What follows is a transcript for the podcast Jamie Wheal With Dr. Daniel Lieberman - Consciousness.
Topics within the interview include:
- A high brow definition of dopamine
- What happens when our dopaminergic system flat lines
- The division of the conscious and unconscious mind
- Improving our relationship and understanding of the unconscious mind
- The dark side of the unconscious Mind
- How ancient mysticism and neuroscience bridge the gap between the conscious and unconscious mind
Jamie Wheal: I'd love to welcome you Dr. Daniel Lieberman to Homegrown Humans. Daniel is a professor of psychiatry at George Mason University. He is the author of The Molecule of the More, which is a fascinating book all about dopamine as well as his most recent, Spellbound, which is a treatise on the role of our unconscious. So Daniel, welcome to Homegrown Humans. I reckon we've got plenty to talk about today.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Thanks so much for having me. It's great to be here.
Jamie Wheal: Yeah. So first of all, as many folks that listen to this program and are either members of our Flow Genome Project community or the Neurohacker Collective, which are our partners on this production, many folks are familiar with neurochemistry. Folks are familiar with the roles of serotonin and oxytocin and of course the ever fun to talk about, dopamine. And you've come into a field where there's quite a number of folks writing books, full length books and debunking common myths and trying to lay out more sophisticated nuanced understandings of what is this incentive, reward, pleasure, salience, motivation, drive, novelty engine? What is it about? And so I'm sure this is a standard explanation you've offered a bunch of times, but just to ground us in your perspective, where would you site yourself in the literature, the conversation between Sapolsky and others? What's your take on dopamine? And what do you think are some of the most relevant and interesting insights to correct common misunderstandings?
A High Brow Definition of Dopamine
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Yeah. So for me, when I start with dopamine, I like to start with the concept of three dimensional space. That our brain basically divides the world into stuff that is within our arms reach and everything else, five feet away to the edge of the universe. And dopamine is the neurochemical that coordinates our brain activity when we process things in the extra dimensional space, extrapersonal space, excuse me. The space that's outside of our reach. This is where things that we don't have but either want or need exist. This is where the future is. This is where things that are abstract, non-tangible concepts like beauty and truth exist.
Jamie Wheal: So now time and space. You say not only is it-
Daniel Lieberman, MD: It's time and space.
Jamie Wheal: It's not on the peripersonal as you describe it, within arm's reach in my here and now, it's beyond that. But it's not just beyond that in dimensionality, it's also in temporality. Is that right?
Daniel Lieberman, MD: That's right, because things in the peripersonal space that are within arm's reach are also in the present. When we interact with them, we interact with them right now. But when we think about things that are in the extrapersonal, outside arms reach, if we want to interact with them, that's going to take place in the future. So dopamine is really responsible for everything outside of the here and now. Everything we don't have. Everything we want. Everything that we can imagine. And so I think that a good part of our lives is spent with our thoughts in the dopaminergic space.
Jamie Wheal: That's fascinating because just what you've described, you're almost making dopamine feel a little more high brow than it normally gets to be. Normally people think of dopamine as instant gratification, which would be the here now, me mine. You're saying goodness, truth, beauty, the future, long term aspirational ideals and goals. I've rarely heard dopamine rehabilitated to such a highfalutin driver.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Well, there are different circuits in the brain that are driven by dopamine. And the one that people normally think about when they think about dopamine is the mesolimbic circuit, we call that the desire circuit. And that's the one that's associated with sex and drugs and rock and roll. And that's what people normally think about when they think about dopamine. If you want to get mythological, we can associate that with Dionysus.
Jamie Wheal: Always.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: The God of alcohol and partying and our lower passions.
Jamie Wheal: Panic, madness.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Yeah. Madness, exactly. That's right. You have too much dopamine in that circuit, it not only leads to addiction and craving and things like that, it also leads to psychosis, schizophrenia. So they are pretty closely related and the ancients knew that when they assigned the different roles to their gods. But there's another circuit, the mesocortical and we call this the control circuit, it's also been called the executive circuit. Mythologically it's Apollonian. The dionysian circuit, the desire circuit looks into the future, but not very far, "I want that candy bar, I want that donut, I want that sexual partner, I want that beer." The Apollonian dopamine circuit, the mesocortical one, involves the most sophisticated parts of the human brain and that's the prefrontal cortex right behind the forehead. And this one looks farther into the future. A lot of times it will-
Jamie Wheal: And yet both respond to and are wired up to the dopaminergic reward systems?
Daniel Lieberman, MD: It's the mesolimbic that is typically the reward system. That's the one that gives us pleasure. The mesocortical, the Apollonian longer term one, it's not so much about reward, it's about maximizing future resources farther off in the future. So for example, if there is a donut on a plate in front of you, your reward dopamine system might say, "Wow, I would love to take a bite of that." But your other dope mean system might say, "Hey, that might give you short term pleasure, but there's a long term cost that it makes it not worth it."
Jamie Wheal: Nothing tastes as good as thin feels, plus I got Spring Break washboard abs to get to. Yeah, that thing.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Yeah. That's right. So that one looks farther into the future and things that exist in the future don't really exist, they don't have a physical existence. And so the circuit also allows us to work with abstract information. Things that don't have a physical existence like mathematics, the laws of physics, law, poetry, literature, philosophy. All of these things that are so important to human development and this is the high brow aspect of dopamine.
Jamie Wheal: Beautiful. Beautiful. Now when you were just talking about the peripersonal and the extrapersonal, what's in arm's reach here and now versus what's beyond me now and next, that sounds an awful lot like our colleague Andrew Huberman's take on visual acuity and eye tracking and how if you're looking in the immediacy, you do think now. And just hunter gatherer style, if you look to an horizon line, you tend to extrapolate a day to a week. So literally getting above it all and standing on a hill, or a bluff or a mountain top looking out over the ocean, those things really do clear our heads, they really do change our perspectives. Is your nomenclature, the peri extrapersonal, is that connected in any way to that visual acuity, cognition, linkage and research? Or was it originally independently derived?
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Let's see. So the three dimensional space in terms of neural processing comes out of some work that was done on fruit bats.
Jamie Wheal: Always.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: And I can't remember... Yeah.
Jamie Wheal: [inaudible 00:08:21] into a Monty Python sketch. "Fruit bat." Yeah, that.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Yeah. It was done by somebody who was doing work supporting the idea that fruit bats are closer to human beings, evolutionarily than you would expect. I think it was called the Flying Primate Theory, and it found this distinction in how the brain processes the different kinds of space and realized that that plays an extraordinarily important role in the organization of the human brain. But our eyes work differently in the peripersonal and the extrapersonal space. When we're looking at something close, we have smooth tracking. If you follow a finger, your eyes will go smoothly. You can't do that in the distance. It's not possible to track something smoothly in the distance. We have what are called saccades where our eyes jump in a ballistic fashion.
Jamie Wheal: Nice. And then what impact does that have, the eye tracking, the herky jerky motioning? Is that perceiving things in chunks? I feel like there was a MIT study on cognitive buffering where we're forever filling in the lot, the trailing 15 seconds of reality with what we expect to be in the frame kind of thing. Is it a hiccupy... Yeah, I would just say the ocular nerve is just one of those quirks of our design, or is it something more mechanical with the ocular input?
Daniel Lieberman, MD: I don't know the answer to that. I think that possibly it's not worth smooth tracking things that are far off in the distance, because it doesn't give you enough information. But as a clinician, as a psychiatrist who treats patients, I can tell you that there's a very interesting clinical use for that. And that is that patients who are living with PTSD will often undergo a treatment called EMDR.
Jamie Wheal: I was just about to ask about that.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Yeah, that's right. And basically what they're forced to do is they're forced to do smooth pursuit and that pulls them into the present moment, into the here and now and allows-
Jamie Wheal: Oh, interesting. Is it a anti-dissociative?
Daniel Lieberman, MD: It's an anti-dissociative, that's exactly what it is. Because people, when they think about their trauma, they tend to dissociate and that prevents them from being able to process it.
Jamie Wheal: Interesting. Because this is I think an intentional tangent because this is fascinating content, which is we came across in Moscow years ago, this wizard doctor who behind The Iron Curtain had been working with the Sámi equivalence up in the Arctic Circle in the Soviet Union. And he had developed this perinatal, prenatal matrix of trauma, which fits very well with Peter Levine and Bessel Van Der Kolk and the usual suspects these days. But it was eye tracking and it was iron tongue tracking. And using literally a reflex mallet as a yardstick of development. So the closer in the eye tracking and tongue tracking where the earlier it was in the developmental phase, and it was claiming to be able to identify the time period, 0 to 6 months, 6 to 36, even sometimes in the womb of where the traumatic impacts had happened by the mismatching between visual tracking and tongue tracking. Which is obviously it goes to your major cranial nerves, vagal nerve, all the bits and pieces. And then had interventions indexed to the neurosomatic rewiring prompts needed to mend and remedy where that moment of fracture had happened. So it's a little bit like cross crawling and the midline crossing and neuromotor linkages for infants and toddlers. It was along those lines, but remedial and diagnosed by glitches in the eye tracking. So, that sounds very congruent with-
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Yeah, well that's fascinating research. I've never heard of prenatal trauma before but we do know that experiences that mothers have while they're pregnant can affect their children's development.
Jamie Wheal: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, that was Stan Grof's work at Hopkins back in the day on prenatal and perinatal matrices that he was getting access to post the shutdown of LSD research with just his holotropic breathing method. And I feel like it went a little bit off the '70s transpersonal psych deep end as far as there schematics that they built. But lots and lots, I mean thousands of patients with subjective anecdotal reporting on, "I went back to the womb." Or, "I relived a birth experience." Or whatever those things would be. So however that nonverbal pre-construct aware selfhood, larged neurotic inputs, AKA trauma/birthing memories, TBD. But it seems fascinating.
Now, another question I have for you on the dopaminergic system is particularly with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Flow and Maslow and the rest, and Sulayman, in the optimal psych space. There's been quite a bit talked about with the notion of the hedonic treadmill, the idea that what first delights us tapers off over time. And I think in your TED Talk you really unpack that, you're like, "Hey, [inaudible 00:13:49]." To me that feels ... Is what you were describing there basically the flat lining of the dopaminergic stimulation response in mice and rats being fed, in birds in humans is because the novelty of it has worn off? And would you say that it is that at root, the hedonic treadmill is basically a reflection of the mechanisms of action of the dopaminergic system? Question one.
What Happens When Our Dopaminergic System Flat Lines
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Absolutely. Yeah. One of the infuriating things about the dopaminergic system is just how quickly it develops tolerance. As soon as we find something we like, we don't like it anymore. You've been planning for months to find that shiny new-
Jamie Wheal: Like one directional.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Yeah. That shiny new purchase and as soon as you get it's just not interesting anymore. But the dopamine system developed to keep us alive and reproducing. It did not develop to make us happy and we need to keep that in mind. And so the dopamine system-
Jamie Wheal: In fact, quite often is the source of our misery.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Oh yeah. And that happens when we get confused and we think it is the source of our happiness. When we're out every day pursuing those dopaminergic thrills and not realizing that it's actually making us miserable rather than happy. Because the point of dopamine is more, that's why we name the book The Molecule of More. It wants to maximize future resources. And if it allows you to be happy, satisfied, and fulfilled, it's not doing its job. The only way it can do its job is by making us unhappy, unsatisfied, and unfulfilled.
Jamie Wheal: AKA, late stage capitalism, "Can we do that?" It's a-
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Yeah. Social media. When was the last time you found yourself scrolling through a newsfeed, not only bored, but actually dysphoric, feeling bad, but you can't stop because you're thinking, "Well, one more scroll and I might find that story that will get me all excited and give me a shot of dopamine."?
Jamie Wheal: Well, yeah. We know the guy who invented the infinite scroll. He's now a part of the Center for Humane Tech with our buddy Tristan Harris trying to make amends.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Does he regret what he did?
Jamie Wheal: Yeah. There was some Python script, it was actually a tricky thing to have constant, endless, refreshing. So there was a technical challenge that they just as engineers were just trying to solve. They had no idea the bottomless pit they tossed us all into. But listen-
Daniel Lieberman, MD: And that's the history.
Jamie Wheal: Yeah.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: The history of technology. Scientists want to solve really interesting problems and all of a sudden they've destroyed the human race.
Jamie Wheal: Yeah. It's always like, "Whoops, my momma should have raised me better." It's just Asperger boys on the spectrum and just fucking shit up before they have any sense of the complexity, which we need a pin in the map, we're getting back to St. John's and the Great books invariably as we transition to your new book. But riddle me this because my experience with the hedonic treadmill was I don't experience it. And because the things that light me up and pursuing flow states, action sports, music, whatever these things would be, sexuality, psychedelics, the whole panel plea of ecstatic techno, Eliade's concept of Techniques of Ecstasy, all of them for me are exclusively embodied and therefore never... And they're the real deal, they're not the sugar high, so they never get old. I don't think I will ever get bored in my lifetime of bottomless blower powder and making link turns for 3000 feet on a blue sky day with friends because the neuro somatic inputs are there, they're real and they're back to present tense. And the same with an absolute tear a hole in the floor dance party in front of an ultra high-fidelity sound system by a live band or a producer. Those moments are quintessential glimpses of kairos, and kairos don't ever get old by definition.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Right. Right. I think-
Jamie Wheal: So is there a differentiation between what we're seeking and what we get and then how satisfying it is over the long term?
Daniel Lieberman, MD: There's a differentiation between seeking things that will give satisfaction and things that never will. And everything that you describe is not pure dopamine. Everything you describe is a combination of dopamine along with the here and now neurochemical processing. And if we take athletics as being one very easy example, moving your body is something that happens in the here and now. Especially if you're moving your body not for some purpose, like walking to the store to get a coffee, but just for the sheer enjoyment of moving your body as one does in sports. With music, there's dopaminergic pleasures in music, there's the anticipation of your favorite part of the song.
Jamie Wheal: The drop. It's always the drop.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Yes. That's right. But there's also an enormous amount of here and now pleasure because it's sensory, it's engaging. Not only hearing but also other senses as well. So you put your finger on it, the way to overcome the hedonic treadmill is to make sure that your dopaminergic pleasures are liberally mixed in with here and now pleasures. Pleasures that involve the body, the senses, and the present moment.
Jamie Wheal: Fantastic. So from the flow studies and action sport side, we would say the neuro somatic inputs they are the nectar of any of these things, it could be true for weaving, it could be true for music playing and listening, but it's weightlessness in which you see in sports as, off the lips, airs, all these kind of things. Weightedness, maximum Gs through the nervous system and musculoskeletal system and polyaxial rotation and just the absolute stimulus to the vestibular and proprioceptive systems. So all of those things are like payoff slot machines. And then I just read a study this last week, which was tracking that sub-acoustic, so below our threshold to actually acoustically perceive the more base there is, the more people shake their asses. And you're like, "Yes, tell us something we already knew."
Daniel Lieberman, MD: That's a wonderful study, but now all the music that's going to come out for the next five years is going to be overly based.
Jamie Wheal: Well yes, and it has been for the last 10. But so it goes right, that idea that to me, it almost feels like you're talking about the sincerest Pumpkin Patch. The sincerest dopamine patch is the one that has deeply embodied correlates, versus just a neurochemical buzzer. And that could be sugar, that could be cocaine, that could be a superficial non-relational orgasm. That could be any host of quick buzzer hits to the lizard brain monkey.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: And those are the easy hits, those are the ones that don't take any work. All of the pleasures that you described require an enormous amount of work and effort to prepare yourself for those pleasures.
Jamie Wheal: But now is that crypto-puritanism raising its ugly head or is that a legit thing?
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Definitely. No it's crypto. I think it's just the wisdom of age that we all are looking for quick fixes. We are all looking for shortcuts. And I definitely am into being as efficient as possible, getting the most for the least effort. But as I've gotten older, I've realized that, that's a fool's errand. And in fact, there does seem the puritans had it right. There does seem to be a very direct connection between what you put in and what you get out.
Jamie Wheal: Well, and the funny thing is, that tees up the Western civ neoliberal colonial critique of that. That is what propped up Calvinist Capitalism and everything else. And for a long time, I just assigned that to Maks Veber, protestant work ethic 101. That it's both our blessing and our curse, that we lived in cold environments with winter and had to prepare for them and we had this scatological framework that said, "Buy good works. We're really not sure. But do good works and you get to keep the proceeds." That was the protestant promise. And at whose feet you could lay many of the problems and mutations of our contemporary situation.
But then, I don't know, have you read Braiding's Sweetgrass, that wonderful book by that Ojibwe botanist professor? It's a gorgeous book, but she tells the story of one of the origin stories of first man. And he's up around the Great Lakes and he comes across this village and the kids are all natty, dready headed, crusty eyed, malnourished, the parents are all lulling around, zooted to the gills on pure maple syrup. So the first man's like, "This is wrong. What are you guys doing?" And so he takes a birch bucket, a giant birch bucket, being the first man he can do these things, and he dilutes all of the roots of all the entire sugar bush and dilutes it 40:1. So now they got to work for it, and that is the restoration of virtue for the Ojibwe people. And you're just like, "Oh, fascinating." So this is now decoupled from the protestant capitalist work ethic story and it gets back to your point, this may just be a feature of nature or at least human nature.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Yeah. I think it's a feature of human nature. Another famous place we see that is in Homer's Odyssey when Odysseus visits the land of the Lotus Eaters. The Lotus is like the pure maple syrup, it is so delicious that as soon as you eat it, you forget all of your problems and you don't need to do anything. You just want to sit around and enjoy yourself. And Odysseus wouldn't let his men stay there because he was on a mission to get home. And I think that that adds something new to this protestant work ethic thing. That it's not just work for the sake of work, it's not just work to make sure the economy runs, it's that, part of the human condition is feeling that we are not yet where we belong. We're not the people we were meant to be. We're not in the place where we feel at home. And-
Jamie Wheal: Wait, just unpack that. So are you asserting that as a cross-cultural truism, or are you indexing off certain cultures or civilizations that particularly represent that?
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Yeah. I can't do a cross culture because I don't have the education for that. But definitely within the Western civilization. Going all the way back to Homer and seeing it as a red thread throughout so much of philosophy and literature.
Jamie Wheal: The yearning.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: We only see it. Chris... What's that?
Jamie Wheal: The yearning.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: The yearning. Yeah. You see Chris-
Jamie Wheal: Is it a place we've lost or a place where not yet? And is there a difference?
Daniel Lieberman, MD: There's definitely a difference. There's definitely a difference. We can see it in the Christian religion, the place we lost was Eden and we yearn for that. But then of course there's the New Eden, the New Jerusalem of the second coming, that is even better. And that's something we also yearn for, that's our ultimate home. And nobody even knows what that looks like, that's inconceivable to a human being. So I think that this work ethic is really based on a fundamental idea of human nature that it's very difficult to be happy standing still. We're like sharks, a shark stands still, it dies of asphyxiation, and I think human beings are the same. If we stand still, we become petrified like the people in fairy tales who get turned into stone. In order for us to be happy-
Jamie Wheal: Contrast that with UBI. Universal basic income, good idea or failed to launch keeping in line with what you just said?
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Yeah. I think that UBI is dangerous. If it allowed people to do the most meaningful work that they could, it would be a wonderful thing. And I think a lot of people would use it and they would go out and they would do meaningful work that wouldn't necessarily generate an income but that's fine. Maybe they would paint, maybe they would sing, they would play a musical instrument, dig a garden, whatever. The risk is though, the people who would use it to buy drugs and just sit around doing drugs and alcohol all day long and looking at pornography on the computer. And because of the way-
Jamie Wheal: That's every young man in America age 18 to 30 at this point, but yeah, play through.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: The problem with the way the brain is wired, a lot of people are going to take that option. Probably more people will take the bong hit, Pornhub option. More people are going to take that, they're going to the, "I'm go out and do something really, really hard."
Jamie Wheal: So, that's the lizard brain fuck monkey conundrum. The better we get it at just pushing our buttons, the more tempting it is to get to the land of Lotus Eaters. By the way, hot take, who are today's card carrying Lotus Eaters?
Daniel Lieberman, MD: I think they're the people living in mom's basement playing video games, eating chips, smoking pot, and watching pornography.
Jamie Wheal: Okay. Which was all engineered unintentionally by sweethearted, BJ Fogg, right? And all of the behavioral, economic UX design limbic slot machine-
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Not unintentionally, intentionally, they know all about dopamine. And they design their technology specifically to hit those circuits. And they know better than anybody what hits those circuits.
Jamie Wheal: Well, so then interesting. Do you mind if I just run an idea past you? Because this is for my next book, which just happens to be focused on novelty and happens to use the dopaminergic system as one of three things. So I was just at a conference with the anthropologist, Wade Davis, I don't know if you know. He was Nat Geo's exploring residence, he was a Harvard ethnobotanist, literally real life Indiana Jones. And then this other fellow, Dr. Bruce Damer who's a NASA astrobiologist who's in the last five years has advanced a novel theory of the origins of life. It's going head to head with the thermal ocean vent thesis. And actually at this point it appears to be gaining a lot of ground, but it was in Nature-Scientific American, it's been published in a bunch of places now.
But here's their whole thesis is that it's actually hot springs, not thermal vents that were the actual cauldron of original complex life and that it happened in fish infusion. It happened in a boom burst cycle of heating and cooling. And it's that constant exposure to energy and connection and then cooling and dissipation. It was that backing and forththing that then pops out life. And you realize, "Oh, that's a very comparable discussion." And basically constantly over producing, so death writes the code to life. And out of the carnage comes the novel either classically Darwinian Natural Selection, randomized survival of the fittest or far more interestingly these days, mutations. Where you get the step-function, you get the Stephen Jay Gould, punctuated equilibrium moves. You get, "Oh wait, that happened out of nowhere lickety-split because mutation is far faster."
So that being true, not just in primordial soup and literally the bathtub ring around the hot springs of your. But then also the next level of novelties, dendritic replication. How lungs, and capillaries, and estuaries, and roots and branches are all doing the same thing because branching is the fastest way to propagate novelty again, but it's a slightly more complex method. And it's the explore/exploit notion and branching is the quickest way to do it. It's the quickest way to get maximum oxygenation to capillaries or river flow and fluid dynamics. But then at the same time, it's not just explore/exploit because if you find it, and it's an uncontested niche of novelty, you expand, you maximize it, and then you overcook it and you expire. So, that's another boom burst, death writing the code to a life, it's thanatoerotic. And then the third level was the dopaminergic system. Because I was like, "Oh, what happens when you get spinal columns in neurochemistry?" Does dopamine proceed spinal columns, complex [inaudible 00:30:32] systems?
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Oh boy, I don't think so. Not that I know of. It may have done different things. Dopamine also responsible for heating and cooling the body. Nature repurpose these molecules.
Jamie Wheal: Yes.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: So it might have been present, but doing something else besides novelty.
Jamie Wheal: Fascinating. Okay. So then that whole system, and then obviously with sexual reproduction as one of the most novelty producing innovations-
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Yeah. That's changed the game.
Jamie Wheal: And then my final one, let me run this past you and we'll transition into the philosophical side, and maybe we can even just jump right in and carry it through into your new book. But the question is perhaps the fourth is, play. And that obviously predates humanity, primates. It's in corvids, it's in cetaceans, it's everywhere.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: There's a study coming out showing that bees play. They gave them balls and the bees were rolling the balls around and there was nothing to be gained except fun.
Jamie Wheal: They also navigate via quantum mechanics in some bizarre ass way. So you're like, "Okay, those are super cool." And the hexagonal, the geometric structures of how they organize appears to be remarkably sophisticated also. So the final bit with play is ultimately starts with just innovative stuff, bear cubs, coyotes, whatever. But then goes all the way into Leela, infinite game and a willingness to choose and therefore protect the emergent novelty, the good, the true, and the beautiful. That happens to come out of these endless cyclical recursive natures of these otherwise totally amoral novelty engines. But as self-aware sentient participants in the infinite game, do we opt to choose to protect the rose pedals while we may? That kind of thing. So how does that land to you as far as a description of the drivers of evolution and consciousness, at least on this earth or at least this galaxy?
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Yeah. Well, the first thing that comes to mind is this is definitely a book, this is not an article.
Jamie Wheal: This is chapter fucking one. I literally in my outline right now, that is chapter one. And I looked at it and I'm like, "I think I'm crazy. Most people, this would be their career. And I'm trying to shoehorn this fucking thing into..." Oh yeah. It's bizarre.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: There's so much there. There's so much there. Yeah. I think you start to unpack it and you're going to have 40,000 words before you realize it.
Jamie Wheal: All right. Maybe I should just slow my role and chunk it out. Because arguably for me, it was trying to answer the, "What is the point when we come to the collapse of all of our stories?" Our teleological certainty is out the fucking window at this point. Everybody's questioning the Western progress narrative. People are latching onto like Yuval Harari's doom and gloom. Like, "10,000 years ago, everything was groovy and then patriarchy or Bennionism, hierarchy, priest class, animal husbandry, boo." And you're like, "No, come on. We have to have a better contextualization of the role of self-aware sentience in the bigger unfolding thing." And my gut sense is just evolution is an amoral novelty engine, nothing more or less. And the problem of evil is just the problem with our own personal life bound preferences and references and the temporal mismatch between, "Oh, a forest fire burns, and then up come green shoots and look at life." It's like, "Yeah, tell that to someone whose house is on fire." So answer that.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: So I agree. Nature, evolution is amoral, but it produced human beings who have a sense of morality. Did that change the game? Do we say, "Okay, now everything is different."? Or would you say, "Well, the engine underneath is still amoral, so not that much has changed, really."?
Why We Need to Get Better at Believing in the Improbable
Jamie Wheal: Yeah. Exactly. And I think Kevin Kelly, the futurist and founder of WIRED back in the day had a beautiful quote, and I can share it with the afterwards if you're interested. But he was basically like, "It's so much easier to imagine the devil than God, because we know this all goes to decay in the end. It's so easy to point out all of that stuff. God is highly improbable. You and I are highly improbable. Every flower that has ever bloomed is wildly improbable." So we have to get better at preserving, cherishing, and believing in the improbable, which once again feels in a beautiful way to go back to free will. It is the power of the choice, because even absolute virtue enforced unilaterally tops down, becomes fascistic and hegemonic over time. It seems inescapable doesn't it? There has to be the choice.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: I wouldn't even use the word virtue to talk about something that's being forced upon someone. Virtue has to be a decision that comes from the inside, otherwise it's just-
Jamie Wheal: That's a beautiful fail-safe. If you park that at the end as an addendum to the definition of virtue that it is fused with free will consent.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Right. It's got to be. But we're at such an interesting point in history in which the old stories that worked for thousands of years are now starting to break down. Western culture is really built upon the Judeo-Christian tradition and now the majority of people in Western culture no longer are getting meaning from that. And the question is, what's the next story going to be? This is something that Carl Jung talks about a lot, and he points to folklore fairy tales in which you constantly see the theme of the aged king dying and the young-
Jamie Wheal: The Fisher King.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Yeah. And the young prince, sometimes the young peasant, the young commoner taking over the throne to issue in a new golden age. And the lesson of the story is that when the old king tries to hang onto power, when he won't let go and allow the new age to come, terrible things happen. And that's where we are. We are-
Jamie Wheal: Looking at you old Joe B.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Yeah, that's right. We're at the end of the old age. And Jung said that the new story has to come from the unconscious. You can't get a group of brilliant people together and say, "All right, let's figure out what the new story's going to be." It's got to arrive organically from the soil of human unconscious. And there's no way to predict what it's going to be.
Jamie Wheal: Like QAnon. Just the Chans, I think Jung would not have approved of 4Chan and 8Chan. I think he would've drawn the line somewhere. Because look, now you've got the burbling of this subterranean, feted mind swamp that is this concoction of everything from 500 years of absolute whack-nut spiritual fanatics being the settlers of this continent, from the European migrations to an absolutely untethered, isolated, buffered, wildly exceptional little Petri dish of peace and prosperity, which we took for absolute granted and proof of the validity of our ways. Not just a giant continent, two oceans, more navigable waterways and harborage for transportation then everywhere else on the earth combined, peaceful neighbors to the north and south, and infinite amounts of fossil fuel and raw materials. You're like, "It doesn't matter. We could have done Marxism, we could have done capitalism, you could have done Bokononism and it would've fucking worked with those cards."
So I don't trust American education. It's vapid. It is presentist. It has virtually no relationship or humility to an understanding of history as it's taken place around the world and across cultures. So talk to me about your education and even how you went from the Great Books, which is something I seriously considered doing also, and we raised and taught our kids doing the Great Books via a wonderful homeschooling program. So talk to me about the unification, because when I think of psychiatrists, I think of folks that have generally, a biomechanical model of the human psyche and an itchy scription pen, they mediate via medicate. And you do not seem to be of that cloth, so share with us how you got to writing this book because this seems like a pretty beautiful synthesis of all your passions and interests.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Yeah. Wow. All right. So let me start with my education with the Great Books. So I'm in high school, I take the PSAT or the SAT and I'm getting all of this PR material from colleges telling me how great they are. And they're showing me their athletic fields, their buildings, this and that. One college is different. St. John's College. They send me a list of the books.
Jamie Wheal: They're like, "We play croquet."
Daniel Lieberman, MD: That's right. But they're not bragging about their school, they're bragging about the books that the students read. It's the Great Books of Western Civilization. The most important works of philosophy, history, mathematics, science, literature, the most important stuff that's been written since the dawn of history. You start out with Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, you work all the way up to the present time with Newton, Einstein, Lobachevsky, Marks, all of the moderns. There are no lectures because the philosophy at St. John's is that nobody's an expert on the Great Books. Everybody has to read the original sources to make up their mind for themselves. There's no textbooks, because textbooks are spoonfeeding. You got to go to the original things, grapple with them and deal with it. There are no tests. There's no exams. You read the books, you write papers and you talk about them.
So it was a unique education and I think it's an absolutely wonderful education. I think that as you point out, education today is devolving. One of my patients says that it doesn't matter what class he goes to, every class is the same. It's politics, that's all-
Jamie Wheal: Right now?
Daniel Lieberman, MD: -the professors want to talk about. Yeah. Even in his math class, in his science class, in his literature class, in his history class, it's all about republican and democratic politics.
Jamie Wheal: What?
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Yeah. And he says he feels like he's being cheated of an education.
Jamie Wheal: Yeah. John Haidt's been taking increasingly stride and stands on that.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Oh yeah. So anyway, so the Great Books, I'm a big fan of it. St. John's recently just dramatically lowered their tuition, by the way, to try to make their education in reach of everybody.
Jamie Wheal: Beautiful.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: I think it was a wonderful move.
Jamie Wheal: But now, the follow up question is why didn't you do the obvious and just become a jungian psychotherapist? What drove you forwards?
Daniel Lieberman, MD: That was my plan. After graduating from St. John's, I didn't know what I wanted to do. I rattled around for a while, and then I picked up a book by Carl Jung and I was absolutely fascinated. And I said, "This guy knows what he's talking about. He's got the answer." So my plan was to become jungian analyst. I wanted to go to Switzerland study at the Jungian Institute. I went back to St. John's and talked to one of my professors who had been mentor and a friend, and he told me to go to medical school. He said, "Dan, the most interesting advances these days are being made biomedically. And if you want to study the mind, you've got to understand the brain." And I took his advice, and I do not regret it. I think that he's absolutely right. I think that understanding the brain from a molecular point of view, from the point of view of neurotransmitters and circuits and growth hormones and all of that, really sheds a fascinating light on the philosophical approach to the mind.
Jamie Wheal: Beautiful. So then now to make my follow up question. Just reading the gloss on your new book, which was, if you're discussing, my presumption here is that when you say unconscious, you're loosely referring to a Jungian model. Is that fair to say?
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Yes.
The Division of the Conscious and Unconscious Mind
Jamie Wheal: Okay. So help me reconcile exactly what you just said about the medical side, which is that contemporary notions of self, I mean you can go back to Dave Eagleman's Incognito, as well as all the embodied cognition research, sense is suggesting that our notions of self, ego, super ego, conscious, unconscious, those things really tend not to bear much notion, the notion of M. Veldt's, Chris Argyris' Harvard Business School's, Ladder Of Inferences, ways we perceive and stack and construct meaning. Lisa Feldman Barrett's work on how emotions are made in interoception. All that is basically saying the idea that there's 10% of me that's self aware and narrating, and there's another 90% just like that, that I don't have access to, but I could, if I lie on a couch and talk about it or have some dream work or some non-ordinary state access to, it seems like that's been tossed out the window to say, "Yes, we have about that 10%." And I think David used that memorable analogy of, our consciousness is the equivalent of the headlines on the Sunday edition to the New York Times. That's it, compared to the body of information.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: I just don't think that's true. I don't think that's true at all.
Jamie Wheal: Interesting.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: If we look at the brain as a whole, it's capable of about five million calculations per second. Five million processing events per second. But the conscious mind is only able to do about 5 to 10. And that's why if I were to ask you to read a paragraph out loud, you could not do that while at the same time planning what you make for dinner. The bandwidth of your conscious mind, what Jung calls the ego is extremely narrow. And we don't need a laboratory to prove that, we can prove that right now. You can only do one thing at a time. You read a sentence, that's about 10 to 15 bits per second, that's it. That's all you can do. Whereas the brain, while you're doing that, the parts of the brain that you're not aware of are doing an amazing amount of work.
Jamie Wheal: Yes.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: They're coordinating millions of individual muscle fibers to maintain your posture in your chair. They're secreting hormones into your bloodstream. They're making sure you have proper oxygenation, and they're processing memories that you're not aware of in order to allow you to read these words and make sense of it. So I couldn't disagree more strongly, the division of the conscious mind-
Jamie Wheal: Let's tease it apart.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: -being extremely weak and extremely limited, and then this massive processing power in the unconscious, I think is incredibly well supported by the data. And I would point you to Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow. I think that's the closest we come to the psychoanalysts in terms of modern science. The way he describes fast thinking, the unconscious and slow thinking, the conscious.
Jamie Wheal: Yeah. So you're basically just making a case. It's Henri Bergson, it's the reducing valve of consciousness, it's all those kind of ideas. But basically below the neck, below legibility is 90% of our cognitive metabolic capacity that is doing all sorts of useful, helpful things for our system, whether we know it in real time or not. Is that a fair summary?
Daniel Lieberman, MD: That does half a million times more work. So forget about 90, it's 99 point, whatever half a million is going to take us up to. So unconscious mind is half a million times more powerful.
Jamie Wheal: Yes to that on the neurophysiological level, totally got you. My query, my curiosity will be, does Jung smuggle in the transpersonal into his "unconscious"? We've just made a very good neurophysiological defense and articulation of the boundary space of that truth claim. The bang. Got it. 90% body, brain shit, interoception. But when you then segue into the archetypes, when you take a left turn at a collective unconscious, when you start bumping it up, you've pulled open the Overton window and all sorts of things are smuggled in, which would then lead me to... Here's a potential synthesis, let me pitch this to you, and you shoot it down or prop it up, which is the possible synthesis of this is, give that to interoception, give that 90% neurophysiological category and then also perhaps tap the button on, we're moving from a monist, materialist understanding of consciousness is just the production of complex synapses in a brain, to a dualist notion of potentially, you are a receiver. The thing that David Eagleman did resurface in Incognito. Not to die on the hill, but to at least say, "Hey man, we've at least got to think about this." Which gives us then access to all the transpersonal, non-ordinary realms of archetype form, information, inspiration, the muses, take your pick. But it's not conflating that with the interoceptive 90% that we were discussing prior. How
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Yeah. I think it's most appropriate for scientists to work in the materialist realm and not to go beyond that. Beyond that, I think is the realm of philosophers and theologians, the realm of what I would call metaphysics and anything beyond what we find in the standard model of fermions and bosons. If it's not made up of fermions and bosons, I'm going to say we can't study it scientifically. And I would say that, that doesn't limit us as much as it might sound, because I think that saying that transpersonal is a fancy word for something that's very, very simple. So Jung talked about the collective unconscious, that we all share these archetypes.
And I think that from one perspective, that can sound mystical. It can sound metaphysical. That we're talking about something beyond atoms and molecules, but I don't think it needs to be. I think that the way Jung described it was very, very simple. He said, "All healthy human beings have two arms, two legs, two lungs, two eyes, one tongue, one heart, 10 toes, 10 fingers. We all share a common anatomy. The same is true with our brains. And so to say that everybody shares the archetype of the wise old man is no more mystical than saying everybody has 10 fingers and 10 toes. That there is a bedrock basic commonality to our psyche that's simply a result that genes, that DNA makes brains in certain ways, and that those circuits are what gives rise to archetypes."
Jamie Wheal: Well, do we even need to do that though? Staying within the Jungian vernacular, can't we just evoke that we are discussing the mytho-poetic, the imaginal realm, which requires creative cognition to animate, and we just simply have a different set of aesthetic judgments and criteria beyond Cartesian sensing experience. Then we're just free to roam. We just tapped in at the threshold. We said, "Hey, now we're switching to imaginal and we're in the mytho-poetic. Good, true, beautiful aesthetics."
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Yeah. I think that's a very effective way to go at it. The only reason I want to emphasize it's compatibility with materialism is because I think that Jung is sometimes unfairly dismissed as being a mystic. And I think sometimes-
Jamie Wheal: I think it's fair to say, wouldn't you agree that he's an initiate into whatever the hell he was initiated into? He went through it to get there.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Yeah. I think that he had some mystical ideas, but I don't think you need to move beyond materialistic science in order to understand or support his ideas.
Jamie Wheal: What about the gnostics and the archons? If you want to get archetypal, the manichean showdown between light and dark and Eschasthesia of some sensing of the Eschaton, some inflection point. That seems to be deeply hardwired, as does some East of Eden experience. Native tribes, we used to be one with all the nations they could talk and understand each other, and then whatever the fuck happens, and now we hunt them and say, "Sorry."
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Right.
Jamie Wheal: So everybody's got that stuff. Now, is that, I mean, particularly within the Western tradition, that's a fairly, I mean, that's Lord of the Rings, that's everything, they all follow those beats. Would you say those two are neurophysiologically mediated and basically on that deeper substrate? If so, how?
Daniel Lieberman, MD: As a psychiatrist, I'm going to say all human behavior, all products of the mind are literature, poetry, folklore, are neurobiologically mediated.
Jamie Wheal: Okay. Oh, that's a bold argument.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Listen, as a person I don't believe that, but as a scientist, that's the only thing I can validly talk about.
Jamie Wheal: So you're hamstrung by your guild?
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Yes, that's right. Because listen, the only reason you're going to buy my book is because I'm a psychiatrist. They're not interested in my own opinion. There's nothing special about my opinion that makes it superior to anyone.
Jamie Wheal: You're medical background with the Great Books is rad. That is a kick-ass unique experience [inaudible 00:52:30].
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Thank you, I appreciate that.
Jamie Wheal: Yeah, it's [inaudible 00:52:34], man. That kind of [inaudible 00:52:34] matters. And for me, I was not a Campbellion, I was Robert Gravesion, because to me Campbell, he was pulling it just like Kerouac's writing. Kerouac was not that cool. Neil Cassidy was that cool. Gary Snyder was that cool. Kerouac wasn't. And the same with these, I think that there's synthesis that you're offering that is timely, that's really important, and that as we engage narrative collapse and what many are calling a meaning crisis, you already considered passing in a way that is non doctrinal but is coming at it from the just, "These are emergent properties. We can name them, notice them, discuss them. There's this... It's probably more within the academic tradition." To me that's super worthwhile, so give us the thesis of your latest book. I want to hear it.
Improving Our Relationship and Understanding of the Unconscious Mind
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Yeah. So you've absolutely put your finger on my grandiosity, and that is my hope that by bringing philosophy and neuroscience together in a way that the average educated reader can understand that, that will lead to a new way of our seeing ourselves and maybe plant the seeds for us finding a new way to have meaning in this world as the old stories die away. But the thesis of the book is that we don't appreciate the role that our unconscious plays in our lives, that we think we're in charge above the neck, in between the ears. "If I want to think about an elephant, I can think about an elephant. If I want to plan what I'm going to do tomorrow," We think that we can decide what we're going to think in our head and nothing is further from the truth. The vast majority of what goes on inside our heads is outside of our control. It's the most important things that take place in our heads, and we totally don't appreciate it. And we can dramatically improve the quality of our lives if we gain a better understanding and a better relationship of these unconscious processes. 00:54:45
Jamie Wheal: Fantastic. And then how do we do that? Is that the realm of story and myth?
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Yeah, I think so. I think the first step is to acknowledge what's going on. Let me just give you a sense of what's unconscious, all right. Let me just mention two things. The first is emotion. Whether you're happy, sad, irritable, angry, generous, whatever, you have no control over that. And probably nothing determines the quality of your life more than your emotions. All right? That's number one. Number two, desire. Every morning you get up and you plan your day around getting the things that you want, either in the short term or in the long term, that guides your life, but who decides what it is that you want? Not you, that's outside of your control. A lot of times we know that the things that we desire, the things that we're working for and sacrificing for are bad for us. Maybe we're pursuing a partner that we know is terrible for us. Maybe we're pursuing a career that we know is really not going to go anywhere, or we're not going to enjoy, it's just going to be a life sentence of doing something that we hate. We don't get to decide what it is that we want, but that determines the course of our lives, it determines the course of our day. And so the unconscious mind is really calling the shots. And so that's my argument about why it's worthwhile getting to know this entity inside your head a little bit.
Jamie Wheal: And then what's the way out? What's the way out? Do you have to do the ball of yarn into the maze? I mean, do we have to go and seek the boon? What actually unlocks it?
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Yeah. So here's the deal. I mean, do you remember that old movie, old TV show, The Odd Couple?
Jamie Wheal: Oh, yeah.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Yeah. So the conscious mind in some ways is Felix Unger, we're the very neat, we want everything to be ordered, we want everything to be proper. We want everything to be in its place. But we've got the other guy, I can't remember his name. Walter-
Jamie Wheal: Oscar.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Oscar, yeah. Who's just an absolute slob and he just goes by instinct and he's very animal-like, and that's how our unconscious mind is. It's much closer to-
Jamie Wheal: A [inaudible 00:57:13] in the purlins.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Yeah, that's right. And so we may wish like Felix did, that we didn't have this horrible roommate, but we did. And ultimately, the two of them together formed a more complete person than either one of them separately. And so what we've got to do is we've got to get to know this horrible roommate better, and we've got to ally with that person so that we can become whole.
Jamie Wheal: Beautiful. Okay, so cognizance of the Beowulf, right? We have to wrap our heads around that. What stories, what myths to you feel most apropos of this moment? That literally sometimes there are those overlays between Kronos and Kairos, the moment takes on mythic and epic proportions, the lives of men are played on a chess board on Olympus. What story are we in right now? And/or what stories do we need to start retelling and living into?
Daniel Lieberman, MD: The unconscious is so powerful and it's so alien that when it acts on us, it feels like a supernatural force. And our language is full of this. We say it without even realizing what we're saying. Somebody does something incredibly stupid and we say, "Oh my God, what possessed her to do that?" Possessed, we used the old fashioned language of the supernatural. And so I think that the best stories to help us better come to terms with our unconscious are stories about the supernatural, stories about magic, which is why I titled the book Spellbound.
Jamie Wheal: Yeah, it's a good title.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Thank you. And religious stuff, it is helpful, but religion comes with so much baggage. It comes with so much baggage that, that's probably not going to be as helpful as some of the older stories, fairy tales and myths. And I think that the right way to consume them is not to pick up an anthology and read myth after myth, story after story, but just to read one and don't even think about it. Just read it and see what happens. And try to pay attention to the kinds of thoughts, fantasies, dreams that spontaneously arise after reading a fairytale or a myth. Pay attention to your emotional reactions. I don't know about you, I really have a great deal of respect for that kind of literature, but I wouldn't exactly say I enjoy it. I find-
Jamie Wheal: Most of them are pretty whacked. I mean, the Brothers Grimm-
Daniel Lieberman, MD: They're whacked.
Jamie Wheal: -they're whacked. Yeah.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Yeah.
Jamie Wheal: The Grail Legend-
Daniel Lieberman, MD: And if you're going to read a fairytale, don't read the Disney adaptation. Go out and get the Brothers Grimm.
Jamie Wheal: Where they all die.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: And-
Jamie Wheal: They're horrendous. You're like, "You read this to children, you use sick bastards."
Daniel Lieberman, MD: I know. But boy, if you had any idea what was going on inside of children's heads, you would be shocked. They're little savages.
Jamie Wheal: That's hilarious. "They're little savages." That's perfect. So specifically, out of the Western cannon or anywhere else that's been alive for you, which myths are we in right now? What feels... I mean is "modern man" are we too clever for our own riches? Have we neuroticized our way into the post mythic, or are there actually deep ancient stories same as it ever was there, that we're just stumbling our way through right now?
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Yeah. I think that the myth that we are in is where the king has become old and decrepit-
Jamie Wheal: Okay boomer.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: What's that?
Jamie Wheal: Okay, boomer.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Yeah, that's right. And when I say the king, I'm thinking about the Judeo-Christian tradition, and also just the tradition of states with strong, central governing powers where you have one culture and everybody follows that culture. In the 1950s, we had the monoculture, and that worked out really, really well for a little while until you had the new generation rebelling against it and saying, "We don't like it. The monoculture is falling apart." And so instead, we have a million little subcultures. We've got Reddit with all of its sub-Reddits, everything is fractured. And that is advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is that is we don't have this pressure to conform, people can be an individual much more now than they could in the past. The disadvantage though, is that there's a sense of alienation, there's not one thing that we can all agree on. And there's this sense that our society is fracturing into a million different pieces and falling apart.
Jamie Wheal: And does this current earth crisis, I mean, some people talk about this as, "Wages of sin. This is self eradicating, late stage capitalism, we get what's coming to us." Some people can see this as birth pangs and the pain of labor and some, depending on whatever people's particular hermeneutics are, some New Jerusalem, some happily ever after on the other side of this, and just reframing the pain and suffering. Are there any old timey or even contemporary, I mean film novels, anything that comes to mind as to what feels like the appropriate story? Joanna Macy, the ecologist and zen priestess has called us the people of the passage that are starting to articulate these transitional narratives. What feels most true for you? What would you share with folks as to saying, "Hey, this is how it appears to me. This is the mythopoetics of our moment, of the future."?
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Yeah. Boy, I wish I could think of a specific story because I know that there are many, many dozens of stories. But let's go to the very end of the Lord of the Rings, after Sauron has been defeated. That should be the happy ending, but it's not. There's a task to be done and you have to clean up the Shire. They return home from the Shire and it's full of corruption and criminals because the central power has fallen apart and the new power has not yet taken its place. And I think that, that's where we are. I'm an optimist, I think there are all kinds of wonderful things on the horizon. I read this funny thing, somebody was complaining about the national debt and how it's a terrible thing that we're leaving all of this debt to our children and our grandchildren and somebody said, "Screw them. They're going to have flying cars. They're going to be perfectly happy." And I think that we are on the brink of some major breakthroughs. If we can make fusion energy work-
Jamie Wheal: Or that was a sociopathic statement.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Possibly. Listen, if we can make fusion energy work, unlimited clean energy, we don't have a climate problem anymore. We can pull carbon out of the air. And it doesn't matter how inefficient or expensive it is, because with fusion we have unlimited clean energy. We're going to have quantum computing, we're going to have artificial intelligence. I think that the problems of scarcity, the problems of atoms and molecules are going to be solved.
Jamie Wheal: You sound like Ray Kurzweil now.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: But that doesn't solve the problem of psychology. It doesn't solve the problem of meaning and growth and fulfillment. I think ultimately that's going to be the bigger problem than problems with climate and starvation and that sort of thing.
Jamie Wheal: Interesting. Well hard to say not knowing, we're basically just racing backwards down the cognates curve. It's like, "Can we use the technology of this carbon boom to actually innovate and navigate a seamless transition to NextGen renewables and sustainables with all of our complex machinery and wiz-bang tech? Or do we go back to Einstein's, Fourth World War being fought with sticks and stones?" Do we-
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Yeah, what's going to happen?
Jamie Wheal: -capacity to innovate our way out of this pickle?
Daniel Lieberman, MD: That's right. It's a race. Are we going to destroy our environment first or we going to use our technology to figure out a way to save it? And I vote on save it, I think that's going to win. But nobody can predict right now.
Jamie Wheal: Well, we definitely are self interested little monkeys, so we're going to get rich or die trying.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Yeah, that's right.
Jamie Wheal: Final thing, Dan, in the realm of archetypes, I was going to ask you just, which do you think are most prevalent or immediate for us right now? But then this other thought came in, so let me share it with you. Which is, we had Princeton Scholar, Elaine Pagels come to one of our gatherings this summer in Aspen. So we had this fireside chat and she's absolutely fascinating. She's the preeminent scholar in early Christian-gnostic gospels, original translator, that kind of thing. And we were talking about one of her translations of the Book of Job and how originally it was just a story of Yahweh and Job, but it really seemed irreconcilable from the plot line. It's, either he's all powerful and a total dick or he is not powerful enough to stop this evil from happening. It's a double bind.
And so she, most folks didn't know this, I mean, I only knew it because I read her stuff, but basically, there was a secondary author centuries later introduces Satan, Satan as the opposer. And hence went Western civ. Where you had the duality of God is all pure and true. And then there has to be the opposer, to allow for all the bad shit, versus trickster gods, which was Zeus, which was indigenous ones, African, North American, all around the world. The kind of, what me worry, prankstery puckish, much more Dionysian than Apollonian, what do you think? Because you just laid out the techno-utopian optimist bit, completely congruent with Steven Pinker, [inaudible 01:08:01], Hans Rosling the rest, versus the trickster element. So now I'm asking you to respond from your St. John's side of the coin, what do you think about our ongoing hubris, our perpetual Faustian bargains, the law of unintended externalities and consequences, and how do we integrate the trickster in a way so has not to end up needing to get pranked by him?
The Light and Dark of the Unconscious Mind
Daniel Lieberman, MD: So Jung was not a fan of the Judeo-Christian God because of exactly what you said. He said, "He's one sided." You can't have a deity that's all good because yeah, you could put all the evil in the devil, but that doesn't quite work out because the devil is not the equal of God. God's the creator, the devil is the created. And so what Jung says, what happens is-
Jamie Wheal: That's an interesting distinction. That's a really interesting distinction. Not that good and evil lighten dark kairos, one is subsidiary to the other.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: That's right. And what the theologians say is that evil doesn't have its own existence. Evil is simply twisting goodness, warping it, perverting it. But with the Manichaeism view, the older view, light and dark were equivalent and all of the gods had equal amounts of light and dark. And that's certainly true of the unconscious, the unconscious does amazing things for us. It gives us inspiration, energy, passion to do wonderful things, but also gives us hatred and misery and aggression. So light and dark, what do we do with that in our modern times in which modern civilized people no longer believe in evil gods? We believe in a God who is all good.
Jamie Wheal: Yeah.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: I think that's a story that hasn't been written yet. I think that the problem of evil is one that has not yet been solved. And it may be that finding the next chapter of the story is going to involve figuring that out.
The Link Between an Alien World of Mystical Experience and Consciousness
Jamie Wheal: My sense is this, just the creative destruction on the backside of Schumpeter and novelty engines, death writing the code to life. If you're dying, it sucks. If you're on the high side of that, it's happy days. So final question, I'm glad I remembered to ask you. Let me run this past you, because you were just referencing the Jungian archetypes. Freud also famously drew some parallels fledgling between the unconscious and our perception of UFOs. So that notion that we have othered our subconscious or projected elements of our psyche-
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Projected, yeah.
Jamie Wheal: -come back to us. So what about, I just read, I think it was in the span of 10 days, a couple of Vice Magazine updates on a couple of new releases from the US government. And the first one was, "Hey, we're no longer calling them unidentified aerial phenomena. We are having to now include terrestrial and aquatic." And you're like, "Wait, what the fuck? What would prompt you to have to say that?" Then they said, "For us to release any more materials from our UFO files right now would constitute a national security risk." You're like, "That's a rather bold statement and very much keeping them close to the vest." And then the final one was a Stanford study set up to assess, I don't know how many, hundreds of known and undocumented patients with brain scans pre-post contact with whatever the hell their newest acronym is, those things. And they were all showing meaningful brain mutations to light damage, almost like Havana Syndromey kind of stuff.
And you're like, "Wait, that's material culture. That's real stuff. They're having to update this thing to be air, land, and sea. They can show up anywhere. And no, you can't know more. It would break you." So what is your sense of how a seeming, I mean, just the fact that those are the squares in Congress. This is the level of information leakage and disclosure, and this is the amount of things that people are willing to say publicly and broad daylight to journals of record. You're like, "What?" So what would be your sense if in the next five to 10 years that actually did in fact punch through into shared collective awareness and acceptance? What are the Jungian implications there?
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Yeah. All right, so using the old-new phenomenon of, what do they call it? Unidentified aerial phenomenon?
Jamie Wheal: Yeah, UAPs.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Yeah, UAPs. So, that word is intentionally ambiguous. It clearly leaves out aliens, life forms from other planets. The idea that we have been visited from life forms from other planets is a difficult one to support, simply because the conditions for life are so difficult and complex life, intelligent life, that it's almost certain that there's no life in our galactic neighborhood at least. If aliens visited us, they must have come from very far away, so far away it raises very difficult questions about the technology necessary to get us here. To me, it seems far fetched, but I know a lot of very, very smart people believe in it. A colleague of mine, a psychiatrist, very intelligent person, I mentioned, "There's a Harvard psychiatrist who says that every patient who comes in for psychiatric evaluation should be asked about alien abduction because it's far more common than we believe." And I mentioned that as a joke, and the guy's like, "Oh, no, he's absolutely right. I believe that's true. Something like 10% of my patients have been abducted by aliens."
Jamie Wheal: Fascinating.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: And I don't know, that doesn't seem rational to me.
Jamie Wheal: That's in a Harvard practice?
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Yeah.
Jamie Wheal: Fucking lefties up in Cambridge. I'll tell you what, they'll believe anything.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: So the thing that Jung pointed out is just how appealing this is. And he believed that UFOs were a projection of what he called the self. And that is the unification of the conscious and the unconscious, the highest state, the human being is-
Jamie Wheal: And now is it transpersonal, it's our collective self, or is it each of ours?
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Each of ours.
Jamie Wheal: It's the platonic sense? Do they do any mind meld up top?
Daniel Lieberman, MD: No.
Jamie Wheal: No, because I was going to ask you Taid Dishardan's neuro-sphere, like what are the parallels, similarities, and differences between that Jungian notion and his neuro-sphere, I'm curious?
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Yeah, No, Jung talked about the collective unconscious, but he was very focused on the individual, and he had negative feelings about collectivism. He felt that collectivism did violence to individuality and should be resisted.
Jamie Wheal: And to the entire continent twice in his lifetime.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Yeah. That too.
Jamie Wheal: Well, how about this? Both then, and again, I think I would still be a dualist. I wouldn't even necessarily subscribe to this one, but there is a theory of setty contact research bid, called the transcension hypothesis, which is that any sufficiently random, anywhere else, advanced civilization would've gone post material a while ago, and they would be sending energy, information, awareness, whatever, through not tin cans and spaceships. And then that's a very overly gross, rudimentary sense, which would then be potentially, if those guys engage in a transcension hypothesis, if our subconscious or unconscious is actually the entry gate to that information field, there's almost a reconciliation between them all. Some post union duct tape.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: The problem with that is that despite the incredible sensing equipment that we have, able to measure quantum states, able to measure single photons, we've never been able to measure anything outside of the standard model outside of fermions and bosons. And so-
Jamie Wheal: When you say never been able to measure anything, like what? Give us some examples.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: So you're saying that it's very primitive to send tin cans through space, they're doing something that's trans-material.
Jamie Wheal: Possibly. I mean, that's a hypothesis.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Yeah. But the problem is that we've never measured anything trans-material, and that's not for lack of trying. And so I think that we can speculate about it philosophically, but I don't think we can say anything scientifically about it. The science-
Jamie Wheal: Oh, no. This is why I was curious to double tap into the imaginal realm so we could riff in the Jungian and archetypal space without constantly having to tether it back or qualify. We can just play full tilt in that space. We're not saying there's one to one truth claims.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Yeah.
Jamie Wheal: You know what I mean?
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Yeah. But I think that- I think that gives Jung a bad name.
Jamie Wheal: Which it does.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: I think that people think about that and they go, "Oh, well, people talk about Jung in this imaginal sense because he can't be understood in a scientific sense." And part of the reason I wrote the book is because a lot of these ideas in the book are new age woo woo stuff. And I wanted to show that all of this stuff has a very firm grounding in real science, and that it's not woo woo at all. It's as scientific as neurosciences, it's as important and it's as influential.
Jamie Wheal: Beautiful. Beautiful. Well, that is such a fun back and forth, so I really appreciate you returning serve with such fun pace and position-
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Thank you for challenging me at such a difficult level. It wasn't easy, I'll tell you that.
Jamie Wheal: Well, I mean, I had no idea. I mean, knew, there was a couple of questions I definitely wanted to ask you about the hedonic treadmill, I wanted to ask you about Huberman's eye tracking, and the theory of mine, Jungian versus interoceptive. But beyond that, the rest was just jazz with you. So thank you and thank you for advocating so heartfeltly. I mean, it almost feels like a loving re-contextualization and rehabilitation of Jung for your broader colleagues, profession, community in your current realm.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: In my field, anybody who's interested in analysis reads Freud, and nobody reads Jung and they've got it backwards. We should step away from Freud, and I think Jung has much better ideas.
Jamie Wheal: Yeah, I think Freud was a brilliant, but twerky coke-head. I mean, let's just call it for what it is, where Jung, at least he leaned into the mysto you got to give him that.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: And everything was about sex and everything is not about sex. Jung understood that the human brain is far broader, far more interesting than just being a sex machine.
Jamie Wheal: Beautiful. Well, for everybody listening, go grab a copy of Spellbound and check it all out. This has been a fantastic conversation. Dan, thank you so much for joining us on Homegrown Humans.
Daniel Lieberman, MD: Thanks so much for having me. It's been a great pleasure.