David Eagleman: The Inside Story of the Ever-Changing Brain | E209
David Eagleman: The Inside Story of the Ever-Changing Brain | E209
[00:00:00] Hala Taha: YAP Fam, registration for my February LinkedIn Secrets Masterclass is now live. Don't miss the chance to catch our live in-person masterclass taught by me February 22nd to the 23rd. Get thousands of new followers on LinkedIn a month 10 to a hundred X your engagement and convert your following into paying customers.
[00:00:18] They call me the podcast princess, but you may not know. I'm also the LinkedIn queen. I'm one of the top influencers on the LinkedIn platform and I've totally figured out how to hack the LinkedIn algorithm. Learn what took me five years in just two days of hard work. Today I run YAP Media. It's known to be the number one LinkedIn marketing agency and I'm behind many of the LinkedIn influencers that you know and love.
[00:00:41] Learn the same strategies I use to build their brands to grow your brand. Today, you'll learn live from me over two days and I'll take you from knowing Zero to knowing 99.99%, more than anybody else about LinkedIn. I'll help you develop your personal brand, your voice identity, your visual identity. I'll teach you everything you need to know about [00:01:00] design copywriting, and I'll take you through the LinkedIn algorithm and teach you all the engagement hacks you need to know to absolutely dominate on the platform.
[00:01:07] And lastly, we'll cover sales strategies to help you truly become Young and Profiting. Go to YAP media.io/course and use Code Masterclass to get 35% off my LinkedIn masterclass today. Again, use Code Masterclass to get 35% off my masterclass. Today the masterclass is February 22nd to the 23rd. So act fast.
[00:01:28] The session is filling up and I'm capping it at 100 seats. I'll see you in class.
[00:01:34] David Eagleman: Imagine that you are a dog. Imagine you've got this long snout with 200 million scent receptors in it. Everything for you is about scent. Lots of animals have magnetoreception, which means they're picking up on the magnetic field of the earth.
[00:01:47] These are things that are just totally invisible to us. We don't pick this up at all, and I think this is a very counterintuitive, thing to think that your biology actually constrains your perception of reality. The way we [00:02:00] think about building all our technology now and the way that everything is set up, our factories are set up, okay?
[00:02:05] You make a hardware layer and then you put software on top of it, and that's been a great idea and it's been super successful, but it's just not the way that biology ever does anything. The future is going to be much more biological, than the way we do it right now. Which is we build hardwired machinery that is inflexible.
[00:02:27] Hala Taha: What is up Young and Profiteers. You are listening to YAP Young and Profiting Podcast, where we interview the brightest minds in the world and unpack their wisdom into actionable advice that you can use in your daily life. I'm your host, Hala Taha. Thanks for tuning in and get ready to listen. Learn and profit.
[00:02:58] Welcome to Young and [00:03:00] Profiting podcast David.
[00:03:01] David Eagleman: Thank you. It's so great to be here.
[00:03:03] Hala Taha: I'm super excited. I love to learn about the brain and so do my listeners. We've had a handful of episodes on the topic with renowned experts like Dr. Caroline Leaf, Dr. Daniel Amen, Jim Kwik and a few others, but I feel like we've still only scratched the surface on the topic.
[00:03:17] There is so much to learn about the brain and I guarantee you Young and Profiteers. Today is gonna be an interesting episode because we have the brilliant David Eagleman joining us on YAP. So David is a neuroscientist at Stanford University. He's also the co-founder of Neosensory and BrainCheck. He also directs the nonprofit organization Center for Science and Law, and he's best known for his work on sensory substitution, time perception, brain plasticity, and neuro law.
[00:03:43] He's had a PBS series. He also has a show on Netflix called The Creative Brain. In addition to all of this, David is a bestselling author and his latest book, Livewired. The Inside story of the Ever-Changing Brain covers decades of research about our brain. So in today's discussion, my goal is for us to learn the basics of [00:04:00] some of David's main topics, like time perception, sensory substitution, and live wiring, while also focusing on the potential future state of the human experience.
[00:04:09] We seem to be at a point in human history where for the first time ever. We may have the power to do things like at a sixth or seventh sense, and I think it's super fascinating. I can't wait to get into it with David. So David, let's open up this conversation with some background on your childhood. You had an accident when you were eight years old where you fell 12 feet from a roof.
[00:04:28] So tell us about that accident and how it influenced you to then learn about time perception years later.
[00:04:33] David Eagleman: So I slipped off the roof, ended up breaking my nose on the brick floor below. But the thing that really struck me about it was that it seemed to take a long time to fall from the roof. And so I was thinking about Alice in Wonderland as I was falling and how this must have been. What it was like for her.
[00:04:49] And I had, it felt like lots of time as I felt, and later when I got to high school and I took physics and I learned equals one half at squared. I realized, the whole fall took place in [00:05:00] 0.6 of a second. And I couldn't reconcile that. I couldn't figure out how those, how it had seemed to have taken so long.
[00:05:06] So I got really interested in perception. I grew up, I became a neuroscientist and I've studied a lot about time perception in my laboratory. And so one of the experiments I ended up doing then was dropping people from 150 foot tall tower. Backwards and free fall and they're caught by a net below.
[00:05:22] And I measured time perception on the way down. I made a series of discoveries there. Essentially, the bottom line is we don't actually see in slow motion. Instead, it's a trick of memory. When you're in a life-threatening situation. You're laying down really dense memories such that when you read it back out, when you say What just happened?
[00:05:40] What just happened? It feels like it must have taken a very long time.
[00:05:46] Hala Taha: That's super interesting. So essentially, it's the way that we're perceiving time. It's not that time actually slows down. Our brain has evolved to perceive time in that way, and it turns out that we're perceive the whole world is like an illusion in that [00:06:00] sense.
[00:06:00] Can you talk to us about that?
[00:06:01] David Eagleman: That's right. There's a sense in which you're never perceiving time directly. You're always living at least half a second in the past. So it takes you photons hit your eyes, your air compression waves hit your ears or. Whatever, I touched your toe. And those signals have to travel along nerves, which are very slow.
[00:06:18] Thousands of times slower than, electronic signals travel on your computer. So it takes time for this stuff to move around in the brain. Get to different places in the brain, and then it has to get stitched together with other senses. And by the time all of this gets done and you're served up a conscious perception of what happened, the event's already long gone by that point.
[00:06:38] And you're living in the past. And by the way, I've been pursuing a hypothesis that taller people live farther in the past than shorter people because it takes longer to get all the signals there. So anyway, yes, we're never perceiving time directly. And when you are thinking back on an accident situation, you're probing your memory.
[00:06:56] You're saying, what just happened a moment ago? [00:07:00] And so all you're ever perceiving is your conscious perception. Now, by the way, of course your body can do things much faster than that unconsciously. Like when, your foot gets halfway to the brake, when you realize a car is pulling out of the driveway ahead of you. That happens before you're consciously aware.
[00:07:15] You become aware by the time your foot's already on the move. So your brain can do lots of things that way. When you're hiking with friends and you find yourself ducking out of the way of a tree branch that's swinging back towards you before you even realize that you're ducking. That kinda stuff can happen.
[00:07:30] But as far as our conscious perception of the world, that's always an old story.
[00:07:35] Hala Taha: So interesting. So I mentioned that I'm gonna try to talk about the future in a lot of our conversation, and so you may not have the answer, but I'm curious, I'm sure you've thought about it. Humans hate to wait, especially as we get more technologically advanced.
[00:07:51] We don't even like to wait for our files to download on the computer. So do you think there's gonna be some sort of a future, where we can manipulate time in that way where we feel like [00:08:00] we're at least not waiting?
[00:08:01] David Eagleman: I don't think so, actually, only because the human brain is enormous compared to, let's say, a fly, a house, fly brain.
[00:08:07] The reason it's really hard to sw a fly is because the signals are moving around fast in that brain, sorry, I should say. The signals are moving along the neurons in a fly brain, exactly the same speed that they're moving with us. But it can get across the brain and do everything it needs to and get to the motor system of the fly .Really, quickly because there's just not that much territory to cover.
[00:08:27] In contrast, the human brain is enormous. You have to cross vast swaths of territory with these signals to get stuff to happen. So there's a sense in which we are always going to live. In the past, happily technologically, things have sped up a lot. It's always struck me so funny the way that we once something speeds up, we say, I never realized I could save time there.
[00:08:47] And then you can never go back. But often we don't realize there are ways that we could have saved up. Like for example, if somebody invents something where you can wash all your dishes or wash all your clothes, like in one second and then the [00:09:00] thing's done and unload it automatically, you would say, oh great, I'm never going back.
[00:09:04] We do washing machines and laundry machines now and it doesn't bother us too much.
[00:09:08] Hala Taha: So interesting. So one concept that I think is really important as we start to get a foundation of your work, and I think a lot of my listeners are really beginners, right? I don't, I think a lot of the terms that we're gonna talk about in this episode are gonna be brand new terms, and one of them is this concept of umwelt.
[00:09:24] It sounds German, right? So basically it's this concept that our environment is perceived differently, like from human to human, right? We all are perceiving the world similarly. But differently at the same time. And so I'd love for you to explain that concept to us.
[00:09:40] David Eagleman: Cool. The easiest way to think about the umwelt is that looking across the animal kingdom. So you know, for a tick, for example, all it can detect is temperature and body odor. That's it's only signaling mechanisms. And so it's world is built out of that. Or for the blind echolocating bat, its world is built out of these [00:10:00] echoing sound signals.
[00:10:01] Lets out a chirp and it gets an echo back. And that's how it figures out the three dimensional structure of the cave it's flying through. Or for the black coast knife fish, it has electrical fields around it. And it's detecting when that gets perturbed, by let's say a rock or some predator there. And those are the only signals that it has that it can pick up on from the world.
[00:10:22] And so that's this concept of the umwelt. Which that's how it constructs its reality. And what I've always found interesting is that presumably. We all, every animal species, accepts its reality as the entire reality out there. Because why would you stop to ever question or think that maybe there's something beyond what you can detect?
[00:10:42] But what you said is also correct. And this is actually the topic of my next book, which is The difference from Human to human has been fascinating to me. Just as one example. An easy example is colorblindness, right? So let's say, this person's colorblind, this person's not. They're actually seeing the scene differently.
[00:10:57] And we now know that a small fraction of women [00:11:00] have not just three types of color photo receptors in their eye, but four types. Which means they're seeing colors the rest of us aren't seeing. Or it takes something like synesthesia. Which, where you, someone let's say, looks at letters or numbers and it triggers a color experience or they taste something and it puts a feeling on their fingertips, or they hear something and it causes a visual for them.
[00:11:21] There are many forms of synesthesia, but the point is, it's not a disease or a disorder. It's just an alternative perceptual reality. And different people, like 3% of the population has anesthesia and others don't, or something that I've been studying a lot lately is what's called hyperphantasia, or at the other end of the spectrum. A phantasia, which is how you visually image something.
[00:11:43] So if I ask you to imagine an ant crawling on a tablecloth towards a jar of purple jelly, for some people that's like a movie in their head. They can see the whole thing. Other people, it's just conceptual. There's no picture there at all. So the first group is called [00:12:00] hyperphantasia. The second group's called aphantasia.
[00:12:02] And it turns out that across the population, everybody is smeared way out here. And although we would assume that everyone has mental imagery, that's like ours. In fact, everybody's totally different with this stuff. So this is what I've been spending my time writing about lately is the differences between humans.
[00:12:18] Extremely fascinating to me.
[00:12:20] Hala Taha: And I feel like there's so many ways we can go. I'm gonna do my best to try to navigate this conversation in a way that I feel like will really lock in the most important things for my listeners. So I feel like I do wanna stick on the topic of animals. I think this is really interesting.
[00:12:36] You alluded to it before that. As humans, we experience things that are normal to humans. Our five senses, but then some, like a dog has this amazing experience with their nose and smells, right? And all of these other animals have senses that we can't even imagine what that would be like. And so help us understand what are the different senses out there [00:13:00] that humans are essentially missing out on?
[00:13:01] David Eagleman: Okay, so almost all animals have a sense of smell that's so much better than ours. I dunno if you saw my Ted talk, but I did this example of, really imagine that you are a dog. Imagine you've got this long snout with 200 million scent receptors in it, and everything for you is about smell.
[00:13:19] And you've got these wet nostrils that attract and trap, scent molecules and you've got floppy ears to kick up more scent. Everything for you is about scent. And what it would be like if one day you looked at your human master and you thought, what is it like to have the pitiful little nose of the human?
[00:13:33] You might imagine erroneously that there's this missing black hole of smell, and we all realize we have this missing smell, but of course, we're all trapped inside of our own umwelt, and so we think, I've got a great. I'm detecting everything out there. We don't realize typically that there's so much that we could be sensing.
[00:13:51] Now lots of animals have magnetoreception, which means they're picking up on the magnetic field of the earth, and that's how they navigate. That's how they know [00:14:00] north and south. So insects, birds, they've all got this. Turns out cows have good magnetoreception as well. There's, some animals see in the infrared range, so rattlesnakes, for example, they have these heat pits and they're picking up on infrared radiation.
[00:14:14] Others like honeybees see in the ultraviolet range. These are things that are just totally invisible to us. We don't pick this up at all, and I've been stunning this for many years because I'm fascinated by the idea that. There may be things that animals are picking up on that we can't even get. We're not even gonna know for the next 50, a hundred years when someone realizes. It turns out, antelope are picking up on this thing that we didn't even realize was a thing.
[00:14:39] So when you really study the biology across the kingdom. You find that there's lots of information out there and we are extremely limited. And I think this is a very counterintuitive thing to think that your biology actually constrains your perception of reality.
[00:14:53] Hala Taha: It is mind blowing to think that like animals are having a totally different experience than you are.
[00:14:59] And [00:15:00] I could be sitting here, there might be sounds that are going on that I don't even hear right now. And you don't even hear right now, which to me is just so crazy to even think about. We're so set on, this is the way that the world is that we never stop and actually think about these things.
[00:15:15] David Eagleman: And by the way, sounds, there are lots of animals that hear in what we call the infrasonic range and the ultrasonic range. We hear from the details don't matter, from 20 hertz to 20,000 hertz. Don't worry if you don't know that, it's just, that's the range of human hearing.
[00:15:29] But there are animals that are communicating way above that and having conversations all the time, lots of insects and frogs and whatever, and elephants are communicating at the ranges below that. They're feeling it with their feet in the ground. They're feeling these bumps and so on and signals from other elephants, and this is totally invisible to us.
[00:15:47] Hala Taha: Do all animals and humans have we evolved our senses based on our environment?
[00:15:53] David Eagleman: That's exactly right. The reason that we see in this very narrow range that we call visible light is precisely because that [00:16:00] big ball of fire in the sky. The sun is optimally giving photons that bounce off things on our planet surface in that range.
[00:16:11] In other words, lots of stuff doesn't get through the atmosphere, so it wouldn't be useful for us to pick up on many of these other ranges. And we pick up on stuff that's super useful to us.
[00:16:21] Hala Taha: And then I guess we just evolve and start to focus on certain senses that are more helpful than others, which I guess is why humans really focus on vision and hearing.
[00:16:31] I think more than other senses.
[00:16:33] David Eagleman: That's right. Now, it's not clear, for example, why we have lost so much skill with smell, but everything is constrained. So if you're getting better at this and you're devoting more real estate in your brain towards vision. Then you're gonna lose some real estate in smell, for example.
[00:16:48] And so somehow, when everything balances out, we've ended up exactly as we are.
[00:16:53] Hala Taha: So something else that I found really fascinating, when I was studying your work is this idea that [00:17:00] we all have these different senses. All the animals have different senses, but the material of our brain, from my understanding is very similar, at least with primates and mammals, right?
[00:17:11] So I'd love to hear about this. It's, to me that's, I thought that our brains would be totally different. Humans have took over the world, right? So we think we're really special, but in fact, our brain is made up of the same thing. So talk to us about that.
[00:17:23] David Eagleman: That's right. Both statements are true.
[00:17:24] We are really special because our brains are running algorithms just slightly differently. And I can talk about that, why we have taken over the whole planet compared to all our brother and the animal kingdom. But yes, it's all made of the same stuff. If I showed you a brain cell, a neuron from a human, a horse, a cow, an insect, a squid, you couldn't tell me what's, they all look the same.
[00:17:44] They're doing exactly the same thing. It's just a cell that has these things that these sort of roadways that come off of it. And we give them fancy names and they have, but it's just a cell. It's just trafficking proteins around and putting receptors there and spitting out [00:18:00] chemicals. And it looks exactly the same across the animal kingdom.
[00:18:02] And All that we're doing. All Mother Nature is doing, I should say, is, just wiring this up in different ways.
[00:18:09] Hala Taha: So I think this is a great place to get an understanding of plasticity and live wiring and the difference between it. You called your book LiveWired, and you could have called it brain plasticity, but you called it LiveWired for reasons.
[00:18:22] So talk to us about the distinction between plasticity and your concept of LiveWired.
[00:18:26] David Eagleman: Brain plasticity is what we term this in the field, and this just means, the ability of the brain to reconfigure itself. So neurons, the cells in the brain are spending their whole lives plugging and unplugging and seeking and finding other places, and changing the strength of their connection with other neurons.
[00:18:45] Each neuron connects to about 10,000 other neurons, and this changeability is what we call plasticity. I call it LiveWired nowadays. Live wiring. Because plasticity feels to me just a bit like an outdated [00:19:00] term in the sense that this was coined about a hundred years ago because people were impressed by plastic manufacturing.
[00:19:05] And the idea with the material plastic is that you mold it into a shape and then it holds onto that shape. And that's what's useful about plastic. So the analogy to the brain that people saw was, you learned the name of your fifth grade teacher and all these years later. You still remember that name.
[00:19:23] So it's like the system got molded by the information that came through and it held on to that information. And so that, stands as a very good analogy. The only thing is with 86 billion neurons constantly changing every moment of your life, reconfiguring. It seemed to me that plastic was maybe a little too milk toasted term.
[00:19:45] That's why I'm using the term LiveWired, because what really opens up when we start studying this in depth is, an entirely new way to think about this and to build technologies moving forward. And that's one of the things I'm gonna be doing, speaking of the future of the brain, is building [00:20:00] live wired devices.
[00:20:01] So instead of being something like, a phone, which becomes outdated and eventually. The technology is not good enough and you just throw it out because it's a layer of hardware with a layer of software on the top. What if you could build something like a brain that is constantly reconfiguring and learning and getting better with time?
[00:20:21] Hala Taha: So David, I really wanna get an understanding of how the brain works. From my understanding, neurons are essentially fighting with each other for relevancy in the brain.
[00:20:31] David Eagleman: This is the framework that I put forward in the book, is that the right way to think about the brain actually is like a darwinian competition where each neuron is fighting for its own survival.
[00:20:40] And when you look at single cell organisms. They're spinning out chemicals as a defense mechanism. And when you look at neurons in the brain, they're doing the same thing. It's just that we call those neurotransmitters and we say, you're passing information along. But I don't think that was the intention.
[00:20:53] I think it sells all fighting for survival and in one of these, amazing, bizarre biological [00:21:00] results. You get a human brain out of this. But yes, many of the neurons in your brain die. And what you get, in your first two years of development is this massive overgrowth of all these things growing like a garden that's going nuts.
[00:21:16] And then from about the age of two onward, all you're doing is you're really pruning the garden. You're taking things away and cells all over your body actually have this way of committing suicide. It's called apoptosis, where it's not that they're dying cuz of injury or something and releasing inflammatory chemicals. It's that they're saying, okay, I'm done here.
[00:21:36] And they fold up shop and they carefully kill themselves. And This is a majorly important part of how the brain develops.
[00:21:46] Hala Taha: Let's hold that thought and take a quick break with our sponsors. YAP Fam, do you ever feel tightness in your tummy sitting in rush hour traffic, or maybe you get sick to your stomach before a big presentation at work?
[00:21:58] That's because your gut, [00:22:00] not your brain is responsible for your stress response. I know that may sound like a big surprise to you, but it's your gut, not your brain. That matters When it comes to stress, to manage stress and feel common in control. I trust JustThrive probiotic because it's recommended by some of the biggest names in the health industry.
[00:22:17] It's a hundred percent spore based probiotics, meaning your probiotic reaches your stomach alive. Which is much different from other probiotics in the market. Probiotics that you're probably taking right now can't even survive the harsh environment that is in your stomach, so you're just getting dead bugs at the end of the day.
[00:22:36] You want the real alive stuff, a hundred percent spore based from JustThrive. JustThrive Probiotics is a total game changer for helping you sidestep gas blow, and constipation. It's something we don't wanna talk about. People don't wanna talk about this kind of stuff, but we've gotta talk about it.
[00:22:52] YAP fam, JustThrive Probiotics, I have to say, ever since I started taking them, I never skip a day. I'm blown [00:23:00] away by how much more effective these probiotics are compared to other brands that I've tried. And I don't go for the cheap stuff. I'm Young and Profiting. I can't afford it all, and JustThrive by far is better than any other probiotic that I've ever tried.
[00:23:13] Hands down. I love it. I have a problem taking pills. I never take the vitamins that I'm supposed to take, but somehow JustThrive has been so effective, that I remember to take it every day. And I don't skip a. And aside from all the digestion benefits, JustThrive probiotics have been shown to help flip the switch on stress so you can feel confident and control.
[00:23:35] And for next level stress management, I pair probiotic with JustThrive breakthrough new formula. Just Calm. Just Calm proprietary ingredients have been clinically proven to do almost the unimaginable. You can reduce perceived stress, improve sleep quality and energy, and even encourage better focus and flow.
[00:23:54] For me, just calm really helps me get a good night's rest. And lately I've been realizing that [00:24:00] as long as I get good sleep. I can literally do anything. I am so much more productive, so much more effective, so much more positive. When I get a good night's rest and now Just Calm from Just Thrive, helps me do that.
[00:24:13] Just thrive's probiotic and Just Calm. They make a perfect one-two punch to beat stress before it beats you. Be sure to listen to my recent episode number 203, with a brilliant CEO of Just Thrive Tina Anderson, so you can learn how changing your gut can change your life. People love this episode.
[00:24:30] So again, that's episode number 203. Listen to that episode. You're gonna understand everything that I'm talking about when it comes to spore based probiotics, and we also talk about things like prebiotics versus probiotics and all these things that nobody tells us when it comes to our probiotics.
[00:24:44] Tina breaks it down for us and your gut health can literally change your life. Let's level up our health in 2023 and prioritize our gut health. That's 15% off both products @justthrivehealth.com and use code YAP at checkout. Again, that's [00:25:00] 15% off. Just thrive health.com and use code YAP at checkout. I promise these probiotics are gonna change your life.
[00:25:12] Okay? I want people to understand like how senses work and why somebody who's blind, for example, can hear really well and how those neurons actually can be, reutilized for something else.
[00:25:28] David Eagleman: So it turns out that in the brain, not no territory lies fallow. Everything is going to get used. And so we think about this area at the back of the head.
[00:25:38] We think of that as the visual cortex. But yes, if you go blind. It's no longer the visual cortex gets taken over by hearing, by touch, by memorization of words, by lots of things, because it's perfectly good territory. Now, the territory I'm talking about is called the cortex, which is the outer wrinkly bit of the brain.
[00:25:58] We have more of [00:26:00] it. In relation to our body size than anybody in the animal kingdom. This is the magical stuff that makes us really good at what we're doing. So it turns out that cortex is a one trick pony. Which is to say it's not that this is fundamentally visual, and that's fundamentally auditory and for touch and for controlling the motor system, but instead any of it can trade off with any o other of it.
[00:26:23] And so the really special thing with humans being livewired is that we drop into the world half baked and we absorb everything around us. That's how you absorb your language, your neighborhood, your culture, your parents, your way of acting, your way of acting in the 21st century and so on. In other words, if you were born with exactly your DNA 1000 years ago. You'd be a really different person.
[00:26:44] If you were born 10,000 years ago, exactly, you with the same DNA and you ended up in the world 10,000 years ago. You'd be totally different in terms of your cultural beliefs, whatever weird, animistic religion. You believe in whatever kind of thing is appropriate for, [00:27:00] burning people at the stake or whatever, or how you hunt a lion or stuff like that.
[00:27:05] You would just be a different kind of person. And this is because we absorb the world around us. And this is what I flagged a little bit earlier. What separates us from our closest cousins in the animal kingdom is that most animals are still dropping into the world, essentially pre-programmed. So if you drop in as a goat or an alligator. You essentially know, okay, here's how I eat, mate, sleep, whatever.
[00:27:29] And that's it. And you're doing the same thing that goats did 10,000 years ago. When you drop in as a human, you in your first several years, essentially get to learn everything that humans have discovered up until now. And then you springboard off the top of that. And that's what has led to the success of our species.
[00:27:47] We've taken over every corner of the planet. We've gotten off the planet, we've invented the internet and quantum computation and so on. Precisely because we're able we're not starting from square one every time, but we start from where humans have [00:28:00] already gotten.
[00:28:00] Hala Taha: I think this is such an important point.
[00:28:02] So essentially what you're saying is that we're born, and you use the analogy of a computer, very often. We're born with all these software packages that unpack at certain timelines. For example, the puberty software package that unpacks around 13 years old for everyone. But at the same time, we're supposed to interact and be social animals and absorb information.
[00:28:24] So what happens to people or children who don't get a chance to absorb information?
[00:28:30] David Eagleman: So happily, these examples are rare, but they're very heartbreaking. Which is sometimes you find a child who's had such neglect and abuse, that they haven't had all the normal input. So Mother Nature is taking a gamble when she drops a half baked brain into the world, she's assuming, okay, you should get all the normal language and love and touch and interaction with other humans.
[00:28:52] And occasionally you'll find a child who's locked up by their parents, and they're not talked to and they have [00:29:00] terrible cognitive development. They just don't develop correctly, as in they can never get language. They don't even know how to chew. They can't see very far.
[00:29:09] It's just a half baked brain that never gets cooked all the way and they have real IQ deficits. It turns out there are these things in brain development called critical periods, and one of those is if you don't get enough exposure to language, lots of language in your first several years. You can never get language at that point.
[00:29:28] So often these children are rescued at some point and a whole hoard of psychologists move in and give them lots of love and lots of training and language and things like that, but it turns out it's too late.
[00:29:40] Hala Taha: And to me as somebody who's not a brain scientist or anything like that, I thought that the brain was supposed to be plastic.
[00:29:48] This idea of plasticity. So is it true then that there's certain parts of the brain that just cannot keep, changing or adapting?
[00:29:56] David Eagleman: Plasticity diminishes with age and it doesn't do it [00:30:00] smoothly. It does it with these sort of punctuated moments. So you've got, these critical periods for lots of different things.
[00:30:06] For example, learning language, you have to do in the first, let's say, four or five years. If you're not exposed to language, you just can't get it. But other things let's say accent. If you move to a new country before the age of 13, you typically won't have any accent in, in the new country.
[00:30:23] But if you move after the age of 13, it's very difficult to sonically morph into that culture. You'll always retain an accent. So I use in the book an example of Mila Kunis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, both of whom were born outside of America, but they, Mila Kuni moved here when she was seven from Ukraine.
[00:30:40] She'd never spoken English before, but she doesn't, you can't tell that she has any accent to your American English. But Arnold Schwarzenegger moved here when he was 20, so it was too late for him to get rid of his accent. So anyway, the point is there are many critical windows that happen here with learning.
[00:30:56] That said, there are many things where you retain plasticity your [00:31:00] entire life. So for example, your body as controlled by your motor system and your sensory system from your body. This is plastic your whole life. You can learn how to kiteboard or parachute or do any. You can learn all kinds of new stuff, take up a pogo stick if you want at any age.
[00:31:18] But things like your visual system that gets less and less plastic with time because it says, okay, I got it. This is what the world looks like. And it hardens into place.
[00:31:28] Hala Taha: So interesting.
[00:31:29] So I'd love to get your breakdown of how it actually works to hear or see. What's the mechanics behind that and if you can go over your Mr. Potato head model.
[00:31:41] David Eagleman: So it turns out that we've got these sensors like our eyes. Which are these two spheres in the front of your skull that pick up on photons, and they have chemical reactions. They pick up on photons and they send electrical signals back into your, into the darkness of the brain.
[00:31:58] And you've got your ears, which are [00:32:00] picking up on air compression waves. And they have, it's a very sophisticated little machine, and it breaks frequencies of sound down into different areas, and it sends spikes into the darkness of the brain and so on. And it turns out that, this is the weird and wild part, is that we feel like, I'm just seeing the world.
[00:32:16] It's like I'm piping light into my head and I'm piping sound into my head. But that's not it at all. Your brain is locked in silence and darkness, and all it has are these billions of neurons sending electrical signals around, and that leads to chemical signals and that's it. And so all of this is a construction of the brain. What you're seeing, what you're hearing, and this is a very wild and deep thing to get your head wrapped around.
[00:32:40] But anyway, that's just the biological truth of it. And so my potato head model that I proposed a little while ago was that, actually doesn't matter how you get the information into the brain, as long as you get it there. You can send information through a very unusual channel.
[00:32:55] And as long as the information gets there, the brain will figure out what to do with it. And [00:33:00] so this was first shown actually at the end of the 18 hundreds. Where some experimenters took someone who was blind and they had a little photo detector. That would detect light, and they turned that into patterns of vibration on the head and the person could essentially come to see via patterns of vibration on their forehead.
[00:33:23] And this is so unusual to think about sight that way. And then I'll mention in the 1969, another scientist put. Blind people into a modified dental chair, which had this little grid on the back and it would poke you in the back in various ways. And he set up a video camera and whatever the video camera was seeing. You would feel that poked into your back.
[00:33:43] So if it was a face or a square or a coffee cup or a telephone. You'd feel the shape of that poked into your back. And blind people got really good at being able to see the world this way. And so it turns out, it doesn't matter how you get the information in there, the brain will say, I got it. That's correlated with [00:34:00] something out there that's useful and I'll figure out how to perceive it.
[00:34:04] Hala Taha: Really interesting stuff. So I know that you've been using skin in a really unique way, and now you have a product, a wristband, where you're actually helping deaf people. Can you tell us about that?
[00:34:15] David Eagleman: So I got interested in my lab many years ago about this question of could we make sensory substitution for people who are deaf?
[00:34:22] Could we feed in the information that would normally going to the ears? Via a different channel. And there are actually 212 different reasons you can go deaf genetically. And most of these are not something that you can do anything about at the moment. So what I did first is I built a vest with vibratory motors on it, and the vest captures sound and turns that into patterns, vibration on the skin.
[00:34:44] So sound is broken up from high to low frequency. Which is exactly what your inner ear is doing. And then that's going on your skin and up your spinal cord and into your brain. And deaf people could learn how to hear this way. So I gave a talk on this at [00:35:00] Ted, and then I spun this out of my lab as a company called Neosensory.
[00:35:04] And we ended up shrinking the vest down to a wristband. And the wristband does the same thing. It's capturing sound and it's turning that into pattern's, vibration on the skin. And deaf people can come, to understand the auditory world around them. That's somebody calling my name. That's the doorbell.
[00:35:18] That's a baby crying, that's a dog barking. Things like that. So we're on risks all over the world now. Lots of deaf schools, lots of individuals wearing this, and it's been so gratifying to take something that's a theoretical neuroscience idea and move it all the way to, product that's that people are using every day.
[00:35:37] Hala Taha: It's really awesome what you're doing. And so I'd love to understand how long does it take for someone to get these vibrations and then eventually have them mean something?
[00:35:47] David Eagleman: So the answer is it's a linear increase, so people just get better and better each day. So on day one, we test people after they've been wearing it for the first 10 minutes or so, and they're slightly above chance on being able to [00:36:00] recognize certain sounds.
[00:36:01] But then through time, over the course of weeks, they just get better and better. And the really wild part is that by about, let's say four months, people will describe it as hearing. So I'll say, look, when the dog barks and you feel vibrations on your wrist, do you think, okay, wait, I just felt something.
[00:36:15] What is that? It must be something. Maybe there's a dog out there. They say, no, I just hear the dog. Which sounds crazy, except that's what you're, that's what's going on with your hearing. You feel right now, like you are just hearing my voice out there. Even though it's all taking place in your head. You've got spikes running around and you think, that sounds like Eagle Man's voice.
[00:36:35] And then you attribute it to some source outside of you. But that's what it becomes when you're listening through the wristband.
[00:36:43] Hala Taha: And from my understanding, this is called qualia, right?
[00:36:47] David Eagleman: Qualia is the term we use for the private subjective experience we have of something. For example, colors don't exist in the outside world.
[00:36:55] There's just different wavelengths of light, of electromagnetic radiation. [00:37:00] But we perceive it as, oh, that's red, that's green, that's, fuchsia. Whatever, that's a qualia. That's a private subjective experience we have of what's going on out there. Even though it's really just spikes in the dark.
[00:37:11] Hala Taha: So then would you say that humans eventually could have a sixth or seventh sense? That just feels natural to us.
[00:37:19] David Eagleman: So that's what I've been working on for a while now, which is given that all these other animals have other kinds of things they can pick up on. What does it mean if we feed in that information?
[00:37:31] And the answer is yes, we can absolutely have 6 cents, maybe many more. We don't have any idea yet what the limit is on that, but the idea is what can we pick up on computationally or with any machine or whatever, and then feed that into you. So for example, something I've been very interested in is perceiving infrared light.
[00:37:50] So you can set up, we've, set this up with the wristband very inexpensively for five bucks. You set up these infrared barometers they're called. They're, just picking up on infrared light and you can walk [00:38:00] around and feel the temperature of things around you. And I can, as I'm walking through a parking lot, I can feel which cars have been parked there for a while versus. Which have just arrived in the last 20 minutes.
[00:38:10] Cuz the engine block is a totally different temperature. But it's just something I know as I'm walking through, I'm just feeling that information. Or if I come across two chairs, I can tell which chair was more recently sat in cuz there's still a temperature signature on it and so on.
[00:38:23] There's a million things about this. That one can just come to perceive a new sense. But you can have much wackier things we've done. We actually have 70 projects in progress. If anybody's interested, go to neosensory.com/developers and you can see our blog of all these different projects we have. Stock market or feeling social media, with your skin or firemen or blind people or people with prosthetics, or there's a million different projects we have. Where we're feeding in new data streams and you can come to, have perception of that.
[00:38:56] One of the things we've been doing is for drone pilots where you feel. [00:39:00] The pitch y'all role heading in orientation of the drone on your skin. So it's like you're becoming one with the drone. You're, it's like you stretched your skin up there where the drone is. And pilots can become much better at flying drones this way in the fog and in the dark.
[00:39:14] And in fact right now I'm working with a couple young engineers in Ukraine to implement this for their defense.
[00:39:21] Hala Taha: Very interesting.
[00:39:22] Okay, so I wanna switch back to what we were talking about a little bit earlier. When we were talking about our senses or our neurons fighting for their territory.
[00:39:32] Because I wanna get into the concept of dreaming. I think it's super interesting and I want you to explain why we actually dream.
[00:39:41] David Eagleman: So this is hypothesis that my student and I came up with some years ago, which is the following. If you go blind as we mentioned earlier, if you go blind, that territory or visual cortex gets taken over by neighboring kingdoms of data like hearing and touch.
[00:39:56] But the surprise in neuroscience is how fast [00:40:00] this can happen. So some colleagues of mine at Harvard did this experiment where they took, normally cited people and they blindfolded them and they put them in the brain scanner. And what they found to their surprise is that after about an hour they could start seeing activity in the visual cortex.
[00:40:15] When you touch somebody or when you play a sound for them. You're actually seeing the visual cortex start responding to that, and what that means is that this takeover process can start happening really fast, cuz essentially everything in the brain is wired up to everything else. There's these very long distance connections, such that everything has roadways to get wherever it needs to get.
[00:40:36] And so somehow the this takeover starts after about an hour. So what we realized was given the rotation of the planet. This causes a real problem for the visual system because you end up in the dark for half the cycle. And obviously the thing of interest here is evolutionary time before we had lights. Which is just the last, nanosecond of evolutionary time where we had lights or even fire.
[00:40:58] Most of our history, it's been extremely [00:41:00] dark at nighttime, and that means your visual system is disadvantaged during the night. You can still hear and smell and taste and touch during the night, but you can't see. And so we realized the problem is the visual system needs some way of defending itself against takeover, and that is what dreams are about.
[00:41:16] So every 90 minutes you've got these very ancient circuits in your mid-brain that just blast random activity just into your visual cortex. That's the only place that's hitting is just primary visual cortex. And every 90 minutes just blasts random activity in there. And so dreaming is the brain's way of defending the visual cortex against takeover.
[00:41:35] It's essentially a screensaver. So we published this and we studied 25 different species of primates and looked at how plastic they are. In other words, humans are extraordinarily. Adaptable and plastic in their brains and that means they're at higher risk of the visual cortex getting taken over.
[00:41:54] Whereas other primates, like the gray mouse lemur it's called, happens to be very, [00:42:00] let's call it pre-programmed. Where it hits adolescents fast and learns how to walk fast and weens from its mother fast and all this stuff reproduces fast. And so we looked at how much dreaming there is, and it turns out humans have lots of dreaming to prevent takeover the visual cortex.
[00:42:15] Whereas other, less flexible animals have less dreaming cuz they just don't need it as much.
[00:42:21] Hala Taha: So if I have this right, and feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, basically are visual neurons are being active at night and dreaming even though we're not actually seeing anything in our head. Those same neurons are basically working, so that they can keep their territory so that they can stay relevant in the brain.
[00:42:42] David Eagleman: That's exactly right.
[00:42:43] Hala Taha: It's so interesting and I've heard you say you think dreams are meaningless and you feel like it's sticking your head in a night blender. When you go to sleep . So I'd love to understand like, why are dreams meaningless then? Because a lot of people make up these stories I can tell the future with my dreams and things like [00:43:00] that.
[00:43:00] But you say that's nonsense.
[00:43:01] David Eagleman: It's just random activity. What happens is the synapses, the connections that are hot during the day are the ones when you blast random activity in there. Those tend to be the stories that get activated. If I'm thinking about my boss who said this to me, or I'm thinking about this big thing that I have to do tomorrow. Then it's likely that's gonna come up in my dreams.
[00:43:23] But we all know dreams are just, they're so weird in their plot lines. And because the brain is a natural storyteller, we end up imposing narrative. And by the way, when you wake up and you tell somebody else your dream. You're doing a whole nother layer of imposing narrative on it. Because even just saying it out loud, you have to make things make sense.
[00:43:45] But truthfully, it's just random activity. And it's like a roshak blot. If you just look at some random blob of ink, can you see things that you think are relevant to your life? And you say, that looks like, this is a blob that's telling me that I should go change careers and whatever.
[00:43:59] We can do [00:44:00] that with our dreams as well. It's just random activity and you can say, that really thought of something here, or whatever. But yes, it's all random activity. And what we do is we impose meaning on it. Some of us do.
[00:44:11] Hala Taha: Some of us do. I've done it. I think a lot of people try to make dreams, this like magical experience.
[00:44:16] And I feel like so much of the human experience can be pretty silly in this way.
[00:44:22] We'll be right back after a quick break from our sponsors.
[00:44:28] You hear that sound? You should know that sound by now. Young and Profiteers, but in case you don't, that's the sound of another sale on Shopify. And the moment another business dream becomes a reality.
[00:44:38] Shopify is a commerce platform revolutionizing millions of businesses worldwide. Whether you're selling edgy t-shirts or an educational course. Shopify simplify selling online and in-person so you can focus on successfully growing your business. Shopify covers every single sales channel from in-person POS systems to an all-in-one e-commerce platform.
[00:44:59] It even lets you sell [00:45:00] across social media marketplaces like TikTok, Facebook and Instagram. Shopify is packed with industry leading tools ready to ignite your growth, and they give you complete control over your business and your brand, without having to learn any new skills in design or code. And thanks to 24/7 help and an extensive business course library, Shopify is there to support your success every step of the way.
[00:45:21] So I started my Shopify store three months ago, and I've already made over $120,000. In fact, this month alone, we are projecting that we're gonna break a hundred thousand dollars with my new LinkedIn masterclass, and the backend is completely powered by Shopify. Since day one with Shopify, I was able to completely focus on the growth of my course.
[00:45:43] I made sure that I had time to spend on my course content, my student experience, and the promotion of the course itself. I didn't have to worry about the backend. I didn't have to worry about how I was gonna collect payments. How it was gonna set up a chat system. How it was gonna manage analytics and data, because Shopify did all of [00:46:00] that for me.
[00:46:01] The platform is super easy to use. It's totally plug and play, and it just took a few days to set up our store and boom, we are ready to start selling. Logging on to Shopify is one of the highlights of my day. I probably log on to Shopify 50 times a day. I love going into their amazing analytics. It is so much fun.
[00:46:18] I'm able to see every single person in the world where they are on the site. What part of the buying process they're in. I can literally see that if I go on LinkedIn live and do a LinkedIn masterclass teaser, that 20 people logged on and there's eight people checking out, and it's such a rush. Like what a dopamine rush every time.
[00:46:36] What's incredible to me about Shopify is no matter how big you wanna grow. Shopify is there to empower you with the confidence and control to revolutionize your business and take your business to the next level. Now it's your turn to get serious about selling and try Shopify today. This is possibility powered by shop.
[00:46:53] Sign up for a $1 per month trial period at shopify.com/profiting. That's all lowercase. Make sure you [00:47:00] type it in all lowercase. That's shopify.com/profiting to take your business to the next level today. Again, go to shopify.com/profiting all lowercase and sign up for a $1 per month trial period shopify.com/profiting.
[00:47:18] So I'd love to talk about the intersection between science and religion. You've been studying the brain and I feel like you probably have a very unique perspective on the world. Parts about our brain and our life is still really mysterious, right? We don't really know how consciousness exactly works still.
[00:47:37] David Eagleman: Yep.
[00:47:37] Hala Taha: And so there is mystery and magic to like still because we don't understand everything. But I'd love to understand what you feel about all of this, now?
[00:47:46] David Eagleman: My general feeling on it is the world is. Full of mystery. The amount of stuff we know in science and have written down in big fat textbooks is a tiny fraction of what's going on out there.
[00:47:57] Actually, I wrote an article in Discover Magazine [00:48:00] back in 2004 called 10 Unsolved Mysteries of Neuroscience, and they're still unsolved. We are in deep mysteries all around us and, take consciousness, consciousness. Somehow you put together all this physical stuff of the brain and you experience qualia as we talked about.
[00:48:16] You experience pain and the beauty of a sunset and the taste of cinnamon and the smell of lemon pie and all these things that we experience, but we have no idea how to build pieces of parts. We can't build with transistors, a computer and say, it's enjoying this. Even though I'm laughing at this YouTube video that I'm watching. The computer presumably is just moving around zeros and ones and not entertained by it.
[00:48:38] But somehow our brains, we think we're just made of cells and yet we are feeling stuff. So there's lots of mystery around us. To my mind, the best way to tackle these mysteries is the scientific method. And this is so new for humans. This is really just the last few hundred years that we've gotten this right, essentially since the Renaissance about doing [00:49:00] science. Which is just, it's nothing but a method of saying, okay, we're gonna lay out our hypotheses on the table and we're gonna do careful experiments.
[00:49:07] We're not gonna fool ourselves into believing something unless there's evidence that supports it. And so to my mind, that's the way to tackle it. Now the issue is we have a world full of religions are 2000 different religions on this little planet that we're on. And the part that's always struck me is crazy is that people are willing to fight and die for their version of their religion.
[00:49:30] So there's a real lack of intellectual humility there. Obviously if one religion were true. We might expect that it spreads around the world. And everyone says, that one seems pretty right. But obviously they're all made up. And when you look at stuff like Judeo-Christian Islamic religion, has this idea that the earth is 6,000 years old.
[00:49:49] The Japanese were making pottery 7,000 years ago and people were writing on caves 30,000 years ago and so on. So you'd have to explain how they got there before the event mean it's so goofy. This idea Adam and [00:50:00] Eve and creation and so on is so clearly incorrect. That there's absolutely no reason to believe in this religious story.
[00:50:07] But I have felt that it's difficult to say given the amount of mystery that we face to say, okay. We've got this all figured out, and so it's a cold universe and there's nothing but deterministic physics and so on. We just don't know enough to say that may well be the case. We just don't know enough to pretend.
[00:50:26] That science has it all figured out. And so I call myself a possible billion, and that means I'm interested in the possibility space. In other words, this is the scientific temperament you're saying. What could be going on here? How did we get here? What is our purpose here? If anything, what is happening around here?
[00:50:45] And the best way to tackle that is with the tools of science. Which means anything gets to be on the table at first. And then we use the tools of science to rule out particular things like that. The earth is 6,000 years old and we use the tools of science to [00:51:00] open up new folds in the possibility space that we hadn't even thought of before.
[00:51:04] But the idea is the scientific temperament always allows lots of hypotheses on the table, and then we gather evidence to weigh in favor of some of those and and against others. And that's what I think we should be doing. That's what I call possibilism. And I actually presented this.
[00:51:23] In a TEDx talk many years ago, and I got hundreds of emails right afterwards from people saying. Hey, I think I'm a possible billion too, and it became this worldwide movement. There were newspapers and articles that people sent me from India, from Uganda, from whatever Facebook groups sprung up, and now 11 years after this original talk.
[00:51:42] There's so much activity about possibilism, and I'm so happy about this because I feel like there wasn't a position. That people could take if they happen to feel the way I did about this. The only thing that was available is to say, okay, either I'm religious and I believe what my parents and my culture [00:52:00] told me, or I'm a strict atheist on the other end of the spectrum, where I think nothing interesting is going on here.
[00:52:06] There's nothing else in the universe for us to understand. Or you would call yourself an agnostic, which means, I don't know, that's all agnosticism a means is not knowing, but possibilism is a much more active thing of saying. Hey, we're gonna go out and explore the possibility space and shine a flashlight around this and try to figure out what's going on.
[00:52:25] Hala Taha: And I feel like this is so positive for mankind. I feel like it could really help solve a lot of the self-inflicted issues that we have as people.
[00:52:34] David Eagleman: To this day, it's every time I see religious conflict, it just blows my mind. The whole history of Europe was really defi over the last 500 years was defined by fights between the Catholics and the Protestants.
[00:52:46] I don't mean fights, I mean killing, like murdering. And it feels like you look at this stuff and it's so goofy. And yet this is the history that we have been surrounded with and still have to deal with in a lot of the world. I feel [00:53:00] like. I think I'm correct in looking at the world now in 2022 and thinking, okay, we're maturing a bit.
[00:53:06] At least much of the world is maturing out of this idea of, okay, this particular ancient religion that I was taught is the truth. But anyway I hope that's right.
[00:53:18] Hala Taha: Okay. So let's talk about the feature a little bit and then we can close this out. David, thank you so much for your time. I wanna talk about your book LiveWired, right?
[00:53:28] Much of the world and how we view it is very much like hardware and software. And so I'd love to have you help us imagine, what a feature could be like if LiveWired was put in the picture in addition to this hardware and software world that we live in. .
[00:53:44] David Eagleman: So this is gonna be my next co, so I'm running three companies right now, but this is gonna be, my next one is called LiveWired because I'm really interested in building this.
[00:53:52] I mentioned this before, I just feel like. The way we think about building all our technology now and the way that everything is set up. Our factories are set [00:54:00] up and our education system is set up, is okay. You make a hardware layer and then you put software on top of it, and that's been a great idea and it's been super successful, but it's just not the way that biology ever does anything.
[00:54:10] And biology can do extraordinary things that computers cannot. And as I mentioned earlier, computers are obsolescent from the day they come off the factory. I'll give an example, which is the Mars Rover, can't remember if it was spirit of curiosity. One of them. Anyway, it got up to Mars.
[00:54:27] They did an extraordinary job, rolled around the red planet and saw lots of stuff, but then it got its right front wheel stuck in the Martian soil and, it couldn't move outta there and it died. Okay, contrast that with what happens when a wolf gets its leg caught in a trap. The wolf choose its leg off and then figures out how to walk on three legs.
[00:54:47] It's not that it was pre-programmed to walk on three legs, it just figures it out. It figures out how to make that happen because it is driven by motivations. It wants to get to food, to water, back to its pack and so on. So it just [00:55:00] figures out how to run its body differently, and wouldn't it be great if we could build a billion dollar Mars rover. If we're spending all that money and effort on it. If it could just, saw off its wheel and then figure out how to operate in a different way.
[00:55:12] So this is the idea of live wiring and it's still the case that almost everything we program and the robots we build and the Mars Rovers we build are all totally pre-programmed. This is what your body looks like, this is how you're gonna operate it, as opposed to letting it operate like a human infant where it has to figure out its body.
[00:55:29] Imagine building a robot that flops around for years and eventually crawls and eventually learns how to walk. That's the kind of thing we need to do if we want it to be flexible, and live wired. And so I'm very interested in the possibilities. I think the future is going to be much more biological than the way we do it right now. Which is we build hardwired machinery that is inflexible.
[00:55:54] Hala Taha: And so my next question for you is, what's the difference between LiveWired and AI? [00:56:00] Because from my understanding, AI is supposed to be self, it learns and can adapt. So I'd love to understand the difference there.
[00:56:06] David Eagleman: The thing about AI can do very impressive things, but it's still not nearly as good as a kid.
[00:56:13] A five year old, a five-year-old can walk into a room. Navigate a very complex room, between the couches and under the table and whatever, can find her way to food and put food in her mouth, can socially manipulate adults, can do all these things. AI is really stupid in comparison to that.
[00:56:29] It's very good. It's extraordinarily good at, for example, image recognition or categorization of things. But it can only tackle problems that are discreet and rule-based. So for example, AI is great at chess and at go. It's beat the world champions at that. But that's only because that's a constrained rule-based system that doesn't have anything outside of it.
[00:56:52] And the real world is nothing like that. And by the way, even though people often think. AI can do anything and it's taking over everything. You [00:57:00] can't even do any sort of, strategy based video game where you're running around with a gun and you're having, to do strategies or it can't do well at any of that stuff.
[00:57:07] So that's the difference is that a LiveWired child can figure out all kinds of things in the world. AI can only do these very basic things right now.
[00:57:17] Hala Taha: And this makes me feel good because I think all of us are really worried about AI. We're told to get worried about it, right? We're fed this.
[00:57:24] So as somebody who studies the brain, do we have anything to worry about?
[00:57:28] David Eagleman: Eventually we might , certainly not right now. You could just, turn the computer off. There's a, it's still doing what it is told as in. Hey, I want you to absorb a billion pictures of cows and horses and then get really good at being able to determine the difference between these.
[00:57:44] So what it does is it trains on a training set of, let's say, billion images. Where it's labeled, okay, this is a cow, this is a horse, this is a cow. And then it's extraordinarily good, better than human at discriminating cows from horses. But in real life, we don't have training sets with billions of [00:58:00] examples.
[00:58:00] We don't have that luxury. You have to learn everything on the fly. All animals do have to learn the world on the fly and get good at it. And this is where we outshine AI by a long way.
[00:58:12] Hala Taha: Okay. My last question to you on the future, and then we'll round out this interview. Is really about how you imagine mankind in the future in terms of our brains, in terms of maybe LiveWired materials.
[00:58:25] Tell us about how you imagine the future knowing all that.
[00:58:27] David Eagleman: It's gonna be pretty different. For one thing, we'll be much better at actually being able to measure what's going on in the brain. So for example, right now our best technology is called Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging FMRI. You stick some money in the brain scanner and you can tell crudely where the activity is happening in the brain.
[00:58:48] And we make all kinds of theories and we do, I've written hundreds of papers on this topic, but the fact is it's a accrued technology. What we really need to understand how the brain is working is to be able to see [00:59:00] the activity in each one of the 86 billion neurons in real time. And they're each chattering along, 10 to hundreds of spikes per second.
[00:59:08] We're nowhere near that kind of technology, but eventually we will get there and that will generate. A completely different kind of understanding of how the brain actually works. We're still missing really most of how the brain's actually doing what it does. And when we get to that point. We'll be able to read and write from the brain into the brain, and that's gonna change everything.
[00:59:28] Right now the brain is really locked in this armored bunker plating of the skull. And we can't do much with it except for I can read your in, I can try to read your intentions and you mine by our words and by our behavior, but it's pretty limited. So there may be in the distant future, straight brain to brain communication. Which is a very different sort of bandwidth of communication.
[00:59:55] So that's one thing. I think another thing is that we'll be experiencing completely new senses. It'll just be [01:00:00] trivial for everybody to experience. Whatever infrared and stock market data and what's going on social media. These things will just be like getting eyeglasses for a kid.
[01:00:11] We'll have all that. So I think we have more in common with our ancestors of 5,000 years ago. Than we have in common with our descendants of a hundred years from now.
[01:00:25] Hala Taha: Wow. That is powerful. Awesome, David. I end this show with two questions that I ask everyone and then we do something fun at the end of the year with them.
[01:00:34] So you're right at the end with us. What is one actionable thing our Young and Profiteers can do today to become more profitable tomorrow?
[01:00:42] David Eagleman: Seek novelty. So the key is doing things that you're not already good at, because that's how you exercise the brain, and build a stronger brain is by doing things you have not done before.
[01:00:56] Hala Taha: Okay. So challenging your mind, learning new things.
[01:00:59] David Eagleman: Yes.
[01:00:59] Hala Taha: And [01:01:00] what is your secret to profiting in life?
[01:01:02] David Eagleman: Relationships. It's all about other people. The brain has an extraordinary amount of its circuitry devoted to other people in making models of them and understanding them. And I think one of the key things in life, especially now during our polarized era, is to really try standing in the shoes of other people. Especially people that you're disagreeing with, and try to understand the world from their point of view.
[01:01:24] Hala Taha: Awesome.
[01:01:25] That's awesome. That was one of the biggest themes this year is everybody was talking about relationships. Very cool, David. Where can everybody learn more about you and everything that you do?
[01:01:33] David Eagleman: eagleman.com.
[01:01:34] Hala Taha: Awesome. Thank you so much for your time.
[01:01:36] David Eagleman: Thanks. Great to be here.
[01:01:41] Hala Taha: Young and Profiteers, what an insightful and different conversation that we had today with David Eagleman. It made me think about a lot of things that I never really thought about before. Like for example, our senses. We take our brains and senses for granted. I mean, we never really stop to smell the [01:02:00] roses, so to speak.
[01:02:00] We just smell and we see and we touch and we feel and we hear, and we don't realize like how much is really going on and how magical it all is. Our brain is literally a three pound miracle when you think about it. And a lot of us are born with five senses. We're really lucky. We should be really grateful for that.
[01:02:20] But it's interesting to think that for those of us who may be deaf or blind or missing one of their senses. That their brain is actually making up for those lost senses and strengthening other senses. So they still live a rich life. Their senses are richer in different ways, and it's so wild that David is now able to help people live a better life by creating inventions. That allow people to do things like hear from their skin.
[01:02:46] That's wild. It was so interesting to hear what he thought the future of mankind would be like. And I can't wait to see it all unfold. I have to say. Scientists are just scratching the surface in terms of how the brain works. One [01:03:00] of the things that really stuck in my mind after this interview was David's perspective on God and religion.
[01:03:06] I've been talking about this a lot to my friends, my family. I've brought this up in conversations now, maybe 10 times since this interview, and we don't talk about this a lot on YAP, but it was really powerful for me to hear one of the world's foremost experts on the brain. Admit that we don't know how consciousness works.
[01:03:24] I don't think I ever realized that scientists can't prove technically or scientifically. How consciousness actually works. It's like we're a bunch of cells, we've got a brain. We're we've got all these body parts and then poof. We're alive or we're dead. Right? Nobody can explain consciousness and so we don't talk much about religion on this podcast and that's definitely on purpose, but this is like beyond religion.
[01:03:51] This is about like mankind in general. And what David believes makes so much sense. He says, he's a possible billion and [01:04:00] possibilism is a philosophy which rejects claims of traditional theism and the positions of certainty in atheism, in favor for a middle exploratory ground. And honestly, I'm super aligned with that.
[01:04:15] I think it would solve a lot of the world's problems and pain and all the discrimination that we have right now. If we just took a scientific approach to all of this reveling in the alternatives and imagining, other possibilities and testing those ideas against available evidence. That is what we need to do.
[01:04:33] I hope more people adopt this mindset, and I hope we take a more logical approach to everything, because that's the only way we're gonna survive as humanity, and really push through as we get more scientifically advanced. And it's just, it's really interesting, was eye-opening. And if you enjoyed this episode like I did, Tell your friends about it.
[01:04:53] Tell your friends and family. I love it when you guys share the show. Let's make Young and Profiting word of mouth [01:05:00] viral in 2023. We're already dominating the charts, but I want to go even further. YAP fam and I need your help. I need you to tell your friends and family about your favorite way to listen, learn and profit.
[01:05:11] You guys can also find us on YouTube. If you wanna watch any of our videos. We have all of our videos on there. You can also find me on Instagram @yapwithhala or LinkedIn. Just search for my name. It's Hala Taha, and as always, thanks to my amazing YAP team for putting out the show. This is your host, Hala Taha, signing off.
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.