I grab a doorknob and go wash my hands 80 times, the frontal lobe is having a hard time tamping down those emotional hubs. We can drill a hole and put a catheter into these sub-critical structures. They're like nodules within the web of neurons. And electrical tickling of that will snap the patient out of this obsessive compulsive disorder. Does that last? Get the fuck out of here. Deep brain stimulation. You'd love this topic. But depression, OCD, and obesity, the drive to eat, it can all be modulated and they're all housed near each other. That speaks to what they are, is an imbalance of the emotional drive with the ability for the frontal lobes to tamp down some of these instincts. It's instinctive to eat. Sometimes it can feel instinctive to be depressed. And sometimes obsessive compulsion is a part of our brain and it's a natural part of our brain. It's okay to have those feelings. When you have too much, the imbalance isn't just electrochemical and those emotional hubs. It's the frontal lobes not accessing their potential to tamp down some of the emotions.
Garden Variety Depression (01:13:10)
Do you think that that is, I want to talk garden variety shit. I get it. There's always going to be outlier cases. But garden variety depression, let's start there. Or even the garden variety, like they can't get over the fear of the snake or public speaking, anxiety will round it too. Is it me not using my prefrontal lobe to tamp it down? Or is it that I either have a diminished prefrontal lobe from a physical, like there's a physical structural problem in my brain or that the fear center or the amygdala, whatever is kicking off the anxiety is physically over robust? Or is it just that if you had them, could you train them to use thought alone to get a hold of it? That's a good question. I know where you're going with that because I'd have been in power people to think down their anxieties. There's no other way, and I'm not copying out of a straight up answer on it, there's no other way to say it's all of the above. Some people actually have aberrant, robust lighting up of some of these structures. A mid-layered ones people usually think of. But in these sub-cortical structures, some people actually correlate that they light up more and they have greater addiction in that group. So there's a structural element, there's a life context element, and then there's also the frontal lobe element and that thinking of creating new habits, creating new values, creating less triggers in your life, that's the opportunity that we all have. I think that's the project you're working on. What's the stuff we can control without zapping ourselves and without putting pills in us? Those things set the boundaries, but the frontal lobe regulation of how we feel is in your own command. And you've seen it in Buddhist monks, you've seen the mind-body connection in deep divers. There's actually two nerves that come down and wrap around the heart. They can think down their pulse, they can think down how fast their heart beats. This is not like baloney. This is, you can put an ultrasound, you can look it up online, you see videos of it. That shows that thinking can change, thought can change how fast your heart beats. Why wouldn't we believe that thought can change those sub-cortical structures about anxiety and depression. If you get depressed, you can get stuck. So people who aren't having those mental health issues but just want to be better and live a more rich life in the sense of personal experience, we can think about our lives and our habits and triggers and create effects inside us. The mind-body connection is mind down the body and many people feel body back up to mind and that's where meditation and meditative breathing come in. But those connections are real. You see examples around you. If your frontal lobe can only help you 5% and somebody else is all dialed in, it helps them 50%. It doesn't matter. That's your best and that's an avenue available to you. But it's not a simple one. It's not a quick fix. It's not going to be a bullet.
There Is No Shortcut to It (01:16:27)
It actually takes work. You mentioned repetition. It takes work. It takes effort and there is no shortcut to it. But it's a glacial change that can happen over a few months to a few years. I think once people go to the gym, they can't not go to the gym anymore. I think people who find these rituals and habits that make them feel better, they become addictive to that and they're constructive and they're not pharmacologic. I want to hear what you think about this because this is going to be a key. This is a key thesis that I have that will play out in the book. It has certainly played out in my life. One of the things I think is most undervalued is repetition, repetition, repetition. If you left me alone with somebody that had whatever bad habit, I would have them do good things, whether it be thinking, prefrontal lobe trying to lower the heart rate, whether it's diaphragmatic breathing, whatever the case, whatever physiological hook that I'm trying to tap into, which is another part of the thesis. They're physiological hooks into changing your brain states. I would have people, whether it's calming yourself down, taking you out of the sympathetic nervous system, just from breathing from the diaphragm to get into the parasympathetic nervous system. I would have them do that over and over and over and over until that is so the using your double-dies and skiing analogy. There's a new slope. They've got the groove, the rut, I think you called it. They've got that fucking rut and it's positive and my understanding. A rut that they want to fall into. Exactly. My understanding of what's happening is what I would be helping them do is create the pathway that requires a least amount of energy because the brain is hard-wiring it. It's wrapping it in the myelin sheath so that the electrical signals are trans, they're going more efficiently. The brain from a caloric usage standpoint is trying to do whatever is most efficient. Simply through intelligent repetition, you're moving people into the default network of the brain so they can fucking space out and when they space out, they're becoming more calm. Their default reaction is the de-excitation of the nervous system. Yeah. No, I like what I'm hearing. The question is repetition and I agree it's not thinking about the mountaintop. By the way you breathe, you can change the electricity in your mind. We've seen that with the people we put grids on. We have actual measurements now. What's the structure where you get the most out of repetition? What is the perfect spot where meditative breathing hits that sweet spot for people? They'll increase it if it continues to benefit them. But the food, the breathing, sleep is a hard one. To me, food, what we eat and meditative breathing I think are the most graspable and measurable. The creativity stuff, the sleep stuff, the exercise stuff is harder for people.
Brain Development And Improvement
Nerve Growth Factors (01:19:26)
The exercise stuff is in its own way the most important if we can get back to that. Why? Keeps your brain arteries open, releases all these neurotrophic factors inside your brain. Not just the plumbing that irrigates the flesh of the brain. Tell me about the BNF. Yeah. They're nerve growth factors. Neurotrophic factors. Whatever the, for the, in this case, abbreviations, GDNF, BDNF, NGF, it doesn't matter then with GF and growth factors. It really is, I've heard your word, miracle growth, but getting back to the garden analogy, to keep the flesh, we're going to get, you know, electricity is one thing. To keep the flesh healthy, you have to irrigate it. And that has to do with your brain arteries. And since we already said it's not a, it's not a ball, you know, it's these, you know, these jellyfish and they're moving and they're throbbing and they're pulsating and their tentacles are reaching out. There's a lot of space in between. And that extracellular space outside of the actual cells, outside of the neurons, outside of the jellyfish, if you will, it's not just water. There's chemicals floating around in there. Now dopamine might be just from tentacle to tentacle, you know, serotonin might be this way. But what's it, what's in all this stuff around all those billions and billions of neurons, their growth factors and minerals and chemicals that the brain naturally has. But there's also a soup that these billions and billions of neurons are floating in. BDNF is a key component of that soup that helps regulate the health of each of those jellyfish or neurons. And we can trigger more of that exercise. Yeah. You exercise and it releases it, it showers itself. It's not like the thighs, five muscles sends it up to the brain. The brain says, hey, I'm feeling good. This is good. I like this. I'm going to create a new rut. I'm going to remind you, you feel good when you run. The brain will shower itself with growth factors. There are growth factors. Rain says, hey, you know, the electrochemical balance is better with those. So I think that's where you get the runners high. It's not just adrenaline. It's not dopamine is a happy chemical. I'm jacked up. I'm on adrenaline. It's just such a complex ecosystem. And rather than feeling intimidated by that, to me, I just see opportunities on how people can improve their lives. Dude, I'm super stoked to have you back on. Anytime that I get to research you with like the specific purpose of you coming on, I'm a very happy man, your new book Live Wired, I think is really extraordinary. And I want to, so I'm haunted by a quote. And that quote is genius is a young man's game. You never use that quote in the book, but you touch on the subject in terms of how much ability we have to change and learn as we get older. And I want to pinpoint just like, I really want to feel like I can get better and better as I age and that I'm not going to suffer the slings and arrows of, you know, sort of crystallizing into dogma or not being able to learn and push myself.
Brain Does Not Actually Get Better (01:22:20)
How changeable is the brain? So the good news is the brain remains flexible all through adulthood, which is why you can learn your names, new people, new facts, it's on. So it's not that plasticity shuts down, but it does diminish. But I actually want to address this for a second because I feel like this is a really important area, which is that as all of us get older, we sort of lament this and we think, oh, we would love to have the flexibility of a young brain. But in fact, I think you would not. And here's why. Although you'd be able to learn Chinese in a few weeks instead of a year or whatever, it's the hardening of your brain actually represents that you're doing something right. Your brain's job is to make an internal model of the external world. And it's trying to figure out, okay, what is my language? What's my culture? What's the beliefs of my society? How do I interact with people such that they respond to me in the right way? What is my internal model of my spouse's behavior? All these kinds of things. And if you somehow could take a magic pill that returned you to the flexibility of an infant's brain, you would forget all of that. You wouldn't be you. You wouldn't be Tom anymore. You'd be an infant again. You'd have to relearn life again. So let me push you on that. If I could get the flexibility but not wipe the slate clean, would there be advantages to that or this cold war for resources that the brain is sort of engaged in? Does that become so problematic that it becomes hard to solidify the self? Yeah, I mean, so let me just jump to the first thing. I think there's not a way of doing the flexibility without losing yourself. Why is that from is there a physiological like the brain structure becomes just too squishy? Like what's happening? It's that who you are is the sum total of all of the experiences you've ever had. You know, I mean, at the end of the book, I sort of suggest that you are a vessel, each of us is a vessel of space and time where you were born in a particular town at a particular year. You go around, you vacuum up your experiences. I was born in a different town in a different year. I go around and vacuum up my little experiences. And that's what makes us, us. And if you got rid of that and said, you know, I want to forget all that and start over, you wouldn't be anything about you anymore. I mean, maybe you would learn Chinese and you'd be to have a different name or you'd be a different person, whatever. You'd have to learn everything over again. What is up, my friend, Tom Bill, you here? And I have a big question to ask you. How would you rate your level of personal discipline on a scale of one to ten if your answer is anything less than a ten? I've got something cool for you. And let me tell you right now, discipline, by its very nature, means compelling yourself to do difficult things that are stressful, boring, which is what kills most people, or possibly scary or even painful. Now here is the thing, achieving huge goals and stretching to reach your potential requires you to do those challenging, stressful things and to stick with them even when it gets boring and it will get boring. Building your level of personal discipline is not easy, but let me tell you, it pays off. In fact, I will tell you, you're never going to achieve anything meaningful unless you develop discipline. All right, I've just released a class from Impact Theory University called how to build ironclad discipline that teaches you the process of building yourself up in this area so that you can push yourself to do the hard things that greatness is going to require of you. All right, click the link on the screen, register for this class right now and let's get to work. I will see you inside this workshop from Impact Theory University. Until then my friends, be legendary. Peace out.
Jellyfish, Death, and Renewal (01:26:03)
It's interesting. So one of the things that, so I think a lot about death, you covered this in an interview that I was listening to about, I forget who you were quoting, but man lives two lives. One, sort of, when he has no sense of his mortality and then the second one once he becomes aware of that. Maybe the last 12 months I've become aware of my mortality and I don't know if it's just the age. So anybody that's been watching me for a while will see that my rhetoric used to be really hardcore I'm trying to live forever. And when I really, I stopped to ask from an evolutionary standpoint, why don't we live forever? There are jellyfish that can do it and it is sort of what you're talking about now where the jellyfish sort of reenters, it's not a pupa stage, but something like that where it sort of like blobs back out and then sort of rebuilds itself. And renewal was the answer that I came up with in terms of why we don't live forever because you know the old adage of science advances funeral by funeral because you need that sense of renewal and change for a society to work. So a society certainly doesn't care about any one individual. Is that part of when you think about neuroplasticity, like every time I hear you say you don't want to get to that level of flexibility, you sound crazy to me. And I keep thinking it's because you understand something about the way neuroplasticity works that I don't. So walk us through like the fundamental reality of what neuroplasticity is. And I think one thing that is interesting is that notion that the regions of the brain are actually competing against one another, which I had never heard until reading Livewired. Yeah. Okay, great. Well, I mean, one of the things I've tried to do in Livewire is propose completely new frameworks about how to think about all this. So I'm glad, I mean, you wouldn't have heard this before Livewire because I feel like at least my hope with this is it's a completely new way of looking at the brain. Okay, so there's a lot to unpack in your question. I'll say a few things actually, let me just start with the quotation just in case everyone wants it, it's from Confucius. And he said, yeah, man lives two lives. The second one begins when he realized he has just one. And I agree with you about this whole immortality thing. It may be that there is a evolutionary basis to this, which is Mother Nature does a lot of work to figure out, okay, what do I need to do to make a species successful? And it may be that part of that is figuring out, okay, how long do I make them live in order for the species to be really successful? Obviously, it's not cast that way from Mother Nature part of you. It's just an evolutionary issue, but some species do better than others if they have the right turnover rate in terms of death. Okay, so you asked what, can I just go back to say what neuroplasticity is?
Your brain is constantly changing (01:28:54)
Notice that your whole life, your brain is changing, you've got, you know, most of your listeners probably noticed, but you've got 86 billion neurons, you've got 0.2 quadrillion connections between these neurons. And your whole life, every moment, these things are changing their strength, they're unplugging, they're replugging, the neurons, the cells in your brain are seeking. They're actually moving around and trying different things out. Each one has about 10,000 connections with its neighbors. The interesting part is your whole life, this is what's happening, which means you are a slightly different person than who you were when you started this podcast five minutes ago, and I am too. So this is what I mean when I'm talking about the flexibility of the brain. Now the argot of the field, we call this brain plasticity, but the fact is I think we need a new term because the reason I got that name a century ago is because plastic, you can mold in shape and it holds that shape, but what the brain is doing is so much more than simply holding onto a shape, it's constantly reconfiguring itself. And so that's why I introduced the term live wired, which I do to distinguish how we think about everything in Silicon Valley, which is hardware and software, where you make these trim and efficient two layers and they interact with each other. Live where is constantly actually, it's like a living electric fabric. It's unplugging and re-plugging and changing itself and getting things down into the system. Now back to your question about as you get older, the thing is you've been plugging things down into the system your whole life and the longer it goes, the deeper that gets into the system. And that's why I'm skeptical about this idea of returning to plasticity of a child because the way learning works in the brain is everything builds on what you already know. So it's not like a computer where you give it some piece of information, it stores a little file, it's not like that. It's instead everything you learn is in the context of what you have already known. So just as an example, if you and I were learning how to fly a B2-12 helicopter, you might think about it in terms of like, "Oh, okay, I get it. This is sort of like a motorcycle. I lean this way. I might think about it in terms of a horse." Like, "Okay, yeah, I grew up running horses, so here's how I do it and here's what I think about it." But it's all predicated on what we've known before. Yeah, I heard you destroy my fantasy, which is one day we will be like the matrix and we can download stuff and you introduce that level of complexity where it's like learning doesn't actually work like that. And you have to think of these things as existing in these different layers in the brain and that we're essentially synthesizing machines, which I've always said to myself in a derogatory way. Because I look at somebody like Elon Musk and he seems to be truly thinking sort of in a unique way. Whereas I've always felt like I have to take in all this data and then it bounces around in my mind in a unique way, but it isn't sort of truly from the ground up a unique insight. And that may just be me looking at incorrectly and everybody is a synthesizing machine, but that reality of the way that we take in data and then I've always thought of it sort of as a pinball machine where it comes in and it hits something else, which then bumps into something else and then it re-congeals into this sort of new and unique idea. But that's interesting and it becomes somewhat troubling and you have a quote in the book, I forget the exact words, but basically everyone is born as many men but die as one. And that notion of you have all this infinite possibility, you could have been born anywhere at any time, encounter anything, but ultimately you become one very specific person. And because I'm in sort of the mindset space, I encounter people that have childhood trauma a lot and the way that childhood trauma shapes them, I find really distressing. And this is my obsession around this notion of I don't want to be a slave to my past. I acknowledge how important it is, but how much can we begin to push beyond that? If we're at a 10 in terms of malleability when we're young, are we at a .5 when we're 70 or where are we at? Well, I'll tell you something in this context. This is something I've been thinking about a ton, which is, okay, let me explain why we don't change as much as we grow older. It's because you are getting a good model of the world with which you're successful. And so there's no particular motivation to change further. Now, I happen to know that you and I both love the idea of continuing to change as hard as we can to do that all the time. But it's not the general story. Most people find, let's say, a career and they figure out how to do it and they learn all the vocabulary of their career and they figure out, great, this is what I'm doing. And unfortunately with a lot of people when they retire, their lives really shrink and then they are not challenging their brain in any way. Here's why that matters. It's because when you challenge your brain, you're building new bridges and roadways all the time. And as people get older, of course, their brain tissue actually starts to generate. So you need to build those new bridges to cover broken roadways or else you're really in trouble. And you may have heard the story about these nuns who when they died, they gave their brain an autopsy for analysis. And it turned out that some fraction of these nuns who lived in the convent so the day they died, they had Alzheimer's disease but nobody knew it when they were alive because they didn't have the cognitive deficits. And so it turns out it's because living in a convent you've got other people to deal with and chores and responsibilities and other things. And so they were able to build new bridges all the time. So anyway, this is one of the most important things that we can do with our brains. Now I'm trying to remember what was the connection to the thing we said before.
How to preprogram a child's success (01:35:01)
This is about how far you can push yourself. So I'm going to go now into a direction that means a lot to me. So when you think about your kids, so I know you have kids, are you like, fuck, I'm going to introduce them to everything that might be meaningful. I'm going to have them playing piano because the way that the brain will drink in music and reorganize itself is going to matter. I'm going to have them doing sports because obviously that's going to lay certain foundations that they won't be able to lay later. Like how critical is that developmental period? Like if I'm going to be a good steward, I don't have kids, you don't have to worry about me. I'm not going to fuck anybody up. But like how I would really sweat that. Like I would really worry that I either haven't done enough to sort of lay important foundations or I've done too much. Like how do you think about making the most of that plastic period? Yeah, I'll tell you. So my father was a psychiatrist and he had actually prepped me for this a while ago. He said, the view of modern psychiatry is that the most important thing a parent can do is open doors for their children. That's it. Meaning you give the kid piano lessons and soccer lessons and this and that and chess and blah blah. But you can't get kids already start having personalities very young and they love this but they hate that and so on. The best you can do is give the kids the opportunity and the other thing that's so important is just teaching kids creativity and by that I simply mean teaching them how to consume lots of data and then remix and do their own versions of it because the way that schools often go wrong is by teaching lots of stuff and then the semester ends and that's it. Like okay now you know all the different ways that these painters painted or all the different ways of electrical engineering that you can do this and that. But the important part is you should add a week to the end of that where you say to the kids okay now I want you to bend, break, and blend all these painting styles and come up with your own. Now I want you to come up with an engineering project that you care about that you've thought of that incorporates everything we've learned in this semester. So that's I would say the main thing I'm trying to do as a parent is make sure that whatever my kids learn I turn it into something where they're leveraging it through using it so that knowledge becomes not just an end point but a springboard. So do you think of it in terms of because after reading the book I walked away thinking this way. All of us are going to make when we're young accidentally or on purpose we're going to make decisions about what infrastructure we build that's robust and thinking of a musician is probably the easiest way to explain this. So if I understand it right a kid that starts practicing music when they're really young the density of the brain regions that deal with either how their fingers move or reading sheet music or whatever the different elements are they are physically more robust in a way that they will not be with the same amount of hours if you pick it up at the age 40. And so there becomes like these really critical because I don't know if you've read the book nudge but it talks about how little pushes in any direction can have a huge impact in somebody's life. So my dad one time made an off-handed comment that hey because we had a camcorder nice to play with it which now kids think yeah everybody has a camera this was really fucking rare back then. So my dad brought the camera home already begins nudging me in a direction then my dad makes a comment that he thinks that I'm good with the camera that pushes me even harder in that direction I end up going to film school all this like and so it becomes a question of my dad was really distant so to get his attention was I didn't have that sense that I was doing it for that reason but were those like little nudges that pushed me to build all this infrastructure now around visual storytelling storytelling my whole life revolves around this shit so I'm like knowing how nudges can have this big impact like for the parents out there listening is there certain types of infrastructure problem solving is what I heard you just saying now or critical thinking I don't know what words you would use to describe what you're talking about now. So actually there's so many points that I want to address in the things you've said already and actually if you don't mind just before I forget the cue of things let me go back to a few steps here in case this is useful let's tie it all together.
Musk vs. You (01:38:51)
One is about Elon Musk versus you you know everybody's brain is running the same software which is you absorb the world and you you know you generate remixes of it and his brain is no different and when you look at quotations from Henry Ford from Thomas Edison whatever they're all saying the same thing which is I mean Henry Ford said I invented nothing new I merely took the advances of all the people before me and I just assembled it into a new package and that's of course what Musk is doing because they're actually weirdly there is no such thing as a thought out of the blue everything builds on what you have been exposed to. The second thing is the quotation you mentioned was Martin Heidegger yeah every man is born as many men and dies as one. The reason where this all comes together for parents why it's important is because the number of things that is going to influence a child whether you bring home a camera or whatever the thing is it's so infinitely manifold that as a parent you actually in the end can't control there's just too much stuff so the best a parent can do and what the parent should do is just try to just try to bring your home all that stuff and play with your children and encourage your children to do this up because you can't possibly steer things in a meaningful way. When father brought home the camera that was a meaningful important moment but he might have brought home for other things that you have forgotten since because it just didn't resonate with who you were as a person. So the weird part is we are this weird combination of nature and nurture which is to say you dropped into the world with a particular set of genetics that give you particular predispositions for some reason you're a real visual guy you like doing that so the camera resonates with you but the other things your dad brought home you don't even remember them. So this is the weird thing about who we become is this mixture of nature and nurture. If you had to give a split what would you say what I've seen sort of 50/50 do you think that's accurate? It's a dead question in biology nowadays because you can't say which is because of the way they intertwine what I mean by that is you know there's this moment where you drop it in the world you've got a certain set of genes but from there there's feedback on your genetic expression from your experiences and this is this new field of epigenetics which is to say depending on the experiences you have that actually feeds back into your brain all the way down eventually to the level of the nucleus in the neurons and you change the conformation of the DNA with certain proteins that fit on it and change it such that some genes are getting expressed more some genes are getting expressed less.
Understanding Human Responses And Early Development
So what this means is that the nurture actually affects the nature and obviously the nature affects the nurture because if let's say I like swimming right but I don't have the wingspan of Michael Phelps so I'm never going to be Michael Phelps and be able to compete with him. So these things anyway all feed back on each other so that's why you can't even put a split on it. Yeah that is the notion that we're not blank slates I think is really important for people to understand we're going through a super weird time right now I'm utterly shocked by this where people are talking about humans like they're sort of infinitely malleable and while that would actually be kind of cool I wit and you've already debunked this I wouldn't be myself if I were infinitely malleable and so okay I do accept that but thinking of children at least is sort of infinitely malleable and that you know you could become anything is really exciting but it's so divorced from reality that it breaks people's ability to predict how human beings are going to react and how to even you know structure a society in a way that's functional. How do you think about that intertwining are there things that you know for instance the sexes like are there things that are somewhat sort of categorizable if you know just even that amount of the person or is it like no even that you can't begin to segregate people. The interesting part is that essentially anything you measure exists on a distribution so let's take something like you know skill it, chest or swing or the math or whatever you know anything you think of there's this big distribution in society and when it comes to something like comparing the sexes there's a distribution with whatever you're measuring and those tend to be non um those tend to be not centered exactly the same place and yet overlapping lot and that's why it's challenging ever to say oh well that's a male that's female so they're going to be bop bop because you're only talking all you can the best you can talk about is on average.
Measuring Distribution (01:43:15)
So we're in this weird funny position there where you know yeah one can try to ignore and say well I think it makes no difference that she's a female he's a male but it makes some difference on on average but maybe not for that individual is the is the key and as far as this thing but you know what you just mentioned a moment ago is this thing I've been thinking about with all the where we are in 2020 I can just say personally I give my charity money to to organizations that deal with kids in babies infants that's where I put all my money on this on this bet because just as one example there's one charity that I donate to that deals with daycare centers because in poor neighborhoods where both parents have to work or maybe it's just a single mom they need to put the kid in daycare and most of the daycare centers in poor neighborhoods just all the kids get gathered in front of a television and they watch television all they essentially the whole goal is just to keep the kids alive for the day but it's not interacting and teaching with the children the way a you know a good really rich neighborhoods daycare center would operate and this stuff matters so much because a young child's brain is is so thirsty for all the information of the world and so that's why this matters a lot and and because of this issue we've been talking about how brains flexibility diminishes through time it's just where I put my my bets my chips is that you know sometimes what you have in poor neighborhoods is you have to make a bet on the upcoming generation you say I'm gonna do everything I can to make this next generation get off the starting blocks and an equal point as a rich neighborhood so that so that the kids are not disadvantaged in day one this guy named Jeffrey Canada that I have been stalking I'm waiting for the restraining order I am trying to get him on the show so desperately and he said something and it's one of those I don't know if I remember it accurately and I can't refind it but my memory of it is that he said so he is really really bright guy grew up in Harlem ends up getting a full ride to Harvard goes to Harvard says I'm gonna come back and change the education system basically help all these kids in Harlem and goes tries realizes the education system is so problematic that he can't fix it from the inside yes fix from the outside starts looking at what the real problem is and what the real solution is and realizes the big difference between kids to grow up in sort of normal suburban life and kids to grow up in poverty is the number of words they hear by the time they're five and the ratio that's positive to negative and the thought of being able to boil it down to something that simple because again going back to this notion of infrastructure they have the language infrastructure in their brain and that that has these massive knock on effects later in terms of their ability to communicate get a good job all this crazy shit and so like you he's focused on kids and what I think I remember him saying was you have to give up on adults and that may have just been the terror that it struck into my heart but my memory of that statement which obviously is all about brain plasticity has been so influential in my life that this company impact theory started aimed at adults and now about 5% of what we do maybe 20% 20% of what we do is aimed at adults 80% is aimed at kids because I'm like if I actually want to have the kind of impact I want to have I've got to hit him during that age of imprint where their brain remains incredibly malleable and so yeah man that like talk to me talk to me about what happened and I think it was the Ukraine when there was so much death after the war that basically there was the orphans had. Yeah you know what that was actually in Romania was after the death of Chachescu there were tens of thousands of kids who had been orphaned because their parents had been killed so the Romanians set up these orphanages the state run orphanages where there were too many kids and too few staff and so the staff said look don't pick up the kid don't talk to the kid because the kid will get clingy if you do that so what they did is they just ran their business keeping the kids alive but not giving them what a child needs and these kids grew up with massive cognitive deficits this is one of nature's tragic natural experiments where you get to look at it and say ah okay now we realize that what children here's the whole thing and this is as you know the theme of live wire is that human brains drop into the world half baked this is the great trick that mother nature discovered with our species you drop him in not ready but there's a certain expectation certain gamble nature is taking which is that you'll get the right sorts of inputs and it's a gamble
Inputs that will break you (01:48:20)
because if you don't get those inputs then the brain does not come out optimally at all talk to me about the inputs that will break you if you don't get well one of them is you know actually that's an interesting question because we don't know how to phrase it except as a general thing about love and language and you know attention and physical touch will language break you though because like if somebody's deaf they can still develop and and have normal relations when they're older I think they exactly right but they're speaking language they have language they have sign language that they're speaking with people and so if they didn't have that would they be developmentally retarded they pop that's an interesting question let me think if I can think of an example I don't I don't know I'll have to I'll have to look that up the reason is because all of the examples of deafness I know and I know it was point hundreds or thousands of deaf people they they've all grown up in a society that's modern enough that from whatever the age of six months or year whatever their parents said wow we need to get help here and learn sign language or put you into a school or get a tutor who can teach you sign language so I actually don't know of people who have grown up where they're completely ignored in that way and not getting any language of course there you know there's a certain language of people paying attention to you and touching you and saying like would you like to milk where even if you can't hear you might still be getting a sense of language-ness but there are these again these tragic natural natural experiments where a child is so abused so neglected that let's say a perfectly hearing child doesn't get any language because the parent locks them in a room and just gives them food or something but gives them none of the language or attention and kids like that grow up with really horrid deficits like they never learn language they never learn the structure of language grammatically for example I tell the story one girl in the book who was found at the age of seven having been abused like this and what happened after her parents were arrested and so on all these psychologists came in all these people who gave her lots of love and attention and tried to teach her but she never could learn language it was too late that window had closed for her she just never got the rules of grammar so she said she can say no and stop it and one other thing but she can't speak language and there's nothing wrong with her in terms of genetically in terms of why she couldn't do that yeah one of the most interesting studies I've ever come across and I know you've talked about this is Harlow's monkeys and how if you give the monkey the option between basically sort of affection physical affection comfort from just a carpet mother and then a wire mother but it actually has food that it will go eat really fast and then run back and cuddle the carpet mother it is so weird to me like when I hear people say man humans are just love like it makes my skin crawl but then when I think about what the fact that if you don't touch and love on a human it actually dies that is so weird do you have a sense like is that tied to the like think of the visual cortex right visual cortex is expecting information I'm sure you can explain your theory on dreaming which
Humans break as a competitive system. (01:51:38)
I think is fucking fascinating like is there something where we have like a love center that like if it isn't getting that love it what the hell happens like I don't understand how we break fundamentally as a human yeah you know I would say it's this issue so we don't know and happily the reason we don't know is because there's simply not enough examples of so Harlow's monkeys you know he did this I guess about 50 years ago where he would do things like you know give the monkey that choice he also did these experiments where he would isolate a monkey and have the monkey raised in isolation with a one way mirror that he could look through but those kinds of experiments were shut down because you know he was doing it let's say for the right reasons you know trying to understand depression and so on but it was just decided that the outcomes were so awful that it was too cruel to do and and these terribly abused children are super rare thankfully so we don't really know there's not a love center in the brain but instead it's something about about this issue of the brain coming into the world where as much as possible mother nature has put out onto the world like you need to be getting this love and attention and touch I mean we understand a lot about the touch system and if you're not getting touched and stroked as a child that affects the development of you know what's called your somatic century cortex you know this part right under where you wear headphones and do you have a hypothesis why? again it's this thing about it's this thing about coming in half programmed and the rest of it is waiting for the world to program you and if the world is not programming you there are no hands on the keyboards there you're just not getting what you need see what you have is you know essentially an infant's brain without without the extra stuff that you need to grow up we as far as specifically like ah if you don't get enough touch language this is precisely what happens we don't know that and as I said it's for the for the right reasons that we don't know that and hopefully I kind of hope that we we never know exactly why that is because it would require studying that which is yeah I mean look I hope that we figure out why it is I hope we never find out because we have had cases like that for sure but one thing that is interesting and things begin to unlock so the one of the key things that I took away from LiveWired is this notion that Reese the the brain is real estate you use this great example of a map and if you look at a map as a kid you just assume all the country lines are like that's how it is and of course it couldn't be any other way but as a story you know looking back on it it could have been any manner of configurations and the brain is the same that you have competing resources fighting for resources walk us through that because to me I want to push some more on this idea of how we break as a human if we don't get the right input but I need to understand if it's tied to that sort of resource thirst or or some other mechanism yeah so the general framework I put forward is that it's actually competitive system under the hood there so you look at a picture in a neuroscience textbook and it says okay here's the brain that's the visual parts hearing touch and so on and that's how every textbook is you think okay I got that's that's the brain but in fact it's this fluid dynamic system that's constantly changing if you are born blind this part is at your visual cortex that gets taken over by hearing and touching something even if you go blind later that gets taken over and it's like that with everything for people who are deaf that doesn't remain their auditory cortex there's no real estate that lies fallow in the brain ever and so this is the remarkable thing about yeah about resource allocation so that yeah you know the analogy I give in the book is it's like if you saw the you know the Cuban Missile Crisis you were an alien that flew in you saw the Cuban Missile Crisis you'd say no the Americans of the Soviets nobody's doing anything I guess everyone's just nothing's happening but in fact what you wouldn't realize
Language development and early doors of plasticity. (01:55:22)
is that all the missiles are aimed everything is super tight and the reason nothing is happening is because all the guns are pointed at each other and that's what I propose is going on in the brain it has to be understood as a competitive system at many different levels of competition from you know from regions all the way down to neurons and even within neurons synapses competing against one another and so on and so that's what allows things to change really rapidly in the brain and what is the dynamic by which they are either winning or losing is it I'm receiving input ha ha ha so I get to keep going that's exactly it it's I'm getting input and so the I mean forgive me because you already read the book but you know I give this analogy of uh of colonization in early the Americas you know you had the French and the British and the Spanish were all colonizing North America and what I did is I just went back and I looked at it to see if I could correlate how people's territory changed given the number of ships they were sending over from Europe and what happened is the French started sending fewer ships than the British and um and so you know as they sent fewer and fewer ships their territory shrunk the French on this huge territory all the way from Canada down to Louisiana and as they sent less and less stuff eventually they lost all their territory and eventually they sold the whole Louisiana territory so this is an analogy that I use to what's going on about how the brain remaps itself all the time it depends on the number of ships coming over so you know just as an example if you're an amputee and you lose your arm suddenly there's no more ships coming in from your hand to the brain and so that territory gets taken over so yes it's about how much data is coming in and by the way how useful that data is so if you look at a map of the body um in the brain you find that the areas that carry more sensitive information have bigger representation so for example in my somatic sensory cortex my fingertips have a big representation because they're carrying a lot of important information in contrast my thigh doesn't you know it has a very little territory so who cares about my thigh um in terms of the number of ships that it's sending up to the brain so if they're locked in this battle for that going back to the idea of if you're not touching an infant loving an infant um stroking them is is it that regions that would otherwise go to that are being taken over by something and that causes that sort of like basically that there is it's probably more distributed than this but the idea being there is a distribution of items in your brain that their allocation is for social interaction so that i get social cues in and i i sort of play with them as you talk about babbling so i sort of babble i give a response and maybe i i hit my parent you see kids do the all the fucking time i grab your hair and you tell me no oh shit okay i get a bit of input there i smack your face and you tell me not to do that whoa and so i begin to realize okay cool like there's this give-and-take relationship that i have with this person it's not carte blanche i can't do whatever i want and now i'm basically forming my my the literal centers of my brain as myself as a social creature and is and when now we take that sort of feral child and put them now in a social context they seem broken but they might actually do just fine as a completely isolated creature that's right although it would be hard to define what we mean by doing just fine as an isolated creature but but i totally i totally agree with your your point of view on this which is it this is the part of talking about in the book about babbling so we all know with children they babble and the reason they're babbling is because they're saying somewhat their mouth and they're hearing what comes out of their mouth and they're comparing that to what's coming out of their mother's mouth their father's mouth and they're figuring out what and as they get older it's a different kind of babbling in fact he says like social babbling they're like what if i say f u to this bill whoa that didn't work at all and so um this is how you try things out in the world and this is how our brains learn how to drive our bodies by the way is by motor babbling you know we try things out oh i turn the bike this way oops that didn't work and so on so um yeah i think that's exactly right they're not getting a chance to do motor babbling and one of the things about plasticity that really matters is that you have these windows and they're pretty short windows before those doors clothes different areas of the brain have different windows to them but um yeah so if you don't have a chance to try language and figure out what's going on whatever at some point it becomes too late to do what are some of the doors that close early yeah well so language is one of them even subtle things like uh like accents i mean i just i've always thought this is a cool interesting thing that you know i can tell usually when i'm talking to somebody if they were born in foreign country when they moved to america because if you move here before the age of 13 you don't have any accent but if you moved here after the age of 13 you always retain a bit of an accent and the later you move the more of an accent you retain so so i compare in the book uh you know mila kunis to Arnold Schwarzenegger both of whom were born outside of the united states didn't speak any english mila kunis moved here when she was six so most people don't know that she was born in the ukraine and learned english later but Schwarzenegger moved here when he was uh 19 and he can't shake that accent it's a thick accent and it's because they both learned the the structure of language and grammar and how to get what they want but even more subtle things change different times so this is all to say that it's actually a whole suite of doors that close for different aspects at different times yeah but you know people look at things like you know right learning language in general you know skill at piano or violin or something i use the example of bladimir ashkenazi and yitzhak prolman as great pianist and violinist and so on i made the assertion in the book that they would never be able to be what they are if they picked up their instruments as a teenager and i just saw that someone made a comment online where they said oh dr eganland's wrong he's what a jerk because people can pick up musical instruments as teenagers and become just as good as them but they can't it's just not it's just not accurate you cannot become a pro men in ashkenazi unless you start really really young and it's because you have to burn that stuff all the way down into the deep parts of your brain uh so let's be maybe say that differently and see if i'm right it is both that they need to burn it into a deeper part of the brain it'll be interesting to hear you walk through sort of how things start in the hippocampus and then get pushed deeper and deeper and that the the notion of sort of depth is real and but then the the other side of this is not just the putting it deeper and deeper it's that the very ability to put deeper and deeper is no longer and that that's sort of the fundamental thing that your book um i hate about the truth of your book which is that they there are these doors and that they do close and so even if like let's say um that pearl men were to play for you know 30 years but he plays from the time that he's two till he's 32 and now i pick up the violin at 20 and i play until i'm 60 now i've clocked more years but because i'm sort of outside of that window it doesn't matter right so even that that sort of deeper and deeper it's not just ours clocked it's the time in which i clocked them exactly it's when you started there's one other thing as you know i point out in the book which is it's about relevance also so for it's like pearl men i don't know about its childhood but you know presumably he got proper social feedback where people said wow you're really good at that hey you know this is something that you've got a special talent that kind of stuff really matters a lot because if you had let's say picked it up at the age of two just like yitzhak did but for some reason you had mean parents who said oh tahla it's really hurting my ears i don't want you but then you could have clocked the same number of hours but it wouldn't have the same influence why because we've got all these neurotransmitter systems that are involved in reward and that of course includes social reward what you're getting out of it and will that increase the rate or veracity with which i learned something yes it increases the ability to even have the rock the right cocktail of neurotransmitters present for the plasticity to take place so you actually need i mean let's let's say i said to you hey tell me i really want to teach you seven important dates in uh... mongolian history and i told you to like if you don't care about mongolian history it's just so hard for you to remember it's right but if i'm telling you something that really matters to you in your life and it's relevant bang you'll remember that you'll have a so it has to do with relevance to you and part of it i mean this is a an interesting complicated area but part of relevance to you has to do with also what you think you can get out of it like if i tell you some interesting fact and you think wow that's cool i can tell that someone else is a cocktail party and they'll be really impressed by that fact whatever i mean people are always trying to surprise and impress each other and
The power of positive and negative reinforcement. (02:05:10)
there's all kinds of interesting reasons why you might find something relevant but that needs to be there for plasticity to take place which is more powerful positive or negative reinforcement oh it's an interesting question i don't know i mean both are used for so many things and you know even when raising a child you have to use both i you know it's interesting question because people often ask this you know propose this thing of like hey i'm going to raise my child i'm only going to say sweet things to my child and never say no and love and i don't really think that works i don't think you can do that so the child slaps you in the face and you say you know you did a great job slapping and blah blah blah but yeah it's hard to it's hard to get someone so i think both are needed to fence behavior and appropriately has anything been studied on that like because i for instance i was a very rambunctious child like i was i certainly had i was diagnosed with hyperactivity disorder maybe some ADHD thrown in for good measure but because i could sleep through the night my mom refused to medicate me and i'm very glad for that but my mom was also a hardcore motherfucker she did not play and she was able to keep me in line and there were many times where i really pushed the boundaries man and because my mom kept me in line i think that's part of the reason i developed discipline like there were just things you could do in my house you could not do and there was work that was expected of you and that was just that and she wasn't gonna back down did not matter how much i fought push she just wasn't gonna break and i'm curious if
Child Rearing And Emotional Well-Being
The controversial topic of spanking children for discipline. (02:06:41)
if anybody's looked because it just like for me i said look if i had kids a hundred percent i would not beat my children but i'd give them a spanking if that's what they need because my mom did it and it works so well for me if they don't need it i won't do it but and i people freak out so it's a good thing that i'm not having kids so anybody knows a way about that but like has anybody looked at that yeah i mean look this is one of those things everybody seems to have an opinion about that but it's very difficult to compare if you take a child who's raised in family there's no spanking and child is spanking it's just really hard to do any kind of good controlled experiment on that because there are probably a hundred other differences in the family as well so by the way when i had children i thought okay i'll spank them appropriate you know just when the situation really calls me my wife said no way you are not ever injecting that kind of fear into a child about they're gonna get physically hit and so on so we've just never done it and that's cool i'm happy to go along with that but i will never know the answer of whether they would have been better off with a little bit of physicals you know hitting or not um yeah those are there there's a whole class of questions that we can ask where there's no good way to study it and i mentioned this in the book because i i haven't heard anybody else things but i think it's really important one of the questions that people ask is what is the effect of children growing up with the internet now this is a question that always comes up to be what i give talks and everybody's got an opinion on this but it is a very difficult question to answer why because there's no way to do a good control group on that you can't say okay i'm gonna take these 18 year olds who've grown up wired and i'm gonna compare them to these other 18 year olds who did not have the internet because the only 18 year olds who don't have the internet are either Amish kids or kids who are totally impoverished in rural China or the favelas of south America or whatever um but there are a hundred other differences there and you can't compare them to the previous generation because there are a hundred other differences with the previous generation um and so it's very difficult to say oh i know for sure the effect of the internet is blah blah blah because it's just hard to do that scientifically so anyway there's a whole there's a whole class of experiments like that i think probably spanking is one of them yeah it makes me very sad that you can't run both like timelines to see what ended up working i'm really curious and you know with sort of scientific curiosity i'm open like if if i actually would have been better off somehow if my mom had had a more ninja style of parenting that didn't involve spanking me cool i'm i don't have some need for it to be that spanking worked i just want to know what actually works like when i think about there's sort of two things that i think about one i actually am very very interested in what sort of the ideal thing is to um give to a kid psychologically to help them thrive just when i think about what's the contribution i want to make to society it's all around
The ideal way to help a child thrive. (02:09:34)
mindset and kids um and then also just as as an adult i think about how far can we take this you know what i mean like every time i engage with you in your work it's it there is some like cocktail party like this is just fucking fascinating and i want to tell people this at at a party but there's far more than that for me is i want to use it in my own life you know the quote that i began with i'm not kidding when i say i'm i'm legitimately haunted by the notion that genius is a young man's game and the reason is i was a late bloomer and so the idea that i know physicists talk about sort of 35 36 is about the the sort of last moment you can expect yourself to have any meaningful breakthrough and i'm in my 40s so that sucks you know i actually want to address this issue about breakthrough because i originally had written a piece of us in the book and i i took it out in the end but i think this is actually really important so um one of the models that i provided let me back up for one second just to give the foundation it is one of the models i propose is that the right way to think about the brain is in terms of pace layers by which i mean some things are changing really fast and and if those stay stable then that changes the layer below them which is a little bit more conservative and it's changing and if that's doing something in the layer below that says okay i i see that that's a really consistent message all chain and so what happens is all the way down you get these deeper and deeper things the name pace layer i'm taking from something that the thinker steward brand proposed who said that when you look at a city you need to think of it in terms of pace layer so fashion changes rapidly the infrastructure of a city like where the buildings are that changes more slowly um the businesses that are in the buildings that changes more rapidly than the infrastructure the governance of the city that changes more slowly all the way down to the nature you know like where the river is in the city that changes the most so and the way to understand city is understand the interaction of all these different layers of speed and so i thought that was such a great insight that i really wanted to look at the brain that way and that allowed me to put a lot of data together anyway this is why just as an example there's this property of neurology that's very weird which is that you that older memories are more stable than younger memories and if you've seen people at the end of their lives they often will have essentially receded back into their childhood they've forgotten all the stuff in the last few years last few decades but they remember everything about their childhood and their childhood language and all stuff and what happens a lot actually is that people revert to the language they spoke as a child even if they've been speaking let's say english their whole adult life um so there's there so that's one of the big themes of the book about how plasticity actually works but what interested me is this notion of of breakthroughs this is the part that i didn't put in the book unfortunately but this notion that sometimes as you know in your forties you'll have a breakthrough where suddenly something you've believed your whole life something happens where you get a different view on and you say wait a minute maybe this deep layer this thing where i absolutely thought this was fundamentally how the world works maybe that's not true and all this other stuff falls apart in your internal model and you're able to recast something and um have you ever taken the landmark forum you ever done that i know it very well but no okay great so anyway they talk about breakthroughs that's um something that they try to get people to have and it's a really stunning experience what you know we've all had in our lives very breakthroughs and say let's say you thought somebody did something to you or said something or whatever and then you find out years later that's not actually what happened and there was a misinterpretation of it this is the kind of thing that really is is meaningful for changing our lives and the reason i mention this is in the context of you saying in your forties can you still change happily there are these deep things that happen where sometimes you have an opportunity to change and the and okay so that's one thing and the related issue that i want to say is this is what's happening to us now during covid-palooza we are all knocked off of our hamster wheels we are suddenly our internal models remember i talked about how our you know our whole lives we sort of make this model of exactly what's going on all of a sudden we're all kicked off this this path of least resistance and we're having to refigure out everything afresh and there's a lot of stress and depression and anxiety it's a terrible time for essentially everybody but the one tiny silver lining that is worth emphasizing is that it forces our brains to rethink our models everything about you know where i don't know where you're going to get these supplies how are you going to get food in your fridge where you get the toilet paper all this stuff two more creative things about okay well geez how do i how do i thrive from here given that my shop has closed or my you know employment has ended or what you're like what do i do now and it's it's forcing a creativity it's forcing the brain to rethink things in a way that is actually despite all the lousy stuff really good for the brain to to build new bridges memory and forgetting is something that is extraordinarily interesting so my wife will often joke with me that she wishes that she has my memory because i'm ultra forgetful in terms of emotional amplitude so if something like really upset me i'll still forget about it a day later or a week later so i don't have baggage from my past i don't hold on to past traumas but it actually really frustrates me because i also don't remember a lot of things that i want to remember so i've i've always looked at it as a curse and she's always not always but certainly as we got deeper into our marriage she's really like oh man like how how does that not wind you up how are you not still pissed about that i'm like that seems so weird to me but i know that memories get basically tagged for either hey this is important remember this or you know this is irrelevant forget it right um so how how does that dynamic of like stress i find that super interesting only because i feel like with most people when they have an emotionally charged event it's kind of seared into their memory in the first place and then the more times you retrieve it the more and more you're kind of solidifying that memory in your brain so usually people remember these kinds of poignant emotionally charged memories for a long period of time whether they do still like perfectly accurately is another issue but it's usually kind of the more trivial things that people don't remember so i find that really interesting about you and what's your primary area of focus right now um are you working with rats a lot like what's your nice yeah so i think i would say for like experimental neuroscience neurobiology i don't know maybe like 80 percent of the work is done in mice um for a number of reasons they're just like you know great model organism um and they had they're genetically tractable meaning you can actually you know breed them and look at certain genes and look at certain cell types and they do kind of all the fancy stuff that we do nowadays in neuroscience and the applicability to the human condition and brain is very very high so and the test you're running now are they are they around fear or what are you working right now that you're super excited about yeah yeah so right now our lab is working on we have a few projects in the lab um and kind of most of them are circulating around this idea of social isolation and what happens to the brain and behavior when an animal is isolated for an extended period of time and so we have a lot of kind of different projects looking at that and so the most let's see most exciting one recently that um that's going on in my lab is someone who's looking at the effects of isolation on mating behavior um which is kind of a little bit more I would say maybe more
Violence & Loneliness: What's Going On Inside Your Brow (02:17:26)
fringe in terms of interest to the general public um but I think it's super interesting because he's also um able to record mouse song so it turns out mice will sing as a form of courtship to kind of get the female you know a male mouse will sing to kind of get the female interested in it and so if the animals are isolated it turns out that both the mating behavior is disrupted and also this song is disrupted and so we're doing some pretty interesting experiment are they singing when they're alone like trying to attract or when you put them back together now they can't sing properly male mice will sing to a female mouse um as it's trying to court her and it's it's not a not anything that any of us could hear with our naked ear you need very special kind of ultrasonic vocalization equipment to be able to hear this song and to also analyze these very complex um you know bands of frequency and song bursts and things like that that um people have been doing in birds for years and years and so now they're kind of starting to do it in mice and it's super interesting so is it is the song breaking down because they're essentially getting depressed is it because they're just out of practice like what's what's going on that's a really good question and that's something they're working on we have no idea why the song is being altered though it does I think help to explain why they're not as successful mating I was gonna say is it I'm assuming less attractive the women are less likely to respond to it yeah it's kind of like you know if you're at a bar when we used to go to bars and a guy's like hey you want to go on a date versus like hey you want to go on a date it's what you go out with the one who's you know frequency range is like really short and doesn't really have anything interesting going on or the one that's able to kind of put some more spice into their song or approach so yeah now it becomes really easy to understand why humans put so much energy into or why isolation is so problematic is a better way to say it because we're such a social animal are mice highly social yes mice are very very social and we work on mating but I also work on this has kind of been more of the bigger area of my research violence is a big big thing that happens after social isolation so interesting yeah went out so like they when you bring them back together they just want to fuck shit up yeah they're extremely violent and actually it's like one of the best models for looking at violence which is what I was originally interested in so if you isolate almost almost any species you look at if you isolate them they will be more violent when you introduce them back with another member of their species that's weird so what was it what was the fascination around violence that led you to that just the thought of humans can be violent let me figure out why it was that and it was kind of at the time where all these you know school shootings and things were really picking up and you know not just school shootings but all kinds of kind of violent behavior it was really not like not being looked at so much at a neurobiological perspective so I was super interested in why you know how people can become really really violent and then when you start looking into the past of those kinds of people who you know are shooters and things there's either a history of mental health or social isolation or something like that so all right well break it down for me in terms of the neuroscience so what's going on at a neurochemistry level or a wiring level as as you isolate and obviously we're extrapolating from ice into humans but as we um we're living through a period of such unimaginable isolation like this seems like a pretty important question to get to the bottom of because already we're seeing you know pockets of violent outbursts yeah and is this going to escalate would be a pretty reasonable question to ask so what happens during isolation yeah well I was gonna say one thing to add is during ice after isolation animals are way more violent but there's a host of other things that happen too for instance they're extremely um a persistent and their fear responses so normally you might be afraid if you hear a car backfiring or the sound of a car honking you might be afraid for a second but if you've been isolated that kind of persists but beyond the kind of normal window for you to be afraid so this enhanced fear persistence this enhanced aggression and then you have abner maladies really interacting with other members of your species so um if you're kind of given access to another friend mouse or a new mouse you're not going to really spend that much time with it um or for humans you might not really be that interested in interacting with the novel member of your species and kind of show more hesitation there so that's there's just some of the behavioral that part I get I get why the novel person would become more worrisome you're you know going back to the mating thing you sort of out of practice maybe you've lost your groove a bit um but when I think about introducing somebody that you knew already yeah and you still don't go spend as much time with them do you know like are we seeing just the the receptors for oxytocin are disappearing off the cells like yeah why yeah that's a great question so I think yeah I think you know there's some stuff that we know and then there's a lot that we don't know one thing that we know for sure is that this one neuropeptide that I've worked on called tachykinin 2 is heavily unregulated across many regions of the brain following social so attack to what give me give me some info what does it do it's kind of like a neuropeptide so you might lots of people know about neuromodulators like dopamine or serotonin these are all the ones that you know drugs for depression and anxiety disorders are all based on and these are just kind of like a smaller what you'd think of as a smaller class of those so and is it like oxytocin feels fucking awesome some people refer to it as the bonding hormone yes is
Tachykinin 2 (Substance-K) (02:22:42)
it positive negative that's a good question but it's again it's one of these smaller neuropeptide systems so it doesn't have these kinds of light you can't just kind of generalize and say that it does x you know makes you happy makes you sad so it's expression is way more restricted than some of these other ones so the good news is if you find something that it does that's important or useful that's great and and the other set side of the good news is that you're not going to be doing something that kind of affects the whole brain if you want to target this system so you know some of the other systems like for instance serotonin you know there's some great benefits obviously people are using antidepressants you know developed decades ago targeting serotonin reuptake but the downside is it's you're targeting it all over the brain and you know serotonin has sometimes opposite effects depending on where you look so these neuropeptide systems are nice nice in the way in the sense that you can kind of target smaller populations of neurons and system a system in the brain that's way less kind of how do I say ubiquitous so yeah so now do you say that tactu is increased or decreased in isolation so it's increased after isolation and it's kind of and what do we think the the point of that what's it pointing at yeah that's a good point so i think you know there's a few ways of looking at it one is that it's kind of acting in this kind of coordinated manner much like someone who leads an orchestra leads the whole orchestra by his you know direction and so you see it elevated in multiple regions and you can kind of think of it like a web of increased activity that allows the brain to coordinate of response to social isolation that includes many different things so for instance the enhanced violence the persistent fear the alterations in mating those kinds of things might be coordinated response and this is one of the way could be coordinated which is just this elevation of this peptide across the brain okay well that's um maybe troubling so we have a conductor who's stepping in but what he's conducting is anti-social behavior aggression sort of being anti-social so it's interesting so okay you said there were a few things that we knew so one we know tactu is elevated the conductor's in there he's telling us to do things but we also know that the behaviors that we're seeing on the outside so if tactu is conducting it's conducting some gnarly stuff right um so we have yeah so i think that's what that's a really good point and i think it kind of ties back into the idea that this kind of social isolation where and i'm talking mostly about when you are fully isolated like no other single person no partner in nothing you're by yourself you know have been in your apartment and haven't seen anyone in two weeks at all and i think that is not a normal situation um not for humans not for mice not for many species so most of the time you're interacting with other members of your species and so you wouldn't have this kind of explosive response in your brain or in your behavior so i think um you know these systems that are usually probably quite adaptive for regulating fear which is great and you know certain to a certain degree so it lets you survive and avoid dangerous things um and also probably being able to be aggressive and protect your territory for animal protect your mate that's you know something that's adaptive and so it's really when these things are kind of go awry or out of control that it's not adaptive anymore so it's not that the system was kind of maybe designed to do this in some kind of functionally you know beneficial way but more it's more that the system that's usually adaptive at low levels is kind of in hijacked in these situations that are you know what i would consider abnormal for a social species and when do you see this stuff start to regulate like is it hey they're violent and um anti-social for a day and then they begin to normalize they get their song back or no it's kind of it's a long-term thing in fact with when you're only isolated for a day or so you have a lot of actually opposite effects so if you've kind of been your apartment stuck in there for a day or two working on a project by yourself you seek out social interaction after and you have a lot of kind of positive type of interactions with other members of your species it's really only when this persists for a long period of time that you kind of slip into the state that's not adaptive or beneficial at all in terms and in the lab how are we defining a long time yeah so in the lab with mice it takes about two weeks um which you know i'm just trying to think you know they're usually like lived to a year and a half or two years so you might that might be like times 50 for humans so i don't know but it's hard you know it's hard to like make that exact analogy that's i don't like making those analogies do you have any sense of like um what we should expect from the unintentional social isolation experiment that we're running out so we're recording this we're what month five yeah of uh covid lockdown so is there you know do you have a a guess on where our breaking point is or yeah that's a really good question i i have no idea i think there's another big thing that you know is a factor especially with humans two things that are a factor with with humans one is that um the notion of kind of social media and skype and zoom and all these ways that we are staying connected so to what degree does that actually help to mitigate those feelings of loneliness it's hard to say you know teenagers have been using the new generation of teenagers have been using social media for years and years and yet they report feeling more lonely than ever so is that how people are feeling in general right now with social media or is it actually helping to mitigate some of the effects of social isolation so that's one thing and i think that would that definitely requires kind of more cognitive psychology experiments and lots of studies in humans and things like that and that's much harder to model in a model organism in the lab because yeah it's like kind of a specific human thing and then the other issue is how you are isolating so some people are at home with their immediate family which probably seems really frustrating sometimes but is also probably really beneficial so in the lab if you if you have a mouse that's with just one other mouse it mitigates tons of the effects of social isolation versus people who are in a situation where they are totally alone in their apartment right now so i think that's going to also be a very big difference which is like people who have a small little support group versus those that have zero so yeah that who when you look at what's going on now in terms of people feeling like they they're being sort of locked up against their will and it's like who am i even pushing back on because i can push back on the government but if i go out and i get sick it's like you know the virus isn't really care so in some ways it's it's not even people telling me to stay home it's just and i'll speak for myself it nobody needs to tell me to stay home as much as i would now at this point like to go back out yeah it's i just don't want to get sick yeah and so and i really don't want to bring it home to my wife and so um there's no one even to like rail against right yeah and i think that's like i want my block of wood to chew that lack of control is hard yeah um walk me through the um anatomy maybe maybe the wrong word but walk me through the anatomy both literally and figuratively of fear oh yeah so fear has come a long way um but yeah i think the kind of classic anatomy that people recognize that the fear is them in Dola which is like this small part of your brain shaped like an almond and that's kind of been this you know at the forefront or center of the fear of literature and research for a long long time and so since then as i was saying earlier in the interview there's you know lots of tools that let you look at different cell populations in the brain with a much kind of finer finer tooth comb and so because of that people have started to find different subregions of the amygdala
Finding specific regions of the brain responsible for fear (02:31:02)
so you know a lateral part a medial part um a basal part things like that that kind of do different components or are involved in different components of a fear response and then within those regions there are certain populations of neurons that are involved in um you know increasing fear decreasing fear things like that so um that's come a long way what what's the part that decreases fear and how do we take control of that right so that's actually it's the same part so kind of more recently people started looking at the central amygdala i shouldn't even say more recently maybe like 10 years um which is a subdivision of this kind of amygdala structure and people have found cells there that are kind of active during a fear inducing stimulus and cells that are active when that stimulus turns off so there are cells there that in theory do the complete opposite of emit or control of fear response and so that kind of gets at why it's super interesting and useful that we have these new tools because in the past you could just mess up one brain region and say oh these you know animals aren't afraid or for instance i think in humans there's a very rare condition where the amygdala gets calcified and those patients are not afraid at all um that's so crazy so crazy and it's actually very dangerous for them so now walk me through how so um if you had asked me when i was 18 about fear i probably would have said yeah if i could get rid of it totally i would and then i read a study about emotions and how we actually can't make decisions without emotions and because you can walk through the logic of it all day but there's nothing to parse
We cant make decisions without emotions (02:32:46)
whether like a tuna sandwich is better than a pizza and when there's no emotion be like yo pizza's rad you you literally can't do it and so they'll just stand there all day they can give you the benefits and ultimately you just have to tell them to eat one um what what is going on like what do we use fear for why is it bad to not have fear like i get it if they're like oh they don't recognize that getting hit by a car would suck or whatever but are there more nuanced ways that fear um is actually advantageous and adaptive yeah i mean i think pretty much in every everywhere you look you could see that fear would be adaptive so yeah you know there's the obvious cases where you want to be afraid of fires or very dangerous kind of environmental stimuli there's less obvious cases where you want to be afraid in situations where you might sense something's off or wrong um and you can't even really put your finger on it um you probably want to be afraid if you're in a crowd of like lots of people and everyone's pointing a gun at you there's like there's tons of cases where you might want to be afraid or aware of the danger in a given situation um so yeah i guess the physical dangers i get those those you know obviously like a gun or a car or something like that that i get more i'm wondering yeah like is there is there something like um fear being hurt makes you make wiser decisions like being able to forecast into the future and saying i'm afraid of not being able to feed my family because like i'm thinking about part of the reason that i would have said when i was younger um that i would for sure eliminate fear if i could was fear from at a physiological level for me fear turns into anxiety which turns into the blood leaving my prefrontal cortex and i like i i when i so i went through debilitating anxiety and i remember at one point saying to my wife when i don't have any anxiety i feel like a superhero i feel like i can think through things i can be witty i can solve problems and when i have anxiety i feel absolutely moronic like i i i actually can't think yeah
Addressing Anxiety And Stress Disorders
Unearthing excessive anxiety (02:35:00)
and so i i just like i get this like flustered feeling it's so weird now once i understood that the blood was literally leaving my prefrontal cortex and so my higher level cognition was actually shutting down it was like okay that makes sense so there it's like well the anxiety i mean anxiety might be public speaking or you know it's it's not something life-threatening at least not in a modern context right and so because it seems to so easily get out of control it's like i want to sort of better understand if it's you know and maybe i just answered my own question but um you know if thinking through things like being able to predict the future break down if you don't have fear yeah that's a that's a really good point i would probably argue even for those situations a little bit of fear is good um and you gave the example of public speaking so you know you're like in the back of the stage you're about to go give a talk to a huge audience or something like that i think like a few minutes before kind of getting your heart rate up feeling a little bit you know i wouldn't say really afraid but kind of like a little anxious about your about to go talk in front of a bunch of people pumping up that adrenaline and then going out there i think can actually be really beneficial um but i think you know with a lot of these kinds of more we you're talking about psychogenic fear and anxiety oh yeah talk to people what's the difference between fear and psychogenic fear oh i just mean so we were talking about fear kind of produced by physical um uh stimuli in the environment like someone pointing a gun at you or
Dealing with psychogenic stress (02:36:22)
something like that versus fear produced by something kind of more in your mind or you know what you think because some of the studies on psychogenic stress are incredibly interesting and it's like if you translate psychogenic and let me know if you agree with this if you translate psychogenic to um self induced then it's like okay this gets interesting and to me it's psychogenic is um the Shakespeare quote nothing is either good or bad but thinking makes it so and so you know when you start getting into physiological stress you're working too hard you're running you got punched like okay those are those are legitimate stressors that can be measured sort of as having or they have a physical cause oftentimes externally when you think about psychogenic stress now you've got somebody who's um they didn't get enough likes on their photo and now they're spinning out of control or they're isolated and now they're telling themselves a story about unworthiness um walk me through like and and maybe this feeds into PTSD i'll actually be interested to hear like how we end up amplifying the problem for ourselves yeah i mean i think with humans there's that there's that disorder generalized anxiety disorder where it's like you start amplifying it and then even just feeling your heart beating fast can generate its own anxiety disorder so it's kind of this like vicious cycle where it's out of you you know kind of out of control in that sense um but yeah i think psychogenic stress i think very quickly you can go from these like low levels that are adaptive to these very high maladaptive levels that make it difficult for you to function um make it difficult for you to feel you know on top of your game or that you're doing you know using all of your skills and
Addressing PTSD (02:38:22)
resources you know well or something like that so i think it feels very paralyzing when you hit a point of excessive fear anxiety for most people and do you have you looked into like how people begin to unwind this like how do you if somebody has PTSD which i know you've looked into a lot how do we how do we begin to back out of that yeah so i think like this still kind of the most typical therapy for PTSD is some form of exposure therapy it's the same for other phobias so if you're afraid of flying you can go to a clinic and you know get in a fake airplane and kind of do that repeatedly over and over and in a form of exposure therapy or cognitive behavioral exposure therapy um where you kind of relive the traumatic event or experience the cues that predict trauma without the trauma itself so that's fairly typical how does that help so i mean it's actually a lot of that's also based on rodent research and so what you do when you do exposure therapy is you build a new memory so a memory that actually i can get in this airplane and everything's gonna be fine i can drink my wine and eat the crackers or whatever i can get on this plane and actually the world's not gonna end it's gonna be okay so that's you're really forming a second new memory there and a lot of people have worked on that it's called you know extinction learning or what we think of as exposure therapy and during that new learning you can again learn that the plane doesn't need something terrible is gonna happen and then those two memories compete one that getting on an airplane you know leads to something terrible and the other that getting an airplane usually leads to everything being fine and great and so um by doing exposure therapy you're really kind of just strengthening that extinction memory and you know kind of making that memory the primary one that you retrieve when you get on an airplane the problem with PTSD is unlike other kind of traditional phobias it's pretty resistant to that type of exposure therapy and that's why so many people still work on it so other you know therapies for people who are scared of snakes or scared of planes and stuff have worked pretty well but kind of these therapies for people who've experienced some very horrific and debilitating trauma usually don't work that well or if they work it's pretty short term so lots of people are still trying to understand it and you know why some of these classic exposure therapy methods aren't working and what we can do instead to kind of treat about people with PTSD so in your work on emotions what's one thing you've come across that you wish everybody knew hmm that I wish everybody knew yeah that might be useful for people I actually have a super weird experiment that I ran while I was a postdoc at Caltech and so I
Explorations On Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
An unconventional experiment on PTSD (02:40:55)
don't know let's see if how this comes across it's pretty weird so I was doing an experiment kind of looking at this a model of PTSD and I just thought I thought oh I know I have an idea this was told this is totally an example of like anthropomorphizing stuff I thought I have an idea if I give a bunch of these animals PTSD and then put them back together it'll help mitigate the effects kind of like when you go to a support group for you know where everyone else is stuff for trauma and you talk about it and it seems to make people it seems to result in better outcomes for people and things like that so I took some animals and gave them all PTSD and put them back together and the next day when I went in not all of them were even alive they were they viciously attacked each other it was hoarse symptoms were even worse than if then they were if they just hadn't gone back with other other kind of members of their species that had the trauma and I was very surprised and I was like whoa what is going on here and then I decided to run another experiment to follow up on that where only one of the animals got traumatized and then I put it back into the cage with its litter mates that had not been traumatized and that seemed to really alleviate the effects of the trauma so you could really kind of get over the effects of that trauma or reduce those effects of trauma by interacting with and being exposed to you know others and being social but not others who had had trauma themselves and so yeah that was a surprise. What do you think is going on is there I'm like I show aggression because I have PTSD and we and then the other person shows aggression it's probably something like that it's probably you know they all had the same kind of trauma so there's might be an argument that when you you know when you're in a group for other survivors of trauma you have such different experiences that you're able to kind of gain you know perspective and feel healthy from that interaction perhaps if you guys were all at the same in the same you know bad place at the same time you would associate those people also at the bad place I'm not sure but kind of it kind of did make me think oh maybe it makes sense instead of going to like support groups is might make more sense to like go you know hang out with like your three closest buddies that are like pretty psychologically stable and that might be actually the better thing for you to do. If you're anti-work if you're looking for ways to be lazy you are going to get your lunch eat and you are going to get mowed over because there are people out there who understand one immutable truth skills have utility.