Zev Weinstein: The Next Generation of Big Ideas and Brave Minds (#158) | Lex Fridman Podcast

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Key Takeaways

  • We tend to underestimate the impact that language has in shaping our ideas and thoughts
    • If we accept imperfect labels to categorize people or ideas we only get a partial view
  • The average English vocabulary has decreased greatly since the 1960s
    • A language is a tool for thinking
    • As our vocabulary decreases, so does our capacity to think deeply
  • Our notion of morality is not entirely subjective
    • Similar notions of morality evolved from different traditions
    • “ ‘Good’ is a proxy for the stability and fitness of a civilization” Zev Weinstein
    • Immoral actions disrupt the stability of civilization
  • Verbal communication emerged in humans long before the invention of writing
    • This might partly explain the increased popularity of podcasts compared to books
  • It is enticing to get to know modern thinkers through podcasts instead of books
    • When someone who wrote a book goes on podcasts, his ideas may be challenged, sparking new and interesting conversations that you would not find in the book
  • Youth idealism and naivete is not necessarily a lacking of maturity
    • It can be a form of inspiration for mature people who have seen too much and lost hope

Intro

Why Philosophy Becomes Dangerous in Difficult Times

  • By “philosophy” Zev means thinking deeply about the world, using first-principles
  • In good times, people with power are those who create wealth
    • They encourage deep thinking to come up with innovations
  • When times are stagnant, powerful people try to protect themselves
    • They stifle innovations that can be disruptive
    • Deep thinking becomes more dangerous
      • Socrates is a great example, he was executed when times got hard
  • Deep thinkers have more power to guide the masses when they are desperate
    • The communist manifesto was extremely dangerous in the early 1900s Russia
    • Desperate people are more willing to create any change without considering the full consequences

Changing Your Mind

  • Zev is open to the fact that over time, as he continues to learn he might change his view on things
    • The internet is very intolerant of inconsistency
      • It’s easy for anyone online to take cheap shots at public figures
    • This scares him about appearing publicly
      • He accepts enduring this fear as part of his responsibility as a thinker
  • Having deep thinkers acknowledge changing their mind publicly might help to re-frame the negative view of inconsistency
    • It would also encourage open-mindedness and authentic public discourse

How Labels Hold Us Back, Especially in Politics

  • We tend to underestimate the impact that language has in shaping our ideas and thoughts
  • If we accept imperfect labels to categorize people or ideas we only get a partial view
    • If you say “I love America” you’ll be immediately labeled as a republican
      • The nuance of your thought gets reduced to the label
    • It takes a lot of effort to avoid being reduced to a label
      • Despite all efforts, it will still happen
  • The average English vocabulary has decreased greatly since the 1960s
    • A language is a tool for thinking
    • As our vocabulary decreases, so does our capacity to think deeply
  • Conventional politics today is not about creating new political ideas
    • It’s mostly about protecting existing ideas to keep the current power structures

On Thomas Aquinas

  • Thomas Aquinas is one of Zev’s favorite Philosophers
  • He introduced aspects of the scientific method during one of the darkest times in history (the 1200s)
  • He was careful not to be offensive to those in power while introducing disruptive ideas
    • This allowed his views to be accepted
    • “The most courageous thing to do is not always the most helpful” Zev Weinstein

Thoughts on Nietzsche, Morality, and Truth

  • Zev tends to disagree with many components of Nietzsche’s philosophy
  • “It is difficult to be truly happy if the thing which you proud yourself most on is never being satisfied” Zev Weinstein
    • Nietzsche used his constant dissatisfaction and desires to fuel his growth
  • Zev disagrees with Nietzsche’s amoralism (there’s no good and evil)
    • Our notion of morality is not entirely subjective
      • Similar notions of morality evolved from different traditions
    • “ ‘Good’ is a proxy for the stability and fitness of a civilization” Zev Weinstein
      • Immoral actions disrupt the stability of civilization
  • Search for truth is the search for common ground we can all agree on
    • Science is the tool to search truth
    • A culture that cares deeply about science, will not be easily disrupted by internal conflicts

Mediums of Communication: Podcasts and Books

  • Verbal communication emerged in humans long before the invention of writing
    • This might partly explain the increased popularity of podcasts over books
    • Part of it is also clearly explained by the way technology shortened our attention spans
      • Yet long-form podcasts are extremely popular
  • It is enticing to get to know modern thinkers through podcasts instead of books
    • When someone who wrote a book goes on podcasts, his ideas may be challenged, sparking new and interesting conversations that you would not find in the book

Big Philosophical Questions

  • Does free will exist?
    • Classical mechanics would say that if we perfectly understand a system, we could predict its behavior with complete accuracy
      • Even if this was possible to do, it would not mean that our decisions are illegitimate
    • There’s something that feels close enough to free will
      • We will never build a super-computer that can consider every piece of information in the Universe
      • For our purpose, we can consider our decisions to be up to us
  • Do we live in a simulation?
    • The simulation argument is a possibility because it cannot be falsified
      • Yet, it does not make our experience any less valid
      • It should not affect our decisions or behaviors
  • Is math invented or discovered?
    • Zev thinks that mathematics has been discovered, as the fundamental fabric of the Universe
    • The only parts that have been invented are the forms we use to communicate it

Thinkers vs. Doers

  • Our greatest gift is the ability to observe the Universe and think deductively
    • Seeking to find principles in the Universe that transcend humanity
  • For people to dedicate themselves to deep thinking, they need to have all their basic needs met
  • We need both deep thinkers who make our lives meaningful, and doers who make our lives good and possible
    • Einstein and Feynman are examples of thinkers making our lives meaningful
    • Kerry Mullis, responsible for saving millions of lives, is an example of making life possible

Idealism and Maturity

  • Youth idealism and naivete is not necessarily a lacking of maturity
    • It can be a form of inspiration for mature people who have seen too much and lost hope
    • Being optimistic gives us the hope and motivation to change the world for the future
  • Often you pay a price by being idealistic, especially in academic contexts

Learning to Play Music

  • You don’t need to motivate yourself to learn music
    • Music accesses our neurochemicals directly
    • Once you learn to play an instrument it’s as if you’re giving a pleasant drug to your brain
  • Zev’s approach to learning music was unconventional
    • He started by learning the theory first
    • This allows him to pick up any instrument more easily

On Mortality and the Meaning of Life

  • We get a lot of meaning from things ending
    • Resources gain value by being finite and scarce
    • In the same way, death gives meaning to our lives
    • Since we can never experience it, we need to contemplate mortality in abstract ways
  • Meaning of life
    • Joy cannot be the meaning of life
      • Things that bring us joy do so to ensure our evolutionary success
    • The most wonderful gift we received is the capacity to observe what transcends us as humans
      • To live a meaningful life is to see that and contribute to it

Additional Notes

  • “If you’re not gonna accept a standard, you have to invent your own” Zev Weinstein
  • Today young people have a unique opportunity to invest in themselves
    • Particularly investing in yourself with an outlook on humanity as a whole
    • Will we be able to save the currently collapsing systems and institutions?
Lex Fridman Podcast : ,
Notes By Giorgio Parlato

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