11: Sam Harris - Fighting with Friends
|Fighting with Friends|
|Release Date||15 November 2019|
|YouTube Date||10 December 2019|
On this episode of The Portal, Eric talks to one of his closest friends, neuroscientist, philosopher and meditation-guru, Sam Harris. When Sam and Eric sit down they generally agree about a large number of things. So in this experiment of a session, Eric attempts to push the relentlessly reasonable and methodical Sam out of his comfort zone to highlight their genuine differences. These include: beliefs on religion, the logic of voting for unreasonable candidates, Jeffrey Epstein's demise, the competence of the press, the ethics of immigration and more.
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Eric Weinstein: Hello, you've found the portal. I'm your host, Eric Weinstein, and we're here today with my good friend, Sam Harris. Sam, thanks for coming by.
Sam Harris: Thank you. That was great.
Eric: So first question are, are you in any trouble that I don't know about?
Sam: I don't think so. I think you know what trouble I get into as I get into it.
Sam: I often look to you for...
Eric: Well, occasionally I get a call from you and you say, 'I'm thinking about getting all of the following form of trouble. Try and talk me out of it.' And if I - if it happens that I'm not there for an hour and a half, I get another call saying "too late".
Sam: Yeah. I remember one that, a vacation that was unraveling and I was calling you from literally from poolside in Hawaii, yeah, the one vacation I'd taken with my family in a year and I was, I was poised to ruin it and ruin it I did. And I don't blame you for it, but whatever counsel you gave me did not, did not prevent the unraveling of a vacation.
Eric: Well, I'm here to afford you the opportunity to ruin a future vacation. But let's try to avoid it if we can.
Eric: I'm just curious for, so first of all, I've taken your advice and Tim Ferriss's and Joe Rogan's and started this podcast. You were actually the first person I sat down with, but I had so little idea what I was doing that we blocked out the windows, we had an uncomfortable table in front, and the feng shui was completely off.
Sam: We had an Addams family podcast.
Eric: Exactly. So we're trying things, I'm learning a little bit. But first of all, any, anytime you want to flip the tables on me, I'm game, too. What is top of mind for you at the moment or should we - I can go into some topics that I'm curious about?
Sam: 00:01:42 Go wherever you want to go. This is your show.
Eric: Okay. So, one of the things that I'm starting to think about is doing a little bit of retrospective work, trying to think about where our world, our country is, we're going into another electoral cycle. And, um, I just think this is the most bizarre age imaginable. It doesn't behave like any previous time. And I hear that we're at peak this and peak that, but I don't see any signs of the, what I increasingly see is the incoherence, slowing down. Are you also perceiving a world that is kind of intellectually unraveling or are you seeing new kinds of formations that give you the idea that something is actually, um, filling the voids that have been opening up when it comes to coherence?
Sam: Well, I, I worry that this is a kind of cognitive delusion to think that the time you're in is always sort of newly chaotic or incoherent, uh, or you know, that civilization's on the brink in some new way in your time. But I, but I, I'm taken in by it.
Eric: You gotta be kidding me! This - this has never happened!
Sam: 00:03:00 Yeah, yeah, I mean no, no, this is, there's gotta be some name for this, you know, it's some kind of recency effect or, I mean, clearly there have been periods in history where things really have been on the brink in some new way.
Eric: Oh, I don't mean to suggest that like this is, I mean in general...
Sam: 00:03:21 No, no, I don't mean like World War II was about to happen, you know, or World War III is happening, but the, um, I do feel like we are witnessing several sea changes, which I couldn't have honestly said that, you know, 15 years ago or 20 years ago, I mean, something has changed and, uh, it's, some things have clearly changed, changed for the worse and maybe, maybe there's a silver lining to this chaos, but I would be hard-pressed to find it at the moment.
Eric: Well, so what I'm starting to think about what kind of chaos we're in and using the fact that you and I agree on a lot, which I think makes our disagreements more interesting, because I don't like the ground level he said/she said kinds of disagreements. I don't think they're that interesting. For me, the big thing that's really new, um, is that I can't think of a single institution I trust. There's no place that I can go to for ground truth.
Sam: 00:04:09 Like this is an example, so you take the New York Times and you and I whinge about The New York Times a fair amount, uh...
Eric: I've been watching you transition.
Sam: Yeah (laughter) I've grown pretty dark about the paper of record.
Eric: That's new.
Sam: Yeah, yeah.
Eric: Like years five ago you were somewhere else.
Sam: Yeah, yeah, but I guess I'm wondering whether the cohort before us 20 years ago had this same litany of complaints about The New York Times or whether it's something fundamentally has shifted?
Eric: Well I was on, I've been on the New York Times since the '80s, um...
Sam: So you were early to this party.
Eric: Yeah, I was very early to this party for...
Sam: But something has changed. So, it's this - is this worse than the '80s?
Eric: It's a good question. Depends. Worse isn't the right word, in my opinion. The way I would play with it is I'd say that its problem has always been the same, which is narrative-driven journalism. And the first clear indication I have of this, I think, was a story about Woodstock in which the paper told the reporter...
Sam: H-how old are you? You're not that much older than me. (laughter)
Eric: I’m 53, Sir.
Sam: I was still in my diapers...
Eric: No, no, no, no, no! I don't remember this as a three-year-old!
Sam: We're talking '69? or, something like that?
Eric: Yeah, no, no, it's not that. I remember reading - I will clarify - I remember reading a story about the journalist being sent, who was sent to cover Woodstock by The Times, being told, 'Write about the filth and the hippies and the unkemptness, and...'
Sam: (laughter) Strangely, that's a bias that I now share. I, I, at one point, I had a, I, there was a point in my life in my, in my twenties where I kind of recapitulated the 60's for myself.
Sam: And had nothing but, you know, nostalgia for the 60's that I missed. But now I have a fairly Joan Didion look at the, you know, the "Slouching Towards Bethlehem" moment. That was a, it was just the level of dysfunction and the non-acknowledgement of dysfunction. It was pretty shocking.
Sam: So I'm not getting really...
Eric: 00:06:17 I'm really tempted to call it... Yeah, but I'm not, I'm not going back. Gambit declined.
Eric: The, what I recall of the story was, is that The Times that told the reporter what sort of story to file, and the reporter called up The Times and said, 'I refuse. I'm seeing something different. I'm seeing something inspiring and heart-opening and I'm not going to file that story. So, if that's what you want, how...'
Sam: And I have cholera (laughter)
Eric: And I have cholera. So, I think that the narrative aspect of The New York Times has been both its structural reason for its importance and the fatal flaw that in essence it carries these very long narrative arcs that come from the editor - the editorial function at The Times. And that those are written in some sense before the facts are known. And so, the facts are then fit to the narratives. And then when the counter-narratives occur, The Times really either doesn't report the story as is, and they really couldn't handle the-the situation that happened with my brother because it was exactly counter-narrative or then they distort based on the idea that they need to push things back into the narrative.
Eric: 00:07:24 So I think that has always been present. And there are particular kinds of stories that The Times writes that I find absolutely - well, I'll go so far as to say - borderline evil. And what they do is they crowd out whatever natural inquiry process would be happening.
Eric: So I'm happy to get into a couple of examples about that. But I would say I think that the problem has been there at The New York Times all along. There are some new things that I see as happening there, like a conflict between the old-line journalists with the new line of sort of, you know, Brooklyn-based writers who are telling us how to, how to think.
Eric: What do you make of it?
Sam: 00:08:08 I don't know if this, The Times is maybe an exception here, but I think generally what's happening in journalism, there's just been a clearing out of real journalists, right? I mean, the business has gotten so bad and again, The Times and the Post and The Atlantic, there's a few outliers here that are doing well in the age of Trump at least, you know, sort of, well.
Eric: Trump is saving their business.
Sam: Yeah. I mean they were actually there, they weren't doing great before Trump, but now they're doing okay. But the rest of journalism has been gutted. And now we basically have the Blogosphere and you know, kind of what the Huffington Post did to the landscape where you just have a lot of people blogging for free propping up a, a, an ad-based clickbait business model.
Eric: Sure. But again, that the, I, I guess what I want to play with is, is there something special about institutions? Imagine that you can get all of the interesting articles that you like somewhere, and somebody's saying something interesting, you can piece them together. But the fact that there's no institutional home where you can trust that, like, the Office of Management and Budget or something or...
Sam: But it's not what I'm saying to be bad about journalism in general is that what you think of as the institution. I mean, just like the veneer, the front-facing website is not even an institution in many cases. It's like it's a hard to differentiate what is a blog and what is an actual journalistic resource that has editors and fact-checkers and copy editors. And you know, for certain sites, the distinction is apparently non-existent. I mean, so like, you know, people used to think Salon was real journalism or with The Guardian. I mean, The Guardian has like kind of the blog side and The Guardian side and you can't tell the difference. You're just reading what somebody wrote and well...
Eric: ...and you find the same people on Twitter.
Sam: And then everyone is nuts on Twitter, whatever their reputation, right? Really is, you know, or should have been.
Eric: Well, you could just see their, their bias, like they're not hiding it on Twitter and then they hide it when they're in their journalistic frame.
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Sam: 00:12:50 Well, I would argue that, you know, I'm fairly forgiving on that point because I feel that Trump has made the hiding of one's so-called bias irresponsible, essentially, it's like you, you can't, you can't pretend that this is a normal president doing normal things and you're going to be a normal journalist without an opinion.
Eric: Well, I agree with that. Although I would say you and I are very split on this, so put a placeholder, maybe we'll get back to it.
Eric: Maybe not. I'm more worried about the loss of things like Nature and Science than I am The New York Times. I'm now worried that there is nothing, and even in the hard sciences almost that can stand up to the onslaught of political pressure creeping in to everything that has to be able to say no, that we've lost the ability to tell people to screw off if they're wrong.
Sam: 00:13:49 Well it's certainly been creeping up on us in the life sciences. It's been true of the social sciences for a very long time.
Eric: 00:13:57 Yeah. Probably, you know, physics and math are going to be the last to go, but I've even seen a little bit of inroads there. And so, I find the loss of, of Nature and Cell in the universities terrifying; different from The New York Times. Like this is, this is a few layers deeper and more dangerous. Do you not perceive that?
Sam: 00:14:22 Oh, I think it's just different problems. I don't know which is more consequential. I think the I think the failure to have a fact-based discussion and the incentives to avoid one, I think that's just the scariest thing we have going apart from the true Monsters of Pandemic and Nuclear War and things like that.
Eric: Well, those are now increasingly relative with the, you know, vaxxer or anti-vaxxer you know, controversy, but the self-refereeing, like one of the things that's really important to have a decent discussion, in my opinion, is that you have to agree what a discussion is and what constitutes an illegal move. And increasingly I feel like we're having these combat sports where we can't agree on what rules - like is biting an ear part of boxing? Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. Who's to say? Well, that's an imposition of your views on mine. Who can still self-adjudicate?
Sam: 00:15:27 Well I think if you wait long enough, you see the failures of hypocrisy, right? You see people try to enshrine a new set of rules that prove unworkable in some of the context, you know, or, or they, they just can't live up to them because of... it's impossible. I mean, we're now noticing, and it's been widely observed that more or less, if you wait around long enough, everyone's going to get canceled. You know, it's like the repurposing of the Warhol quote, you know, we'll all be canceled for 15 minutes at some point.
Eric: (laughter) "fifteen minutes"!
Sam: And it’s, just before we started this podcast, we were joking that, you know, Justin Trudeau has yet another black face photo of himself apparently appearing online. And here's, you know, one of the most woke and sanctimonious enforcers of this new norm of just political correctness you know, stretching to infinity and he's, he's got not only (laughter) black face in his past, but an apparently a positive passion for blackface.
Eric: That's a recurring issue.
Sam: So it's, it's I mean the hypocrisy is, is so delicious, but it's just, it's just the yeah, the, these, these new norms of not being honest about facts just can't scale. I mean there, people will, people will be tripped up by them and so, and it's not, so you can, we can't do a lot of harm to ourselves in the meantime or in certain areas.
Eric: 00:17:10 Well, I think we're trying to do harm to ourselves.
Eric: I think that the idea, yeah. Sometimes I think about Trump as the doctor who has to break a bone that has miss - has been mis-set in the hopes that it can finally heal properly. And this is one of the places where you are...
Sam: 00:17:28 Yeah except he's the doctor who doesn't know which bone he has in hand and, and a isn't actually intending to heal you.
Eric: Well, and...
So, it's the happy accident of the doctor who happens, the mad man who happens to have a hold of the right femur and a is breaking it for the wrong reasons, but to good effect.
Eric: 00:17:44 Right. Or you know, is it doctored in folklore and from some non-accredited...
Sam: I'm so sorry to keep segueing on you, but I know you have a passion for India. I remember once traveling in India and seeing somebody's - a doctor's - it was actually a dentist's shingle and it was saying you know "Western-trained Dentist" and in parentheses 'failed'. But having, just having just made the attempt was enough to put that on the, on the shingle.
Eric: (laughter) Oh, that's good. I mean, that does...
Eric: So I think you get Trump wrong.
Eric: And it's not, I see what you see and it's maddening. It's driving me crazy. The idea of spending four more precious years of my dwindling life, talking about whatever Trump less said or tweeted or worried that I don't know what would happen if we actually had a five-alarm fire in the U S that had to be handled.
Sam: 00:18:45 Do you think my model of his mind is wrong or my model of the consequences of, of him being in office is wrong?
Eric: Well, I think that you were slow to give him his due. I mean, of course, as you know, I wrote this essay on kayfabe anticipating that professional wrestling was going to turn out to be incredibly important. And in fact, I thought it was going to determine the presidency - that was a, a belief I had that understanding how lies play within the mind and how hypocrisy works and then a concept called namespaces out of Python programming and the like, how we compartmentalize, led me to believe that in essence we were - I had seen these other candidacies in other countries in which people seem not to be able to distinguish an actor from the character that they played, you know, whatnot. And so, I, I believed that the system of laws within professional wrestling told us what was possible. And Trump actually sort of came out of the WWE through his association with, with the McMahon family.
Eric: And I believe that he actually understood deep things that psychology departments will wake up to 20 years from now.
Sam: Yeah, well I guess...
Eric: Let me just...
Sam: I've suggested by analogy to the Chauncey Gardiner effect, or the evil Chauncey Gardiner effect.
Eric: Well, but that's wrong.
Sam: Yeah, I think, I think, but it's hard to know that could happen. I mean, it's, it's definitely falsifiable. My theory is falsifiable. He could prove to me with a string of utterances that he's the evil genius that I haven't imagined him to be, but he hasn't done that.
Eric: I bet if you and I had a couple of old-fashioneds between us and we sat down with a thousand of his tweets, we could figure out that they're recurrent structures and we could write an Eliza program to generate them to, to tangle Democrats. I think that there's much more method to the madness. And I, I don't have to go full Scott Adams, Scott, I know you're out there somewhere, to, to say that everything is intentional and brilliant. I just think he's got a, you know, it was for years, I said that if you wanted to win an election against a Democrat, you just would talk about the nuclear family, let them correct you to nuclear, and then you'd win because you'd come across as an ass.
Sam: Right, exactly.
Eric: So I think that there is a certain amount of method that you were slow to give, give him credit for. But I think you're probably inching towards the idea that if he's not an evil genius, he has some evil genius.
Sam: I think it's just, again, I, I'm enamored of my Chauncey Gardiner-Gardner analogy.
Eric: All right.
Sam: Well here's another analogy that that is even simpler and a more easy, easier to confirm. It's clear there's a method, but I think it's just a very simple method that the power of which is an accident of the context. So it's like an Instagram model has a method, right? You know, they just, if you have a great body, show it to great effect on your Instagram channel and then wait around for people to follow you. Right? So there's a very simple formula. There's no question it works. It's, there's not a lot of method to it.
Eric: But in the rallies that he likes, the rallies are a feedback mechanism.
Eric: So he knows, he knows that the feedback that he's getting from the press, in general, has a constant distortion. And so by holding a rally, he can figure out to some ext..... I mean, it's like constant AB testing.
Sam: But it doesn't have the fact that he wasn't canceled for one of his sins...
Eric: He was!
Sam: No, but the fact that the fact that there's enough, there are enough people to insulate... he has enough fans of this style of, of communication and, and living that he's, he's uncancellable. Right?
Sam: The fact that we have 40%...
Eric: No he's cancelled.
Sam: No, no. We have 40% of the American population that fundamentally does not care about any of the things I care about in him.
Eric: I disagree with this, Sam. I think you're getting this wrong. This is what I think might be interesting. I'm happy to be...
Eric: I'm happy to be wrong, too.
Sam: So you think that at what point, are we wrong?
Eric: I think we're still in the stage of being so angry at Bill Clintonism...
Eric: That we just want to know you're not owned. We want something that convinces us that it's not taking orders...
Sam: Well, but we're completely insouciant on the point of you potentially being owned by the Russians when that begins to get leaked?
Eric: Believe me, I think about this. I don't know. I ha - I haven't followed all the details. It's possible he's compromised and under direct control.
Sam: Well let's just bracket that. We don't, let's say, we don't know. But when that begins to become a story, and a credible story the zero interest from the people who are worried about him being owned by the usual suspects...
Eric: You see, you don't carry the same anger and passion that I do for getting rid of the rot that was the American center. In other words, I believe ... one of the things that I find very confusing is, is that you and I, I think would normally have been called centrists, right? But we're not crypt... we're not klepto centrists. I mean, I've never been in a position to, you know, to loot the treasury from the position of being a centrist.
Eric: So the interesting thing about the center is that the center produces the, the blank canvas of America on which we get to paint. So I'm not really super excited to get a politician that makes me swoon. I want somebody to just gesso a canvas so that we can build all of the, you know, companies and nonprofits and do all the beautiful work that makes this country amazing. I'm not trying to get my entertainment from government. The thing that crept into our system with Reagan and Bush giving way to the Clintons back to Bush, and then bizarrely I thought Obama was going to be a break from this, that thing induces a passion in some of us to get rid of it. We hate it and I don't know that you carry that passion and so I think it's harder for you to understand it and I carry it not from a right-wing perspective. I carry it from a progressive to center-left position.
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Sam: 00:27:51 Well, and some of this comes back to the hypocrisy point I was making before. So, I, I have that Trumpian module in my brain that feels just the pure schadenfreude of seeing Justin Trudeau get wholly cloistered on his own petard, right? So, here's this sanctimonious enforcer of woke culture just pandering to the left, it's clearly unsustainable, it's clearly dishonest, it's, and unworkable. And, you know, offline we spoke about just that moment where he's, he's admonishing this, this elementary school-age girl when she says the word mankind, which is a, you know it's great to hear a sixth grader use a phrase, mankind. But he says: "No, we say people kind". Maybe they say people kind up in Canada, I haven't heard that. But, you know, even just saying humankind there and, and, and enforcing that, that taboo there was just, that's the elitism the goofy elitism that, that...
Eric: Yeah but it's not the elitism. It's the fact that these people have been picking our pockets and they've been divorcing us from each other.
Sam: I'm just saying, I get the, 'let's just watch these fuckers burn' stream of pleasure that you can get coursing in your brain. And that, that explains a lot of the Trump phenomenon where it's just, on some level, they don't care that he's the most odious liar we've ever seen. Are they being his, his fan base? They just love to see him wind up the libtards or they love to see...
Eric: It's not the libtards that they...Sam. I'm really trying to get at something. I may be wrong, so forgive me if I'm, if I'm going off on a tangent, but I really think that there was something much more evil. It wasn't just that people were sneering at us over crudité. You know, it's like, it's that they were picking our pockets. They were divorcing us from each other. They came up with a bullshit ideology, if you will, of the, of the Davos flavor that said, you know, we are the world and divorced us from each other in terms of our obligations to fellow countrymen above our obligations to people who, you know, live abroad. That was really a cover for figuring out how to make money when we were largely in many ways stagnant. And so you had a class of people who probably blew out the Gini coefficient for the U S without getting to the real issues of the fact that we're a country, that we put people in uniform and you know, send them into harm's way, that we have a higher duty and care in most of our minds to each other than we do to equally deserving people overseas.
Sam: 00:30:37 But for the most part that the left was the political party that, that, I mean everyone was part of that same extractive economy, but the left at least paid lip service to the virtue of spreading the wealth around.
Eric: 00:30:54 Well, you know, there's this poem by Lewis Carroll about the walrus and the carpenter and in one of the Alice sagas, and they're both going to trick a bunch of oysters into following them and then eating the oysters. And one of them is quite clear about his desire to eat oysters. And the other one makes a big show of how sad it is that they played a little trick and all of them were eating. And the key question is, which of these two figures is more reprehensible. And I always disliked the one who was terribly sad about what they'd done. And I think that's the left.
Sam: 00:31:30 Yeah, there's something to that. But I think there's also all too common phenomenon of people motivated by actually good intentions, even incredibly noble intentions, causing a lot of chaos that they didn't intend, right? So, let me take...
Eric: Is that, is that your model for what was going on?
Sam: Well, it's, it's, it's my model for part of it. So, I mean, take someone like, well, let me take Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, right? Well, I don't know Mark I don't know how mercenary he's been from the beginning or, and how out of touch with the possible harms he might cause, he's been.
But I can, well imagine that here's somebody who could honestly say, you know, connecting people is an intrinsic good. I'm just going to do that better than anybody. And the, you know, the wealth will come and this is all good for everybody. Right? And then only at the 11th hour, you know, long after many of us have, have noticed a problem, he begins to play catch up with the problem.
That's a, that's a fairly charitable view of, of what he was up to. Or the, you know, the Google guys, you know, "don't be evil". Like I, I don't think when they said "don't be evil", they were, you know, twirling their mustaches and, and winking at each other, knowing all the, while they were going to create a, a juggernaut of instability for... and also get fantastically wealthy and anchored to an extractive and ultimately unethical new kind of surveillance economy that you know, we're, we're going to be, you know, hard pressed to change. I don't think I, at what point did they grade into having consciously bad intentions or consciously intention intentions that were so mercenary as to be unethical?
But a, but a purer case of this for me falls in another sector, not economy, but foreign policy. You look at somebody like Samantha Power, right? Who you know, who wrote this famous book on genocide, A Problem from Hell? She, you know, she drew lessons from our failure to intervene in a place like Rwanda, right? And that we were morally culpable in some basic sense for not having intervened, right. That we could have stopped the bloodshed. We didn't, and we even had, you know, Navy seal teams. I mean, Jocko was just on this podcast and Jocko I think was off shore, but you know, at the time and we, we, you know, he'd drawn the lesson from Somalia seeing our, you know, the, the Black Hawk down incident, seeing are our soldiers dragged through the streets that we just can't get involved.
And what happens when you're the one superpower and decide you can't get involved? Well, then people, you know, butcher their neighbors and there's no way to stop them. So, I think with the best of intentions, she and many others drew the lesson that we really do have to be the, the world's cop on some level and we have to get involved. And we're morally culpable for not stopping at a rape in progress or a murder in progress. And, but now we're on the other side of that you know, U-shaped horror curve where we now know what it's like to get involved with however mixed intentions and we, and it's, it's a, a thankless job, right? Like a bill, nation building is not a, it's not a job that we're going to want for, for a long time and for good reason.
Eric: 00:35:07 I actually have some weird backstory on that one. So, I knew Samantha Power at the Kennedy School and she and I sat down, I mean, not, well I don't think. We sat down at a meal and we had friends that connected us. Right. And I asked what you were at, what are you interested in? And she said, well, I'm obsessed with the Red Sox and genocide. Yeah. I said, what?
Sam: That's a good icebreaker.
Eric: And she said, well, you know, the rap on me is I'm all genocide all the time, but nobody cares. And I, you know, I've got book and I can't figure out the answer to the question, why is there not a resolution that we will never, why is it never again not a resolution? And every time I try to get a state to sign up for this or somebody to take this seriously, there's this weird wall that comes down.
Eric: 00:35:54 It's the clearest thing in the world that we should never let genocide ever happen again. Right? And she was convinced and nobody's going to take her seriously. This was going to go nowhere. And then progressively, somehow this thing started to catch fire and I, for a period of time I was emailing her like, do you believe it now? Do you believe it now that this, cause I, I knew this thing was going to get huge?
I also knew that it wasn't going to work because it just, it comes from this beautiful place that is not really deeply beautiful. I mean it's sort of meretricious it's appealing but it doesn't understand what the forces are that create genocide because very few people want to go that deep on that question. And in that case, I saw a human being who I can just vouch for it.
This was the purest of intentions early on. And then it, as the complexity started to reveal themselves, she became enmeshed in a very difficult series of trolley problems or you know, trolley like problems, right? I believe that that partially happens in places like Facebook and Google, but very often I think it's your theory of mind that I'm going to take issue with, which is that I don't think people are as unified in their thinking.
They very often having mercenary part of their brain and the beautiful part of their brain and they have a partition that keeps those from talking to each other.
And then one of the ways in which I found this out was when a group of people, doctors actually in New York city wanted to sort of use me as a consultant for my mathematical and analytic mind. And we went out for a very fancy dinner and they said, I said, what's the topic? And they said, reconceptualizing medical debt. I knew nothing about this. And essentially what they told me is that if you go to an emergency room and you agree to have all sorts of things done, you don't feel like paying exorbitant inflated bills later because you feel like that was an emergency. I had no ability to actually think this through. Yeah, exactly. And this is extortionary. But if you give somebody the ability to say, okay, what if you pay us 82 cents on the dollar and we'll, we'll let 18 cents go. Then suddenly the, the performance of that debt skyrockets.
Eric: 00:38:20 And a phrase came out, which was when they talked about reconceptualization, they said it's a beautiful thing. And I realized that I had heard that phrase in New York. Whenever people are up to no good, "it's a beautiful thing". It's a beautiful thing, you know, it's just, and so I then put out this thing in my group, which is, did you notice that when people in New York do bad things to other people, they always say "it's a beautiful thing". And sure enough, it caught in people's minds. Whenever anybody started to say it, they realized, Oh my gosh, I'm in a part of my mind that recognizes that I can transfer wealth from somebody else to me largely without the other person knowing it in a way that results in benefit for me in some harm that's been externalized.
I think that people both know that they're doing tremendous harm and carry the idealism that propels it. And that's, it's the combination of these things and the fact that they don't talk to each other.
Sam: 00:39:33 Yeah. Well I think people are, you're not going to get me to disagree there that people are impressively split or at least can be. And I think a coherence generally speaking or at least striving for it is good. And I think, living an examined life in part as it is, is struggling with those discoveries of, of incoherence and figuring out how to get this congress of mine, as you call yourself, to actually cohere.
Eric: But you're getting them to cohere.
Sam: 00:40:01 Yeah. No. So, but so, but when you're talking about the normal person who, I think it is a frequent phenomenon , to have, you know, normal, the normal range of good intentions to not be a sociopath, to want to help the world to be in philanthropy, for instance, right. To, to, to, to actually to be this, I mean, you're already, if you're devoting your life, if you are a, you know, a smart person who, you know, got a good degree, who could work more or less anywhere, but you decide to work for, for a charity, right? You're already an outlier. You're already somebody who said no to Wall Street or no to Hollywood or no to something, and now you're working for the, you know, the Southern Poverty Law Center or something like, you want to just stop racism, right? So, you're already one of the good guys.
Right? And but so, I mean, this is an example, dear to my heart that I flog at every opportunity, the Southern poverty law center is, you know, I think was probably consciously started for the best of intentions operated under the, you know, the, the blindingly brilliant light of, of those intentions for a very long time. But something flipped. And one thing that flipped is that, and it's probably unbeknownst to everybody, there's a bad incentive problem here. I mean, the, the only way they survive as an organization is to continue to stay at, in this sort of long emergency mode of there are Nazis everywhere, right? The everyone, it's like, this is a problem. It's a four-alarm fire, give us money. We now have a budget of whatever it is, you know, $30 million a year. I mean, it's gotta be huge. And you know, the fundraising drive never stops. And so, what happens to an organization like that when you begin to run out of Nazis, well then you gotta, you have to find more, right?
Like you can't, you, the incentive is to never recognize that you've gotten a handle on the problem. Right? It'd be like, you know, in some, you know, epidemiological space where, you know, you're curing smallpox, but you could never admit that you've actually cured it. You have to pretend to find smallpox everywhere. Now, I'm not saying obviously I'm not saying white supremacy or white power or anything has been cured, but, but what has happened is you have people who probably were true outliers in their, in their ethical scrupulosity who are now behaving in appalling ways, you know, destroying people's reputations, calling them Nazis when they know they're not Nazis.
Eric: 00:42:22 Well, let's be, let's put a finer point on it. They are now more likely to let the genie out of the bottle because of their bad behavior or to, you know, huff and puff on an ember that is the pathetic KU Klux Klan of 2019, right? To actually create something that could, it could turn into a roaring fire. I mean, this is a general feature, I often talk about this in terms of magnetic and true North where the angle of declination that separates them is very small at the equator but in Northern Canada it's very large. Right?
Sam: And, and at the, at the pole South is everywhere.
Eric: Well, that's right. Yeah. Right. And so it's just the problem is, is that the institution, I mean, look, I've made this point elsewhere so a regular listeners will have heard it, but the concept of the embedded growth obligation, the ego of an institution, which is, it has to do work and grow in order to meet its mandates.
Eric: 00:43:27 That is the thing that has metastasized throughout our institutional structure. And so, it's not the Southern Poverty Law Center. I mean, that's particularly egregious, but the entire university system, every single measure you can take on that thing, looks like an intergenerational wealth transfer right down to the nondischargeability of student debt and bankruptcy. Well, the loading up of every university by administrators and the monopolization at the moment, almost 100% of our leading institutions are run by a baby boomer whereas the average age, in a different era of a university president, we could have most of them under gen X control and some of them under millennial control, there were university presidents in their thirties who had a huge impact. I mean, that is a system which has gone totally metastatic.
Sam: 00:44:26 Yeah, yeah. Well that may be an outlier. I mean
Eric: 00:44:30 It's the worst large system of its kind.
Sam: 00:44:34 Yeah. I mean, the way costs have gone up there, you know, way outpacing inflation.
Eric: Out pacing medical.
Sam: And, yeah. Yeah. It's, it's amazing. And the fact that you can't discharge your debt in bankruptcy.
Eric: It’s perfect.
Sam: Yeah. And the fact that, you know, many of our friends who have spent a lot of time complaining about this, but the fact that you have whole fields that are essentially, you know, sham fields, right, that are in the humanities where it's just pseudo knowledge is being imparted to the next generation. And it's, it's not only its own, it's the walled garden of pseudo knowledge, it is a disparagement of real knowledge. Like, so like the, the anti-science, you know, moral panic that is happening in the humanities…
Eric: It is a fit memetic complex.
Sam: Well, it's, apparently, it's fit. It's fit thus far. I mean it's producing new graduates. Yeah.
Eric: 00:45:27 Well, and it's colonizing things outside of it. I mean the problem with journalism, tech, human resources, anything which is a high leverage but often poorly paid for the level of intelligence usually required or the amount of training usually required becomes attractive. So, there's a perverse incentive when you can't pay journalists or scientists or even technologists at appropriate levels. I know people will scream, so you have no idea how much money tech people get paid. And I, I really don't believe it. I think that those jobs are supposed to be even better compensated because of large scale tampering in the sector.
What I believe is, is that we're looking at the difference between truth and fitness. And if you recall when I went first one in your program, I said I care about four things. Truth is one of them, but I also care about meaning, fitness, and grace. This is a great example where fitness is out-competing truth.
Sam: 00:46:33 But we have a hand in this so we can tune the landscape, right?
Eric: Sometimes I feel like the two of us. Yeah. That's why I call you Sam. What the hell is going on?
Sam: Yes. A relatively small number of people can do it. It's not, it's not, it doesn't take 7 billion people or 8 billion people. No, but like you, you need to convince the top, you know, 3000 people that one way of talking doesn't work. Right. And to, to, to align fitness and truth more faithfully.
Eric: You know, I mean, I'm not used to disagreeing with you this much.
Sam: Good. That's why I came here with my alter-ego. Yeah.
Eric: 00:47:13 Sam, I think we've screwed up a lot worse than you're imagining in the past. And that that is the fodder for the twin evils of Trumpism and Wokeism.
Sam: 00:47:26 But just, just grant me the, the possible sea change effect of the 3000 people, the right 3000 people, fundamentally getting their head straight on, on these issues or any issue, right. Whatever it is. So, you're talking about basically all of Hollywood, all of journalism and all of the science that's public facing.
Eric: If we could do that.
Eric: Okay. In some, some thought experiment? Yeah. I guess what my feeling is, first of all is, is that my head is so filled with malware. I've got, I'm running so many nonsensical programs put there by other people that I don't even know are nonsense. Or I can detect...
Sam: You have a sense of what direction to point you're going to find the nonsense. What are you worried about?
Eric: Well, so we're currently sitting in a room with reflective glass and anechoic tiles that deaden sound. If I echolocate by things that I am absolutely positive would sell newspapers that aren't printed, it's like, okay, you're echolocating and instead of hearing the reflection off of glass, you're hearing a, an absence, which is anechoic tile. And so, if I just look at Google trends, which tells me what people are searching on, if I look at how Google autocompletes, which tells me what they want me to see is what other people are searching on in the search bar. If I look at what stories aren't being run, all of the dead stuff is astounding to me right at the moment.
Like I know for example that people are fascinated by the Jeffrey Epstein story. And in general, like you know, we just had, so normally I don't love talking about current events because it dates the program, but we just had a Kevin Spacey's accuser reported as dying. I don't think that that is likely to be part of some super evil plot to just so people can calibrate. It's not that everything that could make sense because there's an incentive, I chalk up to a conspiracy.
The Jeffrey Epstein thing is totally different and you and I both met this guy. For 15 years, and he's the only person I've been saying this with conviction about for 15 years, I had one meeting with him, I've said he's a construct. Somebody hired a person probably named Jeffrey Epstein to play a role, super genius mega billionaire philanthropist. I wasn't buying any of it, I've never bought it. And I've talked to everybody in our sort of mutual network and always used one word because I wanted to make a huge bet that when the time came, I would say he was a construct and that I would be revealed to be correct. And that everybody was asked, what do you mean by a construct? Right. Okay.
Sam: Do you need to have you clarify that on your podcast before?
Eric: Probably not. I, I recorded an entire Jeffrey Epstein episode, which is just me soloing for an hour, but I haven't released it cause I'm terrified. And I've had one ambiguous dinner where somebody sort of quasi threatened me and I wasn't entirely sure what they were saying. It was a little bit creepy.
Sam: Well this is a strand of human complication that you're way more in touch with than I am. I don't deny that it exists. Right. So, like, I think there are real conspiracies and the, and powerful people occasionally, you know, do what, powerful people are occasionally sociopaths and then they, then they do what you would expect or conspired to do what you'd expect. So, I don't have a strong feeling about let's just take the livelihood that Epstein was, was had a facilitated suicide. I think the likelihood that he was murdered is low, but I'll commit suicide. I don't have a strong
Eric: I’m agnostic about that, whether some people stepped away so that he could do the thing that he needed to do, whether there's some vanishing probability that he actually isn't dead. I don't know.
Sam: I put that at very low.
Eric: I put that very low odds as well.
Sam: But you put no, I'm a fan of the …
Eric: Do you put it at zero odds, Sam?
Sam: Well I wouldn't, I know enough about probability to put almost nothing and zero. Eric It’s a huge, huge difference between those people who insist, when I hear somebody insists that that probability be zero, I take it and that person is smart,
Sam: But effectively, effectively zero. I mean zero in the sense that we don't have time to worry about it.
Eric: I wasted no time thinking about it at the moment, but I'm happy to have my Basie and priors tutored.
Sam: So, I just don't have a, I mean, as you know, I'm taking in or, or I utilize this homily that you, you shouldn't describe to, to malice what can be explained by incompetence or whatever that the formulation is.
Eric: 00:52:10 I find that that's an interesting heuristic for somebody.
Sam: It's, it's usually, I think it's usually true, right? So, like it works much of the time and then it, it fails, but it fails in a case where you get more information and then you update your view.
Eric: That's what that was. That was exactly my point that the Kevin Spacey thing I would say is in the realm of Newtonian mechanics. And then the Jeff Epstein thing is like relativistic quantum field theory. Whatever your Newtonian laws are, we're not in Kansas anymore.
Sam: But I had no, you put me in the same room with him. So, I should probably clarify that. So, I had, I've found myself, but
Eric: We should both apologize. Nothing happened.
Sam: I found myself at a lunch with him at the TED conference and had no insight into him or what he was up to apart from the fact that he, you know, my sort of creep detector went off.
Eric: Mine spiked like crazy.
Sam: 00:53:03 Yeah. I mean, I just, he was someone who I didn't want to spend any more time with because he had this sort of schlocky rich guy. But within, well, no, no, I mentioned, but like when you see a, I guess he was probably, you know, close to 60 at this point and you know, he's with a 21 year old, you know, it's like a, it's like the optics of that are all the, I mean, obviously there are many rich guys who do that, you know, and there are many, certainly many people in Hollywood to do that. And you know, that's just the way people, some people roll when they have the opportunity to roll that way and that, okay, fine. But he, he was just a, I have a kind of a level of, you know, judgmentalism around that, you know, it's like, at minimum, that's a, a, an attractor on the, on the landscape of, of well-being that is not all that interesting to me. And so, when you see someone captivated by that, like this is like life is going great because I'm 60 and she's 20. Right? Like that's the one variable that...
Eric: 00:54:08 We're talking about his Lamborghini, all the time.
Sam: 00:54:11 Exactly, you've, you know, you've bored me already. But I had no more insight into him than that.
Eric: 00:54:21 From one meeting I've been I've been talking about him for 15 years.
Sam: Right, because this was like a 10-person lunch. Okay. And I had maybe, you know, three sentences exchange with him.
Eric: You know, so mine was at his house, right. I'm ushered into a waiting room. He's got some super complicated electronical electronic art. I get up, I look at it and I say, wait, is that, is that a camera inside the art? I, the first thing, I'm a genius for finding the cameras. I inside, my next thought is I'm supposed to find the camera inside the art because the cam, the art is supposed to draw my attention and I'm supposed to see that I'm being recorded.
I'm called out to a room in back with a huge long, it's sort of exaggerated dining table with a giant American flag as its tablecloth, so that any food or drink that is served on it may spill onto an American flag. And I'm just in high alert, like, fuck you. Who, who, who are you?
And he comes in and he's got this attractive, again over probably 22, 23-year-old woman. I think she's introduced as an heiress or something and he's bouncing her on his knee in order to get my attention. There's some other guy who says nothing during the meeting. I have no idea what he was doing there.
Sam: 00:55:39 And I think I, one detail I'd like to add here, in defense of the many people and the many scientists who are in this guy's orbit and who didn't know how unseemly his life actually was, some of these young women who you'd meet in his company were not just, you know, bimbos or strippers or that some of these people were going to medical school and there's like, these were like smart young women.
Eric: 00:56:05 No, no, this is incredibly important distinction and I don't think that the news media has done a good job of teasing out. It's very attached to the idea of Pedophile Island and Lolita Express. And that lazy, sensationalist journalism is crowding something out, which is that in general from what I understand, so, I met him in 2000, I think 2004, maybe 2003 but before his Florida incarceration and charges, most people that I knew who met him met him with young adult women. And so, my theory is that he was constructed to be the sapiosexual Hugh Hefner.
Eric: And that they stupidly hired probably, and I guess I don't know this Humbert Humbert for the role and that, that dichotomy explains at least a lot of the initial willingness of the science community to play with this person. That, I mean, I'll be honest, I'm not particularly judgmental about consenting adults, even if it's probably ill-advised. You know, to have a 50-year spread between two people. If somebody is 20 and somebody who's 80 ...
Sam: 00:57:15 There's just, it's a completely different thing is it's very easy to see that if you've seen this guy be sort of the womanizing schmuck, right within the bounds of, you know, total legality and he's surrounded by 20 year olds and you know, he's got a 40 year...
Eric: Everybody's party to the game.
Sam: You would never, you would never suspect this other thing about him. Right. Okay.
Eric: 00:57:35 That is not a fair defense after the Florida situation, the Florida situation changes that structure.
Sam: 00:57:44 You mean his, his prosecution or Miami Herald thing? They came out like a, a year ago.
Eric: 00:57:51 No, no, no. The prosecution.
Eric: So, a lot of people continued to talk to him in part because, and I think this is something that hasn't been teased out, he was supporting an older style of science, which this is again, something that's gonna be super complicated, was much more disagreeable. Now the woke movement has seized on this as well, that's the cowboy oppressive science of male assholes. But he was supporting a network of people who might not have been supported otherwise to somewhat break out of the mold. And because the U.S. government had stepped away from that work in, in, in large measure, in my opinion, people were so dependent on him that they were eager to look the other way. And there was also the hint, I think that this wasn't really Jeffrey Epstein, that this was really something else funding.
Sam: 00:58:48 Hmm. Well, I dunno about that. I mean, I, I think the, the relative penury of science is a corrupting variable and the fact that we, we underfund science and that it matters that when the rich guy comes into the room, right to, to scientists because they're so starved for money, that's just, that's just corrupting.
Eric: 00:59:09 Look, this is, I, I've been on this, this is going to get us into the immigration question, which is that the in the mid-eighties, under Reagan, the science complex particularly the National Science Foundation under Eric Block through the National Academy of Sciences and a subdivision called the Government University Industry Research Round table, GUIRR, are conspired to destroy the bargaining power of American scientists by flooding the market. And what they did is they did an economic analysis with both supply and demand curves to say that the wages, which you can calculate when you have two intersecting curves, we're going to go above six figures for new PhDs.
Sam: And then let's get a lot of Indians in here?
Eric: And well, it's four, it was four countries. It was China, India, Taiwan and Korea. And China went from zero to 60 in like, no, they were sending us nobody, and then I think there were like over 25% of all graduate students. And of course, graduate students aren't students, they're workers. So, there's a cryptic labor economy inside of the universities. And what the university system figured out was, is that in order to get this work done, we'd have to have this, these misclassified students who do the work. important. It is foreign workers. And what we would do is we would take the economic analysis, which they secretly did in 1986 and they'd subtract off the demand curve and they'd just do a supply analysis based on the demography of the baby boom going into the baby bust, which is our generation, Gen X. And that demographic alarm was sounded to get the immigration act of 1990 passed, which has like the H1B is one of its most famous features. So that's, that's a whole story about how the actual workings, I'm the guy who uncovered that and I chased that all the way down to the person who wrote that secret study that was never released, never dated, never authored.
Eric: That thing was the stepping away of the federal government from its con, its commitment through the Vannevar Bush endless frontier agreement to fund the kickass blue-sky research that this country has done better than anyone else.
Sam: 01:01:27 But how is that distinguishable from what on his face seems to me to be a rational policy, which is why not try to attract the world's best and brightest and incentivize them to start their businesses here, settle here, you know what, once you've gotten your PhD at Harvard, you know, you, you've got a green card and you know, here's your, here's the Silicon Valley's over there. You know what I mean? So why when ...
Eric: 01:01:56 When you start speaking I feel like I'm hearing the Stars and Stripes Forever. I've got one hand over my heart and the Statue of Liberty is in the background with Ezra Lazarus' poem at the base. Do you actually believe that.
Sam: 01:02:05 No, but no, but no, my, my point is that strikes me as a good policy, even though that would create more competition for, you know, so-called Americans, right? Because we're, we're now open for, for the world's business. But if you actually wanted to maximize, you know, creativity and, and industry here, you would want to import Indians and Chinese and Taiwanese and Koreans.
Eric: Well, I mean, look, I've married the maximum number of brilliant women from the developing world who came here to do STEM that the law will allow. So I'm absolutely guilty.
Sam: You got your wife and then you want to close the border?
Eric: What? Yeah. Well, first of all, that's how country clubs work, right? Right. So, the idea is that when you get country club, when you get into a country club, you don't instantly say, well, I don't understand. It would be immoral for me to close the country club.
Eric: 01:03:01 I mean, so it's a very weird thing for me that people who are very steeped in what you were just talking about, which is this interesting mimetic complex that got pushed out don't tend to think critically about it. Of course, we want the best people in the world to come to the U S selfishly.
Sam: I mean, you know, everyone doesn't, I mean, the person who has to compete with the best coming from India and Taiwan and China. Yeah. That person, let's say in, in a, you know, software engineering, that person has found, now suddenly on a much more competitive playing field.
Eric: And yeah, this is, this is... So what I was told about this,
Sam: But I'm just not, I'm not saying that it's not without cost to somebody. It's definitely costing somebody something. Right?
Eric: Like the bad people, the people.
Sam: No, no, no. Not the bad people, but just, it's, it's like
Eric: I don't even know how to go into all of the things that are like really funny and wrong about this. Like one of which is, well are you afraid to compete with somebody from India? Well, maybe I'm afraid to compete with a hundred people from India. You know, like the issue is what is your your price point...
Sam: You are though, on this podcast, you're competing with people from India. I mean you're competing with, you know, there are 800,000 podcasts.
Eric: No, no.
Sam: You're, you're competing with, with 799,999...
Eric: Because it's not a uniform, because it's not a uniform product. Sam.
Sam: No, but you still...
Eric: When you talked about software, right, most of software is glorified foreign while loops. Let's not, you know, you, you, you, you invoke a library, you code up a class.
Sam: You can outsource it. All right.
Eric: Well no, it's just, I'm just saying that most of what it is you're just writing code. It's got a kind of a mystique about it because a lot of people haven't done it and it's too symbolic, whatever.
Sam: But it's plumbing.
Eric: It's plumbing and a lot of science is plumbing. Yeah. And so, a lot of the stuff about the best is not very relevant. If you wanted to take the stuff that's really distinguished, you know, like you've got Rama NuGen coming from India, you know you've got you know, Ellis coming from South Africa who, whoever it is, that's really amazing, we have plenty of room for the tiny number of people who are absolutely nonhomogeneous super contributors.
Sam: So, you're just saying you want to set the bar higher.
Eric: I'm not saying that, I'm saying a lot of different things. One is that people in the country have rights and they have asymmetric rights to their own labor market. That's a large part of what it means to be a citizen of a country. If I start to talk about your rights that are perhaps your most valuable economic possession, if you really think about the American workers, most valuable economic possession is asymmetric access to the American labor market. If I say, you know, your right is not an asset, but is instead an impediment, it's a barrier. And what we need to do is get rid of the red tape and I'm not going to pay you for it because it's not an asset. I'm going to take it from you and I'm going to say that that's what the free market is. Well, that has nothing to do with the free market. I wrote a paper called Migration for the Benefit of All that pointed out you're free to securitize people's right and pay for it. And then everybody wins.
Eric: That's not what we do.
Sam: Okay, so, but that's, that's something we could do though. We could...
Eric: We're not interested. That would be a Coase, that's called a Coasean solution.
Eric: And the funny part about it, the, the hysterically funny part about it is that no capitalists who claim that they're interested in getting rid of the inefficiency that comes from being forced to use your own labor are interested in the model in which you actually pay people for their securitized rights. Because the real thing they're interested in is not the tiny inefficiency, which is called the Harberger Triangle.
Eric: 01:07:00 There's a giant structure below it called the Moorhouse Rectangle, which is what is transferred from labor to capital.
Sam: The amazing thing is you've referenced this several times over cocktails.
Sam: In the last two years.
Eric: Yeah. Well, but, but my point...
Sam: This is cocktail party chatter...
Eric: No. But I see it, I see it differently.
Sam: ... the Weinstein family.
Eric: Sam, I see your comment that well don't we want the best and the brightest where you don't reference wage competition. It sounds more like intellectual competition, right? When you, when you, when you open a border and selectively only in certain fields, it's like opening a window in an airplane and it specifically affects the seat at which it's opened differently than everywhere else in the plane. Right?
Eric: So, the problem I have with this is that it's a large mimetic complex and get it popping back up to the Jeff Epstein issue. The entire university and scientific complex was built on this incredible embedded growth obligation, right?
Eric: 01:08:01 That is the thing that caused the system to have to rescue itself with immigration. So, it's really not about immigration or brown people or I don't want to compete against the best and the prizes. It, the issue was we didn't have enough people to feed into a pyramid system. And what you could do is you could, you could reference a poverty differential between Asia, which was training people acceptably well in technical subjects, but had it at a lower level, now that's changed some to fill in the bottom of the pyramid. And so that's really what it was. It was an economic X point that has nothing to do with the best and the brightest or the color of one's skin. It was just a way of saving a pyramid scheme.
Sam: 01:08:40 Well, I, so clearly there is room for innovation on all these fronts and we should be eager to do it. And we should be certainly eager to find Ponzi schemes that we didn't know were Ponzi schemes. Right? Like I think it's, eh, we again, this touches where we started when we were talking about Samantha Power and other and the Southern Poverty Law Center. I think there, there are systems we set up with the best of intentions and you know, projects and, and meme, you know, mimetic complexes. We launch you know, upon the world with the best of intentions and we don't see the way incentives will align or the, or the, you know, the knock-on effects or the externalities of, of doing those things. And then it's just the world is more complicated than we realized.
Eric: 01:09:29 And that's what was, so that's like the thing that scares me a little bit. Remember when I said that I have malware in my head? My belief is, is that a lot of the beautiful things that you were thinking about, about being open to the world, training the best and the brightest, keeping some of them for ourselves, distributing some of them back home to grow the pie for everyone, et cetera, et cetera. That's a mimetic complex that I, I associate with malware. It's not that there aren't aspects of it, it wasn't movement, right?
Sam: 01:09:54 I think it's close to the right program. So for instance, like if you say, yeah, it's, it's the fact that I'm not thinking when I say that about the I forget how you put it, but the, the, the, the difference between the local case and the imported case, right? You know, the but by analogy, you know, opening the window on the airplane. Or just the fact that you know that you've got people here who are paying taxes to help build out local infrastructure that some, then some titan of industry is going to leverage and globalize. Right? And you know that money is not coming back to the people who are paying taxes.
Eric: 01:10:38 These games. The totality of these games is what got us very angry at the Clinton era. People. Yeah. This is the, the, the Brad Delong's and Paul Krugman’s and Jagdish Bhagwati's and Bill Clinton's of the world. All of these people pushed out this idea and we didn't know how to, how to oppose it. But what they were doing was allowing a slice of our country to continue to grow its slices of the pie.
Sam: 01:11:09 But again, it's, it's just easy to find non nefarious, not malignantly selfish understanding of what happened. I'll give you another example, which, which I think is you're totally familiar with but will seem less sinister or at least it seems so to me. So, you take what happened to the music industry, right? So, it's like we have a, a breakthrough in technology. We go from vinyl to CDs and then, those, you know, we, we suffer those jewel cases for about a decade and then we get PMP3s which opened the door to piracy of a sort which no one has anticipated. And then we managed to close down the piracy. We have the, you know, the iTunes store and people are but because of this, this explosion of piracy and now the prospect of, of, of just, you know, now it's all bits, it's not atoms anymore.
Sam: 01:12:08 We have a, just a fundamental devaluation of the product. Right? Like the music, the music, the value of the music has basically gone to zero. Right. because my, my using a copy of it is not, is not taking it from you.
Eric: Because of two things, its exhausted ability and exclude ability.
Eric: The idea is that if I buy a vinyl record, 1) my use of it will eventually wear down the grooves.
Eric: As it to do in the old days and 2) my having the record means that you don't have that car.
Sam: I have to borrow it.
Eric: And that the, the per the unit costs is not zero.
Sam: I can't copy your record for free. Yeah.
Eric: That is this issue about private goods and services became public goods and services and even the diehard economists who are free market have to recognize that if something is inexhaustible and an excludable price does not equal value and therefore it cannot command its value. So that was clear to many of us just as...
Sam: But I'm saying there's a non-nefarious account of what happened there. Where your iTunes, right, your Apple, you open iTunes for the good of all right? But you, you obviously want to make a profit, right? This is a fantastic business. But what, when, if you're the musician who now who's now because catalog is now worth, you know, one 10th of what it used to be worth and now you're, you have this sort of life change foisted on you, where now the only way for you to make ends meet is to tour. But you're 70 years old and you, you know, you, you felt your touring was behind you, right? All of this looks awful. But again, nobody was thinking about that guy when they, when these changes came about.
Eric: Bull shit.
Sam: Well, it's easy to see that most people weren't thinking, well, no one, no one had bad intentions toward that.
Eric: Remember, information just wants to be free and free like beer and all this nonsense. I thought that stuff was just like moronic at the time. Okay. The same thing with NAFTA, right? The claim...
Sam: But again, so, so what you had in your sites was not, you can't, I don't think you're, you're, you're the wrong theory of mind if you think everyone was aware of what you were aware of and just had the say, the ethical switch flipped in the other direction.
Eric: 01:14:23 Ok. The class, the economic class teaches public goods in every Econ 101 textbook, right? They also teach trade. They have two different names for what happens to improve a society. In terms of how it's measured, one called Pareto improvement, which is that everybody in the society is as good or better off. And the other one called Kaldor-Hicks, which is, some people get hurt, some people get helped. But were you to tax the winners to pay the losers everyone could be Pareto improved. Okay. When you ask these people in real time, why are you talking about a Kaldor-Hicks improvement in Pareto terms? So, this is the technical, esoteric conversation. Why is your exoteric description of this at odds with your esoteric, alright, this is pure Straussian cryptic bullshit. They said, well, we can't really say that and we hope that somebody, it's not our job, it was this wall of total nonsense. And it wasn't that this wasn't being said in real time. But the number of people...
Sam: 01:15:35 Well, I'm sure you can find the people at the conference who were, I mean it's, you know, they, they have, they have one way of speaking to the profession. And one way of speaking on the op-ed pages in New York Times.
Eric: This is one of the reasons why you and I split on Nassim Taleb. I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Nassim during the total nonsense called the great moderation in our financial structure right before 2008, right.
Sam: And the only reason why I split on Nassim is that he just wakes up one morning and you know, off his meds and attacks me for reasons I can never fathom. So, it's like, it's totally personal. Like, or it's intended to be personal. It's not that I take it personally. I mean, I actually,
Eric: I don't even think it's already personal. He can correct me on that.
Sam: But it's apropos of nothing. Like I've been, you know, I've been sleeping when he was sleeping and then I turn on Twitter and I see that he's attacked me by name for some reason...
Eric: When my phone lights up and it says Nassim...
Sam: There's no intellectual content.
Eric: 01:16:33 When it says Nassim Nicholas Taleb, he's been my friend for a long time. I literally shake like I have to hit. Right?
Sam: 01:16:41 Right. Okay. But that's a problem of his personality that he's exporting to the environment. You're part of the environment.
Eric: 01:16:47 Look, Nassim is not an inside cat. He just isn't. I see the things he does and I get, I get a lump in my throat and I think, am I going to have to defend this? I know I know what he does, but I think people don't understand him, so at least let me offer up a, an apology for, for Nassim Taleb, which he may rip my head off for saying. Nassim is constructed around things that are much larger than what other people are considering and I don't, I'm not saying that he does everything well. I obviously have a totally different tack than he does, so I'm very uncomfortable with his methods, but let's at least say what they are and steel man to the extent possible. Other people say you, you, you, Joe are misusing statistics. Nassim would say there's a problem with statistics. Yeah. And it's constructed to be misused and it's misused all the time in the same way. And if you do anything that you were normally taught to do in statistics class, if you have a PhD in statistics, you're part of the problem. And I'm going to hold you personally responsible right now. This is very disconcerting to people. Yeah.
Sam: 01:17:57 And so, I mean, I, I don't think we should spend a lot of time on this, but there, there are areas where I am not qualified to fact check him. The areas where I am, where he gives opinions are just as strident, it's just a deluge of bullshit coming from him. So, like he, you know, the stuff he has said about religion and science is not even, I mean, the truth is it's not even wrong. It's like it's, it's, it's incoherent. It's not like he's got a, a counterpoint that I still think is wrong, but you know, it has to be argued against. It's just this vomitus.
Eric: 01:18:32 I've gotten there too. I can't stand the style cause it just hurts me. Like I just, I, I'm very uncomfortable by it. However, there are plenty of times when I thought he was talking nonsense that like, at first it sounds like he's making a sensible objection. Then I'm just like convinced this as he's going off the rails and then I push further and it turns out there's even more of a point. So I have learned to be very cautious around him, not because he's the person you want around for most of the time, but when we were in the middle of the great moderation and I, I punked out cause I was, I was with him and I was giving talks about Epstein and Madoff, it was at the two mysterious functions in New York. And I used to put slides up about black arts capital. It was sort of a play on like Blackstone or BlackRock.
Eric: 01:19:23 And the idea is we'd tell you what we're doing, but we'd have to kill you.
Eric: The, we, we just didn't know. And I, I got Madoff wrong. I thought he was front running his legitimate business, which turns out it was just a Ponzi scheme.
Eric: But I knew Epstein was very likely to be something totally other than he was. Nassim during this period of time that we were both discussing the nonsense. That was the suppose great moderation, was the other guy who would take as much punishment as the community would throw at him and then would just humiliate him. It's like, Oh, he made one lucky trade in 1987 the guy's an idiot. He's a blowhard. He's a fool. And I couldn't take the pressure from giving this talk that obviously we hadn't banished volatility. And I think around 2005, I was about three years in and Nassim says, you know, you're going to regret getting out of this early.
Eric: 01:20:15 You should see it through. And it always stuck with me that I didn't quite have the courage or the strength or the guts or the disagreability to continue, at least to hold the intellectual position. I couldn't time when this thing was going to blow, but it was, you know, I wrote this thing on mortgage backed securities with Adil, Abdullah Ali in 2001. This was nonsense. And it was a world in which almost no one was willing to call it out. And so, the singularity in my, in my world about Nassim has to do with he, he's willing to be one person against billions. He will, he will literally just stand up against any crowd.
Sam: 01:20:58 Okay, well, so that's, that's often a bug. And you found the one case perhaps where it was a feature, but it's a, I mean, first of all, we're all like that to some degree. I mean, we were, we're all standing up, right?
Eric: It's very hard for me.
Sam: And, yeah, but it...
Eric: I mean, I, I do it and you do it, but you don't get weak-kneed. I get weak-kneed.
Sam: Yeah, occasionally. But it's, it's, there is a kind, I mean, again, I'm a, not to psychoanalyze him, but there's this, there's a sort of Trumpian level personality problem layered on top of his intellect where, I'm not disputing the guy is smart, he's a, there's no question, he's smart, but there's just, there's so much personality to get through and wrangle with, to interact with whatever, whatever smarts are showing up for depending on the topic. And again, with some topics, you know, I haven't found the smarts, but I'm not disputing that.
Sam: 01:21:47 The guy, obviously he's intelligent, is just, he's so, there's no one more enamored of his intelligence than him. Right. And it's just, it's like that level of egocentricity. Again, it has a kind of Trumpian, you know, peacock fan, a quality to it. And in in the cases where it's warranted, it's still extra and it's bullshit and it's annoying when it's unwarranted, it's embarrassing and he has zero sense of where he is on, on that landscape.
Eric: I hear what you're saying. I do have the sense of the number of floorboards that I can hide under when the storm troopers come from me, a very few and far between that I can count on and I can count on his.
Eric: So, we don't need to derange on that front.
Sam: You're putting a high price on personality, I mean I get..
Eric: 01:22:34 No, I'm about...
Sam: ... a high price on personal loyalty.
Eric: But you know, Sam, I honestly, I find the same thing about you. If I'm in a storm, you're one of the tiny number of phone calls I can place and it's very odd for me that ...
Sam: Well, I would want you to, I would want you to feel that way.
Eric: I do. I absolutely do.
Sam: So, when I call it pick it up and ...
Sam: But you need not, you need not shudder at what's coming.
Eric: But getting, getting back to the, to this large... So, with all of these very dangerous and disturbing topics, I start to understand that you believe, and I think it's correct that we often get to hell through a road paved with good intentions.
Eric: I don't disagree with that.
Sam: And the, and the converse is also true. You can have, you can have good effects of, of bad intentions and that's, and you shouldn't, you shouldn't credit the good effects too highly there. You know, because like the, the, I think intentions matter for the most part. I mean, intentions are the operating system. So, we could like if you are, if you're iterating on your intentions, if you're, if your error correcting...
Sam: And hewing back to, to the, the outcomes you actually want, right. That is, those are the people we can collaborate with that, you know, when they're, when they're ethical, they, the people who are right by accidents, are producing good things by accident are ...
Eric: It's, it's how, it's how we encode this. That's so interesting to me. Like when we order veal, we just say the word veal. We don't think about what it is that we're causing to occur.
Sam: I want the, I want the three-minute video before I eat the veal.
Eric: Exactly. Like very few of us do that. When I think about like how Debbie Wasserman-Schultz...
Sam: But that's why I don't order veal, right. That that's a difference. At a certain point, too much information has a consequence. Right? Like I, I'm not comfortable with veal or foie gras, right.
Sam: So, it's like if, and it would matter, it should if you said, well, here's veal, but this is veal, this is pain-free veal. Right.
Sam: This is veal that was, you know, synthesized in a lab. No animals involved. The problem goes away. So that's that. That's the fact that there is, you'd want there to be a difference there.
Sam: 01:24:44 You wouldn't want, I mean, well, take the most extreme case. You wouldn't want to be the person who would pay more for the veal if you knew there was more suffering associated with it. Right, you wouldn't want to, we wouldn't want one, we wouldn't want to be the person who, for whom the suffering is part of the pleasure. Right? That's the, there, that's clearly a place on the moral landscape you don't want to be.
Eric: Yeah. And you don't want to be associated with, right. So, if that's at all unsavory, then they're there many gradations of better than that.
Eric: Right. So, it's back to my issue about orcas are either the best or worst species?
Sam: Yeah. No but I didn't mean to derail you there, but it matters. Like we need to unpack the mimetic complex and get at what's inside. And it matters if we, if we fail to, if there's a lot inside and we were, we're unaware of it.
Sam: That matters.
Sam: How often are we just saying veal, but...
Eric: For example, I remember when Debbie Wasserman-Schultz was being interviewed about superdelegates and she said they're not super delegates. They're unpledged delegates and delegates. And why do we have to have them? And I think she said something to the effect, and if I'm getting this wrong, I apologize.
Eric: 01:26:04 Something like, well, you wouldn't want the, the people who aren't regular party workers, you know, just being able to take over the party, something like this. I was thinking like, Oh, that's what we all think it is, that it's a primary and that the people who are registered Democrats should figure out who that they should support as a candidate. And her point was, well, we have to have a thumb on the scale, otherwise democracy might happen.
Sam: Right? Yeah.
Eric: And like that thing is how we encode the badness. We encode it by creating some different way of talking about it.
Sam: How we encode it or we fail to encode it, how it becomes operable or how...
Eric: Well, nobody's a bad person in their own mind most of the time.
Sam: Yeah. Most.
Eric: So, when I do bad things, I encode it differently. So, we were just in a, in a situation where we were waiting in a very long line of cars for an off ramp and our car, you know, and our car sort of zoomed ahead and then asked somebody's you know understanding that we would cut in right towards the exit.
Eric: 01:27:11 So, you know, sort of high fiving like, geez, we almost got caught in that really long line. Later in the day somebody cuts in front of us, much less of a problem. It's like, can you believe that guy? And so, this way in which we sort of see ourselves as the permanent like good guy protagonist in the first case being savvy.
Sam: Yeah. But so, don't you think living a good life is in large measure a matter of kind of squeezing the, the delta between those two states of mind?
Eric: I think you think that that's true.
Sam: That's why it was a leading question.
Eric: I know, I know, but I think that it's actually much more tricky.
Sam: So, let's take the antithesis. What if I told you that I thought it was a matter of getting broadening that gulf, right? So, to be more extremely at odds with oneself, depending on what side of the table you're on.
Eric: 01:28:03 See I think you would have been less likely to cut in line, but if you did cut in line, I wonder if you'd be less likely to notice it and talk about it the way I do. So, I think that your morality and my morality differ slightly.
Sam: I don't think you're giving me, you're giving Nassim Taleb too much credit and you're not giving me enough.
Eric: Oh, is that right?
Sam: So, so I am
Eric: I see you as being pretty consistent in a lot of ways.
Sam: Yeah. What I aspire to be is to, to cut in line the right amount.
Sam And to be appropriately nonjudgmental when I see someone else cut in line.
Eric: Well, so that's very odd. I'm pretty close to that.
Sam: Yeah. I mean I, so I don't have too many illusions about what it is to do it and what and but what it is when somebody else does it. So, I don't, I'm not as, and when I catch, when I occasionally catch myself in that, that mismatch between you know, who I'm capable of being in one moment and how judgmental I am of somebody else in that same mode.
Eric: 01:29:02 Noticing your own sort of issues makes you a better person if you can port them more generally. So, in other words, if you say, look, I, I recognize that you know, I'm not the, I'm not the best around food or something, but yeah, I am very conscious in some other area like being timely. Well, if you can recognize some, somebody else's failings as akin to your own in a different area and port that, that's a way in which like being in touch with your own hypocrisy I think makes you a better person. And I worry about people who are trying to rid themselves of their hypocrisy rather than first noticing it and then sort of minimizing it so that it is, it's less garish.
Sam: But yeah. But to be, to truly want to minimize it, you have to be in touch with it.
Eric: 01:29:59 Right.
Sam So, we run those, that's two pieces of software you're running at the same time.
Eric Well, it's, I think it's more like I don't see any prospect for ridding myself of it. And other people, so, I caught someone that I have to get rid of it. You know, it's like it's, it's a, it's an imagined state that they could, they could prove more or less that you can't live without it.
Sam We, we, because you're not a unitary thing, right?
Eric You aren't a unitary thing. Right. And most of us, even though we know that we still treat ourselves as unitary things, which is bizarre.
Eric: Well you're in the mindfulness...
Sam: I work hard not to do that,
Eric: Yeah, but I don't have an app, but I don't do, do these practices. But I'm still very conscious of that fact that I'm not, I'm not unitary. Yeah.
Sam: No, I mean that if you follow that a little bit further, that becomes very interesting because you're not, but that doesn't mean you, there's not a, there's no norm you wanted to aspire to follow.
Sam: 01:30:53 Right. Like you can be, there are faces of your mind, you can prefer to others and you can, and there's also something that happens when you're, when you cease to be taken in by your, your different selves and all these different modes, right. To the, to the normal degree. Then you can actually, then there's a kind of freedom to navigate to a kind of a happier, conversation.
Eric: But there is some way in which what you're talking about is that one of your parliaments of selves is that your meta-self, which you're probably getting as close to identifying with unitarity as anything else.
Sam: Well, it's just, there is, the more you..
Eric: The thing that supervises the sub-routines, you would probably call Sam Harris.
Sam: Well, I would, it's, it's more diaphanous and that may ultimately, it's, there's consciousness. I mean, the only thing that can supervise anything is, or be aware of anything or experience anything is what I'm calling consciousness.
Sam: 01:31:52 Now, that's not when you really pay attention to what that's like. It doesn't actually answer to the, to the name I or me. I mean, it really is just, it's just this open space in which everything's appearing, including thoughts and intentions and desires and emotions. And there, it really is a, a cacophony, but the cacophony changes the more you fall back to this position of just witnessing the show. Right. And so, you know, it's like you're, you're I guess, let me give one analogy that's actually fairly apropos is the difference between dreaming and lucid dreaming. Right? The more you lucid a dream, the more you actually can kinda change your dreams. I mean, that's what it is.
Eric: It builds the point.
Sam: Yeah. But you're still, you know, there's a consequence to being lucid and in your, and being perpetually lost in thought being perpetually, being identified...
Eric: Of not noticing.
Sam: Not noticing, thought as thought, being identified with every intention that that surfaces in the mind is really deeply analogous to be, to being asleep and dreaming and not knowing you're dreaming. Sam: 01:33:03 Right. Whether you're in a situation you're not recognizing.
Eric: Well, it's interesting because sometimes I can't actually use the information. So, for example, when you went into the, don't we want the best and brightest thing, right? I thought, oh my God, Sam is going to drag me there. And that way he's to believe, well, no, because, because there is no thing called xenophillic restrictionism, which is what most of us are. Certainly, I am in, in my belief structure. And the idea that every single news organ is ready to call any restriction, a xenophobe. I'm thinking, oh my God, Sam is dragging me to this place. He doesn't even know it. And I'm starting to get angry and agitated and excited. And there was nothing I could do to actually, I couldn't find any control knob.
Sam: But so, it did come back to, to earth where you know, something more concrete than pure consciousness.
Sam: 01:33:59 The, I'm aware of the potential hypocrisy in judging people. I saw, I take, you know, I just kind of shit all over Nassim Taleb. Right. I don't believe in freewill. I know he didn't invent himself. Like there's a place in which I'm totally nonjudgmental of him and these, you know, he can't do otherwise. Right. He's just, he's just being the perfect version of Nassim Taleb as is Donald Trump. Right? Like, that's just it. And in Trump's case, the thing that I'm judgmental, I'm not especially judgmental of him, you know, I mean, he, he seems like a malfunctioning robot to me. Right. He's, he's, he's just that what I'm judgmental of is the larger situation of all of this happening and peop- and half the population seemed to be pretending that it's something optimal about, right.
Sam: 01:34:51 That's like, that's so terrifyingly risky to me that I think it's appropriate to be in touch with the, the outrage module rather than the nonjudgmental, all we're all in and nobody invented, nobody created themselves module. And but I, I pick and choose my moments of outrage and I get off the ride as soon as it's no longer, as soon as I notice there's no reason to be on it.
Eric: It's no longer adaptive.
Sam: So, it's like how much time am I getting? So now, like in my use of social media, like I'll get on Twitter, I'll see something outrageous, I'll get triggered by it, but I mean, I'll get off 30 seconds later and it's over. Right? Whereas if I, if I were to do the thing that entangled me, you know, it could, you know, it could take up much more of my life.
Eric: 01:35:43 So it's very interesting to me that you've gotten off Twitter as you've become more focused on the meditation and mindfulness part of your offering.
Sam: Right. I mean, I, there's the juxtaposition there may be somewhat accidental, but the, the, the vividness, like it, there was a spell that's been broken for me with respect to social media. Like I, I, I had, and I actually, I had paid lip service to this and just didn't know that it was just lip service, but I had been talking about Twitter and social media generally as a psychological experiment that we were running ours on ourselves to which no one had consented. Right? We just enrolled half of humanity in this thing and we're just, you know, let's see what happens. And it's, it's clearly a having effects that are at best non-optimal right? You know, at worst, you know, catastrophic.
Sam: 01:36:46 And I would, I was talking about this and thinking in these terms, but still totally embedded in, in the activity of, of taking Twitter seriously and, and feeling that it was a professional necessity. And on some level, it was just, it was just sticky enough, you know, emotionally like this is, you know, cause I am getting a lot of my news that way. I'm, I'm following smart people. I want to see what articles they're reading and there's an opportunity for conversation and then somebody like Nassim Taleb says something, you know, outrageously stupid that is, you know, directed at me. Right. And it goes, it's going out to hundreds of thousands of people. And so, you know, it's an opportunity for me to tell him to fuck off. And so, I find some way to say that and this thing begins playing out. And to the degree that I've stepped away, which is like 95% now when I come back and I see, you know, some of my friends I see you, you know, embroiled with, you know, you know Claire Lehman or somebody and it does look like I'm now in touch with the ...
Eric: You saw that get diffused?
Sam: 01:37:48 Yeah, no, that, that and I think the skillful diffusal of those conflicts is its own public good that that thing they've tried to maximize and I think you're very good at that.
Eric: 01:37:55 There are people I try to diffuse because I don't think they want the thing diffuse. Like you got into some, you went on this person, nice mangoes, podcasts
Sam: Yeah, that talk about no good deed go unpunished. I did my best to launch that podcast.
Eric: There's something wrong with that account because there's many ways in which it seems quite reasonable.
Sam: Yeah. And then it degraded into mental illness.
Eric: There's a personal, there's a personal nastiness about it that just doesn't let up.
Eric: And a lack of charity. And what I find is that there are certain things I can do to slow down that kind of a negative experience. And then there are certain die-hard actors, some of whom are quite polite and charming and funny who just will not, like their thing is they will ride this to the most negative place if they get there. And that sub-community I've been talking about in terms of we have diversity and inclusion, which I'm willing to say is a good thing.
Eric: 01:39:02 And then it needs a different function, which is interoperability and exclusion because there are certain people who can't be at the table for a conversation if it's going to progress. And, because their, their interest is in derailing. And now I got into some weird thing just now. Do you know the singer Billy Bragg?
Sam: Ah no.
Eric: He's like a progressive, he's kind of like a punk Arlo Guthrie. Woody Guthrie rather. Yeah. And like he turns out he wrote a book and he's talking about Eric Weinstein an investment banker who is a free speech, you know, champion, won't meet with, I don't know, some whole, he's got a whole story in his mind.
Sam: And he so he took a shot at you and in his book?
Eric: He went on Sam Seder's program.
Sam: Oh, well there's a venue that is not going to select for honest opinions.
Eric: I spoke to Sam. Look, there's a problem with the Saul Alinsky thing where Saul, you know, Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals, the focus on ridicule.
Eric: 01:40:01 I think it's hard to remember like Country Joe and the Fish was ridiculing a bad war in terms that are ridiculous. You've now got a group of people who if a mathematician says, you know that in in different arithmetics you could have an equation like two plus three equals one. And so, then you get somebody saying, "I don't know what they're smoking over there at Princeton, but..." yeah, well that's ridicule but you're ridiculing something that you straw man and didn't understand because the person actually was making sense. And so, what I see is that the left and in particular the Sam Seder crowd has a
Sam: Doing that with abandon.
Eric: Well, it's willing to do two separate things. Sam is quite willing like there's this whole thing, like, will you talk to Sam Seder, will you debate Sam Seder?
Eric: 01:40:54 My feeling is I would debate part of Sam Seder, the part that just is focused on the ideas, but the part that is kind of like nasty and ridiculing and doing the Alinsky thing, I don't know what to do with it. I'm not interested. I've spoken to Sam Seder on the phone is perfectly reasonable. Made sense to me. We disagreed on positions, but...
Sam: Well, the line that gets crossed for me always with these guys, and again it's, it's disproportionately on the left, is the line of conscious dishonesty, I mean, your brother's aphorism, "bad faith changes everything".
Eric: "Bad faith changes everything".
Sam: And these guys are in bad faith. They know they're lying about, in my case, my views, my actual beliefs and
Eric: Not all of them.
Sam: Don't they? There's just too much information.
Eric: Well, David Pakman...
Sam: No, David Pakman's fine. I just did his podcast. Yeah, I know.
Eric: 01:41:49 But David Pechman said some pretty non charitable things and some parts that seemed kind of ridiculing
Sam: Of me?
Eric: You, me, other people.
Sam: I haven't, whatever. I haven't, I have never seen him .
Eric: He's pretty good.
Sam: I've never seen him misrepresent my views and I think, I mean I, again, I don't know him, I just did his podcast once, but he seems like he seems like somebody who, if I said, listen, you've got me wrong here, that would matter. And he would, he would make an effort to get me right.
Eric: And that's the thing, which is the problem that we have increasingly is that the tactics that are being used in what are called progressive circles have been confused with the content. So that is, the objections to the vehicle, which might be Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals, is conflated with...
Sam: It is a totally unethical program for smearing people dishonestly.
Eric: 01:42:48 Well, no, it's no, it's, an immoral technology...
Sam: No it's, no it's an ends justify the means.
Eric: That's the big problem on the left.
Sam: Yeah. So, but that ethic is, is flawed, right? So, like, so for instance, I mean like with me and Trump, like there's nobody who...
Eric: You don't like the guy.
Sam: ...who denigrates Trump as avidly as I do, but I am super careful to be honest. Right? So, like I, it's not that you can't even, you can smear him with his fair.
Eric: Because you can be Sam, I mean, the problem was solved...
Sam: These guys can be. Sam Seder can be honest on his show and still have a show. Right? Nobody's going to cancel him because he was too honest.
Eric: No, I, I think that there's like this very weird other, I mean Sam, I don't want to get into the Sam Seder thing in particular.
Eric: 01:43:29 First of all, cause he's gonna do an entire show. We know you're
Sam: He'll take these quotations.
Eric: No, but he, he, he has Pemakn's ability to reason. I mean, I got this,
Sam: This is the banality of evil, right? Like there's not that many evil people. There's just a lot of people who are functioning in some normal mode was with, with normal incentives and they become assholes because they're not heroes. Right? But so like it takes some work not to be an asshole when you are incentivized to be one and, and we're all vulnerable to this, but there's some people who have just cashed in. Go for it.
Eric: That nonsense on the left makes me crazy because in part it just feels like all of my ideals turned into some piece of crap that's...
Sam: We're of the left.
Eric: Not only the left, man. I came from a farther left part than I didn't even, I don't even know where you started, but yeah.
Sam: 01:44:21 No, I've never been tempted to be anything other than a Democrat. I've never even said I'm going to be an independent because you know the democratic party.
Eric: If I could, if I, if I could move to another party that made sense, I'd do it at this point.
Eric: Anyway. I think that what they, I think that what we don't really understand is that there's a homelessness problem that is really significant. If you are the sort of a person who needs to attach to some kind of institutional structure in a time when there is no institution that actually holds your perspective, you're going to start to do very bizarre things. Now the thing about you and and me is, is that to some extent, and I don't think we can do this long-term, we're okay with being homeless, right? You can just sort of first principles, try to think your way out of stuff, but it's very tough for most people and I think that there is, there are these sort of collection points in the adaptive landscape of politics. Would you would disagree with that?
Sam: 01:45:27 Yeah, well, one thing that seems important is the connection to science. I mean, we're not spending a lot of time talking about science in this mode, but the, the, the, the dispassion and self-criticism that is the like is the only rubric under which real science can be done, bleeds into our thinking about all these other issues. I mean, I think that's, that's gotta be a relevant variable. It's, it's like it, like you either have a scientific cast of mind or you don't, and when you don't...
Eric: I have both.
Sam: Right? But when you, when you don't, you're seeing, you're not seeing the,
Sam: 01:46:06 I mean, just not even, you're not even seen intellectual dishonesty for what it is. Right? It just, it's just like, like motivated reasoning isn't a bad thing. Right? Wishful thinking isn't a bad thing. Confirmation bias isn't a bad thing. These are virtues. This is in religion. It's faith, right? This is, this is, you know.
Eric: Well this is like always the issue is with our friend Jordan Peterson, which is that when he gets really far out there in the end of the people that are called mytho-poetic, I don't, I don't know the lingo. You always wonder are you still maintaining a fact-checking ability to, to bring you back to earth. And so as long as those two facilities are present and in dialogue and as long as the fact-checking, you know, what we, what we call the scientific method is in some sense inadequate to me to explain how science has progressed, all the mad thinking and then the spirituality of coming up with breaking new ground, doesn't have the..
Sam: Well you gave us Rahma Nugrheni about an hour ago.
Sam: 01:47:03 Yeah. So, he's, he's having dreams about the goddess Lakshmi who handed him theorems.
Eric: Well there's, there's that, you know, the Kerala School of Astronomy that came up with infinite series before Newton and Leibniz, was doing it in religious poetry, you know, it rhymed I think over there in Kerala. So, there is a, there is a kind of madness that you have to invite to break new ground and there's a kind of sanity that you have to invite to wrestle with the madness. And our friend Dan Barcay came up with this idea that science is a two-front war, but that most people are only been deployed to one front. And I think that that's a real, it's a really nice image. I do worry that in part the activist mindset, particularly on the left has a very clear idea, which is that, yeah it's really a shame the number of people who have to get hurt for justice to be done.
Eric: 01:47:56 And that is a highly conserved idea that I had not understood was, was broadly distributed.
Sam: Yeah. But I mean that that is a, an ethic or a pseudo ethic that we have to just relentlessly criticize because it's so much harm gets done. I mean that, that is the, the thinking that allows good people or otherwise good people to create immense harm. Just like, let's throw, throw them off the rooftops because they you know, the purge is on and it's, sorry, we have to break these many eggs to make this omelet.
Eric: But partially the question is how do we spend enough time together to get past this problem? Like I, I really think it's quite serious that part of it is, is
Sam: Well part of the problem is that we're not actually doing much of this face-to-face or like I've never met Nassim I've never met Sam Seder. I've never met...
Sam: 01:48:49 they shouldn't have been in the same sentence. They have very different problems. But if, if I had, if before any of this had happened, so Sam Seder I think has done probably a dozen shows or, I mean like I'm always getting someone always sending me a video that he's made that, you know, I don't watch but I log the fact that there's, he get another export from his world where he's attacked me. The, if I had had lunch with him before any of this ever - he ever took an interest in me, there might've been a very different effect.
Eric: This is why I had a phone call with him.
Sam There might have been a different effect. We've never, you know, we, we were, there's this, there's an anchor to civility and you, you know, you Nassim is a friend of yours, so you have a, there's a kind of a loyalty effect or just a fact, you know, you, you have a different relationship to his flaws knowing him as a person and I had the same things happen to me, like the fact that I've hung out with Jordan or Ben Shapiro...
Eric: Well you saw happen with Claire. Let's talk, let's talk about the Claire situation.
Sam: Ok, that would have been different had you never hung out with Claire, or it might've been different.
Eric: 01:49:48 No, I think there was a more serious issue and it just didn't
Sam: Well let's flip it around it, it was more of a betrayal, you know, or a seeming betrayal given the fact that you had hung out together. It wasn't just coming over the transom of
Eric: The betrayal in part was, was my betrayal of Claire. I just didn't know it.
Sam: Well, whatever. I'm just saying that change if you know each other...
Eric: I'm trying to make a different point. When somebody, you know, behaves in a way that is very most unexpected. Like what I try to do is I try to slow it down and I say, I bet we're watching two different movies and your story and my story are not, the gears are not lining up. And so, if we just push on the gears, the teeth are going to pop off and there'll be the handle of everything.
Eric: 01:50:34 And so with Claire, what I tried to figure out is why are you repeatedly sort of coming at me, you know, do you need to burnish your credentials that you're objective, that you don't have tribalist loyalty that was one set of issues. There's another issue, which is this, that Nassim had gone after Claire and I was silent. I didn't want to get involved in it. I, I didn't like the way Nassim was going about doing what he was doing. Absolutely couldn't, couldn't take it, didn't like it, detested it. On the other hand, I have a particular bug in my bonnet about IQ and race, which is that I, I think it's an absolutely dangerous topic that's being explored in a really bad way, even by good people.
Eric: And that in part IQ has this curse that I've said it's a pretty good measure of intelligence.
Eric: 01:51:24 It would be much better if it was obviously terrible or really terrific, but it's in exactly the wrong place that it does tell us something about intelligence and not nearly enough, so, you can be a genius with low IQ.
Eric: That problem. You know, it was being teased out and neither of them, the reason I stayed out of is just, I didn't believe in Claire's position as I understood it. And I didn't believe in Nassim's tactics as I understood them. And Claire interpreted that I think, and I don't know this to be true as, wow, you know, you're seeing me getting mauled right and I thought you would be there, you know, or something like that. And so, in part, just backing up everything, slowing it down, trying to listen. You know, Ben and I have gotten sideways a few, few times. To his credit, every time I take something to Ben Shapiro, he'll think better of himself and he'll come...
Sam: Yeah, yeah, yeah, no that that's my experience as well.
Eric: Even though account for a part of his business,
Sam: Yeah, no, that counts for a lot. So, so the, the, the place where we've, we've reached some kind of bad faith singularity is where I think, okay, there's like, we just have to cut our losses. There's no conversation. Like, that's why I would never talk to Sam Seder in a public forum. He's, he's proven himself so committed to the singularity. I mean, he's,
Sam: 01:52:46 It's like there's a bunch I can, there's maybe 20 people who are just on this part of the landscape where there's no coming back from it. I mean, this coming, you know, obviously there's an appropriate, the, any conversation that would have to happen would have to begin with an actual apology. I'm like, it's just so bad. There's no alternate movie version that's exculpatory. Right. These people know they're lying, they're, they're avidly lying. It's all malicious. It's all, it's all, it's all Saul Alinsky. It's all just smears.
Eric: Well, it is Saul Alinsky. But look, the best that can be said for it, again, I don't get along with it right, is I believe that they think that they're in desperate times and they believe that desperate times call for desperate measures. And that's sort of the mindset, which is the ridicule is necessary to stop a greater evil. And that entitlement, as soon as you start experiment
Sam: But ridicule is not the problem.
Sam: 01:53:42 It's the line that's the problem.
Eric: Can I be honest, can I be honest? I've probably watched 5 minutes of Sam Seder total.
Sam: You, that's, that's more than I've watched. But I've watched enough to know that these are people who, when they're trafficking in audio of my podcast that's been edited yet it just show the opposite of what I was saying and they get a thousand blistering comments telling them, right, that they keep the audio up or they, they, they, they don't, they never correct an error.
'Eric:' I agree. But that's what it's coming out of it.
Sam: It's psychopathic behavior. You know, it's like, well, whether or not they're psychopaths, they're acting like psychopaths.
Eric: All right, but then we've got a giant chunk of our world and in part a lot, a lot of the sense-making apparatus that is explicitly amongst itself, psychopathic. It believes that it is under threat and desperate times and desperate times call for desperate measures.
Eric: 01:54:33 This is it's opportunity and it's going to do things and it's going to be...the thing that I didn't understand about it because I came from the left, is that it just explicitly thinks in, "that's too bad". Right? "I'll, I'll, I'll get you a Kleenex next". It's just this dead cold-heartedness that progress requires that good people get hurt. "Boohoo" and, and that thing is so hardcore.
Sam: That's gonna make that, that makes the Trump backlash.
Eric: Understandable. And that's, and that's really in part what I'm trying to get at, which is, is that when I went to Washington in like 1996 on immigration issues, I went into some staffers, like some room of cubicles and I saw the sign on one of the cubicles that said, "if it's worth fighting for, it's worth fighting dirty for". Right? And I came to understand that if you wanted to survive and thrive and get stuff done in Washington, that that had been absorbed almost universally. Right? And then once I realized that I had to make a decision, did I really want to get good things done or did I want to stay a person I could live with? And that's very painful to actually have to think about.
Eric: 01:55:44 Yeah. But I think that is an easy choice or it should. It should be. We want to make a, we want to create a world where that's an easy choice.
Eric: We want to create a world in which that's an easy choice. What we've created is a system of selective pressures, which may actually end up selecting for that over and over again. And you don't realize, and this is the, this is the issue, the reason that so many of these things make me angry like the great moderation or the abuse of the immigration system to decrease wages and then you cry xenophobia when somebody points it out or NAFTA and a lot large areas of the country get really hurt and you're saying everybody's going to be made better off. Is that all of these things I can see in real time? Like right now what I can see like those things of the past is, I can see this weird, and this is getting back to the Jeff Epstein thing.
Eric: 01:56:35 There is a deliberate attempt not to talk about the intelligence community and its links to Jeffrey Epstein. And it is clear and it's a very short proof because, assume that he had no links to the intelligence community, like none whatsoever. Somehow a member of the trilateral commission affiliated with Rockefeller University, Harvard, no links to any intelligence community anywhere in the world. You could sell papers debunking the claims that people want to know, which is how is this guy tied in with the intelligence community? Right?
Sam: So you're saying it's fishy that no one's doing that?
Eric: Well, I mean it's beyond fishy. In other words, you have something that everybody's demanding and wants. If it weren't true, you could get paid by showing that it's not true or making the best argument possible or making fun of how thin that the claims are.
Sam: Well, that may yet happen. I mean, I get, again, I don't know that somebody isn't writing the 5,000-word Atlantic article on Epstein that's going to answer...
Eric: 01:57:35 Dude, how long has it been? This guy supposedly commits suicide, we don't know whether you know what branch of the decision tree that's on and you can search, go to the New York Times and search on intelligence, the thing I, and Epstein like, it's not being explored. It's not being shut down. It's like anecholic tile in your echoloca, it's not what you're hearing. Go to the search bar and search for things that people are discussing that don't come up. And that's what's telling you that there's something very, I mean, this guy was apparently a serious sexual predator, we're in an era of "Me-Too".
Sam: Right? But there are anomalies like that. I mean, the clear anomaly for me was, and again, and it's one for which I don't have any sinister explanation, I just think it's an anomaly of the news cycle we're in, right? It's sort of what Trump has done to our, our information diet. When the Las Vegas shooting, you know, perpetrated by a man whose name I don't even know. Right? And I'm kind of a student of these things, but I never even took the time to
Sam: 01:58:42 Learn the guy's name. I think we, you know, many press reports did that has decided to not use his name. No. But this was the biggest shooting in American history. Right? And 48 hours later, nobody was talking about it.
Eric: Well now that's not true.
Sam: That's like it was, it had fallen out of the news cycle.
Eric: It was very bizarre.
Sam: And never, never came back.
Eric: It vanished very quickly.
Sam: But there you, I don't think there's any reason why it vanished apart from the fact that we just don't have the bandwidth for it anymore. It's like there was no, there was no link that made it a clearly ideological, I mean, nothing's surface. He wasn't a clear white supremacist or he wasn't a jihadist. I mean there was no
Eric: Remember the word "bump stock"?
Sam: Yeah. Yeah. So, the bump stock...
Eric: Why weren't we talking about bump stuff?
Sam: We banned bump stocks as a result of that thing.
Sam: 01:59:27 And that's the, that's the legacy of that, that atrocity. But the, if you had told me at any point beforehand that, you know, on whatever day of the week it was, you're going to have a, the biggest mass shooting in American history by far, and it was going to be a fairly cinematic one, right? I mean, it's like you're talking about, you know, shooting out from the windows of a...
Eric: Did you see Dan Bilzerian was that this thing?
Sam: Oh no, no. I think I,
Eric: Dan Bilzerian is that wanting out of this thing saying like, we're under fire. I'm going to go get my gun. And you know, he's like, he's doing it in real time.
Sam: If you told me we're not going to be talking about this a week later. Right. That just wouldn't compute. But that's, that is the situation we're in. I mean, somehow it just didn't survive the Darwinian contest with whatever else was on social media.
Eric: I don't really think that that's what happens. Listen...
Sam: Why aren't we talking about it?
Eric: Well, that's, that's, see, look, and you're starting to smile. No, this is the thing that conspiracy theorists get dead wrong, which is you are allowed to notice some very weird anomaly and not have to say what it is you're noticing. Right? So, my claim, like...
Sam: 02:00:42 Wait, wait, but you don't buy my explanation. Which is because there was not an immediate purchase on a larger story of motive and this guy, you know, it was just not a lot of information came out about this guy that was salient, it just, we’re so deluged by other stuff, most of it Trumpian...
Eric: Correct. You're not correct in my opinion. So let me get ...
Sam: Interesting, well, the way I would say it, but whoever's right or wrong, I'm just saying that this belief that I have now have, that we have, we have a different relationship to information now in reasonably
Eric: We can agree that we're cycling through things very quickly. But that was a spectacular, there's a reason we're talking. It was amazing. Yeah. Because it's anomalously weird how fast that story disappeared. Oh yeah. Now one of the things that you, we have to, we have to talk about it in that, in that realm is Dana Boyd and her discussion of strategic silence.
Eric: 02:01:38 So that's your search string, people playing along at home. Strategic silence is a doctrine of some kind that says that news media should not report the news because of its potential impact.
Sam: And where was this articulated?
Eric: You should check out Data and Society, which is a particularly interesting organization which fingered our friends as the alternative influencer network. And Dana Boyd, who I believe is sort of in our circles in the tech circles starts talking about the need for strategic silence.
Sam: This is a girl, Dana or a boy, Dana?
Eric: A female. Okay. Somebody I perceive to be female. I now don't want to touch a human named Dana Boyd. Right. and strategic, silence. And she also talks about data gaps, if I'm not mistaken, I have my terminology right. And so, then you have to look at things like style guide, like the AP style guide or the New York Times style guide, which is the way in which people are directed to report news stories.
Eric: 02:02:46 Is there a danger of copycat killings? So, there may be a body of thought around what does one do around mass shootings so that we don't have future mass shootings or if this is particularly exciting to certain people, should we publish the manifesto. So, as you start to understand what the meta rules around these things are, some of those could be innocent.
Sam: Well, I think, I think there's, some are better than innocent. I think some are benign and we've been slow to adopt them. I think. I think, I think the fact that, I don't know, this guy's name is probably a good thing for the world. And that was, that was part of the style new style guide. And you just don't...
Eric: Did you read the New Zealand shooter's manifesto?
Sam: No, but I, I part of it, but yeah, I haven't, I haven't read the whole thing.
Eric: 02:03:33 No. So that's like, what I don't want is I don't want somebody saying we should not read this. We should criminalize reading the New Zealand shooter's manifesto. But by the way, let me tell you, he told, he told us all that Candace Owens was his inspiration, right? Because that's not what the shooter did. So now
Sam: No one wants to criminalize, I'm just saying that you learn...
Eric: I'm talking about something more disturbing.
Sam: It's appropriate for the, for journalists to worry that merely shining a light or your, push up pointing a camera at this new atrocity is the, the should be that the default setting, right? Like name the guy, let's go, let's go get into his story. Let's find out why he did it and do all of this in public.
Eric: We're in such a much more dangerous place in my opinion.
Sam: And I know about, maybe we're, we're talking past each other here.
Sam: 02:04:25 It's just that it is, we've been very slow to realize that the part of the, the mimetic contagion here is the copycat effect. The fact that in their own perverse way, these people are being martyred and lionized just by just the mirror sharing of this information.
Eric: Let's just agree that in a better world, we would have a situation by which we would not want to communicate. We're relatively...
Sam: These people famous. We don't, there's this famous part of the motive, right? Posthumous fame even is part of the motive. So as if it, even if it's not part of the motive, it's part of what is attractive to the living aspiring a gunman.
Eric: First of all, let me steel man your position to make sure I'm getting it and then I can take issue with you and you'll, we'll see whether I'm adding or subtracting. Right.
Eric: 02:05:20 I think what you're saying is, is that because of the information quality and the fame quality and the inspirational quality to copycat killers, that communicating the information that somebody wished to communicate, provided they're willing to make a down payment in, in terms of dead bodies taken, you know, lives taken out of this world. I'm not even focused on the manifesto. I'm focused on just naming the person. Okay. You know, you're sympathetic at some level with the concept of strategic silence. Yeah. I would be sympathetic with the concept of strategic silence if I trusted the people who were supposed to manage it. But that's, I'm trying to get to the next layer, which I understand that concern. I am very concerned that the people who are enthusiastic about strategic silence are interested in telling us partial information about all of these things so that we cannot actually tell what the hell just happened.
Sam: 02:06:18 Well, yeah, so you just change the topic to jihadism and we're perfectly in agreement because yes, they will allied the religious identity of perpetrators in various contexts and actually hide information from us. Right. So, they'll, they'll correct, you'll, you'll see it, you'll see something happen. It'll, the media will pretend it's inexplicable, right? Like the end of the Orlando shooting. It's like maybe this guy was just, it was his repressed homosexuality. It was, that was the problem. Right? And yet those who have a little bit of information recognize that this is a clear-cut case of jihadism and indoctrination and a spread and the consequences of certain ideas. And the analogous situation on the other side would be what if we were going to systematically conceal evidence of, you know, you know, white supremacy being the motive for a certain...
Eric: But what I'm trying to say is that in all of these killings, like you just pointed out that the Unabomber, you read, re-read the Unabomber's manifesto right now the Unabomber wrote a story called Ship of Fools, which I thought was relatively interesting about people losing their heads in social justice and society getting ...
Sam: 02:07:31 There's some of that in the manifesto, too. He's very very critical...
Eric: 02:07:37 He's not a dumb man, that Kaczynski guy. Yeah. However, the point was is that you were able to mine that for information and then you were able to reach some pretty interesting conclusions about where Kaczynski was relative to society in general. You trusted yourself.
Eric: Okay. My guess is that when it comes to jihadis, you are more interested in communicating the information about what the motivational structure is because it is prescriptive that something might be done. However, it is also actually, there's another reason, it's not just that it's prescriptive that something might be done...
Sam: 02:08:16 It is also actually, there's another reason, it's not just that it's prescriptive. It may not be, it's just that is it. There are more, there's more contact between...
Eric: 02:08:17 There're more levers to play with to try to control the situation.
Sam: And it's a much larger problem.
Eric: No kidding. Right. But on the other hand, if I look at the New Zealand shooters and the Squirrel Hill shooters' manifestos, right? It's disgusting and it has content. Yeah. And you know, the way on which I can explain to people how all of the open border type stuff is going to cause future problems is just to say you may not think of a country the way I, I do or somebody else. But imagine that somebody comes to your home as a guest and you give them the key and they say, I hope you don't mind, but I noticed that there were a lot of people on skid row today who didn't have anything to eat, no place to sleep. So, I ran off 2000 copies of, of your key and I hope we can adopt all those people when they come over later tonight.
Eric: 02:09:13 Because I gave him the address and the security code. Now if, if that starts to rattle around in your brain, you don't feel good about it. You may not conceive of your country as a house with a, with a, a front door and a security code and rules as to who gets in and out. But they do. And some of those people are going to go crazy and they're going to kill people. And I know that to be the case. And it's not that I'm sympathetic with a synagogue shooter or a mosque killer. Fuck those guys. The point is, is that we are not trying to get the information because we have this class of people, this intermediating class that I don't trust as far as I can throw them and that you still have more residual trust in. In other words, my feeling about data and society is, is that I understand all sorts of things that they're trying to do, but they're super dangerous. They are incredibly dangerous in part because they're going to be backed by people like Bill and Melinda Gates or the Ford Foundation or whatever it is.
Sam: This is the Southern Poverty Law Center problem.
Sam: And other guys. Yeah. So, it's, you know, I think you and I have been talking past each other a little bit here. I totally agree that in this case we can't really trust the gatekeepers. What, that the only thing that I was expressing openness, open-mindedness about or agreement about.
Sam: 02:10:34 With respect to strategic silence is there is this, you know...
Eric: How would you trust this strategic silence, Sam.
Sam: In some ways it's impossible, because you take it out of the atrocity...
Eric: But you don't know that.
Sam: Yeah. But like, but there's the atrocity side of it, which has its own thing. But just take a take the, the, the case of famous suicides, right? We know that suicide is contagious. And, you know, this has a name, the, Werther effect, you know, based on Goethe's novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther. So there, there's the fact that a significantly prom... sufficiently prominent person who's got any kind of, especially, and this is true, I think for any suicide, but especially if there's some sort of Byronic, you know, romantic gloss that can be put on it, you know suicides go up and suicides go up in ways that are, you know, hooray, plane crashes go up.
Sam: 02:11:31 Right? And we believe, you know, I don't know if the data has changed on this, but as of, you know, 20 years ago or whenever this was done, I think this was in it might've been an in Cialdeni's book, Influence (Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion) plane crashes go up and the interpretation of that is that some number of airline pilots commit suicide with everyone on board. Right? You know the, I mean we know that's happened before. There's, there's one famous case of that but you know, it just added these statistics that seems to be suggested. But so, what do you do when Anthony Bourdain commits suicide? How do you cover that story? There's got, there has to be some style guide around how you cover it and it's not an at one point it could look like an unwillingness to actually get at the truth, but what's your, what, what's your, what's actually motivating you is not an unwillingness to get to the truth. It's just you, you're, you're aware of the potential contagion effect here depending on what the, what the actual story is.
Eric: 02:12:36 So I can't figure out where our energy differs. I agree with you that in theory, strategic silence, like don't publicize things where the benefit is very slight. Right. And the cost is enormous. I get it. But right now, we're in some different place, which is that a lot of us, I mean, just don't trust any of the gatekeepers. Like there's not one gatekeeper that I want making that decision for me at the moment. And you know, in particular, it's very weird that I like, I get the concept Dana, but I don't trust you because you came out with this alternative influencer network thing, to zero methodology on it. So, you're volunteering...
Sam: And it's all guilt by association and it's...
Eric: 02:13:32 And you know Noam Chomsky talks to Stefan Molyneux and he's not included. It's total nonsense. And the person who wrote it has been revealing herself as a complete activist rather than a researcher. So, there's a total breakdown on that thing. What I'm confused by is the more of this kind of shielding that we have, the more likely we're going to have four more years of Donald Trump. And I can only imagine what's going to happen after an eight-year Trump presidency. Are we going to move to the next level of really unexpected candidate? We've got to realize that we're making...
Sam: And now for the most shocking roast ceremony ever.
Eric: We, we've got to realize that what we're doing is we're making people crazy because they can see that it's The Truman Show. So, if we had a discussion where we like, had you heard strategic silence before?
Sam: I think I'd, Yeah. I think I'd heard the phrase but, but I'm not familiar with the concept.
Eric: We're not having a national discussion and coming to a national consensus about this or we're going to use strategic silence when it's Jihadi violence, right? And we're not going to use it...
Sam: 02:14:28 When it's white supremacist violence.
Eric: In a different way or we're going to leak particular information provided it goes this way and not that way. That's what's going to cause an infinite series of Trumps.
Sam: Well, yeah, and more importantly for this topic, I think it's, it's imperative that we understand what is actually going on and what, why people are doing what they're doing and what the, what the, the, the scale of the, the relative risks are and just how big a problem is. I met my, my last podcast, which I haven't released yet, is on this topic, just talking to someone who's written a history of white supremacy and white power in the US and I'm just trying to get a handle on how big a problem it is. And I, and I came away from that podcast convinced more or less that nobody knows how big a problem it is.
Sam: 02:15:16 Right. So, but there's, there's a, there's a, in this particular space, there's the possibility of conflating the new mimetics of 4Chan and 8Chan where, where you have incel teenagers trafficking in Holocaust imagery and you know, and lynching photos. Exactly, right? Just to get a rise out of the normies, right. Where it's not actually the, the ideological software program that we're worried about when we're worried about the KKK and neo-Nazis and their sincere attempt to...
Eric: Well there's that and there's also...
Sam: Call it a coup in the U S right.
Eric: I agree with that. And then we also have this very different situation in which we have a problem on the left where I don't think that the left is as yet, has the same propensity for violence that the KKK style white supremacists had. Right. But it's been totally normalized, this far left woke destruction of the basic ability to think, inside of the sense-making organs. Whereas there's no normalization of stormfront. Right. And people are going to try to say that the president, you know, is the normalization of that.
Eric: 02:16:30 And I agree there are a lot of problems with the presidency, but I don't think that that storm front. And so, in that picture, I think what I'm increasingly coming to the conclusion of surrounds the idea that we're trying to have very low-resolution conversations, which is what the baby boomers and the traditional media taught us to do. We had to be these very small soundbites. And then do you think the left is worse than the right? Are you kidding me? Well, there's no way to square that because it's multi-variate and it depends which way you compressed worse or better to say which thing, actually, you know, you talking about potential energy or you're talking about realized energy?
Sam: 02:17:12 Yeah. Yeah. And also, there's just, the fringe is not the same. It's not the same thickness on the far left in the far right like that. The far the far-left fringe has much more of effect, much more than the fact on the mainstream than the far-right fringe does. I mean the far left fringe has affected how the New York Times does its thing and how tech and does it, and you know, you don't have, if we had members of the KKK determining what gets published on the opinion page in the New York Times, right, that would be the analogous problem. Right. And that's...
Eric: 02:17:50 We don't see it.
Sam: We don't see it.
Eric: And we can't discuss it in my opinion because of the, the key thing that we were supposed to do with long form stuff is to raise the level of resolution possible in the discussion. We didn't push out enough terminology, enough sort of new patterns of thinking. And that's the work left to be done.
Eric: 02:18:16 So this is like sort of a personal question and it has to do with the fact that, I know you've reviewed some of the episodes of the show that you've been partially responsible for helping birth. Do you have any feedback for me as to what's worked? What hasn't? I can sort of talk to you a little bit about where I'm thinking about taking the show and are you happy with it or what would you like to see from The Portal? I have not, I don't think I've asked this from anybody else.
Sam: 02:18:46 Yeah, I'm just I'm incredibly happy you're doing it. I think it's, you're the right man for the job. So, you should be
Eric: I'm honored that you should say that.
Sam: You should be, I'm just, you know, it's about time, right? Like I've been waiting, I've been nudging you.
Eric: 02:18:59 You have been nudging, but it's a little bit intimidating to, you know, for some reason I, I broke into this sort of top echelon of people, did enormous audiences and really professional content. So, it's a...
Sam: 02:19:12 Yeah, but no, but what I, what I think you're doing is novel in that, so you, you only have so much control over what you get because you don't, the other person has to show up and you're not quite sure in many cases what they're going to bring. But like in your case, you had a conversation with David Wolpe, right, who I've debated several times, both in public and in private. And you had a great conversation with him. Right? So, like you had a very, you had a much better conversation with him than I've ever had with him.
Eric: That's not fair.
Sam: Well, it's fair.
Sam: No, it's true.
Eric: No, because that conversation wouldn't have happened if I hadn't observed your conversations with them and I sort of watched...
Sam: But I've observed my conversations with him and I guarantee you the next conversation I have with him will still be worse than the conversation you had with him.
Eric: Well, thank you.
Sam: 02:20:08 Right. Because cause I'm going to feel like I need to fight certain battles, right? Like I, I'm not going to let him get away with certain things, which you are right to let him get away with one because you honestly feel like you're not, you're not, you don't occupy precisely my position with respect to those points. So, you're not being dishonest. You just see it differently. But two, you also are trying to have a different conversation. You're not trying to pressure test all of his ideas. You know about God whenever they surface you. Although you did go in that direction a little bit, you were actually trying to have a conversation about the, the richness of Judaism without coming in with my agenda, which is clearly we have to get past this, this parochial you know, balkanization of our, of, of, of humanity based on these, you know, iron age philosophies, right?
Sam: 02:21:04 We have to find some new modern non-sectarian equivalent to everything we think we care about in religion. That's not your game. And because it's not your game. you had a much better experience of David Wolpe then I, I get so that, that's it.
Eric: And he was a conjecture that there was more there. Yeah. You know, in part born out. Well, it was born from watching you guys interact and figuring that in fact, I don't think David was particularly attached to the rigid interpretation of the text in a literal sense, nor even to the concept of an anthropomorphic like deity.
Sam: Oh yeah. I know he's not. And I mean, the first time I debated him, maybe it was the second time with Hitch in one of the, in the middle of one of those debates, I was sort of blindsided by his, his lack of commitment to a personal diety because I said something that presupposed that he believed in a God that could hear our prayers.
Eric: I see.
Sam: 02:22:05 And he said, why would you believe that? What makes you think, I believe in a God who can hear prayers, right? And you know, he's a conservative rabbi. So, this is, you know, this is a, this was a surprise to me. But anyway, I've, I've changed my view of what, what to expect there as a result of that. But still there are things he would say that would get me bogged down in the way that I got bogged down with Jordan Peterson in our first podcast, a big debate, a two-hour conversation about the nature of truth. Right? And so, with Jordan, I had to decide, okay, because we, we've just put a bunch of live events on the calendar and we need to find a way to have a, an enjoyable conversation in addition to disagreeing where we're going to disagree, I have to, there has to be a different geometry to it here.
Sam: 02:22:52 It just can't always just dive straight to the, you know, the, the into the, the true basin of attraction, which is, you know what, let's figure out exactly what you mean because I smell something fishy. Right. So, but so I thought it was great your conversation with David and I really enjoyed it. I learned a lot, you know, so like I learned stuff from him that I wouldn't learn had I been having the conversation because I would've had an...
Eric: I can't tell you how much that means to me. Thank you.
Sam: Yeah. So, so I had no, I think what you're doing here is a bound to be super unique because you're I mean there's not, I mean, you are a, a real polymath doing this and they're not a lot of people who are doing podcasts with the same kind of wealth of information you have on so many fronts.
Eric: 02:23:40 I'm flattered and I really appreciate what you're saying. The odd thing is, is that it's not really supposed to be an interview show and we've done a bunch of interviews in part, you know, Joe said something, Joe Rogan said something to me early on. He said, look at my earliest podcasts. He's like, stop worrying about whether it's perfect. I was just clowning around with my friends with a webcam and I went back to the original Joe Rogan experiences and he's not kidding!
Sam: I haven't done that.
Eric: Oh, you'll enjoy it. The problem is, is that people are really angry about everything that happens as I'm beginning. I was like, you know, why, why, why is the glass on the edge of the table? And you know, the, the plosives are too loud and you know, there's like a lot of stuff that is there, there is no introductory period because weirdly this thing was discussed and on the Rogan program. Eric: 02:24:33 And so it would be viewed on Apple because of their ridiculous algorithm and number one...
Sam: There are 800,000 podcasts. And you were number one.
Eric: Exactly. Which I've never been remotely close to since, and even though the podcast has grown in listenership. So partially what's happening is that we're just trying to find a format and to get comfortable with the idea. But a lot of what it's supposed to do is to go into intellectual territory that isn't based on an interview with a guest to see whether or not we can bring an enormous number of people closer to the most transcendent, solid intellectual achievement that is on offer. Because in general it feels to me like there's this monastery where all the good stuff is kept and almost nobody ever visits or reads any of it.
Sam: Right. And so, you're saying you're speaking specifically of your wheelhouse of physics?
Eric: 02:25:28 No.
Sam: Or just anything that interests you that ...
Eric: Biology, music, yeah, language...
Sam: But there's just to make sure that I understand what you're saying. You're saying that you're envisioning many podcasts being just you and a whiteboard or something where you're some kind of graphics?
Eric: I think graphics are going to be important. I think they're going to be some difficult topics that are going to be pretty heavy going intellectually that I'm going to try to make it as easy as I can. But to partially leverage the fact that, and this is kind of a, a theme running below the surface, which occasionally like magma comes up through, through the crust. Because it was so difficult for me to understand anything that was going on in my junior high school and high school years because of symbolic issues and learning, learning style differences.
Eric: 02:26:18 A lot of what happened was that I was able to put things together out of sheer necessity without going through the symbolic channel. And it's my belief that even if people don't see themselves, like let's say learning disabled, that the symbolic channel is where we get stuck. That most people, if you show them a page of equations, they tune out.
And it's very difficult to figure out, well, what can you communicate that isn't an analogy. But that actually gets people to an understanding of sort of the, just the majesty of, of, of human intellectual achievement. And so, the hope is going to be that if we can get some, some decent production values and get the ad models to work that we can start experimenting with some sort of hybrid graphical and discussion and solo...
Sam: And be great! Yeah. Yeah. And, and I think you should explore, it'd be fascinating for you to explore the, the alternative learn learning paradigm learning disability question.
Sam: 02:27:26 I mean people would find that incredibly useful and inspiring if you, if you, if you, if there was something there to explore that would be, especially if it would be actionable on the basis of, well, the thing that parents are, or teenagers, you know.
Eric: So many of us, like I, I can't tell you how much hopelessness I produced in my parents because no matter what I tried to do and nothing worked, and I know that, that experience of bright, interested kid who just can't buy a base hit in school is duplicated and probably 15% - 20% of the households in America, it's like an enormous unknown population. What my hope is to show people why the sort of learning disabled or dyslexic mind might have superpowers...
Sam: Do you actually have a diagnosis of dyslexia?
Eric: I've been, dyslexia, Dysgraphia, something called kinesthetic reinforcement. You know, people, I haven't...
Sam: Did you get these as a teenager or is this something...?
Eric: 02:28:27 Things were in their infancy back then. There were batteries of tests that are different. Like, you know, there was this Kurdish word test when they assumed nobody knew Kurdish. I didn't know Kurdish for sure. And they tested to see whether you could remember a bunch of words you'd probably never seen. And in one list you wrote them out and in one list you didn't to aid in the memory. And so, when I got back a test, this was at Harvard, I was like very high nineties in lots of different areas. And then one area, my score plummeted to like third percentile, right. I said, what is that? And someone said, well, that's kinesthetic reinforcement. And I said, well, what does that mean? They said, well, were you to take notes, you would erase everything that you're learning. And I said, what did you just say?
Eric: 02:29:12 And I realized that my notetaking had wiped out my entire education up to that point.
Sam: Well, now why would you have taken a test like this at Harvard?
Eric: I was struggling. I was, I was in the most symbolically dependent subject. I mean, at some point I'll get into my history in mathematics. But there was no one remotely like me in my situation as a PhD student at Harvard. And it was the worst possible ostensible miss, you know, mismatch you could imagine, because math lives in symbols, it isn't symbol, but the symbols are really crucial for understanding what's going on. And that's exactly where I'm blocked. And the hope that I have is if I can get around symbols in large measure for myself, can I do it for people who aren't even necessarily blocked on learning channels?
Sam: 02:30:08 No, I would love that. Because like I have, you know, I consider myself more or less, you know, you know, by comparison innumerate because I, you know, I took math, you know, in high school, it's not that I w I mean I was sort of equivalently good on both sides and both humanities and math, I mean, it was, it was not obvious that I shouldn't be pursuing math, but I never, you know, like after, once I did calculus in high school, I just never got math. Like I never, I never got what, it was, it was just work and I never really got it. And then, you know, I mean I've, you know, I've just taken, you know, mathematical logic and statistics, you know, at the college level. But like my, my math education stopped at a point because I hit a wall of, of one just, you know, lack of exposure to the beauty of it. I mean, I'm like a fan of math now, you know, like in, in terms of his broad concepts. But I hit a wall. The, the burden of having to grapple to learn the language of the symbolism was high enough that it just does cripple it. It was, there was no, there's not enough reason to struggle with it. And I just, you know, I just blocked off.
Eric: 02:31:20 This is what it's meant by disabilities because if you can overcome them, end up in part as this incredible superpower because, and I, and I talk about this in terms of colorblindness. So, both my brother and I are colorblind in a standard way. But we make the point about contrast blindness because there's a tradeoff between whether you see color better than others or worse or whether you see contrast better. So, to the extent that what you see is learning disabilities is mysterious to you. Like why would this be retained in such a large portion of the population? Right. It's because I think it has the characteristic of being the cost that is paying for another superpower relative to somebody who is not blocked on those channels. And like for example, I don't know whether you noticed the objects that are around here.
Sam: The Klein bottles. I said I saw that. Yeah. Oh yeah. I haven't, I haven't.
Eric: 02:32:08 So, for example, that's Betsheba Grossman's art and that's a 24 cell, which is the unique new analog of a platonic solid that is not found, sorry. The convex polytopes are the analogs of the platonic solids and dimension four. This is pushed back into dimension three and that's the unique convex polytope that has no analog directly in dimension three. So then the other one that you have there is the analog of the...
Sam: So, what, this is a three-dimensional projection of a four-dimensional object?
Eric: So, like, you know, you've seen the Tesseract that is the hyper cube, which is the three-dimensional model that represents a four-dimensional structure, right? This right here is pretty directly the analog of the dodecahedron in four dimensions, projected back into three dimensions.
Sam: Now when you, and again this is my a typology is, is layman's topology, but the are some projections back into three dimensions far more evocative of, of the four-dimensional object?
Eric: 02:33:30 Yeah. You want to see a lot of them so that you could see so that you could understand.
Sam: Right, so how do you have an internal sense of how much you understand or don't understand the higher dimensionality of an object based on the, it's three-dimensional characterization?
Eric: For example, if we took a regular Klein bottle here and for those of you at home, I guess we should be talking about what we're doing on video. Yeah. Right, right. So, I have a glass, a bottle where the neck has been passed through to what would be called the punt and in three dimensions that appears to intersect the side of the bottle. But if you had an extra dimension represented by the amount of blueness in the bottle and we colored this blue in the bell, clear here, you could see literally in four dimensions. This doesn't intersect itself because this part of the glass would be clear in that part of the glass would be blue.
Eric: 02:34:26 Hence they're separated by some dimension that we can't represent spatially. So, by mixing spatial dimensions with colored dimensions, I claim you can actually see in four dimensions that this thing doesn't run into itself. The Klein bottle appears to intersect. Mathematically there's...
Sam: Is that the same logic as a Mobius strip?
Eric: It's two Mobius bands sewn together? Okay. Right now, the point that I was making is that that is an example of an object where you don't realize you can see four dimensions by just adding a color dimension to spatial dimensions, right? So, I can give you lots of intuition pumps too. And this is what I did on the Rogan program with the Hopf fibration. I called it the most important object in the universe, not because the Hopf fibration is, but it's the only example of a principle fiber bundle, which is the underpinning of really the most fundamental physics we have.
Eric: 02:35:25 And my intention is to read one paragraph of Ed Witten with my audience. So, you know, Oprah has a book club or had a book club, right? So, I'm going to just try and get through one paragraph, which I think is the most important paragraph ever written in the English language. Not because Ed Whitten's prose is so beautiful, not because it's free of error, but because it actually makes an attempt to say what our most deep notions of reality are in a single paragraph with relatively few symbols and unknown words. So maybe to do a paragraph club where other people do a book club. ,
Sam: That's would be awesome.
Eric: The hope is to really start off with conversations. But if people are following along at home and they say, where's the portal? We're just getting started. This is the open these are the opening shots.
Sam: 02:36:13 But I would encourage you as a, even as a side gig to the portal, maybe this is not podcast material, this maybe this is an online course or something, but to find a route in to higher mathematics for the, the symbol blocked...
Eric: Oh, I want to do, I want to do music, I want, I want to do the unity of knowledge. All the stuff that people don't even know is out there to be found because I believe that, you know, I call this transcendence hacking that the feeling of transcendence that often induces religious feelings is really better purposed as a guide to what is it, what is worth paying special notice towards in a world drowning and distraction? And that feeling of, Oh my God, like this thing here, I don't know if you've seen this?
Eric: 02:37:07 I'm pointing at a crystal cube. That is a three-dimensional projection of an eight-dimensional root system of the 248 dimensional exceptionality group, E8. So, this is sort of the most complicated, exceptional object known...
Sam: This is your nemesis's favorite?
Eric: He didn't own it. In fact, I was on it before he was, I abandoned...
Sam: What's his name, Garrett Lisi?
Eric: Yeah, yeah. But everyone should know that it's there and worry about it whether they're a professional mathematician or not. So though, the idea, I wasn't planning to talk about these objects, is to leave Easter eggs and clues all over the place so that people start to habituate themselves to the idea that you don't need angels or magic texts in order to commune with something that gives you the feeling that maybe we're not totally alone and that doesn't have to be an animate thing that one you know, worships, you know, it can be just the wonder of, my God, there's so much more mystery than anyone knew it was, was here even a short time ago. Yeah.
Sam: Yeah. Well keep going. I'm enjoying the ride.
Eric: 02:38:11 All right, well Sam, thanks very much for coming by. You're welcome to come back anytime and thanks for helping launch us all those years ago with the first podcast we did over, over at your studio.
Sam: Nice. Nice.
Eric: So you've been through the portal with Sam Harris. Please subscribe to us on Apple, iTunes or Spotify, Stitcher, wherever you get your podcasts, and please check us out on YouTube. Make sure to subscribe. Click the bell if you want to be notified for future episodes. Thanks for hanging in there. Be Well.