How Emotions Shape Our Thinking With Leonard Mlodinow
How can you make better decisions? How can you improve your relationship with others? What can you do to live a happier life? My guest today argues that the answers to all these questions and more lie in understanding our emotions. Leonard Mlodinow is a theoretical physicist and author of five best-selling books including Subliminal, The Drunkard’s Walk, and the #1 New York Times bestseller ‘The Grand Design’, co-authored with the late Professor Stephen Hawking. His latest book Emotional: How Feelings Shape Our Thinking explores the new science of feelings and offers us an essential guide to making the most of one of nature’s greatest gifts.
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How Emotions Shape Our Thinking With Leonard Mlodinow
Leonard Mlodinow 0:46
Thanks, James. Great to be here.
James Taylor 0:48
So as I was reading this book, it book is on emotions, and actually felt like quite an, it must be quite an emotional book to write because you actually in the book, you, you share a number of stories about your mother and your father in it as well did that the fact that you were writing a book about emotions lead to you having to write a more personal book, maybe then you’ve you’ve written previously?
Leonard Mlodinow 1:11
Well, I always write personal books. And I think what I try to do as a science writer, is to bring some story and drama humor, to my, to my books, and to make them as far away from textbooks or the kinds of books that you might see authored by a researcher and his or her own work. I tried to make them entertaining and to draw in the reader. And so what do I know, I know my my own life. So I always talk a lot about tell stories for my own life. But of course, in this book, it was I went a bit deeper, because the book is about emotion. So the stories I’m telling are either emotional stories or stories about strong dramatic emotions that I felt growing up with my family. And unfortunately, my parents went through the Holocaust. And that was some very sad times. But the result was that I grew up in a house that was a bit unusual, and where emotions were very strong. And so for this book provides a lot of fodder. And I tried to, to be open and to write about it, honestly, and wherever it fit to use those stories.
James Taylor 2:21
So you put some of those stories from your own kind of personal life. And where else do you go to find stories as a writer?
Leonard Mlodinow 2:28
Well, that’s interesting, because I think that one of the key components of my books is to have interesting stories, I tried to introduce the concepts in a non technical way through a story, I really believe in storytelling. And I spent a lot of time looking. And thank God for the internet, because I use the technology. So I I’ll scour old newspapers, not necessarily the New York Times, but maybe the St. Petersburg press, Florida, Ms. Our old obscure publication, scientific publications, I go everywhere, and I spend a lot of time reading and when I find one that really engages me. And that makes my point, then, then I get really happy and I feel like I’ve discovered gold. It’s it’s kind of like mining, it’s like think of it as mining Bitcoin by mining stories. And so it’s a lot of mining, to find those little gems.
James Taylor 3:24
And remember, there’s some wonderful stories in this. And there’s also I guess, you call them kind of mind hooks, as well. They’re they’re kind of things where as I was reading the book, and I was every so often I would, I would say, Oh, listen to this, I will say to my wife, listen to this, you guess guess what? You’d never guess what I mean, I remember one of the ones I think I talked to her about a duck’s penis, which is in the book, so you’re gonna have to get through, we’re gonna have to get a copy of the book to understand what that’s all about as well. So there is there is obviously a real art to taking science and adding that kind of storytelling component. I mean, I mentioned before you’ve worked with the late professor, Stephen Hawking, I know you’ve also worked with Deepak Chopra. For those other people that come who come from a science background. What do you notice about the ones that are able to make that transition to being able to move into the storytelling and tell them tell their stories?
Leonard Mlodinow 4:15
Well, I think there’s not many I think Steven was one and he he certainly reached touched a lot of people. But most scientists are so focused on their work. And there’s so literal and they’re in the forest, and they can’t see that they can’t all they see are the trees. That’s difficult. It’s very, it’s very difficult to present things in a way that is really compelling for the general audience. I’m lucky that I, one of my passions is the science of course, and it has been since I was a kid, but I’ve had another passion since I was a kid which has been writing and I wrote for television for eight years. I used to write short stories all through my high school, college, graduate school. So I’ve always had a love of storytelling and for me I found that my niche is combining my love of science and my knowledge of science with my in kind of intuitive and internal knack for telling a story,
James Taylor 5:10
because I didn’t want to you’re based in LA and I didn’t want to is there something in the water there? I mean you’ve got is the the water that like Joseph Campbell, you know Robert McKee and all these greats people that can share ideas about storytelling is story just into the DNA of everything in LA.
Leonard Mlodinow 5:28
Well, I think LA attracts storytellers. So a lot of people come here to make their way in Hollywood. But whether it’s film or television, or now on, even on the internet, and so the storytellers tend to gravitate here, because that’s here’s where here’s where you can sell it. Here’s where the jobs are. Just as in, in the book world, it’s New York and love authors are in New York. And because when you’re local, you can take meetings, you can meet people, we can make contacts, and so it helps your career. So yeah, I but I feel like I draw the energy from the other people here who are focusing on that the creativity and the storytelling here in Los Angeles. By the way, if you’ve got the water that attracts, reminds me of Casablanca or he says, I came for the water. They says, water, this is the desert. I was misinformed.
James Taylor 6:19
I think I read a book the other day, it was I can’t remember right. It was a travel rage from 1920s, who was traveling through the Empty Quarter in was now Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. And he was talking about having to go back to the UK where obviously, it rains a lot. And he said, I, I prefer places where they appreciate water a little bit more. In other words, I appreciate it slightly drier climates. But now many of us think about emotions, when we view it through this, this lens of maybe what we’ve read maybe in popular science books, for example, and we have to kind of navigate through a kind of this very modern can sophisticated world with same time. In the book you describe we have this kind of reptilian brain, there’s much more instinctive, can you share with us how our understanding of emotions of change perhaps from the times of the, you know, the ancient Greeks up until today?
Understanding Of Emotions
Leonard Mlodinow 7:13
Well, the most famous of the very early treatise is what came from Plato, who felt that we have three different aspects to our thinking or feeling well, one was the loss of our drives, one was our emotions, which are higher emotions that might lead us to accomplish things and to motivate us to do good things. And then there was the head, the charioteer, if these two were horses, the person holding the reins was it was the conscious mind. And over the centuries after that, it got developed and morphed and changed quite a bit. And there were so many philosophers with different points of view, the Christians in particular added some elements of morality to that. And by the time we got to the 19 century, we are only really beginning, to understand a motion as a scientific, something for scientific study, as opposed to just something that we talked about philosophize about Newton, Newton changed that for physics in the 1600s, we moved from philosophy to science, but that didn’t really move from philosophy. Emotions didn’t really move from philosophy to science until Darwin. And this was long after he published his work in evolution. And he was looking at emotion. And of course, from his point of view, what he wanted to understand was, how do we explain emotion from the evolutionary point of view? Why did Why do animals have people have emotions? What’s the purpose, and he made a lot, he made a tremendous amount of did a tremendous amount of study was a very meticulous person. He studied other cultures, other human cultures and their expressions of emotion, and all sorts of animals. And he went to the zoos and studied animals very closely. He came to a lot of conclusions that really made a lot of sense, common sense, and seemed somewhat intuitive. He came up with six basic emotions, anger, fear, happiness, sadness, surprise, and disgust. He thought those were the central emotions. And that he thought that the purpose of emotion was really twofold. One is to get the animals to act quickly when confronting a threatening situation. And the other was to communicate such information about such situations or about the animal’s state of mind to other animals since they don’t have a language. So if an animal you know puts on an angry face that tells the other animals to stay away from me, don’t fight with me I’m fierce, or if the animal freezes or runs when faced with a predator that’s a reaction for survival. And Darwin thought humans don’t really need that anymore because as number one, we have rational thinking to reason our way out of those situations, and we have the language to talk to others. So Darwin felt that emotions were a vestige that emotions are separate from rational thought. And they were a vestige of our evolution. And that there are certain basic emotions, which are really the most important. And then there are some other emotions, but those are the main ones. Well, it turns out that all those our ideas are really raw. And based on his thinking, though, that became part of the common culture for over 100 years. And it wasn’t until the last 10 or 20 years that there’s been a revolution, in the theory of emotion and the science of emotion. That’s really why I wrote the book because it really hadn’t been written about very much.
What scientists have discovered through new techniques, especially different methods of brain imaging, and something called optogenetics, where you can control individual neurons in a brain. And through the study of brain connectivity, which is a new and very exciting study of how different neurons are connected. And what scientists have found, is, first of all, that there’s there are, there’s a wide variety of emotion, and you really shouldn’t separate the so-called six basic emotions the way he did, and not only that, that you can even define the emotions, that that definitely the way, definitively the way Darwin did that fear. There are different kinds of fear, you can’t call everything fear. And there are different types of fear and different types of each emotion. And they have different pathways and different processes in the brain that create them. Also, that the the borderline between different emotions is not a sharp borderline, one emotion, for instance, fear and anxiety can be hard to distinguish, and there’s an overlap between them. So it’s just, it’s really not so clear. But most importantly, rational thinking and emotion cannot be separated in the mind, you can’t not just can’t say that emotions are bad and a rational mind is good, that’s wrong. But also, the information processing that your brain is doing happens in a manner in which the logical rational processing and the emotion work together, and there’s no way to separate them every rational decision thought idea you have comes was created not just through rational processing, but also through emotion.
James Taylor 12:21
But that almost kind of goes against it definitely seems to go against a lot of what we’ve been told over the years where emotion has been kind of degraded, or, I mean if you think about it in a business context, that was, you know, the worst thing you can sometimes used to be able to say was, I just have a hunch, I have an intuition about this. And then first of all, show me that, you know, show me the data, the data on it, as well. So, so to go a little bit further, you know, how, let’s see, you know, we’re looking at lots of interesting situations going on in the world just now. And everyone’s trying to be very, like a chess player, they will be cold and calculating about how they move their chess pieces around. How can emotions actually increase our flexibility in making decisions?
Emotions Increase Our Flexibility In Making Decisions
Leonard Mlodinow 13:06
Wow, that was a lot. Let me start really quickly, at least by saying, hunches are good. You’re on count I wrote a book called elastic about where ideas come from and hunches and creativity, as a lot of is an unconscious process that you’re not even aware of, and it surfaces as a hunch or an idea. And those are not to be taken lightly or dismissed. Those kinds of your unconscious mind is doing a lot of very sophisticated and important processing of data that is so complex, that your conscious mind has trouble with what your unconscious mind does more easily. And it presents that to your conscious mind as hunches and ideas and so forth. And you should not dismiss them. And emotion is a very big component of all that processing. But the second part of your question,
James Taylor 13:55
that flexibility, I guess, stability in decision making
Leonard Mlodinow 14:00
a motion, it actually exists in a large sense to give you flexibility. So let’s understand how different organisms might be able to think or how let’s look at how a robot would think if you were programming and what are the different ways of processing information? Well, the most basic one is something called fixed action patterns. They’re really algorithms where there’s a trigger in the environment, and that leads to action, and that that is the dominant way that most animals face the world. If if a moth sees light goes toward the light, doesn’t think about anything, it doesn’t take into account other factors. Other aspects. It’s programmed to go toward the light or if an animal feels a fire, it runs away. Those are programmed in hardwired into animal brains bacteria have that to bacteria are built in a way that they will gravitate toward nutrients. For example, rats
James Taylor 15:05
almost like rules are coded into the DNA or rules that could
Leonard Mlodinow 15:10
program a computer to say, if you see this through that those are programmed into the DNA into the structure and of animals. And a lot of what you see in animals seems to be more thoughtful or emotional. But it really isn’t. For example, if there’s a goose on a nest, I tell this story in the book, because an egg falls out or the goose season egg alongside her nest, she will reach her neck out, and with her neck, grabbed the egg and bring it back into the nest, it looks like the loving action of a loving of a loving mother, right. But if you put a baseball there, the goose will do the same thing. In fact, you could put a volleyball there or or a can, you can put any object there even feral amount larger than than the egg and the goose will just pull it up. Because the goose is programmed to pull in objects like that, that are next to her nest, she’s not going Oh, my poor egg. I want this baby, I’m gonna go save it. No, it’s a fixed action patterns was programmed in into the goofs, and that that works really well, for what we call lower animals, which a term I don’t like, but for non human animals. But it’s not the most sophisticated way of behaving. Because if there’s a variation in the environment that was not usual, in that species environment, for example, an experimenter putting a softball next to the nest, then it kind of goes haywire. But the animal has no choice because it’s fixed, it’s very rigid, or situations change. So if an animal finds itself in a different climate or, or the climate changes, then those fixed action patterns might not be ideal. So humans, fortunately have have more sophisticated and nuanced ways of reacting to the world, through through our emotions. And through our rational thinking. What emotions do is they they are, they rate our way of reacting to triggers, but it’s not that rigid, where a trigger produces a result, there’s a whole class of triggers, for example, take disgust. You don’t, you could have just a trigger, if it smells like this, or it smells like that, or it smells unfamiliar, spit it out. If it tastes this unfamiliar, or has this taste or that tastes, but it I have a whole spit it out, you can have a whole catalogue of smells, tastes and appearances, that that lead to avoid food avoidance, and that would be fixed action patterns or algorithms. But instead, we have a much more vague more general, kind of a structure through emotion where, if it’s a little bit weird, smelling, tasting, or looking, this is a very general rule, then you question it, you don’t necessarily sometimes you spit it out immediately, depending on the strength of the signal. But, but what it does is instead of that it gives you instead of automatically taking action, it gives you this extra layer where your conscious mind your rational thinking can mix with your emotion. And you might consider should I spit it out? Or not? Or should I? Should I eat it? How hungry I might? How likely? Is this to be rotten? Is it just an off smell? Is the milk still good, I won’t get sick from it and I need some milk, or should I spit it out. So you have that extra layer of analysis that can happen, you have a more generalized form of the trigger, you have this extra layer of analysis, and then you have the action to spit it out or not to spit it out or whatever it is. And so each emotion is tailored for a certain kind of situation, to give you to react more generally gives you the flexibility to then decide what action to take based on that generalized trigger. And then to take the appropriate action but it’s much more nuanced and complex.
James Taylor 18:52
So I guess that kind of thinking about in terms of machines about how they’re trying to see artificial intelligence trying to make them more human like or centers or you know, in different ways. And I think about I was I was driving somewhere the other day and there was the piece of music came on. It was Vagner Richard Wagner, it Tristan in assault, it was a very dramatic piece. And my wife and I were just driving we came up this hill and this came on and it’s like this is very dramatic music. And that and as I was listening to I was thinking you probably also know that they can a history of Richard Wagner’s very dubious background to him as a human being. But and I was listening to it though and I was thinking will a machine ever create a music as as elevated as this with these emotions? Because that requires it? Surely it requires someone to have the inner skin, maybe hatred in them, love have lost someone greed, disgust, all these kind of vain gnarly things which aren’t in There’s kind of six very defined sections. So is, how is it possible to train a machine on that when we all have these very, you know, there’s kind of very gray type of emotions in our lives?
Leonard Mlodinow 20:13
Well, that’s really a really good question. And there are computers now that can that can compose music, that sound like certain composers, so for example, Mozart or Bach now, and the way those work is programmers have studied the music of Bach and Mozart figured out what somehow the, the principles are to the, to their sound. And they put those into the computer and say, make up sounds that are obeyed, that are made up according to these principles and put them together, string them together and make a piece and from I haven’t heard any, but I’ve read about them. And I hear that they sound they sound somewhat like those.
James Taylor 21:00
They’re very, very similar. But did you Yes, but it’s the button.
Motivation And Emotions
Leonard Mlodinow 21:05
So here’s the but that is not. That’s not creativity, that is not art. Yeah, that is kind of I would call that copying a painting. So the person who said I used I paint, and I used to go to museums and paint, copy a painting, right, and that that, that the computers can do huge jump from that to creating something original. To create something original. Now we get to what you were saying you need first of all motivation to do it. The computer that creates the box, let’s say, didn’t decide wake up in the morning, go I feel like composing, I want something new, I’m going to you know, I’m going to create a new piece know, the programmer push the button that said create and the thing to dutifully does it and then when it’s done according to whatever the program says, When you’re done, it turns, it’s finished and it stops calculating, right? Humans don’t do that. You have your own motivational system inside, you’re very closely related to your to your emotions. And the ideas that you get coming from your unconscious mind, as we discussed earlier, which are always percolating, those are heavily influenced by your motion. So just as you said, forget a computer to create something original. And really artistic, we will require that the computer have motivation, its own motivation and emotional system, which drives it to create it and shapes what it’s creating. So I so right now, there’s a revolution going on in computer science, which I’m sure everyone here has heard of the deep learning neural network programming. So what that is, is a new way of programming computers, that’s more like our brain works. The old way of programming computers is you write an algorithm, it’s a recipe if this if this happens, do that, if this data is so is like this, do that if the data is different to that, and when you combine the data, you do something else, and you get this, do that, and so on. It’s like a decision tree that’s fixed, that’s designed by the programmer, the programmer creates the architecture, and the computer executes it, step by step, neural network is totally different. In neural network programming, you take the elements of the of the computer, and you set it up so that the computer is doing something very complicated, where all the different components are connected, and they talk to each other. And at the end, if it’s successful, it gets a certain reward that reinforces what it was doing. And if it’s unsuccessful, it goes the other way, kind of like evolution. And he lets the computer goes through millions and millions of such trials, and it gets better and better just like a human baby learning something. And when it’s done, there’s all these circuits that are made from you know, within the this neural network that go from whatever the initial situation is to the answer. The program doesn’t even know what it’s doing any more than you know what your brain is doing when you solve a problem. But the computer is solving the problem. This is just in its infancy right now. And I don’t know if a computer physical computer ever get to be like our brain because we have 100 billion neurons, and they don’t have that many components. But my belief is that this before you ever get a computer that can really do creative work. It’s going to have to develop emotions. And we might not, we’re not going to put in emotions, we’re going to be building very complex neural networks that are doing something and as they evolve, I believe that that in certain cases they will evolve in a manner that has what really looks like emotions, just like we evolved to have emotions, but there are no seats there’s no specific places where there’s an emotion component in your brain. It’s all different parts of the brain working together to create these emotional experiences. And that’s what’s gonna happen in the neural networks to I think if they get far enough,
James Taylor 24:53
but I do want to if the bridge on this is what some like a Garry Kasparov we talk about Centaur Centaur chess players human chess players playing alongside AI. And they’re stronger than the human chess player playing on their own. And also stronger AI working on its own because it combines our human ability to be creative to take on huge returns to be curious think in a slightly different strategic way. And the machine’s ability to be tactical. And I think about that, and I think about something like in Japan and the Lexus cars that come off the factory there, they have these people called to Kumys. The I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of this wonderful phrase is Japanese trees, where this is a car factory, they make some of the most complex machines on the planet, machines, robotics, artificial intelligence, machine learning all this amazing stuff. But there’s still these people that sit and stand at the end of the line of the production line, who are called to Kumys. Who the equivalent is on a Malcolm Gladwell said 10,000 hours to do in your profession, these people have done 25,000 hours and more. These are the some of the most skilled engineers have worked in cars. And their job at the end is just to walk around the car, touching the car, feeling the car, and they can spot these minut things that wing mirrors just slightly off or that that that line doesn’t quite doesn’t quite go, which even the machines aren’t able to gauge. And when you ask them, What are they doing? They would they said, Well, I can’t really describe what I’m doing. I feel it. I feel that this is that is off. And I feel that it’s not that line should be and I feel that that leather edging is not quite as it shouldn’t be. So I do wonder if in the meantime, before we get to the machines taking over the world, well, there’ll be a little bit more this kind of Centaur play.
Leonard Mlodinow 26:38
Well, that would make sense. There’s computers right now they don’t they ate us. And there weren’t when I write a book, it’s me and the computer writing the book. Yeah. Other computers. You know, when I started out in physics, for example, and I’m a theoretical physicist, I would go to the library and have to have to page through these journals to find related articles. And, and I would have to do all sorts of hand calculations and that today are done can be done on the computer, I can figure out what needs to be done. And so you, you go over there your computer, do this calculation or find this paper. So right now I feel very, and when I write my books, as I said, my research was done on the computer, and so is of course, the typing. So I’m very much interface with my computer as I’m doing my work.
James Taylor 27:23
So we’re almost like hearing this like long ago, maybe maybe it’s going too far, but kind of creative pairing. Jobs and Wozniak, Pierre and Marie Curie. And in the computer, yeah, your computer. And I’m thinking, you know, you mentioned the book of the physicist, Paul Dirac, about how a woman called Mansi, I think, acted as his antiparticle. So can you tell us a little bit about with this idea of the anti particle and, and also in your collaborations, you’ve had very successful collaborations with other scientists, other writers, how this kind of creative pairings worked, what is what has been the nature of those pairings?
Leonard Mlodinow 27:59
Well, in the rocks case, he was a person who is apparently are seemingly outwardly very unemotional. And he felt uncomfortable around other people interacting with them. And he was, by the way, one of the top physicists of all time and sort of the 20th century, but also of all time, and one of the creators of quantum theory particular, what we would call relative role combining relativity with quantum theory to allow us to create theories, elementary particles that all those big colliders study. And so he was a he was a major physicist in the 20th century. And what he really didn’t, he really didn’t understand or have very much emotional intelligence until he met this woman who turned him around really, and made him appreciate, feel, and be more in touch with his emotional life, which was 50, which is very important in all our lives. But what really touched me was, said something to me was something I read in a biography of of Dirac, which, which was that in his later years when people came up to him, and he asked, What’s your key for being so successful in physics? And you would think you would be saying no to really, and he was known to be a very fine mathematician, you know, to understand the math to be very precise and not sloppy, or maybe to be intuitive, because that’s important. But know what he said was, it’s to always be guided by your emotions. And I thought, bingo, that’s the message of my book as well. And to come from him who is known or thought to be so unemotional and a field that’s thought to be so unemotional is was something very important and the reason is that okay, in physics, what you do a lot of the time is crank through mathematics, which is very well defined and and you’re following rules and figuring things out but that That’s just one part of the process, you also have to decide what problem to choose, for example, you have to decide usually what approximations to make because we can’t solve anything exactly. You have to decide what assumptions to make. And in all these areas that are not the pure rules of mathematics, your feelings and your emotions are very important. And that’s the same in life. That’s what your emotions do for you your emotion. Each emotion corresponds to a state a mental state of mental state of your mental information processing, give your brain some data, and a question it will process through to the answer. But that processing was made the logical rational processing is not in a vacuum, you use your memories, your goals, your ideas, your past experiences, your hopes, and dreams, all that feeds into whatever processing you’re doing. It’s not, it’s never done in a vacuum that affects the processing. And all that stuff is very heavily influenced by your emotion state. So your emotion state is like it, it’s intertwined with your logical reasoning. And each emotion state is it gives you a different set of priorities of skepticisms, and so forth that affect the outcome. If you if I asked you to do to think like, I’m thinking I’m looking at getting a vacation house now. So there’s a lot of data coming to me the price, the average price per square foot around the interest rates, what’s going to happen to the economy in the world, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. If I’m in a, in a anxious of motional state, I will take make, I will, I will give more weight to the pessimistic side of those things. If I’m in a happy, joyous state, I will give more weight to the optimistic side could come to a totally different price at the end that I’m willing to pay. So
James Taylor 31:52
So here’s, here’s a question for you on that. Because you mentioned this in the book. And it was one of those little mind things I’ve heard I said to my wife, if I was the agent trying to get you to buy trying to make you to make that decision on buying that property. Does the temperature of the room that you’re in or the place you’re in have an effect? Yeah.
Leonard Mlodinow 32:12
Great. Okay, because we react to our environment around us. Very strongly. We’re a couples that after all, when we evolved, we were very dependent on that we like warm temperatures, we like we don’t like to shiver and chill. We like the sun. There’s a great series of great studies on the stock market. It was done in the 90s before everything got computerized where people everything depended really on human traders. And they found that they looked at the days and different stock exchanges around the world, not just the New York Stock Exchange, they look at the the movements of the stocks on sunny days, versus overcast days. And they found I forget what the percentage was, but there was like a 20% better performance on sunny days than an overcast day. Because the traders who are constantly making decisions about the value of things without realizing it, we’re more willing to pay sunny days and less willing on the on the on the overcast day. So yes, it does.
James Taylor 33:11
So I hope you’ll read the real estate agents not listening to this. Just now he’s gonna you can influence your emotions up and you’ve had all these different relationships with other great kind of thinkers as well. So what did you think in that in those pairings for this? You mentioned? Deepak Chopra, Stephen Hawking, I think you’ve done with the Steven Spielberg and in the past as well, what come on Star Trek. When those people have come to you to work with you, what what they look for new, what have you added to that relationship that they couldn’t perhaps have done on their own? And you’ve really, the sum has been greater than the individual parts?
Leonard Mlodinow 33:50
Well, you know, it. It varies. Just as in any relationship, you can have people who are the opposites who complement each other. You can have people who are the same, who reinforce each other was Steven Spielberg. I made a computer game. I knew the technology I had, I had a story background from being in Hollywood, of course, nothing like him. But so we could work together with Deepak Chopra. I love Depop. We’ve become great friends, I would disagree on the I would, how the world works. We agree I think and humanity and I think he has great ideas about meditation and inter personal relationships. I don’t agree with him on the universe, debating each other about where did the universe come from? What is consciousness? So we in that sense, we were
James Taylor 34:39
it was a bookmark a conversation of two different people.
Leonard Mlodinow 34:44
It was called War of the worldviews and it was a debate. So we would go back and we were, I think, 20 questions and we would go back and forth about those questions. With Steven, we were on the same wavelength. So we I think we reinforce each other He, He loves stories and I was always bringing stories. And he, you know, he, he was interested in explaining his physics, I could help translate that for ordinary people help him to do that. Maybe because not being as brilliant as him, I could be play the dumber person who needs to have the explanations. And yet I could read his paper, so I could figure out what he was talking about. And so that was, that was very rewarding. And of course, I was also, you know, his hands because he can’t move. I mean, he, he wrote a lot of it himself and rewrote, and he was quite a perfectionist. So we would sit together and slog through things, but you know, his, his ability to communicate was extremely restricted. So I could, in some ways, help him by, you know, by doing that,
James Taylor 35:51
so on this, you wouldn’t so much translate, you can maybe an interpreter of that helping in terms of widen that out to, you knew that?
Leonard Mlodinow 35:59
Yeah, we really worked together. And it’s hard to say, who wrote what in that book, because we went back I would be I was at Caltech on the faculty at the time. And so we would send stuff back and forth, and then we would meet. And he would rewrite mine, I would be right here, as we argued about a lot and thought over things.
James Taylor 36:17
A bit of tension. So it’s always a good thing there as well. At the towards the end of the book, you shared a, I think one of the most moving stories in the book. So for me, I thought was an incredibly powerful story about your father’s time as a prisoner and the book involve concentration camp and how when the camp was was liberated, he was able to restrain himself from gorging himself on food. I’m every Christmas I watch band of brothers, and it has one of the episodes in that studio, which has him going to one of these camps and this terrible thing with the soldiers that I have to stop the prisoners from giving them too much food gorging himself as well. So and he was in that same camp with other people, I think maybe your uncle, his uncle, who was not able to and so is this something your point? Like, why was your father able to hold back, you know, strain those kind of emotions and not gorge himself when maybe other people weren’t able to do that and suffered as a result of it?
Leonard Mlodinow 37:18
Yes, as he was with, I think a friend of his who actually died from eating too much. And because when you my father was 85 pounds at the time, where he was normally 160. And then they were hiding for several days in a cellar when Americans were coming to liberate the place because the Nazis were killing everyone and take them on death marches and whatnot. And so they managed to hide without food or water for several days. So they come up, having not had food or water for several days, and again, being half their normal body weight. And then the Americans are going here, have some chocolate, have some salami, whatever you want. And, and your, I guess your digestive system can’t can’t take that. I don’t know, what, where my father found history strain or what he was thinking, the point of the story was that are we evolved in a certain environment. And that part of the book, I’m talking about addiction, and your reward system, and how it can get fooled and be counterproductive, sometimes in artificial or unusual situations. And this was course was an extreme unusual situation. And your body leads itself to eat itself to death, which is unfortunate, to say the least, that I transitioned from there, though, to talk about the modern world where we have something that certainly not as gruesome or as extreme, but something similar analogous going on with a lot of the food manufacturers of processed food, trying to design food that will trick your body into gorging itself and buying it and not stop eating. And they, they’re proud of it, but the ads, they can stop eating out we can’t eat just one and so forth. That’s not a good thing. Yeah, you might think that it’s, you know, it sounds like Oh, I’m gonna love it, but you become addicted and you never get satisfied and they do this, they’re in the field, it’s called supernormal stimuli, these are stimuli that that cause you to get certain rewards in your brain, that in a natural world are self limited. So, the way sugar appears in the natural world is not the way it appears in Coca Cola and sugar and fat do not appear as cheesecake in the natural world and so forth and are and these companies are designing the cheesecake and their soft drinks for to, to do two things to to please you and to not and to never satisfy you. And by using making combinations of things chemicals and fat and sugar in a way that is not found in nature, they they are able to trick your system into the you know, making you eat till you too you explode. And also that I’ve been similar with other tobacco, similar tobacco companies, when they make their cigarettes, they put chemicals in to give them certain properties that make it more addictive. If you’re in the wild, and you just pick some tobacco leaves and rolled up in some way and smoke it, that’s not nearly as harmful as smoking cigarette after cigarette, which we can do.
James Taylor 40:24
So they’re becoming become very good at manipulating your emotions. You know, I think I heard the other day, I think a lot of the social media companies, they have more behavioral psychologists than any any kind of university could possibly have as well. So it’s a fantastic I love love that reading the book as well. And I had to ask you, you know, there’s, you’ve written this book, you’ve, you’ve got this wide range of other things that you’ve worked on as well, we only covered a tiny segment of some of the things that you’ve done. How do you keep your own thinking? Fresh? How, what influence did you try to surround yourself with so you always can think of maybe where that next book idea that next project idea can come from?
Leonard Mlodinow 41:04
Yeah, I talk about that a lot. And elastic, it’s how do you keep your creativity or stimulate your creativity, you have to constantly be challenging yourself and exposing yourself to new ideas to new people to new experiences, it’s really important not to get in a rut. Most of us live in a in our own little cocoon world where we have friends that we’ve had for years that we may have met, probably through our kids through our spouses in a restaurant or wherever you meet people at work, people who are like you, and you stay with them, and you’re in his own little world. And you have little contact with people who do things that are wildly different from your different socio economic class, different races, different nationalities, different ways of thinking or living. And our thinking gets to be that way to you. You think in a certain way. I’m when I was working for TV I wrote for Star Trek and MacGyver, which you might expect as a physicist, but those that were much different than that that did not, you know, cop shows, I wrote for I wrote comedy, people said, nobody writes comedy and drama. But I said, well, and I can get twice as much work if I do both. So you know, I’m always trying to do that not to get in a rut, I don’t think that, you know, it’s good to be. I mean, if you like it, it is but even for me, I don’t want to be the I’m on the science shows, or I’m on the cop shows. That’s what I do, I want to expand my mind. So I when I, when I go to a bar, I try to talk to people who are most different from me, or if you’re, you know, meet someone at a bus stop. It’s interesting to interact with people that normally would meet break out of the shell, there’s a guy I can’t remember his name, who actually developed an app that was in the news a few years ago, this is a great app. Instead of just going to your favorite restaurant or your favorite bar, he developed, which people do he, if you want to really stretch yourself, where you have an adventure, he developed an app where you type in a radius, and it’ll pick a place at random, and you say, I’m going to go to wherever it pick, whatever the thing that picks, and instead of going to your usual sushi place, you know, you might end up at a Somali restaurant or something and you maybe you don’t normally go for that food, but go for it. When I go to restaurants, people they tell you, here’s what’s popular, I say what’s unpopular? What’s the weirdest thing on the menu, because that’s what attracts me. And sometimes it’s no good. But you know, in the in the scheme of things, it expands your horizons and helps your creative thinking to be exposed to such things.
James Taylor 43:34
And we mentioned it during the interviewer your use of technology. We talked about things that AI machine learning neural networks. Is there any technology that you use, you find it as useful helps me free up your time to do your creative work or augment your creative work in some way?
Leonard Mlodinow 43:48
Well, the all the usual things. Of course, Google has changed things tremendously. Allowing you allows me to find my stories that might be written in some obscure Australian newspaper from 1974. And I’ll find it the word processing software, of course, I think back to how different I imagined I wonder sometimes it’s some sociologists who study books, both novels and nonfiction that were done, let’s say post 1990 and pre 1980 When When he used to write without a computer editing was so harsh, right? Yeah, copying and pasting drawing arrows using whiteout. If you’re old enough to remember what that is, compared to what you can do on a computer today, I can I am, I am a perfectionist in my writing and I’m revised over and over and over and over again and I can’t imagine doing that paper if I didn’t have my computer to allow me to cut and paste and cut and paste and keep doing it and to keep all my old versions. So if I screw it up, I can always revert. That’s for me as a as a as a godsend. And with the latest stuff that I like, of course is the voice to speech, voice to text and I’ll have my my phone with me, and I’ll get it, you know, I’ll just I’ll be walking down the street and get like an idea for a paragraph and I’ll just type it in by talking. And then I’ll just email it to myself and copy it in. So it’s, it’s great. It’s taken a lot of the Drudge drudgery out of it.
James Taylor 45:18
Well, I look forward to your next book after this. But I encourage you all to go and get emotional the new thinking about feelings. Leonard’s modern Al’s new book. Lana, thank you so much for coming on and sharing your story and all about emotions on the SuperCreativity podcast.
Leonard Mlodinow 45:34
That has been Firefly hold up my work because of
James Taylor 45:37
that we can’t because we’ve got the two different versions
Leonard Mlodinow 45:39
battling versions there. But that one if you’re in the States, get this one. Or if you’re in other non US countries. I think you got it.
James Taylor 45:49
Thank you. You can subscribe to the SuperCreativity podcast on Spotify, Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts while you’re there. Leave us leave us a review. I would really, really appreciate it. I’m James Taylor, and you’ve been listening to the SuperCreativity podcast.