Eric Weiner (One man’s fascinating search for happiness, genius and wisdom)

  • 00:02:51 How Eric set out to write entertaining books about serious subjects.
  • 00:07:53 What Eric learned from Henry Miller and Ernest Hemingway? How much of an influence is travel for his discoveries?
  • 00:14:11 Has Eric found a way to recreate clusters of geniuses in his journeys?
  • 00:29:55 Why are philosophers from the last few hundred years so miserable? Is pondering about the ‘Big Questions’ risky and it makes it harder to enjoy life?
  • 00:40:24 Why philosophy is so hard to scale?
  • 00:50:37 What happened to journalism? Will the ‘good journalism’ ever come back and be sustained?
  • 01:17:18 Why do some cultures developed differently and more than others?
  • 01:31:15 Is philosophy actually the science of realizing we are in a simulation?
  • 01:33:54 What is Eric’s next book about?

You may watch this episode on Youtube – #79 Eric Weiner (One man’s fascinating search for happiness, genius and wisdom through philosophy).

Eric Weiner is a former foreign corespondent and New York Times journalist and is the author of several best selling book incl. Man Seeks God, The Geography of Bliss, The Geography of Genius and The Socrates Express.

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Torsten Jacobi: So you used to work as a foreign correspondent for NPR. You worked at the New York Times and you are the author of Bliss, the Geography of Genius and the Socrates Express. All these or three books are really, really like, especially Bliss, one of the first ones I discovered about you. Did you ever have the idea of writing these three books or you probably wrote more since then? Have you ever had that plan and when did you set out to write in books instead of being a journalist?

Eric Weiner: Well I thought, Torsten, I had the best job in the world as a foreign correspondent and it was a great job. I was based in New Delhi and India and in Jerusalem and in Tokyo and traveled to many more countries than that. And I felt, though, as exciting and interesting as that job was, I felt something nagging at me that it wasn’t quite the perfect fit for me. I, as I write about it in my books, I’m pretty upfront about this, I suffer from sort of chronic mild depression and have all my life and there’s something about being a foreign correspondent that can bring you down even further because really what is the job of a journalist is to focus on the negative aspects of humanity, to be honest. There’s a very cynical expression in journalism if it bleeds, it leads, meaning that stories of war and of disease, as we’ve seen the past year, these are the stories that especially a foreign correspondent has to focus on. And those so called feel good stories are something you get to in your spare time. And I had one of those epiphanies where I woke up one day and I thought, well, what if I just flipped this on its head and instead of traveling the world looking for the least happy people in the least happy places, what if I spent say a year traveling the world looking for the happiest countries, the happiest people and what they could teach us. And that was the germ of the idea for the geography of happiness. And I also discovered I liked writing books, I liked really investing a lot of time into one project as opposed to every two or three days or every hour producing another story. I liked going deeper, I liked being more personal. And I liked the world of ideas. My books are about happiness and spirituality and creativity. And so I think I discovered my true calling.

Torsten Jacobi: Yeah, I’m quite quite jealous of the ships you took. And the first book I read is bliss. And I thought it’s, it’s, it’s kind of an e pray laugh. But for men, for my point of view, I guess that’s a compliment. I’m not sure. Yes, yes, it is. Yes. I think over time, and I don’t that’s why I asked first, if you already had those plans and out for all the books, it read quite bliss is a book that I really enjoyed because it reads so lightly, but there is a deeper philosophical meaning behind it. What is happiness? Well, how can we find it? How can we reproduce it? But you make it look like this is, this is a, this is a travelogue. And it’s a, it’s a wonderful, enjoyable, not busy work. It’s enjoyable journey that you undertook researching this book.

Eric Weiner: Yeah. And that, that is my goal is, you know, is to write books where they have a light touch. And even if it’s a serious topic, and happiness, believe it or not, is actually a serious topic as is philosophy and creative genius and serious topics with a light touch, but not a shallow touch. And this is like the constant balancing act I’m trying to strike, you know, between making my books accessible and even entertaining. My, my, my publisher said, you’re an entertaining writer. And he added, and I mean that as a compliment. And often in our culture, you’re either serious or you’re entertaining. I want to be both. I want to write about serious topics in an entertaining way because if people, if my readers are entertained, that means they’re paying attention, right? And that’s a good thing. So I try to take complex ideas and explain them simply without oversimplifying them.

Torsten Jacobi: Yeah, you will. And I learned from your reviews, there’s two sides of this equation, right? There’s the intellectuals that will probably say, well, your books are too, too flatlining. There isn’t enough meat to it. And then you have readers on one side that might be still a little overwhelmed. So, but, but I think the mix that you, you are putting forward is wonderful. And what people should do is because it’s so hard to access some of that knowledge. I think it’s fantastic.

Eric Weiner: And one lesson I learned early on is you’re not trying to appeal to everyone. If you appeal to everyone, you’re going to appeal to no one. You have to be willing to piss some people off. You have to be willing for some people, you know, say a serious professor of philosophy might look at my latest book, The Socrates Express and say, oh, this is too light, you know, and that’s good, right? Because if the serious professor of philosophy says, oh, this is a good serious book, that means I lost all those other readers. So you have to be willing to not appeal to everybody so that you also so that you could have a voice, you know, if you’re a writer, you want to write with a strong voice and not everyone’s going to like it, you know, and that’s, that’s good. That means that, you know, if some people love it, some people hate it, that’s, that’s the ideal, I think. I noticed in your books, you have a lot of observations that you make. You look at the knowledge in kind of a very granular basis, so to speak. And there’s a lot of wisdom in what you say. There’s one paragraph of true wisdom. And then you, there’s two, two more paragraphs of where you describe a particular situation, a particular person. I find this a very interesting mix. Like, as I feel like you zoom in and zoom out in your books like you’re constantly, that’s really interesting. Yeah. That’s, that’s a good, a good way of putting it. Zooming in, zooming out. And if you think about your life or anyone’s life, it’s, it’s filled with a combination of the trivial and the profound. And, you know, nobody lives their life profoundly every second of every day, not even Plato did. I mean, Plato also got upset stomachs and, and you got frustrated by things and, you know, all these little moments in our lives. Even the wisest, most brilliant person in the world, you know, Einstein had marital issues and rough relationship with his children and, and disputes with his landlords. I mean, you can’t always be profound and likewise, a book where every paragraph is something heavy and wise and profound, it would be almost too much, you know, it would be, you couldn’t handle it, you couldn’t digest it.

Torsten Jacobi: When you, all of your books are more or less based on traveling. Do you feel travel is necessary to make yourself a better person? Is that something you did anyways? And it helped or do you think it is a necessary gateway?

Eric Weiner: I mean, it’s kind of, it’s my way of getting into a subject. Like the first thing I think of when I’ve settled on a new topic is not what or who, but where, where can I go? And there’s something for me personally about preparing for a trip and taking a trip that really focuses my mind on the subject. Okay, I’m going to Athens. I’m writing about Socrates, okay. And, and the act of getting on an airplane and going to Athens and walking in his footsteps. That’s what triggers the deep research on, on my part. And my, my philosophy of travel and is very much in line with that of the American writer, Henry Miller. He once said of travel, and I absolutely love this quote, he said, one’s destination is never a place, but a new way of looking at things. And to me, that is the gold standard. That’s what is a, as a traveler and an author, that’s what I’m trying to do by taking the reader along to these places. It’s, it’s not getting to Athens or to New Delhi. It’s, you know, those are, you know, they’re, they’re interesting, they’re fine places, but the ultimate goal is, is a new way of looking at things and travel kind of allows us to trigger minds in a way into looking at things differently.

Torsten Jacobi: So I feel like travel literature has gotten, and I think you, you do wonderful exception to this travel literature has gone, say this way of lonely planet, we just want to optimize our budget. And, you know, that used to be a best seller a long time ago. And now that it’s, it’s hard to find, and that’s my personal experience, maybe I’m just missing out on it. I feel it’s hard to find good literature that takes you to a place in the way that you, for instance, do it, that makes it interesting that there’s too much information, maybe, or too little information that’s entertaining to me.

Eric Weiner: Yeah, the term travel literature covers an awful lot of ground. And I know, I don’t mind calling myself a travel writer, I kind of wear there’s a badge of honor. There are some travel writers, the late great Jen Morris, who did not like to be called a travel writer. And I understand why, because the field includes some serious literature of the highest caliber. I’m thinking of authors like Paul Thoreau and, and, and Jen Morris, and other, you know, Bruce Chatwin, who write a serious nonfiction. But travel literature also includes fluff. It includes, you know, my trip to Hawaii, and it includes the how to news you can use aspect of it as well, you know, how to get the most out of your travel budget to Miami or wherever it is. And that, you know, that covers a lot of ground, but at its best, travel literature, and I think it’s still being done well today by a few people. But the problem is, you know, sometimes I wish I was born 100 years ago, around the turn of the century, 1900, 1920, the world was still, there was still a lot of undiscovered places in the world. And you could take a journey to say Borneo, and write about your trip to the jungles of Borneo. And that would be reason enough for your book or where your magazine article was, I went to Borneo. Now with Google map and everything, there, there really are no undiscovered places, which is one reason I take the approach I do, which is to write at the intersection of place and idea. So there are no undiscovered places, but places still have the ability to transform us. That hasn’t changed. But I think travel writing has to be more idea focused in a way, unless just, oh, I went to Borneo or I went to the even the North Pole, people will yawn and say, I just, you know, went there with Google map this morning, big deal.

Torsten Jacobi: Yes, indeed. I mean, you put your finger on the wood there. It’s this, you were a keen observer of people and places, but also it’s, it’s, it’s seen through a prism of a particular idea. It could be, and I’d said that before I had a friend and he was really interested just in synagogues, wherever we went, he would go to the synagogues, ideally hold synagogues first. And that was his idea of traveling. I’m like, just as interesting, but it’s not the most important thing. This is, say, often in a country like Uzbekistan that isn’t necessarily known for its synagogues, but it was his way of rediscovering even places where he had been before again and again with this slightly different theme. And I think you, you really exemplify this.

Eric Weiner: I think, I think your friends onto something, even though it’s not how I would travel, it would not be my first choice to look at the synagogues of the world, but I am always looking for portholes to a place. I’m like, what, what can help us understand this culture and compare it with other cultures? And one of the most obvious ways, which never, people never seem to tie rub is food. You know, the, the writer, may he rest in peace, Anthony Bourdain and the, the chef Anthony Bourdain has a book out now, you know, Covert wrote with his partner, his business partner, about the food of the world and his travels in the world. And food is one way because it’s something universal, right? Everyone has to eat, but what they eat and how they eat differs. But it could be something less obvious. It could be driving, you know, how to, that, you know, how a country handles the rules of the road explains a lot about a country. It could be something like toilets. You know, I lived in Japan for four years. The toilets are fascinating. They’re very high tech. They do lots of things. And, and there’s a whole etiquette around the use of toilets and public bathrooms. And these give you a window to the culture, right? Because you can’t write about a culture directly. It’s like looking at the sun during a solar eclipse. You’ve got to look at it from an angle and finding those little windows into the culture, be it synagogues or driving or toilets or whatever is helpful.

Torsten Jacobi: Yeah. The, in geography of genius, you, you go out on a quest and try to find out if making of the genius is something we can repeat and how did it happen, right? And you go to lots of places, Athens, China. What do you feel as a conclusion from, from, from your journeys? Do you think it’s possible or you want to something is, is like, well, if someone wants to build a new Dubai or a new places, place with genius, he would come to you and read your book and then blueprint it or is it much harder than you thought?

Eric Weiner: Right. See, if I took a very utilitarian approach, I would say here is the blueprint for, I call them genius clusters. Like you said, these places that produce just an inordinate number of brilliant minds and good ideas like ancient Athens, right up to Silicon Valley today. And I would say, here’s the blueprint. Here’s what you need. Go, you know, and I’d probably be, I might be a wealthy man, you know, I’d probably be in my yacht in the Mediterranean talking to you from there, but I’m not because I don’t believe in writing that kind of book where it’s all laid out and, you know, here, here are the steps you need to take. But there are lessons I draw. You know, I call them the three Ds, diversity, discernment and disorder. What did these places have in common that I examine? And they were all different in lots of ways, but they all were very diverse, not only ethically, but in terms of ideas. They had this power of discernment, separating good ideas from bad ideas. That’s important. And there was an element of disorder, even chaos. But, but there’s an element of mystery to these genius clusters as well in that you can’t really build one and people have tried. There have been literally hundreds of attempts to replicate the success of Silicon Valley with Thames Valley in the UK, or Wadi Valley, I think it’s called in or Silicon Wadi as it’s called I think in Dubai. They all these cute names and none have really succeeded in replicating Silicon Valley because you’re talking about a culture, not a system. People confuse the two. They think that they’re trying to just build a system like building a car and then you drive it away. But a culture is something living and breathing and more organic and thus very hard to replicate. Having said that, there are things you can do, I think, as like agriculture or like gardening. There are things you can do like making sure the soils in good shape, watering the plants and the flowers, things you can do to increase the odds that you’ll have a creative culture where you live. But there are no guarantees. Does that make sense?

Torsten Jacobi: Absolutely. So I love how you go through the book and there were things like the Bengali Renaissance I never knew before, my fault, or the Renaissance of China and Hongzhu, right? I don’t know if it’s really called the Renaissance, but it is this explosion of knowledge in that period in China. But I was curious, how do you come up with the research methodology and I noticed you have for each place your methodology is slightly different. You talk to the locals, but how do you select those locals? Is it kind of random or do you have a specific feel already for that location where you how do you select the people that you really want to talk to?

Eric Weiner: Well, I do a lot of historical research before I go, but very little contemporary research. I’ll explain why. So I want to know the history of the place because I can’t travel back in time. So I’ve got to read up on the history, say of Hongzhou, China. But I don’t want to read another travel writer’s impressions of modern contemporary Hongzhou because that’s going to cloud my mind. I want to have the beauty of that first impression of my own and draw my own conclusions through direct observation. As far as finding the people, I rely on what a friend of mine calls the golden thread. It’s an old journalist trick, which is basically you you you look for someone who might you might have some connection to Hongzhou. I’ve got a Finnish friend who’s married to a Chinese woman who happens to know Hongzhou is from Hongzhou. So I call email him and say, you know, Lars, can you put me in touch with your wife who can put me in touch with so and so. And she sends me to so and so. And so it’s not random. There’s a degree of randomness, but I try to lay out that thread. And you know, especially the more obscure the destination, the more people are willing to talk to you. They don’t get many Westerners coming to Hongzhou to find out what was happening in the 12th, 13th, 14th century there. So people want to talk to you. People respond, I think, to my my attitude, you know, which is an open mind and the curiosity about the place. And to talk to you, right? I got Jack Ma to open to me, which was which was this is the the golden thread just paying off. It’s off paying out in like lottery form. If you know what I mean, a friend of a friend of a friend says, you know, you know, Jack Ma, you might be willing to meet with you and especially because I didn’t want to talk to Jack Ma, who is one of the wealthiest men in China, one of the wealthiest men in the world who started Alibaba, of course, which is sort of the Amazon plus of China. I didn’t want to talk to him about his business per se. Exactly. I didn’t want money from him. I didn’t want anything from him. But I wanted his ideas about Chinese culture. And one thing you learn is that people who are very wealthy or famous, they don’t get many people want to talk to them about what they really care about the most. They usually have people who are interested in more of a transactional relationship with them. So I think that’s one reason why we we met for tea and I liked him. He was and he had a lot to say. And he had the sort of the freedom to speak, having a few billion dollars kind of frees you up to speak your mind. It’s very liberating. I’d recommend it. Torsten get a few billion and you two will speak freely. Still working on that. Still working on that. Okay. Once I figure it out, I’ll write a book. So yeah, yeah, it’s great. The pre release cover. So there is this element, just like there are with these genius clusters, there is the kind of book gods up there have to be smiling upon me, you know, and by that, I mean, you do rely on serendipity, right? But as Louis Pasteur said, chance favors the prepared mind. So you have to be ready for those moments, you know, when a friend of a friend of a friend says, Jack Moss in town and I’ll meet with you for tea, you’ve got to be ready to go. And you’ve got to have that mindset of why not try to meet with Jack Ma. He’s from Hong Zhou. Maybe he’ll meet with me. You never know if you don’t try.

Yeah. Well, I like this is, this is, I think a testament to that openness, how you describe situations, what you learn from homeless people that you met in Frankfurt. I think I remember when you researched Schopenhauer and on the other side, you have nothing with the billionaires. And you have this, this perspective that draws these people, you draw a certain persona that you see when, when, when people, you encounter these people and I thought this is, this is quite genius the way you do it. I rarely ever see this, someone else doing it in that such a prolific manner. Thank you. And the key is to throw away a lot of research or rather to put it on the cutting room floor. So I read a lot like about Schopenhauer, I read academic books, and then there’s always this paring down of what you’ve written and what you have. And you’re like the making of a Japanese sword, when they make them, they take out the impurities to one process after another of removing impurities from the metal until you have left with this very dense sword. It’s not that big, but it’s heavy and dense. And it’s the essence of the sword. And that’s the writing I’ve always admired. I’ve been, you know, watching the Ken Burns documentary about Hemingway, Ernest Hemingway recently. So Hemingway’s on my mind. And you know, Hemingway did that. Hemingway, of course, was a minimalist, but he, he wanted to write clearly. You know, and he said that when he was stuck, he would sit up on the roof of his apartment in Paris, overlook the rooftops, and say, well, Ernest, you just have to write one true sentence. And I like that quote, because you just, you have to write one true sentence and then build on that. And if you have sentences that aren’t true, and by true I don’t mean like made up, but I mean, just don’t aren’t true to the book aren’t true to the mission of the book, you have to get rid of them. And the poet Alan Ginsberg said, you have to kill your darlings. And some people are confused by that. Why would you want to kill your darlings? But what I think what he means is those sentences that you’re so in love with, because they’re so flowery and beautiful and clever, if they’re not serving the mission of the book, kill them. Get rid of them. Yeah. Oh, that’s hard to know, right? And I realize that you write a lot. That’s why we have editors, they kill our darlings for us. Yeah, well, they have their inner salary. When you, when you look back a couple of years ago, did you always want to write about philosophy? Is it something that, that always drew you in? Or is it something that you recently discovered is just another threat to see the world through? Well, I realized I’d been writing about philosophy. I just didn’t call it that. So the book about happiness, the geography of bliss, you know, before psychology, there was philosophy. Before physics, there was philosophy. There was only philosophy. Physicists, you know, in the 16th, 17th century weren’t scientists that weren’t didn’t exist yet. They were natural philosophers. And likewise with happiness, the study of happiness predates the field of psychology. It was philosophy. And in so many ways, what, if you’re interested in the world of ideas, as you are by definition, I think, interested in the world of philosophy. And I realized, well, why not just tackle that head on then? You know, why skirt around it? Why not just write about philosophy and write about it in a, in an accessible, compelling way. So it seemed like a natural fit for me. Yes. So Curtis Express is such a great introduction to philosophy. There aren’t that many. I had Stephen, Stephen Smith on and he does an introduction on YouTube about political philosophy. But I always feel it is difficult to access this topic. Everyone feels like I don’t want to get drawn in because it’s too complicated. I will be disappointed by, by my own level of competence. I don’t want to read that much. And I think you put you put it in 300 pages. Yes. Yes. After undergoing what my editor calls editorial lipo suction, you know, trimming down. And my, my agent said, look, Eric, you can write a big book or you can write a book about philosophy, but you cannot write a big book about philosophy because it’s going to be too intimidating to people. And I think it was very good advice. Look, you mentioned Stephen Smith and political philosophy. There are many kinds of philosophy and there is a place for, you know, logical positivism, which is a complicated rules of logic that’s almost mathematical in its precision. But there’s another kind of philosophy, which is really how philosophy began that I felt just gets ignored today, which is philosophy for everyday living, you know, philosophy comes from the Greek word feel ancient Greek word, philosophy, which means literally love of wisdom. A philosopher is someone who loves wisdom and we’re all looking for wisdom in our lives. I mean, we may not articulate that, but when, when you read a self help book or you watch Oprah or Dr. Phil, or you ask a friend for advice, but what do I do about this dispute at work, whatever it is, you’re looking for wisdom. So why not turn to this discipline of philosophy, which has been thinking about wisdom for 2000 plus years. But it’s, it’s buried, it’s hidden in this code, or it’s just not, it’s, as you say, it’s presented as, as this difficult subject where you have to have a PhD and you have to read all these difficult texts, and it’ll probably give you a headache and you’ll just be more confused than you were before you started. And it doesn’t have to be that way. Yeah, I always think of philosophy as a scaffolding of another world that is kind of invisible, this abstract layer that makes pattern recognition easier, obviously. And we have these, a lot of these philosophy books are actually very accessible. So when I read Plato’s Republic, I thought it’s really an easy read. I mean, there is sections where it gets a little confusing, but generally it is not harder to read than most novels that are being published today. So a lot of this is, I think people, people are intimidated often by the size of what they heard about the book and when they actually would open up. And what’s interesting is the, the further you go back in philosophy, the easier it gets actually usually things are more, we think of like the ancients as being difficult and the moderns as being easier, but that’s not the case. In fact, you go back to Plato, you and, and Socrates who never wrote anything, but Plato wrote about him. And particularly I’m thinking of what they call the Hellenistic philosophies, which we use for the philosophers right after Plato, Socrates and Aristotle came to the Stoics and came the Epicureans. And these were really schools of life, really. I mean, they were, you would go there and you would study, you would do athletics and you would talk about, you know, how to live a better life. And you would also talk about metaphysics and then what’s it all mean and those big questions too. And then, you know, philosophy took a wrong turn for about a thousand years, I think it became scholastic and became difficult and sort of relegated the big questions of the meaning of life to religion and like, well, we’re not going to go there. And then it has come back and there’s been a thread throughout, you know, the Nietzsche and the existentialists, I mean, Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, they were very much interested in leading meaningful lives. Not always easy to understand, but they were tackling the big questions. And we don’t, we don’t really have room for that, Torsten. We like so much of our life is about making more money or getting ahead in our career or just, you know, staying afloat in this past year. And unless, you know, you are a religious person and fewer and fewer people identify as religious, if you’ve seen those numbers are going down, you know, where, where do you have to turn to to sit down and talk about the big questions, the meaning of life, how to lead a meaningful life, all these questions, philosophy is one place. Yeah, absolutely. I think there is fewer outlets for this. And I think the device of Christianity, yes, is a religion, but it’s also a philosophy. I think it answered a lot of those philosophical questions for people. And it’s, it’s not put into the same boxes as other philosophies right now, which I think is a mistake. It should be seen as such. Obviously, it goes a little beyond that. But one thing I really noticed when he wrote in the Separatist Express about most relatively recent, say the last 300, 400 years philosophers, they seem incredibly miserable. They’re all hermits. They barely leave the house for years. They are not being recognized by other people around them. Isn’t that when we learn about them, isn’t there a danger that we make ourselves feel miserable? Because obviously they gave us something. They gave us a huge body of knowledge, but for themselves, it didn’t work out that way. They were mostly depressed. Mostly depressed. But not all depressed. Like look at Schopenhauer, who was a kind of misanthropic grump, you’re right. But he loved his dog, Atman, his poodle. He loved music as I write about. He went to the opera and he was fascinated by Buddhism. We’re talking in the 19th century. Well, before, you know, everyone, every third person’s a Buddhist today or an amateur Buddhist, right? It’s so popularized. Yeah, in New York City, definitely. So, but he, you know, he was an early adapter, as they say. So just because a philosopher did not achieve a blissful existence does not mean that we don’t have things to learn from them. My wife always says that I’m much wiser on the page than I am in real life. And when I say, you know, what should I do? She’s like, you know, page 212 of your latest book, it’s all there. I’m like, oh, yeah. So you can put it down in writing, but not be able to follow it. There’s value in talking the talk, even if you can’t walk the walk, you know, and, and what all the philosophers have in common is they are, they do question assumptions, right? Most of us don’t. We go through life on autopilot. So these philosophers, the ones I chose to write about at least were never on autopilot. They were always questioning the assumptions. And that is going to make you, by definition, a little bit unhappy, I think. I mean, we are social animals. And if you’re going to be the guy questioning assumptions rocking the boat, the other people on the boat are not going to like you that much, right? Certainly the captain’s not going to be a big fan of yours. So I think it is kind of baked into the profession or the mindset, really, being a philosopher is you’re going to piss some people off. You may not have that many friends. But you, the reward, hopefully, is greater of, you know, really a deeper understanding of what it means to be human and what it, what life means. And again, passing on wisdom that you yourself, you know, it’s like you come out with a great recipe, but you just can’t, you’re no good in the kitchen. You can’t cook it. But here’s the recipe and you, you pass it on and maybe someone, a future generation, a relative, a descendant would like to be like, oh, this is a great recipe and I can cook. So these philosophers, they present us with, with recipes and we add to them, we change them a bit and we try to cook the dish ourselves. Yeah, that’s a, that’s a really good comparison. I just feel as more we ponder with these questions, that’s like they’re just false, right? It’s more you become interested in the big questions. As more you move out there, you’re being seen as arrogant, you’re being seen as someone who’s asking questions that I don’t want to deal with, right? I just want to enjoy my life. I want to be living in that life. I want to make money. I feel there is this danger that, that good rights about when we, when we get to that point that we are enamored by these big questions, we lose touch with life and what’s around us. And it, this, this typical life that makes humans happy, which 90% of our life, 99% of our daily life becomes irrelevant to us. And that’s really dangerous, I feel to fall into this trap once you get into philosophy. Well I think that is one danger, but it doesn’t need to be that way, which is why I include Pete philosophers in the book who people, most people would not consider philosophers like say Shonagan, who was a writer and courtier in Kyoto, which was the capital of Japan about the year 1000. And she wrote a charming, intriguing little book called the pillow book. No one knows why it’s called the pillow book, but there you have it. And it’s a, it’s a bunch of observations and lists about life in Imperial Japan and Kyoto at that time. And she’s very good at appreciating the great beauty of small things. And the Japanese to this day have this aesthetic sense of design. And there’s the Japanese brand Muji, which you may have heard of, they’re in New York now, they’re around the world. It means literally no brand. Very simple designs, everyday objects rendered very simply. And the Japanese know there’s great beauty in that simplicity. And that is a kind of philosophy. Philosophy doesn’t just have to be these big, sprawling, intellectual ideas. There can be philosophy conveyed through objects of art and through everyday objects. That’s aesthetics, essentially. So there are many different ways of, of, of leading a full living a philosophical life. And only one of them is the kind that you’re talking about of, you know, having such big ideas and you’re just tripping over your, your shoelaces are untied while you’re thinking about metaphysics walking down the street, if that’s what you’re talking about. So, well, you, you know, so, you know so much about cultures and about how to weigh it, how they developed how philosophy inspired them or how they, they created this philosophy. Do you feel we are on this kind of art arc these days, we’re, I call it the, the Old Testament arc where we are so convinced about technology. And this has become, as you say, the Greeks haven’t, we’re not really interested in technology that much. We are on the strange arc where we basically, we pray to the gods of technology now as that’s a conclusion over many hundreds and thousands of years. And do you think there’s something to this theory or there is this natural progression always to technology and we basically, we’re the bootloader for AI, so to speak, and they will, they will create us, they will, will take us to the stars. Any question, and I could talk for hours about it. I’ve got strong, I’ve got strong feeling, I’ve got strong feelings about this. But let me see if I can put it in succinct terms. I, you’re right that the ancient Greeks who brought us theater and democracy and so many words that we’re using right now speaking in English come from the ancient Greeks. So much of Western civilization. If you go to the US Capitol, the design is of the building is an ancient Greek design. So much of what we consider civilization, yet they didn’t really care for technology as we define it, gadget, gadgetry and, and devices and things like that. They were not that interested in it. Yet today, when we think of progress and the way we define progress is almost exclusively in technological terms. So if you were to say to someone picture the future 100 years from now, they will picture in terms of technology, will there be flying cars, what kind of wearable technology will we have? And why is that the only way to gauge human progress? What about moving towards justice and greater love? I mean, those are more abstract ideas are harder to picture, they’re harder to make, but they’re, the Greeks at least thought they were more important than technology. If Steve Jobs were to be transported to Athens of 300, 400 BC, they would not be impressed with his, you know, iPhone device, you know, they’d be like, what, what are your ideas, Steve? What have you, what are your ideas about democracy and justice and courage and poetry? And, you know, there’s a quote at the beginning of geography of genius, what is honored in a country is cultivated there. And that is, yes, what is measured doesn’t exist. That’s a little bit different. Of course, measuring is measuring something is one thing. And, and, and honoring it is something else. In a way, you could argue that to measure something is to diminish it, right? And not to honor it, right? I would argue that because the, the things that matter the most to us, things like love and happiness are the most difficult to measure. And in a way, seem kind of silly to some people, at least to measure to measure a father’s love for his daughter would, to some people, and I think I’d be one of them might is seen as diminishing that love, you know, you want to measure, you want to, it’s a, it’s a focus, right? We focus on something and then it becomes relevant to us. And with the, with the honor, yes, it’s, we’ve obviously can’t measure these things. We become measure of love and big, big emotions that are important to us. So that’s, I think we’re the similarities with Europe. Yeah, I agree. So, so what is honored in a place is cultivated there. So people will ask me, like, well, why don’t we have any Mozart’s today? You know, we’re the Leonardo da Vinci’s. It’s not that genetically humans have changed. There’s no one born with the genetic predisposition toward music, the great musical talent of Mozart. People are born like that every day. And there are great composers of classical music composing today. But we don’t, we don’t honor them, right? So we don’t elevate them to the status of genius and we don’t cultivate them in that we don’t, you know, how many parents say, I want my child to grow, go to college, you know, spend, go to grad school and become a great poet or composer of classical music. No, they wouldn’t want them to go to Silicon Valley and start a company or do something like that. And so if I’ve learned anything in all these books, is that what we take to be just the way things are that technology is good period, you have to question that it means that’s the way things are here and now in our place in our time. But is that a universal truth or not? And I don’t think the notion that tech greater technology equals greater human happiness, that you could make a very strong case that that’s not true. And that technology causes more problems that it solves. Yeah, one thing that I always struggle with when I talk to people who’ve studied philosophers is what we have with technology, it stacks so beautiful on the previous layer. So when you go to GitHub, you download whatever you want in terms of code repository, you just change a couple of lines and you’ve made it better, more efficient, and you get awarded for this, maybe you make a few million dollars, right? So it’s a tiny little effort, but you sit on the shoulders of giants of the last 200 years at least, if not longer. With philosophy, I think it’s a little harder you, you when you come up with a new philosophy and want to be recognized for this, yes, you will be inspired by the ones who’s already there if you have time to read and understand it, which is again, you don’t have to do it with code, you don’t have to understand it, you can plug and play into your new solution. But with philosophy, you have to like, reengineer it so to speak and start from scratch and then come up with the own first principles by the time you’re 90 years old. And nobody would have probably noticed that you even did something throughout your whole life. So technology has this beautiful scaling technology that, that, that’s probably in build that philosophy for instance, never or are never developed. Wow. Interesting point there. One of the problems with being alive in the year 2021, well, there are many problems with being alive in 2021. But one of them is that there’s so much that came before and there’s such a large cannon of information and knowledge, say with philosophy that if you feel you can only add to a new field of knowledge by reading everything that came before, you will be 90 years old. Maybe when you finish reading everything before and then you die before you have a chance to add to it. One advantage of being, you know, Plato is there were only so many philosophers around before him, not that many and you could actually get up to speed pretty quickly on the, the cannon, the body of knowledge and then start working on how, okay, how can I add to it? And now if you feel compelled to read everything that came before, before you add, you know, Torsten’s two cents to philosophy or your own idea, it’s going to, it’s going to take a long time. And you make an interesting point about technology. I think what you’re saying is you don’t have to do that with technology. Just all the codes there, you add a few new lines of code and people call you a genius without recognizing what came before you. Is that your point? Yeah, exactly. Like there’s Maria Mazzucato, she goes all the way and says, well, think about the iPhone, it’s basically all taxpayer money. So Apple didn’t do anything. They stole lots of technology that was either open, open source that you just stole from somewhere else. It’s like the whole Silicon Valley. I think it’s also coming up in your book. And then it was just commercialized that all of this is basically taxpayer investment that’s now being the harvesters as profits from Apple. I wouldn’t go that far, but there is this, this, this beautiful thing, the technology that you just, you literally just downloaded even if it’s hardware, you can download some designs now, blueprints from someone else in China, for instance. So it’s, it’s so much easier. I don’t think philosophy or, or many of the other categories that you talk about music, they give you the same access that you literally wake up as 20 year old, have two years of, of learning and then another year of trying things out and then you can be a genius. That doesn’t happen anymore. No. And part of the problem is that we’re much quicker to accept a new technology than we are a new philosophy or a new religion. I mean, people, if you said, if, if you said to me that you, you know, you have a new religion called Torstenism, you know, and it’s, it’s just, you know, it’s great. People would be very skeptical, like really a new religion. I mean, what are your credentials? What are you talking about? Are you nuts? But if you said you had a new app or a new technology, the automatic inclination is to give you the benefit of the downside. Oh, that’s so cool. You know, it’s great, you know, and so we, we suspend all our natural skepticism out of the fields when it comes to technology. And we’re much more willing to accept something as because it’s new, it’s therefore brilliant. And we don’t, when it comes to religion and spirituality or philosophy, we don’t, we don’t necessarily believe that. But we seem, for some reason, we have a blind spot with technology. And you know, look, there’s a role, you know, there’s a role for philosophers, I think, in this world, this high tech world more than ever. And it’s not just the ethical considerations of the auto drive system on a new Tesla. There are ethical considerations. But I’m just amazed that people, more people aren’t asking questions about, you know, is this technology really, is it good? Is it something that we should support there? You know, you get that conversation stopped by the comment that you cannot stop progress. So that shuts down the conversation. You said people say you cannot stop progress. But philosophy would say, well, yes, you can, you can ask questions about these human systems and about technology and you can redefine what progress is. So we need philosophers and philosophy now, I think, more than ever. And so it’s not this antiquated subject. If you think of philosophy as the art of asking questions, what is more important than that? Asking good questions. And it’s the one subject you will not learn in school, in any school, the art of asking questions. You learn lots of answers and facts in school. You might learn some statistical methodologies, but you don’t learn exactly how to ask questions. And that’s the most human thing we do, is ask questions. Yeah, I think philosophy is in the hearts of many people’s discovery right now. For a couple of things, A, they have more time and AI will give them even more time, because things get easier if we sit at home. And I think it’s not an accident that we all suddenly want to sit at home and watch Netflix, because we can, right? We can almost do the same thing we did before, and by sitting at home. And once we have this time, we sooner or later come to big questions and then we might be interested in philosophy. Obviously, that’s a journey. And this is asking the right questions. I think this is what I think is about to change. Once we have potentially AI that can come up with big algorithms that kind of make it all look like a software, like we say software is eating the world. And I think the same will be true for AI, it’s just another software there. It can actually, you can play like Beethoven tomorrow, if you download that software, or at least a computer can, and you can, you know, change it a little bit and do something with that. So I think the world in AI speak, it becomes a model. And the model is basically it’s hard to produce, but once you have the models, like a philosopher’s mind, so to speak, we can download it, not the mind, but the essence of what that person would say if we would have that person in the room. And logically, and also maybe we can even make it sound like that person. Once we have that, we can really just play with the model, add a little bit of code to it, and then we create something new that might be better. So what I’m trying to say is the software eating the world is coming to philosophy and to art and to all the other fields, and maybe we’ll once again see all these changes coming up in these areas. I hope so. I keep coming back to what is honored in a country is cultivated there. And AI is not going to change. We confuse process with substance. AI may speed up the process of producing cars or however we conduct business, but it’s not going to provide the content and it’s not going to decide what matters and what doesn’t. The historian and philosopher Will Durant, once it’s something very nice, very telling, I think about why he was interested in philosophy. He said he wanted to know that the big things are big and the small things small and he wanted to know before it was too late. And I think there’s great wisdom in that. What matters and what doesn’t. AI cannot tell us what matters. If we decide that building lots of freeways is what matters, then AI will help us build lots of freeways or whatever it is. But technology is content empty in essence. It’s all about process. And it favors certain kinds of communication. Television favors the visual, obviously. But the content is up to us. And we also choose to elevate some technologies over others. We think, well, it just happens that the internet came along and that, well, no, we make choices to support it, to log on to it, to use it. And I think it’s a mistake to abdicate a responsibility and say, well, it’s just all here. We have no choice. And it feels that way because imagine if you decided you didn’t like email, you never wanted to use email and you applied for a job and they saw your qualifications and said, oh, you’re very well qualified. You say, oh, but by the way, I don’t use email. I just don’t like email. And it’s a personal thing, but so I won’t communicate by email ever. I mean, that would be a problem, right? So we get hooked into the system without ever questioning the system. And to come back to philosophy, philosophy is about asking those questions. Not the little questions like how can we get more megabytes per second out of this network, but why do we have the network in the first place? What if we got rid of it? Who is it benefiting? Yeah, well, those questions, right? And those are the questions that are kind of annoying. And they’re kind of, you know, if you ask them all the time, you know, your friends are probably going to leave you and say, Torsten’s always, you know, every time we’re on a Zoom call, he’s questioning the utility of Zoom and why we have it. And, you know, but someone’s got to ask those questions at some point, you know, right? And that’s where philosophy comes in. Yeah, yeah, I fully agree with you. I want to talk about journalism from your point of view. What happened to journalism? And we all know there’s big changes where I’ve heard over the last 20 years. Can you see there’s something good in there? I mean, I assume, and that’s my assumption, it might not be, you might be on a different coming from a different viewpoint. I assume that journalism that we had, the big investigative journalism by people like you, probably people with the tons of experience and a way to discover the truth seems to be gone. And we have the opposite. We have the opposite of, you know, making things up and just getting the clicks and just moving on the next day or like two hours later. Is that, is there something positive in what happened to journalism? Wow. So when did the easy questions come, Torsten? Or we get to that in the second hour? Okay, here’s my take. Before, as in all of humanity up to now, the problem has been a lack of information. We needed more information, right? And now for the first time in human history, it’s been flipped on its head. And our problem, our everyday problem is that we have too much information. And increasingly, the job of journalism and journalists is to help people make sense of that information and to weed out the good information from the bad information. And that’s new, right? I mean, there is good journalism out there. You could go online right now and find it, but you’d have to find it, right? In the days of Watergate and Woodward and Bernstein, it found you, right? It arrived in your doorstep in the form of the Washington Post or the New York Times. So increasingly, the job of journalists and editors is to help readers and people make sense of all the information that’s out there. There is such a thing as too much information. People don’t realize they just think, oh, we just need more information, more knowledge. No, information can actually, it can harm you. It can make your life less worth living, not more. It can confuse you. It can make you less wise. So that is one way in which the role of journalism is changing. And the other thing that’s changed is trust. In the geography of bliss, one of the conclusions I reach about happy places is that they all have high levels of trust. Happy places are places where people trust one another. And unhappy places are places where people are envious of one another and highly distrustful. So what’s it have to do with journalism? Well, the journalism is only as good as it is trusted, right? If no one trusted Woodward and Bernstein in the era of Watergate, nothing would have happened to Richard Nixon. People would have just dismissed it. And so we have not so much a crisis of journalism, but as a crisis of trust. Two things. We have this data smog, as I call it, going on, just too much information and we can’t make sense of it all. And then related to that is this trust issue that, well, do I trust Fox News or do I trust what my friends are sending me? Do I trust what’s on Facebook? And I don’t know how we sort that out. I mean, there are a lot of people thinking about this and working on it, but it’s not going to be technology companies. It’s not going to be the social media platforms that solve this problem for us. They are symptom and cause of the problem. So I think we have to find a way to help us make sense of the world and to have journalism that we know we can trust. Well, we all, I think, agree that there was a lot of positive things about the old model of journalism and that’s kind of went out the window. And what we have, this steps, we have way more information, as you say, but we also have way more microjournalism, so to speak. These decent documentaries from people that have no clue how to do a documentary. It’s still in its infancy. It might get better. No, that’s so called citizen journalism. Microjournalism, okay, I’m not sure. And by that, I mean local news is suffering. I can, you know, if you live in New York or Washington, you’re lucky that you had the Washington Post in the New York Times. If you live in Des Moines or San Antonio or my hometown of Baltimore, the newspapers are barely surviving. So you don’t really have local news. What you have is anybody can say they’re a journalist, right? It’s not like being a brain surgeon. We have to go to school and get degrees. You can say, I got a camera. I’m a journalist. And that’s, that’s good and bad. I mean, it’s good. It means we’ve got eyes and ears on the police and on everything else that’s going on. And, and that creates transparency. But what I learned, you know, growing up and becoming a journalist is, you know, there are certain ethical standards and ways you do things. And someone, you know, running around with an iPhone or a video camera may not have those. It’s tricky because you don’t want to be like an elitist saying, oh, you have to go to school to be a journalist and you have to have, you know, credentials. But if, if journalism is just storytelling and making stuff up, then getting back to that trust issue, where’s the trust? You know, the stories we read in the New York Times have impact because we, a lot of people still trust the New York Times at what they’re writing in there is true or mostly true. And that is the really the only asset that a news organization has. It’s not the buildings or the printing presses. It’s, it’s that trust. Trust is social capital. Yeah. Like a brand. Yeah. When you’re a very astute student of history, so you probably have seen this, but we go through these phases of information overload, like think about the, the printed book, the printing press, right? So suddenly there was a ton of information available. You couldn’t get your hands on the Bible and suddenly it was cheap. Everyone could get fat bibles and a Koran throne. And, and then it moved on to, to, to newspapers and then it moved on to, to TV and then it moved on to the internet. So we go through these phases periodically. That’s what I’m trying to say. And then a retender told me this, it’s once he reached such a phase, there’s two things involved. A, we increase specialization because we can, right? We know there’s other people around us and they share the information with us, like the geniuses. We all need to share the information to an extent. And then also because of that, our productivity rises up, we suddenly get so rich. But in this upheaval phase, and we are obviously in one of those, or we have been since the nineties, in these upheaval phases, it gets pretty messy. We had the, you know, a lot of people blame the Reformation, blame is maybe the wrong word, but they say the Reformation was basically information overloaded. It was triggered by information overload. And do you think we will, we will, and that’s why I asked for the positive things that we will, we will come to this golden period, the next 20 or 30 years, or we will be on the other side where we feel like, man, you do so many things wrong. We only worry about technology and philosophy. It’s not a big deal anymore. We are doing some big decisions we’re doing incorrectly. That’s a big question. Every technology brings advances, but at a cost. And I’m reminded of Socrates, who, as wise as he was, he did not like the printed books, or the written word as it was back then. There was no printing press. And he was against books. He thought that it would hurt your people’s memories. They wouldn’t be able to recite the artist, Homer’s Odyssey, or great poems, and that they would not absorb information by reading it the same way as speaking, right? And humans have been speaking much centuries, centuries longer than they’ve been reading. Well, Socrates was right in that, because we have books, and never mind ebooks, just books and books, that we don’t have to memorize all these things. But what he missed out on is the advantage of having all these books and access to greater information. And then along comes the printing press, and all of a sudden there’s this explosion of information. I’ve been researching Benjamin Franklin, who was a printer, and who brought the newspapers and pamphlets to the New World, to the early United States. And it was very liberating, and it was terrific. But more of a good thing is not always a good thing. And it’s like money and happiness, right? So there have been all these studies that show that despite these romantic notions of the poor happy people, that no, poor people in poor countries are unhappy. They’re just unhappy. Statistically, this is true. And as you get wealthier and wealthier, you get happier and happier. But then you reach a plateau. It’s pretty low, like about $70,000 a year in the US, less overseas, once you hit that level, any further increases in money are not really going to make you happier, right? But you keep trying to earn more money because it worked before. So the same thing can apply to information, Torsten. What I think is we going from a dearth of information to now we have more and more information, and this is great, right? We now have so much on this one little device, I have all of human history and all of human knowledge from the ancient Egyptians to theoretical physics on my phone. That’s terrific. So that would should make me lead a richer life than someone from 2000 years ago. But we’ve hit that plateau like the money happiness plateau. And more information is not making us happier, but we’re stuck. We just think, okay, we need more information. We need faster internet speeds. We need more of this and more podcasts and sorry, podcasts. We don’t cut that. We’ll cut that out. The world can always use another podcast on YouTube yet. Yes. No, no, no. I heard YouTube, they get every second, they get like 5,000 hours of video uploaded. So at what point does somebody say, Hey, maybe the problem isn’t more information. Hey, maybe the problem isn’t, you know, money. I need more money to be happier. I need more information to be wiser. Maybe it’s something else. And it’s, it’s getting us as humanity to sort of shift our focus gets back to that quote from Henry Miller about travel. One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of looking at things. And it’s this vision thing that is important. You know, the great geniuses I write about in the geography of genius like Einstein and others. Einstein, he didn’t know more physics than other people. There were other physicists living at the same time as Einstein who knew more physics, right? But they didn’t see more than him. He wasn’t a know it all so much as a see it all. And if you see what I’m saying that, that is the shift that we have to take a new way of looking at problems and looking at situations, not just more information or more money or, um, you know, that’s often, you know, when we hear about terrorist attacks, for instance, people say it’s because they’re economically depressed, you know, terrorists, they come from poor places where they don’t have, you know, enough. And that’s not the case. They often, you know, terrorists tend to be from middle class families, but what they have is envy. They have a lack of a purpose in their life, these more intangible things. And you know, we have to shift our focus off into, um, it’s not this, it might be that. And that gets back to asking questions, you know, our ability to ask questions like, like your good questions. I mean, that’s what we’re doing philosophy right now, by the way. This is philosophy. We’re having a conversation. Yeah, I like how you, um, and I think it was one, it’s in the Socrates Express, you write about the dialectic style that that’s Socrates express a style, right? And you just, you just put it down and say, well, it’s just asking questions, but why do people invent this word? And I really like that. That’s what it is, right? But, but, but it’s, if you, you listen to any philosophy class online or to YouTubers who are philosophers, it’s not easily accessible because they use all these words. And well, I consider myself well trained in some complicated words. It’s still intimidating for until you listen to, to all the episodes. And then you eventually know like epistemic. That’s something I still struggle with, right? But it’s like, how do, how we know, how we know stuff there epistemic epistemology is how do we know stuff? Yeah, it’s, it’s that simple. And, and it’s helpful to use just to go to the other extreme and use oversimplified language to because, because every one of those words in philosophy, how do we know stuff is epistemology. And in all those complicated words can be described using the vocabulary of a 10 year old. But I, I, and I, I have feelings about jargon research project to do that. Yeah, I feel like jar jargon is used to keep someone at a distance. It’s to put up a barrier between me and you. And what I try to do in my books in my writing is to break down those barriers. And that means writing jargon free and picking apart the jargon and say, what, what are we really talking about here on this a little earlier? When you think back to all the philosophers you’ve studied and the philosophers you, you philosophy you looked at, what is the one that had the biggest impact on you as a dystoics? Oh, that’s a tough one. It’s sort of like, who’s your favorite child? The stoics are good. And they’re very, been very helpful in the past year or so the pandemic. Because the stoics teach us that we cannot control external events. And this past year has made that abundantly clear, but we can’t control our reaction to them. And, and that has been a valuable lesson. But actually, even more than the stoics from the same time period is Epicurus. And I keep coming back to him. He is misunderstood. Because to say you’re an Epicurian today means that you like gourmet food. And there’s a website Epicurious with all kinds of recipes for gourmet food. And in fact, that’s not what the real Epicurus historical figure from about 300 BC was about. He was about simple living and deriving the most pleasure as you can from simple living. And he said, and I’m paraphrasing here, for the man to whom nothing is not enough. Let me see if I have this right. Basically, if enough is not enough, nothing will ever be enough for you, if that makes sense. In other words, if you don’t know how much is enough, you’re never going to be satisfied. And he goes through and he talks about the different kinds of pleasures. And he thought that the ones that were the deepest were the simplest. And that, you know, a simple meal is easy to obtain. You don’t have to do much. It doesn’t cost a lot of money. And that’s good. And if you go out to a fancy restaurant and you have a lobster dish and it’s all fancy and delicious, you will enjoy it. But then you will have created a habit of expecting it. You have raised your expectations. And now in order to relive that happiness, you have to relive that lobster meal. So he actually was about simplicity and is misunderstood that way. So he is very relevant, I think, to our age of excess as well. I’m sort of cheating by throwing in a few one favorites. Montaigne, who was a French essayist and philosopher, also lived during a time of epidemic. It was the bubonic plague during his time and he escaped to his country house, as many people are doing today, and went up to his tower and wrote his essays. And he wrote about everything. He sort of ended his conversation with the world and began his conversation with himself. And that ultimately is what philosophy is about. Plato said that when a man is thinking, he is having a conversation with himself. And that’s what Montaigne did up in his tower. And like me and maybe you, he’d read a lot of philosophers and now he’s like, okay, now what do I think? There was nowhere to go. There was a plague and wars going on outside his little tower in the French countryside. So he thought about these things and he opined. And the funny thing is, Torsten, we live in an age where everyone can have an opinion about anything online. You can mouth off about anything. You can have a podcast and say whatever you want. But at the same time, we don’t feel like there’s so much specialization. You used that word earlier. We didn’t get the chance to talk about that. There’s so much specialization that sort of crowds us out. Well, I don’t know much about coffee. I’m not an expert, so I can’t tell you what coffee I like. I don’t know much about philosophy. I’m no expert. So we don’t trust our own feelings about things, our own thoughts and feelings because we’re not specialists. We’re not experts. And Montaigne lived in an age where you could still be an amateur enthusiast about everything. So he wrote about life and death and everything in between. And as he writes, he gets increasingly confident in his own opinions. He starts off by quoting a lot of the ancients, Seneca, the Romans and Greeks. And as he goes on and on, he gets more opinionated and more confident in his own opinions. But ultimately, his motto is what do I know? That’s what he had above his ceiling. This was what do I know? And I don’t think he meant it in like, oh, I don’t know anything. But it’s this questioning of things. But what do I really know? And we have these ideas that we get that we just know we need more money. But why? What do I know? And we need more fame. But why? What does success last? You need more success? What does success look like? Would you know it if you saw it? So it’s this weird combination of being very confident in his opinions, but at the next sentence questioning what he just said and revisiting it. So he’s like going from conviction to conviction and circling back. And I admired that in him. And he was like me. He was an amateur philosopher. He was, you know, just kind of winging it and and had lots of time on his hands because of the bubonic plague. Yeah, I think that’s definitely one thing that’s needed is this, like how you phrase it, the amateur enthusiasm that’s very common with entrepreneurs. And we sometimes think of entrepreneurs as hustlers. And it’s just about the next sale. There is this part of entrepreneurship, but there is also this, this idea generation hatching out a new idea, just just seeing the world through often the science fiction lens for battle wars. It’s coming up with ideas how the world could work and how close is the current technology or something I can build or something more artistic to this and how can I get there relatively quickly. So it’s a bit of many entrepreneurs are complete amateurs and wherever they’re going and then they learn relatively quickly or not. But if they do, then they have a business to build on. Right. And they are what would have been called possible billions, right? They believe in the in the pot and what something’s possible. And that is that is great. I actually think that we need more possible billions out there, people who think, well, maybe that’s possible. And that is how Silicon Valley began with this sense of anything’s possible. But I think it’s lost some of that early enthusiasm and that’s early idealism. Just because everything’s possible doesn’t mean you everything should be done. And I think they they aim too low, actually, it’s coming up with a new app to save money on car insurance. Well, you know, that’s not the same as a polio vaccine or going to the moon or, you know, making a more loving world. So we tend to get blinded by it’s new, it’s an app, it’s new. And so it’s not that the technologists of Silicon Valley are aiming, you know, too high. They’re not aiming high enough. And they sort of wrapped up these small incremental advances in this glitzy packaging and said, Oh, now here, this is something really new. And and is it and just because something is new doesn’t mean it’s monumental doesn’t mean it’s a work of genius. In fact, I often people will say, Well, ask me, how do you define genius and a work of genius? And I like the three criteria that the that the patent office has, you know, it has to be new. But it also has to be practical, has to it has to be useful, has to advance the field. And, you know, if I were to come up with a new coffee mug that, you know, had no bottom to it, you know, that would be new. Hey, no bottom of the coffee mug, not very practical. If I were to come up with a coffee mug that was green instead of blue, that would be, you know, kind of useful and kind of new. But it’s not that leap, you know, Schopenhauer said, put it put it this way, he said, talent hits the target, no one else can hit genius hits the target, no one else can see. So it’s that that visionary leap of seeing. And once you hit the target that no one else can see, you’ve got to get everyone else to see it. You’re just crazy, right? You’re just some guy hitting invisible targets, you’ve got everyone else on board. I’m fully with you. I think we owe this, this reduction productivity growth that we all suffer from the last 50 years. And that’s really hitting the millennials in the last 20 years. It’s something that is dearth of imagination. But I wouldn’t just blame the entrepreneurs because they have all the images in their head. That’s usually not the problem. The problem is a population that is enough forward looking and the positive enough to actually put these things into practice. Like the moon landing, there was no reason the moon landing appeared in 68 could have appeared never or in 2018. But it is, it was a point where this optimism was enough to bubble up with these projects of the future that are big enough, like the Mars landing is now to some, not to a lot of people yet. And if we could get this spirit back, and I don’t know if you have a good theory, why we kind of lost the spirit of changing the world to the better and asking the big question, but also answering some of them that seems to be gone since the mid 70s. And the productivity growth is I think the result of this because we’re just not daring enough anymore. I think you’re right. I think we settle for incremental advances and believe that they are, they are leaps when they are not leaps at all. And we actually have to aim higher, I think. And that means part of it is just the marketing inflation, you know, brand inflation. If everything is new and revolutionary, well, everything can’t be new and revolutionary. But every, every app that comes out of Silicon Valley, we’re told is going to change the way we do this or that’s going to change the world. And, you know, as I always say, these these genius clusters are not only magnets, but they’re colanders that separate the good ideas from the bad. And someone has to say, actually, no, that that that that’s not going to change it. Don’t you don’t we don’t need an app for that. We don’t need that, you know. And it gets back to what’s honored in the country is cultivated there. We have to honor the big leaps more and the leaps that improve humanity, and not just a tiny, tiny segment of humanity, or in some insignificant way, I don’t know why car insurance is in my head, but an app that would help you with car insurance prices, like, okay, but you know, but then people will call it the car insurance genius app. No, it’s not a genius app, you know, it’s comparing different rates for car insurance and helping you find the best one. That is not on par with Newton or Galileo or any of the other greats. Yeah. When you did so much research the last couple of years, you went to so many different places, you looked at how geniuses and how philosophy combined to make the world a better place. Now I’ll give you another really small question, but it’s actually a big one now. It’s, you know, Jared Diamond said out with this answer, why do some civilizations develop to this point where there seem to be more advanced? Now this is a question of debate, what is actually progress, what is advancement? But I don’t know if you came across your own little theory for this, what is some places they hunt together as far as Papua New Guinea, lots of places in Africa, what is some places just burst out in these sporadic genius factories and then they go back and they forget all about it like Athens, or some places seem to like, they continuously seem to improve on it. Is there something, is there something that pushes these places forward? And not necessarily just the geniuses, but also in between the people adopt the technology that they become the wiser, is there a little theory to build over the years? I mean, I think the stagnation is the death of these genius clusters and arrogance is as well, they’re tied together. So in the case of Athens, they became wealthy, they became gourmands, which they had not been, they loved food, and they became decadent and they also stopped looking for the answers outside, they thought that they had all the answers. And that’s the death of a genius cluster. It’s always getting back to Montaigne, it’s always keeping in mind that what do I know, and that perhaps the answers might be out there, and it’s from a very practical level, it’s not being isolated and cut off. North Korea has plenty of very intelligent people living there. They don’t have a lot of geniuses because they are shut off from the outside world. All these genius clusters that I look at in the geography of genius are places that are at a crossroads where there’s a free flow of information and ideas and people, but also a kind of humility, a kind of intellectual humility. That actually, it’s that fully conscious ignorance that you know what you don’t know that keeps these places going, that keeps innovation going. Once you decide you’ve got all the answers, that’s the end of a creative place of a genius cluster. And I think it’s human nature, unfortunately, that people, when they become successful, they think they no longer need to look outside themselves for the raw material, for possible solutions. And that, you know, that’s where travel and being open to the outside world comes in handy. Because as I always like to say, we’re like fish in a fishbowl, and we’re just in one fishbowl, and there are all these other fishbowls, but we don’t know they exist, and we don’t even know anything that’s outside of our fishbowl until we get out. And then we’re able to experience those places. But my counter example is we say we do these expeditions and we go to this remote place in Papua New Guinea, and we find these hunter gatherer societies that have lived like this for 50,000 years, more or less. And then we introduce them to modernity, show them our iPhones, whatever we think is really modern and cool, or our plane or helicopter, they look at it and say, why would I need this? So they are not being convinced to any modernity just because they know it exists? I think their question of why do I need this is a good question, and it’s a question we never ask, and we consider them more quote unquote primitive than us. Yet they are asking, and if we talk about philosophy as the art of asking questions, and the wise person asks good questions, why would I need this is a good question, one we don’t ask, and we hear it and we think, oh, they don’t recognize the beauty and the genius of this airplane or this helicopter, you know. And there’s an assumption that we are light years ahead of them, and that they don’t have wisdom and we have wisdom because we have knowledge and technology, etc. And I guess I would challenge you to question that assumption. You know, I’ve got a colleague and friend who wrote a book called Civilized to Death, which is all about this notion that the hunter gatherers actually had more wisdom than we do, and had a better quality of life than we do. And I think I read that book, so this whole idea that any specialization and reorganization of human life, since the hunter gatherers, it’s been tracked down, it led to increases in productivity, but the individual became more miserable, and since the next generation basically starts off from zero level, they assume this is what it is, and then they build on it. The next generation doesn’t really care about it, for pretty individual specialists to get older, this might put you in trouble because you realize, well, the actual living quality, my freedom, my expression of my life has gotten harder over time. Maybe that’s just because we get older, or maybe that’s because it’s true. Don’t quite follow the question, I have to be honest. Try again. So are you saying that I don’t follow? What I’m saying is that since we obviously, the example is always, you have to gatherers move to a place where you are in one spot, like we grow our own crops. But we also were close to animals, which made us sick, which reduced our living quality, we couldn’t go out there and hunt anymore. You can say, is hunting really such a pleasure, or is it really dangerous? Well, there’s always an argument against that. Well, it seems like there is a certain happiness to hunt to, if you have the resources around you, there’s a certain core happiness and being close to nature in hunter gatherer societies that you can never emulate again, even if you have beautiful gardens. Right. And then we come full circle, and we find out through our modern science, which evolved out of our sedentary existence in post agrarian revolution that led to the development of science. And then science does research and discovers something that the naturalist E.L. Wilson calls biofilia, which is this notion, very simply put, that nature makes us feel good. And then there are all kinds of studies, and you can read them now. A friend of mine wrote a great book called The Nature Fixed by Florence Williams, highly recommended. It’s all about how nature is good for us. It’s good for us physically. It’s good for us psychologically and spiritually and in measurable ways. So science now tells us that being close to nature is good for you, right? And we have to get it in these little micro doses, right? Talk about micro dosing. We micro dose nature. Do you live in New York? Is that where you are? San Francisco. Yeah. Okay. But you big city, you probably have to go to find a park or you have more access and say in New York or but you still have to sort of go out of your way to get your micro dose of nature. It’s not, you’re not living in it full time. And I know that’s interesting. What does that tell us that, you know, science can now prove that those hunter gatherers in some ways were leading more enriching and fulfilling lives than we are. But there’s a kind of temporal arrogance that goes along, which is comes right out of the enlightenment in the 18th century, the notion of progress. So we are better off than them, right? We are better off than, than people were a century before and a century before is better off than the previous century. So this notion that progress is a straight linear line going up and up and up. And we know that because the technology improves. I’m not so sure that’s true. You know, what if it’s more circular? Very few people want to go back in time. And you say, well, because they don’t know the place, it’s not as comfortable as the ones they have. But there is a bunch of communities, you know, like on the East Coast, the Amish people that live like in the 18th century. Not a lot of people see the Amish people and say, Oh, that’s awesome. I just want to be Amish from now on. No, most people, they just want to stay where they are, right? They don’t want to go back in time, even if they, they could live like a hunter gatherer tomorrow. I mean, nothing holds you back and go to Madagascar and go for it. It’s funny. We, we, we admire the Amish in some ways, but we don’t want to be like them. We admire their simplicity, but we don’t want to give up our gadgets and our modern conveniences. It’s very strange. I mean, I’ll tell you a story, but I was in Bhutan, Himalayan country between India and China. And I was talking to an American tourist who was traveling there and she saw a woman on the side of the road who was actually Indian worker there who was just, you know, doing some work on the side of the road, but seems so happy. And the American tourist said, look, she seems so happy, you know, and they have nothing. And I’m like, well, you could have nothing and be happy. And she said, well, they just don’t know any better. And I think that’s our attitude toward pre industrials cultures like the Amish. We, they may be happy. They may live a simple life, which we claim we want. We subscribe to simple living magazine. We, we were all into, you know, simplicity, but we somehow think that they’re not with it. They don’t know any better. And it’s a very strange attitude that we have toward other cultures that actually are doing what we say we want. They’re leading simple lives. They’re happy. We say we just want to be happy. We just want our children to be happy. It makes me question whether we really want what we think we want. If you want to be happy, and it means even if you have nothing, well, there’s an example in Bhutan. If you want to live simply, well, go be Amish. And I don’t know. I’m not sure what’s going on there, but we, we’re unwilling to, to accept that they might, that others might be onto something. Yeah. Well, it seems to be, we seem to be driven by something that we don’t really know what it was from us. It’s like this higher spirit that drives us somewhere. What we don’t know what role we actually play. It’s like, almost like this DNA has taken, taken us over, right? And it drives us somewhere in the development and even more complex by their being. But we are just this, you know, this in between the generations. And we think it’s our free will. And it’s like, we can, we have influence. Yes, we can decide a little bit. But I feel like the influence of our DNA and the way it influences our, our personality and most of our, you know, early, early lifespan that we have no conscious memory of, I think there is a very few people do this, or maybe they did in the past philosophers. There is so much pre programmed that we only get to add a tiny little sliver, but we don’t feel it that way for us. It seems like, Oh, we have all these choices. I don’t think we do where a few people actually can see these choices. Right. We, we act on autopilot a lot of the time we chase after goals that we think are our own. But are they, I mean, I talked to a philosopher currently alive, Jacob Needleman, who said basically that these ideas you have are like clothing that you’re wearing, except you didn’t choose the clothing. And you don’t remember putting it on, but there it is, this clothing you’re wearing. And shouldn’t you question, how did this shirt get here? Did I really want this shirt? Do I need to be wearing a shirt at all? What about some other kind of clothing? So we, we go through life thinking that, you know, we have chosen our wardrobe and that we love it and it’s us. And what philosophy teaches us to do is to stop and question the wardrobe, how it got there. And whether we wanted to stick around, maybe we want to wear something else. But we are, you know, that’s the way we treat ideas often that, and people will, will mouth ideas that are rooted in 18th century philosophy. Ideas about liberty and, and, and freedom. And they come out in slogans, but they didn’t come from nowhere. They came from people centuries ago really hashing out these ideas. And the previous generations create our common sense that it’s just, it’s just common sense that, you know, people want liberty or they want this or those. These are, these are ideas that are human made. And that’s my feeling. And the more aware we become that things that we take to be just the way things are, are in fact invented by humans. It’s kind of liberating actually, I think. Well, then maybe we can look at things differently. Yeah, it takes a while. I mean, it’s like the matrix, right? So as, as, as corny as that it is a movie, there is this core philosophy of you can look outside this matrix and you can, you can build up your own solution of the universe, so to speak. But it’s also some ayahuasca or psilocybin does the same thing to you. You feel like you live in, in something that was given to you and you, you just, you live through it, but you don’t actually design it. And that’s, that’s a very strange feeling. I don’t know. Maybe that, that’s what made so many philosophers so miserable that they realized that they’re just like this molecule being blown by wind. Yeah. And, you know, I think to be disillusioned is a painful process. And I think that’s why maybe so many philosophers have been so unhappy. There’s comfort in these illusions. And there is a certain level and comfort of not questioning assumptions and not thinking too much about these things. But on the other side of it is, is a kind of freedom that, you know, these philosophers and a few other figures throughout history have tasted and, and they think it’s worth it. And I’m with them on that, that, that going through that phase of discomfort to get, you know, it’s like, again, the clothing metaphor, I don’t know why this comes to mind, but you know, you’re wearing a clothing that’s uncomfortable, but it’s just the way things are and it’s not very attractive. But if you’ve always worn it, you’d have to take it off and be naked for a while before you find some new clothing to put on. And most of us don’t want to go through that phase of being naked and picking out a new wardrobe. Philosophers are willing to be naked. There, that’s the title of my next book, The Naked Philosopher. Is it, is it for real? No, I’m not just making this up, but it’s not bad. It’s good. It’s good. Maybe Exodus is another alternative. There you go. What is that? What is your plan for the next book? Is it coffee? Is it, is it consciousness? I mean, what, what, what are you looking at? No, I’m working on a kind of unbiography of Benjamin Franklin, actually. It’s the book both is and is not about Ben Franklin. It’s about ways we can think and be like him. And his, he was the first American to be a self made person and to achieve the American dream and he’s on the $100 bill. But we really don’t know that much about him. And it’s, yeah, that’s what it’s, it’s about. It’s, it is not one of these 800 page biographies, but it’s more life lessons from this one person. And I’ve tended to write about many places and many people, but I’m focusing on one person who it turns out I’m discovering was a tremendous traveler living in the 18th century. He lived in England, France, traveled around and yeah. So that’s why he was in his 80s when he negotiated to deal with the French, right? He was the, yes, he would, he lived till he was 84, which was very old for back then. And he kept taking chances until the day he died. He never, never stopped learning. And you know, we’re talking the electricity, there’s electricity involved in this gadgetry. And he discovered how electricity works. And he lived in an age of the enthusiast, you know, where you could just be a guy in Philadelphia with doing experiments on electricity. And he lived during the whole span of the 18th century, which I will argue in the book is how we got to where we are now, that the 18th century was a pivotal time. And it was actually much more interesting to be alive then than now, because there was this tug of war between reason and faith. And it wasn’t all decided yet. And you could, you could do experiments on electricity and become world famous without any degrees. He had two years of education. So yeah. Well, I’m really excited already to read the book. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast area. It was awesome. It was so enlightening. Thank you. We did, we did philosophy. I hope so. Yes. Absolutely. We did. We had enlightened kibitzing, as they say. Thank you very much, Torsten. I enjoyed the conversation. It was my honor. Talk to you soon. Take care. Bye bye. Bye bye.

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