Ep #36 Transcript | Heather Heying & Bret Weinstein: Culture, Food, Medicine, Dating & Evolution
Updated: Sep 14
Full episode transcript below. Beware of typos!
Nick Jikomes 0:25
Welcome to the Mind and Matter podcast. I'm your host, Nick Jikomes and today I'm speaking with Dr. Heather hying and Dr. Brett Weinstein, Breton, Heather, our evolutionary biologists and authors of the new book hunter gatherers guide to the 21st century evolution and the challenges of modern life. The book is meant to provide an evolutionary toolkit for understanding the modern human condition by understanding our past. And the book examines a variety of modern issues that we all face and looks at how we might conduct ourselves better by understanding things through an evolutionary lens. Our conversation touched on many of these things, including modern medicine, dieting, and health, sleep and light dating and human mating systems and questions related to consciousness and the state of civilization at large. This is one of the longer podcasts that I've done stretching almost three hours in length, but we cover a lot of interesting ground. If you find the content interesting, you can find a link to the book in the episode description. And with that, here's my conversation with Heather Heying and Brett Weinstein.
Hi, I'm Brett Weinstein. Thank you for joining me. Thanks for having us. Thank you for having us. Can you do a brief background for people who don't already know you on what your What is your scientific background?
Heather Heying 3:33
Sure, where should we start? why don't why don't you start with your childhood? Well, okay, I, my grandfather was a chemist and he showed the scientific world to my brother and to me and made it fun and interesting and set us both on a path that leads us to this day. I fell in love with creatures as a as a kid, I loved watching animals and trying to figure out why they were the way they were and why they did the things they did. I ended up following that right through college into graduate school where I studied evolutionary biology under dick Alexander, who is now sadly gone, but was one of the great evolutionary biologists of the 20th century. Actually, I should say both Heather and I also worked with Bob rivers when we were undergraduates at the University of California, Santa Cruz and other one of the greats. So in any case, lifelong love of evolutionary biology and the things that it produces. I've somewhat stolen your thunder there because it overlaps
Bret Weinstein 4:41
now that's good. So you know, you had you had a grandfather who was really instrumental in giving you the the love of science and pattern recognition and observation. And, for me, there was a similar role played by my father, who called himself a little country programmer. He grew up on a farm in Iowa, so Your grandfather provided for you a lot of the impetus and inspiration for becoming a scientist. And for me, that role was largely played by my father, who was a computer scientist. So not at all in the realm of evolutionary biology, but was very interested also in pattern recognition and observation and hypothesis. So I have an undergraduate degree in anthropology, where, as Brett mentioned, we were at UC Santa Cruz together already together, the two of us. And we studied under Bob Trevor's, as, you know, by some estimates, the greatest living evolutionary biologist, and then went to University of Michigan, where I also worked with Alexander, but my major advisor was Arnold clukey. So I was over in the macro, macro and of evolution, macro evolution, phylogenetics, at least in terms of who my major advisor was, and I did field work in Madagascar, looking at the sexual selection and evolution of sociality, and poison frogs.
Nick Jikomes 6:00
One of the reasons I'm really excited to talk about this book with you, this new book that you have coming out, is that it's all about looking at life and looking at ourselves through an evolutionary lens. And I actually got the first part of my education in evolutionary biology. And one of the things that I look back on that's interesting is, I started studying evolutionary biology as an undergrad, purely out of interest, I had no sort of practical application of that field in mind. And I went on to other things, to study other things. But I internalized by studying within that field, a lot of evolutionary principles. And I just naturally, unconsciously found myself, looking at my own life conversations, I was having interactions I was having in this evolutionary lens, and we'll unpack what that means for people. But one thing I realized, you know, later on in my life was how, how much utility that actually had for making sense of what otherwise are very confusing things in life. There's so many instances where people find themselves saying, Why did she say that to me? Why did I do that? Why did they do this? And a lot of these things are inexplicable until you sort of learn how to think about things from this evolutionary perspective. So very briefly, for people, what is the evolutionary lens?
Bret Weinstein 7:22
What does that mean? before you answer that, let me say that one of this is a book we've been talking about writing for over 10 years that we explored, we explored a lot of the ideas in it with our students when we were college professors and develop them sort of in tandem with them in some cases, and one, although the title hunter gatherers guide to the 21st century is one that we've had in our heads for over a decade. Another possible title and a phrase that we use a lot is obvious in retrospect. Because that really does describe so so many of the evolutionary insights, the aspects of applying an evolutionary lens, to an otherwise confusing world, that it can be impossible to get there, you can just feel confused by the social environment, the physical environment, whatever it is, and then you hear an explanation, that with practice, you could probably begin to derive yourself from first principles. And you go I that's, that makes so much sense. It is, in fact, obvious in retrospect.
Heather Heying 8:21
So I would add that, the nice thing about biology is that, at the end of the day, it has to make sense. It doesn't mean it makes sense when you look at it at first, but unlike something like physics, for example, where quantum mechanics is under no obligation to make sense to a human mind, biology adds up in some way that we can comprehend. And if you can make a few assumptions, assumptions that are easily defended secure ones, and then approached with the expectation that ultimately there has to be a good reason for this, if we can understand what evolution is trying to accomplish is shorthand. But if we understand what evolution is trying to accomplish, then we can recognize the structures that creatures have and the behaviors that they engage in as being required to contribute to that objective. And if a behavior doesn't add up, if you look at a peacocks tail, and you think, well, that's actually counterproductive to that end, you know, you're standing in the wrong place. And it may be that no one has yet figured out where to stand. But really, it's a question of seeking the position from which the behaviors and structures add up. And when you do reach those places, it's a kind of, it's a special version of the aha moment, when you suddenly look at a peacocks tail and stop being confused. It's a huge relief. It's like watching all of these factors in some very complex equation cancel out and the thing emerges in front of you.
Bret Weinstein 9:55
And just to clarify, it's not that the physics doesn't have to square with you universe it of course does. But it doesn't have to square with the scale that we exist at. Where as the evolutionary processes that we engage in, especially with regard to behaviors do, because they exactly exist at the scale that we live at. It's, you know, it's almost a redundant point, you know, it's a circular point that those things that are driving how we behave must be interpretable by us at this scale.
Nick Jikomes 10:27
And you do a great job in the book of using observations, all littered throughout the book of animal behavior, but it's all in the service of helping us understand ourselves to understand human beings. So one of the things I want to do early on that you guys do in the first chapter, I think, I think, is explain a little bit the the human context that we're going to be talking about, and you talk in the book about the human niche. So what is a niche? What would an ecologist or an evolutionary biologist describe as an animal's niche? And what is the human niche? And why is it unique?
Heather Heying 11:00
Best way to think about a niche is it's an opportunity, right? And so for most creatures, you can think of an ecological opportunity. an ecological opportunity is just all the things necessary for you to not only persist, but to reproduce for a population to exist there. And there are a lot of ways that you can think about it. Sometimes we map these things onto what we call a fitness landscape. And you know, a niche is basically a peak. And we argue that that peak is actually a volume that gets filled up by creatures. And at the point that the volume is filled, they've reached carrying capacity, which is the limit of that opportunity. And then it suggests, well, if creatures have filled up this opportunity, and there's some peak that isn't filled nearby, how is it that selection might move creatures to do this thing over to do that thing, either instead? Or additionally. And the thing about humans is that we're quite paradoxical. If you look at us and ask, Well, what is our net? Because we do everything, right, we hunt marine mammals, we terrorists, hillsides and productively farm them, we climb high into caves and make soup out of the nests of birds, all kinds of things. And so, if you say typically, a species has a niche, then human beings are very strange, because human beings have so many different niches. And the argument that we make in the book is that the human niche is Nick switching, that it is the movement from one niche to the other, that is our special, our special advantage in the universe, and that it explains why we are so many things at once. And you know, even beyond that, so many things at once. But also, if you teleport back in time, and look at all the things human beings have productively done, it's just a it's a mini dimension, a dimensional matrix of, of niches.
Bret Weinstein 12:54
Yeah, that's almost like the derivative of a niche, right? It's it's niche switching allows us to end up doing the calculus of ecology that other organisms haven't been able to as fully explore.
Nick Jikomes 13:08
So in some sense, we're good at switching niches or adapting to new niches, and other animals often have great difficulty in behaving well behaving effectively, in a context for which they're not currently adapted. And one of the things that you get into in the first chapter, is the idea of culture versus consciousness. So at one point, there's a short passage I want to read, you say, when in the zone, the conscious mind is present, but as a spectator who steers clear, so it's not to disrupt the flow, behaviors become habitual, and intuitive. Individually might call this skill or craft in a family or a tribe, such habits become traditions passed efficiently from one generation to the next, scale this up further, and we have culture. So what is that passage speaking to? And why is it culture versus consciousness?
Heather Heying 14:06
The the question really is, how does niche switching work? Right? If a creature exists inside of an opportunity in a niche, it's because they have the programming and the structures that allow them to exploit that niche. The process of moving to another niche is difficult if the other niche is sufficiently distinct. And so there's a question about how do you bootstrap the tools for moving from one thing to the next and figuring out how to exploit it efficiently so that you can, for example, compete with whatever specialists are utilizing the resources in that niche. So this requires an explanation and I think we have not properly looked for yet. What is it that human beings do that allow them to move? Well, one thing that we clearly do is swap out the software program. If you are in A hunter of marine mammals at the coast and you're going to move inland and hunt terrestrial mammals, you have to change what you do. Some things may retain relevance and other things will have to be swapped Well, how do you figure out what you need to change? And what human beings do is they talk to eat, they talk about what they've observed and what things might be brought to bear on the question. And so this looks like a mechanism for essentially, software prototyping. And it is that prototyping process that allows you to figure out how to do the new thing. But anybody who's prototypes knows that your first prototypes aren't any good, right? They're not productive. They're wildly inefficient, they make errors they don't have to make. And so you have to get to the new niche, figure out what in principle you might do with it. And then you have to refine that thing. And once it's refined, you don't want to lead newcomers through all of the steps that brought you to the final. The final mechanism, what you want to do is encode that mechanism so efficiently that it can be passed on very, very quickly and with high fidelity. And so our point is, culture is the mechanism through which we transmit things, we understand those who need to pick them up rapidly and deploy them. And consciousness is the way we figure out what that we might do, we are not yet doing right how we move to the new opportunity.
Bret Weinstein 16:29
So just to add a slightly slightly rephrase what you just said, in our, by our definitions, culture is that which we have been doing successfully. And if things don't change, if the environment doesn't change, either in space, or time or other selective opportunity, we should be able to continue doing and therefore it will be more efficient to keep doing it in the way that we have been doing it. And consciousness is that which requires innovation requires active engagement requires no set and forget protocol, no brand loyalty. Now, this is the way we've always been doing things kind of estimations. And so the conscious mind is less efficient, it takes more time. It's, you know, both for the individual to do things and for a group of people to get things done. It has a high error rate. But it is utterly necessary if as humans are we are actively engaged in switching niches and looking for opportunity and moving through space and time in ways that mean that we are exposed to things that we've never been exposed to before. That said what we inherit from our ancestors, from our families from from our existing culture to use, the usual way that it's used, is relevant in so far as when those things were encoded, are those things are still relevant today, you know that if if conditions remain the same in some way as they were, when you began to do the thing you're doing now, then Good, keep on it. You don't need to think through every single thing you've ever done. Every time you do it, you want some set and forget in your life. And that's the culture side.
Nick Jikomes 18:14
Interesting. So So consciousness is I mean, we've all experienced this, when we're trying to solve a problem or trying to do something new. We have to pay attention. We're very aware of what we're doing. We're often behaving in a clunky way. And it's very effortful. It's very difficult. But there's many things in life that don't have that property, we just sort of do them, we often do them according to a script. And what you're saying is that certain aspects of culture, stay are those scripts, the the sort of stories that we bake into everything from fairy tales to religions, and we'll come to some of that stuff and how it evolves, are simply a re re encoding of information so that it's more easily transmissible to say, a child rather than an adult who had to work through the problem. And we'll come to that as well. In this first chapter, you also introduce something that you that you come back to a lot called the Omega principle, and we've alluded to it already. But let's just state explicitly what that is.
Heather Heying 19:11
Sure. The omega principle is a specification for the relationship between epigenetic phenomenon, especially culture and the genome. And this is a place where evolutionary biology has had arguments and effectively has ended up in a kind of permanent agnostic state about what is the relationship between the evolution of memes and genes. And what we argue is that this relationship is actually it's a two part relationship. It is something we can specify with precision, and it is obligate. So we have called it the Omega principle, because omega is a Greek letter, we hope to call to mind pi, because the fact is, the relationship between the diameter of a circle and it's certainly France is obligated, in the same way to the relationship itself in the case of omega, is that epigenetic phenomena are inherently superior to genes in the sense that they are more flexible, more rapidly adapting, but they are inferior in the sense that they are subordinate to the objectives of the genome, the genome is in a position to shut down epigenetic phenomena. And to the extent that it does not shut them down. That is because they are serving the genomes interests.
Nick Jikomes 20:31
And so how did you come to that conclusion? I can recall sort of my especially my college education, where and many courses, it was this type of thing was described, you know, you'd often hear this in the nature nurture dichotomy that is often used to, you know, contextualize whatever you're learning about in the classroom, you would often hear people say, Well, is it cultural? Or is it genetic? And what you're saying is, that's not an appropriate way of thinking about things.
Heather Heying 20:58
Well, cultural or genetic is actually defensible. What? What what people often say is something like, is it biological? Or is it cultural, and the point is, actually culture is equally biological, as genes, it is a different mode of transmission of heritable information, but it is equally biological. The answer or how you come to it, is in some sense, this is one of the this is one of the ultimate cases of obvious in retrospect, you think about the cognitive architecture necessary to have a huge fraction of our behavioral repertoire transmitted outside of the genome, through culture, you realize that's an amazingly elaborate process. It's an energetically very costly process. And lots of things that it does could be done much more cheaply, with much less room for error to be introduced in each generation. So why would the genome have offloaded so much of our behavior, I mean, even, for example, we have to learn to walk a horse does not have to learn to walk and knows how to walk from the moment it's born. So what is the advantage of hobbling our children of creating this vast landscape of possibilities with respect to what the behavioral repertoire will be of introducing the possibility that two creatures of the same species won't be able to communicate because one speaks Italian on the other one speaks Mandarin, right? There are all sorts of reasons not to build a creature this way. what that says is, there must be a very good reason to do it to overcome all those disadvantages. And we know that that reason must come from the genes because if it didn't think about the cost to the genes of doing it this way. If the genes were not being served by the cultural, the mimetic architecture, then they are certainly being harmed by it. Because of all the things that, you know, to the extent that we are physical beings, our time and our energy is spent on all sorts of things that are motivated by our cognition. So if our cognition was wasting our time and energy, then the genes could very easily limit the amount of that they could reduce the degree to which we were spending our time and energy on things we had picked up outside the genome. And they would stop at the point that suddenly we were entirely occupied doing things that were in the genes interest. So the question is, if you somehow created the scenario where our culture was independent of our genes, our genes would shut it down until they were synonymous in terms of their objective.
Bret Weinstein 23:35
I guess. I agree with all of that. But I would approach it a different way that a way that just adds to your explanation, which is that if culture isn't evolutionary, if it's not downstream of what all biologists understand to be the primary mode of inheritance, the original mode of inheritance, which is genetics, what is it? And if it's, if it's not, if it's not evolutionary, then what you have is a religious perspective. And that's okay. You know, many, many people have faith in things that they cannot explain. But one would have to acknowledge that if you don't, if you don't place culture at an evolutionary framework, the way that we do everything else that humans are about, then what you were doing is saying over here, I have faith, I have a religious viewpoint as opposed to a scientific viewpoint, as opposed to, you know, what, what is it? It goes beyond what's the most parsimonious explanation? It's, you know, this, this can be explained culture can be explained with evolutionary tools? Or you can say, No, it's not, but I don't know what it is. Therefore, I'm in a black box this and maybe I won't call it God, but it's akin to that.
Heather Heying 24:44
So yeah, I think what we say in the book is something like, if we look at the the enzymes of a sheepherder, we understand that those enzymes are working in the service of the fitness of The sheepherder if we look at their cognition, and we say anything else, we've been inconsistent, surely the same justification exists for the physical structures and the physiology of that person and their behavior, or you're adding an epicycle, you'd have to come up with some other some other cause.
Nick Jikomes 25:21
So we're on the topic of niche switching, one of the things that comes up explicitly or is implicit in various parts of the book is the fact that today, at the present moment, there is so much change driven by technology, that effectively our niche or niches changing faster than ever has. And in many ways, there's a mismatch between, you know, what our brains and bodies have evolved to do, and the current present day environment. And we're going to explore that from some some different angles, but you spend a lot of time in the book mentioning weird people. So what are weird people?
Bret Weinstein 26:01
Weird is the acronym Western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic, so weird people are those people belonging, who are citizens of a residence of such countries, including, I think, generally, Japan. And you know, it's not necessarily clear who all is included in that. But, you know, this, this is certainly not new to us the observation that so much of what Western science and Western medicine thinks are true of humans universally are actually based on especially in the case of psychology, for instance, you know, weird undergraduate. So it's not just weird people, it's the relatively privileged 18 to 22 year olds who probably haven't had to work for a living yet,
Heather Heying 26:43
certainly have never had to struggle to figure out how to feed themselves.
Bret Weinstein 26:47
Almost. I mean, we we certainly had undergraduates who had, but in general, those, you know, the, the bases for many psychological conclusions are derived from people who have not,
Heather Heying 27:00
yeah, no, I meant I didn't mean, get some some of our students struggled to feed themselves in an economic sense. And very occasionally, there are a few cases beyond that. But the fact that so few people have actually, you know, struggled over the question of where food was going to come from, you know, that's, that's been a dominant feature for our ancestors, and is a very rare phenomenon. You can live an entire lifetime and never fear that you won't have enough food as a person in a Western no weird country.
Bret Weinstein 27:29
Yeah. And so that mean, that's partially a moral switch as well, you know, most certainly, many, many Americans, many humans still alive today do struggle to figure out how to get food. But it's, it's increasingly a question of, can you afford the cheap, poor quality food that is available? As opposed to? How will I source that? Do I have the skills on hand to know what to dig for or how to hunt it?
Nick Jikomes 27:56
You also introduce this idea of Chesterton's fence. So So what is that? And maybe, I mean, there's a variety of things you could talk about to illustrate it. I think the appendix is a really good one, because you talk about in the book, and a lot of people have experienced someone who has appendicitis, we all sort of know or most people in my life, at least know that the appendix is apparently this useless, vestigial organ, and yet, it's there. So So how do you explain something like this?
Bret Weinstein 28:24
Yeah. So you need to define Chesterton's fence, and you can go off on the appendix. So Gk Chesterton, who is a early 20th century, philosopher, I guess, is how he is often described, observed that if you're walking along a road, and you see a fence that feels useless to you, and you say to your friend, I want to get rid of this, your friend should say to you, what is it here for until you can tell me what its function is? You ought not get rid of it, because you don't know enough about what what the downstream effects of its removal will be if you cannot tell me what it's here for. And so this becomes reified. I'm not sure by him but by others who were reading his work as Chesterton's fence in general, when you find something that you find displeasing to you, unless and until you can explain what its function is. Even if we have we have gone beyond its function, it really should be removed until and unless you can explain what that function is or was originally, you ought not be so hasty to get rid of it.
Heather Heying 29:28
Yeah, it's actually a kind of precautionary principle for removal. Yes, that another precautionary principle for the addition of something. So actually, this is funny as an undergraduate. The, the appendix puzzled me because it did not add up that it would be a vestigial organ. And the reason that did not add up that it would be a vestigial organ is because not only can we make the usual argument, which is it costs something to build it therefore the pressure to make a savings by shrinking it out. be reducing it over time. But the cost of the appendix is actually spectacular well beyond the cost of building it, because of all of the people who have, you know, an infection of the appendix that jeopardizes their life. So something about the story never add up. And it turns out the deeper you dig on that story, the more you find out, but the fact that it also doesn't phylogenetically add up, this isn't something that our close relatives have that in US has become useless and is disappearing, it's actually anomalous. And then, decades later, what one finds out is actually the story begins to emerge about the likely benefit of this organ. So what the real utility from the point of view of somebody trying to understand the evolutionary lens, is, you could have spotted a long time ago that somebody was telling you something wrong, when they said this is a vestigial organ, really, what they were telling you was that they didn't know what it was for. Right, it was the fence crossing the road. When you look, it may take a long time to go from I know it's for something but I don't know what to actually here's a candidate that's powerful enough to explain it. And the candidate, the best explanation is that this pocket off of our intestines captures a, a microcosm, it captures a sample of the beneficial symbiotic in our gut so that when we become sick, because we've ingested some bacterium that engages in bacterial warfare, maybe you have a bout of diarrhea, you lose your beneficial gut flora. This allows your gut to be repopulated very quickly, with already tried and true tested microorganisms. Now, here's the irony of the story. The irony of this story, is this is much less important for us modern folks, there's a reason you can take the appendix out and it doesn't affect you. And that's because you have plenty of food. So the ability to instantaneously repopulate your gut isn't the difference between life and death for us. But for our ancestors, it may very well may have been on many occasions. So we can see that actually, to the extent there's any argument for vestigial illness at all, it's a very modern argument, right? The actual structure itself is not apparently vestigial is functional. And you could Intuit that long before you knew what it did.
Bret Weinstein 32:19
Well, we can tell that by again, comparing the weird world to the non weird world, right? So you have far fewer cases of appendicitis in the non weird world. And what you do have is much more frequent diarrhea because of the, you know, higher rate of bacterial pollution in the food stream at some level. And what that means is with every bout of gi illness, having a functional appendix, one that actually does its job with some regularity, both keeps that appendix functional, so it is less likely to blow up on you, excuse me, and it keeps the gut biota of the people who have those functional dependencies appendix is much healthier, long term. And I guess I would I think I slightly disagree with with something you said there, which is that, to the degree that the appendix in the modern world in which our food tends to protect us from bouts of gi illness, and therefore the appendix is underused, and therefore it is more likely to blow up. That maybe it's moving towards substantiality. The fact that we have enough calories is not the same thing as having healthy microbiomes Oh, yeah. And so you know, to the degree that the appendix is useful for actually reestablishing a healthy microbiome, which increasingly in the modern in the weird era in for weird people, our food unless we're shopping from farmers markets, and you know, getting our hands in the dirt and not fully sanitizing everything that we eat. Yes, it provides enough calories, and it probably provides enough macronutrients. But does it get us all the micronutrients and specifically the diversity of of critters in the microbiome that we need to have a healthy gut? Probably not.
Heather Heying 34:07
Right. But here is what the the disagreement between us here hinges on? And I'm pretty sure it's something we don't know the answer to is does the appendix have a bias in terms of collecting the correct Flora? Or does the fact that we are often populated by very much sub optimal Flora as a result of all of this modern influence mean that it is liable to capture an arbitrary subset and therefore, the what you repopulate with might not be all that great, even for an ancestor would be ideally suited to them?
Bret Weinstein 34:38
Yeah, I have no reason to expect that it is selected. It is selective in that regard. But if you have a healthy gut, then having a healthy appendix is useful because it will repopulate. repopulate right
Heather Heying 34:51
And wouldn't it be cool if there was a system that monitored that function and captured a sample at a time That was likely to be a high quality sample. Yeah. And I don't I don't we don't know. And I don't know if science knows the answer to that.
Nick Jikomes 35:07
Yeah. So this could be a good segue to some stuff about diet and medicine. While we're talking about gi health and microbiome stuff. This is something that I've covered on the podcast before with people that specialize in the biology of our microbiome. But even you know, even just in the general culture, these are being taught, these things are being talked about a lot more. Over the past few years, it seems like everyone or many people, at least are talking about the importance of gi health. Everyone has probably heard the term at least, microbiome at this point, I get ads all the time for probiotics that I meant to swallow to replenish my gut microbiome. There's all sorts of cheek swab products that claim to measure your microbiome and then give you personalized food recommendations to replenish it. And a funny thing that I think is happening is that it strikes me that many of the people that are very health conscious, and are paying close attention to health and wellness stuff, including their microbiome and optimizing their microbiome, are not in all cases, but in many cases, also going to be the same people that, for example, will ask their doctor for an antibiotic if they have a head cold. So can you talk a little bit about the microbiome and antibiotics? And how, how things like antibiotics and their use in modernity? Is interfacing with our with our biological hardware?
Bret Weinstein 36:28
Yeah, I mean, the short answer is antibiotics are one of the great triumphs of Western medicine. And they emerged shortly after the germ theory of disease was understood, which is also one of the great triumphs of Western medicine. And then it like so many other things that we have done so well, as humans got over extrapolated and over generalized and applied where they have, they have no place or they can actually do damage. And so you produce a selective pressure for effectively superbugs, especially if antibiotics are being given to people who don't have a bacterial infection. Or they're being given just prophylactically to cattle, to keep growth rates high,
Heather Heying 37:09
such that you have now antibiotics, you know, in in the water supply, such that you have against selective pressure against exactly exactly the bugs that we currently have drugs to defend against. And so we're going to create problems. And we know this, we have created such problems created tremendous problems, we've destabilized systems that we didn't understand, in some cases we didn't even know were there. And the consequences are predictably terrible for things like health. And I just would say, in reference to what you initially started with, there is this sense, once you know that there's a microbiome and that it can be off, there's a sense about, well, what can I do, there must be things I can do to make it better. And this is in its own way, a problematic way of thinking. Because, in general, with a functional system that is built out of many equilibria, overlapping each other, the most likely thing you're going to do is disrupt it. And the best thing you can do is figure out how to protect it from things that are so novel that they they cause it to be disrupted. And so for example, you know, we talked a little bit in the book about supplements. supplements are, you know, a double edged sword. On the one hand, there's a sense and a sense built on the fact that people who have been deficient and been given a supplement often have miraculous increases in the quality of their health, which leads you to the sense that these are indeed miraculous substances that can make you better and better, when in fact, the real question is, are you deficient, right, if you're deficient, then you know, supplements, probably not even the best way to do it, altering your diet so that you pick up those things that you're deficient in, is the best way to do it. And a supplement is maybe second or third best. But but it does not. Once you get to the line of I've got enough of each of these things to be functionally functioning optimally, you're in fact more likely to disrupt things by adding more. And so that, you know, it's it's a delicate style of thinking that gets you to the right answer.
Bret Weinstein 39:14
And I guess I would say this is a excellent example of a kind of scientism that pervades modern science and modern society. And, you know, I think people who don't think scientifically from first principles in a hypothesis driven way are particularly prone to looking for reduction of solutions, things that can be measured things that can be counted, you know, oh, you're deficient in in vitamin B 12. Well, then all we have to do is increase that and this. This imagines that we are engineered systems as opposed to evolved systems, and imagines that the thing that can be counted is the thing that matters, and sometimes it is, and sometimes it's not. And so really, the evolutionary lens in part is about recognizing In the emergent beings that we are the complexity of the systems that we are and not making the mistake of simply measuring and counting, and basing solutions on those measurements and counts.
Nick Jikomes 40:13
This is reminding me of some episodes for my own life. And you talk about this in the book, every time that I go to get a physical, so I go, I go get a physical once a year, I go see my doctor. And inevitably, what the doctor tells me, in fact, he or she will tell me that we don't even need to measure it, because I live in Seattle, and it's cloudy, much of the year. And virtually everyone is already vitamin D deficient. So I need to be supplementing with vitamin D, because I'm lacking it. And so I need to be putting extra vitamin D into my body. That's, that's not quite what's interesting to me. What's interesting to me is usually in the same conversation, in many cases, I will then be told in the same breath, that I should also be putting on sunscreen to every exposed part of my body every single time I go outside all year round. And so I would like you guys to sort of comment on the vitamin D sunlight thing in the context of what we're talking about here. But also tie that to what I think is the larger issue of the sort of lack of evolutionary thinking in medicine generally.
Bret Weinstein 41:17
Yeah, what a great CounterPoint. That's, that's fabulous. I will say, actually, we have a little bit in the book about vitamin D supplementation, it's one of the very few places that I feel like our thinking has evolved since we finished the book. And I and we'd read it a little bit differently. Now, vitamin D, being one of the very, very few things that there seems to be a fair amount of evidence for super low cost and super high benefit.
Heather Heying 41:42
And especially with respect to immunity, and COVID, for example,
Bret Weinstein 41:46
yeah. So So that said, Yes, dermatologists hate the sun, and tell us that we absolutely 100% need to reduce our exposure to the sun. And because they have, they have one very particular set of downstream bad effects that they focus on, right. And it's true that the more sun exposure you get, the more likely you are to get skin cancers. But there is plenty of other frankly, more holistic research. And I don't say that in like a woowoo holistic way, but research that actually looks at more than just the one downstream effect of sun exposure being skin cancer way, which finds that actually, the health benefits of having real actual sun exposure and not through sunscreen on your skin actually provides so many health benefits, that being locking yourself away from the sun, either from being totally covered up through sunscreen and clothes or never going outside actually has a health cost akin to being a regular smoker, that we actually need sun exposure in order to the host of benefits are extraordinary, from immunological to, you know, anti cancer, you know, on, you know, Heart Heart effects. They're just a tremendous number of now increasingly understood benefits from sun exposure. But But yes, the the kinds of litanies that we get from people who we are supposed to trust with our health tend to have these kinds of in consistencies in them, you must take vitamin D, because there's no chance you could possibly get enough. And you must slather yourself with sunscreen, because otherwise you'll get skin skin cancer? Well, you know, it's true that the farther north or farther south, the farther away from the equator you live, the greater the chances are that during your winter, you aren't getting enough sunlight. And one of the things that we're getting from sunlight, although not the only thing is vitamin D, the idea that you also need to be protected from that sunlight at the same time is obviously inconsistent. And anyone giving both of those kinds of advice should should throw an error like there should be a cognitive dissonance present in their own head such that they can at least try to correct at least say to you, actually, I have both of these pieces of advice I'm supposed to give to you. And both can't be equally true. There has to be a trade off here. There's also this, it goes back to your earlier point about reductionism. There's this leap for a very simple answer. And in fact, all of the things about this story with respect to our relationship to the sun are so imprecise as to be wrong, right? So, yes, sun exposure causes cancer, but it's not all sun exposure that causes cancer, it's sunburns. And it's not all sun burns. It's disproportionately sunburns you get when you're young for reasons we could go into. But there's also things that we talk in the book about what we call the Laboratory of the self, the experimentation on oneself, the tuning into your own thought processes that allows you to figure out how things actually work. And
Heather Heying 44:47
here's a couple of things that one can detect in themself that sunburns can be avoided, even with intense sun exposure by spending brief periods of time out of the sun. So Even if you're going to be in the sun for 30 minutes, a five minute break seems to be very useful. why that is, is not so clear, at least to us. But that it is true is something you can demonstrate.
Bret Weinstein 45:11
And so just to interrupt for a moment, if you are embodied, like if you actually have some connection to your own body, as opposed to living entirely in your head, you can feel this, and this isn't perfect. And you know, we're not, we're not medical doctors, but you can feel as your son begins to turn crispy, right? Has your skin. Yeah, did I said, son? Well, I think it's already there. As your skin begins to begins to go over into that edge, and into that space of like, now, I may not be able to recover this without a burn. And just as you say, stepping into the shade, and you know, there are some activities you might be doing, where that's not possible. But stepping into the shade for even five minutes allows that to cool down. And when you go back out, your skin feels like there's been a reset, and indeed, anecdotally, but empirically, we found this to be true for ourselves and for our children.
Heather Heying 46:05
Yeah, well, and you know, if you can't step into the shade, you can certainly turn the other side, you know. So there's the meaning of turning the other cheek, there is an entirely different meaning. And there's also the fact that your ability to endure intense sunlight is something that ratchets up with seasonality, right? So your vulnerability is higher at the beginning of the season. So in any case, these are things that once you have the model in your mind, and then you find yourself out there under too much sun in danger of getting a sunburn, you've got tools at your disposal, rather than, you know, somebody has told you to take a tube of something, and to slather it on yourself, not only is that going to interrupt your ability to produce vitamin D, but it's also very likely to cross at least partially into your blood and do who knows what and of course, your dermatologist isn't focused on the who knows what. So, again, there is a there is a bias that we should have in terms of not disrupting things that work. And this is not you know, this can be easily overdone. There's a kind of a paleo mentality where the Pleistocene is the place, we need to get back to as much as possible. And it's not like that. But it is a question of disrupting as little as possible and taking things that work and just letting them do what they do whether or not you understand how they function.
Bret Weinstein 47:26
Yeah. So Chester's and sun exposure in this
Nick Jikomes 47:28
case, before we move on to diet stuff, and and what our ancestors ate, and what we should or should not be eating, I did want to stay on this topic of reductionism, this, this idea that, you know, there's, there's a big difference, oftentimes between, you know, one component of something and the larger soup of things, or the larger context, that thing is embedded in the example I want to talk about is THC, because this is going to be a subject familiar to many listeners, and it's sort of in my wheelhouse, but I'm just gonna pose the question to you because you pose it in the book, and I think you put it in a really nice way. Is THC, the same thing as marijuana?
Bret Weinstein 48:07
Yeah, of course, not. And your listeners will, will understand that right. But we isolated it. Western science isolated it, and found it to be the interesting molecule from a psychoactive perspective in marijuana, and so focused on that, and it was possible to even do selective breeding that encourages it. But of course, the plant has many, many molecules in it, and your listeners will be able to name a few others as well, including CBD. And those of course, in the original plant interact in a way such that in your in this in this particular case, CBD seems to temper some of the not so much the psychoactive effects, but the possibly psychotic inducing effects of too much THC. And that's not to say that THC is a psychosis drug, but that imagining that the one thing that we find in a complex organism is the thing that we want to encourage at the expense of everything else can lead us to a place where you know with marijuana now we have, you know, we have we have plants with a lot less nuance than the plants from the 70s 80s even 90s had
Heather Heying 49:26
Yeah, I would say even marijuana isn't marijuana because market forces have caused the, the exciting molecule to be augmented and not just market forces, but the way we penalize the drug for so many years.
Bret Weinstein 49:39
Right. So not just THC being concentrated, but the whole plant being concentrated because of you know, having to cross borders and such. Right. So,
Heather Heying 49:46
you know, the original version of marijuana was a very different plant and it's the experience of it was very different. And so we have to be wary of the entire thing. Even even the plastic contains the many molecules. And you know, we could draw an analogy here to sex to that basically, the isolation of one desirable component from all of the things that usually are ordinarily are carried along with it is very distorting, right. So, you know, sex, obviously, under almost any ancestral condition was tied up with all kinds of other essential stuff of human existence, right, it's tied up with obviously, reproduction, healthy relationships. So in other words, it's playing a role in a complex system. And if you offer somebody, hey, there's a way we can do sex without commitment, right? It's called Tinder, or we can get you an orgasm without having to deal with an actual person, it's called porn or whatever, right? These things, they are hard for people to resist, because the, the motivating component has been delivered in a concentrated form. But when you do that sort of thing, you always distort the system, right? You know, coca has a very bad reputation, because it becomes cocaine and distorts people's lives. But of course, coca has been used by people for 1000s of years, who live at high altitude in order to hack their own physiology to be able to function under those conditions. So it is this instinct to distill the thing that was tied up with many others, and isolated, is almost inevitably going to be destructive.
Nick Jikomes 51:39
Going back to food, you mentioned, you know, the romantic notion that many people have that in our ancestors used to before that, before they were contaminated by modernity, human beings used to eat the diet. And what's kind of funny about this is there's different camps of people who have different views on what the diet is, you know, there's the raw food thing that we shouldn't be cooking things because cooking came later. And it's not the original way we're supposed to eat food, there is the literal Paleo Diet where I'm not sure how literal some of those people get. But the idea is, Paleolithic humans were eating a diet and because that's what they were eating. And that's who we evolved from, that must be the best diet. So something high in fat and protein and non carbs is what you should be eating. Can you comment on some of those diet trends? And just the general notion that there is a optimal diet for people?
Bret Weinstein 52:35
Yeah. Well, one of one of the errors in the thinking, and, you know, many of these diets actually have some some value in them for some people. But paleo diet, in particular, just it's easy to pick on it because of the name. And it does, you know, low carb, high protein, high fat diet will work for some people quite well. Not all people. The name makes the error of imagining that there is one moment in our past to which we are notably and singularly evolved and adapted to, and that we have done no changing since then. And we are monolithic. And of course, neither of those things is true humans, you know, continue to evolve. And there is no moment in the past to which we are singularly adapted. So we refer in the book not to the standard environment of evolutionary adaptiveness, which is a term of art and evolution, but to our environments of evolutionary adaptiveness. Right. So yeah, the savanna of the Paleolithic is a moment that our hunter gatherer ancestors existed in and to which we have some adaptations. But there were also at the same time, people living along coastlines, and 10 12,000 years ago, most humans whose descendants are alive today, discovered convergently, across many places on the earth agriculture. So we are also adapted to an agricultural diet and lifestyle. And long, long, long, long before that. All humans, all human, all modern human cultures. Now, all human cultures that have been looked at by anthropologists have had fire. And so we've been we've had fire and we've been cooking food, it seems, for a very, very long time and deeds, the idea that a raw diet is the best for us. No, it's not. And in fact, many of the people eating raw diets are undernourished. Because one of the things that cooking food does for us is it allows us to extract more nutrition from that food. Yeah, maybe that's that's it for now.
Heather Heying 54:39
Yeah, I think there are a few principles that are probably worth thinking about, rather than I've been talking on our podcast about the importance of supply chain length of food. This is sort of a hidden parameter in, in food and it may just be a proxy, but To the extent that your food has had to endure travel over very long distances, it has probably been stabilized or bred into a form that is optimized for that rather than your health. And so there's something to be said, for an obsession with, you know, locally grown food, does it have anything to do with your locale? Maybe not. But if the food was grown locally and got to you immediately, there's a good chance that actually, it's less stable. And therefore, if you get it quickly, better for you.
Bret Weinstein 55:30
Yeah, terroir is real. You know, this French concept that's usually invoked with regard to wine, you know, exactly what was the soil of the of the vineyards were the grapes that the wine was made from were grown, and how does that affect the flavor of the wine? So in that, in that context, it seems like it might just be frivolous, but terroir is real, and the particular soil, you know, health makeup, microbiome, if you will, is going to be particular to individual places, and you want the healthiest the healthiest soil possible. I guess, to your original point about will there be a best diet for all humans? Which is the question that we think start the food chapter with? No, of course not. And just you know, to make it to make it obvious. Think about people who have the longest history in the Arctic, the inlet, as opposed to people who have a history in, you know, in the the increasingly desertified, Sub Saharan Africa, so say the Maasai, there, they have very different diets. And that exists because of what was available to them and the climate that they were dealing with. But imagining that, you know, a paleo diet, or a paleo diet that is low in carbs, and high in fat, and protein is equally appropriate for an intimate for whom that diet is probably quite native already. And my sigh, is misunderstanding how variable and diverse human physiology anatomy and experience are.
Nick Jikomes 57:04
So is the general direction that's appropriate here, the move towards personalized diet, dieting and medicine? I'm seeing a lot of products and services out there, and I'm not sure how good all of them are. But in general, is it better to think about it things that way that instead of a diet that is the best for everyone? We should we should look at what our own biology is saying, potentially, by taking a cheek swab or getting a genome sequence or whatever. And using whatever we can ascertain from that to determine an optimal diet for me as an individual is that is that the right direction? Because that is that is the direction we do seem to be moving?
Heather Heying 57:44
Probably Probably not. Maybe eventually. But it's it's like the appendix right? the recognition that it's got to be for something as a long way ahead of figuring out what it's for. And in this case, ultimately, we might be able to figure out how to tailor things to you. They're probably things that we can do that about already. But in general, it's probably much more useful to follow the kind of logic that Michael Pollan deploys where, you know, he uses various rubrics shopped the outside of the supermarket, because that's where the fresh food is, don't eat things that your grandmother wouldn't recognize. I would add as food, right, I would add to his list, I think a coherent diet is probably more important than a tailored diet. In other words, one of the things that we've done as modern Western cosmopolitan folks, is we've got such a wide variety of things that you might eat. And we think, mostly in terms of what do I want to eat now, rather than thinking about, well, if I teleport myself back 500 years, and I tune into any of those diets that I would have found eaten, you can say by definition, it contains everything you need, right? So we don't have that, right. We don't have coherent diets. And so reassembling something that is inherently complete in some regard is probably more important than the tailoring That said, if you come from a population whose ancestral diet was very different than the main the average diet of, of humans across the world, there may be things to which you are particularly susceptible deficiencies that you will need to to, to match but by and large, a coherent diet that hasn't been heavily modified by long supply chains or something like that is probably number one. And then to the extent that you have deficiencies that are left because of the difference between the coherent diet that you've picked, and your ancestry, then you might need to supplement in one way or another to get there and supplement doesn't mean a pill. It could mean add a food to a consistent to a coherent diet. But you know, somehow somehow that's probably the rubric and 100 years from now we know enough about your genes to read them, and say, you know, you need a little bit more of this and a little bit less of that. So be it. But we're not there.
Bret Weinstein 1:00:09
We're not. It's it's effectively genetics, snake oil salesmen at this point whether or not people know it, but we just we're not, we're not there yet. And so it's in further service of reductionism, rather than actually mostly helping people get healthier. And I guess, the, the translation for shop the edges of the supermarket, which again, is Michael Pollan's observation and suggestion is, eat food that you can recognize with regard to the organism that came from. And that doesn't mean don't create, you know, stews, or baked goods or such. But at the point, at the point that you really can't figure out whether or not this food grew or was created in the lab, there's a good chance it was created in the lab and avoiding that as much as possible. Not because all of the things that are created in labs are bad for you, they're certainly not. But a carrot, just like marijuana is going to give you a more complete experience than just taking the separated out THC molecule. Eating eating a salad will give you the more complete experience than taking the multivitamin that is supposed to replace that salad.
Nick Jikomes 1:01:26
Moving on to the chapter on sleep, there was a lot of interesting stuff in this one, you start out somewhere, you go through this thought experiment of aliens visiting planet Earth. And you sort of ask you, I think you posed the question to the reader. You know, if aliens did visit Earth on a spaceship, would they be puzzled? To observe that we spend, you know, a third of the day more or less immobile, not doing anything vulnerable? Would that be? Would that be puzzling to them? And you say that the answer is no. So unpack that for us?
Heather Heying 1:02:00
Well, the, there's a certain amount built in with respect to assumptions, what sentient beings capable of space travel would have likely had on their home planet, but very likely, they would have had day and night and day and night would have forced an optimization of their perceptual apparatus around the availability of light. And if you build an AI, that's really great. In the day, it's not very good at night, and vice versa. So what you tend to get boxed into is you build a creature that makes its profit in either the day or the night, and then is hobbled by the other period. And then there's a question of what you do with a highly capable cognitive apparatus capable of processing information such as visual information when it's not in its element. And you could just take it offline completely and save energy, or you could put it to some sort of cognitive use, that would enhance the functioning of the creature when they were actually out and about. And so the dormancy makes sense from the point of view of savings and then further the use of the mind in that dormant state for basically, pseudo perception and processing is also likely to have evolved in such creatures.
Nick Jikomes 1:03:20
So you're saying there's actually a dissociation between the dormancy per se saving energy by not moving around, and some of the we'll just call optimizations that are happening to the nervous system during sleep, I wonder if you could talk about and I didn't think about this ahead of time. An interesting example of that dissociation, I think, are certain cetaceans or seals, I believe at least some species where there's actually an interesting sleep behavior there that sort of illustrates that you do you know what I'm talking about? You're talking about the sleeping half a brain at a time.
Heather Heying 1:03:50
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Well, if you think about the environment they're in, right, there's something to be said for dormancy, and there's something to be said about the vulnerability. So I actually don't know about this in seals. Yeah. Because seals haulout and so they can effectively insulate themselves from their greatest dangers, but toothed whales, dolphins, but yeah, cetaceans especially dolphins have a good reason to do this, which is basically you know, I mean, it's almost the literal description of sleep with one eye open right? You know, because the the vulnerabilities that come from you know, being attackable from so many different directions at once and you know, a large predator being able to loom up out of the deep with with no warning.
Bret Weinstein 1:04:34
Yeah. What I what I don't know, and I'm curious if it is known is to what degree the body of the half brand sleeping dolphins is getting the regenerative effects of sleep that are you know, that our non aquatic mammal bodies do when we sleep? I don't know the answer to that I'd be I'd be curious.
Nick Jikomes 1:04:56
I have an entire episode where I talk to Professor about I was tickled about sleep. So people can check that out if they're really interested in sleep, per se. But can you say just a little bit more about what we think might be happening during sleep? What what is actually what is the brain doing to prepare for the next waking day? Well, I
Heather Heying 1:05:15
mean, there are a couple of First of all, the, I think we are still early in the study of what the cognitive processing during sleep actually is. And as we pursue this further, we're going to find finer and finer gradations. But we know that certain things happen. For example, during REM sleep, we are engaged in these complex narratives that we are all so familiar with, and yet seem to be, in general, invisible to the waking mind, every so often, you become very aware that you've had a dream with a certain kind of content. But in general, you wake up, and you may be aware that you have dreamed but don't have a lot of information about what it was. And so, at some level, this is very much like many of the other puzzles we discuss. That's not a cheap process, right? Running yourself through fictional scenarios while you sleep is expensive. And you know, psychology has been quick to dismiss this as random firings or something like that, which of course makes no sense for the same reason, it makes no sense to have an appendix if it isn't doing you some good. The question is, all right, why do this right? Why have effective movies playing on the insides of your eyelids in which you are an active participant? The obvious answer is that this has something to do with scenario building in ways that might be relevant to your waking life. So if you imagine, for example, a complex social situation, you might want to have been through a few trial runs right before you get to the job interview, or before you ask somebody out on a date, or whatever it is, so that you can feel what's going to come back to you. So of course, that makes predictions about the content of REM sleep, being relevant to puzzles you are likely to face, it makes predictions about the accessibility of that your conscious mind has to the movie generating apparatus. So if there's some part of your mind generating scenarios to test you and train you, it doesn't make any it won't work. If the conscious part of your mind that is experiencing the dream has access to the script, right, you have to be challenged by it and be befuddled. And frankly, I don't know if your dreams are like mine. But that's pretty much the experience, it's a very confusing landscape. It's not a straightforward amusement park, it's a puzzle after puzzle. And, you know, it's full of, you know, all of the consternation and, and confusion that would be necessary in order to get your mind to really think through stuff.
Bret Weinstein 1:07:58
So one of the things we do know from from neuroscience is that synapses are regenerating during sleep. And so we find a need for and your the conscious mind says I really need to sleep, so desire for more sleep at those times in life, when there is more demand for more synaptic connections. And so that is consistent with the observation that sleep declines with age to some degree, and that there are throughout childhood periods, you know, babies, babies, and toddlers obviously, sleep a ton. And then through the sort of elementary school years, they sleep somewhat less, and then puberty hits. And suddenly, these these young adults, these, these teens are sleeping a ton more again. And our modern environment would help us wake them up. And you know, yank them out of their sleep and get to school already, so that they can better themselves. But the fact that across cultures, this is a time of, again, more sleep, where given left to their own devices people are sleeping more tells us that there is a need for that sleep. And that probably has to do with brain growth and structuring and that pulling people out of sleep is going to be destructive.
Nick Jikomes 1:09:16
Yeah, the one extra thing I would add to all of that is that the while we're sleeping, there's definitely a lot happening with respect to memory consolidation and the strengthening of some synapses. But somehow the brain knows how to do that, despite the fact that the net effect is actually to decrease or even get rid of most synapses. And the idea is, synapses are expensive, takes a lot of proteins and a lot of stuff metabolically speaking to make a synapse, but most of the information throughout our waking day is extraneous. We don't need to remember every single little detail. In fact, if we did we would be handicapped. Oh, yes. You'd fill up in a day.
Bret Weinstein 1:09:54
Yeah, right. The pruning is absolutely necessary. And indeed, somewhere, somewhere in the book, we refer to this One of my favorite, Jorge Luis bar has short stories called fullness, the memorias, in which he specifically he's born has has created this fictional protagonist, Who can forget nothing, and who speaks, you know, 18 languages. And, you know, the, in his case, the map is the territory, it actually is, and he is able to make no sense of his world. And so this is this is just a thought experiment, which reveals the truth of what you just said that we need, you know, we need the, you know, what would be equivalent of a pop ptosis over in neuronal space we need, we need the loss in many ways more than we need the gross,
Nick Jikomes 1:10:37
I loved that that little nugget that you put in because it immediately so so that writer would have written this well before Kim peak lived in the movie Rain Man existed, but he was literally describing me he was he was spot on. And so if you're listening, you don't haven't seen Rain Man, that was a movie that came out in the 80s, or the 90s. And it was based on a real life person named Kim peak. And you can Google that name and see a very fascinating movie or movies on it documentaries. But essentially, imagine someone who can literally remember every single thing he sees, hears and reads. And that sounds may be exciting at first, but this person is severely handicapped. I want to since we're talking about sleep now and pruning, and getting into Brain Stuff there. I wanna start talking about light, and hallucinations. These things all tied together an interesting part of the book. So I'm going to read a short passage. And, you know, as many people have said before, in neuroscience and other fields, you know, we think about drugs causing hallucinations, but in some sense, every experience we have is a controlled hallucination when we're awake. That hallucination is just highly constrained and ordered by incoming sensory information. When we're dreaming, it's more disordered, but it's still constrained in some sense. And when someone has say schizophrenia, they're just having a different kind of hallucination. That's one way to think about it. But you say in the book, a list of symptoms of a person with schizophrenia actually has a suspicious overlap with a person asleep and dreaming. We do not regularly draw this parallel because in our dream state, we are usually paralyzed, and we have amnesia. Any confrontations with reality are blissfully hidden from us until we have our morning coffee. How surprising then that organisms that do not appear to have had our best interests in mind, such as slash b mushrooms and pod cactus seem to have accessed these very same tendencies. So there's a few things I want to touch on. But let's talk about maybe the last part. First, why these organs? Why would an organism like a mushroom or like a cannabis plant or like anything, produce a psychoactive compound that has that is psychoactive for a mammalian
Heather Heying 1:12:52
nervous system? So can we can we go back and I want to adjust one thing you said before we get to the heart of that question. You were talking about this view, apparently in neuroscience about our hallucinations are effectively highly constrained during the day and they become more chaotic at night. That sounds off actually, there's one way in which it's quite right, you could say that our hallucinations during the day are constrained by reality, right that the edges of objects have to line up with the edges of our paint by numbers world inside of our minds. But that leaves the false impression that when you remove those constraints that what you have is noise, when in fact, the prediction of what we say in the book is that what you have is every bit as signal rich, as the environment you walk around in, but the signal isn't so much about keeping you from busting your shin, the signal is about other things that matter a great deal. And so in effect, your moviemaking apparatus is your visual perception apparatus borrowed by a problem solving mind that has a different problem, a different scale of problem that it's interested in. So still highly constrained.
Nick Jikomes 1:14:11
So yeah, I think that is a really good way of putting it I think, an experimental neuroscientists would probably restate what you said in the following way. Which would be that when you're waking in the waking state, your hallucination your perception is highly constrained by feed forward sensory information about the external world that's coming in. And it also gets integrated with what you would call feedback information coming from your memories and things like this when you're asleep, you sort of shut off or at least turn down that feed forward sensory information coming from the outside. But you still have as you said, Brett constraints coming from the feedback direction. So it's, it's better to say a different set of constraints, I suppose.
Heather Heying 1:14:49
Well, I will say again, laboratory of the self and I know because when I when I was a professor Heather and I are both professors for quite some time, I used to talk to my students about out what the content of their dreams was like. And I never failed to be shocked at how different people's dreams are from each other. This is a very interesting phenomenon. But in my dreams, I know that the visual information is very incompletely rendered. Right. So the stuff that matters a great deal, the other person's face, maybe is pretty well rendered the wall not really rendered well at all, because it would be a waste of time to do it. So for the same reason that a computer doesn't render necessarily the things that are out of the character's view, the mind doesn't do it either. It focuses on the thing is that where there's potentially proxy value to be one. But
Bret Weinstein 1:15:41
you're so in your dreams, he would definitely miss the gorilla on the basketball court.
Heather Heying 1:15:44
Oh, yeah, the girl he's there every time and I never see him. But the question about why, let's say a mushroom would trigger. Basically, the model that we present is that the mushroom chemically triggers the dream apparatus during waking state. And not to put too fine a point on it, the reason that a mushroom might want to do that is to freak the crap out of the creature that eaten the mushroom. And the idea is, a freaked out creature is actually better than a poisoned creature. If you poisoned a creature, the nature of ecology is stuff that that creature will then be replaced by a naive creature who might eat the mushroom next time.
Bret Weinstein 1:16:27
Well, if you given that it's impossible to titrate the poison, right like that, you may inadvertently kill the creature, you're poisoning even if even if it would be to your benefit to merely Leave it, Ill. Whereas the nitration issue isn't so much one, if you're talking about an antigen,
Heather Heying 1:16:43
right? And the training program is spectacular. You know, if you found yourself with no explanation, if you let's say that you had had no exposure to entheogens, and you found yourself waiting for the train, and suddenly hallucinating things that weren't there, it would be good and spooky. And to the extent that a deer, for example, might ingest a mushroom and have a good and spooky experience, and you know, certainly there's a program in the deer that says, Did you do anything different that might have caused what happened because you'd like not to have that happen again, it makes you more likely to be eaten by a predator or whatever. It's a good training program,
Bret Weinstein 1:17:29
the difference between the deer and us being that the deer who just had the psychotic break that it didn't want is likely to try to figure out unconsciously presumably, what it did differently and never go there again. And many humans have the opposite response. Oh, that was interesting. Let's see if we can repeat that.
Heather Heying 1:17:46
Right. In fact, we use it as a as a hack in order to tap into parts of our psychology that are ordinarily barred from our conscious mind is barred from connecting with them. And so it can be, you know, among the most useful tools that we have. Or we can do other things like some cultures would, you know, have a shaman who would tap into that state one way or the other. And the shaman therefore would allow a culture to hack its own belief structure in a relatively safe way. Because if the shaman is saying things that are particularly off, one can ignore them or dismiss them in some way. And if the shaman is saying things that are insightful, one can incorporate them but there's a there's a kind of compartmentalization in that structure.
Bret Weinstein 1:18:37
Well, and this is exactly we get to it later in the book, but you also already invoked the culture and consciousness that we introduced in the first chapter. The the shaman is the conscious voice and the sacred the reified the this is how we've always done things is the is the cultural voice. So you know, shaman is to sacred as consciousness is to culture.
Nick Jikomes 1:19:00
But in essence, what you've said is that from the mushrooms perspective, if there's a defensive function being played here, the mushroom doesn't want its reproductive apparatus eaten and destroyed. So it produces something that will hopefully prevent that from happening in the future. And actually, right there's a lot of examples of this in the plant world, in the fungal world, in most cases that I'm aware of where there is any clear evidence, the psychoactive component of a plant, whether it's caffeine, whether it is THC, or cannabinoids and cannabis, it is playing some kind of defensive role might just be killing insects, for example, but the plant doesn't want you to eat its reproductive organ basically.
Heather Heying 1:19:37
Yeah, it's a secondary compound is the term for it. Secondary compound means that the molecule doesn't have a physiological function inside the plant. It's waiting there for some creature on whom it will have its effect and that effect is negative. And then the twist in humans is that the hallucinogenic effect is not always negative.
Bret Weinstein 1:19:57
Well, but I mean, secondary compound doesn't require that the if be negative. And with regard to caffeine, for instance, there's, you know, caffeine is, to some degree a memory enhancer. And it is actually demonstrated that caffeinated flowers that bees visit, produce a better ability for those bees to, you know, return to the same flowers.
Heather Heying 1:20:20
Okay, but so this is this is interesting, and it extends the question of what a secondary compound is. But if I'm to be that annoying student who pushes things then even further, what do we do with something like sugar in a an apple? Right, that sugars in the apple as a reward for an animal in order to distribute the seeds? Is that a secondary compound? Yeah,
Bret Weinstein 1:20:46
I don't know. But I mean, caffeine, caffeine, appears to be a secondary compound. So I guess maybe it maybe this is just a semantic argument. You're saying we don't call it a secondary compound unless it's done in a negative state to be negative?
Heather Heying 1:20:58
I'm wondering, no, I like your point about caffeine, being an enhancement of the capacities of a creature to return to a flower where they were the, the flower is, it's got a symbiotic. But I'm wondering if
Nick Jikomes 1:21:14
what the unifying thing here is right? Correct me if I'm wrong, is that the secondary compound? Is it sort of acting in another organism on behalf of the first one, the caffeine might be enhancing the memory of a bee? And it's not doing anything else? As far as we can tell for the actual flower? Other than that?
Bret Weinstein 1:21:29
Exactly. Exactly. And I guess that's that's how I understand the definition at its most basic, yeah, it doesn't have a value. It doesn't have a value negative or positive. Right? Yeah.
Nick Jikomes 1:21:44
So in some sense, what we're saying is these plants, or these fungi can produce compounds for a defensive purpose. They don't want to be eaten. That is almost the opposite of this other thing that a lot of people have asked me about, actually just in in my life, but I've never really had someone like you articulate. There's this idea that comes originally from Terence McKenna called the stoned ape hypothesis. I'm wondering if you've heard of that, and how, as an evolutionary biologist, you would look at that way of thinking?
Heather Heying 1:22:18
Yeah, I think, frankly, I like it. But I think it's unlikely to be true, is is what I would say, for one thing, if if what we're trying to explain is the spectacular growth of the human brain and the mind that comes along with it, we actually do have a pretty good idea of why that happened. And it has to do with something called ecological dominance, where human beings at some point, become their own biggest ecological influence. In other words, most creatures face a dominant factor of, for example, the ability to find food. But for human beings, at some point, ecological dominance causes the success of one group to be most, most affected by its competitors for resources. And so what you get is an ecological and evolutionary arms race. And that arms race is won by people who figure out more clever solutions to problems. And this, of course, leads very directly to the evolution of language, because the way to escape the linearity of intellect, basically, if you, you know, don't want to just add more and more brain but you want to get more and more power out of the brain, you've got, the way to do it, is to get brains to plug into each other in some literal sense. And to get emergent cognition where, you know, the sum of two people's cognition is exceeded by what happens if you allow their brains to exchange ideas, which, you know, we don't think about it as the miracle that it is, but the ability of one person to vibrate the air molecules between them and another person, and for some membrane in the ear to wobble back and forth and for an abstract idea to actually be successfully transmitted by that process from one literally one brain into another is remarkable. But what that allows us to do is it allows us to problem solve in a uniquely human way. So does. Does the existence of entheogens play any role in that story? It does. We know that. Most cultures have some mechanism for accessing what we are arguing is the dream state in order to open doors of perception as it were. But is it that these entheogens were the driving force almost certainly not. Almost certainly it was the fact that the arbiter evolutionary success is suddenly the cleverness of competing groups. That creates the arms race that causes the brain to be elaborated, and then causes brains to plug into each other to get new emergent cognition.
Nick Jikomes 1:25:16
One of the things I want to go back to is the idea that if we disrupt our sleep in various ways, we can get an encroachment of the pseudo psychotic dream state into the waking period. One of the things, I just want to describe an anecdote from the past year of my life that I think speaks to this a little bit. I live in Seattle, major American city, as with most cities, perhaps more so than others, we have a major mental health and homeless issue. So over the five years I've been here and definitely over the past year, I've seen literally seen as I go for a walk every day, this problem get worse and worse. And you know, what you see oftentimes, and a homeless person who has severe mental health issues, is basically they're talking to themselves, they're they are saying out loud, the kinds of things that we're constantly saying inside our own heads all the time, we just learn over the course of normal development to articulate them to the external world much of the time. So you see this type of behavior a lot when you walk down the streets of Seattle, if you are familiar with schizophrenia, and the symptoms of that there is also in that type of state a kind of disinhibition, right, where people are just vocalizing things that we wouldn't other people would normally keep to themselves. One of the things that I believe I have started to observe in the past few months, and this is presumably to do with the whole General COVID situation and the stress stressors that has introduced in the people's lives. And perhaps, and this is the tie in to light, the fact that, you know, over the past 1218 months, we spent even more time staring at screens and not exposed to natural light cycles and things. But I have observed two or three or four times, I think, and it's not always crystal clear, someone who's not homeless, who's actually on the street engaged in this behavior. So for example, I was walking down the street a few weeks ago, and I saw gentlemen, talking out loud as it's not uncommon to observe, but I was struck by the fact that he seemed fairly well dressed. And as far as I could tell, he was finishing a smoke break. And he sort of, you know, threw a cigarette butt. And it looked like he was going back into the building he worked in as if he was just outside for 10 or 15 minutes. But he was not speaking in a normal way, let's say. And I wonder if that was the sort of encroachment that you mentioned in the book of the dream state into our waking life that is perhaps due to the general stressors in life, a big one being the artificiality of the light we're exposed to these days. So can you speak a little bit about light?
Heather Heying 1:27:51
Hold? I want to ask you one question first. And actually, I have a personal anecdote related to this. But Are you absolutely sure that he was not on the phone by some small Bluetooth service? No,
Nick Jikomes 1:28:04
that no, I'm not absolutely sure. It could have pretty sure. I did not see your buds of any kind.
Heather Heying 1:28:10
Okay. All right. You want to share your anecdote, or? Well, now it's early in the iPhone era, I was waiting out a rainstorm. I'd written my bicycle to downtown and I was waiting at a rainstorm so I could ride home and I was talking on the phone. But it was not it was before this was a familiar sight. And anyway, some police decided that I was apparently not well, and anyway, we got into a thing about it. them not realizing that it was actually just the future, they were saying but yeah.
Bret Weinstein 1:28:54
Are the encroachment of electric lights into our normal photo period is definitely deranging us. And we are, you know, this is not new with us. We you know, we we know that we are borrowing from research that has finally begun to be done in this regard. And increasingly, just as you say, with regard to people wanting to come in and give you cheek swabs to figure out exactly what your personalized diet should be. There's increasingly recognition for instance, that blue light is not particularly healthy to be exposed to at night, and that the redder shifted your light is at night, the more likely you are to be able to fall into appropriate sleep more quickly and more deeply. So, you know, we see this anecdotally, you know, everyone who camps ever sees their sleep get better, no matter how good their so called sleep hygiene is at home, when they're out in a place where they can't really arrange themselves with artificial light, you know, no matter how lanterns are head lamps they might have. When you are when you are responding to the sun coming up and the moon as your primary sources of light, you you hit a cycle that keeps you saner. That just does.
Heather Heying 1:30:15
Yeah. And so there's a question. I mean, at some level, we could trace back Why it is the blue light has the the capacity it does. But one thing we can just say is that it is a dominant piece of the spectrum that is present during the day and absent at night. And so it's not strange for the brain to have queued on it as an indicator of what time of day it is. And so, intrusion of blue light, when you are not supposed to be seeing any, is, seems to be disrupting the brain's ability to regulate when it does, what kind of cognition and so one thing that we suggest is that the intrusion of dreamlike hallucinations into the waking period is likely to be increased by the presence of blue and therefore confusing light into one's night period. And that because our ancestors have such a long history, with fire light, that fire light is not taken this discounted by the mind as an indicator of time, and therefore to safer to engage with and so this matches certain observations in other cultures, things like schizophrenia tend to be a single event rather than a chronic condition. And so there's some question about how much of the mental health crisis that we see is actually the result of our having availed ourselves of all kinds of artificial lights that confused our minds about what time it is, and cause hallucinations, which are really dreams to emerge and confuse our, our waking selves, which for most of us is, presumably not that big a problem, but for some people may well be
Bret Weinstein 1:32:03
guess one more piece of, of nuance here. And I don't actually remember if this ends up in the book or not, but it's not just when we should be exposed to the different kinds of light, you know, blue light in the morning, is associated with which you know, is the kind of light that you get, if you walk outside in the morning are exposed to the sun blue light in the morning, is associated with better productivity, better health, you know, everything from sort of lower BMI to better ability to get get your work done. And red light at night, is, as I said, associated with being able to sleep better, and sleep has all of these, all of these benefits, only a few of which we've talked about here. But there's also the issue of light level. And so you know, because most of our most of our artificial lights, you know, yes. Many of us have dimmers, but it's like it's on it's off, be at 9am or 9pm, or midnight or noon, it's either on or off. And the fact is that indoor light for almost everyone is far lower in level than outdoor light would be. And so not only are we getting an inappropriate type of light at different times of day, but we're not for most of us who spend, you know, who have office type jobs or spend time in front of screens, we're not getting enough light. And so we're also not only do we get too much blue, but we don't get enough light in general. So, you know, this is just one of many. This one we can quantify, but there are presumably many more unquantifiable benefits of spending time spending some time outside, where you know, the full spectrum of light that whatever is happening for you in the place you are in at that time of year is available to you it has has benefits that will go beyond what we can currently pinpoint.
Nick Jikomes 1:33:44
Do you guys have any habits that you've built into your own life related to this?
Heather Heying 1:33:50
We're pretty careful about blue light I would say especially the unbearable proliferation of Blinky blue lights on on devices
Bret Weinstein 1:34:04
i know that i mean we have we have a totally dark we don't we don't let any lights shine in our house except that there's one or two in the kitchen. I guess we're no one sleeps. But you know nothing nothing in any of the rooms where we are our children sleep and and when I read in bed at night, I you do so with a red headlamp. So never any either incandescent or fluorescent bulbs at all. And, you know, no, no screens. before bed in the summer. You know, for those of us in in the north. You know, we're in Portland just 100 miles 160 miles south of you and Seattle. In the summer. It's really easy to get out early. I've been spending a lot of time out on the river on the water early in the mornings. And it's fabulous. And I do feel absolutely more productive throughout the day on those days that I do so in December when the sun doesn't come up until eight 30 and it's cold out and rainy. It's it's harder to pull that off. But certainly spending some some time outside every day, no matter the weather is is beneficial.
Heather Heying 1:35:10
Yeah, I would say no level of obsession is too great. With respect to the little light leaks, though, that I know I've accidentally tested the hypothesis about blue Blinky LEDs, that a single confrontation accidentally, with a blue LED in the middle of the night makes it very hard to go back to sleep. And the difference is so stark, that one realizes really you can't afford if you have these things, you know, if you have a modem somewhere with blue lights on it, and it's blinking, and you have to walk through a hallway where you're going to look into that room, as you go to the bathroom or something, you may be messing up your entire sleep cycle. So I would say whatever you have to do, whether it's black these things out with tape, or paint, or unhook them, take the device apart and unhook them, or the more than one room in the house that you can fully close the door on, right, whatever you have to do you, you might be shocked at just how much you can do for your own ability to sleep by policing them. And then I would also say when we have traveled, it's amazing how uncharitable The world is about light pollution, that, you know, we we have occasionally rented a place somewhere and it will turn out that their smoke detector or their Wi Fi hotspot will have a blue ring on it. And it's like, well, that's the difference between being able to sleep and not right so, or the amount of light, we're lucky to live in a place that gets really dark at night. But the number of people who can't even keep the world's lights from pouring into their windows, and you know, it's no wonder that we, you know, have such ubiquitous sleep problems, because basically, it's like, you know, it's like the world is drenched in some kind of, you know, coffee that flows in from everything at all hours of the day. No, it's to prevent Yes,
Nick Jikomes 1:37:09
yeah, yeah. And I think most people Intuit this, you at least come to appreciate it at some point in your life, that if you're not getting good sleep, you know, everything basically is going to fall apart from that. So sleep is really, really critical. And that's certainly true for maintaining relationships, you know, there's nothing, nothing more, nothing more difficult than, than dealing with a sleep deprived, deprived person. And you spend multiple chapters directly or indirectly talking about relationships, you guys are also sort of unique, in that when you're on podcasts and things like this, you're almost always in a pair. And so you guys have had a relationship for a long time. And I wanted to talk about that chapter next. So you start off one of these chapters, defining love as a state of the emotional mind that causes one to prioritize someone or something external as an extension of themselves. And you also observe that much of human mythology is centered on inducing people to extend their concept of self. So can you elaborate on that definition, and also tie it to the observation that you make that love probably evolved sequentially for different pairs of people starting first with mothers and infants?
Bret Weinstein 1:38:26
Well, I'll start with that. I'll start with that second part. And then you can further define love, if you like. The evolution of milk, basically, with the origin of mammals makes obligate an ongoing relationship between mother and offspring beyond the earth or hatching of that offspring. Life birth, obviously, being one of the hallmarks of very early mammals, although not all, you know, most people are familiar with the duckbill platypus, the echidnas, which are egg Lang. But barring those early basil, mammals, all other mammals have live birth, and all mammals provide milk. And so that milk from mother to offspring is yes, it's nutrients, but it's also information. It's immuno information. It's all sorts of information. And it provides also touch between mother and child. And once you have that, once you have that it's an it's an easy, sort of obvious evolutionary place to go, that you have a relationship form between mother and child that is emotional beyond what simply the transmission of liquid from mother to child would be. And so with that, you have the evolution of of love. And we also have instances of love elsewhere in the animal kingdom, almost certainly. But it Comes obligate with the evolution of milk. And so once you have, once you have mother child love, then you have relatively quickly the possibility for love between other organisms that wasn't necessarily obligate between between siblings, between pair bonds between between mated partners in a pair. And then from that to other members of your family, to friends, to then, you know, to your, to your, to your colleagues, to your to your fellow soldiers, anyone with whom you have shared fate to use the term of art and evolutionary biology. And from that, it can become abstract, you can have love of country, you can have love of city of team of ideas of freedom, of justice, of truth. And it all, it all begins with a relatively simple, but terribly important transmission of just life giving fluid from mother to child.
Heather Heying 1:41:04
Yeah, I mean, in some sense, you can think of it as the willingness to sacrifice for someone or some thing, right to prioritize that other at a symmetrical level of self. And, you know, it comes it's obviously hugely costly. And the reason that we prioritize it the way we do is because that the benefit of it exceeds the cost and, you know, you can understand a lot about the way we function just based on really mapping it, you know, everything from what we feel towards our pets, and those we care about, and those four records just a pro forma, it's not real these things are there fundamental to the way human beings function.
Nick Jikomes 1:41:54
So, I want to transition to that talking about meeting systems. What do so first Can you define for people that the term sexual dimorphism and can you talk about the levels of sexual dimorphism we observe today in humans and what that might tell us about the common mating strategies that our ancestors would have taken?
Bret Weinstein 1:42:17
Yeah, so sexual dimorphism just means that in a sexually reproducing species of which we are, we are one and all plants and animals are with very few exceptions. There are there are two sexes and the die morphism simply means that there are two different morphs one for each sex. So, in general, when you are looking for evidence of what kinds of sexual selection has been enacted on a species, because of the environment that they have lived in, one of the clues is what degree of sexual dimorphism is there, the more similar males and females are to one another in terms of size and shape and behavior, you know, plumage and song and nest building tendencies and territorial tendencies are similar they are, the more likely you are to have a monogamous mating system. So mating system just refers to in general, how many partners does each how many reproductive partners mates does each sex tend to have monogamy it's it's one to one cheating not withstanding, which Yes, happens. But in monogamous system, you tend to have individual females mating with individual males. And in a a polygamous system, one of the sexes tends to have multiple mates and that leaves the other sex having lots of individuals who have no mates. And so polygamy is the is the general overarching type, of which the two types are polygyny, multiple females and polyandry, multiple males. So polygyny, which is the most common type of mating system across mammals, involves males often having reproductive monopoly over multiple females, which also then leaves lots of males unmated entirely. And polyandry, which is very, very rare, involves one female having reproductive monopoly over multiple males, leaving, presumably, some females unmated although that's it's, it's very hard to to end up arriving there because females bring the egg which is the, you know, cytoplasmic li rich gamete. And so having females unmated is very rare in nature. And so polyandry is very rare as well.
Heather Heying 1:44:36
So, what we see in human beings is that human beings have a small amount of sexual dimorphism males are bigger than females, which suggests that there is a long history of mild polygyny. But the interesting thing if you think back to the earlier part of this conversation, what you'll realize is that human beings are a generalist hardware platform or robot effectively with a plastic software program, a software program that can be swapped out as circumstances demand. And so while it is true that human beings have a history of polygyny, that is somewhat general, it is also true that the majority of people alive on earth today belong to cultures that are monogamous. And so the question is, why did the software program get swapped out. And there is good reason to believe that this is adaptive that in effect, monogamy has certain advantages that manifests under certain conditions. And the most obvious of them is that when a population is going to expand, it benefits from having the maximum number of adults brought into the process of child rearing the limit on because human babies are so expensive with respect to the investment that has to be put into them. Having more adults contributing to child raising increases the rate at which a population can grow. So it is likely no accident that as human beings have expanded around the globe and increased their numbers by increasing the success with which they farm, that cultures that have been monogamous, and therefore matched males to females one to one and brought all adults into child rearing, have out competed populations that don't do that. And anyway, we are now in a situation where we may have come to the end of that process, the planet simply cannot continue to expand to endure an expanding human population. And there's some question as to what should happen. I would say we have to have some caution, because although it might be very natural at a moment like this where the human population plateaus to default back to polygyny, that would be a very bad thing, because monogamy actually has many other advantages. It's a much fairer, much less prone to violence system, it creates more reason for cooperation, for example, amongst siblings, that is to say, a family that is composed of full siblings is more more cohesive than a family that is composed of half siblings. So there's lots of benefits that our conscious minds forget evolution for the moment, but the values that we seem to hold are a better match for monogamy. And so figuring out how to stabilize monogamy in spite of the fact that at this moment, evolutionary pressure may go in the other direction is a question that should be on our minds.
Nick Jikomes 1:47:41
Why would a monogamous mating strategy widely adopted by a group decrease the amount of violence within that group
Heather Heying 1:47:50
because it does not leave sexually frustrated males with no prospect for mating other than rape or warfare. In effect, what you want is everybody to have a path towards a good life a life that meets all human needs. And to the extent that polygyny may deliver an excess of wellbeing to some males, it sidelines an equal number of them or more. And in so doing, it creates literally sexually frustrated males with no good option and many bad ones.
Bret Weinstein 1:48:39
Yeah, I mean, the unfortunately relevant examples from from nonhumans are things like lions and baboons, which have strongly polygynous mating systems. And you can see that in the sexual dimorphism of male lions and female lions and male baboons and female baboons, in which males are not just larger, but they have longer canines. And, and they have greater ferocity, you know, they they tend to anger more easily and be willing to get into violence with one another more easily. And in in both of those cases, what you have are basically bands of Bachelor males. And that's, that's the term of art and animal behavior of Bachelor males that are always looking for an opportunity to topple an alpha, who has, again, a reproductive monopoly over some number of females. So there's no there's very little opportunity for social stability in a polygynous society. And no, the evidence from lions and baboons isn't sufficient to get us there. But we can. There's plenty of evidence from human history as well to suggest that a polygynous system in which a few males effectively have access to have reproductive monopoly over many of the young women is not a stable system and will soon fall.
Nick Jikomes 1:49:57
One of the things that I think is noteworthy Here is, if you contrast say, the norms that what we would call traditional society, let's just think about the major monotheistic religions of the world, they tend to have extremely, in many cases extremely strong norms around monogamy. And you can contrast that with, say, the incentives and just sort of the landscape that comes from the way some new technologies are affecting mating strategy. So for example, you can think about meeting apps. And I don't know what the precise numbers are here. I don't remember them precisely. But I know, for example, that when you look at things like Tinder, and I think this is true across all of the different dating apps, there are that you tend to get like, basically an 8020 outcome, where a relatively small number of males, let's just say 20%, are getting 80% of the intention from women. And apparently, it's true that something like 5% or so of males never get any matches at all, on any of these things. So is there kind of a tension there is some of the technology we've developed actually helping promote some of these other mating strategies that, for better or worse are going to lead to different kinds of behavioral outcomes?
Heather Heying 1:51:11
Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. And this is a disaster made even worse by the fact that effectively, all of the elements are being commodified. Right. So, you know, in a prior world, and Heather, and I would not argue that we have any hope of nor should we want to go back to a prior world, but in a prior world, specifically don't want to go back. We're not traditionalists, right. But there are lots of elements of a prior world that we have foolishly not learned the lesson of Chesterton's fence. And so, for example, in a world prior to birth control, women tend to be very, very careful about who they have sex with. And the reason is obvious, which is that if you have sex with somebody who has not shown a willingness to participate in child rearing, that one may end up rearing children alone, because incredibly expensive, the children are less likely to be successful. And so in any case, much of the ritual around romance and, and love is really about a it's a test to see whether somebody is up to the challenge, whether they really do bring the strengths to the table that they seem to bring to the table. And on the flip side, so women are very choosy. And men would work very hard to be worthy of a sexual relationship. And those things give coherence to the world. Now is birth control a good thing? It is a good thing, it's especially good in the sense that it liberates women by not causing them to be arbitrarily burdened with children, but be able to plan when they have their families. But the The fact is, it's it's got a serious downside, which is that it removed the coherence from civilization, and caused men to have much less motivation to accomplish things. And it took the the need to invest heavily in a relationship in order to make it work and removed it by allowing people to scratch their itch relatively cheaply, because the stakes were lowered. And so in any case, again, I know that this will be heard as prudish. But the basic point is that the system that we evolved with was not inherently fair. But it was inherently coherent it had to be and the system that we've replaced it with, where we have rampant access to pornography, in which those who make pornography compete with each other for attention, and therefore drive sexuality into evermore extreme and unwise forms. All of this has caused a derangement of our interactions with each other. And frankly, I think it has caused people to become much less decent to each other. And the question is, how can we restore the decency without going backwards? That's really the only issue.
Bret Weinstein 1:54:19
I'm I'm in listening to you talk. I'm actually recognizing one of my biases that I'm not sure I had thought of before just now, which is maybe by chance, but really, because of my native interests in sexual selection in meeting systems in social behavior, and territoriality and parental care, and all of these things. I ended up studying for as you know, for my, my dissertation research, the, the soundbite that I gave is the sex lives of poison frogs in Madagascar. And, you know, the vast majority of amphibians have no relationship with their children. They don't even have any relationship with with their mates. You only have extra fertilization, they meet in some giant aggregation if they're temperate frogs, and leave fertilized eggs behind and they go about their business. The particular species that I was was studying until I laevigata have such an I've discovered have such an elaborate courtship. That the females, you know, utterly require of the males. And if he is to skip any of these parts, where he's leading her around to potential opposition spots, and he does what I was calling chinning, where he, he alters his vocalizations and lays his chin on top of her back, and she can feel the vibrations through her. If he doesn't do those things I found, there's no chance there's no chance of him getting mated. And so it's not that all vertebrates need this. But that time and again, including even in such basil, vertebrates, as these poison frogs, when you have a system that actually requires an elaborate courtship and elaborate interactions between the players, because the offspring actually matter, because they are, you know, relatively case selected, because they have few offspring, and both male and female. In the case of these frogs, both mom and dad end up doing parental care. You can't just skip all the other stuff and assume that the rest of the system is going to be functional, because it won't.
Heather Heying 1:56:18
Yeah, it's amazing. I mean, it's it's Chesterton's fence all over the place, right, the the number of components that do not in isolation seem to be fundamentally important. But if you remove them, disrupt the coherence is, is many, and we keep learning this lesson. And it's painful.
Nick Jikomes 1:56:37
The relationship between young people and elders, one thing that I want to talk about here is, you know, we've talked about the importance of narrative and the difference between culture and consciousness, and why it can be adaptive to compress a bunch of information into something like a narrative that can be passed to say, a young child who can't understand it some other way. And it will be very intuitive to people, that for almost all of human history, when we learn a skill, whatever it is making a handaxe, making a bow and arrow, whatever it may be, up until literally more or less the present moment, you would have learned that from an elder in your group that an older person who had been doing that for years or decades, was extremely skilled in that particular thing would teach it to you. And it was, you know, obvious every step of the way. Why would you why you would want to learn that, why they have the expertise to teach you it. And there's a kind of bond that many of us will have experienced between an elder and a young person that comes from downloading the cultural information from old to young, through learning how to use technology, let's say. So it was always the case historically, that the elders were better at using the technology than the young ones. But today that has seemed to be completely broken. In modern society, right, it's virtually guaranteed that grandma and grandpa will have little or no experience with how to use the latest, greatest piece of technology. So what has that? What do you think that change is going to do in terms of relationship building between the young and the old? And how cultural information is therefore going to propagate through groups? so important?
Heather Heying 1:58:20
Yeah, I would say I mean, it's a very insightful question. But I think we can we can turn it around a little bit, in order to see the answer to it, which is, human beings are very unusual amongst animals in having adults that persist after reproduction is or direct reproduction is over. Right? And the reason for this pretty clearly has something to do with the value of what those adults know. In other words, a culture what why would a culture invest food resources when when all ancestors are likely to have been food limited? Why would a culture continue to spend food on adults that are no longer contributing to reproduction? Well, imagine that you face a periodic drought situation where there's a condition every 100 or so years, that results in there not being enough water, and what are the chances that somebody knows the story of where to go or how to behave or what it is? So if we think about the fact that being an elder is about having wisdom and insight and memory that is relevant to the problems that recur, and then we look at modern times, and the point is, you don't even live in the world that we were born into. It's changing so quickly, that we are constantly adapting to a new world, we are all novices. And a this again removes the coherence of of existing because at what Old people for if not to be, you know, repositories of wisdom and to give advice and things like this. So we've already sort of decoupled things, it causes young people to view the old as feeble and incapable of even basic functionality. So I mean, in some sense, I think I think you're just right. It's, it's, it's going to wreck the relationship between the young and the old. And for no benefit We are, we are wrecking it, even as the pace of technological change is jeopardizing our health, our capacity to interact with each other, our psychological well being. So anyway, yes, I think you're right to be to be concerned about.
Bret Weinstein 2:00:45
Yeah, I think your elders are not just repositories of culture, they're also because they've been around for longer potentially have had more moments of consciousness of innovation of new things as well. And we expect that in most domains, the conscious innovation declined somewhat with age, whereas the accumulation of received wisdom of cultural wisdom can continue to increase. But in a hyper Novel World, in a world in which the rate of change is itself accelerating, then both the repository of culture becomes less relevant, as you both have said, but also the ability to innovate in a meaningful way, in a world that resembles certainly not the world of 80 years ago, very much, but maybe even the world of yesterday, the elders become less clearly valuable to those who are mostly tuned in to what happened yesterday, as opposed to those with a deeper sense of history.
Heather Heying 2:01:47
Yeah. And, you know, as I'm listening to you speak, I'm realizing that both the young and the old have been basically forced into the role of consumer so regularly that part of the reason that it doesn't strike us as odd that the relationship between the young and the old has broken down, is that nobody's doing much innovating. So the relationship of the old to the young innovation has been just sort of quietly lost. Because nobody knows what they're doing other than just thinking about what they want, and how to get it.
Nick Jikomes 2:02:22
Talking about childhood a little bit more, one of the lines that I loved in the section was humans are not blank slates, but of all organisms on Earth, we are the blankest. So that's just a great sentence, because it carries it's just a great pithy way of putting this. And I think this sort of the question of what ones belief is around how blank the slate is, I think, is one of the arguably the most fundamental. Your answer to that is very fundamental in shaping your politics, how you look at the world, and, and things like that. So you know, you could imagine the extremes here on one extreme of some political spectrum that we can imagine, you know, people are completely mutable, they're completely modifiable by the environment. And therefore, we can build a society that will make some kind of utopia, let's say, sort of the other extreme or a other extreme, I'm not sure it's it's just linear access here is that that's basically not true. We're minimally modifiable. And not only that there are inherent differences between groups that can never and will never be overcome. And we should build society around that. So the question is simply, how blank is the slate? Let's just start there.
Heather Heying 2:03:39
Well, one thing that, yeah, that's a great question. Oh, one thing that has to be set up front, is that the blankness of the slate is arbitrary, right. And this is, it's really vital to understand this, we have obviously no trouble whatsoever, changing our rate of reproduction. We can decide not to have children, we can decide to have them late, we can decide how many, it's not a conflict at all. We are not so flexible when it comes to sex, right? selection did not build human beings to be obsessed with baby production, in the same way that it built at least males to be obsessed with sex because that was a good enough proxy when the two were not decoupled by technology. So the point is, how flexible are we? Well, we're very flexible with respect to when we reproduce and not so flexible with respect to focus on sex. That pattern exists across the map, right? The level of flexibility is high in some places, it's non existent in others, and that's something we have to get used to. But the reason that we've said that though, human beings are not a blank slate, they are the blank slate is the recognition that what we are good at comes from The ability to swap out our software program, which is about the blackness of a slave is fundamental. We are much we are, I believe, very likely to find that between cultures, we are largely software based and therefore interchangeable. And we see this if you transport a baby from Beijing and raise them in Manhattan, they don't have the slightest hint of an accent, they have no difficulty. learning the language as somebody who was native to the continent wouldn't In fact, the language itself is an important. But the differences between males and females, for example, are of a different nature, right? That there are actual reasons that one body plan versus another would require different biases. And that those biases might be more durable doesn't mean any of it can't be addressed in some way. Probably only a very little bit cannot be addressed. But is it going to be more of an uphill battle, if you decide something in the sex landscape needs to be changed, because it may be written in more directly? that's highly likely, I mean, human cultures are relatively new, the sexes that we are going back hundreds of millions of years. And so anyway, there is a logic to it. It is a logic that, as far as we know, doesn't contain any really unfortunate truths, right, the degree to which we can actually achieve something that's a level of equality between people is presumably very high. The degree to which we will be the same as each other, once we do it, is, we're not going to be the same, nor should we aspire to it. So it is that kind of landscape, there's a tremendous amount of flexibility, it is not perfect flexibility. And it isn't necessarily distributed in the way you would want it. But but there's there's a lot to be done.
Nick Jikomes 2:06:56
Great. School. So he talked a lot or thought a little bit about transmission of information. From the old to the the things that come to mind here are, you know, obviously, we have formal schooling today, that is quite a new structure in evolutionary terms. Somehow, even though most of us may be unaware of how this happened. People were getting by and learning how to transition from childhood to adulthood without formal schooling in any way. Can you speak a little bit about that? How, how recent and evolutionary innovation is formal instruction? And how did kids grow up before we had that?
Bret Weinstein 2:07:41
Yeah, school is incredibly new. And indeed, although teaching certainly happens in in other cultures, so much of learning doesn't even involve instruction doesn't involve teaching. It involves observation, and trial and error. And learning from doing and learning from watching. Rather than an explicit and formal, I am the one who teaches and I'm the one who learns relationship. It's explicit teaching is not just rare in other animals, although it does happen some, but it's rare in other cultures, and other moments in time. So formal school is, you know, just within the last few 100 years, depending on how you count, you know, you could you could you could go back to the Greeks and say, well, there was some formal schooling there. But in terms of the expectation, that children shall learn how to be adults, by sending them away from their parents for X number of hours a day. And, you know, especially the modern model of, of age, segregating them, is incredibly novel, and almost certainly an error that this is separating children, not just from their, their family and their existing friends, but from anyone else who isn't it exactly their developmental stage, in order to teach them how to be adults, is sure to fail. And indeed, there are many, there are many alternative educational models, which Yes, are still in the model of school have, it's time to learn and it's time to teach that mixed age groups which have, you know, just just doing that, just just allowing children to spend time with people who are both older and younger than them increases the chances that education will work. Because you can, you may be too young to do the thing that someone three years or older can do when you're five, but you can see and you can aspire. And the two year old when you're five may be too young to be taught effectively by you everything that you know, but you can learn how it is to modify what you do to include that person. And so, you know, having mixed mixed age groups who are learning together is is one of the things that we have done moved away from very recently. And that is part of what makes school really so barbaric. Now, for so many people,
Heather Heying 2:10:07
I think it's important to understand what the legitimate role of school is, in order to see just how over extent it has become. And the way to understand this is thinking about language. If you have properly hooked up years and a properly hooked up brain, nobody has to teach you how to speak. Right, you will learn to speak and in fact, parents are wired to behave in such a way to train you to speak this is almost certainly what the compulsion to Babel back at children, what you've heard them say is about, right? Because you don't sound the same to yourself as the outside world hears you. And so having somebody repeat what you said, part of a feedback,
Bret Weinstein 2:10:49
especially with corrections, like babble back with grammatical correction, that's, that's instruction,
Heather Heying 2:10:54
right? And with emotional content on the face, you know, says something about what it sounded like? Or who knows, but Okay, so we can't stop you from learning to speak. This is something ancient in humans, and therefore you are wired to learn it with no instruction whatsoever. Not true for writing, reading, right? Why? Because they're new. And the point is, if we had them long enough, you'd probably pick them up automatically. That's a very long way off. So what we have to do is we've got to supplement, right. Likewise, you can be an expert in physics from, you know, using a bow and arrow, but you're not gonna be an expert in explicit physics, you're not gonna learn calculus by using a bow and arrow. So to the extent that these things are necessary and useful, we have to go into the supplemental mode to educate you. But what we don't do is recognize that that's the exception and not the rule that most of what you do in life should absolutely be learned by doing. And in fact, we're very good at it. It's very rewarding. And it doesn't produce this crazy phenomenon that Heather and I saw, as college professors very regularly where somebody's capacity to do something requires a person to tell them when they've succeeded or fail and requires a person to incentivize them to do it. Right? If you're learning, because you like it, when the teacher says you've succeeded, then you remove that teacher, and you don't know what to do, right. And so that teacher very easily gets replaced by a boss. And you, you know, you become a cog in a system, when in fact, what you are, is a fantastically capable creature who can innovate and bring new things to the world. And that's really what you should be angling to do. But the way we the way we teach just sort of drives it out of people.
Bret Weinstein 2:12:40
Yeah, I mean, to us, I don't know if this is legitimate psychological language, or if it's just psychobabble. But I think the thing that I've been hearing recently that sort of maps onto what you're saying, is this idea of locus of control, and that school effectively. And you know, we could argue a long time, we could discuss a long time about whether or not this is intentional or not going back, you know, how far but school effectively moves the locus of control for children with regard to motivation from internal to external. And in so doing, it makes children easier to control by that external locus of control, which is the teacher or the school system, and then the boss and you know, it's a handing off, you know, john Taylor Gatto. Now, now dead, who is an excellent educator and thinker on education tracks the history of compulsory schooling in Germany and in the US, and just does a fabulous job of this. But, you know, it's possible that compulsory schooling was exactly about that, right? Whether or not that is understood now to be desirable that you would want to take agency away from children and make it such that their motivational structures hinge on getting carrots or sticks from external authorities. Whether or not you think that's what we shouldn't be doing, it is de facto what modern schooling mostly does. And there are some of us who managed to thrive in modern schooling despite not being mostly driven by external authority. But most most people find themselves broken, at least somewhat, if not, to a large degree by the repeated insistent efforts to standardize humans.
Nick Jikomes 2:14:23
I want to talk a little bit about and this is still on the theme of becoming adults, advertising and theory of mind stuff before leaving us enough time to talk about religion and civilizational senescence. So I'm gonna read a short passage, and then and then talk for a minute and then I want you guys to riff on this. But there's this passage that I found interesting where you say, the ability of advertisers to create dissatisfaction is facilitated by the fact that our natural human obsession with narratives is being addressed by a narrative generating mechanism in which worries have not stood the test of time. And I just want to mention something from another podcast here, it just feels right to mention it even though I don't know exactly what the time is going to be. But I was speaking to an old friend of mine from graduate school. And he now works at Google. He's a very high level machine learning experts. And I was asking him more or less, you know, about AI and the differences between the human mind and the artificial minds that we are building today? And what some of those key differences are, what are the things that are lacking in our artificial systems that are not lacking in our own brains? And, you know, we don't know the answer to that fully. But he said, You know, I think it has something to do with the question of what is a story? Because, you know, our best natural language processing algorithms, our best AI today, they can, they can put together a pretty damn good paragraph, but they can't string together paragraphs in a cohesive way that creates a narrative. And so I want to ask you guys about this debt dissatisfaction that's being manufactured through advertisers, the use of narratives, and I'm hoping you can tie that into theory of mind stuff. I I'll just say that I love to the the explanation of capuchin monkeys?
Heather Heying 2:16:23
Well, there's, there's a lot to be said here. I think one thing that should probably be unpacked is this question about what has stood the test of time is a an evolutionary question wholly over in the cultural side. And the idea is, you can write a narrative, you cannot write a myth, right? a myth is a product of selection, the myths that we have, right, Odysseus stringing the bow, to regain control of the manor and rescue Penelope. This is an enduring story for a reason, right? Almost every story that was written at the same time has gone and has left no trace. And so what we have in sacred texts in famous stories is things that have been reinforced over time, for some reason that we don't necessarily know, again, you know, these are these are Chesterton's narratives in some sense. Some of them may no longer be relevant, it may be that we live in a world where the lessons of one story or another are no longer relevant, it may be that the hero's journey, you know, has to become the Fellowship of the Ring, because something about the world has changed. And now we don't have a hero anymore. What we have is a team or something like that, but, but nonetheless, what you find is that certain things are reinforced. And what Hollywood and the other narrative creation engines do is not the exploration of this space to figure out what stories they can write, and then selection, we'll choose the ones that were wonderful. There's sort of a hybrid process where you take the matrix, you know, is the matrix, a great narrative? Yeah, it is, you know, it's a modern, Plato's cave. But it's also polluted by the fact that somebody was focused on box office, right? And so how good a narrative, is it? And if it makes it into the deep future, will it be marred in some sense by the fact that, you know, somebody's obsession with box office caused the story to carry less meaning that it would otherwise have carried, and I don't think we know what to do with this. But what we did is we just took a process, an ancient process that didn't come with an instruction manual, and replaced it with a modern process that has an obvious corruption to it. And you know, the danger is severe.
Bret Weinstein 2:18:53
Yeah. And it and it decreases our ability to engage in theory of mind. Of course, it does. And, you know, I, I'm not sure I thought about it in these terms before, but, you know, just take social media, please. But you're most of the people, if you engage in social media at all, most of the people that you engage with, you don't know, and therefore, you know, nothing of them, except that you hope and presume that they're humans. And of course, even that is an assumption which may not be borne out. But one of the first things that I asked people when I'm first engaging them is like, Where are you, like, just Just tell me something about what your current situation is, so that I can I can map myself into your space and imagine what you're experiencing right now. And that that helps me engage in theory of mind, and there is no expectation and no capacity for that. When we are being advertised to when we're seeing totally receptive entertainment where we have no ability to enter interplay with it, nor is it really the expectation of the social media. And so I think the, the study referring to the capuchins, if memory serves is one With regard to a study of fairness, so the the background on this, which won't necessarily be intuitive to everyone is that these monkeys universally like both was it celery and grapes, I think you covered on grapes, cucumber, some grapes, there it is. But the university like both, but the university favor grapes. And so if you have two monkeys in cages next to each other where they can freely see one another and smell and all of this, but they can't, but they can't directly engage. And you have an experiment are given both monkeys, cucumbers, they're both perfectly pleased. And, and this is a it's an exchange thing. So the monkeys have to give them rocks or something. It's like we can be a rock, I'll give you a cucumber, sure, they'll go at this all day. And if you start giving one of the monkeys grapes, instead, the monkey who continues to receive cucumbers, is not just displeased has not just observed that even though their state is literally exactly the same that they were that they had before. But by comparison to their compatriot, it is now worse, they not only show their displeasure by by, you know, asking asking for grapes, which they don't do they literally hurl the cucumbers back at the researcher. So they, they take their status, which remained exactly the same except relative to their, to their conspecific. And they actually worsen their own situation in order to demonstrate that they see that this is no longer fair.
Heather Heying 2:21:31
Right, which, you know, seems bizarre and petty in one way, but on the and yet not, it's clearly not. And so one important interpretation of this is, to the extent that the monkey is getting cucumbers and is happy with it, because his compatriot is also getting cucumbers, there's no evidence that there are grapes. And so in some sense, the evidence that there are grapes, and the one monkey is not getting them is evidence that this is sub optimal for the niche that it finds itself in in that little cage. Well, it's it's monkey hedonic treadmill, at some level, well, but what I'm saying is what one of the things, you know, we've discovered over and over again, that human beings are very focused on what their neighbors have. And it always sounds petty when it's presented this way. But to the extent that you and your neighbor are farming, similar pieces of habitat, and your neighbor is, comes home with twice the harvest for the same amount of investment of time, that tells you you're doing something wrong. And so well, he's stealing from you. Well, it tells you that what you're doing is you're not protecting your stuff. So to the extent that there is evidence that somebody else is out competing you in the same habitat, yeah, it actually makes sense to become focused on this and to try to figure out what they're doing. The problem is, for us, this doesn't work. Right? Your neighbor may live in a house that looks like yours. And they may have a much nicer car in the driveway, but they also go to a different line of work, right? So there is no evidence that you're in the same habit that you can't use it to judge so people do become petty. And for no reason, keeping up
Bret Weinstein 2:23:03
with the Joneses actually, is the beginning of the recognition of the decoherence of this model.
Heather Heying 2:23:08
Right. And you know, and so the fact that we don't live in a coherent way, we just sort of decide where we're in town do I want to live in what town do I want to live in and your family isn't there and the people you grew up with aren't there And
Bret Weinstein 2:23:18
by and large, when you're making a decision about where to move, who your neighbors are, rarely play a central role,
Heather Heying 2:23:24
right? And it really should, you would you would think it would be dominant. And in some sense, what
Nick Jikomes 2:23:29
strikes me is, you know, Jeff Bezos is all of our neighbor now. So no matter how much we have these days, we can go well look at that guy. So it's sort of like this, this hyper awareness of discrepancies between people and this is just omnipresent now in society. So it's like, you know, it's like the Capuchin. You know, there's always a bigger juicy or grape to see that someone has Yeah, why does Bezos get all the grapes? That doesn't seem right,
Heather Heying 2:23:53
so many grapes? I wanted to add one last thing, though, you're in your niche, initial question, you were talking about the issue of narratives and theory of mind. And one completely arbitrary consequence of the way the market has interfaced with deep needs, like for music and narrative is that it has fed us a diet of these things that is, in some sense, kind of good, right? The range of music that you can get to pour into your phone, right is amazing. And I must say, I actually feel better about the quality of the music I listened to now than the music I listened to you back in the era of LPs, right where we all listen to the same thing, but I don't feel better about the fact that because we don't have a shared culture anymore. Right when the shared culture was Hey, Led Zeppelin for just came out. Led Zeppelin for may or may not be a good thing but the fact that everybody was hearing the same stuff had a kind of communal nature to it and it brought us into a shared mindset and we all heard Stairway to Heaven the first time in this is a little before our time, but I'm getting yourself wrong, right? That's true, but, but let's just say, the, the pieces of music that everybody heard whether they liked it or not, because they pulled it out of the three radio stations that people listened to in your high school, right, that had a communal aspect to it, irrespective of what the quality of the music itself was, now, we have a tremendous amount of choice. And that means we can get better music, but it means that you may not have heard the song that's so meaningful to me, and that as a very destructive, disjointed consequence. And likewise, you know, not only are the narratives that we pay attention to distorted by the market, you know, even more so than music, where these narratives may be telling us what we want to hear, rather than what we need to know. But we don't even all pay attention to the same universe of narratives. And so we may learn very different moral lessons, and we may find ourselves incompatible when we find when we, you know, come into contact in the work environment. And, you know, again, it's like, you know, do you want to be the person wagging your finger at somebody who really likes this band? Not that band? No, but the fact that our culture isn't the culture anymore, because you can have the thing that, you know, you know, tweaks your mind, just so and so can your neighbor and they may have no overlap with them. There's a danger in that. And I think we're, we're living downstream of it.
Nick Jikomes 2:26:26
One of the things so it's almost like culture has been unbundled. And one of the things I didn't have to spend talking about here, but it is a good time to where we go next, which is religion is you know, in the technology, space, a lot of technologists out there are having really interesting conversations and making various observations around how the development of new technologies has. This has been a recurring pattern in different sectors. It's led to an unbundling and then a re bundling. Right, so music for music is a is an obvious example, right, we've sort of unbundled the way we used to package music. Now, we're re bundling it into Spotify playlists, and it completely changes the landscape by which we consume things in that medium. And you've you've sort of just said that we've sort of unbundled culture. In some sense, we no longer have one unified cultural narrative that all or most of us are attending to. And religion has been the vehicle that has historically done that, I think, and I wanted to talk about religion, not only because it's in the book, but because this is a subject that not only fascinates me, but I've done various 180s on in my life. And one of the ways I've done that I think you guys speak to well is okay, I'm not a religious person, nor have I ever been. But I used to be of the mind that religion is this sort of artifact, it's this thing from the past, we need to rid ourselves of it, because it's, it's blurring our vision, it's getting in the way of seeing the world clearly. But you guys have a sort of different viewpoint that comes back to some of the things that we've been talking about. So can you speak a little bit about the adaptive function of religion historically?
Heather Heying 2:28:06
Sure. So we, in the book, deploy a test for whether something is an adaptation and the truncated version of it is that things that are complex and expensive and last over evolutionary time, are definitely paying their way somehow. And religion passes this test, with flying colors, right? religions are tremendously expensive and very complex and very long lasting. And so we know that they pay their way, or at least logically, we can virtually guarantee it. Well, it's also true that religious cultures have outperformed those cultures that art, right, you know, until the very modern moment there, we can point to no cultures that have been without religion, right? Even though within every religious culture, there's variation in how devout people are. And so there's the opportunity for selection to reduce the religiosity and yet it's the religious people who win. So why is that? Well, this is a mechanism for creating adaptive, creating and transmitting adaptive behavior at a level that we evolutionist don't tend to talk about. It's the level of lineage. And so there's been a long standing debate in evolutionary biology, you'll be well aware of it, given your history between the kin selection lists and the group selection lists. And, in effect, the group selection is have latched on to something that is true, but they've got a mechanism for it. That doesn't add up, right? groups can't be selected unless those groups are also lineages. And the fact is, lineages pass on not only genes, you effectively have a gene pool, but they pass on coherent sets of traditions and within those traditions, there is sectarian difference over what to believe and what to do. Count, and those sectarian differences get selected, those versions of a religion that are more efficient, relative to the problems in a given habitat will out compete that so you have kind of a clade of Christians, for example, and within Christians, you have Catholics, and then you have, you know, Greek, Greek Orthodox and Church of England, right, those are close relatives of each other, the difference primarily being whether they take the pope seriously or not. And then you have Martin Luther is the most recent common ancestor of the Protestants, right, and you have a bunch of different Protestant traditions. And these things are basically suites of adaptive behaviors. They're coherent packages of adaptive beliefs and behaviors that overlap different locations on the earth for the most part. And that process is staring us in the face. We haven't figured out how to talk about it. But it's an adaptive evolutionary process that has given rise to things that we moderns initially look at and say, wait a minute, the earth wasn't created in seven days, and it isn't 6000 years old. So everything in this book is wrong, this book starts with a lie, it's wrong. No, that's not what it is. It's not a literal description of the universe. It is an efficient packaging of a set of beliefs, that causes the people who ascribe to it to outcompete those who issue it.
Bret Weinstein 2:31:30
And specifically, the phrase that that we use is, much of what is contained in these religious texts, which hold ancient wisdom is that they're literally false, metaphorically true. And that does not mean that what was extraordinarily functional 500 1000 2000 years ago remains. So to the degree that it was then I mean, given that we live in this rapidly changing world with all of this hyper novelty, of course, some of even the literally false, metaphorically, true truths will be out of date now and in need of restructuring and, and modernization. But again, that doesn't mean that, therefore, therefore, the structure of religion, or the entire text should be thrown out.
Heather Heying 2:32:12
Yeah, I mean, in the sense, if we're to deal with the conundrum of religion in the 21st century, the first thing we need to do is own up to the fact that it isn't a parasite on people, it is a key to human success that may, to some extent, have outlived its usefulness. On the other hand, those who will bridle at hearing that description will recognize that we don't know, you know, we do we do not live in the environments that this thing came from. And so, in fact, and we also don't live in circumstances where we are surrounded by people from our lineage anymore. So there are multiple issues here. One, we now live on one Earth rather than in many different places, right, that Earth is so interconnected, that we have to have shared values or we're going to tear each other up. Right? So how do we get there, some values are shared across religions, okay? Those are liable to be contained in whatever are cohesive packages for all Earthlings, then others are in conflict. So we do have a reckoning coming. And it's about time that we stopped pretending that religion was a distortion and we start recognizing it as a, you know, it is a huge basket of Chesterton's fences, right? We do not know how it works, or what it does, or what problems it was aimed at. No question. There are elements of it, which are anachronistic and out of date, other elements function in ways we don't understand. And it's a puzzle we need to take very seriously.
Bret Weinstein 2:33:54
I think we can basically guarantee that that's the first time that has been uttered. Religion is basically a huge basket of Chesterton's fences. That's what you said, right? Yep. doesn't quite roll off the tongue that works.
Nick Jikomes 2:34:07
So this is the second time that this name has come up. And I didn't actually plan it this way. A lot of the things that we've been talking about some of the things that you say in the book remind me of something that stuck with me, I don't know why exactly. This stuck with me from Terence McKenna. And if people are unfamiliar, unfamiliar with him, I'll just let them Google the name. But you know, he was active in like the 80s and 90s. He died quite a long time ago. And he said, so many things that were interesting, but also seemed crazy, that I often didn't pay close attention to them. But at a couple different points. In the last few years of my life, I stumbled upon an old lecture or something that someone posted, and I remembered listening to it before, but in listening to it the second time, I found myself saying things like, wow, I used to think he was just kind of out there, but maybe he was actually so far ahead of some of the other people that were his contemporaries that it sounded crazy, but it was actually present. And as we talk about civilizational senescence and and what you describe in the last part of your book, I'm remembering this phrase that he introduced that stuck with me he talked about, and this is again, I think, late 80s, early 90s, when he's saying these things, he talked about how technology and the way that culture was evolving was leading to what he called a balkanization of epistemology. That instead of having this one shared narrative, that we all cohere to, you could walk down the street, and you might run into someone who's you know, a quantum physicist, and he looks at the world through the lens of physics, and the other person standing next to them on the street is channeling archangels and believing, you know, things that he would describe as very unscientific. The point being that everyone are walking around, it seems, has this different epistemology, this different way of analyzing and knowing what they think is true about the world. And it's leading to this kind of decoherence that he would say, was causing everyone to consciously or subconsciously, look, look towards the past for a solution to and so I'm hearing echoes of this throughout your book in our discussion, you know, things like the Paleo diet, people are like, okay, we're unhealthy and to eat better, I need to look back to, to some past that have the answer. You know, obviously, there's the Golden Age fallacy that many people might be familiar with, where, you know, you constantly look, people want to look back to a golden age, they want to rebuild, there's been, you know, many movies based around this idea. And I'm wondering if you can start talking about the concept of senescence, what does that mean in terms of biology? And then how do you tie that to the civilization level analysis that you have in the book?
Heather Heying 2:36:47
Sure, let's start with the basics. senescence is the process that most people would call aging. Specifically, it is the process by which biological organisms grow more feeble and inefficient with age. So a diamond ages, but it doesn't get less diamond D, a person ages and they get less person. So that's the process, we now have a really good idea why happens because George Williams, one of the great evolutionary biologists of the 20th century, outlined a very elegant argument that made wonderful predictions that allowed us to test it in 1957. And the short answer is, you have a genome that is too small, to do all of the things that are necessary to make a critter as complex as you so almost everything in the genome does more than one thing. That's called pleiotropy. And the implication of ply atropine, is that there will be some subset of genes that do something that is beneficial for you early in life, at some cost, late in life. And the key insight is that selection, cares much more about the early benefits than the late costs. And the reason, a short version of the reason is that many people don't live long enough to experience the late costs. And so the early benefits are a bargain, right. So if you imagine that you had a gene that you were carrying around a gene that would cause your heart to explode on your 100 and 11th birthday, chances are, that thing is going to cost you nothing, because you're not really likely to get to your 100 and 11th birthday. So if it was coupled to some early life benefits selection would see it as a smokin bargain. So selection collects all of these player trophies that function this way. And the cost is that as you get older, you expose more of these late life harms. And eventually, they cause you to decohere enough that you can't continue. Alright, so let's just say that that idea has been tested very thoroughly, and it turns out to be right, and disturbingly predictive. Okay? Now, the reason that this is connected in to civilization, is that we have unwittingly built almost exactly an analogous process into our civilization. And it works like this. we incentivize you to innovate stuff, we reward you if you've done it well through profit. And what this means is that if you come up with some process that's spectacularly awesome, right? Then you will be heavily rewarded. And so there's a race to find all of the spectacularly awesome stuff that we don't know how to do yet and to bring it to the market. But the problem is, each of those things that you bring to the market comes with downsides, right when we first innovated the internal combustion engine. It you know, on its own was a miraculous thing. It allowed you to take a flammable substance and use it to do almost any kind of physical work you would want to do from transporting yourself to running a factory. Whatever That's a great thing. But it carried within it the capacity to alter the atmosphere in a way that could make the earth much less habitable. Right. But that cost is very delayed. And here's the tricky part. In our system, we award economic gains for these kinds of innovations. Those economic gains then translate into political power. Right? So profit becomes political power, and that political. political power means that once we discover what the downsides of these things are, there's no way to go back, you can't undo these things. Because the industries that generate them are so powerful by the time you discover why the consequences are intolerable, that there's no there's no halting it. So we keep accumulating these processes that have an early benefit, right, and a late cost. And we are now as a civilization suffering, the collective harm of all of those late costs, just like the feeble old person, right. So what what we've now done, if there's nothing wrong in that analysis, what we've now done is said you've got a process that is going to result in the death of that civilization, by virtue of the fact that you have structured economic profit in a way that generates political power and makes it so you can't undo things that turn out to be net harmful. Right? And that is either a problem that we can solve, or it isn't. And then I'm afraid our fate is sealed.