[1:36] Organifi Green Juice
[4:35] Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal
[7:41] What Ecstasis Is
[19:24] What Meditation Practitioners Are Using Now
[24:52] What Shutting Down an Area of The Brain Means
[27:49] Chemicals Associated With That Prefrontal Cortex Shutdown
[33:01] Burning Man and Hiring People for Google
[37:41] Quick Commercial Break/Kimera Koffee
[39:00] Blue Apron
[43:05] LSD and Cognitive Enhancement
[47:34] Psilocybin and Faith Based Practices
[50:55] The God Helmet
[57:29] What Steven and Jamie Have Against Botox
[1:02:06] Animals and Psychedelic Chemicals
[1:05:28] “Synchronizing” With People in The Same Room
[1:11:42] Safely Using Psychedelics
[1:22:30] End of Podcast
Ben: Hey, everybody. What’s up? It’s Ben Greenfield, again still out here in the hills of Kona, Hawaii, hunting, and still wanting to bring you an epic podcast. Today’s show is pretty significant. It’s called “How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing The Way We Live and Work”. It is based on one of the best books I read recently. You are going to absolutely dig it. But speaking of epic, I happened to get my hands on what is called a Marvel Hero Elite Iron Man kettlebell. This thing lets you train like a genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist with 40 pounds of iron Iron Man. It’s literally, it’s a kettlebell as the Iron Man helmet. You have to see this thing to believe it. Kettlebells are the best way to get fit fast, to build muscle and burn fat at the same time. I’ve got tons of articles out there. If you go use Googley-moogley to Google “Ben Greenfield Fitness kettlebells”, and you will find a lot out there. Well this is the coolest kettlebell known to man. You can get it over on the website of today sponsor, Onnit, ONNIT.com. And if you go onnit.com/BenGreenfield, that will automatically give you a fat discount on their supplements, their foods, and, yes, even this kettlebell that you can swing around, look very bad-ass, look like Iron Man. Exactly. That’s yours fantasy, right? Robert Downey, Jr. and you swinging around. Check it out. onnit.com/BenGreenfield.
This podcast is also brought to you by something I learned quite a bit about recently. Lemons. Down here in Kona, I actually bought, lemons are one of the first things I bought when I landed just ’cause I love to eat them as a digestif, I love to eat them as an alkalizing agent. They are chock full of things that you never would have thought, like of course you know they have vitamin C. But did you know, they constitute one of nature’s seven top sources of potassium, which is a mineral that actually promotes clear thinking, and helps to normalize blood pressure, and works with sodium to regulate your body’s water balance. It’s also a very good source of citric acid, and citric acid you can mix with just about anything to make stuff more absorbable. Well lemon is just one of the many, many ingredients in some of the best tasting green juice powder on the face of the planet. It’s called Organifi Green Juice. And along with lemon, they’ve got moringa, spirulina, chlorella, mint, beets, matcha green tea, ashwagandha, turmeric, coconut water, everything in the kitchen sink. And did I mention lemon? You can get this stuff over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/FitLife. And when you go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/FitLife, use discount code Ben to get to 20% off. And now you can go impress your friends with all that information you just learned about lemons at your next cocktail party. And impress your friends even more with what you’re about to learn from my guests, Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal, authors of “Stealing Fire”. Let’s do this, and be sure to read the book too ’cause we only scratched the surface of it.
In this episode of the Ben Greenfield Fitness Show:
“New research has sang, ‘Wow, you can get a lot of creative enhancement and cognitive enhancement with a very short time from meditation.’ On top of that, we’ve now got a whole new level of neurotech that can record your brainwaves, so the brainwaves of somebody in a meditative state, and we can use that information to steer novices into these states far quicker.” “This isn’t just a supernatural experience. You might still have a belief system that that’s one of the ways you explain it, but it’s also showing up in our bodies and brains.”
Ben: Hey, folks. I have a guest on today’s show who has been on the show two times already. He first appeared on this podcast, in an episode called “Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance”, where he talked about this book that he wrote called, among other things, “The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance”. And in that book and in the podcast, he told us how a biohack ourselves into a state of flow and to tap into flow to achieve amazing feats of physical and mental performance even if you’re not a super athlete. And then we had a second podcast where we talked about why the future of health is better than you think, and this other book that he wrote called “Abundance”, where he presented this kind of contrarian view that exponentially growing technologies and other powerful forces are conspiring to better the lives of everybody, and that it’s going to change everything from water, to food, to energy, to health care, to education, to freedom.
And he recently partnered up with the Executive Director of what’s called the Flow Genome Project and a leading expert on the neurophysiology of human performance, and that guy’s name is Jamie Wheal. The guy who’s been on the podcast already a couple of times, his name is Steven Kotler. And together, they just finished writing a book, a relatively dog-eared book that I’m holding in my hands ’cause I folded over so many pages, called “Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work”. This book is not only a thrilling page turner, even though it’s not a fiction, it’s a non-fiction book that goes into a ton, from Navy SEAL Team Six, to the Googleplex, to the Burning Man Festival, to Richard Branson’s Necker Island, to Red Bull’s Training Center, and Nike’s Innovation Team, and the United Nations Headquarters, and all of the stunning things that Jamie and Steven learned when finding out how these guys tick and how they actually achieve things like what meditation practitioners take years to learn, these folks are doing in weeks and months, and why Google is hiring people who are attending Burning Man, and how LSD and psilocybin do things like make religion more meaningful and help people solve the world’s tech problems. So we’re going to delve into all of this today with Steve and Jamie who are both here on the show with me right now. So guys, welcome to the podcast.
Jamie: Thanks for having us, Ben.
Steven: Ben, thanks for having us.
Steven: Good to be back with you.
Ben: Yeah. I’m actually, I’m quite ecstatic to have you on the show. And I learned in your book what it actually means to be ecstatic, and in particular what that has to do with the Navy SEALs, who you wouldn’t necessarily think of as a bunch of ecstatic guys running around. But apparently ecstasy certainly has a little bit of a connection there with the SEALs. So I think that might be a perfect place to start here. What is ecstasis and why is it that you place such an importance on putting that so early in the book?
Steven: It’s a great question. It’s a great place to start.
Ben: Oh and by the way, for those of you listening in, that is the voice of Stephen that you’re hearing now.
Steven: The voice of Steven coming to you live. I mean the funny thing about the term ecstasis, it comes from the Greek, meaning ‘ex statis’, to step beyond one’s self. And it refers to kind of a whole suite of non-ordinary states of consciousness where our normal sense of self has to disappear and we gain access to kind of a richer, deeper information feed. So creativity goes up, pattern recognition goes up, the information we have access to goes up. And the actual term came to us from work we were doing with the Navy SEALs. Jamie and myself as the co-founders of the Flow Genome Project have sort of been running around the world kind of training people up in the use of one particular non-ordinary state of consciousness, flow, that’s sort of got 150 year track record of improving performance. And when we were spending time with the Navy SEALs, one of who we were with, Rich Davis, who is Lieutenant Commander of SEAL Team Six, or DEVGRU as they prefer, he used the term. And what he was talking about is, he used it as a substitute for what we would more commonly refer to as “group flow”, the shared collective version of a flow state. So instead of an individual performing at their peak, it’s a group performing at their peak. And what we learned from him was that pretty much everything we think of as SEAL training, once you get beyond a certain incredible level of skills acquisition and physical fitness, everything we think of as SEAL training is a giant screening process training facility for training SEALs to drop into a state of ecstasis, to drop into a state group flow, state where the self can disappear and they can perform collectively in ways that were just not possible alone.
Ben: So is ecstasis basically like a flow state that goes beyond an individual and instead extends to the entire group as a whole?
Jamie: Yeah. I mean in a simple sense, the reason we sort of reeled it all the way back to the ancient Greeks for that terminology was because in our work, as Steven said, kind of traveling around and meeting with these high performing organizations, a consistent thing happened, which is people would sort of buttonhole us in the hallways, or over drinks at dinner and say, “Hey. Psst, by the way, I’m using transcranial,” “I’m shooting a lot of electricity through my brain,” or, “I’m stacking up prescription pharmaceuticals,” or, “We’re a team of engineers in Silicon Valley and we’re micro dosing on psilocybin,” or, “I just went to this sexuality and tantra workshop,” or a nine day meditation. Is that flow? And so we found ourselves thinking, “Well, we’ve got two choices. Either we stretch the working definition of flow, so far that basically the academics and research is that it started, the field would not recognize it,” or we had to kind of come up with a bigger category of which flow is a subset. So what Steven was just describing with the Navy guys was absolutely group flow, and that was how, “Yes, it’s not just an individual getting into that state of selfless high performance. It’s when you do that and then link up with others.” But it also included a whole range of activities, ranging from meditation and mystical states, to smart tech enabled states, to sexually induced states, to psychedelic states, to flow states that we’ve been working with quite some time. So it’s really that whole bigger category of anything other than 21st century Western norm.
Ben: Okay. Got it. So when it comes to achieving this state of ecstasis and this group flow state, the folks like the Navy SEALs are tapping into, one of the very first things that you mention in the book, aside from ecstasis, is, and I don’t know if I’m pronouncing this properly, Kykeon, some dark liquid at the heart of these rituals that the Greeks used to have. What in the heck does that have to do with this state of ecstasis, this state of flow?
Steven: It’s a great question. So one of the things that kind of emerged out of our research into flow, we were kind of building what we called the “Flow Genome Matrix”. These were all the kind of biological, physiological inputs that could create a flow state from like, what are your brain waves doing, what’s going on with your neural anatomy, the location spots on the brain, what neurochemicals in your body are in your body, what’s your endocrine system doing, what’s your heart doing. We were looking at all these biomarkers for flow, and as it turns out, when we’re done, we sort of ended up with an accidental Rosetta stone for all these, kind of these larger non-ordinary categories. One of which is psychedelics. So Kykeon is the potion, it was at the heart of the rites of Eleusis, one of the kind of oldest mystery cults in history, and the rites of Eleusis were a nine day very elaborate death and rebirth ritual that all of kind of the elect of Greek society took part in, and the experience that they had during this ritual were very, very powerful. It ended up influencing Plato, and Pythagoras, and just exporting so much culture into the world came out of this very strange rite, and they deployed a suite of state changing technologies. From kind of drumming and dancing, to fasting and aerobic activity, but the final one was Kykeon, which people still argue about, but they think it was a derivative of LSD, basically a potion that was built around a rye ergot fungus that altered consciousness in a very kind of specific way.
Ben: You mean that this is like a fungus that came from a grain that they somehow used as a hallucinogen very similar to LSD to achieve this state of group flow?
Steven: LSA is the actual compound. It’s a precursor to LSD. So LSD, actually derivatives came, I believe I’m right here, came out of studying ergot funguses.
Ben: Interesting. Okay. Got it. So they actually would use this, and what was it like? A liquid that they’d drink?
Jamie: Yeah. They would brew it down, I mean there’s very fragmentary records because disclosing any of the mysteries of Eleusis was punishable on pain of death. But there are a couple of intriguing things, and [0:14:19] ______ which was the sort of trust fund, their chicken boy, Socrates’ chicken boy who stole it and then gets run through the Athenian courts against it. We got a couple of snippets from his court records, and one of them was it had to be diluted 10 parts to one with regular wine. So we know that. We know it was concentrated and packed a hell of a punch. And we also know that the experiences in Plutarch, the Greek historian talked about it. He says, “At first we have fears, and terrors, and mortal sweats, and then we break through into where this place where celestial visions are held.” So you had some subjective accounting that, yeah, the stuff worked. And then you had the idea that one of the initiates decided to steal some from the temple and throw a raging house party. So it had to be presumably pretty enjoyable. So beyond that, everything else is circumstantial. But there have been a number of kind of ethnopharmacologists and folks have tried to kind of think is in it, and those are kind of some of our leading candidates.
Steven: And real important point is “Stealing Fire” is a book about a huge four trade dollar underground revolution that’s happening right now. I mean people have these days a consciousness to massively increase performance, but the point we’re making is there’s a reason it’s happening now, but there’s also nothing new under the sun. People have been using non-ordinary states of consciousness to kind of increase performance and see culture since the time of the Greeks recorded and probably dates back farther than that. So we are looking at the most current instance of what is essentially a perennial pattern.
Ben: From back when one of these very first guys who was, how to pronounce his name?
Jamie: There’s a hundred. It depends on who your Greek teacher was…
Ben: The Greek general, the politician who basically stole this, he stole the Kykeon and that’s what you’re referring when you say “Stealing Fire”. It’s that same kind of concept of him actually stealing the recipe for this to spark a revolution from, to spark change from, to spark flow, that’s kind of like what we’re seeing now in our culture as far as people almost like short cutting their way into these same kind of states.
Jamie: Yeah. Absolutely. And just to kind of show the strangeness of this underground movement, when we were with DEVGRU and getting a tour of their Mind Gym, which was this new multi-million dollar facility specifically designed to help more of their operators learn to flip that switch…
Ben: Wait. Where was this mind gym?
Jamie: This is actually in DEVGRU’s headquarters near Virginia Beach.
Ben: What’s DEVGRU?
Steven: DEVGRU is SEAL Team Six.
Ben: Okay. Got it.
Jamie: Yeah. And so we were getting to go around the tour, and there was lots of things that you’re familiar with as well. There was kind of EEG feedback, and cardiac stuff, and products from Nike, and products from other kind of leading fitness brands, and stuff you’d see at things like the NFL Combine. And then we went around this final corner in the space and there were these four pods sitting there and there were the sensory deprivation tanks, or float tanks. And we were like, “What on Earth are those doing here?” Because float tanks, up until kind of the last five years where folks like Joe Rogan and others have been kind of singing their praises, they were really just the sort of far out, edgy domains of kind of hippies and heads because they’ve been designed in the 1960’s for, basically if you put yourself in pitch black floating water with no sense of boundaries and that kind of sensations of your body, it’s an experience of ecstasis. You are outside your normal self.
These guys have been taking it and adding in a lot of smart tech and sensors. So they had cardiac rhythms, they had EEG feedback, they had all these additional loops in it and they were using it to put operators in hyper attuned body-mind states of consciousness, and then they were using it to learn foreign languages. So obviously if they deployed from, whether it’s Pashtun, or Indian, or African dialect, or where they were in the Middle East, they would need to quickly learn enough to be conversant in the theater of deployment. And it used to take them six months of intensive training to make that switch, and now using these flow tanks which had been the realm of hippies and heads, now they’re using it to train up super soldiers and it took them a quarter of the time to learn foreign languages. So that was one of the moments where we really figured out, “Hey, there’s something strange going on as far as how all of this cross pollination is happening and who’s actually in on the same game.”
Ben: So would this be the same type of technique that, ’cause you talk about how meditation practitioners now are achieving in months what used to take years. Are they also using float tanks or are they using some other kind of piece of equipment or psychedelic?
Steven: It’s a great question. The first thing you need to know is that a hundred years ago William James pointed out that a whole bunch of states, from awe, to flow states, to meditation, to contemplative states, to so-called mystical states, speaking in tongues, out of body experiences, what have you [0:19:40] ______ sexually mediated ecstatic states, all these things seem to be the same thing. And a hundred years go by and nobody really noticed this or paid any attention to it, but a hundred years later, we’ve started to kind of decode the neurobiology. All of these states, everything, it’s under that broad category of ecstasis that Jamie talked about earlier alter the brain in roughly the same way. They’re not identical. So no, being on Kykeon is not being in a meditative state, but most of the knobs and levers under the experience are the same. So we’re seeing that they’re doing sort of the same thing in the brain and this is allowing us to a.) realize that a whole bunch of disparate groups of people would never talk to one another, never think they were doing the same thing, from the military industrial complex, what Jamie’s talking about, to kind of hippies, and heads, and ravers, and seekers, they’re all, to Dave Asprey biohacking, how they’re all roughly doing the same thing. They’re trying to change the channel on normal consciousness.
Ben: Now when you say that they’re changing the brain, what do you mean? Like what’s happening in the brain when someone is getting into a float tank or, as you allude to in the book, like these meditators are hooking themselves up to neurofeedback devices. Like what’s that actually doing?
Steven: So let me specifically kind of speak to your question. So in the early 90’s, a guy named Richard Davidson of University of Wisconsin did very detailed studies on meditation on Tibetan monks who had been meditating, on average, 34,000 hours of meditation, which is essentially 30 plus years, and he found some amazing things. One of the things he discovered is that brain waves of long-time meditators are more likely to be in the gamma range. Now gamma is a really unusual brain wave that usually normally only shows up during binding, that is when a bunch of kind of new ideas come together and give you like that “Aha!” insight, that “Eureka!” moment. So this was the first clue that, “Hey! Wait a minute. Meditation can actually impact creativity. But 34,000 thousand hours, who the hell has 30 hours, let alone 30 years. Recently at the University of North Carolina, they realized that four days of meditation can actually produce the same effect. So new research has sang, “Wow, you can get a lot of creative enhancement and cognitive enhancement with a very short time from meditation.” On top of that, we’ve now got a whole new level of neurotech that can record your brain waves, so the brain waves of somebody in a meditative state, and we can use that information to steer novices into these states far quicker. So what used to take decades can now take weeks or months, as Jamie pointed out we want, with the Navy SEALs learning a foreign language, that accelerated learning one from a six month process down to a six week process.
Ben: Would this be neurofeedback? And the reason I ask this is I visited the Peak Brain Institute down in LA, and they did a brain mapping on me where they identified areas of fast beta brainwaves, or areas of alpha-theta ratios that were unfavorable, and they actually gave me a bunch of protocols. I went back with this laptop and a whole bunch of equipment, now every other day for 30 minutes, I fly spaceships with my brain to basically fix my brain map. And I actually just went, I flew back down to LA a couple of weeks ago and remapped my brain, and all these areas of fast beta brainwave production, and this was in four months, are totally gone. Is this the same type of thing that you guys are talking about when you talk about like hacking meditation?
Steven: Exactly what we’re talking about.
Ben: And you can also do that type of thing with float tanks?
Jamie: You can do it, I mean the bottom line is these days, and we make that case in the middle section of the book, which is like due these what we call the forces, like that expansion of the field of psychology, neurobiology, technology, and pharmacology because all those fields have been advancing so fast, and now they’re now coinciding at this intersection of like “we can basically tune our consciousness to suit our goals and our preferences”. And you can use biohacking stuff, you can use laptops and feedback, custom designed pharmacology, you can use normal kind of learning experiences, you can use extreme athletic experiences, pretty much huge dance parties. It doesn’t really matter. The ways in are now abundant and easily accessible to everyone. So now it’s a combination of how do we stack these, how do we combine these in ways that are fun, interesting, and effective.
Ben: Although a huge dance party gets a bit little more exhausting than laying in a float tank. Admittedly. You talk about, in the book, how like at the center of all this complexity is your prefrontal cortex, which is like what you describe as the most sophisticated piece of neuronal hardware, and that we somehow, when we are achieving these states of flow, we shut that down. What’s that mean exactly, that you shut down an area of the brain?
Steven: Well, so the first thing you need to know is that the brain has a fixed energy budget. It only has so many calories in the day, right? So the first order of business for the brain is to conserve energy whenever possible. So what happen in a lot of these non-ordinary states, let’s say the meditative state, for example, or an action sport-induced flow state, is our need for attention, focused attention on the present moment goes up, and up, and up. That’s the whole point of meditation, you’re following your breaths. You can follow it right into the present moment. Flow states, you’re paying critical attention to everything that’s going on around you. And what happens is the brain forms an efficiency exchange. It starts, takes more energy, gives you more energy for focus and it starts to shut down non-critical areas. Now a lot of those non-critical areas are located in the prefrontal cortex, which as you mentioned is our most sophisticated piece of neuronal hardware, the most recent evolution adaptation and it’s where we do complex decision making, long term planning, your sense of morality, your sense of will. As we move into these states, that portion of the brain starts to activate. It shuts down. And as a result for example, one of the things that happens in all the states is our sense of self disappears. You’re inner critic goes silent, and that happens because your sense of self is generated by structures all over the prefrontal cortex, sort of a network effect. And as parts of those nodes start to deactivate, we lose the ability to generate our sense of self, which is one of the things we talk about ecstasis, changing the channel on normal waking consciousness, getting outside yourself. That’s why it happens, and that’s one of the things that all of these states have in common.
Ben: So we’re basically like silencing our inner critic when we engage in any of these methods like the float tank, like neurofeedback, like these dance parties that somehow allow us to go into the selfless mode where we’re losing our ability to be able to criticize or overanalyze what it is that we’re actually doing.
Jamie: Yeah. Absolutely. And not only is that a relief for kind of the obvious reasons, I mean many of us actively seek, including just like Crossfitters, I mean people who get hooked on a really intense workout and people who sort of say “I need to get my workout in”, anytime you have folks even in the exercise base that sort of language that they experience in that way, as often as not is to get to in that specific instance, exercise induced selflessness. But dancing, meditating, any and all of these things are giving us those moments just where that voice inside our head goes quiet.
Ben: Are there actual, sorry to interrupt. Are there actual chemicals associated with this? Like are we getting a release of any specific chemicals associated with that state of a shutdown of the prefrontal cortex?
Jamie: Yeah. And that’s a great question. I mean our assumption is yes. We have our kind of list of leading candidates, and then we just got to put a big caution here as far as like popularizing specific academic research, because most of the researchers are in neurochemistry, meaning is it dopamine, is it endorphins, is it oxytocin, is it serotonin. They’re either in that space, or they’re in neuroanatomy, what parts of the brain are lighting up, and on and off, and when. Or they’re in neuroelectricity, there aren’t a ton of research in that are across all of them and able to pinpoint in time which of those intersections is happening when.
Ben: That’s kind of weird. I mean, it seems kind of like low-hanging fruit that you could somehow have some kind of facility or research group devoted to the neuroanatomy, the neurochemistry, and what was the last one? The neuroelectricity, you said?
Ben: Yeah. So you could be studying the chemicals, the brainwaves, and then also the actual areas like the cortex, et cetera. It seems like somebody would be able to study all three of those.
Steven: That is trying to happen. It’s not a desire issue. The whim was there. It’s a technology issue. For example, a lot of the neurochemicals that we’re interested in don’t mean, for example, these are produced by very old, very ancient, very well-buried structures in the bran that are hard to get at with imaging until recently. So there’s been no easy way to combine it. Also the resolution of the different technologies, EEG which measures brainwaves, can measure very thin slices in time. Until very, very recently FMRI took static pictures. But you can’t put somebody on an EEG headset into an FMRI because there’s metal. So the technologies don’t combine easily. So these are technological hurdles. But one of the points we make in the book is the four forces of ecstasis that Jamie alluded to – technology, pharmacology, neurobiology, psychology, all of these seem to have become information technologies, meaning they can be translated into ones and zeros. And Ray Kurzweil at Google taught us that once technology becomes an information technology, it jumps on the back of Moore’s Law and starts accelerating exponentially. So that’s what we’re seeing. We’re seeing a combination of these technologies coming together for the first time, giving us a clearer and clearer picture of what’s going on. So, yes, there are huge gaping holes we can drive a bus through, but we are making faster, and faster, and pastern faster progress than ever before and it’s really, it’s an amazing thing to see.
Jamie: And, Ben, just to go back. I mean that was a lengthy, disclaimer, but to then say, “Okay. So now if we were going to take a swing at this, what would we say?” And so we would suggest that alongside those parts of your prefrontal cortex coming down, those wonderful feelings of selflessness, inner quiet, you are going to, generally speaking, see a shift from stress neurochemicals like norepinephrine and cortisol into ones of well-being, pain relief, and lateral connections. So you would likely see an increase in dopamine, and endorphins, potentially anandamide, and then additionally serotonin and oxytocin.
And for instance, Molly Crockett, who’s a neuropsychologist at Oxford, spends a ton of time researching the serotonin system, she’s a linked that to a lot of the activities, meditation, dance festivals, Burning Man, she’s actually done studies of the Burning Man Festival specifically, and is advancing the case that it interacts with the serotonin network. She also just published something at the World Economic Forum in Davos just 10 days ago, which was basically saying that some of the angry populism that’s sweeping both North America and Europe right now is potentially due to chronic low stress, particularly in displaced populations, folks whose worlds are shrinking or are increasingly high, dropping serotonin, and that actually the pen, the bonding of these rallies and these movements boosting dopamine. And what you’ll see in people with chronically low serotonin is increased aggression, increased hostility, and increased tribalism. So it can kind of play for good and ill across our spectrums. But I mean in a lot of ways, we start with our neurobiology.
Ben: You actually go into that a little bit in the book about how, as you move deeper into that state of ecstasis, how that anandamide chemical that you talked about gets released. And that actually plays a role in lateral thinking, like your ability to make these far flung connections between all these disparate ideas and that actually helps to shift your brain waves into theta, which you’d normally only produce during like REM sleep when you’re engaged in lucid dreaming and things like that. And so if you somehow get yourself into these states of flow, you’re able to solve problems a little bit better. Now you mentioned Burning Man and how that is one of the ways that we get ourselves into that state. Is that why, you tell this story in the book, Google is actually interested in hiring people who do things like frequent Burning Man?
Jamie: To be clear, that was a tale from way back when, 2001 I think, where Larry and Sergey as young bucks coming out of Stanford grad school and really just kind of had the tiger by the tail of this Google algorithm, and that was when their investors insisted that they get some adult supervision. And they basically spent a year interviewing all the kind of usual suspects of CEOs, and they basically said, “Yeah, we found a guy. His name is Steve Jobs, and he’s the only one we’ll take on.” And then so they were kind of, and Steve obviously wasn’t going to leave Apple any time soon, so they were really kind of running out of time. And then, that Eric Schmidt, who was on their medium-nish list but not their shortest of lists, had been to Burning Man. And they were like, “Oh. Well, we go. We’ve been going since the very beginning.” In fact the very first Google Doodle they ever drew was of the Burning Man sort of stick figure icon over the “O” in the Google. So they were long-time enthusiastic burners. They had lots of their early engineers, they would go out into the desert and build these wild ass, crazy engineering projects, and bits of sort of oversized performance art. So they figured, “Okay, we need someone who can, not just manage and scale a company, but who can preserve our kind of funky eclectic genius, and who can also really understand what a group of flow state is like for a bunch of high performing engineers.” So that’s kind of how they used Burning Man as an extended filter for [0:34:26] ______ bring the adult supervision we need without wringing out the genius that we’re really interested in protecting.
Ben: So, Burning Man. Have you guys been to that?
Ben: Okay. What actually, ’cause a lot of people who are listening are relatively familiar with Burning Man. Many of them I know have been there. But for those people who haven’t, what can people expect if they decide, “Oh, I want to get involved with being in this state of group ecstasis, and group flow, and experience some of these things that you’re talking about,” and perhaps we’ll get into the psychedelics and all that a little bit later in the show, but for people interested in going to Burning Man, I mean I know you have a whole chapter devoted to this in the book, but why do you think they should go? Like what would be the argument for going to something like Burning Man? Because a lot of people still think it’s just like some crazy party out in the desert.
Steven: Let’s be clear. It is some crazy party out in the desert. But Burning Man is officially a week-long festival that takes place in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada. So one of the flattest places on Earth is this giant campus, and it’s a giant art project at a scale you’ve never seen. So what gets created out in the desert and then burned to the ground a week later and disappears forever, “Leave no trace” is their motto and they really stick to it, is the most like colossal display of state changing technology anywhere on the universe, from giant fire spewing dinosaurs, to enormous Tesla coils shooting lightning all over the place, to world famous DJs and phenomenal light shows all centered around the burning of a hundred-foot sculpture, the Burning Man. And it’s a, by the way, it’s a modern day rites of Eleusis. It’s a death and rebirth ritual that takes place in the desert.
Our point about Burning Man goes back to kind of where this thread started with you, is it’s not only 10 years ago, 20 or 15 years ago Google was using it as a screening mechanism for adult supervision. But it’s gone from kind of this wild party in the desert that attracted counter culture and now it’s attracting members of the World Economic Forum, Morgan Stanley, Davos, I mean the list goes on and on, people of power, money, and influence. The experiences of Burning Man are bleeding out into the real world in really big ways, and one of the examples we give is Tony Hsieh and Zappo where he’s rearranging his entire corporate hierarchy and really take place in a big bet that has not going perfectly to kind of bring that group flow that they find so easily at Burning Man more into his company. And then he’s redesigning downtown, Vegas’ downtown Vegas project is a $350 million urban renewal project that’s based on importing these same ideas into downtown Vegas. So we’re seeing stuff that started out in the desert, these transformations in the desert, bleed into and impact culture right on to Main Street.
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Ben: So what you’re saying is that when folks are attending Burning Man, they’re actually coming out of Burning Man and creating these amazing projects elsewhere?
Jamie: Yeah. And again, we just alluded to Molly Crockett, the researcher at Oxford, who’s been working with the Black Rock census, which is a census of all the attendees of Burning Man, and I’m finding massive three quarter transformation, three quarter of the people experiencing transformation while there. So they’re experiencing an extended or several extended non-ordinary states of consciousness. A lot of the research coming out of Stanford and elsewhere showing that getting into these non-ordinary states, tinkering with your serotonin, dopamine, endorphin systems tends to produce increased creativity, problem solving, and lateral connections. And then of course what’s happening at Burning Man is what we call, we term it “the sandbox of the future”. You have people, everyone from Elon Musk who first debuted his initial Tesla Roadster there in 2008, to the folks I then called IDeATe that in 2012 were pioneering 3D models in drone direct delivery, and they were using it to build the demonstration project of delivering medications and things in NGO and disaster areas, which is obviously now showing up. There’s like Amazon shipping anywhere else. So people are using the incredibly harsh environments of that space, but also the highly creative environment to pilot test projects. Larry Page at Recode a few years ago said, “I think the world needs a place like Burning Man where we can test out these ideas with low consequence, and then let’s roll them out in the world.” So you really see it as an incubator for everything from clothing and fashion, to media, to immersive tech, to disaster relief and urban planning. So all sorts of coming out of that space.
Ben: It’s really interesting. I was actually thinking about going this year. One of my buddies is possibly putting together a trip for a few people. So I might wind up there, and your book certainly got me thinking more seriously about it. I have of course delved into some of the things that you talk about in the book though in terms of cognitive performance enhancement and expanding lateral thinking in the realm of psychedelics. For example, microdosing with LSD. You talk about that in the book. It’s something, in the past few months, along with micro dosing with psilocybin, I’ve been messing around with a little bit. And you kind of go into some interesting studies that have been done, particularly on LSD and problem solving capabilities. Can you go into what you describe in the book when it comes to the use of LSD?
Steven: Sure. This is James Fadiman’s research, and he’s sort of been everywhere recently, including Tim Ferriss’ new book “Tools for Titans”. But back in the 60’s before the research outlawed, before LSD became a Schedule One substance, he was doing work in Silicon Valley with microdosing, to taking sub-perceptual, very small doses of psychedelics. Research, he was looking at mescaline and LSD for problem solving. He literally brought together teams of engineers at Silicon Valley from all over who had been struggling for, I think it was a minimum of three months, to solve a highly technical problem. And so he, over the course of a couple of months conducting research on a lot of people, and got really astounding results. On average, they reported 200% spike in creativity, but where it gets really interesting is you look at like the things that came out of it, it was a new design for a NOR gate, a new design for a solar cell, a new theory of how electrons function, it goes on and on. Really highly technical, so called “wicked problems” that defy kind of easy either or solutions. He has [0:44:16] ______ up, ’cause a lot of people started micro dosing, especially in Silicon Valley. So he’s running an informal, meaning that it is still illegal to do this, so he’s basically collecting data through his web site. But I think 4, 500 people have now taken part in his survey on microdosing and they’re reporting enhanced pattern recognition, increased creativity, increased cognitive function. So it’s really starting to look like microdosing can be a real performance enhancing tool.
Ben: Interesting. So when you’re talking about microdosing, how much less LSD would you be taking compared to, say, like a trip dose or what someone might have taken, say, like in the 70’s? Which is, I know, painting a broad brush. I’m just saying the 70’s because that’s the era associated quite a bit with LSD use than the 60’s to a certain extent.
Jamie: Sure. I think if you sort of talk about heroic dose, museum or IMAX doses versus micro doses, typically the micro dose would be about one tenth of what would be a functional kind of “trip”. So the researchers at Johns Hopkins who have been doing psilocybin therapy with everyone from people trying to stop smoking to people facing end of life with terminal cancer diagnosis has been about three grams. So you would presume, you would walk that back to about a third of a gram for an experience. And the key here is that lest anybody still has any kind of sort of hang ups or judgments about “doing drugs”, the idea here is that a.) these are sub-perceptual. So for the sort of crypto-Puritans out there, there’s no fun to be had. You’re not actually experiencing anything externally changing or shifting. But what is happening, and this is really kind of the bigger point of the book, Ben, which is that this is not a book about the psychedelic renaissance. Michael Pollan, Tim Ferriss, there’s tons of other people that have been covering about it showing up. It’s been pretty much a drumbeat for the last few years, citing all these studies. And nor is this a book just about flow or a book just about meditation or smart tech. The idea is, look, what that micro-second does, the benefits that Steven was just talking about with the problem solving with the engineers in Palo Alto, that’s interacting with the serotonin system. That’s what psilocybin and LSD do. That research got shut down four decades ago when we got Prozac instead.
Jamie: Because it interacts with the serotonin system. So all we’re doing is we’re really reviving some additional tools and then we’re developing other ones, like smart tech, and VR, and AR that are interacting with our nervous systems and our neurobiology in ways that are giving us better results with fewer side effects than the current batch of tools we’ve been forced to use.
Ben: Right. And it’s kind of interesting ’cause you even have a quote from Tim Ferriss that says that the billionaires that he knows almost without exception use hallucinogens like that on a regular basis. And of course you just alluded to another one, psilocybin, and you guys have a really interesting anecdote on psilocybin and its relationship with religion, and especially religious experiences. Can you go into what you discovered in this book and what you describe about the link between psilocybin and faith based practices?
Steven: This is some of the kind of oldest research that was done on psychedelics. It dates back to an early study known as “the Good Friday Experiment”. And what they were trying to settle is something called the skin bag bias. The skin bag bias is this kind of long standing belief in spiritual traditions that any mystical experience that is produced through hard work, meditation, prayer, living in a monastery, putting in your time is valid and true. And any mystical experience that is produced by an external stimulus, be it technology, brain, neurostimulation, or pharmacology, a psychedelic like LSD or psilocybin, is invalid. So what they did is they got together a bunch of seminary students at Harvard who they thought would be actually more susceptible to a mystical experience, and they went, and then everybody attended the Good Friday Service. Half the group was given a placebo, niacin, which sort of mimics some of the kind of pharmacological impacts of psilocybin, but obviously doesn’t affect our mission. The other half of the group was given psilocybin. And afterwards they were rated their experience in terms of a variety of different kind of mystical categories. And when it was done it was really clear that psychedelics could produce a valid and true mystical experience.
That said, what’s so kind of unusual about this particular study is a.) the skin bag bias is so persistent that they’ve rerun the study on multiple occasions to revalidate this, and it was most recently done by Roland Griffiths at Johns Hopkins. And before Roland started doing all his work with the [0:49:23] ______ spoke to Jamie, referenced a lot of it at end of life therapy, the first thing he wanted to do was prove that, yet again, it turns out that psilocybin produces kind of valid so-called mystical experiences. And the greatest detail about the original Good Friday experiment that sort of proves this point is none of the people in the placebo group who got niacin ended up becoming priests. And I think everybody but one in the group that got psilocybin ended up finishing the seminary and becoming priests. And many of them throughout the course call it one of the most powerful experience of their lives.
Ben: Yeah. Look, I’m a Christian and engage in prayer, and devotions, and speak to God, and some of my most intense religious experiences and connections from a spiritual standpoint have been on psilocybin. It really is quite interesting how you almost, I’m not saying you got to like take ‘shrooms if you want to have a more meaningful experience at church or whatever. But at the same time, it is something that’s kind of interesting to do. And yes, I have actually micro dosed with psilocybin before church and found myself far more caught up in the flow, in the energy, in the spirituality, and in the religious experience with the use of something like mushrooms combined with religion. So it’s really quite fascinating. As is speaking of religion, the “God Helmet” that you talk about in the book. Can you get into the God Helmet and what that is?
Steven: Sure. Back in the 50’s, neuroscientists discovered that if you stimulate the right temporal lobe, you can produce all kinds of very strange so-called mystical experiences. So this will range from sense presence, the feeling of a god or a ghost in the room with you, to hearing voices, seeing visions, to having out of body experiences. The list sort of goes on and on. So in the 90’s, a Canadian neuroscientist named Michael Persinger, pioneered, he built a helmet. He took a motorcycle helmet, he gussied it out with kind of transcranial magnetic stimulation, and he’s directing weak magnetic pulses to this portion of the brain. Couple thousand people have now worn the device and 80% of them have had some kind of so-called mystical experience. Now there are a lot of people, some very, very famous people including Richard Dawkins, they have worn the device and said, “This is (censored). Nothing happens.” So there’s a flipside to this. But what the God Helmet gives a peek into is that neurobiology is kind of developing, accelerating so fast that experiences that were once reserved for kind of mystics or madman, a very small portion of the population, can now be tasted by more and more people.
Ben: Yeah. And that was, I know those wires and the 9V battery, that’s very similar to the thread on Reddit that shows you how to produce your own transdirect current stimulation device that you can wear on your head. And I actually own one, it’s behind me here in my office, one called a HALO headset. It’s not the God Helmet and it was designed more for stimulation of the motor cortex, for enhancing my, I can use it before I go play guitar or ukulele to enhance my ability to be able to learn music at a faster pace. I can use it before tennis to acquire skill acquisition a little bit easier. You can even use it before a workout to reduce your rating of perceived exertion. But it’s kind of based around this similar concept that you can stimulate certain cortices in the brain to produce certain responses. And in this case, the God Helmet, you talk about how it produces visions of God, and sense presences, and other kind of like altered states related to religious experiences. And so I could just imagine a whole bunch of people wearing special hats to church and stimulating their cortices, or their temporal lobes accordingly. There’s actually a whole science, you get into neurotheology in the book and how people are actually studying what happens during these religious experiences. Can you get into what they’re actually finding is occurring during these intense spiritual experiences that people are getting into?
Jamie: Sure. I mean the simplest is to realize just what you were describing, which is people might start wearing funny hats to church and presumably getting something more out of it in a not dissimilar way to that Good Friday Experiment where you had people on niacin experiencing not much, and people on psilocybin experience a whole lot more. And so while pharmacology, what substances I might take to deliberately shift my consciousness might have been one of the earliest and most obvious ways to do it, with the description of the God Helmet that you’re describing, we’re already moving from pharmacology to technology and now we’re getting into increasingly virtual with virtual reality an augmented reality, and not just you know goggles I put over my eyes, but entire systems or headsets I wear that measure my bodily responses like your HALO headset start actually inducing and shifting my state of being on purpose. So we really are seeing kind of a migration of how to get to these parts. And one of the things that’s been accelerating that is this relatively young field of neurotheology, which is what’s the actual biology going on, what’s happening in our brains as we experience a range of what used to be called mystical experiences. And that’s everything from the experiences of oneness all the way to more abstruse sort of rarer ones like speaking in tongues or having experiencing a doppelganger effect.
And what’s really happening is we’re saying, first of all, “Hey, this isn’t just a supernatural experience.” You might still have a belief system that that’s one of the ways you explain it, but it’s also showing up in our bodies and brains. And one of the things that it’s doing, in fact David Brooks wrote about this in The New York Times, he said, “Look, this is revolutionizing basically religion and our participation in it.” Because now, instead of having all these prescriptions that come with religion, saying “this is what you wear,” “this is what you’re allowed to eat or not eat,” “this is how you marry,” “this is how often and how you pray,” all these things, and then you’ll get a glimpse God, we’re realizing, “Oh, it’s actually these three ingredients in all of that practice that’s really making the difference.” And so now we’ve kind of cut out the middleman. So in a lot of respects, the kind of the priest class, whether or not they’re truly people in robes or not, but the priest class as far as the mediators of the sacred are getting disrupted. And you’re having more and more people with the access of, “Oh, here’s the neurobiological mechanism. Here’s a cookbook for ecstasis. Now I can go and conduct those experiences myself.” So they were simultaneously kind of demystifying the mystical and providing kind of open source access to many more people as a result of this field.
Ben: The cookbook being different types of meditation, and chanting, and singing, and flow, and then also some of these technologies that we’ve talked about, and also some of these chemicals that we’ve talked about?
Jamie: Yeah. Absolutely. And so if nothing else, if there’s kind of a bumper sticker maxim for this day and age, it’s “Don’t die wondering”. If you’re out there saying, “Is there more to life, and is there a greater connection for me in this world or universe, and what have you,” like go conduct those experiments. They’re a dime a dozen. And then come back and figure out what you want to do to connect the dots between your waking life and that thing that you’ve just glimpsed, but definitely there’s no reason to be sitting on our hand wondering, or taking it from somebody else’s second-hand reports.
Ben: But when it comes to playing with our bodies like this, you get into, in the book, about how some things can actually like affect, how these altered states, or in some cases chemicals, can affect our traits, often in permanent ways or in ways that we might not want. Like Botox, for example. Freezing the face with a neurotoxin. Why is it that you guys don’t appear to be very big fans of Botox?
Steven: That’s a funny question. I think we’re probably neutral on to the Botox, but what we’re talking about, what we talk about Botox, the opening to kind of our description of changes in neurobiology. So one of the things that emerged out of Botox research is when you freeze somebody’s face, you’re also cutting off their access to emotions, for example. Or if you freeze somebody faces, if you make the frown lines disappear. they’re reporting like long term happiness. But they’re all reporting decreases in empathy, and what this kind of has led people to is this burgeoning growing body of research known as embodied cognition, which simply says, on a simple level of the facial muscles, it says, “Hey, wait a minute. Our facial muscles are hardwired into our emotions and you can’t have one without the other.” So if you’re freezing the face, you’re limiting the emotions you can experience in the world. Embodied cognition is a larger field that says, “Hey, wait a minute. We’re not just heads on sticks.” The brain is a distributed whole body network. We have as many neurons in our heart and our stomach as we do in our brain. Ninety percent of the body’s serotonin is produced in our stomach. They’re whole body integrated networks.
So one of the things this, and there’s very easy ways to tinker with it. We talk about Amy Cuddy’s research at Harvard, and she discovered that simply how you stand, how you pose can impact hormonal levels in the body. And this goes all the way out to kind of deeply embodied cognitive practices like yoga, and tai chi, and qigong that have been shown to kind of not just to use embodied cognition, to use this use embodied cognition, to use this whole body system to shift consciousness and unlock some of these states. It’s not that we’re not fans of Botox, it’s that the Botox research has led us to an incredibly interesting direction.
Ben: Yeah. It is really interesting how you even, into the chapter on neurobiology about how like if someone gives you a cup of icy cold water to hold and then introduces you to a stranger, and they did this research at Yale, you treat them coldly. Like you treat them with suspicion and with more distance than if you’re holding a cup of hot coffee, in which case you trust them more easily.
Jamie: Yeah. I mean it’s almost comical and how literal the connections really are. I mean the stuff that your old grandpa or grandma would have always said, “Chin up, shoulders back, head straight,” all those kind of things really make a difference. And literally the hot in the cold as well. So the idea was we probably are the most disembodied generation of humans ever on the planet. We all walk around hunched looking over at screens, we sit for hours and hours a day staring at even bigger screens. We barely exist from the neck down. And so the invitation and possibility of embodied cognition is just to say that, “Hey,” we kind of make a riff on that old George Clinton, Parliament-Funkadelic. He used to say, “Free your mind and your (censored) will follow.” But the opposite is true. It’s like free your (censored), move our bodies and our minds follow. And I’m sure you are a super embodied dude, and you were also just mentioning experiencing with micro and macro dosing on psilocybin. I would, have you ever found yourself experiencing that compound in your system and then inspired to move?
Jamie: You ever kind of, yeah, stretch, climb, run, do those things and do you get more information out of that experience than if you were just sitting still?
Ben: Absolutely, absolutely. And so the takeaway here is that not only should we not freeze our face ’cause that’s going to affect the rest of our bodies and our ability to be able to do everything from produce hormones to interact with other people in more dynamic ways, but we can also take that in the opposite direction. We can either use these compounds, or these technology tools, or even just like going snowboarding, or skiing, or doing some of the things that Steven and I talked about when I had him on the podcast about achieving a state of flow to actually cause our biology to change.
Steven: Yeah. Hell yeah.
Jamie: Oh yeah. And it’s more fun, fundamentally.
Ben: Interesting. And we see animals doing this too. You guys go into the animal kingdom in the book, and I thought this part of the book was actually pretty fascinating. Animals, not just humans actually, do take advantage, especially of some of these chemicals that we find in nature.
Steven: Yeah. This is a really interesting line of research that kind of developed sort of anecdotally when people started to realize that, “Holy crap. Animals everywhere seem to have found ways to alter their consciousness.” And this could be elephants drinking out of a fermented bog hole, this could be baboons who use iboga, an extremely powerful psychedelic, jaguars on ayahuasca, goats gobble magic mushrooms, birds will chew marijuana seeds. National Geographic captured some footage couple years ago of dolphins getting high on puffer fish toxin, which induces a trance state in dolphins. It’s everywhere in nature. So you see pharmacologist Ronald Siegel started really taking a look at it and he has actually come to the conclusion that the urge to alter our consciousness, the urge to skip out of kind of our normal waking state is a fundamental evolutionary drive, or he calls it “the fourth urge”. So it’s as powerful as the urge towards sex, or shelter, or substance. And the next question was, of course, why is this going on? And earlier you talked about lateral thinking, thinking outside the box.
So what they’ve discovered is in evolution, every organism from humans, to mammals, to birds, we get stuck in a rut. We can’t see new solutions to our problems. But by altering our consciousness, what is happening is we’re increasing the brain’s information processing capacity. We are increasing pattern recognition, so the linking of closely related ideas, lateral thinking, the linking together of disparate ideas. It’s getting us out of ruts. It’s helping us innovate new solutions. And it’s so fundamental, this urge to alter our consciousness, that is actually a biological drive where it’s everywhere in nature. And you see it, I mean look at little kids. One of the greatest expressions of this is little kids spinning in circles, hyper ventilating, rolling down hills, doing everything they can to alter their consciousness. So it’s built in. We see it very, very early on in development, and we see it everywhere in nature. [1:04:22] ______ to induce creative problem solving.
Ben: Yeah. That’s interesting that you talk about like rolling around, and breathing, and hyperventilating, and things like that. Like one of the highest states I’ve ever been in was completely drug free and was basically a holotropic breath class. Ninety minutes of breathing with a whole bunch of other people in the room also breathing, and there was choreographed music, and an instructor kind of walking us through all these breathing patterns. And I had a complete out of body experience while doing that. Yeah, I mean it’s crazy. You can even breathe yourself into these type of states. And actually one thing I wanted to ask you, it’s kind of related to that, is when you have a whole bunch of people in the same room doing these type of things together, is there something that happens like in terms like heart rates, or brain waves, or the electrical signals from other people that somehow magnifies the effect? Because I think about these things like Burning Man, or raves, or my experience there in a small room with a whole bunch of people doing a holotropic breathwork. Like have they researched whether or not things are going on as far as like the interaction between humans….?
Jamie: Yeah. Absolutely. And again, Molly Crockett who’s just kind of, she’s a contemporary who’s kind of pushing this as far as anybody, “collective behavioral synchrony” is the kind of fancy term. Group flow would be another placeholder for it. And there’s also been some work inside a business school and bus alone, which was kind of a top-ranked business school in the world by The Wall Street Journal a couple years in a row, and those guys did a micro study which was just a roomful of business school students hooked up to biometrics. And what they’ve found was that the strongest leader weren’t the ones who talked the most or sort verbalized the right ideas. They were the ones who could regulate their own nervous systems, and in turn could then regulate those around them. So what you have is the leadership, emerging leadership can be defined, at least within this experiment, as the people who sort of function like the biggest pendulum, the biggest pendulum that all the other pendulums, all the other clocks then attune to.
And so the ability for, whether it’s a DJ up front, or a dancer, or just the kind of ripple effect of a crowd gathering around something can be very profound, And again, it tends to cue off the serotonin and oxytocin systems as well as any mirror neural activity. So having additional music, or rhythm, or beats that are both basically tuning a bunch of people’s neuroelectricity to similar brainwave states, and music often can drop our brainwave states out of active beta into alpha, and even theta, we’re watching each other’s movements, we’re imitating or synchronizing, like doing the wave at a football game or anything like that, and then the shift in neurochemistry, all those things combined create what Victor Turner, the anthropologist at University of Chicago called “communitas”. And so it’s that shared syncing up and connecting with each other almost like computers in serial that can give some of the most powerful experiences I think people have reported as humans, a bunch of us together all on the same wavelength.
Steven: And I mean, Ben, to drive Jamie’s point home, in research, the research shows that flow, for example, is considered the most pleasurable experience on Earth. But research that has done, I think, I want to say Cal State Bulletin found that the vast majority of people prefer group flow to [1:07:46] ______ flow. So like the best we get to feel on the planet may be this exact experience.
Ben: Yeah. And what Jamie was just describing in terms of music, you have a whole term for this in the book called Neuromusicology. And I love music. I grew up playing violin, and now I play guitar and ukulele. You go into research, I wasn’t really aware of in the book, where they’ve actually tracked people’s brainwave states in response to music, and also, I think you use the term neurochemicals or stress hormones, like norepinephrine and cortisol, and what’s actually happening in response to music. And it’s fascinating, like what happens when tunes are playing in a house. Can you get into that? Like what happens and how they study it with like cameras and everything. Like what’s happening when we play music in a house.
Steven: To just come off with what Jamie said and what you guys were talking about, so neuromusicology is literally the study of the impact of music on the brain. Well, what we have learned is that when we listen to music, as Jamie alluded to, brainwaves move from kind of the high beta of normal waking consciousness down into the meditative ranges alpha and theta, stress hormones like norepinephrine and cortisol drop, and social bonding reward chemicals like dopamine, endorphin, and oxytocin, they all spike. So Apple and the speaker manufacturer Sonos decided to take a look at music’s bonding power, the power to connect. And they rigged 30 homes with Sonos speakers, and Apple Watches, and Nest Cams, and iBeacons, and they just recorded what happens when tunes were playing and when they weren’t. What they discovered is that when tunes are playing, the distance between housemates decreased by 12%, cooking, I think, increased by 33%, laughing together like 15%, inviting people over spiked at 85%, and saying “I love you” 18%, and having sex by 37%. So like the whole thing we’ve been saying right now about like music shifting our consciousness and bringing people closer together, what they did is they measured it, put some numbers around.
Ben: I would imagine that there’s probably a little bit of a difference between like death metal and, I don’t know, I suppose what we listen to at our house, like classical goes pop, or Top 40 pop songs, or something like that.
Steven: As probably the lone death metal fan in this group, it depends on the group of people who were together.
Ben: I suppose so.
Steven: Sometimes, you get a whole bunch of people banging their heads together, it is a non-ordinary state. And I mean that was the great secret about thrash pits at punk shows. On the outside, it looks violent, and crazy, and certainly there was some of that. But on the inside, anybody who had that experience will tell you it’s an experience of communitas, of love and caring for one another. Yes, it’s very, very aggressive, but it’s a bonding experience. It’s not “violence is pushing people apart”. It’s an expression of violence, a dance of violence maybe, that’s bringing people together. So it depends, to each his own on that one.
Ben: We’ve talked a lot about psychedelics during this podcast. And of course, you can make a lot of mistakes, you can do a lot of damage to yourself if you’re not careful, you can develop addictions. I mean there are obviously dark sides to psychedelics as well. And also just engineering your brain in general, even using like stimulation of the motor cortex, or say float tanks or things along those lines. Are there any rules that we can follow? Any kind of like best practices to ensure that we can tap into the type of ecstasy, or state of ecstasis, or flow that you describe in the book and still kind of be safe?
Jamie: Yeah. That’s a great and critical point, Ben. We actually devote the whole last chapter to exactly that. Because you guys were just playing around with the idea, “Hey, birds do it, bees do it.” This drive to get out of ourselves appears to be sort of prevalent throughout the animal kingdom. And if Michael Moss, the Pulitzer winning New York Times writer wrote a book called “Salt, Sugar, Fat” a few years ago, and he was basically saying, “Hey, those were flavors that were so rare through all of human history that now we have the Cheesecake Factory, and Chili’s that are just bombing us with these things. We don’t know what to do with ourselves.” And in fact there was even a secret meeting in Venice in the 90’s by all the big food and tobacco companies and they were trying to find the bliss point. And the bliss point was the exact combination of salt, sugar, fat that would just prompt us to lose our minds. And it worked. So all those industries have basically given us things that used to be so rare and scarce that our evolutionary biologist says, “Get yourself stupid on them because you’ll never see ’em again for month. Or years, even.” And the same thing has now happened with these techniques of ecstasy. So if it’s a fourth evolutionary drive, as Ron Siegel at UCLA suggests, and now we have pretty much unlimited access to what used to be once in a lifetime, or once in a blue moon experiences, we have to be super careful that we don’t end up ecstatically obese in the same way we are dietarily.
And so one of the simplest ways to do it is what we would call sort of hedonic calendaring, which is how do you pace and how do you sequence your experience of these states and not just get yourself stupid on them and end up in addictions, and delusions, and various other ways to kind of overcook. So the simplest way to think about it is if you kind of divide it into things you could do every day, basically foundational practices that are good for you and within reason you can’t really do too much of. And that would be the yoga, the stretching, the flossing your teeth, those kinds of things, foundational good things. And then once a week, almost what you were referring to, spiritual faith, Sabbath or an easy placeholder in Judeo-Christian culture, but the one day a week where I am going to kind of create a bit of a micro blips. Feels better, something that I check into that’s a non-ordinary state. Once a month, a deeper dive. Once a quarter, once a year. On the once a year, it could be a trip to Burning Man. Could be a trip to Peru.
Ben: Okay. So that would be like an annual ayahuasca retreat or something like that. That’d be like once a year. You would want to have like a Shaman come your house every month and do ayahuasca, for example.
Jamie: Exactly. It could be an ultra-marathon. It doesn’t all have to be substance-based. It could be a nine day Vipassana meditation retreat. But something that’s big, intensive, requires prep, requires recovery. It just might not be practical to do. Or might be such a discombobulating experience you actually need months or even years of integration afterwards. So that would be the idea is on a daily basis, the game is how many things that are good for me can I create rituals and habits, or enhance how I do them. And that builds my foundation. And then for the weekly through annual, it’s “how can I put these things in frequent enough that they help me maintain momentum, but not so frequent that they end up leaving me getting a little soft around the edges”. And so we would then say the final bit of that would be include some period of forbearance. And you can tie it to traditional ones like Ramadan, Yom Kippur, Lent. Or you can make up your own like New Year’s, or back to school, whatever works and say, “Okay, for 30 days I’m going to set aside all my pleasure producing ecstatic techniques or technologies, including my morning bulletproof coffee and my four squares of dark chocolate,” or…
Ben: Right. Forbearance being like the opposite of hedonism.
Jamie: Exactly. And then you can say, ’cause most people have this kind of guilt/indulgence relationship to a lot of these things. They do them because they’re drawn to them, that’s that fourth evolutionary drive, and then they do too much of them, then they feel really bad about it, and then they go cold turkey, and then they come back to it guiltily later ’cause there’s that fourth evolutionary drive thing. And so they just pinball back and forth between too much, too little. And so by hedonically calendaring it, you can say, “Hey, now if it’s too much, like if in that month I really realized that I had an itch to scratch and I’m thinking about it,” just move it to the right on your calendar. But you get to keep the practices and have them do the beneficial work without taking it off the rails.
Ben: Yeah. That makes perfect sense. Like I fast from Saturday night now until Sunday night. And the last few times that I fasted, it is kind of this version of hedonic calendaring that you talk about where I typically end my fast with, these days, an edible and a nice rib eye steak at about the same time the edible kicks in so that I really enjoy the food. And it’s fantastic. It’s that perfect blend of a 24 hour fast and then some extreme hedonism. You have a steak, and then go out on the hot tub, and so the glass of red wine. So, yeah. I get what you’re saying. You guys even have a whole, you have a hedonic, what is it? A hedonic calendar in the book, a free PDF that comes along with the book where you kind of help people sort their activities into this combination of hedonism and forbearance so that we don’t kind of like overdo either.
Steven: The important important thing to note is that one of the reasons that really, it’s not just scratching that evolutionary itch that’s important. What the research shows, and there’s a lot of research that was done in Harvard on adult development. It is that stepping outside oneself periodically, getting this wider perspective actually helps you move up the adult development scale. And as we move up the adult development scale, what you gain is empathy and perspective, you get the ability to see things from multiple perspectives. And you can only get that by stepping outside of yourself periodically. But basically over time, as long as you’re doing the homework, Jamie talked about integration, you definitely integrate this stuff. So it’s not hedonism, it’s moving forward. But what you see is that people move up the adult development scale, they gain these traits associated with wisdom which have all kinds of benefits, including like, in the most fascinating research to me is stuff done by Bill Torbert at Boston College who found that the higher you move up the development scale, the farther ahead of you move in business, the higher up managerial positions you end up occupying, and the bigger and better impact you have for your company. So kind of what the research shows is that consciousness goes right to the bottom line.
Ben: It’s so interesting. I mean we only really kind of scratched the surface of how to actually kind of like loop all this together and wrap our heads around how there’s this link between Burning Man, animals taking psychedelics, and using things like our modern technological versions of the God Helmet that people can now practically purchase online and use. But this book got me thinking, and so I guess laterally thinking in so many different ways. It’s really fascinating. I really think it’s a must read for anybody who wants to kind of like survive and thrive in a world that is changing rapidly when it comes to the way that we’re interacting with things like psychedelics and technology. Because this isn’t just people who are rich and bored sitting around in the desert taking LSD. This is, as the title of the book alludes to, the way that Silicone Valley, and the Navy SEALs, and maverick scientists are revolutionizing the way that we live and the way that we work, and I think it’s a pretty dang book. So if you’re listening in right now, first of all, I’ll link to the book and everything that we talked about over in the show notes. You just go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/stealingfire, that’s bengreenfieldfitness.com/stealingfire, and you can check out everything that we talked about and also all my previous podcast episodes that I’ve done with Steve. And also, Steven, Jamie, I want to thank you guys for coming on the show, sharing all this stuff, and also writing a frickin’ fantastic book.
Steven: Ben, thank you so much. I got to shout out back to you. Thank you for kind of everything you do. I think you’re one of the smarter, brighter people were in the hacking fitness face. It’s kind of an honor to get to interact.
Ben: Thanks, man.
Jamie: For sure.
Ben: Thanks. That’ll be until I fry my brain with some messed up warped version of the God Helmet. Gotta be careful on Reddit.
Steven: This is, last thing. I was doing, I was presenting at Summit in Eden, and Tim Ferriss was in the audience. And we were talking, I talked about some of this stuff and Tim pointed out, he said, “Be really careful with the 9V battery DIY Reddit thread version of this. You get it wrong, you’re going to make yourself really stupid for a little while.”
Ben: Right, right. You want to remember third grade math, everybody. I’m sure it’s important at some point. I don’t know when, but you might want to use that. Cool, guys. Well, thanks for coming on the show. And again, if you’re listening in, head over to bengreenfieldfitness.com/stealingfire to access the show notes. And until next time, I’m Ben Greenfield along with Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal signing out from bengreenfieldfitness.com. Have a healthy week.
Steven Kotler is a New York Times bestselling author, an award-winning journalist and the cofounder/director of research for the Flow Genome Project.
He first appeared on this podcast in the episode, “Decoding The Science of Ultimate Human Performance“, in which he talked about his book “The Rise Of Superman – Decoding The Science of Ultimate Human Performance” and explained exactly how to biohack yourself into this state of flow, and how you can tap into this power to achieve amazing feats of physical and mental performance, even if you’re not a “super athlete”.
Then, in our second podcast, “Why The Future Of Health Is Better Than You Think“, we delved into Steven’s book “Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think” Steven presented the contrarian view that exponentially growing technologies and other powerful forces are conspiring to better the lives of billions on our planet, that the gap between the privileged few and hardscrabble majority is closing fast, and that this is drastically affecting human access to everything from water to food, energy, healthcare, education, and freedom.
In today’s episode, Steven is back to to present the fascinating topics in his new book “Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work“. Stealing Fire reveals the biggest revolution you’ve never heard of, and it’s hiding in plain sight. Over the past decade, Silicon Valley executives like Eric Schmidt and Elon Musk, Special Operators like the Navy SEALs and the Green Berets, and maverick scientists like Sasha Shulgin and Amy Cuddy have turned everything we thought we knew about high performance upside down. Instead of grit, better habits, or 10,000 hours, these trailblazers have found a surprising short cut. They’re harnessing rare and controversial states of consciousness to solve critical challenges and outperform the competition.
Steven Kotler, along with high performance expert Jamie Wheal (Executive Director of Flow Genome Project and a leading expert on the neuro-physiology of human performance), spent four years investigating the leading edges of this revolution: from the home of SEAL Team Six to the Googleplex, the Burning Man festival, Richard Branson’s Necker Island, Red Bull’s training center, Nike’s innovation team, and the United Nations’ Headquarters. And what they learned was stunning: In their own ways, with differing languages, techniques, and applications, every one of these groups has been quietly seeking the same thing: the boost in information and inspiration that altered states provide.
Today, this revolution is spreading to the mainstream, fueling a trillion dollar underground economy and forcing us to rethink how we can all lead richer, more productive, more satisfying lives. Driven by four accelerating forces – psychology, neurobiology, technology and pharmacology – we are gaining access to and insights about some of the most contested and misunderstood terrain in history. Stealing Fire is a provocative examination of what’s actually possible; a guidebook for anyone who wants to radically upgrade their life.
During the podcast discussion on this episode with Steven and Jamie, you’ll discover:
-What ecstasis is, and what does it have to do with the SEALs…[7:30]
-The ancient, psychedelic, little-known substance called kykeon, and what it has to do with group flow…[11:28]
-How the SEALs cut the time it takes to learn a foreign language form six months to six weeks…[18:20]
-How meditation practitioners achieve in months what used to take years…[19:05]
-Why it is important to be able to shut down your prefontal cortex…[24:30]
-The surprising host of actual, measurable chemicals associated with flow state…[27:40]
-Why Google is so interested in hiring people who attend Burning Man…[32:45]
-For people interested in going to Burning Man, why do you think they should go and what can they expect…[34:35]
-How LSD helps people to solve technology problems…[42:40]
-How taking mushrooms before church could make church or other religious experiences more meaningful…[47:15]
-What you need to know about “The God Helmet”…[50:45]
-The big, big problem with Botox…[57:20]
-The fascinating tale of how animals use psychedelics to enhance lateral thinking…[61:50]
-How entire groups of people in a single room can synchronize their heart rates and brain waves…[65:05]
-The shocking impact of music on brainwaves and neurochemicals…[67:50]
-A few very important rules to follow if you decide to use psychedelics…[71:25]
-And much more…
Resources from this episode: