29: Jamie Metzl - The Bio-Hacker will see you now, Ready or Not
|The Bio-Hacker will see you now, Ready or Not|
|Release Date||12 April 2020|
Former National Security analyst turned author Jamie Metzl has written a book called Hacking Darwin. The book attempts to use storytelling to explore where we are as the new era of rewriting our cells and ourselves gets into full swing. Here he sits down with Eric to explore the negatives and positives of our seemingly ineluctable future of God-like power to rewrite biology. Together they discuss the role of story telling and fiction in understanding cutting edge science, the limits of bio-hacking regulation and the rise of mainland China as the outlying superpower of state sponsored experimentation.
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Eric Weinstein 0:06 Hello, this is Eric with the housekeeping section of this week's release before we introduce the main section of the episode. But first things first, we now finally have a website and a mailing list. So please pause the audio and go to EricWeinstein.org and sign up so that we can make sure that you're the first to learn about all things related to the portal. We'll wait. [whistling]
You did it? Fantastic. Okay, so now you're signed up, and that's great. But what did you just sign up for? Well, many shows can brag about having a large audience and while ours may have grown rapidly, it certainly has zero claim on being the biggest ... or even having the most regular release schedule (sorry about that one guys). We are, however, growing nicely, as well as it being early days here at The Portal. So that's kind of a sweet spot. But I don't think that's really the main offering to you. What we do have that is very unique, is that we have an actual thriving 24/7 community based equally around projects and discussion.
Now in a world where everyone is talking about community, why is this unique or even important? Well, to begin with community is one of those perfectly fine English words that gets ruined by corporate usage like 'content,' 'brand,' 'message,' 'social,' 'distribution,' ... I'm sure you know the list. So when I say this podcast has a community, I don't mean THAT at all. I mean, a group of people I increasingly think of as my colleagues and friends who are trying to actually build the resources to find the real portals for which the podcast is in fact named. These are quite frankly, people with whom I choose to spend my time and people I respect and admire.
So. How did this come about? Well, in part it is responsive to the unique difficulties presented by the program. For example, when I have a physicist like the great Sir Roger Penrose on the show, I know that I am supposed to make sure that the audience can follow along. Yet I'm convinced that if I do all the hand-holding required in the mythical Podcaster's Handbook, we will never get to what makes Roger Penrose unique or interesting. And that's quite a conundrum.
Well Portal Nation (or whatever you want to call it) is unusually project-focused and has come together to help solve this problem. What the community is now doing is reversing the logic of the old line, "If you build it, they will come." Instead, in our reverse community, if episodes come, then they will build it. In other words, Portalers (not totally sure of the nomenclature here ... Portalians? Portaloids?) are doing whatever they have to in order to help each other understand what is happening without burdening the show. They will transcribe, annotate, make animated shorts, produce graphics, launch websites, organize reading clubs, make artwork, ... you name it—whatever is needed to support the episodes in the show, people are actually building it as we speak.
To better see this, check out ThePortal.wiki or forum.theportal.dev [note: RIP]. Now, if you go to the Penrose episode on the wiki, for example, you will see the beginnings of an effort to create episode aids to help the general public following the program understand what is being said about our discussion and Roger's work in physics.
There is a thriving 24/7 voice chat discussion around The Portal as well on Discord, and a separate Discord server for Portal listeners and viewers dedicated to reading Roger's book together. You can join us at EricWeinstein.org, forum.theportal.dev, or ThePortal.wiki. Unfortunately, the Discord server where I visit frequently—and for which I give out the invite link periodically on Twitter—is a little trickier to join, as it already has around 7,000 members and it takes a little while for the residents to help new people understand that it has a rare internet culture, which actually allows us to have up to, let's say, 100 people in an open voice chat room at 4am, but without chaos. It's bizarre. It's really quite a thing to be able to do that as a community with minimal moderation. So we're trying to figure out how to onboard people more rapidly, but it naturally takes some time to communicate culture to others.
And, to this end, let me give a huge shout out to even a few of the folks that made this culture happen. People with screen names like Phil, Tim The Mirthless Swagman, Miss Jo, JT, Emmie, Tyler, Beefsandwich, Boqu, Winterflags, FieldTheorist, Jacob, Jeantrepreneur, JD, Josh and too many more to name. These are the people who are actually making this community really meaningful to me and what keeps me coming back day after day.
But beyond that, I want our people to know that while I have felt beyond lucky to be able to build a large-ish platform in this new space, I know that it's very difficult to get heard, and I've always intended to use The Portal to introduce lesser known folks who might have been looked over. And I now fully intend to showcase our main contributors and their best work to a worldwide audience.
In short, community is too often a buzzword. But if you are a regular listener to this program, please come join your world of fellow seekers. The podcast is fast becoming just the first layer of a much larger community of like-minded individuals who are finding each other through the greater Portal ecosystem.
Okay, the other topic that I at least wanted to touch on here is this: I have started to talk about a few different things that are quite important to me, but which I have never discussed openly on audio or video before. In particular, I recently put up a video of my first-ever talk at Oxford University from May of 2013 on Geometric Unity—a theory which I started thinking about around 1984, or perhaps just before. It is a bit odd having something which occupies a huge space in your very private life go from private to public with the press of a single button. And the interested response has been very strong. It is still too new for me to comment on how I'm reacting to having it out in the outside world or how I'm feeling so I won't say much more now. But I at least wanted to thank you all for your many messages of support. And I look forward to discussing this with you all in the future. Thanks again and stay tuned.
Up next, the introduction to this week's interview after some words from our sponsors.
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This week's interview with Jamie Metzl, the author of Hacking Darwin, was recorded in July of 2019, just after The Portal was launched. I wasn't sure when I wanted to release the episode for a variety of reasons and so I held on to it for a while.
One of those reasons, frankly, surrounds US sensitivity towards China. When Jamie and I start talking about variation in general cultural attitudes towards biohacking, China comes up as the outlier that it is. Now the reason that that is such a problem is that the institutions of US science have become thoroughly dependent on the People's Republic of China, beginning in the time of Deng Xiaoping. And with such dependence, as you might expect, came a vigorous US culture, attempting to defend this unusually high degree of intertwining between two countries with vastly different national cultures and strategic objectives. For both better and worse, I have been involved, off and on, in US science policy circles for around 30 years, with a peak of activity probably In the mid- to late-1990s. In those circles, at least, I am well-known to have become very concerned about the security implications of the United States' scientific and technological relationship with China, starting in the early- to mid-1980s when I first became aware of it. At that time, the People's Republic became eager to supply ever-increasing amounts of inexpensive and pliant scientific labor, to newly cash-strapped advanced US stem research and laboratory programs. As the potential for conflict with our US scientific mandarins is always great over this issue, I generally try to discuss my deep concerns about differing Chinese and US attitudes towards stem research as sparingly as possible as (until recently, anyway) I felt that this seemed to be a niche issue to the common man rather than the top security threat, as I perceive it to be. In light of the COVID epidemic, however, I am now newly-emboldened and in fact eager to fight the self-censorship within myself, so I've decided to release the episode.
Let me put this in starker terms. I believe that Social Justice is a killer ideology. And by that I don't mean that it's frickin awesome. Instead, I mean that supposedly progressive people, who worry endlessly about the delicate feelings and sensibilities of the Chinese Communist Party, are now endangering our lives. Those who had already paid the steep social tax for questioning our elites' love affair with China were far earlier to warn about the coronavirus than those who were fretting openly about anyone linking the virus to China, where the outbreak appears to have first become severe.
I myself do not love the term "Chinese virus," as many viruses originate in China, and it seems politically-charged and also offensive to many people. I cannot, however, imagine why we are worrying about calling it "the Wuhan virus" or "Wuhan virus I" given that it may well turn out to be the first accidental release from the Wuhan Institute of Virology's biosafety level 4 laboratory, a first-of-its-kind Chinese facility which opened only five years ago. In the event that it simply spontaneously originated in a seafood market down the road a piece, the Roman numeral I never needs to be increased and the name of the virus will do as little harm to Wuhan as the Spanish flu, Hong Kong flu, and Lyme disease did to those fine places in 1918, 1968, and 1975, respectively.
So I will leave you with this final thought: Our discussions of social justice and the scientific discussion of biology have to be kept separate. After COVID and the slow response due in part to fastidious concerns about racism and xenophobia, which were prioritized well above public safety, there can now be no two ways about it among reasonable people. Biology, more than any other subject, humiliates shallow theories of human beings as apes (such as so-called Critical Theory), and it does so by revealing those theories to be the incoherent scribblings of fools by comparison with Darwinian theory. And with lives and national security at stake, I'm done playing nice: Our scientists—and particularly our biologists—need to be immunized and protected from concerns about social justice or people will die, full stop. As I've put it starkly before, the response from biology to Social Justice should not be indifference, but wholesale intolerance. In a phrase, "Get the hell out of my lab with that social engineering or I'm calling security." And if that seems a little harsh, we can make it a little bit nicer. We can add, "And while you're at it, kid, do yourself a favor and learn something about the theory of natural and sexual selection. If you're open to it, it could just change your life for the better and spare you a lifetime of confusion."
After a few messages from our sponsors, we'll be right back with an uninterrupted interview with Jamie Metzl, author of Hacking Darwin.
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Hello, this is Eric Weinstein and you've found The Portal. Today on the show. I'm talking to Jamie Metzl, who is going to describe for us some of his thoughts that come out of his book, Hacking Darwin, about the pursuit of molecular engineering and other biological hacking techniques to unlock the promise of the cell and, potentially, human potential at a greater scale.
Jamie, welcome to the program.
Jamie Metzel 15:30 Thanks, Eric.
Eric Weinstein 15:31 So, Jamie, tell me a little bit about how you came to this topic, so that we can kind of bring the people at home up to speed on your trajectory and how you came to write this book.
Jamie Metzel 15:44 Sure. So more than 20 years ago, I was working on the National Security Council. And my then-boss, and now very close friend, Richard Clarke, was the guy who essentially predicted 9/11. And, unfortunately, he was like all Cassandras—he had a sense of what was going to happen, but because he was ahead of his time, nobody would listen to him. And when 9/11 happened, Dick's memo—prescient[?] memo—was on George Bush's desk. And Dick always used to say, if everyone in Washington was focusing on one thing, you could be sure there was something much more important that was being missed.
And so 20 plus years ago, I saw all these little data points that told ME this story that the biotech and genetic revolutions were going to fundamentally transform life. And our lives. And nobody was talking about it. So I started reading—taking these little data points and putting them together. I hadn't taken a science class since high school; started grabbing every book I could find, every person who I wanted to talk to, and just educating myself. And then when I was ready, I started writing articles about the national security implications of the genetics revolution and a congressman from where we are now (LA), Brad Sherman, called me up one day (a long time ago) and said, "Hey, this is really important. I read your article. No one's talking about this. I want to organize hearings around your article. Will you be the lead witness and help organize the hearings?" Which I did.
And then I was speaking and talking a lot. And I just was frustrated, because I felt like, "This is the story of the future of our species. And we all need to be educated. We all need to be part of the conversation about what's next." But it wasn't happening. So then I wrote two near-term sci fi novels, Genesis Code and Eternal Sonata, telling the story of the genetics revolution and life extension, but as a story, because that's how ... We're humans—that's how we learn.
But when I was doing book tours for those books, and I described the science the way someone who was self-taught ... Like nobody had given me the lingo for how to talk about science—I had to figure it out myself. And I could just see in people's eyes that they were suddenly ... they'd heard these little pieces of the story—they knew about a little bit about DNA; they knew a little bit about IVF; and they'd heard these words—but they didn't have a story for how the pieces fit together or where they themselves fit into that story. And that was when I realized that I needed to write a book for everyone—the story of the of the genetics revolution.
Eric Weinstein 18:07 Are you familiar by any chance with a remarkable book by Horace Judson called The Eighth Day of Creation?
Jamie Metzel 18:13 No.
Eric Weinstein 18:15 Well, so this is a very odd book, where ... I think somebody pointed out that the story of molecular biology could be uniquely told in the present only because all of the major players were still alive. And so Horace Judson wrote this book about the birth of molecular biology, effectively, and I think he more or less got to all of the top people and wrote the story in a very compelling fashion. And I guess I was thinking about how profound the role of storytelling is in catalyzing human interest and imagination. That somehow you could compare the data that we have to the sheet music of science, but if nobody actually performs it in the form of a symphony, it really leaves most of us cold.
Do you feel that there's some aspect of storytelling which is essential to this?
Jamie Metzel 19:12 Essential! Because every specialized field—and certainly science—you have your specialists, and they speak a coded language of specialists. And that's great. It's a shorthand, in a way, because you don't have to explain something: you have common terminology, and that's what you use.
But we're talking about, here, about technologies that are going to change our lives and life itself. And that has to be the interest of everybody. And if the scientists aren't able to communicate that to the regular people, that's going to cause a huge problem.
So we are humans—the way we learn is through stories. And our ancestors, they didn't have these specialized stories. They had ... Everybody was around a fire. And if somebody had something they wanted to tell, they had to find a way to tell it in the language of everybody. And that's what I feel like we've lost a little bit in our age of super specialization—that we're able to make more progress because we have pioneers heading out in every in every direction, but if those pioneers don't bring the stories back, or we don't have a way of weaving everybody into these transformational stories, then the pioneers are isolated and society is isolated from the pioneers.
Eric Weinstein 20:32 Well, we frequently tell this tale about storytelling as something that the non-specialists need, and that the specialists could communicate in their highly professional lingo. But I wonder, just from what you've been talking about, whether or not there's a sort of back reaction, and that the storytelling actually feeds back INTO the expert community, so that when you're talking about this stuff ...
Do you see your gift for storytelling having an effect back on the experts? Or is it really all one way?
Jamie Metzel 21:06 Absolutely it's two-way, and it has to be two-way because, like I said, a lot of the scientists have a hard time communicating. It's not what they do best, for most of them. But when you find the small number of scientists who are able to communicate, it's like opening up this this magic world. And on one hand, I certainly am a translator: I read just massive amounts of scientific studies, and they're all very technical, and I kind of take them in and then translate that into language that hopefully everybody ... and certainly I'm getting lots of messages from high schoolers and others who are reading the book and getting these these principles.
But it's also going the other way. I do a lot of speaking alongside George Church, who's kind of the living Charles Darwin, and what George always says is that he reads science fiction novels like mine and imagines, "Well, that's really cool. How could we do that?" And what I always say is I look at papers coming out of labs like George's and say, "Well, that's really cool. What does it mean? What are the big picture implications?"
Right now I'm part of the World Health Organization international Advisory Committee on human genome editing. And we have people, like Robin Lovell Badge, who are the top geneticists in the world. But we also need people who are saying, "Well this is how we're going to connect this message to the rest of the world." Because if the science is dissociated from the public discourse around the science, it kills the science. That's what we saw with GMOs (what we used to call recombinant DNA): The scientists thought, "Oh, we understand the science. We understand its promise and we understand its peril. We're going to be really responsible. We're going to go to Asilomar, and we're going to establish principles." Which [all] happened in the 1970s, and those principles were realized. But because there wasn't a public engagement from the start, the science hasn't realized its potential because there's so much fear.
So it's not that there's science and the context of the science. Science exists within the context.
Eric Weinstein 23:17 Well, I guess I'm of two minds about this. I think, for my read of this, that there are plenty of terrific reasons to be very, very afraid. What concerns me is whether or not the storytelling leads us—when we're talking about how we manipulate our own genetics, epigenetics, the cells and our body plans— ... are we actually being led to adaptive fears (which would cause us to come up with the right restrictions on how we do the science and how we do our engineering)? Or do we spend our time worrying about nothing, where, in fact, let's say some sort of genetic modification which is almost certainly benign, because of the way in which it's phrased, catches the public's imagination and suddenly you've got a panic where there shouldn't be one.
Is there a way of figuring out which fears are adaptive, which fears are maladaptive, and getting the storytelling to help aid our intuition?
Jamie Metzel 24:21 Yeah, it's really an important question because both the science and the storytelling are themselves agnostic. I mean, you could have science ... like the science doesn't come with a value system. Storytelling is a mechanism, and storytelling can be used to scare people, it can be used to excite excite people, it can be used for all sorts of reasons. So there's nothing inherent to the storytelling.
But then there's the question of, what types of stories do we do we tell? And I think about this a lot because right now a big chunk of my life is dedicated to trying to spark what I'm calling a species-wide dialogue on the future of human genetic engineering. And there are some people who say, "Well, why are you putting this stick in the hornet's nest? Because in the near-term, the real meaningful applications of genetic technologies aren't going to be designer babies. It's going to be curing terrible genetic diseases and helping people. If 'designer babies' ever happens, that's (potentially) long in the future, even though we've begun that, that process."
But what I say to that to that is, like ... Let's just say that we're having this conversation and the people who are behind the barricades on one side or another on the abortion issue will say, "Hey, here's another barricade. I better get behind the 'no manipulation of human sex cells.' Like that's a new barricade that I can build and, and defend." And so there's a real danger of that. There is a strong argument to be made, like: let's just keep this under the radar; scientists are, by and large, really responsible; let them do their work and let this issue emerge when it's ready.
And that's what happened with IVF. I mean, with IVF, it just kind of happened before there was really a big moral debate about about IVF. And so when it got to the point ... when the pro-life people would say (could have said), "Hey, wait a second, your life begins at conception, you're killing embryos in these IVF clinics," those people were already talking about the miracle of life of these people in their churches who now had babies.
Eric Weinstein 26:28 But I believe that these genetic technologies are so powerful, they're so transformative, we can't afford to make the same mistake as was made in the beginning of the era of, of GMOs. Like, what we're talking about is our future. It's everybody's business. And we have to respect each other enough to try to tell the story. But we have to do it in a responsible way. Because I know with this book ... and I've been out on my book tour, and there are lots of people who say, "Just do scaremongering. That's the way to get attention." And I want to say, "Well, wait a second, what's the goal?" And if you do it responsibly, you get a little less attention, But I'd rather do it in the right way.
Jamie Metzel 27:07 Well, what I ... Since you're a storyteller, and since you know far more about the subject than I do, I want to ask you for three separate stories. I want a responsible story that scares the bejesus out of me. I want a story that excites me. And I want a story that tells me about what would happen if we really started to block progress out of misplaced fear, and very little happened. Could I ask for that as a bundle so that I'm not being told one thing or the other?
Yeah, yeah. No, it's great. And that's the only way to think about it. We're BEGINNING a journey. And there are so many different places that this journey can take us. And we may go to all of them in one version or another. So certainly, a story that is ... You know, all these stories ... there's the exciting and there's the terrifying and they are connected.
So here's an exciting story is that we have all of these terrible bugs in humanity. And that's why little kids are dying from deadly genetic diseases. And no one says, "Oh, that's just wonderful nature." I mean, to hell with that; let's fight it; that's what we why we have health care.
Here's another terrible story: 90 year old people who-
Eric Weinstein 28:19 Let's just pick one disease that you think might be easily put into the crosshairs of our technology in the short-term.
Jamie Metzel 28:28 Let me pick 5000 diseases. It's a classification of ... These single gene mutation disorders. I mean, there's 10s of thousands of them, but there are about 10,000 that have been identified, 5000 really well-characterized. So most of our traits are complex—genetically complex—meaning that many genes have something to say (often for very little amount). But we have a number of diseases and disorders that are what are called Mendelian disorders—single gene mutation disorders. Like one letter that's off. So sickle cell disease and Tay-Sachs and Huntington's disease, and many, many others.
And so, we are now ... Because we're able to identify those diseases, many of them can be (and will increasingly be) identifiable in IVF and embryo selection. So with IVF, you extract the eggs from the mother, fertilize them with the father's sperm, grow them in the lab (in vitro), and then, at around day five, you extract a few cells that otherwise would have grown into the placenta, and you sequence them. (And the cost of sequencing has gone down from about a billion dollars in 2003 to about $600 now, and it's going toward negligibility.) And so you have 10 fertilized eggs, and now you know that one of them is going to be a child who, if taken to term, is going to die of Tay-Sachs. So, most every-. I mean, not most, ALMOST everybody will not choose to implant a child who they know is going to die of a genetic disease.
And so that's this (what I see as) a very positive story. Because right now in parts of Europe, where the government pays for non-invasive prenatal screening (NPT), 97% of people who get the diagnosis (after three months of pregnancy) for Down syndrome, are aborting. So you have to assume that pretty much everybody who's choosing from among 1 in 10, is going to choose to not implant the future potential kid who is going to die of a genetic disease.
But here's the dangerous side about that. When we get into the business of selecting which of these (let's call them 10) fertilized eggs/early-stage embryos to implant, and as we know more and more about genetics, we are going to have a lot more information when making those choices. So the health choices are going to be relatively straightforward. I want a kid who's going to not have terrible diseases, who is going to have a good chance of a long and healthy life. But after that, we're going to have a lot of information about things like personality style, and IQ, ... And we talk about, what are the dangers?
Eric Weinstein 31:25 If I could just jump in here[?]. I mean, you brought up Tay-Sachs, but you also brought up sickle cell.
Jamie Metzel 31:30 Correct.
Eric Weinstein 31:30 And what's fascinating about that is that to me (and admittedly, this is not necessarily widely-shared as as an opinion in the public), but I wouldn't consider sickle cell as an allele, as a trait, to be a disease. It's an adaptation that is a disease in an American context, given that we rid ourselves of malaria. But it was In fact, a desperate response of evolutionary adaptation in order to modify hemoglobin so as to make it resistant ...
Jamie Metzel 32:11 It's a great point, and I write about that specifically in the book. And so I'll have the broad principle, and then the specific application. The broad principle principle is, there is no good and bad in evolution. We may think, "Oh, it's better to have a higher IQ." "It's better to be taller." "It's better to be extroverted." "It's better to not be a recessive carrier of sickle cell disease." And in this world, as you [???], this world that we live in here, that may be true. But in a different environment, even the things that we value most, could be our greatest vulnerabilities.
So you're exactly right. So sickle cell, if you have sickle cell disease, you're going to die.
Eric Weinstein 32:49 Well, if you have two alleles for [simultaneous]
Jamie Metzel 32:51 Yes, exactly. Right. But if you are a recessive carrier, you have increased resistance to malaria, which is why that mutation has survived. Because it is actually-
Eric Weinstein 33:01 It is a small cost, in terms of oxygen carrying.
Jamie Metzel 33:04 Yes.
Eric Weinstein 33:04 But that wasn't where I was going with-
Jamie Metzel 33:06 Right. But let me just circle back, if you don't mind.
Eric Weinstein 33:09 Sure.
Jamie Metzel 33:10 Because the danger of this story ... Because when I ... You talked about a good story with a fear.
Eric Weinstein 33:16 Right.
Jamie Metzel 33:16 So the danger is, you could say, "Wow, we could select our embryos." And people say, "Well, geez, I'd like to have certain things. I want health," which is, like, just the simplest one. And that's what people are going to want first.
But let's just say that it's not sickle cell disease. We have no idea what recessive mutations we are carrying that could be useful to face some threat that we've never faced as a species.
Eric Weinstein 33:47 Or haven't faced it RECENTLY, and so it's been driven to a very low frequency, which is what I was trying to ...
The thing that I'm trying to address here was that ... I was actually trying to riff on top of your ... The point would be that, just the way somebody with eyeglasses has a misshapen eye, and then they have a second distortion in the form of a lens, but the coupling of the two distortions is less distorted as a system ... it would seem to me that what you're in some sense saying is, the reason that a sickle cell trait crops up in a US context is that we've added something novel. That we were bringing people, let's say, from Africa, where falciparum malaria is very deadly, to a place where it's absent. And what we're doing here is, in some sense, saying, "The trait that you have may have been adaptive (although at great cost), but that, because of some aspect of modernity, we actually have to double down on modernity." The first part of it was something like air travel. And the second part of it is editing. And that the two of those distortions, in some sense, is Less distortative than anything else in the system. And that that was sort of the feeling that-
Jamie Metzel 35:04 Well, that's the thing, is like, once we start changing things, we can't stop. I mean, this ... When you think of just Columbus arriving in the New World in 1492, and just this chain reaction that is still going ...
And so I think that that's right. And that's why we can't imagine that there's just this fixed thing. There's the world. There's nature. And then we're changing ... We're screwing with nature.
Nature is us. Nature is always changing. And that's why you talk about this genetic diversity: It's been baked into our biology for four billion years.
So it's natural to hack.
You know, we are hackers. Like, we are hackers. That's what we-
Eric Weinstein 35:46 Tool use: that's our comparative advantage.
Jamie Metzel 35:48 Yes!
Eric Weinstein 35:48 I love that.
All right. So that was ... The single mutation diseases was a great example of something that's positive that might be right around the corner because it's simple enough that you might be able to do it through editing or checking or what have you.
Jamie Metzel 36:03 We had it already in China: the world's first gene-edited babies were born last year. In October.
Eric Weinstein 36:07 Do you want to say a little bit more about that?
Jamie Metzel 36:08 Sure! Yeah, yeah. So last November it was announced at the World Summit on human genome editing by a Chinese biophysicist named He Jiankui, announced that the prior month (in October 2018) the world's first gene-edited babies had been born in China. Two little girls. And he was ...First in China, the government and The People's Daily said, "This is incredible. This is shows Chinese scientific triumph." And then there was this international condemnation, myself included. And then they said, "Alright, this- ..." And then there was a buckling down. And there's been a huge debate. My World Health Organization committee was created in the aftermath of that, because people would have always said, "This is coming," and actually my book was already in production then, and I'd already said, "We're going to see the world's first gene-edited babies. It's going to happen in China." And then I called the publisher to say, "Hey, we have to pull out of production. I need to add three little sentences saying this thing that I had predicted has already happened." But even I would have said, it wasn't gonna happen in 2018—I would have guessed 2022. So that already happened.
And it was very controversial for a number of reasons. One, because he was incredibly sloppy. He didn't get approval from the hospital in which he was operating. The consent of the parents was totally uninformed and misinformed. But on top of that, the target mutation was a gene called CCR5. It wasn't ... So in these kids, their father had HIV and their mother didn't. And so forgetting genetics, in a case in China (or here), if a father has HIV and the mother doesn't, there are plenty of ways for them to have a child who's not going to have HIV. But what He Jiankui did was try to edit the CCR5 gene in a way that is similar to what a number of Northern Europeans have, where they have two disrupted copies, which gives them increased resistance to HIV (and maybe more susceptibility to West Nile virus, but increased resistance to HIV). And that's what he was trying to do. He wasn't trying to fix an existing problem, he was trying to create, in many ways, an enhancement.
And then a few months later, a report came out that mice who had this this same CCR five mutation were doing better in mazes than mice without it. So then there were all of these stories (coming back to storytelling) like, "Wow, maybe these kids are engineered to be smarter." And then there were scientists a few months later who did an analysis based on the UK Biobank, which is probably the world's most useful genetic database, and they found a correlation between this disrupted CCR5 and lifespan—people were living shorter lives.
So it was premature. And certainly I've publicly called He Jiankui a 'villain,' which I think he is. But this is a harbinger of where we're going. Where the age of human genetic engineering has begun. We have two gene-edited babies that we know of. The third Chinese baby has probably already been born. There's a Russian scientist, Denis Rebrikov, who has announced that he has five parents lined up and it's going to go one, two, five, and within a decade, we will have THOUSDANDS of genetically engineered babies.
Eric Weinstein 39:28 So I was going to ask you, remember, I was gonna ask you for a positive story, a negative story, and a story about stagnation?
Jamie Metzel 39:34 Please, yes. Sure.
Eric Weinstein 39:35 In some sense, maybe you've just given me a negative story, which is that somebody starts editing children in a way that ... they're looking for one trait that's positive, but they don't understand that some thing is mediating a trade-off.
Jamie Metzel 39:49 And evolution is a trade-off and that's why it's so complicated,
Eric Weinstein 39:55 Right. I mean, there is the issue that you could be (to borrow from finance) at an "interior point"—so not on an "efficient frontier"—and you might be able to take two things that are involved in a trade-off and optimize both of them, because you weren't already at the point where the trade-off starts to bind[?].
Jamie Metzel 40:13 It's true. But in finance ... everyone in finance (and I live in New York) is saying, "Well, we understand some of the variables; we don't understand all of the variables." And the same is true in genetics: that in the old days, people used to say, "There's a gene for that"—the tall gene, the short gene, the smart gene. And now there's a polygenic hypothesis, meaning lots of genes. And there's even an omnigenic hypothesis, which is even more complicated.
And so ... to understand those trade-offs we would need a much greater knowledge of genetics than we now have. Which is why, for me, when I write about genetic engineering (which I think is a much bigger category than gene editing), and the mechanism of genetic engineering, I think is primarily going to be first IVF and embryo selection (which is why I think we're moving toward the end of procreative sex). And then it's going to be using stem cells to create a virtually unlimited number of eggs (it's called in vitro gemetogenesis). And so if we do that—if you're selecting from 15 pre-implanted embryos in traditional IVF and PGD—you don't have that many options, because it's just ... you're starting with 15. But when you're starting with 10,000, or a million, then you have real options. And that's why I think everyone's focusing on gene editing and CRISPR, but as I see it, for human genetic engineering, the real story is embryo selection.
Eric Weinstein 41:44 Do you want to say what CRISPR is for those who don't know?
Jamie Metzel 41:46 So CRISPR is a gene editing tool. I mean, the shorthand that everybody uses, it's like a like word processing. So you think of the genome as a string of letters (which is how we understand it) and you'd put your cursor (so, "putting your cursor," you have a "guide RNA" that goes to a certain point in the genome) and use a cutting enzyme (and there's many different cutting enzymes—the most popular is called Cas9, but there are many others) and, traditionally, you make a double-stranded cut. And so it's very much like like word processing: you cut something and then you can just leave it deleted, or you can add something.
Now we're ... this is this incredible age where pretty much every day there's another story, not just about a new application of CRISPR, but new types of gene editing tools. So we're moving very, very rapidly toward a world where we are going to be able to edit all genomes—including our own—increasingly at will. And that's a world where we are able not just to read genetics (that's "sequencing"), but to write and hack genetics. And that introduces this concept of induced biological variability, which is very-
Eric Weinstein 43:05 Induced biological variability.
Jamie Metzel 43:06 ... Like we're going to be able to screw with nature and that ... People recognize that their information technology is variable (that's why you think your new phone is going to be better than your old phone), but we somehow feel like we're kind of ... that this biology is our biology—I'm a homosapien, my parents are homosapiens, my kids are homosapiens ... And so this idea that we can rewrite life: it's counterintuitive, even though, intellectually, people get that somehow we got from single-celled organism state to this, over almost 4 billion years. And so that's this big change. And that's kind of the core message.
Eric Weinstein 43:43 We've been over ...I guess this is a little bit confusing to me. I often shock people by telling them to google glow-in-the-dark rabbits.
Jamie Metzel 43:54 Mm-hmm!
And these transgenic rabbits that have this GFP (green fluorescent protein) expressed in them (that I guess originally came from jellyfish). You know, I think it's the Turks who manufactured a whole bunch of bunnies that you can read by.
Eric Weinstein 44:11 Now we could, of course, create transgenic humans that lit up at night (almost certainly). And ... is this something that we should be kind of more playful with? More excited by? Or ...
It's hard. So, so ...
How do you think of it?
Jamie Metzel 44:29 Yeah, yeah. So the basic thing is, we've been able to do gene editing for a while. But the new tools are faster, cheaper, and more precise. By a longshot. And so we have this ability to make big, big changes. And we were making ... in the old days, we made genetic changes to crops, not just by selective breeding, but we just would bombard crops with radiation and then just see what happened—there'd be a kind of a gazillion different options, and then you'd say, "Oh, these these grapes don't have seeds. Let's make let's make more of them." And now we're able—in a much more precise and targeted way—to do that.
So then your question of 'playfulness.' And in some ways ... I mean, "science": people think about science as something that's rigid and dry. But there's a lot of creativity. I mentioned George Church. People like George Church: these are dreamers. And they're dreamers who are saying, "Well, now we're dreaming. How do we turn these dreams into reality?"
But when we talk about the future of human life, we need to be really careful. As I said to you before, Eric, I'm the ... My father came to the United States, (Father, and grandparents came the United States) as refugees from Nazism. If you'd asked the Nazis what they were doing, they would have said they were implementing Darwinism—that's what they ... that's the essence of Nazism. And we have all of these Nuremberg Trials about human experimentation.
And so ... if we ARE ... and I personally think that we WILL engineer our future children. And that we MUST. I mean, we want to survive, our planet is going away. We can't stay on this planet forever. But we have to do it carefully and thoughtfully and methodically and responsibly. And so it can't just be playing around with life.
Eric Weinstein 46:19 Well ... But I want to be both the devil's advocate and the angels' advocate. I'm not actually convinced that this sobriety makes sense, or is possible. I mean, your point is that this is getting cheaper and more powerful. And what that usually means to me is, is that it's moving towards a garage. That sooner or later ...
Jamie Metzel 46:42 Already there's this DIY bio movement, biohackers, ... and it's already happening.
Eric Weinstein 46:48 So my point is, is that once things become cheap and powerful, they can be done quietly—even if they're criminalized, even if we have panels on ethics.
I think, in some weird way, we haven't been HONEST. And the only thing that's been allowing us to be so dishonest about biology has been, in some sense, the cost, the lack of power, and our clumsiness.
So to get back to this Most Dangerous question. So you and I both come from Jewish backgrounds, and we were on the losing end of a eugenics experiment writ large gone mad.
Jamie Metzel 47:25 Right.
Eric Weinstein 47:27 Yet, the problem that I see is that we're uncomfortable with the fact that eugenics doesn't really almost mean anything. In other words, mate selection is a form of genetic selection. And if you decide that dinner-and-a-movie is eugenics, then you've drawn a line at a super early stage.
Jamie Metzel 47:50 You got sex for dinner and a movie? That's a good deal.
Eric Weinstein 47:52 ... Moving right along.
Jamie Metzel 47:54 [laughing]
Eric Weinstein 47:58 On the other hand, if we just decide, "Hey, it's a free for all, and you should be able to do anything ...", But the word eugenics, for example, has WORKED, in some sense, because it's not really properly defined; it's not clear where good selection begins and ends and bad selection-.
I would say (and tell me if I'm wrong) that we've been lying—that there IS no way, in fact, of drawing a line (much the way we have in the pro-life/pro-choice, where both of these camps make no sense). I would say that the pro-editing/pro-hacking position and the anti-hacking position make no sense at all, and that we're really left with a permanent struggle. Am I way off?
Jamie Metzel 48:42 No, I agree COMPLETELY that if we say, "We can never do it," that's the wrong answer. We're going to have to do it. And we're going to WANT to do it! Who wants to have a kid that's going to die of a terrible genetic disease when we have the technology to change that? Who's gonna want to have their parents get dementia if we can prevent that? I just think it will be nuts for us to say, "We have these powerful tools that can do unimaginable good, and we're not going to do it because these tools also have it have a dangerous side effect." And that, like ... We wouldn't be in cars, we wouldn't be using plows, we wouldn't use ANY technology, if that was the case.
Eric Weinstein 49:21 Well, this is ... in some sense, this is the position of, let's say, the Amish—that, you know, at some level, there's a slippery slope, and you're suggesting that we move mid-way on to it. You've called the Chinese guy who's doing this a "villain."
Jamie Metzel 49:37 Yes.
Eric Weinstein 49:38 ... We've both talked about the dangers of Nazi Germany. And yet, we're both kind of excited about the idea of freeing people from risk of breast cancer, or maybe even enhancing cognitive capacity. Or ... Maybe I don't even have a point or a position—I'm just a hypocrite[?].
Jamie Metzel 49:55 Oh no, I'm agreeing with you. I mean ... people use this "slippery slope" like it's a bad thing. Like, first we started with curing this disease, and then we cured that disease ... like, some slippery slopes are great slippery slopes! You talked about your dinner and the movie, that was a slippery slope toward love and marriage and ... great for us.
So, certainly the people who say "never do it" are wrong, and the people who say "just no restraints, no holds barred, let's just let 100 flowers bloom," that also is wrong. And so what we need to do is to find someplace in the middle. Which brings me to your point about eugenics—and again, with my background, it's very sensitive to talk about this, this—but right now, the term 'eugenics' is used as a cudgel. Like, somebody's doing, say, "Oh, that's eugenics," and Bill's like, "Oh, I'm not in for eugenics." And in some ways that's appropriate, because there's so many horrible things were done in the name of eugenics that maybe they've just ruined that word. So let's just imagine some other word to describe this selection. And again, even using the word 'selection' (and, again, I write about this in the book) you say 'selection.' you think Mengele. Mengele is selection of who's going to live and who's going to die.
But I talked about these 10 embryos in a dish in a lab, and you're going to have to pick one. And what are the criteria that you're going to use to determine which of those embryos get implanted? And if we say, "Well, I want [to] have a child that is not going to die of a terrible genetic disease." That's a normative choice, that ... It's not just in some abstract objective world. It's set within the context of us, because you can just move one little step closer ... I talked about Down syndrome. I do a lot of speaking and parents of Down babies and others saying like, "Wait a second, are you making a normative statement, saying that a child with Down syndrome has less of a right to exist than someone who doesn't?" I always say, "No, that's not what I'm saying. But I am saying that if it's a choice," (and we already know the answer to this because of the abortion), "if it's a choice people aren't going to select to implant, in most cases, babies that have Down syndrome.
Eric Weinstein 52:07 Right. I guess what ... You know, this goes back to a very dangerous conversation that I had with Jim Watson. Now you and I have both encountered Jim Watson. And I find that he somehow went down a bad path where he got so tired of being told what he could say and what he couldn't say that he decided that he would start saying the most offensive things possible. And, you know, I'm on record as saying that the legacy of Jim Watson is way too important to be left to Jim Watson.
Jamie Metzel 52:36 I agree.
Eric Weinstein 52:36 Now, with that said, what I learned, in part, was that when Jim and his friends (between 53, when the double helix structure was elucidated, and I guess 63, when the genetic code was was figured out by somebody else, Marshall Nierenberg) ... that group was shocked that we pretended to care about our identity in the form of these letters—this computer code in ourselves if you will—but we never really accepted what they found. And as a result, whenever they started to talk to us about identity or different characteristics, they found that we were so attached to our pre-genetic understanding of ourselves that we actually won't give it up.
Jamie Metzel 53:26 Still. It's still the case.
Eric Weinstein 53:27 ... And we will fight anyone tooth and nail who tries to tell us, "You know, this is really a consequence of information technology as developed by natural and sexual selection." Are we stuck in a culture where we can't actually update to realize what we figured out, you know, 70 years ago?
Jamie Metzel 53:44 It's so hard for people because, in some ways, our ability to look under the hood of what it means to be a human being is challenging some of our most ancient mythologies, our understanding of who and then what we are. And so we love to have this idea of, you know, 'I can be anything that I want if I put my heart to it,' and it's 'this mystery of life is unfolding,' and even things like 'parenting is really important' that some people are now are now challenging.
And it's really, really difficult. I mean, just just to give a very narrow example. You know, I talk about this a lot. So, like, I'm a runner, and I run marathons. And there is nothing that I could do to be (pretty much nothing) to be a world champion, like the top World Champion marathoner. Because when you look at the fastest marathon times in history, a, like, freakishly disproportionate number are people from the same Valley in Kenya and Ethiopia, and then one tribe (the Kalenjins) in Kenya (about 4 million people). And then one subtribe, the Nandi subtribe, 1 million people. It's genetics! And, yes, it's great for people to try really hard. And we all have a genetic range of possibility. And we should aspire to be at the at the top end—whatever that means, in a given time context of our potential. But if I don't have the genetics to be the world's fastest marathoner, or sprinter, or abstract mathematician, I'm not going to get there. And that's really hard because we tell ourselves different stories.
Eric Weinstein 55:39 Well, so let's focus on this as a practice, as a warm up, and watch where it goes.
So my belief is that between 1897 (where we started keeping records of the Boston Marathon) and 1987, there were no winners of the Boston Marathon (I think not one) from either Kenya or Ethiopia. After 1987, it is not exactly total domination. I think there's a Japanese, there's a Korean ... maybe there's an Italian, I've forgotten. But it is almost 100%, with a few exceptions (and may happen in years where the weather is a little bit different), that it's won by this very small group of people in Kenya and Ethiopia. How do we go from a point where this was a very diverse ... It was up for grabs ... it was really athleticism, in some sense ... to a point where it just IS genetics, and we found the special people who are wildly well-adapted?
Jamie Metzel 56:45 Because the world wasn't connected enough. And so people in Kenya and Ethiopia weren't competing. And there wasn't prize money, and all these infrastructure things that have brought us together didn't exist. And so-
Eric Weinstein 56:59 Would you would you say that would have a negative effect on the sport? That now we don't even feel motivated to enter? Or we just want to watch-
Jamie Metzel 57:05 You know, people ask that question a lot, just in the sense of, well, what happens if we have genetically optimized people fulfilling certain roles in sports? Are we going to care, because there's going to be this kind of unknown mystery. But that's what's already happening! It's just that we didn't know. I mean, if we just were to go back and sequence, you, people who've been our greatest athletes—especially in the sports where you can really isolate specific functions ...
Eric Weinstein 57:32 Like swimming.
Jamie Metzel 57:33 Well, the swimming, you have to have access to a pool, you have to have great coaching ... But I think, like, running the hundred meters—this is just kind of this standard human thing, you know: all kids run. And ... we're going to find out that people are genetically optimized for certain functions, and we can't lie to ourselves about that. And yes, there's this fear—nobody wants to live in kind of this Plato's Republic society. But you also don't want to live in a society where the people who are doing mission critical functions aren't the people best suited to do those things. I mean, there's the joke about the German chef and the Italian policeman. If you kind of have the wrong person for the wrong job, that could also hurt a society.
Eric Weinstein 58:18 Well, I have to admit that I don't have the same clarity that you do. So for example ... if I go to the next example ... So I believe that it has to do, in part, with the ability to radiate heat in terms of marathon running—that that's really the limiting factor. What happens when you look at something freakish like the number of female chess players in the top 100 chess players ...
Jamie Metzel 58:55 In the world.
Eric Weinstein 58:55 ... and you find that it's 1 in 100 is female. And you've got a single protein (SRY) that determines whether or not some sort of template proto human being goes male or goes female. Are you prepared to say that we should just accept if we find out that there's a genetic component for spatial reasoning, for example? Or that there are, I believe, three grandmasters of African origin?
I'm not comfortable with that conclusion. It may be that that conclusion somehow comes out of the genetics, the way your Boston Marathon example comes out of the genetics. But I don't know what kind of a society I would be living in if I were comfortable saying, "Wow, there're really huge disparities." And I'll give you the most dangerous one for you and me: Ashkenazi Jews represent one quarter of 1% of the world's population, about 25% of the physics Nobel Prizes. I was shocked when I spit into a tube for 23andme that it knew my religion. Now, I hadn't THOUGHT about the idea that Judaism is, among many other things, a breeding protocol.
Jamie Metzel 1:00:12 Yeah. Of having the smartest people—like the rabbis—for 100 years have as many kids as possible. Versus the Catholic priests ...
Eric Weinstein 1:00:20 Well, that's one story. That's one story. Another story would be that previously unimportant skills—like mathematical ability for money-lending—might have been fetishized by a group that was allowed to do that and little else. And, lo and behold, that that turned out to be very important in a world dominated by computer programmers[?].
I'm not sure which story we're telling; I'm not sure what's true. But I'm trying to get a different point: If I accept the idea that this particular valley subtribe in Kenya and Ethiopia actually has a genetic advantage at marathon running, I'm not terribly disturbed. And as soon as I kick that over into things like chess and physics, it doesn't feel very good to even be thinking about these things.
Yeah. This is really uncomfortable stuff. And it exists in the realm of our most taboo difficult topics. So let me let me take your three examples—the women chess players, the Africans, and the Jews.
So for women chess players, it is just a fact that when you just look at the top grandmasters in the world, it is almost entirely men. That is not because there aren't enough women who are playing chess. That is because of the brain structure that allows a person to be great at chess, the male brain—on average, and certainly at the level of these grandmasters—is better-suited for that. There could be another game that could be just like chess with a different rule set where where the structure of women's brains could be better-suited, and I would not be at all surprised if, in whatever game that was, that all of the grandmasters were were women. And I and just ... So many people have looked at this ...
You know, but ... What if such a game doesn't helpfully materialize? In other words, what you said, which is ... again, I'm not blaming you, and I'm struggling with this issue. I don't know whether I want these things investigated, not investigated, ... I don't know whether I want to tell a sort of a soft story around something that I suspect is true. I mean, you can't actually back out exactly that this is brain structure, because it could easily be that in order to be at the very top of the chess pile, you have to be completely obsessive about chess. And it may be that it's an obsessional trait, rather than an ability trait that discriminates against females. Or it could be, for example, that Africans dominate speed chess (which would be a different variant of another game).
In all of these circumstances, my claim is: there is no good place to stand. And this is the thing that I don't know how to communicate to the world, which is, we now have so much information, and we have so many social needs, that the information we have and the social needs that we have are at least at risk, temporarily, of clashing in a profound and destructive way before we figure this out. Would you agree?
Jamie Metzel 1:03:44 100% agree. And so there ... We talked before before we went live about this kind of podcast knife fight between Sam Harris and Ezra Klein. And it was painful for me—I enjoy both of their podcasts—but it was painful to me to watch ...
Eric Weinstein 1:04:00 Do you want to set up that a little bit for people who don't know?
Jamie Metzel 1:04:03 Yeah, so Sam Harris and Ezra Klein are both very successful podcasters, among other things. And so ... Sam Harris did a podcast interview with Charles Murray, who wrote a book called The Bell Curve (a long, long time ago), and The Bell Curve was a very challenging book, and it talked about differences between groups. And one of the ways it categorized group was between blacks and whites. And I, as someone who's read that book (and I write about it in my book) ... there are some aspects of that book where they were just trying to present data and they were attacked for it. There was other aspects of the book, I felt, were it was wildly inappropriate and borderline racist. And so I think that part of the attack (and I'm all for free speech, and certainly when Charles Murray was physically harmed at Middlebury, I mean, that was an outrage) ... But there's there's a need for an important debate.
And so Sam Harris had had Murray on his podcast, and it was an excellent podcast interview. And then he came out and he wrote some things. And basically, his view was, "Let us just be honest about the data." And then Ezra Klein had the point (which I don't know if it's your view, or you were just articulating it), that we have social norms, and we have the goals of the kind of society that we want to live in. And if we're getting scientific data that is threatening those norms, we should think of that scientific data as itself threatening. And so that was what was so frustrating for-
Eric Weinstein 1:05:55 Well, effectively, the concept of 'hate data.'
Jamie Metzel 1:05:58 You know, in my view, there is 'data.' If [crosstalk]
Nobody uses uses the phrase 'hate data' ...
That's how, I think, Ezra Klein ... that was the essence of his of his argument.
So the thing that I didn't like about that interview is I felt like they each pushed each other to become caricatures of their own position. So everybody just kept repeating their thing. Sam Harris kept saying, "Well just follow the data." And Ezra Klein said, "Well, this, this data could lead us into an ugly place. And we need to remember the science exists within the social context." And both of them right in some ways.
And that brings me to your second group that you talked about. So on chess ... (And it's not like chess means ... chess is not intelligence. Chess is chess.) But certainly, all evidence that exists has shown that (at this highest level) men ... the super chess-playing men, on average, outperform the super chess-playing women. And it could be motivation—there could be other factors that are woven in—but my gut instinct is there's something about men and women are just physiologically different. And that just exists. And there's there are certainly people who are on the ...
Eric Weinstein 1:07:16 I also agree that men, men and women are physiologically different. But let me tell you the cautionary tale that has occupied me. I was a mathematics graduate student at Harvard. And I believe that the department kind of informally always wanted more women, but there was no track record (or not much of a track record) of success. And so I think they would let in one a year. And then one year a woman deferred, and then there ended up being two women in the same year. And rather than dropping out, the two women formed a support group. And then there was a whole cohort that went through and had relatively successful careers in mathematics. So you could have told the tale that said, "Actually there's an inability to do math because we're talking about tails and at the highest level, and ..."
Jamie Metzel 1:08:05 Larry Summers got in trouble for making that exact argument.
Eric Weinstein 1:08:08 Well that was ... The odd part about that, that was in a seminar that I actually founded with Richard Freeman at the National Bureau for Economic Research. And [laughing] we can go to the details of that.
I'm concerned that we are glibly ... Look, I don't think there's any way of staying away from the data. And I don't think that that's what happened between Ezra and Sam. I think that what happened is, Sam was having an issue where he was being lambasted for all sorts of responsible things that he was saying. And then he said to himself, "Huh, I remember lambasting Charles Murray. I wonder if I committed the crime that I am accusing others of. I should go back." So he was doing some kind of internal penance.
Jamie Metzel 1:08:52 Yeah.
Eric Weinstein 1:08:53 Ezra came from a completely different perspective, which is, "Hey, you're not part of the whole policy wonky club that I'm part of. And let me tell you, Charles Murray is a very well known player in this game, and he comes with prejudices. And he may, in fact present real data and real stuff, but he has a well known agenda and he is presenting the things that fit his agenda."
And so that was sort of the weird subtext that they were in. But I think what it really does, is it brings up this question that there are no dispassionate arbiters. And this is the thing that I don't like to talk about, where this sort of Social Justice perspective has a point, which is: We pretend very often that we are objective and that we can make these conclusions, and yet relatively minor alterations can reveal that, you know, maybe intelligence is much more multivariate. For example, people talk about IQ where one of the components of IQ is processing. And lots of people who I think as being very smart have terrible processing scores if they have what are called 'learning differences.' And so my concern has to do with the sort of humility and modesty with which we approach what may seem, at first blush, to be extremely disturbing interpretations of the data.
So what I would put to you is: it seems to me that we both HAVE to proceed in a scientific fashion (that we can't afford to always be thinking of the social consequences) and we ALSO have to be thinking of the social consequences (and we can't afford to proceed blindly with the science). And so this is the sort of ... You know, when I asked you before about the three tales—the utopian, the dystopian, and the impasse tale—this is where I see that we're blocked.
And then in terms of the theme of the show, is there a portal whereby we can start using our extra power to find a really graceful exit from what seems to me to be a very powerful conundrum?
Jamie Metzel 1:11:01 And we have that portal. And we're losing it.
Eric Weinstein 1:11:04 Well tell me about it.
Jamie Metzel 1:11:05 It's called conversation. It's called connection. Because ... there is no doubt (and I said it before): we can't imagine that our science just exists in some separate realm of pure objectivity. Our science, like we ourselves, live in a world of context. And so it's because you're in a context, you see the world through your prism. That's how consciousness works.
But at the same time, we can't just become postmodernists. We can't just be like, "Oh, this is your truth. This is my truth. This is your data. This is my data." And we need to have high standards for data. But we can't just guide our interpretation of data based on our politics. So I would rather TRY to be (recognizing that that knowledge and scientific knowledge exists within a context and being aware of that) ... but I would try to be as honest as we can about the data. And that was something where I felt where Ezra and Sam kind of got confused. Because when you're making a classification (like Charles Murray did) like white people versus black people: What is a white person? What is a black person? There's more diversity in Africa than there is in the whole rest of the world. So just that somebody, just by appearance, is black, it kind of doesn't tell you anything.
Eric Weinstein 1:12:30 Well, but let me ... I mean, this is why this is so fun and so terrible.
Let's ... I want to devise an experimental setup that I think would be highly educational, it would elucidate a lot ... I'm not sure if it's ethical, so let me propose it. More or less, if I understand correctly, whether we are phenotypically male or phenotypically female comes down to this SRY complex usually found on the Y chromosome (unless it migrates somehow to the X).
Jamie Metzel 1:13:01 Yeah. And some fish can change gender.
Eric Weinstein 1:13:04 Well, but gender may have arisen multiple times—you have to get into that.
Jamie Metzel 1:13:07 Yeah, yeah.
Eric Weinstein 1:13:08 But just let's stay with humans. Assume that I propose the following experiment. I decid that I want identical twins, but for an SRY protein. And so I'm going to mangle the SRY protein in one, and I'm going to preserve it in the other, and I'm going to ... or maybe I'll swap out the Y chromosome for an X chromosome. What have you. Now I've got an identical boy and girl—which is not usually something that you can-
Jamie Metzel 1:13:39 Not anymore, because you made that change ...
Eric Weinstein 1:13:41 No, no: identical up to ... as identical as as humanly possible. Nobody has ever come up with anyone this this identical. Now I can start to run controlled trials. But I'm also sort of in Mengele territory.
Jamie Metzel 1:13:55 Yeah.
Eric Weinstein 1:13:56 How is this, in some sense, different? Is there any way of maintaining this
Jamie Metzel 1:14:01 You wouldn't DO that on a human. Like that, so ... let's just say ... I mean, that is an experiment-
Eric Weinstein 1:14:06 Let's say do it on mice, then, and look at maze-running ability.
Jamie Metzel 1:14:08 Yeah. No, no. So, so ... And we don't have that ability yet. But because (which is my thesis, that) biology is increasingly readable and writable and hackable, I have no doubt that, at some point in the not distant future, we will be able to try something like that on mice. So basically, you have two identical twin embryos, and then you use a gene editing tool, and you're able to change gender, (which again, is not something that's possible now, but it's the kind of thing it should be possible just ... as a thought experiment). And so you could do that with mice. And I think that you could do comparisons, and we could actually learn a lot. And that's why ... And we talked about Sydney Brenner (who recently died), that was his great insight, is that we're genetically related to all of these model organisms.
And so we're going to be able to increasingly understand that stuff. And if we have a story, that's our mythology as people, that we've developed (to our benefit, in many cases) over thousands of years, and that increasingly runs counter to what we are learning from our science, that's going to create a lot of vulnerability. Because either you have to change the mythology, or people are going to say, "Hey, this is what the science is saying." And maybe it's going to be the racists who are saying that, and so that's why I think we have to accept this idea of genetic difference. It's not in the category of race—race is a just a preposterous, ridiculous, stupid ...
Eric Weinstein 1:15:42 It's a very not careful ...
Jamie Metzel 1:15:44 Yes. But if you're part of some highly isolated tribe on (let's just make it) an island that you've been left alone for 50,000 years? You are going to be genetically different from some other tribe that's been another island for 50,000 years.
Eric Weinstein 1:16:04 Exactly.
And so we can't deny that. And so, we can't say, "Well, we're just going to close our eyes to the science to protect our politics." I think what we have to do is start from a sense of values, and what are our core values?
Right. But look ... one of our core values is hypocrisy. And let me make an argument. You're familiar with the Ginger Rogers principle in male-female relations?
Jamie Metzel 1:16:31 No.
Eric Weinstein 1:16:32 Ginger Rogers' principle says that Ginger Rogers could do everything that Fred Astaire could do except backwards and in high heels.
Jamie Metzel 1:16:40 [laughing]
Eric Weinstein 1:16:40 Right? So that's a belief that, in some sense, women are as good or better than men.
Jamie Metzel 1:16:47 Which I believe.
Eric Weinstein 1:16:48 You do?
Jamie Metzel 1:16:49 Yeah. So I'm not saying there's-
Eric Weinstein 1:16:50 No, no, but let me continue.
Then there's another principle that says that men and women are equal. There's no way to get mathematical distributions to work out so that their means are equivalent, but one, in some sense, majorizes the other in every known trait.
Jamie Metzel 1:17:09 But why? Like, I disagree with that.
Eric Weinstein 1:17:12 Well, I mean, mathematically I could write you a proof.
Jamie Metzel 1:17:15 No, well but ... What I'm saying is that it depends on what we mean by 'equal.' So let's just assume that we accept-. I mean, there are many-
Eric Weinstein 1:17:21 No, but I mean, we have we have a concept of equal in biology, which would be the equivalence of Fisher, which Fisher would say that ... You know, you beautifully pointed out that geographically separated populations can have extraordinarily different traits. And there's nothing in biology that keeps those things together, including intelligence.
However, the males and the females, in each of those populations, at a mathematical level, represent an expected value strategy that is equivalent. By Fisher's reasoning. Now, that means that in a weird way, male-female relations are much better off than relations between separated groups. There IS something tying males and females in a breeding population to each other. And that is common expected value. The distributions don't have to be the same. ...
Jamie Metzel 1:18:15 I agree with that, but it's your use of the word 'equality.' So, yes ...
Eric Weinstein 1:18:19 The expected return.
Jamie Metzel 1:18:20 So, so ... Yes. Like, if you have a penis, and the other person has a vagina, that's like, that's chocolate and peanut butter, and you're able to have a kid. And if your goal is to have a kid, that's, like, a pretty fair trade.
Eric Weinstein 1:18:34 I think that doesn't ... I mean, the reason that I'm throwing it back is you're talking about the most interesting stuff in the world. Arguably, what's happened, and this is an argument that I first heard actually from my wife, where she said, "You're not getting it, Eric. Fisherian equivalence works at the level of fitness." But what really happened was that cognitive work got wildly fulfilling, recently. And we've been a long time since we've had, let's say, a war that required universal conscription in the US. Ergo, it's gotten much, much better to be male very recently. And it has stayed about the same, in many ways, to be female—that if what you're doing is raising children, for which women may be much better adapted (because maternity is certain and paternity is not, as you know)—then you have a very strange situation in which many people may say, "Thank you very much, but I'm not interested in Fisherian equivalence. What I really want to know is who gets the corner offices." And then we have to have a different discussion.
So ... the concern that I have is that I actually don't believe us. I think that we're actually up against an incredibly interesting conundrum, where the science (that must continue) and our social constructs (which we also feel must continue) ... Have really reached a fork in the road? And that very few of us are able to actually say, "You know what? This is where something interesting happens." Because it's gonna break, and it's gonna break hard.
Jamie Metzel 1:20:10 But I don't think it has to break, because ... Like I said, there's ... Who knows what equivalence means? Who knows what equality means? These are things that happen in a context that's always changing. And all of the pieces are, in many ways, in conversation with each other.
So, just using what you said, ... cognitive work, a certain type of cognitive work ... and let's just make it easy: let's just assume that for the second half of the 21st century, let's just say that the only way to make a lot of money was to play chess (just to connect to that thing[?]). And so the closer you got to being a grandmaster, the more wealth that you have. And so then in that model, you would say, well, men have an advantage, IF what I said earlier is true (which I believe it to be). So then you would say, "Alright, so the value of men at this Grandmaster level is actually going up, because the world is now entirely organized around chess." And if my thesis is correct, men are more optimized.
But in fact, the world isn't organized around chess. There are an infinite number (a massive number) of different stories that are happening in our complex societies. And let's just say that we are moving (and we haven't talked about about AI) and this fundamental transformation in the nature of work. And let's just say we talked about this game of chess—where there's like traditional chess, and there's this other chess where women are better at it than men. And just, as a hypothetical, just using a stereotype (which I, again, think would probably be true), like if there was a form of chess there was more intuition based, and it was more interactive—that you had to understand the other person's emotional state (maybe poker)—I could easily say, well, I could imagine where 99% of the grandmasters in that thing would be women. And in this world of AI, where AI is (again, to use the example of chess), AI is going to play chess better than our grandmasters, it could be that those very human traits ... that whoever has them is going to be rewarded.
And so I just think that ... the model that you describe, it requires a lot of factors being fixed versus[?] variable.
Eric Weinstein 1:22:35 I understand that. I think what's fascinating ... of course, we do have occupations, which are wildly female-tilted. So, for example, fashion models, I believe, at the top, earn about ... the wage gap, I think, is 90 cents. In the top 10 male models versus the top 10 female models.
Jamie Metzel 1:22:54 This is an outrage.
Eric Weinstein 1:22:55 Well ...
Jamie Metzel 1:22:56
Eric Weinstein 1:22:56 ... but the key point is, is that many of us don't value that trait, as men, in ourselves. It's like-
Jamie Metzel 1:23:05 Yeah, but that exists in within the context of society with all of our dysfunction and superficiality and all of that.
Eric Weinstein 1:23:13 I think what I've been driving at is that ... I quite agree with you that we're getting to this hacking point. In fact, one of the theses behind the podcast is that in the early 50s, we unlocked two nuclei—with fusion and with the cell—and that what's been remarkable is how little these events have affected our lives as opposed to how MUCH they've affected our lives. We are still ... we resemble our ancestors from thousands of years ago to a remarkable extent. Now, if I could get a pair of, like, dragon wings and spit fire and stuff, I'm not positive—after watching Game of Thrones—I wouldn't go in for some modifications. (Maybe I would, maybe I wouldn't. Don't know.) But I don't see anybody who's doing that yet. Now, what you're talking about is, we are on the verge of certain very dramatic changes. And, if I could just ask you to, kind of, rather than just going through the morality of it: what do you think the highest likelihood would be for the big changes over the next 10 to 20 years?
Jamie Metzel 1:24:24 Yeah. So in the near-term, certainly we're going to see a transition of our healthcare—from our current model of generalized healthcare (based on population averages) to personalized or precision healthcare. And the way you're going to have treatments based on you is your doctors are going to need to know who you are. And that will require access to your electronic health and life records, your biometric information, but most importantly, will be your genetic information. And with the costs of genome sequencing trending towards zero, everybody is going to be sequenced (just as part of being in the health care system).
And so then, again, within this 10 to 20 year model, we are going to move toward this world of precision medicine, and because of that, we're going to have billions of people whose genotypic genetic information and phenotypic information (how those genes are expressed over the course of their lives) are going to be in these same massive Big Data pools. We're going to use that to increasingly demystify biology. And that's going to very quickly move us to this world of predictive medicine, healthcare and life. And that's a really big and fundamental change. And we talked about our mythologies and our stori es, ...
Eric Weinstein 1:25:36 Right.
Jamie Metzel 1:25:36 ... You see a little baby and you say, "Oh, the world is open to you." But maybe part of the world is open to you. And maybe there are things that you could imagine that aren't open to you, because you're not optimized for those things.
I mean, people talk about Gattaca, this movie ... So Ethan Hawke is this guy who was born the old-fashioned way and he wants to get in the space program and then, at the end, he has to pull all these tricks and he gets into the space program. And in the story, the thing is, "Isn't it so great that that guy was so determined?" But I think, like, that guy should be arrested, because you don't want non-genetically-enhanced people in your space program who aren't going to be able to survive the radiation in space.
And I think we may need to move into in this direction.
So there's just—our stories that we are telling ourselves are going to be challenged. And this idea that we're going to have predictive life and that we're going to know our—not just our disease risks—but maybe there are going to be people who are in refugee camps now who we're going to say this person has a potential to be a Mozart, let's make sure that we get resources to that person. That's one really big and fundamental change—our lives are going to be—it'll never be 100% predictability, but it will be probabilistic, and it'll be numerical, and we're going to have to learn to live with that uncertainty, that's going to be the nature of life. Second, we're going to see the genetics revolution moving outside of the realm of healthcare. We don't have a disease genome or healthcare genome, we have a human genome, and we're going to have just a lot of people giving us information about ourselves. Some will be reliable, some of it will not be, but it'll just be way beyond the realm of healthcare. And then we're going to see this shift in how we make babies, a shift toward increasing numbers of—percentage of babies born in IVF. U.S. it's about 2%, Japan's 5%, Norway and Denmark are now 10% IVF. And then we're going to see that trend, and that—once we take conception outside of the human body, then we're going to be able to apply science in all kinds of incredible ways, but in ways that are going to scare a lot of people.
Eric Weinstein 1:27:52 Is there anything that you in particular are terrified of?
Jamie Metzel 1:27:55 Yeah. Oh my god. So I'm afraid that we're going to make decisions—about the future of our species—based on what feel like eternal truths, but, in fact, are transient fashions.
Eric Weinstein 1:28:10 Say more.
Jamie Metzel 1:28:10 So like, right now, if you asked most people, people would say, "Well, I want a kind of a child with low disease risk, optimized to live a long time, maybe high IQ, maybe tall, like, these are all perfectly fine things that people who have those traits now actually are thriving. But diversity isn't just some kind of nice-to-have thing in our in our species. It's it's the sole survival strategy of our species, or of any species. And so we—this thing, as I mentioned before, this diversity has just happened to us for 4 billion years, we're going to have to choose it; we're going to have to identify what we mean by diversity, and celebrate it. And I think that's, really, I mean, this is like there are existential level risks. It's not just if we make our species less diverse, but now, individual actors—and that was what I talked in the beginning about Dick Clarke and terrorism, and the kind of whole point of terrorism was that individuals now had the capacity to wreak a level of havoc that previously could only be wreaked by states. Now we're in the age of DIY bio and bio hacking. I was speaking in New York, at the World Science Festival about a month ago alongside Jennifer Doudna. And Jennifer is the co-inventor of the CRISPR cast nine system. And what I said a little bit tongue in cheek is that if you invent the CRISPR cast nine system like like Jennifer, actually, she's on my left, like Jennifer did, you will almost certainly win the Nobel Prize. But if you apply CRISPR to edit a genome, you just get an A in your high school biology class. And afterwards, this woman came down and said, Hey, I didn't want to interrupt you in your talk, but I am a high school biology teacher. If you apply CRISPR in my class, you just get a B So this technology is not like nuclear weapons, we're only the state could do it this stuff is is out. And but you know, to that point, there's the story and I should chase it down. So yeah, I have it exactly about somebody scavenging radioactive material from 500 smoke alarms or something like that to build a functioning reactor. Yeah. It's not clear that
Eric Weinstein 1:30:28 I mean, it's just it's not clear that nuclear is going to stay the the province of states I mean, yeah, I totally agree. I mean, I
Jamie Metzel 1:30:35 think all of technology is moving along this this curve, but biology, it's just happened so quickly, and I totally agree with that. And so, you know, it was a year and a half ago, a group of Canadian researchers, mostly grad students, they use synthetic biology tools to create an active form of horsebox, which is a relative of smallpox, which can kill the good zillion people assessor that's $100,000. And my guess is you could do that now for $50,000. And in five years $5,000 because we just like this whole thing of bio bricks that we are, we are going to have the tools to remake life. And it creates incredible potential with synthetic biology do manufacturing differently to do life differently. And just as we have these tools to do good, because like I said before, these tools are themselves agnostic, there are capabilities to Ben.
Eric Weinstein 1:31:29 Well, let's talk about the way in which this interacts with national culture. Yeah. Which are the national cultures that are the most gung ho to actually try to exploit these things in the here and now. Yeah. And how do you feel about those national state sponsored experiments? And do we have to worry about geopolitical tensions and biology being the next battlefield where we won't even know for has been declared?
Jamie Metzel 1:31:57 Yeah, leading the witness, Your Honor. So Yes, and I write about in the book, what I call
Eric Weinstein 1:32:03 it, I should say, I'm not really leading the witness, because I was given the book 10 minutes before, we
Jamie Metzel 1:32:06 know, I don't know about you, and you were incredible. You absorbed the whole thing so quickly. The So China is like, is the big? And I would say it's like the big concern. But let me start with the positive story about China because there's a lot to complain about China. You know, I study China and, and, and do a lot of work in and around China. And I have a lot of very deep concerns. I feel like China is in many ways breaking the world through many of its of its actions. And certainly there are privacy advocates in places like like where we are now in California, who feel that privacy is just an unadorned good. But China has very low levels of privacy on an individual level. And so what they are doing are they're they're building just these massive data sets. And these data sets can and are being used. to oppress people. But they also can be used to do a lot of things that we think are good like to have a training set for autonomous insert whatever it is in certain noun autonomous vehicles or whatever when those big data sets or for precision personalized medicine, that we that having these big datasets is going to allow whomever the Chinese or others to develop actionable insights about how cancer is formed about predisposition to certain diseases or responses to certain treatments. And that's very powerful. And that is something that's going to help China and could potentially help us at the same time. China has a lot of things. It has a lot of money. It has incredibly talented people. It has this gung ho scientific culture, and it has very few limits, and it has this national culture that we got screwed by the colonialists even though China wasn't officially colonized. And we got some crewed by the unequal treaties. And the 21st century by 2050 is going to be the Chinese century. And we're going to do what it takes to get there. And that's translating into a lot of very, very aggressive applications of revolutionary science. And genetics is at the at the forefront of that. And that's why for all of these kinds of right at the edge or beyond the edge experiments, they are mostly happening in China, the basic science in the United States is far superior to the basic science in China. But there are more self imposed and rational in my cases, in some cases, restrictions here in the United States than they tend to have in in China. And that's why I have john clay. Who is this Chinese biophysicist who who who genetically engineered these these babies last year, in that's why it happened in China. That's why it could happen in China. That's why he didn't even think that he was he thought he was going to be this, this conquering here. And bring glory to to China. And what we're talking about here is the future of life. And it's a big deal. And we should care what happens to life in China because we were all part of of one species. And so, like you said earlier, there's a race because this technology is moving. So
Eric Weinstein 1:35:18 quick little bit of China won't be restrained, then is it really prudent to hold back in a way in which China lurches ahead because they don't have the same ethical concerns that we do? And yeah,
Jamie Metzel 1:35:33 so the way they
Eric Weinstein 1:35:34 mean, there's another word, yeah. Does it become ethical to compete, right? Because lack of competition means is seeding the game to an actor you think is less ethic?
Jamie Metzel 1:35:45 Yeah. And so that's, that's this whole arms race mentality. And I think that's what we are entering and will it I believe that American values just writ large that America value Use that America has pushed into the world, particularly over the last 70 plus years. With warts and all, I believe all in all is a net positive set of values that has laid the foundation for this greatest period of peace, prosperity and stability in world history. I also believe that the principles that the Chinese government is pushing out into the world are in many cases, toxic and dangerous. That doesn't mean entirely but in in many cases and undermining these principles that the greatest generation of Americans, people like Dean Acheson, and George Marshall pushed out into the world that that that helped everybody. And so I, I feel it's really important for the United States to maintain its position in the world. And it's the foundation of that is economic competitiveness. And the patient of the foundation of that is that we need to be the world leaders in technology. Having said that, Though, and you could say you could talk about this across technologies and whether it's its aggressive application of genetic technologies. But we could have the exact same argument about autonomous killer weapons. Because if you are a defense minister of a country, and you're not, if you are developing autonomous killer weapons, you're laying a foundation for maybe humans being wiped out. But if you're not, you are empowering the other country that is making those investments. And so I but I think that we can't sacrifice we need to be competitive. We can't sacrifice our very humanity in order to do it. And we need to recognize that that this is a societal race. And so it's not necessarily so and i don't believe it's so like the first country to have the first genetically engineered human wins the race, or the country with the least privacy right wins the race, the country that figures out how to use the resources of the society, as a Whole, to realize its objectives, whatever those are, that's the country that's going to win the race. And so that's, that requires certain kinds of trade offs. But we should be and that certainly I'm doing this work in Geneva and elsewhere and trying to work with, with members of Congress on this, we should be saying, we need to have international standards. And we've had international standards for things like chemical and biological weapons for even nuclear weapons, even for climate change, imperfect, and we have to be working in that direction. Well,
Eric Weinstein 1:38:32 are we up for a biological non proliferation treaty?
Jamie Metzel 1:38:36 Yeah, I wrote, it's funny. I mentioned the article that I wrote many years ago that Brad Sherman read, and that was what I talked about. I talked about using the model of the nuclear non proliferation treaty, but the thing that changed has changed since then.
Eric Weinstein 1:38:50 I hadn't thought about it. Yeah, just a different nuclear.
Jamie Metzel 1:38:51 Yeah, yeah, it's true. The thing that's changed since then, is this technology has become so distributed that in the end, The NPT the nuclear non proliferation treaty, you get technology for restraint. That's kind of the trade off for people in the world. And right now, this technology is really accessible. But what I believe we need to do is to have every country needs to have reasonable national regulations, which are in those countries interests. I mean, the United Kingdom is probably, in my view, the best regulated country in the world in these in these areas. It's also extremely advanced in its science, and those things are connected. I mean, there's a level of confidence there's a level of public support and public resource for these for these kinds of investments. They do come at that at that intersection. But yes, we we could have and maybe even will have a genetic arms race because we have differences within in between societies. People are doing willing to do all kinds of crazy things like like these dumb people who paid the soccer coach at Yale when it would just been smarter just to pay the the, to build a building for the same money. So it's like I'm against this dumb corruption. So people will do anything to advance their kids interests and if selecting embryos with higher IQs is one of those things I think a lot of people are going to do it. But we are social animals and we it's not that there are no examples of norms constraining our behaviors. We have lots of examples of then
Eric Weinstein 1:40:28 what we do but I don't know.
I mean, we could go for a Singaporean solution and decide that we should punish certain kinds of biohacking the way you punish you know being found with with weed in the wrong country. Yeah, well I'm not sure what is what is Singapore Malaysia do Now it could be I know and don't go if you have your
Jamie Metzel 1:40:51 we'd go to Oakland don't go to Singapore.
Eric Weinstein 1:40:53 Well, and then the question, of course, is what you know, I know biohackers in Oakland, and yeah, pretty good. Yeah. But my concern is, I mean, let me just be honest about this. I am not averse to the conclusion that we are now watching an unstoppable force and an immovable object. And that we have no idea whether this is going to be a disaster, or the best thing that ever happened, whether we're going to be able to weather China is going to learn enough to scare the living crap out of themselves. And they're going to be coming here and say, Look, this is much more profound, we have better data than you do. So you have to listen to us, that would be a great outcome. I don't hear something that is coherent. Because I hear so much that is utopian. And I'm excited about the utopian part of it, and so much, that's dystopian,
Jamie Metzel 1:41:52 but it's unknown. I mean, there is lots that's potentially utopian. There's lots that's potentially dystopian There's a middle, and it hasn't played out yet. Well, men so and so. But for me, the way that we try to have some influence on whether it we move the dial a little in the direction of utopian or idle in the direction of dystopian is values is how can we how can we infuse a conversation about values and norms in to the development of these very powerful technologies. And there are examples of doing it. And there's there's the international concept of international laws or concept of human rights mean, these aren't any kind of like inherent principles of the world they were created and they became norms, imperfect norms, and so that's, that we will have this story is going to play out in utopian ways in dystopian ways and in Cyprus in between, it's going to happen that's that is it that is the story, and it's going To increase forever, I mean, just we're on this this j curve, but the technology is going to get more and more and more powerful forever. And so the the, the complexity of our biology has been roughly the same for millions of years, the sophistication of our tools is is shooting up. So we just look at that graph at that intersection. And we are going to be we are increasingly understandable. And what
Eric Weinstein 1:43:25 does that mean? This is really the the message for me is that you can moralize all you want, but really, what's going to happen is is that this is going to play out relative, ironically, of course, according to a system of selective pressures. And what we don't know is whether this constitutes a sort of final paradigm shift the likes of which, to be honest, we've never seen
Jamie Metzel 1:43:50 it could it could well be and that's why I'm saying we don't know the answer to that, right. It's not knowable, but what we do know Is that we are beginning a process,
Eric Weinstein 1:44:02 right.
Jamie Metzel 1:44:03 And that we do know that we have principles that we've fought for when we have these ideas of equity and diversity, things that our ancestors probably didn't value we value for good reasons because we've, we've lived through and our parents in grants have lived through these experience, we talked about Nazism, of what happens when these terrible values are empowered. So I really think that like this is in some ways a conversation about science, but it's really a conversation about values. And so I think that we, either we have agency, or we must believe we have agency until proven otherwise, because what's the alternative?
Eric Weinstein 1:44:43 Well, I think that one way of looking at it is through the lens of selection. And I've made this comment that there really—selection is not really about human biology. It says that anything that has three properties is going to behave in a Darwinian fashion. And that is diversity, heritability and differential success. Now, the social interpretation, which I think, weirdly, almost nobody seems to talk about or mention, is that variability constitutes the human value of diversity. Heritability has to do with what we would call "privilege". And differential success has to do with inequality. And so that the really maddening thing about biology and the reason that it ends up in the crosshairs of social justice is that you take this cherished value of diversity, you subjected to privilege, and it produces inequality. And then you take that as the feedback into the system and then just loop it.
Jamie Metzel 1:45:46 Yeah.
Eric Weinstein 1:45:47 Now the one thing that you're talking about is destroying heritability. In effect, you're giving somebody who is not blessed with the genetics that they might want. Genetics that might be borrowed from somewhere else,
Jamie Metzel 1:46:01 I wouldn't say destroying, it's morphing, that you have a certain kind of heritability. You're adding a new kind of new aspect of
Eric Weinstein 1:46:10 Well, you could call it "facultative" heritability rather than "obligate" heritability.
Jamie Metzel 1:46:15 Yes. Yes.
Eric Weinstein 1:46:15 And so that is that is the design and designer, right. And so, in that system, you are effectively breaking something very, in a very strong way. Now, it was always the case that we learned how to breed, let's say, canines and create very exotic breeds,
Jamie Metzel 1:46:32 but we are that mean we all species that mean ours?
Eric Weinstein 1:46:36 That was the point about dinner and a movie.
Jamie Metzel 1:46:37 yes, emerges from that thing. That is how evolution works. And that's that's why the title of the book is hacking Darwin, we are we're hacking that process. And it just has such profound implications. And that's, I started talking about dick Clarke as the Cassandra. Like I feel that it's like I'm what I'm trying to do is they look they get You get it? This is the biggest issue that we are ever going to this is an existential issue for our species. big decisions are being made and most people don't even know they're being made don't even know what's happening. This is
Eric Weinstein 1:47:13 this is a great segue to one of the last two topics I really want to get to. That is if we are going to try to figure out how to guide and steer our own future. Yeah. Do you see any prospect for tackling these very complicated issues going from geopolitics to health, to our own sense of our own identity? What have you with the level of knowledge that our population currently has, like if they had to pass a test and they probably couldn't pass a test to be minimally competent on some bill that might come up? Yeah, and yet, we have to vote on these things. Is there What do we do here?
Jamie Metzel 1:47:51 Yeah. So
we have a big
problem and on issues like science and certainly foreign affairs, We used to have in this country a more representative democracy. And that's why when I started out in my early career working in government eyes in the White House, I had lots of friends who were Republicans. And we all agreed that America that we had these responsibilities which grew out of our experience of our understanding of what happened before the Second World War, and the world that was built after the Second World War. And now our our decision making process for Foreign Affairs for all sorts of things like including highly technical trade agreements has become democratized. So a bunch of people are making decisions about complex trade agreements, but like, Oh, I just have a feeling that this is bad or people in Britain I have a feeling that the EU is making my toast. This is a real thing is making my toast unevenly toasted, it's because somebody is regulating my toaster. And so be the regular people are being making big decisions, kind of like we're Switzerland, but unlike Switzerland, That's actually educating its public really well, we're doing a terrible decision of that. So we have to, we're moving towards a more democratic process, we have to do a much better job of educating our public. The good news for me, is, you know, I speak to a lot to a lot of different groups, and I speak to do keynote speaks to big groups of doctors and scientists. But friend of mine is chairman of the board of the Hebrew Academy and the Solomon Schechter in Bergen County, New Jersey, and I went and I spoke to their seventh and eighth graders. And when I got to the point of just kind of laying out the basic axioms of my argument, 50 hands went up, because these kids and granted they were, they were many Talmudic scholars, they were human, and they understood what's at stake. So I think that there's a technical underpinning to this conversation. But once people understand the basics, what we're talking about is something it's not technical. It's personal. This is about what it means to be a human being. And I think that we have to we have to bring people in into the conversation. It's connected to the point that you made earlier like Wouldn't it be better just to fly under the radar and not agitate people and I think people can take it and even in the example of this is the debate about abortion in states like Alabama, in most of these states IVF is not being restricted. Right.
And and so like there's there's like, play and and that's that's a
cause for optimism because no, that's not you know, that's not life. That's just some stuff in in a dish because the people in the evangelical and other community saying, well, we recognize there's this thing which they're calling the miracle of life. And so we have to find a way to engage each other. We have to be better educated and this level of ignorance is dangerous for any democracy. And we see populism uninformed populism is just a massive threat because it's just the US you don't need much information and people can fly around to different views. We have to engage people
Eric Weinstein 1:50:56 that are quite agree although I would come back at you In a way that you may not like, which is that having spent a lot of time with leading biologists, I would say that I find that they suffer from a different problem, which is that this is so cool. This is so unbelievable. Yeah, unbelievably exciting. That the the selective pressure there is. Let's just goddamn try this. And I'm not positive. And then there's the geopolitical I actually don't think there's a solution. I think this is going to develop somewhat haphazardly. And if we,
Jamie Metzel 1:51:37 even if we think we can control it and come up with good protocols around it. My sense of it is that it mostly it's been very hard to get to work at a deep level, but when it starts to really work, we're not going to be able to control it, but not gonna be like control. But I think we have to start building the infrastructure that is better than it otherwise might be I talked about about the United Kingdom. Like there are models That every country can have, we have to start building an international framework climate change. You could say, well, it's a bad example because we haven't succeeded, right? It's a good example because we've at least built some infrastructure. That if that, if and when probably when things get a lot worse, we'll have a green done that work. And we haven't even we haven't even laid that foundation. You need near death experiences in order to animate as unless you're storytellers, yes, that's intense. Yes. That's the essence of everything. Because if we wait till the near death experience, so many big decisions will have already been made. It's going to be really impossible to go backwards. And so now when nobody's paying attention, is when the hard work needs to be done. That's what I'm trying to. I
Eric Weinstein 1:52:44 would love it if you would write two stories, which had a fork and one of them went to some unbelievable place in some horrible place so that people could see that maybe. Yeah, how this would play out. Let me ask you my last set of questions. Sometimes people call kin disease and I'm very reluctant to call cancer disease. And it has to do with the fact that cancer is strangely sort of a problem of immortality where a cell line decides at once exactly living forever.
Jamie Metzel 1:53:14 I know that's the bad live forever.
Eric Weinstein 1:53:16 Yes, the bet well, but there's sort of two ways to die as an as an organism. One way to die is through a memory leak, that is a runaway process that keeps consuming more and more of the resources. And you know, it's like somebody tells you to divide one by three, until you come to the end of the decimal, you'll, you'll you'll take up all of the resources of the computer if you don't set a recursion limit, right? And if the recursion limit is the hayflick limit, let's say with the number of times a cell can divide, then you have a situation where do you wish to die from your recursion limit, which will introduce in precision into a floating point calculation, or do you wish to die from trying to compute it perfectly and it's a fool's errand
In such a circumstance
is, if these are fundamental trade offs that nature has never been able to really figure out we don't have truly immortal species that can live forever with any kind of state or structure, which is what we what our minds are all of our memories are a buildup of state. Is there any prospect in the story no matter how positive in which we really get to evade these fundamental trade offs between the death from resource leaks versus the death from
I do I have it a recursion limit.
Jamie Metzel 1:54:46 Yeah. So I'll start at the end and then I'll go backwards. We're all gonna die of something and even if let's just even if it's just insult, well, you didn't let's just say we cracked the code and you can live forever then this the law of probabilities are going to is going to get you like some way word is going to smash through your head just
Eric Weinstein 1:55:03 That's what I meant by
Jamie Metzel 1:55:03 Yeah. So yeah.
So, and again, it's all about perspective. And we talked about cancer cells being immortal. We have immortality, it's just the way is the cancer cells and we don't identify as the cancer cells that we identify as the host organism in which they
Eric Weinstein 1:55:21 cancel our lineage ism.
Jamie Metzel 1:55:23 Yes, yes. So the question of I have a chapter in the book on the science of human life extension, I absolutely believe that we are going to continue to be able to push the limits of not just average health span, but extreme health span the longest, you know, the longest lift, person on record is not much as a lie. It's 122, john Campbell in ARL and friends. And so I think we're going to be able to go beyond average health span and that's in the Blue Zones that Dan Buettner and others talk about an individual lifespan. And the reason why I believe that is just look at the very ability of biology we have these some closely related animals like mice and naked mole rats or hard clams and co hot clams. And there there are lots of examples where one lives a short time and one lives a lot, a much longer time and there are there we will find in our fine new there that there are these knobs that can in some ways be turned. And we're starting to explore that through either lifestyle things like calorie restrictions, or drugs like Metformin and rapid rapid Meissen and then any D plus boosters that are kind of mimicking that, that experience. So I think that we will, it's not going to be one magic thing. But we're never going to get to immortality just because parts were the only kind of Yeah, I was I was about two months ago I was in Kyoto. And I went to the the visited Hiroshi Ishiguro Who's this incredible humanoid roboticists. And he was saying that he thought the future of humanity is non biological. And you could say, well, if we have immortality, will this download our brains into some kind of Immortal So, yeah, you know, I said, I don't believe that. So I think that when that happens, let's just say which the lysis hype, hypothetically say, you could download your brain, your brain goes into this, this robot, let's just say that at that moment, where you're perfectly paired, that robot is you. But the next second because you aren't, you're just your brain, your brain is connected to everything, it's connected to your gut, your body, like it's just that that's a different thing. It's like a it's a derivative of you. So we're not going to live forever, but the science of human life extension is real. And they're all it's coming back to this point of bio hacks and whether it's these these blood transfusions, the peril biosis, and there's there's something there, whether it's embryo selection, because we're going to understand that we are increasingly understand the genetics of longer healthspan whether it's mimicking the proteins that the people who have the genetics of healthspan what they're sell their jeans would be doing mean there are a lot of things. So we are, we've been doing it for a long time, we're going to continue to push the bounds of our mortality.
Eric Weinstein 1:58:09 Well, I've always found it funny that, in our tradition, the Jewish tradition that we asked that people should live to the age of Moses, which is 100 and sponsor 120. And it's more or less the hard stuff for human beings.
Jamie Metzel 1:58:22 It's so funny in the Bible, and again, I write about this in the book. They write about Newsela and he lives to like 969. And then he has a kid who's in the nine hundreds and all these guys live in the 900. And then it's like a few chapters later, it says, but then I decided that the longest that anyone can live is 120 just
Eric Weinstein 1:58:44 don't get any ideas. Well, the funny part of that was gonna bring this up is that I think Hydra have immortal and non immortal is a model species with with immortal anonymous,
Jamie Metzel 1:58:54 and I write in my last novel, eternal Sonata. That's
this. This is the thing of having more than
Eric Weinstein 1:58:58 one of them is sexual. And one of them is a sexually repressing and the immortal one is the asexual. I always go back to Gershwin's law, which is Methuselah live 900 years but who caused that living when no girl would given to no man, what 900 years in essence, and asexual life is not a life worth living.
Jamie Metzel 1:59:18 You know, who knows? Like we are hacking life like we have this world that we have known. And we just it's hard for us to imagine our evolutionary journey because our personal experience is so stuck in this form. But we have been asexual in our past like when we were bacteria, right? We are. Our sexual reproduction is only hundreds Well, our mitochondria
Eric Weinstein 1:59:45 effectively the part of us that is actually
Jamie Metzel 1:59:47 reprinted in sexual reproduction is only about 600 million years old. So we've been around for 3.2 billion. Yeah, so we've been a lot of different things. We could be A lot of different things, we are not at the endpoint of our evolutionary journey. And there are these these these quote unquote, traditional evolutionary drivers. And now we're introducing a whole new set as we've been discussing of evolutionary drivers. That are, we don't understand
Eric Weinstein 2:00:16 where it's heading. Do you think there's a portal to a Cambrian explosion of different successors to humans?
Jamie Metzel 2:00:22 Yes, it must be. Right. Yeah. I mean, has to be I just wanted you to teach us you know, that's really what you know, this is like, this is like an you're getting me all agitated. No, no. This is like it's a turning point. It's 3.8 billion years of evolving by random mutation and natural selection. We are turning a corner. This is like,
Eric Weinstein 2:00:43 Yeah, when cells when you carry out a huge discount, no such
Jamie Metzel 2:00:47 thing. I mean, this is it. And so we cannot I mean, I'm a science fiction writer. And so I spent a lot of my time is trying to but we cannot accurately imagine where this is going over time. Hundreds and thousands of years. But what we can say and what I'm so committed to is saying, We have over at least many thousands of years 10s of thousands of years, we've developed ethical codes and values that we have found, help us live better lives have helped us work together with each other. And at very least, we need to be fighting to make sure that our best values individually and collectively are woven into our decision making. Or you could also take a different perspective, which is that those values were actually protocols that allowed one group to handle the outcompete another that lacked such values and that in fact, values which we've, we've forgotten this are a cudgel with which to beat rival groups. It could be and it could be the values themselves are evolving. And yet we can't become so relativistic that even our most cherished principles, we just, we just get us and I think we need to look at them. We need to look at them critically. We talked about that in the context of Sam Harris. We need to, we need to do that. But we can't just say, oh, now we're in. I mean, that's what the futurists did 100 years ago in Italy, and it led to fascism. We're coming from somewhere, we're coming from a culture, we're coming from your thousands of years of struggling for values. And we need to think about them, we need to challenge them. We need to recognize that these these technological challenges are new. But we've fought hard for these value
Eric Weinstein 2:02:30 systems and we need to fight for them. Jamie, this is absolutely fascinating. I can't wait to dig into the book. And I hope that everybody out there in the portal audience will take a look at this book, hacking Darwin by Jimmy metal. And Jamie, it's been a fantastic conversation. Thanks for coming through the portal. Really my
Jamie Metzel 2:02:51 great pleasure. Thank you.