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Transcript for Paul Rosolie: Jungle, Apex Predators, Aliens, Uncontacted Tribes, and God | Lex Fridman Podcast #429

This is a transcript of Lex Fridman Podcast #429 with Paul Rosolie.
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Introduction

Lex Fridman
(00:00:00)
Where are we right now, Paul?
Paul Rosolie
(00:00:02)
Lex, we are in the middle of nowhere.
Lex Fridman
(00:00:06)
It’s the Amazon jungle. There’s vegetation, there’s insects, there’s all kinds of creatures. A million heartbeats, a million eyes. So really, where are we right now?
Paul Rosolie
(00:00:15)
We are in Peru, in a very remote part of the Western Amazon basin. And because of the proximity of the Andean Cloud Forest to the lowland tropical rainforest, we are in the most bio-diverse part of planet Earth. There is more life per square acre, per square mile out here than there is anywhere else on Earth, not just now, but in the entire fossil record.
Lex Fridman
(00:00:40)
The following is a conversation with Paul Rosolie, his second time on the podcast, but this time we did the conversation deep in the Amazon jungle. I traveled there to hang out with Paul and it turned out to be an adventure of a lifetime. I’ll post a video capturing some aspects of that adventure, in a week or so. It included everything, from getting lost in dense, unexplored wilderness with no contact to the outside world, to taking very high doses of ayahuasca and much more. Paul, by the way, aside from being my good friend, is a naturalist, explorer, author, and is someone who has dedicated his life to protecting the rainforest. For this mission, he founded Jungle Keepers. You can help him, if you go to junglekeepers.org.

(00:01:37)
This trip, for me, was life-changing. It expanded my understanding of myself and of the beautiful world I’m fortunate to exist in with all of you. So I’m glad I went and I’m glad I made it out alive. This is a Lex Fridman podcast, to support it, please check out our sponsors in the description. And now, dear friends, here’s Paul Rosolie.

Amazon jungle


(00:02:07)
I can’t believe we’re actually here.
Paul Rosolie
(00:02:09)
I can’t believe you actually came.
Lex Fridman
(00:02:10)
And I can’t believe you forced me to wear a suit.
Paul Rosolie
(00:02:13)
That was the people’s choice, trust me.
Lex Fridman
(00:02:15)
All right. We’ve been through quite a lot over the last few days.
Paul Rosolie
(00:02:19)
We’ve been through a bit.
Lex Fridman
(00:02:21)
Let me ask you a ridiculous question. What are all the creatures right now, if they wanted to, could cause us harm?
Paul Rosolie
(00:02:30)
The thing is, the Amazon rainforest has been described as the greatest natural battlefield on Earth, because there’s more life here than anywhere else, which means that everything here is fighting for survival. The trees are fighting for sunlight, the animals are fighting for prey, everybody’s fighting for survival. And so everything that you see here, everything around us, will be killed, eaten, digested, recycled at some point. The jungle is really just a giant churning machine of death and life is kind of this moment of stasis, where you maintain this collection of cells in a particular DNA sequence and then it gets digested again and recycled back and renamed into everything.

(00:03:09)
And so the things in this forest, while they don’t want to hurt us, there are things that are heavily defended, because, for instance, a giant anteater needs claws to fight off a jaguar. A stingray needs a stinger on its tail, which is basically a serrated knife with venom on it, to deter anything that would hunt that stingray. Even the catfish have pectoral fins that have razor-long, steak-knife sized defense systems. Then you, of course, the jaguars, the harp eagles, the piranha, the candiru fish that can swim up a penis, lodge themselves inside, it’s the Amazon rainforest. The thing is, as you’ve learned this week, nothing here wants to get us, with the exception of, maybe, mosquitoes. Every other animal just wants to eat and exist in peace, that’s it.
Lex Fridman
(00:03:57)
But each of those animals, like you described, have a kind of radius of defense.
Paul Rosolie
(00:04:03)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(00:04:03)
So if you accidentally step into its home-
Paul Rosolie
(00:04:08)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(00:04:08)
Into that radius, it can cause harm.
Paul Rosolie
(00:04:10)
Or make them feel threatened.
Lex Fridman
(00:04:12)
Make them feel threatened. There is a defense mechanism that is activated.
Paul Rosolie
(00:04:15)
Some incredible defense mechanism, I mean, you’re talking about 17-foot black caiman crocodiles with significant size, that could rip you in half. Anacondas, the largest snake on Earth, bushmasters that can grow up to be nine to, I think even 11- feet long. And I’ve caught bushmasters that are thicker than my arms.

Bushmaster snakes

Lex Fridman
(00:04:33)
So for people who don’t know, bushmaster snakes, what are these things?
Paul Rosolie
(00:04:36)
These are vipers, I believe it’s the largest viper on Earth.
Lex Fridman
(00:04:40)
Venomous?
Paul Rosolie
(00:04:40)
Extremely venomous, with hinge teeth, tissue destroying venom. Like if you get bitten by a bushmaster, they say you don’t rush and try and save your own life, you try to savor what’s around you, look around at the world, smoke your last cigarette, call your mom, that’s it.
Lex Fridman
(00:04:57)
So that moment of stasis, that is life, is going to end abruptly, when you interact with one of those.
Paul Rosolie
(00:05:02)
Yeah, I even have, even this seemingly-
Lex Fridman
(00:05:07)
Can I just pause at how incredibly beautiful it is, that you could just reach to your right and grab a piece of the jungle.
Paul Rosolie
(00:05:14)
It’s like even this seemingly beautiful little fern. If you go this way on the fern, you’re fine, as soon as, ou, as soon as you go this way-
Lex Fridman
(00:05:20)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(00:05:20)
There’s invisible little spikes on there, if you want to.
Lex Fridman
(00:05:25)
Oh, I see.
Paul Rosolie
(00:05:25)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(00:05:25)
I feel it.
Paul Rosolie
(00:05:26)
See that? It’s like everything is defended. If you’re driving on the road and you have your arm out the side, or if you’re on a motorcycle going through-
Lex Fridman
(00:05:26)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(00:05:31)
The jungle and you get one of these, it’ll just tear all the skin right off your body. It’s kind of doing that to me now.
Lex Fridman
(00:05:37)
So what would you do? Like we were going through the dense jungle yesterday, and you slide down the hill, your foot slips, you sliding down-
Paul Rosolie
(00:05:37)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(00:05:46)
And then you find yourself staring, a couple feet away from a bushmaster snake, what are you doing? You’re, for people who somehow don’t know, are somebody who loves, admires snakes, who has met thousands of snakes, has worked with them, respects them, celebrates them. What would you do with a bushmaster snake, face-to-face?
Paul Rosolie
(00:06:07)
Face-to-face, this has happened, I have been there.
Lex Fridman
(00:06:11)
It’s nice.
Paul Rosolie
(00:06:12)
I’ve come face-to-face with a bushmaster and there’s two reactions that you might get. One is, if the bushmaster decides that it’s vacation time, if it’s sleeping, if he just had a meal, they’ll come to the edges of trails or beneath a tree and they’ll just circle up, little spiral, big spiral, big pile of snake on the trail and they’ll just sit there. And one time there was a snake sitting on the side of a trail beneath a tree, for two weeks, this snake was just sitting there resting, digesting it’s food, out in the open, in the rain, in the sun, in the night, didn’t matter. You go near it, barely even crack a tongue.

(00:06:46)
Now, the other option, is that you get a bushmaster that’s alert and hunting and out looking for something to eat and they’re ready to defend themselves. And so I once came across a bushmaster in the jungle, at night, and this bushmaster turned its head towards me, looked at me and made it very clear, “I’m going to go this way.” And so I did the natural thing that any snake enthusiast would do, and I grabbed its tail. Now, 11-feet later, by the head, the snake turned around and just said, “If you want to meet God, I can arrange the meeting. I will oblige.” And I decided to let the bushmaster go. And so it’s like that with most animals, a Jaguar will turn and look at you and just remind you of how small you are.
Lex Fridman
(00:07:24)
Like what did you see-
Paul Rosolie
(00:07:24)
“Keep going.”
Lex Fridman
(00:07:25)
In the snake’s eyes? How did you sense that this is going to be your end if you’d proceed?
Paul Rosolie
(00:07:32)
His readiness. I wanted to get him by the tail and show him to the people that were there and maybe work with the snake a little bit. As an 11-foot snake, the snake turned around and made it very clear like, “Not today, pal, it’s not going to happen.”
Lex Fridman
(00:07:44)
Is it in the eyes, in the movement, in the tension of the body?
Paul Rosolie
(00:07:47)
It was the movement and the S of the neck. It was as if you pushed me-
Lex Fridman
(00:07:51)
[inaudible 00:07:51].
Paul Rosolie
(00:07:51)
And I went, “Let’s go, make my day.”
Lex Fridman
(00:07:52)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(00:07:53)
Like he just looked a little bit too-
Lex Fridman
(00:07:55)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(00:07:55)
Too ready. He was like, “I love this.”
Lex Fridman
(00:07:57)
Okay, all right. So you know.
Paul Rosolie
(00:08:00)
You just know, whereas like the snake you met last night.
Lex Fridman
(00:08:03)
Yeah, beautiful snake.
Paul Rosolie
(00:08:04)
Such a calm little thing, he just focuses on eating baby lizards and little snails and things. And that snake has no concept of defending itself, it has no way to defend itself. So even something the size of a blue jay, could just come and just pa, pa, pa, peck that thing in the head and swallow it and it’s a helpless little snake. So it kind of depends on the animal, it depends on the mood you catch them in, each one has a different temperament.
Lex Fridman
(00:08:25)
The grace of its movement was mesmerizing, curious almost. Maybe I’m anthropomorphizing, projecting onto it, but it was-
Paul Rosolie
(00:08:32)
The tongue flicking was a sign of curiosity, it was trying to figure out what was going on. It was like, “Why am I on this treadmill of human skin?” They’re just trying to get to the next thing, trying to get hidden, trying to get away from the light.
Lex Fridman
(00:08:42)
Also, the texture of the scales was really fascinating, I mean, it’s my first-
Paul Rosolie
(00:08:45)
[inaudible 00:08:45].
Lex Fridman
(00:08:45)
It’s the first snake I’ve ever touched, it’s so interesting, it was just such an incredible system of muscles that are all interacting together to make that kind of movement work and all the texture of its skin of its scales. What do you love about snakes? From my first experience with a snake to all the thousands of experiences you had with snakes, what do you love about these creatures?
Paul Rosolie
(00:09:07)
I think, when you just spoke about it, that’s the first snake you’ve met and it was a tiny little snake in the jungle and you spoke about it with so much light in your eyes. And I think that because we’ve been programmed to be scared of snakes, there’s something wondrous that happens in our brain. Maybe it’s just this joy of discovery that there’s nothing to be scared of. And whether it’s a rattlesnake that is dangerous and that you need to give distance to, but you look at it from a distance and you go, “Whoa.” Or it’s a harmless little grass snake that you can pick up and enjoy and give to a child. They’re just these strange legless animals that just exist, they don’t even have eyelids, they’re so different than us. They have a tongue that senses the air, and they, to me, are so beautiful.

(00:09:53)
And I’ve, my whole life, been defending snakes from humans and they seem misunderstood, I think they’re incredibly beautiful. There’s every color and variety of snakes, there’s venomous snakes, there’s tree snakes, there’s huge, crushing anacondas, it’s just… Of the 2,600 species of snakes that exist on Earth, there’s just such beauty, such complexity and such simplicity. To me, I feel like I’m friend with snake and-
Lex Fridman
(00:10:23)
Okay.
Paul Rosolie
(00:10:23)
They rely on me to protect them from my people.
Lex Fridman
(00:10:27)
Friend with snake.
Paul Rosolie
(00:10:28)
Me friend snake.
Lex Fridman
(00:10:29)
Me friend snake. You said some of them are sometimes aggressive, some of them are peaceful. Is this a mood thing, a personality thing, a species thing? What is it?
Paul Rosolie
(00:10:39)
So as far as I know, there’s only really two snakes on Earth that could be aggressive, because aggression indicates offense. And so a reticulated python has been documented as eating humans, anacondas, although while it hasn’t been publicized, they have eaten humans. Every single other snake, from boa constrictor, to bushmaster, to spitting cobra, to grass snake, to garter snake, to everything else, every single other snake does not want to interact with you. They have no interest. So there’s no such thing as an aggressive snake once you get outside of an anaconda and reticulated python.

(00:11:13)
Aggression, could be trying to eat you, that’s predation, but for every other snake, a rattlesnake, if it was there, would either go escape and hide itself or it would rattle its tail and tell us, “Don’t come closer.” A cobra will hood up and begin to hiss and say, “Don’t approach me, I’m asking you nicely, not to mess with me.” And most other snakes are fast or they stay in the trees or they’re extremely camouflage, but their whole MO is just, “Don’t bother me. I don’t want to be seen, I don’t want to be messed with. In fact, all I want to do is be left alone and once in a while I just want to eat.” And by the way, when you see a snake drink, your heart will break. It’s the only thing that’s cuter than a puppy, like watching a snake touch its mouth to water and you just see that little mouth going as they suck water in. And it’s just so adorable watching this scaled animal just be like, “I need water.”
Lex Fridman
(00:12:03)
In a state of vulnerability.
Paul Rosolie
(00:12:05)
Yeah, yeah.
Lex Fridman
(00:12:06)
But bro, there’s nothing cuter than a little puppy with a tongue like slurp, slurp.
Paul Rosolie
(00:12:10)
A baby ball python.
Lex Fridman
(00:12:11)
All right.
Paul Rosolie
(00:12:11)
Baby king cobra, man.
Lex Fridman
(00:12:12)
It’s a take your-
Paul Rosolie
(00:12:13)
Baby elephant.
Lex Fridman
(00:12:14)
So what, they’re like at a puddle and they just take it in?
Paul Rosolie
(00:12:17)
They can be at a puddle and they just take it in. Or one time in India, I was with a snake rescuer and we found this nine-foot king cobra, this God of a snake.
Lex Fridman
(00:12:17)
Oh, yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(00:12:25)
Ophiophagus hannah, is their Latin name and they’re snake eaters, they’re the king of the snakes, the largest venomous snake. And the people that called the snake rescuer, ’cause that’s a profession in India, it had gotten into their kitchen or their backyard. And so we showed up and we got the snake and the snake rescuer, he knew, he looked at the snake and he went, to me, he said, “Why do you think the snake would go in a house?” And he was quizzing me. And I actually went, “I don’t know, is it warm? Is it cold? Like sometimes cats like to go into the warm cars, in the winter.” And he was like, “It’s thirsty.” He goes, “Watch this.”

(00:13:01)
And he took a water bottle, poured it over the, now, the snake is standing up. The snake stands up three-feet tall, this is a huge king cobra with a hood, terrifying snake to be around. He leans over to the snake and the snake is standing there trusting him. And he takes a water bottle and pours it onto the snake’s nose and the snake turns up its nose and just starts drinking from the water bottle. Human giving water to snake, big scary snake, but this human understood, snake gets water, snake gets released in jungle, everybody is okay.
Lex Fridman
(00:13:30)
Okay, so sometimes the needs are simple, they just don’t have the words to communicate them to us humans.
Paul Rosolie
(00:13:36)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(00:13:37)
And is it disinterest or is it fear, almost like they don’t notice this? Or is it, we’re a source, the unknown aspect of it, the uncertainty, is a source of danger?
Paul Rosolie
(00:13:48)
Well, animals live in a constant state of danger. Like if you look at that deer that we saw last night, it’s-
Lex Fridman
(00:13:53)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(00:13:53)
Stalking through the jungle wondering what’s going to eat it, wondering if this is the last moment it’s going to be alive. And it’s like animals are constantly terrified of, that this is their last moment.
Lex Fridman
(00:14:02)
Oh, yeah, just for the listener. We’re walking through the jungle late at night, and so it’s darkness except our headlamps on and then all of a sudden Paul stops, he’s like, “Shh.” And he looks in the distance and he sees two eyes, I think you thought, “Is that a jaguar or is that a deer?” And it was moving its head like this.
Paul Rosolie
(00:14:22)
Uh-huh.
Lex Fridman
(00:14:23)
Like scared or maybe trying to localize itself, trying to figure out-
Paul Rosolie
(00:14:26)
Trying to see around the-
Lex Fridman
(00:14:29)
You’re doing the same to it.
Paul Rosolie
(00:14:30)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(00:14:30)
The two of you like moving your head.
Paul Rosolie
(00:14:32)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(00:14:33)
And like deep into the jungle, like I don’t know-
Paul Rosolie
(00:14:36)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(00:14:37)
It’s pretty far away, through the trees you could still see it.
Paul Rosolie
(00:14:37)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(00:14:37)
That’s fascinating.
Paul Rosolie
(00:14:40)
30-feet or so, yeah.
Lex Fridman
(00:14:41)
That’s the thing to actually mention, I mean, with the headlamp, you see the reflection in their eyes.
Paul Rosolie
(00:14:45)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(00:14:46)
It’s kind of incredible-
Paul Rosolie
(00:14:47)
Yes.
Lex Fridman
(00:14:48)
To see a creature, to try to identify a creature by just the reflection from its eyes.
Paul Rosolie
(00:14:52)
Yeah. And so the cats, sometimes, you’ll get like a greenish or a bluish glow from the cats. The deer are usually white to orange, caiman, orange, nightjars, orange, snakes can usually be like orange, moths, spiders, sparkle. And so as you walk through the jungle, you can see all these different eyes. And when something large looks at you like that deer did, your first thing is, what animal is this that I am staring back at? Because through the light you see the bright light off the leaves. And I couldn’t tell at first, because that actually, those big bright eyes, it could have been an ocelot, could have been a jaguar, could have been a deer. And then when it did this movement, that’s what the cats do, they try to see around your light. I thought maybe Lex Fridman’s here, we’re going to get lucky, it’s going to be a jag right off trail.
Lex Fridman
(00:15:41)
Your definition of lucky is a complicated one.
Paul Rosolie
(00:15:43)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(00:15:43)
It’s a fascinating process when you see those two eyes trying to figure out what it is and it is trying to figure out what you are, that process. Let’s talk about caiman.
Paul Rosolie
(00:15:44)
Sure.

Black caiman

Lex Fridman
(00:15:53)
We’ve seen a lot of different kinds of sizes, we’ve seen a baby one, a bigger one. Tell me about these 16-foot plus, apex predators of the Amazon rainforest.
Paul Rosolie
(00:16:03)
The big bad black caiman, which is the largest reptilian predator in the Amazon except for the Anaconda, they kind of both share that notch of apex predator. They were actually hunted to endangered species level in the seventies, ’cause they’re leather, black scale leather. But they’re coming back, they’re coming back and they’re huge and they’re beautiful. And I was walking near a lake and I never understood how big they could get except for, I was walking near a lake last year and I was following the stream. And it’s like when you’re following a little stream and there’s just a little trickle of water, and all of a sudden this river otter had been running the other direction on the stream. River otter comes up to me and I swear to God, this animal looked at me and went, “Hey,” and I went, “Hey.” And he was like, “Didn’t expect to see me there.” And he turned around, he like did a little spin, started running down the stream, then he turned around and you could tell he was like, “Let’s go.” And I’m not anthropomorphizing here, the animal was asking me to come with him.

(00:16:59)
So I followed the river otter down the stream and we started running down the stream and the river otter looks at me one more time, is like, “Yo,” jumps into the lake. And I’m like, “What does he want me to see?” Now, in the lake, there’s river otters doing dives and freaking out and going up and down and up and down, and they’re very excited, they’re screaming, they’re screeching. All of a sudden, and I’ve never seen anything like this except for in like Game of Thrones. This croc head comes flying out of the water, all of the river otters were attacking this huge black caiman, 16-feet-
Lex Fridman
(00:17:29)
Wow.
Paul Rosolie
(00:17:29)
Head, half the size of this table. And she was thrashing her tail around creating these huge waves in the water, trying to catch an otter, and they’re so fast.
Lex Fridman
(00:17:38)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(00:17:38)
That they were zipping around her, biting her, and then going around. And this otter, swear to God, inter-species, looked at me and went, “Watch this. We’re fucking with this caiman.”
Lex Fridman
(00:17:46)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(00:17:47)
It was amazing. And for the first time, I got to stand there watching this incredible inter-species fight happening. They weren’t trying to kill the caiman, they were just trying to mess with it. And the caiman was doing his best to try and kill these otters. And they were just having a good time in that sick sort of hyper-intelligent animal, like wolf sort of way, where they were just going, “You can’t catch us.”
Lex Fridman
(00:18:07)
Yeah, like intelligence and agility versus raw power and dominance. I mean, I got to handle some smaller caiman and just the power they had. You scale that up to imagine what a 16-foot, or even a 10-foot, any kind of black caiman, the kind of power-
Paul Rosolie
(00:18:08)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(00:18:26)
They deliver. Maybe, can you talk to that, like the power they can generate with their tail, with their neck, with their jaw?
Paul Rosolie
(00:18:34)
Yeah. Alligators and caiman and crocodiles have some of the strongest bite forces on Earth, think a saltwater crocodile wins, as the strongest bite force on Earth. And you got to hold about a foot, was it a four-foot spectacled caiman? And you got to feel, I mean, you’re a black belt in jiu-jitsu. How do you compare the explosive force you felt from that animal compared to what a human can generate?
Lex Fridman
(00:19:02)
It’s difficult to describe in words, there was a lot of power. And we’re talking about the power of the neck, like the, what is it? I mean, there’s a lot, it could generate power all up and down the body, so probably the tail is a monster, but just the neck. And not to mention the power of the bite, that, and the speed too. Because the thing I saw and got to experience is, how still and calm, at least from my amateur-
Paul Rosolie
(00:19:27)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(00:19:27)
Perspective, it seems calm, still. And then from that, sort of zero to 60, could just-
Paul Rosolie
(00:19:36)
[inaudible 00:19:36].
Lex Fridman
(00:19:35)
Just go wild.
Paul Rosolie
(00:19:37)
Just thrashing.
Lex Fridman
(00:19:39)
And then there’s also a decision it makes in that split second, whether, as it thrashes, is it going to kind of bite you on the way or not?
Paul Rosolie
(00:19:49)
And that’s where, of the four species of caiman that we have here, you see differences in their personalities as a species.
Lex Fridman
(00:19:56)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(00:19:56)
And so you can like, just like you know, like generally, golden retrievers are viewed as a friendly dog, generally, not every single one of them, but as a rule. Spectacled caiman, puppies, you released one in the river and it did nothing, didn’t bite one of your fingers, it just swam away. We dropped one in the river, and what did it do? It chose peace. Now, I had a smooth-fronted caiman a few weeks ago, and this was probably about a three-and-a-half footer. Not big enough to kill you, but very much big enough to grab one of your fingers and just shake it off your body, just death roll it, right off. And as I was being careful, totally different caiman than the one that you got to see, this one has spikes coming off it, they’re like leftover dinosaurs. It’s like they evolved during the dinosaur times and never changed. They have spikes and bony plates and all kinds of strange growths that you don’t see on the other smoother caiman.

(00:20:47)
And I tried to release this one without getting bitten and I threw it into the stream, gently into the water, just went waa, and tried to pull my hands back. And as I pulled my hand back, this caiman, in the air, turned around and just tried to give me one parting blow and just got one tooth whack, right to the bone of my finger. And a bone injury feels different than a skin injury, so you instantly go, “ou.” And it just reminds you of, that’s a caiman with a head this big and it hurt and I know that it could have taken off my finger. Now, if you scale that up to a black caiman, it’s rib crushing, it’s zebra-head removing size, just meat destroying. It’s nature’s metal, sort of just raw power.
Lex Fridman
(00:21:32)
So what’s the biggest croc you’ve been able to handle?
Paul Rosolie
(00:21:36)
We were doing caiman surveys for years, and we would go out at night and you want to figure out what are the populations of black caiman, spectacled caiman, smooth-fronted caiman, dwarf caiman. And the only way to see which caiman you’re dealing with is to catch it. Because a lot of times you get up close with the light and you can see the eyes at night, but you can’t quite see what species it is. For instance, this past few months, we found two baby black caiman on the river, which is unprecedented here, we haven’t seen that in decades. So it’s important that we monitor our croc population. So I started catching small ones, in Mother of God, I write about the first one that me and JJ caught together, which was probably a little bigger than this table. And probably mid-twenties bravado and competition with other young males of my species, led to me trying to go as big as I could.

(00:22:26)
And I jumped on a spectacled caiman that was slightly longer than I am, and I’m five-nine. So I jumped on this, probably, six-foot croc, and quickly realized that my hands couldn’t get around its neck and my legs were wrapped around the base of its tail. And the thrash was so intense, that as it took me one side, I barely had enough time to realize what was happening, before it beat me against the ground. My headlamp came off, so now I’m blind, in the dark, laying in a river, in the Amazon rainforest, hugging a six-foot crocodile. And I went, “JJ,” as I always do. But in that moment, before I even let go, I knew I couldn’t let go of the croc, because if I let go of the croc, I thought she was going to destroy my face. So I said, okay, now I’m stuck here, if I just stay here, I can’t release her, I need help. But I was like, I’m never ever, ever, ever going to try and-
Lex Fridman
(00:23:18)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(00:23:18)
Solo catch a croc this big again. I knew in that moment, I was like, this is good enough.
Lex Fridman
(00:23:22)
So anything longer than you.
Paul Rosolie
(00:23:23)
Nah.
Lex Fridman
(00:23:24)
You don’t control the tail, you don’t-
Paul Rosolie
(00:23:24)
No, i-
Lex Fridman
(00:23:25)
You have barely control of anything, really.
Paul Rosolie
(00:23:27)
Yeah. And that’s a spectacled caiman.
Lex Fridman
(00:23:27)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(00:23:28)
A black caiman is a whole other order of magnitude there. It’s like saying like, “Oh, I was play fighting with my golden retriever versus I was play fighting with like,” what’s the biggest, scariest dog you could think of? The dog from Sandlot, a giant gorilla dog-thing, like a malamute, something huge. What are they called? Mastiffs.
Lex Fridman
(00:23:48)
Yeah. Mastiffs.
Paul Rosolie
(00:23:49)
Mastiffs.
Lex Fridman
(00:23:50)
I mean, you mentioned dinosaurs, what do you admire about black caiman? They’ve been here for a very, very long time, there’s something prehistoric about their appearance, about their way of being, about their presence in this jungle.
Paul Rosolie
(00:24:03)
With crocodiles, you’re looking at this mega survivor, they’re in a class with sharks, where it’s like they’ve been here so long. When you talk about multiple extinctions, you talk about the sixth extinction, Earth’s going through all this stuff, the crocodiles and the cockroaches have seen it all before. They’re like, “Man, we remember what that comet looked like.” And they’re not impressed.
Lex Fridman
(00:24:24)
Yeah, they carry this wisdom.
Paul Rosolie
(00:24:26)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(00:24:27)
In their power.
Paul Rosolie
(00:24:27)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(00:24:28)
In the simplicity of their power, they carry the wisdom.
Paul Rosolie
(00:24:30)
Yeah. And they’re just sitting there in the streams and they don’t care. And even if there’s a nuclear holocaust, you know that there would just be some crocs sitting there, dead-eyed, in that stagnant water, waiting for the life to regenerate so they could eat again.
Lex Fridman
(00:24:42)
It’s going to be the remaining humans versus the crocs and the cockroaches, and the cockroaches are just background noise.
Paul Rosolie
(00:24:49)
Yeah, they’ll always be there. Sons of bitches.
Lex Fridman
(00:24:53)
We were talking about individual black caiman and caiman and different species of caiman. But whenever they’re together and you see multiple eyes, which I’d gotten to experience, it’s quite a feeling. There’s just multiple eyes looking back at you. Of course, for you, that’s immediate excitement, you immediately go towards that. You want to see it, you want to explore it, maybe catch them, analyze what the species is, all that kind of stuff.
Paul Rosolie
(00:25:19)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(00:25:20)
Can you just describe that feeling, when they’re together and they’re looking at you, sort of head above water, eyes reflecting the light?
Paul Rosolie
(00:25:28)
Yeah. So the other night, Lex and I were in the river with JJ, surviving a thunderstorm. We were in the rain and we had covered our equipment with our boats and the only thing that we could do was get in the river to keep ourselves dry. And so we were in the river, at night, in the dark, no stars, just a little bit of canopy silhouetted, with all this rain coming down, it was such a din, you could hardly hear anything. And all the way down river, I just see this caiman eye in my headlamp light, and I started walking towards it because I was like, “This is even better. We can catch a caiman while we’re in this thunderstorm in the Amazon River.” And when JJ went, “Paul, it’s too far.” JJ very rarely, like he’ll make a suggestion, he’ll usually go like, “Maybe it’s far.” But in that situation, deep in the wilderness, unknown caiman size, he went, “Paul, it’s too far, don’t leave the three of us right now.”
Lex Fridman
(00:26:29)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(00:26:29)
We were too far out to take risks.
Lex Fridman
(00:26:31)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(00:26:31)
We’re too far out to be walking along the riverbed at night. Because then, right here at the research station, if you step on a stingray, you get evac’d, out where we went, nothing. So for me, seeing those eyes, I think I’ve become so comfortable with so many of these animals that I may have crossed into the territory where I feel so comfortable with many of these animals that they just don’t worry me anymore. I mean, I looked at you in a raft, while you had a sizable, probably, about 12-foot black caiman right next to your raft. I watched its head go under.
Lex Fridman
(00:27:05)
The bubbles.
Paul Rosolie
(00:27:06)
The bubbles, it was all coming up right next to your raft, as he was just moving along the bottom of the river. ‘Caused he looked at me, went under, and then my raft passed and yours came over him. So now, I’m looking back and your raft is going over this black caiman and I’m going, “I’m not worried at all.” I was not worried. I was not worried that the caiman would freak out, I was not worried that he would try to attack you. I knew, a hundred percent, that caiman just wanted us to go, so he could go back to eating fish.
Lex Fridman
(00:27:31)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(00:27:32)
That’s it.
Lex Fridman
(00:27:32)
Man, it’s humbling. It’s humbling, these giant creatures. And especially at night like you were talking about. And for me, it’s both scary and just beautiful when the head goes under, because underwater, it’s their domain, so anything can happen. So what is it doing that its head has gone under? It could be bored, it could be hungry, looking for some fish, it could be, maybe, wanting to come closer to you to investigate. Maybe you have some food around you, maybe it’s an old friend of yours and he just wants to say, “Hi,” I don’t know.
Paul Rosolie
(00:28:06)
I have a few on the river, old friends.
Lex Fridman
(00:28:07)
Okay.
Paul Rosolie
(00:28:09)
No, when we see their heads go under, they’re just getting out of the way. We’re shining a light at them and they’re going, “Why is there a light at night? I’m uncomfortable.” Head under. So these caiman, again, you think of it as this big aggressive animal, but I don’t know anybody that’s been eaten by a black caiman. And the smaller species, smooth-fronted caiman, dwarf caiman, spectacled caiman, they’re not going to eat anybody, again, at the worst, if you were doing something inappropriate with a caiman, like you jumped on it and were trying to do research and it bit your hand, it could take your hand off. But that’s the only time, I’ve been walking down the river and stepped on a caiman and the caiman just swims away. And so in my mind, caiman are just these, they’re peaceful dragons that sit on the side of the river.

(00:28:51)
And so to me, they are my friends and I worry about them, because two months ago we were coming up river and on one of the beaches was a beautiful, about five-foot black caiman with a big machete cut right through the head. The whole caiman was wasted, nothing was eaten, but the caiman was dead.
Lex Fridman
(00:29:11)
Who do you think that was?
Paul Rosolie
(00:29:13)
Curious humans.
Lex Fridman
(00:29:15)
Just committing violence?
Paul Rosolie
(00:29:17)
Yeah, just loggers, people who aren’t from this part of the Amazon, because a local person would either eat the animal or not mess with it. Like Pico would never kill a caiman for no reason, because it doesn’t make any sense. So these are clearly people who aren’t from the region, which usually means loggers, because they’ve come from somewhere else. They’re doing a job here and they’re just cleaning their pots in the river at night and they see eyes come near them, because the caiman probably smells fish. And then they just whack, because they want to see it and they’re just curious monkeys on a beach. And again, me friend of caiman, I protect from my type.
Lex Fridman
(00:29:51)
That said, you protect your friends and you analyze and study your friends, but sometimes friends can have a bit of a misunderstanding. And if you have a bit of a misunderstanding with a black caiman, I feel like just a bit of a misunderstanding could lead to a bone-crushing situation.
Paul Rosolie
(00:30:12)
But not for a little five-foot caiman.
Lex Fridman
(00:30:14)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(00:30:15)
And I think that’s incredibly speciesist of you.
Lex Fridman
(00:30:16)
About humans or about caiman?
Paul Rosolie
(00:30:21)
No, I’m saying-
Lex Fridman
(00:30:22)
Okay.
Paul Rosolie
(00:30:22)
Like all my friends do the same thing. They go, “You swim in the Amazon rainforest, you swim in that river.” And I go, “Yes, every day.” Backflips into the river, we’ve been swimming in the river how many times.
Lex Fridman
(00:30:31)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(00:30:32)
With the piranha and the stingray and the candiru and the caiman and the anacondas, all of it, in the river, with us. And we just do it. And what’s that for you? So what allows you to do that, knowing and having researched all the different things that can kill you, which I feel like most of them are in the river? What allows you to just get in there with us?
Lex Fridman
(00:30:53)
Well, I think it’s something about you, where you become like this portal through which it’s possible to see nature as not threatening but beautiful. And so in that, you kind of, naturally, by hanging out with you, I get to see the beauty of it. There is danger out there, well, the dangerous part of it, just like there’s a lot of danger in the city, there’s danger in life, there’s a lot of ways to get hurt emotionally, physically. There’s a lot of ways to die in the stupidest of ways. We went on an expedition through the forest, just twisting your ankle, breaking your foot, getting a bite from a thing that gets infected, there’s a lot of ways to die and get hurt, in the stupidest of ways. In a non-dramatic, caiman eating you alive, kind of way.
Paul Rosolie
(00:31:37)
Yeah, it strikes me as unfair, because humans, we’re still in our minds, so programmed to worry about that predator, that predator, that predator. What predator? We’ve killed everything. Black caimans are coming off the endangered species list, we exterminated wolves from North America. I actually heard a suburban lady one time, tell her son, “Watch out, foxes will get you.” Foxes?
Lex Fridman
(00:32:01)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(00:32:02)
They eat baby rabbits and mice.
Lex Fridman
(00:32:05)
Well, in the case of apex predators, I think when people say, “Dangerous animals,” they really are talking about just the power of the animal. And the black caiman have a lot of power.
Paul Rosolie
(00:32:16)
A lot of power.
Lex Fridman
(00:32:18)
And so it’s almost just a way to celebrate the power of the animal.
Paul Rosolie
(00:32:21)
Sure. And if it’s in celebration, then I’m all for it, because my God, is that power. Like the waves of fury that you saw, like when that tail, I mean, you saw the tail of the spectacled, that perfect-
Lex Fridman
(00:32:32)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(00:32:32)
Amazing thing, with all those interlocking scales that work-
Lex Fridman
(00:32:32)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(00:32:35)
So it’s like a perfect creation of engineering. And then when you have one that’s this thick and all of a sudden that thing is moving with all the acceleration of that power, whoa, the volume of water, the sound that comes out of their throat, they’re dragons.
Lex Fridman
(00:32:51)
We talked about the scales of the snake, with like the caiman, just the way it felt-
Paul Rosolie
(00:32:55)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(00:32:57)
Was incredible. Just the armor, the texture of it, was so cool.
Paul Rosolie
(00:32:57)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(00:33:02)
I don’t know, like the bottom of the caiman has a certain kind of texture and it just all feels like power, but also all feels like designed really well. It’s like exploring through touch, like a World War II tank or something like that, just-
Paul Rosolie
(00:33:17)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(00:33:17)
It’s the engineering that went into this thing.
Paul Rosolie
(00:33:19)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(00:33:20)
That the mechanism of evolution that created a thing that could survive for such a long time, it’s just incredible. This is a work of art, the defense mechanisms, the power of it, the damage it can do, how effective it is as a hunter, all of that. You could feel that just by touching it.
Paul Rosolie
(00:33:41)
Do you ever see the mashup where they put, side-by-side, the image of, I think it’s a Falcon in flight, next to a stealth bomber and they’re almost the exact same design. It’s incredible, like that-
Lex Fridman
(00:33:54)
What’s the equivalent for a croc? I don’t know-
Paul Rosolie
(00:33:57)
Like you said, maybe a tank. Like-
Lex Fridman
(00:33:58)
Maybe a tank.
Paul Rosolie
(00:33:59)
But they’re more like an armadillo, turtle.
Lex Fridman
(00:34:00)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(00:34:01)
I don’t know.
Lex Fridman
(00:34:01)
Like hippos and-
Paul Rosolie
(00:34:02)
Yeah, there may not be a war machine equivalent of a crocodile, it would’ve to have like a big jaw element to it.

Rhinos

Lex Fridman
(00:34:11)
In the water, I mean, we talked also about hippos. Those are interesting creatures from all the way across the world. Just monsters.
Paul Rosolie
(00:34:18)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(00:34:19)
Hippos and rhinos. Hippos are bigger, usually, or rhinos are bigger?
Paul Rosolie
(00:34:23)
Rhinos.
Lex Fridman
(00:34:23)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(00:34:24)
Rhinos, after elephants, is the largest, white rhinos.
Lex Fridman
(00:34:28)
They can be terrifying too, again, when you step into the defense.
Paul Rosolie
(00:34:31)
Absolutely. But I have to tell you, after being around so many rhinos-
Lex Fridman
(00:34:35)
You have friend of mine?
Paul Rosolie
(00:34:36)
I have rhino friends.
Lex Fridman
(00:34:37)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(00:34:37)
Black and white rhinos.
Lex Fridman
(00:34:39)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(00:34:39)
And they’re all sweethearts, and I mean-
Lex Fridman
(00:34:40)
Awesome.
Paul Rosolie
(00:34:42)
I mean, sweethearts. And I mean, when you look at a rhino, it’s like a living dinosaur. I know it’s a mammal, but somehow it’s screams dinosaur, ’cause it seems like pleistocenic.
Lex Fridman
(00:34:51)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(00:34:52)
And from another age, with the giant horn. And they’re so much bigger than you think, like they’re minivan-sized animals. We’re not taller than they are at the shoulder. And they have this strange shaped head and the huge horn.
Paul Rosolie
(00:35:00)
… at their shoulder, and they have the strange-shaped head and the huge horn, and they sit there eating grass all day. So if a rhino is dangerous to a human, it’s because the rhino is going, “Don’t hurt me. Don’t hurt me. Don’t hurt my baby.” And then they’re like, “You know what? I’ll just kill you. It’ll be easier, because you’re scaring me right now.” You’re too close to that rhino. And so there again, I just think it’s funny because humans, we’re so quick to go, “Which snakes are aggressive?” Well, there are no aggressive snakes. “Rhinos can be dangerous.” If provoked. Otherwise, they’re peaceful, fat grass unicorns. They’re really pretty calm. That we had these incredible giant animals and the largest animals on our planet, the black caiman, the rhinos, the elephants, all the big beautiful stuff is becoming less and less.

(00:35:48)
And it almost reminds me, in Game of Thrones, they’re like, “In the beginning,” they’re like, “there used to be dragons.” And it was this memory, and it’s like, we used to have mammoths, and we used to have stellar sea cows that were 16-feet-long manatees, and it’s, there were things we used to have. The Caspian tiger that only went extinct in the ’90s. Our lifetimes. And that’s mind-blowing to me. That has haunted me since I’m a child. I remember learning about extinction and I went, “Wait, you’re telling me that…” I remember being a kid and going, “By the time I grew up, you’re saying that gorillas could be gone? Elephants could be gone? And because we’re doing it? And then I remember looking at the nightlight being blurry because I was crying. I was so upset. And it was Lonesome George, that turtle, the Galapagos tortoise, where there was one left. And they said, “If we just had a female, he could live.” And I as a six, seven, eight-year-old, that destroyed me.
Lex Fridman
(00:36:46)
We’re all just trying to get laid, including that turtle.
Paul Rosolie
(00:36:48)
Including that turtle, for a few hundred years. Dude.
Lex Fridman
(00:36:53)
So for young people out there, you think you’re having trouble, think about that turtle.
Paul Rosolie
(00:36:56)
Think about that turtle. Yeah. You know there’s a turtle that Darwin and Steve Irwin both owned?
Lex Fridman
(00:37:01)
Yeah, I heard about that turtle. Man, they live a long time.
Paul Rosolie
(00:37:05)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(00:37:05)
They’ve seen things.
Paul Rosolie
(00:37:07)
They’ve seen things that, there’s a great internet joke where they’re accusing him of being incongruous with modern times. They’re like, “He did nothing to stop slavery. He didn’t fight in World War II.”
Lex Fridman
(00:37:18)
Cancel the turtle.
Paul Rosolie
(00:37:20)
Yeah, cancel the turtle.

Anacondas

Lex Fridman
(00:37:22)
Oh, shit. What a world we live in. So it’s interesting, you mentioned black caiman and anacondas are both apex predators. So it seems like the reason they can exist in similar environments is because they feed on slightly different things. How is it possible for them to coexist? I read that anacondas can eat caiman but not black caiman. How often do they come in conflict?
Paul Rosolie
(00:37:49)
So anacondas and caiman occupy the exact same niche, and they’re born at almost the exact same size. And unlike most species, they don’t have a size range that they’re confined to. They start at this big, baby caiman are this big, baby anacondas are a little longer, but they’re thinner and they don’t have legs, so it’s the same thing in terms of mass. And they’re all in the streams or at the edges of lakes or swamps. And so the baby anacondas eat the baby caiman. Baby caiman can’t really take down an anaconda. They’re going for little insects and fish. They have quite a small mouth. Again, it’s in their interest to hide from everything. A bird, a heron can eat a baby caiman, pop it back. And so they have to survive. But the anaconda and the caiman joust as they grow.
Lex Fridman
(00:38:39)
Can you actually explain how the anaconda would take down a caiman? Would it first use constriction and then eat it? Or what’s the methodology?
Paul Rosolie
(00:38:48)
So anacondas have, I don’t know, a three-point constriction system where their first thing is anchor. Something like jujitsu. So the first thing is latch onto you.
Lex Fridman
(00:39:00)
I like how I’m writing this down like, “All right, this is jujitsu masterclass here.”
Paul Rosolie
(00:39:05)
This is for when you’re wrestling an anaconda, just in case.
Lex Fridman
(00:39:09)
And you’ll be the coach in the sidelines screaming, “No, no, no-“
Paul Rosolie
(00:39:11)
“You got him, Lex!”
Lex Fridman
(00:39:11)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(00:39:15)
“Don’t let him take the back.”
Lex Fridman
(00:39:16)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(00:39:17)
All right. So one time me and JJ were following a herd of collard peccary and JJ’s teaching me tracking. So we’re following the hoof prints through the mud, and we’re doing this, and I’m talking about no backpacks, just machetes, bare feet, running through the jungle. And we come to this stream and JJ’s like, “I think we missed him. I think they went.” And I’m like, “No, no, no, they went here, look.” And not because I’m a great tracker, because I can see a few dozen footprints, hundreds of individual footprints right there. And I’m going, “No, no, they just crossed here.” And JJ was like, “You know what? We’re not going to get eyes on them today.” He was like, “It’s okay.” He’s like, “We did good. We followed them for a long time.” And I was like, “Cool.”

(00:39:51)
And then I was trying to gauge, “Can I drink this stream?” And I see a culpa. And a culpa is a salt deposit where animals come to feed because sodium is a deficiency that most herbivores have here. And all of a sudden I just hear like the sound of a wet stick snapping, just that bone crunch. And I looked down, and there’s about a 16-foot anaconda wrapped around a freshly killed peccary. Wild boar. And what this anaconda had done was as all the pigs were going across the stream, the anaconda had grabbed it by the jaw, swiped the legs, wrapped around it, bent it in half, and then crushed it to ribs.

(00:40:35)
And that’s what the anaconda do, whether it’s to mammals, to caiman, it’s all the same thing. It’s grab on, they have six rows of backwards-facing teeth, so once they hit you, they’re never going to come off. You actually have to go deeper in and then open before you can come out. All those backward-facing teeth. So they have an incredible anchor system, and then they use their weight to pull you down to hell to pull you down into that water, wrap around you, and then start breaking you. And every breath you take, you go, and you’re up against a barrier. And then when you exhale, they go a little tighter and you’re never going to get that space back. Your lungs are never going to expand again. And I know this because I’ve been in that crush, before JJ pulled me out of it. And so this pig, the anaconda had gotten it, and as the pig was thrashing and the anaconda was wrapping around it and bent it in half, and I just heard those vertebrae going.

(00:41:26)
And so for a caiman, it’s the same thing. They just grab them, they wrap around it, and then they have to crush it until there’s no response. They’ll wait an hour. They’ll wait a long time until there’s no response from the animal. They’ll overpower it. Then they’ll reposition, probably yawn a little bit, open their jaw, and then start forcing that entire… Now here’s the crazy thing, is that an anaconda has stomach acid capable of digesting an entire crocodile where nothing comes out the other side. And when you see how thick the bony plate of a crocodile skull is, that that can go in the mouth and nothing comes out the other side, that’s insane. And so it always made me wonder, on a chemistry level, how you can have such incredible acid in the stomach that doesn’t harm the anaconda itself. And someone said that the mucus-
Lex Fridman
(00:42:14)
I thought it’s able to digest… Oh, it’s some kind of mucus. Oh, the mucus, there’s… Oh, interesting. There’s levels of protection from the anaconda itself. But it seems like the anaconda is such a simple system as an organism.
Paul Rosolie
(00:42:26)
I know, but-
Lex Fridman
(00:42:26)
That simplicity, taken at scale, it can swallow a caiman and digest it slowly.
Paul Rosolie
(00:42:33)
I know, but my question was how on earth is it physically possible to have this hellish bile that can digest anything, even something as horrendous as a caiman, scales and bones and all the hardest in nature, and then not hurt the snake itself. And I had a chemist explain to me that it’s probably some sort of mucus system that lines the stomach and neutralizes the acid and keeps it floating in there, but my God, that must be powerful stuff.
Lex Fridman
(00:43:01)
What does it feel like being crushed, choked by anaconda?
Paul Rosolie
(00:43:10)
When an anaconda is wrapped around you and you find yourself in the shocking realization that these could be your last moments breathing, you are confronted with the vast disparity in power. That there is so much power in these animals, so much crushing, deliberate, reptilian, ancient power that doesn’t care. They’re just trying to get you to stop. They just want you to stop ticking, and there’s nothing you can do. And I find it very awe-inspiring when I encounter that kind of power. Even if it’s that you see a dog run… You ever try to outrun a dog, and they just zip by you and you go, “Wow.” Or you see a horse kick and you go, “Oh, my God, if that hoof hit anyone’s head, it’d knock them three states over.” And it’s like there is muscular power that is so far, like you said, that explosive, that we dream of doing it. Imagine if a Muay Thai kickboxer could harness that caiman power, that smash. And so it’s just awe-inspiring. I think it’s really, really impressive what animals can do.

(00:44:18)
And we’re all the same makeup, for the most part. All the mammals, we all have, our skeletons look so similar, we all have… If you look like a kangaroo’s biceps and chest, it looks so much like a man’s, and same thing goes for a bear. Or you ever see a naked chimp?
Lex Fridman
(00:44:34)
Have I?
Paul Rosolie
(00:44:35)
There’s chimps with alopecia.
Lex Fridman
(00:44:37)
Oh, shit. They’re shredded. Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(00:44:38)
And so it looks like a bodybuilder. It’s got cuts and huge, huge everything. It’s got pecs, and they got that face that’s just like, “Just let me in.”
Lex Fridman
(00:44:50)
“What now?”
Paul Rosolie
(00:44:51)
“Where’s your wallet?”
Lex Fridman
(00:44:52)
“Do something.” But yeah, but there’s the specialization of a lifetime of doing damage to the world and using those muscles, it just makes you just that much more powerful than most humans because humans I guess have more brain, so they get lazy. They start puzzle-solving versus using the biceps directly.
Paul Rosolie
(00:45:17)
Well, yes and no. And I have this question. So that whole “you are what you eat” thing. Now, we one time here had two chickens. Now, one of them was a wild chicken from the farm, had walked around its whole life finding insects, and the other chicken was factory raised. And so we cut the heads off of both of them and started getting ready to cook them. Now, the factory-raised chicken was a much higher percentage of fat, had less muscle on its body, was softer tissue, a lighter color. The farm raised chicken had darker, more sinewy muscles, less fat. It was clearly a better-made machine. And so my question is, is that what’s happening with us? If you go see a Sherpa who’s been walking his whole life and walking behind muskoxes and lifting things up mountains and breathing clean air and not being in the city, versus someone that’s just been chowing down at IHOP for 40 years and never getting off the couch, I imagine it’s the same thing, that you become what you eat.
Lex Fridman
(00:46:19)
Yeah. I mean, you and I, we’re half dead running up a mountain. Meanwhile, there’s a grandma just walking and she’s been walking that road and she’s just built different.
Paul Rosolie
(00:46:29)
With her alpaca on her shoulders.
Lex Fridman
(00:46:32)
With a baby. They’re just built different, when you apply your body in the physical way your whole life.
Paul Rosolie
(00:46:39)
Yeah. You can’t replicate that. Just like that chimp has those muscles from constantly moving through the canopy, constantly using those arms. Just like if you see an Olympic athlete or you hug Rogan.
Lex Fridman
(00:46:54)
Exactly the same.
Paul Rosolie
(00:46:55)
You just go, “Why is there so much muscle here?”
Lex Fridman
(00:46:59)
That’s exactly what I feel like when you give him a hug. This is definitely a chimp of some sort. Just the constriction of anaconda, just the feeling of that, are they doing that based on instinct, or is there some brain stuff going on? Is this just a basic procedure that they’re doing, and they just really don’t give a damn? They’re not like thinking, “Oh, Paul. This is this kind of species who tastes good,” or is it just a mechanism just start activating and you can’t stop it?
Paul Rosolie
(00:47:37)
With an anaconda, I really think it’s the second one. I do think that they’re impressive and beautiful and incredibly arcane. I think they’re a very simple system, a very ancient system. And I think that once you hit predation mode, it’s going down no matter what. This stupid mosquito, I’m going like this, and every time he just flies around my hand like I’m a big slow giant, and he just goes around my hand and then he goes back to the same spot. And I’m like, “No,” and then he comes right back to the same spot. It’s like he’s just going, “Fuck you.”
Lex Fridman
(00:48:10)
Here’s the question. If the mosquito is stupid and you can’t catch it, what does that make you?
Paul Rosolie
(00:48:14)
Fucking stupid. Dude, I flicked a wasp off me the other day, it flew back like 12 feet, and then in the air, corrected, and then flew back at my face. It made so many calculations and corrections and decided to come back and let me know about it. And I was like, “Shit.”
Lex Fridman
(00:48:29)
And that wasp probably went back to the nest, said, “Guess what happened today?”
Paul Rosolie
(00:48:32)
“This bitch-ass kid from Brooklyn tried to flick me and I showed him what’s up. I had him running.”
Lex Fridman
(00:48:36)
They had a good chuckle on that one. You actually mentioned to me, just on the topic of anacondas, that you’ve been participating in a lot of scientific work on the topic. So really, in everything you’ve been doing here, you are celebrating the animals, you’re respecting the animals, you’re protecting the animals, but you’re also excited about studying the animals in their environment. So you’re actually a co-author on a paper, on a couple of papers, but one of them is on anacondas and studying green anaconda hunting patterns. What’s that about?
Paul Rosolie
(00:49:13)
So the lead authors of that paper, Pat Champagne and Carter Payne, are friends of mine, and what we started noticing, for me began at that story I told you where we were coming across the stream and we saw the anaconda had been positioned just below a culpa. And then other people began noticing that anaconda seemed to always be beneath these culpas where mammals were going to be coming. And that contrasted with what we knew about anacondas. Because what we understood about anacondas that they’re purely ambush predators and they don’t pursue their prey. But what we began finding out here, and Pat led the process of amazing scientists, he worked with Acadia University for a long time, worked with us for a long time, and he was one of the first to put a transmitter in an anaconda right around here, and we were able to see their movements. And that’s what these papers are showing is that they actually do pursue their prey. They do move up and down using the streams as corridors through the forest. They actually do pursue their prey, they actually do seek out food.

(00:50:21)
I mean, think about it. It’s a giant anaconda. Obviously, it can’t just sit in one spot. It has to put some work into it. And so they’re using scent and they’re using communication to use the streams. So you could be walking in the forest in a very shallow stream And see a sizable anaconda looking for a meal.
Lex Fridman
(00:50:38)
So in the shallow stream, it moves not just in the water but in the sand.
Paul Rosolie
(00:50:44)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(00:50:44)
So it also likes to burrow a little bit?
Paul Rosolie
(00:50:47)
They burrow quite a bit. And so these large snakes operate subterranean more than we think.
Lex Fridman
(00:50:55)
Interesting.
Paul Rosolie
(00:50:56)
There’s times that you’ll go with a tracker, you go with the telemetry set and it’ll say, “Tu tu tu tu tu,” we’ll be over the snake. Snake’s underground. Snake has found either a recess under the sides of the stream, you saw it last night, where all the fish have their holes under the side of the stream. There was a six-foot dwarf caiman right in the stream, right where we were standing, and he had his cave. He goes under there. They know. They have their system.
Lex Fridman
(00:51:22)
We walked by it.
Paul Rosolie
(00:51:24)
We walked by it. And he stuck his head out because he thought we’d gone. And then we turned around and I just got a glimpse of him because I was in the front of the line, and he just went right back into his cave. “You guys are not going to touch me.” And so yeah, with the anacondas, it’s been really exciting. And in 2014, JJ and me and Mohsen and Pat and Lee, we ended up catching what at the time was the record for Eunectes Marinas scientifically measured. It was 18 feet six inches, 220 pounds, one of the largest female anacondas on record. And since that time, these guys have been continuing to study the species, continuing to just, again, just add a little bit by little bit to the knowledge we have of the species.

(00:52:07)
And studying green anacondas in lowland tropical rainforest, you’ve seen how hard it is to move, to operate, to navigate in this environment. And so when you think of the fact that in order to learn anything about this species, you have to spend vast amounts of time first locating them, and then finding out a way to keep tabs on them, even if you get lucky enough to see an anaconda by the edge of a stream. To be able to observe it over time, to learn its habits or to put a radio transmitter on it or to take any sort of valuable information from the experience is almost impossible. And so a lot of the stuff that I wrote about in Mother of God, us jumping on anacondas and trying to catch them, and at first it just seemed like something we were doing to just try and see them. But it ended up being that we were wildly trying to figure out methodology that would have scientific implications later on, because now it’s allowing us to try and find the largest anacondas.

(00:53:07)
And people used to say, “There’s no way there’s 25-foot, 27-foot.” Well, there’s just that video of the guy swimming with the twenty-foot anaconda. And so now as we keep going, I’m going, “Well, maybe through drone identification, we could find where the largest anacondas are sitting on top of floating vegetation. And even then, how do we restrain them so that we could measure them and prove this to the world? It’s a side quest, but-
Lex Fridman
(00:53:31)
So by doing these kinds of studies, you figure out how they move about the world, what motivates them in terms of when they hunt, where they hide in the world as the size of the anaconda changes, so all of that, those are scientific studies?
Paul Rosolie
(00:53:45)
Yeah. I mean, look, there’s so much that we don’t know about this forest. We don’t know what medicines are in this forest. We don’t know. With a lot of the 1500, there’s something like 4,000 species of butterflies in the Amazon rainforest. And of the 1500 species that are here in this region, all of them have a larval stage, caterpillars. And each of the caterpillars has a specific host plant that they need to eat in order to become a successful butterfly, to enter the next life cycle. And for most of the species that fill the butterfly book, we don’t know what those interactions are. I recently got to see the white witch, which is a huge moth. It’s one of the two largest moths in the world. It’s the largest moth by wingspan.
Lex Fridman
(00:54:28)
Wow.
Paul Rosolie
(00:54:29)
Huge. It looks like a bird. Big white moth. I believe that we still don’t know what the caterpillar looks like. It’s 2024. We have iPhones and penis-shaped rocket ships. We don’t know where that moth starts its life. We still haven’t figured that out.
Lex Fridman
(00:54:47)
By the way, the rocket ships are shaped that way for efficiency purposes, not because they wanted to make it look like a penis. Speaking of which, I have ran across a lot of penis trees while exploring, and they make me-
Paul Rosolie
(00:54:47)
Have you?
Lex Fridman
(00:55:00)
I know it’s not just a figment of my imagination. I’m pretty sure they’re real. In fact, you explained it to me, and they make me very uncomfortable because there’s just a lot of penises hanging off of a tree.
Paul Rosolie
(00:55:09)
Yes.
Lex Fridman
(00:55:10)
I don’t know what the purpose is. I don’t know who they’re supposed to attract, but certainly, Paul really enjoys them.
Paul Rosolie
(00:55:18)
Yeah. Yeah. Well, clearly you’ve done some research and you’ve noticed a lot of them. I haven’t even seen them.
Lex Fridman
(00:55:24)
There was a time when I almost fell, and to catch my balance, I had to grab one of the penises of the penis tree and, unforgettable. Anaconda, the biggest, baddest anaconda in the Amazon versus the biggest, baddest black caiman. Because you mentioned there, there’s a race. If there’s a fight, the UFC in a cage, who wins? Underwater.
Paul Rosolie
(00:55:45)
This is the biggest and the baddest?
Lex Fridman
(00:55:46)
The biggest and the baddest that you can imagine given all the studies you’ve done of the two animals. Species.
Paul Rosolie
(00:55:53)
The biggest and the baddest. You’re talking about an 18-foot, several-hundred-pound black caiman versus a 26-foot, 350-pound anaconda.
Lex Fridman
(00:56:03)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(00:56:05)
I think it’s a death stalemate. I think the caiman slams the anaconda, bites onto it, the anaconda wraps the caiman, and then they both thrash around until they both kill each other. Because I think the caiman will tear him up so bad-
Lex Fridman
(00:56:16)
And the caiman is not going to let go. He’s going to get back-
Paul Rosolie
(00:56:18)
The caiman is never going to let go, but then he’s going to realize that he’s also being constricted, so then he’s going to stop and he’s going to keep slamming down on that anaconda, and the anaconda is just going to keep constricting. But if the caiman can do enough damage before the anaconda… Again, it’s almost like a striker versus a jujitsu. If you can get enough elbows in before they lock you-
Lex Fridman
(00:56:37)
How fast is the constriction? So it’s pretty slow.
Paul Rosolie
(00:56:40)
No, it’s incredibly quick. So it’s you take the back and get me in chokehold, it’s that. It’s I have maybe 30 seconds, maybe, on the upward side, if you haven’t cinched it under my throat. But if you’ve gotten good position, it’s over.
Lex Fridman
(00:56:57)
Is there any way to unwrap a choke, undo the choke, defending-
Paul Rosolie
(00:56:59)
No. Not unless you have outside help. Unless you have another human or another 10 humans coming to unwrap the tail help you. But for an animal, like if a deer gets hit by an anaconda, there’s no way. They don’t stand a chance.
Lex Fridman
(00:57:11)
So the black caiman would bite somewhere close to the head and just try to hold on and thrash.
Paul Rosolie
(00:57:21)
Here’s the thing, every fisherman knows this, the biggest fish, they’re smart. And more importantly, they’re shrewd. They’re careful. A huge black caiman that’s 16 feet long isn’t going to be messing with a big anaconda. They won’t cross paths. Because while they technically occupy the same type of environment, that black caiman is going to have this deep spot in a lake and that anaconda is going to have found this floating forest black stream backwater where it’s going to be, and they’ll have made that their home for decades, and they’ll already have cleaned out the competition. So maybe if there was a flood and they got pushed together, they could have some sort of a showdown, but almost more certainly is that when they get to that size, that caiman, at any sign of danger, boom, right under the water. It’s like what do you learn when you’re a black belt? What do you do with a street fight? You still run away. There’s no reason for a street fight. And I think the animals really understand that. There’s no reason for this.
Lex Fridman
(00:58:25)
So a giant anaconda and a giant black caiman, they could probably even coexist in the same environment just knowing, using the wisdom to avoid the fight.
Paul Rosolie
(00:58:36)
Yeah. Or they would have a big showdown and one of them would either die or have to leave. They would have a territorial dispute.
Lex Fridman
(00:58:42)
Yeah. Without killing either of them.
Paul Rosolie
(00:58:46)
Dude, nature. Anything could happen. One of the things that me and Pat wrote up was that I saw a yellow-tailed cribo, which is like a six-foot rat snake eating an oxyrhopus melanogenys, which is the red snake that we found last night. And just, no one had ever, in scientific literature, we’d never seen a cribo eating an oxyrhopus before. And so I had the observation in the field, I sent it to Pat Champagne, Pat writes it up, paper. That’s a really cool system, because we’re just out here all the time, you end up seeing things. JJ’s dad saw an anaconda eating a tapir. Tapir’s the size of a cow.
Lex Fridman
(00:59:23)
Damn.
Paul Rosolie
(00:59:24)
And that guy didn’t lie. Some people, you trust your sources on that. He saw enough stuff, he didn’t need to make up stories. And you know what I love now is when you ask people, when we were going up the mountain with Jimmy, JJ said to him, he goes, “Have, you ever seen a puma up here in the mountains?” And Jimmy goes, “They’re up here.” And JJ went, “No, no, no, have you seen it?” And Jimmy went, “No, never seen one.” And you know how most people will go, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ve seen it.” That makes me trust the person when they admit, “No, I haven’t seen it.”
Lex Fridman
(00:59:58)
“They’re up here. I haven’t seen it.” And Jimmy has been living there his whole life.
Paul Rosolie
(01:00:03)
His whole life.
Lex Fridman
(01:00:05)
There’s pumas in the mountains?
Paul Rosolie
(01:00:07)
Mountain lions, pumas, whatever the… There’s all different names for them. They’re distributed from, I think from Alaska down through Argentina. They’re everywhere. It’s extremely successful species. From deserts to high mountains, everything.
Lex Fridman
(01:00:21)
I think you’re saying pumas have a curiosity, have a way about them where they explore, follow people, just to kind of figure out… Just that curiosity as opposed to causing harm or hunting and that kind of stuff. What is this about?
Paul Rosolie
(01:00:40)
I think it’s based in predatory instincts, but I also think there is a playfulness to higher intelligence animals that you don’t see in lower intelligence animals. And so something like a rabbit, for instance, you’re never going to see a rabbit come in to check you out. You can’t even think of it like that. A rabbit is just going to either eat or run away. There’s really two settings. When you think of something like a giant river otter or a tayra, which is, they call it manco here, it’s a huge arboreal weasel, and they’ll come check you out. I woke up at my house the other day and there was a tayra climbing up the side of the house, and he was looking down at me sleeping. And it’s like he came to check me out. It’s like they’re smart enough and they’re brave enough, here’s the important thing, they know that they can fend for themselves, they can fight, they can climb, they can run. And so they’re like, “I’m curious. I got time, let me check this out.”
Lex Fridman
(01:01:35)
Yeah, they’re gathering information. I wonder how complex and sophisticated their world model is, how they’re integrating all the information about the environment, like where all the different trees are, where all the different nests of the different insects are, what the different creatures are by size, all that kind of stuff. I’m sure they don’t have enough storage up there to keep all that, but they probably keep the important stuff, to integrate the experiences they have into what is dangerous, what is tasty, all that kind of stuff.
Paul Rosolie
(01:02:07)
I think it’s more complex than we realize. You go back to that Frans de Waal book, Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? There’s so many incredible examples of controlled studies where the researchers weren’t understanding how to shed being so insurmountably human and understand that there are other types of intelligence. And whether that’s elephants or cats. So big cats, for instance, we just saw a camera trap video from last night where you see one of our workers walk down the trail, and then five minutes later a cat behind him.
Lex Fridman
(01:02:45)
By the way, we were walking just exactly the same area, also exact same time. Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(01:02:50)
Yeah. So we’re out there and there’s deer and there’s cats, and there’s a jaguar and there’s a puma, and there’s all these animals out there, and we’re out in the night in the inky black night in this ocean of darkness beneath the trees, and we’re just exploring and getting to see everything, and there’s all these little eyes and heartbeats. I love the jungle at night, man. It’s the most exciting thing.
Lex Fridman
(01:03:08)
One of the things you do when you turn off the headlamp, complete darkness all around you, and just the sounds.
Paul Rosolie
(01:03:14)
Everything you hear, the cicadas, the birds, they’re all screaming about sex all the time, so they’re just trying to get laid. So all of them are making mating calls. Now, the trick is to make your mating call without attracting a predator. But at night, what amazes me is that for us, it’s so… From the caveman logic of, it’s hard to make fire here, it’s hard to even light a fire here, to having this incredible beam of, all of a sudden we can look at the jungle and walk through that darkness. Then we’re seeing the frogs on those leaves, and the snakes moving through the undergrowth, and the deer sneaking through the shadows. It’s almost as supernatural as skydiving. It’s a strange thing to be able to do that technology allows us to do. We’re doing something really complex, and we’re walking on trails that have been cleared for us, that we’ve planned out. And so walking through the jungle at night, you just get this freak show of biodiversity, and I’m addicted to it. I truly love it.
Lex Fridman
(01:04:20)
Except for the times over the last few days when we walked through jungle without a trail, and that’s just a different experience.
Paul Rosolie
(01:04:29)
Well, how would you categorize if somebody said, “Lex, I think I’m going to go for a hike through the jungle, not on the trail,” what would you tell them?
Lex Fridman
(01:04:37)
Every step is really hard work. Every step is a puzzle. Every step is a full of possibility of hurting yourself in a multitude of ways. A wasp nest under a leaf, a hole under a leaf on the ground where if you step into it, you’re going to break a knee, ankle, leg, and going to not be able to move for a long time. There’s all kinds of ants that can hurt you a little or can hurt you a lot. Bullet ants. There’s snakes and spiders and… Oh, my favorite that I’ve gotten to know intimately is different plants with different defensive mechanisms, one of which is just spikes, so sharp.

(01:05:31)
I don’t know if you brought it, but there’s-
Paul Rosolie
(01:05:33)
I didn’t bring it. I didn’t bring it.
Lex Fridman
(01:05:35)
Where’s my club? There’s an epic club with spikes. But there’s so many trees that have spikes on them. Sometimes they’re obvious spikes, sometimes less than obvious spikes, and it could be just an innocent, as you take a step through a dense jungle, it could be an innocent placing of a hand on that tree that could just completely transform your experience, your life, by penetrating your hand with like 20, 30, 40, 50 spikes and just changing everything. That’s just a completely different experience than going on a trail where you are observer of the jungle versus the participant of it.
Paul Rosolie
(01:06:14)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(01:06:15)
And it truly is extreme hard work to take every single step.
Paul Rosolie
(01:06:20)
Now, just think about this, I think scientifically, because people like to summarize, people like to get really, really cavalier with our scientific progress, and they go, “We’ve already explored the Amazon.” It’s like, well have we? Because in between each tributary is, let’s say just between some of them, let’s just say a hundred miles of unbroken forest. Who’s explored that? Maybe some of the tribes have been there, maybe. Some areas they haven’t been. Now, when you’re talking about scientists, whether they’re indigenous scientists, western scientists, whatever, so many of the areas in this jungle that is the size of the continental US still have not been accessed.

(01:06:58)
And the places where people are doing research, see, I’ve been down here long enough, I see all the PhDs come down here and they all go to the same few research stations. They’re safe. They have a bed. If you get heli-dropped into the middle of the jungle in the deepest, most remote parts, you’re going to find micro ecosystems. You’re going to see little species variations. You’re going to see a type of flower that JJ has never seen before, like what happened the other day. As you start walking through new patches of forest, you start finding new species, and everything here changes. You just go a little bit upriver and the animals you see differ. You go on this side of the river versus on the north side of the river, there’s two other species of primates there that don’t exist here. And that’s in the mammal paper that we did with the emperor tamarins and the pygmy marmosets that the rangers found.

Mammals

Lex Fridman
(01:07:42)
Yeah. The mammal papers looking at the diversity of life in this one region of the Amazon. Can you talk more about that paper? Mammal Diversity along the Las Piedras River.
Paul Rosolie
(01:07:57)
Once again, the mammal paper, Pat Champagne the prodigy, he was leading on this with a bunch of other scientists who have worked in the region, including Holly O’Donnell out of Oxford, myself. I really just made a few observations. The Junglekeepers Rangers got featured because they’re the ones that spotted a pygmy marmoset that had previously been unrecorded on the river. I got to contribute because I had the only photograph that I believe anyone has of an emperor tamarin on this river. It’s the first proof of emperor tamarin on this river, and that’s exciting. It’s exciting because you can post a picture or share a scientific observation or write about something, and then what happens is you get these couch experts, these armchair experts who will come and say, “No, no, you don’t get blue and yellow macaws there. I can tell from my bird book, it says they’re not there.” And they’ll tell you you’re wrong. “No, you don’t get woolly monkeys there or emperor tamarin.” But we have proof. And so we’re coming together to try and add to that knowledge.
Lex Fridman
(01:09:01)
My general amateur experience of the species I’ve encountered here is, “This should not exist. Whatever this is, this is not real. This is CGI. What?” Just the colors, the weirdness. I mean, I think I called it the Paris Hilton caterpillar because it’s like furry. It looks like a-
Paul Rosolie
(01:09:21)
Looks like Paris Hilton’s dog.
Lex Fridman
(01:09:23)
Yeah, yeah. It’s really furry and it’s transparent. All you see is this white, beautiful fur, and it’s just this caterpillar. It doesn’t look real. Do you think there are species… How many species have we not discovered? And is there a species that are extremely badass that we haven’t discovered yet?
Paul Rosolie
(01:09:43)
If you look up how many trees are in the Amazon rainforest, it’s something in the order of 400 billion trees. There’s something like 70 to 80,000 species of plants, individual types of plants here, 1500 species of-
Paul Rosolie
(01:10:00)
Individual types of plants here, 1500 species of trees. It’s so vast that it’s comparable, the scale is only comparable to the universe in terms of stars and galaxies and for the sheer immensity of it. And so we’re describing new species every year and just walking on the trail at night, you and I have seen, you see a tiny little spider hidden in a crevice. And has the scientific eye ever seen that spider before? Has it been documented? Do we know anything about his life cycle?

(01:10:37)
There’s still so much that’s here that is completely unknown. We have pictures of all these butterflies. Somebody went out with a butterfly net and caught these butterflies, took a picture of it, gave it a name, put it in a butterfly book. What do we know? What host plant do they use for their caterpillars? What’s their geographical range? What do we actually know? Not that much. So are there creatures out here that haven’t been described? Absolutely.
Lex Fridman
(01:11:00)
And some of them could be extremely effective predators in a niche environment.
Paul Rosolie
(01:11:06)
Yeah. Absolutely. I mean certainly in the canopy, 50% of the life in a rainforest is in the canopy, and we’ve had very limited access to the canopy for all of history. If you wanted to get up into the rainforest canopy, you basically have to climb a vine or with scientists, when I was a kid, I always used to see them with the slingshots or the bow and arrows. They would shoot a piece of paracord over a branch, pull the rope up and then do the Ascension thing. And then you’re up in this tree getting swarmed by sweat bees, getting stung by wasps.

(01:11:37)
You’re trying to do science up there in that environment. It’s incredibly hostile and so having canopy platforms… I actually met a guy at a French film festival who had used hot air balloons to float over the canopy of the Amazon and then lay these big nets over the broccoli of the trees. And the nets were dense enough that humans could walk on the nets and then reach through and pull cactuses and lizards and snakes, whatever. Just take specimens from the canopy. That’s how difficult it is that scientists have resorted to using hot air balloons.

(01:12:10)
And so having a tree house, having canopy platforms, it’s starting to be more and more access to the rainforest canopy. And so we’re beginning to log more data. We’ve even observed in our tree house, which is supposed to be the tallest in the world, we’re seeing lizards that we don’t see on the ground, lizards that have never been documented on this river. We’re seeing snakes where they’re saying, “We saw this snake inside a crevice, on that tree, in the strangler fig, and we don’t know what it is.” It’s just people haven’t been up there.
Lex Fridman
(01:12:41)
And that’s where a lot of the monkeys are.
Paul Rosolie
(01:12:43)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(01:12:44)
There’s just a lot of dynamic life up there.
Paul Rosolie
(01:12:47)
Yeah. I mean when you wake up in the canopy in the morning, in the Amazon rainforest, as soon as the darkness lifts, as soon as that purple comes in the east in the morning, the howler monkeys start up, and then the parrots start up, and then the tinamous start going, and then the macaws start going, and pretty soon everybody’s going, and the spider monkey groups are all calling to each other. And it’s just the whole dawn chorus starts and it’s so exciting.
Lex Fridman
(01:13:10)
So you’re saying when they’re screaming, it’s usually about sex.
Paul Rosolie
(01:13:13)
Sex or territory, usually.
Lex Fridman
(01:13:15)
Sex and violence or implied violence-
Paul Rosolie
(01:13:16)
We try to be-
Lex Fridman
(01:13:18)
… or the threat of violence.
Paul Rosolie
(01:13:19)
Yeah. I mean howler monkeys in the morning, they’re letting other groups know this is where we’re at.
Lex Fridman
(01:13:23)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(01:13:23)
We’re going to be foraging over here. You better stay away. And so it’s a little bit respectful as well. There is order in the chaos.
Lex Fridman
(01:13:30)
So just speaking of screaming, macaws are like these beautiful creatures. They’re lifelong partners. They stick together.
Paul Rosolie
(01:13:40)
Monogamous.
Lex Fridman
(01:13:41)
They’re monogamous. You see two of them together. But when they communicate their love language seems to be very loud screaming.
Paul Rosolie
(01:13:47)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(01:13:49)
What do you learn about relationships from macaws?
Paul Rosolie
(01:13:52)
That it can be loud and rough and still be loving.
Lex Fridman
(01:13:54)
And still be loving. But is that interesting to you that there’s monogamy in some species, that they’re lifelong partners, and then there’s total lack of monogamy in other species?
Paul Rosolie
(01:14:04)
It’s all interesting. I mean there’s the anti-monogamy crew who’s like, “We were never meant to be monogamous. We’re supposed to just be animals.” And then there’s the other side of the crew that’s like, “We were meant to be monogamous. We are monogamous creatures. That’s what God wanted between a man and a woman.”

(01:14:19)
And then other people are like, “Yeah. But I know about these two gay penguins, and so that’s natural too.”
Lex Fridman
(01:14:24)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(01:14:24)
And so then everyone tries to draw their identity. They’re trying to justify their identity off of the laws of nature. So the fact that macaws are monogamous really doesn’t have anything to do with anybody except for that it’s beneficial for them to work together to raise chicks. It’s difficult.

(01:14:40)
They rely on ironwood trees or aguaje palms, and it’s difficult to find the right hole in a tree. There’s only so much macaw real estate. And so they need to use those holes. And each one of those ancient trees, it’s usually 500 years or more, is a valuable macaw generating site in the forest. And so if those trees go down, you lose exponential amounts of macaws, and that’s how you get endangered species. And so that’s why we’re trying to protect the ironwood trees.
Lex Fridman
(01:15:09)
Another ridiculous question.
Paul Rosolie
(01:15:10)
Tell me.
Lex Fridman
(01:15:11)
If every jungle creature was the same size-
Paul Rosolie
(01:15:14)
Oh, boy.
Lex Fridman
(01:15:15)
… who would be the new apex predator, the new alpha at the top of the food chain?
Paul Rosolie
(01:15:19)
Dude, that’s like Super Smash Brothers of the jungle.
Lex Fridman
(01:15:21)
Oh, yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(01:15:21)
That’s incredible.
Lex Fridman
(01:15:22)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(01:15:23)
Like bullet ants. If you had a bullet ant that was this size.
Lex Fridman
(01:15:27)
Yeah. Can it be like a tournament?
Paul Rosolie
(01:15:30)
So everyone is pound for pound ratioed for efficiency. So you have basically a six-foot bullet ant versus a huge black caiman versus an anaconda versus ocelots that are the size of jaguars versus-
Lex Fridman
(01:15:42)
Yeah. Well, let’s go bullet ant versus black caiman. Same size.
Paul Rosolie
(01:15:46)
But they’re comparable size?
Lex Fridman
(01:15:46)
Same size.
Paul Rosolie
(01:15:49)
I don’t know, man. I never thought about it. I mean bullet ant has these giant, giant, giant mandibles that could probably grab the black caiman and then at that amount of venom, you’re talking about a bucket of venom going into that black caiman. Black caiman going to get paralyzed immediately.
Lex Fridman
(01:16:03)
Well, insects have just a tremendous amount of strength. I don’t know how they generate, what the geometry of that is. The natural world can’t create that same kind of power in the bigger thing, it seems like.
Paul Rosolie
(01:16:13)
It seems like.
Lex Fridman
(01:16:14)
It seems like ants and just these tiny creatures are the ones they’re able to have that much strength. I don’t know how that works, what the physics of that is.
Paul Rosolie
(01:16:21)
Yeah. So like a leaf cutter ant lifting that leaf, that doesn’t make any sense.
Lex Fridman
(01:16:25)
Yeah. It doesn’t-
Paul Rosolie
(01:16:26)
It doesn’t make any sense.
Lex Fridman
(01:16:28)
I don’t know if that’s the limit of physics. I think it’s just the limit of evolution of how that works.
Paul Rosolie
(01:16:32)
One of the most interesting limits that I heard somebody talking about recently was the reason that dinosaurs didn’t get bigger, even bigger because the conditions on earth were favorable towards it was that at some point their eggs reached this physical limits, that their eggs reached a size, the eggs were so big that that eggs need to breathe for the embryo to survive.

(01:16:52)
And their eggs reached a limit where in order to have a shell that could hold the mass of the liquid and the young dinosaur, if they got bigger, it wouldn’t be permeable anymore. And I thought that was so interesting because the entire size of physical creatures was determined by how thick shell can be before it breaks or before it can’t pass air through it.
Lex Fridman
(01:17:12)
Yeah. There might be a lot of the biophysics limits-
Paul Rosolie
(01:17:16)
That’s fascinating stuff.
Lex Fridman
(01:17:18)
… just like the interplay between biology, chemistry, and physics of a life form, because this thing there’s a lot involved in creating a single living organism that could survive in this world. And being big is not always good, being a big creature for many reasons. Like you were saying, the big creature seemed to be going extinct for many reasons, but in the human world is because they’re seen to be of higher value.
Paul Rosolie
(01:17:46)
Given the current size of the jungle, I think that the MVP, the pound-for-pound goat is ocelots. I mean you’re talking about a mid-size 40, 50-pound cat that can climb. That does, unlike a jaguar, a jaguar every time it hunts, it’s going after a deer. It catches a deer. The deer could hit it with its antlers, it could tear it with its hooves, it’s risking its life for that meal.

(01:18:11)
An ocelot, ocelots walk around at night and they climb a tree, eat a whole bunch of eggs, eat the mother bird too, kill a snake, maybe mess around and eat a baby caiman. They can have whatever they like and they’re sleek enough and smart enough to get away from predators. They don’t really have predators and so they occupy this perfect niche where they can hunt small prey in high quantity without taking on big risks.

(01:18:40)
And so if you had to choose an animal to be, it would probably be like an ocelot or I would say giant river otters, which are so damn cool because the locals call them lobos de rio, river wolves, because they’re so tough and they’re so social and they’re so like us, because they’re intensely familial groups.

(01:18:58)
They live in holes by the sides of lakes and they swim through the water and they catch fish all day long, piranhas. They eat them just like, the scales go flying as they eat these piranhas. And they’re so joyous in the way they swim and they have friends and they have family and I think we could relate to being a river otter, really, because I can’t picture being a cat and being so solitary and just marching along a 15-mile route and making sure there’s no other cats coming in on your territory and marking that territory.

(01:19:28)
It seems very solo and very cat like-
Lex Fridman
(01:19:33)
The lonely existence.
Paul Rosolie
(01:19:34)
Lonely existence.
Lex Fridman
(01:19:35)
And we humans are social beings.
Paul Rosolie
(01:19:36)
We’re so social. And so to me, river otter is like having a big Italian family. You’re constantly eating, you’re freaking out, just causing problems with the black caiman.
Lex Fridman
(01:19:44)
Take down a black caiman.
Paul Rosolie
(01:19:46)
Yeah. Start street fights.

Piranhas

Lex Fridman
(01:19:47)
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. It’s a family thing. You mentioned piranhas.
Paul Rosolie
(01:19:50)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(01:19:51)
They’re a source of a lot of fear for people. What do you find beautiful and fascinating about these creatures? They’re also kind of social, or at least they hunt and operate in groups.
Paul Rosolie
(01:20:00)
Yeah. Not in the mammalian way though. Piranhas are in large schools, but fish are so different. I can talk to you all day about how much I’d love to be an otter. Also, going back to the fighting thing, otters and weasels muscle a day tend to be very loose in their skin. So if you grab an otter, it can still rotate around to bite you.
Lex Fridman
(01:20:00)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(01:20:20)
So it’s like if I grab you by the back, you’re stuck.
Lex Fridman
(01:20:22)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(01:20:23)
You grab them by the skin, they can rotate around and just shred you apart. So they’re really cool fighters. Piranha fish. I don’t identify with fish in terms like that. I think living out here has made me think of fish as a rapid food that can or can’t be gotten. To me, when I see a piranha, I think about how I want it to taste.
Lex Fridman
(01:20:50)
Yeah. So fish is a food source for so many creatures in the jungle.
Paul Rosolie
(01:20:55)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(01:20:55)
So they’re primarily a food source, but piranhas are-
Paul Rosolie
(01:20:58)
Predators.
Lex Fridman
(01:20:59)
I mean they’re predators. They’re serious predators.
Paul Rosolie
(01:21:01)
They are serious predators. I found a baby black caiman not that long ago, and he was missing all of his toes because the piranhas had eaten them off. It was really sad. He just had these stumps and he was swimming around the water and I was like, “You are not going to make it.”

(01:21:13)
He was like eight inches, and he was such a cute little puppy. He had those big eyes. And I was just like, “Man, you already are missing all your toes.” I was like, “It’s just a matter of time.” Now he can’t get away so some big agami heron is going to come and just nail him, pop him down his throat, and that’s the end of that for the caiman.
Lex Fridman
(01:21:29)
I mean nature is mental.
Paul Rosolie
(01:21:31)
Nature, sure, is mental.
Lex Fridman
(01:21:33)
Bite off a little bit, and then makes you vulnerable. And then that vulnerability is exploited by some other species, and then that’s it. That’s the end.
Paul Rosolie
(01:21:40)
But humans are brutal too. Like that story we heard about that guy the other day who caught a stingray on a fishing hook, chopped its tail off to make it safe for humans, cut a piece of the stingray off so he could use it for bait, and then threw the live fish back in the river.

(01:21:56)
To me, that is incomprehensible amounts of cruelty with flawed logic in every direction. If you’re going to use the thing as bait, use it as bait. If you’re going to remove its tail, well, then just kill it altogether.
Lex Fridman
(01:22:09)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(01:22:10)
Or if you want to save the animal and not kill it, then don’t maim it before you return it to its… It was such a weird-
Lex Fridman
(01:22:18)
So if you kill an animal, you want to use it to its fullest by using it as a food source, by cooking it, by eating every part of it, all that kind of stuff.
Paul Rosolie
(01:22:26)
Yeah. So we’ve been eating pacu in your time here.
Lex Fridman
(01:22:30)
Fried pacu is great. Fried pacu.
Paul Rosolie
(01:22:31)
Amazing. It’s delicious. Full of nutrients. You could tell it makes you healthy.
Lex Fridman
(01:22:34)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(01:22:34)
I feel like we have better workouts so that we can go harder in the jungle. And so a few months ago in August when the river was down, there was a day that the river was clear. And a friend of mine, Victor, who’s married to a native girl, he said, “It’s time to go pacu fishing.”

(01:22:52)
And at the time, we were stuck out here and we had no resupply. Everybody was busy. And so everyone was demoralized. The staff was hungry. We were hungry. And it really became this thing of like, “Hey, go catch us some pacu.”

(01:23:05)
They were working on the trails. They were installing the solar. We were working hard and we didn’t have food. And so we went out to the river, and what we did was we went up river, we camped on the beach, and in the morning, Victor’s wife was canoeing with the paddle, dead quiet. Don’t let the paddle touch the wooden boat.

(01:23:25)
Nikita was balancing in the middle of the thing, Victor’s on the front with this huge fishing rod, and I’m sitting there and he goes, “I’ll catch the first one. You catch the second one.” And he’s got this huge fishing rod and a piece of half rotten meat from the day before. And he’s smacking it against the water. 6:00 AM.

(01:23:40)
He’s just letting it smack against the water. And I’m going… And we’re floating down the river and I’m going, “This is not going to work.” And we’re floating and we’re floating, and a half hour passes and I’m going, “It’s dawn. I want to go back to sleep. I’m just not a morning person.”

(01:23:54)
And all of a sudden a fish hits that line, almost pulls this man off of his feet. And He swings the thing in. The fish comes on the boat. And then I realize he’s got a big metal mallet on the boat so that you could try to shut that fish off. And it’s this huge oar shaped, thick, muscular pacu.

(01:24:12)
And as soon as I saw that fish, I just thought, “Wow. The strongest of this species for millions of years have been swimming in this river, and suddenly we’ve…” Through this incredible combination of the boat, and the cord, and the hook, none of which we made, and the skill that he had from knowing how to fish a pacu, because otherwise there’s no chance that you’re getting that fish.

(01:24:36)
They hide. They’re very, very suspicious of what you’re doing. We had gotten this fish onto the boat and boom. You hammer it like a caveman. Boom. It doesn’t die. Boom. You have to crush its skull. And now you have this fish and you’re holding this genetic material, this sustenance for your life that has been developing since the dinosaur times.

(01:24:56)
It’s so beautiful. The act, the sacred act of eating that, of the fish, of the competition with the fish. And we spent the morning fishing. We got three pacus. Three huge giant vegetarian piranha. And I just remember touching them with so much reverence, thinking about the incredible history and how that before these rivers existed, those pacus were swimming through the water and trying to survive through history, through history, through history, until we took just a few.

(01:25:31)
And we did it respectfully and we did it when we needed it most, not at a time when it was just for fun and it was really, really special.
Lex Fridman
(01:25:38)
Well, humans, using them for sustenance, there’s a collaboration there. That’s something also that I’ve seen in the jungle. That there’s creatures using each other and it’s like a dance of either mutually using each other or it’s parasitic or symbiotic.

(01:25:55)
It’s interesting, there’s a medicinal plant you grabbed that was full of ants that were trying to murder you by biting. But they were defending the plant that they were using for whatever purpose, but there’s a clear dance there of the ants using the plant, and the plant existing, therefore other applications and other use for humans and there’s that circle of life happening. But the ants were defense…

(01:26:22)
So the plant didn’t have its own defense mechanism, the ants, the army of ants was there to protect the plant.
Paul Rosolie
(01:26:32)
Remember, we put our backpacks down at that one spot, and it was like the ants got on your backpack. And I said, “Oh, shit. This is that tree.” Did you actually get bitten by one of those? Because they’re incredibly painful, the tangarana one. They’re like-
Lex Fridman
(01:26:44)
Yeah. Surprisingly painful, because they’re small. Luckily, I have not been bitten by a bullet ant yet.
Paul Rosolie
(01:26:50)
But it’s amazing because they live inside the tree.
Lex Fridman
(01:26:51)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(01:26:54)
The tree comes standard with holes in it that allow ants to move and to exist safe, and it protects their eggs, and they protect the tree. And so we saw that spot where there was a perfect circle around the trees, because the ants had excavated the other vegetation so that those trees could have no competition to grow.

(01:27:15)
The incredible calculation of how ants know to come programmed to garden that tree, and the tree somehow has been genetically informed to have ant habitat within itself. It’s mind-blowing. And actually is the foundation of a lot of existential confusion for me, because how the hell is this possible?
Lex Fridman
(01:27:38)
Yeah. One of the things you mentioned that’s also a source of a lot of existential confusion for me is ants, and the intelligence of different creatures in the forest. There’s these giant colonies, there’s these just giant systems. But even just looking at a single colony of ants, them collaborating, leaf-cutter ants is an incredible system.

(01:28:00)
So individually, the ants seem kind of dumb and simplistic, but taken together, there is a vast intelligence operating that’s able to be robust and resilient in any kind of conditions, is able to figure out a new environment, is able to be resilient to any kinds of attacks and all that kind of stuff. What do you find beautiful about them?
Paul Rosolie
(01:28:21)
As you said, just leaf-cutter ants in this jungle.
Lex Fridman
(01:28:21)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(01:28:24)
That’s forgetting all the other hundreds of species of ants that are in this jungle. But just the leaf-cutters, apparently, digest roughly 17% of the total biomass of the forest, everything, all these giant trees, all that leaf litter, 17% of that, almost a fifth of this forest cycles through leaf-cutter ant colonies.

(01:28:45)
So they’re constantly regenerating the forest. They’re a huge source of the driver of this ecosystem. And so to me, when you see them working, it’s, again, like I said, you see your friends as you go through the jungle. You see all the K-POK trees. You see a cunea tree. So there’s leaf-cutter ants doing what they’re supposed to do. And it’s just so beautiful. I find them very beautiful army ants. They’re so tough. They’re so ready to fight. They have this huge mandibles. They’re just ready to, they’re transporting their eggs. They’re moving from here to there. Anything that’s in the way is getting eaten. They’re just savage and they’re kind of cute for that unless you’re tied to a tree.
Lex Fridman
(01:29:18)
The savagery is cute.
Paul Rosolie
(01:29:21)
Yeah. It’s reassuring. You want certain things to be tough. That’s their part.
Lex Fridman
(01:29:25)
Oh, that everybody plays a part in the entirety of the nature mechanism?
Paul Rosolie
(01:29:31)
And a powerful play.
Lex Fridman
(01:29:36)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(01:29:37)
But the army ants are so savage. If you step on army ants, they will all kamikaze just attack onto your feet and they’ll just sacrifice their own life for the good of the thing. And they’ll be trying to kill your shoes, and there’s something funny about that, to me. There’s something like kind of reassuring, again, unless, imagine if you’re going through the jungle and you slip and you fall and you twist your knee and you fall in just the right way, but you can’t get up.
Lex Fridman
(01:30:05)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(01:30:05)
You Can’t. You’re stuck there.
Lex Fridman
(01:30:07)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(01:30:08)
And then army ants find you.
Lex Fridman
(01:30:09)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(01:30:10)
They will take you apart. There are records of horses that have been tied up and army ants come and they’ll take out the whole horse.
Lex Fridman
(01:30:19)
Imagine the pain of that.
Paul Rosolie
(01:30:22)
It might be raining on us very hard very soon.
Lex Fridman
(01:30:25)
You want to pause?
Paul Rosolie
(01:30:26)
No. I think we’ll stay here until the ship goes down.
Lex Fridman
(01:30:29)
We should mention that there’s this one source of light and we’re shrouded in darkness.
Paul Rosolie
(01:30:33)
And now the night shift is going to take over soon, and we are in the Amazon rainforest.

Aliens

Lex Fridman
(01:30:38)
What does the rainforest represent to you when you zoom out and look at the entirety of it?
Paul Rosolie
(01:30:45)
Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot resonated with a lot of people. That everything you’ve ever heard of, all the heroes, all the villains, all of your ancestors, every achievement, tragedy, triumph, everything has happened on that one spot. This one tiny, tiny little rock that has life on it.

(01:31:06)
And to me, the rainforests represent the crown jewel of that as far as we know and to the best of our knowledge and with our shrewd scientific brains at their fullest capacity, this is still the only place that we know that has life. And given that, the fact that there are still these tropical, towering, complex ecosystems that we barely understand, crawling and full of the most incredible life.

(01:31:40)
To me, it’s so wonderful. It’s so incredible. The waterfalls and the birds and the macaws and the jaguars, it’s barely believable. If you were to theoretically tell a hypothetical alien, “I live on this planet and there’s just these places where everything is interconnected, everything means something to something else and the whole thing is this system that keeps us alive. And each tree is pumping air into the river, and there’s an invisible river above the actual river and the whole thing goes into stabilizing our global climate.”

(01:32:09)
And each little tiny leaf cutter ant somehow contributes to this giant, biotic orchestra that keeps us alive and makes our environment possible. That is beautiful. I love that. And so the rainforests to me are the greatest celebration of life and probably the greatest challenge for us as a global society because if we can’t protect the crown jewel, the best thing, the most beautiful part, then we’re really, really missing the point.
Lex Fridman
(01:32:38)
Yeah. The diversity of organisms here is the biggest celebration of life that is at the core of what makes earth a really special thing. That said, you and I have been arguing about aliens for pretty much the day I showed up.

(01:32:56)
All right. You brought a machete to this fight. Luckily, the table is long enough where-
Paul Rosolie
(01:33:02)
I can’t reach-
Lex Fridman
(01:33:03)
… you can’t reach me. To you earth is truly special.
Paul Rosolie
(01:33:07)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(01:33:08)
You don’t think there’s other earths out there, millions of other earths in our galaxy. When you look up, we were sitting in the Amazon River.
Paul Rosolie
(01:33:15)
Okay.
Lex Fridman
(01:33:16)
Dark, the storm rolled over and you started counting the stars.
Paul Rosolie
(01:33:19)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(01:33:20)
One, two, and that was once you can count the stars, that was a sign that the storm will actually pass. Eventually, it’ll pass. And that’s what you were doing, three, four, five and it’s going to pass. You’re not going to have to sit in that river for all night. So just a couple hours to keep yourself warm.

(01:33:35)
Okay. Each of those stars, there’s earth-like planets around them.
Paul Rosolie
(01:33:39)
Okay.
Lex Fridman
(01:33:41)
Why do you think there’s no alien civilizations there?
Paul Rosolie
(01:33:46)
You can write down a calculation on a napkin, you can cite different Hollywood movies, you can point up to the pieces of light in the stars, but if I talk about show me a single cell that’s not from this planet, it’s still not possible.

(01:34:01)
And so I agree with you that the likelihood is there, all indications point to it. It would be fascinating, especially if it was done, especially imagine finding a planet of alternative life forms, not necessarily even intelligent. Imagine just a planet of butterflies, whatever, something else.

(01:34:18)
That would be amazing, but I’m concerned with the reality that we have in front of us is that this is the spaceship. This is life.
Lex Fridman
(01:34:25)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(01:34:26)
And so right now given that reality, maybe that’s the case, maybe there are other planets or maybe we are the first, maybe life originated here, maybe God, the universe, whatever, maybe this is it. This is the testing ground for something bigger and this complexity and this diversity of life and this life that we have is that important.

(01:34:57)
And I think that part of what we do when we go, “Oh, yeah, but there’s other planets where…” First of all, we’re taking an assumption into reality without… I mean aliens right now are about as real as Santa Claus. We think they’re out there, but we’re not sure. Maybe a little more real because it could make sense.

(01:35:15)
No one has an alien. No one’s seen an alien. No one’s even seen cellular life. And so I’m not, again, if they showed up tomorrow, great. Let’s study them. But right now we have this very simple threat going on where we can’t stop killing each other in our living environment.

(01:35:33)
And so while some people can specialize in looking to the stars and to other planets and talk about being an interplanetary species. I’m very much concerned with the fact that here in our home turf, our living environment where the air is good and the rivers are clean and the trees are big and there’s macaws flying through the sky and salmon in the rivers, not only do we have a responsibility to each other and to our children to protect this incredible gift that is our entire reality.

(01:36:02)
It seems kind of weird too, at some point, conservation seems ridiculous. You’re begging people to not pollute the things that keep them alive. It’s almost silly at a point. But we have this incredible thing where there are fish in the ocean and in the rivers that come standard with life on earth. And we’re harming the ability of earth’s ecosystems to provide for that life.

(01:36:27)
And we are the generation that’s going to decide if those systems continue to provide life to all the people on earth and all the generations. And by the way, all the other animals that exist for their own reasons, other consciousnesses that we’re just beginning to understand, elephants, humpback whales, whatever, families of giant river otters, not everything can be seen from a human perspective. These are other species that have their own stories.

(01:36:55)
And so I’m more biocentric than anthropocentric in that I think that nature is important, but I also believe that we are special. We are the most intelligent animal.
Lex Fridman
(01:37:10)
So one, I agree with you, there’s some degree to which when you imagine aliens, you forget if for a moment how special and important life is here on Earth.
Paul Rosolie
(01:37:23)
Yes.
Lex Fridman
(01:37:25)
But it’s also a way to reach out through curiosity in trying to understand what is intelligence, what is consciousness, what is exactly the thing that makes life on earth special?

(01:37:39)
Another way of doing that, and I see the jungle in that same way is basically treating the animals all around us, the life forms all around us as kinds of aliens. That’s a humbling way, that’s intellectual humility with which to approach the study of what the hell is going on here?
Paul Rosolie
(01:37:59)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(01:37:59)
This is truly incredible. Are the animals we’ve met over the last few days conscious? What is the nature of their intelligence? What is the nature of their consciousness? What motivates them? Are they individual creatures or are they actually part of the large system? And how large is the system? Is earth one big system and humans are just little fingertips of that system, or are each of the individual animals really the key actors and everything else is in the emerging complexity of the system?

(01:38:33)
So I think thinking about aliens is a necessary… I like my town with a little drop of poison from Tom Waits is a necessary perturbation of the system, of our thinking, to sort of say, “Hey, we don’t know what the fuck is going on around here.”
Paul Rosolie
(01:38:48)
Sure.
Lex Fridman
(01:38:49)
And aliens is a nice way to say, “Okay. The mystery all around us is immense.” Because to me, likely, aliens are living among us. Not in a trivial sense, little green men, but the force that created life I think permeates the entirety of the universe. That there is a force that’s creative.
Paul Rosolie
(01:39:19)
Now the force that created life is a big one. And then the other thing is, what do you mean by that there’s aliens living among us? You mean extraterrestrials?
Lex Fridman
(01:39:31)
Yes.
Paul Rosolie
(01:39:32)
Living among us?
Lex Fridman
(01:39:33)
Yes.
Paul Rosolie
(01:39:35)
You believe that?
Lex Fridman
(01:39:37)
Not like 100%, but there’s a good percentage. I don’t how it’s possible for there not to be a very large number of alien civilization throughout just our galaxy.
Paul Rosolie
(01:39:51)
But that’s different than saying that they’re living among us. If you tell me that there’s aliens living five galaxies over and that they’re just out there somewhere, I’m more on your side than that they’re here, because just like Bigfoot, we have camera traps. We have DNA sequencing through water now.

(01:40:09)
You’re telling me no one found one wingnut of a ship in all… The Egyptians up until right now, no one in Russia saw a crashed ship, took a picture, tweeted that shit real quick and…
Lex Fridman
(01:40:23)
I think there’s no Bigfoot, there’s no trivial manifestations of aliens. I think if they’re here, they’re here in ways that are not comprehensible by humans, because they’re far more advanced than humans. They’re far more advanced than any life forms on earth.

(01:40:38)
So even if it’s just their probes, we cannot just even comprehend it. I think it’s possible that they operate in the space of ideas, for example, that ideas could be aliens, feelings could be aliens. Consciousness itself could be aliens.

(01:40:55)
So we can’t restrict our understanding of what is a life form to a thing that is a biological creature that operates via natural selection on this particular planet. It could be much, much, much more sophisticated. It could be in a space of computation, for example. As we in the 21st century are developing increasingly sophisticated computational systems with artificial intelligence, it could be operating on some other level that we can’t even imagine.

(01:41:23)
It could be operating on a level of physics that we have not even begun to understand. We barely understand quantum mechanics. We use it. Quantum mechanics is a way we used to make very accurate predictions, but to understand why it’s operating that way, we don’t. And there’s so many gigantic powerful cosmic entities out there that we detect, sometimes can’t detect, dark matter, dark energy, but it’s out there.

(01:41:53)
We know it exists, but we can’t explain why and what the fuck it is. We give it names, black holes and dark energy and dark matter, but those are all names for things that mathematical equations predict, but we don’t understand. And so all of that is just to say that aliens could be here in ways that are for now and maybe for a long time going to be impossible for humans to understand.
Paul Rosolie
(01:42:22)
So aliens in the strict biological sense, like horseshoe crabs, we agree that we haven’t found physical aliens?
Lex Fridman
(01:42:34)
The only way I can imagine finding physical aliens is if alien species, they’re trying to communicate with us humans or with other life forms, and are trying to figure out a way to communicate with us such that we dumb humans would understand. Let’s create a thing…
Paul Rosolie
(01:42:54)
There’s a moth the size of a small eagle.
Lex Fridman
(01:43:01)
That’s trying to get us 15 minutes of attention.
Paul Rosolie
(01:43:01)
It just might-
Lex Fridman
(01:43:05)
Big fan of the podcast.
Paul Rosolie
(01:43:06)
Okay. Lex, I love you. All right. So wouldn’t it be interesting, it’d be really fascinating to me if we found out that there were aliens living among us and we couldn’t see them. And what some of the people were calling aliens, the scientists, the religious people we’re calling angels.
Lex Fridman
(01:43:24)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(01:43:24)
And then everybody had this realization that whether you call them aliens or angels, there are these other, there is way more to the universe than we’re realizing. Just for me, the fact that there’s-
Lex Fridman
(01:43:40)
There’s a skull on the table.
Paul Rosolie
(01:43:41)
Yeah. There’s a skull on table.
Lex Fridman
(01:43:42)
There’s now a skull on your hand.
Paul Rosolie
(01:43:45)
There’s now a skull in my hand of a monkey with a bullet in its head that I found on the floor of an indigenous community where they eat monkeys. I didn’t kill the monkey, so save your comments. But in terms of the animals, I think that when I see space, my feeling, and I’m not requiring anybody else to have this feeling, but because we know, because it’s the only place that we know that there’s life and we have no idea how it started.

(01:44:15)
I just think it’s so important to protect it. And for me, it’s just as much about our children as it is about the little spider monkeys and the little baby caiman that are in the river right now, because life is so beautiful.
Lex Fridman
(01:44:28)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(01:44:29)
And I think that there’s a huge amount of intellectual responsibility that we can transfer off of ourselves if we go, “Yeah. The rivers are filled with trash and, yeah, extinction is happening, but we have to be an interplanetary species anyway, because at any moment this could all end from an asteroid and everything’s going to shit anyway, and so it’s like we’re fucking up this planet.”

(01:44:51)
And so we’re just being angry teenagers who are going goth for a while. And it’s like what if you just rolled up your sleeves, and said, “Holy shit. Wait a second. We can pretty much do whatever we want-“
Paul Rosolie
(01:45:00)
I said, holy shit, wait a second. We can pretty much do whatever we want. We can fly all over the world. We can do heart transplants, we can watch Netflix in the Amazon if we wanted to. We could do all this amazing stuff. We can capture on video our adventures and go back and watch them again and again and again. There’s so much incredible opportunity that technology has allowed us to do, and we’re the richest in history. We could do everything. We could cross the whole planet in a second, and it’s like, that’s an amazing time to be alive. And if we just don’t fuck up the ecosystems and kill all the other animals, we got it made.
Lex Fridman
(01:45:35)
It is true that we can destroy ourselves with nuclear weapons, but it also is true that that snake that I got to handle yesterday is one of the most beautiful things Earth has ever created. In that little organism is encapsulated the entire history of Earth, and it’s beautiful. Both things are true. We should worry about the existential destruction of human civilization through the weapons we create, and we should become multi-planetary species as a backup for that purpose. But also remember, this place is really, really special and probably, if not difficult, probably impossible to recreate elsewhere. And by the way, there’s something incredibly powerful about a skull.
Paul Rosolie
(01:46:23)
If you ever hold a human skull, it’ll weigh on you for a sec because you look into the hollow eyes of this face and suddenly you go, you feel your own cheek, you feel your own skull, and you go, holy shit. You go, what is going on? It’s like taking acid. You just go, oh boy, I forgot that I’m a ghost inhabiting a meat vehicle on a floating rock.
Lex Fridman
(01:46:47)
But even a monkey, it’s like looking at a ancestor, not a direct ancestor, but it’s like you’re looking at a puddle, at a reflection.
Paul Rosolie
(01:47:05)
A little blurry, but it’s still living.
Lex Fridman
(01:47:06)
It’s a little blurry, but it’s still there. It’s still there. And the roots of who we are is still there, and it’s all incredible. Do you ever think of the tree of life, just where we came from?
Paul Rosolie
(01:47:19)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(01:47:20)
The jungle is ephemeral. It’s a system that just keeps forgetting because it’s just churning and churning and churning, and churning. It has, in some ways, no history. But to create the jungle, to create life on Earth, there’s a deep history of lots of death, sex and death.
Paul Rosolie
(01:47:39)
A festival of sex and death. Life on Earth.
Lex Fridman
(01:47:44)
That’s what I see in the skull.
Paul Rosolie
(01:47:47)
There’s something terrifying about that image to me. Every now and then at night, you hold that skull and it just reminds you that you’re temporary.
Lex Fridman
(01:47:58)
Yeah. Both you and I will one day have one of those.
Paul Rosolie
(01:48:01)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(01:48:06)
Mine will be bigger.
Paul Rosolie
(01:48:10)
My, God.
Lex Fridman
(01:48:11)
The male competition continues.
Paul Rosolie
(01:48:12)
The silverback slaps the lesser male once again.
Lex Fridman
(01:48:17)
Do you have a lighter?
Paul Rosolie
(01:48:18)
Yeah, bro. You want to light this blunt?

Elephants

Lex Fridman
(01:48:21)
Yeah. What are your favorite animals to interact with?
Paul Rosolie
(01:48:28)
My favorite, absolute favorite animal to interact with is 100% elephants, which there’s no elephants here, but I’ve been incredibly privileged to spend some time with elephants, both in India and in Africa. And I think that they’re so smart and so complex that we do a really bad job of understanding what an elephant really is.

(01:48:51)
I think that most children probably think of elephants as something cuddly. Most adults probably have a similar misconception of them. When you see an elephant, when you see a 12-foot tall bull elephant with bone coming out of its face with huge tusks and those giant… It’s an octopus faced butterfly eared behemoth that’s a survival machine. And it’ll look at you and just go, do I have to kill you to keep safe? And it’s just they’re so tough and they have dirt on their back and they have flower petals and the little hair. You realize they have hair all over their body. And the power to throw a car over, to flip it. Just one of the most impressive animals on Earth.

(01:49:36)
And I think that I’ve gotten really good at interacting with wild elephants in a way that’s respectful to them. And I think that when an elephant allows you to be in its space, it’s because you’re showing submissiveness and respect for the elephant’s space. And they’re so intelligent that they’re communicating with seismic vibrations through the Earth, that they have a matriarchal society, that they can remember the maps of their ancestors and they know how to find water, that they can solve problems. They’re such beautiful animals and they’re so… Talk about aliens. They’re so alien looking, these big, weird heads and the trunks with all those muscles.

(01:50:17)
And they’re so different than us, but yet I actually think that we grew up together. They raised us, sibling species, that we’ve inhabited the same epoch in history, and we’ve relied on the ecosystems that they’ve created. And I think that they have a deep understanding of humans, elephants, and I think I see them more like aliens, more like non-human beings that we share the Earth with. I don’t see it as we’re humans and they’re animals. I actually see elephants as a separate society along with humans as one of the dominant species on the planet.
Lex Fridman
(01:50:55)
Almost every species, especially the intelligent ones, especially the big ones, are their own societies that overlap and sometimes co-develop.
Paul Rosolie
(01:51:04)
Yeah, I think whales, I think elephants. I think that there’s those higher… No one’s suggesting that sardines somehow need human rights or something, but I think that elephants need representation in governments because they influence their landscape, they engineer their environment. They have emotions, they have families, they have burial rituals. They’re so like us, and yet we treat them like they’re just oversized cows that we have to be scared of. They’re not the same as domesticated livestock. They’re one of the treasures of Earth. Look, let’s just say little green men showed up and they said, well, what’s Earth? It’s, well, there’s mountains, there’s rivers. It’s, well, how do I do this? There’s mountains, rivers, there’s elephants. It’s one of the first things a baby learns is elephant, even if he’s never seen one. It’s just so iconic on Earth. Like you said-
Lex Fridman
(01:51:59)
Darren Aronofsky.
Paul Rosolie
(01:52:00)
… Darren Aronofsky, the elephant walking over the camera. I haven’t seen it. You said it’s incredible.
Lex Fridman
(01:52:05)
At the Sphere, the Postcard from Earth, it’s a celebration of Earth in all forms. And one of the critical big creatures in that film is an elephant. And it steps over the audience and the whole Sphere reverberates that power. Some of it is size, some of it is, how did Earth create this? It is a weird looking creature, but we take it for granted because we’ve accepted that this Earth can create this kind of thing, but it is weird, beautifully weird.
Paul Rosolie
(01:52:43)
Oh, it’s beautifully weird. Elephants, there’s something really impressive and wise about them. There’s also beautiful weird that doesn’t come with so much grandeur. To me, a giraffe is beautifully weird, but they’re 18 foot tall camel deer things with giant necks. And they’re strange, and they’re absolutely serenely beautiful, but they don’t have that deep intelligence that elephants have. There’s something that elephants have.
Lex Fridman
(01:53:13)
Do you see it in their eyes?
Paul Rosolie
(01:53:13)
You see it in their eyes.
Lex Fridman
(01:53:15)
How does the intelligence manifest itself?
Paul Rosolie
(01:53:18)
Well, this is the thing. A lot of people, a lot of when I was reading Frans de Waal’s book, a lot of what he was saying was that people give elephants human problems to solve in controlled environments and call it a study on elephant intelligence. Whereas if you’re watching wild elephants and you’re in the wild, you’re going to be watching them in a way that they’re looking… You’ve pulled up in a safari vehicle or you’ve pulled over to the side of the road and the elephants are wary of you so they’re not acting natural. But as soon as you start watching wild elephants, truly in the wild and comfortable with your presence, you see how they start caring for their babies or how they can get annoyed. I once watched elephants around a water hole, and there’s this warthog, and I don’t know why, but this warthog decided he needed to get in. And there was this young male elephant, and he kept turning around to this warthog and just being, don’t make me do it. Now, this elephant did not need to hurt the warthog. And the warthog was just, I need a drink, I need a drink, I need a drink. Much simpler brain. The elephant was, you could just tell. He was, watch this. And he just went and crushed the warthog like it was a big beetle, and crushed his pelvis. And the warthog dragged itself away on its front legs and probably went off to die. But this young elephant put out his ears and he paraded around with his tail up and he was, look what I did. Destruction. And it’s like, that’s a very relatable type of… He was annoyed with the warthog. And so you see them do these things.

(01:54:50)
The most magical thing, and I’ve spoken about this many times, was that I was walking with a herd of semi-wild elephants that were crossing through a village in India, because elephants have lost a lot of their territory because there’s so much population in India. And so we were crossing through a village, which is very delicate because the matriarchs are leading the babies, and there’s villagers who have no idea what an elephant is, and they’re watching the elephants cross. And the matriarchs backed this girl up against a wall, and she was terrified standing there with her back against the wall, and the elephant just put a trunk out and touched the girl’s stomach. And then the other elephants came and they all started touching her stomach. And the ranger there explained to me, he just went, ” She’s pregnant. They know she’s pregnant. They can smell, they can tell, and they’re curious.” And all the female elephants came to investigate the pregnant girl. And she had no idea what was going on. And so it’s like that stuff. That stuff…
Lex Fridman
(01:55:44)
And it’s cool to hear that with the crushing and the pride of a young elephant that there’s a complexity of behavior. It’s just like with humans.
Paul Rosolie
(01:55:55)
Yeah, it’s not always pretty.
Lex Fridman
(01:55:57)
That’s the thing, man. Humans are capable of good and evil, and sometimes we attach these words. I love that there’s just… It’s an orchestra of different sounds. And that one is sex.
Paul Rosolie
(01:56:13)
That’s a bamboo rat calling out for a mate.
Lex Fridman
(01:56:15)
A mate. All right.
Paul Rosolie
(01:56:16)
Good luck.
Lex Fridman
(01:56:18)
Good luck to you, buddy.
Paul Rosolie
(01:56:20)
Good hunting.
Lex Fridman
(01:56:23)
Humans are capable of evil things and beautiful things, and I wonder if animals are the same. You think there’s just different personalities and different life trajectories for animals as they develop in their understanding of social interaction, of survival, of maybe even primitive concepts of right and wrong within the social system. Do you think there’s a lot of diversity in personalities and behavior? Just like different people, is there different elephants?
Paul Rosolie
(01:57:02)
Of course. And what I really like is that you said, is there a perception of what’s right and wrong? Because elephants have a code of ethics. The simplest example is that as young males begin to grow, they start developing these tusks and those tusks are a tool and they use them. For Indian elephants, the females don’t have tusks and the males do. The females kick the males out of the herd. The females keep all the sisters and the aunts and the cousins together, but the males are their own thing.

(01:57:33)
And so here’s the thing. What you get is these crews of male elephants and the older males, there’s play fighting that goes on around, two young males can play fight, but the older males, they’ll kick some ass. They’ll show them how to behave, they’ll explain who gets to talk to the females, who gets to interact, who gets to mate, who gets the best vegetation to eat. And so there’s an order established and so young male elephants have to be taught how to act. Just like a teenage human, has to be taught you can’t just haul off and break another kid’s nose. There’s going to be consequences. Maybe you’ll get suspended or maybe that kid will get his friends and beat the living shit out of you. Whatever it is, society regulates your behavior. And elephants have a very strict, very predictable… The males teach the males how to run things, and the females, which really have the final say, they’re matriarchal, they’re the ones leading the herd where to go. The males follow where the wise females tell them where to go.
Lex Fridman
(01:58:37)
That regulation mechanisms from that emerges a moral system under which they operate what’s right and wrong?
Paul Rosolie
(01:58:46)
For an elephant, yeah.
Lex Fridman
(01:58:47)
For an elephant.
Paul Rosolie
(01:58:47)
Right and wrong for an elephant is not the same as what’s right and wrong for a grizzly bear. If you’re a male grizzly bear and you see a female with cubs, you just kill those cubs and then you can mate with her and put your own cubs in there. And that’s a whole different type of ethics.
Lex Fridman
(01:59:02)
The value of child life is different from species to species. Some of them hold it sacred, some of them not at all.
Paul Rosolie
(01:59:10)
And that’s why I think I resonate so much with elephants because I think that we are matriarchal, at least I grew up matriarchal, women were the force in my life. My family and most of my friends’ families, women have the final say. And I feel like that’s the way it is with elephants. You might be bigger and stronger, but it doesn’t really account for much if you’re not smarter and more emotionally intelligent and you know how to take care of the group.

Origin of life

Lex Fridman
(01:59:40)
Just to zoom out into the ridiculous questions as we were talking about aliens, there’s a lot of people trying to understand, trying to study the origin of life.
Paul Rosolie
(01:59:51)
Oh, I love this.
Lex Fridman
(01:59:53)
First of all, what do you think is life versus non-life? When you look at ants or even the simplest of organisms, we saw a frog in a stream yesterday, that was a leaf frog. It was as flat as a sheet of paper and it does a lot of weird things and it found a way to exist in this world. But that’s a single living organisms with a bunch of components to it, but there’s a life form that exists in this world. What is the difference between that and a rock? What is the essence of that life? This might be an unanswerable question. There’s probably a chemistry, physics, biology way of answering that. What to you is that?
Paul Rosolie
(02:00:40)
I think, to me, life is something that grows in response to stimuli, like in basic biology 101. And I’m fine with that. I don’t need it to be more romantic than that. But I think it’s actually comical, how do you get from a rock to an orangutan? And our answer for that is primordial soup. Maybe there was just stuff on Earth and then the stuff just got up and started walking. Maybe there was nothing happening and then all of a sudden there was a cell and the cell had function, and then it complexified and then it started reproducing and found male and female parts. What? We are so under equipped to understand how the hell we got here, let alone ants or even bacteria.
Lex Fridman
(02:01:32)
I see this in very simple mathematical models like something called game of life, they’re cellular automata. You can see from simple rules and simple objects when they’re interacting together, as you grow that system, complex objects arise. That emergence of complexity is not understood by science, by mathematics at all. And it seems like from primordial soups, you can get a lot of cool shit. And the force of getting from soup to two humans on microphones, not understood, and it seems to be a thing that happens on Earth. I tend to think that it’s a thing that happens everywhere in the universe, and there’s some deep force that’s pushing this along in some way. I don’t want to simplify it, but there is something that creates complexity out of simplicity that we don’t quite understand. And that’s the thing that created the first organism, living organism on Earth. That leap from no life to life on Earth, that’s a weird one.
Paul Rosolie
(02:02:52)
That’s a weird one. I think that, what, the Earth is 4.5 billion years old, and you can imagine just this rock of a planet with rain and storms and elements and iron and granite and just random stuff. It’s pretty easy to imagine that. But then I remember that book, I think we all had the same book when we were kids, and they show this fish-like animal crawling out of the primordial soup, and it’s, bro, you just missed the most important part. Author of that book, bro. And I think the first bacteria came in around 3.7 billion years ago so there’s at least a bunch of billion years where there’s just nothing, it was just a planet. And then we start seeing fossils of the first bacteria.
Lex Fridman
(02:03:47)
And the bacteria stuck around for-
Paul Rosolie
(02:03:49)
Long time.
Lex Fridman
(02:03:49)
… a long time, a billion, 2 billion years. It’s just very, very long.
Paul Rosolie
(02:03:53)
Just bacteria.
Lex Fridman
(02:03:54)
Just bacteria. But a lot of them, a lot of them. There’s probably a lot of innovation, a lot of murder, a lot of interaction. And then there’s a few big leaps along the history of life on Earth. The predator-prey dynamic, that was a really cool innovation. It’s almost like innovations, like features on an iPhone. It’s nice. Predator-prey, eukaryotes, complex multicellular organisms emerging from the water to land. That was weird. That was an interesting innovation. Whatever led to humans, there’s a lot of interesting stuff there.
Paul Rosolie
(02:04:39)
See, I can’t even get that far. I can’t get from rock and sand to cells. That’s a huge… Everything around us that has cells, it’s wild. And I could imagine being on another planet and how incredibly valuable this thing would be. It’s impossible to replicate. I’m looking at it through the candlelight right now, and I can see all of the structures in this leaf, the incredible structures in this leaf that look exactly like the veins in my arm, which look exactly like the rivers that are flowing across this landscape. And it’s like life has this overwhelming pattern that it uses and it’s so beautiful. I just think it’s… When you imagine the days of the lightning and the volcanoes and the primordial soup, there’s a big gap there. And it’s fascinating to think about, and it’s fascinating to see how different people’s belief systems lead them to different answers there.
Lex Fridman
(02:05:43)
Not to give any spoilers, but Postcards from Earth, Darren Aronofsky’s film, the idea there is there’s probes that are sent out from Earth-
Paul Rosolie
(02:05:43)
Oh, that’s so cool.
Lex Fridman
(02:05:54)
… to all these other planets. And each probe contains two humans, a man and a woman, and those two humans are in love. Think of a couple in love. They’re sent there with all the information, basically a leaf that holds the information of what it takes to create life on other planets, to recreate an Earth on other planets. And the two humans hold all the information for the things that make life on Earth special, especially in human civilization, love, consciousness, the social connection. All that information is sent in the probe and the Postcard from Earth is those humans waking up, remembering all the information that is Earth, a celebration of all the things that make Earth magical throughout its history, all the diversity of organisms, all of that. You’re loading all that in to create life on that new planet, which is something I think alien civilizations are doing. They’re sending probes all throughout the galaxy and they just haven’t arrived yet, but anyway. That’s another…
Paul Rosolie
(02:07:01)
That’s so beautiful. I want to see that so much, and one of the things that I love about Aronofsky’s work is The Fountain. And what I find so beautiful about that is that now here he’s saying, okay, we’re sending probes out to other worlds, alien civilizations. And in The Fountain, it was what I thought he did so beautifully was braid together those three stories, where in one, I don’t remember if he’s in a spaceship or if that’s supposed to be his soul. The other one, he’s a scientist in comparable times to ours, and then he’s the Spanish Explorer. But either way, there’s the tree of life and it braids together all of the major religions.

(02:07:41)
And it made me think of that quote that you hear where it says… Oh God, what was it? “Christ wasn’t a Christian, and Buddha wasn’t a Buddhist, and Mohammed wasn’t a Muslim, they were all just teachers who are teaching love.” And it’s like The Fountain says, nature is that driving force and it’s our job to understand that the game is love. And that’s what the main character in The Fountain needs to learn is that it’s nature that’s going to carry your soul through this thing, and that there’s so much you don’t understand, and the epiphany at the end. God, I love that movie. God, I love that movie.
Lex Fridman
(02:08:15)
Among many things you’re also an artist is trying to convert the thing that is nature into the thing that we humans can understand, the complexity, the beauty of it. That’s what Darren Aronofsky tried to do with those couple of films. That’s something that I hope you do actually in a medium of film too, that would be very interesting. And you do that in a medium of books currently. How much do you think we understand about the history of life on Earth?
Paul Rosolie
(02:08:42)
I think we got it all wrong. N, I don’t know. It seems like they change it all the time. They say that Easter Island, when I was in college, they were big on telling you that Easter Island they ruined their environment and they had environmental collapse, and that’s why there’s nobody on Easter Island. It was a cautionary tale. We could ruin our environment. And now it seems like they’ve changed their mind on that.

(02:09:05)
And then when humans entered North America, seems to be hugely up to speculation. And Africa, that we all spread out of Africa, and then the Pleistocene Overkill Extinction theory, and it seems like every few years they update it and they change it and they say, “Oh, no, no, no, no. The guys from 10 years ago, actually my new theory is the best theory. Let’s write some books and get me on Letterman.” And it seems like there’s a new prevailing theory, that’s really always exciting and edgy, about how we got here and where we came from and how we dispersed and maybe even has some political implications like how we should use the Amazon moving forward. The Amazon was engineered by people, so fuck it, let’s just cut it down.
Lex Fridman
(02:09:47)
Yeah, I tend to believe that we mostly don’t understand anything, but there is an optimism in continuously figuring out the puzzle of that.
Paul Rosolie
(02:09:55)
Sure.
Lex Fridman
(02:09:56)
We, offline, talked about the Graham Hancock, Flint Dibble debate on Rogan. I like debates personally. Flint Dibble represents mainstream archeology, and I actually like the whole science, the whole field of archeology. You’re trying to figure out history with so little information. You’re trying to put together this puzzle when you have so little and you’re desperately clinging onto little clues and from those clues using the simple possible explanation to understand. And now with modern technology, as Flint was trying to express, that you can use large amounts of data that’s imperfect, but just the scale and using that to reconstruct civilizations. There are different practices from the little details of what things they eat, how they interact with each other, what art they create to when they existed, what are the timeframes, all that kind of stuff.

(02:10:50)
And that starts to fill in the gaps of our understanding. But still, the error bars are large in terms of what really happened. And that leaves room for things like Graham Hancock talks about lost civilizations, which I like also because you have a humility about, maybe there’s giant things we don’t know about or we got completely wrong. And that’s always good to remember.
Paul Rosolie
(02:11:20)
It’s confusing to me to imagine what… I don’t even know, where’d the Egyptians go? What happened? It seemed like they were doing so good. They had so much cool shit. But I was reading anthropological stuff in the Amazon about tribes that just through their societal structures and through their hunting practices that didn’t really develop practices that worked and bands of people that went extinct before they could turn into larger societies. And there’s a lot of people that got it wrong. For every explorer that leaves Borneo and arrives in South America, there’s probably hundreds more that just die at sea, get eaten by sharks, avalanche. And it’s so fascinating to me that all of us really, past our grandparents, don’t really even know where we came from. Do you know who your great great great grandparents are?
Lex Fridman
(02:12:20)
No.
Paul Rosolie
(02:12:20)
No.
Lex Fridman
(02:12:21)
There’s methods of trying to figure that out, but really again, the error bars are so large that it’s almost like we trying to create a narrative that makes sense for us, that I’m 10% Neanderthal, therefore I can bench press this much and therefore my aggressive tendencies have an explanation. When in reality there’s so much diversity of personalities that they far overshadow any possible histories we might have.
Paul Rosolie
(02:12:48)
Your aggressive tendencies don’t have any explanation.
Lex Fridman
(02:12:51)
No, you listen to me right now.
Paul Rosolie
(02:12:54)
I’m sorry. Don’t hit me again. Don’t choke me out again.

Explorers

Lex Fridman
(02:12:58)
Yeah, man. One of the things you and I talk a lot about is different explorers. Who do you think is… I’m just throwing ridiculous question one after the other. Who do you think is the greatest explorer of all time?
Paul Rosolie
(02:13:11)
Oh God. I love Shackleton, but I hate the cold, so I can’t even read about it. I hate the cold so much. I can’t even go there for fun. I think Percy Fawcett in the Amazon was the GOAT in terms of just sheer… The last of the Victorian era, march forward, go deeper, just stop at nothing and then eventually take such big risks that you never come back. It’s hard for me to relate to that exploration because, to me, I’m such a softie, I wouldn’t want to leave my family behind, I wouldn’t want to… Even if you told me that I could leave Earth and go exploring and I could go touch the moon, I’d be, nope. Absolutely not. The highway is dangerous enough. I would never risk dying in space. This guy left his home, went out into the jungle, out there with horrendous gear compared to the camping gear we have today, no headlamp, and just explored for years on end.
Lex Fridman
(02:14:13)
Well, let me actually push back. You have that explorer. There is definitely a thing in you, just me having observed you behave in the jungle and in the world, you’re pulled towards exploration, towards adventure, towards the possibility of discovering something beautiful, including a small little creature or a whole new part of the rainforest, a part of the world that is, holy shit, this is beautiful. I think that’s the same imperative. Maybe not going out to the stars, but I could see you doing exactly the same thing. He disappeared in 1925 during an expedition to find an ancient lost city, which he and other people believed existed in the Amazon rainforest. There’s that pull, I’m going to go into there with shitty equipment with the possibility of finding something.
Paul Rosolie
(02:15:02)
And they said he ran into uncontacted tribes and started goofing off. I think he started dancing and singing. The tribes were ready to kill him, and he started goofing and doing a song and a dance and just being ridiculous. And the tribes were, what now? And they’re, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. Don’t shoot him yet. That’s a funny one. And actually he, on a human level, used humor to save his own life on multiple occasions, to the point where he deescalated the situation where it was, “Look, we’re not here to fight. We have a pile of maps. All my guys have beriberi, dengue, malaria. We’re dying out here. If you guys just go on your merry way, we’ll go on our merry way.” Incredible. He was so tough.

(02:15:45)
And then that guy from Shackleton’s Expedition ended up on one of Fawcett’s expeditions and you go, oh yeah, he’s a proven explorer. He’s been through the Antarctic. And the guy was, fuck the jungle. Absolutely fuck the jungle. And there’s a great quote where he says, ” Without a machete…,” something, I don’t remember exactly the words he used, but he said, “Without a machete in this environment, you don’t last.” And you know that now. In that tangle, to just take three steps that way, I would immediately be taking on… I’m not wearing shoes right now. Bullet ants, venomous snakes, spikes through my feet, tripping over myself. I don’t have a headlamp. Unbelievable risk right there. We’re sitting on the edge of tragedy.
Lex Fridman
(02:16:29)
Can you explain what the purpose of the machete in this situation is? What is a machete? How does it work? How does it allow you to navigate in this exceptionally dense environment?
Paul Rosolie
(02:16:40)
This is the tool that I spend most of my life carrying. This is in my hand for 90% of my time. And in the jungle, you really need a machete. There’s so much plant life here that you have to cut your way through. And like a jaguar, an ocelot, a lot of these other animals that are more horizontally based and low to the ground, they can make it. Like when we got stuck in those bamboo patches and we were just hacking through them. And it’s dangerous, and as you hit the bamboo it ricochets and there’s spikes, and then one piece falls and it pulls a vine that has spikes on it, and that hits you in the neck. The jungle is savage to humans.

(02:17:19)
But if you are an agouti, a little rodent, or a jaguar, or a deer, you can slip through this stuff. And the deer have developed really small antlers, they can just weave through low to the ground. And so for us being these vertical beings walking through the jungle, it really helps to be able to move the sticks that are diagonally opposing your movement at all times, so a machete is just a very, very useful tool. It can help you pull thorns out of your body. As you saw last night, we can use it to find food.
Lex Fridman
(02:17:50)
You went machete fishing. You cut a fish head off with a machete. It was swimming and then you basically macheted the water. And the other fascinating thing about that fish without its head, it kept moving.
Paul Rosolie
(02:18:09)
That was amazing.
Lex Fridman
(02:18:10)
It was just using, I guess, its nervous system to swim beautifully. There’s so many questions there about how nature works.
Paul Rosolie
(02:18:17)
Well, let’s explain it, because the way the machete hit this fish, it took just his eyes off and his lower jaw was still there, so it was really just the brain and the top jaw that came off. And this fish, as the dust cleared in this stream, this fish was… I found it very haunting in a very interstellar way. It was just the programming was still there, but the brain was gone and the fish was just still moving and it was going to die, but it was still swimming and it looked like a live fish. It was gruesome.
Lex Fridman
(02:18:46)
And you’re still trying to catch it, which is interesting to watch.
Paul Rosolie
(02:18:48)
And I still had to work to catch it. Because every time I caught it would freak out and then it would jump back in the water. And I’m programmed here from years and years of living in the Amazon that everything can hurt you so you actually become quite… If a moth lands on, you flick it because it could be a bullet ant. And so even the fish here, a lot of the fish here have spikes coming out of them. And so even though I know that fish, I know its name, I’ve eaten them many times, as I was holding it, when it would twitch with that explosive power, just like the Cayman, I would get that fear response and release it. And so that happened three or four times before I finally said, this is stupid. Even though he’s slippery, he hasn’t got a head. I can hold onto him and I put them in my pocket.
Lex Fridman
(02:19:26)
Put him in your pocket.
Paul Rosolie
(02:19:27)
And then we fried him up and we ate him.
Lex Fridman
(02:19:28)
And he was delicious. And I’m grateful for his existence, of his role, and for my existence on this planet, this brief existence that I was able to enjoy that delicious, delicious fish. The machete is used to cut through this extremely dense jungle. There’s vines, by the way. There’s rope like things that are extremely strong and they go all kinds of directions. They go horizontal and all of this. We have a tree right above us that makes no sense. There’s a tree that failed, and then a new tree was created on top of…
Lex Fridman
(02:20:00)
… failed and then a new tree was created on top of it. It just makes no sense. It feels like sometimes trees come from the sky, sometimes they come from the ground. I don’t really quite understand how that works because there’s new trees that grow on old trees and the old trees rot away and the new trees come up, that whole mechanism.
Paul Rosolie
(02:20:23)
Strangler figs. And so strangler figs, as you go across the world’s ecosystems, that whole belt of, whether you’re in rainforests in the Amazon, the Congo Indonesia, all across the tropics you have strangler figs. And the amazing thing that this species does, it’s become a keystone species across the planet with a hyper influence on its ecosystem wherever it is, because they produce fruit in the dry season when the rest of the forest is making it hard for animals to find fruit, to find food. And so the bats, the birds, the monkeys, they all go to the strangler fig. They eat the fruit. And the fruit, of course, is just tricking the animals. The plants are tricking the animals into carrying their seeds to another tree. And so they’re getting free transportation.

(02:21:07)
Monkey takes a poop on another tree after eating strangler figs, and then that strangler fig sends out its vines, gets to the ground, and then, as soon as it begins sucking up nutrients, out competes that tree for light grows hyper drive around the trunk of that tree and then eventually that tree will die and the strangler fig will win because it got a boost up to the top. Whereas these little trees down here, they’re going to have to wait their turn. They have to wait until a tree falls until there’s a light gap and then they have enough food to grow quick. And so this whole thing is an energy economy. Everything is just trying to get sunlight. And so strangler figs, yeah, top-down trees growing, parasitic top-down octopus trees growing over other giant trees. And you’ve seen the size of some of the trees here.
Lex Fridman
(02:21:53)
So back to Percy Fawcett and exploration. What do you think it was like for him back then 100 years ago, God damn, going through the jungle?
Paul Rosolie
(02:22:02)
Well, see, the thing is those guys didn’t go with the locals. They came down here with mules and they tried to do it their way. And so he’s one of the people that wrote about the green hell, the jungle as the oppressive war zone where there’s nothing to eat and everything is killing you. I think that, that image is so wrong because, as you saw last night, we could go. If we went out with JJ right now, we would machete fish some fish, we could start a little fire, we’d do it all in shorts. To JJ, it’s green paradise, and it’s intense, but if you know what you’re doing, which the local people surely do, well then, just beneath the sand, there’s turtle eggs that you can eat and inside the nuts on the ground there’s grubs that you can eat. And if you really needed to, you could just jump on a caiman and eat that because their tails are pretty full of meat and it’s like there’s actually unending amounts of food here. They were a strange bunch.
Lex Fridman
(02:23:08)
If you’re able to tune into that frequency, I feel like you and JJ are able to tune into the frequency of the jungle that is a provider, not a destroyer of human life. I think to be collaborated with, not fought against.
Paul Rosolie
(02:23:30)
Yes, but we’re coming at that with our modern lens because we’re coming down here with, I’ve survived how many infections in the jungle where those probably would’ve killed me before. So my dead-ass opinion of the jungle would’ve been “overwhelming and collective murder, as Herzog says. And so Percy Fawcett was coming down here with this view of it’s trying to kill us at all times. We are flying down here and coming out here with our superior medicines and our ability to survive infections, and so it is different for us. It is different. We’re coming at this very, very different. But Fawcett to me was the last of the real swashbucklers, the really batshit crazy explorers that just went out into the dark spaces on the map.

(02:24:17)
And it’s very hard for me to identify with him. But. For instance, Richard Evans Schultes from Harvard, that’s someone where you go, okay, now we’re getting to the point where I can start to understand. Just like the conquistadors. And they tell you the conquistadors showed up, the Spanish killed 2,000 Inca on the first day, and then they marched to this city and can you imagine yourself just slaughtering a bunch of women and children and soldiers and then just drinking some wine and doing it again tomorrow? I can’t actually wrap my head around that.
Lex Fridman
(02:24:52)
Yeah, it just seems like an entire different world. No.
Paul Rosolie
(02:24:57)
Different world.
Lex Fridman
(02:24:57)
Different value system.
Paul Rosolie
(02:24:59)
Different value system.
Lex Fridman
(02:25:00)
A different relationship with violence and life and death I think. We value life more. We resist violence more.
Paul Rosolie
(02:25:08)
Yeah. If we saw a car accident, I feel like if I saw a car accident or if you see a little bit of war, some violence, it affects you. These people were so comfortable with those things. It was such a normal part of their… The Spartans, the Comanches, they became so comfortable with war to the point that it became what they did as a culture.
Lex Fridman
(02:25:33)
And they celebrated it too.
Paul Rosolie
(02:25:34)
They celebrated it.
Lex Fridman
(02:25:35)
And direct violence too, like taking that machete and murdering me, or if I got to the machete first me murdering you.
Paul Rosolie
(02:25:42)
Not a chance, bitch.
Lex Fridman
(02:25:44)
And then I would put it on Instagram show off. And the number of DMs I would get from murdering you with a machete.
Paul Rosolie
(02:25:52)
Meanwhile, half the world right now is messaging me saying, “My DMs are filled with take care of Lex. Don’t lose Lex. Make sure Lex comes back safe. Lex is a national treasure. We love Lex. Make sure he holds a snake.” The amount of love that is out there.
Lex Fridman
(02:26:06)
Meanwhile, I emerge from the jungle with blood around me with a machete and I take over the Instagram account.
Paul Rosolie
(02:26:11)
He’s very humble. He doesn’t want hear about the love.

Ayahuasca

Lex Fridman
(02:26:15)
All right, so what do you think makes a great explorer, whether it’s Percy Fawcett, Richard Evans Schultes? By the way, I’ll say who Richard Evans Schultes is. He’s a biologist. So that’s another lens through which to be an explorer, is to study the biology, the immense diversity of biological life all around us.
Paul Rosolie
(02:26:36)
Richard Evans Schultes, I know about him from reading Wade Davis’s book, One River, which is this big, hefty 500 or 600 page tome about the Amazon, and it covers two stories. It’s Richard Evans Schultes, and I think it’s in the ’40s. I think it’s pre-World War Two era era where he’s in the Amazon looking for the blue orchid and the cure for this and that, and he’s pressing plants and he’s going to these Indigenous communities where they still live completely with the forest and they drink ayahuasca and they talk to the gods and he learns about how they believe that the Anaconda came down from the Milky Way and swam across the land and created the rivers. He came down and even though he was a western scientist from Harvard, he embraced the Indigenous perspective on the world, on creation, on spirituality.

(02:27:28)
And he resigned himself and gave himself fully to that and spent years and years traveling around parts of the Amazon that had hardly been explored and certainly never been explored in the way he was doing it, and the ethno botanical spiritual way of what medicinal compounds are contained in these plants and how do the local Indigenous people use and understand them? For example, of 80,000 species of plants in the Amazon rainforest and 400 billion trees in the Amazon rainforest, the statistics of likelihood that through trial and error that humans could discover ayahuasca, it’s astronomical, that one of these trees and a root when put together allow you to go and access the spirit realm and see hallucinogenic shapes and talk to the gods.

(02:28:21)
That’s almost enough to inspire spiritual thought itself, the fact that trial and error, it would take millions of years or something. I forget what the figure is, it’s incredible. But Richard Evans Schultes was one of the first people that came down and saw that. And then One River is where Wade Davis comes back, I believe, in the ’70s. And the heartbreak of the book is that all of these incredibly wild places with naked native tribes and these intact belief systems, Wade Davis comes back and a lot of the same places that Schultes went, now there’s missionary schools and they’re wearing discarded Nikes and whatever. I don’t know if there’s Nikes in the ’70s, but Western stuff has made it in. They’ve been contacted, domesticated, forced into Western society, and a lot of them then forget the thousands and thousands of years that have gone into creating the medicinal botanical knowledge that the Indigenous possess about how to cure ear infections and how to treat illnesses from the medicinal compounds flowing through these trees is lost in a single generation with the modernization.
Lex Fridman
(02:29:38)
Yeah, he wrote The Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred Healing and the Hallucinogenic Powers. That is interesting. You mentioned how to discover that. How do you find those incredible plans, those incredible things that can warp your mind in all kinds of ways? Of course, physically heal, but also take you on a mental journey. That’s interesting. So you don’t think trial and error is possible?
Paul Rosolie
(02:30:05)
I was reading about ayahuasca and they were saying statistically, if you put 1,000 humans in the Amazon and gave them villages to live in, because humans are a communal species, it would take tens and tens of thousands of years or perhaps even centuries before even the possibility. It’s like that thing, a bunch of chips on a keyboard how they write Hamlet. It’s astronomical odds to get to, oh wait, this and this dose together. What the local people believe is that the gods revealed this secret through the jungle to us as a link to the spirit world, and that that’s how we know this. Because if they didn’t remember it from their ancestors, we would have no idea how to get this information from the wild.
Lex Fridman
(02:30:55)
So I will likely do ayahuasca. What do you think exists in the spirit world that could be found by taking that journey?
Paul Rosolie
(02:31:10)
I think that ayahuasca is, I can only speak from personal experience, and for me it was as if your brain is a house you’ve lived in your entire life and it’s a big house, it’s a mansion, and there’s many, many rooms that you didn’t even know exist. Hidden rooms behind the bookshelves, under the floorboards, rooms that you had no idea were there. And some of them are fantastic and some of them are terrifying basements. And ayahuasca takes you on a journey through that. At its most effective, you sit in front of the shaman with the candlelight, with the sounds of the jungle, and you drink this substance. And after that, what happens is the journey is all inside and the shaman is supposed to be able to guide you through that.

(02:32:04)
But in my experience, you’re so deep inside like falling through nebulas out in space. No physical form. Or crawling through the jungle. It’s really, really powerful. It’s not like the recreational drugs that everyone does where you go, “I did mushrooms and I could see music and I was talking to my friends.” But no, you’re face down on the floor, usually vomiting, sometimes shitting, having dialogues with the creator. And that can be traumatizing as well as amazing.
Lex Fridman
(02:32:41)
It’s a really good way of looking at it. It’s a big house and you get to open doors that you never had before and discover what rooms are there inside you. You ever think about that, that there’s parts of yourself you haven’t discovered yet or maybe you’ve been suppressing? How much are you exploring the shadow?
Paul Rosolie
(02:33:00)
Oh, boy.
Lex Fridman
(02:33:00)
So say you, me, Carl Jung, and Jordan Peterson are on a deserted island together.
Paul Rosolie
(02:33:05)
Fuck. I didn’t even make my bed today.
Lex Fridman
(02:33:08)
There’s no bed in an island.
Paul Rosolie
(02:33:09)
Great. I want to see you and Jordan Peterson do Ayahuasca together. I think that’s the thing. Ayahuasca, to me, I’ve told you about, I’ve experienced some things that really made me believe that there’s a benevolent force around us, but to me, Ayahuasca was a ride through the scariest parts of the universe to be like, here’s what it could be like. That’s where I came up with my idea that deep space or just space, outer space is just the outside of the video game. And this is it. Because when I was on Ayahuasca, I was one of the jungle creatures and I wasn’t Paul and I didn’t have a name. And for a long time I saw many things.

(02:34:02)
I arrived at this spot in the jungle where there’s a big tree and all the animals were there and they were all, not in words, not in any language that we can understand, but they were all discussing what to do about the threat. It was all leaving. It was all flying up, and it was fire and the jungle was being destroyed. And then after that it was just space and stars and silence, crushing vacuum silence for years. And that was terrifying. That was fucking terrifying. When I came back and I had hands, man, I could remember my own name.

Deep jungle expedition

Lex Fridman
(02:34:37)
You grounded. Things are simpler. You’re back inside the video game. What are the chances you think we’re actually living in a video game?
Paul Rosolie
(02:34:46)
When you say a video game, it implies that there’s a player. Who’s the player? It’s God?
Lex Fridman
(02:34:50)
No. There’s a main player, usually. That’s not going to be God. God is the thing that creates the video game.
Paul Rosolie
(02:34:54)
So then we’re just…
Lex Fridman
(02:34:55)
And then some of these are NPCs. I’m an NPC.
Paul Rosolie
(02:34:59)
You’re an NPC? Jesus Christ. So I’m the main character?
Lex Fridman
(02:35:01)
Yeah, you created me.
Paul Rosolie
(02:35:03)
Is this Halo where you can kill the NPCs?
Lex Fridman
(02:35:07)
I see how you put the machete behind you.
Paul Rosolie
(02:35:09)
Okay, I think I’m just going to take a stand here. I’m just sick of fucking playing it halfway. I think that because people live indoors in climate controlled boxes in cities far away from nature, they’ve completely lost track of everything that’s real. And they’ve started to think that we’re living inside of a simulation. Notice that nobody carrying an alpaca up a mountain thinks that we’re living inside of a video game. They all know that it’s real because they’ve had babies on the floor of a cold hut.

(02:35:35)
They understand the consequences of life. They understand the fish and how hard it is to get them and the basic rules of the wind and the rain and the river and that we all have to play by those. Talk to a grieving mother and ask her if she’s living inside a video game. And to me, this whole thing of, are we living in a simulation, to me, that’s the infirmary of society starting to parody itself. It’s people going, “I have no meaning in my life anymore. So is this even real?” And again, go ask the Sherpa, go ask the Eskimo. They’re not worried.
Lex Fridman
(02:36:16)
You forget what fundamentally matters in life. What is the source of meaning in a human life, if you talk about such subjects. Nevertheless, you could for a time stroll in the big philosophical questions. And if you do it for short enough a time, you won’t forget about the things that matter, that there is human suffering, that there is real human joy that is real. Our time in the jungle was very hard.
Paul Rosolie
(02:36:50)
Did you suffer enough to know that it’s real?
Lex Fridman
(02:36:52)
Yeah. Man, I was hoping we were in a video game that whole time.
Paul Rosolie
(02:36:57)
That’s actually a really good way to… There was this moment that I watched where you were washing a shirt in this pathetic puddle because we had no water and because we had walked all day and tripped all day and gotten thorns in our hands and our feet and our legs, and we were lost in the jungle and it was nighttime and we didn’t know if a big tree was going to just fall on us and mousetrap kill us. There was a lot of uncertainty, but I watched something very special happen to you, and that was, I saw you crouching by the side of this puddle, it wasn’t even a flowing stream, so we couldn’t drink it, and you were just trying to wash the sweat off of your shirt. And you looked at me and you just said, “The only thing that I care about right now is water.” And I feel like in that moment we were united in the simple reality of the fact that we were so thirsty that it hurt and that it was a little scary.
Lex Fridman
(02:37:55)
Yeah, it was scary. But also there was a joy in the interaction with the water because it cools your body temperature down and there’s a faith in that interaction that eventually we’ll find clean water because water’s plentiful on earth. It’s like a delusional faith that eventually we’ll find. It was just a little celebration. I think the cooling aspect of the water, because the body temperature is really high from traversing the really dense jungle, just the cooling was somehow grounding in a way that nothing else really is. It was a little celebration of life, of life on earth, of earth, of the jungle, of everything. It was a nice moment. I think about that. Had a couple of those. There was one in the puddle and one in the river. One was full of delusion and fear, and the other one was full of relief and celebration.
Paul Rosolie
(02:39:09)
There’s this thing that they say where all the pleasure in life is derived from the transitions. When you’re cold, warm feels good. When you’re hot, cold feels good. When you’re hungry, food feels good. And when you’re that thirsty, water becomes God and it’s all you want. And also the other thing is that, when we’re out there, it felt so good to be so lost and so tired. How would you describe the physicality of what we were doing, the level of physical exertion?
Lex Fridman
(02:39:44)
Well, it’s something that I haven’t trained. I don’t even know how you would train for that kind of thing, but it’s extremely dense jungle so every single step is completely unpredictable in terms of the terrain your foot interacts with. So the different variety of slippery that is on the jungle floor is fascinating. Because some things, the slope matters, but some roots of trees are slippery, some are not. Some trees in the ground are already rotted through so if you step through, you’re going to potentially fall through. It could be a shallow hole. It could be a very deep hole with some leaves and vegetation covering up a hole where, if you fall through, you could break a leg and completely lose your footing or fall rolling downhill. And if you roll downhill, I’m pretty sure there’s a 99% probability that you’ll hit a thing with spikes on it.

(02:40:42)
So there’s so many layers of avoiding dangers, of small dangers and big dangers, all around you with every single step. So there’s a mental exhaustion that sets in, just the perception. And just observing you, you’re extremely good at perceiving, having situational awareness, of taking the information in that’s really important and filtering out the stuff that’s not important. But even for you, that’s exhausting. And, for me, it was completely exhausting just paying attention, paying attention to everything around you. So that exhaustion was surprising. Because there’s moments when you’re like, “I don’t give a anymore. I’m just going to step. I’m just going to [inaudible 02:41:22].”
Paul Rosolie
(02:41:21)
And so that’s it. You go, “I don’t care anymore,” and you reach out, and I’m just going to lean against this tree. And then what happened every time?
Lex Fridman
(02:41:28)
You get spikes in it. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(02:41:29)
And then you have to care.
Lex Fridman
(02:41:32)
And then there’s just bad luck because there is wasp nests. There’s just a million things. And that is physically, is mentally, psychologically exhausting, because there’s the uncertainty, when is this going to end? It’s, in our particular situation, up and down hills, up and down hills, very steep downward, very steep upward, no water, all this kind of stuff. It’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, but it’s very difficult to describe what are the parameters that make it difficult because I run long distances very regular. I do extremely difficult physical things regularly that on some surface level could seem much more challenging than what we did. But no, this was another beast. This is something else but it was also raw and real and beautiful because it’s what the explorers did. It’s what earth is without humans.

(02:42:25)
And also just the massive scale of the trees around us was the humbling size difference between human and tree. It’s both humbling in that, “That tree is really old. It’s the time difference, lifetime difference, and just the scale, it’s like, holy shit. We live on an earth that can create those things. Makes me feel small in every way, that life is short, that my physical presence on this earth is tiny, how vulnerable I am. All of those feelings were there. And in that, the physical endurance of traversing the jungle was the hardest journey that I remember ever taking, every step. And then that made making it out of the jungle and then made it the swim in the water that we could drink, that was just pure joy.

(02:43:40)
It was probably one of the happiest moments in my life just sitting there with you, Paul, and with JJ in the water, full darkness, the rain coming down and us all just laughing having made it through that, having eaten a bit of food before and the absurdity of the timing of all of it that it somehow worked out. And how we’re just three little humans sitting in a river. Just our heads emerged barely above water with jungle all around us. What a life.
Paul Rosolie
(02:44:30)
That was a real adventure.
Lex Fridman
(02:44:32)
That was a real adventure.
Paul Rosolie
(02:44:33)
That was a real one.
Lex Fridman
(02:44:33)
Yeah. I’ll never forget that. So it’s a real honor to have shared that. Of course, we had very different experiences. When you saw a caiman in that situation, you’re like, “I have to go meet that guy. That’s a friend of mine.”
Paul Rosolie
(02:44:50)
Well, I mean we were in the river in a thunderstorm, just our necks above, we’re all laughing our asses off. I mean, we’re in the river with the stingrays and the black caiman and the piranha and all the electric eels and everything, and it’s pitch black out. And then, what were we doing? We’re holding our headlamps up and there were those swirling moths, the infinity moths, all making those geometric patterns. And it’s like we were just three ridiculous primates, three friends in a river, just laughing because we were safer in that river than we had been in there. And we were rejoicing that the thunderstorm was, compared to the war zone that we’d been living in, the thunderstorm was safe. And it really was a beautiful moment.
Lex Fridman
(02:45:32)
And also, very different life trajectories have taken these three humans into this one place.
Paul Rosolie
(02:45:38)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(02:45:39)
It’s like, what?
Paul Rosolie
(02:45:40)
Yeah. That’s true.
Lex Fridman
(02:45:41)
Wow. Is this the universe that would? Because we’re like those moths, you know what I mean? We come from some weird place on this earth and we’d have all kinds of shit happen to us and we’re all pursuing some and some light, and we ended up here together enjoying this moment. That’s something else. It just felt absurd, and in that absurdity was this real human joy. And damn, water tasted good.
Paul Rosolie
(02:46:07)
Oh, water’s good. Man, water and those little oranges, those things. And then I would just say, do you feel, I feel like running, no matter how much I run, I feel like you run, you do a workout, and then you stop. Maybe people who do ultras feel this, but I felt like we woke up, it was like, wake up at dawn. 6:00 a.m, let’s start walking. Break camp, go. And it’s like pretty much you just don’t stop all day. And it’s level 10 cardio all day long and you’re sweating buckets and there’s no water. And it’s like you would never put yourself through that voluntarily. You couldn’t. You would never have the resolve to continue torturing yourself, except for that we were trying to make it to freedom to get out. And it’s like the obsession of that with the compass and the machete and the navigating, fuck.
Lex Fridman
(02:47:01)
I think there’s something to be said about the fact that we didn’t think through much of that and we just dived into it. I think we were laughing, enjoying ourselves moments before, and once you go in you’re like, “Oh shit.”
Paul Rosolie
(02:47:13)
Oh shit.
Lex Fridman
(02:47:14)
And you just come face to face with it.
Paul Rosolie
(02:47:15)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(02:47:16)
I think that whatever that is in humans that goes to that, that’s what the explorers do. And the best of them do it to the extreme levels.
Paul Rosolie
(02:47:28)
Well, I think that what we did was to a pretty extreme level because we left the safety of a river, of knowing where we were, and voluntarily got lost in the Amazon with very little provisions on a very, now that we’re back, now that we experienced what we experienced, I really can’t stop thinking about how fucking stupid it was that we did that. Because if we had gotten lost, Pico was saying to me, “If one of you had broken your leg, it’s days in either direction.” Even if they had sent help for us, help would take how long to scour all that jungle? Sound doesn’t travel. Even a helicopter, even if they looked for us, they wouldn’t be able to see us. How would we signal for help?

(02:48:15)
You can’t really build a fire. And so it’s like, if anything had gone wrong, if we’d gone a few degrees different to the west, would’ve taken us two more days. If we’d gotten injured, it’d be carry through that. And so somehow only afterwards am I really going, wow, thank God we got out of this. Thank God. After I see so many people going, make sure nothing happens to Lex Friedman, I’d be the deadest motherfucker on earth if anything happened.
Lex Fridman
(02:48:44)
It somehow works out.
Paul Rosolie
(02:48:46)
It does seem to somehow work out.

Jane Goodall

Lex Fridman
(02:48:48)
Let me ask you about Jane, Goodall, another explorer of a different kind. What do you think about her, about her role in understanding this natural world of ours?
Paul Rosolie
(02:48:59)
I think that Jane is a living historical treasure. I think somehow she’s alive, but she’s already reached that level where it’s like Einstein, Jane Goodall, there’s these incredible minds. And growing up as a child, my parents would read to me because I was so dyslexic. I didn’t learn to read until I was quite old. And my mom was a big Jane Goodall fan and all I wanted to hear about was animals. And so I would get read to about this lady named Jane Goodall, this girl who went to Africa and studied chimps and who broke all the rules and named her study subjects even though that wasn’t what she was supposed to do and she became this incredible advocate for earth and for ecosystems. And she seemed to realize as her career went on that teaching children to appreciate nature was the key.

(02:49:54)
Because they’re going, that thing where she says, “We don’t so much inherit the earth from our ancestors, but borrow it from our children. We’re just here. We’re just passing through.” And so if we destroy it, we’re dimming the lights on the lives of future generations. And so she’s been really, really cognizant of that. And she’s been a light in the darkness in terms of saying that animals have personalities and culture and their own inalienable rights and reasons for existing and that human life is valuable. She’s very big on that. Every day we influence the people around us and the events of the earth, even if you feel like your life is small and insignificant, that you do have an impact. And I think that’s a really powerful little candle out there in the darkness that Jane carries.
Lex Fridman
(02:50:44)
What do you think about her field work with the chimps?
Paul Rosolie
(02:50:48)
Badass. The fact that she did what she did at the age that she did at the time that she did is incredible. It’s actually incredible. She has that explorer gene, and she also has that relentless. Relentlessness is this incredible quality. She travels 300 days a year educating people, talking around the world, trying to help bolster conservation now before it’s too late. And traveling 300 days a year is not fun. Traveling at all can be not fun.

Theodore Roosevelt

Lex Fridman
(02:51:20)
So I started reading the River of Doubt book you recommended to me on Teddy Roosevelt. That guy is badass on many levels, but I didn’t realize how much of a naturalist he was, how much of a scholar of the natural world he was. That book details his journey into the Amazon jungle. What do you find inspiring about Teddy Roosevelt and that whole journey of just saying, “Fuck it. I’m going to the Amazon jungle,” of taking on that expedition?
Paul Rosolie
(02:51:50)
Well, I mean, Teddy Roosevelt, you could write volumes on what’s inspiring about him. I think that he was a weak, asthmatic, little rich kid that wasn’t physically able, that had no self-confidence, and he had pretty severe depression. He had tragedy in his life and he was very, at least for me, he’s been one of the people, one of the first historical figures where he wrote about the struggle to overcome those things and to make himself from being a weak asthmatic little teenager, to strengthening himself and building muscle and becoming this barrel-chested lion of a guy who could be the President, who could be an explorer and one of the rough riders. Just everything he does is so hyperbolically incredible. To come out of war and have the other people you fought with go, “This guy has no fear,” he must’ve just been a psychopath and had no fear. And then proving it further was that thing where he was going to give a speech to a bunch of people and he got shot in the chest.
Lex Fridman
(02:53:00)
[inaudible 02:53:00].
Paul Rosolie
(02:53:00)
It went through his spectacle case and through his speech, and even though the bullet was lodged in his chest, this man said, “Don’t hurt the guy that shot me.” I believe he asked him, why’d you do it? And then as he’s bleeding and in the rain said, “No, no, no. I’m not going to the hospital. I’m going to keep going with the speech.” What a badass. That’s incredible.
Lex Fridman
(02:53:23)
But going to the jungle on many levels is really difficult for him at that time. There’s so many things, so many more things even than now that can kill you, all the different infections, everything. And the lack of knowledge, just the sheer lack of knowledge. So that truly is an expedition, a really, really challenging expedition. There’s lessons about what it takes to be a great explorer from that, the perseverance. How important do you think is perseverance in exploration, especially through the jungle?
Paul Rosolie
(02:53:56)
I think it’s all there is, if you hear about the people. And I think that, that is a tremendous metaphor for life, because whether you hear about that plane that crashed in the Andes and the people were alone and freezing and they had to eat each other, some of them made it out, some of them kept the fire burning. And Teddy Roosevelt voluntarily, after being President, threw himself into the Amazon rainforest and survived. Came so close to dying, but survived. And so perseverance is all of it. I think that’s our quality as a human.
Lex Fridman
(02:54:33)
So they also mapped. On the biology side it’s interesting, but they mapped and documented a lot of the unknown geography and biodiversity. What does it take to do that? So when I see you move about the jungle, you’re capturing a creature. You take a picture, write it down so you can find new creatures, find new things about the jungle, document them, a scientific perspective on the jungle. Back then there was even much less known about the jungle. So what do you think it takes to document, to map?
Lex Fridman
(02:55:00)
…less known about the jungle. So what do you think it takes to document, to map that world and new unexplored wilderness?
Paul Rosolie
(02:55:07)
I mean, they’re clearly pressing botanical specimens. They’re probably shooting birds. And Roosevelt knew how to, knew how to preserve those specimens. I mean, he really was a naturalist, so he knew exactly. So if he’s seeing these animals to them, whereas we’ll take a picture and identify it, they were harvesting specimens, taking them with them, drying them out. For them, it was totally different. And it could be the first, there’s, I don’t know, I forget what JJ said, there’s something like 70 species of ant birds here and it’s like, so how likely are you to be the first person to ever see this one species of bird? And so for them, phew, as you have this bird and so perfectly preserving that specimen.

(02:55:52)
And I think a lot of non-scientific people don’t realize that every species from blue whale to elephant to blue jay to sparrow, whatever, whatever it is, whatever species we have on record, there are scientific specimens and the first people to see them, shot them. And museums are filled with these catalogs preserved birds that these explorers brought back from New Guinea and South America and Africa and then put into these drawers. And now we labeled them and we said, this is red and green macaw, this is scarlet Macaw, this is brown crested ant bird. And they’re just categorized.
Lex Fridman
(02:56:31)
That book of birds you have, it is encyclopedia of birds.
Paul Rosolie
(02:56:34)
Yo.
Lex Fridman
(02:56:35)
What?
Paul Rosolie
(02:56:36)
The human achievement in these pages.
Lex Fridman
(02:56:39)
For people listening, Paul just flipping through a huge number of pages. Is this in the Amazon or is this in Peru?
Paul Rosolie
(02:56:47)
This is just here. This is birds of Peru. Dude pages on pages of toucans and aracari and hummingbirds and ant birds and smoky brown woodpecker and tropical screech owl, which we just heard, by the way. It’s endless. Who knew there were so many birds? I had no idea there was so many birds.
Lex Fridman
(02:57:07)
Documenting all of that. I mean there’s also, which we got to experience and you’re pretty good at also is actually understanding and making the sounds of the different birds. What’s your favorite bird song to make?
Paul Rosolie
(02:57:21)
Undulated tinamou, because in the crepuscular hours of dawn and dusk, they’re usually the ones that make up what is considered by many to be the anthem of the Amazon.
Lex Fridman
(02:57:34)
Can you do a little bird for us?
Paul Rosolie
(02:57:36)
(singing). That’s what a undulated tinamou sounds like. And it’s usually like, “Oh, it is getting to be afternoon.” It’s almost like hearing church bells on a Sunday. It’s like you just, there’s something about it, you go, “Ah! There it is.”
Lex Fridman
(02:57:53)
And like you were saying, it’s a reminder, “Oh, that’s a friend of mine”.
Paul Rosolie
(02:57:56)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(02:57:57)
Surrounded by friends.
Paul Rosolie
(02:57:58)
I have so many friends here.
Lex Fridman
(02:58:00)
What does it take to survive out here? What are some basic principles of survival in a jungle?
Paul Rosolie
(02:58:07)
Cleanliness. I mean really, we talked about this, but keeping, I have so many holes in my skin right now. Look, I have a mosquito… There we go. I have so many spots that I’ve scratched off of my skin because mosquito bites me and then I scratch it. Or the other big one is that I worry that I have a tick. Not deliberately, not with my thinking brain, but my simian brain just wants to find and remove ticks and so I scratch. And then if my fingernails get too long, I remove my skin and then those get infected in the jungle. And so staying hyper clean, using soap, like basic stuff, keeping order to your bags, order to your gear, things in dry bags, make sure…

(02:58:59)
We explained that we got in the river during a thunderstorm. We didn’t explain why we did that because the thunderstorm came when we had eaten dinner, but we hadn’t set up our tents and so we decided to cover our bags with our boats that we had been carrying, our pack rafts that we’d been carrying in our backpacks, so all of our gear would stay dry. So the only thing we could do is either sit in the rain and be cold or sit in the river and be warm. And so keeping our gear dry, momentary discomfort for future, that to me was an incredibly smart calculation to make, is you got to be smart out here, you can not running out of a headlamp while you’re out on the trail and being stuck in that darkness. It really takes just being a little bit on your toes. And I find that that necessity of being on your toes is a place that I like to live in. It’s just the right amount of challenge here.
Lex Fridman
(02:59:54)
So keeping the gear organized and all of that, but also being willing to sort of improvise. I’ve seen you improvise very well because there is so much unknowns, there’s so much chaos and dynamic aspects that planning is not going to prevent you from having to face that in the end of the day.
Paul Rosolie
(03:00:11)
No, it’s been really funny watching you sort of shed your planning brain. Like day one, it was very much like “So are we going to…”, and then I could see your brow sort of furrow and I would go, “I don’t know what time we’re going to get there.” And you’d go, “Well, just tell me.” And I’d be like, “I don’t know what the jungle’s going to let us do.” “Let’s record the podcast tomorrow.” Okay, but if it rains, if it gets windy, if a [inaudible 03:00:39] comes, if there’s a Jaguar with rabies, anything could happen. Landslides, like anything, literally.
Lex Fridman
(03:00:48)
It’s tree, I mean the thing you mentioned, trees falling. That’s a thing in the jungle.
Paul Rosolie
(03:00:52)
That’s a major thing in the jungle.
Lex Fridman
(03:00:53)
Holy shit. First of all, a lot of trees fall and they fall quickly and they could just kill you.
Paul Rosolie
(03:00:58)
They fall quickly. They’re huge. We’re talking about trees that are the size of school buses stacked and connected to other trees with vines so that when they fall, this millennium tree, this thousand year old tree, boom, it shakes the ground, pulls down other trees with it. So if you’re anywhere near that for a few acres, you’re getting smashed. That’s the end of you. And so the jungle, at any moment that you’re out there could just decide to delete you. And then the leaf cutter ants and the army ants and the flies and everything, you’ll be digested in three days. You’ll be gone. Gone. No bones, nothing.
Lex Fridman
(03:01:33)
Who do you think would eat most of you?
Paul Rosolie
(03:01:37)
I would hope that a king vulture with a colorful face would just…
Lex Fridman
(03:01:41)
Dramatically just going there [inaudible 03:01:43].
Paul Rosolie
(03:01:42)
…get in there right in the arse. Just like nature is metal. Just like when they walk in through the elephant’s ass. I’d want that on camera trap. I think that would be a great way to go.
Lex Fridman
(03:01:50)
And we slowly look up and just kind of smile at the camera.
Paul Rosolie
(03:01:53)
Yeah. It’ll just rip out your intestine and just shake it. Just victorious over your dead body.
Lex Fridman
(03:01:58)
Well, but also honor a friend. That’s another way to go.
Paul Rosolie
(03:02:01)
Yeah, sure. But you look so, your white naked ass laying there in the jungle, you’d be like face down in the shit.
Lex Fridman
(03:02:08)
That’s why you always have to look good. Any moment, a tree can fall on you and a vulture just swoops in and eats your heart.
Paul Rosolie
(03:02:13)
That’s right.

Alone show

Lex Fridman
(03:02:16)
We talked about Alone, this show a bit.
Paul Rosolie
(03:02:18)
Yo. Rock House.
Lex Fridman
(03:02:20)
Yeah. What do you think about that guy? Rock House Roland Welker from season 7, he built the Rock House, he killed the musk ox with bow and arrow and then finished it with a knife.
Paul Rosolie
(03:02:34)
And had the GoPro mounted to document it. That’s a really mind-blowing.
Lex Fridman
(03:02:40)
I mean, so for people who don’t know that show, you’re supposed to survive as long as possible. On season 7 of the show, they literally said you can only win it if you survive a hundred days. And there’s a lot of aspects of that show that’s difficult, one of which is it’s in the cold. The other is they get just a handful of supplies, no food, nothing, none of that. So they have to figure all of that out. And this is probably one of the greatest performers on the show, Roland Welker, he built a rock house shelter. So I mean, what does survival entail? It’s building a shelter, fire, catching food, staying warm, getting enough energy to sort of keep doing the work. It takes a lot of work. Like building the Rock House, I read that, it took 500 calories an hour from him, so he had to feed himself quite a lot. You’re lifting 200 pound boulders and still the guy lost, I read, 44 pounds, which is 20% of his body weight. So that’s survival. What lessons, what inspiration do you draw from him?
Paul Rosolie
(03:03:55)
I think he was fun to watch because he had this indomitable spirit. He wasn’t there to commune with nature, he was there to win. And he was like, to me, that’s the pioneer mentality. He goes, “I’m a hunting guide. I’m out here. I’m going to win that money. I’m going to survive through the winter.” He wasn’t worried. I feel like so many people, they worry second guessing themselves, “Am I in a video game? I don’t know. What’s my…”, just questioning their entire existential identity. And this guy was like, “You know what? There’s a muskox over there. I’m going to shoot it. I’m going to stab it now. I’m going to make a pouch out of its ball sack and I’m going to live off that for the next few months and win a half a million dollars.”

(03:04:36)
And that’s an amazing amount of pragmatic optimism that I just enjoyed. And every time he would go, “We got to get back to Rock House”, and it became, even though he is all alone, he had a big smile on his face. And what made that season so great was that it was him and then it was Callie. And Roland had the muscle and could make Rock House and then Callie was the opposite. She was this girl who, yes, she could hunt with her bow and she knew how to fish and she wasn’t using raw power, but what was so endearing about her was that how much she loved being out there. As hard as it was, and as isolationist as it was, she was smiling. Every time the show cut to her, she was like, “Hey everybody, it’s morning. Can you believe the frost?” You’ve been out there for a hundred days! Amazing. I think it was really an amazing show of that the game is all here. The game of life, the game of alone and the game of life because that’s the same thing.
Lex Fridman
(03:05:37)
Yeah. She maintained that sort of silliness, the goofiness, all through it when the condition got really tough. And she had a very different perspective as you know Roland didn’t want any of the spirituality, it’s very pragmatic. And for Callie, it is very spiritual connection to the land. She said something like she wanted not only to take from the land, but to give back. I mean, there’s this kind of poetic spiritual connection to the land. It’s such a dire contrast to Roland. But she’s still a badass. I mean to survive no matter what, no matter the kind of personality, you have to be a badass. I think she took a porcupine quill from her shoulder.
Paul Rosolie
(03:06:21)
That was crazy. I think it went in somewhere completely different and it migrated to their shoulder.
Lex Fridman
(03:06:27)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(03:06:28)
And the way they understood that is because they have, I said, that’s impossible. I remember that she’s pulling up her shirt and she’s like, there’s something. And then she pushes it out. And I remember I was like, “Hold up, hold up, hold up, hold up. How?” And it was because the barbs, once it goes in, as you move and flex your body, it moves a little bit each time and it gets migrated. I didn’t even think of that shit.
Lex Fridman
(03:06:51)
Plus, if I remember correctly, I think she caught two porcupines. The second one was rotting or something, or it had an infected body, whatever.
Paul Rosolie
(03:07:00)
It had the spots on it.
Lex Fridman
(03:07:01)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(03:07:02)
She chose not to eat it.
Lex Fridman
(03:07:03)
No. And then she chose not to eat it at first, and then she decided to eat it eventually, yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(03:07:07)
Oh. I forgot that.
Lex Fridman
(03:07:09)
And she starves, that was an insane sort of really thoughtful, focused, collective decision. Waiting a day and then saying, “Fuck it, I need this fat.” And that was the other thing, is like fat is important.
Paul Rosolie
(03:07:24)
Oh, yeah.
Lex Fridman
(03:07:25)
It’s like meat is not enough. You learn about what are the different food sources there. Apparently there’s rabbit starvation is a thing because when you have too much lean meat, it doesn’t nourish the body. Fat is the thing that nourishes the body, especially in cold conditions. So that’s the thing.
Paul Rosolie
(03:07:47)
Yeah, she was incredible. And I thought as brash and sort of fun as Roland was, she represented a much more beautiful take on it. It was really heartbreaking when she lost. And like you said, still a badass. It’s kind like Forrest Griffin vs Stephan Bonnar. It doesn’t matter who won. You guys beat the out of each other.
Lex Fridman
(03:08:13)
And she didn’t really lose, right? She got evaced because her toe was going…
Paul Rosolie
(03:08:21)
Frostbite.
Lex Fridman
(03:08:22)
Frostbite. A hundred days, you think you can do a hundred days?
Paul Rosolie
(03:08:26)
Honestly, I’ve done… 18 years in the Amazon, man, at this point, I could. I wouldn’t sign up for another a hundred days. At this point, I don’t have that to prove I’ve survived in the wild and I wouldn’t want to voluntarily take a hundred days away from everyone I know.
Lex Fridman
(03:08:51)
Yeah, the loneliness aspect is tough.
Paul Rosolie
(03:08:54)
We’re not meant for that. I really love the people I have in my life and I wouldn’t, and you see it on the show, a lot of the people, big tough ex-Navy SEALs who are survival experts who know what they’re doing, they get out there and they go, “You know what? I miss my family.” And they go, “It’s not worth it.” They have this existential realization. They go, “I only got so many years here. This is crazy. It’s just some money. Fuck it.” And they go home.
Lex Fridman
(03:09:21)
That’s funny because you sometimes feeling yourself in the jungle and you’re alone. And there’s another guy, Jordan Jonas Hobojordo, he’s the season 6 winner. And he said that the camera made him feel less lonely. I’ve heard of him from multiple channels, one of the things is he spent all of his twenties living in Siberia with the tribes out there.
Paul Rosolie
(03:09:50)
Whoa.
Lex Fridman
(03:09:52)
Herzog Happy People. And so he actually talked about that it’s one of the loneliest time of his life because when you went up there, he didn’t speak Russian and he needed to learn the language. And even though you have people around you when you don’t speak their language, it feels really, really lonely. And he felt less lonely on the show because he had the camera and he felt like he could talk to the camera. There is an element when you have in these harsh conditions, if you record something, you feel like you’re talking to another human through it, even if it’s just a recording. I sometimes feel that maybe because I imagine a specific person that will watch it and I feel like I’m talking to that person.
Paul Rosolie
(03:10:36)
Well, I noticed that when things got especially hard, and they did get especially hard when we were out in the wilderness, that you would begin filming to share that struggle. But I also think that I’ve used that at times where, yeah, you go, well, maybe if I, because if you can tell someone else about it, then you’re on the hero’s journey. And then it sort of has to make you braver and it changes how you, because you’re “I’m cold and I’m tired and I’m hungry and this hurts and that hurts and I don’t know when we’re going to make it and how is this going to go?” And then all of a sudden you go, “Well guys, we’re here and we’re going that way.” And then you’re like, “Well, I got to keep going” because you’re like, they’re still out there if you forget.
Lex Fridman
(03:11:24)
You have to step up. That’s one of the reasons I want a family. I think when you have kids, you have to be the best version of yourself for them.
Paul Rosolie
(03:11:33)
All my friends with kids that I’ve seen them go through, where until you have a family, you’re just playing around, man. I mean, you could do important work, you can have skin in other games, but it’s once you have a little tribe of humans that depends on you. If you take that seriously, if you want to do that right, it’s one of the hardest things you could do. And it just changes everything.

Protecting the rainforest

Lex Fridman
(03:12:02)
How has your life changed since we last met?
Paul Rosolie
(03:12:05)
Speak about changing, everything.
Lex Fridman
(03:12:08)
So you’ve been, for people who don’t know, pushing Jungle Keepers forward into uncharted territories, saving more and more and more and more rainforests. There’s a lot I could ask you about that. There’s a lot of stories to be told there. It’s a fight, it’s a battle. It’s a battle to protect this beautiful area of rainforest of nature. But since we last met, you’ve continued to make a lot of progress. So what’s the story of Jungle Keepers leading up to the moment we met and after and everything you’re doing right now?
Paul Rosolie
(03:12:46)
18 years ago when I first came to the jungle, I was a kid from New York who always dreamed since I was six years old, maybe even younger, of going to a place where animals were everywhere and there’s big trees and skyscrapers of life. And so being dyslexic and not fitting in school and reading about Jane Goodall and having Lord of the Rings be one of the things I grew up on, I just chose to come to the Amazon and the first person I met was this local indigenous conservationist named Juan Julio Duran, who was trying to protect this remote river, the Las Piedras River, which in history, apparently Fawcett referenced either the Las Piedras, but he called it Tahuamanu and said, “Don’t go there, you’ll surely die from tribes.”

(03:13:37)
And so there’s very few references to this river in history. It’s stayed very wild because it’s been a place that the law hasn’t made it, that the government hasn’t really extended to, we’re sort of past the police limit. And so JJ was out here ages ago, trying to protect this river before it was too late. And when I met him, I was just a barely out of high school kid with a dream of just seeing the rainforest, let alone seeing a giant anaconda or having any sort of meaningful experience or contribution to the narrative. And somehow overall, the years that we began working together and sparked a friendship and began exploring and going on expeditions and bringing people to the rainforest and asking them for help and manifesting the hell out of this insane dream that we had. I mean, we didn’t even have a boat. We would take logs down the river, we would have to cut a tree down. Every time we wanted to return to civilization, we’d have to cut down a balsa tree and float down the river.
Lex Fridman
(03:14:35)
Float down the river on it, yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(03:14:39)
It’s madness. It’s madness. It’s pure madness. And I don’t know what made us keep going, but along the way, people showed up who cared and who wanted to help. And if it was a movie, it wouldn’t even necessarily be a good movie because you’d go, “Oh, please. You’re just telling me that you just kept doing the thing and just magically people showed up.” But yeah, that’s what happened. That’s exactly the way it went. We kept doing the thing that we loved. We said, it doesn’t matter if we don’t have funding or a boat or gasoline or friends or anything. We just kept going. And along the way we found someone who could help us start a ranger program. And then we found Dax Dasilva who helped us fund the beginning of Jungle Keepers. And then people like Mohsen and Stefan who were there making sure that this thing actually took flight off the ground.

(03:15:28)
And then right around the time that we were wondering what was going to happen and if we’re all going to have to quit and get real jobs and if we could actually save the rainforest from the destruction that was coming, Lex Fridman sends me a DM and honestly changed the entire narrative because up until then we had been playing in the minor leagues pretending, trying real, real hard and the listeners of your show in the moments after you published your episode with our conversation began showing up in droves and supporting Jungle Keepers putting in five, ten, a hundred, a thousand, we started getting these donations and the incredible team that I work with, we all went into hyperdrive, everybody, everybody started going nuts.

(03:16:17)
We all started spending 16-hour days working to try and deal with the tidal wave that Lex sent towards us just because so many people knew that we were doing this, that it was an indigenous led fight to protect this incredibly ancient virgin rainforest before it was cut and people resonated with that. And so we got this huge swell of support and this year we’ve protected thousands and thousands of more acres of rainforest because of that swell of support.
Lex Fridman
(03:16:47)
So current 50,000 acres, what’s the goal, what’s the approach to saving this rainforest?
Paul Rosolie
(03:16:53)
Since we printed this, it’s gone up to 66,000 acres. And as you know, in each of those little acres are millions and millions of animal heartbeats and societies of animals. And the goal here is that we’re between Manu National Park, Alto Purús National Park, the Tambopata Reserve, we’re in a region that’s known as the biodiversity capital of Peru, one of the most bio-diverse parts of the Western Amazon. And we’re fighting along the edge of the Trans-Amazon Highway.

(03:17:29)
And so it’s just a small group of local people and some international experts who have come together and used these incredibly out of side of the box strategies to sort of crowd fund conservation to go, “Look, we know that this incredible life is here. We have the scientific evidence, we have the national park system. If we can protect this before they cut it down, we could do something of global significance. All these Jaguars, all these monkeys, all these undescribed medicines, the uncontacted tribes that we share this forest with could all be protected.” And people have stepped up and begun to make that happen. And there’s people from all over the world and it’s incredible.
Lex Fridman
(03:18:10)
But what’s the approach? So trying to, with donations, to buy out more and more of the land and then protect it?
Paul Rosolie
(03:18:18)
So the approaches that currently the government favors extractors. So if you’re a gold miner or an illegal logger or you just want to cut down and burn a bunch of rainforests and set up a cacao farm, the government’s fine with that. It doesn’t matter. You’re not really breaking the law if you’re destroying nature.
Lex Fridman
(03:18:36)
So as long as you’re producing something from the land, they don’t see it as a loss, that nature was destroyed permanently?
Paul Rosolie
(03:18:43)
Yeah, it’s just wilderness. It’s sort of just beyond the scope of, or the local people that technically own the land out here, the local indigenous people, for instance, we fought this year to help the community of Puerto Nuevo, who’s been fighting for 20 years to have government recognized land. These are indigenous people in the Amazon, fighting to protect their own land. And you know what it was that was holding them back? They didn’t understand how the system of legal documents worked to certify that titled land. They didn’t really have the funding to go from their very, very remote community into the offices and so Jungle Keepers helped them with that. And so really all we’re doing is helping local people protect the forest, that is their world. That’s it.
Lex Fridman
(03:19:30)
If people donate, how will that help?
Paul Rosolie
(03:19:35)
If people donate to Jungle Keepers, what you’re doing is you’re helping someone like JJ, who’s an indigenous naturalist who has the vision, who has seen forest be destroyed, he’s trying to protect it before it’s too late. You’re saving mahogany trees, ironwood trees, kapok trees, skyscrapers of life, just monkeys, birds, reptiles, amphibians, birds, mammals, this entire avatar on earth, world of rainforest that produces a fifth of the oxygen we breathe and the water we drink, this incredible thing. As far as I know, it’s the most direct way to protect that.

(03:20:12)
And so the fact that we have large funders who give us a hundred thousand dollars to protect this huge swath of land and that goes through things like this and through Instagram, it goes directly to the local conservationists who work with the loggers to protect that land before it’s cut. But one of the most impactful things that has happened this year in the wake of our last conversation was that I got an email from a mother and she said, “I’m a single mom and I work a few jobs and I can’t afford to give you a ton of money, but me and my kids look at your Instagram often after dinner, and they really want to protect the heartbeats. They really want to protect the animals and the rainforest. And so we give $5 a month to Jungle Keepers.” And it was, to me that was so impactful because I used to be that little kid worried about the animals. I saw how a few million raindrops can create a flood.
Lex Fridman
(03:21:07)
Yeah. I ask that people donate to Jungle Keepers. You guys are legit. That money is going to go a long way, junglekeeper.org. If you somehow were able to raise very large, so the raindrops would make a waterfall, a very large amount of money, I don’t know what that number is, maybe $10 million, $20 million, $30 million, what are the different milestones along the way that could really help you on the journey of saving the rainforest?
Paul Rosolie
(03:21:48)
If we did, if let’s just say some company organization or if enough people donated it, let’s just say we got that $30 million. That money would go directly into stopping logging roads, into creating a corridor, a biological corridor that connects the uncontacted indigenous reserves with other tribal lands, with Manu National Park, with the Tambopata, which establishes essentially the largest protected area in the Amazon rainforest. And what makes this groundbreaking is that we’re not doing this in the traditional way. We’re doing this, take it to the people.

(03:22:22)
And that’s what’s been so exciting is that when he started this, when JJ started this 30 years ago, he had no idea. His father wanted him to be a logger. He didn’t have shoes until he was 13 years old. He grew up bathing in the river. He had no idea that a bunch of crazy foreigner scientists were going to show up and some guy in a James Bond suit was going to come down here with microphones. And that all of a sudden the world would know that he was on this quest to protect this incredible ecosystem. And all those little aliens.
Lex Fridman
(03:22:53)
Well, that’s all the important thing to remember, that the people that are cutting down the forest, the loggers are also human beings. They’ve families, they’re basically trying to survive and they’re desperate and they’re doing the thing that will bring them money. And so they’re just human beings at the core of it. If they have other options, they will probably choose to give their life to saving the community, to first and foremost providing for their family, and after that, saving the community, helping the community flourish. And I think probably a lot of them love the rainforest. They grew up in the rainforest.
Paul Rosolie
(03:23:34)
Yeah. I mean, look at Pico.
Lex Fridman
(03:23:36)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(03:23:36)
Pico used to be a logger, full-time logger, long-time logger. Now he loves conservation. He’s like, [foreign language 03:23:46].
Lex Fridman
(03:23:46)
Yeah, it’s all about just providing people options. There’s some dark stuff on the goldmine stuff you’ve talked about. You showed me parts of the rainforest where the goldmines are, and they’re just kind of erasing the rainforest.
Paul Rosolie
(03:24:02)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(03:24:03)
So at the edges, that’s when the mining happens and it’s this ugly process of they’re just destroying the jungle just for the surface layer of the sand or whatever that they processed to collect just little bits of gold. And there’s also very dark things that happen along the way as the communities around the goldmines are created. So that the entirety of the moral system that emerges from that, that has things like prostitution where one third of the women that are drawn into that sex traffic and prostitution are minors under 17 years old, 13 to 17-year-old. There’s just a lot of really, really dark stuff.
Paul Rosolie
(03:24:52)
I think that we have a rare chance to do something against that darkness. I think that this is an example of local people who have taken action, done good work, been good to the people that have visited, harnessed a certain amount of international momentum, and now we’re on the cusp of doing something historic. And so for the children in the communities along this river, it won’t be being a prostitute in a gold mine. It’ll be becoming a trained ranger.

(03:25:35)
Like last month, our ranger coordinator and one of our female rangers went to Africa for a ranger conference. And it’s like we’re beginning to, this is someone from a little tiny village with thatched huts upriver, she went to Africa to talk about being a professional conservation ranger. And it’s like that’s changing lives. And her daughters then, she’s married to Ignacio, the guy, their kids are going to grow up seeing their parents walking around with the emblem on and go, “Oh, I want to.” And then people like Pico and Pedro and all these guys that work here are going to go, “Well, we have to protect this forest”, and then they start getting fascinated about the snakes. And then they start caring about the turtle eggs. And then all of a sudden they have a way of life and nobody needs to go steal anybody’s kids to be a prostitute in a gold mine. That’s horrible. And so it’s really a win-win for the animals, for the rangers, for the rainforest, for people, it’s biocentric conservation. It’s just making everything better.
Lex Fridman
(03:26:36)
Yeah. I’ve read in an article that said, “An estimated 1200 girls between ages of 12 and 17 are forcibly drafted into child prostitution around the communities in the gold mines, at least one-third of the prostitutes in the camp are underage. The girls had ended up in the camp after receiving a tip that there were restaurants looking for waitresses and willing to pay top dollar. They jumped on a bus together and came down to the rainforest. What they found was not what they were expecting. The mining camp restaurants served food for only a few hours a day. The rest of the time, it was the girls themselves who were on the menu. Literally at the end of the road, and without the money to return home, the girls would soon become trapped in prostitution.”
Paul Rosolie
(03:27:24)
It’s interesting to me that the most devastating destruction of nature, the complete erasure of the rainforest burned to the ground, sucked through a hose, spit out into a disgusting mercury puddle, like the complete annihilation of life on earth, goes hand in hand with the complete annihilation of a young life. It’s like it’s all based around the same thing. It’s the light versus the dark, it’s the destruction in the chaos versus a move towards order and hope. And it is incredibly dark and this region is heavy with it.

Snake makes appearance

Lex Fridman
(03:28:10)
Well, I’m glad you’re fighting for the light. Is there a milestone in the near future that you’re working towards, like financially in terms of donations?
Paul Rosolie
(03:28:22)
There is. In the next year and a half, as you saw in your time here, there’s roads working around the Jungle Keepers concessions. All the work that the local people are doing to protect this land is trying to be dismantled by international corporations that are subcontracting logging companies here. And really what we need is $30 million in the next two years to protect the whole thing. You’ve seen the ancient mahogany trees, you’ve seen the families of monkeys, you’ve seen the caiman in the river. All of this is standing in the pathway of destruction. That road, they’re going to come down that road, and men with chainsaws are going to dismantle a forest that has been growing since the beginning. This is so magical. Do you see the snake over there?
Lex Fridman
(03:29:10)
Yeah.
Paul Rosolie
(03:29:11)
Do you?
Lex Fridman
(03:29:12)
There’s a snake.
Paul Rosolie
(03:29:13)
Okay. I’m just going to, don’t move. I don’t want you to move. I’m going to just, this is one of the most beautiful snakes in the Amazon rainforest. This is the blunt-headed tree snake, my favorite snakes. I’ve been hoping that you would get to see this snake. I have been praying.
Lex Fridman
(03:29:29)
Oh, boy.
Paul Rosolie
(03:29:30)
Okay. Okay. Let’s just go right back into this. Okay. Look at this little beauty creation. Let’s keep you away from the fire. Look at this little blunt-headed tree snake.
Lex Fridman
(03:29:47)
Wow.
Paul Rosolie
(03:29:49)
Such an incredible.
Lex Fridman
(03:29:50)
So tell me about the snake.
Paul Rosolie
(03:29:52)
Harmless little snake. If you put your hand out, he’ll probably just crawl onto your hand. Just be real careful with the fire. So look, I’m just going to put them like this…
Paul Rosolie
(03:30:00)
Put him like this. We’re going to… Yeah, let’s just snake safety. So he’s a tree snake. Yep. Nice and slow. Nice and slow. Nice and slow. So you nice and slow. Just really slow. Just be the tree. Be the tree that he climbs on. And this is again, this is a snake that’s so thin and so small.

(03:30:25)
There you go. There you go. Nice and slow. Just be the tree. Let him crawl around. So he is going to try and do all this stuff. Let me see if I can just calm him down for a second. Let me just see. He’s a very active little snake.

(03:30:38)
So see like the snake the other night. Just look at this. I can see the light through his body. To me, this is an alien. This is strange little life form. His eyes are two thirds of his head. I’m not joking. You look at their skull. He’s so tiny. He’s so tiny.
Lex Fridman
(03:31:02)
For people listening, there’s a snake in Paul’s hands right now is very… It’s long, of course, but very skinny. Very skinny.
Paul Rosolie
(03:31:11)
Very, very light. And also for everyone listening, the odds of that as we’re sitting here, doing this podcast, that a snake would just be crawling by in the jungle, might sound like something that would happen. But the density of snakes in the Amazon rainforest makes this a very unique experience.
Lex Fridman
(03:31:34)
Can you tell me a little bit about the coloration scheme? A little bit brown?
Paul Rosolie
(03:31:39)
Yeah. Just to describe this as we were talking here, it’s just a banded white and brown snake, with this tiny little head about the size of my pinky nail. Two thirds of this snake’s head is made up of its gigantic eyes.

(03:31:57)
It’s got a small mouth, and it’s about a third as thick as a pencil. It’s basically a moving shoestring. It’s incredibly, incredibly thin. The only thing I am thinking, Lex, is that if we have Dan come and just do some shots of…
Lex Fridman
(03:32:17)
Yeah, that’s true.
Paul Rosolie
(03:32:19)
Dan.
Lex Fridman
(03:32:22)
So what are we looking at here?
Paul Rosolie
(03:32:25)
The snake that was crawling behind us in the jungle that we were talking about jungle keepers and what we could do, and the snake just showed up at that moment. And this is a very active little snake who’s out for a hunt tonight and wants to find something to eat.

(03:32:41)
So this is a blunt-headed tree snake, totally harmless, little… Literally a moving shoestring. Super beautiful little animal. When you talk about aliens, to me, this is an alien. What are you thinking? What are you doing right now? What do you think about the fact that you are being handled by these giant humans?
Lex Fridman
(03:33:05)
And as you were saying, it reaches up to the leaves, you get closer.
Paul Rosolie
(03:33:08)
Yeah. The snake just naturally knows to go look. You just put them anywhere near leaves and he is like, I got this. He just wants to go right up into that tree. I just want you to try holding them and real gentle, just be the tree.

(03:33:22)
And just do the same thing you learned last night, just nice and gentle. Yep. And see, he’s holding onto my finger right now. He’s just going up. There you go. Perfect. Nice and easy. He’s a little erratic. He’s a little goofy.
Lex Fridman
(03:33:41)
Maybe he’s camera shy. Maybe a fan of the podcast. And gigantic eyes relative to his body size. Oh-
Paul Rosolie
(03:33:56)
Jeez.
Lex Fridman
(03:33:57)
… hello, moth. Traffic, traffic in the jungle.
Paul Rosolie
(03:34:01)
And then for everyone listening as we’re handling the snake that we found that was crawling by us, literally by our shoulders as we’re talking, a bat flies through, no joke, eight inches from Lex’s ear. Just zips past his head as he’s holding a snake while we’re sitting here in the jungle is just… We’re just in it now. Now, he’s going to try and back up.
Lex Fridman
(03:34:26)
And how do you…
Paul Rosolie
(03:34:27)
Yeah, why don’t you… Let’s encourage him to come back this way.
Lex Fridman
(03:34:31)
He’s weaved this way.
Paul Rosolie
(03:34:33)
He’s okay. He’s just trying to back up. Yeah, right there. Release.
Lex Fridman
(03:34:36)
Oh.
Paul Rosolie
(03:34:36)
Release. Okay. This is what I’m going to do. We’re going to say thank you, Mr. Snake.
Lex Fridman
(03:34:42)
Thank you, Mr. Snake.
Paul Rosolie
(03:34:43)
Thank you, Mr. Snake. Go back up into the tree. Here we go. There you go. There you go. There you go. And then we can resume normal podcasting now, because-
Lex Fridman
(03:34:56)
We really are in the jungle right now.
Paul Rosolie
(03:34:57)
We really are in the jungle. That’s one of my favorite snakes. That’s one of my favorite little aliens on this planet. Look at that.
Lex Fridman
(03:35:09)
And it’s going on some long journey. It’s going to-
Paul Rosolie
(03:35:14)
Up into the canopy.
Lex Fridman
(03:35:15)
… carry the rest of the night. So that little snake is one of the millions of life forms heartbeats that you’re trying to protect.
Paul Rosolie
(03:35:27)
Exactly. To me, after almost 20 years down here, the people here have become my friends, the caiman on the river, the monkeys. When I fall asleep at night, I think about all the different forests that when they bulldoze this forest, when they chop down these trees, that they vanish, that we take away their world.

(03:35:54)
And in that very evolutionary historical sense of remembering the primordial soup, it’s like this little creature is surviving out here somehow. And we have the chance to save it.

(03:36:08)
And even if you don’t care about the little creature on the pale blue dot, each of these little creatures contributes to this massive orchestral hole that creates climactic stability on this planet. And the Amazon is one of the most important parts of that. And each of these little guys is playing a role in there.

Uncontacted tribes

Lex Fridman
(03:36:26)
So one of the other fascinating life forms is other humans, but living a very different kind of life. So uncontacted tribes, what do you find most fascinating about them?
Paul Rosolie
(03:36:38)
What I find most fascinating about the uncontacted tribes is that while me and you are sitting here with microphones and a light, somewhere out there, in that darkness, in that direction, not so far away as the crow flies, there are people sitting around a fire in the dark.

(03:36:57)
Probably with little more than a few leaves over their heads, who don’t even have the use of stone tools, who only have metal objects that they’ve stolen from nearby communities. They’re living such primitive, isolated nomadic lives in the modern world.

(03:37:21)
And they’re still living naked out in the jungle. It’s truly incredible. It’s truly remarkable. And I think that it’s because they can’t advocate for themselves. They can’t protect themselves.

(03:37:33)
It’s sort of like, well, we can let them get shot up by loggers and let their land get bulldozed while they hide. They have no idea that their world is being destroyed. But they’re the scariest and most fascinating thing out there right now in the jungle.
Lex Fridman
(03:37:51)
Because you’ve spoken about them being dangerous, what do you think their relationship with violence is? Why is violence part of their approach to the external world?
Paul Rosolie
(03:38:02)
So from the best I understand it that at the turn of the century, industrial revolution, we had sudden immense need for rubber, for hoses, and gaskets, and wires, and tires and the war machine.

(03:38:18)
And the only way to get rubber was to come down to the Amazon rainforest and get the local people who knew the jungle to go out into the jungle and cut rubber trees and collect the latex. And Henry Ford tried doing Fordlandia, tried having rubber plantations, but leaf blight killed it. And so you had this period of horrendous extraction in the Amazon where the rubber barons were coming down and just raping and pillaging the tribes and making them go out to tap these trees.

(03:38:48)
And the uncontacted tribes said, no. They had their six-foot-long longbows, seven-foot-long arrows with giant bamboo tips. And they moved further back into the forest. And they said, we will not be conquered. And since that time, they’ve been out there.

(03:39:05)
And it’s confusing, because in a way, they’re still running scared a century later. And their grandparents would’ve told them, the outside world, everyone you see in the outside world is trying to kill you. So kill them first. So can you blame them for being violent? No.

(03:39:21)
Is this river still wild? Because loggers were scared to go here, for a long time for almost a century late? That’s why this forest is still here? Yes. And so is it a human rights issue that we protect the last people on earth that have no government, no affiliation, no language that we can explain?

(03:39:43)
We don’t know what their medicinal plant knowledge is. We don’t know their creation myths. We know nothing about them. And they’re just out there right now with arrows and arrows living in the dark, surviving in the jungle, naked without even spoons. Forget about the wheel, forget about iPhones. They got nothing. And they’re making it work.
Lex Fridman
(03:40:01)
We don’t know their creation myths. So they have a very primitive existence. Do you think their values… First of all, do you think their nature is similar to ours? And how do their values differ from ours?
Paul Rosolie
(03:40:21)
This is complicated because the anthropologist in me wants to say that they have a historical reason for the violent life that they have. They experienced incredible generational trauma some time ago.

(03:40:40)
And because they’ve been living isolated in the jungle, that has permeated to become their culture, they’ve become a culture of violence. But yet, the contacted modern indigenous communities that we work with, that are my friends that work here…

(03:40:56)
Just the other day, we were speaking to one of them who was pulling spikes out of your hand while he was explaining that he tried to help them, the brothers, Los Hermanos, he tried to help them. He tried to give them a gift. And what did they do? They shot him in the head.
Lex Fridman
(03:41:13)
Yeah. He said, there are brothers. And he tried to give them bananas.
Paul Rosolie
(03:41:20)
Plantains.
Lex Fridman
(03:41:21)
Plantains, boat full of plantains. And they shot at him.
Paul Rosolie
(03:41:24)
They shot three arrows at him, and one of them actually hit him in the skull and put in the hospital, and he got helicopter evacuated from his community. And so he’s brave for surviving, but he’s a lucky survivor.

(03:41:38)
They are incredibly accurate with those bamboo tipped arrows. And those arrows are seven feet long. So when you get hit by one, they come at a velocity that can rip through you. And the range on a shotgun is way shorter than the range on a longbow.

(03:41:57)
You’re talking about a couple of hundred meters on a longbow. And they’re deadly accurate. They can take spider monkeys out of a tree. And so there’s stories of loggers, and I’ve seen the photos of the bodies of loggers who attacked one of the tribes.

(03:42:14)
And the tribes hadn’t done anything. But these loggers came around a bend. They started shooting shotguns at the tribe, and the tribe scattered into the forest. And as the loggers boat went around a bend, they just started flying arrows.

(03:42:25)
Took out the boat driver, boat skidded to the side, and then everybody was standing in the river and you can’t run. And the tribe just descended on them and just porcupined them full of arrows.
Lex Fridman
(03:42:35)
Shotgun versus bow. There’s a shotgun shell here, by the way, from the loggers.
Paul Rosolie
(03:42:43)
Yeah, we picked that up yesterday. Was that yesterday?
Lex Fridman
(03:42:45)
That was… I don’t know.
Paul Rosolie
(03:42:47)
I don’t know.
Lex Fridman
(03:42:48)
One of the things that happens here is time loses meaning in some kind of deep way that it does when you’re in a big city, in the United States, for example, and there’s schedules and meetings and all this kind of stuff. It transforms the meaning, your experience of time, your interaction with time, the role of time, all of this. I’ve forgotten time and I’ve forgotten the existence of the outside world.
Paul Rosolie
(03:43:20)
And how does that feel?
Lex Fridman
(03:43:26)
It feels more honest. It also puts in perspective like all the busyness, all the… It kind of takes the ant out of the ant colony and says, hey, you’re just an ant. This is just an ant colony. And there’s a big world out there.

(03:43:47)
It’s a chance to be grateful, to celebrate this earth of ours and the things that make it worth living on, including the simple things that make the individual life worth living, which is water, and then food and the rest is just details.

(03:44:04)
Of course, the friendships and social interaction. That’s a really big one actually. That one, I’m taking for granted because I didn’t get a chance yet to really spend time alone. And when I came here, I’ve gotten a chance to hang out with you.

(03:44:19)
And there’s a kind of camaraderie, there’s a friendship there that if that’s broken, that’s a tough one too. You spent quite a lot of time alone in the jungle. Ever get a alone out here?
Paul Rosolie
(03:44:34)
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, the first 15 years we were doing this, there would be times that JJ would be busy in town with his family. And for sheer love of the rainforest, I would have to come alone out here.

(03:44:49)
And we didn’t have running water. I didn’t have running water. I didn’t have lights. All I had was a couple of candles in the darkness and a tent. And I was 20-something years old, living in the Amazon by myself.

(03:44:59)
Your boat sunk. And yeah, it’s incredibly lonely. I had to learn through experience because I thought there’s a period, I think when you’re young… As a young man, I had this thing. I wanted to prove that I could be like the explorers.

(03:45:15)
I wanted to prove that I could handle the elements, that I could go out alone, that I could have these deep connective moments with the jungle. And it’s like, I did that and that’s great. And you know what? The kid from Into the Wild learned right before he died in that bus? That if you don’t have somebody to share it with, it doesn’t matter.
Lex Fridman
(03:45:40)
But some kind of even just deep human level, even if you have somebody to share it with… You ever just get alone out here. Just this sense of existential dread of what… The jungle has a way of not caring about any individual organism because it just kind of churns. It’s like it makes you realize that life is finite quite intensely.
Paul Rosolie
(03:46:23)
For me, it’s comforting being out here, because I find the rat race, the national narrative, the need to make money, to worry about war, to be outraged about the newest thing that politician said and what that actor did.

(03:46:39)
And there’s always just this unending media storm. And everyone’s worried and everyone’s trying to optimize their sunlight exposure and find the solution and buy the right new thing.

(03:46:53)
And to me coming out here, first of all, I mean something out here because I can help someone. I can help people. I can help these animals. And so I find my meaning out here. But also, there’s losing the madness over the mountains.

(03:47:11)
It’s nature has always, and for many people, been where things make sense. And to me, I think I’m a simple analog type of person. That it makes sense that when it rains, you get in the river to stay warm and you wait for the dawn and you see a little tree snake and it makes more sense.

(03:47:33)
And I think that the overwhelming teaming complexity that is inside the ant mound of society can be dizzying for some people. And I think that maybe it’s the dyslexia, maybe it’s just that I love nature, but now when I land in JFK, I feel like a frightened animal.

(03:47:58)
As if you released some animal that had never seen it onto a Times Square, and you could just imagine this dog with its ears back, running away from taxis and just cowering from the noise.

(03:48:10)
And it’s just hustle and bustle and people are brutal, and how much you want it for? Get in the car, screaming over the intercom and just everything, sensory changes and let’s get home. Okay, let’s go. You got a meeting, you got to get to the next place. You got to give a talk. You got to say…

(03:48:27)
Out here, when we finish up here, what are we going to do? We’re going to eat some food, maybe go catch a crocodile. Go walk around the jungle a night. It’s slower. It makes sense. And again, there’s that deep meaning of that here, we can be the guardians for good.

(03:48:44)
We can hold that candle up and know for sure that we’re protecting the trees from being destroyed. And it’s that simple thing of just, this is good. There you go. It’s simple.

(03:48:57)
In society, I feel like everyone’s always losing their minds and forgetting the most basic of fundamental truths. And out here, you can’t really argue with them. When we needed water, it was like, shit, if we don’t get water, we’re fucked.

(03:49:11)
And that’s, to me, that’s where the camaraderie comes from. Because no matter what, we could go to the most fancy-ass restaurant through the biggest, most famous people in the world. It doesn’t matter.

(03:49:23)
We still remember what it was like standing around in the jungle going, fuck, we’re scared and we don’t have water. We got reduced to the simplest form of humans. And that’s something. And we survived. And that’s cool.
Lex Fridman
(03:49:36)
And you take all those people in their nice dresses and their fancy restaurants, you put in those conditions, they’re all going to want the same thing, that’s water.
Paul Rosolie
(03:49:45)
Yes.
Lex Fridman
(03:49:46)
It’s all the same thing.
Paul Rosolie
(03:49:47)
All the beautiful people.

Mortality

Lex Fridman
(03:49:49)
How has your view of your own mortality evolved over your interaction with the jungle? How often do you think about your death?
Paul Rosolie
(03:49:58)
Well, I don’t anymore because I’ve come to believe that there is a benevolent God, spirit, creator taking care of us. And I don’t think about my own death. We have a little bit of time here and we clearly know nothing about what we’re doing here.

(03:50:19)
And it seems like we just have to do the best we can. And so it doesn’t scare me. I’ve come close to dying a lot of times and I just don’t think… You don’t want to have a bad death. First of all, you don’t want to be a statistic.

(03:50:37)
You don’t want to find out. You don’t want to try out a… Be the first to try out a new product and oops, it crushed you. That’s a terrible way to go, or the people that used to… In the Gold Rush, they were using mercury and they were all getting… Or lead. It was lead poisoning.

(03:50:52)
And it’s like, oh, a few million people died that way. And it’s like, you want a good death. You want to staring down the eyes of a tiger or hanging off the edge of a cliff, saving somebody’s… Something, something worthy. Warrior’s death.
Lex Fridman
(03:51:07)
Riding a 16-foot black caiman just-
Paul Rosolie
(03:51:11)
Boots on, screaming. Yeah. That would be fun. That’d be a good one.

Steve Irwin

Lex Fridman
(03:51:18)
A lot of people say that you carry the spirit of Steve Irwin in your heart, in the way you carry yourself in this world. I mean, that guy was full of joy.
Paul Rosolie
(03:51:31)
If I have a percentage of Steve Irwin, I would be honored. But that guy… I think there’s only one Steve. I think that he occupied his own strata of just shining light. Everything was positive, enthusiasm, love and happiness, and save the animals and do better and let’s make it fun.

(03:51:52)
And that was so infectious that it sort of transcended his TV show. It transcended his conservation work. It transcended business and entrepreneurship. It just through sheer magnetism and enthusiasm, I mean, everyone knew who Steve was. Everyone loved Steve.

(03:52:12)
We still all love Steve. And so it’s just amazing what one spirit can do. So if anybody makes that comparison, I get really uncomfortable because to me, Steve Irwin is just the G.O.A.T. And so I’m okay with that.
Lex Fridman
(03:52:31)
Well, I at least agree with that comparison. Having spent time with you, there’s just an eternal flame of joy and adventure too. Just pulling you. A dark question, but do you think you might meet the same end, giving your life in some way to something you love?
Paul Rosolie
(03:52:53)
That is a dark question, but I think most likely, I’ll get whacked by loggers. I think that loggers or gold miners will take me out. I don’t picture myself going from animals, but…
Lex Fridman
(03:53:06)
That would be heartbreaking too.
Paul Rosolie
(03:53:08)
Yeah, it would. But yeah, at the same time though, the Kurt Cobain value of that, if I died doing what I love to protect the river, it’d be worth so much more. A lot… We’d get the 30 million if I died tomorrow for sure.

(03:53:18)
So we’ve already talked about this with my friends. I’m like, if I get whacked, do the foundation, make the documentary, protect the river, protect the heartbeats. Call it The Heartbeats, Jungle Keepers, The Heartbeats. Be ready for it because these things do happen.

(03:53:33)
People get pissed if you get in their way. And as many happy people whose lives were changing, there’s also going to be some jealous, shitty, upset people who are mad that they can’t make prostitutes out of young girls and keep destroying the planet. And so they might just erase you. Me.
Lex Fridman
(03:53:51)
Well, I hope you… Like a Clint Eastwood character, just impossible to kill. I like how you squinted your eyes. On cue. Who do you think will play you in a movie?
Paul Rosolie
(03:54:09)
God, somebody with the right nose. Somebody who can live up to this [inaudible 03:54:15]. Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(03:54:15)
All right. Italian?
Paul Rosolie
(03:54:16)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(03:54:18)
It’s funny. Do you think of yourself as Italian or human, American?
Paul Rosolie
(03:54:23)
That’s the thing. My life has been the United Nations of whatever. To me, that’s the other thing. You go back to society and everyone’s obsessed with race. To me, I’m like, look, leopards have black babies and yellow babies, one mother. They’re all leopards.

(03:54:44)
And I’m so color-blind and race blind and everything else. I’ve lived in India. My friends are Peruvian, my family, we got Italian, Filipino, just everything. And so I’m so immersed in it that I find it very jarring and disconcerting, how much time we spend talking about different religions and just the differences in humans.

(03:55:08)
I’m like, dude, we’re talking about whether or not our ecosystems are going to be able to provide for us. We’re talking about nuclear. What we’re talking about this some pretty serious shit on the table.

(03:55:19)
And we’re over here arguing over shades of gray of… It’s so trivial and that drives me crazy. And as does the outrage where it’s like, no, you have to care. I’ve been criticized for not caring enough about that. And I’m like, who cares what the hell I am? Who gives a shit what the hell? I’m a human. We’re all human.

(03:55:40)
It’s not that easy. But it’s kind of fun sometimes. And we’re at a better time. And when you think about the Middle Ages, even if you were a king, you still didn’t have it that good. You didn’t have pineapples in the winter. You didn’t even know what the fuck a pineapple was. We have pineapples whenever we want them. We can fly on planes to other countries.
Lex Fridman
(03:56:02)
By the way, let’s clarify, we, you mean a large fraction of the world? I mentioned to you, one of the biggest things I’ve noticed when I immigrated from the Soviet Union to the United States is how plentiful bananas and pineapples were. The fruit section, the produce section of the…

(03:56:23)
Didn’t have to wait in line at the grocery store, could just eat as many bananas and pineapples, and cherries, and watermelon as you want. That’s not everybody has that.
Paul Rosolie
(03:56:34)
No, that’s true. Not everybody has that, but…
Lex Fridman
(03:56:37)
But everybody could be that king. No.
Paul Rosolie
(03:56:41)
But a growing number of people today-
Lex Fridman
(03:56:43)
Can feast on pineapple.
Paul Rosolie
(03:56:45)
… can feast on pineapple and have toasters and new distracting apps all the way until the grave.
Lex Fridman
(03:56:51)
That’s the thing that I also noticed is I don’t think so much about politics when I’m here, or-
Paul Rosolie
(03:56:57)
We haven’t even talked about it. We haven’t.
Lex Fridman
(03:56:59)
Do you want to talk about the stupid differences between humans? Except to just laugh at the absurdity of it on occasion.
Paul Rosolie
(03:57:08)
We’ve been too busy trying to survive glaciers and jungles and avalanches and all kinds of shit.
Lex Fridman
(03:57:14)
Do you think nature is brutal as Werner Herzog showed it? Or is it beautiful?
Paul Rosolie
(03:57:21)
I think the brutality of nature is the chaos, and I think that we are the only ones in it that are capable of organizing in the direction of order and light. So yes, there are going to be hyenas tearing each other apart. Yes, there’s going to be war-torn nations and poor starving children, but we as humans, have the power to work towards something more organized than that.
Lex Fridman
(03:57:54)
So there is a force within nature that’s always searching for order, for good.
Paul Rosolie
(03:58:01)
It’s kind of a unifying theory if you think about it. I mean, all of the chaos of history and the wars and the chaos of nature. Through technology and organization, there’s so many people, more people today than ever before, I think, who are so concerned, who realize that the incredible power, like what Jane Goodall says about how you can affect the people around you.

(03:58:22)
How you can do good in the world, how you can change the narrative of conservation from one of loss and darkness to one of innovation and light. We can do incredible things. We are the masters as humans.

(03:58:36)
And I think that we’re on the cusp of understanding the true potential of that. I just think that more than ever, people have harnessed this ability to do good in the world and be proud of it and just change the darkness into something else.

God

Lex Fridman
(03:58:57)
When you have lived here and taken in the ways of the Amazon jungle, how have your views of God… You mentioned, how have your views of God change? Who is God?
Paul Rosolie
(03:59:12)
I’ve come to believe that, again, back to that Christ wasn’t a Christian, Muhammad wasn’t a Muslim, and Buddha wasn’t a Buddhist. That the game game is love and compassion and the universe is chaotic and dangerous and nature is chaotic and dangerous. But if this is some sort of a biological video game that our reality, that the test is, can we be good? And we go through it every day.

(03:59:44)
Can you be good to your parent? Can you be good to your partner? Can you be good to your coworkers? It’s so difficult and we see how people can cheat and steal and hurt and destroy.

(03:59:57)
And the incredible impact that it has on the world, the returning exponential impact that one act of kindness, one act of good can do. And so I see nature as God. I see the religions as different cultural manifestations of the same truth, the same creative force. Maybe me and you have the same beliefs, and your aliens are my angels.
Lex Fridman
(04:00:34)
Well, thank you for being one of the humans trying to do good in this world, and thank you for bringing me along for some adventure and I believe more adventure awaits.
Paul Rosolie
(04:00:50)
Thank you for being enough of a psychopath to actually just sign on to come into the Amazon rainforest in a suit. And a year ago when you told me that you were going to do this, I truly didn’t believe you.

(04:01:05)
So for being a man of your word and for the incredible work you do to connect humans, and to create dialogue, and to do good in the world and for all the adventures that we’ve had, thank you so much.
Lex Fridman
(04:01:15)
Thank you, brother.
Paul Rosolie
(04:01:16)
Lex, thanks man.
Lex Fridman
(04:01:19)
Thanks for listening to this conversation with Paul Rosalie. To support this podcast, please check out our sponsors in the description. And now, let me leave you with some words from Joseph Campbell. The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure. Thank you for listening and hope to see you next time.

Transcript for Sean Carroll: General Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, Black Holes & Aliens | Lex Fridman Podcast #428

This is a transcript of Lex Fridman Podcast #428 with Sean Carroll.
The timestamps in the transcript are clickable links that take you directly to that point in
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Table of Contents

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Introduction

Sean Carroll
(00:00:00)
The whole point of relativity is to say there’s no such thing as right now when you’re far away. That is doubly true for what’s inside a black hole. You might think, “Well, the galaxy is very big.” It’s really not. It’s some tens of thousands of light years across and billions of years old. You don’t need to move at a high fraction of the speed of light to fill the galaxy.
Lex Fridman
(00:00:23)
The number of worlds is …
Sean Carroll
(00:00:26)
Very big.
Lex Fridman
(00:00:26)
… very, very, very big. Where do those worlds fit, where they go?
Sean Carroll
(00:00:34)
The short answer is the worlds don’t exist in space. Space exists separately in each world.
Lex Fridman
(00:00:48)
The following is a conversation with Sean Carroll. His third time in this podcast. He is a theoretical physicist at Johns Hopkins, host of the Mindscape Podcast that I personally love and highly recommend, and author of many books, including the most recent book series called The Biggest Ideas in the Universe.

(00:01:07)
The first book of which is titled Space, Time, and Motion. It’s on the topic of general relativity. The second coming out on May 14th, you should definitely pre-order it, it’s titled the Quanta and Fields. That one is on the topic of quantum mechanics.

(00:01:24)
Sean is a legit, active, theoretical physicist and at the same time is one of the greatest communicators of physics ever. I highly encourage you listen to his podcast, read his books, and pre-order the new book to support his work. This was, as always, a big honor and a pleasure for me. This is Lex Fridman Podcast. To support it, please check out our sponsors in the description. Now, dear friends here’s Sean Carroll.

General relativity


(00:01:55)
In book one of the series, The Biggest Ideas in the Universe called Space, Time, Motion, you take on classical mechanics, general relativity by taking on the main equation of general relativity and making it accessibly easy to understand. Maybe at the high level, what is general relativity? What’s a good way to start to try to explain it?
Sean Carroll
(00:02:18)
Probably the best way to start to try to explain it is special relativity, which came first, 1905. It was the culmination of many decades of people putting things together. But it was Einstein in 1905. In fact, it wasn’t even Einstein. I should give more credit to Minkowski in 1907. Einstein in 1905 figured out that you could get rid of the ether, the idea of a rest frame for the universe and all the equations of physics would make sense with the speed of light being a maximum.

(00:02:50)
But then it was Minkowski who used to be Einstein’s professor in 1907 who realized the most elegant way of thinking about this idea of Einstein’s was to blend space and time together into spacetime to really imagine that there is no hard and fast division of the four-dimensional world in which we live into space and time separately.

(00:03:11)
Einstein was at first dismissive of this. He thought it was just like, “Oh, the mathematicians or over-formalizing again.” But then he later realized that if spacetime is a thing, it can have properties and in particular it can have a geometry. It can be curved from place to place. That was what let him solve the problem of gravity.

(00:03:33)
He had previously been trying to fit in what we knew about gravity from Newtonian mechanics, the inverse square law of gravity, to his new relativistic theory. It didn’t work. The final leap was to say gravity is the curvature of spacetime, and that statement is basically general relativity.
Lex Fridman
(00:03:54)
The tension with Minkowski was he was a mathematician.
Sean Carroll
(00:03:56)
Yes.
Lex Fridman
(00:03:57)
It’s the tension between physics and mathematics. In fact, in your lecture about this equation, one of them, you say that Einstein is a better physicist than he gets credit for.
Sean Carroll
(00:04:09)
Yep. I know that’s hard. That’s a little bit of a joke there, right?
Lex Fridman
(00:04:14)
Yeah.
Sean Carroll
(00:04:15)
Because we all give Einstein a lot of credit. But then we also, partly based on fact, but partly to make ourselves feel better, tell ourselves a story about how later in life, Einstein couldn’t keep up. There were younger people doing quantum mechanics and quantum field theory and particle physics, and he was just unable to really philosophically get over his objections to that.

(00:04:37)
I think that that story about the latter part is completely wrong, almost 180 degrees wrong. I think that Einstein understood quantum mechanics as well as anyone, at least up through the 1930s. I think that his philosophical objections to it are correct. He should actually have been taken much more seriously about that.

(00:04:58)
What he did, what he achieved in trying to think these problems through is to really basically understand the idea of quantum entanglement, which is important these days when it comes to understanding quantum mechanics. Now, it’s true that in the ’40s and ’50s he placed his efforts in hopes for unifying electricity and magnetism with gravity. That didn’t really work out very well.

(00:05:23)
All of us try things that don’t work out. I don’t hold that against him. But in terms of IQ points, in terms of trying to be a clear-thinking physicist, he was really, really great.
Lex Fridman
(00:05:33)
What does greatness look like for a physicist? How difficult is it to take the leap from special relativity to general relativity? How difficult is it to imagine that, to consider spacetime together and to imagine that there’s a curvature to this whole thing?
Sean Carroll
(00:05:53)
Yeah. That’s a great question. I think that if you want to make the case for Einstein’s greatness, which is not hard to do, there’s two things you point at. One is in 1905, his famous miracle year, he writes three different papers on three wildly different subjects, all of which would make you famous just for writing that one paper.

(00:06:17)
Special relativity is one of them. Brownian motion is another one, which is just the little vibrations of tiny little dust specks in the air. But who cares about that? What matters is it proves the existence of atoms. He explains Brownian motion by imagining there are molecules in the air and deriving their properties. Brilliant.

(00:06:35)
Then he basically starts the world on the road to quantum mechanics with his paper on, which again, is given a boring label of the photoelectric effect. What it really was is he invented photons. He showed that light should be thought of as particles as well as waves. He did all three of those very different things in one year.

(00:06:55)
Okay. But the other thing that gets him genius status is, like you say, general relativity. This takes 10 years from 1905 to 1915. He wasn’t only doing general relativity. He was working on other things. He invented refrigerator. He did various interesting things. He wasn’t even the only one working on the problem.

(00:07:13)
There were other people who suggested relativistic theories of gravity. But he really applied himself to it. I think as your question suggests, the solution was not a matter of turning a crank. It was something fundamentally creative. In his own telling of the story, his greatest moment, his happiest moment was when he realized that if the way that we would modern … say it in modern terms, if you were in a rocket ship accelerating at 1G, at acceleration due to gravity, if the rocket ship were very quiet, you wouldn’t be able to know the difference between being in a rocket ship and being on the surface of the earth.

(00:07:55)
Gravity is not detectable or at least not distinguishable from acceleration. Number one, that’s a pretty clever thing to think. But number two, if you or I had had that thought, we would’ve gone, “Huh. We’re pretty clever.” He reasons from there to say, “Okay. If gravity is not detectable, then it can’t be like an ordinary force.”

(00:08:17)
The electromagnetic force is detectable. We can put charged particles around. Positively charged particles and negatively charged particles respond differently to an electric field or to a magnetic field. He realizes that what his thought experiment showed, or at least suggested, is that gravity isn’t like that. Everything responds in the same way to gravity. How could that be the case?

(00:08:39)
Then this other leap he makes is, “Oh, it’s because it’s the curvature of spacetime.” It’s a feature of spacetime. It’s not a force on top of it. The feature that it is, is curvature. Then finally he says, “Okay. Clearly, I’m going to need the mathematical tools necessary to describe curvature. I don’t know them, so I will learn them.” They didn’t have MOOCs or AI helpers back in those days. He had to sit down and read the math papers, and he taught himself differential geometry and invented general relativity.
Lex Fridman
(00:09:09)
What about the step of including time as just another dimension, combining space and time, is that a simple mathematical leap as Minkowski suggested?
Sean Carroll
(00:09:21)
It’s certainly not simple, actually. It’s a profound insight. That’s why I said I think we should give Minkowski more credit than we do. He’s the one who really put the finishing touches on special relativity. Again, many people had talked about how things change when you move close to the speed of light, what Maxwell’s equations of electromagnetism predict and so forth, what their symmetries are. People like Lorenz and Fitzgerald and Poincare, there’s a story that goes there.

(00:09:52)
In the usual telling Einstein puts the capstone on it. He’s the one who says, “All of this makes much more sense if there just is no ether. It is undetectable. We don’t know how fast. Everything is relative.” Thus, the name relativity. But he didn’t take the actual final step, which was to realize that the underlying structure that he had invented is best thought of as unifying space and time together.

(00:10:16)
I honestly don’t know what was going through Minkowski’s mind when he thought that. I’m not sure if he was so mathematically adept that it was just clear to him or he was really struggling it and he did trial and error for a while. I’m not sure.
Lex Fridman
(00:10:31)
Do you, for him or Einstein, visualize the four-dimensional space, try to play with the idea of time is just another dimension?
Sean Carroll
(00:10:38)
Oh, yeah. All the time. I mean, we, of course, make our lives easy by ignoring two of the dimensions of space. Instead of four-dimensional spacetime, we just draw pictures of one dimension of space, one dimension of time. The so-called spacetime diagram.

(00:10:54)
I mean, maybe this is lurking underneath your question. But even the best physicists will draw a vertical axis and a horizontal axis and will go space, time. But deep down that’s wrong, because you’re sort of preferring one direction of space and one direction of time. It’s really the whole two-dimensional thing that is spacetime.

(00:11:16)
The more legitimate thing to draw on that picture are rays of light, are light cones. From every point, there is a fixed direction at which the speed of light would represent. That is actually inherent in the structure. The division into space and time is something that’s easy for us human beings.
Lex Fridman
(00:11:36)
What is the difference between space and time from the perspective of general relativity?
Sean Carroll
(00:11:41)
It’s the difference between X and Y when you draw axes on a piece of paper.
Lex Fridman
(00:11:46)
There’s really no difference?
Sean Carroll
(00:11:47)
There is almost no difference. There’s one difference that is important, which is the following; If you have a curve in space, I’m going to draw it horizontally, because that’s usually what we do in spacetime diagrams, if you have a curve in space, you’ve heard the motto before that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

(00:12:06)
If you have a curve in time, which is by the way, literally all of our lives, we all evolve in time. You can start with one event in spacetime, and another event in spacetime. What Minkowski points out is that the time you measure along your trajectory in the universe is precisely analogous to the distance you travel on a curve through space.

(00:12:29)
By precisely, I mean it is also true that the actual distance you travel through depends on your path. You can go a straight line, shortest distance and curvy line would be longer. The time you measure in spacetime, the literal time that takes off on your clock also depends on your path, but it depends on it the other way.

(00:12:49)
That the longest time between two points is a straight line. If you zig back and forth in spacetime, you take less and less time to go from point A to point B.
Lex Fridman
(00:13:01)
How do we make sense of that, the difference between the observed reality and the objective reality are underneath it, or is objective reality a silly notion given general relativity?
Sean Carroll
(00:13:13)
I’m a huge believer in objective reality. I think that objective reality, objectivity …
Lex Fridman
(00:13:16)
You’re fan.
Sean Carroll
(00:13:17)
… is real. But I do think that people are a little overly casual about the relationship between what we observe and objective reality in the following sense. Of course, in order to explain the world, our starting point and our ending point is our observations, our experimental input, the phenomena we experience and see around us in the world.

(00:13:43)
But in between, there’s a theory, there’s a mathematical formalization of our ideas about what is going on. If a theory fits the data and is very simple and makes sense in its own terms, then we say that the theory is right. That means that we should attribute some reality to the entities that play an important role in that theory, at least provisionally until we can come up with a better theory down the road.

Black holes

Lex Fridman
(00:14:13)
I think a nice way to test the difference between objective reality and the observed reality is what happens at the edge of the horizon of a black hole. Technically, as you get closer to that horizon, time stands still?
Sean Carroll
(00:14:31)
Yes and no. It depends on exactly how careful we are being. Here is a bunch of things I think are correct. If you imagine there is a black hole, spacetime, the whole solution Einstein’s equation, and you treat you and me as what we call test particles. We don’t have any gravitational fields ourselves. We just move around in the gravitational field. That’s obviously an approximation. Okay. But let’s imagine that.

(00:14:59)
You stand outside the black hole and I fall in. As I’m falling in, I’m waving to you because I’m going into the black hole, you will see me move more and more slowly. Also, the light for me is redshifted. I kind of look embarrassed, because I’m falling into a black hole. There is a limit. There’s a last moment that light will be emitted from me, from your perspective forever. Okay.

(00:15:27)
Now you don’t literally see it because I’m emitting photons more and more slowly because from your point of view. It’s not like I’m equally bright. I basically fade from view in that picture. Okay. That’s one approximation. The other approximation is I do have a gravitational field of my own, and therefore as I approach the black hole, the black hole doesn’t just sit there and let me pass through. It moves out to eat me up because its net energy mass is going to be mine, plus its.

(00:16:01)
But roughly speaking, yes, I think so. I don’t like to go to the dramatic extremes because that’s where the approximations break down. But if you see something falling into a black hole, you see its clock ticking more and more slowly.
Lex Fridman
(00:16:12)
How do we know it fell in?
Sean Carroll
(00:16:13)
We don’t. I mean, how would we. Because it’s always possible that right at the last minute it had a change of heart and starts accelerating away. If you don’t see it passing, you don’t know. Let’s point out that as smart as Einstein was, he never figured out black holes, and he could have. It’s embarrassing. It took decades for people thinking about general relativity to understand that there are such things as black holes.

(00:16:39)
Because basically Einstein comes up with general relativity in 1915. Two years later, Schwarzschild, Karl Schwarzschild derives the solution to Einstein’s equation that represents a black hole, the Schwarzschild solution. No one recognized it for what it was until the ’50s, David Finkelstein and other people. That’s just one of these examples of physicists not being as clever as they should have been.
Lex Fridman
(00:17:04)
Well, that’s the singularity. That’s the edge of the theory. The limit. It’s understandable that it’s difficult to imagine the limit of things.
Sean Carroll
(00:17:14)
It is absolutely hard to imagine. A black hole is very different to many ways from what we’re used to. On the other hand, I mean the real reason, of course, is that between 1915 and 1955, there’s a bunch of other things that are really interesting going on in physics. All of particle physics and quantum field theory. Many of the greatest minds were focused on that.

(00:17:33)
But still, if the universe hands you a solution to general relativity in terms of curved spacetime and its mysterious certain features of it, I would put some effort in trying to figure it out.
Lex Fridman
(00:17:44)
How does a black hole work? Put yourself in the shoes of Einstein and take general relativity to its natural conclusion about these massive things.
Sean Carroll
(00:17:53)
It’s best to think of a black hole as not an object so much as a region of spacetime. Okay. It’s a region with the property, at least in classical general relativity, quantum mechanics makes everything harder. But let’s imagine we’re being classical for the moment. It’s a region of spacetime with the property that if you enter, you can’t leave. Literally the equivalent of escaping a black hole would be moving faster than the speed of light. They’re both precisely equally difficult. You would have to move faster than the speed of light to escape from the black hole.

(00:18:24)
Once you’re in, that’s fine. In principle, you don’t even notice when you cross the event horizon, as we call it. The event horizon is that point of no return, where once you’re inside, you can’t leave. But meanwhile, the spacetime is collapsing around you to ultimately a singularity in your future, which means that the gravitational forces are so strong, they tear your body apart and you will die in a finite amount of time.

(00:18:51)
The time it takes, if the black hole is about the mass of the sun to go from the event horizon to the singularity takes about 1 millionth of a second.

Hawking radiation

Lex Fridman
(00:19:03)
What happens to you if you fall into the black hole? If we think of an object as information, that information gets destroyed.
Sean Carroll
(00:19:11)
Well, you’ve raised a crucially difficult point. That’s why I keep needing to distinguish between black holes according to Einstein’s theory, General Relativity, which is book one of Spacetime and Geometry, which is perfectly classical. Then come the 1970s, we start asking about quantum mechanics and what happens in quantum mechanics.

(00:19:34)
According to classical general relativity, the information that makes up you when you fall into the black hole is lost to the outside world. It’s there, it’s inside the black hole, but we can’t get it anymore. In the 1970s, Stephen Hawking comes along and points out that black holes radiate. They give off photons and other particles to the universe around them. As they radiate, they lose mass, and eventually they evaporate, they disappear.

(00:20:03)
Once that happens, I can no longer say the information about you or a book that I threw in the black hole or whatever is still there, is hidden behind the black hole because the black hole has gone away. Either that information is destroyed, like you said, or it is somehow transferred to the radiation that is coming out to the Hawking radiation.

(00:20:23)
The large majority of people who think about this belief that the information is somehow transferred to the radiation and information is conserved. That is a feature both of general relativity by itself and of quantum mechanics by itself. When you put them together, that should still be a feature.

(00:20:40)
We don’t know that for sure. There are people who have doubted it, including Stephen Hawking for a long time. But that’s what most people think. What we’re trying to do now in a topic which has generated many, many hundreds of papers called the Black Hole Information Loss Puzzle is figure out how to get the information from you or the book into the radiation that is escaping the black hole.
Lex Fridman
(00:21:03)
Is there any way to observe Hawking radiation to a degree where you can start getting insight? Or is this all just in the space of theory right now?
Sean Carroll
(00:21:12)
Right now, we are nowhere close to observing Hawking radiation. Here’s the sad fact. The larger the black hole is, the lower its temperature is. A small black hole, like a microscopically small black hole might be very visible. It’s given off light. But something like the black hole, the center of our galaxy, 3 million times the mass of the sun or something like that, Sagittarius A star, that is so cold and low temperature that it’s radiation will never be observable.

(00:21:43)
Black holes are hard to make. We don’t have any nearby. The ones we have out there in the universe are very, very faint. There’s no immediate hope for detecting Hawking radiation.
Lex Fridman
(00:21:51)
Allegedly. We don’t have any nearby?
Sean Carroll
(00:21:53)
As far as we know, we don’t have any nearby.
Lex Fridman
(00:21:56)
Tiny ones be hard to detect somewhere at the edges of the solar system, maybe?
Sean Carroll
(00:22:00)
You don’t want them to be too tiny or they’re exploding. They’re very bright and then they’ll be visible. But there’s an absolutely regime where black holes are large enough not to be visible because the larger ones are fainter. Not giving off radiation, but small enough to not been detected through their gravitational effect. Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(00:22:17)
Psychologically, just emotionally, how do you feel about black holes? They scare you.
Sean Carroll
(00:22:21)
I love them. I love black holes. But the universe weirdly makes it hard to make a black hole, because you really need to squeeze an enormous amount of matter and energy into a very, very small region of space. We know how to make stellar black holes. A supermassive star can collapse to make a black hole.

(00:22:42)
We know we also have these supermassive black holes, the center of galaxies. We’re a little unclear where they came from. I mean, maybe stellar black holes that got together and combined. But that’s one of the exciting things about new data from the James Webb Space Telescope is that quite large black holes seem to exist relatively early in the history of the universe. It was already difficult to figure out where they came from. Now it’s an even tougher puzzle.

Aliens

Lex Fridman
(00:23:11)
These supermassive black holes are formed somewhere early on in the universe. I mean, that’s a feature, not a bug, that we don’t have too many of them. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have the time or the space to form the little pockets of complexity that we’ll call humans.
Sean Carroll
(00:23:28)
I think that’s fair. Yeah. It’s always interesting when something is difficult, but happens anyway. I mean, the probability of making a black hole could have been zero. It could have been one. But it’s this interesting number in between, which is fun.
Lex Fridman
(00:23:42)
Are there more intelligent alien civilization than there are supermassive black holes?
Sean Carroll
(00:23:46)
Yeah. I have no idea. But I think your intuition is right that it would’ve been easy for there to be lots of civilizations then we would’ve noticed them already and we haven’t. Absolutely the simplest explanation for why we haven’t is that they’re not there.
Lex Fridman
(00:24:04)
Yeah. I just think it’s so easy to make them though. There must be … I understand that’s the simplest explanation. But also …
Sean Carroll
(00:24:12)
How easy is it to make life or eukaryotic life or multicellular life?
Lex Fridman
(00:24:17)
It seems like life finds a way. Intelligent alien civilizations, sure, maybe there is somewhere along that chain a really, really hard leap. But once you start life, once you get the origin of life, it seems like life just finds a way everywhere in every condition. It just figures it out.
Sean Carroll
(00:24:37)
I mean, I get it. I get exactly what you’re thinking. I think is a perfectly reasonable attitude to have before you confront the data. I would not have expected earth to be special in any way. I would’ve expected there to be plenty of very noticeable extraterrestrial civilizations out there. But even if life finds a way, even if we buy everything you say, how long does it take for life to find a way? What if it typically takes 100 billion years, then we’d be alone.
Lex Fridman
(00:25:07)
It’s a time thing. To you, really most likely, there’s no alien civilizations out there. I can’t see it. I believe there’s a ton of them, and there’s another explanation why we can’t see them.
Sean Carroll
(00:25:19)
I don’t believe that very strongly. Look, I’m not going to place a lot of bets here. I’m both pretty up in the air about whether or not life itself is all over the place. It’s possible when we visit other worlds, other solar systems, there’s very tiny microscopic life ubiquitous, but none of it has reached some complex form.

(00:25:41)
It’s also possible there isn’t any. It’s also possible that there are intelligent civilizations that have better things to do than knock on our doors. I think we should be very humble about these things we know so little about.
Lex Fridman
(00:25:53)
It’s also possible there’s a great filter where there’s something fundamental about once the civilization develops complex enough technology, that technology is more statistically likely to destroy everybody versus to continue being creative.
Sean Carroll
(00:26:10)
That is absolutely possible. I’m actually putting less credence on that one just because you need to happen every single time. If even one, I mean, this goes back to John von Neumann pointed out that you don’t need to send the aliens around the galaxy. You can build self-reproducing probes and send them around the galaxy. You might think, “Well, the galaxy is very big.” It’s really not. It’s some tens of thousands of light years across and billions of years old. You don’t need to move at a high fraction of the speed of light to fill the galaxy.
Lex Fridman
(00:26:45)
If you were an intelligent alien civilization, the dictator of one, you would just send out a lot of probes, self-replicating probes …
Sean Carroll
(00:26:52)
100%.
Lex Fridman
(00:26:53)
… to spread out.
Sean Carroll
(00:26:54)
Yes. What you should do … If you want the optimistic spin, here’s the optimistic spin. People looking for intelligent life elsewhere often tune in with their radio telescopes, at least we did before Arecibo was decommissioned. That’s not a very promising way to find intelligent life elsewhere, because why in the world would a super intelligent alien civilization waste all of its energy by beaming it in random directions into the sky?

(00:27:22)
For one thing, it just passes you by. If we are here on earth, we’ve only been listening to radio waves for or a couple 100 years. Okay. If an intelligent alien civilization exists for a billion years, they have to pinpoint exactly the right time to send us this signal. It is much, much more efficient to send probes and to park, to go to the other solar systems, just sit there and wait for an intelligent civilization to arise in that solar system.

(00:27:55)
This is the 2001 monolith hypothesis. I would be less surprised to find a quiescent alien artifact in our solar system than I would to catch a radio signal from an intelligent civilization.
Lex Fridman
(00:28:13)
You’re a sucker for in-person conversations versus remote.
Sean Carroll
(00:28:17)
I just want to integrate over time. A probe can just sit there and wait, whereas a radio wave goes right by you.
Lex Fridman
(00:28:27)
How hard is it for an alien civilization, again, you have the dictator of one, to figure out a probe that is most likely to find a common language with whatever it finds.
Sean Carroll
(00:28:38)
Couldn’t I be like the elected leader of alien civilization?
Lex Fridman
(00:28:40)
Elected leader, democratic leader. Elected leader of a democratic alien civilization. Yes.
Sean Carroll
(00:28:47)
I think we would figure out that language thing pretty quickly. I mean, maybe not as quickly as we do when different human tribes find each other, because obviously there’s a lot of commonalities in humanity. But there is logic in math, and there is the physical world. You can point to a rock and go “rock.” I don’t think it would take that long.

(00:29:08)
I know that Arrival, the movie, based on a Ted Chiang story suggested that the way that aliens communicate is going to be fundamentally different. But also, they had recognition and other things I don’t believe in. I think that if we actually find aliens, that will not be our long-term problem.
Lex Fridman
(00:29:28)
There’s a folks … One of the places you’re affiliated with is Santa Fe, and they approach the question of complexity in many different ways and ask the question in many different ways of what is life, thinking broadly? To you would be able to find it. You’ll think you show up, a probe shows up to a planet, we’ll see a thing and be like, “Yeah. That’s a living thing.”
Sean Carroll
(00:29:51)
Well, again, if it’s intelligent and technologically advanced, the more short-term question of if we get some spectroscopic data from an exoplanet, so we know a little bit about what is in its atmosphere, how can we judge whether or not that atmosphere is giving us a signature of life existing? That’s a very hard question that people are debating about.

(00:30:15)
I mean, one very simple-minded, but perhaps interesting approach is to say, “Small molecules don’t tell you anything, because even if life could make them something else could also make them. But long molecules, that’s the thing that life would produce.”
Lex Fridman
(00:30:32)
Signs of complexity. I don’t know. I just have this nervous feeling that we won’t be able to detect. We’ll show up to a planet. There have a bunch of liquid on it. We take a swim in the liquid. We won’t be able to see the intelligence in it, whether that intelligence looks like something like ants or … We’ll see movement, perhaps, strange movement. But we won’t be able to see the intelligence in it or communicate with it. I guess if we have nearly infinite amount of time to play with different ideas, we might be able to.
Sean Carroll
(00:31:13)
I think I’m in favor of this kind of humility, this intellectual humility that we won’t know because we should be prepared for surprises. But I do always keep coming back to the idea that we all live in the same physical universe. Well, let’s put it this way. The development of our intelligence has certainly been connected to our ability to manipulate the physical world around us.

(00:31:40)
I would guess, without 100% credence by any means, but my guess would be that any advanced kind of life would also have that capability. Both dolphins and octopuses are potential counterexamples to that. But I think in the details, there would be enough similarities that we would recognize it.

Holographic principle

Lex Fridman
(00:32:02)
I don’t know how we got on this-
Sean Carroll
(00:32:00)
… would be enough similarities that we would recognize it.
Lex Fridman
(00:32:02)
I don’t know how we got on this topic, but I think it was from super massive black holes. So if we return to black holes and talk about the holographic principle more broadly, you have a recent paper on the topic. You’ve been thinking about the topic in terms of rigorous research perspective and just as a popular book writer?
Sean Carroll
(00:32:22)
Mm-hmm.
Lex Fridman
(00:32:22)
So what is the holographic principle?
Sean Carroll
(00:32:25)
Well, it goes back to this question that we were talking about with the information and how it gets out. In quantum mechanics, certainly, arguably, even before quantum mechanics comes along in classical statistical mechanics, there’s a relationship between information and entropy. Entropy is my favorite thing to talk about that I’ve written books about and will continue to write books about. So Hawking tells us that black holes have entropy, and it’s a finite amount of entropy. It’s not an infinite amount. But the belief is, and now we’re already getting quite speculative, the belief is that the entropy of a black hole is the largest amount of entropy that you can have in a region of space-time. It’s the most densely packed that entropy can be. What that means is there’s a maximum amount of information that you can fit into that region of space, and you call it a black hole.

(00:33:20)
Iinterestingly, you might expect if I have a box and I’m going to put information in it and I don’t tell you how I’m going to put the information in, but I ask, “How does the information I can put in scale with the size of the box?” You might think, “Well, it goes as the volume of the box because the information takes up some volume, and I can only fit in a certain amount.” That is what you might guess for the black hole, but it’s not what the answer is. The answer is that the maximum information as reflected in the black hole entropy scales as the area of the black hole’s event horizon, not the volume inside. So people thought about that in both deep and superficial ways for a long time, and they proposed what we now call the holographic principle, that the way that space-time and quantum gravity convey information or hold information is not different bits or qubits for quantum information at every point in space-time.

(00:34:20)
It is something holographic, which means it’s embedded in or located in or can be thought of as pertaining to one dimension less of the three dimensions of space that we live in. So in the case of the black hole, the event horizon is two-dimensional, embedded in a three-dimensional universe. The holographic principle would say all of the information contained in the black hole can be thought of as living on the event horizon rather than in the interior of the black hole. I need to say one more thing about that, which is that this was an idea, the idea I just told you was the original holographic principle put forward by people like Gerard ‘t Hooft and Leonard Susskind, the super famous physicist. Leonard Susskind was on my podcast and gave a great talk. He’s very good at explaining these things.
Lex Fridman
(00:35:08)
Mindscape Podcast-
Sean Carroll
(00:35:08)
Mindscape Podcast.
Lex Fridman
(00:35:09)
Everybody should listen.
Sean Carroll
(00:35:10)
That’s right, yes.
Lex Fridman
(00:35:11)
You don’t just have physicists on.
Sean Carroll
(00:35:13)
I don’t.
Lex Fridman
(00:35:14)
I love Mindscape.
Sean Carroll
(00:35:15)
Oh, thank you very much.
Lex Fridman
(00:35:16)
Curiosity-driven-
Sean Carroll
(00:35:17)
Yeah, ideas-
Lex Fridman
(00:35:18)
… exploration of ideas.
Sean Carroll
(00:35:18)
Fresh ideas from smart people.
Lex Fridman
(00:35:19)
Yeah.
Sean Carroll
(00:35:20)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(00:35:20)
But anyway, what I was trying to get at with Susskind and also at ‘t Hooft were a little vague. They were a little hand wavy about holography and what it meant, where holography, the idea that information is encoded on a boundary really came into its own was with Juan Maldacena in the 1990s and the AdS-CFT correspondence, which we don’t have to get into that into any detail, but it’s a whole full-blown theory of… It’s two different theories. One theory in N dimensions of space-time without gravity, and another theory in N+1 dimensions of space-time with gravity. The idea is that this N dimensional theory is casting a hologram into the N+1 dimensional universe to make it look like it has gravity. That’s holography with a vengeance, and that’s an enormous source of interest for theoretical physicists these days.
Lex Fridman
(00:36:16)
How should we picture what impact that has, the fact that you can store all the information you can think of as all the information that goes into a black hole can be stored at the event horizon?
Sean Carroll
(00:36:27)
Yeah, it’s a good question. One of the things that quantum field theory indirectly suggests is that there’s not that much information in you and me compared to the volume of space-time we take up. As far as quantum field theory is concerned, you and I are mostly empty space, and so we are not information dense. The density of information in us or in a book or a CD or whatever, computer RAM, is indeed encoded by volume. There’s different bits located at different points in space, but that density of information is super-duper low. So we are just like the speed of light or just the big bang for the information in a black hole, we are far away in our everyday experience from the regime where these questions become relevant. So it’s very far away from our intuition. We don’t really know how to think about these things. We can do the math, but we don’t feel it in our bones.
Lex Fridman
(00:37:23)
So you can just write off that weird stuff happens in a black hole.
Sean Carroll
(00:37:27)
Well, we’d like to do better, but we’re trying. That’s why we have an information loss puzzle because we haven’t completely solved it. So here, just one thing to keep in mind. Once space-time becomes flexible, which it does according to general relativity and you have quantum mechanics, which has fluctuations in virtual particles and things like that, the very idea of a location in space-time becomes a little bit fuzzy, ’cause it’s flexible and quantum mechanics says you can even pin it down. So information can propagate in ways that you might not have expected, and that’s easy to say and it’s true, but we haven’t yet come up with the right way to talk about it that is perfectly rigorous.
Lex Fridman
(00:38:10)
It’s crazy how dense with information a black hole is, and then plus like quantum mechanics starts to come into play, so you almost want to romanticize the interesting computation type things that are going on inside the black hole.
Sean Carroll
(00:38:23)
You do. You do, but I’ll point out one other thing. It’s information dense, but it’s also very, very high entropy. So a black hole is kind of like a very, very, very specific random number. It takes a lot of digits to specify it, but the digits don’t tell you anything. They don’t give you anything useful to work on, so it takes a lot of information, but it’s not of a form that we can learn a lot from.
Lex Fridman
(00:38:52)
But hypothetically, I guess as you mentioned, the information might be preserved. The information that goes into a black hole, it doesn’t get destroyed. So what does that mean when the entropy is really high?
Sean Carroll
(00:39:05)
Well, I said that the black hole is the highest density of information, but it’s not the highest amount of information because the black hole can evaporate. When it evaporates and people have done the equations for this, when it evaporates, the entropy that it turns into is actually higher than the entropy of the black hole was, which is good because entropy is supposed to go up, but it’s much more dilute. It’s spread across a huge volume of space-time. So in principle, all that you made the black hole out of, the information that it took is still there, we think, in that information, but it’s scattered to the four winds.
Lex Fridman
(00:39:44)
We just talked about the event horizon of a black hole. What’s on the inside? What’s at the center of it?
Sean Carroll
(00:39:48)
No one’s been there, so-
Lex Fridman
(00:39:50)
And came back to tell?
Sean Carroll
(00:39:51)
… again, this is a theoretical prediction. But I’ll say one super crucial feature of the black holes that we know and love, the kind that Schwarzschild first invented, there’s a singularity, but it’s not at the middle of the black hole. Remember space and time are parts of one unified space-time, the location of the singularity in the black hole is not the middle of space, but our future. It is a moment of time. It is like a big crunch. The big bang was an expansion from a singularity in the past. Big crunch probably doesn’t exist, but if it did, it would be a collapse to a singularity in the future. That’s what the interiors of black holes are like. You can be fine in the interior, but things are becoming more and more crowded. Space-time is becoming more and more warped, and eventually you hit a limit, and that’s the singularity in your future.
Lex Fridman
(00:40:42)
I wonder what time is on the inside of a black hole.
Sean Carroll
(00:40:46)
Time always ticks by at one second per second. That’s all it can ever do. Time can tick by differently for different people, and so you have things like the twin paradox where two people initially are the same age, one goes off in the speed of light and comes back, now they’re not. You can even work out that the one who goes out and comes back will be younger because they did not take the shortest distance path. But locally, as far as you and your wristwatch are concerned, time is not funny. Your neurological signals in your brain and your heartbeat and your wristwatch, whatever’s happening to them is happening to all of them at the same time. So time always seems to be ticking along at the same rate.
Lex Fridman
(00:41:28)
Well, if you fall into a black hole and then I’m an observer just watching it, and then you come out once it evaporates a million years later, I guess you’d be exactly the same age? Have you aged at all?
Sean Carroll
(00:41:45)
You would be converted into photons. You would not be you anymore.
Lex Fridman
(00:41:49)
Right. So it’s not at all possible that information is preserved exactly as it went in.
Sean Carroll
(00:41:55)
It depends on what you might preserve. It’s there in the microscopic configuration of the universe. It’s exactly as if I took a regular book, made it paper and I burned it. The laws of physics say that all the information in the book is still there in the heat and light and ashes. You’re never going to get it. It’s a matter of practice, but in principle, it’s still there.
Lex Fridman
(00:42:15)
But what about the age of things from the observer perspective, from outside the black hole?
Sean Carroll
(00:42:21)
From outside the black hole, doesn’t matter ’cause they’re inside the black hole.
Lex Fridman
(00:42:26)
No. Okay. There’s no way to escape the black hole-
Sean Carroll
(00:42:30)
Right.
Sean Carroll
(00:42:30)
… except-
Lex Fridman
(00:42:32)
To let it evaporate.
Lex Fridman
(00:42:33)
… to let it evaporate. But also, by the way, just in relativity, special relativity, forget about general relativity, it’s enormously tempting to say, “Okay, here’s what’s happening to me right now. I want to know what’s happening far away right now.” The whole point of relativity is to say there’s no such thing as right now when you’re far away, and that is doubly true for what’s inside a black hole. So you’re tempted to say, “Well, how fast is their clock ticking?” Or, “How old are they now?” Not allowed to say that according to relativity.
Lex Fridman
(00:43:05)
‘Cause space and time is treated the same, and so it doesn’t even make sense.
Sean Carroll
(00:43:08)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(00:43:09)
What happens to time in the holographic principle?
Sean Carroll
(00:43:12)
As far as we know, nothing dramatic happens. We’re not anywhere close to being confident that we know what’s going on here yet. So there are good unanswered questions about whether time is fundamental, whether time is emergent, whether it has something to do with quantum entanglement, whether time really exists at all, different theories, different proponents of different things, but there’s nothing specifically about holography that would make us change our opinions about time, whatever they happen to be.
Lex Fridman
(00:43:42)
But holography is fundamentally about, it’s a question of space?
Sean Carroll
(00:43:46)
It really is, yeah.
Lex Fridman
(00:43:47)
Okay. So time is just like an-
Sean Carroll
(00:43:49)
Time just goes along for the ride as far as we know. Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(00:43:51)
So all the questions about time is just almost like separate questions, whether it’s emergent and all that kind of stuff?
Sean Carroll
(00:43:56)
Yeah, that might be a reflection of our ignorance right now, but yes.
Lex Fridman
(00:44:01)
If we figure out a lot, millions of years from now about black holes, how surprised would you be if they traveled back in time and told you everything you want to know about black holes? How much do you think there is still to know, and how mind-blowing would it be?
Sean Carroll
(00:44:20)
It does depend on what they would say. I think that there are colleagues of mine who think that we’re pretty close to figuring out how information gets out of black holes, how to quantize gravity, things like that. I’m more skeptical that we are pretty close. I think that there’s room for a bunch of surprises to come. So in that sense, I suspect I would be surprised. The biggest and most interesting surprise to me would if quantum mechanics itself were somehow superseded by something better. As far as I know, there’s no empirical evidence-based reason to think that quantum mechanics is not 100% correct, but it might not be. That’s always possible, and there are, again, respectable friends of mine who speculate about it. So that’s the first thing I’d want to know.
Lex Fridman
(00:45:15)
Oh, so the black hole would be the most clear illustration-
Sean Carroll
(00:45:18)
Yeah, that’s where it would show up.
Lex Fridman
(00:45:19)
… or if there’s something new it would show up there.
Sean Carroll
(00:45:22)
Maybe. The point is that black holes are mysterious for various reasons. So yeah, if our best theory of the universe is wrong, that might help explain why.
Lex Fridman
(00:45:30)
But do you think it’s possible we’ll find something interesting, like black holes sometimes create new universes or black holes are a kind of portal through space-time to another place or something like this. Then our whole conception of what is the fabric of space-time changes completely ’cause black holes, it’s like Swiss cheese type of situation.
Sean Carroll
(00:45:52)
Yeah. That would be less surprising to me ’cause I’ve already written papers about that. We don’t have, again, strong reason to think that the interior of a black hole leads to another universe. But it is possible, and it’s also very possible that that’s true for some black holes and not others. This is stuff, it’s easy to ask questions we don’t know the answer to. The problem is the questions that are easy to ask that we don’t know the answer to are super hard to answer.
Lex Fridman
(00:46:20)
Because these objects are very difficult to test and to explore for us-
Sean Carroll
(00:46:23)
The regimes are just very far away. So either literally far away in space, but also in energy or mass or time or whatever.
Lex Fridman
(00:46:30)
You’ve published a paper on the holographic principle or that involves the holographic principle. Can you explain the details of that?
Sean Carroll
(00:46:38)
Yeah, I’m always interested in, since my first published paper, taking these wild speculative ideas and trying to test them against data. The problem is when you’re dealing with wild speculative ideas, they’re usually not well-defined enough to make a prediction. It’s kind of, “I know what’s going to happen in some cases, I don’t know what’s going to happen in other cases.” So we did the following thing: As I’ve already mentioned, the holographic principle, which is meant to reflect the information contained in black holes seems to be telling us that there’s less information, less stuff that can go on than you might naively expect. So let’s upgrade naively expect to predict using quantum field theory. Quantum field theory is our best theory of fundamental physics right now. Unlike this holographic black hole stuff, quantum field theory is entirely local. In every point of space, something can go on. Then you add up all the different points in space, okay? Not holographic at all.

(00:47:40)
So there’s a mismatch between the expectation for what is happening even in empty space in quantum field theory versus what the holographic principle would predict. How do you reconcile these two things? So there’s one way of doing it that had been suggested previously, which is to say that in the quantum field theory way of talking, it implies there’s a whole bunch more states, a whole bunch more ways the system could be than there really are. I’ll do a little bit of math just because there might be some people in the audience who like the math. If I draw two axes on a two-dimensional geometry, like the surface of the table, you know that the whole point of it being two-dimensional is I can draw two vectors that are perpendicular to each other. I can’t draw three vectors that are all perpendicular to each other. They need to overlap a little bit. That’s true for any numbers of dimensions. But I can ask, “Okay, how much do they have to overlap?

(00:48:40)
If I try to put more vectors into a vector space, then the dimensionality of the vector space, can I make them almost perpendicular to each other?” The mathematical answer is, as the number of dimensions gets very, very large, you can fit a huge extra number of vectors in that are almost perpendicular to each other. So in this case, what we’re suggesting is the number of things that can happen in a region of space is correctly described by holography. It is somewhat over-counted by quantum field theory, but that’s because the quantum field theory states are not exactly perpendicular to each other. I should have mentioned that in quantum mechanics, states are given by vectors in some huge dimensional vector space; very, very, very, very large dimensional vector space. So maybe the quantum field theory states are not quite perpendicular to each other. If that is true, that’s a speculation already. But if that’s true, how would you know what is the experimental deviation?

(00:49:45)
It would’ve been completely respectable if we had gone through and made some guesses and found that there is no noticeable experimental difference because, again, these things are in regimes very, very far away. We stuck our necks out. We made some very, very specific guesses as to how this weird overlap of states would show up in the equations of motion for particles like neutrinos. Then we made predictions on how the neutrinos would behave on the basis of those wild guesses and then we compared them with data. What we found is we’re pretty close but haven’t yet reached the detectability of the effect that we are predicting. In other words, well, basically one way of saying what we predict is if a neutrino, and there’s reasons why it’s neutrinos, we can go into if you want, but it’s not that interesting, if a neutrino comes to us from across the universe from some galaxy very, very far away, there is a probability as it’s traveling that it will dissolve into other neutrinos because they’re not really perpendicular to each other as vectors as they would ordinarily be in quantum field theory.

(00:50:53)
That means that if you look at neutrinos coming from far enough away with high enough energies, they should disappear. If you see a whole bunch of nearby neutrinos, but then further away you should see fewer. There is an experiment called IceCube, which is this amazing testament to the ingenuity of human beings where they go to Antarctica and they drill holes and they put photodetectors on a string a mile deep in these holes. They basically use all of the ice in a cube, I don’t know whether it’s a mile or not, but it’s like a kilometer or something like that, some big region. That much ice is their detector. They’re looking for flashes when a cosmic ray or neutrino or whatever hits a water molecule in the ice [inaudible 00:51:47]
Lex Fridman
(00:51:46)
Make flashes in the ice.
Sean Carroll
(00:51:48)
Yes-
Lex Fridman
(00:51:48)
… they’re looking for-
Sean Carroll
(00:51:49)
… they’re looking for flashes in the ice.
Lex Fridman
(00:51:51)
What does the detector of that look like?
Sean Carroll
(00:51:55)
It’s a bunch of strings, many, many, many strings with 360 degree photodetectors. You will-
Lex Fridman
(00:52:03)
That’s really cool.
Sean Carroll
(00:52:04)
It’s extremely cool. They’ve done amazing work, and they find neutrinos.
Lex Fridman
(00:52:09)
So they’re looking for neutrinos.
Sean Carroll
(00:52:10)
Yeah. So the whole point is most cosmic rays are protons because why? Because protons exist, and they’re massive enough that you can accelerate them to very high energies. So high-energy cosmic rays tend to be protons. They also tend to hit the Earth’s atmosphere and decay into other particles. So neutrinos on the other hand, punch right through, at least usually, to a great extent, so not just Antarctica, but the whole earth. Occasionally, a neutrino will interact with a particle here on earth, and there’s neutrinos is going through your body all the time from the sun, from the universe, etc. So if you’re patient enough and you have a big enough part of the Antarctic ice sheet to look at, the nice thing about ice is it’s transparent, so nature has built you a neutrino detector. That’s what IceCube does.
Lex Fridman
(00:53:02)
So why ice? So is it just because the low noise and you get to watch this thing and it’s-
Sean Carroll
(00:53:07)
It’s much more dense than air, but it’s transparent.
Lex Fridman
(00:53:13)
So yeah, much more dense, so higher probability, and then it’s transparency, and then it’s also in the middle of nowhere, so you can… Humans are great-
Sean Carroll
(00:53:20)
That’s all you need. There’s not that much ice-
Lex Fridman
(00:53:21)
I love it-
Sean Carroll
(00:53:21)
… right? Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(00:53:22)
… so humor me impressed.
Sean Carroll
(00:53:24)
There’s more ice in Antarctic than anywhere else. Right. So anyway, you can go and you can get a plot from the IceCube experiment, how many neutrinos there are that they’ve detected with very high energies. We predict in our weird little holographic guessing game that there should be a cutoff. You should see neutrinos as you get to higher and higher energies and then they should disappear. If you look at the data, their data gives out exactly where our cutoff is. That doesn’t mean that our cutoff is right, it means they lose the ability to do the experiment exactly where we predict the cutoff should be.
Lex Fridman
(00:53:58)
Oh, boy, okay, but why is there a limit?
Sean Carroll
(00:54:03)
Oh, just because there are fewer, fewer high-energy neutrinos. So there’s a spectrum and it goes down, but what we’re plotting here is-
Lex Fridman
(00:54:11)
Got it.
Sean Carroll
(00:54:11)
… number of neutrinos versus energy, it’s fading away, and they just get very, very few.
Lex Fridman
(00:54:17)
You need the high-energy neutrinos for your prediction.
Sean Carroll
(00:54:20)
Our effect is a little bit bigger for higher energies, yeah.
Lex Fridman
(00:54:23)
Got it, and that effect has to do with this almost perpendicular thing.
Sean Carroll
(00:54:26)
Let me just mention the name of Oliver Friedrich, who was a post-doc who led this. He deserves the credit for doing this. I was a co-author and a collaborator and I did some work, but he really gets the lion’s share.
Lex Fridman
(00:54:36)
Thank you, Oliver. Thank you for pushing this wild science forward. Just to speak to that, the meta process of it, how do you approach asking these big questions and trying to formulate as a paper, as an experiment that could make a prediction, all that kind of stuff? What’s your process?
Sean Carroll
(00:54:56)
There’s very interesting things that happens once you’re a theoretical physicist, once you become trained. You’re a graduate student, you’ve written some papers and whatever, suddenly you are the world’s expert in a really infinitesimally tiny area of knowledge and you know not that much about other areas. There’s an overwhelming temptation to just drill deep, just keep doing basically the thing that you started doing, but maybe that thing you started doing is not the most interesting thing to the world or to you or whatever. So you need to separately develop the capability of stepping back and going, ” Okay, now that I can write papers in that area, now that I’m trained enough in the general procedure, what is the best match between my interests, my abilities and what is actually interesting?” Honestly, I’ve not been very good at that over my career.

(00:55:51)
My process traditionally was I was working in this general area of particle physics, field theory, general relativity, cosmology, and I would try to take things other people were talking about and ask myself whether or not it really fit together. So I guess I have three papers that I’ve ever written that have done super well in terms of getting cited and things like that. One was my first ever paper that I get very little credit for, that was my advisor and his collaborator set that up. The other two were basically, my idea. One was right after we discovered that the universe was accelerating. So in 1998 observations showed that not only is the universe expanding, but it’s expanding faster and faster. So that’s attributed to either Einstein’s cosmological constant or some more complicated form of dark energy, some mysterious thing that fills the universe.

Dark energy


(00:56:47)
People were throwing around ideas about this dark energy stuff, “What could it be?” And so forth. Most of the people throwing around these ideas were cosmologists. They work on cosmology. They think about the universe all at once. Since I like to talk to people in different areas, I was more familiar than average with what a respectable working particle physicist would think about these things. What I immediately thought was, “You guys are throwing around these theories. These theories are wildly unnatural. They’re super finely tuned. Any particle physicist would just be embarrassed to be talking about this.” But rather than just scoffing at them, I sat down and asked myself, “Okay, is there a respectable version? Is there a way to keep the particle physicists happy but also make the universe accelerate?” I realized that there is some very specific set of models that is relatively natural, and guess what? You can make a new experimental prediction on the basis of those, and so I did that. People were very happy about that.
Lex Fridman
(00:57:50)
What was the thing that would make physicists happy that would make sense of this fragile thing that people call dark energy?
Sean Carroll
(00:57:59)
So the fact that dark energy pervades the whole universe and is slowly changing, that should immediately set off alarm bells because particle physics is a story of length scales and time scales that are generally, guess what? Small, right? Particles are small. They vibrate quickly, and you’re telling me now I have a new field and its typical rate of change is once every billion years. That’s just not natural. Indeed, you can formalize that and say, look, even if you wrote down a particle that evolved slowly over billions of years, if you let it interact with other particles at all, that would make it move faster, its dynamics would be faster, its mass would be higher, et cetera, et cetera. So there’s a whole story. Things need to be robust, and they all talk to each other in quantum field theory.

(00:58:53)
So how do you stop that from happening? The answer is symmetry. You can impose a symmetry that protects your new field from talking to any other fields, and this is good for two reasons. Number one, it can keep the dynamics slow. So you can’t tell me why it’s slow. You just made that up, but at least it can protect it from speeding up because it’s not talking to any other particles. The other is, it makes it harder to detect. Naively, experiments looking for fifth forces or time changes of fundamental constants of nature like the charge of the electron, these experiments should have been able to detect these dark energy fields, and I was able to propose a way to stop that from happening.
Lex Fridman
(00:59:39)
The detection.
Sean Carroll
(00:59:40)
The detection, yeah, because a symmetry could stop it from interacting with all these other fields, and therefore, it makes it harder to detect. Just by luck, I realized, ’cause it was actually based on my first-ever paper, there’s one loophole. If you impose these symmetries, so you protect the dark energy field from interacting with any other fields, there’s one interaction that is still allowed that you can’t rule out. It is a very specific interaction between your dark energy field and photons, which are very common, and it has the following effect: As a photon travels through the dark energy, the photon has a polarization, up, down, left, right, whatever it happens to be, and as it travels through the dark energy, that photon will rotate its polarization. This is called birefringence. You can run the numbers and say you can’t make a very precise prediction, ’cause we’re making up this model.

(01:00:34)
But if you want to roughly fit the data, you can predict how much polarization, rotation, there should be, a couple of degrees, not that much. So that’s very hard to detect. People have been trying to do it. Right now, literally, we’re on the edge of either being able to detect it or rule it out using the cosmic microwave background. There is just truth in advertising, there is a claim on the market that it’s been detected, that it’s there. It’s not very statistically significant. If I were to bet, I think it would probably go away. It’s very hard thing to observe. But maybe as you get better and better data, cleaner and cleaner analysis, it will persist, and we will have directly detected the dark energy.
Lex Fridman
(01:01:21)
So if we just take this tangent of dark energy, people will sometimes bring up dark energy and dark matter as an example why physicists have lost it, lost their mind. We’re just going to say that there’s this field that permeates everything. It’s unlike any other field, and it’s invisible, and it helps us work out some of the math. How do you respond to those kinds of suggestions.
Sean Carroll
(01:01:50)
Well, two ways. One way is, those people would’ve had to say the same thing when we discovered the planet Neptune, ’cause it’s exactly analogous where we have a very good theory, in that case, Newtonian gravity in the solar system. We made predictions. The predictions were slightly off for the motion of the outer planets. You found that you could explain that motion by positing something very simple, one more planet in a very, very particular place, and you went and looked for it, and there it was. That was the first successful example of finding dark matter in the universe.
Lex Fridman
(01:02:26)
It’s a matter, though, we can’t see.
Sean Carroll
(01:02:27)
Neptune was dark.
Lex Fridman
(01:02:28)
Yeah.

Dark matter

Sean Carroll
(01:02:29)
There’s a difference between dark matter and dark energy. Dark matter as far as we are hypothesizing it is a particle of some sort. It’s just a particle that interacts with us very weakly. So we know how much of it there is. We know more or less where it is. We know some of its properties. We don’t know specifically what it is. But it’s not anything fundamentally mysterious, it’s a particle. Dark energy is a different story. So dark energy is indeed uniformly spread throughout space and has this very weird property that it doesn’t seem to evolve as far as we can tell. It’s the same amount of energy in every cubic centimeter of space from moment to moment in time. That’s why far and away the leading candidate for dark energy is Einstein’s cosmological constant.

(01:03:16)
The cosmological constant is strictly constant, 100% constant. The data say it better be 98% constant or better, so 100% constant works, and it’s also very robust. It’s just there. It’s not doing anything. It doesn’t interact with any other particles. It makes perfect sense. Probably the dark energy is the cosmological constant. The dark matter, super important to emphasize here. It was hypothesized at first in the ’70s and ’80s mostly to explain the rotation of galaxies. Today, the evidence for dark matter is both much better than it was in the 1980s and from different sources. It is mostly from observations of the cosmic background radiation or of large scale structure.
Sean Carroll
(01:04:00)
From observations of the cosmic background radiation or of large-scale structure. We have multiple independent lines of evidence, also gravitational lensing and things like that, many, many pieces of evidence that say that dark matter is there and also that say that the effects of dark matter are different than if we modified gravity. That was my first answer to your question is dark matter we have a lot of evidence for. But the other one is of course we would love it if it weren’t dark matter. Our vested interest is 100% aligned with it being something more cool and interesting than dark matter because dark matter’s just a particle. That’s the most boring thing in the world.
Lex Fridman
(01:04:43)
And it’s non-uniformly distributed through space, dark matter?
Sean Carroll
(01:04:46)
Absolutely. Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(01:04:47)
And so this-
Sean Carroll
(01:04:48)
You can even see maps of it that we’ve constructed from gravitational lensing.
Lex Fridman
(01:04:51)
Verifiable clumps of dark matter in the galaxy that explains stuff.
Sean Carroll
(01:04:56)
Bigger than the galaxy, sadly. We think that in the galaxy dark matter is lumpy, but it’s weaker, its effects are weaker. But on the scale of large scale structure and clusters of galaxies and things like that, yes, we can show you where the dark matter is.
Lex Fridman
(01:05:11)
Could there be a super cool explanation for dark matter that would be interesting as opposed to just another particle that sits there and clumps?
Sean Carroll
(01:05:19)
The super cool explanation would be modifying gravity rather than inventing a new particle. Sadly, that doesn’t really work. We’ve tried. I’ve tried. That’s my third paper that was very successful. I tried to unify dark matter and dark energy together. That was my idea. That was my aspiration, not even idea. I tried to do it. It failed even before we wrote the paper. I realized that my idea did not help. It could possibly explain away the dark energy, but it would not explain the way the dark matter, and so I thought it was not that interesting, actually. And then two different collaborators of mine said, “Has anyone thought of this idea?” They thought of exactly the same idea completely independently of me. And I said, “Well, if three different people found the same idea, maybe it is interesting,” and so we wrote the paper. And yeah, it was very interesting. People are very interested in it.
Lex Fridman
(01:06:09)
Can you describe this paper a little bit? It’s fascinating how much of a thing there is, dark energy and dark matter, and we don’t quite understand it. What was your dive into exploring how to unify the two?
Sean Carroll
(01:06:22)
Here is what we know about dark matter and dark energy: They become important in regimes where gravity is very, very, very weak. That’s the opposite from what you would expect if you actually were modifying gravity. There’s a rule of thumb in quantum field theory, et cetera that new effects show up when the effects are strong. We understand weak fields, we don’t understand strong fields. But okay, maybe this is different.

(01:06:54)
What do I mean by when gravity is weak? The dark energy shows up late of the universe. Early in the history of the universe, the dark energy is irrelevant, but remember the density of dark energy stays constant. The density of matter and radiation go down. At early times, the dark energy was completely irrelevant compared to matter and radiation. At late times, it becomes important. That’s also when the universe is dilute and gravity is relatively weak.

(01:07:21)
Now think about galaxies. A galaxy is more dense in the middle, less dense on the outside. And there is a phenomenological fact about galaxies that in the interior of galaxies you don’t need dark matter. That’s not so surprising because the density of stars and gas is very high there and the dark matter is just subdominant. But then there’s generally a radius inside of which you don’t need dark matter to fit the data, outside of which you do need dark matter to fit the data. That’s again when gravity is weak.

(01:07:51)
I asked myself, “Of course, we know in field theory new effects should show up when fields are strong, not weak, but let’s throw that out of the window. Can I write down a theory where gravity alters when it is weak?” And we’ve already said what gravity is. What is gravity? It’s the curvature of space-time. There are mathematical quantities that measure the curvature of space-time. And generally, you would say, “I have an understanding, Einstein’s equation,” which I explained to the readers in the book, “relates the curvature of space-time to matter and energy. The more matter and energy, the more curvature.” I’m saying what if you add a new term in there that says, “The less matter and energy, the more curvature”? No reason to do that except to fit the data. I tried to unify the need for dark matter and the need for dark energy.
Lex Fridman
(01:08:48)
That would be really cool if that was the case.
Sean Carroll
(01:08:50)
Super cool. It’d be the best. It’d be great. It didn’t work.
Lex Fridman
(01:08:56)
It’d be really interesting if gravity did something funky when there’s not much of it, almost like at the edges of it gets noisy.
Sean Carroll
(01:09:03)
That was exactly the hope.
Lex Fridman
(01:09:05)
Right. Aw, man.
Sean Carroll
(01:09:07)
But the great thing about physics is there are equations. You can come up with the words and you can wave your hands, but then you got to write down the equations; and I did. And I figured out that it could help with the dark energy, the acceleration of the universe; it doesn’t help with dark matter at all. Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(01:09:24)
It just sucks that the scale of galaxies and scale of solar systems, the physics is boring.
Sean Carroll
(01:09:33)
Yeah, it does. I agree. I tear my hair out when people who are not physicists accuse physicists, like you say, of losing the plot because they need dark matter and dark energy. I don’t want dark matter and dark energy; I want something much cooler than that. I’ve tried. But you got to listen to the equations and to the data.
Lex Fridman
(01:09:58)
You’ve mentioned three papers, your first ever, your first awesome paper ever, and your second awesome paper ever. Of course you wrote many papers, so you’re being very harsh on the others. But-
Sean Carroll
(01:10:10)
Well, by the way, this is not awesomeness, this is impact.
Lex Fridman
(01:10:14)
Impact.
Sean Carroll
(01:10:14)
Right?
Lex Fridman
(01:10:14)
Sure.
Sean Carroll
(01:10:15)
There’s no correlation between awesomeness and impact. Some of my best papers fell without a stone and vice versa.
Lex Fridman
(01:10:22)
Tree falls in the forest. Yeah.
Sean Carroll
(01:10:23)
Yeah. The first paper was called Limits on the Lorentz and Parity Violating Modification of Electromagnetism… Or Electrodynamics. We figured out how to violate Lorentz invariance, which is the symmetry underlying relativity. And the important thing is we figured out a way to do it that didn’t violate anything else and was experimentally testable. People love that. The second paper was called Quintessence and the Rest of the World. Quintessence is this dynamical dark energy field. The rest of the world is because I was talking about how the quintessence field would interact with other particles and fields and how to avoid the interactions you don’t want. And the third paper was called Is Cosmic Speed-Up Due to Gravitational Physics? Something like that. You see the common theme. I’m taking what we know, the standard model of particle physics, general relativity, tweaking them in some way, and then trying to fit the data
Lex Fridman
(01:11:20)
And trying to make it so it’s experimentally validated.
Sean Carroll
(01:11:22)
Ideally, yes, that’s right. That’s the goal.

Quantum mechanics

Lex Fridman
(01:11:25)
You wrote the book Something Deeply Hidden on the mysteries of quantum mechanics and a new book coming out soon, part of that, Biggest Ideas in the Universe series we mentioned called Quanta and Fields. That’s focusing on quantum mechanics. Big question first, biggest ideas in the universe, what to you is most beautiful or perhaps most mysterious about quantum mechanics?
Sean Carroll
(01:11:52)
Quantum mechanics is a harder one. I wrote a textbook on general relativity, and I started it by saying, “General relativity is the most beautiful physical theory ever invented.” And I will stand by that. It is less fundamental than quantum mechanics, but quantum mechanics is a little more mysterious. It’s a little bit kludgy right now. If you think about how we teach quantum mechanics to our students, the Copenhagen interpretation, it’s a God-awful mess. No one’s going to accuse that of being very beautiful. I’m a fan of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, and that is very beautiful in the sense that fewer ingredients, just one equation, and it could cover everything in the world.

(01:12:35)
It depends on what you mean by beauty, but I think that the answer to your question is quantum mechanics can start with extraordinarily austere, tiny ingredients and in principle lead to the world. That boggles my mind. It’s much more comprehensive. General relativity is about gravity, and that’s great. Quantum mechanics is about everything and seems to be up to the task. And so I don’t know, is that beauty or not? But it’s certainly impressive.
Lex Fridman
(01:13:03)
Both for the theory, the predictive power of the theory and the fact that the theory describes tiny things creating everything we see around us.
Sean Carroll
(01:13:10)
It’s a monist theory. In classical mechanics, I have a particle here, particle there; I describe them separately. I can tell you what this particle’s doing, what that particle’s doing. In quantum mechanics, we have entanglement, as Einstein pointed out to us in 1935. And what that means is there is a single state for these two particles. There’s not one state for this particle, one state for the other particle. And indeed, there’s a single state for the whole universe called the wave function of the universe, if you want to call it that. And it obeys one equation. And is our job then to chop it up, to carve it up, to figure out how to get tables and chairs and things like that out of it.
Lex Fridman
(01:13:53)
You mentioned the many-worlds interpretation, and it is in fact beautiful, but it’s one of your more controversial things you stand behind. You’ve probably gotten a bunch of flak for it.
Sean Carroll
(01:14:05)
I’m a big boy. I can take it.
Lex Fridman
(01:14:07)
Well, can you first explain it and then maybe speak to the flak you may have gotten?
Sean Carroll
(01:14:12)
Sure. The classic experiment to explain quantum mechanics to people is called the Stern-Gerlach experiment. You’re measuring the spin of a particle. And in quantum mechanics, the spin is just a spin. It’s the rate at which something is rotating around in a very down to earth sense, the difference being is that it’s quantized. For something like a single electron or a single neutron, it’s either spinning clockwise or counterclockwise. Let’s put it this way. Those are the only two measurement outcomes you will ever get. There’s no it’s spinning faster or slower, it’s either spinning one direction or the other. That’s it. Two choices. According to the rules of quantum mechanics, I can set up an electron, let’s say, in a state where it is neither purely clockwise or counterclockwise but a superposition of both. And that’s not just because we don’t know the answer, it’s because it truly is both until we measure it. And then when we measure it, we see one or the other. This is the fundamental mystery of quantum mechanics is that how we describe the system when we’re not looking at it is different from what we see when we look at it.

(01:15:21)
We teach our students in the Copenhagen way of thinking is that the act of measuring the spin of the electron causes a radical change in the physical state. It spontaneously collapses from being a superposition of clockwise and counterclockwise to being one or the other. And you can tell me the probability that that happens, but that’s all you can tell me. And I can’t be very specific about when it happens, what caused it to happen, why it’s happening, none of that. That’s all called the measurement problem of quantum mechanics.

(01:15:54)
Many-worlds just says, “Look, I just told you a minute ago that there’s only one way function for the whole universe, and that means that you can’t take too seriously just describing the electron, you have to include everything else in the universe.” In particular, you clearly have to interact with the electron in order to measure it. Whatever is interacting with the electron should be included in the wave function that you’re describing. And look, maybe it’s just you, maybe your eyeballs are able to perceive it, but okay, I’m going to include you in the wave function. Since you have a very sophisticated listenership, I’ll be a little bit more careful than average. What does it mean to measure the spin of the electron? We don’t need to go into details, but we want the following thing to be true: If the electron were in a state that was 100% spinning clockwise, then we want the measurement to tell us it was spinning clockwise. We want your brain to go, “Yes, the electron was spinning clockwise.” Likewise, if it was 100% counterclockwise, we want to see that, to measure that.

(01:17:03)
The rules of quantum mechanics, the Schrodinger equation of quantum mechanics, is 100% clear that if you want to measure it clockwise when it’s clockwise and measure it counterclockwise when it’s counterclockwise, then when it starts out in a superposition, what will happen is that you and the electron will entangle with each other. And by that I mean that the state of the universe evolves into part saying, “The electron was spinning clockwise, and I saw it clockwise,” and part of the state is it’s in a superposition with the part that says, “The electron was spinning counterclockwise, and I saw it counterclockwise.” Everyone agrees with this; entirely uncontroversial. Straightforward consequence of the Schrodinger equation.

(01:17:49)
And then Niels Bohr would say, “And then part of that wave function disappears,” and we’re in the other part. And you can’t predict which part it’ll be, only the probability. Hugh Everett, who was a graduate student in the 1950s, was thinking about this, says, “I have a better idea. Part of the wave function does not magically disappear, it stays there.” The reason why that idea, Everett’s idea that the whole wave function always sticks around and just obeys the Schrodinger equation was not thought of years before is because naively, you look at it and you go, “Okay, this is predicting that I will be in a superposition, that I will be in a superposition of having seen the electron be clockwise and having seen it be counterclockwise.” No experimenter has ever felt like they were in a superposition. You always see an outcome.

(01:18:41)
Everett’s move, which was genius, was to say, “The problem is not the Schrodinger equation. The problem is you have misidentified yourself in the Schrodinger equation.” You have said, “Oh, look, there’s a person who saw counterclockwise, there’s a person who saw clockwise; I should be that superposition of both.” And Everett says, “No, no, no, you’re not,” because the part of the wave function in which the spin was clockwise, once that exists, it is completely unaffected by the part of the wave function that says the spin was counterclockwise. They are apart from each other. They are un-interacting. They have no influence. What happens in one part has no influence in the other part. Everett says, “The simple resolution is to identify yourself as either the one who saw spin clockwise or the one who saw spin counterclockwise.” There are now two people once you’ve done that experiment. The Schrodinger equation doesn’t have to be messed with, all you have to do is locate yourself correctly in the wave function. That’s many-worlds.
Lex Fridman
(01:19:47)
The number of worlds is-
Sean Carroll
(01:19:50)
Very big.
Lex Fridman
(01:19:50)
… very, very, very big. Where do those worlds fit? Where do they go?
Sean Carroll
(01:19:58)
The short answer is the worlds don’t exist in space, space exists separately in each world. There’s a technical answer to your question, which is Hilbert space, the space of all possible quantum mechanical states, but physically, we want to put these worlds somewhere. That’s just a wrong intuition that we have. There is no such thing as the physical spatial location of the worlds because space is inside the worlds.
Lex Fridman
(01:20:29)
One of the properties of this interpretation is that you can’t travel from one world to the other.
Sean Carroll
(01:20:34)
That’s right.
Lex Fridman
(01:20:35)
Which makes you feel that they’re existing separately.
Sean Carroll
(01:20:43)
They are existing separately and simultaneously.
Lex Fridman
(01:20:45)
And simultaneously.
Sean Carroll
(01:20:46)
Without locations in space.
Lex Fridman
(01:20:48)
Without locations in space. How is it possible to visualize them existing without a location in space?
Sean Carroll
(01:20:55)
The real answer to that, the honest answer is the equations predict it. If you can’t visualize it, so much worse for you. The equations are crystal clear about what they’re predicting.
Lex Fridman
(01:21:07)
Is there a way to get closer to understanding and visualizing the weirdness of the implications of this?
Sean Carroll
(01:21:16)
I don’t think it’s that hard. It wasn’t that hard for me. I don’t mind the idea that when I make a quantum mechanical measurement there is, later on in the universe, multiple descendants of my present self who got different answers for that measurement. I can’t interact with them. Hilbert space, the space law of quantum wave functions, was always big enough to include all of them. I’m going to worry about the parts of the universe I can observe.

(01:21:47)
Let’s put it this way. Many-worlds comes about by taking the Schrodinger equation seriously. The Schrodinger equation was invented to fit the data, to fit the spectrum of different atoms and different emission and absorption experiments. And it’s perfectly legitimate to say, “Well, okay, you’re taking the Schrodinger equation, you’re extrapolating it, you’re trusting it, believing it beyond what we can observe. I don’t want to do that.” That’s perfectly legit except, okay, then what do you believe? Come up with a better theory. You’re saying you don’t believe the Schrodinger equation; tell me the equation that you believe in. And people have done that. Turns out it’s super hard to do that in a legitimate way that fits the data.
Lex Fridman
(01:22:36)
And many-worlds is a really clean.
Sean Carroll
(01:22:40)
Absolutely the most austere, clean, no extra baggage theory of quantum mechanics.
Lex Fridman
(01:22:45)
But if it in fact is correct, isn’t this the weirdest thing of anything we know?
Sean Carroll
(01:22:55)
Yes. In fact, let me put it this way. The single best reason in my mind to be skeptical about many-worlds is not because it doesn’t make sense or it doesn’t fit the data or I don’t know where the worlds are going or whatever, it’s because to make that extrapolation, to take seriously the equation that we know is correct in other regimes requires new philosophy, requires a new way of thinking about identity, about probability, about prediction, a whole bunch of things. It’s work to do that philosophy, and I’ve been doing it and others have done it, and I think it’s very, very doable, but it’s not straightforward. It’s not a simple extrapolation from what we already know, it’s a grand extrapolation very far away. And if you just wanted to be methodologically conservative and say, “That’s a step too far; I don’t want to buy it,” I’m sympathetic to that. I think that you’re just wimping out, I think that you should have more courage, but I get the impulse.
Lex Fridman
(01:24:00)
And there is, under many-worlds, an era of time where, if you rewind it back, there’s going to be one initial state.
Sean Carroll
(01:24:13)
That’s right. All of quantum mechanics, all different versions require a kind of arrow of time. It might be different in every kind, but the quantum measurement process is irreversible. You can measure something, it collapses; you can’t go backwards. If someone tells you the outcome… If I say I’ve measured an electron, “Its spin is clockwise,” and they say, “What was it before I measured it?” You know there was some part of it that was clockwise, but you don’t know how much. And many-worlds is no different. But the nice thing is that the kind of arrow of time you need in many-worlds is exactly the kind of arrow of time you need anyway for entropy and thermodynamics and so forth. You need a simple, low entropy initial state. That’s what you need in both cases.
Lex Fridman
(01:24:56)
If you actually look at under many-worlds into the entire history of the universe, correct me if I’m wrong, but it looks very deterministic.
Sean Carroll
(01:25:06)
Yes.
Lex Fridman
(01:25:06)
In each moment, does the moment contain the memory of the entire history of the universe? To you, does the moment contain the memory of everything that preceded it?
Sean Carroll
(01:25:17)
As far as we know, according to many-worlds, the wave function of the universe, all the branches of the universe at once, all the worlds does contain all the information. Calling it a memory is a little bit dangerous because it’s not the same kind of memory that you and I have in our brains because our memories rely on the arrow of time, and the whole point of the Schrodinger equation or Newton’s laws is they don’t have an arrow of time built in. They’re reversible. The state of the universe not only remembers where it came from but also determines where it’s going to go in a way that our memories don’t do that.
Lex Fridman
(01:25:57)
But our memories, we can do replay. Can you do this?
Sean Carroll
(01:26:01)
We can, but the act of forming a memory increases the entropy of the universe. It is an irreversible process also. You can walk on a beach and leave your footprints there. That’s a record of your passing. It will eventually be erased by the ever-increasing entropy of the universe.
Lex Fridman
(01:26:18)
Well, but you can imperfectly replay it. I guess can we return, travel back in time imperfectly?
Sean Carroll
(01:26:25)
Oh, it depends on the level of precision you’re trying to ask that question. The universe contains the information about where the universe was, but you and I don’t. We’re nowhere close.
Lex Fridman
(01:26:39)
And it’s, what, computationally very costly to try to consult the universe?
Sean Carroll
(01:26:45)
Well, it depends on, again, exactly what you’re asking. There are some simple questions like what was the temperature of the universe 30 seconds after the Big Bang? We can answer that. That’s amazing that we can answer that to pretty high precision. But if you want to know where every atom was, then no.
Lex Fridman
(01:27:05)
What to you is the Big Bang? Why? Why did it happen?
Sean Carroll
(01:27:13)
We have no idea. I think that that’s a super important question that I can imagine making progress on, but right now I’m more or less maximally uncertain about what the answer is.
Lex Fridman
(01:27:24)
Do you think black holes will help potentially?
Sean Carroll
(01:27:24)
No.
Lex Fridman
(01:27:26)
No.
Sean Carroll
(01:27:26)
Not that much. Quantum gravity will help, and maybe black holes will help us figure out quantum gravity, so indirectly, yes. But we have the situation where general relativity, Einstein’s theory unambiguously predicts there was a singularity in the past. There was a moment of time when the universe had infinite curvature, infinite energy, infinite expansion rate, the whole bit. That’s just a fancy way of saying the theory has broken down. And classical general relativity is not up to the task of what saying what really happened at that moment. It is completely possible there was, in some sense, a moment of time before which there were no other moments. And that would be the Big Bang. Even if it’s not a classical general relativity kind of thing, even if quantum mechanics is involved, maybe that’s what happened. It’s also completely possible there was time before that space and time and they evolved into our hot big bang by some procedure that we don’t really understand.
Lex Fridman
(01:28:24)
And if time and space are emergent, then the before even starts getting real weird.
Sean Carroll
(01:28:29)
Well, I think that if there is a first moment of time, that would be very good evidence or that would fit hand in glove with the idea that time is emergent. If time is fundamental, then it tends to go forever because it’s fundamental.
Lex Fridman
(01:28:44)
Well, yeah. The general formulation of this question is what’s outside of it? Well, what’s outside of our universe, in time and in space? I know it’s a pothead question, Sean. I understand. I apologize.
Sean Carroll
(01:28:57)
That’s my life. My life is asking pothead questions. Some of them, the answer is that’s not the right way to think about it.
Lex Fridman
(01:29:03)
Okay. But is it possible to think at all about what’s outside our universe?
Sean Carroll
(01:29:09)
It’s absolutely legit to ask questions, but you have to be comfortable with the possibility that the answer is there’s no such thing as outside our universe. That’s absolutely on the table. In fact, that is the simplest, most likely to be correct answer that we know of.
Lex Fridman
(01:29:24)
But it’s the only thing in the universe that wouldn’t have an outside.
Sean Carroll
(01:29:30)
Yeah. If the universe is the totality of everything, it would not have an outside.
Lex Fridman
(01:29:34)
That’s so weird to think that there’s not an outside. We want there to be a creator, a creative force that led to this and an outside. This is our town, and then there’s a bigger world. And there’s always a bigger world. And to think that there’s not [inaudible 01:29:53].
Sean Carroll
(01:29:52)
Because that is our experience. That’s the world we grew up in. The universe doesn’t need to obey those rules.
Lex Fridman
(01:30:00)
Such a weird thing.
Sean Carroll
(01:30:02)
When I was a kid, that used to keep me up at night. What if the universe had not existed?
Lex Fridman
(01:30:06)
Right. It feels like a lot of pressure that if this is the only universe and we’re here, one of the few intelligent civilizations, maybe the only one, it’s the old theories that we’re the center of everything, it just feels suspicious. That’s why many-worlds is exciting to me because it is humbling in all the right kinds of ways. It feels like infinity is the way this whole thing runs.
Sean Carroll
(01:30:37)
There’s one pitfall that I’ll just mention because there’s a move that is made in these theoretical edges of cosmology that I think is a little bit mistaken, which is to say I’m going to think about the universe on the basis of imagining that I am a typical observer. This is called the principle of typicality, or the principle of mediocrity, or even the Copernican principle. Nothing special about me, I’m just typical in the universe. But then you draw some conclusions from this, and what you end up realizing is you’ve been hilariously presumptuous because by saying, “I’m a typical observer in the universe,” you’re saying, “Typical observers in the universe are like me,” and that is completely unjustified by anything. I’m not telling you what the right way to do it is, but these kinds of questions that are not quite grounded in experimental verification or falsification are ones you have to be very careful about.
Lex Fridman
(01:31:33)
That to me is one of the most interesting questions. And there’s different ways to approach it, but what’s outside of this? How did the big mess start? How do we get something from nothing? That’s always the thing you’re sneaking up to when you’re studying all of these questions. You’re always thinking that’s where the black hole and the unifying, getting quantum gravity, all this kind of stuff, you’re always sneaking up to that question, where did all of this come from?
Sean Carroll
(01:32:02)
Yeah, that’s fair.
Lex Fridman
(01:32:02)
And I think that’s probably an answerable question, right?
Sean Carroll
(01:32:09)
No.
Lex Fridman
(01:32:10)
It doesn’t have to be. You think there could be a turtle at the bottom of this that refuses to reveal its identity?
Sean Carroll
(01:32:17)
Yes. I think that specifically the question why is there something rather than nothing? does not have the kind of answer that we would ordinarily attribute to why questions because typical why questions are embedded in the universe. And when we answer them, we take advantage of the features of the universe that we know and love. But the universe itself, as far as we know, is not embedded in anything bigger or stronger, and therefore it can just be.

Simulation

Lex Fridman
(01:32:47)
Do you think it’s possible this whole place is simulated?
Sean Carroll
(01:32:51)
Sure.
Lex Fridman
(01:32:52)
It’s a really interesting, dark, twisted video game that we’re all existing in.
Sean Carroll
(01:32:57)
My own podcast listeners, Mindscape listeners tease me because they know from my AMA episodes that if you ever start a question by asking, “Do you think it’s possible that…” the answer’s going to be yes. That might not be the answer that you care about, but it’s possible, sure, as long as you’re not adding two even numbers together and getting an odd number.
Lex Fridman
(01:33:21)
When you say it’s possible, there’s a mathematically yes, and then there’s more of intuitive.
Sean Carroll
(01:33:26)
Yeah. You want to know whether it’s plausible. You want to know is there a-
Lex Fridman
(01:33:27)
Plausible.
Sean Carroll
(01:33:30)
… reasonable, non-zero credence to attach to this? I don’t think that there’s any philosophical knockout objection to the simulation hypothesis. I also think that there’s absolutely no reason to take it seriously.
Lex Fridman
(01:33:45)
Do you think humans will try to create one? I guess that’s how I always think about it. I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the past few years and a lot more recently in virtual worlds and just am always captivated by the possibility of creating higher and high resolution worlds. And as we’ll talk a little bit about artificial intelligence, the advancement on the Sora front, you can automatically generate those worlds, and the possibility of existing in those automatically generated worlds is pretty exciting as long as there’s a consistent physics, quantum mechanics and general relativity that governs the generation of those worlds. It just seems like humans will for sure try to create this.
Sean Carroll
(01:34:34)
Yeah, I think they will create better and better simulations. I think the philosopher, David Chalmers, has done what I consider to be a good job of arguing that we should treat things that happen in virtual reality and in simulated realities as just as real as the reality that we experience. I also think that as a practical matter, people will realize how much harder it is to simulate a realistic world than we naively believe. This is not a my lifetime kind of worry.

AGI

Lex Fridman
(01:35:02)
Yeah. The practical matter of going from a prototype that’s impressive to a thing that governs everything. Similar question on this front is in AGI. You’ve said that we’re very far away from AGI.
Sean Carroll
(01:35:17)
I want to eliminate the phrase AGI.
Lex Fridman
(01:35:22)
Basically, when you’re analyzing large language models and seeing how far are they from whatever AGI is, and we can talk about different notions of intelligence, that we’re not as close as some people in public view are talking about. What’s your intuition behind that?
Sean Carroll
(01:35:41)
My intuition is basically that artificial intelligence is different than human intelligence, and so the mistake that is being made by focusing on AGI among those who do is an artificial agent that, as we can make them now or in the near future, might be way better than human beings at some things, way worse-
Sean Carroll
(01:36:00)
… Better than human beings at some things. Way worse than human beings at other things. And rather than trying to ask, how close is it to being a human-like intelligent, we should appreciate it for what its capabilities are, and that will both be more accurate and help us put it to work and protect us from the dangers better rather than always anthropomorphizing it.
Lex Fridman
(01:36:22)
I think the underlying idea there under the definition of AGI is that the capabilities are extremely impressive. That’s not a precise statement, but meaning-
Sean Carroll
(01:36:36)
Sure. No, I get that. I completely agree.
Lex Fridman
(01:36:38)
And then the underlying question where a lot of the debate is, is how impressive is it? What are the limits of large language models? Can they really do things like common sense reasoning? How much do they really understand about the world or are they just fancy mimicry machines? And where do you fall on that as to the limits of large language models?
Sean Carroll
(01:37:02)
I don’t think that there are many limits in principle. I am a physicalist about consciousness and awareness and things like that. I see no obstacle to, in principle, building an artificial machine that is indistinguishable in thought and cognition from a human being. But we’re not trying to do that. What a large language model is trying to do is to predict text. That’s what it does. And it is leveraging the fact that we human beings for very good evolutionary biology reasons, attribute intentionality and intelligence and agency to things that act like human beings. As I was driving here to get to this podcast space, I was using Google Maps and Google Maps was talking to me, but I wanted to stop to get a cup of coffee. So I didn’t do what Google Maps told me to do. I went around a block that it didn’t like. And so it gets annoyed. It says like, “No, why are you doing …” It doesn’t say exactly in this, but you know what I mean. It’s like, “No, turn left, turn left,” and you turn right.

(01:38:10)
It is impossible as a human being not to feel a little bit sad that Google Maps is getting mad at you. It’s not. It’s not even trying to, it’s not a large language model, no aspirations to intentionality, but we attribute that all the time. Dan Dennett, the philosopher, wrote a very influential paper on The Intentional Stance, the fact that it’s the most natural thing in the world for we human beings to attribute more intentionality to artificial things than are really there, which is not to say it can’t be really there. But if you’re trying to be rational and clear thinking about this, the first step is to recognize our huge bias towards attributing things below the surface to systems that are able to, at the surface level, act human.
Lex Fridman
(01:39:01)
So if that huge bias of intentionality is there in the data, in the human data, in the vast landscape of human data that AI models, large language models, and video models in the future are trained on, don’t you think that that intentionality will emerge as fundamental to the behavior of these systems naturally?
Sean Carroll
(01:39:24)
Well, I don’t think it will happen naturally. I think it could happen. Again, I’m not against the principle. But again, the way that large language models came to be and what they’re optimized for is wildly different than the way that human beings came to be and what they’re optimized for. So I think we’re missing a chance to be much more clear-headed about what large language models are by judging them against human beings. Again, both in positive ways and negative ways.
Lex Fridman
(01:39:57)
Well, I think … To push back on what they’re optimized for is different to describe how they’re trained versus what they’re optimized for. So they’re trained in this very trivial way of predicting text tokens, but you can describe what they’re optimized for and what the actual task in hand is, is to construct a world model, meaning an understanding of the world. And that’s where it starts getting closer to what humans are kind of doing, where just in the case of large language models, know how the sausage is made, and we don’t know how it’s made for us humans.
Sean Carroll
(01:40:28)
But they’re not optimized for that. They’re optimized to sound human.
Lex Fridman
(01:40:31)
That’s the fine-tuning. But the actual training is optimized for understanding, creating a compressed representation of all the stuff that humans have created on the internet.
Sean Carroll
(01:40:44)
Right.
Lex Fridman
(01:40:44)
And the hope is that that gives you a deep understanding of the world.
Sean Carroll
(01:40:50)
Yeah. So that’s why I think that there’s a set of hugely interesting questions to be asked about the ways in which large language models actually do represent the world. Because what is clear is that they’re very good at acting human. The open question in my mind is, is the easiest, most efficient, best way to act human to do the same things that human beings do or are there other ways? And I think that’s an open question. I just heard a talk by Melanie Mitchell at Santa Fe Institute, an artificial intelligence researcher, and she told two stories about two different papers, one that someone else wrote and one that her group is following up on. And they were modeling Othello. Othello, the game with a little rectangular board, white and black squares. So the experiment was the following. They fed a neural network the moves that were being made in the most symbolic form, E5 just means that, okay, you put a token down on E5. So it gives a long string, it does this for millions of games, real legitimate games.

(01:41:53)
And then it asks the question, the paper asks the question, “Okay, you’ve trained it to tell what would be a legitimate next move from not a legitimate next move. Did it in its brain, in its little large language model brain.” I don’t even know if it’s technically large language model, but a deep learning network. “Did it come up with a representation of the Othello board?” Well, how do you know? And so they construct a little probe network that they insert, and you ask it, “What is it doing right at this moment?” And the answer is that the little probe network can ask, “Would this be legitimate or is this token white or black?” Or whatever, things that in practice would amount to it has invented the Othello board. And it found that the probe got the right answer, not 100% of the time, but more than by chance, substantially more than by chance. So they said there’s some tentative evidence that this neural network has discovered the Othello board just out of data, raw data.

(01:42:59)
But then Melanie’s group asked the question, “Okay, are you sure that that understanding of the Othello board wasn’t built into your probe?” And what they found was at least half of the improvement was built into the probe. Not all of it. And look, a Othello board is way simpler than the world. So that’s why I just think it’s an open question, whether or not … I mean, it would be remarkable either way to learn that large language models that are good at doing what we train them to do are good because they’ve built the same kind of model of the world that we have in our minds or that they’re good despite not having that model. Either one of these is an amazing thing. I just don’t think the data are clear on which one is true.
Lex Fridman
(01:43:49)
I think I have some sort of intellectual humility about the whole thing because I was humbled by several stages in the machine learning development over the past 20 years. And I just would never have predicted that LLMs, the way they’re trained, on the scale of data they’re trained would be as impressive as they are. And that’s where intellectual humility steps in, where my intuition would say something like with Melanie, where you need to be able to have very sort of concrete common sense reasoning, symbolic reasoning type things in a system in order for it to be very intelligent. But here, I’m so impressed by what it’s capable to do, train on the next token prediction essentially … My conception of the nature of intelligence is just completely, not completely, but humbled, I should say.
Sean Carroll
(01:44:48)
Look, and I think that’s perfectly fair. I also was, I almost say pleasantly, but I don’t know whether it’s pleasantly or unpleasantly, but factually surprised by the recent rate of progress. Clearly some kind of phase transition percolation has happened and the improvement has been remarkable, absolutely amazing. That I have no arguments with. That doesn’t yet tell me the mechanism by which that improvement happened. Constructing a model much like a human being is clearly one possible mechanism, but part of the intellectual humility is to say maybe there are others.
Lex Fridman
(01:45:24)
I was chatting with the CEO of Anthropic, Dario Amodei, so behind Claude and that company, but a lot of the AI companies are really focused on expanding the scale of compute. If we assume that AI is not data limited, but is compute limited, you can make the system much more intelligent by using more compute. So let me ask you almost on the physics level, do you think physics can help expand the scale of compute and maybe the scale of energy required to make that compute happen?
Sean Carroll
(01:46:02)
Yeah, 100%. I think this is one of the biggest things that physics can help with, and it’s an obvious kind of low-hanging fruit situation where the heat generation, the inefficiency, the waste of existing high-level computers is nowhere near the efficiency of our brains. It’s hilariously worse, and we haven’t tried to optimize that hard on that frontier. I mean, your laptop heats up when it’s sitting on your lap. It doesn’t need to. Your brain doesn’t heat up like that. So clearly there exists in the world of physics, the capability of doing these computations with much less waste heat being generated, and I look forward to people doing that, yeah.
Lex Fridman
(01:46:49)
Are you excited for the possibility of nuclear fusion?
Sean Carroll
(01:46:52)
I am cautiously optimistic. Excited would be too strong. I mean, it’d be great, but if we really tried solar power, it would also be great.
Lex Fridman
(01:47:02)
I think Ilya Sutskever said this, that the future of humanity on Earth will be just the entire surface of Earth is covered in solar panels and data centers.
Sean Carroll
(01:47:13)
Why would you waste the surface of the Earth with solar panels? Put them in space.
Lex Fridman
(01:47:16)
Sure, you can go in space. Yeah.
Sean Carroll
(01:47:17)
Space is bigger than the Earth.
Lex Fridman
(01:47:20)
Yeah, just solar panels everywhere.
Sean Carroll
(01:47:21)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(01:47:21)
I like it.
Sean Carroll
(01:47:24)
We already have fusion. It’s called the Sun.
Lex Fridman
(01:47:26)
Yeah, that’s true. And there’s probably more and more efficient ways of catching that energy.
Sean Carroll
(01:47:33)
Sending it down is the hard part, absolutely. But that’s an engineering problem.
Lex Fridman
(01:47:37)
So I just wonder where the data centers, the compute centers can expand to, if that’s the future. If AI is as effective as it possibly could be, then the scale of computation will keep increasing, but perhaps it’s a race between efficiency and scale.
Sean Carroll
(01:47:56)
There are constraints. There’s a certain amount of energy, a certain amount of damage we can do to the environment before it’s not worth it anymore. So yeah, I think that’s a new question. In fact, it’s kind of frustrating because we get better and better at doing things efficiently, but we invent more things we want to do faster than we get good at doing them efficiently. So we’re continuing to make things worse in various ways.
Lex Fridman
(01:48:19)
I mean, that’s the dance of humanity where we’re constantly creating better motivated technologies that are potentially causing a lot more harm, and that includes for weapons, includes AI used as weapons, that includes nuclear weapons, of course, which is surprising to me that we haven’t destroyed human civilization yet, given how many nuclear warheads are out there.
Sean Carroll
(01:48:41)
Look, I’m with you. Between nuclear and bioweapons, it is a little bit surprising that we haven’t caused enormous devastation. Of course, we did drop two atomic bombs on Japan, but compared to what could have happened or could happen tomorrow, it could be much worse.
Lex Fridman
(01:48:57)
It does seem like there’s an underlying, speaking of quantum fields, there’s a field of goodness within the human heart that in some kind of game theoretic way, we create really powerful things that could destroy each other, and there’s greed and ego and all this kind of power hungry dictators that are at play here in all the geopolitical landscape, but we somehow always don’t go too far.
Sean Carroll
(01:49:25)
But that’s exactly what you would say right before we went too far.

Complexity

Lex Fridman
(01:49:27)
Right before we went too far, and that’s why we don’t see aliens. So you’re like I mentioned, associated with Santa Fe Institute. I just would love to take a stroll down the landscape of ideas explored there.
Sean Carroll
(01:49:43)
Sure.
Lex Fridman
(01:49:44)
So they look at complexity in all kinds of ways. What do you think about the emergence of complexity from simple things interacting simply?
Sean Carroll
(01:49:52)
I think it’s a fascinating topic. I mean, that’s why I’m thinking about these things these days rather than the papers that I was describing to you before. All of those papers I described to you before are guesses. What if the laws of physics are different in the following way? And then you can work out the consequences. At some point in my life, I said, “What is the chance I’m going to guess right?” Einstein guessed right, Steven Weinberg guessed right, but there’s a very small number of times that people guessed right. Whereas with this emergence of complexity from simplicity, I really do think that we haven’t understood the basics yet. I think we’re still kind of pre-paradigmatic. There have been some spectacular discoveries. People like Geoffrey West at Santa Fe and others have really given us true insights into important systems. But still, there’s a lot of the basics, I think are not understood.

(01:50:40)
And so searching for the general principles is what I like to do, and I think it’s absolutely possible that … And to be a little bit more substantive than that. This is kind of a cliche. I think the key is information, and I think that what we see through the history of the universe as you go from simple to more and more complex is really subsystems of the universe figuring out how to use information to do whatever, to survive or to thrive or to reproduce. I mean, that’s the sort of fuel, the leverage, the resource that we have for a while anyway, until the heat death. But that’s where the complexity is really driven by.
Lex Fridman
(01:51:20)
But the mechanism of it. I mean, you mentioned Geoffrey West. What are interesting inklings of progress in this realm? And what are systems that interest you in terms of information? So I mean, for me, just as a fan of complexity, just even looking at simple cellular automata is always just a fascinating way to illustrate the emergence of complexity.
Sean Carroll
(01:51:42)
So for those of the listeners who don’t know, viewers, cellular automata come from imagining a very simple configuration. For example, a set of ones and zeros along a line, and then you met a rule that says, “Okay, I’m going to evolve this in time.” And generally the simplest ones start with just each block of three ones and zeros have a rule that they will determinously go to either one or a zero, and you can actually classify all the different possibilities, a small number of possible cellular automata of that form.

(01:52:15)
And what was discovered by various people, including Stephen Wolfram is some of these cellular automata have the feature that you start from almost nothing like 0, 0, 0, 0, 1, 0, 0, 0, 0, and you let it rip and it becomes wildly complex. Okay, so this is very provocative, very interesting. It’s also not how physics works at all because as we said, physics conserves information. You can go forward or backwards. These cellular automata do not, they’re not reversible in any sense. You’ve built in an arrow of time, you have a starting point, and then you evolve. So what I’m interested in is seeing how in the real world with the real laws of physics and underlying reversibility, but macroscopic irreversibility from entropy and the arrow of time, et cetera, how does that lead to complexity? I think that that’s an answerable question. I don’t think that cellular automata are really helping us in that one.
Lex Fridman
(01:53:11)
So what does the landscape of entropy in the universe look like?
Sean Carroll
(01:53:18)
Well, entropy is hard to localize. It’s a property of systems, not of parts of systems. Having said that, we can do approximate answers to the question. The answer is black holes are huge in entropy. Let’s put it this way, the whole observable universe that we were in had a certain amount of entropy before stars and planets and black holes started to form, 10 to the 88th. I can even tell you the number. Okay. The single black hole at the center of our galaxy has entropy, 10 to the 90. Single black hole at the of our galaxy has more entropy than the whole universe used to have not too long ago. So most of the entropy in the universe today is in the form of black holes.
Lex Fridman
(01:54:04)
Okay, that’s fascinating first of all. But second of all, if we take black holes away, what are the different interesting perturbations in entropy across space? Where do we earthlings fit into that?
Sean Carroll
(01:54:18)
The interesting thing to me is that if you start with a system that is isolated from the rest of the universe and you start it at low entropy, there’s almost a theorem that says if you’re very, very, very low entropy, then the system looks pretty simple. Because low entropy means there’s only a small number of ways that you can rearrange the parts to look like that. So if there’s not that many ways, the answer’s going to look simple.

(01:54:46)
But there’s also almost a theorem that says when you’re at maximum entropy, the system is going to look simple because it’s all smeared out. If it had interesting structure, then it would be complicated. So entropy in this isolated system only goes up. That’s the second law of thermodynamics. But complexity starts low, goes up, and then goes down again. Sometimes people think that complexity or life or whatever is fighting against the second law of thermodynamics, fighting against the increase of entropy. That is precisely the wrong way to think about it. We are surfers riding the wave of increasing entropy. We rely on increasing entropy to survive. That is part of what makes us special. This table maintains its stability mechanically, which I mean there’s molecules there, have forces on each other, and it holds up. You and I aren’t like that. We maintain our stability dynamically by ingesting food, fuel, food, and water and air and so forth, burning it, increasing its entropy. We are non equilibrium, quasi steady-state systems. We are using the fuel the universe gives us in the form of low entropy energy to maintain our stability.
Lex Fridman
(01:56:06)
I just wonder what that mechanism of surfing looks like. First of all, one question to ask, do you think it’s possible to have a kind of size of complexity where you have very precise ways or clearly defined ways of measuring complexity?
Sean Carroll
(01:56:25)
I think it is, and I think we don’t. It’s possible to have it, I don’t think we yet have it because in part because complexity is not a univalent thing. There’s different ideas that go under the rubric of complexity. One version is just [inaudible 01:56:41] complexity. If you have a configuration or a string of numbers or whatever, can you compress it so that you have a small program that will output that? That’s [inaudible 01:56:51] complexity, but that’s the complexity of a string of numbers. It’s not like the complexity of a problem, computational complexity, the traveling salesman problem or factoring large numbers. That’s a whole different kind of question that is also about complexity. So we don’t have that sort of unified view of it.
Lex Fridman
(01:57:09)
So you think it’s possible to have a complexity of a physical system?
Sean Carroll
(01:57:13)
Yeah, absolutely.
Lex Fridman
(01:57:14)
In the same way we do entropy?
Sean Carroll
(01:57:15)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(01:57:17)
You think that’s a Sean Carroll paper or what?
Sean Carroll
(01:57:20)
We are working on various things. The glib thing that I’m trying to work on right now with a student is Complexo Genesis. How does complexity come to be if all the universe is doing is moving from low entropy to high entropy?
Lex Fridman
(01:57:33)
It’s a sexy name.
Sean Carroll
(01:57:34)
It’s a good name. Yeah, I like the name. I’ve just got to write the paper.
Lex Fridman
(01:57:38)
Sometimes a name, a rose by any other name. In which context, the birth of complexity are you most interested in?
Sean Carroll
(01:57:49)
Well, I think it comes in stages. So I think that if you go from … I’m again a physicist, so biologists studying evolution will talk about how complexity evolves all the time, the complexity of the genome, the complexity of our physiology. But they take for granted that life already existed and entropy is increasing and so forth. I want to go back to the beginning and say the early universe was simple and low entropy and entropy increases with time, and the universe sort of differentiates and becomes more complex. But that statement, which is indisputably true, has different meanings because complexity has different meanings. So sort of the most basic primal version of complexity is what you might think of as configurational complexity. That’s what [inaudible 01:58:39] gets at. How much information do you need to specify the configuration of the system?

(01:58:44)
Then there’s a whole other step where subsystems of the universe start burning fuel. So in many ways, a planet and a star are not that different in configurational complexity. They’re both spheres with density high at the middle and getting less as you go out. But there’s something fundamentally different because the star only survives as long as it has fuel. I mean, then it turns into a brown dwarf or white dwarf for whatever. But as a star, as a main sequence star, it is an out of equilibrium system, but it’s more or less static. If I spill the coffee mug and it falls, in the process of falling it’ out of equilibrium, but it’s also changing all the time. A specific kind of system is where it looks sort of macroscopically stationary, like a star, but underneath the hood, it’s burning fuel to beat the band in order to maintain that stability. So as stars form, that’s a different kind of complexity that comes to be.

(01:59:43)
Then there’s another kind of complexity that comes to be, roughly speaking at the origin of life, because that’s where you have information really being gathered and utilized by subsystems of the universe. And then arguably, there’s any number of stages past that. I mean, one of the most obvious ones to me is we talk about simulation theory, but you and I run simulations in our heads. They’re just not that good. But we imagine different hypothetical futures. Bacteria don’t do that. So that’s the kind of information processing that is a form of complexity, and so I would like to understand all these stages and how they fit together.
Lex Fridman
(02:00:20)
Yeah, imagination.
Sean Carroll
(02:00:21)
Yeah, mental time travel.
Lex Fridman
(02:00:24)
Yeah. The things going on in my head when I’m imagining worlds are super compressed representations of those worlds, but [inaudible 02:00:32] get to the essence of them, and maybe it’s possible with non-human computing type devices to do those kinds of simulations in more and more compressed ways.
Sean Carroll
(02:00:41)
There’s an argument to be made that literally what separates human beings from other species on Earth is our ability to imagine counterfactual hypothetical futures.
Lex Fridman
(02:00:55)
Yeah, I mean, that’s one of the big features. I don’t know if it’s a-
Sean Carroll
(02:00:59)
Everyone has their own favorite little feature, but that’s why I said there’s an argument to be made. I did a podcast episode on it with Adam Bulley. It developed slowly. I did a different podcast. Sorry to keep mentioning podcast episodes I did. But Malcolm Maciver, who is an engineer at Northwestern, has a theory about one of the major stages in evolution is when fish first climbed on the land. And I mean, of course that is a major stage of evolution, but in particular, there’s a cognitive shift because when you’re a fish swimming under the water, the attenuation length of light in water is not that long. You can’t see kilometers away. You can see meters away, and you’re moving at meters per second. So all of the evolutionary optimization is make all of your decisions on a timescale of less than a second. When you see something new, you have to make a rapid fire decision what to do about it.

(02:01:51)
As soon as you climb onto land, you can essentially see forever, you can see stars in the sky. So now a whole new mode of reasoning opens up where you see something far away and rather than saying, “Look up [inaudible 02:02:06],” I see this, I react. You can say, “Okay, I see that thing. What if I did this? What if I did that? What if I did something different?” And that’s the birth of imagination eventually.

Consciousness

Lex Fridman
(02:02:17)
You’ve been critical on panpsychism.
Sean Carroll
(02:02:20)
Yes, you’ve noticed that.
Lex Fridman
(02:02:22)
Can you make the case for Panpsychism and against it? So panpsychism is the idea that consciousness permeates all matter. Maybe it’s a fundamental force or a physics of the fabric of the universe.
Sean Carroll
(02:02:39)
Panpsychism, thought everywhere, consciousness everywhere.
Lex Fridman
(02:02:45)
To a point of entertainment, the idea frustrates you, which sort of as a fan is wonderful to watch, and you’ve had great episodes with panpsychists on your podcast where you go at it.
Sean Carroll
(02:02:58)
I had David Chalmers, who’s one of the world’s great philosophers, and he is panpsychism curious. He doesn’t commit to anything, but he’s certainly willing to entertain it. Philip Goff, who I’ve had, who is a great guy, but he’s devoted to panpsychism. In fact, he’s almost single-handedly responsible for the upsurge of interest in panpsychism in the popular imagination. And the argument for it is supposed to be that there is something fundamentally uncapturable about conscious awareness by physical behavior of atoms and molecules. So the panpsychist will say, “Look, you can tell me maybe someday, through advances of neuroscience and what have you, exactly what happens in your brain and how that translates into thought and speech and action. What you can’t tell me is what it is like to be me. You can’t tell me what I am experiencing when I see something that is red or that I taste something that is sweet. You can tell me what neurons fire, but you can’t tell me what I’m experiencing, that first-person, inner subjective experience is simply not capturable by physics.”

(02:04:14)
And therefore, this is an old argument, of course, but then therefore is supposed to be, I need something that is not contained within physics to account for that, and I’m just going to call it mind. We don’t know what it is yet. We’re going to call it mind, and it has to be separate from physics. And then there’s two ways to go. If you buy that much, you can either say, okay, I’m going to be a dualist. I’m going to believe that there’s matter and mind, and they’re separate from each other and they’re interacting somehow. Or that’s a little bit complicated and sketchy as far as physics is going to go. So I’m going to believe in mind, but I’m going to put it prior to matter. I’m going to believe that mind comes first, and that consciousness is the fundamental aspect of reality and everything else, including matter and physics comes from it. That would be at least as simple as physics comes first.

(02:05:07)
Now, the physicalist such as myself will say, I don’t have any problem explaining what it’s like to be you or what you experience when you see red. It’s a certain way of talking about the atoms and the neurons, et cetera, that make up you. Just like the hardness or the brownness of this table, these are words that we attach to certain underlying configurations of ordinary physical matter. Likewise, sadness and redness or whatever are words that we attach to you to describe what you’re doing. And when it comes to consciousness in general, I’m very quick to say I do not claim to have any special insight on how consciousness works other than I see no reason to change the laws of physics to account for it.
Lex Fridman
(02:05:58)
If you don’t have to change the laws of physics, where do you think it emerges from? Is consciousness an illusion that’s almost like a shorthand that we humans use to describe a certain kind of feeling we have when interacting with the world, or is there some big leap that happens at some stage?
Sean Carroll
(02:06:15)
I almost never use the word illusion. Illusion means that there’s something that you think you’re perceiving that is actually not there. Like an oasis in the desert is an illusion. It has no causal efficacy. If you walk up to where the oasis is supposed to be, you’ll say you were wrong about it being there. That’s different than something being emergent or non-fundamental, but also real. This table is real, even though I know it’s made of atoms, that doesn’t remove the realness from the table. I think that consciousness and free will and things like that are just as real in tables and chairs.
Lex Fridman
(02:06:47)
Oasis in the desert does have causal efficacy in that you’re thirsty [inaudible 02:06:53].
Sean Carroll
(02:06:53)
It leads you to draw incorrect conclusions about the world.
Lex Fridman
(02:06:56)
Sure, but imagining a thing can sometimes bring it to reality, as we’ve seen, and that has a kind of causal efficacy.
Sean Carroll
(02:07:07)
But your understanding of the world in a way that gives you power over it and influence over it is decreased rather than increased by believing in that oasis. That is not true about consciousness or this table.
Lex Fridman
(02:07:20)
You don’t think you can increase the chance of a thing existing by imagining it existing?
Sean Carroll
(02:07:29)
No. Unless you build it or make it.
Lex Fridman
(02:07:32)
No, that’s what I mean. Imagining humans can fly if you’re the Wright brothers.
Sean Carroll
(02:07:37)
[inaudible 02:07:37] imagine that humans are flying, in terms of counterfactuals in the future, absolutely. Imagination is crucially important, but that’s not an illusion. That’s just a imagination.
Lex Fridman
(02:07:48)
Okay. The possibility of the future versus what the reality is. I mean, the future is a concept, so you can … Time is just a concept, so you can play with that.
Lex Fridman
(02:08:01)
Time is just a concept so you can play with that. But yes, reality. So, to you … So for example, I love asking this. So, Donald Hoffman thinks that the entirety of the conversation we’ve been having about space-time is an illusion. Is it possible for you to steelman the case for that? Can you make the case for and against reality, as I think he writes, that the laws of physics as we know them with space-time, is it interface to a much deeper thing that we don’t at all understand and that we’re fooling ourselves by constructing this world?
Sean Carroll
(02:08:45)
Well, I think there’s part of that idea that is perfectly respectable and part of it that is perfectly nonsensical and I’m not even going to try to steelman the nonsensical part. The real part to me is what is called structural realism, so we don’t know what the world is at a deep fundamental level. Let’s put ourselves in the minds of people living 200 years ago, they didn’t know about quantum mechanics, they didn’t know about relativity, that doesn’t mean they were wrong about the universe that they understood, they had Newton’s laws, they could predict what time the sun was going to rise perfectly well.

(02:09:23)
In the progress of science, the words that would be used to give the most fundamental description of how you were predicting the sun would rise changed because now you have curved space-time and things like that and you didn’t have any of those words 200 years ago. But the prediction is the same, why? Because that prediction, independent of what we thought the fundamental ontology was, the prediction pointed to something true about our understanding of reality. To call it an illusion is just wrong, I think. We might not know what the best, most comprehensive way of stating it is but it’s still true.
Lex Fridman
(02:10:06)
Is it true in the way, for example, belief in God is true? Because for most of human history, people have believed in a God or multiple gods and that seemed very true to them as an explanation for the way the world is, some of the deeper questions about life itself with the human condition and why certain things happen, that was a good explainer. So, to you, that’s not an illusion?
Sean Carroll
(02:10:40)
No, I think that was completely an illusion. I think it was a very, very reasonable illusion to be under. There are illusions, there are substantive claims about the world that go beyond predictions that we can make and verify which later turned out to be wrong and the existence of God was one of them. If those people at that time had abandoned their belief in God and replaced it with a mechanistic universe, they would’ve done just as well at understanding things. Again, because there are so many things they didn’t understand, it was very reasonable for them to have that belief, it wasn’t that they were dummies or anything like that. But that is, as we understand the universe better and better, some things stick with us, some things get replaced.

Naturalism

Lex Fridman
(02:11:23)
So, like you said, you are a believer of the mechanistic universe, you’re a naturalist and, as you’ve described, a poetic naturalist.
Sean Carroll
(02:11:35)
That’s right.
Lex Fridman
(02:11:35)
What’s the word poetic … What is naturalism and what is poetic naturalism?
Sean Carroll
(02:11:39)
Naturalism is just the idea that all that exists is the natural world, there’s no supernatural world. You can have arguments about what that means but I would claim that the argument should be about what the word supernatural means, not the word natural. The natural world is the world that we learn about by doing science. The poetic part means that you shouldn’t be too, I want to say, fundamentalist about what the natural world is. As we went from Newtonian space-time to Einsteinian space-time, something is maintained there, there is a different story that we can tell about the world.

(02:12:19)
And that story, in the Newtonian regime, if you want to fly a rocket to the moon, you don’t use general relativity, you use Newtonian mechanics, that story works perfectly well. The poetic aspect of the story is that there are many ways of talking about the natural world and, as long as those ways latch onto something real and causally efficacious about the functioning of the world, then we attribute some reality and truth to them.
Lex Fridman
(02:12:44)
So, the poetic really looks at the, let’s say, the pothead questions at the edge of science is more open to them.
Sean Carroll
(02:12:52)
It’s doing double duty a little bit so that’s why it’s confusing. The more obvious respectable duty it’s doing is that tables are real. Even though you know that it’s really a quantum field theory wave function, tables are still real, there are a different way of talking about the underlying deeper reality of it. The other duty it’s doing is that we move beyond purely descriptive vocabularies for discussing the universe onto normative and prescriptive and judgmental ways of talking about the universe. This painting is beautiful, that one is ugly. This action is morally right, that one is morally wrong. These are also ways of talking about the universe, they are not fixed by the phenomena, they’re not determined by our observations, they cannot be ruled out by a crucial experiment but they’re still valid. They might not be universal, they might be subjective but they’re not arbitrary and they do have a role in describing how the world works.
Lex Fridman
(02:13:50)
So, you don’t think it’s possible to construct experiments that explore the realms of morality and even meaning? So, those are subjective?
Sean Carroll
(02:14:02)
Yeah. They’re human, they’re personal.
Lex Fridman
(02:14:04)
But do you think that’s just because we don’t have a … The tools of science have not expanded enough to incorporate the human experience?
Sean Carroll
(02:14:13)
No, I don’t think that’s what it is. I think that what we mean by aesthetics or morality are we’re attaching categories, properties to things that happen in the physical world and there is always going to be some subjectivity to our attachment and how we do that and that’s okay and, the faster we recognize that and deal with it, the better off we’ll be.
Lex Fridman
(02:14:32)
But if we deeply and fully understand the function of the human mind, it won’t be able to incorporate that?
Sean Carroll
(02:14:39)
No. That will absolutely be helpful in explaining why certain people have certain moral beliefs, it won’t justify those beliefs as right or wrong.
Lex Fridman
(02:14:48)
Do you think it’s possible to have a general relativity that includes the observer effect where the human mind is the observer?
Sean Carroll
(02:14:56)
Sure.
Lex Fridman
(02:14:57)
How we morph in the same way gravity morphs space-time, how does the human mind morph reality and have a very thorough theory of how that morphing actually happens?
Sean Carroll
(02:15:14)
That’s a very pothead question, Lex, but-
Lex Fridman
(02:15:16)
I’m sorry.
Sean Carroll
(02:15:17)
It’s okay.
Lex Fridman
(02:15:17)
But do you think it’s possible?
Sean Carroll
(02:15:20)
The answer is yes. I think that there’s no-
Lex Fridman
(02:15:20)
Okay, all right.
Sean Carroll
(02:15:22)
I think we are part of the physical world, the natural world. Physicalism would’ve been just as good a word to use as naturalism, maybe even a more accurate word but it’s a little bit more off-putting so I do want to snap your more attractive label than physicalism.

Limits of science

Lex Fridman
(02:15:40)
Are there limits to science?
Sean Carroll
(02:15:42)
Sure. We just talked about one, right? Science can’t tell you right from wrong. You need science to implement your ideas about right and wrong. If you are functioning on the basis of an incorrect view of how the world works, you might very well think you’re doing right but actually be doing wrong but all the science in the world won’t tell you which action is right and which action is wrong.
Lex Fridman
(02:16:05)
Dictators and people in power sometimes use science as an authority to convince you what’s right and wrong, studying Nazi science is fascinating.
Sean Carroll
(02:16:16)
Yeah. But there’s an instrumentalist view here, you have to first decide what your goals are and then science can help you achieve those goals. If your goals are horrible, science has no problem helping you achieve them, science is happy to help out.
Lex Fridman
(02:16:30)
Let me ask you about the method behind the madness on several aspects of your life. So, you mentioned your approach to writing for research and writing popular books, how do you find the time of the day? What’s the day in the life of Sean Carroll looks like?
Sean Carroll
(02:16:44)
Very unclear how I have the time, honestly.
Lex Fridman
(02:16:45)
So, you don’t have a thing where, in the morning, you try to fight for two hours somewhere?
Sean Carroll
(02:16:51)
I don’t, I’m really terrible at that. My strategy for finding time is just to ignore interruptions and emails but it’s a different time every day, some days it never happens, some weeks it never happens.
Lex Fridman
(02:17:04)
Oh, really? You’re able to pull it off? Because you’re extremely prolific. So, you’re able to have days where you don’t write-
Sean Carroll
(02:17:09)
Oh, my god, yes. Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(02:17:09)
… and still write the next day?
Sean Carroll
(02:17:11)
Right.
Lex Fridman
(02:17:12)
Oh, wow. That’s a rare thing, right? A lot of prolific writers will-
Sean Carroll
(02:17:17)
I guess it’s true.
Lex Fridman
(02:17:18)
… carve out two hours because, otherwise, it just disappears.
Sean Carroll
(02:17:21)
Right. No, I get that. Yeah, I do. And yeah, it just everyone has their foibles or whatever so I’m not able to do that, therefore, I have to just figure it out on the fly.
Lex Fridman
(02:17:37)
And what’s the actual process look like when you’re writing popular stuff? You get behind a computer?
Sean Carroll
(02:17:42)
Yeah, get behind a computer. My way of doing it … So, my wife, Jennifer, is a science writer but it’s interesting because our techniques are entirely different. She will think about something but then she’ll free write, she’ll just sit at a computer and write I think this, I think this, I think this. And then that will be vastly compressed, edited, rewritten or whatever until the final thing happens. I will just sit there silently thinking for a very long time and then I’ll write what is almost the final draft. So, a lot of it happens. There might be some scribbles for an outline or something like that but a lot of it is in my brain before it’s on the page.
Lex Fridman
(02:18:18)
So, that’s the case for The Biggest Ideas in the Universe, the quanta book and the space, time and motion book?
Sean Carroll
(02:18:23)
Yeah, Quanta and Fields, which is actually mostly about quantum field theory and particle physics, that’s coming out in May. And that is I’m letting people in on things that no other book lets them in on so I hope it’s worth it. It’s a challenge because it’s a lot of equations.
Lex Fridman
(02:18:40)
You did the same thing with Space, Time and Motion. You did something quite interesting which is you made the equation the centerpiece of a book.
Sean Carroll
(02:18:48)
Right, there’s a lot of equations. Book two goes further in those directions than book one did. So, it’s more cool stuff, it’s also more mind-bending, it’s more of a challenge. Book three that I’m writing right now is called Complexity and Emergence.
Lex Fridman
(02:19:09)
Oh wow.
Sean Carroll
(02:19:09)
And that’ll be the final part of the trilogy.
Lex Fridman
(02:19:11)
Oh, that’s fascinating. So, there’s a lot of, probably, ideas there, that’s a real cutting edge.
Sean Carroll
(02:19:17)
Well, but I’m not trying to be cutting edge. In other words, I’m not trying to speculate in these books. Obviously, in other books, I’ve been very free about speculating but the point of these books is to say things that, 500 years from now, will still be true. And so, there are some things we know about complexity and emergence and I want to focus on those. And I will mention, I’m happy to say, this is something that needs to be speculated about but I won’t pretend to be telling you what one is the right one.
Lex Fridman
(02:19:44)
You somehow found the balance between the rigor of mathematics and still accessible which is interesting.
Sean Carroll
(02:19:50)
I try. Look, these three books, the Biggest Ideas books are absolutely an experiment. They’re going to appeal to a smaller audience than other books will but that audience should love them. My 19-year-old Self would’ve been so happy to get these books, I can’t tell you.
Lex Fridman
(02:20:07)
Yeah, in terms of looking back in history, those are books … The trilogy would be truly special in that way.
Sean Carroll
(02:20:13)
Worked for Lord of the Rings so I figured why not me.
Lex Fridman
(02:20:16)
You and Tolkien.
Sean Carroll
(02:20:17)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(02:20:18)
Just different styles, different topics.
Sean Carroll
(02:20:20)
Same ultimate reality.

Mindscape podcast

Lex Fridman
(02:20:24)
We mentioned Mindscape Podcast, I love it. You interview a huge variety of experts from all kinds of fields so just several questions I want to ask. How do you prepare? How prepare to have a good conversation? How do you prepare in a way that satisfies, makes your own curious mind happy, all that kind of stuff?
Sean Carroll
(02:20:46)
Yeah, no, these are great questions and I’ve struggled and changed my techniques over the years, it’s a over five-year-old podcast, might be approaching six years old now. I started out over-preparing when I first started, I had a journey that I was going to go down. Many of the people I talk to are academics or thinkers who write books so they have a story to tell, I could just say, “Okay, give me your lecture and then, an hour later, stop.” So, the mistake is to anticipate what the lecture would be and to ask the leading questions that would pull it out of them. What I do now is much more here are the points, here are the big questions that I’m interested in and so I have a much sketchier outline to start and then try to make it more of a real conversation.

(02:21:38)
I’m helped by the fact that it is not my day job so I strictly limit myself to one day of my life per podcast episode on average, some days take more. And that includes, not just doing the research, but inviting the guest, recording it, editing it, publishing it. So, I need to be very, very efficient at that, yeah.
Lex Fridman
(02:22:00)
You enforce constraints for yourself in which creativity can emerge.
Sean Carroll
(02:22:03)
That’s right, that’s right. And look, sometimes, if I’m interviewing a theoretical physicist, I can just go in. And where I’m interviewing an economist or a historian, I have to do a lot of work.
Lex Fridman
(02:22:16)
Do you ever find yourself getting lost in rabbit holes that serve no purpose except satisfying your own curiosity and then potentially expanding the range of things you know that can help your actual work and research and writing?
Sean Carroll
(02:22:31)
Yes, on both counts. Some people have so many things to talk about that you don’t know where to start or finish, others have a message. And one of the thing I discovered over the course of these years is the correlation with age. There are brilliant people and I try very hard on the podcast to get all sorts of people, different ages and things like that and, bless their hearts, the most brilliant young people are not as practiced at wandering past their literal research. The have less mastery over the field as a whole, much less how to talk about it. Whereas, certain older people just have their pad answers and that’s boring.

(02:23:15)
So, you want somewhere in between, the ideal person who has a broad enough of a scope that they can wander outside their specific papers they’ve written but they’re not overly practiced so they’re just giving you their canned answers.
Lex Fridman
(02:23:29)
I feel like there’s a connection to the metaphor of entropy and complexity, as you said there.
Sean Carroll
(02:23:33)
Yeah. Edge of chaos, yeah.
Lex Fridman
(02:23:36)
You also do incredible AMAs and people should sign up to your Patreon because you can get to ask questions, Sean Carroll. Well, for several hours, you just answer in fascinating ways some really interesting questions. Is there something you could say about the process of finding the answers to those?
Sean Carroll
(02:23:57)
That’s a great one. Again, it’s evolved over time. So, the Ask me Anything episodes were first, when I started doing them, they were only for Patreon subscribers to both listen to and to ask the questions. But then I actually asked my Patreon subscribers, “Would you like me to release them publicly?” and they overwhelmingly voted yes so I do that. So, the Patreon supporters ask the questions, everyone can listen. And also, at some point, I really used to try to answer every question but now there’s just too many so I have to pick and that’s fraught with peril and my personal standard for picking questions to answer is what are the ones I think I have interesting answers to give for.

(02:24:39)
So, that both means, if it’s the same old question about special relativity that I’ve gotten a hundred times before, I’m not going to answer it because you can just Google that, it’s easier. There are some very clear attempts to ask an interesting question that, honestly, I don’t have an answer to. Like, ” I read this science fiction novel, what do you think about it?” I’m like, “Well, I haven’t read it so I can’t help you there.” “What’s your favorite color?” “I could tell you what it is but it’s not that interesting.” And so, I try to make it a mix, I try to … It’s not all physics questions, not all philosophy questions, I will talk about food or movies or politics or religion if that’s what people want to. I keep suggesting that people ask me for relationship advice but they never do.
Lex Fridman
(02:25:27)
Yeah, I don’t think I’ve heard one.
Sean Carroll
(02:25:29)
Yeah, I’m willing to do it. I’m a little reluctant because I don’t actually like giving advice but I’m happy to talk about those topics. I want to give several hours of talking and I want to try to say things that I haven’t said before and keep it interesting, keep it rolling. If you like this question, wait for the next one.
Lex Fridman
(02:25:50)
What are some of the harder questions you’ve gotten? Do you remember? What kinds of questions are difficult for you?
Sean Carroll
(02:25:57)
Rarely but occasionally people will ask me a super insightful philosophy question. I hadn’t thought of it things in exactly that way and I try to recognize that. A lot of times, it is the opposite where it’s like, “Okay, you’re clearly confused and I’m going to try to explain the question you should have asked.”
Lex Fridman
(02:26:20)
I love those. Yeah, why that’s the wrong question or that kind of stuff, that’s great.
Sean Carroll
(02:26:24)
Right.
Lex Fridman
(02:26:24)
That’s great.
Sean Carroll
(02:26:25)
But the hard questions, I don’t know. I don’t actually answer personal questions very much. The most personal I will get are questions like what do you think of Baltimore, that much I can talk about. Or how are your cats doing, happy to talk about the cats in infinite detail. But very personal questions I don’t get into.
Lex Fridman
(02:26:42)
But you even touch politics and stuff like this.
Sean Carroll
(02:26:45)
Yeah, no, very happy to talk about politics. I try to be clear on what is professional expertise, what is just me babbling, what is my level of credence in different things, where you’re allowed to disagree, whether, if you disagree, you’re just wrong and people can disagree with that also. But I do think I’m happy to go out on a limb a little bit, I’m happy to say, “Look, I don’t know but here’s my guess.” I just did a whole solo podcast which was exactly that. And it’s interesting, some people are like, “Oh, this was great,” and there’s a whole bunch of people who are like, “Why are you talking about this thing that you are not the world’s expert in?”
Lex Fridman
(02:27:23)
Well, I love the actual dance between humility and having a strong opinion on stuff, it’s a fascinating dance to pull off. And I guess the way to do that is to just expand into all kinds of topics and play with ideas and then change your mind and all that kind of stuff.
Sean Carroll
(02:27:40)
Yeah, it is interesting because, when people react against you by saying you are being arrogant about this, 99.999% of the time, all they mean is I disagree. That’s all they really mean, right?
Lex Fridman
(02:27:59)
Yeah.
Sean Carroll
(02:27:59)
At a very basic level, people will accuse atheists of being arrogant and I’m like, “You think God exists and loves you and you’re telling me that I’m arrogant?” I think that all of this is to say just advice. When you disagree with somebody, try to specify the substantive disagreement, try not to psychologize them. Try to say, “Oh, you’re saying this because of this.” Maybe it’s true, maybe you’re right. But if you had an actual response to what they were saying, that would be much more interesting.
Lex Fridman
(02:28:32)
Yeah, I wonder why it’s difficult for people to say or to imply I respect you, I like you but I disagree on this and here’s why I disagree. I wonder why they go to this place of, well, you’re an idiot or you’re egotistical or you’re confused or you’re naive or you’re all the kinds of words as opposed to I respect you as a fellow human being exploring the world of mysteries all around us and I disagree.
Sean Carroll
(02:29:09)
I will complicate the question even more because there’s some people I don’t respect or like. And I once read a blog post, I think it was called The Grid of Disputation and I had a two by two grid and it’s are you someone I agree with or disagree with, are you someone who I respect or don’t and all four quadrants are very populated. So, what that means is there are people who I like and I disagree with and there are people who agree with me and I have no respect for at all, the embarrassing allies quadrant, that was everyone’s favorite.
Lex Fridman
(02:29:44)
That’s great.
Sean Carroll
(02:29:45)
So, I just think being honest, trying to be honest about where people are. But if you actually want to move a conversation forward, forget about whether you like or don’t like somebody, explain the disagreement, explain the agreement. But you’re absolutely right, I completely agree, as a society, we are not very good at disagreeing, we instantly go to the insults.
Lex Fridman
(02:30:06)
Yeah. And even on a deeper level, I think, at some deep level, I respect and love the humanity in the other person.
Sean Carroll
(02:30:19)
Yup.

Einstein

Lex Fridman
(02:30:21)
You said that general relativity is the most beautiful theory ever.
Sean Carroll
(02:30:26)
So far.
Lex Fridman
(02:30:28)
What do you find beautiful about it?
Sean Carroll
(02:30:30)
Let’s put it this way. When I teach courses, there’s no more satisfying subject to teach than general relativity and the reason why is because it starts from very clear, precisely articulated assumptions and it goes so far. And when I give my talk, you can find it online, I’m probably not going to give it again, the book one of the Biggest Ideas talk was building up from you don’t know any math or physics, an hour later, you know Einstein’s equation for general relativity. And the punchline is the equation is much smarter than Albert Einstein because Albert Einstein did not know about the Big Bang, he didn’t know about gravitational waves, he didn’t know about black holes but his equation did. And that’s a miraculous aspect of science more generally but general relativity is where it manifests itself in the most absolutely obvious way.
Lex Fridman
(02:31:30)
A human question, what do you think of the fact that Einstein didn’t get the Nobel Prize for general relativity?
Sean Carroll
(02:31:40)
Tragedy. He should have gotten maybe four Nobel Prizes, honestly. He certainly should have got-
Lex Fridman
(02:31:48)
That and what?
Sean Carroll
(02:31:48)
The photoelectric effect was 100% worth the Nobel Prize because, and people don’t quite get this, who cares about the photoelectric effect, that’s this very minor effect. The point is his explanation for the photoelectric effect invented something called the photon, that’s worth the Nobel Prize. Max Planck gets credit for this in 1900 explaining black-body radiation by saying that, when a little electron is jiggling in a object at some temperature, it gives off radiation in discrete chunks rather than continuously. He didn’t quite say that’s because radiation is discrete chunks. It’s like having a coffee maker that makes one cup of coffee at a time, it doesn’t mean that liquid comes in one cup quanta, it’s just that you are dispensing it like that. It was Einstein in 1905 who said light is quanta and that was a radical thing. So, clearly, that was not a mistake. But also special relativity clearly deserved the Nobel Prize and general relativity clearly deserved the Nobel Prize. Not only were they brilliant but they were experimentally verified, everything you want.
Lex Fridman
(02:32:57)
So, separately you think?
Sean Carroll
(02:32:58)
Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.
Lex Fridman
(02:33:01)
Oh, humans.
Sean Carroll
(02:33:03)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(02:33:03)
Whatever the explanation there.
Sean Carroll
(02:33:05)
Edwin Hubble never won the Nobel Prize for finding the universe was expanding.
Lex Fridman
(02:33:10)
Yeah. And even the fact that we give prizes is almost silly and we limit the number of people that get the prize and all that.
Sean Carroll
(02:33:17)
I think that Nobel Prize has enormous problems. I think it’s probably a net good for the world because it brings attention to good science. I think it’s probably a net negative for science because it makes people want to win the Nobel Prize.
Lex Fridman
(02:33:33)
Yeah, there’s a lot of fascinating human stories underneath it all. Science is its own thing but it’s also a collection of humans and it’s a beautiful collection. There’s tension, there’s competition, there’s jealousy but there’s also great collaborations and all that kind of stuff. Daniel Kahneman, who recently passed, is one of the great stories of collaboration in science.
Sean Carroll
(02:34:00)
Yeah, [inaudible 02:34:01].
Lex Fridman
(02:34:02)
So, all of it, all of it, that’s what humans do. And Sean, thank you for being the person that makes us celebrate science and fall in love with all of these beautiful ideas in science, for writing amazing books, for being legit and still pushing forward the research science side of it and for allowing me and these pothead questions and also for educating everybody through your own podcast. Everybody should stop everything and subscribe and listen to every single episode of Mindscape. So, thank you, I’ve been a huge fan forever, I’m really honored that you would speak with me in the early days when I was still starting this podcast in Meanings of the World.
Sean Carroll
(02:34:46)
I appreciate it. Thanks very much for having me on. Now that you’re a big deal, still having me on.
Lex Fridman
(02:34:51)
Thank you, Sean. Thanks for listening to this conversation with Sean Carroll. To support this podcast, please check out our sponsors in the description. And now, let me leave you with some words from Richard Feynman. Study hard what interests you the most in the most undisciplined, irreverent and original manner possible. Thank you for listening and hope to see you next time.

Transcript for Neil Adams: Judo, Olympics, Winning, Losing, and the Champion Mindset | Lex Fridman Podcast #427

This is a transcript of Lex Fridman Podcast #427 with Neil Adams.
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Table of Contents

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Introduction

Neil Adams
(00:00:00)
When we go to the dojos there, we all get thrown by people that never come out to be world champions. They’re just in the mix or they’re going through three years of university and then they go. We had a guy, we had a guy that came in. He was business guy, came in with his suitcase in his tie up like that. And he’s in his lunch hour. He’s in his lunch hour, right? So it’s got to be quick.
Lex Fridman
(00:00:22)
Yeah.
Neil Adams
(00:00:24)
So he comes in and he goes through, he’s working his way through the whole of the British team. We’re all lined out, right? 10 minutes later, he’s tying his tie up like that. And back to work like that. Imagine him sitting behind his desk and his computer.
Lex Fridman
(00:00:39)
Yeah, yeah.
Neil Adams
(00:00:41)
I’m glad he didn’t get out.
Lex Fridman
(00:00:44)
Who do you think wins, Yamashita?
Neil Adams
(00:00:44)
I think Yamashita. But I…
Lex Fridman
(00:00:45)
Wait, you think Yamashita beats [inaudible 00:00:46]?
Neil Adams
(00:00:46)
I think so.
Lex Fridman
(00:00:53)
Strong words.

(00:00:58)
The following is a conversation with Neil Adams, a legend in the sport of judo. He is a world champion, two-time Olympic silver medalist, five-time European champion, and often referred to as the voice of judo commentating all the major events, world championships and Olympic Games. Highlighting the drama, the triumph, the artistry of the sport of judo. Making fans like me feel the biggest wins, the biggest losses, the surprise turns of fortune, the dominance of champions coming to an end and new champions made. Always speaking from the heart. This is the Lex Friedman podcast. To support it please check out our sponsors in the description. And now, dear friends, here’s Neil Adams.

1980 Olympics


(00:01:47)
You are a five-time European champion, world champion two-time Olympic silver medalist. Let’s first go to the 1980 Olympics. Where was your mind? What was your preparation like? What was your strategy leading into that Olympics?
Neil Adams
(00:02:01)
That was my first Olympic Games. So my preparation was a little bit different to how it was the ’84 and the ’88 Olympic Games. And I’d kind of done part of the preparation as well for ’76 Olympic Games. I wasn’t quite old enough for those, but I was first reserve. So in 1980 I’d had four years build up and I was hungry and I was one of these young athletes and I see them so often now that was developing and full of, I won’t say I was full of myself, but I was certainly confident of my ability and I wanted to conquer the world. And I’d had a couple of really tight matches with the current Olympic world champion. So I knew that there was a possibility that I could get there for the ’80 Olympics.

(00:02:54)
So building up to the ’80 Olympics was quite interesting because I was kind of coming through the weights and I was halfway in between the 71 kilos weight category and the higher weight category of 78 kilograms. And I got third place at the ’79 world championships, the weight below. Fought the whole year at the higher weight category, didn’t lose a contest. So I’d beaten everybody in the world. And then I had to make the decision as to whether to drop to the weight below because I was seeding in the weight below. It was a different seeding then. And so I decided to drop into the weight below because I was seeded in the top four. And as it happens, I think it was probably the worst decision I made.

(00:03:48)
Well because…
Lex Fridman
(00:03:49)
Well…
Neil Adams
(00:03:50)
Simply because, I mean, it was the only contest that I lost was the final of the Olympic Games in that year.
Lex Fridman
(00:03:55)
So you’re a young kid, what? Like 19-20 at that time full of confidence, vigor. So the decision to cut weight, how hard was it for you to cut weight to the 71 kg division?
Neil Adams
(00:04:08)
I’ve got to say that it was the hardest because as I was going up, it was 73, then it was 74 kilos, 75. So I was moving through the weight category. It wasn’t like I was stuck in the middle and then I dropped the odd time to compete. It was literally going up in weight by a kilo every month. And then by the time I came to a month or two before the Olympics, it was really hard. Fought the European Championships at the higher weight category and won that. And so everybody that was on the Olympic rostrum at the Olympic Games was my rostrum at the European championships.

(00:04:52)
So was it a mistake? Yeah, because I didn’t have my diet sorted out. My nutrition was appalling and when I, it wasn’t as kind of readily available as it is now for the nutrition. And I would say that if anything lost me that final, other than the fact that I was fighting somebody was terrific. He was an excellent, brilliant athlete, but definitely didn’t help that my nutrition was not very good.
Lex Fridman
(00:05:22)
Okay, so you lost to Ezio Gamba. There’s probably a lot of that we could say about that particular match. Maybe let’s zoom in. What were your strengths and weaknesses, judo-wise in that Olympics? You said you haven’t really lost the match, you won the European Championship leading into it, but if you had weak spots, okay, you already said diet, but specifically on the mat in terms of judo.
Neil Adams
(00:05:46)
I think that none of the fights lasted time going into the final. So I won fairly quickly and every match by ippon way before time.
Lex Fridman
(00:05:58)
Do you remember how you won the matches?
Neil Adams
(00:06:00)
I won them by throw, a couple of throws for ippon and then an armlock for ippon. Semi-final was an armlock against the East German Kruger. And yeah, I was flying through.
Lex Fridman
(00:06:13)
What were the throws? Do you remember?
Neil Adams
(00:06:15)
Tai otoshi, uchi mata. My favorite kind of te-waza, my favorite throws. And then Juji-Gatame as well, which was a Juji-Gatame roll. Against an East German who I’d beaten before but always had a really tough match, but managed to beat him well.
Lex Fridman
(00:06:34)
So you had a beautiful exhibition of Japanese-type Judo in the first two matches. You threw people and then you also did the [inaudible 00:06:43], unbarred a person. Great. So going into the final, what are the weaknesses going into the final against the Italian?
Neil Adams
(00:06:49)
Like I say, taking nothing away from him as a great athlete and a brilliant Judo man and left, which wasn’t good for me. That was definite no, I hated fighting leftys, still do, but I’ll tell you why in a minute. I just did…
Lex Fridman
(00:07:05)
That’s great.
Neil Adams
(00:07:05)
It’s one of those. But I think as I went through the contest, we had an eight-hour break from the semi-final to the final. They took us back to the Olympic village, then we had to come back in and then we had to start a warmup again. So I kind of lost my momentum, I had to start again, and I just had a job to get going. I got halfway through, started to rescue a dying match, and I was kind of one step, half a step behind all the way through. So never really got into it.
Lex Fridman
(00:07:39)
So why do you hate fighting leftys? And leftys are, we should say, overrepresented in terms of the higher ranks of Judo. I don’t know why that is.
Neil Adams
(00:07:50)
Well, the thing is about a lefty is a lefty will have more opportunity to fight rightys, right-handers. I mean 70% of the population are right-handers, 30% left. So they get to fight more right-handers and it’s just a fact that happens. So the thing that they hate is fighting left against left. They don’t like it left against left. Whereas a right-hander will go right against right, but the opposite is awkward would for me because just simply, I like to go onto the sleeve and then I like to dominate the grips, but the actual angle of the opponent wasn’t what I wanted, so I had to work hard, really hard against it.
Lex Fridman
(00:08:41)
What happened in that match?
Neil Adams
(00:08:43)
It was a split decision in the end. And so to lose an Olympic final on a split decision is pretty, it’s something that’s still on my mind. And I think that it’s a strange one because I can still wake up, that one and four years later at the Olympics, I was silver medalist at the Olympics four years later as well. And yeah, it still haunts me.
Lex Fridman
(00:09:10)
Do you sometimes wake up and think like, “Eh, I should have eaten better” or maybe a specific grip that you’re like, “Ah, I shouldn’t have taken that grip.”?
Neil Adams
(00:09:19)
I do. I mean the diet side of it, its difficult to really admit that, isn’t it that you went to an Olympic Games and the one thing that you really sucked at, right, was one of the most important things now at world level sport. Where you’ve got the nutrition, we’ve got it, you would think that most people have got it sorted, but there’s still people making mistakes and still people that haven’t got it totally sorted.
Lex Fridman
(00:09:48)
And then there’s people like Travis Stevens who I think doesn’t care. He’ll just have atrocious nutrition and he just makes it work. I think the way he spoke about it is you can’t always control nutrition, so it’s best to get good at having crappy nutrition.
Neil Adams
(00:10:06)
That’s a good way of looking at it. I never, yeah, maybe that’s what I did.
Lex Fridman
(00:10:11)
Exactly, exactly. Do you remember what you were eating? Are we talking about candy or?
Neil Adams
(00:10:15)
Yeah, well I got a sweet tooth, but it wasn’t really, I mean, I didn’t have a lot of money at that particular time either. So the diet wasn’t steak and good nutritional salads and things like that. I did what I thought was best without proper advice. And the crazy thing is that I had such good advice as well when it came to fitness training and things like that. We’re quite ahead of our time and we really had it nailed as far as the conditioning was concerned, the judo training as well was way in advance. I was a good trainer and I trained more than most. I can honestly say that. It probably got me away with a lot.
Lex Fridman
(00:11:01)
Where was your mind? So mental preparation going into that Olympics, you said you were confident, but is there some preparation aspect behind that confidence?
Neil Adams
(00:11:11)
I think in the early days I didn’t think I was going to lose. I never thought it was possible to lose. And I think that I went into every contest expecting to win. So when it didn’t quite go my way, I didn’t lose that many contests. So the only ones I lost were in the final of the world championships or in the final of the Olympic Games. I didn’t lose that many. I never lost a European title. I had seven golds at European championships, five at seniors, two at juniors under twenties. I never lost a final. And then I only lost two on a split decision. So I didn’t lose that many. And my attitude was that I wasn’t going to lose and couldn’t lose. So I was always surprised when I did, when something happened.
Lex Fridman
(00:12:00)
In Neil Adams, A Life in Judo, written in 1986. You wrote, “Ever since I can remember I have wanted to win. It wasn’t the ordinary feeling that children have when they take part in their first primary school sack race on a grass track or even the keen determination of a young swimmer prepared to train early in the cold winter mornings in order to make it into the county side. With me, the desire to win was and still is as much a part of me as my arms and legs. In other words, it wasn’t something I learned as I grew older, but rather it was deeply rooted in me. Perhaps this competitive instinct is the greatest difference between my public image and the view from the inside.”

(00:12:47)
So people see the kindness, the warmth you have the charisma of the excitement, but there’s this big drive to win inside you. So what’s behind that? Can you just speak to that, that drive to win and how that contributed to your career?
Neil Adams
(00:13:05)
Do you know when I look back now…
Lex Fridman
(00:13:08)
This is a lot of years ago, we should say.
Neil Adams
(00:13:09)
It is a lot of years ago.
Lex Fridman
(00:13:11)
Is that true or were you just being poetic?
Neil Adams
(00:13:12)
It’s not far off. No. When I think about it now, I’d like to think that I’m a different person now. And since I’ve kind of calmed down, I see athletes now and I see them and their kind of arrogance, their walk, and it’s a strut and it’s a kind of a confidence, isn’t it? As we’re older and as I’ve become older, I’ve calmed down, but it doesn’t matter what I’m doing, it’s still that will to win. And I’m much better at masking it now if I don’t. But it still bothers me as much.
Lex Fridman
(00:13:53)
You’re talking about like… I don’t know, even just stupid, silly things. Like I don’t know, a game of pool or something like this or just anything.
Neil Adams
(00:14:00)
Yeah, I’m still trying to win. Like my son loves to… He loves to play me at bowls because I’m useless and I just can’t throw a straight bowl. So he loves playing me at that, but it bugs me that I’m not better and there are certain things that I do. It really bugs me when I’m not good at it. And I guess it’s one of the reasons that long after I’d finished competition judo, people still want to train with you. And even at an older age, even now if I do in a seminar or they’d still, “Do you still do? Do you want to still go? And can I feel it?”

(00:14:44)
And one of the things that’s in me is that I just all the way up to 40 years of age, so from 30 when I finished competition up to 40, I could still train with the best and I could still go with anybody. And then when 40 hit, kind of things started to fall off a little bit and I used to get either my hips or the legs and my knees. And I realized that I had to pick my practices and that rankled as well and I had to then just calm it down a little bit, otherwise I was going to be injured and I was going to be… It’s not a good thing when you getting older and you’ve still got the same competitive mind, but things change.
Lex Fridman
(00:15:26)
So it’s still there. You get on the mat probably even now, right? You get on the mat with a world champion, you still the current world champion, there’s still a little part of you. Could I still toss this guy?
Neil Adams
(00:15:38)
But you know…
Lex Fridman
(00:15:38)
Kids these days are soft.
Neil Adams
(00:15:41)
Well, you know what, some of these athletes, I mean I give you a prime example, right? Is Ilias Iliadis. He is a monster, right? And of course you couldn’t because just at sixty-something you couldn’t, but you like to think that you could.
Lex Fridman
(00:16:02)
You could, you never know. You got to find out.
Neil Adams
(00:16:03)
You know what you would do. What you can do is you can cause them problems and they feel it immediately. But you’d last a minute.
Lex Fridman
(00:16:11)
So you’ve trained with Ilias Iliadis, I’ve gotten a chance to train with him as well. He’s a really nice guy, really great.
Neil Adams
(00:16:16)
Great guy. He trained with me. We were training together every hotel that we used to go into, we’d end up in the gym together and we’d train. And this one time he was in there and he just wanted somebody to grab and grip hold of. And so we ended up doing this kind of grappling in the middle, the people doing weight training and the different things watching these two mad men doing… I’m glad we weren’t on a mat at that particular time. But good fun.
Lex Fridman
(00:16:43)
What do you think about that guy? He like you achieved a lot of success when he was young.
Neil Adams
(00:16:49)
17, can you imagine that? 17, 18 years of age and he’s able to compete with the men. There’s not many men can do that. And it doesn’t happen very often. It happens later with the men and often they’re not physically as developed as they… So for me, for example, I fought Nevzorov who was world Olympic champion. He was the current world Olympic champion, and they sent me to the European Championship senior at 17 and that doesn’t happen very often. And I fought, I pulled Nevzorov, I fought Nevzorov and I had him really worried because he expected without a doubt, to come out, throw this kid and junior.
Lex Fridman
(00:17:33)
And he was thick and shredded. [inaudible 00:17:36] he’s a man.
Neil Adams
(00:17:36)
He was shredded. There’s a picture of him in his judogi and his judogi is just cut and he looks the business. And there’s me in this baggy…
Lex Fridman
(00:17:46)
Skinny kid.
Neil Adams
(00:17:49)
Skinny kid inside this baggy thing. And the thing was is that the more he tried and the harder he tried, and the more he panicked, the further it went away from him. And so of course he got the decision at the end and deservedly, but I worried him. And so for me that was a massive step forward because year later I was starting to fill out and two years later I was competing for the Olympic title.
Lex Fridman
(00:18:24)
I don’t know if I remember, but Ilias Iliadis is interesting because even at 17 I feel like he was doing big throws, like literally lifting them with the hips.
Neil Adams
(00:18:34)
Just rips them out the ground. And I was saying to Nikki, my wife, and she said, “What would you do now? It was different than the way you did then.” I never had any pickups. That’s not what we did. But you have a look at the young Ukrainians or the young Russians or the young Eastern Bloc Mongolians and they’re ripping people out the ground. I mean it’s just different style of judo and it just looks different. But now they’re starting to do traditional style judo as well.

Judo explained

Lex Fridman
(00:19:09)
So can you speak to that? What are the different styles of judo? So for you, you mentioned uchi mata, tai otoshi, these… How would you describe them? They’re like these effortless, less lifting off the ground and power and strength and more timing and position, movement, momentum, all this kind of stuff. That’s more traditionally associated with Japanese judo because for Japanese judo, the traditional judo, you’re supposed to throw people in a big way without much effort.
Neil Adams
(00:19:40)
And of course, 1990 we saw the introduction of all these Eastern Bloc countries. There were so many more, I mean it was Soviet Union when I was competing. And then of course in 1990 everything changed. And then there were so many more of them out there, different countries, their wrestling styles were introduced into judo. Put a jacket on them and let’s get into judo.

(00:20:08)
So judo kind of changed shape. It changed shape from this upright standing and having to know the technicalities of how to get a body that’s weighing 14 stone, or whatever it is, up into the air and using the momentum and the balance and the direction and the skill to do that and knowing how to do it and how to use movement. And then you get the wrestlers and the leg picks and the single leg, double legs. And by 1995 judo was bent over. And so it was the IOC that went to IJF, International Judo Federation. And they said, “You’ve got to change this, or we’re just going to have one wrestling style. It looks like wrestling with judo, with judo jackets on. “So you either change it or we are going to take one of you out.”
Lex Fridman
(00:21:07)
By the way, we should sort of clarify when we say people are bent over, that’s usually how you see freestyle wrestling. Wrestlers are more bent over to defend the legs and so on. And traditional judo people are more standing up because that’s the position for which you can do the big throws and all that kind of stuff. But I think the other case to make for banding leg grabs is a lot of people are using it for stalling and not for beautiful big throws and all that kind of stuff. So it’s not just to make it different from wrestling, it is also like you want to maximize the amount of epic throws and dynamic judo and exciting stuff to watch, right?
Neil Adams
(00:21:44)
Yeah. Win by judo, not by wrestling. And I think that the ones that were shouting about it were the wrestlers, right? Because they like to compete with both. They want to do both. They want to do their wrestling matches and then come into judo. So basically, I mean, what we’ve said is they learn to do judo and there’s nothing stopping you then from doing both, but not from the other way around. All right?

(00:22:10)
So rules always dictate development. They’ll always dictate which direction it goes. So if you introduce a rule that states that you cannot dive at the legs and just pick up, then you’ll have to do it standing up. And also it increases the possibility of defense with the hips. Because actually good defense, judo wise, standing up is with the hips as opposed to sticking your arms out and then sticking your backsides out there just to defend. All right, so if you attack me and I move my body in the wrong place, so I’m in the wrong place at the right time, so you don’t hit the right target. And then also I use my hips. So again, it’s a form of judo that was being lost. So now we’ve got it back.
Lex Fridman
(00:23:02)
So let’s go there. Let’s speak about judo as if we’re talking to a group of five-year-olds. So what is judo? What are some defining characteristics of judo as a sport, as a way, as a martial arts, a way of life, all that kind of stuff?
Neil Adams
(00:23:18)
I think when you say it is a way of life, I mean I think the great advantage that we have in judo, my young grandson… So I got two little boys that are three and a half years of age, love going to our dojo. They love it. So dojo was the first word that they used. It was one of the first. So when they come see us, so seeing my wife and I, it’s like dojo. It’s not grandma granddad, it’s dojo. So dojo. They take their shoes off going into the dojo. So they have respect for where they’re at. I think it has that kind of feeling that I tried to build my dojo with a feeling of reverence. It’s kind of almost peaceful. I’m not a religious person, but I like going to old churches because when I go into an old church, it doesn’t matter what the religion within the church, but there’s a reverence in there.
Lex Fridman
(00:24:19)
Reverence is a good word. It feels like a really special place no matter which dojo you go to, it’s just you bow and there’s a calmness before the storm of battle or whatever it is.
Neil Adams
(00:24:32)
Yeah, and respect.
Lex Fridman
(00:24:32)
Yeah, respect.
Neil Adams
(00:24:33)
I mean, look at the respect. We were just talking about it just before we came on air. We were just saying that we very, very seldom do we have a situation where there is animosity other than them fighting. So I’m not saying that they don’t fight each other because sometimes it does turn into a brawl and at the end, two people bow off and show their respect. And one of the things, so a champion, I see people winning events and they’re good judokara, they’re excellent, they win world championships might even win the Olympic Games.

(00:25:13)
But a great champion for me is somebody who does the right thing when they lose. So when you see them lose, that’s when you see the true them. And actually that was one of the biggest things that I had to really cope with. So when I lost that Olympic Games in Moscow and also the one in Los Angeles, the hardest thing is when the microphone’s in there and you’ve got to be respectful and nice and the hardest thing is to smile.

(00:25:49)
But actually some of the great champions, they’ll go, “That’s just one match.” I remember, we’ve got one great champion, Agbegnenou, she’s a five-time world champion, Olympic champion. She’s favorite as well to get this Olympic gold medal. French. What a great champion she is because she lost one of the matches. I mean, she’d come back and she’d given birth, come back after giving birth and everybody was going, “Well, will she…?” And then she lost one of the matches on the way through and she said, “Well, don’t be upset. It’s just one match. It’s just one contest. Next time I’m going to put it right.” And she did put it right and now she’s back up there and she won the world title back. So these are great champions for me.
Lex Fridman
(00:26:44)
Yeah, I mean that’s the right way to see it. But it’s also tragic to lose the Olympic Games.
Neil Adams
(00:26:49)
Twice.

(00:26:52)
Yes, it is tragic. And I do have sleepless nights.
Lex Fridman
(00:26:57)
I mean that’s the magic of the Olympic Games. Anything can happen. And your 1980 Olympics were very different from 1984, but if we just linger on ’80 and just what we’re talking about, how much you wanted to win, do you love winning or hate losing more?

Winning

Neil Adams
(00:27:17)
I hate losing more, but I love winning. When I won the world title the year later, and I had no doubt when I went into that day that I was going to be world champion. No doubt.
Lex Fridman
(00:27:31)
So you won the ’81 World Championship.
Neil Adams
(00:27:34)
At the higher weight.
Lex Fridman
(00:27:36)
At the 78.
Neil Adams
(00:27:38)
Yes.
Lex Fridman
(00:27:38)
Kg. Actually, can we go there? What was going through your mind? You ended up arm barring a Japanese fighter. I talked to Jimmy Pedro, a friend of yours, somebody who said you were a mentor to him for many years, and he told me a bunch of different questions to ask you, but he said that was a really special time. That was a really special dominant run you had, and especially finishing with an arm bar against a Japanese player. So take me through that. What do you remember from that?
Neil Adams
(00:28:16)
I think that it was, so my weight was better. I didn’t have to lose weight. That was one thing. So the nutritional side wasn’t as important, but probably it still wasn’t as good as it could be. My nutrition. Although it was getting better and I was trying to eat the right things at the right time, but I still trained really well and I was so confident that going into that world championships that I could win it. I had no doubt in my mind that I was going to win. But obviously the corner of your mind, you’re thinking just don’t make mistakes.

(00:28:54)
But this is the incredible thing, is that once you start to ask you, once I see contests change direction when I’m commentating. So I can see somebody who’s in there just going forward trying to win. And that’s a difference to somebody who’s trying not to lose. And there’s two different ways there. So sometimes when you… When I was world champion then I had a period of time where every time I stepped out there I was really afraid of losing. And I think that that’s what happens later on in your competitive career.

(00:29:33)
The great champions managed to come through that. Teddy Renair is one of those, he puts it out there and he keeps beating them so they can’t take it away from them. It’s fantastic.
Lex Fridman
(00:29:44)
So stepping on the mat, every single encounter you’re trying to win, you’re looking for the grips with the intention to throw big, even when you’re ahead on points and all that kind of stuff.
Neil Adams
(00:29:56)
That’s a really good point is that if you go ahead in a match and you look at the clock, it depends when you go ahead. So I sometimes…
Neil Adams
(00:30:00)
… match. And you look at the clock, it depends when you go ahead. So sometimes you can go ahead in the first minute, and you’ve still got three minutes to go. So I see the ones then that go into, “I don’t want to lose”, because they go into defensive mode. And then sometimes they can lose it on penalties or something can go wrong, and the other one comes on strong and then they can sneak the contest. And so it’s really difficult. But when I was coaching, I was trying to always encourage that positive attitude for the full four minutes, five minutes then.
Lex Fridman
(00:30:33)
I’ve competed a lot in judo and jiu-jitsu. I’ve always hated that part of myself. When I’m up on points by a lot, you look at the clock and it’s what you do when you look at the clock, it’s a minute and a half, you’re really tired and you quit. You just defend. And I hated that part about myself. It’s like that-
Neil Adams
(00:30:52)
It’s saying don’t do it. Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(00:30:53)
Yeah. Well as opposed to, in judo for a big throw, just keep going For the throw. In jiu-jitsu, it’s go for the submission, win in the real way, versus on points. I hated that part of myself. Mostly underneath that is cowardice induced by exhaustion.
Neil Adams
(00:31:13)
Exhaustion is the one, isn’t it? But it is, isn’t it? It’s a mindset as well. So actually trying to get your mind positive all the way through. So if you listen, when I commentated now is I say I hope that they don’t change the mindset. And they are going forward all the time. And actually they’re then more difficult to catch. We had one just a couple of weeks ago, and he lost in the final second of the contest. He was the only one to score. He got penalized all the way up. Two seconds to go and stepped out of the area. But he went like that, thinking the bell was just going. And the bell went one second after he actually stepped out. So he got penalized, lost the match and lost all of the points for qualification. So that’s paying high price. That’s paying high price.
Lex Fridman
(00:32:14)
Yeah. There’s a thin line between triumph and tragedy in those competitions. But especially at the Olympic games. So let’s just stick on ’81 World Championship. What did it feel like to win that world championship. And also getting an arm bar as a Japanese player? Jamie told me your arms were exhausted.
Neil Adams
(00:32:36)
Yeah, the thing is sometimes when it’s competitive as well, hours is a different intensity to jiu-jitsu, where you can take time a little bit. Hours is, bang, it’s transitioning from standing down. You’ve got 10, 15 seconds to go in there. You go in a hundred percent. It’s a bit like running full out for 10 seconds. And then you’ve got to decide then, especially if they’re defending it, whether you let it go. Because when you get up and your forearms are blown, and you’ve got lactic acid in there, and you’ve still got to grip up, because remember ours is about gripping as well on the jacket.

(00:33:18)
So if you can’t grip up, then you can’t gain the advantage, then they can throw you. So you have to decide. So I had a massive attack on him and we changed directions four or five times, and then I wasn’t going to let him go. But still when I was turning him there, I had to decide am I going to go all out for this? There has been occasions when I’ve released it, just if I’ve got a minute to go and just block out.
Lex Fridman
(00:33:51)
Yeah. Correct. So what you’re saying on the feet, there is a change of direction of all different kinds of attempts and then you went to the ground. Do you remember that decision of like, okay, am I going to finish this?
Neil Adams
(00:34:01)
Yeah, I knew it. As soon as I climbed his back and then I thought he’s not going. I’m not going to let him up. So I was just changing-
Lex Fridman
(00:34:10)
Little voice in your head.
Neil Adams
(00:34:12)
Little something in my head was going, “Just stick on him.” And then it’s always about pressure on the arm. And of course he was like that, defending. He was almost total bridge trying to get out of it.
Lex Fridman
(00:34:28)
Did it start in turtle and did you flip?
Neil Adams
(00:34:30)
It started in turtle, because I did an attack, came back out of the attack and then he went on to his front. And then I was on his back. And then I started the whole [inaudible 00:34:41].
Lex Fridman
(00:34:41)
Saw the opening. You just went for it?
Neil Adams
(00:34:43)
It was an automatic transition. So the transitions are what we teach, because the ones that are quicker down with the transitions are the ones that catch it. That’s our newaza. Our groundwork is the transition from standing down to ground. We don’t have a situation where you can work your way in. You are in or you not in. You’re standing. So you’ve got to make sure that you’re in. And so I was just on his back like a leech and I never let him go.
Lex Fridman
(00:35:14)
So that’s where the arm bars, that’s where the attacks on the ground, which is called newaza, happens is in the transition. At that level, at that high world-class level?
Neil Adams
(00:35:23)
Yeah, he was no mug either. I think he just got third place in All Japan Championships, which is all weight categories. So he wasn’t a mug. He was strong. And I’d fought him once before and I knew he was a lefty as well, which was really awkward for me.
Lex Fridman
(00:35:42)
Did it feel good?
Neil Adams
(00:35:43)
Better for me than him. It did. It felt amazing. Because it was almost like all these things, disappointments and everything had come to this one point where I was at last champion of the world. It’s everything I said as a kid that I had no idea how difficult it was going to be. So as a kid, as a fourteen-year-old kid, I remember saying, “I’m going to be world champion. I’m going to be the best in the world.” I had no idea how difficult that was going to be.
Lex Fridman
(00:36:13)
Well there’s wisdom to that. There’s power and stupidity of youth.
Neil Adams
(00:36:18)
I like that. It is.
Lex Fridman
(00:36:19)
Yeah. Just I’m going to be a world champ. I’m going to win this without knowing how hard it is. And then once you go after it, you’re trapped. You’re going to have to do the work.
Neil Adams
(00:36:30)
Yeah, well you see it a lot with parents as well, don’t you? Parents, “Our little Johnny, he’s amazing. And he’s this, that and the other.” And they have no idea what’s out there. I remember the very first time I stepped out, 1974, into the European cadets. And I remember that we were fighting, I only ever fought in Great Britain. I was unbeaten in the juniors, kids. And went out there and there were these different fighters out there that were treating me with total disdain. And I remember thinking, “How dare they?” And I realized when I came back from that event, there’s other people out there. And there are different levels. Majority of people are just not informed as to what’s out there and the different levels that there are out there.
Lex Fridman
(00:37:27)
Do you remember a certain opponent that for the first time you felt like, “Holy shit.” Somebody just gripped you up and you’re like, “There’s another level to this game.”
Neil Adams
(00:37:41)
Ezio was one of them. And I fought him and I beat him in the European championships. I beat two times, and then lost him in the Olympic games two months after I’d beaten him in the European championship.
Lex Fridman
(00:37:54)
Oh wow.
Neil Adams
(00:37:55)
Yeah. So that made it even more difficult.
Lex Fridman
(00:37:55)
So that’s literally your nemesis there. Wow.
Neil Adams
(00:38:03)
So that made it more difficult. And so Ezio was one. And I remember getting hold of Nishida of Japan. And he had me going up and down. And I thought, “Wow, this guy is amazing.” And first time I had ever fought Japanese in a major tournament. And I felt the danger. I always talk about the danger when we go out to Japan to train. I could go probably months without getting thrown in training here in Europe. And go to Japan and everybody’s thrown you. And that’s difficult to accept. And the reason that kind of danger and that kind of feeling of danger is something that puts a real edge on. And so that was the first time. When I got hold of Nishida, “I thought, oh my god. This guy.” It didn’t matter which way he was turning, like that you’d be stretched out. And I thought, “I want to do this.” And then I ended up fighting him again in Japan.
Lex Fridman
(00:39:13)
So that feeling of danger is really interesting. I’ve did randori with a lot of world-class people from different parts of the world including Ilias Iliadis. And there’s certain parts, like Eastern European judo, you feel like you’re screwed the whole way through. The gripping. You really feel it in the gripping.
Neil Adams
(00:39:35)
It’s the gripping that does it.
Lex Fridman
(00:39:36)
But with really good Japanese style, judoka, it’s a terrifying calmness, or at least the experiences that I’ve had. You don’t really feel it in the gripping, you just feel like anywhere you step you’re getting thrown. It’s a different-
Neil Adams
(00:39:53)
It’s a different thing, isn’t it?
Lex Fridman
(00:39:54)
It’s a different thing.
Neil Adams
(00:39:55)
So I mean mine was a mixture. I liked it to be a mixture because the gripping is definitely the key point. So if you get a high level guys that are gripping up, and I always used to put this to the referees when we were doing referee seminars when we first started them. And I’d say, “How many?” Because they would referee to their understanding of the match. So they were penalizing for certain grips that were… So as an ex-athlete, high level I would say, have you ever gripped up with high level? All right, because if you haven’t, you need to do it. Because then you’ll understand why they do certain things with the grips. Because these guys, when somebody grips you and you know you’re going to go. When Iliadis puts his arm over your back, all right. And you know you’re going to go up and over. You know you’re going to go over. That’s it.
Lex Fridman
(00:39:55)
It’s a cool feeling. It’s like whenever-
Neil Adams
(00:39:55)
Not for me.
Lex Fridman
(00:41:02)
I understand. Because it feels way more powerful than it should. It’s weird. I don’t know. You want to attribute it to strength and all that kind of stuff. People say you have immense upper body strength, but it’s probably something else. It’s technique. It’s some kind of weird-
Neil Adams
(00:41:16)
It’s mix of everything.
Lex Fridman
(00:41:17)
Just something hardened through lots of battles and randori and that kind of stuff. But it’s cool that humans are able to generate that kind of power. It’s cool.
Neil Adams
(00:41:27)
When I was ’84 Olympics, but I’m just going to go there now just quickly, but we had a freestyle wrestler. He’s American actually, but he had the English nationality. Noel Loban, his name is. And he competed for Great Britain. He got third place at the Olympics in ’84. We were training at Budokai and he was training. He came to do some judo, and put jacket on. And of course he was training with some of the lower levels and he was really handling himself well. When we did randori, so he did some randori with me, and I immediately thought, “I got to catch you. I got to stop single leg and double leg.” Because he was really quick. So strong as well, 90 something kilos. He’s a big guy.

(00:42:26)
I caught his sleeve, immediately caught, and controlled him. And then he couldn’t start. So he said, “I needed to feel the difference.” So then I thought, “I better reciprocate this.” So we did the randori and I throw them a couple of times. He said, “I’m really glad we did that.” So then I said, “I need to feel the difference as well.” So we take the jackets off. So we took the jackets off and he was a nightmare. This guy was a nightmare. And like a monster. He was single legging me. And it was just totally different. So the jacket makes a massive difference. Huge difference to something. And people think it’s just the jacket that we’re wearing, but it isn’t. It’s our only tool actually.
Lex Fridman
(00:43:16)
Yeah, and it’s a way of establishing control over another body. And it’s a whole art form and a science. And I don’t even know if you understand it really. You understand it subconsciously through time, because there’s so much involved. Because pulling on one part of the jacket pulls other parts of the jacket and the physics of that is probably insane to understand.
Neil Adams
(00:43:40)
It’s absolutely insane. And then they change the rules for a little while and they changed the rules so that certain grips were not allowed. They only allowed certain amount of time. And there were a lot of penalties from it. And then they had some of the ex-fighters into the referee commission. And so we were pushing for just let them grip. Because that’s our game. That’s what makes us different. So they were on about Teddy Riner. Teddy Riner comes out, takes his sleeve, big arm over the top and then he throws people. So they were saying, “Yeah, but stop…” You can’t stop him doing it. This guy is six foot nine and he is built like Garth. And not only that, he’s skillful as well. And he’s got that mentality of a winner. He has got that mentality of a winner there. He just wins important matches.
Lex Fridman
(00:44:41)
And he goes over the top of the grip. Where’s that land now in terms of rules over the top? Because those are some of the most epic awesome types of grips. Just over the top, just big grab.
Neil Adams
(00:44:53)
Yeah, well as long as they throw from it. So they can take any grip as long as you move them and then catch them, action-reaction really. As long as you catch them on the move, then you can do it.
Lex Fridman
(00:45:05)
So as long as you’re not using it to stall or that kind of stuff.
Neil Adams
(00:45:08)
Yeah, you can’t block out. So for example, if I’ve got a dominant grip on you, and I just block out and I just stop you attacking me. So then what? I get you three penalties, get you off and you haven’t done an attack. So you’ve got to stop that. You can’t have that.

1984 Olympics

Lex Fridman
(00:45:26)
Yeah, definitely. You were the favorite to win the 1984 Olympics, but you got silver. I watched that match several times. You probably have it playing in your head. So there is a nice change of direction by your opponent, German Frank Wieneke.
Neil Adams
(00:45:44)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(00:45:45)
It was a fake right uchi mata? And then to a left drops seoi-nage. How did that loss feel?
Neil Adams
(00:45:56)
Devastating is not enough really. Because the strange thing is coming into that Olympics, I was tired. Really tired. So my mental state wasn’t the best. Wasn’t certainly the same as it was coming into the previous. And I remember thinking, “I just need to get this over with, and then I’m going to have a break .and just have a rest.” And that’s totally the wrong attitude. It’s just not good for going into an Olympic games. And so I was coming in there with a different mindset. And I remember every match that I had, I was winning well, but I was winning with a struggle. I’d fought Nowak, of France, who was one of the strongest physically. That was in the quarterfinals.

(00:46:57)
I beat Brett Barron by an ippon. I armlocked him. I won my first match by ippon as well. And then Michel Nowak, I was fighting, of France. And I was lucky to win it. I was up, I scored on him. But I was starting to defend and just everything that I talked to you about, and then just about held on. And then I won. So him and I were talking some years afterwards and he said, “I was close, wasn’t I?” “Yeah, but not close enough.” I didn’t mean it, but I had to say it.
Lex Fridman
(00:47:37)
Of course. Of course.
Neil Adams
(00:47:39)
And no, he was right. And it was one of those. So it’s through to the semi-final. I fought Lescak, and I fought him in the semi-final of the Worlds as well. I’d never gone time with him. I’d always beaten him fairly easily by ippon. And that went time. So I was just glad to get it done. And I was in the final then against Frank Wieneke of Germany. And I’d beaten Wieneke before, but he was just a young German coming through. And when I started the final, and I started all my techniques just that little bit off. Nothing was coordinated. I can’t really explain why it was just a little bit off. I see it so often now with a lot of the guys that are going for second, third Olympic games. And I see their technique just not quite there and they’re struggling. And I know what they’re going through and I empathize with them.
Lex Fridman
(00:48:48)
Well it felt like you were dominating that final.
Neil Adams
(00:48:50)
I dominated it, yeah. I was winning. And actually if it’d gone another minute and a half, it would’ve been all over and I would’ve been Olympic champion. And it would’ve been done. He wouldn’t have batted an eyelid. Because he would’ve fought me really, really well. And we talked about it afterwards. And he said, “It was just a good day for me.” And he knows. He was very respectful. This guy is very respectful.
Lex Fridman
(00:49:13)
He was surprised almost. Not almost. He was very surprised and celebrating like a surprise [inaudible 00:49:19].
Neil Adams
(00:49:19)
Jumping up and down. And you can look at that, can’t you go, well it wasn’t ippon. But would I have got it back? I don’t know. I think that actually taking the pressure off, because that was another thing as well. Pressure of being favorite. And I see that with a lot of them. And the great champions, the ones that keep coming through, Krpalek. There’s a guy. He can look very ordinary and then comes to the big tournament and he’ll win it.
Lex Fridman
(00:49:52)
The tragedy of the Olympic games. You were the favorite. And just like that split moment, you lost it.
Neil Adams
(00:49:59)
Split moment. Devastating. And lived it, probably not every day, but Niki, my wife will tell you that woken up in sweats. And I think they contributed as well, because I had a period of my life after where I was drinking too much. And I think when I look back, led into that dark period in my life. And I never ever, ever did it go through my mind anything else. But it definitely affected me. And I was on a downward spiral in a lot of different ways.

(00:50:43)
And we have an amazing marriage and we have an amazing family, and everything’s great. But I still wake up sometimes and I’ll say, “I’ve just dreamt it.” And it’s the same reoccurring dream where I’m trying to get somewhere and I’m trying to put it right. And I’ve got this chance of putting this Olympic final right. In this dream I’ve got a chance of doing it, but I can’t get there. And the traffic’s stopping me or something stops me. And then I wake up and I’m sweating. And you think, well after all this time that’s not possible. But it is. And it happens.
Lex Fridman
(00:51:22)
Yeah, in the match itself, there’s that feeling, for me just watching it. You’re going for throws, you’re almost getting there with the throws and it’s almost like he’s going for a crappy uchi mata. And then you’re blocking it. And all of a sudden… That’s the beauty of the Olympics, he finds it in himself to switch, against a favorite, against the great British judoka, just finds the perfect drop seoi-nage.
Neil Adams
(00:51:55)
Well his team doctor and coach, he came up to me afterwards and said, “I’m just really sorry.” And that’s all they said is, “I’m just really sorry.” They were sorry because the obvious sadness about that. And I went actually, was it three weeks later? The German open? So he had to compete in the German open three weeks later. So I went over to fight him and beat him in the final of the German open. And it didn’t do anything for me. Because it was a much tighter match. He was a lot closer, he had a lot more confidence coming in. So he fought me a lot differently. And then it was me pulling it back and just managing to win in the final. And I thought, “Well it appeased nothing.” Didn’t do anything.
Lex Fridman
(00:52:51)
When you give your whole life to judo and your love of winning, it’s crazy how much the Olympic games mean.
Neil Adams
(00:52:59)
It means so much. And I’ve got to say this, and this is honestly, that if I’d have won that Olympic games and it had to change my life into a different direction, which I probably would’ve not competed in the ’88 Olympic games then, all right, so if it had changed my life and then I didn’t meet my wife, and I didn’t have my family that I’ve got now, I wouldn’t swap what I’ve got now for anything.
Lex Fridman
(00:53:29)
Well, part of the demons that you’ve gotten to know, because of those losses as part of probably the central reason that made you the man you are, a legend of the sport. You could have been not that. Because an gold is just an Olympic gold.
Neil Adams
(00:53:47)
Yeah. And it is, isn’t it? And I think that there’s a lot of Olympic champions and world champions that win and then are forgotten. And I said to Niki, my wife, I said, “I don’t want to be forgotten and I want to be remembered. So if I’m going to do anything, anything I do, if I’m going to do commentary or whatever it is, coaching, I want to do coaching to a high level. And I want to commentate at a high level.” I remember the first commentary I ever did. It was terrible. And I just thought, “I’ve got to do better than this.” And I thought I need to do it well, and I’ve got to do it professionally.

Lessons from losing

Lex Fridman
(00:54:30)
In the book A Game of Throws, you have a chapter titled Lessons in Losing. What are some of the lessons here? What are some of the deeper lessons you’ve pulled out of losing?
Neil Adams
(00:54:42)
I think great champions are made up of the people that handle it in the right way. And you could say, “Well, I don’t like losing.” And you could throw your dummy out the pram and you can be a bad loser in front of everybody. And actually people pick up on that very, very quickly. You know what it’s like in broadcasting, right?
Lex Fridman
(00:55:04)
Mm-hmm.
Neil Adams
(00:55:04)
Somebody Has a bad word to say about somebody, but actually the ones that endear themselves to you are the ones that handle it in the right way, the correct way. It doesn’t mean that you’ve got to like it. I didn’t like it. And I thought that I handled it, certainly in later years, in the right way. And I like to see athletes do it in the right way. And I think it is a make or break situation. It’s not all the contests they win, it’s the one that they lose .and then how they pick themselves up and handle themselves after. So I think that is a big one for me.

(00:55:42)
And also I went through obviously a later divorce. And that was difficult on my son, really difficult on Ashley. And then I think that some of that was the fact that I wasn’t drinking all the time, but I was drinking in excess at the wrong times. And I think that that’s what a lot of people do sometimes is that they use it for the wrong reasons. And I used to hear it, I hear it now all the time, and it’s that I need to knock the edge off, and I need to just forget, and you need to be in a fuzzy place for a while. And I had a lot of time in fuzzy place, and I needed to get rid of that. And I needed to clear my head.
Lex Fridman
(00:56:32)
Where was that place? Some of the lower points in your life that you’ve reached mentally?
Neil Adams
(00:56:41)
I think definitely the fact that my first marriage didn’t work. And it’s a mix of things between us. So that’s not where I wanted to be at the time. And the effects that it had on my son, and it took a long time for him then to come round and to trust me again, and to have belief. He always had belief in me, but to trust me again. I think that that was low. And I think that when I look back is that a lot of my bad decisions were when I was in that fuzzy haze. And that it got progressively worse.

(00:57:33)
That got progressively worse to the degree where it was trying to hide it, and trying to hide how much. And I was a functioning drunk. I think you could probably say that. And I was functioning, I was still training most days, crazily enough. I was training to mask it and cover it. And that was probably my savior, because I remember I said to my wife, I said to Niki, “If I’m a drunk then I’m the fittest drunk in the world.” She said, “Yeah, you probably are, actually.” I was in great condition for a drunk.
Lex Fridman
(00:58:16)
So the fuzzy haze, where was your mind? Did you have periods of depression?
Neil Adams
(00:58:24)
I had periods of depression. I can honestly say that my depression wasn’t that bad, although it’s like anything that gives you an up, it gives you an even bigger down, doesn’t it? And so I hated that feeling. And also hated myself for letting it happen. Because I have got this really, it’s a bizarre, I don’t know whether you can call it a power, but I have the ability to be able to say, “Stop.” And that’s what I did in the end. In the end, there was an incident when I was working for Belgium Judo. And there was an incident, it was Christmas, I tell you exactly the day, it was 20th of December. And me and a Belgian coach, we got absolutely hammered. But we were at the wrong place and he got noticed.

(00:59:23)
And so I remember they pulled me up in front of this board. And I looked down at these guys and half of them were people I didn’t want to be in that situation with. They’re not people that I respected and they’re not people that I trusted. So I said, “If you’re going to sack me, sack me. But I’ll promise you now that this is it. I’ll stop. I’m just going to stop. I’ve decided.” On the way back in the car I rang Niki up, my wife, and I said, “Whatever you hear…
Neil Adams
(01:00:00)
I rang Nikki up, my wife, and I said, “Whatever you hear now, whatever, I’m just going to stop.” That was it, stopped.
Lex Fridman
(01:00:10)
You just saw the moment and said, “Stop.”
Neil Adams
(01:00:14)
Stop.
Lex Fridman
(01:00:15)
So that fuzzy place, what advice could you give to people about how to overcome that dark place, the depression, whether it has to do with drinking or not.
Neil Adams
(01:00:26)
I think if it’s to do with drinking, all I can say is that the two days or a week into not drinking, you’ll feel different. It’ll make a physical difference and you’ll like that physical difference. And then from a mental perspective as well, because I think that you have a massive downer. And I think that that must be because of drugs as well because I had a situation with my brother, he was professional wrestling and the drugs was an element there. So I’d never touched a drug or even seen one in my life. But I’d let the alcohol side go too far and then decided never to do that. So then I guess I had people ringing me up saying, “How can we stop?” When they say, “Can I have a word? Can I discuss something with you?” And I know then what they want to discuss with me. And the thing is that I would say, if you stop, then feel the effects of it and it will make a difference to your everyday life. And that will make a massive difference.

(01:01:49)
And I think about anybody who is down all the time is to find the cause of what’s pushing you down. You know what I mean? And try and attack that. Somebody once said to me, they said, “Whatever you got, we’ve got something special.” We have a great life and I’ve had a great competition record. It could have been better, but it was great. But I’ve had success with my business and we’re still out there and we have great life. We travel all the world. There’s people out there that would live in your house at the drop of a hat, wherever you are. They drive your car no matter what car it is. Some people haven’t got a car. And whatever food you’re having and you’re moaning about food, somebody out there that would take that and gladly eat that. All right? So there’s always somebody worse off than you. And I think that we tend to sometimes look at the things that we haven’t got rather than the things we have got.
Lex Fridman
(01:02:59)
Yeah, it’s a skill probably just to be grateful for the things you have. Exactly as you said. Sometimes the little things like food and cars and all that kind of stuff, just to have gratitude for. And family, all this kind of stuff. But it’s still, having talked to a bunch of Olympic athletes, when you give so much of your life to winning and then you lose, sometimes even when you win. But when you lose, at the very top, it’s a tough, tough, tough thing to go through.
Neil Adams
(01:03:37)
The most difficult thing I think for anybody is when they have to decide when to stop.
Lex Fridman
(01:03:42)
Yeah, yeah.
Neil Adams
(01:03:46)
All of a sudden, and I see the ones that are going second Olympic games and then third Olympic and the ones that are there and they’re holding on and they’re in their 30s now, different to when they were 19 years of age, thirty-something is different to 19. What are you going to do afterwards? And then how do you become just a normal person? You’re never going to be a normal person, as such. But I think you’ve got to do normal things. I remember the first time that when I finished competition, I had good sponsors. This was 40 years ago, but I had two really good sponsorships, vitamin company and also a judogi company. And I had a car. Do you know, I had money. And I was going all over the world. I was successful. And then I stopped. And they took everything back. They took my car and they did it within two weeks as well. They stopped my funding. And the vitamin company said, “Thank you very much. It’s been a great. We’ve done well by you. Bye-bye.”
Lex Fridman
(01:04:55)
This was after your last Olympics?
Neil Adams
(01:04:57)
’88 Olympics.
Lex Fridman
(01:04:58)
Yeah, in ’88.
Neil Adams
(01:04:59)
When that finished and then that was it. And then it’s right, okay. First time I had to go in there and buy a tracksuit and a pair of training shoes. Wow.
Lex Fridman
(01:05:09)
Yeah, those are difficult, sitting there in the evening by yourself.
Neil Adams
(01:05:13)
So you go from seven days a week or six days a week going into the gym and you’re working out the dojo and then you don’t have to do it. And that’s why you get a lot of, when they finish competition, they finish that 30 to 40. Ilias is still doing it now. He’s still in there and he still, because he can, right? And it’s natural. And I did exactly the same. And then, like I say, you just get to an age and you just think, well, I just going to take a step back,
Lex Fridman
(01:05:47)
Which is why there’s certain athletes like Ryoko Tani never stops. It just dominates for 14 years, probably one of the winning-est athletes in Judo. Seven-time world champ, two-time Olympic champ, medaled at five Olympics. So it’s always impressive when you…
Neil Adams
(01:06:06)
Never stopped.
Lex Fridman
(01:06:07)
Never stopped. So that’s an option if you’re the greatest ever.
Neil Adams
(01:06:12)
It’d be interesting, wouldn’t it, just to see what they’re doing now. Because at some stage you have to get a normal…
Lex Fridman
(01:06:17)
You do have to stop.
Neil Adams
(01:06:18)
You have to stop at some stage. You have to decide what you’re going to do. It’s either into coaching, the Judo is either to coaching or if you’re not in coaching, then it’s into something to do with the media. And I was lucky that it was just by accident really with the commentary. Somebody said, “Would you do a voiceover?” So I did this voiceover and that was back in 1982, I did that.
Lex Fridman
(01:06:49)
So you’ve been commentating since 1982.
Neil Adams
(01:06:52)
I did some voiceovers, I wouldn’t call it commentating, but I did some voiceovers. We did some different European championships, world championship events. And I did the voiceovers for it. The way that it was done that it was more narration. And so it turned into, then somebody asked me to do an event and when you listen to the intonation of the voice and stuff like that, it wasn’t like it is now. I guess that’s just something that developed, because then it was coming from the heart. I started to get excited and just do my thing. And it was just me really. It’s just my style.
Lex Fridman
(01:07:34)
Well, I’ve listened to your commentary from a while back. I don’t know if it’s the ’80s, but it’s still there.
Neil Adams
(01:07:40)
I think it’s timing as well, isn’t it? It’s like you get your timing a bit better and know when to go in, when to come out, when to say something, when not. I think that in the early days I tended to want to talk all the time and you don’t have to do that.
Lex Fridman
(01:07:59)
So knowing when to shut up.
Neil Adams
(01:08:01)
That’s the key, isn’t it?
Lex Fridman
(01:08:02)
Yeah, part of the drama is in the silence, building up to the setup and the throw and all that kind of stuff. But also you’re very good at, while radiating passion, being very precise and specific about the details of the throw and the setup and why something worked and didn’t.
Neil Adams
(01:08:22)
I think there’s two kinds of commentating. You can commentate what you see and then you commentate what people can’t see. And so if you’ve got somebody that is not really understanding of what’s happening in the inner part of the game, so it might be a technical thing or it might be the tactical part of the play here that’s going on. And if you can introduce that, as well, then you’ve got an advantage.
Lex Fridman
(01:08:50)
Quick pause. I need a bathroom break.=
Neil Adams
(01:08:52)
Okay. Good stuff.
Lex Fridman
(01:08:54)
So we just took a little break and went to Judotv.com, which is, I guess, an IGF website. IGF is the organization behind a lot of the big judo events in the world. And I just signed up, you should sign up, too. It’s great.
Neil Adams
(01:09:09)
Absolutely, sign up. Cheaper the price, cheaper the price.
Lex Fridman
(01:09:14)
And you can watch basically any match from the Grand Slams and going back through history, I guess.
Neil Adams
(01:09:20)
Yeah, I’ve got to say Lex, I mean everybody. Still people saying to me, “We need more judo on television.” They’ve got judo on television every other week that they can access. All of the top people in all the top events and it costs $100 a year to access everything. And they can play all the videos. I mean we’ve just accessed this here, the Paris tournament, and we’re going to have a look at Teddy Riner. It’s cheap at the price.
Lex Fridman
(01:09:51)
We’re now in Paris Grand Slam 2024. Teddy Riner final. By the way, super cool. You click on the draw. You can just look at any of the matches. You can go at the bottom of the finals, you can go…
Neil Adams
(01:10:05)
To anyone.

Teddy Riner

Lex Fridman
(01:10:06)
Any one of them. That’s so cool. That’s really well done. Really well done interface. Anyway, let me first ask the ridiculous big question. Who do you think is the greatest of all time? Is Teddy Riner in the running?
Neil Adams
(01:10:17)
He’s the greatest judo winner of all time. Of that, there’s no doubt. I think if you asked him whether he was the greatest judo man in the world of all time, he would say, “No, I’m not.” And he’s not the greatest judo man. There are people with more beautiful judo in some ways, although he’s got great technique. But he is the ultimate winner.
Lex Fridman
(01:10:47)
10-time world champ, two-time gold medalist in the Olympics. I guess two-time bronze medalist. He’s going to Paris?
Neil Adams
(01:10:57)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(01:10:57)
He’s going after it again. So he’s right here.
Neil Adams
(01:11:00)
He’s right there. This is just a couple of months ago. And then last week, last week he was out again and he won again.
Lex Fridman
(01:11:07)
You think he gets gold medal this time?
Neil Adams
(01:11:09)
There’s people getting closer to him, right? He’s, obviously, age-wise and the amount of time that he’s been there, he’s obviously somebody that he’s starting not quite at his best as he was when he was younger. But like I say, he still puts it on the line. He lays it on the line every single time. And then not only does he lay it on the line, but he beats them all. And last week he just beat Saito who was a young up-and-coming Japanese fighter and he beat him in the final. It was close and he did well. There are certain people, the smaller ones, actually, not the taller ones because, like we were saying about the big arm over the top that he likes and the dominant grip that he likes, there are people that can give him a hard time. Now if at the Olympic Games he has two or three of those on the trot, it might work against him.

(01:12:05)
It’s by no means an absolute certainty that he’s going to win the Olympic gold medal. But he’s got to be one of the favorites, top favorite. No matter what happens now, Teddy Riner is the greatest winner, and if you asked the great Yamashita, he would say the same. There’s nobody that’s, and Yamashita was unbeaten in international competition. I trained with Yamashita a lot over a two-year period and got to know him quite well. And he was one of the greatest of all times. For me, he was one of the greatest Judo men. I’m talking about from a technical point of view, from a spectacular judo point of view, understanding the fundamental principles of how techniques work. Sometimes having different techniques that work for you. So if one doesn’t work and one particular direction doesn’t work, you can change the direction completely.
Lex Fridman
(01:13:04)
In case people don’t know, Yamashita has this legendary judoka heavyweight. Teddy Riner heavyweight, that’s plus 100 kg.
Neil Adams
(01:13:13)
He would’ve caused him all sorts of problems.
Lex Fridman
(01:13:15)
Oh yeah, that’s cool. Who do you think wins? Yamashita?
Neil Adams
(01:13:18)
Yes, I think Yamashita.
Lex Fridman
(01:13:21)
Whoa, whoa, whoa. You think Yamashita beats Teddy Riner?
Neil Adams
(01:13:24)
I think so.
Lex Fridman
(01:13:26)
Strong words. You think so. You think so. Yamashita is on the shorter side, right?
Neil Adams
(01:13:32)
Yeah, and he finds it more difficult with shorter people. It would’ve been a very interesting confrontation. And I think if you asked Yamashita, he would probably say that Teddy Riner, he’s very gracious. He’s really gracious. It would be really good. It would’ve been an unbelievable matchup. And I’ve got to say this, that Teddy Riner is the greatest winner of all time.
Lex Fridman
(01:14:03)
Competition wise. It’s interesting. Both of them, maybe you can correct me, but have this Osoto Gari, which is kind of trip that I never understood.
Neil Adams
(01:14:14)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(01:14:16)
It is a very tricky thing to do, right? It’s very easy to do maybe as a white belt. You roll in. You can understand. But to do it at the high, high, high level?
Neil Adams
(01:14:27)
You see any of the top guys now, especially if they’re second time out. So they might catch somebody by surprise. They come out and they go, bang. And you go, “That was amazing.” But if they fought again 10 minutes later, you go, “You’re not going to catch me with that.” You’ve got a different situation here. And so it’s slightly different. But the best fighters adapt like that. And they’re able to see a situation, feel the situation, and they attack once and then go again and attack second, third time. And in the third time they make it work>
Lex Fridman
(01:15:06)
Both Yamashita and Teddy Riner with the Osoto Gari, they’ll just hit it over and over in the match.
Neil Adams
(01:15:11)
Yeah, sometimes it’ll hit first time and it won’t go. And then you make a readjustment of the way in. It’s a little bit like, I mean, if you take a really easy way of understanding it is that if we’re shooting at a target and all of a sudden you start moving that target, it’s different hitting a moving target. But it’s also different hitting a moving target that’s trying to hit you as well. And that’s our game. So we are not only trying to throw a moving target, we’re trying to throw a moving target that’s trying to throw us. So it makes it even more difficult.
Lex Fridman
(01:15:45)
Yeah, there’s a few folks who, you know what’s coming. It’s over and over and over it’s the same attack. Anyway, with this uchi mata it’s different. It’s different. There’s not many people like that where it’s the same attack. I mean there’s other attacks also, but they’ll just go after the same thing over and over and over.
Neil Adams
(01:16:05)
When I watch great athletes, most of them can throw over both flanks, not always going left and right, though our sport always, the cat are always demonstrated left and right. If you demonstrate, if you do something on one side, then can you demonstrate it on the other side? Right? Okay. So can you do it equally? No, but you’ll do it differently on the other side. So when I’m teaching, I don’t teach left and right. If I was teaching you to do a technique, first thing I’d do is say, “I need you to take the sleeve under lapel.” All right?

(01:16:46)
So I’d let you decide what was left and right. Okay? Because often what happens is we impart on people whether they’re going to be left or right when we start teaching. You get a lot of teachers do that all. And they’ll say, immediately, “What do you write with? Left or right hand?” And it’s no indicator actually as to how we do judo because I’m left-handed and I do more predominantly right-handed because I lead off my strongest hand. And actually most people do. So actually left and right is a bit of a trap sometimes when we’re teaching. Better to get, because we can go… My point was, is that a lot of people can go both flanks, so they’ll do something over this side and something over this side.
Lex Fridman
(01:17:32)
But anyway, he was one-sided?
Neil Adams
(01:17:36)
He was one-sided, but he could switch it. So he had a seoi nage as well on the other side so he could switch it if he had to.
Lex Fridman
(01:17:42)
Interesting. And by the way, your opponent in ’84, was he righty or lefty?
Neil Adams
(01:17:50)
He was a righty.
Lex Fridman
(01:17:51)
So that drop left seoi, where did that come from?
Neil Adams
(01:17:55)
Well, I mean again, he could have probably in other contests, he’d hit me with it several times and I’ve just stopped it. Just at the wrong place at the right time for him. Right place in the wrong time for me. Right?
Lex Fridman
(01:18:10)
That’s life. Yeah.
Neil Adams
(01:18:10)
Yeah.
Lex Fridman
(01:18:12)
All right, let’s watch some Teddy Riner.
Neil Adams
(01:18:17)
This is final of Paris tournament. And this is against the Korean. The Korean had had a great day, actually.
Lex Fridman
(01:18:29)
Again, shorter.
Neil Adams
(01:18:31)
Again, shorter. So he does find that difficult. Have a look at Teddy Riner. Teddy Riner will try and catch the sleeve. He’s after the sleeve and then the right arm over the top. That’s the key point for Teddy Riner. And of course, what he has done, if he can’t always catch the big Osoto Gari over, his right-hand side, he’s been doing something to the opposite side.
Lex Fridman
(01:19:01)
The Korean just went for a drop sail and Teddy Riner blocked with the hips.
Neil Adams
(01:19:12)
A big boy has difficulty always against somebody smaller dropping with the seoi nages.
Lex Fridman
(01:19:19)
Has Teddy Riner ever been thrown for ippon?
Neil Adams
(01:19:22)
I’ve never seen his thrown ippon, but he was thrown last week for a nice technique and he’s being caught more and more.
Lex Fridman
(01:19:29)
So it’s getting close.
Neil Adams
(01:19:30)
And Tasoev, in the final of the world championships, they had a strange situation there where Tasoev was a technique down and then pulled off a counter. And they didn’t count it, but then they overruled it. Unfortunately, I was commentating at the time and I went for a score for Tasoev. Anyway, they overruled it and then they awarded a second gold medal to Tasoev.
Lex Fridman
(01:20:01)
What can you say about Tamerlan Bashaev who also gave him trouble?
Neil Adams
(01:20:06)
Yeah, Bashaev and Tasoev are the two that could possibly go to the Olympics. That was a close one there from Riner, that was closest that he’d actually been there.
Lex Fridman
(01:20:16)
Oh, wow.
Neil Adams
(01:20:18)
Didn’t have the sleeve and he relies on the sleeve, greatly. Big support there in the French, in the crowd.
Lex Fridman
(01:20:26)
And also maybe can you explain the penalties for stalling?
Neil Adams
(01:20:31)
Yeah, so if they don’t attack, if they’ve got a grip and they’ve got sleeve, lapel, or they’ve got two hands on. If they’re too passive and they don’t attack. If they’ve got dominant sleeve grip, they don’t attack. That was quite close as well from the Koreans. So the Korean here, you can see, is having a real go. The penalties will come if they don’t attack at the right time. Step outside the yellow area, they’ll get penalized as well.
Lex Fridman
(01:20:56)
That’s dedication for…
Neil Adams
(01:20:59)
Absolutely. I mean it was really close, wasn’t it? They nice little kouchi gari there from the Korean. And if they touch below the belt line with the arms, they’re not allowed to grab the legs. They’ve stopped grabbing the legs.
Lex Fridman
(01:21:16)
Wow. The Koreans really going.
Neil Adams
(01:21:17)
The Koreans having a real good go at it.
Lex Fridman
(01:21:20)
I guess every single person in that division is probably training for Teddy Riner, right?
Neil Adams
(01:21:24)
You think that Teddy Riner has been there a long time and he’s got another guy here in the final of the Paris tournament. He’s got 18,000 people watching him. They’re all on Teddy Riner’s side. They want him to win. And the Korean’s out there on his own with his coach.
Lex Fridman
(01:21:39)
But also the pressure on Teddy Riner.
Neil Adams
(01:21:43)
Amazing pressure. We interviewed him after this and he said, “I’ve got pressure. People go, well, is he going to do it at the Olympic Games? Can I do it in Paris?” He wanted to go to Paris. I mean really, the last Olympic Games should have been it, shouldn’t it? The last should have been the final one. But he’s gone, “No, I’ve got to do another four years.” Two penalties are on the board already for the Korean. That Korean is really having a great go on Teddy Riner.
Lex Fridman
(01:22:11)
He’s got a bit of a lift on him. He’s going after it.
Neil Adams
(01:22:14)
He’s really going after it. It’s an amazing effort there from the Korean. And he’s getting some last minute information. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen his coach, stood next to him like that. But it’s amazing. He’s six foot six and he’s about four foot six. He’s a real pitch.
Lex Fridman
(01:22:34)
Full of passion. I love it. He’s screaming.
Neil Adams
(01:22:37)
Golden score.
Lex Fridman
(01:22:38)
How does golden score work? Can you say?
Neil Adams
(01:22:40)
So the golden score, if it goes without any point on the board from a throw or a hold down or arm lock strangle, then it goes into golden score. So two shidos on the board a piece, one more mistake now and it’s going to be all over. And that’s it.

(01:22:57)
Teddy Riner just manages to turn it on the Korean. And that went really against the run of play, didn’t it? The Korean did better. But Teddy Riner is a winner. And he says, “Right, okay, let’s have more cheering.”
Lex Fridman
(01:23:15)
Finds a way to score in the…
Neil Adams
(01:23:18)
And I have to say, that even when he loses, he’s always graceful. He doesn’t like it, but he’s graceful.
Lex Fridman
(01:23:25)
Yeah, there was so much love there. Celebration. It’s great. It’s great to see. It’s great that he’s doing it again, going after it. Chasing the gold medal again.
Neil Adams
(01:23:33)
Well, he’s chasing the gold medal. It’s going to be in Paris, which is going to be even more fantastic. He’s already the greatest. You said, “What has he got to do to be the greatest?” He’s already the greatest competitor Judo’s ever known. And that was even with the great Tani. Tani was amazing, as well.
Lex Fridman
(01:23:56)
Are you part of the commentating team for Paris?
Neil Adams
(01:23:58)
I’m part of the commentating team, but it won’t be for IJF because it’s independent broadcast.
Lex Fridman
(01:24:03)
Have you ever had an athlete come up to you and ask, “Why’d you say that?” Or disagree with your commentary?
Neil Adams
(01:24:12)
I’ve got to say that 99.9% of everybody is so grateful that I’ve commentated their fights all the way through. They know if they’ve messed up. So if I say something and I’m never disparaging, really disparaging, but what I will say is, “It was a great throw by the other guy. Or it was a great match.” And if they made a mistake, so if they walk out, they know that I will say something that will mean something. Nobody really moans about it. I try and talk the truth, if I can.
Lex Fridman
(01:24:49)
So who else would you consider as some of the greats? So I personally, just because I love the seoi nage, Koga. So there’s the number of times you won the world championships and the Olympic Games, but there’s also how you won and how you wanted to fight and what you did. It’s not necessarily about getting gold medals, it’s about how you fought and how you represent the sport. There’s certain athletes, like Inoue and Iliadis, that are going after the big throws.
Neil Adams
(01:25:21)
Only after they want to win by ippon. And I think that that’s the difference is they’re the ones that come out there and it’s a bit like when Tyson stepped out there, you knew what you were going to get. And if they went toe-to-toe, if Tyson had somebody going toe-to-toe, somebody was going to get knocked out. We got the same in Judo, when people go head-to-head and it’s an open match and I often talk about an open match, I say, “It’s an open match. They’re both trying to score. Somebody is going to get scored on. Somebody’s going to go.” And that makes it exciting. When they come out and they close up, then that’s not an exciting match.
Lex Fridman
(01:26:02)
Is there a case for Ono? Shohei Ono, three-time world champ, two-time gold medalist?
Neil Adams
(01:26:09)
I think that judo-wise, he’s got to be one of the greatest because he had such versatility. He could go right and he could go left. He could pick up. He could go to the ground as well. He won a lot of his earlier matches on the ground. I think his empathy and how he presents himself, sometimes he falls down. I think that hopefully that should come with tutoring and how to be a great champion after. It’s not just about what you do on the mat, but what you do off the mat as well.
Lex Fridman
(01:26:47)
To you a great champion is the whole package of how you present yourself when you lose? How you represent yourself just off the mat?
Neil Adams
(01:26:55)
Yeah, I think it’s how you present yourself afterwards, how you are with people, how much you can help people. I mean, people, kids, and they look up to these great champions because they want to be like them. So the worst thing is when you get somebody that’s a bit of an ass and they’re not presenting themselves in the right way. So I like to see somebody presenting themselves in the right way. And I think that it’s something that can be taught. It’s something that normally comes with a little bit of experience and a little bit of age. I like to think that I’m a little bit different now than I was when I was 19. Not that I was bad, I just think I was just, I see it often now, just full of beans.
Lex Fridman
(01:27:40)
You’re a beautiful work in progress. What about Nomura, Tadahro Nomura, three-time gold medalist?
Neil Adams
(01:27:50)
Never lost an Olympic fight.
Lex Fridman
(01:27:52)
There’s something there.
Neil Adams
(01:27:54)
Yeah, nobody ever done that. You know what I mean? So that’s got to be, it has to stand. He took two years off in between every Olympic Games and came back, did the right amount of events to qualify for not only did he having to qualify, he had to qualify through Japan. Now Japan, remember, have got the greatest depth. So they got people coming through all the time. And then he had to win the Japanese trials. I mean we had a four-time world champion from Japan.

(01:28:25)
This is when World Championships was every other year. And this is Shozo Fujii and he was the greatest middleweight of all time and never got to participate in the Olympics because he lost the Japanese trials twice, in two Olympic possibilities. He had to qualify for Japan and then go to the Olympic Games and then do it there. Sometimes some of the best people in Japan can’t get outside of Japan. Look at the situation they had with Abe and then they had Maruyama. Maruyama and Abe were both the best. By far. In the under-66 kilos category. This is for the last Olympic Games. And they sent one to the world Championships one to the Olympic Games and they both won gold medals.
Lex Fridman
(01:29:21)
Yeah, that’s why the all Japan Championships is legendary, that there’s these battles with Dimash and all of them.
Neil Adams
(01:29:32)
Abe and Maruyama, they had trials in the Kodokan. It was 26 minutes, I think it was 26 minutes, it went. They were battling it out for 26 minutes.

Training in Japan

Lex Fridman
(01:29:45)
That’s great. If we can just go to, you’ve trained in Japan. What are those randoris like? What’s that training like?
Neil Adams
(01:29:54)
I touched on the danger. That danger of being thrown, when you get hold of somebody or somebody gets hold of you. And I often reflect-
Neil Adams
(01:30:00)
Hold of somebody or somebody gets hold of you. I often reflect, and I often talk about it when I’m commentating because I can see immediately… It’s easy, isn’t it? In the commentary chair, or if you’re in the coach’s chair and you don’t really understand totally, absolutely what’s going on when somebody’s being out-gripped. When they’re in danger of being thrown, if you are in danger of being thrown, the first thing you do is stick your backside out and defend by not being in the position they want you to be in. All right? So that’s danger. You feel the danger. So in Japan, that was the place I used to go to train because I felt the danger, and so my defenses would be heightened. One Olympic cycle, I went two years, two months without having a score on me in any competition.

(01:31:03)
Then I went to one competition in the European Championships, which I won, and I was struggling all the way through it and got scored on three times in my first pool of fights, and I was devastated. I actually nearly lost the whole competition because I was more mortified about being scored on three times when I hadn’t been scored on for 2 1/2 years. I had this thing in my head about 2 1/2 years, and then all of a sudden I’m not unbeatable and you go… I almost lost it, completely lost it. Just so fortunate, couple of things went my way and just came out, and I scraped and scratched my way to the final and won the final well, all right? But that was my best match, but I almost lost it.
Lex Fridman
(01:31:57)
Well, what do you do with the fact that if you go to Japan and you’re getting, you’re saying danger, you’re probably getting-
Neil Adams
(01:32:02)
Getting thrown.
Lex Fridman
(01:32:03)
Getting thrown in Japan. What does that do to your ego?
Neil Adams
(01:32:06)
Well, again, that was a winning ego that had to adapt. I remember we went to the kasejo, which police dojo one time, and they created this groundwork competition because they wanted to see me do the jiu-ji, how I went in and-
Lex Fridman
(01:32:06)
The arm bar.
Neil Adams
(01:32:28)
Yeah, the arm bar, right? They wanted to see how I did it from underneath or over the top, and they just created this event.
Lex Fridman
(01:32:35)
Studied the creature.
Neil Adams
(01:32:36)
Yeah, they started it and then winner stays on competition was happening at the kasejo. So I did about seven, I think it was seven in, and then my coach came in and said, “No, it’s finished. That’s it now, it’s finished.” Suddenly we realized what was going on and I was going, “No, no, no, no, don’t stop it like that.” And it was one of those moments where the boot was on my foot, you could say, rather than the other side, the other way.

(01:33:09)
Because I had been to Japan in situation… I remember as a sixteen-year-old, I got such such a drumming from one of the Japanese guys, older students. And he had a gold tooth. And so he was Gold Tooth to me and he was my nightmare. And I remember kept coming out to fight him because he kept throwing me and I was crying and I was upset and I was like… And then that was another occasion where I got dragged away and I said, “No.” So I wanted to go back and fight him. And I went back to the same dojo every year to fight him. He was on my mind morning, noon, night. He was on my mind.
Lex Fridman
(01:33:57)
Gold Tooth was on your mind.
Neil Adams
(01:33:58)
Gold tooth was on my mind.
Lex Fridman
(01:33:59)
Did you ever get him?
Neil Adams
(01:34:01)
Two years later. Two years to me from 16 to 18 was totally different. 18 years of age I was pretty competitive with him. And it was like I was standing up with him. 19, he was in the groundwork competition.
Lex Fridman
(01:34:20)
And that’s when the switch happened.
Neil Adams
(01:34:22)
Switch happened. Because I just, well, because I remember getting the arm lock and didn’t put it on immediately. I needed it to last. It had to last.
Lex Fridman
(01:34:34)
Sure. It had to last.
Neil Adams
(01:34:35)
So I spread, the whole thing lasted as long as I could possibly get it. And it was a long memory as I was looking down at him.
Lex Fridman
(01:34:45)
And now he has nightmares about you.
Neil Adams
(01:34:47)
Now he has-
Lex Fridman
(01:34:47)
I wonder what nickname he has for you.
Neil Adams
(01:34:49)
I don’t know, I’m hoping that he remembers me.
Lex Fridman
(01:34:53)
He has a photo of you.
Neil Adams
(01:34:54)
Do you know what? He probably doesn’t say, just bat an eyelid, doesn’t say a thing about it.
Lex Fridman
(01:35:01)
I mean, can you just speak to that training with those folks? You said crying, just the frustration of being thrown. It’s such a beautiful part of the process of becoming great.
Neil Adams
(01:35:16)
Yeah, I think it is just something that doesn’t happen at this level. We were talking about levels and then at this level it never happened. And then I went out in my first European cadet and all of a sudden I wasn’t this top guy. I was in the mix. And then I had to work myself to the top of that mix and then to the top of the next one because I went to the European Senior Championships.

(01:35:45)
And again, you’re not the top and you’ve worked your way to the top of that. I think it is a frustration, but I think it’s that kind of hatred of losing and also being out of control. I think that the first Senior European Championships I fought Nevzorov, but he was only one of my contests. Then I had to fight a Frenchman for third place. But he totally out-gripped me. And I remember I was more upset though I won the contest, I was more upset that he totally out… He did out-grip me and I was more upset. And then I fought him a year later and out-gripped him. All right. So it was one of those, it was a learning process all the way through.
Lex Fridman
(01:36:36)
That frustration is like, whatever that does to your soul, the building up afterwards is what actually makes you better. It’s fascinating. And do you think there’s, in Japan, just killers there that the world doesn’t know about, that just-
Neil Adams
(01:36:56)
Yeah, there’s world champions in the dojo. There’s people that never make it out. I remember we were training and everybody that goes to Japan, all my friends that have been world Olympic champions, they all know what I’m talking about. They know exactly what I’m saying, is that when we go to the dojos there, we all get thrown by people that never come out to be world champions. They’re just in the mix or they’re going through three years of university and then they go. We had a guy that came in, he was a business guy. He came in with his suitcase and his briefcase like that. He’s got his tie up like that. So he decides he’s going to come in and he gets changed and he’s in his lunch hour, he’s in his lunch hour, so it’s got to be quick. So he comes in and he goes through, he’s working his way through the whole of the British team. We’re all lined up. So he’s just working his way through the whole of the British team. And I knew it was my turn next.
Lex Fridman
(01:38:01)
In his lunch hour.
Neil Adams
(01:38:01)
So I get hold of him and I throw him immediately. And then it was what we were talking about when it happens in the first few seconds of the practice. So then I had four minutes of him coming at me and I’m going up into the air and I’m twisting off. And then everybody’s laughing at the side of the mat or the whole British team. He’s gone through the whole British team and then 10 minutes later he’s tying his tie up like that. And back to work like that. Imagine him sitting behind his desk at his computer.
Lex Fridman
(01:38:37)
Yeah. Yeah.
Neil Adams
(01:38:40)
I’m glad he didn’t get out.
Lex Fridman
(01:38:44)
Hopefully he listens to this.
Neil Adams
(01:38:46)
Hopefully.
Lex Fridman
(01:38:48)
Anybody else I didn’t mention as part of the greats that just kind of jumped-
Neil Adams
(01:38:51)
Kashiwazaki Sensei is my favorite of all favorites. He is what I would call a judo genius. I don’t know if you can get him up here. Can we get him up?
Lex Fridman
(01:38:52)
Yeah.
Neil Adams
(01:39:06)
So go into 1981 World Championships and I’ll talk you through the great Kashiwazaki. He was one year in Great Britain and he was a guy that was so much a genius… So you want the final of the under 60, 65 kilograms. There. The one at the top. This is him. He’s two weight categories below my weight category that I won the World championships. Same year I won it. So I’m not sure if this is going to show his final of-
Lex Fridman
(01:39:45)
This is a highlight.
Neil Adams
(01:39:46)
Oh, watch this. This he did in the-