Eric Weinstein: The Formula for Invention (And How to Escape Your Own Restrictions) – The James Altucher Show (Part I)

Check out The James Alutcher Show Podcast Page

Key Takeaways

  • Look for life’s canonical structures (ways in which the world seems incredibly complicated but in fact reduces to a very small set of assumptions)
  • Embrace being an impostor
    • Perhaps you faking it may be superior to someone else’s earnest attempt?
  • “When you first make a decision to turn the boats and there’s no turning home… I think that’s when things get really exciting because it’s sink or swim. People become really innovative once they become isolated and terrified.”
  • Most innovation comes from people who are written of as learning incapable 
  • If you have a visible system that’s failing to behave normally or no longer makes sense, more likely than not, there’s some unseen force in the invisible world which is causing it
    • “The invisible world is discovered by the visible world’s failure to close”
  • This one is a bit complex, so we’ll let Eric explain it:
    • “Whenever you have something that’s going to be beautiful, and it’s a very naive hope, almost always your hope will be dashed because it’s too naive. Instead of getting upset about it, the next thing to do is to measure the failure of your original hope… and once you have that, make it your centerpiece of a new theory and you’ll actually build something much more beautiful than the original theory every was.”
  • Watch your robot (the automatic self which is prone to practicing bad habits)
    • Eventually, you’ll come to realize you can’t stand to let your robot take over the ship

Intro

Canonical Structures

  • This is a personal interest of Eric’s
  • Canonical = ways in which the world seems incredibly complicated, but in fact reduces to a very small set of assumptions
    • Ex. – The standard 4 chord (1, 5 , 6 minor, 4) structure of popular music
    • Ex. – The periodic table (in addition to the left step periodic table, which makes clear the relationship between orbitals and chemical elements)
    • Ex. – The international phonemic alphabet maps the structure of our speech into a universal notation so you can understand how to pronounce something in any language

The Loss of Free Speech

  • The limitations on free speech are happening more on the left rather than the ride side of the political divide
    • Both James and Eric are Democrats
    • “Something had gone completely insane inside the left with respect to logic and reason… I have no idea where these people are going”
  • “What we are potentially going to do in terms of our ability to destroy our institutions, suppress thought descent, and completely weaken ourselves and our scientific enterprises… we’re creating a climate in which no one knows what the rules are from moment to moment and anyone can come out of any nook of your past and accuse you and you feel like you have to answer…”
    • Eric thinks people who are accused shouldn’t answer the accusations – “If people want to accuse you of something, have them do it through the courts”
    • “We are now attacking people’s ability to earn a living as a secondary judiciary process. The idea is this – if we can destroy your reputation, we may not be able to get you into a court of law, but we can keep you from feeding your family”

Embrace Being an Impostor

  • Eric has succeed in quite a few different areas, but still calls himself an “impostor” in the realm of differential geometry (which he got his PhD in)
    • Why? – He didn’t have a thesis advisor (his thesis ideas were too “radical”)
  • “In many ways, permission to be an imposter is something you have to take for yourself”
    • Eric says this especially applies to young women – “Young women have confidence problems that are more severe than young men… they’re acutely aware of all their imperfections’
    • “One of the terrible things is that we don’t given women the permission to be impostors”
      • If you’re reading this, and you feel like an imposter, instead of trying to fight it – embrace it… so what if you’re an imposter?
        • Perhaps you faking it may be superior to someone else’s earnest attempt?
    • “I think it’s very appealing to stop fighting your fear of being an impostor – that’s no excuse for staying on the couch”
  • In many professions, there’s a traditional path to success
    • With mathematics, you might go to grad school, get a PhD, and then become a professor
    • But with impostors – they come into success without taking the traditional path (like Donald Trump’s path to the presidency)
      • “Never discount what somebody can do completely on their own”
        • I.e., Jimi Hendrix’s strange method of stringing his guitar – it put him in a class of his own

Innovation Comes from the Learning Incapable

  • “When you first make a decision to turn the boats and there’s no turning home… I think that’s when things get really exciting because it’s sink or swim. People become really innovative once they become isolated and terrified.”
  • Many parents have kids who they know are smart, but they’re just not getting good grades
    • “That population is probably learning disabled in the standard parlance, but I think they’re probably supposed to be our future innovators”
      • “Most, or a lot of, the innovation is always going to come from people who are written of as learning incapable”
      • “There’s just so much more opportunity to unlock unused brilliant in the learning disabled community, or people with low self-esteem. These are my people… They’re sitting on top of gold and they just can’t get it together to convert.”

Find the Missing Force | “The invisible world is discovered by the visible world’s failure to close”

  • Take the neutrino – it was discovered by noticing that when a neutron is left alone, it morphs into an proton after a half-life of 12-18 minutes
    • When you add up the energy of the proton and the electron that gets shot out of the neutrino (after morphing from a neutron), the value doesn’t have as much energy as the neutron did to begin with (so it would seem to violate the law of conservation of energy)
      • Wolfgang Pauli had the idea that there was a secret particle (AKA the neutrino) that we couldn’t see because it was electrically neutral and it was carrying away the missing energy
  • Or another example:
    • A bird flying into a glass pane (which appears invisible to the bird)
      • The visible world’s failure to close = the bird trying to fly in a straight line and not progressing
  • And another:
    • Tweets from certain people not showing up on Twitter (visible world)
      • It turns out Twitter down ranks the “bad people” on Twitter using the algorithm to suppress their tweets in favor of others (invisible world)
  • In summary – always be asking, “Where’s the neutrino in this situation?”
    • If you have a visible system that’s failing to behave normally or no longer makes sense, more likely than not, there’s some unseen force in the invisible world which is causing it

Measuring Failure and Making it the Centerpiece of a New Theory

  • “Whenever you have something that’s going to be beautiful, and it’s a very naive hope, almost always your hope will be dashed because it’s too naive. Instead of getting upset about it, the next thing to do is to measure the failure of your original hope… and once you have that, make it your centerpiece of a new theory and you’ll actually build something much more beautiful than the original theory every was”
  • Here’s an example:
    • If you’re at the equator and want to go north, a compass will get you there (because magnetic north is an excellent proxy for new north, right up until you get to Canada)
    • BUT – If you’re way north (like ON Ellesmere’s Island) you can actually have magnetic north BE 180 degrees off from true north
      • The object that measures this failure is called the “angle of declination
        • SO – making the angle of declination the centerpiece of magnetic navigation is the right thing to do
  • Another example:
    • Take the Escher staircase – something is clearly wrong because the number of steps up is not equal to the number of steps down
      • The thing that measures that failure is called the holonomy (or curvature) in mathematics
        • In physics, both Einstein’s equation and the modern version of Maxwell’s equation are based on a curvature object which measures this failure of steps to behave in a regular fashion (the more the steps move towards an Escher staircase, the more intense the curvature is – this might result in something like greater electromagnetic field strength)
  • Here’s a concrete example:
    • Imagine a writer submitting a first draft who thinks it’ll be amazing, but when they give it to an editor, the editor has TONS of change requests
    • The object that would measure the difference between your naive hope and the reality would be called the “dif file”
      • AKA – How much did the file change between the first draft and the final product that everyone agrees to be good?
      • You might notice that if you define the dif file for each project, you always start off using wiggle/flabby words (like the word “basically”) etc.
        • You can then try to “write around the dif file” by avoiding the use of these unnecessary words

Watch Your Robot

  • “If you find you’re frustrated in life and can’t get past certain obstacles, just learn how to watch your robot”
    • Most of what gets you through the day you’re not even thinking about – i.e., walking
    • So – watch your body and brain make mistakes
      • I.e., watch yourself eating junk food out of habit (aka your robot)
      • Eventually, you’ll come to realize you can’t stand to allow your robot take over the ship

Additional Notes

  • Check out The Song Machine a book about a group of Swedish producers who’ve produced many of the world’s hit songs of the past decade
  • Richard Dawkins has famously said you can measure the power of an idea by what it explains divided by what it assumes
    • The most powerful ideas assume very little
  • Eric says Indonesian is “the most wonderful language to learn super rapidly” and that Indonesia might be the most beautiful place on Earth
  • Eric is married to Pia Malaney
  • Find cheap stakes to practice
    • (Avoid practicing in environments when the stakes are high)
Bookmark

FREE! THE TOP 10 PODCASTS OF 2018, AND WHAT WE LEARNED

You'll also get our weekly newsletter with the takeaways from our curated list of top podcasts. Unsubscribe anytime.