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Hey, it’s Marie Forleo and you are watching MarieTV, the place to be to create a business and life you love. So if you’re anything like me, you love subjects like technology and creativity and spirituality and thinking about how all of these incredible universes are coming together in miraculous ways. Well, my guest today is one of the leading thinkers, speakers, and philosophers on this topic and so much more.
Called the Timothy Leary of the viral video age by The Atlantic, Jason Silva delivers philosophical shots of espresso which unravel the incredible possibilities the future has to offer the human race. Host of National Geographic’s hit show Brain Games, Jason Silva is an extraordinary new breed of philosopher who meshes philosophical wisdom of the ages with an infectious optimism for the future. Using his series of short videos, which play as movie trailers for ideas, Jason explores the coevolution of humans and technology and have garnered over 2 million views. Jason has been featured in CBS News, The Atlantic, The Economist, Vanity Fair, Forbes, Wired, TED.com, among others, and he was also featured as part of The Gap Icons campaign. An idea DJ and visual poet, Jason Silva is above all an optimist and curator of ideas, inspiration, and all.
Jason, thank you so much for being here today.
Thank you so much for having me.
So I know we’re gonna talk about a lot of really cool things, creativity, futurism, all kinds of stuff. But I actually wanna start off going back to the past. So I know that often times we can see the seeds of who someone is to become, what they’re meant to do in this world when we look in the past. And I know that you actually started doing these salons in your house. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Yes. I grew up in Venezuela and I used to go to an international school, so my friends were from all over the world and all the time we had new kids coming into the school because their parents were working for multinational companies, so they’d be stationed there. So people were new all the time in the school. And one of the ways that we made people feel at home right away was I used to kinda organize them and bring them, invite them, to my crew. And I used to organize these salons in my house. And basically they were idea jams. We would share books and scenes from movies that we loved and we drank wine and we hung out and… in Venezuela you can buy alcohol at a pretty young age. But yeah, I just kinda was always… I always loved ideas and I always loved recording ideas because one of the things that sort of haunted me from a very young age was that inspiration was really fleeting. Inspiration was sort of defined by its impermanence. And so my way of, like, arresting that, of capturing these inspired exchanges with my friends was through the camera. So I’ve pretty much had a video camera since I was 12 and have been documenting my mind jams ever since then.
That’s incredible. Do you ever look back on those?
Yes. Yes. As a matter of fact, I could even show you a little clip if you want.
Oh, definitely. Ok, we’re gonna make that… ok, you’re gonna see it. Ok, cool. Is that where you started thinking to yourself, “Ok, I wanna do this for my life.”
I think so. Yeah, I always loved movies and I always loved getting kind of immersed in cinema and I thought that cinema was the best way to mediate encounters with transcendence and inspiration. You know, I didn’t grow up religious at all, so I didn’t get that from traditional religious spaces, but to me cinema is the last altar left. Cinema was the place where I felt like I transcended the ego and I connected with something larger than myself. Whether it was the characters or their mythic journey or their transformation or whatever it was, to me cinema was cathartic. So there was no doubt that I was gonna go to film school and get involved in making content in some capacity, but because I was kind of a child of the digital revolution, I was responding to the restrictions and liberations that came with that. So rather than going the route of trying to make feature length films or docs, I fell in love with the short form in college. And the fact that I had a video camera since I was 12 has shown me that I could have really quick turnaround. See, that’s the thing about digital video. It’s like you could just shoot it. If it looked cool in the little viewfinder, then you could hit record and you could really capture the moment, and you could very quickly turn that around. And so after that there was just no way that I could go to the more slow production vibe, you know? I just had to keep it at that speed and that has… that’s been my journey.
That’s incredible. And so were you both behind the camera and in front of the camera?
I… originally was all about directing. So when I was like 12, 13, 14 I would direct my little brother and we’d do these spoof short films and so on and so forth and have a blast. And at the time I had no editing equipment, so I had to edit in real time in my head. And so we shot in sequence and the cuts were in my head and I’d start and stop and do the next shot and so on and so forth. And… but it was really in, like, later in high school with those salon sessions that I was videotaping that I started to turn the camera on myself. So not only was I videotaping my friends and sort of the mind jamming conversations that were happening, but at some point I sort of felt like if I wanted to narrate or say something I was like, “Ok, just hold the camera.” And I’d just hand the camera to my friend, I’d start, like, yapping about something, and then later on I was surprised that my rantings were actually somewhat lucid. You know? Because at the time I had no real experience. The minute you put the camera on me I would get self-conscious. But… but in those instances I was able to be in the no mind state and actually get in the zone and get in the flow and that’s where the best stuff seemed to emerge. So then at that point it became I still wanted to control the creative, but I was like, “You know what? I can narrate my own stuff.”
Yeah, I mean, and you’re… you’re absolutely stunning at it and that’s what actually, I was so excited when I came across, you know, one of your most popular videos I was like, “I have got to get in touch with Jason. I need him on MarieTV,” because you were absolutely… you were born to do this and you’re brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.
Thank you so much. Thank you.
You’re welcome. So let’s talk more about creativity.
Creativity, it’s just one of those… it’s just such a fascinating subject. I mean, MarieTV, we’re always coming up with ideas and everything else we do in the business. For you, when it comes to creativity, do you think that there’s ever a new idea or is everything an iteration or a version of something that’s come before?
Yeah, that’s… that’s… I kinda fall in line with that notion that everything is kind of a remix and everything builds on preexisting knowledge base. And creative people are people that are able to connect the dots in a new way, arrange the Legos in a different order but using the same building blocks. There’s actually a series on the web that’s really popular called Everything is a Remix that’s genius and it just shows how a lot of things that we consider original are actually, again, remixes of what came before. And so that’s where I think that whole notion about steal like an artist or, you know, good artists borrow, great artists steal. Because the truth of the matter is everything builds on what came before, so as long as you cite where your inspiration comes from or you give credit to where you’re connecting the dots from, beyond that I think, you know, we all kind of share in that space in which ideas can have sex and they should all belong to all of us.
Yes. Exactly. Actually, that’s what I wanted to talk about next because I thought it was such an interesting turn of phrase. Obviously it’s like a little bit saucy, a little bit sassy.
Talk to me about ideas having sex and why you’re so passionate about bringing these very interesting, amazing, philosophical… philosophical concepts and packaging them in a mainstream way that everybody can get.
Yeah. Well, that term, ideas having sex, I think it came after I read Stephen Johnson’s book, Where Good Ideas Come From, The Natural History of Innovation, which is a dazzling book about the origin of ideas. And he writes a lot there about how we need to create ecologies of thought, and he talks about how cities are fertile spaces for ideas to have sex because of the density of the way people are arranged near each other. People from different backgrounds comingling together sprouts new recombinations of ideas. He talks about the rise of the coffee shop as the… another instance in history that led to a lot of ideas because you put a lot of people in a small space, you give them lots of caffeine, and ideas intermingle, mutate, and sprout. And in the age of the internet all of a sudden even the city, even though it’s still a very creative place, it’s not a necessary precursor anymore because in the age of the internet we transcend distance and time and space and so on. And so now anybody who is interested in anything can coalesce around someone else who’s interested in the same thing and they can have that kind of idea sex. But I love just the metaphor of talking about an ecology or a space where ideas, which are like organisms, can have sex, which is the whole… the whole notion of we went from a world of genes to a world of memes. So ideas, these memes, are these living things. Ideas leap from brain to brain, they compete for the resources of our attention, they have infectivity, they have spreading power. This notion that ideas are alive is a wonderful idea.
Yeah. And actually, I remember in one of your videos you talked about how they retain some of the characteristics of organisms, and that just kind of blew my mind and I was like, “I wanna hear Jason talk about that.”
Yeah. Well, that was Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene, I believe. In the 70s he wrote this book where he introduced the term meme. And of course meme rhymes with genes, and he says, you know, “We used to live in a world where information was only exchanged through sex.” Sexual reproduction. That’s how genetic information mixed with other genetic information. But with culture, with language, all of a sudden we had this new information technology that allowed us to encode information in vocal patterns and transmitted through time and space outside of DNA. That was the new replicator. Writing allowed us to encode information, take it outside of the mind and put over there and let it spread, let other people read it. So it was the… it’s this notion that at that point we went from a world of genes to a world of memes and that this new replicator accelerated our capacity to transform the world. Because it just… it started building and building and building and building and building and now, you know, we live in that… we have a global nervous system where information is traveling faster than ever. I mean, it’s… it’s… it’s a wild space. Right?
Electrified thoughts traveling at the speed of light.
It’s so exciting to me and often times I just really stop and think about how much I love the internet.
I talk about it. I’m like, it… I remember getting online for the first time and going, “I can reach people in another part of the world that I would never have a chance to connect with on a spiritual level, on any level, and it literally makes me wanna jump out of my skin. I think it’s so cool.”
Oh, yeah. There was a famous Jesuit priest called Teilhard de Chardin and he talked about the omega point of the acceleration of technology is leading towards this apex where we all kind of merge into this super meta organism. He referred to it as the noosphere that rises above the biosphere. So it’s this membrane that’s gonna surround the earth that’s all mind. It’s all thought. It’s all the thoughts of billions of people finally becoming this sort of meta organism. And it’s a wild idea, but think about it. I mean, you create a piece of content that doesn’t just inspire the people in this room, but that inspires somebody in South Korea or in Berlin and it might change the book that they decide to read that day, which might change the major that they go for in college, which might then change the course of human evolution because they might invent something. So it’s like we do now… ideas are our force of evolution and the fact that our ideas are unbounded by normal Euclidean, meet space limitations of distance and time means that we’re in this world where thought travels at the speed of light and thought evolves and thought mutates and wow. Who knows where that’s gonna go? But it’s an exciting time.
If used wisely.
How much do you love that we’re alive right now and how much do you love, especially given what you do and your skillset and your passion…?
Yeah. 100%. I mean, look, technology gets a lot of criticism and that’s because technology has always been a double edged sword and I understand that. I mean, when we discovered fire, it’s been famously said, you could use fire to cook your food and that led to this acceleration and our capacity to absorb nutrients and it freed us to have all this time to think and so on and so forth. But you can also use fire to burn your enemies. You can use the alphabet to write Shakespearean sonnets that enrich the imagination or you can use the alphabet to compose hate speech and lead people to kill each other. So technology extends, but it can extend in any direction. And it’s how we use these tools ultimately that determines if they’re good or bad. But I have an unwavering belief that if you look at the macro trends overall, we tend to use these things for good. Steven Johnson wrote a whole other book about that called Future Perfect where he talks about, look, it’s not utopia but it’s leaning that way. You know, I mean, the world has never been less violent than it is today, contrary to what you see in the media. Steven Pinker and his whole myth of violence TED talk says that. The chances of a man dying at the hands of another man are the lowest than they’ve ever been in the history of man.
Yeah, if you watch Game of Thrones it’s like, “Woah! Thank God we’re not there anymore.”
Yeah, totally. Totally, totally. But, you know, again, the media is all doom and gloom and so it makes you almost think that the world’s going to hell when in fact there’s a lot of things that are going right. And so, again, it’s how we use these tools ultimately that will determine our fate. I do believe though that now it’s more up to us than it’s ever been. I think we’re the chief agents of evolution now. So evolution now has mind attached to it, so we’d better use our minds wisely and use these tools for the common good, I think.
Yeah. No, 100%. Which brings me to what I think is one of your favorite subjects too. Getting deeper into the future. And I know you and I are both fans, this idea, the singularity.
So for anyone watching who’s not familiar with that term…
Yeah. Ok. So the singularity, there’s a lot written and said about this idea. It’s actually originally a physics term. So it’s a term that information technology futurists borrow from physics. And originally the meaning is what happens when you go through a black hole. And apparently the laws of physics kinda collapse when you go through that black hole, so you can’t really… you can’t really know what happens when you go through it. And so it’s a metaphor that’s been borrowed to describe a moment when the apex of information technology, coalescing, and artificial intelligence, the biotechnology revolution, us reprogramming our biology, and the nanotechnology revolution, which turns, like, matter into a programmable medium. Everything at the level of the atom becomes manipulatable. And so essentially these three overlapping revolutions are predicted to lead us towards a moment that after which is impossible for us to predict what happens next. Because when we radically extend our cognitive capacities with digital tools, infinitely more advanced digital tools even than what we have today, or when we create a non-biological mind, which is coming soon. I mean, there’s the Blue Brain Project, spending over a billion dollars to create a digital sentient. And the whole point is that this mind wouldn’t be bound by the physical limitations that we have. We’re a 56k modem. You know? We’re 1.0. Imagine like a 9.0 mind on silicon that can upgrade itself. So the whole point is trying to imagine the new sublime mind spaces that will emerge is like trying to explain to a chimp the nuances of a Shakespearean sonnet. It’s just… no matter how bright the chimp is, he can’t get the nuances of language. And so that’s where it gets exciting because I think the singularity opened… the metaphor, it just… it opens us to the possibility of imagining the ineffable.
Imagining the almost impossible to imagine. So it lends itself to wonderful speculation I think.
A lot of speculation. I know for me, I get very, very excited by it. You know, Ray Kurzweil, Abundance, all of that stuff. I can’t get enough.
But whenever I read or hear or talk with people about it I’m like, “Oh, so scary.” And I know that at one point you said, you know, “What if… what if that consciousness is actually more empathetic?” It’s like I had never heard that perspective before because everything thinks about it it’s like, “Oh, the machines are coming, that’s it, we’re gonna get…”
The Terminator scenario.
Totally. So what do you think about that? I mean, I thought that was such… does that tie into your… do you have spiritual beliefs?
I mean, not traditional ones. I grew up in a secular Jewish household. But my mom is an artist and a poet, so I think our religion was art.
And I think that art is transcendent, you know, and I define transcendence as when the sum of the parts adds up to more than the parts. You know, you put materials together in a certain way and what results exceeds those materials. And music and art and language is so transcendent and so that… that’s my version of spirituality. But to answer your question, you know, we’ve always been scared of change and disruption. You know, when writing was invented, I’ve read that Socrates used to be opposed to it because he says if we write things down we won’t have to remember anything and so our brains will rot. So there’s been, you know, the establishment of the time is afraid of these new disruptive tools because they shake up the status quo. And I think, you know, it’s the same fear that people have had of video games. Oh, video games are gonna make us all, you know, violent or they’re gonna atrophy our brains, when in fact it’s been found out that, you know, video games engage your problem solving skills, they engage your strategy skills in your brain in all these amazing ways. You know? I don’t know if you’ve heard of the book Reality is Broken, but it’s all about the power of game and mechanics to help save the world.
I haven’t, but now I’m gonna read it.
Yeah. And so I think we’ll be surprised by how we have the possibility of using these tools in wonderful ways and how if we do create a non biological mind it’s gonna have everything that’s wonderful about humans exponentially multiplied, you know. And it’s a great idea, Kevin Kelly that I always… he was a big inspiration. He co founded Wired magazine and he says, “Look, just imagine for a second how impoverished we’d be if we didn’t invent oil painting, a technology, in time for Van Gogh’s genius to unfurl through it. Or if we didn’t invent musical annotation or the instrument, both technologies, in time for Beethoven’s genius to kind of emerge through that. So if we rob ourselves of creating these new tools, we’d be robbing ourselves of the next Beethoven, the next Mozart, the next Van Gogh who are going to use these tools to build things we can’t even imagine.”
Yes. And that’s what’s really exciting. What, I’m curious, is there a particular sector whether it’s nanotech, biotech, anything else, or a particular thing that you’re very excited to see come to life that’s maybe on the cusp right now?
Yeah. I’m really excited about the Oculus Rift and the kind of virtual reality revolution that we’re seeing with that. You know, especially in platforms like Kickstarter people could come up with cool ideas and the crowd itself can fund it and all of a sudden new possibilities emerge. But we’ve always wanted to inhabit that mind space, that virtual space. I mean, already when we watch movies our mind is in the film. When we’re engaging with the internet, I mean, we’re interfacing with the space that isn’t space, as William Gibson used to say, and I think that with the Oculus we’re finally going to be surrounded fully by that virtual space. And it’s gonna, you know, it’s gonna definitely change online dating at the very least. But… but no, I just imagine new modalities of communication that will be very exciting to explore. You know?
And art too, probably.
Oh my God, absolutely.
Yeah. I think transcendental art, you know, therapeutic virtual reality therapy I think is gonna become a big thing. To get even a little kookier, I don’t know if you’re familiar with MAPS. So the multidisciplinary association of psychedelic studies is a non profit that’s trying to use plant based psychotropic medicines that have been used for thousands of years by all kinds of societies and bring them into the psychotherapy realm. And so imagine combining Oculus Rift virtual reality with, like, the MDMA that they’re giving to PTSD patients and put them in this, like, new realm and then it’s like better living through chemistry mixed with electronic mediation. I mean, I think we could really…
…explore. It could be a kind of almost divine engineering or electronic spirituality.
So fascinating. So I know you’ve got a lot going on personally, too. You’ve got Brain Games, which is a huge hit show. What else are you personally excited about? What are you working on? What’s happening for you?
So, yeah, Brain Games has been wonderful because it’s given me a wonderful television platform. I used to be at Current TV for many years but then I had some time where I wasn’t. And so it’s nice to have that platform. It’s one of their most successful series ever, we were nominated for an Emmy, and it’s nice to be involved in something that I think is making neuroscience accessible to mainstream audiences. And then Shots of Awe is very much a passion project. My philosophical espresso shots, which speak deeply I think to my own existential obsessions and angst. You know? It’s… Woody Allen famously used to say, “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it by not dying.” Because he has this whole thing about death and the morbid human… the morbidity of the human condition when seen in its naked form. And I echo his sentiments, you know, but Shots of Awe is sort of the next best thing. Until we can sort of nano engineer immortality and transcend our human limitations, artistic transcendence is all I got. And in making those videos allows me temporarily to arrest the passing of time and to be moved to the point of tears hopefully, and hopefully others, and to really not just arrest time, but eternalize and immortalize the passing of the moment. To take these moments of cognitive ecstasy and take a snapshot of them, to parenthesize them, to hang them on the wall. And, God, for me, that’s just… it’s the closest thing to stabilizing happiness that can be. You know, my mom used to publish all these poetry books in English and Spanish in Venezuela and I think those poems were that for her. And so these videos are that for me.
You’re absolutely genius at it and I cannot wait to see… I know you’ve got a new one coming up. Do you want to tell everyone about it?
Yes. So there’s one about non conformity that I’m very excited about and a lot of the inspiration for Shots of Awe, because these are totally unscripted, but the inspiration comes from, like, falling in love with an idea or a quote that is just something I wanna say. Like, I want my lips to vibrate with those… with those ideas. You know, words become worlds as they say. And this one was a Nietzsche quote and it says, “And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music,” which is wonderful.
It just goes through.
Yeah. Totally. And I was like, just that idea, you know, about the genius that sometimes gets misjudged, you know, because we can’t see it. We’re like, “Oh, so the dancing… they’re crazy.” It’s because we can’t hear the music. And so I just thought it was one of those lines that I just wanna say. And then from there I just went off on a whole rant about finding one’s purpose and individuality and the tension between individuality and conformity and I’m very excited about it.
Awesome. So Jason, this was incredible. As you know on MarieTV we always like to help people turn this incredible insight and inspiration into action. So we’ve got a challenge for you guys today and I’m so thrilled about this one. Jason, it’s inspired by a quote that you love.
Yes. This quote is by Albert Camus and it says, “Life should be lived to the point of tears.” And of course he is speaking to just living by one’s passion, answering the call, living by one’s truth until… until you’re moved to tears.
So we want to take that, we want to take this idea of being moved to tears and I want to know from you, what do you love so much whether it’s a painting, it’s a piece of art, it’s a member of your family, it’s something that you’re working on that really moves you to tears. What do you love that much? Tell us all about it in the comments below. Now, as always, the best conversations happen after the episode over at MarieForleo.com, so go there and leave a comment now. Did you like this video? If so, subscribe to our channel and, of course, share this with all of your friends. They will really thank you for it. And if you want even more great resources to create a business and life that you love, plus some personal insights from me that I only talk about in email, get over to MarieForleo.com and sign up for email updates. Stay on your game and keep going for your dreams because the world needs that special gift that only you have. Thank you so much for watching and I’ll catch you next time on MarieTV.