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November 23, 2022 39 mins

Minnie questions neuroscientist and author, David Eagleman. David shares how a childhood fall influenced his life's work, the impact his teachers had on him outside the classroom (including the legendary Francis Crick), and why a chain restaurant is the secret to his writing success.

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Speaker 1 (00:03):
And my grandfather was born in three. I had a
proper Victorian for a grandfather. So my grandchild was born
eighteen seventy nine. What. Yeah, he was fifty years old
when he had my father, and my father was getting
close to fifty when he heard me, that's bananas. That
was really interesting being taught to grow tomatoes by a
ninety seven year old grandpa. And my mother was always

(00:25):
working jokes about are you sure girls are allowed to
grow tomatoes? Hello, I'm mini driver. Welcome to Many Questions
Season two. I've always loved Pruce's question that it was
originally an nineteenth century parlor game where players would ask

(00:46):
each other thirty five questions aimed at revealing the other
players true nature. It's just the scientific method really. In
asking different people the same set of questions, you can
make observations about which truths appear to be universal. I
love this discipline, and it made me wonder, what if
these questions were just the jumping off point, what greater

(01:08):
depths would be revealed if I ask these questions as
conversation starters with thought leaders and trailblazers across all these
different disciplines. So I adapted prus questionnaire, and I wrote
my own seven questions that I personally think a pertinent
to a person's story. They are when and where were
you happiest? What is the quality you like least about yourself?

(01:28):
What relationship, real or fictionalized, defines love for you? What
question would you most like answered? What person, place, or
experience has shaped you the most? What would be your
last meal? And can you tell me something in your
life that's grown out of a personal disaster? And I've
gathered a group of really remarkable people, ones that I

(01:50):
am honored and humbled to have had the chance to
engage with. You may not hear their answers to all
seven of these questions. We've whittled it down to which
question felt closest to their experience or the most surprising,
or created the most fertile ground to connect. My guest
today is the neuroscientist and author David Eagleman. I'm not

(02:14):
sure I've ever had a really long conversation with a
polymath before, but you sure don't forget it when it's over,
because you know, you keep waking up thinking about things
they said, and expands everything from quantum of spirituality to
philosophy to neuro Law and Science to coffee in I Hop,
David writes about the brain and how it constructs a perception,

(02:37):
and how different brains do so differently, and how much
that matters for society. He is, among many other things,
the executive director of the Center for Science and Law,
which is a nonprofit that sets out to improve the
legal system by importing our knowledge about the human brain,
which then gives options for rehabilitation beyond mass incarceration. He's

(02:58):
written tons of books, and you will read and be
astonished by all of them. He said something that I
think about a lot. He said he was interested in
exploring the vastness of our ignorance. And he said to
this kind of interest and excitement and without judgment of
our human brains, which he also described, and I'm paraphrasing

(03:21):
as the three pound meat machine who lives in the
dark and basically runs everything. I hope you enjoy listening
to David's brain. What relationship, real or fictionalized, de finds
love for you? I think there are two ways to

(03:42):
think about that. One is how we feel about the
love for our children. So if you think about Cormick
McCarthy's The Road, for example, you know, it's a post
apocalyptic world after nuclear war, and this father does everything
in his power just to save his son, just to
do everything you can to protect his son and keep
him alive. And of course there are there are many
stories like this life is Beautiful Roberto Bernini Amy getting

(04:04):
the title right of that one. Yeah, when he puts
him in the bin at the end, Yeah, absolutely, Yeah,
He's in a concentration camp with his son and he
does everything you can to protect his son. So that's
a kind of love that now that I'm a father,
is very meaningful to me. As for romantic love, I
think that would change each year of my life for me,
which is to say, when we're younger, we all take

(04:24):
these great romance fantasies to represent love, and as you
get older, more realism seeps in. So I've been married
for twelve years now, and I appreciate now the way
that real relationships are complex and people change over different
time scales, as life changes in his career, opportunity to change.
And I just recently re saw rewatched Fiddler on the Roof,
you know, and he says, have you asked his wife?

(04:45):
You know? Do you love me? And she says, do
I what and so? And you know, they realized that
the romantic notions can't capture it. But other notions, uh,
you know, what they do for each other, how they
demonstrate their bond to one another. This does capture something important.
Do you think that the romantic love, the faith based love,
service based love, the love of our children? Do you

(05:07):
think that the route that it's erroneous that we have
the same word for it, because there are myriad ways
to love, right? Yeah. Raymond Carver has a short story
called what We talked About When we talk about Love,
and I've always it's a great short story, but I've
always loved the title as well, because it's about the
complexity of it, and like so many words in our language,

(05:27):
there's just too much semantic weight that that word is
trying to hold, because in fact, it is composed of
many different things. Yeah, exactly, It's composed of so many things,
and which of those things matters to us that changes
through the years. You know, my father, before he died,
was in one of these care homes. So I met
some of the other people on his hallway, much older

(05:47):
men and women who were there, and I think they
still cared about love, but it was something so different
for them. It wasn't about the you know, sort of
young sexy thing, it was about something else. Yeah, definitely.
It's really I'm fascinated by the different permutations of it,
of devotion, and of the way in which people love differently,
when the love that they have with their version of God,

(06:08):
or with animals or with something that they do, how
they love romantically changes directly depending on what their relationship
with that sort of outsourced love, as it were, the
love that we don't really talk about. I always think
of love as romantic. I think lots of people do.
But yeah, that's right. And the other thing about love is,
you know, obviously it goes into directions. So we all

(06:29):
want to get love. We want to receive love, love
in various ways, including from our dogs and so on.
But we want to be good to the people that
we care about and love them well. But it's hard, right,
because we're made up of all these different neural networks
that all have different drives and care about different things.
And so sometimes you're feeling angry, and sometimes you're feeling
distracted by work, and sometimes you're feeling whatever, and so
you know, we're constantly finding ourselves in situations where we

(06:52):
don't behave the way that we would like to. One
of the books that I'm writting right now has to
do with something called the Ulysses contract, which is how
you can make a deal with yourself in time to
constrain your behavior by doing something right now that essentially
puts you in a contract so that you'll behave better
in some future situation. This is what Ulysses did when
he lashed himself to the mask. He knew that the

(07:15):
sirens song would tempt him just like any mortal man,
any crash in the rocks. So what he did is
the Ulysses of sound mind lashed himself to the mass
so that the future Ulysses couldn't behave badly. And I
find this a really interesting concept about the things that
we do to make sure that we don't behave badly
the future. This is this absolutely fascinating carry on carry on. Well,

(07:35):
you know. One example is if you're trying to get
over some addiction, like you know, alcoholism, what you do
is you clear all the alcohol out of your house
so that on a you know, festive Saturday night or
a lonely Sunday, night or something you're not going to
go in. Even if you think, oh, I'm sure I
won't drink this anymore, you get rid of it. That's
the Ulysses contract or, you know, for drug addicts when
of the first things they're taught when they're trying to

(07:55):
break this is never walked around with more than twenty
dollars in your pocket, because at some point was going
to come up to you and offer to sell you drugs,
and you'll be tempted and then you'll give in. So
there are many things that we do to make sure
that we can, you know, make a choice now that
will pay off to keep us acting consistently with our
long term decision making. I mean, I think I could

(08:15):
definitely just put a big piece of tape over my
mouth and that would be my Ulysses contracts sorted. Future
me is never going to say the stuff that I
am thinking that I know is going to cause trouble
because I've got a massive piece of tape. And maybe
you could, like TM your name. It could be like
David Eagleman Ulysses tape. I would buy that ship. But

(08:42):
that requires a modicum of self knowledge that most people
are not interested in interrogating because they don't want to
think that there is something fundamentally wrong with them that
it's going to affect their situation now much less in
the future when the mermaids are singing and calling you
into the ocean. Were so tender and we're so lost
as people. I mean, I love that you write these

(09:02):
books that really do act as guide posts, because that's
what I think they are. And I'm constantly looking for
signs and signed posts because it is so fragile and tender,
and that you know that you're writing a book for that.
But I feel for I feel for all of us,
myself included, going I just I wonder how deep I
can go into who I am to know how I

(09:22):
could save myself from myself. Yes, exactly. So, when it
comes to this issue about self interrogation and really trying
to understand who we are, one of the hardest things
to see is the way that we come off to
other people. Because in fact, this is what one of
my other books is and I'm writing right now. It's
called Empire of the Invisible, and it's all about what's

(09:45):
going on in politics right now. Specifically, it's asking why
we each believe that we have the truth and we
see the truth so clearly, and everyone else is misinformed
or they're a troll or whatever it is. And if
I can only shout in all caps loud enough on Twitter,
I could convince everyone that I am right. It's crazy
to me that everybody believes this at whatever part of

(10:06):
the political spectrum. And by the way, in terms of relationships,
we know tend to all believe this as well, which
is okay, Well, I I already know how to do relationships.
I'm I'm saying the right things all the time. Do
you think that that kind of the surety of that
empiricism that is so pervasive, is that human or is
that learned? Like is that hardwired into our brains? Is

(10:27):
that something that was useful once when we were discovering fire? Yeah,
it couldn't actually be any other way because the way
we build a model of the world. Remember, your brain
is locked in silence and darkness inside your skull, and
all it's trying to do is put together an internal
model of what is going on out there, which includes
other people and how other people behave and how they'll

(10:48):
react to what you say. And the thing is that
this internal model is inherently limited. It's only built up
from the little dribbles of data that you get in
during your years. And so the way the brain works
is it says, okay, look, I've got this data. I've
collected all this data. I know what is true, and
it's just built up from what we've taken in. Now,
by the way, I will say, we're probably better off

(11:08):
than we were historically because now we have, for example,
the printing press, and so we have movies and things
like that, and so you put all this together and
we're exposed to literature and two stories that are much
broader than our own experience. So that helps. But still,
I've only read a find a number of books in
my lifetime. I've always met a finite number of people,
and that has shaped my experience, just like your experiences

(11:29):
have shaped your brain. And so that's why given that data,
you say, Okay, I know what is true. This is
what is true. It's very very interesting. I'm really looking
forward to reading that book. What person, place, or experience
most altered your life? Well, interestingly, it's almost certainly my parents.

(11:51):
But the interesting part is that that feels invisible to us.
In other words, it's very hard to to see all
of the ways of what your parents shaped you, because
you knew nothing else. That was us the background furniture
of the world, and you grew up against that. So
that's certainly what has shaped me the most my parents.
But when I was in graduate school, my thesis advisor,
ain him Read Montague, was unbelievably influential on me. He

(12:13):
you know, you come to an age when you're a
young person. I was like, I guess maybe when I
entered grad school, you know, you're just leaving your parents
home and you're looking for other people in the world.
And he was just a great person to really admire
in so many ways. He was twenty points at ahead
of everybody, and he was a terrific athlete, unbelievably strong
and fast and so on, and and the key thing

(12:34):
is he gave me no charity. I mean, he spent
the entirety of grad school beating me up every day.
And that was really valuable because I think, actually, maybe
there's sometimes too much charity that happens because teachers are kind,
or they're just too tired or whatever. So if you
get something right and you don't get a hundred percent right,
no one really says anything. They don't expect anything more

(12:56):
from you, but read expected a hundred percent all the time,
every time. And that was probably the most valuable thing
that's happened in my life. And then I guess the
last thing I'd say is when I was a post doc,
one of the people I got to work with was
Francis Crick, who was the co discoverer of the structure
of DNA. That in my entire life since then, I've
not had another experience like that, because he was such
a special person in the sense that not only was

(13:18):
he essentially the giant of twentieth century biology, but he
didn't have a life like other people. He never had
to right grants and try to get a job as
a professor and whatever. So he just had this office
and he would read the scientific journals all day. And
I asked him, as I said, what are you looking
for when you're reading there? He said, I don't know.
But what he meant was he's just letting ideas come
to him, and he's writing letters scientists around the world

(13:39):
and saying, hey, why don't you do this experience? What
if you did this and this and this. He was
just a person who because he'd won a Nobel prize
as a young person, got to just be a giant
thinker his whole life and never had to deal with
the constraints that everyone else had too. Wow, how amazing,
How amazing that he was your teacher? Yeah, I do think.
How have things teach you? Yes, we have a big

(14:00):
swell here in California at the moment. I don't know
if you're aware of yourself, but I am. And yesterday
I went out very excited and I just took so
many giant waves on my head and I was so bummed,
and I kind of I came in and I sat
on the beach and my friend I was like, oh,
it was just the worst. And my friend went, well,
do you know what you did? Like, do you know what?

(14:21):
Do you know what happened? I was like, well, yeah,
you know that first ten footer I was too far
ahead of it, and on the second one I was
just dealing with being piste off about the first one,
and the third one I was scared. And he was like, great, well,
now you can go back out and not do all
that ship that you just said, And so I did.
I went back out and I took another ten waves
on the head, but I did get one really amazing one. Yeah,

(14:55):
in your life, can you tell me about something that
has grown out of a personal disaster? Uh? Yeah. When
I was in the third grade, I fell off of
a roof of a house that was under construction, and
I almost died. Um. I fell, you know, from the
roof and landed on the brick floor, face first, and
I shattered my nose. But I think that's part of
what made me a neuroscientist, because as I was falling,

(15:18):
I was, first of all, having completely calm, clear thoughts.
I was thinking about Alice in Wonderland and how this
must have been what it was like when she was
falling down the rabbit hole. And just before that, I
was thinking about, Okay, I wonder if I could still
grab for the roof, and and then I realized that's
tar paper and it's not gonna hold, and that's not
gonna work. And you know, eventually I just turned and
faced the bricks and hit. But the thing is that

(15:38):
the whole event seemed to take a very long time.
I still remember the thoughts very clearly because it was,
you know, a traumatic event. But when I got to
high school and I took physics. I realized that the
whole fall had taken point six of a second, and
I couldn't figure that out. I couldn't understand how this
thing that was so fast seemed to taking so long.
It's like, I'm really interested in our perception of the world,
and specifically in the perception of time and why things

(15:58):
seemed to go in slow motion during a life threatening event.
And I ended up, you know, growing up to become
a neuroscientist. And I studied that. I did these experiments
where I dropped people from a hundred and fifty foot
tall tower in free fall and they're caught in a
net below, going seventy miles an hour, and I was
able to measure aspects of their time perception on the

(16:19):
way down. How did you do that? What I did
is I built a device that went on their wrist
and it flashed information at them, visual information at them
at a certain rate, and depending on how fast they
were seeing the world, the question was would they be
able to essentially see in slow motion? Because everybody who's
ever gotten in a car accident says, oh, you know,
I was like so much. I saw the hood crumple

(16:40):
in the rear view mirror fall off and the facial
expression the other person and so on, and so I
wanted to really test whether that was true, whether you
could see in slow motion, and it turned out that
you do not see in slow motion. It's all a
retrospective trick of memory, which is to say, when you're
in a life streating situation, you're laying down memories really densely.
Normally you're not laying down much memory at all. You know,

(17:02):
I don't remember my drive home. It was just it
was nothing. But when something really matters, your brain writes
sound every single thing. So when you read that back out,
when you say what does happen? What does happened? What
just happened, you remember it in such detail that your
brain estimates, I guess I was have taken longer. I
was taken a long time. So it's all about the
way memory is laid down. That's why we think the
event took place in slow motion, whereas in fact it's

(17:23):
not slow motion. And I realized after I did these
experiments that it has to be that way, because you know,
coming back to the car accidents, which someone says, look,
I know it went slow motion because I saw these things,
you can just ask the person, Okay, look the passenger
on the car seat next to you, who is screaming.
Did it sounds like the person was actually saying because
if not, then that means it was not going in
slow motion, and people have to allow that. Actually, they

(17:46):
didn't hear things in slow motion, so it's simply that
they remembered all the details, and so when their brain
makes an estimate, it says, I guess that must have
been five seconds, because I don't usually have that much memory.
Do you think that only a traumatic event can trigger
that kind of memory sequence, But because something that is
intensely pleasurable and amazing do the same thing? Yeah, good question.
It can be the intensely pleasurable and amazing. It's just

(18:07):
that's more rare. But it's an area of your brain
called the limbic system and the amygdala in particular, that's
involved and saying, hey, write this down. This is important,
and there aren't that many things that are super important
for us write down. Certainly traumatic events count, and certainly
super pleasurable events a count, But otherwise most of the
time you're amygla says, Okay, you know, same old stuff.
I'm not gonna bother keeping dense memories of this. That's

(18:29):
so funny because childbirth, I don't know what your partner
or wife experience, but it's so interesting. There is great
swathes of the thirty seven hours that I was in
labor that I remember so acutely and keenly, and they
involved pain, and they also involved laughter and hilarious things
that my mother and my sister said. And then there
must be ours. There were hours and hours and hours

(18:50):
that I know I was just stumbling through pain, but
I don't remember exactly. So it's it's interesting. There are
parts of that thirty seven hours that are carved out
in the boldest relief. So interesting. I've often wondered why
my brain chose to remember those bits and not when
I was sitting in the shower, you know, singing, which
I know I did because they told me I did it,
but I don't really remember it. Yeah, Well, what happens

(19:11):
during pregnancies. You've got all these hormones that are going
up and down and bouncing all over the place, and
for better or worse, this just teaches us what biological
machines we are, which is to say, oh, when this
hormone's himes and then you're remembering and you can remember
that later, and then when this other thing is happening,
forget it. You're just not writing anything. Now it's amazing. Yeah,
it can be amazing and depressing and eye opening and

(19:33):
so on. I think it's the most important thing for
self understanding, for understanding what is our experience in the world.
I think that grief has taught me that meaning is
just assigned. We assigned meaning, and the depth of our
experience and the meaningfulness of our life is in direct
proportion to what meaning we assigned to it. Well, it's
even worse than that, I think, which is to say,

(19:55):
a lot of the stuff is evolutionarily dictated, and so
you know, when you're a young person and you when
we think, oh my god, I'm so in love and
so on, that meaning we didn't really have a choice
in that. That is what has allowed our species to survive.
So many things are like that. Why is it that,
you know, if if there's a lemon pie in the
oven that smells so good, but let's say a piece

(20:17):
of poop on the sidewalk smells so aversive, so bad,
given that they're just molecules both in both cases just
molecules that are wafting through the air and attached to
receptors in your nose. You know, if you study full
faction how that actually works. It's just molecules in different shapes.
So if I showed you the two different shapes, I said, okay,
one of these is lemon pie. One of these poop,
you wouldn't know which is which you couldn't possibly And

(20:37):
so the question is why is one so pleasurable one
so aversive? And the answer has to do with the
evolutionary meaning. So the lemon pie tells you, hey, there's food,
there's high sugars, and they're great. I can keep this
battery powered, you know, robot meat, robot going. But the
poop is full of bacteria, and things that have been
figured out through revolutionary time are dangerous to your pathologic

(20:59):
and so the shorthand that your brain does to say,
oh that's aversive, don't go near that thing. And so
I often wonder about this issue of all the things
that we find meaningful in life. The question is how
how far does the hand of evolution reach in there
and define what we find meaningful, what we don't exactly
and spending time on wrapping that that probably isn't quite

(21:21):
enough life to do that. Or maybe that is, but
maybe it would just take all the fun out of it.
You know, I don't actually think so. You know. My
analogy is if you and I sat down many for
the next hour and I gave you a diagram, and
I showed you exactly why you like the taste of
let's say, chocolate, why you think that tastes so delicious.
You might say, okay, good, I've got it. I understand
the entire diagram. But that doesn't change your pleasure about

(21:43):
it at all. It doesn't improve it, it it doesn't diminish it.
It's like it's a different world. I mean, if I
send this to you about you know, the color purple,
I said, oh, look here, you've got these color photo
receptors and this happens in a visual cortex, blah blah blah.
Doesn't change the fact that you look at something purple
and say, oh, that's beautiful. Has having your children made
do you think about neuroscience in a different way? Yeah,

(22:03):
Because like the Yogis talk about beginner's mind, like that
that is that is a place that you are always
seeking to get back to, which is what I always
I've always perceived that, having watched my son grow up,
that beginner's mind is the purest, most beautiful. They are
so connected to whatever was pre consciousness and they've brought
that in with them. So yeah, Well, one of the

(22:23):
things that has sort of been an interesting surprise to
me is just seeing the punctuated equilibrium, by which I mean,
you know, things change suddenly, as in, you know, one
day your daughter can't read, and then you know, kind
of a week later, she's a pretty good reader. It's
just sort of these things that you work on with
her for a long time, sudden change. And I've always
found this kind of thing fascinating. It's like the system
finds something where it says, okay, now I got it,

(22:46):
and now I know how to read or ride a
bicycle or whatever the thing is. So that's been really
interesting to me, and also to really try to get
an understanding of which things are pre programmed and which
things are just a matter of absorbing from the world.
And you know, it's always a combination of both. You
may know this, but the nature versus nurture debate is
totally dead because it's always both. You come to the

(23:07):
table with a lot of pre programming, and you absorb
the world, and you absorb your language and your culture
and your neighborhood and your religion and so on. That
all becomes part of who you are. So, you know,
just just really watching my kids and trying to understand
that isn't really Oh, I get so worried that there
was no way I could have created a scientist because
of that, because my son is around music and music

(23:29):
and music and acting and reading and poetry and plays
and discussing literature and movies and this. And sure enough
he comes back from this amazing school that he goes
to having said, can I have base lessons? Can I
learn the base in September? And I was like yeah,
totally great. And he comes home and he's already playing
the bass like he can now play it. And I

(23:50):
was like, well, I thought we were going to do
the bass lessons. He was like yeah, I couldn't. I
couldn't wait. It was just in there. I had to
start doing it. And I was thinking, like part of
me was going this so amazing, and pop was going
you poor thing, like you could have maybe built a bridge,
like but there was really never any chance that you
were going to be able to build a bridge because
of me. You know, I'll tell you the good news,

(24:10):
that's that you're totally right in your intuition about this.
But there's two things worth noting. One is that you know,
kids dropped into the world having a lot of predispositions
that might be different from yours. So you will influence
your child massively, and yet your child will go off
and do things that you didn't really expect. The second
thing that's so wonderful about this world is the Internet

(24:31):
and the fact that you have access to anything anytime.
So he gets lots of music from you, but boy,
he can just log on and watch you know, Carl
Sagan's Cosmos, or watch Neil Durass Tyson, or watch anything
he wants to watch, some brain pop video or some
ted Ed and suddenly be turned onto bridge building in
a way that even though he didn't get it from you,
he got it from ted Ed. So that's the great

(24:52):
news about this. I mean, I would obviously walk across
a bridge that a bass player had built, but you
know thousands wouldn't. Can you tell me where and when
you were happiest? I hadn't experienced the other night when
I decided with my two children, who are seven and

(25:14):
ten years old, that we were going to camp out
on the trampoline outside, and it was it was very cold,
and we were very uncomfortable, but it was so much fun.
It was just all laughter, and so it was just
such a nice moment with my kids. So as far
as thinking of a moment, that's my most recent one.
But I think more generally, you know, I do all
my writing at eye Hoop, and these are different eye

(25:37):
hoops all over the world actually, But yeah, I've written
eight books, so I don't know, like a million words
I've published so far, and every single one of those
words has been done at you know, in the National
House of Pancakes. How many when you were ordering moons
over my heemy. Actually really just drink the coffee there.
I don't need too much of the way of pancakes,
but it's just the right speed. Starbucks is too um,

(25:59):
you know, there're too many people walking in and out,
and I hope is slower, and so I just sit
down for a six hour window and I just right.
And that is when I am my happiest, especially when
I feel like I've nailed something. I've gotten something that
was just a coffin this thought in my head clear
and on the page, and I've written, you know whatever,
a hundred fifty seven words that are crystal clear exactly

(26:21):
what I mean here. That's the best feeling that I know.
I know that you say you love to do that
in eye hoop? Can you do that anywhere? Or do
you get attached to an experience happening in a place
and then associate that good feeling with that place. You
can actually be anywhere. It just has to be a
place that's moving at the right speed. It's y called
eye hoop because you can only hop very slowly. You

(26:43):
cannot rush like Starbucks even sounds fast. It's like stars
and Bucks and movement. I can. I'm not gonna write
a coffee dash, but I love that feeling of just
going in deep. Well it's the quality you like at

(27:04):
least about yourself. Ah well, my whole life has been true.
I just take on too much. And I have so
many friends that are good at being laser focused. And
in fact, just this morning I was talking to a
colleague of mine who also writes books, and she said, yeah,
what I do is I start with the table of contents,
and I write each piece and I know exactly what's
going to go in the book and with the framework is.
And that's not at all how I do it. I'm

(27:24):
completely on the other end of whatever the spectrum is
that she's on. You know. I just I have ideas
and I dictate into every note all day long, and I, oh,
this is gonna be a paragraph here, and I here
and then and then I tie stuff together with time,
and I probably spend twice as much time putting something
together that way and deleting whole you know, scenes and
paragraphs and chapters. But that's just the way that that

(27:47):
I write. But the problem is, I'm always I mean,
this has always been true. I write, you know, five
books at once, and you know, I teach at Stanford,
I'm running two companies, and I'm about to start my
own podcast. That podcast is going to forty minute monologues
where I'm just talking for forty minutes. And so what
that means is, I'm just gonna have a ton of
work on my plate. I've got a great idea. I've

(28:08):
got a great idea. You record your podcast and then
that becomes your book. So you just record it and
then you put it through some program so that it
just dictates it, and then you just edit what you've
said already. This is how you're going to save time.
I would like to see this book. Yes, I love
that idea. You know. The difficulty is with a book,

(28:29):
it's like building a cathedral. You know, there's all this stuff.
It's such a bigger kind of project. And I wish
I could turn forty minute monologues into a book, but
it's uh. But perhaps if you do a hundred forty
minute monologues, you will have the beginnings of a book.
I'll have a lot of material, that's for sure. I've
written one book, David, which is not really comfortable to

(28:51):
anything that you've said. However, it was speaking the thoughts
that then made it much nearer. It made the reality
of that book much closer, so I could actually reach
out and get it. It was having verbalized it. So
I wonder if it would maybe speed up the process.
But you hear yourself talking about these ideas and it
becomes more coherent and certainly externalized and then become something

(29:12):
that you can actually you can grab easier and right out.
I don't know no, I totally get that. You reify
the ideas by saying them out loud. And then one
trick that I do all the time lately is I
will then take stuff that I've written and put into
programs so that it speaks the text back to me,
but with a totally different voice. I'd say a female
voice or British, but maybe your voice. So I'm listening

(29:32):
like an audiobook to my own writing and I think, oh,
that part sucked, and oh that logic doesn't quite match up.
That's amazing. I would love that. I would use that
for difficult conversations with my son. Let me just let
me just rest this, let me just REases to hear
that back. That's really cool, as though you're hearing a
different parents saying it and anything that's not so good actually,

(29:54):
as I'm a single mother, that really what hel I
could do it in like a man's voice, right perfect.
And by the way, many authors in the past have
used this method. Wordsworth, for example, had a lazy susan
on the table, you know, one of these circular jobs
that spins around, and he'd have his different manuscripts on it,
and he'd work on whatever manuscript until he was slowing down,
and then he'd spin it and pick a different manuscript

(30:15):
and work on that. That's exactly how I work. Whenever
I'm slowing down on something, I switch projects, and as
a result, I'm always working at top speed on that project.
So I think there actually is some benefit to it.
That's amazing. So it sounds like that's not necessarily like
a bad quality because you've done it always and you're
used to it in terms of taking on a lot
of things. I mean, for example, I'm in Silicon Valley

(30:36):
and I you know, the vcs who invest do not
do not like this quality about me. I think they
would much rather see me as the type of person
who just as wakes up thinks about this company seven.
And I do think about it essentially seven, but I'm
also doing other things at the same time. You know,
it has worked out, but it always feels like one
of those things where I'm leaning forward as far forward

(30:57):
as I can into the future and moving as fast
as I can on fronts, and as long as it works,
that's great. You know, at some point I'm going to
whatever it is, I'm going to break a leg or
you know, get diagnosed with something or whatever. And then
everything's gonna, you know, pile up like a giant car accident.
What would your life look like if you did slow down?
You know, I just don't think it's my personality. I've

(31:17):
actually tried. In fact, when I was in college, I
had this professor I really thought was wonderful, and he said, look, eagleman,
life is like you are a lumberjack, and you can't
go into the forest and take one thwack at each tree.
You have to pick your tree and really hit that
tree with it. And it sounded so wise, and I
really liked this guy, and so I tried to change myself.

(31:37):
But that's just not who I am. David. What would
be your last meal? I think I would do a
protein shake, And it's only because that represents my enthusiasm

(31:59):
about the next steps, about what's coming next, and I
want to make sure my body is fit and so
on for the future. So I might as well go
out on a high note with my eyes still on
the horizon. I think that's how I'd like to go out.
You're still feeding your muscles and feeding it protein. Yeah, yeah, cool,
I like that. I like that a lot. What flavor
protein shake would it be? I think chocolate. Why not?

(32:21):
I knew you were going to say that. I knew
you were going to say that. By the way, who
wouldn't What question would you most like? Answered? Years ago?
In two thousand four, I wrote a cover article for
Discover magazine called ten Unsolved Questions of Neuroscience. And what's
interesting is that those are essentially as unsolved now as

(32:42):
they were then, with one possible exception. Actually, but the
top question for me is the question of consciousness, which
is why does it feel like something to be you
or me? Because the brain is built of eighty six
billion neurons, which are the specialized cells of the brain,
and each of these neurons is you know, sending information

(33:03):
back and forth with these electrical spikes, and they're releasing chemicals,
all kinds of camp kids stuff. But fundamentally, it's just
a big biological machine. It's just doing stuff. It's just
you know, sending signals and reacting to signals, and as
far as we can tell, that's all that's going on.
Because when somebody damages their brain, we can make very
particular predictions about what the consequences are going to be.
It will change their risk aversion or their decision making,

(33:25):
or their ability to name animals or see colors or
understand music, you know, super specific things. And so that's
why when we look at hundreds of years of brain damage,
we say, all right, look it's Piers. Just be a
big machine there. But the question is why does it
feel like something to be alive? Why do you experience
the beauty of a sunset or the smell of cinnamon

(33:46):
or the taste of feta cheese on your tongue. Why
aren't we just like you know, my computer, my laptop
here is sending lots of signals around back and forth,
but presumably it's not conscious. And when I watch YouTube
video that I think is funny, it presumably doesn't. And
it's funny. It's just sending zero, you know, it's just
sending zeros and one drone. And when I shut it
off at night, it doesn't lament its own death or something.

(34:06):
So this is the question is how do you build
a biological machine and have it be self aware? Is
that the fundament of possibility? And is m yeah, exactly
so for anyone who doesn't though you know possibilities is
this movement I started about twelve years ago, which is
simply a way of me trying to capture what the
scientific temperament is. Where we shine a flashlight around the

(34:29):
possibility space, we say, look, maybe it's that, Maybe it's that,
Maybe it's that. And the reason I sort of tried
to articulate this is because when you go into a bookstore,
all you ever see are the books by the atheists,
the new atheists, and the books by the fundamentally religious,
and they're often put on the same table in the
bookstores so that you can sort of choose your side
and see what's But the truth is that our existence
in the cosmos is so deeply mysterious that almost certainly

(34:53):
there's something much more interesting going on that is neither
of those positions. I think you said it as well,
the asteness of our ignorance. It is full of potential
as opposed to full of admonishment. Yeah, when I read that,
you know, being interested in celebrating the vastness of our ignorance,
it was actually really dynamic as opposed to you dumb dumb.

(35:15):
It was like you dumb dumb. Right. The part of
that was surprising is that people want to pick one
answer and then fight for that and say Okay, this
is the right answer. Yeah. How many people are in
your movement? Can I be in it? Yeah? Please, I'd
love to have. You know, the interesting part, you know,
I wrote my book Some, which is a book of
literary fiction, and it's forty stories of what happens after

(35:37):
we die, and it's all made up. It's all meant
to be you know, funny and interesting and then if
it's meant to be taken seriously. But the part that
is meant to be taken seriously is the idea of, wow,
we really have no idea what this is, what our
existence is all about here? And that's what the metal
lesson that emerges from the book is. And so anyway,
after I said the sun and pr one day about
possibilityis um um, it sort of became a thing and

(35:59):
people started websites and Facebook groups and stuff like that.
So I don't know, I haven't really checked on in
a while, but I'm glad to see it's moving. I
like it. I think it's great. Now I've got to
read some as well. I have conversations based on something
that my mother post death, a phrase that she has coined,
which is called brain share because, as she's said, to
me in our conversations because she doesn't have a brain anymore,

(36:19):
which is a huge relief, but she has to use
mind so that I can feel her thoughts now. And
it's so funny because a friend of mine was like, well,
isn't that just your brain? Isn't that as the function
of your grief? Because she died only a year ago?
And I said, well, does it really matter. I don't
really know. I'll never know. It doesn't matter if I
know or if I don't know. But I hear her
voice very specifically, and we have these conversations which are

(36:42):
so they're fascinating to pick over. They're not just comforting,
they're strange because there's clearly an evolution either of my
idea of her since she died, or of her since
she died. That it's different enough that I recognize her,
but it's another version of her. Yeah. And you know,
one of those fascinating things is that the job of
the brain is to construct these internal models of other people.
So you have an enormous number of models in your head,

(37:05):
but you have thousands of these, you know, like oh,
your neighbor from down the street years ago, and oh,
your college roommate and so on. You've got little models.
Some are more sophisticated than the others. So your model
of your mother is you're devoting a lot of neural
real estate to that. Actually you've got a very rich
model of her. Other models that are thinner of you know,
your barista Starbucks or something that who don't know that well,

(37:26):
and you have to make lots of assumptions. But the
thing that has always struck me as fascinating, as you know,
in neuroscience my field, you know, we've essentially spent all
the time studying, Okay, how does vision work, how does
hearing work, how does decision making work? And so on?
But the part that's gone under appreciated there is how
social brains are. Brains are all about other brains, and
so this is sort of an emerging field called social neuroscience.

(37:47):
But the point is that a huge amount of the
territory of your brain is there just to simulate your
mother and your father and everybody you've ever known. Wow,
all right, I'm gonna be thinking about that three t time, David.
I'm so honestly just so shaft, as we say in England,
to talk to you, I can't thank you enough for

(38:08):
your time. Well, thank you, Minnie, It's been such a
pleasure to talk with you. Thank you very very much.
Be sure to check out David's books, including Some Incognito
and his most recent book, Live Wired, The Inside Story
of the Ever Changing Brain, which was also nominated for
a Pulitzer Prize. Live Word explores not only what the

(38:28):
brain is, but also what the brain does, and when
you sit down to read it, please feel free to
imagine you're having a cup of coffee at Eyehop sitting
next to David while he's busy writing five other books.
Mini Questions is hosted and written by Me Mini Driver,
supervising producer Aaron Kaufman, Producer Morgan Levoy, Research assistant Marissa Brown.

(38:54):
Original music Sorry Baby by Mini Driver. Additional musick by
Aaron Kaufman, Executive produced by Me Mini Driver. Special thanks
to Jim Nikolay, Will Pearson, Addison No Day, Lisa Castella
and Annicke Oppenheim at w kPr, de La Pescador, Kate

(39:17):
Driver and Jason Weinberg, and for constantly solicited tech support,
Henry Driver
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