Bryan Johnson (@bryan_johnson) is an entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and founder and CEO of Kernel, a company developing advanced neural interfaces, and OS Fund, a venture capital firm that invests in early-stage science and technology companies.
What We Discuss with Bryan Johnson:
- Why humanity needs to co-evolve with artificial intelligence if we are to survive as a species.
- What future literacy is and why it’s crucial for understanding the role humanity will play in the decades to come.
- The steps being taken to comprehend what makes biological systems fail in order to improve their capabilities.
- How privacy inequality could create more of a disparity between people than economic disparity ever could.
- Why Bryan advises us to be skeptical of advice — and how we can discern between what’s applicable to our own situation and what’s completely useless.
- And much more…
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There’s a lot of paranoia surrounding the potential of artificial intelligence to usurp humanity’s claim as Planet Earth’s dominant species. But what if it turns out AI isn’t really a competitor, but a collaborator in the future of humankind? What if, instead of being nudged aside by a creation that can outthink us, our evolution as a species depends on the enhancements this creation can offer in tandem with what makes us human?
On this episode we talk to Bryan Johnson, who sold his payment company Braintree for $800 million to fund research into how we might make this best-of-both-worlds future a reality. With brain-machine interfaces that will blend humanity with AI for cognitive supremacy, we’ll be able to overhaul what we care about, how we resolve differences, the way we work, how our political and economic systems operate, how we treat our planet, and more. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
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THANKS, BRYAN JOHNSON!
If you enjoyed this session with Bryan Johnson, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at email@example.com.
Resources from This Episode:
- OS Fund
- Bryan Johnson’s Website
- Bryan Johnson at Medium
- Bryan Johnson at LinkedIn
- Bryan Johnson at YouTube
- Bryan Johnson at Twitter
- Girls Do Badly at Math When Told Boys Better: Study by Belinda Goldsmith, Reuters
- My Advice? Be Skeptical of Advice by Bryan Johnson
- From So Simple a Beginning: Darwin’s Four Great Books (Voyage of the Beagle, The Origin of Species, The Descent of Man, The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals) by Charles Darwin
- David Eagleman | How Your Brain Makes Sense of the World, TJHS 27
- Homo Erectus, Smithsonian National Museum of History
- Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues Needed for Moral Perfection by J.D. Thomas, Accessible Archives
- Slavery and the Abolition Society, Benjamin Franklin Historical Society
- 13 Steps to Cognitive “Perfection” by Bryan Johnson, Future Literacy
- Your Bias Is…
- Bias Blind Spot, Wikipedia
- The Negativity Bias: Why the Bad Stuff Sticks by Margaret Jaworski, Psycom
- Your Data is Your Property by Bryan Johnson, #OwnYourData
- Privacy Inequality: The Most Brutal Form of Inequality You’ve Ever Imagined by Borja Moya, PrivateID Blog
- Rebooting the Brain by Bryan Johnson, Future Literacy
- Quantum Leap
- Finite and Infinite Games by James Carse
- Long Live Gopher: The Techies Keeping the Text-Driven Internet Alive by Ernie Smith, Vice
- Hot Ones
- Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
Transcript for Bryan Johnson | A Plan for the Future of the Human Race (Episode 223)
Jordan Harbinger: [00:00:03] Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger as always. I'm here with producer Jason DeFillippo. My friend Bryan Johnson created a payment company called Braintree and later sold it for $800 million in cash. He promptly turned around and devoted an enormous chunk of this money to developing brain-machine interfaces. In other words, trying to solve the enormously complex problem of connecting our human brains to computers and artificial intelligence. This problem is very, very complex. If our brains were simple enough for us to understand, we'd be too dumb to understand it in the first place. That and a whole bunch of other reasons, we can't just plug wires into our head without any sort of negative consequences. And today on the show, we get into the weeds about the future of humanity and why we need to coevolve with artificial intelligence if we are to survive as a species. Bryan is very, very passionate about this and he's a freaking genius. So we both get pretty excited here. We'll also discuss how and why being able to interface with our brain, Bryan believes is the most consequential endeavor of the human race. Even more important than getting to Mars or other similarly large endeavors. And by the end of this episode, you'll see that the future of the human race lies in our ability to evolve our cognition because everything lives downstream from our minds. That includes what we care about, how we resolve differences, the future of work, how our political and economic systems work, how we treat our earth, and how we build AI in the first place.
[00:01:28] If you want to know how we get all these great people in our orbit, it's all about that network. And we're teaching you how to build one. The course is free, it's called Six-Minute Networking. It's over at jordanharbinger.com/course and by the way, most of the guests on the show actually subscribe to the course and the newsletter. So come join us and you'll be in great company. All right, here's Bryan Johnson.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:01:48] So you believe human intelligence and AI will essentially be symbiotic in the future. And that's kind of a weird concept for most people because I think the people who are afraid of AI ago, it's going to take over and we're just going to be kind of enslaved to it or they just go human intelligence. We're like ants compared to this God that we're building that will be AI. But you're kind of looking at it differently.
Bryan Johnson: [00:02:12] Yeah. In both of those frames, we use two frames. One is the frame of AI is going to basically threaten us with our future and the other frame is that it's somehow going to take something away from us and most people have latched onto those narratives. They've accepted those statements and then built upon it with their own ideas about the world. And I would challenge the primary assessment to suggest that we need to view this through the amygdala of fight-or-flight and be scared of this. The frame I'm interested in is we all want to be our best selves. We will do everything in our lives to try to become our best selves. And to put that in context, imagine if our hands behaved like our brains did so in this conversation randomly, my hand would swing across the table and swipe your drink away. It would knock your iPad down. I would slap you in the face because we wouldn't have control of our brains. As much as we want to. We all struggle with various things of how our brain works, so therefore we do a lot of things to try to control our brains. We meditate, we do a lot of self-talk. We do therapy. We do educational. But our hand on the other side is a controlled system. It is rare that your hand does something you don't want it to do.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:30] I will admit though, I do sometimes think what would happen if I just reached across and slapped him in the face right now. Does that happen to everybody or is that just me? I've asked my listeners in this. A lot of people said it happens to them too.
Bryan Johnson: [00:03:40] Interesting. Maybe we should try it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:42] Yeah. You know, maybe at the end of the interview, I want to get some good here first before you—
Bryan Johnson: [00:03:46] Get some flow.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:46] Run out of the room.
Bryan Johnson: [00:03:48] But the frame I think that's interesting. If we acknowledged that we do want to be our best selves and that we do want greater control over our brain, as a first assumption. There are other things here too. Then machine learning, artificial intelligence, whatever word you want to say has the most promise out of any tool we have to help us improve ourselves. And so there are the obvious things we can talk about and how we can prove ourselves, but there are the more non-obvious things we can help. We can talk about improving ourselves. It's in some, I think we have gotten this discussion wrong from the beginning because we haven't had the tools that actually allow us people to be experiencing how these new tools and machine learning can help us in ways we care about the very most.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:32] Yeah, I would love an example because I think most people are going, yeah, that all sounds good, but aren't we going to build paperclip making robots that rip all of us to shreds in the service of making more paper clips.
Bryan Johnson: [00:04:42] Exactly. I'll give you a couple of simple examples. If you tell a 12-year-old girl prior to her taking a math test, that girls are as good as boys at math, she has a higher likelihood of doing better on that math test.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:57] Is that true?
Bryan Johnson: [00:04:58] That's true. That's priming. And the same thing is true if you are signing up for your retirement plan and when you join a new company, if you have opted into the retirement plan during that signup process, not where you have to opt-in, but you're by default opted in instead of you have it and then you have to opt-out if you don't want to be in the retirement plan, signup rates are much higher. So the circumstances around us that prime our brain. And so in this conversation, what you're wearing in this room setting, what I had for breakfast, what I heard—
Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:28] I ate protein, by the way, if you're wondering.
Bryan Johnson: [00:05:31] Everything around us has a dramatic influence on what we do and we don't realize how influential to think those things are. And so imagine a scenario where I have an interface on my head and it's pretty not my neural activity. It has a baseline and I can create a closed-loop system with machine learning that is feeding me information that helped me optimize my current state. So I'll take that 12-year-old girl for example. She can do better on that math test. If you simply say girls are as good as boys and doing math, she's going to improve. That's a simple statement, but there are more sophisticated things that could be done to help her. And so if you start applying these tools to our lives imagine preparing for this discussion, you and I had. You walk into this meeting. Just like both of us, we haphazardly prepared this morning for this conversation. We have no idea how we were primed to have this. And so these new tools of machine learning and brain interfaces will open up this new era of human improvement that we've never had before. That's the frame I think that is most interesting is that we are limited only by our tools and it's going to open up this new horizon that's going to be far bigger than we can imagine right now.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:40] Yeah, this makes sense. Just on a small, small scale, things that I would want to know during an interview that I can't get would be like, “Oh, is this person nervous or do they did not like that question or their board right now and they want to go.” “Oh, they really liked this other question. Let's go down that.” I mean emotional intelligence can do a little bit of it, but I'm really just guessing. Because sometimes people, I'll go, “Oh, this person like really does not like me. They cannot wait to get out of here.” And the truth is Moby had to pee for 45 minutes of our two-hour long conversations. And I should've just like known that and be like, “Hey, let's take five.” Didn't come up with that. Just assumed. “Wow. Maybe he doesn't like me.”
Bryan Johnson: [00:07:18] I just totally agree. So I guess an example, this Saturday, I've been hiking a lot lately. I've been having hip pain and I've been uncertain why I've been having hip pain, so I went in and got a new pair of shoes. I walked into this door and they did a series of tests on me. I sat on this machine, they looked at my arch structure, my weight, my size, my width. I ran on the treadmill. They recorded me that they did an analysis impact of how I ran the structure of my running and then they suggested a shoe structure for me and also create a custom insole for my shoe. They actually measured it and molded it on the spot.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:50] Wow. That's awesome.
Bryan Johnson: [00:07:52] As I walked away thinking how in the world like I can't imagine ever buying shoes any other way. You walk into a store and you look at shoes on the stand and you say, “I'll take that one.”
Jordan Harbinger: [00:08:01] Right, because it's yellow.
Bryan Johnson: [00:08:02] It was yellow. That's right and you do that. But in this situation, I thought this is insane but I don't do the same thing for my brain. I don't get a full assessment for my brain that customizes my life on the kinds of information sources I have, what impact my friends have on me. What words trigger what the memories, what my childhood does to me subconsciously. This whole range of things. We are basically in an era right now, we have no idea what's going on inside our brain or the inputs they're influencing us. And once we bring this online, all of us say, “Oh my goodness, can you believe 10 years ago people used to just go about their day and they would, they would consume any news source that popped up. They'd listen to any podcasts they would have, they'd wear any clothes that they could find. And they didn't take into account this personalized nature of their brain and how they are optimized.” And so we'll look back like a blockbuster to Netflix and say, “That's insane. Can you believe people used to do that?” That's I think the most relevant frame and that will give us the greatest opportunity for all of us to be the kind of people we want plus more, which we can't even imagine.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:09:08] Yeah. It, I imagine having something that says, “Hey, whenever you hang out with these people you are less happy. You become less intelligent in terms of the way that you solve problems. They make you tired. You shouldn't hang out with them anymore,” and you go, “Oh, I never put that together because you don't have enough data points where I'm going high every time I hang out with them. I'm tired.” I mean, how many friends have you had in the past where you go after like 10 years. “I don't really like that guy. He drives me crazy.”
Bryan Johnson: [00:09:36] Or like also the case that these little nudges that you have between the relationship are if you and I are engaging here and we're trying to establish a relationship. If we had interfaces, if we could get neural data, perhaps we could have a machine learning counterpart suggesting things for you and I to talk about. Words we can use with each other, things we can avoid going down the path, like basically a personalized coach for you and me to connect more deeply. And maybe the things that irritate you about me I can be aware of. And your physical and your neural reactions so I can start adjusting and we can create deeper connections. These are the powers that interfaces plus machine learning create for us. That again is the most relevant discussion and not this is AI going to take over the world and should we be scared of the paperclip whole situation if we've missed the essence of this opportunity and it's run away with people's fear discussions, which is a fun topic. It makes everyone scared.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:10:26] Yeah, it's good sci-fi stuff.
Bryan Johnson: [00:10:27] But it's not, I think the practical application and really the opportunity we have with this technology.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:10:33] You'd mentioned that the ability to co-evolve with AI is important. If humanity were to identify as a singular thing to work on the thing that would demand the greatest minds of our generation, it's human intelligence. That's a big statement. Like, forget about getting to Mars, work on the brain or you know, do both, but like work on the brain also. What's the urgency here that you see with this? Or is there urgency at all? And I'm just sort of misreading your quote.
Bryan Johnson: [00:11:00] So basically after I sold Braintree for the very first time in my life, I had resources. I was poor in my childhood. I was broke as an entrepreneur. At the age of 35, I had money for the very first time. This was a goal I made when I was 21 years old, that I was going to make a whole bunch of money and then do something in the world that was useful.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:11:19] Yeah. I think you said, I want to be a millionaire by 30 and you overshot the millionaire goal by like a lot. Congratulations on that by the way.
Bryan Johnson: [00:11:28] Thank you. I mean so like I certainly worked very hard. I was also in the right place at that time. I got lucky. Like, these things happened. I got and I'm fortunate and so I thought at age of 35, I had this opportunity to ask the question, what one thing can I do in the world that maximum increases the probability that we will thrive as a species if I can pull one lever? Basically, how can I do now that matters in 500 years from now? Like that kind of time, right?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:11:57] Yeah. I think about that and my answer is I can't so enjoy your life, but you do it. You could do that. It's really, it is cool to think about though, right? My friend Neil Strauss asked me, “What are you doing now that anyone's going to care about in a hundred years?” Because I told him if I had 10 days left, I would have to record a lot of podcasts or something. And he's like, “No, you're missing the point. But something like this is such a big, bold, ambitious project that it's almost something that somebody who's got a tremendous amount of resources and has already achieved something big like with brain tree would even think about trying to do. Because for a lot of people, I think they look at it and go, there's no way that I can make an impact that's going to last a century or five centuries.
Bryan Johnson: [00:12:39] Here's the argument of why I chose that and why I said that, in that moment with resources, I knew I could decide on what I wanted to next. But I knew in that moment that I was going to exercise biases of what things I was aware about in the world and how I thought. And so the first thing I wanted to do was I wanted to understand everything I didn't know and acquire perspectives I didn't have. And so I spent roughly two and a half years for racially consuming information and people's opinions and people's perspectives. Asking everyone. I'd go to people who were working on interesting things to say, why are you working on this thing? Like what are you trying to solve? What are your assumptions stacks for doing this? What other options did you consider breaking down as much as I could, their entire intellectual architecture of that path they chose. And then I would frame that within the context of every of the person I spoke to and try to piece together all these bits. The one thing I found in common that they all had was everyone was using their mind right to the tone they given thing and then using their mind to build that given thing and everything everyone was talking about what they were, they were worried about and whether it be climate change or AI or health or fitness or politics or whatever, we're all products of the mind. So the one thing everyone had in common was the mind.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:53] So you're trying to draw this big circle around everything or you're trying to find something and they're so disparate that it's like, well if I draw a big enough circle, the only thing we have in common is we're all people and we're using our brains to do that
Bryan Johnson: [00:14:05] Exactly and climate change is a second-order problem of the mind. Should we be scared of AI or should we love AI or should it be more nuanced is a product of the mind. How we build AI, that proclamation, everything is a second-order consequence of our mind and so in looking at the mind, there was technology for example, like FMR eye to scan our brains. There's EEG which is low-resolution noninvasive stuff, which is all that helpful. There's implantable stuff, but basically, the world neuroscience had hit a ceiling on the technological tools they'd had and the insight was if we had better technology to interface with our brain that allowed us to acquire high fidelity neural signal to actually get in there and figure out what's going on the brain and then married this up with machine learning. We would have a chance to start co-evolving in our minds and that would affect everything else in existence. And specifically, in doing this, there was one conclusion I felt I want argument. I felt most compelled on that is that if we want to thrive, if you and I want to say in 50 years from now, humanity is going to be in a better spot than you and I could even imagine in our wildest and almost optimistic anticipations. That is that Darwin showed that species survive, not by a function of how intelligent they are, but by how fast they adapt to change themselves. If you basically say as a human now and then if you say you take a spectrum of how fast can we adapt to our circumstances now. There's take the extreme of you if someone loses eyesight and they have to read out themselves to the world quickly. That's an extreme version of a human adapting themselves. Or can that person change a habit which is a bit slower and then you take it out to a whole bunch of us and say, how can eight billion of us change our habits?
[00:15:47] How long does it take us through that human adaptation? It has a certain speed and then if you say the future's going to change very quickly, here are the, here are the forces that are going to change the future and we think that humans are going to have to change roughly this fast in order to adapt the future plus things we don't know. And I look at those two things I thought, oh-oh those are different numbers that I'm seeing because we like status quo, we defend the status quo, we liked the way things are. The future is demanded as a change very fast. And so that was the single thing that got me most interested in the way we are going to survive ourselves and create thriving features. We have to increase the rate in which we adapt. We have to improve our evolutionary path. And specifically, the fastest way to do that is our minds. Because if you do a change in your genome—I'm a big fan of the genome. I've invested in a ton of companies doing gene editing and gene sequencing. But the mind you, if we had an interface, we could begin evolving ourselves within millisecond right now. And so that's, that was my conclusion is. I looked around the world there was good work being done in various areas, but nobody was with a concerted effort building specifically technology to try to break through the ceiling that enabled this new era of neuroscience before it, and that's what I decided to do.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:17:06] Yeah, it's incredible. I know you bootstrapped Braintree, which for those of you who don't know what bootstrap means, essentially means not taking a bunch of outside capital. There's probably more to it, but so you put $100 million into Kernel to try to do the interface. I'm wondering, $100 million sounds like a whole lot, but when you're talking about technology that doesn't exist, I'm wondering just how fast that money goes and you go, wait a minute, where is it?
Bryan Johnson: [00:17:32] Building Kernel is it has to be one of the most difficult companies in the world. Unquestionably. We have in any given path, we are on the bleeding edge of engineering and physics and machine learning and software. Yeah. Nothing is easy.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:17:48] Like every component of this as well. We don't know. It's never been at, well we have to advance this if that's even going to be possible and then we got to do this other thing.
Bryan Johnson: [00:17:56] Exactly, there's absolutely nothing easy about it and it requires expertise from every field of science and engineering and you need to figure out how these complicated systems work together. And so yes, 100 million is a starting point, but it is not adequate. And it's the case that a brain interface really has not entered into the public imagination. There have been robust discussions about gene editing, about AI, about all the things. We are nascent as a, as a society and how we even think about, talk about because no one thinks the interfaces are a possibility. They think that they're 20, 30, 40, 50 years down the road, maybe an invasive likely no one thinks they're even possible for the near term, therefore we just haven't wanted to really discuss it. So we haven't established double capillary, we don't have stories, we don't have narratives.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:18:45] You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest, Brian Johnson. We'll be right back.
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[00:22:05 Thanks for listening and supporting the show and to learn more and get links to all the great discounts you just heard from our amazing sponsors, visit jordanharbinger.com/deals and 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 Brian Johnson. That link is in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com/podcast. If you'd like some tips on how to subscribe to the show, just go to jordanharbinger.com/subscribe. Subscribing to the show is absolutely free. It just means that you get all of the latest episodes in your podcast player as they're released so you don't miss a single thing from the show. And now back to our show with Brian Johnson.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:22:43] I was talking to David Eagleman on the show. I'm sure who, you know David Eagleman, he was on the show before and he's like, the problem is our brain doesn't want an implant in there. So it's going to push things out and right now the implants that we have are kind of like this giant metal straw that I have in my, my cup here, and you're just going, well, if you jam in and right there, it's going to maybe hit the right part of the brain and we need something that's going to be like 1000th of a human hair hitting this very specific point that we're not exactly sure how to find. So you got your work cut out.
Bryan Johnson: [00:23:11] We've started off looking at invasive, but we're actually building noninvasive technology.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:16] That makes more sense to my layman's brain.
Bryan Johnson: [00:23:19] Yeah. So we actually were working on that and it will not require surgery.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:22] And that's incredible because I'm thinking of brain interface, okay, so it's like a cochlear implant on steroids, but at some point, you just can't get enough things in the right places without messing up the brain to the point where maybe it doesn't even work anymore. In the future, what do you think in a, in X number of years we'll be wearing an ugly hat that can read our brain and, and interface with our brain or not sure yet. I mean, of course, not sure yet, but—
Bryan Johnson: [00:23:55] No, we were getting increasingly closer to knowing and my guess is that the things we will be able to demonstrate in the very near term will change everybody's perspective.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:24:13] Great. That's exciting.
Bryan Johnson: [00:24:14] Not just interfaces but in the promise of what we can do with a more tightly woven integration with our technology. In the past 10 years, we've flourished in our progress of creating remarkable technology. The sad thing, we've used that technology to largely become worse individually and collectively and the companies that have done it have used it. These companies do not care if my 15-year-old does his homework, finishes it on time, and goes to bed on time.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:24:48] No, they want to just get data and then go, “Hey, bug your dad to buy this for you.”
Bryan Johnson: [00:24:53] I think this is actually a situation where future generations will look back on us and they will think we are insane and irresponsible because we used our most powerful tools to literally make each other and all of us worse. And it's I think it'll be a head-scratcher that they will just be unable to comprehend why we were so foolish collectively. And I think it's also the case that I'd say that the thing that I don't understand, I guess, I'm baffled by is if we were to make a global priority, I would say that priority would be to radically improve ourselves as a species. And that does not mean we need a higher IQ. It does not mean a single metric. That means we to acknowledge that investing in becoming better and that is a subjective term would be the number one priority. Right now, however, we are obsessed by making our technology better, not ourselves. And we have chosen the wrong endpoint. And so we need to correct this so that if we make our technology better and we find that we're glued to making this thing work better, we need to somehow leverage technology to then feedback into a cycle. Because basically what we've done, we've created the perfect economic system to put humans out of business as fast as possible. We've created an economic cycle. We create better technology that makes us worse. Meanwhile, people make money, they make the technology better, it makes us worse and so we basically have made this cycle where we're, we're actively making people, humans irrelevant in the face of technology instead of making ourselves increasingly relevant and adaptive.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:33] Right, so you want a world where humans, not just machines and technology improves over time, which sounds like a pretty good idea.
Bryan Johnson: [00:26:41] I don't think we necessarily know what improvement means. I don't think we even know where we want to go. I don't think it's scoring higher necessarily on a higher IQ score. I think we have an opportunity to open our minds to what it means to be better. It's this whole new range of exploration where we can challenge our assumptions of what that direction looks like.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:27:02] So we can kind of evolve with machines instead of just going, well, eventually we'll build machines and they'll evolve for us.
Bryan Johnson: [00:27:07] Yeah. So specifically like when you and I talk, what you and I say to each other is highly predictable, algorithmically, extremely predictable.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:27:15] One of the biggest pieces of feedback I get on this podcast.
Bryan Johnson: [00:27:17] We're very similar and we both live in the United States. We're both in Los Angeles. We're roughly the same age. I couldn't say it right. It's like there are so many similarities between you and me, but if you pair you or me with machine learning, that machine learning is only as similar to us as we've built it. But it's a new form of intelligence that has the ability to take us out of our reality and expand our, we out our creativity, our assumptions. That's what I'm talking about in the power of this technology is we have built machine learning or AI to conform to our reality. But that does not mean that's the only reality that exists. You can build AI to take you into other realities that are not consumed. And that's the potential to start expanding our cognition beyond what you and I can do with each other. And so when you couple that up, now I've got this reach in my brain that I'd never had before cause I was limited before to only interact with humans.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:08] Oh, that's fascinating. So instead of just adapting to talk into your wife and your friends, you're literally adapting to something that's completely unconstrained. It doesn't have to worry about the fact that they had too much coffee and like con is distracted right now. You know, like all of that is gone.
Bryan Johnson: [00:28:24] That's right. Exactly, so what is the likelihood that you and I in this situation that I could say something genuinely surprising to you that makes you stop in your tracks and realize you've never had that thought before and it broke your understanding of reality. And that's rare for a human to do. It's hard for us to walk outside of our boundaries with machine learning. You can build it specifically for that to start breaking our reality and expand ourselves out. And that's why it's so powerful. But it's hindered in many ways by this closed-loop nature of us in our technology. And right now we can deal with our technology via screens and via voice commands, but not a true closed-loop with our brains. What is really going inside of our brains? What is really happening, the machine learning to create that closed-loop system?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:29:12] Right because we're, we're also limited right now by our senses, which I'm sure as you know. We tried again with David Eagleman. He's like, look, your eyes aren't seeing the thing that is in front of you. They're seeing all this data, they're getting all these light reflections. Your brain is what makes the picture, which is why when you lose your eyes, you can learn to see, literally see, just like anything else using, I don’t know what was it like an electrical grid on my tongue. And I thought, Oh, he's just feeling things or look and, and the truth is the vision that someone like that might have could be just as good as what we are looking at, which is impossible to understand when you first hear it. Because you're just going, but my eyes, because we don't have any concept that this, that our eyes are a keyboard or, or whatever and it's just a crappy USB keyboard from a 93 Pentium two. There's nothing advanced about it. I mean they're, they're miraculous in their own way. But there are other things that we can do. And even David Eagleman also had like that vest or whatever where deaf people can essentially hear using touch. These are just lead and leads and leads and leads beyond that where we don't need that stuff. The brain is talking to the brain or interacting with the machine. Not like I'm reading words off a screen, which is essentially going to look stone age once your stuff comes out.
Bryan Johnson: [00:30:30] That’s right. That the example that brings this point home to me is our brain tricks us into thinking that the reality we occupy right now is the only reality that exists. We have a hard time imagining other realities could exist, so when we imagined the future, we imagine everything around us changing things will get faster. Maybe we'll have flying cars like et cetera. What we do assume is we will always have the same reality-based construction we do now that we are rational, we’re logical that we're a knowledge acquiring toolmaking species. That's what we assume that is fixed in perpetuity. However, I think that could be a false assumption and we need to look back. Like for example, homo erectus two million years ago that had very rudimentary language and didn't have abstract concepts like math or other physics as well. So, imagine—
Jordan Harbinger: [00:31:21] It sounds like I have a lot with homo erectus.
Bryan Johnson: [00:31:24] Imagine speaking of Homo erectus, and first you didn't have the language barrier like Homo erectus. Imagine what is going to be like to be an evolved form of view in two million years. Homo erectus did not have the imaginative capacity to imagine the stock exchange and so we need to realize we are in the exact same position we have. There's no reason to, to believe we've reached this apex of reality construction and to imagine that our reality could be entirely unrecognizable to us in 30, 40, 50 years break our brains, but it's that starting point, which I think is the most interesting thing we could be doing right now, is opening up these possibilities that we could, and we may want to head in this evolutionary direction, but it's possible we've done it before so it's not a crazy idea. We're on this path. The question is can we replicate two million years of evolutionary advance in 30, 40, 50, a hundred years with technology and I don't know why we couldn't.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:32:22] Yeah, it seems like things are speeding up everywhere else. Why not in this department?
Bryan Johnson: [00:32:28] And the brain's plastic, we evolve. We can evolve very quickly. You and I can change ourselves very fast and so we know that we have that capacity, so it's, uh, we're in a really good starting point. I think we're only bottlenecked by our technology and if we can do that and start playing with ourselves and start opening up avenues, people might become really interested in exploring outside of ourselves.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:32:53] Definitely. Yeah. Especially if they don't have to let your buddy crack open their skull and stuff wires in there. I mean, that part that I thought, Whoa. I even had a question in here that you essentially have preempted with the old noninvasive thing where I thought like, how are you even going to convince people to let you go in there and try this? I mean they'll have, it would have to start with a medical application where it's like you're going to die. Can we open up your head? Yeah, yeah, sure. Go. Yeah. Yeah. You mentioned CRISPR and gene editing and wanting to interface with neuro code. Are we going to be able to go in there and fix errors? Are we only thinking right now about how do we sort of supercharge this thing? How do we add?
Bryan Johnson: [00:33:31] You're asking about gene editing?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:33:33] Yeah, but also even with our neural code, I guess I'm asking you about gene editing.
Bryan Johnson: [00:33:39] I see what you were saying, yeah, I know for example, if I had a brain or phase, one of the things I'd be most interested in is I did this experiment where Benjamin Franklin tried to become morally perfect. I think it was in 1723 or 53 I forget. He wanted to become like Socrates and Jesus and he said, I'm going to master humility, temperance. He wrote down these seven moral attributes and he tried to become morally perfect. So day one, he'd focused on humility and he'd make strides and being humble under that conception of humble. But when he shifted today to focus on another attribute, he would forget about humility cause the brain couldn't scaffold humility as one. And it goes as he basically he gave up and he's like, well I can't become morally perfect so I attempted—
Jordan Harbinger: [00:34:24] Did he own slaves or is that just one of those myths? Because also I'm like, how are you doing that your own slaves, I guess in the context of the day.
Bryan Johnson: [00:34:32] That's right. They were blinded to their own reality. Yeah. And we look back now and we say, we, we make assessments. But in that it's very hard when you're in the moment, true reality is not clear to you and we think it is. I tried to become following Benjamin Franklin's example. I tried to become cognitively perfect. And what I did is I took 188 chronically known biases. So tricks our brain plays on us to cope with the complicated world. So, for example—
Jordan Harbinger: [00:34:59] Confirmation bias, we love those as I have. I've got to send this to you. I'm playing cards. They're not even playing cards. They just have biases on them. Yeah. So when someone says, Oh well dah, dah, dah, dah, I go, hold on and I throw these cards out across my desk and I look for the bias and grab it. I love that stuff.
Bryan Johnson: [00:35:16] So in my thinking, for example, I accept as the true reality that my brain is highly flawed and that I am always making mistakes of distorting reality to help me make sense of a complicated world. And so I'm exercising these biases all the time. So I tried to make in cognitive perfect to say today, I'm not going to fall prey to confirmation bias. So if you asked me my opinion about something, I'm going to stop my brain tracks and say, hold on, you are telling me you believe in this existentially and you now are desperate to find information that confirms what you already believed. Now, if I had an interface that could help me become aware of my biases or if it could like give me nudges to say, just be careful as you think about this thing, you may want to think about it like this and like this and like this, and it helps me expand out my cognition to not fall prey to these things. Then I would probably become much more self-aware, more humble, more open-minded. Right now in society, we struggle with these things. Our fights are so contentious and so I guess the, what would I use that I guess in my own cognition, that's one area that you can imagine if we start becoming aware of these things, where that allows us to go.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:36:34] Yeah, of course, because even when you're thinking of a counter-argument for something, you're just availability bias is right there because the first thing you think of, well you're like, well I already, I knew this before because these are adaptive, these biases. It would be almost impossible to go about your day without having these adapted biases help you unless you had a computer going, don't fret. Here's a bunch of examples that you wouldn't have readily thought of that I'm going to provide to you. Because otherwise, you're going to sit there for 20 minutes trying to think of something that is not subject to availability bias because you're going to spend half an hour thinking of about this.
Bryan Johnson: [00:37:11] I'm imagining a situation where two people are talking and they have an interface and let's just say we can detect, for example, I say a statement to you. And within 100 milliseconds you have made up your mind about what I'm going to say and your opinion and reaction to it. So now all you can think about is your response to me. And so I speak for 30 seconds that you don't care about, cause you're within a hundred milliseconds before you are even aware, you already know what you're going to say. And you normally wait a minute, this isn't me already. Exactly, if we became aware of that and then you can say, “Hold on Brian, you are not listening to anything. He's saying you've already made up your mind that imperils you to reinvent yourself and you're the same beliefs.” So these are the kinds of things I think it would be humorous. And then we all say like, “Holy shit, you're right. I am so closed-minded and I thought I was this open-minded person.” But that's the funny thing is most of us believe that. I have found a study, I think it was something like 92 percent of people or 82 percent of people believe that others suffer from cognitive biases but not themselves. They think they are hyperrational, logical, have total meta-awareness and they are so convinced. So that situation that others are falling prey to that.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:38:25] Yeah. It must be nice to be the only person who has no cognitive bias affecting any of their decisions. Although if it were really the case, you'd have to take a nap by 11 because you wouldn't be able to function like if you'd take away bias and in everything that you do, you couldn't. You couldn't function. There are hundreds of these things and there are shortcuts that your brain has so that you can get by.
Bryan Johnson: [00:38:46] Your point is a great one, and what you just identified was scaffolding. Our brain is all by itself to handle this complicated world and it does those things in part out of necessity to sort of the complexity. However, if we could create technology to help us scaffold, so we slowly build up better infrastructure all around us and how we think and how we role you. Basically, that's how you level up the human race is you slowly scaffold up our cognition by knocking these things down one at a time, but you know that we have limited capacity in our brain. Being human is very, very hard living. This world is very complex, but that's the power of this evolutionary path is we can scaffold up in ways we never could before.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:39:32] You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest, Brian Johnson. We'll be right back after this.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:39:38] This episode is sponsored in part by Solgar.
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[00:43:32] Thank you for listening and supporting the show and your support of our advertisers keeps us on the air. To learn more and get links to all the great discounts you just heard so you can check out those amazing sponsors, visit jordanharbinger.com/deals and don't forget the worksheet for today's episode. That link is in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com/podcast and now for the conclusion of our episode with Brian Johnson.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:43:57] Some of our biases don't serve us that well anymore, like negativity bias for example. That was great when we were running around hunting and gathering, but we haven't, we don't really need that necessarily anymore. It probably does more harm than good, at least in certain areas, you know? Oh, the, you know, look, your brain interface thing, it's not going to work. Just go on vacation, sitting on a beach. You have plenty of money. Wait, wait, why are you worrying about this? Oh yeah. It might not work. A lot of things I've done in my life haven't worked. I mean, there's one huge thing worked, but you know, that could be an anomaly. I'm just going to go play Xbox. I mean, this kind of thing could easily have happened and would've made sense. And also nobody would've gotten shame on you. Everyone would have gone. Yeah, I get it. That makes sense. That's might be what I would've done too. So if we can knock those things down and be more optimistic, but not ridiculously so, and get rid of a lot of the straw-manning and stuff that we do even do to ourselves, and it'd be so much.
Bryan Johnson: [00:44:50] That's again, why I think it's a reasonable conclusion that working on the mind is the highest leverage point in all society. Because if we begin acquiring greater meta-awareness and we begin slowly nudging ourselves towards these other areas, again, everything else downstream changes right now. Like look at our political environment, it is predictable to nature of fighting and arguments and, and the acrimony. To me, it's a representation of certain insanity. It's the best we can do right now. But I find it difficult to imagine how that system of cooperative intelligence is capable of solving the problems we have. Then I look at that and I think what else would I possibly try to work on that could actually break this log jam of humans?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:45:43] Yeah. Butting heads all the time or ramming our own head against the wall. Forget about it.
Bryan Johnson: [00:45:47] We do self-destructive behavior that none of us win. I don't know. You know, and we all just want to just win over the other group and superimposed our beliefs to many of the people. But to me, we are definitely in a certain form of insanity in our society. And it would be interesting if we could figure out ways that we can try to break these log jams in ways that we really do care about a lot of similar things.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:46:10] Yeah, that's a good point. You know, you almost do need to unplug it and plug it back in type of outlook when it comes to, “Hey look, this tribalism thing, your tribe is not people who live in rural, Southwestern Michigan or whatever anymore.” You know, you have to expand the way that that looks. It's going to be tricky without serious reprogram that. That makes sense. You've said brain sciences, the new rocket science, so I guess the brain-machine interfaces, the new man on the moon in a way.
Bryan Johnson: [00:46:39] It is and rocket science has a deep history going back to the ‘60s and our country where people saw JFK’s speech and going to the moon and then all the projects people grew up with this visual of rockets going into space that people would be on the moon. We have never had visual manifestations of a compelling nature around our brains. Our brain is hiding behind our eyes. We can't see it and we don't really pay attention to what we can't see. And so it's been hiding in plain sight this whole time. And we haven't had the imagery or the endeavors that basically have allowed a generation of people who grow up and say, I want to do that. But once you get these technologies to a point where it can start doing some of the things you and I spoke about, it will ignite this enthusiasm that will be irresistible to so many people because it basically affects everything we care about.
[00:47:40] And that's why I do think that in a matter of years, neural science will become the new rocket science because it won't just be rockets going into space to some rock floating around. It will be this infinite realm of expansion of our minds, which ultimately that's the thing we find most interesting is exploring experience and relationships and like this is the thing we care about the most and we basically get this opportunity to become explorers in this new era of our cognitive expanse and we have no idea where we can go. I think we're getting there. I do think this new era will be here and it will become the primary interest of the world.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:48:22] Yeah. I think it's, it would be hard not to get fascinated by this once we can actually see what it does, especially when you have a critical mass of people that are doing this and it's not just one crazy guy who's like, “No, my interface is telling me all these things,” and it's like, “Calm down here's a tablet of medication you need to take.” If you have a critical mass of people and they're all coming to these advanced conclusions and able to build and do things that other people can't, everyone's going to want it. It'll be like a smartphone where everyone's like, “I don't need email on my phone.” “Oh, well that's actually, it's pretty convenient that you can do all these other things.” “All right, fine.” And then, “Oh yeah. They're addicted to it.” I mean, it worked on my parents.
Bryan Johnson: [00:49:00] I think your comment on the smartphone is right. The smartphone has been the dominant platform over the past decade. That's fueled pretty much everything else. All of our habits and our behaviors, that platform has begun to taper off in terms of societal adoption and what we've done to, I think the next one to emerge will be the brain. That will be the new platform we all build upon and it will create our new rich environment. But again, I think the world is looking for a new platform to build upon. We've run the course on smartphones to a great degree. We needed a new thing and I do think that the brain is a good potential.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:49:38] It’s the old new thing.
Bryan Johnson: [00:49:40] That’s right.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:49:41] What about privacy when it comes to that? You've mentioned that this might be a little bit of a tangent, so if it does, it's a non sequitur than Soviet I suppose, but you said that privacy inequality could actually create more of a disparity between people than economic disparity, which is kind of a scary thought considering that a lot of us feel like we don't have any privacy at all already. What's going on here? What is the privacy issue? Is it just that we are giving big companies big tech all of our data or is this problem going to get worse with things like brain interfaces?
Bryan Johnson: [00:50:12] To me, the central premise around this entire thing, I think privacy is an element of it. The primary interest I have on this question is how do we deal with each other and what do I gain if you become worse and I become better and that's the game we're playing now is people are willing to become better at everyone else's expense.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:35] Yeah, zero-sum or whatever. Is that what that's called? I think that's what that's called.
Bryan Johnson: [00:50:39] To me, that's a form of insanity I get. It's like that's how our brains work now. It's how we optimize in our current system and we're willing to make those trade-offs. And I'm not saying I'm above that. I'm saying I fall prey to the same things because my brain is flawed. However, to me in building Kernel, the central thing I want to accomplish is people become better and they become better in the ways they want. And that's hard because there's a careful line of paternalism. I don't know what's better for you. And I can't say what's better for you. You also need the opportunity to explore the things you want. Now it's also you and I know that even though you and I want to be better, we don't behave in our best interest all the time.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:22] No for sure not.
Bryan Johnson: [00:51:23] In fact, you and I are probably our worst enemy in many ways.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:26] Definitely.
Bryan Johnson: [00:51:27] It's like the alarm clock problem. You set your alarm clock for six in the morning at midnight, and then when it goes off at midnight or at 6 a.m., you're like, “Aah.” So which one of you are you? Are you midnight or are you 6 a.m. and which person wins in that scenario? And so we all have—
Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:46] It depends how far away the alarm clock is from the bed.
Bryan Johnson: [00:51:48] Exactly. But I'm saying we have these internal conflicts. We have these societal conflicts. But the point is there's a lot of pressure, a lot of things holding us back from becoming the people we want to become and becoming the society we want to become. And acknowledging those limitations. Privacy is one component of those larger things and it goes back to what we discussed before the highest value priority we could have as a society would be radically improving ourselves. The single highest area of focus in all the ways we can imagine. Now that is a difficult concept because if you didn't break it down, so what does that mean? Where do you go? There's no clear answer. So it's very easy for me to make that as a statement, but then they’re in practice, but still just that acknowledging that we have the debate and then try to start nudging away that in that direction to me has the highest yield for all of us.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:38] I know that you had grown up, you said you grew up pretty poor and I read about this. Your mom used to make your clothing. I mean that's, most people's moms don't have to make their clothing. So that's kind of next-level economic disparity that you must've grown up and seen growing up. And it was it Mormon that you grew up. So you went on a mission to Ecuador. What was it about that trip to Ecuador that said, “Okay, I got to make big changes here,” because it seems like that was a big moment or big time. Not necessarily a moment. I guess you were there for a couple of years.
Bryan Johnson: [00:53:10] I've had a few of these experiences in my life where I was exposed to circumstances that made me realize I was trapped in a reality. And when I went from growing up in Utah to go into poverty-stricken Ecuador, living among people with mud floors, mud walls, that broke my reality from growing up in a privileged world of the United States, clean water, great medicine. Even though my family was poor, living in the United States was magnificent. Like we have all these great things and so that broke my reality. So when I came back to the US, the contrast just struck me and I was confronted with this dilemma of there are these people who are hurting in extreme poverty. There are these people in the United States who are in this opulent world that is a big disparity. The same thing happened when I grew up in Mormonism where it was a hyper-religious environment, it was a singular reality by everything. Literally like there was like, it was black and white about my reality as a Mormon and then everyone else's reality. And I could not understand anyone else's reality. And when I came out of Mormonism and I was like, “Oh my goodness, I was in all-encompassing reality.” The same thing when I discovered, but I became aware of behavioral economics and biases, I realized my brain was flawed and incredibly flawed. So I guess, the point is several times in my life there's been these demarcations where I realize I'm trapped in a reality. There are other realities that exist and it expands my awareness.
[00:54:48] That mission was the first moment of my life and what happened from that is I basically said I don't care about anything other than creating a better life for the people, trying to do what I can to improve the life of the people. Like it didn't make sense for me to get a job to make money and retire and travel the US in an RV. I didn't care about anything else other than trying to make the world, improving the world in whatever way I could. I guess I'm now I'm always on the hunt to discover new realities that I can't see. It's the most interesting question I think in for me that I find.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:25] It's funny because it's a lot of people who grew up that way or anyway aren't necessarily looking to expand, they'll maybe leave the Mormon church and go, “Okay, I broke that reality. I'm good now.” You're just kind of like, “Well, wait if that was trapping me and then I left that and then I went to this other place and that was trapped reality. So everything I'm seeing right now is always, always just another reality that I'm sort of trapped,” and you're like the guy from Quantum Leap or something. Like you ended up at another place but it's not really at home.
Bryan Johnson: [00:55:57] Exactly. And I think that's the risk we all have is we, we do, like you said, we leave our reality, we get into new reality like this is home, this is the true ones. I need to convert everyone to my new reality instead of saying, “Okay, this is a temporary reality. Where am I being trapped? Or where can I go next?” I totally agree that because I don't think there's one true reality. I think we're just like popping around from one reality to another and then we have these tendencies to do, evangelize our reality.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:23] Yeah, you want to seek certainty and if other people say it’s true then that is probably true.
Bryan Johnson: [00:56:26] Exactly. This is actually, I think, one of the more interesting things about being human is right now we have this general agreement that we want to occupy the same reality and we do so for practical reasons. We all want to drive cars on the right side of the road. We want to obey a certain set of laws so that we can agree upon society. So we've tried to scaffold society on a similar reality. If we can scaffold society and structure things in a way where we're operationally competent, we liberate ourselves to now explore different realities that aren't threatening to each other anymore. So we can coexist in different realities because we don't have the same constraints. And that's what I'm talking about where we can expand as humanity as humans are scaffolded up the functional elements of life and expand our reality diversity so that it no longer is offensive or threatening to me if you are an entirely different form of consciousness than I am. Cool, like great. Like, how can I explore your reality, explore mine, and we don't have this friction on now? We all have to like converge our ideas and beating each other up to coincide on one reality.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:57:25] Yeah. Yeah. That, that is fascinating. And some of the hypothetical's with communicating telepathically eventually. It wouldn't really be telepathically, it would be a brain interface to brain interface. It would be Bluetooth 10.0 or whatever. But still, there are all these different things that we could do walking a mile in someone else's brain which theoretically could increase empathy or we could just see how crazy everyone is, which might also increase empathy. And now that I think about it or maybe not. Yeah, you must've been raised with pretty good values. You really would've had some moral license growing up with your mom, making your clothes to be like, “I grew up poor, I'm going to go all out now. Like I don't have to worry about this anymore. I have more than that I can spend in a lifetime.” But instead, it's like, “Nah, I'm going to start up a Fund and like solve big problems.” I feel like it's a different conversation, but at some level, it must be like what we talked about earlier. “Look, this is my only shot at having some immortal idea last beyond my lifetime.”
Bryan Johnson: [00:58:23] To me, it's very practical. It does not make sense to me at all that we would focus on anything other than our future thriving. Why would we spend our time not caring about the quality of our life, the quality of our kids' lives, of solving big problems? I don't understand why our orientation is not, to me, it fills like a version of crazy to not care about the future more than anything and existence. I realize our brains are built to care about now at a minute from now and not the other way around. I realize I'm talking, I'm saying against that in my thinking. However, in my bias to thinking, in my distorted way of reality. So in the situation of, okay, I made money, what do I do? It does not make sense to me at all to do anything other than I'm doing. I actually have no interest in buying a yacht and vacationing and that does not make sense to me at all. And I know, again, that's my version of reality. I do hope, however, that we can evolve ourselves so that all of us become equally interested in—I guess it says James Carse wrote in his book, there are finite games and infinite games. Finite game is there are a start and a stop, like a baseball game. And all those two teams care about is winning the game. So they'll do anything to win that game in that finite period of time. In the infinite game, you basically, the only incentive of the players in the game is you keep on playing the game. And right now we all want to live life. We want to experience life to its fullest in relationships and all the things we all care about and therefore it makes sense that we only care about doing things that help all of us continue to play the game.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:27] Although to be fair, you could probably get a yacht and do all this, but you don't have any time for the yacht with all of your—
Bryan Johnson: [01:00:33] No, I don't. I don't.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:35] You don't have time.
Bryan Johnson: [01:00:36] No, it's not time. I don't have enough money. The Kernel and the Fund are capital intensive businesses. I do not have excess capital to do anything else other than these two endeavors.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:50] Have you kind of gained it out? Have you gained out basically going broke funding this stuff and then dying or something like that?
Bryan Johnson: [01:00:58] Unquestionably, unquestionably. And this key thing of where I'm at on both is I chose two things that did not have social proof, which means that it wasn't already accepted in society as a given. It wasn't accepted as a no brainer. There wasn't social scaffolding where people could say like, “That's a cool thing.” “Yeah, I agree. It's a cool thing.” “Yeah, I agree. That's a cool thing.” So doing things where it is unfamiliar to people and they've don't have the social support of being affirmed that a given path is the right one. And so both are on that prep. And I think they're both now getting to a stage where there's enough legitimacy from what we've done so others can be like, “Ah, I get it now I'm in.” But I guess I just made that comment of doing things that are not social proof in society are extraordinarily hard.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:01:47] I agree, and it just makes it even more admirable that you would go that route. Because think about this, and I'm sure you have, I mean, of course, you have. If you just took all the of the cash out from Braintree and put it into even just moderate like index funds, you'd have over a billion dollars in short order. But instead, it's like, “No, I'm going to basically not take this with me and I'm going to invest it all in this.” I mean, talk about putting it all on black in a way but it's like the other choices make no difference in the future of humanity, possibly we never solved this problem, dot, dot, dot or a structure. Before we wrap, I wanted to ask about Assumption Stacks. You’ve mentioned that before. What are those and why are they important? And of course, how do we use these or avoid them or whatever it is you need to do with them?
Bryan Johnson: [01:02:38] Assumption Stacks are all the scaffolding we live on that support our decision making in life and we just forget about them. And I discovered this, for example, after selling Braintree and then asking people they're working on epic things and going to them and saying, why are you working on this thing and not that thing and why this particular way with nothing. And my experience was most people walk into a given path because of years of decision making. They rarely go back to say, this decision or observation I made 13 years ago is now supporting this thing today. But if they questioned that thing 13 years ago, the entire scaffolding would crumble. The key is to always realize you're standing on top of this structure of all of these things you accept as truths, all these things you've been told as truths, and then you're making the decision. Like with my 15-year-old who's in school, I asked him questions like for example, he optimizes for college admissions. Everything he does is like get good grades, do this extracurricular activity. He's basically building his resume for college admissions and I asked him why. Like what is it about this whole college admissions process that you're accepting as an ultimate truth of life that should guide your 15-year-old mind? And when you get into college, then what? And then you get into a job and then what? So basically to make him realize you are in a system that adults created for you and you're accepting the system by default, by doing all these things. But just stop and say if you want to do the system, cool. But, but understand you are in a system, not of your design.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:04:14] What does he think about that?
Bryan Johnson: [01:04:15] He gets it. He has his meta-awareness and now he doesn't know, as a 15-year-old, what do you do?
Jordan Harbinger: [01:04:22] What other options are there?
Bryan Johnson: [01:04:23] So I guess, we all live in these systems as a society and to pull yourself out and to have the awareness of what you exist in and then to say, “I accept that system or I reject that system.” And that's what I did when I came back from Ecuador. The default move for me, going to college, get a job and get in that system. And I basically said, “I don't think that system is right. I'm going to create a different system.” And so it's Assumption Stacks reveal systems and then it gives you the option to accept those or to do something different. But just having that meta-awareness that you're opting into those things. I mean, I'd say 99 percent of societal assumption stacks scaffolding is outside of our perception. We all exist. Like, we're sitting in these chairs with this table with you and I engaged with this life structure. These are assumptions other people have made. We existed and we just accepted it because people just do.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:05:21] It’s always been that way.
Bryan Johnson: [01:05:23] Exactly, but to realize that we are in this system created by others and we are oblivious to it.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:05:29] it opens up so many options when you start to think about these. What are some of the most common, what are some common assumptions stacks you see people holding that don't serve us? The school system is one thing. It might serve a lot of people actually who have no other structure. But you'd mentioned before or at least maybe this isn't wired or something, it was like the monkeys climbing to get bananas kind of example. And I think this is really, really good. Can you take me through that? I'm going to ruin it if I try.
Bryan Johnson: [01:05:56] Yeah, that's right. So I was trying to use this example of Braintree because I was invited in the team to tease out what assumption stacks we were accepting in building payments, building a company. That includes our leadership structure, our customer support, all the above. So the story is there are five monkeys in a room. There's a ladder that goes up to a perch. There's a box of bananas. And when a monkey tried to climb up the ladder to get the monkey, then that monkey sprayed with cold water and all the other monkeys. So the monkey soon realized after being sprayed a few times that if you climb the ladder and go to the bananas to get a get one, everyone gets sprayed by cold water. So an experiment, you pull out one monkey, you put a new monkey into new monkeys, like wow, bananas, run up the ladder to get the banana, and they'll just be sprayed cold water. Soon, the behavior is if is known by monkeys, if a new monkey comes in and doesn't know the rules and tries to run up the ladder, grab the monkey, pull it back down because we all expect by cold water so soon you, you basically replace all the monkeys in the colony, none of which have ever been sprayed by cold water. All they know is there's this accepted and expected behavior, if a monkey goes up the ladder for the bananas, grab it and pull it down. But if a new monkey comes in and they say, “Hey, why do you guys grab the monkey when they try to go up the ladder to get the banana?” Not a single monkey could tell you because they've never been sprayed by cold water. The assumption is buried. And so in society, if you start poking and even in your personal life, you start poking, why is this the case? Then you basically have the power of playing the game of Jenga or you find that the loose little piece of wood, you pull it out and the whole entire thing crumbles and this goes back to everything we've talked about our conversation today of our realities, of cognitive evolution, of how we can pair ourselves with machine intelligence, for me, our thriving in large part depends upon poking at the scaffolding we've created and letting it crumble in certain ways and rebuild in other ways.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:08:03] I think I was better at this when I was younger. Is that normal? Because when I was a kid, I remember looking to go for it, which was like text-only Internet, which is essentially, it was just a library connection on a dial-up modem and I remember telling my dad, “Hey, there's this company called Yahoo that is indexing things on the Internet,” and he's like, “No one's going to use this. Every town has a library.” I think we know how that shook out until the story on the show a bunch. But then I remember getting a Palm pilot and they were like, “Oh, if you buy this really specialty thing that connects to it, it's a card instead of a memory card, it's a Wi-Fi device.” And I was like, “I have to have that.” So, I special ordered it and I remember thinking, “Why don't they take the same type of thing that satellites or wireless data,” because we didn't have data on a smartphone back then. “Why don't they make it so that this can sort of wirelessly get data just from anywhere?” And I remember asking people who worked at I think Palm at the time or Compact and they go, “Yeah, there's just no demand for that.” I thought, how is there no demand for you to have the Internet which even at that time was pretty basic in your pocket everywhere you go, especially if you're already going to carry this big as Palm pilot, why would you not want connectivity? And now, of course, everyone has smartphones that are all connected. And if you don't have data, people are tripping. Or if you have slow data, people are freaking out. And so, but now as an adult, I don't think I'm as good at finding and breaking those assumptions anymore. Maybe I'm just in so many assumptions that I can't see a way out. Like I'm tangled on a spider web of them. Whereas as a kid, nothing seemed sensical because it was all built by grownups who didn't know anything. And I, as a 14-year-old, was a genius who knew everything at that point in my life. So it seemed easier.
Bryan Johnson: [01:09:47] I relate with you on that. In that with my children, my favorite thing to do is listen. I'll ask them a question. What do you think about this? And they just talk. And I love listening to how they think because as they architect their arguments and roll through things, I get to see how they piece information together, what they accept as an assumption, not as an assumption, but it's fresh. Because I walk into the world like you're saying with some pretty tough conclusions about life and they're still formulating their reality. And so I get a mirror in hearing them think of new insights of a new way to understand reality. And so I agree with you, it's totally fresh. And this goes back to why I find interfaces so interesting is imagine you've got an interface on your head, you have a machine learning partner and it is helping you break your assumptions all the time. So, it's suggesting, “Hey, what about this and what about that?” And so a different form of intelligence and reality to start breaking it down. You might find the most liberation you've ever experienced in your life to unshackle yourself from your own brain. That to me is the most exciting thing.
[01:10:58] So then you basically say like you just pose a question. Who can be a guest on your show? What topics can you discuss? In what formats? Like for example, here's a weird idea is you may find that sitting down in a conversation, constraints the range of your conversations, you can quantify it. And that basically if you get a rotating system that changes the person's physical layout to the person. Like, we're now on our sideways now. We're kind of tilted now. We're kind of backwards and that doing that as you talk through various things, it changes the way our brains work, the way we relate with each other, the social structure. That may sound weird to us now, but then if you do it experimentally and we say, wow, that change entirely, my attitude towards you, it changed my responses on certain opinions, I thought of things differently. We may find that sitting across from each other in a stationary fashion is crude relative to changing body positions. Things like that, that that you could just start finding this expansive thinking of your own. That how you could do your podcast in non-traditional ways to expand the range of experience that you or your listeners could have and you could have,
Jordan Harbinger: [01:12:06] I think about this a lot because there's, there's a YouTube show called Hot Ones where this guy basically eats hot wings with famous people and ask them questions. At first, I thought, what a dumb gimmick. But now it's like, well wait a minute. You can't really have pretense when you're covered in hot sauce. You're crying because it's really spicy. You know some you get on Tyra banks, there's a model she's covered in hot sauce and crying and like she needs to blow her nose, but she's got barbecue sauce. It's a whole different experience. It's a whole different conversation. That's right. And I'm thinking like, okay, it's hard for me to imagine doing this while eating hot wings, but what other ways are there for me that are just beyond what I thought was a dumb gimmick. Even Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee with Jerry Seinfeld. It's like, well, we're driving and when you're driving you're kind of there's a little bit more or less autopilot stuff going on and I'm thinking like, well, I have some of my best thoughts in the shower. I don't know if I could shower and do a show. It might be a little awkward but there's something there, right?
Bryan Johnson: [01:13:00] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:13:00] There's something there.
Bryan Johnson: [01:13:01] This goes back to the very first thing we talked about today, which is priming. You tell the 12-year-old girl that she's as good as math as boys and that single statement changes how she approaches that math test. And so what we're talking about now is you're priming either with wings or in a car. But yes, you then open up that like awareness. So, now we have five different scents, five different drinks, and a vaping device. And before every question, we choose a scent to prime ourselves or a drink to prime ourselves or a vape to get nicotine and we watch how our mind evolves. Maybe we change the color of the room, but you basically change the priming inputs in real time and we acknowledge that we are very susceptible to incoming influence and now we acknowledge it and we play with it and we see where we can go. That's the richness of our future that exists, is if we can become aware of the power of our cognition to expand out the excitement we have in the future, I think is orders of magnitude larger than today because our brains constrain our reality experience and where we want to be the status quo. We want to be in a safe place. We want things to be consistent. But if we make it fun or like now exploring this out our range, we seek it out and now change becomes desirable. Changing your opinion becomes something you're interested in. Right now to change your opinions seen as a bad thing. It’s the least productive thing we'd be doing as a species that is contrary to evolution. And so we just, all these things, and again, I think that the way, one of the most powerful ways to break this whole thing is to get data from the brain, bring it out, pair it with machine learning and create a closed-loop system. That will create an ecosystem that breaks all these other barriers of our imaginative capacity and our ability to get along evolve, et cetera.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:14:58] Yeah, this is fascinating. We could go on for hours, but I really appreciate it. This has been really, really fascinating.
[01:15:05] Great big. Thank you to Bryan Johnson. He is such an interesting guy, extremely smart. I'm glad that somebody is deciding to tackle these problems and putting their money where their mouth is. That's always nice, right? Because often people will go, “Hey, someone should do something about this and I'm going to write a blog post about it,” or, “I'm going to go give a talk about it and then go back to my Skylar that I bought with all my money.” I asked him at the end, Jason, I don't know if you caught this where I said $100 million isn't going to go very far, and I asked him if he was going to sort of die wealthy and he's like, no, this endeavor's going to take all my money. I'm basically going to spend all of my money doing this.
Jason DeFillippo: [01:15:43] Well, that's good.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:15:44] Yeah. I'm sure he gave his kid some stock in Braintree, which is worth something, I'm sure he's going to take care of his future wife and kids, but he's not going to have, you know, $400 million. He's going to have whatever is needed to take care of them and the rest of it's going to get spent on solving this problem.
Jason DeFillippo: [01:16:05] Oh, I wish more tech entrepreneurs would take that stance.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:16:08] Yeah. I mean you have the giving pledge from Warren Buffet and those guys and it's like, “Hey, donate at least half your wealth.” And it's like, “That's great.” But when you have $14 billion donating half of your wealth, yes, it's extremely generous and yes, it's your money. You can do whatever you want with it, but it's also like, are you even going to notice that? No. If you have 14.8 billion donate 14 billion, you know.
Jason DeFillippo: [01:16:29] Yeah, exactly.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:16:30] You can do a lot with that man, and I know that it's easy for me to say because if I had 14.8 billion, I don’t know if I'd be like, “Hey, I don't need all this. Here's a bunch of it.” On the other hand, I really do think that I would want to solve some problems because who cares how rich your great, great-grandchildren are. It's just so unexciting to even think about versus being the person who figured out how to do X and then you're in every textbook forever. Like you want to be a mortal, who cares what your great-grandkids think of you? How about the whole world is like, and then Jordan Harbinger solve this crazy problem with all of his money and his foundation. He didn't do squat. He sat around and you know, entertain people, but the money that solved this huge problem and now we don't have XYZ anymore because it's been eradicated. Cool.
Jason DeFillippo: [01:17:15] Exactly. Do you want to leave the world a better place or do you want to leave it with the like, you know, a lineage of spoiled grandchildren? It's like, come on, fix a problem. Take that money and use it for good. So kudos to him.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:17:25] Precisely. Yes. The other trick that I've heard, and this is a little off-topic, is if you're going to give your kid a trust fund, make sure they don't see a penny of it until there, I think 30.
Jason DeFillippo: [01:17:35] Ooh, that's good.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:17:36] Even better, 40 because imagine having to live your whole life and then work your way up, work your way up, work your way up and do stuff and develop out like yes, you could cut around being a dipshit until you're 40 but it's actually probably harder than making something of yourself even if that something is, is not anything sort of textbook worthy. If you're smart and you're raised decently and knowing you're not going to see a penny of whatever's in there until you're 40, you might as well develop some kind of career.
Jason DeFillippo: [01:18:06] Yeah, and here's the better one. Don't even tell them the trust exists and then like when he turns 40 then they get the money and they're like, “Sweet. That was a nice surprise.”
Jordan Harbinger: [01:18:14] I thought about that too. Yeah. Like, how awesome would it be if on your 40th birthday, the family attorney calls me and goes, “Hey, I need you to come in for a meeting”? You're like, “Oh my god, what's up?” “Oh yeah, you have, you have $30 million.” “Oh, okay. That's cool. I'm going to buy a bigger house and send my kids. Well, nah, I don't want to take them out of school. I'll just tear down my house and rebuild another one. I have a car. I don't need to buy another one. I'm good.” Like I don't even know what I would do if that happened to me. I think I'd finally go on vacation maybe, but probably not. Let's be real.
Jason DeFillippo: [01:18:45] We'd build that studio that we always wanted, that Howie Mandel has. That's pretty much it.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:18:49] I'd be like, “Hey, Howie, you want to come to my studio, it's two floors?”
Jason DeFillippo: [01:18:53] One way to do it.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:18:54] Anyway, enough daydreaming. You want to know how we managed to book all these great, amazing folks. Well, it's all about that network and we're teaching you how to develop that network for free. Six-Minute Networking, jordanharbinger.com/course. Don't wait. You got to do it now. You got to dig the well before you're thirsty. You can't wait until you need something and I'd be like, “Hey buddy.” That's not how this stuff works. This is a skill set I wish I knew 20 years ago and it takes a few minutes a day to get it going and keep it maintained. Again, this is a free course, jordanharbinger.com/courses where that is. Most of the guests on the show actually have done the course and subscribed to the newsletter, so come join us and you'll be in good company. Speaking to building relationships, tell me your number one takeaway here from Bryan Johnson. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram and there's a video of this interview on our YouTube channel at jordanharbinger.com/youtube.
[01:19:43] This show is produced in association with podcast one and this episode was co-produced by Jason “needs-a-trust-fund’ DeFillippo and Jen Harbinger. Show notes and worksheets are by Robert Fogarty. I'm your host Jordan Harbinger. Remember, we rise by lifting others. 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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