“We design a tool and then by using that tool, we come into a relationship with that tool that then changes the nature of what we do in the world and the nature of our thoughts.”–Jason Silva
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Jason Silva (@jasonsilva) is an Emmy award winning TV personality, film maker and public speaker. He’s also a self-confessed addict of cognitive ecstasy. What that means is that he’s an addict of the kind of joy brought by understanding of the world, whether through reading, technology or travel. He is known as the host of the National Geographic program “Brain Games,” and currently produces videos for his own series “Shots of Awe,” on YouTube, with over 100 million views. He and the Commander discuss the future and the present of being human and knowledge.
- Tools shape us as much as we shape them
- The mind is a part of the body
- New places and new environments form an essential part of new knowledge
Listen to this wide-ranging conversation about consciousness to get a better understanding of the philosophy and pushing the boundaries of cognition.
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Transcript & Shownotes
Hey folks. Welcome back to the Unbeatable Mind podcast. This is Mark Divine and I’m super-stoked that you joined me today. As you know, I do not take it for granted. There are a hundred billion, million, gazillion things vying for your attention. Far too many. And the fact that you’re listening to this is huge. I mean, I’m very humbled so thank you very much.
Our guest today is going to rock your world. Super, super-excited to introduce you to Jason Silva. But before I do, I mentioned on the last podcast that this year I’m dedicating a shit-ton of my time, resources and pain to try to raise awareness for and money for veterans who are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress.
If you didn’t know this stat… Then you need to know it. That 22 vets are committing suicide every single day. I mean that is just unreasonable and unsatisfactory to me. And as much as the VA system intends to do good, they’re not doing much help.
So, we’ve committed to… I’ve committed to organize a team. I’m hoping to have… I’m expecting to have a thousand people join me. We’ve already got close to a hundred. And we’re going to do 22 million burpees this year. 22 million burpees. And I’ve committed to 100,000 of those. I’m gonna exceed that probably by ten thousand. But I’m committing to 100,000. Doing them in chunks of 300 a day, plus I’m going to do some other larger blocks later on.
And we already have commitments for up to 5 million of the burpees. And this will work is you’re going to go to burpeesforvets.com if you want to join me or create a team that’s going to join us And just enroll yourself or enroll your team.
Or you could just pledge me if you like. “I’m not doing any burpees, but I’ll pledge for you Mark.” And pledge whatever you want. It could be a half a cent a burpee. I’m pledging ten cents a burpee so I’ve got ten thousand in. I’ll probably put more in.
I wanna really the point is to raise awareness and money. The point is to do some direct impact work with these vets.
So enough said on that. Go to burpeesforvets.com. Cool.
05:41 So Jason Silva… I’m gonna give a really brief intro. The best way to introduce Jason is for you to go to YouTube or just Google Jason Silva, and whatever the first video that pops up, just watch it. And trust me, you won’t be disappointed. What a creative genius.
Jason is from Venezuela. He’s a documentary filmmaker. Studied that down in Florida. University of Miami. But what he does now is just really, really radical intersection of his pure creative genius, his interest in technology and neurobiology. And spirituality. And it’s just awesome.
And he’s won an Emmy award for his work as a television host. He’s a motivational speaker. In fact, he’s coming to us now from CES in Vegas. He’s committed some time. He’s got a big speech after this. We’re super-stoked to have him.
Jason, thanks so much man. I really appreciate you being here.
Jason Silva: Hey, thank you for having me. I’m excited to be on your podcast.
Mark: Yeah, me too. I mean we got a ton of stuff to talk about. I don’t even know really where to begin. But I like that… before we get into like cool stuff that you want to talk about. Unbeatable mind folks are always really interested in people. And what got… what inspired you to break out into your genius? So where did that come from? How did you go from probably this kid in Venezuela who was wondering what his future was. And now, all of a sudden, now you’re hosting Nat Geo show called “Brain Games.” You’ve got this incredibly popular YouTube channel. And you’re speaking at CES. So how did that happen?
Jason: Yeah, well I think I… it’s all rooted I think in kind of an anxious kid with an interest in many things. Particularly in ideas. And there’s a wonderful book by Ernest Becker called “The Denial of Death,” which roots the human condition or the source of our existential angst in this sort of unbearable awareness of our mortality. The crux of the human condition, the source of our dread comes in this unique awareness that we are mortal beings. And so when you have this epidemic of anxiety and depression nowadays, it’s because people have no outlets for their angst.
And there was an interesting section of the book where he talks about the difference between the neurotic and the creative. And he said that both the neurotic and the creative are extremely sensitive and open to being overwhelmed by the world. The terror of creation itself.
The difference is that the neurotic chokes on his introversions. And the creative takes in the world with similar intensity, but reworks it into his art. So if I was to psycho-analyze myself as a kid… My mother is a teacher and a creative. I grew up in a very creative household, full of art and poetry and books.
Btu at the same time, I was a neurotic kid. I’m a child of divorce. I experienced a sense of loss and fear. And a loss of safety at a very young age. And so that anxiety… that neuroses had to be channeled somehow. And for me–I fell in love with media and video was it was an opportunity to document and lose myself in the exploration of big ideas. And so I was obsessed with immortalizing inspiration. Immortalising the things that I was passionate about. And that urge for documentation provided a relief from myself.
You could say that my interest today in flow states and altered states of consciousness and all the science of that space. If I was to retrace my steps, it’s something that’s always been there. I’ve always sought release from my anxiety.
Mark: Right. Were these any conversations that your family had? Or was this all your own personal journey through reading and self-discovery?
This passion for human nature?
Jason: I was always wired for big ideas and therefore for anxiety. I was obsessed with mortality as a young kid. I was terrified of the prospect of my parents getting older and dying. I was terrified of the prospect that maybe God didn’t exist. I was terrified of the prospect of what does this all mean? At the end of the day. I was just hungry for meaning.
I was this idea, this urge for ultimate explanation. For signification. I was a little kid. I was obsessed with science fiction, and black holes, and time travel. I had to know everything. I remember reading “A Wrinkle in Time.” I used to be obsessed with Michael Crichton books. I read “Jurassic Park.” I read “Sphere.” I read all these…
Cognitive Ecstasy Addict
Just like… I don’t know… I was obsessed with intellection. I was obsessed with… Actually I was told this once by Diana Slattery, who’s an author of this book on Alien languages called “Xenolinguistics.” She spoke to me and said that “You’re a cognitive ecstasy addict.” I thought that was really interesting.
Mark: (laughing) You know, I was going to ask you about that term. Because Allison had put that in my show notes. What the heck is cognitive ecstasy? Most of the people experience cognitive things or thought as kind of a pain or challenge or a little bit of effort.
Jason: Well, I think cognitive ecstasy, in my opinion, is when the dots connect and you experience subjectively a sense of apprehension or revelation…
Mark: Yeah, like a crystallization or a breakthrough?
Jason: Sure, yeah. I mean Isaiah Berlin used to say or wrote “To understand is to perceive patterns.” Carl Sagan said, “Understanding is a kind of ecstasy.” When you listen to Carl Sagan contemplating the cosmos, it’s almost like the guy’s ejaculating.
You know, like…
Mark: (laughing) Yeah. I know what you mean. He’s a trip. I love listening to him.
Jason: If you merge ecstasy and ejaculation, you have ecstaculation. That’s almost like what Carl Sagan… Or there’s a guy called Gordon Wasson. Gordon Wasson was a sort of amateur mycologist. He had an interest in fungi. And he was the first westerner who went down to Mexico and took Psilocybin Mushrooms with Maria Sabina, the famous sort of shaman. And his account of that experience was the Life magazine cover story that popularized Magic Mushrooms. And I remember a line about his account of that experience. He said he spent the entire evening “uttering ejaculations of amazement.”
That to me… I’m a big lover of quotes, and the reason for that is because I’m obsessed with finding parallel accounts of my experiences. I want to vet my curiosity, I want to vet my astonishment. I want to vet my hunger for meaning from other brilliant thinkers.
The same way that a religious person might have a line from the Bible to cite every time they come across an interesting experience in the world that they want to explain.
I guess you could call me a version of that except my source code is not the Bible, but all these intellectuals that I’ve stumbled across.
And so when I hear in Gordon Wasson said he spent the night “uttering ejaculations of amazement.” That makes me think of Carl Sagan and his book “Contact” when the Ellie Arroway character finally goes through the worm-hole, sees a celestial event and says they should have sent a poet.
I’m like, “Okay, that sounds like the same thing.” Whether it be magic mushrooms, or taking a space ship to the other side of the cosmos. They should have sent a poet. Both of those experiences, whether it’s internal or whether it’s space exploration, get to the crux… get to the agony and ecstasy of the human conundrum, the human condition. And the desire for ultimate meaning and ultimate explanation.
The line by F. Scott Fitzgerald… and I always recite these same lines because they speak so vividly to me… But F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote about when Dutch sailors first discovered the New World. So try to imagine that for a second. You just crossed the ocean and you came across a new continent for the first time. So you’re having to experience it like, actually witnessing a new world. Few of us will ever have that experience, because we’ve mapped earth. So until we go to Mars, we don’t get to have that experience of discovering a new world. But these sailors did…
Mark: Right. Unless you wanna talk about imagine worlds. But you’re talking about physical worlds.
Jason: There you go. But the line that he said was, “Man must have held his breath. Compelled to an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired. Face-to-face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.”
So I hear that and I’m like, “Okay, I want some of that.”
So you could argue that ultimately I’m probably… I could probably be reduced to being a dopamine addict. I just like the feeling of novelty and the dots connecting, and having a new sense of revelation.
And something that hints at being on to something. And by the way, that’s Walker Percy‘s quote, “To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be on to something. And not to be on to something, is to be in despair.”
So whatever that is, that’s my fuel. It always has been my fuel. And what my videos ultimately are, they’re my ecstatic probings and rantings. No different than a writer, or an ecstatic or romantic poet going to the forest and then writing his reveries. It’s that, but it’s verbal. That’s my source code.
Mark: Yeah, I am just… Everyone’s got their tapestry. Everyone’s got their genius. And I think mine is really in front of people training them. But I’m just… I geek out on this stuff too. Just like you. I geek out on sci-fi, because I want to imagine new worlds. I want to imagine what it’s like to live on Mars. And I got to tell you, I love authors just like you who can open up that world. And I just got into listening to audiobooks, and I stumbled across this audiobook that came in 3 parts. So it’s actually 3 audiobooks. By Dennis Taylor and it’s called “We Are Legion.”
Anyways, doesn’t ring a bell. It might to some people, but it just blew my mind. Literally. This intersection of what it means to be human in a future of rapidly accelerating technology is on us all. And this author takes us out hundreds of years and just nails it.
What we build, also builds us
And anyways, one of the things… Speaking of quotes, I’m reading a quote that you said, I think, is that “everything we design, designs us in return.” And I feel like that humanity is kind of like that. We design something then ultimately we become what we design or we’re crafted by what we design. So who’s designing who? Jason?
Jason: Well, yeah, exactly. I mean, there’s that Kevin Kelly line that says “we are the sex organs of technology.”
Mark: (laughing) That’s awesome.
Jason: Oh for sure. I mean that idea… I used to be obsessed–I still am–with Marshall McLuhan. Marshal McLuhan’s famous line is “You build the tools, and then the tools build us in return.”
And I remember… and this is actually an insight into my sort of… the way that I think. I do believe that I’m an associational thinker and that I think in terms of patterns. I think in terms of… that’s the kind of creativity that I think I sort of have a proclivity for.
Mark: Most people say that at least as a starting point that you’re right brain. You’re not a linear thinker, you’re a pattern recognizer…
Jason: Yeah, total pattern recognizer. And so… and also control freak. So I’m obsessed with mind mapping those patterns. Linking them together is important. So it starts with something like… you talk about what we design, designs us back. So probably the first time I came across that idea was “we build the tools, and the tools build us.” And from this then, this notion that what we design designs us in return came from stumbling upon this concept known as ontological design. So it’s this idea that there are these feedback loops between ourselves and our designs in that we design a tool, and then by using that tool we come into a relationship with that tool that then changes the nature of what we do in the world. And the nature of our thoughts.
So you give somebody a hammer and then everything looks like a nail. But then it’s our actions with those tools lead to then the creation of new tools in the world. And then those tools change our behavior also, because they equip us with the capability of creating new things.
And then by doing new things, those new things affect us in turn. And so it becomes this self-amplifying feedback loop. And that’s the nature of the man/machine civilization. And from that one can gather actually that we are a hybrid of biological and non-biological parts. Which was explored by Andy Clark and David Chalmers in the book “Natural Born Cyborgs.”
And this is an interesting idea because again, it comes to tell us that we are more than just… we exceed our skin tissue. We are our buildings. We are the colors on the wall. We are the language we speak. We are our interactions with other people. The whole thing is mind and we’re sort of inhabiting the condensation of human imagination. We’re living inside of our own creation. And so our creations are part of our skin.
Mark: Yeah, that’s fascinating.
Humans and Technology
Mark; You know what? You’re bringing up thoughts of the Matrix and this theory that there’s a zero percent chance that we’re not in a simulation. And I’ve often thought that, you know, with the approaching acceleration tech, singularity, AI creating Android type body parts. And then eventually, this drive to recreate the immortal human is going to end up discovering that biology is actually the most effective means. And so we end up going from biology to other kind of matter back to biology.
Anyways, that was a really distant thought, but…
Jason: No, but I think what’s interesting about that is I remember when I read Andy Clark’s book “Natural Born Cyborgs.” It talked about us getting over our “skin-bag” bias. And the whole idea was that the mind as it is today. We tend to think that mind is this emergent property form the brain. And certainly a lot of it is software that does run in the brain, but then he says mind actually comes to be or exists in the feedback loops between brains, tools and environments.
Mark: Hmm. Interesting.
Jason: They also wrote the extended mind thesis. So they would point to something like a smartphone in your pocket. And say that that’s an extension of your cognition. That that’s part of your cognitive apparatus. That you do part of your thinking through transactional interface that you have with your phone. NO different than a piece of paper and a pen used to be.
You know when you write…
Mark; I’ve heard Ray Kurzweil use that as well. That example.
Jason: Yeah. Part of your thinking if spilling over into the page. And then you’re reading what you wrote and changing your thoughts and so on and so forth.
And so I think from that idea of what you gather is that our perception of ourselves is quite limited, if that makes sense? That we are more than meets the eye. And also, when people talk about sort of mind uploading and downloading our consciousness into computers, we fail to take into account how much of our consciousness is mediated by the fact that we are embodied. And how much of cognition is embodied.
Mark: Yeah. I agree with that. I was thinking this whole idea…
Jason: It mediates us and we mediate it. It’s like that book… I think there was a book by this guy called “Out of Our Heads.” Do you remember that book? And it was basically saying the same idea, that consciousness the way we have it can’t really exist without being embodied and having constraints upon our embodiment. So much of who we are is that.
Mark: Right. Well, you know, that lines up very well with ancient eastern master teaching. Who say that the mind… the soul merges with the mind, and the mind is born into a body essentially. Or manifests in a body.
So you can’t separate the mind from the body. It is throughout the body. And that’s one of the teachings that we teach in Unbeatable Mind. So that’s familiar to the listeners who listen to our stuff anyways.
And so the mind isn’t the brain. And the mind is partly the gut, partly the heart, the brain is the meaning-maker, but it’s actually your body. That’s a pretty wild concept. It’s your body.
And I agree with you. You can’t emulate that without… I mean, why would you? You can’t emulate the human body into an artificial being. I just don’t…
Jason: Unless you had a digital body. That was like the world… if you became a digital avatar, you’d have to be embodied in order to have the type of consciousness that you have now.
Jason: Which is really interesting. But again, it also points to the fact that our tools and technologies that we build and that we engage with in our embodied existence change the nature of our consciousness too.
Jason: Through using our tools our behaviour can change. David Lemson, comparative literature professor. He wrote a book about the phenomenology of drug use. And he introduced this concept that humans are a collaboration between subject and object. And that that’s one of the things that psychedelic drugs make quite clear. That’s why setting matters when people take psychedelics. That’s why Terrence McKenna said “you become what you behold.” Or people say you are the sum of the people you spend the most amount of time with.
Or when you put somebody in a uniform, they’re political views change. That the words used to describe reality can change the perception of reality. This is interesting to me, because it just goes to show you how much… I guess how malleable subjectivity and mind are. And it’s the negative from that is, “Wow, so we don’t really have free will of even a sense of self because we’re this malleable construct.
But the positive side of it is “well then, we can exercise agency over that malleability. It’s like, well once you realize you’re creative and linguistic choices shape your selfhood, then why not window dress your reality? Why not choreograph and stage design your world?
And having agency in that… that’s ontological engineering. That’s using design and using the spaces that surround you to script your internal life. Stewardship of internal life.
And that’s something I’m quite sure that’s interesting to you as somebody who’s contemplated practices, because they’re all seeking the same thing. Which is kind of to direct awareness and to direct consciousness. And contemplative practices emphasize inner strength for that.
And I guess my interest is the external cues that help mediate that. So how do I shape my externalities to govern my interior world?
Mark: Right. And there’s only so much you can control, so controlling the environment just by putting yourself in environments that are going to facilitate that experience of life you want. That’s one thing.
And then the language is another structure. And so you change the language, that’ll change the experience.
And then the imagery is another structure. And I think that’s what’s amazing about what you’re doing, is when I grew up… let me use a quick example… I had this thought that I wanted to be a SEAL when I was 21 or so. I didn’t join until I was 24. I was a CPA on Wall Street. I mean, the craziest thing to go from that to that.
But it was because I created the thought. And then the image in my mind that I could be a Navy SEAL. The only digital evidence that I had that these guys even existed was a really shitty recruiting video. I mean it was awesome in it’s message, but shitty in its production quality. Called “Be someone Special,” And it was the SEALs recruiting video. And that’s all I had.
And so with that… watching that 6 or 8 times… I was able to then insert myself into that image and see myself actually being a SEAL. Doing the work. And it felt good. In fact, I was so drawn to it, that I began to feel like an alien in my daily job. And I felt more at home in my morning visualization sessions when I went into the future and said, “Here I am. Playing Navy SEAL.”
And most people think, “Well that’s just fucking fantasy, Mark.” And you know what happened? 9 months later, I literally had this really strong sensation that my destiny was laid out before me. My recruiter called a week later, said, “Mark, you got into OCS. You’re going to BUD/S.”
And when I showed up at BUD/S I felt like I was home. And like I had been there before.
That is an example, I think, of what you’re saying. I created the reality in my mind’s eye. But I didn’t have a lot of imagery… because we didn’t have it back in the ’80s, you know? Nowadays, through your work and the others and just tech in general. And Netflix and Amazon. Unbelievable imagery. The possibilities.
People’s minds must be blowing up right now with just the possibilities. Changing the human race.
Jason: Well, yeah. Your creative and linguistic choices govern your fate. For sure. Once you realize that you can be mediated and that your awareness can be steered, you can take active steps to steer your actions and your awareness toward certain ends.
It’s kind of like… The brief example might be something like “Psycho-Cybernetics.” Which you’ve probably heard about.
So George Carlin has this wonderful interview–the comedian–where he’s talking about some of his… how he attained success in his career. And he said that he read that book “Psycho-Cybernetics” and realized very quickly that the brain is a goal-seeking mechanism that works through priming and through patterns.
Program goals and patterns into your brain and then let your subconscious do the work for you to create opportunity in your life. Well he would say something about the first impressions might be an initial idea that he has of what he wants. Some interesting insight or idea. That’s impression number one.
Impression number 2 would be writing it down.
Impression number 3 would be reviewing what you wrote later that day or the next day. And that’s already 3 or 4 impressions. So at that point, you’ve kind of digested that into your subconscious. And the next day you go out into the world and all these serendipities and synchronicities start showing up related to that idea. Everywhere you go you overhear a word related to that notion. Or you stumble across something on the street.
And people think that that’s magical thinking. “Oh, ‘The Secret’ Oh, I’m attracting that into my life.
Yeah, less interesting interpretation in my mind. More interesting interpretation is the world is full of clues and you can read your way through it. Like there’s an infinite, boundless amount of data in the world. A lot of that data can serve your needs, if you’ve primed your subconscious–which can process more information than your conscious mind anyway–to look out for those patterns that can serve you.
It’s a form of self-hypnosis. Or like programming yourself. Maybe neuro-linguistic programming. Whatever it may be.
But then you’ve primed your brain so that the things that you need start showing up. And from a conscious perspective it feels like serendipity. It feels like, “Oh, there’s signs everywhere.”
And I would say that very much my whole career had to do with that because I think every act of recording a video in a way was an act of priming. Every time I recorded something about how much I love an idea… or I wanted to do this… or I wanted to create that. Yeah, it turned into a video, but it also turned into a program in my subconscious brain for that to then show up in my life the next day. And so my life has been a series of synchronicities and serendipities. And I think that that has definitely facilitated me getting to this point.
To be a kid in Venezuela who wanted to travel the world as a philosopher, literally. And wanted to take my video camera with me everywhere… to then making–to creating “Shots of Awe,” and to traveling the world as keynote speaker. And talking about technology.
Literally, you watch videos of me in high school, stoned out of my mind… and it’s exactly what I’m living through today.
Age and Engineering
But those same technologies to prime your brain towards achieving what you want, can also be leveraged for purely aesthetic purposes. And I think this is something that I’m living through today. So rather than just saying, “These are my goals,” or “This is what I want to attain,” I get caught up in the creation of perfect moments and perfect scenarios. It’s like, how can I leverage this very same principle of creating my reality for purely aesthetic ends? How do I manufacture peak experience for myself? Where do I put myself? What music needs to be playing? What people do I need to be with? What Mind-altering substance do I need to throw into the mix to manufacture an epiphany?
And this is where low states come in. It used to be all leveraging these tools and techniques for career purposes. For the attainment of goals.
But now the goals have become purely aesthetic.
Mark: Can we mix the two? I mean, this is one of the things… I love you saying this, because I’ve been playing with this… Everything occurs in our mind in this present moment anyways. It’s just whether we’re projecting into the future or the past. Or we’re right here, and right now. So you’re describing using these tools for a future accomplishment or a future state.
Versus using them to have a flow or ecstasy… Or radical present moment experience. I think they’re both important, don’t you?
Jason: I think they’re both hugely important. But I think that when you’re in your early 20s, you’re caught up in figuring out a career. That is then creatively fulfilling and financially sustainable. And you’re taking your future self into account as an important person in your life.
Just you have needs now, you know you’ll have needs in the future. Once you attain some kind of success. Financial success, career success. It’s like, “Oh, okay. So I had the hit TV show for 5 seasons. Brain Games. All over the world. I got the Emmy nomination. Oh, I’m a keynote speaker and I get paid to speak all over the world.”
Mark: You got nothing else to prove.
Jason: Well… that can lead to an existential crisis, right? Do I now get caught up–now that I’m in my mid-thirties trying to seek… find the next hit TV show to sustain me? You can get caught up in that trap.
Or, you can steer a focus more toward a like, “Okay, well I’m in my mid-30s. So the future is not this deferrable thing that I have to work toward attaining. Now I’m actually more interested in time stopping experiences. Now I want to step away from mechanized cognition, being tied to the tyranny of time. Because now I’m 4 years from now I’ll be 39! Who the fuck wants that?
Mark: (laughing) Heaven Forbid! Oh my God. You’re so old.
Jason: How do I carve out some time to be outside of time? How do I carve out a week in which time won’t exist? That is what I’ve become what I’m interested in now.
Because if I get caught up still in, “what do I want to attain moving into the future?” Then I start feeling like I’m in that people-mover that’s carrying everyone else towards death. Like, now I want to stop that people-mover. I want to step outside of that people-mover.
Mark: Yeah. The yogis would say time is all perception anyway. So just perceive that everything is present and there you have it. Doesn’t mean your body won’t get older though. And you may get bored shitless eventually, so I’m not sure that works…
Jason: That’s also true. That’s also true. But especially when you’ve had any success as a creative person, you always feel like you were successful in spite of yourself. Not because of yourself.
Like, especially with the monkey mind and the inner chatter and the self-doubt and the imposter syndrome. I’m like, “Holy Shit.” I may have been kicking and screaming in fear but somehow something inside of me pushed forward and I did what I needed to do to get to where I am.
But what’s crazy is thinking like… getting caught up in the loop of, “Will I be able to sustain it?” Or, “Will I be able to continue being as creative as I was?” Or, “What is it that I want next?”
Cause when you… when all the attainment is in front of you, then what you want is clear. I remember when I first starting doing my “Shots of Awe” videos. It was so clear what I wanted to do. Now that I’ve done so many of them, I’m like, “God, I wish that I had something that I want as vividly and intensely as I wanted what I wanted before.”
Mark: Well not everything’s meant to last forever. And I think we tend to think that. WE create an organization… we create something and we’re like, “This is supposed to go on forever.” But when it’s run it’s creative course, oftentimes let it go, I think. Move onto the next thing.
Jason: Sure, yeah. But then the existential question when you wake up in the morning is, “What is pulling me forward?” Cause you know, you want something… I remember… I always think of hustling as being like the equivalent of you know, when a dog’s in heat? And then the male dog jumps behind the dog in heat and tries to hump it all day?
So hustling is like that. It’s like you’re the male–you’re the male dog and what you want is the female dog in heat. And you’re trying to hump here all the time.
When you become successful, all of a sudden the dog in heat is not there any more. But you still have the compulsion to hustle. But you’re not sure what you’re hustling for anymore because you’ve already attained what you wanted.
So you’re like the male dog… you remove the dog in heat but the male dog is still thrusting the air. Like he’s still moving his pelvis in the air.
Mark: (laughing) Right. This is where I love the idea of the Yin and the yang. Or the generation and recovery. Generation is that male dog, but you can’t do that forever. You literally will burn out. So you have to build into your life moments of yin. Moments of just pure nothingness. Nature time. Doing nothing. Ending projects and not jumping right into the next one. That’s a hard thing for Westerners to learn.
Jason: And it’s huge. And it’s absolutely terrifying. Terrifying. Because especially if you think, “Okay, I’ve created every project you finish, you feel like it gets you to a new plateau. And then you’ll be able to relax you tell yourself. “On this new plateau I’ll relax.”
But I mean the relaxation plateau is finite before you no longer feel like your past accomplishments mean anything. When the subjective sense that your past accomplishments are not sustaining the current plateau. Then you start to feel like you’re drowning.
And it’s very strange feeling, because of course, the always on, always new social media new feeds means if you’re not at the top of the news feed, you’re irrelevant. And if you’re irrelevant, you’re unsafe. Because you’ll be socially rejected. Because nobody will give you money. Because all of a sudden, what are you doing to sustain this thing?
And then you start thinking, “Well what if the whole system collapses?” You know? “What if the financial system collapses?” “What if the world collapses? What am I going to do then?”
Jason’s Time-Stopping Moments
You need to say, “Okay, what…” The only relief that I find from that is time-stopping present moments. And I had 2 last year that became like the new reference points for me.
Mark: Tell me about those. We only have a few more minutes, so I wanna maybe… 2 things are in my mind right now. Before you go off and do your speech. Which hopefully this helped prepare you for. By getting your imagination flowing.
But 1 is how do we create a time-stopping moment? If I’m listening to this driving my car, I’m like, “That’s really interesting. How do I do that?” How do you do that?
And then 2 is what’s your process for gearing up for creativity? How do you get into flow state? What’s that look like for you?
Maybe they’re the same, actually.
Jason; Honestly, I’m kind of addicted to the concept of awe. Awe and wonder. And there are all these studies recently in Berkeley and Stanford on the subject of awe. And they described awe as an experience of such perceptual expansion, or such perceptual vastness that you have to reconfigure your mental models of the world to assimilate that experience.
Now the whole point of having mental models of the world is that as you go from being a child to being an adult, you’re assimilating all this information. Then you kind of plateau.
And the plateau is because of the been-there’s and done-that’s of the adult mind. Nothing is really new anymore and you’re just relying on your mental maps of the world in order to orient yourself in the world.
You’re not really getting new information from your environment because you’re just relying on automatic processes. Mapped byways of thoughts, so to speak.
But when you have an experience of awe, what happens is… first of all, they’re time-stopping, because all of a sudden you have to now make room for a new realization. An ontological awakening.
And I think that whether that’s seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time, or seeing images from the Hubble space telescope or really contemplating space and time. What I like about those time-stopping moments of awe and wonder is that inside of those moments the cognitive ecstasy… the sense of reverential awe and wonder is kind of like having your way with God. Even if you don’t believe.
And I’m–by the way–I’m a completely secular person. But I’ll use terminology like having your way with God. Because there’s something… it’s like absolution. It’s like you’re absolved of yourself and you feel just like radiance and bliss and awe. A poetic rhapsody.
You’re Blake. You’re seeing the world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower. Infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour.
I had 2 days like that last year. One of them was riding electric bicycles in Copenhagen. And I love novelty right? So new places just… they’re the opposite of everything is familiar and therefore boring.
Mark: Yeah. Such an expanding experience to go to places new like that.
Jason: They’re pungent with meaning, because they’re pungent with new possibilities. “OH, I’m onto something. Oh, what does that cathedral mean? Oh, what’s down that alley? Oh, how do people live here?”
All these exciting novel explorations. It’s new interpretable information. Which neuroscientists say we need to feel activated. To get constant drips of new interpretable information.
So you have travel. You have the bicycles. Copenhagen, I have electric bicycles so that means they have pedal assist. So it’s like a frictionless flow. Like flying through the urban environment.
And then of course we had a fan of my videos who was our guide. So we could offload the cognitive load of even deciding where to go. We just follow him. So everything is novel. No decision-making is occurring. And you’re just taking in the environment like a virtual reality playground. Then, of course, you add a little bit of cannabis, which is fantastic…
And then that provides a little bit of the time-stopping element, right? Because it’s like your sense impressions are filled. Like, a pool of sense impressions come in, but then it’s immediately drained by the next pool of sense impressions.
Mark: Right. And you’re not thinking anything really.
Jason: Well, I’m always thinking….
Mark: You have impressions that flit through your mind. But it’s going really fast. You’re not actively trying to stop and solve a problem or think anything.
Jason: No. But what it is is it’s like… the idea is that I’m like an instrument. Human beings are like an instrument. I’m like a piano…
Then the environment and the situation and the context that I put myself in, that’s like the chord. I seek out a world that will provide melodic chords on my instrument–on my piano. And negative experiences are like horrendous chords. Out of tune and really annoying and they hurt to listen too.
Positive beautiful experiences–novel experiences–are like gorgeous melodic chords that you’ve never heard before but are totally enthralling.
And then you put the cannabis in. Cannabis is the sustain pedal. Cannabis is the sustain pedal on the chord. So I like to say that I wanna put myself in a state of openness and receptivity. I wanna be in a highly suggestible state, in a novel environment where there’s flow.
And then I want to hit the sustain pedal on the novel environment. And what that does is it provides a particular aesthetic experience. David Lemson calls it a dialectical pattern of reconcilable estrangement with the world of everyday perception. It’s kind of like the kind of experience that’s congruent when you’re experiencing objects of beauty. There’s a kind of strangeness. There’s a kind of detachment. That makes you look at things deeper.
The familiar becomes sublime. The familiar becomes new.
I had the same experience on safari in South Africa. Being on the back of that Jeep during golden hour, when the sun is setting and encountering a bunch of lions in nature felt biblical. Felt archetypical. Felt garden of Eden-esque to me.
In that radiance, in that moment there was such a relief from the incessant anxiety of being. And it was axed to something more pure. A
And once I pop out on the other side of that experience, all I want to do is write and make videos. And so for me it’s kind of like whenever I get the anxiety of “How do I stay creative?” I have to remember that the creativity is what follows a transcendent experience. The creativity for me comes from reflecting upon the insights gained from a transcendent experience.
And so really where I want to pool all my resources is into investing in transcendent experiences for myself. Because that’s what will then lead to great work that I can share with others.
Joseph Campbell said, “You’re not on a quest to save the world, but to save yourself. And in doing so, you save the world.” And so…
Mark: I love that. So what about this year? What are the transcendent experiences you hope to create this year?
Jason: Well, I wanna do more travel man. I have just realized that it’s only when I’m in new places that I can become a new person. I don’t know if you ever read Alain De Botton’s book “The Art of Travel.” But he talks about how it’s not necessarily at home that we encounter our best selves. The furniture doesn’t change and so it insists that we cannot change.
But when you’re in a new world, all of a sudden new possibilities for yourself, for your life, for the future start to bubble up. And it doesn’t matter that you commit to those possibilities, but just the fact that they’re there… again, goes back to the idea of being onto something.
So what I’m chasing is states of mind that are pregnant with possibility. That’s it.
And if I chase states of mind that are pregnant with possibility and I can lose myself in those moments pregnant with possibility, I have to then trust the process that will lead to new creativity and new serendipity.
But if you ask me what my plan is, I don’t fucking know. It’s like when they ask… The asked the head of TED Chris Anderson, was once asked, “Well what’s the future of the TED conference?” And he said, “Well, the world changes so fast, we change so fast… Here at TED we don’t have a map, we have a compass.” I really like that.
Mark: I like that too.
I think that’s probably a good jumping off point. Because anything further and we’ll get down in the next rabbit-hole. And then you’ll be late. So amazing work. So people just… if someone wants to find you just Google Jason Silva is probably the best way, right? Do you have a particular thing… a place they’d like to go to catch up with you?
Jason: Yeah. If they can subscribe to my YouTube channel. Which is Shots of Awe. Or follow me on Facebook. I’m @jasonlsilva is my Facebook page. Or jasonlsilva on Instagram. Or jasonsilva on Twitter. I’m on all the social stuff. But on Facebook I share a lot of video content. All the time.
Mark: Awesome. Awesome. Well really, really appreciate your time today. Look forward to meeting you in person. Maybe creating or participating in some transcendent experience together. That would be epic.
And I appreciate what you do, sir. And thanks very much. Good luck with your speech. And we’ll see you around.
Jason: Thanks man. Thank you.
Mark; All right, Jason. Thank you very much.
All right folks. That was mind-bending. Jason Silva. Check him out.
Wow, I’m in awe. What a neat guy. Super-cool.
My mind is expanded just there in that conversation. I hope yours is as well. But stay focused on what you’re doing. It’s important. Every day. One day one lifetime. Do the work and experience as much ecstasy in the moment as you can.
Thanks for listening.