Eric Weinstein Interview Full Episode (YouTube Content)
|Eric Weinstein Interview (Full Episode)|
|Release Date||30 January 2016|
Eric Weinstein Interview was an interview with Eric Weinstein on The Tim Ferriss Show.
My guest this episode is my friend, Eric Weinstein (@ericrweinstein), managing director of Thiel Capital, a Ph.D in mathematical physics from Harvard, and a research fellow at the Mathematical Institute of Oxford University. We recorded at my house after Eric emailed me this question: “Wanna try a podcast on… psychedelics, theories of everything, and the need to destroy education in order to save it?”
He’s brilliant and hilarious. If you enjoyed my podcasts with Derek Sivers or Sam Harris, you’ll love this one.
Connect with Eric Weinstein: Follow Eric Weinstein on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ericrweinstein
Eric Weinstein on Challenging “Reality,” Working with Peter Thiel, and Destroying Education to Save It Show Notes: http://fourhourworkweek.com/2016/01/1...
Tim Ferriss: Greetings Lads and lasses welcome to another episode of the Tim Ferriss show. I'm sitting at my kitchen table with Mr. Eric—now I've always, this is embarrassing to say-and I've done this with a number of friends now - is it Weinstein, Weinstein? How do you say your last name?
Eric Weinstein: I think it's Weinstein.
Tim Ferriss: Weinstein, I agree.
That's the more Germanic way to go about it. Now I am going to read a short bio. I'm sure I'm going to bastardize this, because I realized that we have so many wide-ranging conversations and I was wondering and asking myself where to start and I realized there's no real good place or no particular place to start so you can start anywhere so I'll start with your bio.
Eric Weinstein, Managing Director of Thiel Capital, PhD in mathematical physics from Harvard, Fellow at the Mathematical Institute of Oxford University. But as you and I have discussed that does not quite capture the eclectic combination of life experiences that is Eric.
So what are some other sort of colorful aspects of this this collage?
Eric Weinstein: Sometimes I pretend to be an immigration expert particularly with respect to skilled labor. I'm also a member of the advisory board for a group called ‘Drugs Over Dinner’, trying to get a rational and healthy drug policy for the US. I was pretty early on sounding the alarm over mortgage backed securities and failed to alert the world, with a bunch of other people who also failed, but we gave it a little college try.
Tim Ferriss: Guess that makes it uncrowded trade?
Eric Weinstein: It was, well, the problem is that early it’s another name for wrong. Also, you can't quite believe what you're saying, that Goldman Sachs and the rest of the world is going to blow up. It's hard to have the courage of your convictions.
Tim Ferriss: Have you taken a lot of economics classes to inform all of these insights?
Eric Weinstein: I've dated women and married them who have taken a lot of economics classes, so I haven't taken any. But in order to get some attention for the work we've done in economics I decided to start referring to myself as an economist. I figured if I got called out then I would get to push the work in front of a world that was asking for my credentials.
Strangely, economists don't call you out when you call yourself an economist, and so I ended up as an economist rather than having the attention that I was hoping to drag to this new theory of gauge theoretic and geometric economics.
Tim Ferriss: And to provide just a little bit of context, which I think is fairly normal for our interactions, so I'm just going to read one line from an email exchange. This is from Eric to me. "Do you want to try a podcast on this and we'll get into maybe what this is: Psychedelics theories of everything and the need to destroy education in order to save it."
How did we first meet? Was it Summit Series, was it somewhere else?
Eric Weinstein: I think it was Summit Series. I think you were talking about the potential of the human mind and how to unlock it, and I think I became very curious as to what the domain of applicability was and whether some of these techniques that would help you shoot baskets or learn tango could be applied to let's say quantum field theory, which seemed like kind of the next logical place to go after tango dancing.
Tim Ferriss: I think many people would ask themselves ‘Managing Director of Thiel Capital. So, how does someone who from a lay person's perspective is a mathematician, pretending to be an economist very effectively ready to be a mathematician, (or pretending to be a mathematician) get recruited, and end up working with Peter Thiel / Thiel Capital?’
Eric Weinstein: It's a really good question. I knew Peter slightly before, geez, we are gonna be just entering at a random point, so it's quite good.
Tim Ferriss: The best I attempt I can in trying to be quantum.
Eric Weinstein: So I had met Peter when I had been sort of living in New York and playing in the Bay area a little bit with the tech crowd and I was told by some friends you have to come out for this crazy ‘Being Human’ conference. And so, any conference name ‘Being Human’ seemed too Californian to be a good idea, but I was forced into coming out.
And there was a sort of a circle of people which Peter was in and I was in, talking about what it what it means to really look at the human condition from a rational, but also open-hearted perspective. Peter and I started talking and I told him that I was thinking that I might have a theory of everything that I should debut, and I think he probably thought, you know, haircut the possibility that what I was saying was true.
But then I was invited to give these lectures at Oxford. The Simonyi special lectures.
Tim Ferriss: And in Simonyi, they named after the Simonyi who went to space also created Microsoft.
Eric Weinstein: Charles Simonyi? Yeah, I think he was like the original engineer at Microsoft and and he had endowed a professorship at Oxford where which is held now by Marcos de Soto, after Richard Dawkins held it, which has some lectures attached.
And I was invited to give lectures under this program. I was giving technical talks, but a story or two came out about how a potential theory of everything was being debuted. I guess Peter probably saw that.
He invited me to a quiet conference he was holding in the South of France, and shortly afterwards he invited me to a breakfast after that. At the breakfast, I think I was midway through some breakfast sausage, and he just blurts out, he says “You have to leave New York”. I didn't understand why, and I said “Really, and go where?”. He says “You could come here”. And I said “And do what?”. And he said “You could work for me”.
So, I didn't know whether he was, like suffering from too much sleep, but it turned out he was quite serious. And it's been one of the most rewarding intellectual relationships of my life. He's just a stunning, sparkling mind, and somebody who has not only the courage of his convictions, but has been right so many times and over enough things that he has had the freedom to break with all tradition when he thinks the world is wrong, and one or two people may have it right, which is that's exactly my cup of tea.
Tim Ferriss: Did he have a clear idea of what you would be doing when he hired you or made the offer?
Eric Weinstein: Probably less important to him, is my guess. The first issue is that, it's so difficult to think for yourself. I mean, I find it very difficult to think for myself. I have all sorts of ideas in my head that aren't mine I'm subjected to all sorts of pressures I find difficult to resist.
So I think Peter's looking for the tiny universe of people who are attempting to think things through from First Principles, and it's become very tough because socially constructed reality is so much a part of our lives.
So I think first his feeling would be find the people who are capable of seeing something really new and then figure out what to do with them later.
Tim Ferriss: Escaping or averting the consensus reality, is that you've mentioned?
Eric Weinstein: Whenever possible, whenever possible.
Tim Ferriss: What outside pressures do you find tempting or difficult to mitigate?
Eric Weinstein: Oh, I mean everybody wants to to be loved, to fit in. The fear that happens when you start swimming away from the shore, that you're not going to find a next Island before your strength gives out.
I think it's very rational to be afraid of thinking for yourself because you may very, very easily find yourself at odds with the community on which you depend. I think for some of us is just a compulsive behavior, it's not even necessarily the smartest evolutionary strategy. It's just, it's hard to do it any other way.
Tim Ferriss: Hugging the shore.
Eric Weinstein: Well, or not. I mean if you keep trying to screw your eyes up so you can see the world the way other people are reporting that they see it, and it just doesn't work, you realize at some point that it's a losing battle. You might as well try being yourself.
Tim Ferriss: What is the first example that comes to mind of a time when you had that fear of swimming away from the consensus and facing the scrutiny or criticism of people in a given community?
Eric Weinstein: Well, sometimes it happens by accident. So, I remember for example being in a guitar store in Philadelphia and having a crowd of people gather around as I played something badly. I couldn't figure out why they would want to listen to somebody who is not very good at classical guitar, and this isn't like bragging that I'm great at class, I was really not that good.
And it turned out that I had taught myself from sheet music and I believed that the notation for using your thumb is to use the letter P, which I interpreted as pinky. So I was using my weakest finger for everything that needed to be done by my strongest finger, and so my guitar was completely wrong.
That was a clear example of, well, this didn't come from a guitar teacher. It didn't come from a normal experience with music. It came from teaching yourself something and having the scars to prove it.
So, I think in that case, you also learn how much power there is. That you can shortcut all sorts of things.
So as you know, you've showed us with Pareto Principles and trying to assume? the work of the 10,000 hours. You start to realize that the world is meant to be jail-broken. Then you get into really scary stuff where you come up with political conclusions that aren't shared by others.
So for example, I don't have the usual convictions of my groups about immigration. I am of the opinion that what most people think of as progressive immigration is actually regressive.
So, at some point I came out with a free-market model to open borders but without adversely affecting American workers.
Tim Ferriss: Have you written about that?
Eric Weinstein: Oh yeah.
Tim Ferriss: What was the peer-reviewed model for how to do it for a layperson interested in exploring your opinion on that, or your perspective on that. Would you point them to a given paper or..
Eric Weinstein: Sure, there's one called “Migration for the Benefit of All in the International Labor” Review, I think of 2002. The funny thing about this paper is that it takes what US corporations always claim they want, which is access to any workers anywhere in the world, and it achieves it through a market mechanism. But unfortunately, what they were really interested in wasn't the small gain and efficiency that comes from being able to hire on a global market. They were really much more interested in the wealth transferred from American workers to American business owners. And so, it was a great example that they thought they'd make a free-market argument, but in fact they weren't interested in the free market advantage. They were interested in transfer payments. So, when you give them a free market model they lose all interest in the free market which is I think just really funny.
Tim Ferriss: You mentioned guitar. I can recall we had dinner at your house, which was not Drugs Over Dinner, it was Death Over Dinner, where we talked about death, and I think that was somehow related to NPR or some capital radio station, some NPR affiliate.
Eric Weinstein: That's right and we discussed Death Over Dinner.
Tim Ferriss: But one thing I noticed about your home was that you have a lot of musical instruments. When did you start experimenting with music? And how many musical instruments have you experimented with?
Eric Weinstein: Am I right that the federal government hasn't made musical instruments illegal?
Tim Ferriss: So I've been experimenting with musical instruments for some time.
Eric Weinstein: I think at some point you learned that music is an abstraction, and that each particular instrument is just a way to instantiate the same common abstraction and so this was extremely powerful for me because...
Tim Ferriss: Could you explain what that what you mean by that?
Eric Weinstein: Well, I don't really hear music very well. I don't have a lot of intuitive feel for it. To me it looks like systems. And the idea that music was so highly systematized and that this was covered up by the standard relationship that we pick up where we take music lessons, we learned to read music in this country. Lots of people are bad at reading music, and lots of people are bad at following instructions, but you find that in other areas of the world in which notation isn't a big part of musical education, people very casually pick up an instrument and start playing. I think it's because the systems, if you will the math behind the music, is so powerful that it allows you to improvise, it allows you to compose, and to understand that there are canonical songs. At some point for example, I wrote a tiny computer program in Python and put it in a tweet and it's only purpose was to reproduce the chord progression for Pachelbel's Canon as an algorithm.
Tim Ferriss: Did you say Taco Bell?
Eric Weinstein: No.
Tim Ferriss: I can't believe that I thought I heard that correctly, okay
Eric Weinstein: I thought I said Pachelbel's Canon, there we go.
Tim Ferriss: All right, yeah now. When you're talking about the ability to improvise pick up an instrument and start playing. I mean Paul McCartney I believe is is one example that I thought.
Eric Weinstein: Oh, he's such a gifted intuitive musician - I’m not that.
Tim Ferriss: I heard and this could be a completely off base that he at least for a period of time couldn't read music. Is that because humans have potentially some type of innate grammar that they are for music, in the same way they might have some type of innate language grammar, like along the lines of Chomsky, and his theories? Or is it something else?
Eric Weinstein: I think you're right. I mean, I think that it it comes down, a lot of it, to the physics of a vibrating string or air column. So if you look at the harmonics, the patterns of vibration that are encoded into simply taking a catgut and stretching it between a wall and the ground and then twanging it.
Tim Ferriss: There seen in my spot room.
Eric Weinstein: In other words, that so much of our musical system is in the math and in the physics of a vibrating string. There's really one crazy innovation which is even temperament, which the West figured out, which has to do with a strange math fact that if you raise the number two, for twice the frequency, which gives us the octave to the 19th power, and then take the twelfth root thereof, that's almost exactly equal to three. And that weird numerical accident is what makes it possible to both have extremely beautiful intervals, but have them also so regular that you can do harmony and make chords. I don't think most musicians probably even know why we use a 12-ton system.
Tim Ferriss: So what you just described before, the 12-ton system, that's even temperament. That’s what it’s called?
Eric Weinstein: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: So I've always been somewhat insecure as it relates to music. I've never thought I was innately capable of being good with musical instruments. I grew up trying a lot of musical instruments and quitting them, whether it was piano trumpet etc. The drums is our one example, or exception rather, where I have so much fun playing, even poorly, that I will continue to practice.
On the flip side though, how many if you had to just take a stab, how many different instruments would you say you've toyed around with in one capacity or another?
Eric Weinstein: I would say that the ones that I regularly check in with would be mandolin, harmonica, guitar, piano and occasionally some funkier stuff than that.
Tim Ferriss: and you've but you've also dug into natural human languages. What languages have you, in the past...
Eric Weinstein: The ones I love sure. Turkish and Indonesian were great fun to learn about and learn some of. Russian is extremely emotional but grammatically fairly unforgiving. I enjoyed the little bit of Thai that I started trying to learn, because tones are not a big part of any of the other languages that I've tried.
But when I tried a little bit of Vietnamese the tones were so hard that there was no satisfaction. I spent three weeks and I couldn't say my first word convincingly.
Tim Ferriss: Why do you, and I promise this is going somewhere, not that it has to, but why, well it's a question I get asked often times is “Why do you study these languages that don't seem to have any practical application in your life?”. How would you answer them? Like Turkish, for example.
Eric Weinstein: mmm There was a girl.
Tim Ferriss: Indonesian? Same answer?
Eric Weinstein: Well Indonesian is just brilliant. It's everything that can go right with a language for a US language learner has happened to an Indonesian. So for example, it's not inflected for tense, if you want to say “I came”, you would say “I already come”. So, it's not inflected for number. So if the word for ‘child’ is ‘anak’, the word for children is ‘anak’ squared, or ‘anak anak’.
Tim Ferriss: ‘manusia hutan’ For those people wondering, ‘manusia hutan’, ‘man of the forest’.
Eric Weinstein: Very good. So, it's in a Latin script and so I would say that if you wanted to figure out your bang for your buck with a language, try Indonesian if nothing else has worked for you. you may find that you have over a hundred million new friends and a facility you never thought you could develop.
Tim Ferriss: Indonesian’s super cool. I remember spending a month in Bali and just drilling down into it and it was such a relief after studying languages like Mandarin, which similar to Vietnamese, is just so unforgiving if you don't get the tones right you could have a vocabulary of five thousand words and no one will be able to communicate with you in any meaningful way.
Eric Weinstein: I think also when you try one of these languages that's less common to learn, people are so much more appreciative than if you're yet the nth person they've met who's trying to speak French.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, the psychic payback and the gratitude that you get is a factor that I think is undervalued. Because people say Spanish is X because I could travel to Y number of countries and talk to Z number of people and it’s like, well that might be true.
But if you say go to Greece, as I did at one point, and pick up 20 different lines and make sure you throw in two or three that are kind of ridiculous, just for comedic effect, the sort of added value to your vacation there will be a hundred extra versus say a 2x with Spanish.
Eric Weinstein: I completely agree.
Tim Ferriss: And that makes it so much fun. Turkish oddly enough and we won't for those people who are not interested in languages we're not gonna spend the entire time talking about languages but I'm gonna try to tie this into music. Turkish for instance, and this is pointed out to me by Turk, is grammatically extremely similar to Japanese. It's really really weird. I mean eerily similar. So it was very easy for me to start to pick up Turkish from having spent time as an exchange student in Japan.
And so there brings up all sorts of interesting theories about migration patterns and so on from long long ago. But what that does, if anything, studying music have in common with studying natural languages? Because the latter is where I'm more comfortable, even though I thought I was bad at languages until you know halfway through high school.
Eric Weinstein: Yeah, I think that these areas are so intrinsically human and we don't even realize that there are these systems that are undergirding it. I think that there's at least that as a formal similarity where you know until until Chomsky and his thoughts on grammar, we didn't understand the way in which this could be potentially an innate process.
Just the way the you know the hairs in in your ear and in the organ of Corti you know may predispose you to love particular intervals you know when you hear “wise men say”. You know, that's really going from the fundamental frequency to three-halves times that frequency back to the fundamental frequency. And if you can hear the difference between that and going to two times with a bit of it “somewhere” I can't do that very well. But you know, these iconic intervals are really based on physics.
If you think about your phoneme production, the sounds that you can make with your mouths are really based on a five dimensional lattice, which I didn't understand.
Tim Ferriss: I don't understand that either. I'll need you to explain.
Eric Weinstein: Well you could you can either turn your nasalization on or off. You can have your vocal cords vibrating, so vocalization can be on or off, so those are two degrees of freedom. You can have your lips in one of several positions, a third degree...
Tim Ferriss: ... and then Chinese retroflex, that's a hard one.
Eric Weinstein: There you go
Tim Ferriss: So instead of saying “something in Taiwan” like in Taiwan and go to Beijing they say “something else that sounds similar”
Eric Weinstein: Oh I see. That like I see sounds very like Bengali and Portuguese with the heavy “sh” - they love doing that. Tim Ferriss: Anyway not to interrupt so that's three degrees of freedom.
Eric Weinstein: And then you have what location on the roof of the mouth your tongue is attempting to make contact and how how raised or lowered it is. And so these five degrees of freedom generate the phonemes.
If you ask you know opera singers to sing in a really squirrelly language that they don't know, like maybe they know Italian and French, but they don't know Hungarian. They may be able to produce all of these sounds because they've been forced to understand exactly what the degrees of freedom are to produce the sense, even if they don't know what they mean.
Tim Ferriss: Right, they have the conscious awareness and control of oral articulation (never used that before) but much like say a ballerina with a vocabulary of different types of pirouettes and movements would be able to replicate a lot of what you would find in tango, because they have this this vocabulary and awareness.
As a side note, for people who might be wondering, Japanese people have a really tough time learning almost any foreign language because they have a very limited set of phonemes in their language. So they kind of got short changed when God was handing out sounds, which is why I say with R and L, they have “something in Japanese” as opposed to R or L.
But as soon as you point out to them the position of the tongue like ‘la’, you touch the tip of your tongue to the back of your teeth, then all of a sudden just like a snap of the fingers they can figure it out but no one's ever tried to explain it to them. They're just like repeat this sound, repeat this sound, but once you explain that that one factor and you're like, touch your tongue to the back of your teeth, like ,’oh, I got it’. Of course, it takes practice to do quickly but that is why Japanese have a very tough time with almost every language. Spanish may be one exception.
Let's let's come back to something you said earlier which is navigating from First Principles. This is a really important concept to understand. What does that mean, and why is it important?
Eric Weinstein: Well, very often we have some spectrum of difference that we're allowed. Frequently in politics or news somebody will talk about the Overton Window - what can we discuss what can't we discuss.
Tim Ferriss: You mean in the context of say a debate or a news flash?
Eric Weinstein: So for example, when Donald Trump said that he wanted to temporary really ban Muslims from entering the US, that was considered outside the Overton Window. It was not something that was discuss-able.
I think that a lot of us may benefit from the Overton Window - this idea that we're going to make certain ideas too hot, too dangerous for people to express in polite company. But on the other hand what we've started to do is to hamstring all the cognitive power in our contrarian thinkers, where they don't feel comfortable or safe thinking aloud.
Somebody tells you, for example, or asked you the question ‘Do you believe intelligence is perfectly, evenly distributed between genders or among ethnic groups?’
Statistically it would be crazy to say ‘Yes, I believe it's perfectly distributed’. On the other hand socially it would be crazy to suggest that it isn't perfectly distributed. And so we have all of these really funny situations where the top-down thinking tells us what's acceptable and what isn’t, but the bottom-up leads us to ask all sorts of questions that are framed out, if you will, by the usual terms of discussion.
I think that this is you know this is really animating a lot of people who feel that social justice, which they always thought was a positive, is starting to metastasise into kind of a thought police.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah well, it's it seems to have turned into this sort of internet lynch mob version of McCarthyism and actually I'm gonna put this out there because I was thinking about writing a blog post about this, but blog posts take a long time to write.. There isn't much of a penalty for labeling people whatever it might be fill in the blank mist. So you can be accused and guilty until proven innocent of being sexist, racist, fill-in-the-blank, misogynist, whatever it might be, classist, you name it, that can be really damaging to people who are accused of such things often with no evidence or very questionable evidence or even contrary evidence.
And so what I was hoping is there should be a term that you can apply to people who go on these witch hunts and apply these labels and I was thinking that “Bigoteer” could be a good one? What do you think?
Eric Weinstein: That's good.
Tim Ferriss: So if a journalist, let's just say, is taking the lazy route for cheap applause, ie cheap page views, and they're just accusing people of being these really career damaging things like sexist or racist whatever, that they themselves could then be labeled a well-known Bigoteer for instance. And then there would be some type of social consequence, which I don't see currently, to acting in such a haphazard and damaging way.
Eric Weinstein: So currently, we have this other weird term SJW for ‘Social Justice Warrior’. So I like Bigoteer. Why don't we try it in the wild and see what happened?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I'd love that, and too to hear anyone's thoughts on this term - Bigoteer. I thought a lot about this because I figured you needed a term that was sort of phonetically similar enough - funny, we were just talking about phonemes - like phonetically similar enough to an already loaded term, so that people would immediately get the negative connotation.
Like, being called a Bigoteer, even though I as far as I know it hasn't existed, can't really be a good thing. I mean you have like ‘Bigot’ and then you have the ‘teer’. In most people's minds associate ‘teer’ with ‘racketeering’ or something else, but does a decent job of kind of describing the sin against intellectual honesty, that is you know what we're talking about, this type of out-of-control so social justice warrior ship.
But I agree with you. I think that even more than top down this the phenomenon is is so puzzling in a way because it seems like people are creating prisons of their own making. And in creating these lynch mobs or participating in them, you're creating this momentum for this type of activity that ultimately has to come back and bite you in the ass, or it just create these barriers to honest communication.
I'd love to hear your opinion on this, but often times the most important conversations to have are the most uncomfortable and would fall outside of this Overton Window, by definition.
Eric Weinstein: Even the conversation that you most want to have to try to remediate the long-term problem is prevented by the evident relish that some Bigoteers, if you will, the relish that they obviously enjoy and take for themselves in sort of settling for the short ride, rather than really trying to get some kind of structural change.
And I think that because the level of distrust is so high in the US at the moment we have a problem that people are trying to shut down conversation because they just don't know where it's going to go. So as soon as anyone starts talking about something sensitive you know you can always try to ‘Check your privilege’ or something that doesn't even have to be. It can be completely content independent, because you know everybody's enjoying some privilege at the moment and so if you're spending all of your time checking and you're probably not going to be able to say much of anything.
Tim Ferriss: So I wanna I want to shift to a very serious topic, and that is Kung Fu Panda.
Eric Weinstein: Oh boy, it's getting weighty.
Tim Ferriss: It’s getting weighty... Now, I recall visiting the offices of Thiel Capital and we had a fun lunch chat with with a whole group of folks and I remember going to your office and seeing all sorts of toys of various types and then, I guess a figurine of Kung Fu Panda. What is your relationship to Kung Fu Panda?
Eric Weinstein: This is this is emotional and embarrassing and rather weighty, but I went reluctantly, I did, I can't say that I relished going to a children's film even though I had two kids who were excited to see it, but my wife said it would be a good idea. As I sat there in the theater, I got deeper and deeper into the story and when the film was finally over I found myself weeping...
Tim Ferriss: Were your kids okay with that?
Eric Weinstein: I don't think anybody was okay with that. It was a little weird. What I realized was that it was the only film that I'd ever seen that struggled with the issue that I felt almost defines my quest which is: Why can't a self teacher leave pupils?
And if you think about that for a second, you’ll realize that Einstein wasn't successful in leaving any Einsteins, and Francis Crick didn't leave Francis Crick’s, and Winston Churchill didn't leave any Winston Churchill’s. If there was some way for a Newton to leave in Newton, dependably, the world would be a completely different place.
What Kung Fu Panda was trying to do, in my opinion, was to struggle with this question of: How would an innovator leave a successor when it's his time to go?
At some point, somebody on Quora asked a question : “This sort of story doesn't make any sense to me. How does a panda slob become the ultimate kung fu warrior? I wrote up my explanation and I think it’s probably the most viral thing I've ever written.
Tim Ferriss: What is that what is the title?
Eric Weinstein: It's “How does Po become an awesome Kung Fu Warrior in the film Kung Fu Panda".
So my claim was that the original innovator in the film is a turtle which is an even more inappropriate kung fu archetype than a panda, because they're obviously slow-moving. And the turtle works out the secrets of harmony and focus at the pool of sacred tears.
But when the kingdom is threatened by a kung fu student of great ability who's gone wrong all, that the kingdom can muster is the usual collection of over trained students. So think aspirants to Princeton and Stanford and Harvard. And so these are all the kids who get like perfect SATs and have amazing extracurricular activities. But fundamentally, what we don't realize is that they've all been rendered incomplete in a way because they can't tap into the self teaching modality, because they have been so thoroughly over taught.
So the turtle recognizes that the Panda is the only one who can save the day and all the turtle has to go on in choosing a successor is that the Panda has innovated one silly thing, which is to turn a fireworks cart into a makeshift rocket to jump a wall. So from this humble beginning the magic unfolds, and it's really about the magic of how one self teacher leaves a successor and solves the problem.
Tim Ferriss: Have you come to any conclusions or beliefs outside of that essay that related to how autodidacts (self taught persons) or Newtons can leave Newton's when they travel on from this world?
Eric Weinstein: I think so. I can't prove it, but I think where I'm headed with this is that most of us who wind up using these sort of strange high agency hacks to negotiate the world, have some kind of a traumatic birth. We may flatter ourselves that were in touch with reality, but in fact, reality is a second best strategy.
If you're lucky your family works pretty well and you never leave social reality. It's only when something goes wrong that you discover, okay, the world doesn't work in any way the way I was told. Here's the underlying structure. What you then have to realize is, if you want to do this at scale, you've got to stop relying on these traumatic births it's like you're waiting for somebody to get bit by a spider to become spider-man. No you have to do this as a more controlled fashion.
Tim Ferriss: You have to harvest spiders.
Eric Weinstein: That's right, you've got it you've got to regularize it. So I think what we need to do is we need to create a completely secondary parallel educational structure for people who are going to be in the high agency creativity discovery idiom and realize that we know how to impart expertise, but we don't know how to impart creativity in genius.
Tim Ferriss: Could you define high agency? or just explain what you mean by it.
Eric Weinstein: Sure. High agency is ... well, are you constantly... when you're told that something is impossible, is that the end of the conversation, or does that start a second dialogue in your mind how to get around whoever it is that's just told you that you can't do something.
So, how am I gonna get past this bouncer who told me that I can't come into this nightclub?
How am I going to start a business when my credit is terrible and I have no experience. You're constantly looking for what is possible in a kind of MacGyver-ish sort of a way, and that's your approach to the world.
Tim Ferriss: I’m not gonna take us off the rails here - have you seen the Martian?
Eric Weinstein: Yes, the ultimate high agency code.
Tim Ferriss: Did you love it? I just saw it last night, man, it was just like two hours of MacGyver on steroids I loved it.
Eric Weinstein: Yeah, and it I'm glad you brought it up. I think it heralds a return, at least among Americans, to our previous way of being. I think there was some terrible thing that happened starting around 1970 and that is just cracking now. So, really, about 45 years of a low agency super-safe, timid, frightened kind of societal aspiration. If you just stay on track can we keep the American prosperity machine going. I think we now realize that you can't do it without a bunch of really marginal characters - people who have might be described as disruptive have bad attitudes - these are my people. They're tough to deal with and I don't always and enjoy them but I do think that without them it's not much of a football team.
Tim Ferriss: What can someone do who's listening to this let's say and they're they live in a community that is clearly low agency and they want to train themselves to be able to look at option C D and F when people say ‘Do you want a or B?’ or if they're given let's say, the know, from the bouncer from the admissions officer from the ‘fill in the blank’. They look for a way around it instead of just being stopped in their tracks.
Are there any recommendations or tools or resources exercises that they could use to cultivate that higher agency?
Eric Weinstein: Well, there's I don't think there's a community on earth where somebody isn't modifying their car beyond what's street legal. I don't think that there's any community in which nobody is cooking something up in the basement that probably isn’t prescribed by law. I don't think that there's a community on earth where somebody isn't trying to break into their own computer in order to see how it works from the inside.
There are high agency people everywhere. What there isn't necessarily is critical mass. Sometimes I refer to the Bay Area is the innovation ghetto so you have all of the people who are too high agency to behave properly and wait their turn and the rest of the country. So they've been given like the nicest piece of real estate an un-Godly amount of cash and you know the pleasure of each other's company.
But they've been told ‘Okay, you have to stay at the terms of your probation, so you have to stay within the Bay area’ So what I'd love to see is, I'd love to see more of us violating our parole and going into the rest of the country and trying to bring that irreverent spirit.
Because I think one of the things that the US still has over, let's say a competitor like China, is that we tolerate the middle finger. It is perfectly acceptable to be disruptive here in San Francisco, where you and I are conducting this interview, whereas if I'm told that my child is disruptive in Kansas or South Carolina I'm probably being told that he's being sent home for bad behavior.
So I think it's really important to start respecting our marginal citizens of greatest ability and looking for the unusual personality types that are irreverent and committed enough to making things happen and to really do things.
Tim Ferriss: This is gonna seem like a detour, but it might be related. What book or books have you gifted most to other people?
Eric Weinstein: For my science friends, I tell them to read the ‘Emperor of Scent’ by Chandler Burr about my friend, Luca Turin. It talks about a renegade scientist being stymied by the journal nature, by various conferences, by the established research centers. It's just a wonderful introduction to how the dissident voice is marginalized. Because Luka is such a a genius of olfaction and chemistry, he's able to take a perspective which may or may not be true, but keep pushing it forward and battling through it. So that's one of my favorites.
I have a another weird recommendation which is this book “Heraclitean Fire: Sketches from a Life Before Nature” by Erwin Chargaff, who is the guy who effectively shorted Watson and Crick. He told Watson and Crick that he didn't think that they were very good and very smart and that they were sort of they didn't know their chemistry they they weren't qualified to work on DNA. It turned out that they got it right and he got it wrong.
When I heard that there was somebody who bet against Watson and Crick, I thought well this is just gonna be the laugh of the century, but it turned out, just too short those guys required another genius. He writes about trying to suppress these guys and failing because they were right and he was wrong and he has enough presence of mind to struggle with it.
So the these are books that I think are incredibly powerful because they talk about what it's like to be one against the many.
Tim Ferriss: You might hate this question... If you were advising say a senior in college non-technical.
Eric Weinstein: Probably too late.
Tim Ferriss: Probably too late. Well let's just say that I mean, that was me, right, and I had fairies and sugar plums in my head about Silicon Valley and wanted to come here and attempt to build something amazing. What books or resources would you suggest or what advice would you give?
Eric Weinstein: Well, first of all if you can do anything else with your life, other than innovate, other than create, go do that. Don't come. If you're still here listening, saying okay I can't really do anything else,
Tim Ferriss: Maybe you have a compulsion that you cannot resist...
Eric Weinstein: Yeah, but fundamentally you are zagging when other people are zigging. You're not even thinking outside the box, you haven't seen the box for years. If that's who you are, my feeling is just get here. I can't promise that your first week or your first month and a half is gonna be the greatest week or month and a half of your life but you will fall in with people. There's enough open hearted assistance that's given, there's enough money, there's a different culture of abundance now that may not last more than this particular cycle.
But even if this is a bubble I think it'll re-inflate in the same place, because fundamentally we've run out of all other options other than innovation. If we don't create and we don't think our way out of this, I don't think we have a great plan for steady state. So it's grow or die, and that means that we'll have another bubble, and bubbles aren't terrible things. A lot of wonderful things happen during them.
Tim Ferriss: What to you is the most powerful idea or few ideas in ‘Zero to One’ or the material that helped generate that from one class that Peter taught, which was transcribed by Blake Masters.
Eric Weinstein: So the entire book is about what to do if you think you have a secret. If you really understand something the rest of the world is confused about and it's an important truth Zero to One says here all the ways you might want to make that work.
I think the problem is the average person has never had an idea, a really powerful personal idea. So most people don't have a single secret. And so the real reason most people shouldn't start a company is that they don't know or believe anything that the rest of the world knows or thinks of as being nonsense. And so this is the engine behind the book.
What's disturbing is to watch people reading this book, not realizing that it's the whole thing is predicated on the idea that you must have a secret. Try to imagine somebody building a car with no engine, it doesn't really matter how nice you get the upholstery it's not going to work.
Tim Ferriss: Now I there I suppose are different schools of thoughts here as with many different domains. Some people would say well you either have the hard wiring to come up with these secrets or spot these unpopular opinions or unpropagated opinions that very few people are no other people hold. Then there are the folks - I tend to lean this way - who think that that can be facilitated by and forcing people to ask for instance, absurd questions. So if you had to 10x not just 10% increase, but like 10x your output in whatever it might be, how would you do it. Enforcing people to break whatever systems they might have in place. The current incremental approach to what they're doing, these minuet optimizations won't answer the question, they have to delve into this kind of Terror incognito of things they haven't explored. Do you think this can be taught, where you can help people to get better at spotting or or coming up with these these secrets - seeing things that other people don't see?
Eric Weinstein: Well yeah, I do and I think that in part this is why it's so difficult coming back to the sort of Kung-fu Panda pedagogy question. Assumed that I hit one or two of these secrets and I am successful at them. It doesn't have to be in business, it could be in science, it could be in literature, anywhere. The problem is, you want to lead someone through the process of succeeding at something and seeing what blocked the path.
Tim Ferriss: What do you mean by that?
Eric Weinstein: Well here's a problem I give people. I haven’t solved it. If I had solved it, then in fact nobody's solved it
Tim Ferriss: I was getting sort of pre-Mackenzie jitters.. okay how many golf balls can you fit in this...
Eric Weinstein: This is exactly what I hate about those problems is if the if there are answers in the back of the book it's not a good problem. It has to be an actual problem that the the asker doesn't know. So, I don't know how to solve the problem of the umbrella. There's nothing I like about umbrellas. They have (Tim laughs) No, seriously Tim, they blow up in wind so that they're easily wrecked under the conditions that in which they're supposed to be used, they have these long metal spikes at about eye level, so they're clearly a safety hazard.
Tim Ferriss: Your legs always get drenched.
Eric Weinstein: There you go. Everything about the umbrella strikes me as wrong. I’ve seen people try to innovate in the umbrella situation there are ones that have air blowers that blow the water away from you there are funky folding designs. But I am almost positive that there exists some very simple mechanical design that would improve the umbrella.
On the other hand, I don't have that same confidence about the coffee mug. Yes, you could put some electronics in it. You can make it smarter than it is. But fundamentally it seems to be in such a simple stay, that I wouldn't think that I should innovate there.
So if I can give the example where there is a solution known. Luggage before 1989, so it turns out that nobody really knew how to do wheeled luggage before 1989. It was just mind-blowing. It's hard to imagine that like the whole world had their heads wedged so far up there, that they couldn't think to put in these large recessed wheels with a telescoping handle. This was the invention of a guy named Robert Plath, who was a pilot for Northwest, I think. In one fell swoop he convinced everyone that their old luggage was terrible. So even though there wasn't a lot of growth, he created the growth because nobody wanted their old luggage.
You could compare these discrete brainwave innovations across field. So for example, in table tennis in the early 50s, the worst player on the Japanese team at the Bombay Table Tennis Championships was this guy Hiroji Satoh. He glued two foam expanses to both sides of a sandpaper table tennis bat and nobody could cue off of the sounds, because it changed the sound of the ball. It's like if you put a suppressor on your paddle.
Tim Ferriss: Suppressor just like that you use that word makes me think that you have a bunch of firearms hiding in your basement.
Eric Weinstein: I can neither confirm or deny it.. But the the the idea that the worst player on one of the lower rated teams would be the undisputed champion simply through an innovation that was that profound, shows you what the power of one of these ideas, is that the power laws are just so unbelievably in your favor if you win, that it makes it worthwhile.
Tim Ferriss: Or Dick Fosbury who went backwards over high jump in 1968...
Eric Weinstein: You got it, very good.
Tim Ferriss: ...got ridiculed and then mimicked and eventually standard. So in the case of say the umbrella or the luggage, is there a process for trying to tackle and innovate in these areas along the lines of something you might find in say an IDO, or exercises that you guys do at Thiel Capital when looking at different markets, or trying to assess say an idea and its validity or promise in a market. Are there any particular questions, I guess is what I'm asking, that you find very useful when trying to spot these these breakthrough ideas?
Eric Weinstein: Well it depends, it’s situation by situation. So for example in science I try to use various intellectual arbitrage techniques where if you have a bunch of smart people who have been focused on a problem, I try to look at what as a group their weaknesses are.
How is the their bread buttered? What is it that they can't afford to say or think? For example in theoretical physics there all sorts of shibboleths where if you can't say that you believe that quantum mechanics is intrinsically probabilistic, you're not a member of the club, because it's assumed that you sort of can't accept a difficult reality. Or if you can't sign up for one of the major schools, you have no way to get funding because there's no one who will support your grant applications.
So you start to look at what causes, what should be a diverse portfolio of ideas, to collapse in terms of the diversity where everybody starts representing the same point of view with tiny variations. If you're looking at a problem that's never been attempted, you don't want to use intellectual arbitrage because it's just blue sky. There's no reason that the first attempts to think through the problem won't yield fruit.
But you know in the case of the umbrella, what made one think that this was a problematic object? So count the number of moving parts. Then in general, as things reach final form they they tend to get radically simple. So there's too many moving parts, if there's some innovation that's happened since the problem was originally considered.
So for example in the case of Oculus Rift and Virtual Reality maybe. Virtual Reality was considered years before Oculus, but nobody had rethought it in the presence of economies of scale that bring the screens and smartphones down in price. So suddenly you have the high quality screens that are affordable that way back when would have cost prohibitive amount. So ask yourself what's changed recently? Where is the object that currently inhabits the space violating some sort of aspect of canonical design?
Tim Ferriss: What do you mean by canonical design?
Eric Weinstein: Well you know let's look at nature. There's a great virus called T4 bacteriophage. If you look it up it looks like a lunar lander - it’s really cool. The genetic material is held in a capsule, called the capsid, that has the form of an icosahedron (geometric shape with 20 triangular faces). So you wonder
Tim Ferriss: Something with some sides
Eric Weinstein: 20 sides
Tim Ferriss: There we go...
Eric Weinstein: 20 sides is a platonic solid.
Tim Ferriss: Wait a second, what's a dodecahedron?
Eric Weinstein: 12
Tim Ferriss: Goddammit, all right
Eric Weinstein: They're dual to each other.
Tim Ferriss: I might need to brush up on my Dungeons & Dragons dire references
Eric Weinstein: So it’s a little crazy to think that before Plato ever existed, nature had figured out this complicated 20-sided object. But because it was so natural at a mathematical level, even if it was complex, nature found the canonical design even though there was no canonical designer. Because it was a god-given form, it didn't need to be thunk up, if you will, by any individual.
Or the recent discovery of grasshoppers that use gear mechanisms for jumping. You would think we'd invented gears but in fact gears are such a natural idea that natural selection founded long before we did.
Tim Ferriss: So this natural idea then, roughly synonymous with canonical or is does have a different connotation?
Eric Weinstein: I mean I I sort of think about it if we get visited by aliens from another planet who are pretty advanced, they're gonna know about platonic solids. They're not going to call them platonic solids because they didn't have Plato and in fact they were known before Plato. But these forms that really don't have an inventor so much as a Discoverer. These are things that just sort of have to be.
Tim Ferriss: I took us down the rabbit hole a little bit but we're talking about umbrellas and the number of elements or moving pieces.
Eric Weinstein: That is a clue that something is wrong. It's not as elegant as it should be. So I would for example immediately think about you know let's say the Japanese and their love of origami and the mathematics of paper folding that would be a place that I might see whether I could mine that silo of expertise for any application to the umbrella.
Very often, it's a question of being the first person to connect to things that have never been connected before and that's something that is a commonplace solution in one area, is not thought of in another. So I think that it involves recognizing when something is likely to allow an innovation, figuring out where the information might be, and as a last resort thinking really hard about what the form of the solution might be before you actually push yourself to be concrete.
I think very often you see people get very impatient with hand waving. Oh that's a lot of hand waving for my tastes. Well if you stay practical you'll probably be part of a lot of incremental improvements, but you may never be part of one of these moments where that idea changes everything
Tim Ferriss: I was reading a quote today I'm blanking on this philosophers first name last name Dennett maybe you know Daniel you know I wanted to say that and then I said and then I thought to myself that's too much like Daniel Tammet who's the subject of this documentary called brain man but I think it is Daniel.
I'm gonna butcher this but he said something along the lines of people look down upon those who say it seemed like a good idea at the time but that is actually a sign of brilliance, in some capacity, because you're able to look back and admit that and have that type of self-awareness.
“We have all heard the forlorn refrain “Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time!” This phrase has come to stand for the rueful reflection of an idiot, a sign of stupidity, but in fact we should appreciate it as a pillar of wisdom. Any being, any agent, who can truly say, “Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time!” is standing on the threshold of brilliance.
- Daniel C Dennett - Intuition Pumps and other tools for Thinking
I apologize Daniel if okay this mostly wrong but...
What would you think if you had to create a class for any grade level from ninth grade to the end of college what would the class be and when would you teach it? Well I'm gonna go grab a copy of this quote that's gonna bug me but I'm listening
Eric Weinstein: Okay, so it's a really interesting question. Part of the problem surrounds where would I be allowed to teach this class? So first
Tim Ferriss: Anywhere you like.
Eric Weinstein: Well the first question is are you really allowed to deeply question your teacher or your school, so I would I would look to for example the Milgram experiment and the Asch conformity experiment. So in the Asch conformity experiment one person was led into a room and asked simple questions which a bunch of Confederates of the experimenter...
Tim Ferriss: Confederates are people cooperating with the experiment
Eric Weinstein: ...agreed to answer the question under its effect. The actors answer the question in an obviously wrong way and then when it comes time for the only real participant to answer the question they often falsify their answer just to fit in.
So you should be able to pass the Asch conformity test and then there's the Milgram obedience experiment where a an experimenter appeared to ask the only participant to administer a series of increasing electric shocks. It's really important that most people continue to administer the shocks, even when they heard screaming from the actor in that case, even if they were assured that it was expected of them and that they would not be held responsible.
So I think what you're always looking for, is you're looking for an education which makes students unteachable by standard methods, and this is where we get into the trouble. Which is we don't talk about teaching disabilities, we talk about learning disabilities. A lot of the kids that I want are kids who have been labeled learning disabled, but they're actually super learners. They're like learners on steroids who have some deficits to pay for their superpower. And when teachers can't deal with this we label those kids ‘learning disabled’ to cover up from the fact that the economics of teaching require that one central actor, the teacher, be able to lead a room of 20 or more people in lockstep. Well that's not a good model.
So what I want is I want to get as many of my dangerous kids out of that idiom, whether it requires dropping out of high school, dropping out of college, but not for for no purpose. Drop into something. Start creating, building, join a lab, skip college.
Tim Ferriss: What was the program, it's not 20 under 20, the scholarship program ...
Eric Weinstein: The Thiel Fellowship
Tim Ferriss: The Thiel Fellowship. Could you describe that for people in brief. Then does that is that an example of what you're describing, or is it different?
Eric Weinstein: Well, so there's a lot of confluence between how Peter thinks and how I think, even though we start from radically different places. The Thiel Fellowship pre-existed my coming on, and it's a program that will pay kids $100,000 over two years to leave college to try something like start a company or a non-profit or do something of high agency.
Roughly speaking a lot of the kids drop out of the Stanford's and Princeton's and Harvard’s. They're incredibly impressive and we're not that worried that in life they're going to be set back because they're gonna do just fine under any circumstances.
Tim Ferriss: They get now in fairness to the most of those schools will allow them to come back.
Eric Weinstein: That's true, but two years is a little bit longer than it's comfortable. A lot of people understand that there's a gap year but one of the things that we hope is that if they do go back they will go back maybe as graduate students. That maybe the undergraduate degree is unnecessary.
In fact we at some point did a little study and we found that for every advanced professional degree we could think of there was somebody who held that degree who had never gotten a BA or a BS and so the idea of skipping college is now quite appealing to me, and with the idea being that a master's degree or a PhD or a JD or an MD has an embedded assumption of a BA or a BS, but in fact you'll never be asked about that lower degree, because the leading degree the professional degree credential is usually the one that matters.
Tim Ferriss: Now what would you say to those out there who might look at your credentials and say well, how would you have been able to obtain these very helpful degrees from places like Harvard and Oxford, if you hadn't had the prerequisites set by going to undergrad because I would imagine they're critics who would say there's a there's a survivor-ship bias.
You hear about the Zuckerbergs, but you don't hear about the 999 other people who might drop out but then end up feeling or being restricted in their career options because they can't show a college degree. That at least is a common refrain so what would you say to those people?
Eric Weinstein: What's so my undergraduate wasn't from Oxford, it was from Penn, and there was a language requirement the University of Pennsylvania and I at the time couldn't figure out how to satisfy it. So I assumed that I would not graduate from Penn, and then I just broke all the rules. They had a program that actually helped you break all the rules, if you could find it...
Tim Ferriss: I have to ask, what did that look like?
Eric Weinstein: So it looked like one guy. His name was Mike Zuckerman. He was a professor in the history department and he's what we would call in Yiddish a shtarker. He's the guy who breaks kneecaps for his people. It's like German you know like the strong guy. So every time I would sign up for a class that had a prerequisite and I would be kept held back, he'd get on the phone he'd say I understand your holding back. This is Mike Zuckerman at the office of university scholars, I understand that you're holding one of my kids hostage with red tape. It wasn't like he had any power but the sound of it caused other professors to let go.
Tim Ferriss: What was his official job?
Eric Weinstein: He's just like this history the professor. It was a brilliant idea that he thought up and it was sort of a secret kind of a secret program so you didn't know that it was there and it had power. It allowed you to immediate access to any of Penn's graduate school is the program called University Scholars, so it sounded respectable.
Tim Ferriss: It sounds very respectable.
Eric Weinstein: And it was just a anti red tape program for kids who wanted to do research while undergraduate.
Tim Ferriss: And it was created by this history professor. Amazing.
Eric Weinstein: Yeah, and this shows you all through corporate America and the Ivy League universities, there are rebels who can't quite leave these institutions. But I call it the rebel end of corporate, and the corporate end of rebel. So I end up as the corporate end of rebel, but I've always had help from the rebel end of corporate, and he was a guy who was the rebel end of corporate.
Tim Ferriss: He was the maverick within the machine.
Eric Weinstein: That's right.
Tim Ferriss: Let's switch gears a little bit because for this part one I have to get to the airport shortly, so I want to ask a couple of my favorite questions that are short questions that you don't have to give short answers to but we'll see what we can knock off.
When you think of the word successful, who's the first person who comes to mind and why?
Eric Weinstein: Paul Dirac, because he found what must be the strangest and most bizarre piece of physics I ever hoped to encounter. I'm very focused on physics into the 20s and and in physics in the 20th century. There were really three guys who were the main forces behind the three major equations. What I noticed about all three of them Einstein, Dirac and a guy named Seon Yang is that they all followed the same weird path, which was to use aesthetics rather than experiment as their guide.
So the entire rest of the field has had to use experiment and be in a regular science idiom and these are the three guys who more than anyone just sort of closed their eyes and tried to figure out OK, so how should this game go, and then prove that the world more or less went the way they said it should.
Tim Ferriss: Now by aesthetics do you mean looking for what they perceived as beautiful or elegant?
Eric Weinstein: Yeah, this is like the, you know, I often make this joke that the scientific method is the radio edit of great science. Great science doesn't look much like the story you've been told about people diligently trying to falsify things and, you know, all sorts of statistical significance.
Great science looks like breaking into graveyards and digging up bodies when you know you shouldn’t, or trusting your aesthetic sense when the data tells you otherwise.
I've always loved this aspect of Science, that you may want to tame this thing, and it won't be tamed. It will always be the case that the leaders of the field are the misfits in the back throwing spitballs, rather than the good kids who are always there on time raising their hands.
Tim Ferriss: We asked about books earlier, so we won't hit that. Do you have a favorite documentary or movie besides Kung-fu Panda or any that come to mind?
Eric Weinstein: Well, there was a brilliant one that I haven't ever heard of since I saw it called ‘Rate It X’, and it was about pornographers and it was an anti-pornography movie and it's gambit was to just let pornographers talk at length without interruption or editing.
So it made its point by just giving these people a mic when they really shouldn't have said anything. I thought that was absolutely ingenious.
Tim Ferriss: I really want to watch that! Yeah, sometimes the the best sort of refutation and debating tactic is just letting somebody talk just let them bury themselves.
What $100 or less purchase has most positively impacted your life in recent memory last six months a year?
Eric Weinstein: I just bought my punk ten-year-old kid a mandolin, and suddenly that's all we hear in the house. I just think what a completely bizarre instrument to fall in love with. I think I got it for 98 bucks.
Tim Ferriss: Just on my it's a hair's breadth away. Why the mandolin, as opposed to a different instrument?
Eric Weinstein: I think it's really important like we're talking about with languages that are less commonly studied, I think that the mandolin is the loser of an old battle between the mandolin and the guitar. It was very popular at the end of the 19th century when a bunch of, I think they were called like the Italian students or the Spanish students came through, and everyone went crazy for mandalas but they weren't quite as versatile.
It's the same fingering patterns as a violin so that everything that you learned to pluck you can then learn to bow later, but it's also compact and it's highly melodic in its nature, so you cannot alternate between court. It's like a little bit of a ukulele on steroids.
Tim Ferriss: Do you have any favorite mandolin player?
Eric Weinstein: Oh gosh, well there's this guy that just got the McArthur fellowship that I can't think of his name. (Chris Thile - 2012 winner)
Tim Ferriss: Of course I'm imagining I can't be that many mandolin playing MacArthur winners, maybe your wrong. But I guess have you searched the Mark...
Eric Weinstein: Mark O'Connor, who was the great bluegrass prodigy, first a violin. I think he won the fiddle championship three years in a row. They outlawed him ever winning again so he became the flat picking champion on guitar. I think he's pretty terrific.
So the MacArthur award is a different person.
Tim Ferriss: For those people not familiar, it's actually worth looking into. It’s called the Genius Grant. Do you have any particular morning rituals that are important to you?
Eric Weinstein: Okay each morning is basically a struggle against a new day, which I view as a series of opponents who must be defeated. I'm not a morning person. So every morning I get out of bed I'm just astounded that I've done that.
Well you know there was a was a Julian Schwinger the great Harvard physicist I think was asked if he would teach the 9 a.m. quantum mechanics course, and he stopped for a second.
The person who was asking said what's the problem Professor? Schwinger says I don't know if I can stay up that late.
Tim Ferriss: So what if you are trying to do deep creative work that requires a lot of synthesis or just as Naval Ravikant might say, orthogonal thinking. So, on what would your kind of work cycle look like? When do you do that type of work?
Eric Weinstein: So I use a weird technique. I used coprolalia where I say since...
Tim Ferriss: It sounds pornographic.
Eric Weinstein: A little bit. It's you know those strings of obscenities that Tourette's patients involuntarily utter? I think it's coprolalia, just talking streams of shit. So I find that when we use words that are prohibited to us, it tells our brain that we are inhabiting unsafe space, and it's a bit of a sign that you're going into a different mode. So I tend to become sort of facultatively autistic. That is, I think I can be social and personable if I'm trying to do that, but when I'm going to do deep work, very often it has this kind of very powerful aggressive energy to it. It's not easy to be around. It's very exacting. I think I would probably look very autistic, to people who know me to be social, were they ever to see me in work mode.
Tim Ferriss: So how do you incite that? How do you invoke that? So do you just, going back to the expression, or the term I still can’t say. Do you just start trying to string together as many obscenities as possible in the some incantation?
Eric Weinstein: I have my same sequence. It's like an invariant mantra that I have to say
Tim Ferriss: Can you share it?
Eric Weinstein: Oh, no no no.. it’s like it's and you can't share your meditation.
Tim Ferriss: It’s like Transcendent Meditation. Well, just some hints then. How long is it?
Eric Weinstein: It probably takes me 7 seconds to say it.
Tim Ferriss: Oh my god the curiosity is killing right.
Eric Weinstein: You have to you have to decamp from normal reality, where you start thinking about everything in positive terms. Well how am I negatively going to impact my neighbor. No your this is your time, you're stealing your time. The act of creation is itself is a violent action.
Tim Ferriss: What time of day would you typically bring up this mantra and going to that mode, like a preferred time.
Eric Weinstein: Sure. So this is a politically incorrect statement but mathematicians of an older generation discussed the hour of the night when all theorems are true and all women are beautiful. The pleasure of doing math or physics at 3:00 a.m. when the phone stops ringing, when you have no FOMO (Fear of missing out) because everybody's asleep. It's a Monday night and it's just you and an expansive whiteboard. That's when the magic happens.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, unfortunately for my social life, that's also when I do my, I’m not saying it's good, but my best writing and synthesis happens, yeah.
Eric Weinstein: Is that right?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, it's it's typically between 1:00 and 5:00 a.m.
Eric Weinstein: I find at five, the stuff I come up with is a little bit unreliable.
Tim Ferriss: Five is only if I've managed to catch the wave you've been waiting for an entire season of mental surfing and you're like, okay there's no way I can paddle in now and miss that set that's coming. You just have to to ride it. At least what I will do is ride it until I just collapse from exhaustion, if i have it. If the muse is somehow been captured in the bottle.
Eric Weinstein: I mean, I may cycle over 24-hours, I mean not go to sleep in that state, but you know that's rare.
Tim Ferriss: It is rare for me also. Not to compare the the funny how-to stuff that I write to complex physics. If you could have one billboard anywhere with anything on it what would it say?
Eric Weinstein: One billboard, anything on it. "Just because a large number of well credentialed experts believe something in common doesn't mean that it's necessarily wrong, but if they've reached consensus that's the way to bet." Somehow, people have to learn that consensus is a huge problem. There's no arithmetic consensus because it doesn't require a consensus, but there is a Washington consensus, there is a climate consensus. In general, consensus is how we bully people into pretending that there's nothing to see, you know move along everyone. So I think that in part you should start to learn that when people don't naturally come to high levels agreement of agreement unless something is either absolutely clear, in which case consensus isn't present or there's an implied threat of violence to livelihood or self.
Tim Ferriss: What advice would you give to your 30 year old self and if you could just place us in time, what were you doing at that age?
Eric Weinstein: So when I was 30, I guess I was still struggling to stay in or get out of academics. What I didn't realize is that the structure of the universities was that they were either hitting steady-state or growing very little or shrinking and that was a not a healthy place to be. Most of the good seats in the musical chairs competition had already been found in the 60s and they had occupants and we were in some sort of a game where we were doing work for the system but we weren't set to inherit it.
What I needed to do was to decamp and to realize that technology was going to be a boom area. Even though I wanted to do science rather than technology, it's better to be in an expanding world and not quite in exactly the right field, than to be in a contracting world where people's worst behavior comes out and your mind is grooved in defensive and rent-seeking types of ways.
Life is just too short to be petty and defensive and cruel to other people who are seeking to innovate alongside you.
Tim Ferriss: The last question, Do you have any ask or requests for my audience for people listening anything they should think on, do or otherwise.
Eric Weinstein: Well first of all, I would really like a high-quality umbrella from one of you, just to prove the point that was actually a reasonable problem to set.
I guess what I would really like is for those of you who've been told that you're learning disabled, or you're not good at math, or that you're terrible at music or something like that, seek out unconventional ways of proving that wrong.
Believe not only in yourselves, but that there are structures that are powerful enough to make things that look very difficult much easier than you ever imagined.
Tim Ferriss: That is great advice and for those people who particularly have this music insecurity as I do, one thing that has seemed to me like a life raft in the sea of complexity is the 3 chord song by ‘The axis of awesome’.
Eric Weinstein: Four chords.
Tim Ferriss: Oh God, I knew I was gonna do that - four chords on. There we go. So you can look that up on YouTube or elsewhere for a real hilarious but also potential - what the hell am I trying to say here - I just ran out of caffeine. This is the moment you’re like I’m trying to explain...
It's an amazing act that they put together which shows you how complexity can be created through simplicity or perceived complexity.
Eric Weinstein: Well yeah and it shows you that your mind has stored over a hundred songs that you think of as being completely different in different places even though there was a simple fact bringing them all together.
I liken it to the moment that people realize that in it almost every advertisement for wristwatches the watches are set to ten-ten, and before you realize that, you can't really believe that it's true, but afterwards you realize that the world has just pulled one over on you, because ten ten looks like a smile to watch advertisers.
Tim Ferriss: I guess it's very symmetrical isn't it.
Eric Weinstein: Yeah, but it what's funny is that the wisdom has crept to the point where sometimes you'll see digital watch ads and they'll still be set to ten-ten, even though it doesn't look like a smile.
Tim Ferriss: So, I'm gonna I'm just gonna throw out a teaser here because we don't have time to get into it today. You and I have privately spoken quite a bit about psychedelics. I am either by the time people hear this or very shortly going to be helping to raise funds for a very interesting study that John Hopkins is putting together. You said to me not too long ago, something along the lines of, you'd be amazed or you wouldn't believe how straight and narrow I was for so long. When was the first time that you tried psychedelics?
Eric Weinstein: Relatively recently, and it was because I had been propagandized so thoroughly, that even to this day I don't like the association. I don't like the word cloud around them. There were all sorts of confusions, that the power of one of these substances must come from killing brain cells, like pouring acid on your brain and leaving it as Swiss cheese.
It wasn't until I started meeting some of the most intellectually gifted people in the sciences and beyond and I realized that this was sort of the open secret of what I call the hallucinogenic elite. Whether it's billionaires or Nobel laureates or inventors and encoders, that a lot of these people were using these agents, either for creativity or to gain access to the things that are so difficult to get access to through therapy and other conventional means. So tune in next time when you'll hear Tim say...
Tim Ferriss: I will dig into this into this font of knowledge, this gold mine, and give a Google guys search my name and Johns Hopkins by the time you hear this you might see some very interesting stuff up about this and you could actually get involved and learn a lot more about it but before that and in closing I suppose I should ask where can people find you on the end where can they ping you if they want to share with you their incredible origami umbrella solution.
Eric Weinstein: I’m on Twitter or wherever you might be more than less. Yes, I'm on Twitter @EricRWeinstein and you can find some of my essays at Edge.org, particularly one on professional wrestling as a metaphor for living in a constructed and false reality.
Tim Ferriss: Well Eric, I love hanging out. This is always so much fun and I appreciate you taking the time to join us and to brainstorm and share your wisdom with me and with everybody listening.
Eric Weinstein: Thank you so much Tim thanks for inviting me into your world and allowing me to talk to your base.