Thursday, March 13, 2014

INTERVIEW. Jason Silva on Brain Games on National Geographic Channel: 'Everything good and great begins at the edge of your comfort zone'.

I spoke to Jason Silva, the brainiac behind the cleverer-than-clever, highly insightful, and fun show Brain Games on National Geographic Channel (DStv 181) which just started its 3rd season on Thursdays at 21:00.

From having done Brain Games so far, what would you recommend or tell people as to how we can use our brains better?
One of the big things is that the brain needs to be stimulated like a muscle in order to grow. Stimulation causes fatigue just like exercise tires out your muscles. Sometimes people stay in their comfort zones. They stay in their habituated environment, they stay in their routine.

But routine is stale. Routine deadens. Routine sterilises. Anything around becomes invisible. You end up in a zombified trance state, not engaging with anything.

So I tell people get out of your comfort zone. Pull yourself out of context. Step into a different place. Get into a new situation. Immerse yourself into a new culture. Challenge yourself. Leave the comfort zone behind.

Everything good and great begins at the edge of your comfort zone. Change your cultural operating system. Get on a plane and go somewhere and meet different people.

Force yourself to realise that what you is not always what you get, where you are is not the only place you can be. Awaken yourself again.

You said that humans are gods now. Why did you say that?
I'm borrowing a line from the commercial of the movie Prometheus where there was a fake TEDtalk from the future where there was a guys saying 'We are the gods now'.

But what I mean by that now is that increasingly the qualities that we have attributed to a deity such as not bound by space, time, distance - all these superman qualities - are increasingly within our grasp.

With information technologies we have transcended the limitations of the mind. With the industrial revolution we transcended the limitations of our muscles. You get on an airplane and you have to reconfigure your relationship with space and time.

When I send a SMS through a smartphone and basically using a device basically made out of plastics and metals and my thoughts travel at the speed of light, I'm engaging in a form of technologically mediated telepathy when I do an SMS.

When I make a telephone call I create a techno social wormhole between here and the other side of the planet.I get tired from crossing the street, but I can really see somebody on the other side of the world using technology I can't explain or reverse engineer.

We rely on tools that were built on the maverick innovations of thousands of people over decades - tools that no single person can built today.

That gives us super computers in our pockets. The computer in your pocket today has more computation capacity and is a million times cheaper, a million times smaller and a thousand times more powerful than just a decade ago.

So in your pocket you have a tool that a billionaire couldn't afford a hundred years ago. Think about that. A billion dollars couldn't purchase you what you have in your pocket today for R299. So that is where the metaphor "We are the gods now" comes from.

And it becomes increasingly literalised because with bio technology we're using our brains now to play with our own biology. So the canvass of life itself has now become the canvass of the artist. So what does that mean? More of us becoming like gods.

We are cosmic revolutionists. Not stooges conscripted to advance a natural order that kills everyone. The universe gives us entropy. Entropy wants to break everything down. We are anti-entropic. We move towards greater complexity and greater organisation - more sublime creative possibilities, infinity in all directions.

What is interesting about our brains is we are very self-aware. We're even aware of how little awareness we have about what is going on around us at any given moment.

We're aware of the limitations in our wiring. But the more aware we become, the more we can create solutions to those limitations. Our technological instruments increase our capacities to measure the world.

We can't see very small, but we can innovate ourselves a greater microscope. We can't see very far, but we can built a greater telescope. So those limitations, because we're aware of them, feed the urge to transcend them.

It's fascinating because when I look at Google Glass for instance, I wonder if the people building it are aware  that ...
Of course they are, of course they are. They're probably studying pryo-perception and they're looking at xxxxxx-tension [a word I can't make out and have never heard before], and all that stuff.

The people who design video games now, they do so much from MRI scans on the brain, game dynamics. They study immersion. They study how you become immersed - there's so much brain science that goes into our cultural technologies, you wouldn't believe it.

I thought you doing a television show, and now its a social - you have to work with normal other people or "subjects" - is there a profound thought about something you didn't realise before about people collectively and how we behave?
The fact that Brain Games has been successful shows that people are hungry to learn. If you present your material in a compelling way, people are curious, people are hungry to learn, people want to understand.

As far as the people who participate, people are gullible. And when there's a camera on, they will do what you tell them about. But all the games you see we really did do them, and the results really were consistent with real lab research. So its real science - its just packaged and presented in a telegenic way.

You talk about "intergalactic ideas"?
What is intergalactic is the fact that we are creatures that with our brains, we can ponder the infinite. We can conceive of the Big Bang, we can conceive of a million years from now. We can contemplate of our sun burning out.

But we're housed in these heart-pumping, breath-gasping decaying bodies. So in a way we're godly, but we're also very creaturely. We're a nice paradox us human beings.

At the same time the innovation and creativity we're capable of is unfathomable.

There's more energy per second per gram flowing through the corridors of the chip in your phone than there is in the surface of the sun in terms of concentrated energy per second.

The engineering challenge of making these things any smaller is to keep them from exploding. Literally.

That's how much concentrated energy we're packaging in them. The rule towards increased computational capacity in denser and denser spaces, some people would say is leading towards a trancension.

What it means is that when we move into the nanoscale, or the femtoscale, we create computation that's operating in one tenth the size of an atom. That's where you're almost dealing with black hole like conditions. At that point we can create non biological intelligence that's operating at the femtoscale.

We can literally be living in a universe that is smaller than an atom - a virtual world that is operating that is operating in computational substance smaller than an atom.

So maybe all the advance civilizations that we can't seem to find anywhere else in the universe is because they've already gone through this transcension. And they've disappeared from the visible universe because its more computationally efficient.

Are they going to get you for an episode of Cosmos: A Space Time Odyssey on National Geographic Channel for the second season?
That would be great, I'd totally be a guest on that! Well my friend, Neil de Grasse Tyson is the host of Cosmos: A Space Time Odyssey but I would love to collaborate on something like that because I'm a fan. So who knows? Maybe if you put it out there.

Because really, you actually remind me so much of Seth Macfarlane. People know him from animation series, but when you actually just really listen to him ...
He's smart.

Yes. Incredible. Clever.
I was wondering, how difficult or how easy it has been for you to - you could have chosen in terms of the concept to just talk about it and to not insert yourself into the physical experience of Brain Games
I think the producers felt it was important to see me interact with the people and the guests, jsut to give the show a fun element also, so that I'm not just the omnipotent host in the green screen room.

We don't want Brain Games to ever feel pretentious or like we know it all. I want to be like, a fun guy who is taking you for a ride. And also I like people!

What can you say about what Brain Games has achieved so far? Does it change people?
I think it changes things for National Geographic Channel. People realise that a show can be so on brand and be so successful. There's a lot of pressure from other networks and TV channels for people to make content that's silly and that gets a lot of viewership.

The success of a lot of reality television puts a lot of pressure on TV networks.

But National Geographic Channel is swimming against the current by creating a show like Brain Games. And we're the envy now of everyone in the category and thinking how can we now do Brain Games? But they can't because they don't have us.

We achieved record record ratings for National Geographic Channel in the United States for the premiere episode and subsequent episodes, and in Australia and now we're in 172 countries. And we've only just started. And we're going to keep going.

Do you think its more difficult, or what do you think makes it difficult to make smart television that still connects on an entertainment level?
The effort is that you're not will people watch. The payoff is do people learn something. But they still have to watch. Its two things you've got to care about but I think its worthwhile.

How do you decide who to use, and do you use the same kind of brain expert people?
No, different people for every episode. The cool thing is National Geographic opens a lot of doors. You say you're doing a show for National Geographic Channel and people will talk to you. They're receptive to you. And they're all really clever people.

Brain Games III is on National Geographic Channel (DStv 181) on Thursdays at 21:00

[Editor: This should have been a recorded interview on video - like filmed TEDtalk. If you read all this ... thank you!
I didn't realise before sitting down with the clever Jason Silva his nature, and personality.
And to transcribe this 12minute interview I did in a written context is (for once) the second best format, not properly doing justice to the inflections and just the way Jason Silva so graciously did the interview and answered the questions so extremely thoughtfully as his very last interview on a very long press junket day.]