|Slipping the DISC: State of The Portal/Chapter 2020
|15 January 2020
|13 February 2020
This "housekeeping" (cough cough) episode of The Portal is only for the hard core listeners who launched this experiment with us. This year we begin to take on the idea of the Distributed Idea Suppression Complex or "DISC".
From "Terms of Service" changes, to selective enforcement of rules, peer review, "Strategic Silence", 'authoritative sources only', deboosting, shadow banning, down ranking, "unbiasing", "Good Censorship", 'diversity and inclusion' oaths, 'cancel culture', no-platforming, mob shaming, certification requirements, "trust and safety" and quality control, we are surrounded by others interested in various forms of idea suppression who would prefer to work in private. Obviously some, but not all, of those ideas are truly dangerous. But many of those ideas never reached us because they threatened institutional players rather than public safety.
This is the year we begin to do the unthinkable: attempt to fully reveal and slip the DISC. Stay tuned to the Portal for 2020. Or feel free to unsubscribe right now before we change it up... hope to see you soon.
- Two whole months of unlimited access Skillshare.com/PORTAL
Returning sponsor SkillShare is one of the most popular with the Portal audience because we have a lot of stuff teachers out there, and SkillShare is effectively a university in your pocket. Any course you can think of that you want to take under the sun probably has some representation and SkillShare through instructors the high quality videos teach you everything in the privacy of your own home. I wanted to test SkillShare by giving them something I felt very uncomfortable with, namely, Interior Design. I always notice when I'm in it somebody else's home, it isn't just a collection of interesting objects, but it is somehow beautifully pulled together. So I came up with a course on the site talk by Emily Henderson called "Style Your Space: Creative Tips and Techniques for Interior Design", and, sure enough, she explains sort of the rigmarole or theory behind pulling a house together visually to create a coherent space. I'm glad I did, and it's probably not something I would have been comfortable doing if it wasn't in the privacy of my own home. Now SkillShare is a proud sponsor of The Portal, so you can explore your creativity at SkillShare.com/Portal and get two free months of premier membership. That is two whole months of unlimited access to thousands of their classes for free. So get started to join today by heading to SkillShare.com/Portal for high-quality courses in just about everything. I can do that with SkillShare—the University of the phone for autodidacts.
- Get your first free refill at Getquip.com/PORTAL
Okay, let's admit it. You were caught masticating, and you haven't been taking care of your teeth properly by brushing them for 2 minutes afterwards. Now, why is that? It's because you're not fascinated by your teeth. In order to understand how important your teeth are, you have to realize that they originate from two separate layers of the developing embryo. That is, the ectoderm and the mesoderm. That seems like a miraculous collaboration for you not to be taking care of them. With Quip, makers of the new electric toothbrush, toothpaste, and dental floss, it is going to give you great habits. Now, you know that you're supposed to be brushing your teeth for about 2 minutes, but with Quip they have a timer inside the electric toothbrush, which guides you as to how to divide the two minutes properly into four separate segments of 30 seconds each. Furthermore, it's an absolutely elegant and clean design, and it makes brushing your teeth a pleasure. So with Quip, you're going to take much better care of your teeth. So if you go to GetQuip.com/Portal right now, you'll get your first refill free. Quip is the good habits company. Take an interest in your teeth, and for god's sakes, keep masticating, but keep them clean.
- Twenty free travel packs with your first purchase Athleticgreens.com/PORTAL
In order to explain where new sponsor Athletic Greens fits into your nutritional picture, I have to tell you an evolutionary fairytale: Once Upon a Time your ancestors had perfect comprehensive nutrition simply from living in a state of nature. Do you believe that? Of course not, because modern science and nutrition tells us it's almost impossible to get comprehensive nutrition from food alone. Enter Athletic Greens. Their ultimate, daily all-in-one health drink has 75 vitamins, minerals, and other whole-food-sourced ingredients, including prebiotics, probiotics, digestive enzymes, and adaptogens, and all of this means that you have a very simple option to confer comprehensive nutrition. Now, what do I recommend? Whether you're taking steps towards a healthier lifestyle, or you're an athlete pushing for better performance try athletic greens because they take the guesswork out of every day good health. Why not just try it? Jump over to AthleticGreens.com/Portal and claim our special offer today, which is 20 free travel packs that are currently valued at $79 with your first purchase. That's AthleticGreens.com/Portal, for no muss, no fuss comprehensive nutrition. AthleticGreens.com/Portal.
A new sponsor Fender Play. I'm really curious what took you guys so long. Look, I've been playing Fender guitars to Fender amps for 24 years. I'm addicted to your product. You don't send me a Telecaster you send me some relatively tame ad copy or what gives now with Fender play. Yes, you can Master chord songs techniques. You can track your progress in the app, blah blah blah. You can share your success you can connect to real teachers, but that's not what's really going on. You need to play and share music with other people in order to fully experience what it's like to be a human being on this planet. We lost chess to the computers. We lost the game of Go to the computers, but music is still the operating system for the human heart. And if you're going to break some hearts, you're going to need to learn how to play music and it's going to make everybody better off. So we have an incredible deal for our listeners new members can try Fender play free for two weeks and save 50% off a fender play annual plan. The only way they can take advantage of this is to go to fender.com podcast and use the special offer code "portal" at checkout. It's fender.com podcast using the checkout code "portal", but this offer is only available for a limited time, but most importantly you need to get started playing music in order to fully experience what it's like to be a human being and I think this is a great way to do it from one of our best companies.
Eric Weinstein: Hello, you've found The Portal. I'm your host Eric Weinstein, and this is sort of an unusual edition of The Portal because it's coming at the beginning of a new decade and I wanted to set some intentions, and also to sort of recap where we've been for the last half a year that the show has been on the air and on the internet. There are no notes. There's nothing planned. What I'd like to do is to just try to speak directly about some of the things that have been on my mind and give you all my thoughts on your feedback on the show, and where I think we're going to be going to next. So, with your permission, let's begin.
It's been a pretty interesting half of a year. The show has built up a fairly sizable audience. And what's more, there are a lot of influential and important voices within our audience, so I know that when I'm speaking I'm reaching a lot of the people who would be on my dream list of people to interview, to talk to, and in fact to plot next steps with. So, I think we've had a pretty successful run of it. We can still grow the show bigger, but the show is now large enough that I actually don't mind losing some of our listeners and some of our viewers by going into more challenging topics. And so, I don't think that our primary goal is going to be building the audience quite as much as it was during the first 6 months.
Furthermore, I think what's been somewhat confusing is that we've had–if I recall correctly–16 different interview episodes and one solo episode so far, and I don't think that is exactly what The Portal was intended to be. In fact, you could argue that The Portal has not even begun. What we've done is to build up an audience and to habituate the audience to a different style of interaction. I think we had to figure out what we were going to do if we wanted to bring you certain high-level concepts that often get lost, because the admonition to make sure that you don't lose your audience along the way means that you never get very far because you're always doing the sort of preliminary groundwork, and you're never actually getting to the meat of the issue.
And I think one of the things that we are very proud of is that we have a very motivated audience, who's willing to sometimes even listen to the show more than once, or do it with a notepad, so that if there are unfamiliar concepts, they can be looked up, and in fact, we've noted that there have been several communities spring up around the show so that people can trade their questions, and we've been watching you guys answer each other's questions in a way that's really been gratifying. So having a lot of experts in the audience has been a huge boon to the show, and we hope to try to figure out how to make community in a meaningful sense a larger part of the show on a going-forward basis.
One of those efforts that's particularly special is that we're trying to enlist artists. That could be visual artists, that could be digital artists, it could also be musicians. And the idea we have is that that legion of artists will be able to help push out many of the higher-level ideas that we would find challenging to do just in speech, by using, sort of, the brain's full abilities to take in new information, and also to use the, sort of the transcendent modality to kind of open hearts and minds to truly different and unfamiliar ways of thinking.
So, I think we may try to get that going. We need, obviously, to build a website. We need to have some way in which people who wish to avoid advertising can subscribe to the podcast, and other people who want to contribute and be part of this as a movement...
We just held our first live show at the Ice House in Pasadena, and thanks everybody who came out. The show sold out extremely quickly, even though we sort of didn't exactly advertise where and when it was, except for cryptically at first. And, one of the things that allowed us to do is to meet the listenership en masse, and, you know, it was a truly interesting, and, in many different ways, diverse group of people.
There were [sic] a pretty even split between anti- and pro-Trump voices. People got along great, so we don't seem to be as affected as I was concerned we might be by the election cycle. And what I sensed was that people really want to use the show to coalesce and come together, and that there's a lot of fear at the moment about anything tribal, or anything cult-like, and therefore, anything that might be tribal trades at a discount.
So I think we might actually take a contrarian position, and decide that the show in fact deserves more community, based on the way in which we see our listenership and our viewership going. And so, rather than fear that anything would emerge with leadership, because, of course, anything with leadership looks like Hitler to many people, anything that looks at all ritualistic looks like a cult, I think we're not going to worry about those things quite so much.
So I think, if I can, I'm going to try to realize that, in fact, the audience is leading, and that I need to do a better job of just accepting that there's a lot of interest in new ways of thinking, and this is one way of kind of getting unstuck, to try to find The Portal out of the stasis. And so if the show is to be true to its original mission, I think we're going to have to take some risks, which might mean drinking songs, it might mean ritualistic behavior, and hopefully it'll mean a lot more opportunities to interact through live dates. The show is going to remain unabashedly a commercial enterprise, because otherwise it would never happen.
And I want to give a huge shout out to Kast Media, who has been the original studio and effectively a co-producer of the show, along with Jesse Michels, and the advertisers and the sponsors who have been paying for the equipment, for the people who work on the show, so that nobody had to shell out anything in order to get this. The show would never have happened if it wasn't taking place as a commercial enterprise.
And so, even though some of you find the ads annoying, although others of you find them actually entertaining or interesting, what we need to do is to come up with a better model, and a model in which sponsors get access to the kind of heart and passion for sticking with the show. So I think I'm going to try to figure out how the riskvertizer model works in earnest this year, but it's also important to me that those of you who wish to avoid having a brain sullied with any kind of commercial intrusion have an option to do that.
We've been doing that through the YouTube videos, and in that respect, I feel like, in general if you're willing to sit through maybe an initial ad that rolls before the video goes, you usually have an uninterrupted viewing or listening experience thereafter. We'll try to get the videos a little bit in better sync with the audio, but most importantly what I want to get to is what the show is really about.
And, the last thing I will say on the sort of initial housekeeping is we probably needed to recognize earlier that we need your help. A lot of you guys are audio engineers, or you're graphic designers, or you're website builders. I don't quite know how to source the talent we need from the pool, but I've been bombarded by wonderful offers from any of you, some of you at the absolute top of your field, who want to help this podcast because you want to see this grow as a movement.
And maybe I was slow to recognize how genuine the interest was, and, just to say, thank you. I mean, I think it's sort of hard to recognize that it's working, for various internal psychological reasons. I've been incredibly touched, and I really want to incorporate some of the offers of help because Lord knows we need it, just haven't figured out how to do it yet. So stay tuned, I think we'll be organizing that shortly.
We've now got a Facebook group for The Portal Podcast. We've got an Instagram account that's growing. Twitter's still our largest following, but the actual subscriptions to the podcast, on both YouTube, through Apple and other places, are now quite large. And I think it'll be increasingly hard to shut down these channels to you, so that even if we lose one or two of them because of something we say, hopefully we'll remain engaged to and will try to make sure that we're not the vulnerable to having the oxygen cut off.
The Portal in 2020 and this Decade
All right, so what is it that is happening in 2020? What kind of a decade are we up for? What's going to be going on with The Portal during the coming year? The coming 10 years? I think that the first thing that I want to signal is that we are finally ready to take on something which I've always found terrifying, and that has to do with idea suppression.
Now before we get to idea suppression, and how it functions, and what it is, I want to take new listeners through a very brief description of how we would order the world relative to The Portal and its objectives. So if you will, let me take you back to the end of World War II. There's a lot of prehistory, but we can't afford to do everything.
Twin Nuclei Problem of Cell and Atom
So shortly after World War II, there were two very important events in the early 1950's, from our perspective, one of which was the unlocking of the three-dimensional structure of DNA by Watson and Crick in 1953, and the other was the explosions of hydrogen devices using work of Edward Teller and Stanislaw Ulam, and what that changed in the human picture–because we went from a short period where we were dealing with atomic bombs, where duck-and-cover was a plausible solution, to dealing with hydrogen devices in which the destructive power was really incalculable. It's the power of gods used to power the sun, here on Earth.
Now, to my way of thinking, since the early 1950s, there has been no comparable explosion of wisdom to go along with this newfound power that humans have–this new godlike power. So I've called this the Twin Nuclei Problem of Cell and Atom.
And I think what we've had is an incredible run of luck. And I think it's the most magical and marvelous thing, but I don't believe that we can count on luck forever. And in fact, given some of the events of early 2020 taking place in Iraq and Iran, I would say that history at the scale that we were accustomed to it during the, let's say, first half of the 20th century, could start up at any moment, and we're entirely unprepared for this.
Embedded Growth Obligations (EGOs)
Now, in the story that has this major through-line that we've been following, the next thing that happens that's really important is a guy named Derek de Solla Price starts to calculate that science is on an exponential trajectory, and rather than thinking that that's a great thing, he starts to understand that anything on an exponential trajectory can't really go on, because it's going to burn itself out. And if science is the original seed corn, if you will, of technology, and technology of economics, then effectively what's going to happen in science is going to percolate through a chain, through technology and into the economy, with a potential stagnation coming.
Now, he started to arrive at these ideas, I think, at Yale in the late 1950s. It was not well understood what he was talking about–and still I'm always shocked that the book Science Since Babylon, which he wrote, and which discusses this issue, is so much less well-known than, say, Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. For some reason, this is so dispiriting to so many people that we actually don't discuss it much.
Studying this work led to the idea of talking about EGOs, that is, embedded growth obligations. Now, embedded growth obligations are the way in which institutions plan their future predicated on legacies of growth. And since the period between the end of World War II in 1945 and the early '70s had such an unusually beautiful growth regime, many of our institutions became predicated upon low-variance, technology-led, stable, broadly distributed growth. Now, this is a world we have not seen in an organic way since the early 1970s. And yet, because it was embedded in our institutions, what we have is a world in which the expectation is still present in the form of an embedded growth obligation. That is, the pension plans, the corporate ladders, are all still built very much around a world that has long since vanished.
We have effectively become a growth cargo cult. That is, once upon a time, planes used to land in the Pacific, let's say, during World War II, and Indigenous people looked at the air strips and the behavior of the air traffic controllers, and they've been mimicking those behaviors in the years since as ritual, but the planes no longer land. Well, in large measure, our institutions are built for a world in which growth doesn't happen in the same way anymore.
Gated Institutional Narrative (GIN)
All right. What then happened was that a different structure, which I have termed the gated institutional narrative, came to become repurposed. Now, the gated institutional narrative is like an exchange–a financial exchange, if you will, except it's an exchange of information and ideas. And in order to actually participate in this particular special conversation, you need to have a seat on the exchange. That is, you need to write for an important paper, like the Wall Street Journal, or you need to be a senator or a congressman so that you can gain access to the news media, or you need to be sitting at a news desk.
In any of these situations, whether you're a professor, or a reporter, or a politician, if you can gain a seat inside of the gated institutional narrative, you can attempt to converse with other people within that particular conversation. The rest of us do not really have the same level or kind of access to this highly rarefied discussion, and I've previously compared this to what we would term a "promotion" inside of the world of professional wrestling. It's an agreed-upon structure, in which people often agree to simulate dispute, rather than actually have disputes, because somebody could get really seriously injured, but they're in fact working together to produce an engaging and regular product for mass consumption. The problem with this gated institutional narrative is that, in general, it doesn't contain the most important ideas, and that is where the gating function comes in.
Distributed Idea Suppression Complex (DISC)
The most important ideas are likely to be the ideas that are most disruptive. What if the entire food pyramid, for example, was wildly off? What if fats were not the great danger we thought they were, and those waving fields of wheat that are fabled in American song, in fact, give rise to carbs, which are very dangerous to us all? So if everything were inverted, let's say, where, in a world where instead of banishing volatility during the so-called Great Moderation before 2008, we were actually building the tinder for the world's largest financial forest fire. What if, in fact, we had all sorts of things exactly backwards and completely wrong? What if diversity wasn't always a sign of our strength, but sometimes a sign of our weakness? What if, for example, immigration, far from being an issue of xenophobes versus xenophiles, was actually an instrument of redistribution having very little to do with xenophobia or xenophilia to begin with?
These sorts of ideas can't be entertained inside of the gated institutional narrative, and that's where the gating function comes in. What was originally a function intended to ensure quality control of the narrative became an instrument for something else. And this is where I want to introduce the most important concept that I think we will be dealing with on a going-forward basis in 2020 on this program, the DISC. What is the DISC? The DISC stands for the distributed idea suppression complex.
Now, taking it apart, the center of it is idea suppression. Not all ideas are good, and so idea suppression is very frequently understood as an important concept when we're talking about something like bigotry, or we're talking about something like violent ideology. Of course we want to suppress certain ideas. But, these are not the ideas that are principally important inside of the DISC.
The DISC is actually a complex. It is a large collection of different structures, and it's not controlled in any one place. Many of these have emerged separately. But what makes an aspect of the DISC–what shows you a particular component–is that it protects institutions from individuals who are making valid and reasonable points.
So, if you imagine that the institutions have become incredibly fragile because they're in fact built for growth, and that plan for their growth obligates them to tell untruths, and to hide certain characteristics, because they are not, in fact, able to grow at the rates in which they are supposed to, you need some complex for making sure that that information doesn't reach the bottom entrance to a pyramid structure.
Two Current Examples of the DISC
Let's talk about some aspects of idea suppression. The two stories that I'm following most closely–and we can date this particular episode by talking about current events, I think that's fine–the two stories I'm following most closely with interest from the perspective of understanding the DISC are the story of Andrew Yang and the media, and the story of Jeffrey Epstein and his recent demise.
Now, in neither of these cases is my principal interest the ostensible subject matter. In the case of Andrew Yang, Andrew is going through a weird ritual that I've noted repeatedly election cycle after election cycle. Perhaps the three most recent versions of the situation have been with Ron Paul and his run for president, with Bernie Sanders and his run for the presidency, and now with Andrew Yang.
In all of these cases, we see a very bizarre behavior inside of the news media. That is, that when the candidate starts to gain traction with the public, they become left off of lists. They become misreported–very often a reporter will stand in front of the graphic that has that particular candidate alongside others, and we don't really know why this is occurring, and we don't know how these instructions are going out.
But in the case of Andrew Yang, because this is taking place in a highly connected internet era, we have people chronicling all of the myriad ways in which Andrew Yang's candidacy is distorted. In particular, there appears to be a different level of distortion taking place at one particular news media outlet. We need to better understand exactly what is the political economy of the news.
Now in the case of Andrew Yang, the key question would be, "Why aren't the regular news media, and the competing news media, reporting on the outsized effort being made to make sure that Andrew does not appear normally with other candidates in this Democratic primary field?"
It doesn't make logical sense, if you believe that the principal reason for reporting on the election is to make sure that the voters have an early opportunity to hear all voices and to begin to make their decisions, rather than immediately trying to pick a narrative about frontrunners who are always taken to be inevitable, and that's a conserved feature of this bizarre election coverage, cycle after cycle.
So the first thing I want to do is recommend that you Google "MSNBC" and "Andrew Yang", and "#YangMediaBlackout", and look at the impressive data set that has been collected, which shows a singular focus that can be inferred from the data on Andrew Yang. Now, to an extent, this has also happened with Tulsi Gabbard. To an extent there's been some carryover from Bernie Sanders, but Bernie Sanders' showing in 2016 was so strong that the same games that were applied to Sanders then cannot easily be applied now.
But the key question we have is, "Why is the news media spending so much on one candidate, who doesn't appear to be that large, to keep that candidate from growing?" I think this is an interesting topic, and what it has to do with is making maps of silence.
Now through the efforts of Dana Boyd and the Data and Society group, we've learned about a doctrine called strategic silence. And that is, that there are certain things that the media may not want to happen and therefore, rather than simply reporting the facts of the matter, they make editorial decisions so as not to give fodder or fuel for some undesirable outcome. Now, we can partially understand that in the case of copycat killings after, let's say, gun massacres. But, it's much harder to understand why somebody coming from outside of the political system would be treated to something like strategic silence or strategic distortion.
What we need to do is to have a better understanding of the maps of silence and maps of distortion that take place in our press. And what Andrew has done that is special and unique is that he's given us a very large N for our dataset. We now have enough different incidents of this that we can begin to piece together what might be inferred from this very bizarre behavior.
The second example of this that I find fascinating is the death of Jeffrey Epstein. Now, you'll hear a lot of other people say, "Well Epstein didn't kill himself", or "It's obviously this", or "It's obviously that". I have a decidedly smaller interest in those questions. The questions that fascinate me have to do not with Epstein, not with who might have killed him, whether he died by his own hand, but they have to deal with the sense-making apparatus–that is, the news media around this untimely exit from our world. Now, Jeffrey Epstein was accused of trafficking and had a very bizarre life that is difficult for many of us understand, where he got a slap on the wrist in Florida and appeared to operate with impunity even after his conviction in Florida as a sex offender.
What's fascinating is that, if anyone remembers the Watergate era, the news media used to go to federal agencies and ask whether or not something was true or false, and this gave us the phrase "a non-denial denial". When is the question arises, let's say, in this case, "Does Jeffrey Epstein have any ties to any known intelligence community?", that question can be asked, let's say, to the CIA, to the State Department, to the NSA, and you might expect that you'd get an answer, "Absolutely this person had no ties", because the idea of the intelligence agencies being connected to a known sex trafficker seems preposterous at one level, but you can also imagine that they'd get "No comment".
Now, we don't even have that in this situation. You can go–I think I did this fairly recently with the New York Times–and try to simply use their own search engine: "Have you asked the question whether Jeffrey Epstein had ties to the intelligence agencies?" The other questions that arise in this case are, "Where is the last known recording of Ghislaine Maxwell's passport crossing a border?" This is a simple factual question. A reporter would be dispatched. They would call up somebody like Interpol. They would try to find out whether people would speak about it or not speak about it.
Under any circumstances, they would be able to print an interesting story. For example, "Interpol has no comment", or "Interpol says that the last recorded border where Ghislaine Maxwell's passport showed up was a border crossing in New York City". Under any circumstances, it is very bizarre to see the map of silence around these questions.
Another such question is, "If Jeffrey Epstein's fortune came from currency trading, where are the records from his office in Villard House in Manhattan?" He had a very large office in a trophy property on the island of Manhattan, and to the best of my knowledge, I have seen no printed discussion of where the supposed trading records of this person [are], who seemed to amass a fortune.
Another weird thing about this fortune is that he seemed to live life as a high 11-figure individual, owning islands and incredible properties, and multiple jets, and yet all of the assets I've seen accounted for puts him instead in 9-figure territory. Now that's two orders of magnitude different, and I don't think that there are many 9-figure rich who would live anything like Jeffrey Epstein's lifestyle. It appears that most of the assets were put towards a kind of front, if you will.
So we don't have any idea about where the records are of his trading. We don't have any idea where the passport of his partner was seen last, and we also have no confirmation that any of our major government agencies have denied that Jeffrey Epstein, the accused sex trafficker, was tied to any intelligence community. In all of those situations, what you can map with honesty, and without having to go anywhere near tinfoil-hat territory, is that there's something broken with our sense making apparatus. Because in the Watergate era, you could have assigned this to a cub reporter and they would have known exactly what to do. Where are our "No comments" on the record? No one knows.
All right, in those two circumstances, that gives you an idea about how the DISC, the distributed idea suppression complex, works inside of journalism. There is some sort of editorial function that is keeping us from learning certain things, because certain stories do not run. With a little bit of poetic liberty, this seems to be what Paul Simon was talking about in Sounds of Silence. What we're listening for now are the silences. Where else are we confronted with silence? What are the other things we would expect, where we don't hear particular ideas?
Now, obviously, you have a situation where I've been talking for quite some time about the idea that there are many reasons that one might ask to restrict immigration. The Sierra Club used to support a restriction of immigration. Farm workers unions used to support restrictions on immigration. But sometime in the fairly recent past, it became an idée fixe of the elite that the only reason for supporting a restriction in immigration, the only possible reason could be that you were xenophobic, and probably racist.
Now, I don't exactly know where these ideas came from, but I know that these ideas are prima facie preposterous. They make no sense. And so I've been talking for some time–about where are the media willing to discuss all of the reasons that one might want to restrict immigration having nothing to do with xenophobia? The so-called "xenophilic restrictionist" perspective. This is another place where there is no public discussion, and we have no idea why. So once you begin to look for these silences, these gaps, you start to become rather terrified, that somehow the world is not behaving properly, and that's one of the reasons that people are flocking to this podcast.
The DISC in Academia
This is, however, not my major focus. My major focus of the distributed idea suppression complex, or DISC, has to do with what happened inside of our universities. Now, I'm in a somewhat unusual position, in that both myself and my wife have PhDs, as well as my brother and his wife, and we've all appeared in interviews within the last five years, so maybe you've seen all of us on camera, or have some idea of how Bret Weinstein, Heather Heying, Pia Malaney, and I sound.
What some of you don't know is that I believe that, inside of that group of four, one of us wrote a book immediately after getting a PhD, which is Heather Heying's book, Antipode, about her solo travels to the jungles of Madagascar. So if you have a young woman in your life who is looking for a pretty impressive female role model, I would say Heather's toughness, intelligence, and grit makes for pretty terrific reading, and I'd recommend buying the book Antipode for that young lady.
In the case of the remaining three, none of us wrote a book immediately afterwards. However, I think that the quality of the discoveries that were being explored was incredibly high, and in each case, what I thought happened to those was most unexpected.
Now, what are these ideas that I'm claiming were suppressed? So I would say that in one case, we were talking about the reasons why we die. One of these theses contained what I think is one of the best models for the reasons that we have these finite life-spans, and of course, we're all subject to what might be called environmental insult: if a piano falls on your head while you're walking down the street, that's usually going to be your exit. But why we age, why we get cancer, and why we die, I think has not been very well understood at the molecular level. And I think perhaps one of the first mature attempts to do this took place in my brother's thesis at the University of Michigan. This is one of the major ideas that I wish to be exploring in 2020.
If biology is one of the greatest ideas man is ever had in the form of natural and sexual selection in the work of Darwin and Wallace, I would say that the other complex of great ideas, truly top ideas, would be what I would call geometric dynamics. Those are the ideas that take place underneath theoretical physics, whether we're talking about the standard model or general relativity. And we now believe that all fundamental physical phenomena can be divided between these two great theories. In one case, that of Einstein's general relativity, it's been known for about a hundred years that the substrate of the theory is Riemann's theory of differential geometry, that is, Riemannian geometry.
What is much more recent, perhaps slightly less than 50 years old, thanks to Jim Simons and C.N. Yang, is the knowledge that the classical theory underneath quantum field theory is in fact a different form of geometry, known as Ehresmannian geometry, fiber bundle geometry, gauge theory, or Steenrod geometry, whatever you want to call it. So the idea that geometry is the birthplace of fundamental physics, I think is now generally understood by all practicing theoretical physicists functioning at the top level.
Inside of that complex, we've been stuck for approximately, I don't know, 47 years, where theory used to lead experiment, and we used to make predictions and the predictions would usually be confirmed in relatively short order. We have not had a period of stagnation inside of theoretical physics that mirrors this, with the closest comparable period perhaps being the period from the late 1920s, with the advent of quantum electrodynamics, to the late 1940s, with the beginning of renormalization theory being ushered in at the Shelter Island, Pocono, and Old Stone conferences.
So that 20-year period is now more than doubled, and we haven't been making progress. And I've been very uncomfortable with the idea of coming forward with ideas. Why? Well, to be honest, it's very rare for anyone outside of theoretical physics to have reasonable ideas in physics. I could explain why, but the physicists are fantastic. They've got all sorts of no-go theorems, and all sorts of considerations that have to be kept in mind, and effectively what they've got is a world that is so tightly constrained, when it comes to understanding where we are, that almost every new idea is instantly dead on arrival. Now this has been incredibly demotivating to people in the field. And it does feel, from many different perspectives, like we're almost at the end, if not of all of physics, at least of this chapter of physics.
But what I'm starting to see is that the field has become exhausted. It has been telling the same story since 1984, about how string theory is our leading theory of quantum gravity, that quantum gravity is the replacement for Einstein's search for a unified field. And, as the accelerator turns up the Higgs and little else, as effectively no new physical theories arise with confirmations, as the only major updates to our model of the physical world are things like massive neutrinos or the accelerating expansion of the universe coming from experiment, the theoretical physics community has been very slow to own up to just how much trouble it's in. It's an incredibly demanding life. It has incredible standards for rigor and intellectual honesty, and quite honestly, it's been lying for far too long to sustain the kind of integrity that's needed in that community.
Now, I don't know whether I'm nuts, but I do know that at previous points, I've suggested things into both the mathematical and physics communities that have later been shown, by other people, to be correct. And while I was waiting for a some kind of confirmation, I was being told, "Eric, you're completely off base. You're not getting it." One of these situations involved something called the Seiberg-Witten equations, which I put forward in the 1980s, around probably '87, and I was told that these couldn't possibly be right, that they weren't sufficiently nonlinear. I'll tell the whole story about how if spinors were involved, then obviously Nigel Hitchin would have told us so, blah, blah, blah.
None of this was true, and in 1994, Nati Seiberg and Edward Witten made a huge splash with these equations. I remember being in the room, and seeing the equations written at MIT on the board and I was thinking, 'Well, wait a minute. Those are the equations that I put forward. If those equations are being put forward by Witten, why is it that the community isn't telling him that they're wrong for the same reasons that they told me that they were wrong?'
Legend of the Mugnaia
This is also how idea suppression works. When you are young, and when you are vulnerable, and when you need the help of older members of your academic community to bring you forward, you're extremely vulnerable to what might be termed the Droit du seigneur–or the prima nocta–of the academic community. Now, for those of you who aren't familiar with it, there was an old legend that the Lords of the Manor would command the right to take the virginity of every bride on her wedding night, until there arose a miller's daughter known as the Mugnaia.
Now the Mugnaia had a different plan, for she wished instead to be with her husband, and not the evil Lord of the Manor. So what she did was she smuggled a knife underneath her robes, and appeared in the bedchamber of the Lord of the Manor, and killed him.
Now this is celebrated in the Festival of the Oranges, which is potentially the world's largest food fight in which armed combatants throw oranges at each other–I think it's in Italy, if I'm not mistaken–celebrating the victory of the Mugnaia. But right now, we have a problem in our intellectual disciplines, which is that when we come forward with our best ideas, very often, even if they're slightly wrong, they're slammed. And when they're slammed, sometimes the older members of the community then take the ideas for themselves at a later point.
This has to stop. And I think I've been trying to gather courage to put forward some ideas, which I think some aspects of them may be wrong, but are certainly quite interesting, and given that our leading theories have completely stalled out and failed to ship a product for–depending on how you count–you know, nearly 40 years or 50 years, depending upon whether it's the anomaly cancellation or something called the Vanetsiana model... I think it's time to simply ignore these people and realize that the leading lights of our most important community have failed.
Finding the Source Code
If we don't figure out the full source code, going beyond Einstein, going beyond the standard model, we can't know whether we're actually literally trapped in our local area, or whether we have some hope of going out and looking at the night sky with an idea that that might be the roadmap to our future. So whether or not we're consigned by Einstein to the Elon Musk program, let's say, of exploring the Moon and Mars, or whether, in fact, we might get on the Star Trek or Star Wars program, of exploring the cosmos has to do with whether or not we can get the source code.
So the next thing has to do with who we are, what is this place, and what I've called Geometric Unity. It is the aim of making The Portal a place where I can have a channel that cannot be controlled by the academic complex, and I'll come back to that in a second. The third area that I want to talk about has to do with markets. Now markets are really the sponsor of our freedom. By having non-centrally directed, locally organized human activity, free agents are able to contract freely with each other, exchange with each other, build prosperity, lift each other up, and if you are a progressive, you almost certainly really have to appreciate the power of markets. But our markets are in great danger at the moment, in my opinion, because they're being meddled with, and they are returning results that indicate that only a tiny fraction of us are worthy of reaping the true rewards of the markets, while many of us feel that we're being left behind.
Generational Wealth Structure
If you look at the wealth structure of the Silent Generation, Boomer Generation, Generation X, and the Millennials, or Gen Y, you see that the Millennials have, at this age, amassed far smaller percentages of the wealth, than the Boomers did at the same age, and I don't think it's because they're lazy or they're not talented. So we have a very dangerous situation shaping up, where our younger generations are not fully bought in.
In fact, in the last year I just bought my first house. I'm 54 years old, born in 1965. I've bought one car, and then had to re-buy it when it got rear-ended. There's something very bizarre about that pattern, for somebody who is educated at an Ivy League undergraduate institution and has an advanced degree from potentially our leading institution in the country. We've created a world in which it's simply too hard for regular people to advance properly, because the society is not growing.
Now, rather than complain about it, I'd rather do something about it. So partially what I hope to do is to show you what's been going on with GDP and inflation, by introducing a new theory that combines the two greatest theories we have. So if you think about biology as being driven by the theory of natural and sexual selection, and if you think about physics as being driven by geometric dynamics, either coming from Riemannian or Ehresmannian geometry, then, in fact, what would be the the meeting place of our two greatest theories? The only place that I'm aware of is that it takes place in economics. And why is that? Because you have apes carrying on the theory of selection, but by other means, through markets. And what are markets? Markets are an attempt to create an as-if physical system by uniformizing apples and oranges, so that we have a basis for their comparison by using mediums of exchange, like money.
So, in so doing, economics is the logical meeting place for the two greatest theories man has ever had. And this was explored in the early–rather, the mid-1990s, early to mid-1990s, by Pia Malaney, my wife and collaborator, and myself, in work that never got out of Harvard University. Now that's not quite true. There is a book called The Physics of Wall Street, by James Weatherall, which touches upon this. But this work died because of something called the Harvard Job Market committee. And my wife went into that Job Market committee meeting, having her work presented there, thinking that she could apply anywhere in the country, and being told, instead, that she had almost nothing, and that she'd be lucky to escape with a PhD.
Now in these three cases, that is, a theory of death that comes out of my brother's work at the University of Michigan, a theory of productivity, and how our wealth is inflated away, coming out of my wife's work at Harvard, and another theory about "What is this place?", and "How do these different geometries come together?", which would be the subject of Geometric Unity–all three of these ideas met a level of resistance that none of us had ever anticipated or encountered. And I think that it's been terrifying to me to think about the idea of going up against the institutions.
However, last year I made an interesting calculation. I decided to look at the presidencies of all of our leading research institutions, and to try to figure out how many of them belonged to people who came after the Baby Boom.
In a previous world, let's say the world of the early 1980s, approximately half of the heads of research institutions would be Gen X and Gen Y, that is, Xers and Millennials. However, almost no research university, certainly almost no leading research university, with, I think, the exception of the University of California at Berkeley, when I did this calculation last year, was under anything other than the presidency of a Baby Boomer. Now what had happened? Well, we got rid of a mandatory retirement requirement, that probably affected things fairly significantly, and we began to concentrate all sorts of power in one generation's ideas. Now, generations aren't magical things–what they are, are instead cohorts that are exposed to some set of circumstances that is peculiar to the time in which they are growing up.
So for example, if your primary experience is that you work hard as a kid, with a paper route and an internship, you go to college, you work your way up a ladder, and everything works out fine, and pretty soon, before you know it, you've got three kids and two homes, that's your idea of what a normal life is. Now this is sort of the basis of the meme "Ok, Boomer", because many of the rest of us who followed this generation have no idea how you would accomplish that in these times.
I actually put the blame slightly more on the Silent Generation than most people do. I think if you look at it you realize a lot of the problems that we're having now began through intergenerational issues initiated by the Silents rather than the Boomers, but, it's a pretty stark division between the Xers, Millennials, and Gen Z, and the Silents and the Boomers, as the major generations that are still extant.
In this situation, it's terrifying to say what I'm about to say next, but it is time to inflict ourselves on our own institutions. It is time to have Gen X candidates for presidencies, not necessarily just of the political parties, because we've spent, what is it, 20 years on men born in the summer of 1946 so far. I mean, we're just at the beginning of Baby Boom presidencies, and we've been doing it since 1992.
That doesn't make a lot of sense. On the other hand, I think that the presidencies of companies, or CEO roles, I think that the issue of university presidents–many of these things have been tilted far too much towards these other generations. I think that Gen X has a very interesting story to tell. We were not highly infantilized, in terms of when we were growing up. In fact, we had to the moniker of the latchkey kids, and we're also not large enough to get things just by chanting them. We have always had the pressure of having to make some degree of sense, because we're just too small as a generation.
The Failure of Peer Review
So, in fact, what I'd like to do–I've said that I believe that string theory is effectively in affirmative action program for mathematically talented Baby Boomers who do not wish to sully themselves with the problem of working on the physical and real world as we have it. What I'd like to do is to bring you these three theories over the course of the next year or two–that is, a theory of death, a theory of markets, and how the agents within those markets, and the measurement of those markets should be changed and understood, and a theory, also, about who we are and what is this place in which we find ourselves, called Geometric Unity.
The purpose of The Portal, if you will, is to create a channel that has never existed. Now, I could try to submit everything to Phys Review Letters. I could try to submit to Econometrica. I could try to go through all of the normal channels, and I think what I've started to realize is, part of the problem of having screwed up all of this early stuff in our lives, of having tried to do this the formal and "right" way, so to speak–the privilege of having been screwed over so directly and so beautifully by the system is the right to raise the middle finger to the institutions. Like, how dare you expect that I'm going to use your quiet procedures.
If you think about what peer review is, it's the exact opposite of what peer review should mean. "Peer review" should mean that you publish your article, and then the peers in the community review it, but in fact what it is is peer suppression. You take your article and you mail it off to somebody who you don't know. That person gets an early look at it. They might hold it up in review. They then inflict any changes that they want, or they reject it for reasons that make no sense. And then it's handed back to you.
Now, why does it have such a positive spin? It's not long standing in the community. It doesn't seem to have a very long history, but it came out of an effort to quality control new ideas. We wanted to know if new ideas were coming from reputable people. Were they using reasonable methods? Were they reasonably familiar with their fields? And in fact, that is the good reason that we had this new technique of peer review. Previously, editors have been tasked with being responsible for the field and figuring out whether or not something was up to snuff.
In this new situation, it was perfectly constructed for abuse. In fact, what you find is that it's like what my brother refers to as the low posted speed limit in a southern town. The key question isn't peer review, it's how is it enforced for different people? That is, if you are a famous professor who is well plugged into a journal, where your friend is the editor, you are going to have an entirely different experience with peer review than if you submit the exact same article coming from someplace that is not well known to that journal, and in which there is a bias against that group.
For example, if I were to point out that every purebred dog in a kennel show is a product of intelligent design, that is, that humans have commanded canines with whom and how they can mate–that process has produced things like dachshunds and poodles. However, if I use words like "intelligent design", I guarantee you that even though it's clearly true that dogs are intelligently designed, that that paper will be rejected, because there is a belief that we should have a line which says "No paper on intelligent design has ever been accepted by a leading peer-reviewed journal".
Now that political understanding of intelligent design has to do with both a reasonable idea and an unreasonable idea. The reasonable idea is that you should not be able to smuggle Jesus into evolutionary theory. You should not be able to do young Earth creationism inside of a scientific context. That is the previous, reasonable version of peer review. It makes sense as quality control.
But, what happens when you start talking about perception-mediated selection? For example, pseudocopulation in orchids, which we've discussed before, or in the predatory system with the other mussel lampsilis, where the perception of the bass matters, because it thinks that it's consuming a bait fish. But in fact, that's a fake bait fish filled with the young of the mussel.
In both of those cases you have perception-mediated selection, and you can make an argument that that should be called "intelligent design", but those magic words can't appear in that journal. Why? For a political reason. So what we have is we've created a system based around quality control that in fact is rife and open for abuse.
In that system, we now have to realize that we need other channels. We need an ability to route around. We need to be able to reinsert dissidents and people who do not get along with institutions back inside of the institutions.
If you look at Noam Chomsky sitting at MIT, you will realize that it was once the case that such people were much more common. You can look up a fellow, an old friend of mine named Serge Lang, and you could scarcely believe that such a person could have existed at Yale, but that person very much did exist. You can look at an old controversy about David Baltimore and a woman named Margot O'Toole, and the courage of Mark Ptashne and Walter Gilbert in fighting a Nobel Laureate when Margot O'Toole accused a colleague of the Nobel Laureate of misconduct, or at least, irreproducibility of results.
We have a long and storied history that has gone wildly off the rails with the crisis in current sense-making. And the purpose of The Portal was always to set up a channel by which we would have enough people watching that we could attempt to keep people from being rolled in the alleys when they contradicted the institutions, and that is in large measure what we're here to do.
If you look at our episode with Timur Kuran, we introduced you to a concept of preference falsification. Right now, the danger of the Andrew Yang and the Jeffrey Epstein situations is that they have conveniently communicated to many people, "Of course we're going to mess with your sense-making. What is it that you're prepared to do about it?"
No Living Heroes
This brings us to a final issue, which I think is incredibly important, which has to do with why there are no living heroes. In effect, we almost don't believe in heroism. As soon as somebody starts to make us excited about the world and what is possible for the individual, we come to start feeling terrible about that person, unless they're trapped inside of a Marvel movie, or something like that. If you go back to the history of ticker tape parades, you will see that there were many ticker tape parades given for individual aviators, individual explorers, ships captains who put their ship at risk to rescue the crew of another–and, in fact, this pattern largely stopped.
My contention is that the difficult case of Charles Lindbergh may have marked a turning point. In Lindbergh's case, he had flown solo to Europe from the United States and come back a hero, I believe in the late 1920s. Now, Lindbergh was a very difficult human being to deal with, because he was an authentic hero, and he was also somebody who believed in America First, and in isolationism, and given the Nazi menace in Europe, I think it's almost an unforgivable position. Nevertheless, the fact is that Lindberg commanded tremendous popularity, and that popularity could have been used to keep the U.S. out of a war.
What I find is that, since Lindbergh, it has been very rare to elevate any individual to the point where they can oppose our institutions. The Pete Seegers and Albert Einsteins of the world, who fought against McCarthyism, were a huge danger to the industry that was cropping up around anti-communism. When it came to the Vietnam War, it was very dangerous to have popular entertainers, like John Lennon, who were against it.
We have been frightened about individuals coming to rival our institutions in terms of power. And that's what's so great about the new revolution in long-form podcasting, and all of these other forms of social media. Now, we have a great danger in that most of these platforms are mediated. We saw what happened to Alex Jones. It's quite possible that if these powerful institutions come to believe that a particular individual should be removed, they can always choose to enforce the rules in a different way.
We saw recently the advent of Terms of Service changes to include deadnaming. Now if I say that Walter Carlos composed the album Switched-On Bach, or performed the album Switched-On Bach, that is a true statement. But because Walter Carlos became Wendy Carlos, I have no idea whether or not I can be accused of deadnaming. Now imagine that you have a hundred such rules, rules that are never spelled out, never clear, that can be enforced any which way to deny someone access to the major platforms. This is the great danger with this moment. We have unprecedented access, but we also have a gating function, which can be turned on at any time if we fall out of line with the institutions.
I want to read you one tweet that has been on my mind for quite some time. This tweet came from a contributor to The Washington Post, who is a professor at the Fletcher School and it said, "Good morning, Eric!"–I'm going to leave out the parentheses–"So I've read up on a few of your notions, and I have some thoughts, but my basic conclusion is simple: what's true isn't new, and what's new isn't true."
I think it's fantastic. I was stung by it, because at first I was under the impression that we were still living in a world in which the Washington Post, New York Times, Harvard, Stanford, what-have-you, control the major conversation. But, coming off of a recent date at the Ice House in Pasadena, which was a live gig with Peter Thiel, I've started to realize how powerful this new movement is. We can reach anyone, anywhere, and I think that the gated institutional narrative deserves to have the battle that it's been bruising for.*
* Note: The last clause of this sentence was cut from the YouTube version of this episode: "...and I think that the gated institutional narrative deserves to have the battle that it's been bruising for."
David vs Goliath
What I now believe is that the gated institutional narrative has been spoiling for a fight. We are quickly coming to the point where we have a David-and-Goliath moment. We now need to try to re-inflict the individuals who are uncorrelated, who are not particularly good at taking orders, who don't like committee meetings, who don't want to sign loyalty oaths, but who are passionately committed to the public good, and to some version of intellectual meta-honesty. We need these people to once again take up positions inside of the institutions, and I would like to, in fact, inflict myself on my favorite institution, Harvard University.
The children of Harvard University have always been divided into white sheep and black sheep, and there's no question that I represent black sheep Harvard, but I also think that one of the features of the University that makes it great is that it has tolerated both its white sheep and it's black sheep.
It is time to do battle with the oppressive structures that have been used to silence new ideas. If in my family, I assert that there might be as many as three revolutionary Nobel-quality ideas in one clutch, how many ideas might there be suppressed if that is actually true? How many people are sitting on top of intellectual gold that never got its chance to see the light of day?
What I'd like to do is to try to do battle with the DISC, to show you that it exists, to try to figure out how it works, and to try to show that the tools that we currently have may be powerful enough to defeat it. This is the actual purpose of The Portal, and I think even if we lose some viewers and some listeners, even if people start to see articles appearing that say how terrible the show is, and how it's trying to foment some kind of unrest, to hell with them.
We are in an amazing position to try to do something new, and to stand up for a lot of people who may have given up on their own original ideas, and to try to spark a revolution, because if I'm right, the DISC has been sitting up on top of some of our best and most hopeful ideas for a way out of our economic conundrums, our military problems, ideas which have some chance of delivering us to a much more interesting and brighter tomorrow.
So, I hope that this is going to be an unbelievable decade. Thank you guys for sticking with it. I'm sorry if this was a little bit long, but it was a lot to say and it was heartfelt and quite important to me to get it out, and we will return to trying to get you high quality content, either in the form of interviews, which you've become used to on The Portal, or perhaps some new visual content that allows you to understand ideas that would be very difficult to communicate but for some novel means of presentation.
We hope to approach the community, to try to coordinate people who are eager to contribute back into the program, and maybe get a little bit of a closer relationship to our content going forward, maybe influence it a little bit, and we haven't figured out all of the bugs. So thanks for being part of the initial experiment. Thanks for sticking with us, and we're looking forward to being with you in the coming year and decade ahead. So you've been through The Portal for first solo episode of 2020. Be well everybody. Stay tuned.