Scott Young: Author of Ultralearning and Co-Creator of Life of Focus - Distilled Wisdom on Motivation, Education, and Productivity

Scott Young, author of Ultralearning, joins us to discuss the best ideas from his decade of writing and teaching about productivity, learning, motivation, philosophy, and success. Scott is also the Co-Creator of Life of Focus, a 3-month course he teaches with Cal Newport.

Scott Young
March 2, 2021
77
 MIN

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Notes

Scott Young  started his blog when he was 17, and has been writing there for his entire adult life. That blog, where he shares ideas for learning, living, and working better served as the stepping stone to where he is today: a bestselling author, respected thinker, and accomplished entrepreneur.

To test out his theories of learning how to learn, Scott completed challenges like:

  • Completing MIT's undergrad computer science curriculum in 12 months
  • Self-teaching quantum mechanics
  • Learning sketching by drawing portraits every day for a month
  • Spending a year without speaking English, and learning four languages

Scott has been on our list of people to interview from the very beginning, so this is a very exciting podcast for us to release.

Links:

Scott's Blog:  https://www.scotthyoung.com/

Life of Focus: https://www.life-of-focus-course.com/waitinglist.html

Ultralearning: https://www.scotthyoung.com/blog/ultralearning/

Reach out to us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LouisKyleShow

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Episode Transcript

Note: This transcript was generated by AI and was only minimally edited by our team. We apologize in advance for any errors.

Speaker 1

Kind of a weird system in the States where they want it to be about ability and performance, but at the same time they don't. And so you have things like, well, how good you were in football affects whether you can go to study chemistry at an elite school, or, you know, whether you did a lot of extracurriculars is very important. Whereas in, you know, like in Korea and China, for instance is much more based on your grades. Admittedly, there's corruptions in those systems as well, but at least they are supposed to be corruptions. They're not like in tech, that's how the system is supposed to work.Speaker 2

Hello and welcome to the Lewis and Kyle show Louis and I are college students at the university of Alabama. We're 21 years old and we're interviewing people that are high performers in the areas of entrepreneurship, investing authors, really anybody that piques our curiosity and we think would make a really great conversation today. We have on Scott Young, the author of ultra learning and the co-creator of the course life of focus with Cal Newport.

Speaker 3

Scott has been an incredibly prolific blogger on the subjects of motivation learning self-improvement philosophy in some respects pretty much since he was 17. So close to 14 years, he's published well over a thousand articles across these different topics. And I've been a longtime reader of him being on his newsletter and reading this blog for over three years and also having read his book ultra learning a couple of times. So it was a real treat to have the opportunity to interview Scott about the topics I find most fascinating from his writing, as well as what he hopes to accomplish with the students of his new course with Cal Newport, this conversation dives into questions, Kyle and I had about all of those different topics, motivation self-improvement philosophy, et cetera. And it just shows how interesting and unique thinker that Scott is. I'm excited for you all to listen to this conversation and I'm going to switch over to the chat. Now, Scott, welcome to the Lewis and Kyle show. This is a super exciting episode for us. We're excited to chat with you. Oh yeah, this is great. Great to chat with you guys too. And thank you so much for being here. Just to kind of tell a little bit of the backstory. I think I've been reading your work pretty consistently. I think my entire time in college and now my freshman year, starting to research study hacks and productivity and all the kind of topics that you have just a large body of writing on, I've been on your newsletter. And you're one of the people that when I got a new blog from him, like I got to read it like right off the bat. So it's exciting for me to finally have a chance to go back and forth on some of the ideas with you.

Speaker 1

Oh thank you. I will. I'm glad you enjoy the things that I put out.

Speaker 3

Absolutely. I want to start out by asking, cause this is what I mentioned to you in the pitch when I invited you on the show, by talking a little bit about the course that you've just recently launched the next cohort of with Cal Newport, the life of focus. Can you tell us a bit about just quickly what that course is and what the hope result is you get for students of that?

Speaker 1

Yeah. So this is a course idea that Cal and I had been thinking about for probably about five years and the sort of initial idea was the success of his book, deep work. So deep work was this big kind of changing point in Cal's career where he became the deep work guy, but it was basically his observation from doing of advanced computer science to the MIT theory group that the people who are really, really good just had this intense ability to concentrate on hard problems. And if you look at the modern office environment is just constantly being interrupted with quick check-ins and email and Slack chats. And no one seemed to be really decrying this, or even recognizing this, you know, there, there was a whole movement towards open offices and towards this kind of non-stop collaborative attitude. And so deep work was a kind of turning point where people started to recognize, Oh, actually being able to pay attention to things is really important. And I think it was somewhat pressured because he wrote in that book, a chapter about quitting social media, sort of as a little bit of an extreme, but you know, I think justified suggestion that if you want to be more productive, maybe don't be as distracted. And that turned out to be prophetic because in the time since then, social media has become much, much more captivating and attention demanding. Like, I don't know, I'm a little bit older than you guys, I think. And when I was in university and Facebook was just rolling out, it was just a way to post pictures of like, you know, some party you went to and you just upload some photos and now it is just become this all consuming, um, thing that you have it on your phone and it never leaves you. And so he followed that up with digital minimalism, which was kind of about the personal consequences and sort of in parallel with these developments of his career, writing about focus, I was doing a lot of these ultra learning projects. I wrote a book and focus was a major part of that. And so it seemed kind of a natural and natural collaboration point for us to work on something that kind of synthesize a lot of these ideas. And so we came up with this title life of focus because we felt like it captured what we were after. Not just a, you know, here's how to be more productive. You know, the kind of Brian, Tracy wearing the suit, giving you the thumbs up on the cover kind of approach, but just more about what really matters to you and how do you want your attention line with things and recognizing that, you know, often there's a lot of forces, both in our working environment and in our personal lives that make it very difficult to do that. And so this course was really an attempt to give students a chance to ask themselves, okay, what do I really want to focus on when I'm working? What are the things that okay, actually I know it's work, but maybe I shouldn't be doing so much of it. And in our personal lives, you know, how do you want to spend your free time? And I think this is something that's become recently really important to me. I became a father last year and you just suddenly realize how precious your time is and how well, yeah, if I waste all my time, just watching television or just getting sucked into things, you don't have time for anything that you actually care about. And like six months or a year can go by and you're like, Oh wow, I didn't make as much progress as I wanted to on this. So this was something that we also recognize the need, not just for this kind of productivity in a traditional here's how to get more done out of your job tasks, task checklist kind of approach, but also this approach that emphasize the kind of personal quality of making sure that the time you have it's free. That's not for doing something necessarily productive is still invested in activities that you think are meaningful.

Speaker 3

As I understand it, or as I understand it, you actually put yourself through the course as well. The first cohort didn't just, you know, assume, all right, well, I'm super productive. So I'm gonna teach everyone these ideas. You actually re evaluated your own systems and re-examine your own leisure. Can you tell what changed in your life from putting yourself through the same course?

Speaker 1

So to be, to be clear, I think the only reason that this course can do that is because we made a decision also in the design of the course. Now I I've, I have a couple of other courses and I've been kind of creating online courses for the last decade. So I have some sense of kind of how it works and what the typical failure points are for students. And one of the things that I had kind of struggled with both in my previous courses and before is that if you give people tons and tons and tons of ideas, you know, that's what they say they want. They say they want to have, you know, a million different ideas. That's what they're paying for in the course, but then they don't actually have the energy or the will to implement all of them. And so you get in this situation where you're just adding many, many, many, many ideas in this person's toolkit and they're not doing anything. And then it was like, Oh, that was a great chorus, but I didn't really get that much out of it. And in contrast, I think the way we wanted to structure life of focus was around these three simple challenges. So three, one month each, and they were kind of the, you know, the action I can tell you right now, it's, it's pretty simple. The first one we have people tracking their deep work hours and reorganizing their schedule to get more out of that. In the second month, we have people doing what Cal calls, a digital declutter, where you spend a month basically getting off of optional social media and digital device usage. And then after you can kind of strategically add it back in, and then the third month we do something a little bit kind of inspired by ultra learning, where you take on a kind of focus project to make her learn something new. And the idea of these three challenges is, yeah, they're pretty simple, but people need a lot of support and advice and ideas to try to help them achieve that. But the flip side of that is that when you have something that's sort of action centered, it's totally possible for Cal and myself to also kind of try to put ourselves through it and, and do the same thing. So, you know, I was being very diligent about trying to do everything that a student would do going through the course. And I found it very beneficial, even for me, just because a lot of the things that go into focus are not just about knowing what you have to do, but making sure that they're a very consistent part of your life and your routine,

Speaker 3

A really powerful set of three challenges. And I think I was reading something the other day about how it's actually for the interview we have this afternoon, this guy was talking about how he's monetized his writing through, or how different authors monetize their different writing through online courses. And, you know, I've read all of cow's books except how to be a high school superstar. Cause I didn't get into them until after high school, but actually I have a copy of it here just for whatever reason. And it's, you know, you kind of take the big lessons from book and each of them, each of your different books and it's just a different format and it's the accountability of an online course. And it's the ability to ask you the parts they get stuck on and prevent them from getting stuck at those points of failure because each of these ideas is present in a different one of your book, but most people are way too busy or unorganized or not interested enough to like fully design their own plan of like how to take everything from these books and like turn them into actual actionable change.

Speaker 1

Well, I think online courses are a really great sort of business model for being a writer these days, especially for this kind of advice writing. Obviously if you do political punditry, then there's no real course to sell. But I think for the kind of writing that Cal and I do, where we have a kind of explicit philosophy who have ideas that we're trying to teach that we're trying to impart upon people then of course is kind of a natural way of doing that. And I think that, you know, it's certainly the case that most of our readers are not going to join life of focus, that these are kind of aimed at a specific subset of the audience that is kind of intensely committed and very interested in these ideas. And I, I really see it as being a great way that you can kind of cross subsidize all the other work you're doing because you know, I'm writing mostly free articles, mostly free books I've got, I don't know how many it is now. Maybe like nearing close to 1500 free articles. I've got many free guides and you know, all the work that goes into that, which it's more work than it sounds all the work that goes into that is something that we can only do because we have things like courses and stuff. And so there's lots of different models out there, but I kind of prefer this to sub stack at least for the moment, just because the model where you're charging people for half of your content, it all often creates this kind of issue where, well then that content is difficult to spread, right? So this is a little bit more like instead of just, you know, subscribing to half the articles, you're getting a kind of concentrated, well-thought-out kind of curriculum for something that you might care about. And that's a way of supporting the work that calendar.

Speaker 3

I'm very glad that you and Cal have found ways to economically to support your work. Cause I know for myself and many of my friends have introduced to yours and cow's work, they've really benefited from having so much free out there so much out there in the form of books. And that's actually, what we want to talk about now is you have 1500 articles and I sent Kyle, who's also been a reader of your work for a while, but not quite as long as me. So he hasn't gotten through as thick of a chunk of the 1300, 1500 articles. It's a insane research endeavor to be like, Hm let's look through this guy's blog and see whether we want to ask about, cause there's just comprehensive guides to every topic under the sun that we like to talk about on the podcast. The question is really, you know, you have 1400 blog posts on your website, something around that you've been publishing since you were 17, essentially anytime that you learn something interesting, think of something interesting, make a realization, you've chronicled it for the world to read and reflect on as well. So what has been an unexpected benefit of essentially publishing everything you've thought or learned your entire adult life?

Speaker 1

Yeah, so I think it goes both ways. One of the things that's obviously challenging about having a blog that you started reading when you're 17 is when you're, you don't know very much. And I was vaguely aware of that now, and I'm very aware at the moment, but you know, even if you're reading a lot of books, you just have no life experience. And so I was writing about a lot of things kind of as I was learning them. And as I was applying into my life and I think that can be very beneficial to people. So even if I go back and read some of those old are old articles, although I don't think I have the same breadth of knowledge that I do now. And I would maybe critique some of the things I wrote. There's a kind of earnestness in that, that I think is beneficial to people who are maybe getting started because there's this thing that they call the curse of knowledge, which is just once you've learned something and it's become very familiar to you. It's very hard to talk about it or express it in a way that it's new. And so I do appreciate that about my early writing. And I think some people maybe even prefer aspects of my earlier writing because it has that kind of, you know, I just figured this out. And so now I'm applying it. And I think that the major benefit for me is that, you know, this has become such a, it's really hard to even talk about what my life would be like if I had not done this because it's become, my profession is shaped all of the things that I've done. And so it's, it's really hard for me to separate what it would have been like if I hadn't done this process. So if the person who's listening to this right now is in a similar position, maybe they've just sort of started getting into thinking about productivity or learning or self-improvement, or even just, they have some subject they're interested in starting a blog, starting something like that. And then writing about it can be really, really powerful. And I think that it's something so powerful just because it forces you to kind of think about and shape your ideas. And so I don't know, it just, I can't even imagine what sort of person I would be if I hadn't spent that much time doing it. It's just so intertwined with who I am today.

Speaker 4

Right. And you know, something that you talked about is like, when someone's right ahead of you and what they've, what they've learned, it's easier to learn from them than it is from somebody who's an expert. So for those years and years, that you're 18 years old and riding it's like, well, the people that were just getting started, we're, we're learning a lot from you then as well. But one of my questions is like, you know, Louis and I often get the question like you got, or the statement you guys are so early, like, you're, you've got this podcast, you're talking to people and you're the same way. You're 17, you're writing about self-improvement. But one of my questions is like, is there any big thing that you missed back then that you wish that you had planted the seed of in order to start that, that compound interest that we might be missing as well?

Speaker 1

So I think one of the things that I, and it's, again, it's sort of this double-edged thing that I think I had a certain amount of idealism that I maybe don't have as much now that I've seen more things in the world than I kind of come to appreciate a more sort of nuanced perspective than I have then. And so some of the things that I was sort of a, kind of a believer in, or at least that this was sort of my operating principle, was this kind of extreme power of self-improvement basically that like you could or be anything that you want to be, and that it was just sort of a matter of will. And this there's a lot of people that, you know, come right out and say that very explicitly. And I think I've from my experience as I've gotten a bit older, I've kind of become a bit more tempered in that way. So I see now there being, I don't want to say natural limitations, but just that are kind of inherent nature is also exert themselves in some ways. And so being kind of aware of that, side's important. I also think one of the things that I had as a kind of attitude was I was very interested in entrepreneurship and in the kind of business that I run today. And I still think that there's a lot of value in that. And it was very interested in this idea of just being kind of independent and autonomous. And so that also, I think caused me to, in some ways kind of ignore or overlook the importance that, you know, gatekeepers and institutions in these kinds of things have as well. So, you know, I didn't go to the best school that I could have gone to when I was doing my actual undergrad. I know I, I did this MIT project, but, you know, I didn't apply to MIT when I was going there. And so it's really hard for me to be like, well, what's the counterfactual of what my life would have been. Like if you know, it could have been exactly where I am right now. I think things worked out pretty well for me. So I can't really complain about much, but at the same time, I think that kind of, you could say sort of the more, like, less romantic details about how the world actually works is something that I kind of came to learn as I got older. But at the same time, when I'm thinking about it, you can, you know, there's the difference between having kind of nuanced wisdom and simply being someone who just accepts the status quo and isn't willing to change. And so I think sometimes people who are a little bit irrationally idealistic are the ones that actually accomplish big things, because if they knew how the world works and how much difficulty in inertia and resistance there would be, and they might not get started. And so it sometimes requires a little bit of delusion in one's own abilities to shape their own life and to shape the world around them that causes them to take these actions. And so, I don't know, again, I think if I knew what I knew now, maybe I would have said, Oh, well, you know, you can't start a blog now because of, you know, this is what's happening in the media ecosystem or something like that. And so I think there's something valuable about kind of a sort of innocence or naivety when it comes to the projects that you're pursuing, because you can just focus on what you want to accomplish and you can focus on this sort of earnestness and pursuing it. And so, you know, people often, that's a question I get asked a lot is like, well, what advice would I give my 18 year old self? And I'm not sure I would give any advice because I think there's probably some things that I know now that I could tell my 18 year old self, but there's probably some things my 18 year old self could tell me now that maybe I've lost her. I've, I've gotten a little bit less sharp on.

Speaker 3

I like that framing. I mean, I think there's a lot to be said about that kind of the value of being more intuitive and like letting reality. Cause a lot of the reality is depressing. Like in a lot of ways that you've described like the world of being slow and difficult and nuanced inhibit people from like ever getting so irrational that they do crazy things that actually changed the world in a positive way. So that's kind of interesting how you, how you flip that on its head. I think it also I'll go ahead.

Speaker 1

I was going to say like, even when I think about some of the projects I did now was sort of with the benefit of hindsight and having done them, I can kind of pick apart, well, I was a bit optimistic about this or this was maybe a little bit overstated or this kind of thing. But I also think that, you know, the, the thing is, is that all the efforts that you pursue in life are going to be flawed. They're going to have things that well, yeah. That's why that won't work or this is going to be a problem. And of course you don't want to just go with terrible plans. You want to do the best plan you have. But I think at the same time, this kind of needing things to be perfect or needing to have the like, you know, unreproducible approach to something is itself sometimes kind of a weakness that sometimes you're just sorta like, well, this might not work, but let's give it a shot. And I think that there's something really worth celebrating in that attitude. Even if, you know, with the benefit of hindsight, you can say, Oh, well I would have done this differently. Or that was like the wrong way to do this. I think that expectation that you can ever get anything perfect right off the bat is itself somewhat pernicious.

Speaker 3

Yeah. And I think it also contributes to good or bad writing depending on like, how you think about the question. This is something I've actually heard on Cal's podcast over and over again, as he talks about how, you know, everyone wants to criticize and point out all these exceptions in his writing. And he's like, if all I did was try to include all of these exceptions in my writing, my books would be unreadable. My blog posts would be unreadable because every other sentence is like, well, if you're in this extremely specific circumstance and you have to take care of your aging parents and you have no money, obviously then XYZ is a good thing to do. But all these people, he can't, if you try to present all of these small like objections or things that could be not quite right upfront, like you can come up with a million of 'em, like you said, never get started. And then you're actually not going to get any attention for your reading because the exceptions are likely to think of might not apply to other people.

Speaker 1

That's also something that I find a lot of times is that people don't realize that when you're writing, you're have to think about kind of a broad swath of very different people. And you know, we're not talking about mathematical truth here. So we were just talking about, well, this tends to be true. Or in my observation of the cat class of examples, I'm thinking about this tends to be true. And so, you know, you get people who email you and they're like, well, this didn't apply to me. And it's like, okay, well, but that's going to be like statistically, true for everything. I write that like, sometimes it'd be like, that's wrong for my situation. And so I think part of the problem, and this is, I think an expectation on behalf of readers is that they don't know how to read something. It'd be like, Oh, well, this just doesn't apply to me. I'm not in this situation that this person is using as their prototypical example. So, you know, running a course with Cal about deep work, you get all of these people who are, Oh yeah. But not in the situation that he's really like was that was the central focus. You know, deep work is not a, this is not like Newton's second law or something like that. This is something that applies everywhere. This is just an observation that, you know, in work, there tends to be shallow and deep work and that we tend to neglect the deep work and that you have to do things to cultivate it. But I mean, if you're a sales person where your main value is doing these 15 minute phone calls over and over again. Yeah. Okay. Well then this whole deep to shallow distinction maybe doesn't mean anything for you or even the internet emergency room physician. And you're just jumping around between patients every 10 minutes. Yeah. Okay. Well then there's no deep work there that, but it also doesn't matter. Right. And so I think that's one of the challenges is that people want universality for the ideas you're talking about. But again, the only ideas that are really universal often just have very limited applicability to your actual life. Instead of we've got these fuzzy, poetic kind of ideas that, well, there's some central cases where if you think about it, this is really important. And then there's this kind of fuzzy fringe where it's like, okay, you can kind of make them work, but they're not perfect. And then there's this expanse where it's like, okay, well, this just doesn't apply in that situation. And so I think as a reader, as a smart reader, being able to do that, being able to read this and just ask yourself, okay, well, was I the, was I the example this person had in mind when they were thinking about writing this and if I'm really not, then you know, maybe just doesn't apply to you. Maybe this article is just written.

Speaker 4

Yeah. I think, you know, books for, for rocket PR and for everybody it's like knowledge is, is very specific. And I think, you know, one of my questions though, I feel like it kind of goes against that, but Elon Musk, like he says that everybody should learn physics for a better understanding of the world around them. So my question to you is like, what should everyone learn because of its usefulness in everyday life? Like w w what projects should someone take on? Like reading faster, for example, it'd be a good one because you, you have such a higher level of input, but I guess w what has been super useful for you?

Speaker 1

Yeah. So there's kind of two questions there. Well, what should everyone learn and what super useful. And, uh, I kind of have different answers to those questions. So, you know, if you want to ask what I think everyone should be doing, you can also sort of look at like how I live my life and how I kind of what my philosophy is, because I know that people aren't going to do what I suggest. So I kind of, I say this sort of with full awareness, that pretty much no one is going to do what I'm suggesting, but I kind of have the attitude that people should learn about everything that like, you should spend a good chunk of your life, just learning every subject. And I know that sounds like a lot of work, and you actually have to be interested in doing it, which most people aren't, which is why they're not going to do it. But if you're asking me what most people should learn, yeah. They should learn physics, they should learn chemistry, they should learn biology, they should learn philosophy. They should, you know, the basis of literature, they should have a liberal arts education and a basic science education. When people say the words, MRNs, you should know what that means. Like that sounds like a high bar, and maybe it is too high, but I just feel like that's the world. That's what the world is. Right. And so you can just walk through it and not understand how it works. And clearly, like a lot of people do, and it's, it's a totally fine way that you can live your life. But if you're asking me you, what I think, you know, people should do, I think that they should try to learn about everything they should try to be self-educated. And that sort of a main thrust of my blog is that kind of even absent this sort of direct practical implications that like, okay, well I studied quantum mechanics. And so now I'm, you know, doing X, Y, or Z, that's so valuable, you know, you should understand quantum mechanics. Cause that's what reality is, you know, and you're going to live your whole life and just not understand how the world around you even works, I think is somewhat of a shame. You know, it's, it's a missed opportunity, but in terms of practical knowledge, I think that it's true that a lot of this sort of broad kind of what we consider the normal goal of education is, is I think very valuable. And it's something that's very close to my heart. I think that from a practical point of view, there's often certain skills that are quite valuable from you, either from an economic perspective or from a personal perspective that are, you know, they maybe aren't, aren't the sort of, you know, don't have the universe virality of physics, but there's something that's really important. So I think that everyone should know how to write and by, you know, emails you get, this is something that not everyone is able to do very well. So being able to write intelligently express your ideas is a very important skill. I think that being able to present, even if you're not a great public speaker is very important skill to have. I think that, you know, having basics in sort of math and some quantitative skills is good, at least the stuff that they teach you in high school, which I think there's some in America, at least they have some social surveys where they get people to do some math questions. And it's, it's pretty embarrassing how little math, the average American adult actually knows. And I think that if you have these sort of core skills, I think that they're quite valuable. And then as to which skills you should be learning, it's often quite profession specific. So if you're in a particular field, I think the deepening your knowledge and learning extra skills can be quite valuable. It can have quite a big payoff. So that's my overall philosophy is just that, you know, I wish we lived in a world where people were excited about learning lots of different things and spent, you know, a considerable amount of time doing that instead of, you know, watching the Kardashians or something. But, you know, I respect that everyone has their own life to live and they're not necessarily going to follow my suggestion.

Speaker 3

This is what I w this is what I love about the internet. It's if you've familiar with David Perelli calls it, you know, a magnet for like minded people. And I just share, I mean, a lot of this is probably shaped by reading your writing for a long time, but I share such a strong agreements that dispassionate self-education, and it doesn't have to be like Uber classical as well. Right? Like I think something really interesting and potentially that your book has a good for is I'm going to give an analogy that Neval uses about reading, right? Cause he thinks everyone should develop a reading habit is you start by reading out whatever it is you love to read. So whether that's like really kind of garbage fiction books, at least it like starts teaching you, you love to read and eventually you get bored of it because you kind of mature out of the category and then you start reading harder and harder things until you eventually become Elon Musk. And you're just reading textbooks for fun. And I think the same could be true potentially of self-education. You know, if you start teaching people right off the bat, like let's have everyone learn quantum mechanics because that's the very fabric of reality. And that's very important and cool to know. We might not have like a super high degree of success, but if it's like, just teach yourself this one thing you already know, you want to learn, get that passion for self-education. And then eventually you'll just like, won't be fulfilled by learning trivial things and you'll have to mature into more and more advanced topics.

Speaker 1

I completely agree. I should, I should be clear that I'm not advocating, you know, you just go to your local store and pick up a quantum mechanics textbook, and then you just hate yourself because it doesn't make sense to you. I think the, the, the, the attitude I'm arguing for is more directional than sort of achieving a thing because obviously the amount of knowledge in the world is just way too vast for even someone who's hyper dedicated to know most of it, the way we live now is that you spend years and years and years, decades of intensive studying to be the specialist in one tiny little aspect of something that human beings know, so you can make forward progress on it. So it's just not possible to have all of human knowledge. And I don't think that that should be the expectation, but I think directionally it's kind of right. That if you just sort of focus on, okay, well, what would I like to learn about? What would I like to know? And like you said, with reading, you start with maybe stuff that, you know, 10 years from now, you might think, Oh, that was overly simplified, or they got that wrong, or that was a little bit hyperbolic, but it doesn't matter because it kind of got you started and it got you going there. So when I think about personal finance, that's an example that I, I can use an example. I remember when I was, I don't know, probably about 17 or 18, I read the rich dad, poor dad, Robert Kiyosaki did that. And that was a book that, you know, had a big influence on me. It's very persuasively written and it was something that I thought really highly of and now sort of moving in, in kind of that, I actually understand some finance and not even just personal finance, but, you know, taking finance classes and stuff like this. Some of the stuff strikes me as a little bit wrong in the book. I know there was a very influential critique that was written that really disagreed with the fact that he just recommends real estate is like a major investment and the person was arguing why they thought real estate was not such a great investment, but I think, you know, appreciating those nuances is one thing. But at the same time at the level I was at, when I was reading the book, just the idea that there's a difference between, you know, spending money to make investments and just money. That's just kind of going down a hole. That's never going anywhere. Again, like that was a very useful distinction, which, you know, if you were to say to me now, they're like, well, duh, like, obviously that's true. And so I think you have to start with the things that are very interesting to you. And as you said, as you read more, as you learn more, those things become like, well, duh, that's kind of obvious. And then you want to like, know deeper. You want to know, okay, well, but like, what is the, what is the sort of the, the foundation for this subject? Or what is the thing underlying it? So you read a lot of self-improvement books and you get kind of the basic ideas of goal setting and productivity, and then you're interested in how does motivation actually work? And then you're reading psychology. And then you're like, okay, well, but you know, how does that work? And then you're reading some neuroscience. And so it kind of branches out in that direction. And I, I don't want to discourage anyone if they feel like, well, you know, this all sounds really complicated and I can't possibly learn that. It's all about curiosity and just the direction you take, because even for me, there's people much, much smarter than myself that would scoff at the things that, you know, are the things that I know. And so it's all just about being actually interested in the world and how it works

Speaker 3

Hundred percent. I think that your own writing kind of, as you just explained there as a reflection of that, right, you started out kind of talking about exploring self-improvement from like a personal perspective. And now on your article, you have these four specific comprehensive guides that are like extremely academically nuanced and like the comprehensive review of the literature on motivation, a comprehensive review on the literature on self-control. And once you set at the end of that question is something I had on here. It's one of my, kind of just interjected in there, if it comes up in conversation questions, but I was listening to you read the article of the comprehensive science and motivation, and you have this one theory in there that I've never heard before. The super, super interesting, which is that curiosity is the core human drive for motivation.

Speaker 1

Oh yeah. So this is, well, I'm being a little poetic here, but this is Karl Friston. Who's one of the most cited neuroscientists like theoretical neuroscientists. And I have to admit the idea's intriguing to me. I'm not like some people are really sold on the kind of Friston view of how the brain works, but the basic idea is he views the brain is sort of an information processing machine where you are trying to, what you're trying to do is create some kind of internal representation that can predict what you're going through. Your sensory experience is going to be. So there's this kind of, it's basically like a control mechanism that like when you experience something, that's not what you expected, then you have to update sort of your mechanism of how the world works. And so at a very, very basic level, you can imagine kind of like a thermostat as being sort of almost a prediction device that it's like predicting, you know, the temperature and when the temperature is, is wrong, then it started going to take some action to bring it in line with what it predicted. So that's sort of like a very simple kind of control mechanism, but obviously what he has suggested is a lot more elaborate. Now I have to admit the first and I think also there's a lot of support because his ideas are so opaque. Like you read the papers that he writes and they're just extremely mathematically dense and a true, and so I'm not sure whether I've even fully understand it. I understood it. And I think a lot of people who, you know, would would say the thing that maybe the golfers didn't really understands the problem versus trying to say, but the idea here is that if you view it from this sort of information processing lens, then what, what is motivating our actions in his mind is that there's a discrepancy between what we think we should be experiencing and what we're actually experiencing. And so it, this kind of curiosity, drive of like trying to construct this mental model of how the world works. We can make more stable predictions. It's fairly central in his scheme of how we are motivated and how we act as opposed to being a real peripheral drive, like something that's just kind of added on, like we're mostly about, you know, hunger or sex or something. And then just the curiosity is just some little appendix on our motivational. Hardwiring the way he views it is that, well, you can view curiosity as being kind of a descriptor of this sort of more general class of motivations, but don't, I'm not Carl for instance. So it finds some crawl for some podcasts. If you actually want to hear what he thinks about it, don't just listen to me. Who's, who's not an expert neuroscientist.

Speaker 4

Well, I think that's an example of just how deeply you research these different topics and like Lewis saying, these are very comprehensive guides and that's the motivation one is not the only one, but to touch on something you said earlier about American education and how poorly they do on, on math surveys. I just wanted to ask what are some of the low hanging fruit ways that you think that education should be changed in order to, I guess, modernize it into this world that we live in now

Speaker 1

Fair. I'm not making the case that like other countries are vastly superior. I mean, this data happened to be American I'm Canadian. So I don't want to sound too prejudicial. And I'm like talking about other education systems. I think that, you know, there's a lot of institutional problems, so that a lot of it just has to do with things like access and funding and things like that. I'm not going to really focus on that. I think there's a lot of political walks that have more expertise in that than I do. But I think some of the issues that we have with school are not even so much about the institutions, but just about culture. And it seems to me that, you know, I know this from having spent a bit of time in Asia, that there's a much more stronger education focus. I feel like in the, in the sort of baseline of the culture, like when I was in China and Korea education, just more central to what people feel is like important in life and success. And some of that may be is historical it's due to the fact that, you know, China for years had this Imperial Imperial bureaucracy, where the way you got ahead was by being smart and studying a lot. Whereas, you know, the European feudal system was very much a landed Gentry aristocracy. And so yeah, you learn things, but it had no influence on your position. And so maybe there's some kind of historical reasons that education has a stronger place in, in some East Asian cultures. But also, I mean, we see that in India as well, that education plays an extremely prominent role. And, you know, they didn't have the, you know, the, the Mandarin system of Imperial bureaucracy, but it also could be related to just the modern day reason that in America, America has this kind of quirky system where you have like a kind of, not quite meritocratic system for higher education where it's sort of based on your SATs, but also if your parents donated a building, you can get in and everyone knows this and accepts it. Like we don't even just like call it out as corrupt. We just sort of accept that. Oh yeah. Well, in order to fund our schools, we have to, we have to have them be sort of, you can just pay your way in. And, and so there's this sort of, kind of a weird system in the States where they want it to be about ability and performance, but at the same time they don't. And so you have things like, well, how good you were in football affects whether you can go to study chemistry and elite school, or, you know, whether you did a lot of extracurriculars is very important. Whereas in, you know, like in Korea and China, for instance is much more based on your grades, admittedly, there's corruptions in those systems as well, but at least they are supposed to be corruptions. They're not like intent. That's how the system is supposed to work. And so I think that because of these sort of cultural factors, it seems to me like American culture in particular. But I would say, you know, Western culture in general tends to be a little bit less focused on education, a little bit less focused on seeing learning things as being the key to success. And I think America is just a little bit more extreme in that direction. And some of that's probably good. It makes I think Americans a bit more anti-authoritarian makes them a little bit more entrepreneurial and you know, a little bit less, you know, the idea that, well, someone has a PhD, so we ought to automatically respect everything they say. But at the same time, I think that it does tend to sort of clamp down the idea that while there's actually interesting things to learn about the world that other people know, you know, if you just have the feeling that like, ah, yeah, that's all I retail BS and it doesn't have any importance if you have that kind of degradation or a denigration of education, then I think it's just harder to, to make it something that, okay, well, I'm going to motivate myself and put a lot of effort into it.

Speaker 3

So speaking of still motivation, I want to say, first of all, that was a super interesting rich answer with a lot of historical and cultural context that you answered it on a different level than either of us were expecting, which is good for sure. In a good way. I think I have a question for you kind of like a very meta kind of personal question, but what exactly is kind of your motivation in life right now? Like that's like super broad, but you know, you've been achieved. What, from anyone on the outside would call success as a writer, write your books, got 1,005 star reviews on Amazon. You've been raw. If it's an internal metric you've been consistent for over a decade, which is pretty high bar people don't really reach very often. Is it purely, you know, you're primarily motivation is like just truly intrinsic love learning, like philosophy just forever and cause that's awesome. But like, is there an end game where we're kind of like, we just feel like you've done it all and we don't like, what is it that is next or that motivates you specifically?

Speaker 1

There's I, I have competing motivations. I think one of the things you pointed out is right, that like a lot of the things that really motivated me when I was, when I was 17 and I was starting a blog, I have long achieved those things. And so they no longer really act as motivators. So, you know, one of the things that was really, really important to me is I wanted to have this kind of independence too. I liked this idea of being kind of a solo printer, just like having my own business where I just did everything. And I have some team members and employees right now, so I no longer do everything. So I can't say that that's my current reality, but just the general idea of not having a boss, not having to show up to a nine to five, being able to pursue projects because they interest me. Not because someone, you know, assigned it to me. And that was something that was really, you know, a dream. It just seemed like, you know, no one I knew was doing that when I was a kid, like, I didn't know, a single flesh and blood example. So it seemed like that kind of thing, you know, I'm, I'm imagining when people get pitched on joining MLMs or pyramid schemes to just sort of like, well, you don't actually know anyone who achieved this. You're just sort of going on this idea that maybe this could work. And so I think there was a mixture of doubt that that would even be possible as well as just the idea that, well, if it was going to be possible, it was going to be very difficult and require a lot of work. And so that was a big motivator for me for, for a number of years. And then I think even as I shifted into doing some of these kinds of learning projects and stuff that also became in a shorter term way, kind of a focus for me. And now I met a kind of a different stage of my life. I'm, you know, I'm, I'm not a 17 year old kid anymore. I'm in my thirties, I have a child, I have a business that I'm running. And so I think the thing that motivates me is a little bit less trying to achieve something specific. Like I'm trying to get out there and make a name for myself or do something and more just focusing in on what are the kind of core things that interest me in my life. So obviously I'm very interested in learning and that's one of the things that I want to continue doing. So I have like a big list of subjects that I want to learn, things that I wanna do better things that I've slipped in, that I want to, you know, regain. And that I think is going to be with me as long as I'm cognitively able to do that for, for the rest of my life. And that's a very intrinsic interest. So, you know, these days I've been following some courses from Yale on YouTube for organic chemistry. And that was just a subject that I never learned before and I'm doing it now and it's quite difficult. And so I probably going to have to do some homework and practice to actually understand it. But this is something that, you know, I think for most people it'd be like, well, why are you going to learn organic chemistry? That's kind of like pretty specific, are you planning on going into medical school or doing the guts, how people think about it, but for me, it's just the end game. This is just one other subject that I didn't understand before that I'm trying to learn more about. And so that's one of the things that I think is going to be with me forever. And there's no real end game to that. I think there's always going to be new subjects and things to learn, but on a personal level, I'm also very interested in, you know, having a nice life for my family. My son is going to be growing up. I want to make sure that, you know, he's well equipped to, you know, live and thrive in the world. I want to make sure that, you know, I have experiences that aren't just learning academic subjects, but things like travel to new places and having new experiences, even, I feel like the business that I have is a chance to, you know, explore a practical minded project. So, you know, you mentioned this complete guide that I wrote, and that was to me, not just a here, how can I learn about motivation, but improving this kind of skill of like, how do I assemble this and package it? And so I think that I'm going to continue working and doing stuff with this business for a long time to come, even if I don't need to financially, just because I think it's something that it gives me an outlet to work on things that, you know, it's a real project where you're actually like there's some kind of consequence in the world and some kind of impact, whereas just learning for learning's sake, it can easily get detached from any practical consequences. So, you know, lots of things that are totally a nerd.

Speaker 3

So I love that answer. And I hope to kind of be in a similar position and you know, not too many years from now where I have some degree of some semi-autonomous business, whether there's people involved or not, you know, there's certainly an argument to be made that they add more complexity or they add less complexity. If they're taking work off your shoulders, a question I want to ask you about the second half of that in the personal life is you close the book, ultra learning with the story of the pole, Gar family. I had, I pulled up the book and I did not remember the name. Paul Garner I've met him memory. I like quickly just flipped to find the end of the book now to get the name without cheating. But I definitely, maybe this comes back to exactly what you're talking about. About 20 minutes ago, me being 21 and being idealistic. But I read that chapter and I'm like, Oh, damn, I want to raise a prodigy.

Speaker 1

Uh, it's very funny. You tell that story. So people know what I'm referring to. This is a story that has now been used in a couple of books like mine. I only found out later that this story was also, there's a few other books where I'm like, Oh yeah, they're, they're talking about the photographs here. Um, David FC used it in his book range to admittedly though as a kind of counterexample. But he, that this was about Laszlo Polgar, who was a Hungarian kind of educational theorist. And he sort of was set that he was going to raise a genius. And, um, he decided that the way to do it was to specialize his children very early, give them lots and lots of instruction, his approach. I know, you know, it's hard to know you, you can't be a fly on the wall and know exactly how I was doing it, but his approach seemed to be much more focused on making it fun and like a game so that the motivation would be intrinsic. So there's some sort of superficial similarities to the kind of tiger mom style parenting, where it's very disciplined and authoritative in, in getting your child to study, whereas this to be a little bit different, but I don't know in practice. And the funny thing is is that he actually did it. So he had three daughters and you did, who is the one that I cover most in the book end up becoming at the time, the strongest female chess player of all time. So all three of his children specialized in chess, just because there was some economies of scale there of having the same subject for each of them, but they all learn multiple languages and did various things. But in chess, in particular, they did really well, which seems a little bit fanciful, I think, in America today. But you have to remember, this was, you know, Soviet era sort of socialist countries. Chess was a big deal. Like this would have been like, you know, becoming, I dunno like an elite basketball player or something, the way that American families put their kids through a lot to, to, to do that. I think it was kind of similar that it had a lot of prestige and it was seen as being a, you know, an intellectually very difficult field and stuff. And so it's very interesting to me. I, I, I think it's funny that you mentioned it because now that I've had a child, I've been getting interviews where people say like, so are you going to like put your son through this? And the answer is no, of course not. And I think that deserves a little bit of explanation itself, but it has a more core attitude toward my belief that for a lot of people, these ideas are symmetrical that if you believe something's important for you, then you should never nonetheless like do everything you can to make it super important for anyone else. So that the converse of this is that if I'm an ultra learning kind of person that I want to study really intensively on my own, then I think school should be like that, but they should be extremely intensive and work on that. And I don't think that that's actually the case. I think that being able to make your own choices and to sort of determine your own life is super important. And it's been super important to me given that I've not really followed a lot of the things that other people have told me to do and I've done what I wanted to do, but I think that having that ability to choose one's own projects and choose one's own destiny really is, is super important. And so while I think that there's something very intriguing about the idea that maybe if you approached your, you know, your child, when he was very young and started training them in some way that they could become truly exceptional for me, I think the thing that I would want to impart in on my son and any future children I might have is much more of this idea. That life is what you make it, and it's a choice. And so I think I would want him to be able to not only just be equipped with the basic education that you normally get as a, as a kid, but this ability that, you know, if he wants to start a business or if he wants to study something, or if you want to get better at something that, you know, how do you do that? How do you create your own projects? How do you make forward momentum and the things that you care about? And so that I think is the real sort of heart of ultra learning, not so much just intensive learning for intensive learning sake, but just the idea that you could choose to do this if you want it to do it. And so I think that idea that it comes from the individual is a perspective that I think in a lot of education is missed because we always view it from this lens of like, what are teachers doing to make their students learn? And I think that the opposite question of what are learners doing themselves to make themselves such a self-educated is often the more important one. Well, that's exactly what I wanted to ask you about next. We asked this we've had a string of creators and course creators and educators in different capacities in the past 10, 15 episodes or so. So you would publish this book, which is an amazing guide, teach anyone to teach yourself anything and to select a project and be successful at it. And you've also been publishing similar content about specifically from the book. Is there an example of someone who has read the book, use the formula and had a very incredible learning outcome, like a most interesting student story of having published the book where you've inspired someone to ultra learn, and they did it, not the examples in the book, but someone having read the book. Yeah. You know what? I can't think of anything that was the thing is, is that I got a lot, that's the problem that I'm trying to like sort through now in my head. But a lot of people were telling me about learning languages. A lot of people were starting their own kind of MIT challenge type project, where they were learning some intensive coursework. A few people took on some hobbyist things. So I know someone who always wanted to be a musician and create an album. He hadn't done it. And then I actually, I was on his podcast and he was talking about doing this. And then he sent me a link the other day that like, Oh, I just released the album it's like on Spotify and this kind of thing. So there's lots of people that have kind of given me these stories and examples. But I think for me, the thing too, is that although the dramatic stories, I think make the book more entertaining to read, it's often the more mundane stories that actually matter to people, you know, so I remember one person that I was talking to, they may just a small improvement in some of their professional careers. They were a database programmer and they just got better at this sort of database programming language, which is hardly like the kind of thrilling stuff that you know, is going to be a page Turner in a book. But it ended up being that he moved jobs and he got a big raise and he was working with people he really admired and it made a big impact to his quality of life. And so I think maybe that's a flaw of the book, but sometimes viewing it from this kind of, uh, dramatic lens is, is misses the point that a lot of the things that we get benefit from from learning are just simple things that we just get better at in our life. You know, that we get a new job, that we are able to switch careers. We're able to do things that, you know, maybe to the outside world is like, okay, yeah. I could imagine someone doing that, but to you, it seemed really difficult. So someone, you know, becoming a programmer when they thought that they couldn't do anything like that, it's a big difference. And so I think, you know, some of these smaller stories are ones that I think touch me even more than people who have dramatically.

Speaker 4

Yeah. I think, you know, something we often think about is like the, or we talk about on here is the butterfly effect, butterfly effect and how, you know, we interviewed Taylor Pearson who wrote a called the end of jobs. And then he inspired this guy who started a podcast called talk Python and then talk Python chain, all these people's lives and inspired them, you know, learn how to code. And it changed a lot too. It all started from this book about the end of jobs and in a similar way, like ultra learning is impacting people in these mundane ways that you never even hear about. And I think that that is one of the really powerful things about being an author and being a writer is just that, you know, there's no way that you can fully quantify the impact that your work has on the world. But another question that I have is who are some of your favorite historical examples of, of old learners and you have one specifically, that's got like a pool story.

Speaker 1

Yeah. So all the people that I mentioned in the book where some of the ones that I really liked their stories. So Ben Franklin is one of my favorite. I want to, like, I feel like I want to make a list of people who once you read their biographies are like underrated or overrated, like based on like how they are in popular culture versus when you read it, you're like, Oh wow. This person is way more interesting than I thought versus like, Oh, this is actually kind of doll. And I'm so like Ben Franklin is someone who, I mean, he is very highly rated, but his biography is amazing. Like the guy is very, very impressive and interesting and worth emulating in many, many regards. And so I talk a little bit about Senator fizz when he was a kid. And how would he, some of the things he did to improve his writing ability in the book, which was a kind of interesting anecdote because it illustrated the idea that I wanted, which was about drilling and doing kind of very precise things in order to improve a more complicated ability. But he has just so many interesting things like, you know, just the kind of coming up with a lightning rod and he was very close. Although the fact that he wasn't really, that mathematically inclined probably stopped him. It was very close to figuring out the size of atoms or sorry of molecules because he did this experiment where he put oil on the water, because sailors used to say that if you put oil on the water, it would calm waves. And he found that to be true, but it actually just, it just affects the surface. The water is moving underneath a lot, but we know from physics now that like the amount of oil you put on and how big an area calm, he could have used that to calculate how big the molecules are. He just didn't do the calculation. And so there's lots of little like anecdotes like that. That just seem really superficial. But you know, to most people, if they had been the person who did the experiment that figures out how big molecules are, that would have been like the main thing they did in their life. Right. And for Ben, Franklin is just kind of a passing anecdote. Other people that I really liked that I didn't end up putting in the book, Marie Curie is an amazing scientists that she went to Nobel prizes. And really, I think embodies that kind of spirit of just selflessness and, you know, has some real admirable qualities in her work. And so I think not even just as a scientist and as someone who has a kind of towering intellect, but as a kind of, you know, political and humanitarian thinker, I think Marie Curie was, was very good. I couldn't fit her into the book. I couldn't figure out where she would be able to fit, but that was a little bit of a loss. And I don't know, there's also lots of other stories that I liked that, you know, couldn't quite fit in, but I thought were thought were interesting.

Speaker 3

That's actually a question I wanted to ask you of the books, but now I don't totally remember exactly what was published, but I'm thinking like fall of 2019, if I have that correct 2019 yet. So we've discussed a lot, the, the maturation of ideas over time, especially since you've continued, you've not clicked. You've clearly not stopped thinking about ultra learning. You didn't publish the look and say that myself, like my self-education career, we'll just close the chapter on that. So is there anything now that the book's been out almost two years, that you feel like you got wrong or you want to change or like any substantial additions or modifications you'd want to make to the book or the main messaging, or it could just be something trivial and tactical as well?

Speaker 1

It's actually really, yeah. And I think this is the benefit of the fact that this book was, you know, this was the book that I'd already thought about for a decade before I started writing it. So, you know, to a certain extent, it was already quite mature in my head when I started writing about it. There, there are things that are more they're subtle. They're not like factual mistakes or things that, well, I wish I hadn't said that in the book, but more things that I didn't appreciate as much just because my focus. And so I maybe would have written them a little bit differently. One of the things, this is just a little writerly aside, but James clear did the foreword for my book. And I mean, obviously the fact that forward is physically at the start of the book affects like quotations and stuff as well. But one of the things that people quote from me because it's in my book, but it's something that James clear wrote in the forward is something about I, you know, and I, I forget the exact line, but he has a, he's a quote in there that people often quote for me. And I realized that that was something that he was much stronger at than I am as a writer is writing in a way that has a kind of poetic quality that like, you can take a sentence and just pluck it out of the book. And it works well on its own. Whereas none of the sentences in my book do that, like you pluck them out and they don't mean anything anymore. And I, it was just because I was focused on very different things when I was writing it. I wasn't focused on that, but I think that there's probably a different kind of book in the future, or I would pay attention to that more of like creating those scared, a little lines that kind of stick with people that have had that kind of poetic quality. Another thing I think that I might have done a little differently if I was writing the book again, you know, I think part of it was also just my own inability. Like sometimes you think, well, it would have been good if I could have done this, but I just wasn't able to, and I think I would have liked to have had more, more examples that weren't, you know, I'd read this biography and then I'm saying this famous person, it would have, hadn't been nice to have more people because, you know, one of the chapters that people said, they really liked this story was about cell Jaspal, who was kind of, sort of an ordinary person who was struggling to find a job. And then he did all this, um, work in architecture to get good at his skills so that he could get a job. And so I would've liked to have gotten more of those examples. And I think that's probably my own deficits of not having a strong journalism background that just kind of, you know, finding sources of everyday people. And so I was a lot more heavily reliant on reading books. And so I think in future examples, I would be maybe a little bit more diligent about hunting out some of those examples.

Speaker 4

I really like the, the ability to look back and, you know, I think you really are focused on the, the everyday person and the improvements to their life and like how, you know, anybody can take what's in this book and turn it into a huge life improvement. And it's not just reserved for people who are like Ben Franklin, who I look at as like just incredibly way beyond anything that I could ever accomplish. You know, you're really focused on the everyday person, which I think is great, but this question is way out of left field. I don't know if Louis is going to enjoy it, but are you optimistic or are you optimistic or pessimistic about the onset of artificial general intelligence

Speaker 1

It's mythic or pessimistic? In what way? Like optimistic about it coming or optimistic about it being

Speaker 4

Let's assume that it is going to come, is it going to be a good or bad thing?

Speaker 1

Well, so this is one of the things that I think, you know, you read people and obviously people are, you know, much smarter than myself. I'm not an AI expert. And so, you know, my opinion is worth probably nothing, but I think, I think one of the things that you notice whenever you hear topics is you realize how much people have a kind of general thinking style that has a certain mood associated with it. And I find that that colors, how they view things, sometimes it's in topic selection. So someone with a particular kind of mood gravitates to certain topics for that mood is appropriate. But I also find for ambiguous topics, the mood colors, how they think about. So for instance, I think that, you know, people that I follow that, that talk about artificial intelligence often have a mood that's like somewhat, somewhat pessimistic, somewhat a little bit more in the kind of like what could go wrong sort of spaces. So there's a lot of people that are worried about, you know, let's say like AI safety and some of those things. And some of those concerns to me, if they don't seem, they don't seem necessarily like they're wrong, like that could never happen. But it, it seems to me also to be like, well, we just don't know what AGI would be like. So it's very hard to speculate about that. Whereas a lot of the philosophical arguments to me just seem a little bit sketchy because they just sort of presume that it's going to work in a certain way that maybe it won't. And I tend to feel like my attitude general life is more off to the stick and stuff. And so maybe that's my blind spot is that, you know, certainly when the coronavirus situation was like, you know, I'm thinking about like January of 2020, I was like, yeah, that's going to be fine. Like, this is, this is all going to be blown out of proportion. And yet here we are. So that's also a learning moment for myself that maybe my own sense of optimism or that the world generally functions pretty well or that things that people worry about obsessively tend to not come to fruition. Maybe that's my bias and maybe that's going to be there. But I personally don't see the AGI thing being the problem that people imagine it is. And this is, again, my totally BS, not an expert opinion, but I feel like the problem is that we tend to analogize. It's just going to be like a really, really smart person. And I just feel like the things that we want from intelligence don't necessarily have to come with agency. And the thing that we worry about it doing bad things tends to be because human beings have agency where we see ourselves as an independent actor and we're we take actions to improve our position or at least our values. Whereas, you know, a lot of the things that are being operated right now by artificial intelligence, they don't have that kind of identity to them. You know, like Google giving you better searches. You know, that's never going to take over the world because it's just not the way, the kind of way to think of that. That works, right. It's just going to maybe give you better Google searches. And so I do think that there could be problems where it may turn out to be the case, that to make things really intelligent, you also have to make them agents. And so those two things just naturally have to go together. And it may be that we accidentally do that direction because human beings interact with other agents. And so we want their artificial intelligence devices to have, you know, like Siri has a kind of personality almost like we want it to be like that. And so it sort of in the design of those things, we're eventually gonna move in that direction. But I think this is just where I see the kind of philosophical way of thinking about it as being a little bit under specified is just that, you know, a lot of philosophy, philosophical problems are just, they're drawing an analogy. And sometimes that analogy is inappropriate. So, you know, in, in when you learn computer science, one of the ones that they always make fun of is, uh, John Searle's Chinese room example. And so John a Chinese room example is, is a proof that, you know, artificial intelligence can never be really intelligent. And he uses the example of someone who has a big book as showing how to translate Chinese sentences and you send slips of paper into the room and they follow all the rules on the book and then send out slips. And the idea is that the person doesn't actually speak Chinese. And so, you know, to what sense could you say that a machine could ever speak Chinese because that's essentially what machines are doing. But of course the reason the analogy breaks down is because the size of the rule book you would need would be like billions of pages long. And so like just you're drawing an analogy between, okay, what would it be like for a person to be shuffling papers around doing mechanical rules? But what if those things involved you hundreds of thousands of steps and had billions of pages of rules while maybe it's a little different than right. And so I think when we're talking about artificial intelligence, I think the, the problem often is that the only thing we can analogize to it is what would it be like if there was like a really, really smart person, right? And that really, really smart person, we imagine they have all the qualities that kind of a person has in that they see themselves as they have a self, they have some kind of like thing that they are, that they, you know, make decisions on and or that they have values that they're optimizing over and this kind of thing. And it doesn't seem obvious to me that that's how it would end up being that you might just have AI as being this kind of, kind of how it is now. That is just sort of a very good, like strata on society that, you know, when you just want things, there's some sort of mechanism that gets it for you, but there's no personality or agent associated with it. So that's, that's sort of where I'm leaning right now. But again, I don't know anything. So if you've listened to this section, you've probably gotten dumber. So I definitely don't think they've gotten done. We'll

Speaker 3

Give Kyle an A-plus plus for the question and the answer that came from it. I think that one thing we really like to do, uh, when we have a really kind of creative, independent thinker like yourself on the show is just give them something. They haven't clearly taken hours to formally articulate their thoughts on and see how they think in real time. So we really enjoyed hearing you work through that one question that maybe you are a bit more prepared for from a timely perspective, though. That was a great, awesome answer for sure is we are both 21 year old college students. A lot of this podcast is to serve the purpose of helping us make career decisions based on speaking to people in the careers we're interested in. So myself in content creation and writing and Kyle and real estate and these kinds of things, and you posted a really interesting kind of career thinking article today, actually about why smart people take more risks and that's kind of a spectrum you could call it, I'm towing the line of making decisions about right. I'm about to graduate this semester. And it's do I go for jumping right into kind of the unknown, risky territory of entrepreneurship and startups and constant creation, or is there an argument to be made for even taking a job and these kinds of risk calculations, what is kind of the main argument on that piece? And like, how does that kind of inform someone in my situation as to how to make a good decision about uncertainty and risk and careers?

Speaker 1

So the argument in the article is, is not that risks are good and that you should take more risks because smarter people take them. But rather that smarter people are able to take more risks because they understand the risks they're taking. And so my example in there that leading one, which admittedly is a bit niche, but I thought it was very interesting is that I'd read this book about the mathematics of poker, just sort of for personal interest. I have no real gambling interests, but the book was talking about how in a lot of setups, if you fully understand them, it's correct to go all in, regardless of what your cards are, which seems really foolish and risky, but you can kind of work it out that it actually makes sense to do that in all. And so, um, not to say that all bets are like that, but just the idea that the strategy that was advocated by these mathematicians is much more aggressive than, uh, like a person like myself who doesn't play poker very well would do. And the reason why is that if you really understand the game, you can kind of take those calculated risks. And the idea is a little softer in areas where you can't fully mathematize the problem. But the idea is that the more you understand something, the more you're able to do things that to you are just pretty good bets, but to the people sort of around, you're like, well, no, how do you know what's going to happen? And so I was using the example of like, you know, doctors with vaccines that the people who seem very on the fence about vaccines are people that don't understand how vaccines work and the reason why is, I think in our nature that when you don't understand something it's uncertain and uncertain, things are very different from risky things. So something that is just like, well, who knows what could happen? You approach it very differently than things that are like, well, these are the possible outcomes, and this is pretty unlikely. So I think it's probably okay to go forward with this, or, you know, this, maybe it could go good. Maybe it could go bad, but in the long run, it's probably gonna work itself out. And so these kinds of this kind of thinking doesn't mean that well, just because smarter people take more risks, we should all take more risks, but rather we should try to be smarter so that we can take advantage of bets that we might not be able to take if we just have uncertainty in our life. So a post that I wrote earlier was about how to make risky decisions. And one of the things that really struck me was I actually changed my mind about something. And so this person had written to me, they were studying for a civil service exam in, in an, in a country. I won't specify, but they were writing the civil service exam. And these tend to be like pretty lucrative spots. I don't know whether that's also partly to do with just some of the perks that you get when you get into government and some of those places, but it's really competitive. And once you've got it, you're basically set for life. But the person was saying that about 400 people write the test and only the best person gets the spot. And I was thinking in my head, well, you know, you have to think you're pretty good to think that you have, like, this is going to be worth it in this person's mind. It was about a year or two of studying to do the test. You have to think you're going to be pretty above average for that to be a, you know, a worthwhile bet, a one in 400 shot, you have to think, well, actually my chances are like one in five or something like that in order for it to even be possible to consider it. And the thing I was going to analogize it to was Harvard because in my head like Harvard has a really low admission rate. And so, you know, it's a little bit like, you know, writing your sat to get into Harvard. It, although the distinction I wanted to draw was that if you get a really good sat score, you don't have to go to Harvard. You can go to somewhere else. And so the decision isn't actually the same. However, when I looked at the statistics for acceptance rates for Harvard, it's like one in 20, so it's much better than I thought it was. And this is one of those things that like, as you know, what the rate is, it would say, well, why not apply to Harvard? Right. But I think for a lot of people, when there's no probabilities to it, there's no kind of risk. It's just uncertainty the is, Oh, well, I could never get into Harvard. Right? And it's like, well, you probably won't. But you know, if you applied to a dozen Ivy league schools, you might get into one of them now. I mean, admittedly, it's not just random chance who gets into Harvard, but the fact that we were just talking about how the American system is perfectly meritocratic, it's also not the case that you definitely can't get in if you don't have the best score. And so I think this was something that kind of struck me is that people who go to elite private schools for instance, and they have all this knowledge about how the college admissions process we're probably also get into better schools also because their instructors know, Oh no, you just need to apply for all of these. Whereas people who maybe didn't go to those schools, like, I mean, I didn't go to that kind of high school, no one around me was applying to like these kinds of elite schools. And so I just didn't have that experience. And so I think that the idea here is that you want to learn more about the world, not just in the academic sense, but in this kind of having real experiences, meeting lots of people, exposing yourself to lots of things, because it allows you to take something that from someone who's kind of in this naive position thinks, Oh, well, you know, you can never do that. And it sort of like, Oh no, you can do that. It's, it's, you know, it's a bit of a long shot, but it would work if you tried it a few times or something like this. And so I think that it, as you go forward into your career, I think that the, the main thing to focus on is how can you broaden your experiences so that you can accurately make those kinds of decisions? And you're not just stuck with, well, I'm doing this because all the people I went to high school did this too.

Speaker 4

I think. So we usually ask our lab, it's like one piece of parting advice that you would give to, to our audience. But I think that it'll probably be too close in that last question. So I'm going to ask you something different. How would you go about learning to ask better questions,

Speaker 1

Learning to ask better questions? Well, I think asking questions is a function of how interested you are in things. So I think that the irony of being interested in things is that you actually get more interest in things the more you know about them, not the less. And so the people who ask the best questions are the people who actually already know the most about the subject. And this is it because, Oh, well I know everything. So there's no no questions to ask, but rather you can ask much better questions. Whereas if you don't know anything, you kind of really can't ask good questions. So this is actually even a post I wrote a little while ago, and there was a paper that I covered in the post. And I think that, I think the title of the paper was like to ask questions. You need to know more, I'm actually misquoting. And now I thought, I, I thought I had remembered the exact title, but I forgotten, but it was, it was basically this idea that in the example they used in the paper, there was some kind of computer programming class and it was aimed at remedial kind of instruction, but they found that all the questions were being asked by the more experienced people in the class and the observation they made and kind of supported by some research in the, in the paper was just this idea that when you don't know anything, you don't really know even how to ask a question about, whereas the more you know about a subject, the more you can be like, Hmm, this is actually curious, this isn't what I would expect. And I can ask a useful question. And so I think the right way to ask more better questions is to get more interested in the subjects that you're asking questions about, learn more about it. And I think it particularly in the case of like interviewing or something like this, the more you know about the person you're asking the questions for you also have a much better chance of, you know, is this going to be an interesting answer or is this, you know, something that's just totally irrelevant or, you know, totally against what this person thinks. And so they're just going to give me some kind of muted response.

Speaker 4

Fantastic. Well, we very much appreciate you coming on here. And then talking to us, I know that you've been on the list of people for us to interview since the very beginning of our podcast. We started last year. So if you, where would you like us to send our audience to find you?

Speaker 1

Sure. Well, anyone can check out my website. It's a Scott H young.com. That's S C O T T H Y L U N g.com. And there, you can read my articles, all the stuff that we've been talking about. There's also links to my book. And I know we also talked about life and focus. I also have some other courses on there as well. So you can sign up to find a bit when we're having new sessions for those. I also recommend the book ultra learning it's available, Amazon Barnes and noble. You can get it wherever your books are sold. If you want to listen to it on audible, I also do the narration. So if you're not sick of listening to me, talk about it now, then you can listen to it for a few hours more and lets me read the book. Great. Thank you so much, Scott. Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Speaker 4

And that wraps up our conversation with Scott Young. I thought it was really, really interesting to talk to somebody who's just so incredibly smart, three takeaways for me, kind of playing off that, him just being so incredibly smart is like just how really it showed up. When I asked him the question about the education system and he just dives into like what it was like in China a hundred years ago, and like how all of that has affected where we're at today. And it was just such a thoughtful answer that like, without him, he wasn't trying to show that he was smart, but you couldn't help, but just admire his intellect while he was answering that question. The next is just how important it is to have a plan in order to achieve like, you know, he wants to learn quantum mechanics. So he finds like one of the pillars of quantum mechanics. Then he breaks that down further and further and further until he has a plan of action for, for getting to where he wants to go. And then when I asked him about like, what are the pillars of education that everybody should have some sort of like base level understanding of in order to be able to like see the world in, in like the real way it is. And he suggested like physics, biology, chemistry, classics in the arts. And I think that those are just really good. And that's like, I think a good question and good answers from him about what you should look at if you're sort of trying to figure the world out. Yeah. I also agree

Speaker 3

Super smart guy. I'd say big takeaway for me. It was a great confirmation that Scott's kind of been a mentor from afar and the respect that I've been reading his work and letting it influence my life in a lot of ways for a long time and having the chance to speak with him face to face on zoom, you could feel his authenticity. He could feel how intrinsic and genuine he is about his interest in these topics. And that was really encouraging for me to see, and I really enjoyed having that opportunity. So that's my first takeaway is how genuine and intrinsic his motivations are for the topics that he writes about and discuss this one thing Kyle had asked me in research for this is how has he been interested in self-improvement for 14 years and kind of getting into this conversation. One, he shows how broad and deep the study of self-improvement really is because he didn't, you know, it's not just talking about habits and that forever it's exploring the most groundbreaking neuroscience about each of the sub-components of quote unquote self-improvement and how basically when you learn something and you develop a passion for it, you just realize how much more there is to learn about that thing. And he's just such a great example of it. The seconds, very much in line with Kyle's takeaways and something I've repeated many times, for those of you that have listened to a couple of podcasts of ours with writers, but the writers we have on the show demonstrate such an ability to think and clearly express ideas that is uncommon among most people we interact with, except for people who have been consistently writing and sharing their writing for a very, very long time. And so it's just very reassuring for me that that's such a high leverage thing to do because you stand apart from literally everyone else in your ability to communicate because writing transforms your brain to force yourself to be a more effective communicator. And the third one look kind of about my first one, but just the power of curiosity and the worthwhile pursuit of a life of learning, being kind of the goal of life. We asked Scott, like, what are your goals? Long-Term and he's one of few guests who's like, pretty much just doing what I'm doing now. I want to continue writing. I want to continue learning. I want to have a nice family and that's, and I want to continue having people benefit from the work that I'm doing. You know, a lot of people are like 10 years from now. I want to be doing this crazy thing. That's so different from what I'm doing now. And he's like kind of found what he's got. And so that power of curiosity and the endless pursuit of learning and appreciating the world is pretty

Speaker 5

Awesome. So I really enjoyed it and learned a lot from this conversation.

Speaker 3

If you are new to this podcast and haven't listened

Speaker 5

To any of our other episodes, I would highly recommend checking out really any of them. But the last three, especially Superga we did an episode with Nicholas Cole who is another extremely powerful, extremely prolific writer with thousands of articles on the internet, about a bunch of really interesting topics. We talked to him about high became so popular and amassed over a hundred million views on his different articles, episode 55, Robbie Crabtree performed a speaking. If you're interested in public speaking, being a better storyteller, being a more effective presenter, highly recommend that conversation. And number 54 with tagger also very spiritual and interesting and kind of all over the place in a good way. We'll get you thinking about life from a different perspective and make you encouraged to go out and do some crazy things in a good way. So I would encourage any of those three episodes if you're new here and haven't listened to them yet, if you appreciate this content and like the show, we would appreciate if you left a rating and or review on iTunes. And if you want to connect with Kyle and I give us feedback, say, Hey, or on Twitter, you can look us up by our names. That's pretty helpful. I hope that you enjoy this conversation and we'll see you in a week with the next episode. Thanks so much for listening.

Louis Shulman
Co-Host of The Louis and Kyle Show

Louis is finishing his degree in computer science from the University of Alabama. He loves books, exercise, and internet challenges.