David Eagleman (@davideagleman) is a Stanford neuroscientist, host of Emmy-nominated PBS/BBC series The Brain, and author of many leather-bound books, including Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, The Brain: The Story of You, and Livewired: The Inside Story of the Ever-Changing Brain. [Note: This is a previously broadcast episode from the vault that we felt deserved a fresh pass through your earholes!]
What We Discuss with David Eagleman:
- Why our conscious brain should be grateful for its separation from the subconscious brain.
- What is sensory substitution, and how might it allow the blind to “see,” the deaf to “hear,” and create completely new, superhuman senses altogether?
- Your umwelt is not my umwelt: a shared environment is several realities, depending on how it’s being sensed.
- Alien hands, intellectual flexibility, zombie routines, and smartphone symbiosis.
- How might technology augment our brains in the not-too-distant future?
- And much more…
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Is your brain you? Is the world you experience through your senses the same world the person standing next to you experiences? Does someone born without a certain sense know what they’re missing — and are they really missing anything? For the first time in human history, will it soon be possible to create entirely new senses?
If these are the kind of questions you like asking, we’ve got a neuroscientist on hand who likes answering them. Stanford’s own David Eagleman is the host of Emmy-nominated PBS/BBC series The Brain and author of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, The Brain: The Story of You, and Livewired: The Inside Story of the Ever-Changing Brain.
Listen to this episode in its entirety to learn more about what a new spectrum of senses could mean for communication, why people born without certain senses aren’t “missing out” in the way we might imagine, how a shared environment is several realities — depending on how it’s being sensed, how we’re under the illusion that we’re not under an illusion, how our memories are as susceptible as our senses and biological programming to this illusion, how technology might augment our brains in the future, accidental discoveries made by exploring outside our current senses, and lots more. Listen, learn, and enjoy! [Note: This is a previously broadcast episode from the vault that we felt deserved a fresh pass through your earholes!]
Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
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Miss our conversation about the spooky nature of perception with world-renowned neuroscientist Beau Lotto? Catch up with episode 177: Beau Lotto | Why You See Differently When You Deviate here!
Thanks, David Eagleman!
If you enjoyed this session with David Eagleman, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:
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Resources from This Episode:
- Livewired: The Inside Story of the Ever-Changing Brain by David Eagleman | Amazon
- Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman | Amazon
- The Brain: The Story of You by David Eagleman | Amazon
- Other Books by David Eagleman | Amazon
- The Brain with David Eagleman | PBS
- Center for Science and Law
- Eagleman Lab
- David Eagleman | Website
- David Eagleman | Facebook
- David Eagleman | Twitter
- David Eagleman | The Inside Story of the Ever-Changing Brain| Jordan Harbinger
- David Eagleman | How Your Brain Makes Sense of the World | Jordan Harbinger
- Ghost in the Shell | Prime Video
- David Eagleman: Can We Create New Senses for Humans? | TED Talk
- Isaac Lidsky | Eyes Wide Open | Jordan Harbinger
- Lisa Feldman Barrett | Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain | Jordan Harbinger
- The Umwelt by David M. Eagleman | Edge
- Jason Silva | Origins of a Performance Philosopher | Jordan Harbinger
- Evil Dead 2 | Prime Video
- The VEST: A Sensory Substitution Neuroscience Project | YouTube
655: David Eagleman | How Our Brains Construct Reality
[00:00:00] Jordan Harbinger: Coming up next on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:00:02] David Eagleman: But what they discovered, quite accidentally, is when you look at the planet in the microwave range, you can see in that range, what water is drinkable, which water is polluted.
[00:00:12] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, wow.
[00:00:12] David Eagleman: And that was a new discovery that they didn't expect. Nobody expected, but they just figured that out, accidentally. But just imagine if I'm actually feeling in all of these different wavelengths, what kind of accidental discoveries I would make there about, "Oh, wow. Did you know? If I'm seeing a person in this completely other range, I can tell this other thing." The sky is the limit as far as the kind of discoveries we can make if we just strap these on humans and have them walk around and experience their daily life.
[00:00:39] Jordan Harbinger: Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most fascinating people. We have in-depth conversations with scientists, entrepreneurs, spies, and psychologists, even the occasional Russian chess grandmaster, former cult member, or undercover Jihadi. Each episode turns our guests' wisdom into practical advice that you can use to build a deeper understanding of how the world works and become a better thinker.
[00:01:08] If you're new to the show, or you're looking for a handy way to tell your friends about it, I suggest our episode starter packs. These are collections of our favorite episodes, organized by topic to help new listeners get a taste of everything we do here on the show — topics like disinformation and cyber warfare, negotiation and communication, abnormal psychology, China and North Korea, crime and cults, and more. Just visit jordanharbinger.com/start or search for us in your Spotify app to get started.
[00:01:34] This episode is one from the vault recorded a few years ago. We're talking with my friend, David Eagleman, neuroscientist, TED fellow, Stanford professor. He's known for his work on brain plasticity, perception, synesthesia, neurolaw. David, of course, has an amazing knowledge of the brain, really has some of the most interesting insights into how our brain develops and how the brain works, better insights that I've read in a long, long time. But it's his way of combining that insight with an exceptional ability to articulate those same insights and make them useful to you and me is one of the main reasons why I wanted to have him on the show today.
[00:02:05] We'll discuss how our brains construct our reality. And my favorite part of the show is really augmenting our senses, even inventing new senses entirely. Something we're going to be able to do. It's just not that far off. It's like a superpower and it's going to be something that we will likely experience in our lifetime. This is an incredible episode. I really hope you enjoy this one with David Eagleman. This is an incredible episode and I hope you enjoy it. Here we go with David Eagleman.
[00:02:32] Well, this stuff fascinates me because our brains are a large part of what makes us, us. And if I slammed the door on my hand, on the way out to the back, that's a bummer. And it might be harder for me to write or eat. I might not be able to eat a salad with my hands like you just did so expertly. However, if I damage my brain even a little bit in a way that's barely perceptible by most people, I kind of lose a part of me, in a way. With this goes down this whole Buddhism rabbit hole, maybe, but I feel like anytime your brain gets damaged, the physical part, you end up with weird software quirks. Is it safe to say our brains kind of our us, in some way?
[00:03:09] David Eagleman: Yeah. It's the densest representation of you. So even if you damage a very tiny piece that can change your decision-making, your risk aversion, your capacity to name animals or see colors or a hundred other things that we see. And through centuries of these sorts of case studies, that's how we know a lot about the landscape of the brain and how we know how this is, this representation of you. Now that we don't entirely know that it is entirely you because you've got lots of communication with other parts of your body. I think of it like the rest of this is the greater Metro area and this is the city here.
[00:03:48] Jordan Harbinger: The other thing that fascinated me, that the concept from one of your books is that the consciousness part — because I know people are going to go, "No, your mind isn't you," and here's 7,000 books. But the consciousness part of our brain is kind of like the newspaper reports on all the other things that are happening that are already computed by the subconscious brain. And I know I'm non-sciencing this up pretty good right now.
[00:04:09] David Eagleman: The issue is that — I was thinking a lot about all the activity that happens in a nation and there's so much that's going on at any given time and so, what you want in a newspaper, it's just the headlines, just the very top level. And that's the same thing about — that's what our consciousness is giving us is just that top headline.
[00:04:24] Just yesterday, actually I looked at the activity monitor on my Mac and I don't know if you've done it before, but there are lots of little programs running that I've never even heard of. I have no idea what they're doing, but they're all doing fundamental stuff. And I thought that's a pretty interesting analogy to what's going on in the brain. There's so much stuff, you know, okay, make sure you breathe. Get through proper thing with your blood and your body and do all this stuff that's going on. And all sorts of basic cognitive things too, about putting ideas together and evaluating hypotheses and simulating possible futures. All of that is running under the hood, so to speak, where it's happening at an unconscious level. The conscious mind just gets access to the very top, a little bit, the newspaper headlines in this case.
[00:05:04] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. It seems like saying activity monitors sort of analogy you go, "What's taking up all this memory?" and then you kill one of those things, the kernel task, and suddenly it shuts down and goes, "Ah, well, you just shut down your breathing and your heart rate of your computer. You got to restart," you know, the whole thing is toast.
[00:05:19] David Eagleman: Exactly. By the way, this is something that struck me as interesting, because there's so many ways in which we do it. So obviously, if you shut down breathing or heartbeat, that's noticeable, but with drugs of all sorts, for example, your cognition changes massively. It's like shutting down one of these subprograms where you don't exactly know what it does, but it changes the behavior of the whole system. The whole other rest of the system operates in a different way.
[00:05:42] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I'm trying to think of an analogy for that, but it would be kind of like, "All right. Well, we're going to shut down the one that makes everything show up on the screen." So now you're just guessing when you're typing or moving the mouse. So everything's going to be off and kind of weird, and that could easily happen if you're taking something that shuts down the part of your brain, that feels a certain way. And you go, "Look, when I hit my hand with his hammer, it's funny." That's not going to be funny after the substance wears off and the rest of that brain turns back on.
[00:06:09] David Eagleman: Right. Right, right. Right.
[00:06:10] Jordan Harbinger: So it's not the operating system that we see in our conscious brain. It's the screen, it's the printer.
[00:06:15] David Eagleman: And the reason is, you know, you've got almost a hundred billion neurons. Neurons are the specialized cell type of the brain. These are doing incredibly complicated things. And by incredibly complicated, I mean, things we haven't even scratched the surface of yet in terms of the algorithms that they're running that make us up. I don't think we could even function at our scale of space and time if we had access to that level of detail. I mean, you can't keep a hundred billion things in mind and, you know, each one of these neurons is talking about 10,000 of its neighbors. And so to operate at this scale of getting rabbits and mates and finding the river and the tree and so on, that level of detail is completely meaningless to us. And what you need at this level is something that's higher. Like, "How am I getting along with this person? How do I get this made? How do I get this piece of food over here?"
[00:07:03] Jordan Harbinger: Right. Yeah. Something that's more top line. And the rest of it gets taken care of sort of automatically. And we're the last ones to know what's actually going on in the brain because most of the time we don't need to know. And the breathing, the inhale that I just took before that last sentence, that happens automatically, because if I had to think of that, my processing power for holding this conversation, which is already limited both right now, especially, but in general is going to suffer because of that.
[00:07:29] David Eagleman: Yeah, exactly right. And most of what we do is we automatize behaviors. So we learn how to walk. We learn how to eat. There are various things that are already pre-programmed. They're pre-programmed enough that it's easy for us. We learn how to speak a language depending on what we're exposed to in our culture and so on. But when you learn something new, like how to ride a bicycle, at first you have to pay a lot of attention to it. You know exactly where your torso and your balance and everything is going. After a while, when that becomes automatized, you don't have to pay any attention to it consciously. So that frees up all this conscious bandwidth. And most of what we do is totally automatized. I mean, it's trivial to drive your car which, if you can remember back when you were 15 years old, it was hard to learn how to do that.
[00:08:06] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, it was terrifying.
[00:08:07] David Eagleman: Yeah. So we get to do all that stuff in an automatized fashion. And that frees us up to think about the next tasks and other longer-term goals.
[00:08:14] Jordan Harbinger: Sure. Or do our makeup and eat some food and make a phone call and look at the radio and all the other things that most people do when they're driving, send a couple of texts, which is a little scary because it also — we have this sort of illusion that since it's automatized, we're doing it in exactly the same safe way that we were if we were focusing on it.
[00:08:32] David Eagleman: Well, there are many cases actually, where things that are automatized, they actually function better than if you paid attention.
[00:08:37] Jordan Harbinger: I believe that.
[00:08:38] David Eagleman: Yeah. I mean, just look at riding a bicycle if you really pay attention, "Okay. How exactly am I moving—?" you'll probably crash. If you play a musical instrument, you know that if you start paying attention to what your fingers are doing, you're dead. You can't do it anymore because what's happening is so fast and sophisticated that you can't possibly address that with the slow low-bandwidth consciousness. This has to be something that the rest of your brain takes care of and just does for you.
[00:09:01] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. That does make sense. Although with the — I'm going to stay to my guns on the driving thing and that you should probably focus on that and not let—
[00:09:07] David Eagleman: Oh, I agree. Of course, you shouldn't take your eyes off the road to text, yeah.
[00:09:11] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Your brain still needs the other inputs that you think, "Oh, I don't need this anymore. I'm so good at it. I can just look down now.
[00:09:17] David Eagleman: Yeah.
[00:09:17] Jordan Harbinger: Still needs the input.
[00:09:18] David Eagleman: Yeah. I mean, an example that I often use is the lane change example. And this was in my book Incognito. I don't know if you remember—
[00:09:24] Jordan Harbinger: I did.
[00:09:25] David Eagleman: Oh, okay.
[00:09:25] Jordan Harbinger: I did read it.
[00:09:25] David Eagleman: I'm hoping you don't remember this example because I can ask you to do this. So put your hands on her steering wheel.
[00:09:29] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:09:30] David Eagleman: You're in the center lane driving 30 miles an hour. And I want you to make make a lane change your right lane, so make a lane change.
[00:09:35] Jordan Harbinger: Into the right lane? Okay. And then—
[00:09:38] David Eagleman: So it turns out that's totally wrong. What that does is that just turned your car to the right. And then you went over to the sidewalk and you crashed.
[00:09:44] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, so I just — I turned this way and then never should have—
[00:09:46] David Eagleman: No, you straightened back it. What you did is—
[00:09:48] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, did I?
[00:09:48] David Eagleman: —you turn to the right and then you straighten back out, which makes you now going straight to the right.
[00:09:52] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:09:53] David Eagleman: The way you make a lane change is you go to the right back to center all the way to the left and back to center again. That's what a lane change looks lik.
[00:09:59] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:10:00] David Eagleman: And you do it every day and you're not consciously aware of how you do it. So this is an example of—
[00:10:03] Jordan Harbinger: I'm a terrible driver.
[00:10:06] David Eagleman: It might be an example of that also, but it's an example of the way your unconscious brain can just take care of stuff in ways that you don't even have conscious access to.
[00:10:13] Jordan Harbinger: Because you've got to correct back in order to straighten out.
[00:10:16] David Eagleman: Exactly.
[00:10:16] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. All I did was instead of going in a circle to the right, I just went and do a straight line and, yeah, crashed into a bus station.
[00:10:22] David Eagleman: Yeah, exactly.
[00:10:23] Jordan Harbinger: Got you.
[00:10:23] David Eagleman: So there's so much that our brains take care of that we're not even aware of. And what we have to do is try to, you know, dig and scratch, even get a sense of what's going on down there. People often ask me about this issue of, you know, for example, expert meditators and so on,, whether they're deep down in there. But I think it's more of a party trick actually. They're just scratching the surface. If you can do something pretty extraordinary, like, you know, change your blood flow to one arm versus the other, or some of these things that meditation can do, that's cool, but that's one, one-billionth of what your brain is actually up to down under there.
[00:10:54] Jordan Harbinger: Which is really neat to know that we can't ever — or at least not now — access that with current technology.
[00:11:00] David Eagleman: And it's not even clear that it would. As a neuroscientist, you know, we want to get in there and understand that. But I mean, from a psychological perspective, if we could actually get down into there, I think it would be so alien to us that it wouldn't even be worth it. Just look at something like dreams. You have dreams every night and you wake up. God, it was bizarre. I mean, I hate dreaming. It's like sticking my head in the night blender every night and I have all these high emotions and you wake up and you think, "God, what a waste of effort and emotion that was," but that's just like the smallest window into the kind of stuff that's happening down in there. That if you actually could get down in there, it wouldn't make sense to us at our levels of space and time. And I think it wouldn't have any meaning to us.
[00:11:41] So just as an example, if I explained to you why you love strawberry ice cream all the way down to the level of the — well, this neuron — and this happens — and this releases dopamine, and that's why you like strawberry ice cream. It doesn't change at all your experience of eating strawberry ice cream.
[00:11:57] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:11:57] David Eagleman: If I wrote a whole book and you read the book and you loved the book, it doesn't change anything about your psychological subjective experience in the world.
[00:12:04] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, you can keep the book, I'll just have the ice cream at that point.
[00:12:07] David Eagleman: Exactly. And so that's the sense in which, you know, even as we get down there and start to understand things better and better, the meaning that it has to us, we'll be sort of an academic one, I think.
[00:12:18] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I suppose that — well, you know, more about that than I do. For me listening to all this stuff — this book was kind of like the cosmos of the brain. So I spoke earlier to this guy, Isaac Lidsky who actually — he went blind as an adult. And you used to be on Saved by the Bell, which is kind of interesting because he was like this child actor who had everything going, and then he'd just slowly, but not that slowly, went blind and then ended up becoming the only blind clerk on the Supreme Court and everything like that. I mean, he just did not, he didn't exactly give up. And he was talking about how seeing and vision, it's not really about the eyes. He visualizes just as clearly as he did when he had working eyes. It's just that the eyes are no longer — the inputs not working anymore for him.
[00:13:01] David Eagleman: I mean, you know, one example of this generally is every night when you go to sleep and you dream, your eyes are closed, but you're having full rich visual experience. So we're all used to this about not needing the eyes to be open in order to have vision. Yeah, I suspect that over time his visual experience will change. And if he's a really good introspector, he'll be able to tell us the ways in which to change. Because it's probably not exactly the same as it always was but, yeah, that's fascinating. I'd love to talk about that.
[00:13:30] Jordan Harbinger: How does the brain then construct a vision? Because it's not our eyes that construct the pictures, right? Our eyes take in light and things like that but you mentioned in one of your talks, where we met actually, that you can create vision based on other sets of senses. How does the brain construct a picture of things?
[00:13:49] David Eagleman: So almost all the vision is happening internally, which is to say your brain is making guesses about what's going on out there. And it's using all his past experience and its attention based on what your goals are at the moment to figure out what is going on out there. And then the data that's coming up through the eyeballs is just a little tiny part of that. There's a little bit of data dribbling up through here that gets to the brain. And that's just used to essentially modulate this activity. It's used to verify or discount what your internal model is, but the whole thing is you've got an internal model of what you believe is out there. And then that's what your vision is.
[00:14:25] So as far as whether we can use other senses to get information, the brain is fundamentally multisensory. What really cares about is taking in all these information sources like air compression waves and photons and molecules and pressure and heat and stuff, and put together a big picture of what's going on out there. Even as people lose senses, they're still able to function in the world pretty well, get by. And I think what you're referring to is one of the things that I'm working on, which is called sensory substitution, which is, can we feed information into the brain via an unusual channel and get the brain to perceive it?
[00:15:02] Jordan Harbinger: Like that mountaineer who uses a camera on his tongue somehow.
[00:15:06] David Eagleman: Yeah. He has a camera mounted here and there's an electro tactile grid on his tongue that represents the visual image. So if he looks and there's a rock here, he'll feel that on his tongue. It feels like Pop Rocks on the tongue and people can get so good at this. It's called the brain port. They can get so good at it that they can throw a ball into a basket at a distance or navigate a complex obstacle course. People can do quite sophisticated things with this.
[00:15:32] The first example of that actually goes back to 1969 about using a video feed and translating into another sense. In that case, it was a series of pokes in the back. Blind people were sat in a dental chair and there's a solenoid grid and whatever was in front of the camera, people feel that poked into their back and blind people get quite good at telling you, "Oh, that's a line, that's a circle, that's a face," and so on.
[00:15:55] So one of the things I'm working on is how we can, for deaf people, completely replaced their cochlear, their inner ear is broken for whatever reason, can we completely replace that with the skin of the torso? So we have a vest that's covered in vibratory motors, and we capture all the sound and translated on the fly into patterns of vibration on the torso. And so they're feeling, "Buzz," and they can come to understand the spoken world that way.
[00:16:22] Jordan Harbinger: That's incredible. So essentially we replaced the hearing, the eardrum or whatever you said, the cochlear area, which is not functioning, and we say, "All right, these different vibrations on your body are now going to represent sounds." So in their brain is then represented as sound or are they just getting so used to feeling something that they say, "Okay, this is what sounds are now," or do we not know?
[00:16:43] David Eagleman: We don't know that yet. Ask me that again in about a year and I'll have deeper insight into that. But because one of the questions that I'm very curious about is the following, which is, why is it that vision feels to you so different than hearing which feels so different than touch or taste or smell? Given that when you look in the brain, it's all the same stuff. It's all spikes among neurons. If I showed you some piece of cortex, I said, "Ooh, look at all this activity going on there." You couldn't tell me if that's an auditory cortex, visual, or somatic sensory. It looks the same. The question is why does it feel so different? Why does vision feel like, "Oh, I'm seeing," whereas touch feels like I'm — I hypothesized that it's about the structure of the data.
[00:17:24] So with vision, you have two, two-dimensional sheets of the eyes. With hearing, you have, it's a one-dimensional signal through time. Touch is this high-dimensional signal and so on. And I hypothesized that the structure of the data is what defines what it feels like. If that's the case, then if we're feeding in auditory information, even though we're feeding it through the skin of the torso, instead of the cochlea, it'll essentially be hearing, it'll be essentially the same thing as hearing. Now what's also applied by this is if we feed in completely new senses, new information streams, people will have another sense. It's not like vision, it's not like touch, like hearing, it's this other thing.
[00:18:05] Jordan Harbinger: That they can't necessarily describe because it's not like — they're not seeing it. They're not smelling it. They're not hearing it. They're perceiving it in this other way that is completely alien to us.
[00:18:16] David Eagleman: Exactly. So let's say I feed in stock market data to you. And so all day long, you're feeling all these stocks and what's going on. And then you start feeling like, "Oh, you know, I feel like oil is about to crash. And I feel like Google is about to do something well," and whatever. You're feeling that. Yeah, that's the point. You could never describe it. Why? It's because language is all about shared communication. Like, "Oh, when you say this word, I know what you mean because I have the same experience, blah, blah, blah."
[00:18:36] Jordan Harbinger: It's hot and it looks blue and it's also cold after it turns red. You know what that means? It's weird, but you know what it means.
[00:18:43] David Eagleman: Right. I know what that means, but if you tried to explain it to a blind person, if you tried to take into somebody who's been blind from birth and explain what blue is like and red is like, you could try really hard and they might even pretend at some point that the understanding, but they can't understand you because they've never had that experience, that qualia.
[00:18:59] Jordan Harbinger: If they were born blind.
[00:19:00] David Eagleman: If they were born blind. And so they'll never get what you mean there. It's the same thing. If you're feeling the stock market data, and you try to explain to me, "Wow, I feel this, and it feels like this blah, blah," you could try and try and I'd never quite get what it is until I wear the stock market vest and experienced that for a month or so and I started getting, and then we'd have to make up a word together. We'd call it, the schm-eggy or something instead of vision or hearing or whatever.
[00:19:22] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:19:23] And we know what we mean by it, but nobody else would.
[00:19:27] You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest David Eagleman. We'll be right back.
[00:19:32] This episode is sponsored in part by Babbel. For most of us, learning a second language in high school wasn't exactly a high point in our academic careers. It took French. It's mostly a bunch of memorizing, like weird verb tables, never sunk in. Needless to say, I still don't know any French. Now, there's Babbel, a language learning app that's sold more than 10 million subscriptions and make it addictively fun and easy to learn a new language by using games, videos, stories. Babbel lessons were created by over a hundred language experts. So Babbel's teaching method has been scientifically proven to be effective and Babbel has bite-sized 15-minute lessons. So I do them right before bed, or anytime I have downtime to keep up with my German. See my German is getting so much better. Thanks to Babbel. Choose from 14 different languages, including Spanish, French, Italian, plus there's a 20-day money-back guarantee.
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[00:20:32] Jordan Harbinger: This episode is also sponsored by Better Help online therapy. Y'all know I'm a huge advocate of therapy or for therapy. I've seen a therapist in my day and I recommend it all the time on Feedback Friday. Now that I have kids, it's near impossible to juggle work schedule much less, drive a car and go to a therapist's office. Better Help online therapy is so convenient. All their therapists are licensed, trained, accredited with at least three years and a thousand hours of hands-on experience. And Better Help takes privacy very seriously. You can stay anonymous if you'd like. It's available 24/7. You can choose to communicate with video, phone, even live chat sessions, right from the comfort of your home. You can text things to your therapist at any time, right when you're thinking of it. So you don't forget. And if you're in a weird time zone or living overseas, and there's no English-speaking therapist in your country, you can use Better Help at 4:00 a.m. in America, and they're around. It's much more affordable than in-person therapy, and you can be matched with a therapist in under 48 hours. Give it a try and see if online therapy can help lower your stress.
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[00:22:14] Now back to David Eagleman.
[00:22:17] You have words in certain languages like Danish has this word, like hygge and it's supposed to be like comfort and homey. But this is beyond that. That's at least an amalgamation of things that humans understand.
[00:22:29] David Eagleman: Exactly. And you can tell me this Danish word means comfort and homey—
[00:22:32] Jordan Harbinger: Right, yeah.
[00:22:33] David Eagleman: —and pretty much got what the word is. But yeah, this will be something that anybody who's not experienced in that sense could ever, ever get.
[00:22:41] Jordan Harbinger: And do you think there's an unlimited number of those types of senses and feelings in our brain available potentially.
[00:22:47] David Eagleman: Potentially, yes. I think we have no data to tell us anything about the limits of that. You know, something I've been very interested in is, you know, looking across the animal kingdom. I spent a lot of my time just reading very detailed papers about these weird fish and animal species and whatever that I found, that have complete different sensors than we do, which allow them to do completely other than. You know, so like electroreception where you can tell about magnetic fields because you have electroreceptors in your body. Certain fish have that. Other animals do echolocation. Other animals pick up on ultrasound. Obviously, lots of animals pick up in the ultraviolet range of vision and so on. So there's lots of different signals animals can get in. And I suspect that their quality of their experience of that is different than ours as a result.
[00:23:31] Jordan Harbinger: Sure. Like a flatworm sense, I don't know, electrode signals from other living things in the ocean.
[00:23:36] David Eagleman: Yeah. Yeah. And so the issue is what are the limits of this? I kind of feel like — I mean, this is almost too big to imagine that it's true, but it might be true, which is that we're just now at this moment in history for the first time in billions of years, where we can suddenly feed in completely new senses to the brain, which as you may know, I see this as a very general purpose computing device. And I see all these sensors that we have is peripheral plug-and-play devices. And so we can plug in different sorts of peripherals of completely new experiences. And if this is right, we're going to know this in the next few years about what kind of completely different senses we can have.
[00:24:19] Jordan Harbinger: Does this mean that everybody's experience is then super subjective because it's only based on what our individual brains are constructed?
[00:24:26] David Eagleman: Oh yeah. That's already true, even though we have the same peripheral devices. You know, everybody essentially is living on their own planet. Like Matt Damon in The Martian, everyone's on their own planet. There's enough of a bandwidth between us that we can talk and I can say, "Hey Jordan, can you pass the red thing and use?" Because you know, we've learned a lot and we have the capacity to have this low bandwidth in between our planets, but it's already the case that it's quite different. And the question is now, if you start having completely different senses, to what degree will we even be able to understand each other? That's just a weird thing that we're walking into in the future.
[00:25:03] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, it's incredible. Because I'm thinking okay, if there was a way for you to experience — not even look at it because that's the throwing another dimension into it — a printout of exactly everything that I see right now, that I hear right now, that I smell right now, that I'm experiencing right now, just a snapshot, it would not match if you were sitting in this exact same seat, looking at the exact same direction. It would not matter. And it wouldn't just be, "Well, you know, you've got some tofu from your salad," that's changed the way — even if I look at a tree and you look at that same tree from the exact same angle, your brain is making a different picture of that tree than mine is.
[00:25:38] David Eagleman: Yeah, that's right. Because it has everything to do with what my goals are, what relevance the tree has to me — most likely I can look at the tree and think, "Okay, how do I get around it? To the right, to the left?" But let's say you're somebody who studies trees, then you might look at and say, "Oh, it's this type of tree," and then someone else comes up and thinks, "Hey, I really want to hang a swing. So which branch is the right branch to hang it from?" You know, there's a million different ways you can look at a tree and it all has to do with what your goals are and what your background and experiences. So that's totally right. The part that hits our retina or hits our ears is just a fraction of what we experienced.
[00:26:10] Jordan Harbinger: I was talking with Lisa Feldman Barrett who studies a lot of emotions and things like that. And she mentioned that all that our eyes are doing — all of our senses really — what they're doing is kind of fact-checking the picture that our brain has already made to make sure it's valid.
[00:26:24] David Eagleman: This is exactly what I meant by the internal model, which is that your brain's got this internal model that's running. And it's just with the little bit of data that comes in through the senses, it's saying, "Okay. You know, look, I think I'm sitting in my office at Stanford, with Jordan. We're talking blah, blah, blah," you know, and all of this is consistent. Yeah. I can feel the chair. I can see you and so on. And so it feels like, okay, that's all consistent. But if there's something really weird, I suddenly see that there's something completely off that I didn't expect, then I become consciously aware that I pay attention to that because the important thing to pay attention to are the things that violate your expectations that—
[00:26:57] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:26:58] David Eagleman: —are not consistent with your model. That is what will grab your attention.
[00:27:01] Jordan Harbinger: So if I'm born without a sense of smell, is all the smell-related data just missing from the model? Do I know that it's missing or it just doesn't matter? It's completely irrelevant.
[00:27:10] David Eagleman: Great question. It is completely missing and you do not know that it's missing. As we were talking to before, it struck me that — it'd be an interesting analogy to think if everybody in the world were blind except for you. So you had vision, you could see things at a distance and say, "Oh look, there's something coming over the hill." And everybody in the world would be absolutely blown away by this and think you're magical. They think like, "How could Jordan have known that there was something coming over the hill a mile away? When we had to wait for it to get closed and hear it and then touch it and so on. And he even knew what it was." I mean, it would seem completely insanely magical. But to the people who were born blind, they wouldn't know that they're missing something.
[00:27:45] You may have heard an analogy that I've used before is this issue that when I look at my dog, who's got a great big snout and 200 million scent receptors — you know, my dog is having this incredible experience of smell. I just watch her go around and do these things. We don't feel like, "Oh man, we've got this sort of black hole where smell should be. And we've just got these little impoverished noses here." Instead, we just were totally ensconced in our view of the world, and that as far as we're concerned is the entirety of reality.
[00:28:15] This TED talk on this concept of the umwelt, which is the part of your ecosystem that you can detect.
[00:28:21] Jordan Harbinger: Sure. I was looking for an excuse to use that word during the show.
[00:28:24] David Eagleman: Great. So the idea with the umwelt is for a tick, it's picking up on temperature butyric acid, and that's its whole world. That's what it picks up on. For the black ghost knifefish, it's picking up on electrical signals and perturbations, and for the echolocating bat, it's picking up air compression waves and so on. And we've all got our own umwelt. And for us, we've got these little noses, but here's the thing that I find amazing, whatever our umvelt is we assume that it's the entire objective reality out there.
[00:28:50] What I've noticed a lot now is like when I was giving my TED talk, I and the audience both really got the sense of where the umwelt could go. And then afterwards, like 30 minutes afterwards, everyone's back, everyone's back in their umwelt and I am too. I mean, I'm the guy who put this talk together and I talked about all the ways in which we could sense the world. It's so natural for us to snap back to that and think, "Okay, well probably this is the whole reality out there. I can see things, I can smell things, like that's probably the whole reality out there," even though I know, and the audience knows that it's not true. It doesn't last. That truth doesn't last long. That I find interesting.
[00:29:27] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. It seems like it's maybe a healthy way to live, somehow. There's an illusion that we are just aware of everything that's in front of us and we get it. And that's the whole of what there is to perceive. So we're under the illusion that we're not seeing an illusion.
[00:29:40] David Eagleman: Yeah. This is a very stubborn, psychological filter to get beyond. This is one of science's most basic fundamental things is figuring out what are these psychological illusions that we have and how do we make an end run around these and study this. But I just find it interesting that I can spend my days, you know, really trying to get past that. But as soon as I'm back, you know, with my kids on the swing and pushing them or whatever, none of that stuff matters because I have evolved. You know the product of four billion years of evolution of here's what your reality is and here's what you need to survive. So I forget about that other part.
[00:30:15] Jordan Harbinger: So yeah, don't spend too much time out of that or don't spend any time outside of that.
[00:30:19] David Eagleman: Right.
[00:30:19] Jordan Harbinger: Which is one reason why maybe some of the drug experience psychedelic stuff is so interesting is because it's turning off certain things or at least messing with the wiring in a way where it's like, "Hey, a new sense maybe, or a new thing is happening here."
[00:30:31] David Eagleman: Yeah, that's right. We're about a year off from having the vest on the market. And one of the things we've built into it is an open API so that anybody can pass any kind of data stream into it and experience whether that stock market or Twitter data or weather data, or whatever kind of data you want, you can experience that and develop a new qualia. And it may be that sort of in a year from now, the human species starts proliferating into all these different kinds of experiences that can be had.
[00:30:57] Jordan Harbinger: So the way that people who can't hear could listen to music would just be a synesthetic experience, in some way?
[00:31:03] David Eagleman: Well, so if a deaf person just wants to feel the music, we've actually been doing that a lot with the deaf community and they totally enjoy that. But I need one step beyond that, which is that they actually want to learn language, like learn how to understand everything that's going on, what you say, what I say — there's a knock on the door. There's a siren. They hear it all exactly the way you hear it. The way that we hear it is, you know, you've got these sound waves that hit our ear. And from there, everything becomes — you know, by the time we get to the inner ear, everything just becomes spikes that go to the brain. And this is the same thing. You just wear the vest. You've got spikes that are going up to the brain through the spinal cord.
[00:31:37] Jordan Harbinger: So it's electrical signals, no matter what, by the time it gets to the computer.
[00:31:40] David Eagleman: Exactly right.
[00:31:41] Jordan Harbinger: So, it doesn't really matter how they come in.
[00:31:42] David Eagleman: It's all the same currency, yeah.
[00:31:44] Jordan Harbinger: That's crazy. So if our brain is constantly making these choices out of, I guess, ambiguity, to make the model that we're working with, does that make social judgments as well? What types of judgments does it make? I mean, it makes every kind of in theory.
[00:31:58] David Eagleman: It makes every kind. And so, yeah, I mean, it's very weird to note the amount of stuff that we come to the table with, or — so I have two kids, five years old and two years old, and I've watched them about the kind of social judgements they make and about other people. "He treated me badly," and, "This is my toy," and whatnot, all these things unpack in a very natural sort of sequence, as in, there's nothing surprising about my five-year-old has all these particular opinions on these things. It's because we come with all the software that just unpacks in a certain way. And what's very weird is, you know, some of the programs are meant to unpack later. So when my children turn 13, you know, suddenly they'll become interested in parts of their body they weren't very interested in before and other people's bodies, and so. Then, all of a sudden cognition changes because new software that's been sitting on the shelf gets unpacked. It's very weird.
[00:32:45] Jordan Harbinger: Good luck with that, yeah.
[00:32:47] David Eagleman: We are simply living inside the software library.
[00:32:50] Jordan Harbinger: I'm really stoked at the idea that we might be able to add new senses into this.
[00:32:54] David Eagleman: Yeah.
[00:32:54] Jordan Harbinger: I mean, that's just like a crazy advantage.
[00:32:56] David Eagleman: Yeah, that's right. You know, and teaching people, "Okay, when this," you know, "do this sort of response," that's really useful, given that we're all humans and we all have the same sort of things going on, it's helpful to tell people, "Hey, this is an effective method to get what you need, which is," whatever it is — you know, not rejection or get the thing that they want or whatever it is, but fundamentally what it comes down to is all these desires that we have we essentially come pre-programmed with these. You can't help the fact that you are attracted to particular mates and that you want people to like you, and that you don't want to be ostracized from a group, and the list goes on and on. A hundred things we can name that you're just pre-programmed with.
[00:33:37] Jordan Harbinger: It seems really interesting in a way that we could modify these things and also a little bit unfair that we can't just choose them—
[00:33:44] David Eagleman: I know.
[00:33:45] Jordan Harbinger: —and make it easier, unfortunately.
[00:33:47] David Eagleman: I have some friends who are getting older by the way, and they find that the amount of time they spend thinking about sex and sexuality is going down and they feel very liberated by that. They feel like, okay, as that module is sort of, you know, moving towards shutting down or slowing down that frees up a lot of mental space, things that took up a lot of cycles before, now you get more room to think about things.
[00:34:10] Jordan Harbinger: I would have done a lot better in school if there were no women around because I would have spent a lot less time thinking about how my hair looks or how this shirt matches with this thing or name it. I wasted most of my bandwidth was spent during this 10 or 15-year period thinking about pretty much nothing else—
[00:34:26] David Eagleman: Yeah.
[00:34:26] Jordan Harbinger: —to the detriment of everything else.
[00:34:27] David Eagleman: This is an interesting example, because what it shows is that, you know, as a society, as a civilization, we've grown to this point where we think, "Look, it's really important to send kids to school and do this sort of thing," which it is. It is super important for us to do that, given our goals and desires as a civilization, but we're really fighting what is a more natural thing, which is, you know, by the time you're 13 or 14 years old, you're interested in mating and that's what we're geared to do. And so there's all this effort that fights against that say, "All right, stay in your desk, Jordan. I'm going to teach you 10 dates in Mongolian history that are important," and so on. And you just have to try to fight—
[00:35:04] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:35:04] David Eagleman: —pre-programming with this other piece.
[00:35:06] Jordan Harbinger: I was thinking, "Oh, I must have ADHD," and no, what I had was—
[00:35:10] David Eagleman: Four billion years of evolution.
[00:35:10] Jordan Harbinger: —attractions of the opposite sex, yeah. If we are dealing with mental models that our brains create, and that's what sort of makes up our perception and then...or identity or whatever, it seems like that our memories must — which are just recollections of that same perception — then those are also not totally accurate. They're false. And so they would include maybe things that are based on, not even just what we see and experience, but things that we thought we saw and experienced that we maybe heard about or saw on telephone. So does that mean that our identity — and forgive me, I'm going on this philosophy road here, this Jason Silva type road here — does that mean that if our identity is made up of memories of ourselves that a certain portion of our identity, or maybe even the whole thing, is basically a fabrication of our brain or by our brain?
[00:35:56] David Eagleman: So, yes and no. So there's a difference of course, between saying memory is not accurate and saying it's false. Because it's not necessarily that it's false, it is the case that what we write down isn't like a video recording or like the way it computer stores zeros and ones. It's very different from that. It's about sensations and impressions, not all, but you're accurate. And of course, putting memory aside, you can just be in a situation where somebody says something to you and you think, "I can't believe that guy," and your whole life, you remember that moment, but actually it was you misinterpreted what he meant by it and so on. Even when our memory is totally accurate, we might not even have the right interpretation of what it was that led up to that moment.
[00:36:32] So yes, it is the case, our whole identity is built from the sum total of our memories. And so it is this very weird thing that the beliefs we hold rest on this. And typically until people get older and a little bit wiser, they really believe that their memories are correct. And they believe that their interpretation of the world is correct. You know, we all tell ourselves stories about things and it takes some amount of maturity to realize, "Okay, well, that's just the story," and yeah, maybe that's what actually happened. Maybe that's what the person meant maybe not. But yeah, I think it's especially tough on young people that their whole who they are is built as the sum total of these memories and impressions.
[00:37:09] Jordan Harbinger: This is The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest David Eagleman. We'll be right back.
[00:37:14] This episode is also sponsored by Athletic Greens. Athletic Greens is a product that Jen and I use literally every day. I'm often on the go. I've also tried a lot of these sort of like green juicy things and a lot of them are kind of gross. This one is definitely not that at all. It's my all-in-one nutritional insurance and my multivitamin and tons of people take some kind of multivitamin and it's important to choose one with high-quality ingredients that your body will actually absorb. Athletic Greens uses the best of the best products based on the latest science with constant product iterations and third-party testing. And it's cheaper than getting all the different supplements yourself. And my friend started the company and he's kind of like a stickler for all things, high quality. He doesn't just like grab cheap crap from overseas and stuff it in stuff that he throws in his body. There's no GMOs. There's no nasty chemicals, artificial, anything. And like I said, it still tastes good. I don't feel the need to shotgun it while holding my nose. And now, it's time to reclaim your health and arm your immune system with convenient daily nutrition, especially heading into the flu and cold season. And I don't even know, honestly, if there is a non-cold and flu season if you have kids, so whatever. One scoop of Athletic Greens in water every day, that's it. No need for a million different pills and supplements to look out for your health.
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[00:39:45] Now for the rest of my conversation with David Eagleman.
[00:39:49] The brain seems to trick us a lot, almost, maybe on purpose, maybe just little foibles but tell me about alien hand syndrome. This thing is weird.
[00:39:57] David Eagleman: Yeah. Well, it's funny because I think it's not so weird. That's interesting. But alien hand syndrome is where, because of a lesion in the brain, damage to the brain, something starts — your hand, for example, starts having a mind of its own, is what it seems like. So it's called an alien hand. So your hand — there was some dumb movie, Evil Dead 2 or something?
[00:40:14] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:40:15] David Eagleman: Where the guy's hands started doing things on its own, but it's kind of like this. Like I might start zipping up my jacket with this hand and this hand pulls it down. And I say, "No, I wanted to put my jacket up," and it's doing its own thing.
[00:40:25] Jordan Harbinger: So you're fighting yourself although it's like you have two separate control systems.
[00:40:29] David Eagleman: Exactly. What's happening is one part of your brain s controlling this arm and other part is controlling this arm and they just have different ideas of what's going on. The interesting part that this exposes to my mind is the fact that under normal circumstances, you always have conflict, enormous amounts of conflict going on in the brain as — if you remember in my book Incognito, you know, this issue that I described the brain as a team of rivals, which is to say, you've got all these different networks that have different drives. They want different things at every given moment, and they're always battling it out to steer the ship, so it's sort of like a neural parliament in a sense.
[00:41:03] Anyway, the times that that becomes clear is when you do things like cut the corpus callosum, which connects the two halves or do various things, that brain damage in one place or another. That's when you start really exposing the rivalries that are happening under the hood. Normally, these get arbitrated so that by the time it all rises to consciousness, you say, "Oh, I'm going to do that. I'm going to get the tofu salad," or whatever.
[00:41:26] Jordan Harbinger: Tell me about zombie routine.
[00:41:27] David Eagleman: So the idea with zombie routines is it's just that you've got all these completely automatized things going on in your brain all the time. So this is an example of it, what we were just talking about with alien hand or whatever, but all the stuff that we're used to thinking about, like, "Oh my heart beating, taking care of my gut, the digestion. I'm walking, I'm balancing, I'm shifting my position every once in a while so that my blood flow goes through my leg as well," and so on. These are all zombie routines. They're just completely automatized. Most of them we never even have access to. This stuff is so fascinating. It's exactly like this thing we talked about with the activity monitor on the computer, where you just see these other zombie routines that your computer is running, that you'll never, ever crack open that function and see what it's doing, but it's just doing something that's super critical to the mission.
[00:42:13] Jordan Harbinger: Are there ways in which in the future, we might create conscious machines that can control other subroutines and automatize those so that our brain power is maybe, is freed up for something else? Or is it by that time that we can create those, the brain is then an obsolete piece of computing?
[00:42:27] David Eagleman: Oh, interesting. For better or worse, the brain will never become, obviously, because we are brain owners and we — if I said to you, "Hey Jordan, we're just going to kill you now because your brain is obsolete because we have better computers," you wouldn't want to die so—
[00:42:39] Jordan Harbinger: I might want a better brain then. I might not want this bio one. I might want a better one.
[00:42:42] David Eagleman: Well, so there's a sense in which we already have that. So, you know, we all carry around this little rectangle supercomputer in our pockets, which connects us to the entirety of human knowledge and learning up to now. So there's already a sense of what you've got this great symbiosis going. There's been a lot of interest lately in this issue of can we make it so that we're not interfacing via our fat thumbs, but we've got this faster thing? That is actually an extraordinarily difficult problem to solve. So, you know, there've been a couple of companies that have launched recently — say, they're going to do this to work on ways of doing this. One is called Kernel, one is called Neuralink. The difficulty is you can't do this thing of implanting electrodes, which is the traditional way that in neuroscience and neurosurgery, the way of getting to the brain, which is the soft, pink material, that's surrounded with the skull, right?
[00:43:28] Jordan Harbinger: Like cochlear implants? How they just kind of touch inside your brain.
[00:43:32] David Eagleman: Right. A cochlear implant is slightly different because you're just slipping and electrode strip into the inner ear there.
[00:43:36] Jordan Harbinger: Ah.
[00:43:36] David Eagleman: But this has actually drill a hole in the skull stick electrodes into the brain itself. That's the idea there. I kind of think that idea will never catch on in the consumer space and here's why. It's because there's always risk of infection and death on the surgery table, and so neurosurgeons simply aren't going to do it for someone who simply wants a better interface with their computer.
[00:43:57] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:43:58] David Eagleman: And I don't even know that consumers would want to do it. Obviously, these surgeries do happen, but they're for people with real disorders and deficits, like, you know, they've got Parkinson's disease that prevents them from being able to even walk around in the world. So you can do a neurosurgery there. It's a big undertaking, but it's worth it for what it gets you. But the question is, would it ever become a consumer thing where you do neurosurgery? I just don't think so.
[00:44:21] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. It's a little risky just to have a quicker access to Google search engine or something like that.
[00:44:25] David Eagleman: Exactly right. Exactly right. So I think we need to come up with other ideas. And there are a lot of nascent incipient ideas that will one day grow into something that could be consumer ready. And these are issues involved in, for example, nanorobotics, getting super tiny little robots into every neuron in your brain or genetic techniques to be able to change the way that your neurons behave and know when they're firing. Things like this so that we could actually read lots of brain activity in a useful way and eventually right to the brain activity also.
[00:44:59] Jordan Harbinger: That would be very, very cool. Because I think everybody kind of wants to level up a little bit and everybody wants to be superhuman. If our brains can interpret data from anywhere, like the camera that has the grid on the tongue, the vest that people can feel to hear, then we could theoretically invent things that are external, but are maybe better than our natural gear for data gathering.
[00:45:21] David Eagleman: Oh yeah, totally. I mean, one thing that I'm interested in with the vest for example, is, you know, setting up cameras and other rooms and I can feel where people are moving around and I know, "Oh, yeah, someone just entered the third room over there." "How do you know?" "I felt it." That's easy stuff and what that illustrates is just, you know, our eyes are limited because, "Oh, there's a wall here." Well, that's the end of that. I can't see past that. But it's just super easy for us to hook up our tech to really make it better than the experiences we have now.
[00:45:48] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:45:48] David Eagleman: One of the things I'm interested in is the spectrum of electromagnetic radiation. There's a very thin strip here, which we call visible light, which is those wavelengths that we can see—
[00:45:58] Jordan Harbinger: Exactly.
[00:45:58] David Eagleman: —because of the machinery in our retina, but there's all this other space out here of other wavelengths that are moving around that are totally invisible to us. A colleague of mine is making microwave sensors to put on satellites so you can look at the earth in the microwave range. It's a long story why. But what they discovered quite accidentally is when you look at the planet in the microwave range, you can see in that range, what water is drinkable, which water is polluted.
[00:46:25] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, wow.
[00:46:25] David Eagleman: And that was a new discovery that they didn't expect. Nobody expected. They just figured that out accidentally. But just imagine if I'm actually feeling in all of these different wavelength, what kind of accidental discoveries I would make there about, "Oh, wow. Did you know? If I'm seeing a person in this completely other range, I can tell this other thing," or the sky is the limit as far as the kind of discoveries we can make, if we just strap these on humans and have them walk around and experience their daily life.
[00:46:52] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. It's fascinating for me to see that. Look in other words, instead of eyes, or in addition to eyes, I could have sensors that can sense heat. They can sense thing's motion over super long distances, in the dark. You could have a FLIR, like those infrared cameras that — or a heat camera that can easily be super sensitive enough to go through walls and buildings. And, if I'm a law enforcement military search and rescue, I could theoretically — instead of having this complicated piece of gear or having a radio to a helicopter or a truck — I could look in a certain direction, or just not even look I could hold my hand out or wherever the FLIR sensor is and go, "There's four people, six meters deep, trapped in something. They don't have that much air and there's water in there too."
[00:47:35] David Eagleman: Yeah.
[00:47:35] Jordan Harbinger: I could know all of that, but instead of being able to go, "Okay, I see that in this computer and it's being radio," I just, feel it.
[00:47:41] David Eagleman: Exactly.
[00:47:42] Jordan Harbinger: And I'm already in action.
[00:47:43] David Eagleman: Exactly right and it sounds so weird to think, "Oh, could you just feel that kind of information?" but you know, if you look at the amount of information coming in through our eyes right now, it's so absolutely enormous. And colors don't exist in the outside world, the colors that I'm experiencing, essentially carry information for me. Like, oh yeah. It's different wavelengths of electromagnetic. And that tells me where the right fruit is against the green leaves of the tree, and so. All this stuff I'm just feeling in a sense already, but we take vision for granted. I just open my eyes and there's the world.
[00:48:12] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:48:13] David Eagleman: The vest is probably our best bet for the next 50 years or something until we figure out better ways to get deeper in there and plug things directly into the brain, but that is not as easy as people think.
[00:48:25] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. It's not just the Matrix worth of the little cord to the back of the head.
[00:48:28] David Eagleman: Yeah, exactly. Because you know, essentially — and also, if you stick an electrode in the brain, the brain tissue rejects that the same way that your finger will spit out a splinter over time. It pushes it out. It's doing the same thing with electrodes in the brain. So I think electrodes are probably not the way to go and it'll have to be something much more sophisticated than that.
[00:48:46] Jordan Harbinger: And what timeline do you think we're on for things like that?
[00:48:48] David Eagleman: It's impossible to know, but you know, 50 years we'll have something consumer based if I had to make a wild guess.
[00:48:54] Jordan Harbinger: What about using things like the grid on the tongue? Is that just, there's just not enough surface area to get the right type of bandwidth?
[00:49:00] David Eagleman: Well, the reason I'm much more interested in what we're doing with the vest than this tongue — the tongue is a terrific proof of principle but you can't eat and you can't speak with it in your mouth. So that's the reason I'm not too high on that as a device. The other thing is, you know, it hangs out of your mouth in this way, and it is socially embarrassing to people to do this kind of thing. I mean, I don't just mean the brain port but I mean, something like a hearing aid is socially embarrassing.
[00:49:24] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:49:25] David Eagleman: So what I wanted to do with the vest from the very beginning is this something you wear under your clothes, no one even knows you're wearing it but it's translating the world for you or translating whatever sense you want, but no one even knows you're wearing it. And that's the idea.
[00:49:36] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. That makes sense. I'm just thinking my brain is going wild with like, "Well, what if you could line my esophagus with a grid or something that nobody could see? And there's a lot more surface area there." Or maybe it goes under my skin, which sounds gross and painful, but also theoretically possible.
[00:49:51] David Eagleman: I think all these are good ideas. The only problem is — I love the idea of lining your esophagus, but you have to actually go in there and do some sort of minor surgery to get that in place.
[00:49:59] Jordan Harbinger: I don't know how minor that is, right? Yeah.
[00:50:01] David Eagleman: It would be relatively minor, but as opposed to you buy a vest for under a thousand bucks and you zip it up on your clothes and you're set, it feels like there's an advantage to that, that it hasn't been immediately obvious to me what the next step would be that would be better. As in, "Oh, I'm going to go in and get a surgery and be out for two days and have this thing," like, you know, maybe that's useful, but we not only have the vest, but we have a wristband. We're also building a pair of pants with vibratory motors in it. And so you can get lots of different data streams pretty easily, cheaply from the outside.
[00:50:32] Jordan Harbinger: How quickly can I learn how to use this? Because if I'm wearing the vest right now, it just feels like a typical shirt, right? Or some kind of weird vibrating — it doesn't mean anything.
[00:50:40] David Eagleman: Yeah, it totally depends on what you're trying to learn. So many of the things that we're doing have zero learning curve. People immediately get it. They just get it. Others have like 15-second learning curve where you just—
[00:50:50] Jordan Harbinger: Really?
[00:50:50] David Eagleman: Yeah.
[00:50:50] Jordan Harbinger: Because the brain learns how to use the data right away.
[00:50:53] David Eagleman: Exactly. But it totally depends on the kind of data. So that's one end of the extreme, but the other end of the extreme is learning language. Learning how to use the vest as an ear that takes about a month. So you train for about an hour a day using these cool games we have. The games — the phone presents a word to the vest, so you feel, "Buzz," and then you have, let's say, two words and you have to choose, "Which word did I just feel? Did I feel knee or door?" and so you're making a guess and you're at 50 percent at first. But what happens is people's performance starts improving steadily and it just keeps on improving. So that's at the long end of how long it takes to learn something. Other things are—
[00:51:25] Jordan Harbinger: That's incredible. So what's one of the things you're most excited about? Of course, allowing deaf people to be able to hear what the vest. What are you going to use it for when you get one that you can take home?
[00:51:35] David Eagleman: I can just say as far as a clear market path — because you know, we have to get this out in that way — we're doing things with deafness, as we're doing things with blindness, we're doing things with prosthetic legs. Just as an example, when somebody gets a prosthetic leg, they don't learn how to walk very easily. They have to look at where their leg is at all times because they aren't getting a feedback from it.
[00:51:52] Jordan Harbinger: Sure, sure.
[00:51:53] David Eagleman: So we're just looking at pressure and angle sensors, and then feeding that into the vest. And you can feel exactly what your leg is doing, just like you and I feel what our legs are doing. So there are lots of things like that that are addressing particular deficits and then there's the whole world of things we're doing about adding senses.
[00:52:09] Jordan Harbinger: Sure. When are you going to be able to let the world know what this stuff is?
[00:52:12] David Eagleman: Probably about a year from now.
[00:52:13] Jordan Harbinger: All right, we'll see you in a year.
[00:52:14] David Eagleman: Good, good. I'm looking forward to it.
[00:52:16] Jordan Harbinger: David. Thank you so much.
[00:52:17] David Eagleman: Great. Thank you, Jordan. Cheers.
[00:52:20] Jordan Harbinger: I've got some thoughts on this episode, but before we get into that, here's what you should check out next on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:52:27] Beau Lotto: There is a world out there, but we don't see it as it is. So this isn't philosophy, this is just laws of physics. So if a tree falls in the wind, no one's there to hear it. Does it 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. Light, all the light that's coming around us, right? It's bouncing off objects. And then it's changing when it hits an object and then it comes to our eyes, right? But our retina has no access to the light directly nor to the surfaces. All it literally has access to is energy. 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 energy, but you're not seeing it.
[00:53:13] 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.
[00:53:28] We can't hear the five sounds of A that people in Scandinavia use for instance—
[00:53:34] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:53:34] Beau Lotto: We can't see certain shades of red that Russians can see.
[00:53:37] Jordan Harbinger: Really?
[00:53:38] Beau Lotto: Yeah. 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. Now, of course, if you don't have eyes, you can't choose to see. 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. So the world is always changing and complexifying and we need to complexify with it. And we never could if it always just see it as it really is.
[00:54:08] Jordan Harbinger: For more about how our brains produce vision and the contracts our brain makes to build our world, check out episode 177 with Beau Lotto here on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:54:20] Like I told you, this is freaking fascinating. I was not lying about that. The fact that we can in very short periods of time, create new senses that we can learn to use without Neuralink technology, even all those wires coming out of your brain type stuff and do so just by having our brain learn ways of decoding new input, that is really mind blowing — and no pun intended — and that is going to open up whole new avenues for human communication in the future. This is just the beginning of something really incredible. You heard it here first and a great big thank you to David Eagleman for coming on the show.
[00:54:53] Links to all things David Eagleman will be in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com. Please use our website links if you buy books from any of the guests. That helps support the show as well. Transcripts in the show notes. Advertisers, deals, and discount codes, all at jordanharbinger.com/deals. Please consider supporting those who make this show possible. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on Twitter and Instagram, or just connect with me there on LinkedIn.
[00:55:16] I'm teaching you how to connect with great people and manage relationships, using systems, software, and tiny habits over at our Six-Minute Networking course. That course is free. It's over at jordanharbinger.com/course. I'm teaching you how to dig the well before you get thirsty and hey, most of the guests you hear on the show, they subscribe and contribute to the course. So come join us, you'll be in smart company where you belong.
[00:55:37] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. My team is Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Millie Ocampo, Ian Baird, Josh Ballard, and Gabriel Mizrahi. Remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for this show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting. If you know somebody who's into brain stuff, you know, one of those fellow neuroscience geeks, or somebody who wants to know what the new superpower is going to be in 20, 30 years, share this episode with them. The greatest compliment you can give us is to share the show with those you care about. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on this show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
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