Beau Lotto (@beaulotto) is a world-renowned neuroscientist who specializes in the biology and psychology of perception. He is the author of Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently.
What We Discuss with Beau Lotto:
- Why our brains evolved to experience the world differently from reality.
- What Beau means when he says: “Choose your delusion or it will choose you.”
- How our experiences literally change our physical makeup.
- Why the more complex your environment is, the more complex your brain will be.
- How our assumptions control our perceptions and what we can do to break free from assumptions that don’t serve us.
- And much more…
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If you’ve ever read up on perception, or perhaps just made a cameo at Burning Man, you might be familiar with the idea that our eyes and ears don’t really see and hear. Our senses take in electrical signals that our brain decodes and creates pictures of inside our heads. This is why people can learn to see with their tongues, develop powers of echolocation to see objects when they’re blind, etc. In the future, we’ll most certainly have entirely new senses and ways to perceive the world around us, aided by technology.
On this episode Beau Lotto — neuroscientist, perception expert, and author of Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently — and I dive into why this is the case, explore why our shared (and unshared) delusions of the world are useful, and discuss some methods to develop new perceptions of the world that might serve us better. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
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More About This Show
Lest you think from the intro that this episode is headed into dorm room pseudo-philosophical musing over reality only being in the mind, man, Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently author Beau Lotto has this to say:
“The world exists. There is a world out there. But we don’t see it as it is. This is not postmodern relativism. It’s not like every perception is as good as everything else — some perceptions are better than others. But it is the case that we don’t see the world as it is because we’re forever separate from that world. This isn’t philosophy; this is just laws of physics.
“All the light that’s coming around us, it’s bouncing off objects and then it’s changing when it hits an object, and then it comes to our eyes. But our retina has no access to the light directly, nor to the surfaces. All it literally has access to is energy. Energy’s out there. Electromagnetic radiation. Sound waves are out there. So you have all these vibrations and chemicals and energy, and that’s what we detect — so in the same way that camera’s detecting light, or radio telescopes are collecting radio waves. But that energy doesn’t have a meaning. It doesn’t tell you what to do. All it is is energy of different amounts. So your sensors detect that, and that’s like the metaphor: the eyes are like the keyboard is to the computer. The keyboard is detecting your touch, but it doesn’t make meaning of your touch. The rest of the computer does in a way.
“So the retina’s capturing this energy, and what’s more, it’s capturing a really small range of that energy. So we’re sensitive to an amount of light which is tiny compared to the rest of the amount of energy that’s out there. And then your brain has to do something with that, and that’s where your brain is actually constructing a meaning. And it’s that meaning that you’re seeing. You’re not seeing the energy. You’re detecting the energy, but you’re not seeing it.”
Listen to this episode in its entirety to learn more about the difference between useful and meaningful when it comes to the constant stream of data our brains translate, why utility trumps accuracy in this translation from the standpoint of evolutionary survival, how we can test these concepts ourselves in the real world to better understand them, why people from different cultures recognize different sounds and even see colors differently, how technology will help us extend our senses and interpret external data in different ways, the uncertainty behind disempowerment, how we can use our understanding of the way perception works to choose our own delusions and reassign meanings, adapting assumptions and biases, and much more.
THANKS, BEAU LOTTO!
If you enjoyed this session with Beau Lotto, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:
Click here to thank Beau Lotto at Twitter!
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And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Resources from This Episode:
- Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently by Beau Lotto
- Lab of Misfits
- Beau Lotto at Twitter
- Science Is for Everyone, Kids Included by Beau Lotto and Amy O’Toole, TED Global 2012
- Optical Illusions Show How We See by Beau Lotto, TED Global 2009
- Do Our Senses Reveal the World — Or Do They Obscure It? by Beau Lotto, Big Think
- David Eagleman | How Your Brain Makes Sense of the World, TJHS 27
- Relativism, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Blue or White Dress? Why We See Colours Differently by Karen Weintraub, National Geographic
- The Seriously Creepy “Two-Kitten Experiment” by Esther Inglis-Arkell, io9
- Shawn Achor | Why Success and Happiness Aren’t Mutually Exclusive, TJHS 144
- Conspiracy Beliefs Linked With Search for Certainty and Social Connection, Association for Psychological Science
- Cirque Du Soleil and the Neuroscience of Awe by Constance Grady, Vox
Transcript for Beau Lotto | Why You See Differently When You Deviate (Episode 177)
Jordan Harbinger: [00:00:00] Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. As always, I'm here with my producer Jason DeFillippo. Most of us, myself included, of course, grow up with the idea that the things we see are the things that actually exists. You know, out in the world. You know, I see a hairless cat in front of me. There's a hairless cat in front of me, end of story. But if you've ever read up on perception or perhaps just made a cameo at Burning Man, you might be familiar with the idea that our eyes and ears don't really see in here, but everything our senses take in is just electric signals that our brain decodes and creates pictures of inside our heads. And this is why people can learn to see with their tongues. Literally see with their tongues. We can also develop powers of echolocation to see objects when we're blind, et cetera. It's amazing to see this kind of stuff. And in the future, we will most certainly have entirely new senses and ways to perceive the world around us, aided by technology. This of course drives us to the conclusion that we don't actually experience the world the way that it is because our brains really didn't even evolve to do that. Today, neuroscientist, author, and perception expert, Beau Lotto and I dive into why this is the case. We'll explore why our shared and unshared delusions of the world are actually useful and discuss some methods to develop new perceptions of the world that might actually serve us better. This might be a little heady for some folks. So if you're just waking up in the morning, make sure you got some coffee in your hand. Of course, I look forward to hearing your thoughts on today's show, as always.
[00:01:28] If you're interested in how I maintain this amazing network of guests, well I have a great network of humans in my life -- friends, professional, personal relationships -- and I developed them all through systems and tiny habits in a way that's, you know, not scamming, smarmy and weird business card in your face type stuff. I'm teaching you how to do that for free at Six-Minute Networking. So go to jordanharbinger.com/course and check that out and let me know what you think of that as well. In the meantime, enjoy this episode with Beau Lotto.
[00:01:55] There's a lot of focus now, especially these past few days, honestly, in my industry where Spotify had just bought some podcasts network for like $230 million. It wasn't worth nearly that much and everyone's like, "Oh, I'm so jealous. You know, we should start a podcast network, we should do this and then dah, dah, dah acquisition." I wish I cared about that stuff because it's like that's where all this money is, but I just, it's like I can't.
Beau Lotto: [00:02:19] No, but as a consequence you're going to do something well.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:02:21] Yeah. That's what I like to think of. That's what I'm hoping.
Beau Lotto: [00:02:23] At least the story that we tell ourselves. That story I'm telling myself.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:02:26] That's right. Yeah. It's funny.
Beau Lotto: [00:02:30] That's what we call the lab of misfits.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:02:31] Yeah. Okay, that makes sense. Yeah, that makes sense. Because of course there's a part of me that's like, wait a minute, these guys have been working for like five years. They took on a bunch of investments. A lot of these companies, software companies and stuff, they basically buy a bunch of users and then they just kind of offload it to AOL or whoever for multiple tens of billions or a hundred plus million dollars and they're super, super, super loaded and you go, "Well, what did you create?" And they're kind of like, yeah, I mean --
Beau Lotto: [00:02:58] Created well for me anything.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:02:59] Yeah, like it never did anything. It's amazing.
Beau Lotto: [00:03:03] So it resonates.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:04] Yeah. Yeah. But your book Deviate and your work in large part is about the idea or the fact that we don't experience the world as it is because our brains didn't really evolve to do that. And I think that's fascinating because I always thought my eyes see what's in front of me, but my eyes are really the keyboard to the computer or the other input device and that's pretty much it. All these things that I'm seeing right now, this isn't the form that they take per se. And that's sort of a hard thing to wrap my head around it. I had David Eagleman on the show before -- I'm sure you're familiar with -- And he was saying similar things like, "Yeah, you know, some animals will see an electrostatic." But as a human since this is all we've ever known. This is really what I believe is in front of me. He is lighting his cameras. So the other point is like, who cares if I don't see reality? I mean we're still going to get along just fine. So what's the point of even trying to figure out what's actually there?
Beau Lotto: [00:04:02] First of all, a lot of people when they think about perception and they use illusions and thinking about perceptions, for instance, or make statements that we don't see what's really there. Too often they use it in a way that gives the impression that everything's an illusion.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:18] Okay.
Beau Lotto: [00:04:19] And I think it's convenient and it's an aesthetic way of trying to create intrigue but it's wrong. The world exists. There is a world out there, but we don't see it as it is, right? So this is not postmodern relativism. It's not like every perception is as good as everything else. Some perceptions are better than others, but it is the case that we don't see the world as it is because we're forever separate from that world. So this isn't philosophy, this is just laws of physics. So all the light that's coming around us, it's bouncing off objects and then it's changing when it hits an object and then it comes to her eyes. But our retina has no access to the light directly, nor to the surfaces. All it literally has access to is energy. Energy is out there, electromagnetic radiation. Sound ways are out there. So you have all these vibrations and chemicals and energy and that's what we detect. So in the same way that camera is detecting light or radio telescopes are collecting radio waves, but that energy doesn't have a meaning. It doesn't tell you what to do. All it is energy of different amounts. So your sensors detect that and that's like the metaphor that the eyes are like the keyboard as to computer. The keyboard is detecting your touch, but it doesn't make meaning of your touch. The rest of the computer does in a way. So the retinas capture this energy and what's more it's capturing a really small range of that energy. So we're sensitive to an amount of light, which is tiny compared to the rest of the amount of energy is out there. And then your brain has to do something with that. And that's where your brain is actually constructing a meaning. And if that meaning that you're seeing, you're not seeing the energy, you're detecting the energy, but you're not seeing it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:08] So we could really construct the picture in a different way. So if my brain was just a really complex calculator that displayed everything in numbers, I would just see trillions of digits everywhere.
Beau Lotto: [00:06:21] Or in a way that's --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:23] That's kind of what we're doing, right?
Beau Lotto: [00:06:25] That's the fact we're doing. It's just that those trillions of digits then 0move your arms, they move your legs, but they have to move it in a way that's useful. And the only way your brain can do that is by taking that data. The data itself is meaningless. It's literally devoid of meaning, but it's useful. It's useful stuff, but it's not meaningful stuff. It then comes into the neural network of your brain and then your that neural network, which is literally just billions of connections with electrical activity going through, which then generates a movement. And that movement has to be useful. But how do you know what to move towards or away and that's empirical. So what experience in evolution and development give you is utility, not accuracy. And that's great, right? It's really brilliant that we actually have youthful perceptions, but not accurate perceptions because they're not the same thing.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:19] Yeah, that makes sense. Right? So I don't necessarily need to know exactly what everything is in an accurate way, because that's not the thing that's going to help me survive the best.
Beau Lotto: [00:07:29] No, and if that were true, we wouldn't have things like language. Because language is not a construct of the world. Think about perceptions of pain. Is pain an illusion? Of course, it's not an illusion. It's a meaningful perception, but it's not something that exists in the world. There aren't painful things in the world. If we weren't here, pain would not exist.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:48] Right. Is it like a delusion? It's that kind of fair?
Beau Lotto: [00:07:49] You could use those in a sense. I talk about how the brain is effectively a delusional, but what I mean by that is not to say the artistic way that your senses are being fooled. Your senses are not being fooled. So when people often too often, in fact even scientists talk about illusions, they use them as examples, like the fragility of your senses.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:08:11] Right. It looks like they're tricks.
Beau Lotto: [00:08:12] But they're not tricks. The only tricks if you think your brain evolved to do something, which is to see the world accurately, to then see the world differently from the way it really is would be an illusion. But if your brain evolved to see something useful, well, that doesn't have to be accurate, which means an illusion is not that. What illusion demonstrates is what your brain actually evolved to do in the first place, which is to see utility, not accuracy.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:08:38] Can you give us an example of that? And I know that you in the book Deviate, you talk a little bit about the dress, that sort of meme that went viral and how people will see something different. It's not just that some people are color blind or less accurate in perceiving colors. It's that the utility was different in the person's brain or maybe I don't fully understand.
Beau Lotto: [00:08:57] So what happened with the dress? There were at least two really fascinating things about the dress. First of all, to explain the dress, the dress is an example of what we basically call color contrast illusion. That if you take a piece of light and you have it surrounded by a light of a different color, then they will look different. They affect each other in our perception.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:09:18] Okay.
Beau Lotto: [00:09:19] And so what was happening with the dress is that you had the juxtaposition of different colors and they interacted in your perception as a consequence, they look different than what the in a sense really were. And so that's a well-known illusion called color contrast. What was fascinating was how powerful it was on people, not just the illusion but that people really cared.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:09:43] Yeah. There was a lot of strife online.
Beau Lotto: [00:09:46] Amazing, right? Because I'm a color neuroscientist I study how the brain makes color because it's one of the most basic perceptions. So I did of course a lot of interviews about what was going on your brain. And eventually I started shifting the topic of interviews to about why is it so viral? Because we know that if you're speaking German and I am speaking English, that we have different words for the same information. So we perfectly have to accept that but why was it so hard to accept the idea that people have different colors or could see things differently? And I think some people literally became almost frightened by it. It's like, "Wait a minute. If that's true, how is it possible that I could hold on to any of my perceptions?" And in fact, that's actually what most of our work is really about. It's about creating that doubt because it's only through that doubt you have the possibility of having creativity. So that doubt is really powerful and it's really positive.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:10:46] I think the reason people might get a little bit upset by this or freaked out might be the technical term is because essentially the meaning of the thing is not the same as the thing itself. Does that sound -- I feel like I need to roll up a J or something when I talk like that, right? But that's what that means, right? And I think you bring this example in the book, the information is like poetry. It only means something in the brain. The words written on the paper are just kind of --
Beau Lotto: [00:11:14] They don't mean anything.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:11:15] They don't mean anything.
Beau Lotto: [00:11:16] They're abstract and symbolic representations of something. There is no inherent meaning in any letter, much less a letter string, nor does the other letters of the words impose a meaning. Because, of course, if you're not an Egyptologist and I give you a hieroglyph, you don't know what that means.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:11:34] Right.
Beau Lotto: [00:11:34] Now, if I embed that hieroglyph in another hieroglyph -- I create a context for it or for an Egyptologist, they know what changes the meaning. For you, for me, we don't know. And that's everything that the brain is dealing with. It's getting this data from the world and it's like, "Now what do I do?" And the only way it knows what to do is thinking about what this means for my behavior in the past and not just my behavior, maybe the behavior of my family, behavior of my culture, or evolutionary of my ancestors. And all that trial and error history of experience is encoded in your brain. That's literally what the functional network of your brain represents. It's that history of what was useful in the past given the current circumstances to us. So you can say most of your life happened without you even there. You come into the world already with a complex set of connections, which were useful in the past. So if when walking along the Savannah and you came upon a patch where there was low light and we'd call it dark. But objectively, it's just less light. Well, there could be a number of sources for that. It could be a hole or it could be a dark surface, or it could be a shadow, and you don't know which one. For those who thought, "Hmm, I'm going to walk around that." Because it was a hole, they survived. Those who stepped into it were selected out. So that meaning now gets incorporated into the reflective network of your brain. And that's what we inherited.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:07] Ah right, because let's say it's our first day being able to perceive something -- let's say I'm blind and I get sited tomorrow through the magic of science --
Beau Lotto: [00:13:20] Which happens to some people, yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:20] Yeah, and I'm sure it's going to happen more and more in the future when we figure out how to "fix" these problems or create working robotic eyes or whatever -- or bionic, I guess in this case. I might look at that and go, "What is that? I don't know what that is. Let me just walk over it." And then I fall in this hole and I think, "What the hell, why nobody told me about this." Because I'm not using my cane, which I was using before. If I was looking at it and I'd had my stick, I would have aimed my cane at it and gone, "Oh, that's weird. That feels like a hole. Oh, that's what a hole looks like." There'd be no basis for that in my head whatsoever.
Beau Lotto: [00:13:59] No. And that's maybe more intuitive than from people's language. Language, you get sound information. That's everything I'm saying right now is literally meaningless. There's no inherent meaning in any sound that I'm making right now. So the meaning that's being constructed is inside everybody else's head, right? They're taking that or in some sense, arbitrary sound stream and they're constructing meaning. Where did that meaning come from? They didn't come into the world with that meaning. They learned that meaning through trial and error history when the parents said, "Glasses." And now you associate, ah glasses and then, you put them on. So now, you increasingly create a complex meaning, which is in other words, how do I behave towards that thing? That's the meaning. It's not some sort of abstract, it's behavioral towards that thing. And we construct that through history.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:14:51] So our experiences then literally change our physical makeup inside our brain because we are --
Beau Lotto: [00:14:56] A lot of people keep forgetting that our brain evolved in a body and our body in a world, right? So our brain lives in that world. That's how your brain literally makes meaning, by physically engaging with the world. Silicon Valley often forgets that. That by passively receiving content, your brains -- no, no, you physically interact and hence someone who doesn't have sight and has given sight, often they can't see because they've never had a history of physically interacting with sort of the sources of that light data and making meaning from it. So there's a famous experiment, which I can describe with kittens, where you had two kittens recently born, eyes just open and one of the kittens is allowed to run on the ground and the other one is suspended in a basket and it's connected to one of the ground, which means wherever the one on the ground goes, the one in the basket also goes. And the point is they're having the same visual experience of the world. And after a period of time, you test the vision of the one on the ground and sees fine as you would expect. But what about the one in the basket? It's eyes have been open. It's had the same visual history, but it's blind. Why? Because it's never been able to physically interact and make meaning from that light. And so now as you let it run around, it will actually learn to see, and that's how we make meaning by physically engaging.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:16:12] So if there's data going in, but I'm not able to physically engage, does my brain just treat it like noise because it can't do anything with that particular data?
Beau Lotto: [00:16:23] Yes and no. What it will do is we'll find correlations. Your brain is really good at finding relationships. Okay, so the first step is to find those relationships. In theory, there's almost an infinite number of possible relationships, but our brain is wired to find some relationships more than others. And that's, that itself is a historical representation of your brain. The next stage is once it find those relationships and those connections get reinforced and then says, "Now, what do I do with them?" So it finds relationships and then it finds the meaning of those relationships. So if you get a lot of data, your brain will still be shaped by those relationships, but it still doesn't tell the brain what to do with them and then you still have to engage.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:17:09] You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Beau Lotto. We'll be right back.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:17:14] This episode is sponsored in part by ZipRecruiter. For the sake of simplicity, let's say every problem really is a nail and you're in charge of hiring hammers. You know, it's not smart relying on a job board that only sends you screwdrivers or just not relying on any job board at all. But you know what is smart? Going to ziprecruiter.com/jordan to hire the right person. Unlike other job sites, ZipRecruiter finds qualified candidates for you. It uses matching technology, which scans thousands of resumes and it identifies people with the right skills, the right education, the right experience, and then it invites them to apply for your job so you're not just getting a bunch of resumes, your inbox, it's telling you who's qualified and saying, "Hey, we reached out to so-and-so about your job." And that's why ZipRecruiter is rated number one by employers in the US and this rating comes from hiring sites on Trustpilot with over a thousand reviews. Jason.
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Jason DeFillippo: [00:19:33] Don't forget we have a worksheet for today's episode so you can make sure you solidify your understanding of the key takeaways from Beau Lotto. That link is in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com/podcast. Thanks for listening and supporting the show. To learn more about our sponsors and get links to all the great discounts you just heard, visit jordanharbinger.com/deals. If you'd like some tips on how to subscribe to the show, go to jordanharbinger.com/subscribe. And now back to our show with Beau Lotto.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:20:00] Do you think we'll create new senses in the future or am I jumping to far on the Sci-Fi?
Beau Lotto: [00:20:04] No, I think that's a great question. In fact, we've kind of tried to do that in the lab because if you really want to understand how the brain works, it means you have to understand sort of the historical relationship between information and what that information meant in the past. The problem is that the past is often lost to us. We haven't been able to quantify. So that's one of the reasons why we work on artificial neural networks. For instance, we can play God in that system and we can relate the history to the structure of the network to behavior. So one way we've tried to do it with humans is rather than give a new sense, we've replaced one sense with another. So we translate light into sound. And then people hear their visual world, right? And because sound has a different statistical structure than light, we can then see how the brain adapts to that new information.
[00:20:56] So if I'm hearing my visual world, and this is something we've been doing for about 15 years, and initially it sounds like noise. As they start interacting, they can start hearing objects, but where they're hearing are visual objects. And the people who really did this work back in the 1960s started on the tongue. They were actually able to project an object into the world even though the light information was actually on their tongue or on their back or in their ears. So in that sense, yes, but there's another way we can actually do it with technology. So you could argue technology is another way of extending our ability to sense the world -- a telescope or a microscope or an MRI or be able to detect heat. So these are other ways we extend our senses. It's called an extended phenotype. It's a bit like a spider in a web and the spider extends itself into the world by creating a web. Is it the spider? Is it not the spider?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:21:57] Right, right. Doesn't the spider detect vibrations on the web or something?
Beau Lotto: [00:22:01] And it's able to, in a sense, to read those vibrations in the same way that we're reading the vibrations of sound. They're reading the vibrations in the spiderweb. Oh, so is it like sound to them? Do they hear a C? Does an insect, when it lands, sound like a chord? And they say, ah, that chord means mosquito. That cord means fly. Who knows?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:22:22] Yeah, that is fascinating. One thing I remember researching about the brain or hearing about the brain a million years ago was if we look at something -- or most of what we're looking at essentially is filled in by the brain. So I might look over there and say, "Oh, there's some clothing over there." And then when I look again, I see even less because there's this picture of the clothing in my head. My brain doesn't have to decode everything that it sees every time. It makes these assumptions that are in large part correct. Which is why you end up with these kinds of cool optical illusions or why, unfortunately, we hear of, well this officer, literally the brain said they saw a weapon in this person's hand when there wasn't one because that's how our brains work and that's how our eyes and brain work in concert, in certain ways, in some circumstances. You've got this exercise where we can stop what these things called saccades -- which you can define it a second -- we essentially go blind when this happens. What's going on with this? What is this?
Beau Lotto: [00:23:22] So first of all, when it comes to your brain filling in, it's not that it sometimes does that, it's always doing that. Every moment, every day, that's what you're seeing is a filling in. And then there are sort of more explicit examples of that where in your peripheral vision you don't have any color receptors and yet we see color.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:42] Yeah, I was going to say nothing's black and white. Everything is colored.
Beau Lotto: [00:23:46] You have a massive hole in your retina, so to speak, which is actually, where your receptors are being covered by the fibers that are going back into your brain. And it's called the blind spot, which is about here, but I don't see a hole.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:59] And yet there's your hand.
Beau Lotto: [00:24:01] But in the same way ,you can say color is filling in, because color is not a function of light. Light exists, but it's not colored. So every color that you see couldn't be closer to you. It's literally inside your head, projected outward. You are literally coloring the world. So if a tree falls in the woods, no one's there to hear. It doesn't make a sound. No, it creates energy. But the sound is a construct of your brain. So the tree exists, the energy exists, but your brain then turns that into something useful, which is sound. So saccades -- what are saccades and how does that relate to this?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:24:35] And congratulations, by the way, on answering a Zen koans. I don't think you're supposed to do that.
Beau Lotto: [00:24:40] So, so what the saccades are they demonstrate is that your brain is only ever interested in relationships. It's not interested in absolutes. As interesting, contrast and change. In fact, change is life. And this is both literal and metaphorical. When things don't change, they die. You get selected out. So your brain is interested in difference in change. So as you're looking at me, whereas people are looking at this, their eyes are actually moving. They're not aware that they're moving their called microsaccades and saccades and they're consciously unaware of it, but they're constantly moving and you can actually stop your eyes from moving by -- you look at a stable scene and you cover one eye and then you take your finger and you push, you feel your tear duct and then you push your eyeball to the back of the eye, which is happening now. And then slowly the whole world disappears. So you just disappeared from me right there.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:34] Should we try this for now?
Beau Lotto: [00:25:34] So you cover this eye and then with this finger, feel the tear duct. Keep your eye open and then slowly push your, your finger back, which is forcing your eyeball against the back.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:48] Oh God, this is highly uncomfortable. Okay. Yeah. It sort of just fades.
Beau Lotto: [00:25:52] It fades away.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:53] Yeah.
Beau Lotto: [00:25:53] So what's happening? Your eyes open but you can't see why because now there's nothing interesting to look at. There's no change.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:00] Oh, okay. I thought I was just cutting off the blood supply in my eyeballs or something.
Beau Lotto: [00:26:05] Nothing's changing. So there's nothing interesting to look at.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:09] You know, it's funny, I used to do that as a kid. And my mom goes, "What are you doing? You know, you can't do that." Because I used to think how fun this is? My eyes turned off and my mom was, of course, horrified. Like, "Hey, that's probably --"
Beau Lotto: [00:26:23] Beautiful example of curiosity.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:25] Yeah. Yeah. And meanwhile little did I know. I was just stopping my microsaccades.
Beau Lotto: [00:26:30] Which is great, you were doing a famous science experiment, which started many decades ago and it was asking a fundamental question about why do our eyes move and what happens if you stop them from moving.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:42] So by stopping this motion, I'm stopping these little changes from being perceived by my brain.
Beau Lotto: [00:26:48] That's right. So you could actually stop your eye from moving, but keep the world moving and you'll still see your eyes stationary. What it is that the information coming from the world is stationary.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:58] So the brain finds it uninteresting.
Beau Lotto: [00:27:00] You could argue that in a way. It's like there's nothing interesting to look at, right? Of course, the brain is not thinking about it, but it's as if. So at least metaphorically what we've evolved is a defined difference. I mean diversity is fundamental. Change is fundamental to survival.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:27:14] And this isn't just with our eyes. You gave the example in Deviate about certain Asian cultures -- Japanese was I think the example you gave and the language and the letters R and L. And movies and TV in polite adult cartoons are full of people imitating that accent and confusing the letters R and L and I'm married into a Taiwanese-Chinese family. So I often hear those two letters confused so to speak. And I always thought, "Oh they can't hear those sounds." But then I noticed after enough exposure to my wife's parents and family, "Wait a minute, they use them sometimes."
Beau Lotto: [00:27:50] Yes, yes.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:27:50] But then it's like they also confuse them. So what's going on? What's going on here? This was fascinating.
Beau Lotto: [00:27:57] Yeah. Such a wonderful example. And it's not specific, it's not unique to Asian culture because also we can't hear the five sounds of A that people in Scandinavia use for instance --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:09] Right.
Beau Lotto: [00:28:09] We can't see certain shades of red that Russians can see.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:12] Really?
Beau Lotto: [00:28:12] Yeah. Because they have --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:14] I didn't know that.
Beau Lotto: [00:28:14] Because their language has many descriptions of red. There's behavioral value in making distinctions. So they therefore make distinctions because it wasn't behaviorally useful for us to do. So we don't make assumptions. So this is a perfect example of how the relationship between accuracy and utility is different. So come back to the R versus L. Why does it happen? Those sounds exist in their language. The sound of "Ra" and "La" exists in language, but they're interchangeable. There's no behavioral value in making a distinction between them. So though it'd be accurate to hear the distinction, it's not useful. In order to make a distinction, you have to have wiring that facilitates making that distinction. That's expensive. You have to have more, literally spend more energy in forming new connections, having those connections be active, maintain those connections, all of that costs energy. So it's not useful. So why have it? So which is why they can substitute them but there's no change in the meaning. For us, there's a change in the meaning. But if you play those sounds outside the context of language, they'll hear a difference.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:29:22] It's so fascinating.
Beau Lotto: [00:29:23] So it's in the context, and it's not like it's a conceptual difference. There literally is no perceptual difference.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:29:31] Right so the language has those sounds, but their brains or the brains are not trained to hear the difference in a way because there is no use for that.
Beau Lotto: [00:29:39] Because there's no use for it. So if it's not useful, why do it? Because experience what evolution gives you? First of all, it's not accuracy. It's utility and it works from failure, not function. So it works from failure, not success. It's more sort of we've evolved to not die as opposed to evolve to survive.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:29:58] Right or thrive in some particular way.
Beau Lotto: [00:30:01] Because dying is easy, right? There are lots of ways to die and not so many - so what we evolved to do is to not die and to conserve energy to a certain extent. And so your brain is constantly in this balance in your body and nature in general. This balance between redundancy and resilience, which requires energy and efficiency, which is to conserve energy.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:30:24] You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Beau Lotto. We'll be right back after this.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:29] This episode is sponsored in part by MedMen.
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Jordan Harbinger: [00:33:26] What about exercises like visualization? I think it's trendy now, and you see this in things like sports coaching, performance coaching of all kinds, even if you're going to go up on stage and speak, people say, "Let's visualize this." So we're simulating something in our brain. What is this doing sort of from a scientific perspective?
Beau Lotto: [00:33:48] There's a great deal of research on visualization by others. And what they've demonstrated is that the visualization is activating the parts of your brain that would be active even if you were looking at something. So if I am, let's say, seeing the slope of the skiing, because there's literally a slope in front of me and because I'm moving through it and there's all of that energy coming from it and my brain is now interpreting that in a useful way. That's seeing it? So that will activate the back part of my brain, the visual cortex and then other parts. If I imagine seeing it, you still activate the exact same areas of your brain. You just activate them less.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:34:29] Oh, so visual visualization --
Beau Lotto: [00:34:32] Is seeing.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:34:33] -- is seeing. Wow. Okay, because I'm thinking, eh, it's imagining stuff, how could it possibly be the same?
Beau Lotto: [00:34:39] But in that sense, the power of it is the visualization can in itself be a form of training.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:34:46] Right. So, I'm skeptical about that at first. I wasn't sure if that was the case.
Beau Lotto: [00:34:51] Well, imagine a chess player visualizing a game of chess and the masters can of course do this and they'll play a game of chess in their mind. And they can probably almost literally, if not literally see the board in front of them in their minds. So their eyes are closed and they're seeing this board and they see they're seeing the moves. And they could probably re-visualize the game that was just played. Then they can go back and say, "Oh well that was the mistake I made. What if I did this right?" And now they'll play the game as if they made the move that they didn't make that imagination. And now they can see the consequences of making that move because if I do this, now you'll do that. And they'll play that out. That is experiences but you're training those synapses between the neurons as if you actually played. So next time you're in that scenario, instead of making that move, you might make the other one because your brain is only ever used in the history of what you've done before. But what you've done before is not only what you've literally done, it's also what you've imagined to do, and that will necessarily affect the architecture of your brain.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:36:00] Wow. Is it as simple as saying it's like trial and error?
Beau Lotto: [00:36:05] Yes, it's all trial and error. Everything is trial and error. So in that sense is trial and error, but it's trial and error in my head. And so you could argue that that's the beauty of imagination. And you can maybe even argue that that's the beauty of consciousness because I can have that trial and error experience without the risk of actually doing it in the world.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:36:24] Right, sometimes it could be with chess, you're safe --
Beau Lotto: [00:36:27] Imagine you're driving a car or imagine the skiing, right? The downhill skier who is imagining and they're imagining going this way, there's a huge cost to getting it wrong. We call it the cost function. If you get some things, a small change, dramatic effect, right? And so now I can rehearse that. And what's more, not only that, not only about imagining the future, I can also do that for the past. I can go back into the past and while I can't change the things that happen, I can change the meaning of the things that happened. And so if everything I'm doing right now is a consequence of the history of my meanings, and that determines what I'm going to do in the future. Well, how do I change what I'm going to do in the future? Change the meanings of the things that happened in the past. That's effectively every story you've ever read, every therapy you might've gone into is about re- meaning the past of what's happened. Again, you can't change it, but you can change the meaning of it. And your behavior is determined not by the thing that happened, but by the meaning of it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:37:30] Can you give us an example that sounds really useful actually?
Beau Lotto: [00:37:33] It's fundamental. And you could also argue, this is again, what consciousness is doing, the ability to time travel because, you could argue that we don't have any freewill in the moment. Everything I'm doing right now, every word I'm saying to you right now is a function of a reflex. You're giving me information. I'm generating a behavior. That's based everything on the history of what led to this point. But again, it's not the history of the thing that happened. So what would be an example? If you think about behavioral cognitive therapy, very simplistically what's happening is that people will know -- during the therapy, they'd bring you to the point of where you engaged in a situation and applied a very bad meaning. It could have literally been a bad meaning that happened. Someone died, or you felt super anxious, and it could be both objective or subjective. That I felt anxiety could have been a good idea or it might've been a pathological idea. So now what I can do is I can go back and imagine that time, but instead of feeling anxious, I could apply a different meaning to it. Let's say calm or just neutral, let go the anxiety, and now when I'm engaged in that situation again -- let's say, public speaking, giving an interview, going to work -- I can vow change my statistic and maybe I won't apply that reflexive anxiety because I've diminished it as a possible behavior, a possible response.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:39:02] Okay, and that of course requires practice/therapy.
Beau Lotto: [00:39:07] The brain is like a muscle. You use it to lose it. And all of these things, you could argue that this is the power of meditation. Meditation is really about practicing and exercising your brain to let go of the meanings that it's already attaching to something. It's what I call going into not-A. If you ever want to shift someone or yourself from A to B. The first step is not B, the first step is to go to A, to not-A. I hit your patella tendon, your leg goes out. That's the reflex. That's A, that's the meaning. I shout at you. You get angry, that's the meaning. Reflex is very natural as a human. Now, if you don't want to go to anger, the first step is not to go to happiness, is just to go to not anger, is to let go of that reflex of meaning and go to not-A, I need to go to uncertainty.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:39:53] So that ties in well with something else I read in Deviate, which is, "Choose your delusion or it will choose you." So what does this mean? I mean we can't really just choose reality. I mean I guess we could, but that's very Burning Man.
Beau Lotto: [00:40:08] I can go to Burning Man.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:40:08] Yeah, I can tell.
Beau Lotto: [00:40:11] Yeah, choose your delusion. What does that mean? And this is both a playful statement but in some sense a literal statement. The point is that we have to often, we are only ever reflexively responding to the world and we play a game with ourselves. We think we're making a choice, but we're not. When I'm studying my bumblebees because I train bumblebees. The bumblebees might think that they're making a choice, but I already know what they're going to do. And so much of our behavior is, is almost pre-determined in that way.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:40:48] My wife is so interested, she keeps bees, so she's smiled big time. I didn't know you could train bumblebees.
Beau Lotto: [00:40:54] Train bumblebees and we can even etch them into sculptures, the flight of the bumblebee into glass. So bees are just like little flying people, right? The beauty of them is they have a million brain cells, but they're solving the most complex problems that even our most sophisticated artificial intelligence systems can't solve. Playing chess is easy. Relatively to recognizing a flower from different directions, different orientations, and then behaving accordingly. That's what's hard. So a bee can do that. So we train bees to figure out what's going on inside their heads, understand what's going on inside ours. So the bees are effectively in a reflexive state and that's often how we live our lives. We're very scripted and there's efficiency and utility in that, but it's also very scripted and it's only when you have awareness of why you're doing what you're doing, that creates the possibility of doing it differently.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:41:47] So the point of choosing your delusion is to evoke that idea that you can actually be an active agent in the constructions of the meanings that you give. So if someone shouts at you, whatever you do with that moment, how you respond to the thing determines its meaning. Your shouting is neither -- you could argue -- it has no meaning to it. I project the meaning onto it and I project that meaning by deciding how I'm going to respond to you. So if I respond to you with anger, that's what that means. If I respond to you with compassion, like, "Oh, really, maybe the bees stung and it hurt, right? Now, that's a very different response in a very different meaning to your same stimulus. So the stimulus has not changed but my meaning has. So in that sense I have a choice and I only have that choice if I know I have one. And you only have that choice if you know how perception works. So that's the whole role of deviate is to give that awareness of how your perception is working so that you can come an active agent in how you perceive.
Beau Lotto: [00:42:54] Now, of course, if you don't have eyes, you can't choose to see, and it can actually be incredibly detrimental to create that measure. Say, you know, just see whatever you want to see. No, of course, you can't. You still have to function in a world that has gravity, right? That has light, but we have more freedom than we think we do. We have more agency than we think we do.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:43:14] How do we practice that? Are there ways that you can strengthen the skill of deviation?
Beau Lotto: [00:43:20] And I think the words you use are exactly that it is a skill and it is a practice. So first of all, you have to begin with awareness. If you don't have awareness of how and why you're seeing what you do, you have no potential freedom. Now that you have that, the next step is that you have to realize that everything you're doing has biases and assumptions, not sometimes all the time, and most of the time those biases and assumptions have a real significant advantageous and value to it. You know, right now you have an assumption that the chair's not going to give away. When you take a step that your legs aren't going to give away. So these assumptions keep us alive and they're embedded in us. The problem is we don't know what they are. So the practice is often having this awareness that awareness gives you humility and that humility creates the possibility of doubt and it's through that doubt that gives you the possibility now of responding differently. Because if you are seeing the world as it really is, why would you ever want to see it differently? That's the beauty of not seeing the world as it really is by seeing the utility because the world changes, which means you need to change with it because what was once useful may no longer be useful. You've learned English, now you need to learn German because the world has changed because I'm now in Germany, so the world is always changing and complexifying and we need to complexify with it and we never could if we always just see it as it really is. So the message is that you have agency and then you have to practice that and you have to practice it by letting go. And then creating new ones.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:45:00] We see a lot of instances in which circumstances or context, I guess, changes our perceptions. I talked with Shawn Acor about happiness in an earlier episode and one of the kind of crazy anecdotes or principles that he brought up was hills and summits look lower when we're with someone else or in a better mood. The coins look bigger, I think to people who maybe don't have enough money. And distances seem farther if we're carrying a heavy load. What's actually going on in the brain here?
Beau Lotto: [00:45:36] Because when you're looking at distance, you're not actually looking at distance. You're looking at the meaning of the information, not the information. Right. So what you're anticipating is how far I have to walk. So if you ask people -- you put them in front of a gradient and you ask them to rate how steep that gradient is then you have them use their hands, say Oh, it's about that steep. You put a heavy backpack on them and now they're going to say it's steeper. Why? Because what they're perceiving is that effort, they're going to have to put in to climbing. It's that effortless. It's that meaning that you're perceiving. It just seems you're representing the world accurately and that sometimes you get it a bit wrong. No, no. Is that what you're always perceiving as the meaning. And color and pain and pleasure, make those explicit because color's not out there. It's literally a function. So too often with distance. people say, "Oh, he's a meter away. Of course I'm seeing that accurately and sometimes I get a little bit off." Well, either that's true and it's everything else that there's somehow two very different kinds of ways of perceiving or we have one kind of way of perceiving is that one seems to correlate more with accuracy than another.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:46:45] Right? Okay. So I'm not seeing a 45-degree-hill that suddenly, look, steer --
Beau Lotto: [00:46:48] Your brain isn't 45 degrees.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:46:50] It's just perceiving based on all --
Beau Lotto: [00:46:55] It's perceiving effort. And so that is a very useful way of receiving.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:47:01] Wow. Okay. So then if this context can be I'm carrying something heavy or don't have enough money, then can there be contexts that are different? Like, I feel powerless in society, therefore I perceive things differently or --
Beau Lotto: [00:47:18] which happens.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:47:18] -- this happens
Beau Lotto: [00:47:18] We actually which does happen. Yes. So we actually have a study showing what happens to your perception if you feel disempowered versus you feel empowered. And in fact, in that, um, the way you get people to feel disempowered, it's not a methodology, we've developed but it's our colleagues at UCL developed. But the strategy is this, I get you to imagine a time that you were very stressed and out of control versus someone else who felt, I also imagine to a time that they felt very stressed but in control. And I get you to imagine that for five minutes, as much detail as possible. The colors, the smells, like everything. And then I get you to write it down when I'm getting into is two, imagine, visualize that moment and that's like, great, that's done anything great, but I don't feel any different. But now I show you my illusions, my illusions like where I give you something that is a gray on a dark background versus a gray that's on a light background and the one that's on the dark background will look lighter than one's light background. Now if you're disempowered, you actually see that to be a stronger illusion than you're feeling empowered.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:48:30] Yeah but why.
Beau Lotto: [00:48:30] And it's because we think that everything your brain is often trying to do is trying to increase certainty. Because to be in uncertainty, during evolution, had increased the probability of death. If you couldn't predict, it increases the chance of you dying. So when your brain goes into uncertainty, that's a scary place. That's why we're afraid of the dark, because you literally can't predict the next step. So suddenly everyone can imagine this, right? If you're walking through a space, think of just the speed at which you walk through a space. When the lights are on, you walk through you quickly, why wouldn't you? Yeah, lights are off. Do you walk through at the same speed?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:49:11] Oh, of course, not. I'm going to go into a wall.
Beau Lotto: [00:49:13] Why? Exactly.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:49:14] Because I might fall down the stairs.
Beau Lotto: [00:49:15] Because I can't predict what's going to happen. The next step, that's what happens when we go into uncertainty. And your brain has this fear, what's the fear response? Their fear response is, get out of here. When you're disempowered, the world feels more uncertain. Why? Because you would have less control. So the reason why the illusion goes up is because you start using context more. You're trying to create certainty. People actually became more gullible. They're more willing to believe something. We would tell them, if I show them just six scenes that are just random dot patterns and I hide three in three of those scenes, hidden figures, and I say, which of those six senses has a hidden figure in it? The disempowered person is more likely to say all six. The one in power is say, "Oh, it's those three." So they start seeing patterns when no pattern exists.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:05] I feel like this explains our election results.
Beau Lotto: [00:50:08] This is actually in some sense, you're absolutely right. This is what politicians and people who try to control other people do all the time. Not just in politics, but also interpersonal relationships. So one thing you can do if you're incumbent and you'll see this often, is how do you control -- I create uncertainty, but I'm the only source of relieving that uncertainty.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:32] Exactly.
Beau Lotto: [00:50:32] So I say, you know what? The world suddenly is going to be really scary but fortunately I can solve that problem.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:40] Well, we see it in abusive relationships too. Like, "Why do you stay with him?" "Well, I don't want to be alone." "Okay, well being lonely sucks, but really what you're scared of is this boogeyman of what's even worse than going home to somebody who punches you in the face.
Beau Lotto: [00:50:53] That's right. So that's how powerful the fear of uncertainty is because it's literally linked to death. Seasickness is a consequence of uncertainty. You go down below in a boat and your eyes are moving and register in your boat and your eyes are saying, “I'm standing still.” “You’re inner self saying, no, no, you're moving and your brain can't deal with that conflict, so it gets ill. So you see this in interpersonal relationships. So if you and I are in a relationship, I could create a sense of uncertainty. So, "what were you doing last night?" Now suddenly I've created a power dynamic because you kind of want to know. Why, because you want certainty. But I'm the only one who can relieve that certainty for you. Now I have an element of control over you. And you see this unfortunately in interpersonal relationships all the time and by crate, and this is the power of honesty, right?
Beau Lotto: [00:51:43] The power of honesty is if I give something to you, I'm actually decreasing your certainty. That's the one particularly powerful aspect of honesty.
Beau Lotto: [00:51:53] Wait, I don't understand that. So if you ask me a question. I give you an honest response. I'm decreasing the uncertainty for it because I'm making it less ambiguous and decreasing the uncertain and that's a tremendous gift. That's generosity because now you have the basis by which to make a decision. Your decision might be, "Thank you very much. I'm leaving," which is a state of vulnerability. So there's tremendous vulnerability in that trust and creating that certainty for another person. But that's also one of the reasons why we don't do it because you might walk away if you really knew.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:28] However, it's also going into a sales perspective. It's actually a really good technique to be honest. And I say technique it sort of loosely because, of course, short term you can lie your way to a sale easily. But if you create certainty in someone else and they go, wow, this person had the option to lie to me, didn't do it.
Beau Lotto: [00:52:46] That's right.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:47] Gave me certainty. I decided not to do business with them. This is a person who gives me certainty. I trust this person. I'm seeking the certainty because I'm human. This is somebody I want to be around and do more with, even if I don't want to do it.
Beau Lotto: [00:53:01] Why is that? So we call that integrity. And unfortunately, increasingly there's almost like a culture of lying now. Whether it be through Facebook and all this, where people are in the very least exaggerating the truth, if not just being outright lying.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:53:18] Right.
Beau Lotto: [00:53:19] Disingenuous. But the consequence is that the other person comes increasingly unpredictable. If I predict you, you're now scary to me because I have no idea what you're going to do next.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:53:31] Unless you're a teenage girl in which case then you're wildly fascinating.
Beau Lotto: [00:53:34] But that's the element, to be honest, that's the element where we’ve also that intrigue but we want that entry not to be random. If I can predict that this is where you become creative or this is where I can't predict you, but I always know that you're going to go well rather than bad. Then we start thinking about what's their values because if you're both unpredictable and only about you, well, now I have no idea if you're going to go right or left, right or good or bad. But if you are honest and predictable, but you're also predictably unpredictable, and I know he has a good heart, he's going to go towards the good or he's going to try to, well now I have that combination of certainty and a comfortable form of uncertainty.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:22] You just summed up everything I did wrong in high school. Our brains look for assumptions, right? Like fear of heights was one of the ones that you gave in the book. Can we talk about this a little bit? Because the assumptions thing is interesting for me. We want patterns that make things easier. Am I speaking your language here? I think a lot of these assumptions, they come from experience. But I want to talk about this because this is what limits our perception.
Beau Lotto: [00:54:53] That's right. So if you think about what does history gave me, what does history give the brain? What it gives your brain are biases and assumptions? That's which in a sense, what you're constructing and inheriting. And in fact, you could argue that most of them you have inherited. We've inherited the assumptions of our culture, of our evolution, and ancestors and they're embedded in our brain. Okay. What's the, what's the significance of having those assumptions and biases? Well, they're very useful because now I can use those biases to generate a behavior given a stimulus that is inherently meaningless.
Beau Lotto: [00:55:28] So it's like, "Oh, there's that dark patch on the ground. I have the bias and assumption that it's a hole I'm going to walk around." I have the bias and assumption that it's a hole, I'm going to walk about. I will be bad, that would be bad if I step into it, so I'm going to go walk around. So that's great. The challenge is not only do they facilitate a behavior, but they also are constrained straw behavior. So your brain never makes a big jump. It only makes a small step. I can't get from here to the door without passing to the space in between. What is sitting right next to me, metaphorically and my next step is determined by what my biases are. Again, coming back to, if you shout to me, my bias is that you're angry, but I don't have to have that bias. But let's say my next step is to go to anger because you're angry with me. Okay, well, that's a function of what my biases were. I might have a different assumption that you can't hear me and that's why you're shouting.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:17] Right. I'm really excited about something and I really want you to see it.
Beau Lotto: [00:56:20] Yeah. So now I have a different possibility, but if I'm someone who only ever goes, thinks that's anger, I have one place to go. And I will go to different places if I have different biases and assumptions. These biases and assumptions shape what we do next
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:34] So they kind of make up our personality.
Beau Lotto: [00:56:36] In fact, you could argue that that's what makes us who we are is our collection of biases and assumptions, which means if you ever want to see differently, first you have to become aware that you have them and the second is to change them because if you change your biases, you change your perceptions. If you changed your assumptions, you changed your perceptions.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:55] A simple example of this, and this is probably an oversimplification, but whatever on the king of that. I grew up in like this very safe suburban neighborhood that will surprise no one listening or watching this show and I would easily run up to a friend of mine that I saw walking down the road with his dog and run up behind him and give him a little shoves. "Hey Tim, what's going on?" And he'd go, "Hey, how are you doing? Turn around with a smile." I started working in Detroit, which I don't know if you've ever been there.
Beau Lotto: [00:57:24] I have.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:57:24] It could be a little rough sometimes. I learned pretty quickly not to run behind my friends in the road and shoved them and go, "Hey," Because it's a good way to at the very least get punched in the face or just scare the crap out of your friend in a way that he's not really going to appreciate.
Beau Lotto: [00:57:40] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:57:40] And some of that's contextual. But if you ran out, if it was my first time in Detroit and someone ran up behind me and did that, I'd probably just turn around and smile because that was my set of assumptions dictated that that's what you do.
Beau Lotto: [00:57:53] That's the next most likely possibility given your set of assumptions.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:57:56] Right, yeah. But somebody who grew up in that area or we're here in New York right now, Manhattan, if you walk up to a tourist and you do that, they might turn around and smile and laugh. But if you do it to somebody who grew up here, you're probably going to get clocked in the teeth.
Beau Lotto: [00:58:10] Possibly. Right. Yeah. And so, I mean this makes it such a really nice example and it makes a couple of really interesting points about thinking about what is creativity because it's linked in to that. So, but what you're demonstrating is how biases that we've learned or inherited affect the next step that we're going to take. And that next step that we take is determined by biases and assumptions, which is different for everybody. Why you can get the exact same stimulus resulting in different behaviors from different people, like the dress.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:58:43] The dress.
Beau Lotto: [00:58:43] how these people saw it differently. Because at that point they were applying different assumptions and biases in their brains. And then what would happen when they would flip it is because they would flip those biases and assumptions. So this actually relates to creativity and actually to communication. Because if you said to someone in Detroit and when you jump up behind them and they get angry with you, you could actually view them through your own set of biases and assumptions, "What an idiot? Why on earth are you doing this? I mean, why are you angry? I'm just jumping up behind you and saying, "Hi." But by not taking to account the fact that they might have different biases, assumptions, you can't understand their behavior, their behavior is just wrong because it's not yours. Because what makes sense to you makes sense to you. We all make sense to ourselves. Why? Because we all have these biases and assumptions that didn't determine our behavior and they all make sense. So when someone's not making sense, it's not because they have their biases and assumptions and they're just behaving randomly. It's because they're behaving according to their set of biases and assumptions. So to understand someone is not necessarily to understand what they did is to understand why they did it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:59:56] Okay. Maybe I do need to roll up that J, because for what I'm about -- but if our assumptions control our perceptions and our perceptions form our assumptions, are we stuck in a loop?
Beau Lotto: [01:00:08] Yeah. Yup. And probably MDMA would be better.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:12] Right, Yeah, some kind of psychedelics or something.
Beau Lotto: [01:00:16] Yes. In that sense, you can never step outside your assumptions. So this concept of stepping outside your box, stepping outside the box is a silly idea because all you do is you step inside a new box. You can never leave them, but what you can do is expand them. You can increase them, you can also change them. So this is super powerful when thinking about conflict. So if you and I are in conflict, my aim is unfortunately the way we've been taught in this culture is to prove that you're wrong and to shift you towards me.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:46] Sure. Persuasion or debate.
Beau Lotto: [01:00:48] And problem is you're trying to do exactly the same thing. You're trying to prove that I'm wrong and to shift me towards you. But notice that conflict is set up to win but not learn because to learn is to move to move from where you are. But if we're only on a line because, basically, our assumptions are constraining to that line. There's no else for me to move, which is towards you, away from you. But if I expand my space of possibility, I become more open. I become more open to the possibility that a stimulus might cause someone to be angry or happy. Now I have a more complex and we're open to more possibilities. Now, when we're in conflict, I have the chance of actually moving, not necessary towards you, but just away from where I am. I have the possibility of actually learning and you can only do that if you have space to move into. In other words, you're more open.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:01:42] Do you think that psychedelics could help break this loop since they alter our perceptions and this caused connections in places that were not used to having,
Beau Lotto: [01:01:50] yeah, so there's research to show that this is, this is the case. We actually know that we can facilitate. This is recent research that we've done with Cirque du Soleil where we've been measuring the power of awe and wonder on your brain. What happens when you experience awe, when you go to a magnificent landscape and you feel small but connected to the world. The pattern of activity that's going inside your head is not unlike the pattern of activity is going inside your head when he takes the, and you're feeling small but connected to the world, you're diminishing your ego and what's happening is also you increase the connectivity and what's happening is that you're creating the possibility of new experiences. You're becoming more open, you're letting go of your reflexive responses and therefore creating the possibility of new biases coming in. Like you learned by going to Detroit, you learn the possibility of another bias. You complexified yourself. You didn't stick with your own bias that that was a wrong behavior. The only right behavior is to turn around and be happy. You expanded yourself by entertaining the possibility that that was also a legitimate response. And now you're entertaining two possibilities at the same time for the same stimulus, you're now more complex.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:03:05] So travel can do this.
Beau Lotto: [01:03:07] Travel is a beautiful way. So you could argue that travel is a great way to basically, um, reveal yourself to yourself and to become aware of what your own biases are. Because if you don't know them, how could you ever question them?
Jordan Harbinger: [01:03:22] Right? And just like colors, you can't really see your own bias until you have another set, right? Yeah.
Beau Lotto: [01:03:27] And also to expand them because suddenly you start seeing biases that you never had, but then you can also think about travel metaphorically. So that's literal travel, but think about a book. A book is travel. A book is to go to a new place, a new description, a new kind of person. In fact, you could argue all the best technologies, the most transformative technologies made the invisible visible. They enable us to see what we couldn't see before. Most technologies are focused on efficiency. They enable you to do what you could already do faster and easier. Transformative technologies again, you see what you couldn't see before. So think of a telescope, think of a microscope or a book, or the sail that was invented where suddenly you can actually go places that you can never go before. So think of when Galileo pointed out that telescope and discovered that our assumptions and biases that we were the center of the universe was wrong. How challenging that was for people.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:04:28] Well, yeah, I mean he got thrown in freaking prison.
Beau Lotto: [01:04:31] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:04:31] Talk about triggered.
Beau Lotto: [01:04:34] And that was the travel. That was the travel in space. Microscope, you could travel in space, and again, a book. So travel is fundamental to expanding your brain.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:04:44] Beau, thank you. This has been super interesting. I know you hate selling your books, so I'll do it in the showclose and mention it so that we don't turn the whole thing into a sales page. That's what we were talking about before. This is really fascinating. I know a lot of people were just like, "Wait, what happened? I got to rewind this?"
Beau Lotto: [01:04:58] Roll a J.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:04:59] Like you say, roll a j, so I really appreciate it.
Beau Lotto: [01:05:02] Thank you very much. I really enjoyed it.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:05:06] Great big thank you to Beau Lotto. God, this was so interesting. This stuff fascinates me to no end. It does not get old hearing about how amazing the brain is and all this perception stuff is just crazy. Beau Lotto is a smart dude. We did this in his house. He's just got so many, so many cool things going on. His book is called Deviate and you can find that in the show notes as well of course.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:05:28] You want to know how I managed to book all these great people and manage my relationships using systems and tiny habits. Checkout our Six-Minute Networking course, which is free over at jordanharbinger.com/course. I know you're going to do it later. You just, you're really busy right now. You cannot make up for lost time when it comes to relationships and networking. The number one mistake I see people make is postponing this not digging the well before they get thirsty and once you need relationships, you're too late. These drills just take a few minutes per day. This is the stuff I wish I knew a decade ago. This is absolutely crucial, and it's at jordanharbinger.com/course. Speaking of building relationships, tell me your number one takeaway here from Beau Lotto. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram. There's a video of this interview on our YouTube channel at jordanharbinger.com/youtube.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:06:15] This show is produced in association with podcast one and this episode is co-produced by Jason "Deviant" DeFillippo and Jen Harbinger. Show notes and worksheets are by Robert Fogarty, and I'm your host Jordan harbinger. Remember, we rise by lifting others, so the fee for this show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful, which should be in every episode. So please share the show with those you love, and even those you don't. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
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