« Making Sense with Sam Harris

#110 — The Change Artist

2017-12-23 | 🔗

In this episode of the Making Sense podcast, Sam Harris speaks with AJ Jacobs about religion, gossip, polyamory, health advice, our past and future selves, “radical honesty,” human genealogy, tribalism, and other topics.

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Today, I'm speaking with the writer and journalist Aj Jacobs, The know it all the year of living, biblically, the guinea pig diaries. And most recently, it's all relative, the editor at large of Esquire magazine for NPR and his for the New York Times the Washington Post. And we talk about many of the topics he's touched over his career. We talk about his full immersion approach to journalism. The way he performs allow experiments on himself but religion, gossip polyamory advice, how to think about one's past and future selves, the ethics of honesty and what's been called radical honesty His recent adventures in human genealogy in his new book,
and many other topics and now without further delay. I bring you. Aj Jacobs- I I'm here with Aj Jacobs, AJ thanks for coming on the podcast thanks for having me, so you are really a unique of writer. I mean I'm sure there are other people who take a similar approach, but I can't name them off the top. My head, you you go into each book and to some of your articles more or less determined, to perform a very elaborate and sometimes painful cycle, spearmint on yourself and presumably everyone you care about we're gonna run through some of these topics. You've touched, but first just summarize your approach here and describe your your, background. As a writer yeah. As he said, I am a writer and a journalist an what I'd like to do. Is I immersed myself,
an idea or lifestyle and then report back what I've learned. So, for instance, I spent a couple of years to be the healthiest person alive. I spent another trying to follow all the rules of the Bible as literally as possible for my new book I wanted to help build the world family tree, which is the family tree with millions of people all connected and hopefully soon will be all seven and a half billion people on earth. So yeah, that's my people calling experience will journalism, immersion journalism whatever, but it's a it's a good job. It's a fun job. I think we should go through the through each of these, because they're they're, quite different and and they're independently interesting, was your first, the yearly we definitely actually know. My first was where I decided I was hopefully ignorant so uh.
Try to remedy it by reading the encyclopedia from a Z, Encyclopedia Britannica when it still existed in print form, I don't recall how far did you get? Did you get to the well yeah? I don't want to you know spoilers, but yes, I did get dizzy. I got to the last word is Zevia town in South Central Poland, and how long did that? Take that over a year and a half of reading about six or seven hours a day was that a painful ordeal mostly or was it an incredibly enriching guilty pleasure that you were just made so that you could get paid to do and where did it fall in the pleasure index? I would say both and times it was. Incredibly painful include sing for my wife who started to uh. She find me one dollar for every irrelevant fact. I inserted into conversation, so she made a lot of money, but but other times it the pure joy and actually one of the
takeaways was it. It did make my life better and it was pie only because reading about the full sweep of human history. It really it's clear to me that the good old days were not good. All they were disease, ridden violent, sexist, racist, dirty smelly. So you know Steven Pinker's book, the better angels of our nature. I got to I sort of saw that free reading the encyclopedia- and it just made me even when I'm feeling down even just this three word phrase surgery, without anesthesia surgery without anesthesia. That brings about that. It really does so yeah. It was overall an uplifting experience, if not for my wife, and how much would you say stuck? Is there a lasting benefit to it?
Do you have a sense of what it did to your mind? I would say it: I retained the less than one percent, although one person of thirty three thousand pages is a lot more than I was at before. I wish that I could control what I retain, but I think the human brain is drawn to the bazaar and the for instance, I still remember that the or version of Heroin was the Bayer Aspirin company invented heroin as a cough suppressant and it is actually a very effective cough suppressant, but it turns out has some other side effects and they have to take it off but they're the ones who named it heroin after a heroism maps. The kind of you know it has to do with sex irrelevant for what you'll get fined one dollar- yes yeah. If you want me to cut a check right now, I understand now. That's all I like facts like that, but uh
do not have to live with you on a daily basis. It's also often forgotten. Okay, it's amazing. What Wikipedia has done to the stature of of the Encyclopedia Britannica, but it's often forgotten some of those articles were really well written. There famous additions of the Britannica, where some of the great intellectuals of the they were writing the articles. I don't know if that persisted until the final edition, but no no it but you're right, the early on in the 1900s. You had Houdini writing about magic. You had Freud writing about psychoanalyst psychoanalysis so it really was- or the writing was quite literally literary. It was beautiful.
At the same time is also a sort of a snapshot into the past, because a lot of it was incredibly racist and a lot of you know then the first dish, and they said that California was quite likely an island. So you do get to see all of the mistakes as well. Let's go to another book that also has some nice. Writing in it and some not so nice it has yet to be superseded fatally by Wikipedia or any other resource. That is the Bible. So you tell me how you hatch this planned to become the most religious person in New York City right all right, well, yeah. The plan was to follow every rule of the Bible as literally as possible, so I had to motivations for writing this book. The first is that I hoped to expose, The absurdity of fundamentalism by becoming the ultimate fundamentalist,
As you know better than Maine. There are millions of people who say they take the Bible literally, that homosexuality is a sin. That's what the Bible says. Creationism is true. It seemed clear to me they were not taking the entire bye. Literally they were, they were taking part, so it was very selective literalism and they were ignoring other parts and cherry picking. So I wanted to show what would it look like You actually took the entire bible, literally without picking and choosing so I followed the hundreds of rules that are often ignored in the Bible says you can't shave the corners of your beard. I didn't know where the corners were, so I just grew this massive topiary. I looked like You look like TED Kaczynski at the height of his bomb making prowess, I tell the kids in the vibe, the Bible says no wearing mixed fibers, so I no poly cotton blends in my closet Bible says to stone adulterers. So I thought I should try that I used pebbles 'cause. I didn't want to go to jail for life
But basically I followed everything and I acted like a crazy person, which is what you will do. If you take the Bible, literally so that was motivated number one to show the fundamentalists are deeply misguided and actually not doing what they say. Motivation was a little more earnest. I wanted to understand the appeal of religion and see: if are there any aspects of religion that can make my life better, because I grew up with no religion at all. I say in the book I am jewish, but I'm jewish, the same way. The olive garden is italian, so not very so you were taking just the old testament, or did you extended to the new testament? I mostly did the old because of my jewish background and because that has most of the laws, but I did damn well in the new. So I did about eight months of old four months of new, so were you officially a Jew for Jesus at that for the last
also I I did meet with them. They were interesting yeah. I met with all sorts of different groups to see how they interpret the Bible literally, so that was the that was. The second motivation was to see: am I missing anything? Were you missing something? Well let If I could just backup and one of the ways I really looked at in which I found very helpful where the 3B's? I think it was a jewish scholar who first came up with it, that religion is belief, belonging and behavior, so belief in God, belonging to a community and behavior, so encouraging ethical behave. You're like no stealing or lying or going at to a weekly meeting of some sort. So through this project I did see the appeal of
first of two of those three belonging and behavior, I I did say that rituals can be beautiful. Like Passover can be, you know you get together with your. Your family eat some food, some of it's good, so it's disgusting, but I I that I see that and a community belonging to a community. I mean, I think we are as humans, where built long to a community and their studies on how people who go to church live longer, and I don't think it's because God likes them better. It's because they have a tight knit group. So I saw but the I understood more about two of the three, the belief in the supernatural. I don't buy, and I don't- and I think I was actually a little too easy on supernatural
in my book, if I were gonna, write it again, I would come down harder on the dangerous of supernatural belief and that that is, That the good of religion 'cause, I do think sometimes using can do good, like the civil rights movement was or anti slavery, but I think the good of for can be outweighed by the band because of the supernatural beliefs can justify just the most horrible. My argument. There is always at relationships, people reasons to be good, but it gives them bad reasons. We're good reasons are actually of a right, and so it's like, obviously it's great, that some people are inspired to do legitimately, good things on the basis of their religious beliefs. But
It's just it's a failure of a wider ethical culture in conversation that they have those reasons, as opposed to the truly unimpeachable reasons one could have for a civil rights movement or anything else, so that we would agree is good and I think the danger is you can take the Bible and then, Sir put it in one hundred different ways. So it was used not just by abolitionists it was used by people in favor of slavery and saints in the Bible, and that. Canes offspring? Are the are meant to be slaves so yeah? I think that that is very dangerous. In that sense, But again I do like the belonging and behavior
so I am one of those who believes some sort of secular church. Some sort of secular religion might be good for for our species, so I see how you got the behavior and we should probably talk about specifically what you did and its effect on you, but the belonging part. I would imagine that, because the roots of your this experiment were so obvious that you're, basically your it's not a sincere converse, experience your just trying it on for size and tried it on for the purpose of this, this writing project. These communities that you interacted with. How did people treat you were you pretending to we totally sincere for your interactions with them or or how to have these conversations go. I would say that, in terms of sincerity, I I do think that I was insincere and trying to learn what the appeal of religion was and also
well, it got very murky because, even if you start something as a lark, if you fully commit to the behave here, then, your mind eventually starts to turn, so that was you know, basic cognitive, behavioral therapy and cognitive dissonance. I was acting as a religious person. All the time and eventually my mind caught up it. It faded after I stopped, but I've actually found that, that can be a very useful tool, there's a great quote by the founder of Habitat for human frame, humanity that says it's easier to act. Your way into a new may have thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting. So I would, I would force myself to visit friends in the hospital and I would say, even though I hated going to the hospital and my mind would would look around
to say I'm in the hospital. I must be an ethical, compassionate person, and you do that enough and you start to become a little bit better. You wouldn't put any of these friends in the house. It'll by stoning them for working on the Sabbath or anything. No, although I did stone one astrologer as well as an adulterer, she did not think it was funny she was not into it at all, but yes there. So I would say there there was an earnestness as well as of the the desire to satirize fundamentalism. It was sort of those two prongs and but it was interesting to see. I went spent a lot of time, I'm with very religious people who were open to me because I was going in there to try to learn their point of view, even if I disagreed with it and my most interesting trips was going to the creation museum. This was right before it opened.
And as you know, that's the museum devoted to the idea that young earth creationism world A6000 year beautifully done Matt Museum by the way millions of dollars they have. You know beautiful statues of even Adam, although you can't see any of their private parts 'cause, you know that would be, it would be sinful. But what struck me there is how intelligent How basically, how amazing it is that very intelligent people can believe very full. This ideas, and and the amount of mental energy and mental gymnastics that these creationists used to justify their beliefs was astonishing. I mean I would go there? They had a whole book in their library about the feasibility of Noah's Ark and it it was so detailed and well researched about
system would work how they would get rid of men or an it whether it was an impressive work, but in my opinion. It was just an exercise in in it was just a crazy use of mental energy, but they were very smart yeah. It is interesting. You actually don't have to be a rational across the board to be a religious maniac. You just have you have an initial down payment of irrationality on the on the basic premise that say, this single book was dictated by the creator of the universe, but once you believe that, then you can put all of your remaining rationality to work, trying to make sense of the text and getting it to square with all the facts that come your way from the wider world. Then you can have people who are go and get Phd's in Biochemistry
and view everything they're learning through the lens of how to square it with the book of Genesis right and that one of the people I met there was fast. Fascinating was an astrophysicist and he has been almost I'm doing just that. He did believe that the the The universe was billions of light years across. So how did he square that with the fact that the world was only six thousand, the universe was only six thousand years old and he had all these complicated theories involving time travel and but it really was remarkable will say then one thing that that that made me more that I don't know if it's often my heart, but it made me understand a little more of that why they were soap. Nothing about it is one of the creationists told me if
listen. It's true we all I evolved from pond scum, and how can you have a dig? How can you have human dignity if we all are just pond scum and of course I we believe we evolved from pond scum and I believe that you can have ice actually think it's inspiring that we've come so far from pond scum but not only that we have a fair amount of pond scum in us still. If you just look at the you know, every persons, microbiome the ratio of bacterial cells to human cells and anybody or something like ten to one it just occur. I mean the crazy place to try to hang your human dignity on some sort of fundamental material difference between our species and the rest of nature, well, that's it. I think that they really want to separate human.
From everyone else. There's alot in religion. That's about separation, like you know, even kosher, just separating milk and meat separating ourselves from the Philistines and that is, I feel life is more of a uh spectrum, and so I'm, okay with having us, be on the same spectrum. These animals, but but they they find it hard to retain the dignity. So the challenge is to try to convince them. You know what this is. You can still have human dignity without without a six thousand year old arc Who are you in dialogue with mostly? Was it mostly ultra orthodox Jews, or did you split your evenly across a dozen sex. Who did you talk to and and I can imagine that even among the Orthodox Jews, you spoke with your orientation wasn't
exactly what they would recommend or or was it correcting? I spoke I'm trying to spread myself around to at least a dozen, so the evangelical Christians and the Jehovah's witnesses I, by the way I might be the only person who who board a Jehovah's witness who Al Bible talk to journalism. He came to my house and after three Now it seems like all right. I've had enough, I'm outta here that thank you, but yet and then acidic juice, but I also had more progressive, rabbis and ministers talking. And yeah you're right about, the the healthy, Dick Jews? Don't act, Julie follow the Bible literally, as you know, they have the uh or along, which is that Almaden, so nothing in the Bible like, for instance, it says that you shouldn't
the Leviticus, you should not boil a baby goat in its mother's milk. So if you're taking the Bible literally. I just had to avoid boiling of baby goat in its mother's milk for a year which I was able to do, but very orthodox Jews of that's been interpreted the earth and and widen widen to mean do not have, milk and meat at the same time. So that's where you get no cheeseburgers, so but it is actually not it's an offshoot of Judaism called Karaite. Jews. Judaism does try to follow the Bible literally, but they are seen as a sort of heretics. What was the most surprising or a few of the most surprising, changes in your outlook born of adopting the mirror behavior by wrote. Well, I would say: yeah I did become slightly more compassionate one thing that was, I tried to avoid gossiping
and that can be defined in various ways, but I just tried to cut out any negative talk about anyone and it was actually a remarkable experience because I did feel a little bit better about humanity- and the way I think it might have happened- is my brain. Would I would start to form a negative thought about someone and my brain woods was sort of kick in and say you know what this thought will never be expressed: let's not even follow through on it 'cause it's a waste of energy, so well, I I have fewer negative thoughts and it made my I it it. I made my life better. I will say I mean I'm still. I still gospel that human, but I do think I gossip, maybe thirty percent less than I used to right. Gossip is
very interesting and there's a similar rule in Buddhism. The whole doctrine of right speech and gossip is one of the forms of speech that is considered just not useful for building a mind in life that you you want to inhabit. I am sensitive to the character of my own gossip and I'm kind of two minds about gossip, because on one level you can, feel? What's wrong with it? If you're at all sensitive to this, you can immediately feel what's wrong with it, because, if you're talking about people behind their back, if you sort of trading in negative stories about them, especially for entertainment, value that you can see how you're sorta kind of dining out on the on the misfortunes of others and also you're, introducing into the conversation with the people you're gossiping, with this,
Rarely acknowledged fact, which is, you are showing yourself to be the kind of person who will talk about his or her friends in their absence. This can be a star cuz. You know one free. Getting up from the table to go to the bathroom and the remaining friends talking about him or her in his or her absence in a way that wouldn't survive that person's company without some problem is to answer. Everyone is drawing from that. Experience the message again, almost never acknowledge that you're, the sorts of friends who will dish about one another you're in the other's absence, and it just creates a fundamental lack of trust, often unacknowledged the rule. I've set for my If it's not, there is not a non gossip rule, but I I really trying to be aware of how I'm talking about other people and make every effort to
only speak about them in a way that I would be comfortable with them overhearing. I tend never to say something about a person that I wouldn't say to his or her face, and in many cases I haven't said to his or her face again, it's hard to perfect here because you sometimes you're caught up in in the moment where you're in dialogue with other people who are not at all following that kind of standard and your it's going to push in your orientation around, but it's very useful to look at because we'll talk about dishonesty to cuz. I know you knew touch that topic, but it hits the gossip can be really corrosive. Well, I guess that the flip side of it is this is where I don't totally aligned with the the buddhist view that gossip is just bad, it does serve. A social function, in the need that everyone feels to manage their reputation. Reputation management were not a problem.
The door to Hell is sort of kicked open in the sense that you know. I have totally shameless people willing to do more less anything because they are, they just have no concern about their reputations and on some level we have a a new president who fits that mold. I guess he thinks he cares about his reputation, but he's someone who are some of the she just wants to be talked about. He doesn't really care in when, when Van and it's probably better for society that people can still be humiliated or war or embarrassed by trespassing various norms right yeah, I I agree with the others. I think you do need some gossip. I've been asked to be the right kind of gossip. You know, if there's a publisher, I know, and your urine talks with
I am, but I know that that publishers, a horrible person who lies and cheats, doesn't pay. That's the kind of gossip that I think is is instructive, but a lot of gossip is just, as you say, like a roman holiday. Uh just pure joy in other peoples pain, and that is that is not a good way to go. I actually just learned. This is a little sideline, but I learned of a for one of my books. I spent some time and with the polyamory community, I'm not poly amorous myself, but they had an interesting emotion that they call compersion. Polyamory is an open relay. Ship. Polyamory is also conveys some implication of bi sexuality. Now
it's just ethical non monogamy cell, okay, okay in any formation, was not part of the the Bible. Experiments are absolutely right. I actually brought it up to my wifi is like you know, David have twelve wives. Solomon had seven hundred. I actually talked to what will split the difference. Yeah that sounds exhausting. I really don't relish that idea, but I talk to during my year of living biblically the head of the Polygamy, Associ nation of America, who is very religious and had just this argument that in the old testament, all these men and wives- and he actually had like. I said it's an interesting idea. How do I do it practically and he had some very specific advice. He said I should go marry the second woman come back to my wife and tell her it's a fait accomplis and then it's more likely that she'll accept it. So just pure insanity
that would have been a good article, though I think Your editor at Esquire might have signed off on it yeah. It would have been a good article, the end of my marriage, but yeah if I were committed, but they talk about Compersion, which is happiness at other people's happiness. The being joyful when your partner has sexual relations with another person, and I love the idea I I cannot imagine experiencing, compare and whenever I think about my wife with another guy. Is this a kneeling some of their the polyamory community. Or is it a word that I haven't yet read in the I had never heard it. So I I think it might be, but maybe there's there's some precedent for it, but I thought it was a really interesting idea and they they argument, is just trying to think about. If you are, if you love are,
if your wife goes out and has a really great meal at a restaurant, you would be happy for even if you're not there and you take that to the stream, and you should be happy if she has a vibrant sex life with someone else, and it is an interesting idea. I cannot do it myself, but maybe the world would be better if you could. It is a pretty buddhist idea as well and the buddhist term for that attitude is it's rarely thought of in the context of extramarital sex, but the name for the mental state of being happy being made happy by the joy of others is sympathetic. Joy, it's more or less the way love feels in the present of of another person's joy when you're, when you're in the presence of another person's suffering, you feel compassion but to be made happy by the smile of of someone. You love is obviously an experience we all share and then to extend that to all possible reasons why she could be smiling seems like a
fairly heroic act, given the level of jealousy and many people feel I mean, I think it is because I do think schadenfreude is one of the worst emotions out there. Have you been able to cultivate this sympathetic, compassion in yourself yeah, but it's just their conditions where it comes up against something else. You seem to really care about like something like monogamy but yeah. I I can understand it. Even in that context. We just imagine if your. If you had some terminal diagnosis right and just what sort of person would you be? If you found out at six months to live and now you're having to envision your your wife's life going on for decades after you- and I know you do- have children, so you have your picture on your wife and your
children living in long lives after you're gone. Then what do you hope for her? In that context? You hope that she meets some man who she's happy with and who, who is a great step father to your children? It's pretty easy for me to get there and the obvious that I don't want to think about that happening to me that it would be made happy by this happening. But it's pretty obvious to me that, should I find myself in that situation, the only rational and and decent ethical commitment is to want my wife and children to be as happy as possible, going forward crying and ends and not be made needlessly miserable by my absence. Well, I I think that is one one advantage. Not believing in an afterlife or or a soul is, and I really since I believe that, when the lights count, the lights are out what happens after that has absolutely
now impact on my my joy or pain, so I've actually given some thought to this, and I told my wife I at my funeral. It's totally up to you, even better crowd source, it asked what people would want. Do they wanna speech? Do they want, just drink whatever they want, whatever would give them. The most happiness is what you should do your yeah well I take this no more but direction. Presumably you are both healthy enough for the moment to be jealous husbands and on the topic of hell, that I I, if there's more to say about the the biblical experiment, I I'm want to say it, but I do want to touch your experiments and health as well, because, obviously that's of interest to every person who does not want to die. Yeah, so that one came about because I did not want to die as say, uh an I. I was pretty unhealthy for most of my life. I ice
Where those saw my body is a way to carry my brain around? I didn't give much thought to it. I wasn't traditionally fat. I was more what they call a skinny fat, so I, my body, looked like sort of a snake that swallowed a boat, but I wanted to uh, I think, there's a lot to being healthy and the links between health and emotions, an and brain. So even if I was just doing it for a better mental state, it was important. So I decide to do a similar project to the Bible, where I wrote down hundreds of pieces of health advice, and I I tried to follow the mall, so I revamped every part of my life, my exercise regimen, my my diet. The way I slapped my sex life
the way I went to the bathroom there, as you know, the the the whole idea that that our Paleolithic for parents, when it looks worse water, is not sitters. So I I did everything possible. It was supposed to be a year, but I was so out of shape me too, and it was a really interesting experiment and it did change my life somewhat and it also made me realize: did you measure the change in in terms of body, fat and blood? work, and all that I did I did I went, I mean part of it was being aligned with this. The quantified self movement which Kevin Kelly, your former guest, was part of, and
yes so I definitely I win in all the right directions. I did feel better, but I also discovered just the the shocking amount of buncombe and and quackery in the health world that might have been the most useful take away. Actually is the is just this being able to spot a little better this the absurdities that are passed off as science. So, if you had to summarize your beliefs now about the bad best health advice, how would you say someone should live is so as to cheat death most reliably. Well, I think one of the lessons was that I could pretty much summer, Is it in a in a paragraph or two?
They wanted me to write a health, a column for Esquire, and I am one I said I was like alright, but I it'll be the same two paragraphs pretty much every month. I'm not sure anyone a warranty attempts, but the basic idea is very simple: move more eat last and when you do eat eat real food. I do believe that that processed carbs ours are some of the worst day. I think there's like a lot of evidence for that. I'm don't smoke, get a lot of sleep. There is increasing evidence how important that is. It affects everything from job performance to
driving to your iq it the the day after and don't hit yourself in the forehead with an axe. It's it's really quite quite basic, but but there are millions of people trying to make money by selling some sort of secret, and you know There's like goop is perhaps the biggest violator that comes to mind and grouping Gwyneth Palt rose Paltrow's company right with this, the insanity that they try to peddle and uh your eyes. I've actually been on his show, and I like him as a person- and I think, he's probably a great heart heart doctor from all heard, but he kind of ran out of things to say, ran out of real advice and he got into the the whole. I don't know if he's done homeopathy, but he's done a lot like that. Well, it wasn't. He was now now we can get
gossip mode, but that I'm pretty I'm pretty sure. I I won't say anything about him that I wouldn't say to him on this podcast was he prosecuted for some something he touted that turned out to be purely fictitious? I wish I knew I can't there was something by a he has sort of gone down the path of recommending miracle berries or something that, but that lead to fat loss or ten unseemly for a real doctor, so what was your is far as the dietary advice? Where did your research take you on the question of eating meat versus being a vegetarian,
this is being a vegan. Well, I am actually vegetarian, but for ethical reasons more than health. As far as I can tell- and this gets the basic epistemological concerns, because I think people like Gary Taubes, who I quoted in my book- are very smart and he's very much into the idea that the cholesterol hypothesis is wrong and He sort of an advocate of the low carb movement, so you've got Gary Taubes and the low carb movement on one end of the spectrum and then you've got books like that. Find a diet on the other which say that eating purely vegan is the way to a long life from what I can tell. It seems to me that the mostly plants does the at this point have the most evidence
scientific evidence behind it. I know that Gary and many of his folks will disagree with that, but one thing that they both agree on is the processed carbs are terrible for you, so staying away from processed carbs and just eating real food, even if they both agreed. Then it should be real food, so whether that's real need a real vegetables, but it it based, We got to the idea. I did not have the time to spend three, the years like Gary investigating whether the cholesterol hypothesis was true- and I think he's very smart, but for me in terms of health, I'll, I like to think of it as almost like the the rotten tomatoes model for deciding what's healthy
because you can always find an outlier who says Bacon is good for you. You should eat Bacon three times, so there are just so many quacks with great academic pedigree, who will say the craziest things so God. You've got to look at the the meta studies in the meta, Meta studies and you've got two. So for me, it's look at what a hundred reputable scientists say and sort of taking the middle of what they say. The the rotten tomatoes approach. So if eighty percent say that it is it mostly plants, it has most evidence now, I'm gonna go with that yeah, it's quite humbling from a scientific perspective, how little consensus there is on some very basic questions about die, so I had Gary on the podcast and it's amazing what happens when you touch this topic about. I thought I knew what it was to hit way.
Every third rail I hadn't yet hit as a topic of controversy. But you know now I get Gary is hate mail and it's it's amazing. How energize people are so you're saying I it might prepared, for. I don't know how much or how hard it comes in the other direction. I mean that the there's a vegan mafia out there that will will hate you. If you dignify the claim that eating some meat is probably the healthier than than eating none. I do want it to define health because I do, I think, there's a lot of evidence that a very low carb diet, high protein diet will help. You lose weight in a short period of time, but I don't think that there's a lot of evidence on is that this will make your life span longer and since I'm married and sadly I don't care as much about my wife- flying as I should I'm more interested in the life lifespan, which I know is linked to obesity, but it's not the same. Your your
but it is amazing that the I think the only totally uncontroversial statement about diet that can be made now. The statement about which everyone eating less sugar is Jen. A good idea for the note, no one's advocating that you eat more sugar as in be no more food with added sucrose, and that's pretty much where consensus and yeah I mean even salt is even there is clear consensus on that yeah yeah.
In terms of diet, I am very excited for clean neat and in the lab grown meat. As of MAR. I think that could make a huge game changer ethically. That feels like the lever that would move the world if, if we can build it and and pull it hard enough because just to take suffering animals out of the equation entirely and yet allow, everyone to eat meat if they want it. That would be huge, although I guess there is an interesting ethical wrinkle there, where, if you imagine that the lives of farm animals or some class of farm animals are better than no life
all right. So if you imagine that it's possible to give farm animals and even raised for slaughter, raise to produce milk if it's possible to give them lives worth living that are in a better than not existing in the first place. Well, then canceling this industry by finding some technological work around to produce meat and and milk without animals is a net negative from that point of view, but I would say that from one I understand the life of the average industrial farmed animal is not worth living that the pain ways that the pleasure so that, if we are able to do cultured meat, then we can sure we can have a bunch of cows having a wonderful life and
outside of the factory farms. So I mean I'm excited because it also opens up. If you don't have to just eat cow meat or chicken meat, you can the rhinoceros meter and any endangered species. An iv there's a friend of mine who wrote a book about this and there's talk of ethical cannibalism. Right right, I was going to suggest your next book. Topic could be listen Cannibal, diet. If anyone wants to eat me, I'm listen. I'm pleased to offer up my cells. If we can recover some dna from the shards of the cross, you can eat the body of Jesus for real. There you go. So is there anything that you are doing now that you weren't doing before that book? That is, your sure is leaving you better off. Well, I would say, There are yeah. There are a whole bunch of things. I'm one is. I do. I am one of those people who works on a treadmill which it looks ridiculous.
I have uh, you know, I, I think that stress and sl, People are very underrated. People focus way too much on on the diet and exercise elements. So managing stress has been a big one and also even though the idea of what is healthy is is pretty simple, the tactics we apply to be healthy. Those can be very sophisticated, so there was one I did during the year what you might have heard of the sort of blackmailing yourself idea, so I used to eat these. Mango dried mangoes constantly and they they sort of masquerade as healthy, because their fruit, but really they're, just concentrated sugar, and so I I use this technique developed by a Yale professor, where I I told my wife. If I eat another man got dried mango this month, then you have to
I. I have to donate the a hundred dollars to a charity, but not any charity. It has to be in on an anti charity. A charity you hate so I had to. I would have to donate to the American Party, and that is really effective. The sun, your mirror. So I I do try these techniques as well also thinking of your older cells, so trying to think of be kind to your future self and almost treat him or her like. You would treat a friend yeah, that's as interesting, if you're a stick. So do you do anything specific to contemplate your older self to you and it is there? Is there more to it than just invoking that simple concept? Well, I actually did take it kind of to the extreme. I don't know if I recommend this to everybody, but there are these apps that will
need your photo. So I took a photo of myself and I aged my face. So I looked. You know. Eighty three print it out- and I do have it over my desk and weirdly. I do find it somewhat motivating. So if I'm thinking should I have this third pop tart, I say you know what I gotta. I gotta treat my older self with little more kindness, and I know that you have some interesting thoughts about self and that we are not the. There is no such thing as one's self so, and I I kind of agree with that, so I I am actually I see this as a separate person than I should be kind to your. The paradox of identity are are famous
an interesting and and very difficult to resolve, and for those who are interested just to think about this deeply are, I always recommend Derek Parfit book reasons and persons which I I discuss a little bit in my book. Waking up on on the topic of the self, but they are part of it, is the philosopher who gave us your his version of of what most people. Think of this, like a star trek, transporter thought: experiment where you do. You know you can Do you compose a person's Adams and beam them elsewhere or beam all the information elsewhere, and then re reassemble him or her with all the memories intact? Is that the same person- and
there are there ways to describe that word- seems pretty straight forward? Is the same person and their ways to describe it words, absolutely clear? It's. It can't be the same person, so I I got to go through that in waking up by a in some sense. Your future self is just like that, just like somebody who was teleported into the future and reassembled, and it's not straight for that. It's you it's not straight for that. It's not you, but at the very least it someone for whom it's it's quite rational, to have a fair amount of concern and to do whatever you can to prepare the ground for that person to be healthy and happy- and I think about this too, in that, if I met
my teenage self. Now I think I would would hate him. I would think he's a self centered, egotistical idiot and then and conversely, if my teenage self met me now, he would think he was a sap just a sentimental old fool. So I do think that I very much bye into this, that we are different people as we age. That's. Actually very interesting- and I don't think I've ever heard, anyone notice that in the midst of that kind of thought, it how many people are asked the question you? What would you tell your your former self at age, twenty five or so by way of advice, and I've heard many people answer that question. I think I've been a second before and have answered it. But I've never heard someone say which, when you say it is actually fairly obvious that it would be possible to meet this person and action
not like him right of it. Like a like there's enough of a difference. You know, I think people only imagine envying there younger self, that you know the opportunity to to be young again and do something better than he did but or do something earlier than he did or being be guided by the wisdom that you, the future self, are prepared to dole out. But just imagine that this encounter and you meet a former self who was a much more self involved and much less ethical say it's interesting to consider, just as you say, not actually liking the person and having that be returned now you're this, this old guy, who is no fun at all interesting, it is interesting. I mean it is, I don't want to gossip about my former self, but it it. He really was a bit of a jerk and
I think, to me one of the greatest values. Now is the ability to shift your position given evidence the idea, you know sleep flapping in the positive way, so to me that just makes this idea of your former self. Much much darker, that my views have really changed? They've evolved, sometimes they flipped I Think I was a nihilist back, then you know there's! No God. Therefore, why have any morality and I've really switched get up, and now, I think about morality. It takes up a huge amount of my brain space, so I like the idea of fundamentally their position based on new evidence and thought and its interest
consider engineering that change remote much of what we we do obviously changes us inadvertently, you you can't you just you, have new relationships and new insights and, and you get older and you you your opinion, inns and beliefs, change. They evolve and it all goes in a direction, hopefully that you don't regret, but it seems, like seems like some form of progress, but it's rare that we consciously conceive of a change that we that seems like it would be good for us and aim at it. Even though we don't currently want to be that person. This is something that I've been thinking about when thinking about artificial Intel, Jensen and designing values into intelligent systems and ultimately being able to change our own values to be able to intrude in
the human brain and change whether you find something disgusting or or objectionable, so to take this out of the moral domain for a moment. Imagine being someone who finds broccoli disgusting, but you understand rationally, the broccoli is actually pretty good for you and it's often served and it would be an easy way to eat vegetables. Would you want to actually change that about yourself? If you could it would it would you want to? Would you want to actually like broccoli if you currently find it disgusting, and you could extend this analysis to everything else. We can turn a couple of dials in your frontal cortex an now you're, this sort of poly amorous person who not only doesn't care, but it's just connected to the happiness of the one you love without any kind of boundary at some.
Point those kinds of changes I think will be on the menu for us, and so your is so you're thinking about changing to a state that you currently find undesirable. But but you have some other rationale for pointing yourself there and- and it seems to me that we most of our change is almost entirely haphazard. And we just find in retrospect that we we no longer want the things we used to want or or we want different things, but I think we're If we live long enough, we will find ourselves in a future where tweaking our source code is is more and more. Something that's on offer. I love that idea and I'm actually given a lot of thought, this is well, for instance, with Jonathan Heights theory of the core values I think, for instance, it is true that some people-
are obsessed with purity and that's very a very deep value for them, but is that a good value for all of society if we could get rid of that? If we could, or at least dial it down a lot. Would more people be happy, and I believe yes, I think that the purity value is is not as conducive to mass happiness, happinesses other values. So I agree- and I always I question how much before we we use crisper to reprogram our jeans. How much can we change are our our basic drive like for, since I have made a I think, for in my life, I've been a germaphobe and very obsessed with purity changed when Donald Trump became president. He is a germaphobe and
nationally or not. I wanted to be nothing like him, so I made a conscious effort to get rid of my germaphobia and I have made a lot of strides in it and you know partly by just exposing myself to it and partly just by rationally thinking that what are the chance of me getting a terrible disease. If I don't wash my hands fifty times a day, so I think we do even before crisper we have the ability to change our values somewhat. Yeah yeah, that's interesting. So there's that your current book that I want to get to which- which really goes to this, the concept of our extension
self in a way, but I I want to touch the topic of honesty, because you wrote an article about radical honesty. Awhile back and I have my book line- and I don't know if we have different conclusions here, but talk to me about your experiments in on a stick yeah. I am very interested in talking to you about this because I think we agree on on most things but there for maybe a little. This was I I decided to investigate this movement called the radical honesty which was founded by a psychologist in Virginia name, brand Blanton, and he He says that we should never lie, but he goes further. He says that what whatever's on our brain should come out of our mouth no filter. So it's almost like that movie liar liar with Jim Carrey. So if, if you have a crush on your wife's sister, is to tell your wife- and you should tell her sister- you just- I think you
magically just found the worst case scenario. I read the article when it came out- but I forgot was that actually one of the examples that upended your life and uh oh actually, my my wife has two brothers and I I'm not gay. So we were spared purely by accident. I would Well, I didn't encounter quite a few, I mean just everyday is now Mera scenario. I would we went to a restaurant. And we ran into some of my wife's friends from college and they were so excited to see her and I said: oh, we should all get together have a play date with our kids and I, had to say what was on my mind, which was you seem like nice p, but I really have no interest in seeing you again uh because I have my friends from college that I never see so I an in-
and it was for doctor glad like to have sex with a few of you. I'd say that made a studio. So how far did you take this a you had to have censored some things right. It would just be too painful to run the experiment to the bitter end. What percent of the program did you actually run? Would you say I am I mean I'd. I tried really hard to almost do everything. Yes, as you say, there were a couple of times I censored and I can go into those, but you brought up wanting to have sex and that was a an extremely awkward situation, because I I do think he and I will we are sexual creatures, but but it's really the the being there's a very fine line between being honest and being creepy and and being a sexual harasser, so that was that was tricky uh an I an. I will say: here's an example of where I drew the line- and you may
disagree with this- but there was a an older man who sent me some poems that he was very proud of, since I'm a writer- and you know he was kinda elderly, not in good health, and he asked me my opinion and I just could not bring myself to tell him the truth, which is that I thought they were horrible and you know just a waste of time. So I lied Ann. I said you know what I think I may be tried hedjet and say you know. I think some people would really like these. I can see you put a lot of and be into that kind of stuff. But I I definitely Ann and I I read your article or your book, which I loved, but I will sure how you would have handled that situation. Well,
yeah, I'm definitely not of the radical honesty school. I'm not someone who thinks that you need to broadcast every crazy thought that comes to your head, be on some level even there that it's hard to know what the truth is because you're, so lay bile and incoherent as a Congress of mines that you can think one thing, and then you can think the opposite an hour later and you're not actually Converging on anything, deep, incoherent if you could actually broadcast your thoughts as though on on a loudspeaker, and it also it's just kind of the litmus test for basic human sanity that you don't. I mean the people who can't keep from saying what they think out loud are the people who are talking to themselves in public and so to emulate that as much as possible doesn't seem like
a good ethical program and it's definitely not a way to build good relationships. But, as you know, I'm against the line. In almost every case I may I do think there are conditions where a white lie is certainly tempting. The litmus test for me is say what is true and useful. It's a truth. Or if there are truths that are not useful or not only not useful, it would be harmful, location to say them and less someone really demands it. Unless there's some sort of over riding value where the person is asking for the truth- and you think your opinion is actually true and you can craft the scenario where it's maximally difficult to deliver the truth, but even in this case you it always hedge in ways like if the topic is poetry well, you're, not giving necessarily some deep truth of the universe. You're talking to
your opinion and your opinion might not even be that informed with respect to poetry there, it just clearer cases where it is a matter of giving or withholding facts. Like you know, somebody's spouse is cheating on them. You're, making efforts to conceal that now, you're part of the plot on some level, because you find it too painful, to divulge the truth. That's just a very clear case of. Are you going to lie or tell the truth? You know when asked in any case, I view it as the goal really is to help people the goal isn't to harm people. So this radical honesty does seem like a way to be harmful, very often in the character of all of our minds and given how strange it is to broadcast every fleeting, pinion, impression reaction as though it were worth sane. If you saying everything, that's on your mind
promoting just these. Of this is something in our relationship that we need to talk about. I can't help it bead arranging of relationships and society. If everyone was doing right, I mean there's a lot in there just to dress a couple of things. I agree one hundred percent As I said in the article, I love my wife, maybe ninety percent of the time, and I just hate or a ten percent of the time. But if I've spoke up every one of the every moment during that ten percent of the time, it would just be toxic to our relationship. So there's really no need for that. I think we agree. Basically, you know it's all about whatever will cause the greatest happiness I think I'm probably more willing to believe that
and one of this guy has a week to live instead of two years to live. You know, I would think his grave thinking. I'm uh, you know I had a good life. I I wrote some nice poetry. That would be even though it's it's not true. That would make him happy and I'm ok with that. I will say one takeaway I had from that experience was. I did become a fan of sort of radical positive honesty, because it's not all about brutal honesty, and you know your ass look fat in that dress. It's also, I remember I was just working on article, and I was thinking back to my first job at a tiny newspaper and this editor, who was really very helpful and and gave really shaped my writing, and so I decided to to call him and thank him tell him what an impact he had on my light and it was a little weird 'cause I haven't talked to him in ten or fifteen years or whatever, but I I I
certainly felt good about it, and I am hopefully he did. He wasn't too freaked out. So I think this idea of radical positive honesty is is useful. We're having this conversation in the what is it now fairly unusual context where this tsunami of sexual harassment claims and proven and yet to be proven. That's just golfed the media, so you know this is post hard Weinstein and Louis CK and everyone else and is not a long list of transgressors. It's not a topic. I've dealt with on the podcast yet going to have
I went on presumably a highly articulate, an very qualified woman journalist who's on top of this to talk about this, but you're radical honesty, experiment would have landed you in should you have been surrounded by people who you found attractive and just kept telling them would have landed you into kind, immediate, reputational emergency given what's going on now? How do you view this moment as a journalist and what strikes me as genuinely real difficulty here in distinguishing inept flirtation or just unrequited intr in you know, let's say office, culture from sexual harassment or something that would fall in that category. Yeah. I'm very glad I did not do this experiment now 'cause. I do think I would have been
because I did. I remember having a lunch with an editor and I told her. I remembered that the first time we met she wore a sleeveless dress and that it's creepy and I I would everything that normally, but I was doing this experiment, I would say it is a very complicated time what one thing that I've given a lot of thought to, is this idea that that I think it is a huge problem. Men uh harassing women. I think it causes a tremendous amount of pain. I also under wonder is there any time I don't work in an office? Thank God. I just work at home with my wife, so I can talk about sex whenever I want not that you listen, but but I do think it's interesting that this saxes
a huge part of life, it's one of the main drivers and to have eight to ten hours a day, hey where you cannot even bring up the topic without fear of repercussions it. So it's a weird, a weird situation. I, but I totally understand it, causes a lot of pain. So is there a way that we can make it okay for people to talk about? You know not hit on your coworkers, but the talk about this very basic human function in even while you're working is there a way to make that possible? I don't know there. Is it really is a riddle that people are going to have to figure out how to I I will say that I met my wife at work. She was in a separate department. I was a writer and she was and and and sales person. So that was so in a sense that was the church and state you weren't supposed to and
to interact with emperors, but that was a different type of sin. Then sexual harassment. So uh but yeah it is, I don't know the I don't know what would what would be the be the greatest happiness for the greatest number? It's just. It's number is I am. I want to listen to your your podcast for that woman to figure it out. I'm Lou, for her now, so I will I'll let you know. As far as the honesty goes, I think we pretty much agree. I mean it would just be. We might find edge cases where our intuitions diverge a little bit, but it just feels to me that the radical honesty experiment is pretty misguided. Do you have anything good to say about it in the end, or was it just a life to arranging experiment? Well, yeah I do have one. Is the radical, positive honesty so saying these?
things that you normally wouldn't say, especially as a man who mostly been repressed emotionally throughout his life, so be much more honest with my emotions and my admiration for people and the second anguish, Don't need radical honesty for, but just the liberation of not having to remember your lies is Thi change. It was really remarkable. The feeling I didn't how much is my mental energy? My bandwidth was taken up, remembering who I told what to so. That was. That was a full part of it. No yeah, that's enormous, and people are just unaware of the cognitive overhead required to keep their lives straight or their shadings of the truth straight something that again I had. I had this epiphany when I was, I think, eighteen. So
it's been a long time since I've had to appreciate this. I remember the trend, I remember it. It was almost like a kind of religious conversion and when I came out of this course as an undergraduate that again was just entirely focused on the question of whether it's ethical to lie and was almost entirely focused on the hard in a white lie cases where people were very dull again and wanting to defend the rightness of certain lies to come out and basically committed to always telling the truth. There were two features of the world that became instantly obvious. One was that almost no one is living this way and for that reason there pain a huge price. The lies are enabling them to do things. They couldn't pause. We do without being committed to line a marital,
only been one or you know, even becoming a drug addict right, like you can't do these things in secret, if you're not prepared to lie to the people closest to you when you look at the way people's lives in a reputation like this kind of flame out, like you know, at the time, I was writing the book. I think Lance Armstrong and Tiger woods were both in the news for their line, just to be sparing yourself that pain by having your life be of a piece where you know you. What what you're doing behind closed doors is not completely antithetical to the thing you're, so you say you're doing when you're talking to people in public. This is a hugely beneficial change and I can think of one other quickly. One other benefit I found which was that they were real communication breakthroughs, as I remember having lunch with a friend and his. He just had his wedding and I sent to him. You know I resent not being invite
to your wedding. I wouldn't have gone. It was in Vermont and I didn't wanna slip up there, but I resent not being invited, and he said well, you didn't invite me to your wedding I was shocked. I thought I had, and it was a really it was a nice breakthrough moment and that it is sort of cleared away that that mental baggage yeah that's a very rich communication and this kind of layers of resentment and tit for tat. Okay. So let's get to your most recent book and this sense of extended self. We call the family. What have you done here in this family area? This one started when I got an email about thirty four years ago from this guy- and he said you don't know me, but I'm your eighth cousin, so I was immediately suspicious. I figured he's going to ask me to why
ten thousand dollars to his nigerian bank, but it turned out. He was legitimate and he's part of this group of people, researchers and scientists who are building the biggest family tree, in history and it is literally millions of people in dozens of countries, hundreds of ethnic groups an all tide to one tree, and the hope is that it will grow exponentially. It's right now at about two hundred million people all connected and the idea is to hopefully grow it, so we have one big family tree and I loved, I would just was immediately blown away. I love It never really been fascinated by genealogy thought as little stodgy, but this was to me it opened up such interesting avenues because,
as as I think you are, I'm I'm very concerned about tribalism. I think it could be the biggest problem we face. 'cause it gets in the way of all solving all the other problems. And this I thought maybe this is one way to lessen tribalism- is to sort of re conceive of ourselves, as as that very simple childlike notion that we're all one big family, but now dna and do is with sort of these wiki versions of family trees, with thousands of people contributing to the same tree. Maybe this would would help to lessen tribalism, and I think there is some empirical evidence that that it could work. So that was the start of this book and in the book with insert turned into part memoir
art science part how to in and are against her, as I tried to throw the biggest family reunion ever to unite all of humanity and and all war and racism, which I I haven't quite achieved yet so he First contact was a through twenty three in mayor. How did the person finder? This is actually just a guy who is he's in Israel and he's building a massive family tree, and it turned out that we have. We share the nines great grandfather, so he he knew this not based on a dna sequence. You had submitted somewhere. He just knew this because he traced your genealogy. That's right, that's right, but they all sort of converged now, because the dna results with millions of people. I think the latest is about five mil we have taken. Dna tests in the US and there being integrated into these world family trees too.
Help clarify in, and you know, fix mistakes which is can be complicated when people find out that they're, not their father is not who they thought it was so it it brings up. I mean I think, with like with any technology. There are very exciting possibilities that this will be for the good of humanity, but there are also concerns that it could be. It could be terrible and then yeah you you just had on one, which is probably every genetic counselors nightmare, the discovery that the Father is not the father, oh yeah! Well, I have a chapter in my book on this guy who, as an adult, he had nine siblings and they all took dna test and found that their presumed biological Dad was father of none of them of biological father of none of them, and it was like Lamoree. The Maury Povich show Times nine
But I will say one of the inspiring things was. I love the dad who knew he knew that all along this was the case, but he still treated his kids with love and kindness and support, and So to me that since my I, like the idea of dna and family, not being the same thing, you know open adoption, sperm donor, whole idea that a broadening the idea of family and what is the easiest, with this growing world family tree, if one wanted to integrate ones, information with it is it throught twenty three and me, or is there some other way to get your dna kind of mapped into? Everyone else, is record keeping. I would try two different routes: one is the genetic testing so 23andme, but there's also tons the other ones, Myheritage and ancestry DNA, and so there's that
there's also a these sort of wiki like family trees and there's several services sort of competing in race to unite the entire world. There is a there's, a genie which has about a one hundred and thirty million people, there's familysearch, which is sponsored by the Mormons, which I think has about a couple hundred million. So if you use those two method so you can and by the way there both of them are not without their flaws. So I would, I would just take it with a grain of salt but but overall I find it it's just a fan, nating way to connect, it's like the ultimate social network. It's you know it's six degrees of Kevin Bacon, but everyone's Kevin Bacon. So now do you care about the details of your ancestry. First tell us what you found out about your own genealogy, but I'm just wondering: does it mean
better if you go back a few generations and you find a set mirror or a slaveholder or a religious crackpot? Does it have any implication for how you see yourself or does it just feel like more apes in the distance who were doing their thing? well it's a great guys. I mean, I would say, for a lot of people that has a huge impact. They, like all these tv shows who, who am I an they place a lot of emphasis on who their ancestor is. I mean, let me split it up quickly into two different ones. There's the stories of your ancestors and then there's the percentage of your dna, an where it came from so in terms of the stories of my when I, when I find useful is to see the ups and downs of my family and because there is
it's only one study. So who knows how real it is, but there was a study by Emory University. That said telling your kids about family history makes better adjusted and the reason is not the dates and of your grandfathers wedding. It's the the story, the up's and sounds the oscillating narratively called it, and so the failures and successes to show that that our family has taken hits, but we've also had success is an you. Gotta have resilience he gotta keep trying. So I do find that, part. I, like I like to find the failures in my family, can tell my kids like this. Your great grandpa ran for Congress on the Bull Moose party ticket and he got like one one slash two percent, but then he went on to become a successful real estate person. So the idea is
and I may've stress the failures too much, my kids, anything my family is a loser, so I have to adjust but overall that I find useful this idea of that I have a someone prestigious. In my background, I think it's it's a bit crazy, because if you go back far enough into it, you have two parents for grandparents and great grandparents used thousands of people at at the tenth generation level. So you're gonna find some. Some royalty in there are probably you're going to find some and that's what people focus on, of course, but you're also going to find. If you look, you know you know, embezzler is and and and debtors and Stephen Doors and all that and people just sort of focus on the there I'm a direct descendant of Benjamin Franklin. Yes, they are all,
I got these thousands of others, people you're, also not that related to them. When you go back far enough Not only is the dna, You have not deeply personal in most cases, which is to say not unique. In most cases, it's not even deeply. Human or merely human, in most cases, were just talking about a code which is concern. Curved or not to one or another degree, cuts both ways. Sort of undermines the significance of ones genealogy of One's connection to the past. You know me to hear that of Asia is running around with Genghis Khan's Y chromosome doesn't make everyone importantly connected to Genghis Khan, but It's a kind of confusion, that's working in the background of this opposition to the GMO breakthrough, so that the idea that dna from a
tomato is tomato. Ish and may from a fish is fish like and if you combine them, you've created some hybrid monster that no one should want to eat anyway. It confusing to think about dna and people's lives across time right. Well, I mean I mean when I during this project a I put up on our living room wall of pictures of all of our ancestors- and I started with this bacterium that the last universal common ancestor LUCA, which Richard Dawkins your friend talks about in his book. Ancestors tail as the we all have we're all descended from that first DNA, and and and on top of that, when you were talking about purity of it- that we are a mix, we're not just a mix of races where mix of species.
So. I love the idea that we are most of us anyway, our parts, a neanderthal. So the idea that we are you know what I am purely this now you're you're you're, not even the same species. You are like a like a lawyer or a thai girl, but back to your question about whether it makes a difference. So there is the story aspect, but then there's this new aspect thanks to dna testing, where they send you the percentage. Is I don't know if you've done? Have you taken one yeah? I was a very early adopter of twenty three and me, so I probably should send them more saliva and get whatever updated protocol. They have, but I do have my em geographical ancestry data from them right, as do I, and I actually took all different tests and then sometimes they were the. They were hello. The different were, they importantly different. It was it where they just incommensurable land,
was- I took it about five years ago and it showed me as mostly jewish, which is no surprise, but also fourteen percent scan the Navy and- and I was kind of psyched I was like- I told my wife- hey, let's get out the cross country skis and have some herring like I like the diversity, but it turned out. It was because their database was skewed with far too many Scandinavians. The way they just part is comparing it to others in the database. Just, went down and down and down, I lost my swedish ancestors. They all died off so yeah and another one show that I'm ninety seven percent jewish for two one and a half percent Arab, which I like I like having this Middle EAST conflict in my body, but so in terms of the percentages Anthony as I wrote to you, I think that it could go either way. My hope is
is that it will lessen tribalism and there are stories their stories of white supremacists taking these tests and it's coming back that their part. Jewish are part african American, some of them flip out and are in denial and say well. No, this 23andme is a multicultural conspiracy, some of I'm actually have almost the Hollywood style change of heart, where say. You know what I'm obviously mistaken. This is not the best outlook on life, so I don't know which one will prevail, but there's there's an even greater danger. I think, That you'll have. I talked to one up, for instance, sociologist Dalton, Conley, very interesting man. His fear is that you will get these dna tests sort of linked up with dating apps like tinder, and you will then
this is this trend toward Inter marriage and sort of a mixing of all different ethnicities will reverse, and that you'll only date. People who are you know fifty percent, swedish or higher, so that is sort of the dystopian my hope is that it people will get the mess is that we are all mixed and that you know it's sort of a way to battle the the whole identity politics, so it could either worse in it. If people really cling to these categories or it could help diffuse it by making it clear that there there often arbitrary their arbitrary distinctions in that we are move
towards a mix on the genetic front, you with more and more information and more more inability to change the germline in useful ways, you think it's possible to avoid a Gattaca. Style scenario. Where is kind of an arms race, genetics, arms, race and essentially, some sort of caste system that gets created, based on the fact that this technology is not universally available or available to everyone. Precisely the same time. That's a great question I would say there is a huge danger of the canica casts stem one option might be to get government legislation involved. So it's it's almost like so Solista Jeans, where everyone gets a shot at the you know getting rid of a terrible disease or getting the, but
The ethics on this are so complicated. I haven't even begun to figure them out and you know who gets to decide which genes are good and then who gets access to. So I am in general. A techno optimist, that's been really tested recently uh, like I used to think Facebook was, was mostly for the good of society Trump might be, proving me wrong there, but overall, I am still a techno optimist, so I do think it'll make the world better. You know we'll be able to get rid of this season's and, and hopefully it's all about yeah fairly distributing the good genes and getting rid of the band jeans. Did your research in this area lead you to think anything unconventional about family is the ethical focus will have on
on our families? Is that not ideal in some way? Well absolutely- and you talk about this in your book- that there are problems with splitting up society and by family. You know it's a it's an ancient rival way too, and I'm sure it's served a purpose in paleolithic times to protect your clothes can now it creates ethical problems, for instance the thought experiment that you know. If I had the choice to kill three strangers and like you know, when one in Vietnam Manner or Ireland and or kill my child, I would kill the three strangers. I mean it's just too deeply
better than me. I'm and I'm not ashamed of it, but I would do it, so it is part of my idea was to take what what they call the family bias. The family here, ristic your former guest CASS Sunstein talked about this. When I interviewed him, this idea, the we do give our family the benefit of the doubt we give them breaks if we can take this family bias in the quiet too far, flung him who basically to the entire world, can that may the difference and some empirical evidence it might. There is an interesting study from Harvard last year about Palestinians and Israelis when they were told how closely they work a related. They treated each other with more kindness and with more our willingness to negotiate, and it was just one study, so it needs a lot of replication, but it was an interesting in
thing start, and so you said you tried to organize the largest family. A reunion in human history. What did you do in how many people showed up and what did it mean to show up right? Well, that's part of the book is sort of this advance. Here to put this together I mean 'cause. When I realized I had millions of customs. I thought why not throw the It gets family reunion ever so I did also Then billion humans were invited. We did not get a hundred percent turnout, but we did get. We got several thousand across the world and forty simultaneous parties in in different countries, and we all saying we are family. I hope you invited the guy who you neglected to invite to your wedding. He was invited income, I'm still bitter about that but yeah and we had speakers- and it was one thing it was the most bizarre collection of humans which I liked. I like this idea of we had
scientists and then celebrities, but also we but we had a rabbi, a minister and a buddhist monk and an atheist all give talks. So it was like the set up to a joke, but I I was miserable the whole time 'cause. I was just worried about what would go wrong, but other people did say that they they had a good time and- and I'm not a hugger myself, but there was some spontaneous hugging going on, so that was that was nice to see so how many people physically showed up at the event you url, about four thousand in New York and then that there were a total of ten thousand around the country. I I mean around the world a partly because of the the LDS Church which, as you know, is big into genealogy in I have issues with their. I wish means of a traditional family, but they are. They are wonderful organ users and they were very kind and hard
working, and so there one insult Lake City got like three thousand, so they were a big help, and what do we know about our first human ancestors again, a slightly paradoxical thing to say, because it's actually not true to say there was a first human, the boundaries between species or not clearly defined. But we have these phrase: is of mitochondrial Eve and the first atom with a Y chromosome. What is known at this point about them right, they're, the estimates on when they lived varies wildly. Could I don't think, there's enough of a scientific consensus on a lot of people think they were about two hundred thousand years ago. They were in Africa. They were not a couple they were like they could have been in different centuries in different locations. They were not, of course, the first humans. As you point out
there were there were thousands of wannabe atoms and e use wandering around these are just the two whose DNA has come down to us and Ancilla. Everyone on earth has a little bit of their dna in our cells. You know you may Miley Cyrus on Manta, for a dentist in a in Thailand. Everyone so what's interesting. Is they were one thing I find not to go about studying this? The genealogy is that it right in one sense I am so grateful to my ancestor and and for the difficult are sacrifices they had to make in another sense. If I met them today, they would probably be terrible peep,
I would draw you know they were probably very tribal and sexist and violent. So I I mean, I don't think Adam and Eve were good people by today's standards, but we certainly wouldn't be here without them. What do you think about first, because in marriage? Well, I do have a chapter on that and I I think it's a really interesting topic. I talked to the head of the first Cousin Marriage Association, who believes the it should be legal right now. First, cousin marriages is illegal in about half the states, maybe a little more and his argument is that he thinks it should be legal all up for them. It's like the on the game. Marriage argument part two merrill.
Marriage equality. I don't feel passionate about I'm not going to March in the streets for it, but but after talking to him and thinking about it, I do think that it should be legal, and one of the arguments is the main argument to me. Aside from it just being gross and disgusting. According to our limbic system, we find the gross the The the main argument is that it will cause more birth defects and the. But if you look at the statistics, the chance of a first cousin marriage producing birth defect is about the same as a forty year old woman having a child so and all, and also you can now with dna testing to a very did, only related people can both have the Alzheimer's gene. Are you
banned them from getting married? So to me, that's a pretty strong argument. You know I'm not attracted to my first cousin, but it is interest and- and let me just I- I wanna- I realize I kind of made a mistake when I said the discussed is in our limbic system. I I'm not sure that's true. I think, because there is so much first cousin, marriage throughout history and throughout different cultures. I think it could be a culturally created discussed so retention to push it into
leave now just open the door with an embryo selection. If you could push this into sibling marriage right, because a as long as you can guarantee that is to help the embryo, why can't brothers and sisters get married, which is a tough one, because I mean it is and every fiber of my being says now that shouldn't be a bit about it rationally, a it's a little more hard to justify. I will say that the risk increases exponentially more first cousins to marriage in previous generations, so I I don't wanna into our it- it too strongly should look into the the risk compound over generations. If you have an isolated community, where it's lots of first cousins getting married and they do it again in the next generation. Exactly exactly and in the end, there's a famous case in Iceland, they're naming system makes it hard to figure out who what what
branch of the family tree is in there and they're. So endogamous is so that that they have an app on an Iphone app where you can sort of link up with the other person to see how closely related. I think the logo is something like you know: bump phones before you bump in bad. So it is an interesting and yeah. I I think that one the one of the topics we discussed with this DNA. They just made it legal in the UK to have uh
yeah with three people's dna to get rid of it in a terrible diseases, so you can imagine if you want that first cousins or people with high risk will be able to have kids with not just normal risk yeah. This is this is interesting. This is the wild west and a brave new world combined. I think it's a you have to be able to point to whose interests are being violated in order to legally prohibit something, as far as I'm concerned, to make something illegal is again invoking the power of the state at its most crude and to say that it's illegal means that you want an all, knowing state to be able to show up with guns and prevent the thing from happening, and that's why it's so problematic to have something like marijuana be illegal because the what what you're saying is you catch
people with marijuana? You want to haul them off to prison so that they can serve sometime in the company, murderers and rapists, an same thing with anything you would use the state to prohibit. So I do have a kind of libertarian take on most of these questions where, if you can't show me who's going to suffer or whose interests will be cancelled by this thing? Well, then you tell me there's two consenting adults who want to do something: it's hard to find the basis to stop them to get your take on one other, interesting, proud and that will arise with all this dna, which is one of the people I interviewed. She had always thought she was irish. He was redheaded. She took a dna test found she was like forty five
send a latina, and even more than that she was like six percent on native American, so tight enough from the anti, you know, try Porter Rico and she happened to really dislike her iris. I her family, so she full on embraced the latina side. More than that, though, she embrace the Thai Eno identity, so she's does Teano rituals and sort of identifies as a tiny. And to me this is fascinating. I don't know where it's headed, but I can imagine, there's going to be a huge backlash, in an identity politics from people saying that your co opting our our culture and I I don't know the answer in a what is the do? You need a minimum percentage to be able to identify something I mean to me.
This is an argument why we should not be so focused on our our differences and and separate tribes, but but I want to know yours your thoughts on that yeah. Well it it is interesting because it goes to the question of I don't know if you saw the controversy around this philosophers paper, this there's this woman philosopher three wishes is the York University. I think Rebecca Tubal. I did see that really interesting. She wrote this paper about basically Trans racialism as a consequence of transgenderism. So if you can be trans
gender, if you can decide you know, you're you're, the you're born a man. You really are deep down a woman and you want to identify as one that is to be a much celebrated, obviously now in especially on the left, but someone like Rachel dollars, although the woman who claim to be identified so identified with black culture, that you just consider yourself black, but apparently she was as white as any other white person by matter of genealogy, and that was considered this rebel active appropriation. But why not truth is I haven't even yet read Rebecca's paper, but I've read a you know, excerpts of it and spoken to her, and it was just simple question. You know: why is there this double
standard? Why can't you decide your black? If you can decide your woman, though, born a man and the difference, there isn't obvious if you're going to fixate on dna or fixate on its origin, well, then you're forced to come to the same sort of material reduct, conclusion? Which is you know it's european? Ninety. Eight percent, Norwegian and you'll look white: tea are you, you can't say you're black in any kind of honest way, and it doesn't matter how much you wish you were black. But why is and that the same, if you have a Y chromosome, will give you Genghis Khan's Y chromosome to boot. How does that leave you free to identify as a woman I miss, it seems like you have to use the same rationale and both those cases, and yet she got tremendous flat. Yeah, absolutely pulverized, I mean to me it seems like the the ultimately
fair? Society would be one which minimizes luck as much as possible and maximizes choice, and so in the future. If you do, do you want to change your dna? Then you should, and my hope would be tribes would not be based on on skin their dna, but tribes will be based on you know, there's the people who love pokmon trading Card game tribe, so that I think, is a better way to create drives. But I understand, of course, this idea that blaming your black could be very offensive in the time. Where are you you can wear black people are are persecuted in a way that they do not choose to do you know, even if they say? Oh, I'm, not, I'm not I don't identify as black. There are people who
will identify them as black and treat them in a bad way. So I can understand the complexity of it, but but my hope is someday that we will be able to choose our tribes yeah. Well, we do do that clearly and most other ways you suggest and people take some other aspect of their life as the most important thing that has nothing to do,
was there DNA or their race or even their gender. You know they just become completely fixated on whatever it is tennis right, so I can associate you're going to live and die based on what happens to Rodger Federer or whether your tennis game is improving, and that becomes your religion or your most cherished pastime, and it just consumes your life and religion. Obviously this is the selling point of religion for many people that it does transcend all of the accidental differences between people and wrap them up in a single tribe, and it does have the virtue of using the
Juristic, you just mentioned, which is canceling. The role of lock in society is the only luck you need is to hear the good word from our favorite, patriarch or whatever cult leader shows up in and captures your attention, and but in that context everyone is saved. Everyone has equal stature or should obviously there are religions that are famous for having hierarchies and power structures all black, it's weird, but the underlying messages, whatever the chaos of nature, has done to you to compromise you, you may be missing limbs you, maybe not very promising genetically. You may have a short life. You
may not come from wealth. You may come from lots of people who were just carnival barkers but you're more save to then the richest person on earth who is outside the dispensation of this faith, and so that's really been where religion has gained so much ground with people you just start over in the context of the new faith, if you weren't, born into it at That's interesting. I hadn't thought about that, but I like that a lot I mean I don't think it applies to judaism- is a weird mix of yeah. I was going to say: Judaism does have this material fixed, Shin on DNA. Really. So what have you heard from Jews in this genealogy cult? They really do care what percent Ashkenazi? They are. Presumably right- and I think in you know, for the really ultra conservative is it's a big problem because intermarriage the has it is on the rise, and I I don't see it
declining. Despite the the dystopian scenario I mentioned earlier, so I think- and I think a lot of progressive Jews are on the same page, that we're gonna have to separate dna and Judaism and if you, if you take the best parts of he is in which to me, are into the idea that we should fight for justice in the in a treat each other. Kindly and- and there are these stories which are in the Bible they're insane, but if you interpret them right, you know the idea of Moses can be seen as a a story about a metaphor, about freedom and overthrowing oppressors. So the all this heritage and these stories and these this behavior
you got separate it from the dna, or else Judaism will just die out if you're just focused on the dna or you just have to really just go full commitment to first cousin marriage. It's true. He likes a accounts for a fair amount of what we see in the dna. Oh yeah- and I say this is somebody who is forty: eight percent Ashkenazi, Jew well through a dna test. I did learn that I am about six cousins with my wife, so we're not first, but we we're we're in there. Well, I hope you feel suitably embarrassed Our kids are alright. Nato they only have one head, seem to be lovely human being so far. So fingers crossed. Been great to talk to you are a man of diverse interests, and that is good for a podcast. Well, thank you. I love being honest. I emailed you, I listen to your podcast, religiously ironic
enough. I do listen on double speed, but I listen sometimes twice to an episode so I'm getting the same amount of SAM Harris Podcast. Well, I'm perfect for double speed, because I'm a slow talker but occasionally I'll have a fast talker on here and double speed will not work. I I hope I'm I'm sort of a medium talker, so I think double speed will still work before we closeout tell people where they should find you online and maybe give us a preview of what your next project is. You want to does your mind, I'm it at Jacobs, DOT, com or an aged Jacobs on Twitter. My new book is, it's all relative, my next project, which was due three weeks ago, so I'm not quite, can make it is actually real in it. You know the TED talks have a ten. They had books that come out every couple of months and mine is that I like what I do is I take one of my great joys in life, which is my daily cup of coffee, and I try to think everything
the person who made it possible. So I went to Columbia. I think the people pick the beans, the logo designer the truckers. The people got the rubber for the tires on the truck. So the idea is to show that there are thousands of people involved in every little thing. We do it's very global it pro globalism on, like our president right, that's the beauty of globalism. Those stories are not don't terminate with people hurling themselves off the roof tops of their factories because their lives are so unbearable. I mean that's the net of happy influences, it's good. If it's, you know the worst of Foxconn, it's depressing exactly an I touch on both those sides. Like you know, the danger of gratitude is that you are become complacent and everything is great The using gratitude on life, is a springboard for activism and trying to make sure these people's lives are better nice all right. Well, I look forward to hearing the results of that experiment. Well, thank you. Sam. It's been an honor and
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Transcript generated on 2019-10-05.