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The following is a conversation with Lisa Feldman Barrett, her second time on the podcast. She's a neuroscientist at Northeastern University and one of my favorite people. Her new book called Seven and a Half Lessons about the Brain is out now as of a couple of days ago. So you should definitely support Lisa by buying it and sharing with friends if you like it. It's a great short intro to The Human Brain. Quick mention of his sponsor, followed by some thoughts related to the episode, I thought of Greens, the only one drink that I start every day with to cover all my nutritional bases, eat, sleep a mattress that calls itself and gives me yet another reason to enjoy sleep master class online courses that I enjoy from some of the most amazing people in history and better help online therapy with a licensed professional.


Please check out these sponsors in the description to get a discount and to support this podcast. As a side note, let me say that Lisa, just like Benoit, Kelis is a local brilliant mind friend and someone I can see talking to many more times. Sometimes it's fun to talk to a scientist, but just about their field of expertise, but also about random topics, even silly ones from love to music to philosophy. Ultimately, it's about having fun, something I know nothing about.


This conversation is certainly that you may not always work, but it's worth a shot. I think it's valuable to alternate among all kinds of dimensions, like between deeper technical discussions and more fun. Random discussion from liberal thinker to conservative thinker, from musician to athey, from CEO to junior engineer, from friend to stranger. Variety makes life in conversation more interesting. Let's see where this little podcast journey goes if you enjoy this thing. Subscribe on YouTube. Starting up a podcast following Spotify support on Patron.


Connect with me on Twitter. Elex Friedemann, as usual. I do a few minutes of ads now and no ads in the middle. I try to make things interesting, but I'll give you time stamps. So if you skip please to check out the sponsors by clicking the links and description. It's the best way to support this podcast. This show sponsored by Athletic Greens that all in one daily drink to support better health and peak performance. It replace the multivitamin for me and went far beyond that was seventy five vitamins and minerals.


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OK, so I'm a fan of your husband as well, Dan. He's a programmer. Musician, so a man after my own heart. Can I ask a ridiculously overromanticized question of when did you first fall in love with Dan is actually it's a really it's a really romantic story.


I think. So I was divorced by the time I was twenty six. Twenty seven, twenty six I guess. And I was in my first academic job, which was Penn State University, which is in the middle of Pennsylvania, surrounded by mountains. So it's four hours to get anywhere to get to Philadelphia, New York, Washington. I mean, you're basically stuck, you know, um. And I was very fortunate to have a lot of other assistant professors who were hired at the same time as I was.


So there were a lot of us. We were all friends, which was really fun. But I was single and I didn't want to date a student. And there were no and I wasn't going to date somebody in my department. That's just a recipe for disaster. Yeah.


So even at twenty, whatever you were, you're already wise enough to know that.


Yeah, a little bit maybe. Yeah. I wouldn't call me wise at that age, but anyways, I'm not sure that I would say that I'm wise now, but um. And so, um, after you know, I was spending probably 16 hours a day in the lab because it was my first year and as an assistant professor and there's a lot to do.


And I was also bitching and moaning to my friends that I hadn't had sex and I don't know how many months. And it was I was starting to, you know, become unhappy with my life.


And I think at a certain point they just got tired of listening to me bitch and moan and said, just do something about it then like, you know, if you're unhappy.


And so the first thing I did was I made friends with a sushi chef in town.


And this is a state college, Pennsylvania in the early nineties was there was like a pizza shop and a sub shop and actually a very good bagel shop and one good coffee shop and maybe one nice restaurant. I mean, there was really but there was a the second son of a Japanese sushi chef who was not going to inherit the restaurant. And so he moved to Pennsylvania and was giving sushi lessons. So I met this guy, the sushi, the sushi chef, and we decided to throw a sushi party at the coffee shop.


So we basically it was the goal was to invite every eligible bachelor really within like a 20 mile radius. We had a totally fun time. I wore an awesome crushed velvet burgundy dress with beautiful dress. And I didn't meet any I met a lot of front new friends, but I did not meet anybody. So then I thought, OK, well, maybe I'll try the personals ads, which I had never used before in my life.


And, um, I first tried the paper personals ads like a newspaper, like in the newspaper that didn't work. And then a friend of mine said, oh, you know, there's this thing called net news. So we're going this is like nineteen ninety two maybe. So there was this anonymous. You could do it anonymously. So you would you would read, you could post or you could read ads and then respond to an address which was anonymous and that was yoked to somebody's real address and.


And there was always a lag because it was this like a bulletin board sort of thing.


So at first I read I read them over and I decided to to respond to one or two.


And, you know, it was interesting to say this is not on the Internet. Yeah, this is totally on the Internet. But it takes there's a delay of a couple of days or whatever. Yeah. Right. Right.


It's 1992 and there's no web web pictures. There's no pictures. The web doesn't exist.


It's all done in ASCII format, sort of. And you know, but the real ASCII.


But the ratio of men to women was like ten to one. I mean, there were many more men because it was basically academics and the government. That was it. That's no, I mean, I think AOL maybe was just starting to become popular, but. And so the first person I met told me that he was a he worked he was a scientist who worked for NASA and. Yeah. Anyways, it turned out that he didn't actually make this holiday brag.


As you elevate your as opposed to saying you're taller than you are, you say like your position.


Yeah. And I actually I would have been fine dating somebody who was a scientist.


It's just that they have it's just that whoever I date has to just accept that I am and that I'm I was pretty ambitious and was trying to make my career. And, you know, that's not that that's not I think it's maybe more common now for men to maybe accept that in their female partners.


But at that time, not not so intimidating, I guess.


Yes, I that has been said. And so and so then the next one I actually corresponded with and we actually got to the point of talking on the phone and we had this really kind of funny conversation where, you know, we're chatting. And he said he's he introduces the idea that, you know, he's really looking for a dominant woman. And I'm thinking I'm a psychologist by training.


So I'm thinking, oh, he means sex roles. Like, I'm like, no, I'm very assertive. And I'm glad you think that. Anyways, long story short, that's not really what he meant.


Oh, OK.


I got it. Yeah. So I do you know, that will just show you my level of naiveté.


Like I was like I didn't completely understand.


I was like, well yeah, you know, no.


At one point he asked me how I felt about him wearing my lingerie. And I was like, I don't even share my lingerie with my sister. Like, I don't share my laundry with anybody, you know? No.


The third one I interacted with was a banker who lived in Singapore and. That that conversation didn't last very long because he made an announcement, I guess he he made an analogy between me and a. Character in The Fountainhead. The woman who's who's raped in The Fountainhead and I was like, OK, that's not that's not a good that's not a good no, that's not a good one. Not making it not that scene.


So then I said, then I was like, OK, you know what? I'm going to post my own ad. And so I did I post it. Well, first I wrote my ad and then I of course, I checked it with my my friends who were also assistant professors that are like my little Greek chorus. And then I posted it and I got something like, I don't know, 80 something responses in twenty four hours.


I mean, it was do you remember the pitch like how you, I guess, condensed yourself?


I don't remember it exactly, although Dand has it.


But actually for our 20th wedding anniversary he took our our exchanges and he printed them off and put them in a leather bound book for us to read, which was really sweet.


Yeah, I think I was just really direct. Like, I'm almost 30. I'm a scientist. I'm not looking, you know, I'm looking for something serious and, you know, but the thing is, I forgot to say where my location was and my age.


Yeah. Which I forgot. Yeah.


So I got lots of I mean I will say so I printed off all of the responses and I had all my friends over and we were, you know, had a big I made a big pot of gumbo and we drank through several bottles of wine reading these responses.


And I would say for the most part they were really sweet, like earnest and genuine. As much as you could tell that somebody was being genuine, it seemed, you know, there were a couple of really funky ones like, you know, this one couple who told me that I was their soulmate, the two of them. And they were looking for, you know, a third person.


And I was like, OK, but mostly super seem like super genuine people. And so I chose five men to start corresponding with and I was corresponding with them.


And then about a week later, I get this other email and OK, and then I post something the next day that said, OK, you know, thank you so much and I'm going to answer to every person back. But then after that I said, OK, I'm not going to answer anymore, you know, because it was they were still coming in. I couldn't you know, I have a job and, you know, a house to take care of and stuff.


So, yeah.


And then about a week later, I get this other email and he says, you know, he just describes himself like, I'm this, I'm this, I'm this. I'm a chef. I'm a scientist. Some of this, some of this. And so I emailed him back and I said, you know, you seem interesting. You can write me at my actual address if you want. Here's my address. I'm not really responding. I'm not really responding to other people anymore.


But you seem interesting. You know, you can write to me if you want. And then he wrote to me and I then I wrote him back and I it was it was a nondescript kind of email. And I wrote him back and I said, thanks for responding. You know, I'm really busy right now. I was in the middle of writing my first slate of grant applications, so I was really consumed and I said, I'll get back to you in a couple of days.


And so I did. I waited a couple of days. I my grants were, you know, safe grant application safely out the door. And then I emailed them back. And then he emailed me and then really across two days, we sent 100 emails. And text only with their pictures and the text only, text only, and then so this was like a Thursday into Friday and then Friday he said, let's talk on the weekend on the phone.


And I said, OK. And he wanted to talk Sunday night. And I had a date Sunday night.


So I said, OK, sure, we can talk Sunday night.


And then I was like, well, you know, I don't really want to cancel my date, so I'm just going to call him on Saturday. So I just called. I could call them on Saturday.


And a woman answered, Oh, wow. That's not cool, not cool. And so she says, you know, hello, and I say, oh, you know, is down there. And she said, Sure, can I ask who's calling? And I said it, tell them it's Lisa. And she went, Oh, my God, oh, my God.


I'm just a friend. I'm just a friend. I just want to tell you, I'm just a friend.


And I was like, yeah, this is adorable, but she doesn't. And then he gets on the phone, not, hi, nice to me. The first thing he says to me, she's just a friend, so.


I was just so charmed, really, by the whole thing, so it was it was Yom Kippur, it was the Jewish day of Atonement that was ending, and they were baking cookies and going to breakfast. So people, you know, as you know, fast all day and then they go to a party and they breakfast. So I thought, OK, I'll just I'll just, you know, cancel my date. So I did. And I stayed home and we talked for eight hours.


And then the next night for six hours, and basically it just went on like that, and then by the end of the week he he flew to state college and, you know, we'd gone through this whole thing where I'd said, we're going to take it slow. We're going to get to know each other, you know, and then really by I think we talked like two or three times these like really long conversations. And then he said, I'm just going to fly there.


And then so, of course, there's. I don't even know that there were fax machines at that point. I mean, maybe there were, but I don't think so anyway. So he we decide we'll exchange pictures. And so he you know, I take my photograph and I give it to my secretary and I say to my secretary. This I think that setting this priority mail priority, and he goes, OK, I'll send a priority, Madeleine, make this a priority like I know priority mail, OK?


And then so I get Dan's photograph in the mail and, you know, it's it's him in a in shorts. And you can see that he's probably somewhere like the Bahamas or something like that. And it's like cropped. So clearly what he's done is he's taken a photograph where, you know, he's been in it with someone else who turned out to be his ex-wife. So I'm thinking, well, this is awesome. You know, I've hit the jackpot.


He's he's, you know, very appealing to me, very attractive. And and then, you know, my photograph doesn't show up and it doesn't show up. And, you know, so like, one day and then two days and then, you know, he's he's like, you know, I said, well, I asked my secretary to send a priority. I mean, I don't know, you know, what he did. And and he's like I said, I'm like, well, you don't have to, you know, you don't have to come.


And he's like, no, no, no.


I'm going to I'm going to you know, we've had like five dates, the equivalent of five dates practically. And then so he's supposed to fly on a Thursday or Friday. I can't remember. And I get a call like maybe an hour before his flight supposed to leave and he says hi. And I say, and it's just something in his voice. Right. And I say, because at this point, I think I've talked to him like for twenty five hours, I don't know.


And he says, hi. And I'm like, you got the picture. And he's like, yeah. And I'm like, you don't like it. And he's like, well.


I'm sure it's not. I'm sure it's you're I'm sure just not, you know, it's just probably not your best. Oh, no.


You know, if you don't, you don't have to come. And he's like, no, no, no, I'm coming. And I'm like, no, you don't have to come. And he's like, no, no. I really want to I'm you know, I'm getting on the plane. I'm like, you don't have to get on the plane. He's like, No, I'm getting on the plane. And so I go down to my I go, I'm in my office.


This is happening. Right? So I go downstairs to my one of my closest friends who still actually one of my closest friends, who is one of my colleagues, and Kevin and I say Kevin and I go to Kevin, actually, Kevin, Kevin, Kevin, he doesn't like to photograph.


And Kevin's like, well, which photograph did you send? And I'm like, well, you know, the one where we're shooting pool. And he's like. Huh? You sent that photograph. That's a horrible photograph. I'm like, yeah, but it's the only one that I had that was like where my hair was kind of similar to what it is now. And he's like, Lisa, do I have to check everything for you? You know, like you you should not have sent that, you know, but still he flew over.


So he flew from by the way he was in and he was in graduate school at Amherst at UMass Amherst. So he flew and I picked him up and. At the airport, and he was happy, so whatever the concern was, was gone. Yeah, and I was dressed, you know, carefully, carefully dressed me nervous.


I was really, really nervous because I I'm not I don't really believe in fate and I don't really think there's only one person that you can be with, but I think.


You know, people who some people are curvy, they're kind of complicated, and so the number of people who fit them is maybe less than I like it, mathematically speaking.


And so when I was going to pick him up at the airport, I was thinking, well, this could I could be going to pick up the the person I'm going to marry. Or not, I mean, like I really but I really, you know, like, our conversations were just very authentic and very moving and and we really connected and and I really felt like he understood me actually, um, in in a way that a lot of people don't.


And, um, and and what was really nice was at the time, you know, the airport was this tiny little airport out in a cornfield, basically. And so driving back to the town, we were in the car for 15 minutes, completely in the dark as I was driving. And so it was very similar to we had just spent, you know, twenty something hours on the telephone, sitting in the dark talking to each other.


So it was very familiar. And we basically spent the whole weekend together. And you met all my friends and we had a big party. And, um, and at the end of the weekend, I said, OK, you know, if we're going to give this a shot, we we probably can't we shouldn't see other people. So it's a risk, you know, commitment.


But but I just didn't see how it would work if we were dating people locally and then also seeing each other at a distance because, you know, I've had long distance relationships before and they're hard and they they take a lot of they take a lot of effort.


And so we decided we'd give it three months and see what happened. And that was it.


Such an interesting thing like, well, what is that?


There's several billion of us and we're kind of roaming this world and then you kind of stick together. If I can find somebody that just like gets you and it's interesting to think about, there's probably thousands, if not millions of people that would would be sticky to depending on the curvature of your space. But. What what is the cause you speak to the stickiness, like to the just the falling in love, like seeing that somebody really gets you maybe by way of telling.


Do you think do you remember there was a moment when you just realized, dammit, I think I'm like, I think that's this is the guy I think I'm in love.


We were having these conversations actually from the really from the second weekend we were together. So he flew back the next weekend to State College because my birthday was my 30th birthday. My friends were throwing me a party and we went hiking and we hiked up some mountain and we were sitting on a cliff over this, you know, overlook and talking to each other. And I was thinking and I actually said to him, like, I I haven't really known you very long, but I feel like I'm falling in love with you, which can't possibly be happening.


I must be projecto.


But it certainly feels that way, right. Like I don't believe in love at first sight. So this can't really be happening. But it sort of feels like it is. And he was like, I know what you mean. And so for the first three months or four months, we would say things to each other, like, I feel like I'm in love with you, but. You know, but that can't. But things don't really work like that, so but, you know, so and then it became a joke like I feel like I'm in love with you.


And then eventually, you know, I think but I think that was one moment where we were we were talking about just.


You know, not just all the great aspirations you have or all the things, but also things you don't like about yourself, things that you're worried about, things that you're scared of. And then I think the. That was sort of solidified the relationship and then there was one weekend where we went to Maine in the winter, which I love.


I mean, I really love the beach always, but in the winter, particularly because it's just beautiful home and whatever. Yeah.


And I also, I, I do find beauty in starkness sometimes, like, so there's this grand majestic scene of this very powerful ocean and it's all these beautiful blue grays and it's just it's just stunning. And so we were sitting on this huge rock in Maine and where we had gone for the weekend, it was freezing cold. And I honestly can't remember what he said or what I said or what. But I, I definitely remember having this feeling of I absolutely want to stay with this person like I and I don't know what my life will be like if I'm not with this person like I need to be with this person.


Can we from a scientific and a human perspective dig into your belief? The first love at first sight is not is not possible. You don't believe in it because there is you don't think there's like a magic where you see somebody in the Jack Kerouac way and you're like, wow, that's something that's that's a special little.


Oh, I definitely think oh, I definitely think you can connect with someone instantly in an instance. And I definitely think you can say, oh, there's something there, and I'm really clicking with that person romantically, but also just as friends, it's possible to do that. You recognize a mind that's like yours or that's compatible with yours. There are ways that you feel like you're being understood or that you understand something about this person, or maybe you see something in this person that you find really compelling or intriguing.


But I think, you know, your brain is predictive. Oregon, right? You're using your past. You're projecting, you're using your past to make predictions.


And I mean, not deliberately. That's how your brain is wired. That's what it does.


And so it's filling in all of the gaps that you. You know, there are lots of gaps of information that you don't, you know, information you don't have, and so your brain is filling those in and, um, but it's not what love is.


No, I don't think so, actually. I mean, to some extent, sure. You always you know, there's research to show that people who are in love always see the best in each other. And they you know, when there's a when there's a negative interpretation or positive interpretation, you know, they choose the positive ones. There's a little bit of positive illusion they're going on. That's what the research shows.


But I think. I think that when you find somebody who not just appreciates. Your faults, but loves you for them, actually, you know, like maybe even doesn't see them as a Faulds, that's.


You so you have to be honest enough about what your what your faults are, so it's easy to love someone for all the things that they.


For all the wonderful characteristics they have, it's harder, I think, to love someone despite their faults or maybe even the faults that they see aren't really faults at all to you. They're actually something really special.


But isn't that can you explain that by saying the brain kind of like you're projecting your you have a conception of a human being or just a spirit that really connects with you and you're projecting that onto that person.


And yes, just within that framework, all their faults then become beautiful, like a little maybe.


But you just have to pay attention to the prediction error. No, but maybe that's what love like maybe you start ignoring the prediction areas, maybe love is just your ability, like to ignore the prediction error?


Well, I think that there's some research that might say that, but that's not my experience, I guess. But there is some research that says I mean, there's some research that says you have to have an optimal margin of illusion, which means that you that you put a positive spin on on smaller things, but you don't ignore the bigger things. Right. And I think without being judgmental at all, when someone says to me, you know, you're not who I thought you were.


I mean, nobody says I said that to me in a really long time. But certainly when I was younger, that was you know, you're not who I thought you were. My reaction to that was, well, whose fault is that? You know?


Yeah, um, I'm a pretty I'm a pretty upfront person. Um, I mean, I will, though, say that in my experience, people people don't lie to you about who they are. They lie to themselves in your presence. Yeah, and so, you know, you don't want to get tied, tied up in that, tangled up in that, and I think from the get go, Dan and I were just for whatever reason, maybe it's because we both have been divorced already and, you know.


You know, he told me who we thought he was and he was pretty accurate as far as I can, pretty much actually.


I mean, I there's very I can't say that I've ever come across a characteristic in him that really surprised me in a bad way.


It's hard to know yourself. It is hard, you know, to communicate that for sure.


I mean, I'll say, you know, I had the advantage of training as a therapist, which meant for five years I was under a fucking microscope. Yeah. You know, when I was training as a therapist, it was our four hour supervision, which meant if you were in a room with a client for an hour, you had an hour with a with a supervisor. So that supervisor was behind the mirror for your session. And then you went and had an hour of discussion about what you said, what you didn't say, learning to use your own react your own feelings and thoughts as a tool to probe the mind of the client and so on.


And so you can't help but learn. A lot of you can't help but learn a lot about yourself in that process.


Do you think knowing or learning how the sausage is made ruins the magic of the actual experience, like using neuroscientist who studies the brain? Do you think it ruins the magic of, like, love at first sight? Or are you do you consciously are still able to lose yourself in the moment?


I'm definitely able to lose myself in the moment. Is why involved?


Not always chocolate. I mean, I'm kind of mind altering substance, right. But yeah.


Yeah, for sure. I mean, I guess what I would say, though, is that. For me, part of the magic is the process like so, uh, you know, so so I remember there was well, I was working on this on this on this book of essays. I was in New York. I can't remember why I was in New York, but I was in New York for something and I was in Central Park and I was looking at all the people with their babies.


And I was thinking. Every effort that each one of these are so tiny little brain that's wiring itself right now, and I and I, I just I felt in that moment I was like, I am never going to look at an infant in the same way ever again. And so to me, I mean, honestly, before I started learning about brain development, I thought babies were cute, but not that interesting until they could do interact with you and do things.


Of course, my own infant, I thought was extraordinarily interesting.


But, you know, they're kind of like lumps. That's, you know, until they can, you know, interact with you. But they are anything but lumps. I mean, like, you know, so and part of the.


I mean, all I can say is I have deep affection now for, like tiny little babies in a way that I didn't really before because of the I'm just so curious about the actual process, the mechanisms of the wiring of the brain, the learning, all the magic of the neurobiology.




And or, you know, something like, you know, when you make eye contact with someone directly, sometimes, you know, you you feel something, right? Yeah. And that's weird.


What is it and what is that. And so so to me that's not that's not backing away from the moment. That's like expanding the moment. It's like that's incredibly cool. You know, when I was I'll just say that when I was when I was in graduate school, I also. Was in therapy because it's almost a given that you're going to be in therapy yourself if you're going to become a therapist and I had a deal, you know, with my therapist, which was that I could call time out at any moment that I wanted to as long as I was being responsible about it.


And I wasn't using it as a way to get out of something. And he could tell me, no, you know, he could decline and say, no, you're you know, you're using this to get out of something. But I could call time out whenever I want and say, what are you doing right now? Like, what do you here's what I'm experiencing. What are you trying to do? Like, I wanted to use my own experience to interrogate what the process was and that made it.


More helpful in a way. Do you know what I mean? So, yeah, I don't I don't think learning how something works makes it less magical, actually, but that's just me, I guess.


I don't know. Would you?


Yes. I tend to have two modes, one is one is an engineer and one is romantic, and I'm conscious of like like the girl, like you like there's two rooms you can go into, the one, the engineer room.


And I think that ruins the romance. So I tend to there's two rooms. One is the engineering room, I think from first principles. How do we build the thing that creates this kind of behavior? And then you go into the romantic room where you're like emotional. It's a roller coaster. And then you're the thing is, let's take it slow and then you get married the next night. You just this giant mess and you write a song and then you cry and then you send a bunch of text and anger and and whatever.


And somehow you're in Vegas and there's random people and you're drunk and whatever, all that like in poetry and just mess of it. Fighting. Yeah. That's not those are two rooms and you go back between between them. But I think the way you put it is quite poetic.


I think you're much, you're much better that adult thing now with love than, than perhaps I am because there is a magic to children.


I also think. Like of adults as children, it's kind of cool to see it's a cool thought experiment to look at adults and think like they used to be a baby and then that's like a fully wired baby and it's just walking around pretending to be like all serious and important, wearing a suit or something.


But they used to be a baby. And then you think of like the parenting and all the experiences they had, like, it's cool to think of it that way, but then I start thinking, like from a machine learning perspective. But once you're like the romantic moments, all that kind of stuff, all that falls away, I forget about all that. I don't know what's the one thing.


Maybe, maybe. But I also think it might be an age thing or maybe an experience thing. So I think. We all I mean, if you're exposed to Western culture at all, you are exposed to the sort of idealized stereotypic, romantic, romantic, you know, exchange and what does it mean to be romantic? And so here's a test.


I don't see how to phrase it. OK, so not really test, but this this tells you something about your own ideas about romance. For Valentine's Day one year, my husband bought me a six way plug. Is that romantic or not romantic? Like, so secret plays that's second out like a yeah, like to put in an outlet. Is that romantic or not romantic? I mean, depends the look in his eyes when he does it, I mean, it depends on.


The conversation that led up to that point depends how much. It's like the music, because you have a very you're both from the my experiences with you as a fan, you have both the romantic and we have a very pragmatic like you cut through the bullshit of the fuzziness and there's something about a six way plug that cuts the bullshit that connects to the human.


Like he understands who you are. Exactly.


Yeah, exactly. Yeah. That was the most romantic if he could have given me because he knows me so well, he has a deep understanding of me, which is that I will sit and suffer and complain about the fact that I have to plug and unplug things and I will bitch and moan until the cows come home.


But it would never occur to me to go buy a bloody six way plug, whereas for him he bought it.


He plugged it in, he arranged, he taped up all my wires.


He made it like really usable. And for me that was that was the best.


It was a bad thing because he understood who I was and he did something very or, you know, just the casual like we moved into a house that went we went from having a two car garage to a one car garage. And I said, OK, you know, I'm from Canada. I'm not bothered by snow. Well, I mean, I'm a little bothered by snow, but he's very bothered by snow. So I'm like, OK, you can park your car in the garage.


It's fine. Every day when it snows, he goes out and cleans my car. Every day. Like, I never asked him to do it. He just does it because he knows that I'm cutting it really close in the morning. You know, when we when we all used to go to work, I have it timed to the second so that I can get up as late as possible, work out as long as possible, you know, just and make it into my office like a minute before my first meeting.


And so if it snows unexpectedly or something, I'm screwed because now that's an added an added 10 or 15 minutes and I'm going to be late anyways. You know, it's just these little tiny things that he's he's he's he's a really easygoing guy. And he doesn't look like somebody who pays attention to detail.


He doesn't fuss about detail, but he definitely pays attention to detail. And it's it is very, very romantic in the sense that he. You know, he loves me despite my little details and understands you. Yeah, it is kind of hilarious that that is the six we plug is the the most fulfilling, richest display of romance in your life. I love it. I love the performance.


Romance is really it's not all about chocolates and flowers and, you know, whatever. I mean, those are all nice, too. But sometimes it's about the sex, sometimes it's about the sex.


So maybe one way I could ask before we talk about the details, you also have the author of another book as we talked about how emotions are made. So it's interesting to talk about the process of writing. You mentioned you were in New York. What have you learned from writing these two books about the actual process of writing? And maybe I don't know what's the most interesting thing to talk about there? Maybe the biggest challenges or the boring, mundane, systematic like day to day of what worked for you, like sex or or even just about the neuroscience that you've learned through the process of trying to write them.


Here's the thing I learned.


If you think that it's going to take you a year to write your book, it's going to take you three years to write your book.


That's the first thing I learned is that no matter how organized you are, it's always going to take way longer than what you think.


Um, in part because, um, very few people make an outline and then just stick to it. You know, the the some of the topics really take on a life of their own. And to some extent you want to let them. You want to let them have their voice, you know, you want to follow leads until you feel satisfied that you've dealt with the topic appropriately, but I and that part is actually fun.


It's not fun to feel like you're constantly behind the eight ball in terms of time here, but it is the exploration and the foraging for information is incredibly fun for me. Anyways, I found it really enjoyable. And if I wasn't also running a lab at the same time and trying to keep my family going, you know, it would have been the whole thing would have just been fun. But I would say the hardest thing about the most important thing I think I learned is also the hardest thing.


And that for me, which is knowing what to leave out, a really good storyteller knows what to leave out in in academic writing. You you shouldn't leave anything out. You all the details should be there. Right. And. And I you know, I've written or participated in in writing. Over 200 papers, peer reviewed papers, so I'm pretty good with detail, knowing what to leave out, knowing what to leave out and not harming the validity of the story, that is a tricky, tricky thing.


It was tricky when I wrote How Emotions are made, but that's a standard popular science book. So it's three hundred something pages and then it has like a thousand and notes. And then each of the notes is attached to a web note, which is also long. So I mean, you know, it's, um, and it's start and I mean the final draft, I wrote three drafts of that book actually and the final draft. And then I had to cut by a third.


I mean or I mean, I, you know, it was like one hundred and. Fifty thousand words or something, and I had to cut it down to like one hundred and ten, so, um, obviously I struggled with what to leave out. You know, brevity is not my strong suit. I'm always telling people that it's a warning.


So that's why this book was I you know, I'd always been really fascinated with essays. I love reading essays. And after reading a small set of essays by Anne Fadiman called At Large and at Small, which I just loved these little essays.


What was the topic of those assets? They are they're called familiar essays. So the topics are like everyday topics like mail, um, coffee, chocolate.


I mean, just like and what she does is she weaves her own experience. It's a little bit like these conversations that you're so good at curating, actually, um, you're weaving together history and philosophy and science and also personal reflections and a little bit you feel like you're like. Eavesdropping on someone's train of thought, in a way, it's really the really compelling to me and even if it's just a mundane topic.


Yeah, but it's so interesting to learn about, like, all of these little stories in the. In the wrapping of the history of like mail, like that's that's really interesting and so I read these essays and then I wrote to her a little fan girl email. This was many years ago.


And and I said, I, I, I just love you. I love this book. And how did you learn to write essays like this? And she gave me a reading list of essays that I should read like writers. And so I read them all.


And anyway, so I decided it would be a really good challenge for me to try to write something really brief where I could.


Focus on know one or two really fascinating tidbits of of neuroscience, connect it to connect each one to something philosophical or, you know, just a question about human nature, do it in a really brief format without violating the validity of the science.


That was a I just sent myself this would I thought of as a really, really big challenge, in part because it was an incredibly hard thing for me to do in the first book.


Yeah, we should say that this is the seven and a half lessons, a very short book.


I mean, it's it's like it embodies brevity. The whole point throughout is just I mean, you could tell that there's editing like there's pain in trying to bring as brief as possible. As clean as possible. Yeah.




So it's either way I think of it is, you know, it's a little book of big science and big ideas, really big ideas and in brief little packages.


And, you know, I wrote it so that people could read it. I love reading on the beach. I love reading essays on the beach. I read it. I wrote it so people could read it on the beach or in the bathtub or a subway stop even if the beach is frozen over in the snow.




So my husband Dan calls it the first neuroscience beach read. That's his that's his phrasing. Yeah.


And like like you said, you learn a lot about writing from your husband, like you were saying. Oh, fine.


Well, he's he is one of the two of us. He is the better writer. He's a masterful writer. Um, he he's also I mean, he you know, he's a PhD in computer science. He's he's a software engineer, but he's he's also really good at organization of knowledge. So he built for a company he used to work for. He built one of the first knowledge management systems. And he's he now works at Google, where he does engineering education like he's he understands how to tell a good story, a just, you know, about anything really.


Um, he's got impeccable timing. He's really funny. And luckily for me, he knows very little about psychology or neuroscience. Well, now he knows more, obviously.


But so, you know, he was really when how emotions were made. You know, he was really, really helpful to me because the first draft of every chapter was me talking to him about what I would talk out loud about what I wanted to say and the order in which I wanted to say it. And then I would write it.


And then he would read it and tell me all the bits that could be excised. Yeah, and sometimes we would, you know, I should say, I mean, we don't he and I don't really argue about much except directions in the car. Like where that's where.


That's if we're going to have an argument that's going to be where it's going to happen, where what's and what's the nature of the argument about directions exactly.


I don't really know. It's just that we're very I think it's that spatially, you know, he he I use egocentric space. So I want to say, you know, turn left like I was. I'm reasoning in relation to, like, my own physical, corporeal body. So, you know, you walk to the church and you turn left and you then, you know, whatever, you know, I'm always like and his you know, he gives directions along centrally, which means organize around north, south, east, west.


So to you, the the earth is at the center of the solar system. And to him, no, I'm reasonably I'm at this. You're the center of the solar system.


OK, so anyway, so we but but here we you know, we, we had some really rip-roaring arguments like really rip-roaring arguments where he would say like who is this for, is this for the one percent.


And I'd be like one percent meaning not you know, not wealth but like civilians versus academics, you know. So are these for the scientists or for this is this for the civilians? So he speaks for the for the people, for the city, for the people.


And I'd be like, oh, you have to.


And so he made, you know, after one terrible argument that we had where it was really starting to affect our our relationship because we were so mad at each other all the time.


He made these little signs, writing and science, and we only use them. This this was like. When you when you pulled out a sign, that's it, like the other person just wins and you have to stop fighting about it. Yeah, and that's it. And so we just did that and we didn't really have to use it too much for this book because this book was in some ways, you know, I didn't have to learn a lot of new things for this book.


I had to learn some. But I a lot of. What I learned for seven and for how emotions are made really stood me in good stead for for this book. So there was a little bit each essay was a little bit of learning. A couple were was a little more than than a small amount.


But, um, but I didn't have so much trouble here. Um, I had a lot of trouble with the first book, but still even here, you know, you know, he would tell me that I could take something out and I really wanted to keep it. And I think we only use the signs once.


Well, if we could dive in some aspects of the book, I would love that the. Can we talk about. So one of the essays looks at our evolution. And let me ask the big question, did the human brain evolved to think that's essentially the question that you address in the essay?


Can you speak to. Sure. You know, the big caveat here is that we don't really know why brains evolved. The big why questions are called teleological questions.


And in general, scientists should avoid those questions because we don't know really what we don't know the why.


However, for for a very long time, the assumption was that evolution worked in a progressive upward scale, that you start off with simple organisms and those organisms get more complex and more complex and more complex. Now, obviously, that's true in some like really general way. Right. That that life started off as single celled organisms and things got more complex. But the idea that that brains evolved in some upward trajectory from simple brains in simple animals to complex brains in complex animals is called a phylogenetic scale.


And that phylogenetic scale is embedded in a lot of evolutionary thinking, including Darwin's actually, um, and it's been seriously challenged, I would say, by modern evolutionary biology.


And so, you know, thinking is something that rationality is something that humans, at least in the West, really prize as a great human achievement.


And so the idea that the most common evolutionary story is that know brains evolved in like sedimentary rock with a layer for instinct's, that's your lizard brain and layer on top of that for emotions. That's your limbic system, limbic meaning border. So it borders the parts that are for instincts. Oh, interesting.


And and then the neocortex or new cortex where rationality is supposed to live. That's the sort of traditional story you just keeps getting layered on top.


Right. By evolution. Right. And so you can think about, you know, I mean, sedimentary rock is the way typically people describe it. The way I sometimes like to think about it is, you know, thinking about the cerebral cortex, like icing on an already baked cake, you know, where, you know, the cake is your inner beast.


These like boiling, roiling instincts and emotions that have to be contained and that by the cortex and the it's just it's a fiction. It's a myth. It's a myth that you can trace all the way back to stories about morality in ancient Greece. But what you can do is look at the scientific record and say, well, there there's others.


There are other stories that you could tell about brain evolution and and the the context in which brains evolved. So when you look at creatures who don't have brains and you look at creatures who do. What's the difference? And you can look at, you know, some animals, so we call scientists call an environment that an animal lives in a niche, their environmental niche. What are the things what are the parts of the environment that matter to that animal?


And so there are some animals whose niche hasn't changed in 400 million years. So they're they're not these creatures are modern creatures, but they're living in a niche that hasn't changed much. And so their biology hasn't changed much. And you can kind of verify that by looking at the genes that lurk deep, you know, in the molecular structure of cells.


And so you can by looking at various animals in their developmental state, meaning not you don't look at adult animals, you look at embryos of animals and developing animals.


You can see you can piece together a different story.


And that story is that brains evolved under the selection pressure of hunting, that in the Cambrian period, hunting emerged on the scene where animals deliberately ate one another. And what so, you know, before the Cambrian period, the animals didn't really have well, they didn't have brains, but they also didn't have senses, really the very, very rudimentary senses. So the animal that I wrote about in seven and a half lessons is called an axis or a landslide.


And little anaphylaxis has no eyes. It has no ears. It has no nose. It it it has no eyes. It has a couple of cells for detecting light and dark for circadian rhythm purposes. So and it it, it can't hear it has a vestibular cell to keep its body upright. It has a very rudimentary sense of touch and it doesn't really have any internal organs other than this like basically stomach. It's like a just like a it doesn't it doesn't have an enteric nervous system.


It doesn't have like a gut that, you know, moves like we do. It just has basically a tube.


Yeah. So it's like a container. Like a little container. Yeah. And so and really it doesn't it doesn't move very much. It can move, it just sort of wriggles it doesn't have very sophisticated movement and it's this really sweet little animal.


It sort of wriggles its way to a spot and then plants itself in the sand and just filters food as the food goes by.


And then when the food concentration decreases, it it just it just ejects itself, wriggles to the some spot randomly where probabilistically there will be more food and plants itself again.


So it's it's not it's not really aware, very aware that it has an environment, it has a niche, but that niche is very small and it's not really experiencing that niche very much. So it's it's basically like a little stomach on a stick. That's, that's really what it is. And um, but but when animals start to literally hunt each other. All of a sudden, it becomes important to have to be able to sense your environment because you need to know, is that blob up ahead going to eat me or should I eat it?


And so all of a sudden you want distant senses are very useful. And so in the water, distant senses are vision and a little bit hearing olfaction, smelling and touch because in the water touches a distant sense because you can feel the vibration.


So it's so close in on air, on land know vision is a distant sense. Touch not so much, but for elephants maybe.


Right. The vibrations, vibrations, olfaction, definitely because of the concentration of, you know, the more concentrated something is, the more likely it is to be close to you.


So animals developed senses, they developed ahead like a literal head. So Anthrax's doesn't even have a head, really.


It's just a what's the purpose of a head? That's a great question. Is it to have a job?


That's a great question. So, Jordt. So, yes, Jaws are a major useful feature.


Yeah, obviously they're a major adaptation after there's a split between vertebrates and invertebrates. So Antioch's this is thought to be very, very similar to the animal that before that split.


But then after the development, very quickly, after the development of ahead is the development of a jaw, which is a big thing. And and what goes along with that is the development of a brain.


It's where is that just a coincidence that the thing the part of our body, of the mammal, I think body that we eat with and like attack others with is also the thing that contains the all the majority of the brain type of.


Well, actually, the brain goes with the development of a head and the development of of a visual system and an auditory system and an olfactory system and so on. So your senses are developing. And, um, and the other thing that's happening, right. Is that animals are getting bigger. Yeah. Because their and also their niche is getting bigger. Well, this is the culture.


Sorry to take a tiny tangent on. The new thing is it seems like the niche is getting bigger, but not just bigger, like more complicated, like shaped in weird ways, like predation seems to create like like the whole world becomes your oyster, whatever. But like you also start to carve out, like, the places in which you can operate the best.


Yeah. And in fact, that's absolutely right. And in fact, some scientists think that theory of mind, your ability to make inferences about the inner life of of other creatures actually developed under the selection pressure of predation. Because it makes you a better predator. Do you ever look at you just said you looked at babies as these wiring creatures, do you ever think of humans as just clever predators like that? There is under underneath it all is this.


The nation will to power in all of its forms. Or are we now friendlier?


Yeah, so it's interesting. I mean, there there are there are zeitgeist and how humans think about themselves. Right. And so if you look in the 20th century. You can see that the idea of an inner beast that we're just predators, we're just basically animals, baseless animals, violent animals that have to be contained by culture and by our prodigious neocortex, um, really took hold, particularly after World War One and really held sway for much of that century.


And then around, at least in Western writing, I would say, you know what? We're talking mainly about Western Western scientific writing, Western philosophical writing. And and then, you know, late 90s, maybe you start to see books and articles about our social nature, that we're social animals and we are social animals.


But what does that mean exactly? And, um, about it's just carving out different issues in the space of ideas.


It looks. I think so. I think so.


So, um. So. You know, do humans are can humans be violent? Yes. Can humans be really helpful?


Yes, actually, and humans are interesting creatures because, you know, other animals can also be helpful to one another. In fact, there's a whole literature, booming literature on how other animals are. You know, support one another, they regulate each other's nervous systems in interesting ways, and they will be helpful to one another, right. So, for example, there's a whole literature on rodents and how they they signal one another, what it's safe to eat, and they will perform acts of generosity to their con specifics that are related to them or or who they were raised with.


So if an animal was raised in a litter, that is that they were raised in, although not even at the same time, they'll be more likely to help that animal. So there's always some kind of physical relationship between animals that predicts whether or not they'll help one another for humans. Humans. You know, we have ways of categorizing who's in our who's in our group and who isn't by non-physical ways, right. By even by just something abstract like an idea.


And we are much more likely to extend help to people in our own group, whatever that group may be at that moment. Whatever your whatever feature you're using to define who's in your group and who isn't, we're more likely to help those people than even members of our own family at times.


So humans are much more flexible in their. In the way that they help one another, but also in the way that they harm one another, so I don't. I don't I don't think I subscribe to, um. You know, we are primarily this or we are primarily that, I don't think have humans have Essence's in that way, really. I apologize to take us in this direction for a brief moment, but I've been really deep on Stalin and Hitler recently in terms of reading.


And is there something that you think about in terms of the nature of evil from a neuroscience perspective? Is there some lessons that are sort of. Hopefull. About human civilization. That we can find in our brain with regard to the Hitlers of the world. Do you think about the the nature of evil?


Yeah, I do. I don't know that what I have to say is so useful from a I don't know that I can say is a neuroscientist will hear or here's a study that, you know what, I so I sort of have to take off my lab coat.


Right. And now I'm going to now conjecture as a human who just also who has opinions but who also maybe has some knowledge about neuroscience. But I'm not speaking as a neuroscientist when I say this, because I don't think neuroscientists know enough really to be able to say.


But I guess the kinds of things I think about are. What so I have always thought even before I knew anything about neuroscience, um, I've always thought that. I don't think anybody could become Hitler, but I think the majority of people can be. Can do are capable of doing very bad things. It's just the question is really how much encouragement does it take from the environment to get them to do something bad?


That's what I kind of when I look at the life of Hitler, it seems like there's so many places where something could have intervened and changed completely.


The person I mean, there's the caricature, like the obvious places where he was an artist. And if he wasn't rejected as an artist, he was a reasonably good artist. So that that could have changed. But just his entire life where he went in Vienna and all these kinds of things like the little InterAction's could have changed.


And there's probably millions of other people who are capable who the environment may be able to mold in the same way. Did this particular person to create this particular kind of charismatic leader in this particular moment of time?


Absolutely. And I guess the way I the way that I would say I, I would agree 100 percent. And I guess the way that I would say it is like this.


In the West, we have a way of reasoning about causation, which focuses on single simple causes for things, you know, there's a there's an essence to Hitler, there's an essence to his character. He was born with that essence or it was forged very, very early in his life. And that explains the, um, the landscape of his life, horrible landscape of his behavior.


But there's another way to think about it, a way that actually is much more consistent with what we know about biology, how biology works in the physical world, and that is that most things are complex, not as in, wow, this is really complex and hard, but complex as in complexity that is more than the sum of their parts and that most phenomena have many, many. Week, non-linear interacting causes and so little things that we might not even be aware of can shift someone's developmental trajectory from this to that, and that's enough to take it on a whole set of other paths that, you know that and that these things are happening all the time.


So it's not random and it's not really it's not deterministic in the sense that, like everything you do determines your outcome.


But it's a little more like, you know, you're nudging someone from one set of possibilities to another set of possibilities.


And I but I think the the thing is, the thing that I find optimistic is that the the other side of that coin is also true. Right, so look at all the people who risked their lives to help people they didn't even know. I mean, I just watched Borat, the new Borat movie, and the thing that I came away with, but, you know, the thing I came away with was.


Look at how like generous people were in the old days, he's making there are a lot of people he makes fun of and that's fine. But think about like those two guys.


Those are the Trump supporter guy, the transporter guys, those guys, those those kindness in them.




They took a complete stranger in a pandemic. Yeah. Into their house.


Who does that like, that's a really nice thing, or there's one scene, I mean, I want to spoil it for people who haven't seen it, but but there's you know, there's one scene where he goes in.


He dresses up as a Jew.


I laugh myself sick at that scene, seriously. But but he goes in and he and there are these two old Jewish ladies.


What a bunch of sweethearts. Oh, my gosh. Like, really? Yeah.


I mean, that was what I was struck by, actually. I mean, there are other ones or like the babysitter. Right. I mean, she was really kind and.


Yeah, so that's really what I was more struck by, like, you know, sure, there are other people who, you know, who do do very bad things or say bad things or whatever.


But, you know, we're like there's one guy who's completely stoic, like the guy at the who's doing the like, you know, sending the message that, well, if it's facts or whatever, he's just completely stoic.


But he's doing his job, actually, you know, like, you can't you don't know what he was thinking inside his head. You don't know what he's feeling. But he was totally professional doing his job.


OK, so I guess I just I had a bit of a different view, I guess. And I so I also think that about people. I think everybody is capable of kindness and but but, you know, it's the question is how much does it take and what are the circumstances?


So for some people, it's going to take a lot. And for some people it only takes a little bit. But, you know, are we actually.


Cultivating an environment for the next generation that. Provides opportunities for people to go in the direction of caring and kindness or, you know, I'm not I'm not saying that is like a Pollyanna ish person, but, you know, I think there's a lot of room for competition and debate and and so on. But I don't see Hitler as an anomaly, and I never have. That was even before I learned anything about neuroscience. And now I would say, knowing what we know about developmental trajectories and life histories and how important that is, you know, knowing what we know about, um, that the whole question of, like, nature versus nurture is a completely wrong question, you know, we have the kind of nature that requires nurture.


We have the kind of genes that allow infants to be born with unfinished brains, where the brains, their brains are wired across a twenty five year period with wiring instructions from the world that is created for them.


And so I don't think Hitler is an anomaly. You know, even if it's even if it's less probable that that would happen, it's possible that it could happen again, and it's not it's not like, you know, he's a bad seed. I mean, that doesn't I just wanna say, like, of course, he's completely 100 percent responsible for his actions and all the bad things that happened. So I'm not in any way this is not me saying.


But the environment is also responsible in part for creating the evil in this world.


So like Hitler's and different versions of more subtle, more smaller scale versions of evil.


But I tend to believe that there's a much stronger uh, I don't like to talk about evolutionary advantages, but it seems like it makes sense for love to be a more powerful emergent phenomena of our collective intelligence versus hate and evil and destruction, because from a survival, from a niche perspective, it seems to be a. Like in my own life and my thinking about the intuition, about the way humans work together to solve problems, it seems that love is a very useful tool.


I definitely agree with you, but I think the caveat here is that, you know, humans, the research suggests that humans are. Capable of great acts of kindness and great acts of generosity to people in their ingroup. And we're also tribal. Yeah, I mean, that's the that's the kitschy way to say it, where tribes were tribal. Yeah. So that's the kitschy way to say it would I would say is that. You know, there are a lot of features.


That you can use to describe yourself if you don't have one identity, you don't have one self, you have many selves, you have many identities. Sometimes you're a man, sometimes you're a scientist. Sometimes you're a you have a brother or a sister or brother. So sometimes you're a brother. You know, you you sometimes you're a friend because you're human.


So you can keep zooming out. Yes. Living organism on earth. Yes, exactly.


That's exactly that's exactly right. And so there are there are some people who there is research which suggests that there are some people who will tell you I think it's appropriate and better to help.


I should help my family more than I should help my neighbors and I should help my neighbors more than I should help the average stranger and I should help, you know, the average stranger in my country more than I should help somebody outside my country. And I should help humans more than I should help, you know, other animals. And I know there's a clear hierarchy of helping.


And there are other people who, you know, they are their niche is much more inclusive. Right. And that they're humans first.


Right. Or creatures of the earth first, let's say.


And I I don't think we know how flexible those attitudes are because I don't think the research really tells us that. But in any case, there are you know, and there are beliefs people also have beliefs about.


There's this really interesting research in really in anthropology that looks at. What are cultures particularly afraid of, like what the people in a particular culture are organizing their social systems to prevent certain types of problems, so what are the problems that they're worried about? And and so there are some cultures that are much more hierarchical and some cultures that are, you know, much more egalitarian. There are some cultures that, you know, in the debate of like getting along versus getting ahead.


There are some cultures that really prioritize the individual over the group, and there are other cultures that really prioritize the group over the individual. You know, it's not like one of these is right and one of these is wrong. It's that, you know, different combinations of these features are different solutions that humans have come up with for for living in groups, which is a major adaptive advantage of our species. Um, and it's not the case that one of these is better in one of these is worse.


Although as a person, of course, I have opinions about that. And as a person I can say I would very much prefer certain I have certain beliefs and I really want everyone in the world to live by those beliefs, you know, but as a scientist, I know that it's not really the case that for the species, any one of these is better than any other. There are different solutions that work differentially well, in particular. You know, ecological parts of the world, but for individual humans, there are definitely some systems that are better in some systems that are worse.


But when when anthropologists or when neuroscientists or biologists are talking, they're not usually talking about the lives of individual people. They're talking about, you know, the species.


What's better for the species, the survivability of the species and what's better for the survivability of the species is variation that we have lots of cultures with lots of different solutions, because if the environment were to change drastically.


Some some of those solutions will work better than others, and you can see that happening with covid versus some people might be more susceptible to this, this virus and others.


And some variation is very useful, say covid was much, much more destructive than it is. And like, I don't know, 20 percent of the population was died. You know, that is good to have variability because then at least some percent will survive. Yeah.


I mean, the you know, the way that I used to describe it was, you know, using, you know, those movies like The War of the Worlds or Pacific Rim, you know, where like aliens come down from outer space and they, you know, want to kill humans.


And so all the humans band together as a species like and they all like all the little squabbling from countries and whatever, all goes away. And everyone is just one big, you know, well. That, you know. That doesn't happen. I mean, because covid, you know, the via a virus like code, like covid-19 is like a creature from outer space and that's not what you see happening, what you do see happening.


It is true that some people I mean, we could use this as an example of essentialism also. So just to say like exposure to the virus does not mean that you will become infected with a disease. So, I mean, in controlled studies, one of which was actually a coronavirus, not covid. But this was these are studies from 10 or so years ago, you know, only somewhere between 20 and 40 percent of people were developed respiratory illness when a virus was placed in their nose.


Yeah. And so there's a dose question all those not in these studies, actually.


So in these studies, the dose was consistent across all people and everything.


You know, they were sequestered in hotel rooms and what they ate was, you know, measured out by scientists and so on. And so when you hold dose, I mean, the dose issue is a real issue in the real world. But in these studies that was controlled and only somewhere between 20 and depending on the study, between 20 and 40 percent of people became infected with a disease.


So exposure to a virus doesn't mean de facto that you will develop an illness, you will be a carrier and you will spread the virus to other people. But you yourself may not. Your immune system may be in a state that you can make enough antibodies to not not show symptoms, not develop symptoms. And so, of course, what this means is, again, is that, you know, like if I asked you, do you think, you know, a virus is the cause of of of a common cold or, you know, most people if I ask this question, I can tell you I asked this question.


So do you think a virus is the cause of a cold? Most people would say, yes, I think it is. And then I say, yeah, well, only 20 to 40 percent of people develop respiratory illness in exposure to a virus.


So clearly it is a necessary cause, but it's not a sufficient cause. And there are other causes. Again, so not simple single causes for things. Right. Multiple interacting influences. So it is true that individuals vary in their susceptibility to illness upon exposure, but different cultures have different sets of norms and practices that allow that will slow or or speed the spread.


And that's that's the point that I was actually trying to make here, that that. You know, when the environment changes, that is there's a mutation of a virus that is incredibly infectious, some cultures will succumb, people in some cultures will succumb faster because of the particular. Norms and practices that that they've developed in their culture versus other cultures. Now there could be some other. You know, thing that changes that. Where those other other cultures are, you know, would do better.


It's a very individualistic cultures like ours may do much better under other types of selection pressures, but for covid, for things like covid, you know, my colleague Michele Gelfond, her research shows that she she looks at like loose cultures and tight cultures or cultures that have very, very strict rules versus cultures that are much more individualistic and where personal freedoms are more valued. And she you know, her research suggests that for pandemic circumstances, tight cultures, actually, the people survive better.


She's still lingering a little bit longer.


We started this part of the conversation talking about, you know, that humans evolved to think that the human brain evolved to think, implying is there like a progress to the thing that's always improving?


That's right. We never. Yeah. And so the answer is no. But let me sort of push back. So your intuition is very strong here, not your intuition the way you describe this.


But is it possible there's a direction to this evolution? Like do you think of this evolution as having a direction? Like it's like walking along a certain path towards something. So, you know, what is it?


Uh, the Elon Musk said, like, the Earth got bombarded with photons and then all of a sudden, like a Tesla was launched into space or whatever rockets started, like, is there a sense in which even though in the like within the system, the evolution seems to be this massive variation, we kind of trying to find our niches and so on. But do you think there ultimately when you zoom out, there is a direction that strong that does tend towards greater.


Complexity and intelligence, no, so I mean, and I and again, what I would say is I'm really I'm really just echoing people who are much smarter than I am about this.


But see, you're saying smarter. I thought it doesn't there's not that I thought there's no smarter.


No, I didn't say there's no smarter. I said there's no direction. OK, so I think the thing to say or what I understand to be the case is that there's variation, it's not unbounded variation. And there are selectors. There are there are there are pressures that will select. And so not anything is possible because we live on a planet that has certain physical realities to it. Right. And but those physical realities are what constrain. The possibilities, the physical realities of our genes and the physical realities of our corporeal bodies and the physical realities of, you know, the of life on this planet.


So what I would say is that there's no direction, but there is it's not infinite possibility because we live on a particular planet that has particular statistical regularities in it and some things will never happen.


And so all of those things are are interacting with us, with our genes and so on and our, you know, the physical nature of our bodies to make some things more possible and some things less possible. Look, I mean, humans have very complex brains, but birds have complex brains. And so do you know, so do octopuses have very complex brains. And all three sets of all three of those brains are are somewhat different from one another.


You know, bird birds. Some birds have very complex brains. Some even have rudimentary language. They have no cerebral cortex. I mean, they admittedly, they have this is now less than two. Right? They have to listen to or listen one. Let me think now. This is lesson one. They have they have the same neurons, the same neurons that that in a human become the cerebral cortex. Birds have those neurons. They just don't form themselves into a cerebral cortex.


I mean, crows, for example, are very sophisticated animals. They can do a lot of the things that humans can do. In fact, all of the things that humans do that are very special, that seem very special. There's at least one other animal on the planet that can do those things to. What's special about the human brain is that we put them all together. So we learn from one another, we don't have to experience everything ourselves, we can watch another animal or another human experience something, and we can learn from that.


Well, there are many other animals who can learn by copying. Yeah. That we communicate with each other very, very efficiently. We have language, but we're not the only animals who are efficiently efficient communicators. There are lots of other animals who can efficiently communicate like bees, for example. You know, we cooperate really well with one another to do grand things. But there are other animals that cooperate too. And so every innovation that we have, other animals have to.


What we have is we have all of those together interwoven in this very complex dance in a brain that is not unique. Exactly. But that is, you know, it does have some features that make it useful, that make it particularly useful for us to do all of these things, you know, to have all of these things intertwined. So, you know, our brains are actually the last time we talked, I, I made a mistake because I said in my enthusiasm, I said, you know, our brains are are not larger, are relative to our bodies.


Our brains are not larger than than other primates. And that's actually not true. Actually, our our brains relative to our body size is somewhat larger. So an ape who's not a human, that's not a human. Their brains are larger than their body sizes than, say, relative to like a smaller monkey in a human's brain is larger relative to its body size than then.


That's a good approximation of your of whatever of of the bunch of stuff that you can shove in there.


But well, what I was going to say is. But our cerebral cortex is not larger than what you would expect for a brain of our of of of of its size.


So so relative to, say, an ape like a like a gorilla or a chimp or even a mammal like a dolphin or an elephant, you know, our brains are our cerebral cortex is as large as you would expect it to be for a brain of our size.


So there's nothing special about our cerebral cortex.


And this is something I explain in the book where I say, OK, you know, like by analogy, if you walk into somebody's house and you see that they have a huge kitchen, you know, you might think, well, maybe maybe this is a place I really definitely want to eat dinner at because, you know, these people must be gourmet cooks.


But you don't know anything about what the size of their kitchen means unless you consider it in relation to the size of the rest of the house. If it's a if it's a big kitchen in a really big house. It's not telling you anything special, right, if it's a big kitchen in a small house, then that might be a place that you want to if you want to stay for dinner, because it's more likely that that kitchen is large for a special reason.


And so. The cerebral cortex of a human brain isn't. In and of itself, special because of its size, however. There are some genetic changes that have happened in the human brain. As it's grown.


With to whatever size is typical for for the whole brain size, right, there are some changes that do give the human brain slightly more of some capacities.


They're not special, but there's just they just you know, we can do some things. Much better than other animals and, you know, correspondingly, other animals can do some things much better than we can't, we can't grow back limbs. We can't lift 50 times our own body weight. Well, I mean, maybe you can, but I can't live 50 ants without regard.


Very impressive. And then you're saying with the or the frontal cortex, like that's the size is not always the right measure of capability, I guess. So size isn't everything.


Size isn't everything. That's a quote. But, you know, people like it when I disagree. So let me disagree with you on something or just like play devil's advocate a little bit. So you've painted a really nice picture that evolution doesn't have a direction.


But is it possible if we just ran Earth over and over again, like this video game, that the final result would be the same? So in the sense that we're eventually there'll be an ajai type HAL 9000 type system that just like flies and colonizes nearby Earth like planets is always will be the same.


And and the different organisms and the different evolution of the brain, like it doesn't feel like it has like a direction. But given the constraints of Earth. And whatever this imperative, whatever the hell is running this universe like, it seems like it's. Running towards something, is it possible there will always be the same, thereby it will be a direction? Yeah, I think, you know, as you know better than anyone else, that the answer to that question is, of course, there's some probability that that could happen, right?


It's not a yes or no answer. It's what's the probability that that would happen? And there's a whole distribution of possibilities. So maybe we end up what's the probability we end up with exactly the same complement of creatures, including us? What's the likelihood that we end up with, you know. Creatures that are similar to humans that are but, you know, similar in certain ways, let's say, but not exactly humans or, you know, all the way to a completely different distribution of creatures situation, like if you were to bet money, what does that distribution look like if we ran Earth over?


So I would say, given the you're now asking me questions, that this is not science, this is not science.


So but I would say, OK, well, what's the probability that it's going to be a carbon life form? Probably high. Yeah, but that's because I don't know anything about. Really.


Yeah. You know, I don't I'm not I'm not really well versed that well. What's the probability that, you know, so what's the probability that the animals will begin in the ocean and crawl out onto land or the other way versus I would say probably high.


I don't know. But you know, but do I think what's the likelihood that we would end up with exactly the same or very similar? I think it's low, actually. I wouldn't say it's low, but I would say it's not it's not 100 percent. And I'm not even sure it's 50 percent. You know, I would say I don't think that we're here by accident because I think, like I said, there are constraints, like there are some physical constraints about Earth.


And of course, if you were a cosmologist, you could say, well, the the fact that the earth is if you were to do the big bang over again and keep doing it over and over and over again, would you still get the same solar systems? Would you still get the same planets? You know, would you still get the same galaxies, the same solar systems, the same planets? You know, I don't know. But my guess is probably not because there are random things that happen that can, again, send things in one, you know, make one set of trajectories possible in another set impossible.


So, um, but I, I guess my my my if I were going to bet something money or something valuable, I would probably say.


It's not zero and it's not 100 percent, and it's probably not even 50 percent, so there's some probability, but it will be similar. There would be similar.


But I don't think I just think there are too many degrees of freedom. There are too many degrees of freedom. I mean, one of the real tensions in writing this book is to on the one hand, there's some truth in saying. That humans are not. Special, we are just. You know, we're not special in the animal kingdom. All animals are well adapted. If they're survived, they're well adapted to their niche. It does happen to be the case that our niche is large for any individual human, your niches, whatever it is, but for the species.




We live almost everywhere, not everywhere, but almost everywhere on the planet. But not in the ocean, and actually other animals like bacteria, for example, have us beat miles, you know, hands down, right. So we're by any by any definition, we're not special. We're just, you know, adapted to our environment of bacteria, don't have a podcast. Exactly, exactly. So that's the tension, right. So on the one hand, you know, we're not special animals were just, you know, you know, particularly well adapted to our nation.


On the other hand, are niches huge? And we you know, we don't just adapt to our environment. We add to our environment. We make stuff up, give it a name, and then it becomes real. And so no other animal can do that. And so I think that the thing the way to think about it from my perspective or the way I made sense of it is to say you can look at any individual single characteristic that a human has.


That seems remarkable, and you can find that in some other animal. What you can't find in any other animal is all of those characteristics together. In a brain that is souped up in particular ways like ours is, and if you combine these things, multiple interacting causes, right? Not one, not one essence like your cortex, your big neocortex, but which isn't really that big. I mean, it's just big for it, for your big brain, for the size, your big brain.


It's that it's the size it should be. If you add all those things together and they interact with each other, that produces some pretty remarkable results.


And if you're aware of that.


Then you can start asking different kinds of questions about what it means to be human and what kind of a human you want to be, and what kind of a world do you want to create for the next generation of humans?


I think that's the goal anyways, right, is just to just to have a glimpse of. Instead of thinking about things in in a simple, linear way, just to have a glimpse of the some of the things that matter, it seemed that evidence suggests matters to the kind of brain in the kind of bodies that we have. Once you know that, you can you can work with it a little bit.


You right. Words have power over your biology. Right now, I can text the words I love you from the United States to my close friend in Belgium. And even though she cannot hear my voice or see my face, I will change her heart rate, her breathing and her metabolism.


Either way, beautifully written.


Or someone could text something ambiguous to you, like, is your door locked? And odds are that it would affect your nervous system in an unpleasant way. So, I mean, there's a lot of stuff to talk about here.


But just one way to ask is. Why do you think words have so much power over our brain? Well, I think we just have to look at the anatomy of the brain to answer that question.


So if you look at the parts of the brain, the whole the the the systems that are important for processing language, you can see that some of these regions are also important for controlling your major organ systems and your like your autonomic nervous system that controls your cardiovascular system, your respiratory system and so on, that, you know, these regions control your endocrine system, your immune system and so on. So and you can actually see this in other animals, too.


So in birds, for example, the neurons that are responsible for birdsong also control the systems of a bird's body. And the reason why I bring that up is that the there's some scientists think that the anatomy of a of a bird's brain that control birdsong are homologous or structurally have a similar origin to the human system for a language.


So the parts of the brain that are important for processing language are not unique in and specialised for language. They do many things. And one of the things they do is control your major organ systems.


We can fall in love, have arguments about this all the time. Do you think we can fall in love based on words alone?


Well, I think people have been doing it for centuries. I mean, they used to be the case that people wrote letters to each other. Yeah. Um, you know, and then that was how they communicated. And I guess that's how you and Dan.


Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. Yeah, exactly.


So is the answer a clear yes there? Because I get a lot of pushback from people often that you need you need to touch and smell. And you know, the bodily stuff, I think the touch and the smell in the bodily stuff helps, OK, but I don't think it's necessary.


Do you think you're going to have a lifelong monogamous relationship with the A.I. system that only communicates with you on text romantic relationship? Well, I suppose that's an empirical question that hasn't been answered yet, but so I guess what I would say is. I don't think I could. Could any human could the average human could, you know, so so, um, if I. If I. I even I want to even I want to even modify that and say I'm thinking now of.


Tom Hanks and the movie Castaway.


Yeah, you know, with Wilson, yeah, I think if if that was if you had to make that work, if you had to make that work for the volleyball. Yeah.


If you had to make it work, could you you could you. Prediction and simulation. Right. So if you had to make it work could you make it work using simulation and you know your past experience. Could you make it work. Could you make it work, you as a human, could you could you could you have could you have a relationship literally with an inanimate object and have it sustain you in the way that another human could? Yeah, your life would probably be shorter because you wouldn't actually derive the body budgeting benefits from.


Right. So we've talked about, you know, how your brain it's most important job is to control your body. And you can describe that as your brain running a budget for your body. And there are metaphorical deposits and withdrawals into your body budget. And you also make deposits and withdrawals in other people's body budgets, figuratively speaking. So you wouldn't have that particular benefit.


So your life would probably be shorter, but I think it would be harder for some people than for other people.


Yeah, I tend to my intuition is that you can have a deep, fulfilling relationship with a volleyball.


I think I think a lot of the. The environments are set up, I think that's a really good example, like the constraints. Now, of your particular environment, defined like I believe like scarcity is a good catalyst for deep, meaningful connection with other humans and with inanimate objects, so the less you have, the more fulfilling those relationships are. And I would say a relationship with a volleyball, the sex is not great, but everything else, I feel like it can be a very fulfilling relationship, which I don't know from an engineering perspective what to do with that.


And just like I said, it is an empirical question.


But but there are places to learn about that, right. So, for example, think about children and their blankets.


Right, so there there's something tactile and there's something olfactory and it's very comforting. I mean, even for even for non-human little animals, right, like puppies, and so I don't know about cats, but but cats are cold hearted.


There's no there's nothing going on there.


I don't know. There are some cats that are very dog like. I mean, really. So some cats identify as dogs. Yes, I think that's true.


Yeah. They're they're species fluid.


So you also write when it comes to human minds, variation is the norm. And what we call, quote, human nature is really many human natures. Again, many questions I can ask here, but maybe an interesting one to ask is I often hear, you know, we often hear this idea of be yourself. Is this possible to be yourself?


Is it a good idea to strive to be yourself? Is it does that even have any meaning?


It's a very Western question, first of all, because which self are you talking about? You don't have one self. There is no self that's an essence of you, you have multiple selves. Actually, there is research on this. You know, to quote the great social psychologist, Hazel Marcus, you're never you cannot be yourself by yourself. You you know, you.


And so different contexts pull for or draw on different features of your of who you are or what you're what you believe, what you feel, what your actions are.


A different context, you know, will put certain things or make more some features be more in the foreground and some in the background, it takes us back right to our discussion earlier about, um, Stalin and Hitler and so on.


The thing that I would caution, in addition to the fact that there is no single self, you know, that you have multiple selves who you can be.


And you can certainly choose the situations that you put yourself in to some extent, not everybody has complete choice, but everybody has a little bit of choice. And I think I said this to you before, that one of the pieces of advice that we gave Sophia, you know, when she went our daughter, when she was going off to college was. Try to spend time around people, choose relationships that allow you to be your best self. We should have said your best selves, but this, you know, the pool of cells, given the environment.


Yeah, but I get the one thing I do want to say is that the risk of saying be yourself, just be yourself, is that, um, that can be used as an excuse.


Well, this is just the way that I am. I'm just like this and that I, I think should be tremendously resistant.


So that's one that's that's for the excuse. But, you know, I'm really self-critical. Often I'm full of doubt and people often tell me, just don't worry about it, just be yourself, man. And it's the thing is it almost it's not from an engineering perspective.


It does not seem like actionable advice because I guess constantly worrying about who.


What are the right? Words to say, to express how I'm feeling is, I guess, my self, there's a kind of line, I guess, that it might be a Western idea, but something that feels genuine and something that feels not genuine.


And I'm not sure what that means because I would like to be fully genuine and fully open. But I'm also aware, like this morning, I was like very like silly and giddy.


I go, this is just being funny and relaxed and light, like there's nothing that could bother me in the world. I was just smiling and happy. And then I remember last night was just feeling like very grumpy, like like stuff was bothering me, like certain things were bothering me. And like, what are those are those are different selves. Like what? Who am I in that and what do I do? Because if you know, if take Twitter as an example, if I actually send a tweet last night and tweet this morning, it's going to be very two different people tweeting that.


And I don't know what to do with that, because one does seem to be more me than the other. But that's maybe because there's a nerd. The story that I'm trying, there's something I'm striving to be like the ultimate human that I might become. I have maybe a vision of that and I'm trying to become that. But it it does seem like there's a lot of different minds in there. And they're all like like having a discussion and a battle of who's going to win, I suppose you could think of it that way.


But there's another way to think of it, I think, and that is that maybe the more Buddhist way to think of it. Right, or more contemplative way to think about it, which is not that you have multiple personalities inside your head, but you have your brain has this. Amazing capacity, it it has a population of experiences that you've had that it can regenerate, reconstitute, and it can even take bits and pieces of those experiences and combine them into something new.


And it's often doing this to predict what's going to happen next and to plan your actions. But it's also happening. This also happens just that's what mind wandering is, or just internal thought and so on, that it's the same mechanism, really. And so a lot of times we hear the saying, you know, just think if you think differently, you'll feel differently.


But. Your brain is having a conversation continually with your body and your body, your brain's, you know, trying to control your body while trying, your brain is controlling your body. Your body is sending information back to the brain and in part the information that your body sends back to your brain. Just like the information coming from the world. Initiates the next volley of predictions or simulations. So in some ways, you could also say. The way that you feel your I think we talked before about affective feeling or mood coming from the sensations of body budgeting, you know, influences what you think.


And as much as so, feelings, influence, thought as much as I thought, influence, feeling and maybe more, but just the whole thing doesn't seem stable.


Well, it's a dynamic system, Mr. Engineer. Yeah, right. It's a dynamic. It's a dynamical system. Right. Nonlinear dynamical system. And I think that's a I'm actually writing a paper with a bunch of engineers about them, about this, actually. But I mean, other people have talked about the brain as a dynamical system before.


But, you know, the real tricky bit is trying to figure out how do you get mental features out of that system. Like it's one thing to figure out how you get a motor movement out of that system. It's another thing to figure out how you get a mental feature, like a feeling of being loved or a feeling of being worthwhile or a feeling of, you know, just basically feeling like shit. How do you get a feeling, a mental mental features out of out of that system?


So I what I would say is that you aren't the the Buddhist thing to say is that you're not one person and you're not many people. You are. You are the sum of your experiences and who you are in any given moment. Meaning what your actions will be is influenced by the state of your body and the state of the world that you've put yourself in, and you can change either of those things, one is a little easier to change than the other, right?


You can change your environment by literally getting up and moving, or you can change it by paying attention to some things differently and letting other some features come to the fore and other features be backgrounded like I'm looking around your place. Oh, no. And I see something you should do. No, I'm not.


But I'm going to say one thing. Yeah. No green plants. No green plants, because green plants mean a home, and I want this to be temporary, fair, fair. But what's what's what goes through your mind when you see no green plants?


No, I'm just making the point that.


What if you again, you know, not everybody has control over their environment. Some people don't have control over the noise or the temperature or, you know, any of those things. But everybody is a little bit of control and you can place things in your environment. Photographs, yes. Plants, anything that's meaningful to you and use it as a shift of environment when you need it. Yes, you can also do things to change the conditions of your body.


When you exercise every day, you're making an investment in your body. Actually, you're making an investment in your brain to it makes you even though it's unpleasant and you know, there's a cost to it. If you replenish, if you invest and you make up that you make a deposit and you make up that what you've spent, you're basically making an investment in making it easier for your brain to control your body in the future so you can make sure you're hydrated, drink water.


You don't have to drink bottled water. You can drink water from the tap. This is in most places, maybe not, you know, maybe not everywhere, but but most places in the developed world, you can try to get enough sleep. Not everybody has that luxury, but everybody can do something to make their, you know, body, but just a little more solvent. And that will also make it more likely that certain thoughts will emerge from that prediction machine.


Because I think that's the control you do have is. Yeah. Being able to control the environment. That's really well put on the I don't think we've talked about this. So let's go to the biggest unanswerable questions of consciousness.


What is he just roll your eyes. I did. That was my. Yeah. So what is consciousness from a neuroscience perspective? I know you.


I mean, I made notes, you know, because you gave me some questions in advance and I made notes for every single. Except that one.


Yeah, well, that one I had what the fuck.


And I took it out.


So there's something interesting because you're so pragmatic. Is there something interesting to say about intuition, building about consciousness, or is this something that we're just totally clueless about that this is let's focus on the the body. The brain listens to the body. The body speaks to the brain. And let's just figure this piece out and then consciousness will probably emerge somehow after that.


No, I think, you know well, first of all, it'll just say up front, um, I am not a philosopher of consciousness and I'm not a neuroscientist who focuses on consciousness. I mean, in some sense, I do study it because I study affect in mood. And that's that is the, um, uh, you know, to use the phrase that is the the hard question of consciousness.


How is it that your brain is modeling your body? Brain is modeling the sensory conditions of your body? It's, um, and it's being updated. That model is being updated by the census data that's coming from your body and it's happening continuously your whole life.


And you don't feel those sensations directly, you what you feel is a general sense of pleasantness or unpleasantness, comfort, discomfort, feeling worked up, feeling calm, so we call that affect. You know, most people call it mood.


So how is it that your brain gives you this very low dimensional feeling of mood or affect when it's presumably receiving a very high dimensional array of census data and the model that the brain is running of the body has to be high dimensional because there's a lot going on in there. Right? You're not aware.


But as you're sitting there quietly, as your listeners or our as our viewers are sitting there, might be working out, running now or as many of them right there, they're laying in bed smoking weed with their eyes closed.


And that's fair. So maybe we should say that bit again. So if so, some people may be working out. Some people may be relaxing, relaxing.


But, you know, even if you're sitting very still while you're watching this or listening to this, there's a whole drama going on inside your body that you're largely unaware of, yet your brain makes you. Aware. Or gives you a status report, in a sense, by virtue of these mental features, of feeling pleasant, feeling unpleasant, feeling comfortable, feeling uncomfortable, feeling energetic, feeling tired and so on.


And so how the hell is it doing that? That is the basic question. Of of consciousness and like the status reports seem to be in the way we experience them seem to be quite simple, like. Well, it doesn't feel like there's a lot of data. Yeah, no, there isn't. So when you feel. When you feel discomfort, when you're feeling basically like shit, you feel like shit, what does that tell you? Like what are you supposed to do next?


What caused it? I mean, the thing is not one thing caused it, right? It's multiple factors probably influencing your physical state, your body posture.


Very high dimensional. Yeah, very high dimensional. And that and the there are different temporal scales of influence. Right. So, you know, the state of your gut is not just influenced by what you ate five minutes ago. It's also what you ate a day ago and two days ago and and so on. So, um. So. I think. You know, when I'm. I'm not trying to weasel out of the question, I just think it's a it's.


The hardest question, actually, do you think we'll ever understand it? Um, as a scientist, I think that we will understand it as well as we understand other things like the birth of the universe or the, you know, the nature of the of the universe, I guess I would say so.


Do I think we can get to that level of an explanation? I do, actually. But I think that we have to start asking somewhat different questions and approaching the science somewhat differently than we have in the past.


I mean, it's also possible that consciousness is much more difficult to understand than the nature of the universe. It is.


But I wasn't necessarily saying that it was a question that was of equivalent complexity. I was saying that I do think that we could get to. Some I am optimistic that I would not I would be very willing to invest my the time, my time on this Earth as a scientist in trying to answer that question, if I could do it the way that I want to do it, not in a way that is currently being done.


So, like rigourously. I didn't want to say on rigourously, I just want to say that there are certain set of assumptions that, you know, scientists have what I would call ontological commitments, their commitments about the way the world is or the way that nature is. And they these commitments lead scientists sometimes blindly without they don't scientists sometimes sometimes scientists are aware of these commitments, but sometimes they're not. And these commitments on the less influence, how scientists ask questions, how what they measure, how they measure.


And I just have very different views then a lot of my colleagues about the ways to approach this. Not everybody, but but the way that I would approach it would be different and it would cost more and it would take longer. It doesn't fit very well into the current incentive structure of science. And so do I think that doing science the way science is currently done with the budget that it currently has and the incentive structure that it currently has, will we have an answer?


No, I think absolutely not. Good luck is what I would say.


People love book recommendations. Let me ask what, three books?


You can't just like you can't just give me three. I mean, like, really three what?


Seven and a half books you can come up. So you're also the author of Seven and a Half Lessons about Brain, your author of How Emotions Are Made.


OK, so definitely those are the top two recommendations of all the two greatest books of all time. Other than that, are there books that technical fiction and philosophical that you've enjoyed, you might recommend to others?


Yes, actually, you know, every PhD student, when they when they graduate with their Ph.D., I give them a set. I like a little library, like a set of books, you know, some of which they've already read, some of which I want them to read or but I think non-fiction books I would read, the things I would recommend are The Triple Helix by Richard Lewontin, the little book published in Two Thousand, which is, I think a really good introduction to complexity.


And, um. Population thinking as opposed to essentialism. So this idea essentialism is this idea that, you know, there's an essence to each person, whether it's a soul or your genes or what have you, as opposed to this idea that you we have the kind of nature that requires nurture.


We are we are you are the product of a complex dance between an environment, between a set of genes and environment that turned those genes on and off to produce your brain and your body and really who you are at any given moment title for that triple helix.


So playing on the double helix where it's just the biology is bigger than the biology.


Exactly. It's a wonderful book. I've read it probably six or seven times throughout the year. He has another book, too, which is. It's more I think scientists would find it, I don't know, I loved it, it's called biology is ideology and it really is all about I wouldn't call it one of the best books of all time, but I love the book because it really does point out, you know, that science as it's currently practiced.


I mean, the book was written in nineteen ninety one, but it actually I think still holds that scientists, scientists currently practice has a set of ontological commitments which are somewhat problematic.


So the assumptions are limiting in ways that you it's, you know, it's like you're a fish in water and you don't like. OK, so yeah. So here it is possible. Yes. But you know but here's a here's a really cool thing I just learned recently.


Is it OK to go off on this tangent for a minute? Yeah. Yeah, that's great.


I was going to say that I just learned recently that we don't have water receptors on our skin. So how do you know when you're sweating? How do you know when when a raindrop, when you know when it's going to rain and, you know, like a raindrop hits your skin and you can feel that little drop of wetness. How is it that you feel that drop a witness when we don't have water receptors in our skin?


And I was when I was blown already?


Yeah, I that was my reaction to. Right. I was like, of course we don't because we evolved in the water.


Like, why would we need you know, it just it was just this like, you know, you have these moments where you're like, oh it's like, oh yeah.


So you'll never see rain the same way again.


So the answer is it's a it's a it's a combination of temperature and touch, but it's a complex sense that's only computed in your brain.


There's no receptor for it anyways. Yeah.


That's why I like snow versus cold rain versus warm rain. All feel different because you're you're trying to infer stuff from the temperature and the size of the droplets is fascinating.


Your brain is a prediction machine. It's using lots and lots of information, combining it anyway. So but so biology is ideology is I wouldn't say it's one of the greatest books of all time, but it is a it is a really useful book.


There's a book by if you're interested in psychology or the mind at all, there's a wonderful book a little it's a it's a fairly, fairly small book called Naming the Mind by Kurt Danziger, who's a historian of psychology.


Everybody in my lab reads both of these books.


So what was the book?


It's about the origin of where do where did we get the theory of mind that we have that the human mind is populated by thoughts and feelings and perceptions? And where did those categories come from? Because they don't exist in all cultures.


Also, this isn't that's a cultural construct, the idea that you have thoughts and feelings and they're very distinct is definitely a cultural construct. It's another mind blowing thing, just like the rain. So Kurt Danzinger is about the opening chapter in that book is.


Absolutely mind blowing, I love it, I love it, I just think it's fantastic, and I would say that there are many, many popular science books that I could recommend that I think are extremely well written in their own way. You know, before I maybe I said this to you, but before I undertook writing how emotions are made, I read, I don't know, somewhere on the order of 50 or 60 popular science books to try to figure out how.


To write a popular science book, because while there are many books about writing, Stephen King has a great book writing on writing and you know, where he gives tips interlaced with his own personal history. That was where I learned you write for a specific person. You have a specific person in mind, and that's for me. That person is my is down there.


I mean, that's a whole nother conversation to have. Like which popular science books like what you learn from that search. It is. I have something for me, some popular science books I like.


I just roll my eyes like this is to me it's the same with Ted talks like some of them go too much into the flowery and don't I don't I would say don't give enough respect to the intelligence of the reader. And but that's what this is my own bias. I, I completely agree with you.


And in fact, I have a colleague. His name is Van Yáng, who, you know, he produced a cinematic lecture of how emotions are made that we wrote together with Joseph Fredman. No relation. Yes. Or we're all related. Really?


Well, I mean, you and I are probably, you know, some. Yeah, yeah.


But it's the memories are in there somewhere.


Yeah. From many, many, many generations ago.


Um, my half my family is Russian so from the good half the good everything but. You know, he wanted his goal actually is to produce. You know, videos and lectures that are beautiful and educational and that don't. Don't dump the material down, and he's really remarkable at it, actually, I mean, just. But again, you know, that's that that requires a bit of a paradigm shift. We could have a whole conversation about the split between entertainment and education in this country and why it is the way it is.


But that's that's another conversation to be continued.


But I would say the if I were to pick one book that I think is a really good example of good science writing, it would be the beak of the finch.


Which one it won a Pulitzer Prize a number of years ago, and I'm not I'm I'm not remembering the author's name, I'm blanking.


But the I'm guessing is that is it focusing on birds and the evolution of birds?


Actually, there's also the evolution of beauty. Yeah, yeah. Which is also a great book. But, you know, the peak of the finch is it's a. It it has two storylines that are interwoven. One is about Darwin and Darwin's explorations in the Galapagos Island and then modern day researchers from Princeton who have a research program in the Galapagos looking at Darwin's finches and. It's just a really first of all, there's top notch science in there and really science like, you know, evolutionary biology that a lot of people don't know and it's told really, really well, it sounds like they're also there's a narrative in there.


It's like storytelling, too. Yeah.


I think all good popular science books are are storytelling know, but storytelling grounded, constrained by, you know, the evidence.


And then I just want to say that there are for fiction, I'm a really big fan of love stories just to return us to the topic that we began with.


And so my some of my favorite love stories are Major Pettigrew's last stand by. Helen Simons in. It's a it's a love story about people who you wouldn't expect to fall in love and all the people around them who have to overcome their prejudices and end them. I love this book. What do you like, what makes a good love story? There isn't one thing you know, there are many different things that make a good love story, but I think in this case you can feel you can feel the journey, you can feel the journey that these characters are on and all the people around them are on this journey to basically to come to grips with this really unexpected love, really profound love that develops between these two characters who are very unlikely to have fallen in love.


But they do. And. It's just it's very gentle, another book like that is the The Storied Life of A.J. Fear Key, which is also a love story. But in this case, it's a love story between a little girl and her adopted dad and the dad. Is this, like, real curmudgeonly, you know, guy. But of course, there's a story there and it's just a beautiful love story. And but it also it's like everybody in this community falls in love with him because he falls in love with her and he you know, she just gets left at his store.


His bookstore has this failing bookstore and he discovers that, you know, he feels like inexplicably, this need to take care of this little baby.


And this whole life emerges out of that one decision, which is really beautiful, actually very poignant.


Do you think the greatest stories have a happy ending or a heartbreak at the end?


That's such a Russian questions like Russian tragedies, you know, so I would say the answer to that for me, there is has to be heartbreak.


Yeah, I really don't like heartbreak. I don't like heartbreak. I want there to be a happy ending or at least. A hopeful ending, but the but, you know, like Doctor Zhivago, like or the English Patient.


Oh, my goodness. Like, why? Oh, it's just. Yeah, no.


Well, I don't think there's a better way to end it on a happy note like this, Lisa. Like I said, I'm a huge fan of yours. Thank you for wasting yet more time with me talking again. People should definitely get your book and maybe one day I can't wait to talk to your husband as well. Well, right back at you, Lexy.


Thanks for listening to this conversation with Lisa Feldman Barrett, and thank you to our sponsors, athletic greens, the all in one drink that I start every day with to cover all my nutritional bases, eat, sleep a mattress that calls itself and gives me yet another reason to enjoy sleep master class online courses that I enjoy from some of the most amazing humans in history and better help online therapy with a licensed professional. Please check out these sponsors in the description to get a discount and to support this podcast.


Enjoy the things, subscribe on YouTube, review it with five stars and a podcast. Follow on Spotify, support on Patrón or connect with me on Twitter Leks Friedemann. And now let me leave you with some words from Sun Tzu and the art of war. There are not more than five musical notes yet the combination of these five gives rise to more melodies that can ever be heard. There are not more than five primary colors yet in combination, they produce more hues that can ever be seen.


There are not more than five cardinal tastes, and yet combinations of them yield more flavors than can ever be tasted. Thank you for listening and hope to see you next time.