On today’s show is genius Stanford neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Huberman. We talk about the positive effects of stress, his days as a skateboarder with no direction, and yes – even this smarty pants is trying to figure out the work, love, life balance. Dr. Huberman does an incredible job of explaining complex ideas in an every man’s language. He is a guest I will have to have on again and again to talk about us humans and our responses. Enjoy!
Listen to the episode here:
- The Painful and Wonderful Journey [00:08:03]
- Regulate Your Nervous System [00:14:00]
- Understanding Stress [00:19:04]
- Ways to Calm Down [00:27:53]
- Raising Your Adrenaline Response Threshold [00:32:41]
- Technology vs. Technology [00:39:46]
- Virtual Claustrophobia [00:46:20]
- The Seesaw of Stress and Calm [00:54:10]
- The Healthy Pattern of Sleep [00:55:57]
- Turning Off Your Thoughts [01:01:03]
- Optimizing Your Hormones [01:04:33]
- Accepting the Uncomfortable [01:12:57]
- Herb Compounds and Supplementation [01:18:29]
- The Couple’s Dynamic [01:24:09]
- Pushing Humans [01:42:28]
- Researches and Experiments About Stress [01:46:10]
- About Quantum Computers [01:50:26]
Dr. Andrew Huberman – BioHack Your Behavior
Welcome to this episode. I’m excited to share with you a friend of mine, Dr. Andrew Huberman. He works at Stanford University at the School of Medicine. He’s contributed to the fields of brain development, brain plasticity, and neural regeneration and repair. He was an Assistant Professor of neurobiology. You get the point.
What I loved about this conversation is he’s also on a mission. He wants to talk about science but in a way that householders, everyday people like myself can understand it better and learn how this impacts me in my life. He is taking care to communicate this in a way. They can find out all this amazing information and say, “This is how you can use it in your life.”
The other thing I appreciate is that Andrew had his own struggles. You’d think a guy like this was always in academics and everything was dialed and figured out. He’ll talk freely that he struggled with his parents getting divorced and even was a skateboard punk for a while with no direction. He’s human. You might have caught him on Joe Rogan. If you haven’t, I encourage you to listen to it. You will learn about Dr. Huberman in a different way during this conversation. Enjoy.
First of all, welcome to the house again.
Great to be back.
The training was easier this time.
It’s never easy. You always hit walls, but that’s part of the idea.
It amplifies when you have a near scary experience in the water. That’s something to be honored in people. You were shark diving and it was pretty glamorous. It wasn’t like I was three and I was on the shore break. Do you think that there’s anything in here that helps you work through it?
Definitely. We were doing these jump squats from the bottom of the pool and grabbing air. I’m at a depth I know I can reach the top. I come down a couple of inches forward and that means on the next jump, you either have to jump harder or you’re not going to get a gulp of air. I didn’t get the gulp of air. I got a sip of water instead.
I went down, no big deal. I’m looking up and it was very much like the visual that I had diving in Guadeloupe, a real open ocean, great white sharks, out of air, and that whole thing. I looked up and the surface of the water looks the same in your pool as it did down there. There was a moment where you’re like, “Uh-oh.”
It’s amazing how fast adrenaline is. People think, “I’m going to avoid the stress response.” It’s 500 milliseconds, half a second, from perception to adrenaline being released from the adrenal glands above your kidneys. There is no way to stop that. You can’t put that genie back in the bottle. All you can do at that point is learn to turn on the calming response. This time, I had it. There were no sharks but being out of air and underwater slams you in the face pretty quick.
You had your own obstacles growing up. Your dad was a scientist. You’re a punk rock, if you will. It’s not like, “I was a straight-A student. I flew through school and then everyone knew I was going to go and I was going to be a scientist.” Laird and I have this debate. Both of us had bumpy childhoods. That pressure will crush you. A lot of times and you’ve seen this story a million times, people overachieve. It’s usually connected to fear and to some other things like pain and trauma.
When I was thinking about talking to you, I was thinking of those times that were hard, your parents not being together, and also being born with a high IQ. People overlook when you have certain talents that you’re born with and if you get put in the right environment. You arrived at this place where now you’re a neuroscientist.
You say you want to understand what the brain does and you want to help alleviate suffering. I wondered if wanting to alleviate suffering came from your own relationship. You’ve said that a lot of guys that you skated with some of them thrive, some of them are no longer here, or some of them got caught up in drugs and alcohol. Is part of that experience now also part of why you want to help that relationship with people and suffering?
The interest in science was there because my dad’s a scientist and I grew up around it. My adolescent and teen years were chaos. There was no semblance of home. While running the streets with a lot of fun and interesting characters, a lot of them are dead and incarcerated now. Some of them did well in life. You see a lot of suffering and I experienced a fair amount. You’re right, there was a seed of something probably in my wiring and my genetics. Let’s be fair that once I decided to bite down into academics, I was able to do it. I was maybe that much closer to the rim of the basket. That’s fine. The work still had to be done and I had to be the one to do it.
To answer your question directly, I see so much suffering, people in trauma, people struggling with stress, and even people who are performing well who aren’t suffering and who I know can perform better. A lot of my consulting and laboratory work is geared also towards those folks. The beauty of it these days is that inside of science and being part of this community of neuroscience and being early to arrive in neuroscience. It wasn’t even something called neuroscience until years ago that had a bunch of other names. Being part of that feels like such a privilege because I see these resources.
I’ll hear a talk about stress mitigation, growth mindset, or some interesting hormonal biochemical pathway that I know somebody can put to use. I then look out in the world, read the news, or hear people’s stories and I see and hear about their suffering and their stories, young people, old people of every age in between. For me, that’s the activating force. Yes, there are resources.
If there’s anything in life that gives me the greatest pleasure, it’s being able to help by pointing people towards tools that maybe I had something to do with developing and maybe I didn’t. Being able to translate science or deliver practical tools to people is the juice for me. It came from knowing what it’s like to feel lost and confused and that’s why those years were valuable. I was lost and confused and went forging like crazy for mentors and information. If you want good mentors and you want to keep mentors, the secret is you also have to work like your life depended on it.
You can’t go around looking for information and calling people mentors. You have to apprentice yourself to the craft also. My life story has been one of trying to collect information that’s useful and distribute it and also try those tools. I wouldn’t trade that journey for anything. It’s been wonderful and painful but I like to think that it’s given me a sensitivity that allows me to reach people a little bit better or hopefully a lot better than I would have otherwise.
We’re in an interesting time and we were talking a little bit about it with COVID, social unrest, and all of these things happening. It feels like the world is very chaotic. Maybe, in some ways, that’s a good thing because that means change could be upon us, hopefully. From your point of view or a scientific point of view when you’re watching all of this, I’m curious, if you could get everyone’s ear for a minute, what would you want to discuss as far as from the scientific?
[bctt tweet=”When people confront stress, it completely reshapes the way that they’re searching in their visual environment.”]
You talked about real-time tools and other tools almost from a starting point. There’s performance but I’m talking about walking around as a human being. Sometimes performance ends up being like bonus rounds. It’s like, “I can tweak it.” Some baseline understanding. A lot of people walking around feel like they have no tools, no control, and they’re along for the ride.
It places a visual in my head. There’s this question that we can be flat on our feet, which means doing pretty well, feeling okay, some up, some down, and doing okay in life. We can be in high-performance mode, leaning forward, and reaching for that next rung. That can be a painful process but there’s a certain group of people that is trying to maximize performance or take something to the next level.
There are a lot of people that are back on their heels. When you’re back on your heels, you need to get flat-footed before you can be forward-leaning, the center of mass forward. The process is the same, you’d have to tilt your center of mass forward in each case. What’s missing right now in a major way and we’re seeing that with COVID, we’re seeing that with a lot of the social unrest that is apparent and the inequities that are apparent and what that’s causing is that humans have to learn. They have to teach themselves how to regulate their nervous system.
Your nervous system is this thing, it’s the brain, your spinal cord, the connections to the body, and the body back to the brain. It’s this gift that you can shape it. Your parents shape it but then we can also shape it throughout our entire life. It can work well for us. It can allow us to respond when we need to respond. It’s not trained up. It needs to be taught how to deal with pressure and stress.
There are two general categories of directions that people need to learn to take their nervous system consciously. One is people need to learn how to calm down when they’re activated. They need a tool or tools. They need something in their kit. We can talk about what those tools might look like. There’s no pill that’s going to allow people to do that. Supplements can help. Other things can give buoyancy to the process.
There are some concrete tools that science and the work that you and Laird have done and other people have done in the high-performance and wellness communities that will allow people to calm down in real-time. Bring it down. When we’re stressed, the world looks completely different and we are in a compromised position to make certain kinds of decisions. It makes us better at certain decisions.
We can talk about how stress can help us. That’s one thing. The other is, young and old, I don’t care if you’re 85 or you’re 14, or any age in between, everybody needs to learn how to raise their threshold on what will trigger stress. Some people call it stress inoculation but I don’t like that because it makes it sound like you’re immune to stress forever.
A scenario, a person, or a dynamic. It could be a situation in my house. It might have to do with birthday cake, crumbs, sand, floors, something stupid, or people that I know something about that doesn’t bring out the best in me let’s say that because that’s on me. Over the past several years, I tried to move away from it. I find this fascinating. Don’t you feel like as humans, we’re always nose-diving straight towards it? What is that?
I’ll mention some tools for calming and tools for raising the stress threshold that are concrete and will be familiar to you and your community but perhaps not too many of your readers. What happens in stress? Stress is an important state of mind to understand. Understanding can help us cope with it better. When we see something troubling, a troubling text message, a news piece, or we wake up and we feel lousy and we’re stressed, stress does a couple of things.
Of course, our heart rate and breathing increase. Everyone talks about fight or flight. I don’t like statements like fight or flight because it doesn’t tell you anything about what’s going on under the hood. It almost drives you towards this default interpretation, “I want to fight,” or, “I want to run.” It’s much more interesting than that. It’s much simpler and more generic than that.
The moment that response hits, the most important thing to understand is that it hits fast. Don’t get upset about the fact that it hit because it’s normal. That means you’re okay. People worry, “My adrenals are going to burn out.” Your adrenals are set to let you run for 200 years of stress. Until we’re living 200 years or more, which we may do. David Sinclair and others are on their way to making that happen. In the meantime, you have plenty of adrenaline and you can handle it.
First of all, a lot of people don’t realize this but that adrenaline response triggers the immune system to protect you. This is why in the study of tumor-type breathing that precedes the National Academy study, people were protected against the injection of E. coli. Adrenaline was designed to mobilize your immune resources and these killer cells of the body that eat up bacteria and fight viruses. This is why when you go and then you finally rest, you get sick when you rest. The stress response crashes and all of sudden your immune system shuts off and now you get sick.
First of all, stress doesn’t make you sick. Stress prevents you from getting sick. High activation states keep you from getting sick. That doesn’t mean you don’t need to rest. Let’s put that one on the shelf because stress gets a bad rap. Stress about COVID is not going to necessarily inoculate you to COVID but it’s going to help you deal with what’s going on if you were to confront a virus or bacteria. It makes sense. Let’s say you had to take your babies and your family and move through a territory with no food and no water. Can you afford to get sick? Mother nature is smart. She wired the nervous system to trigger the spleen, the thymus, and all these immune-related organs to stimulate the release of killer cells.
Let me ask you something, do you know how there are different kinds of stress? There’s real stress like going through a field with no food and water. There’s our own mess. Did those impact us differently? I always feel like if I can manage my own human weirdness and old kid stuff and whatever pops up, somehow the other stress is straightforward to me.
The deep survival stress was what it was wired for, to keep us safe. We’ve demonized the blips in stress that happen. Think about heart rate variability. It’s good to have some blips and stress. You don’t want chronically high stress. I read a troubling text message, something comes in, and all of a sudden, I’m uncomfortable and agitated. Let’s think about that. The agitation is because that response was designed to move you. It was designed to move you toward the water, food, mates, or whatever it is that you’re not getting. It was designed to take you out of the place you’re in and move you. It’s a healthy response.
It’s uncomfortable because if you’re not moving and you try to fight that, you’re now in a place where your body is in a state of agitation because of the hormones and chemicals that are in it and that’s tricky. There is a way to suppress that response. The pupils of your eyes dilate and this has a number of different effects on the optic of your eyes. Whatever it is that’s in your environment, maybe it’s the text message, maybe it’s the article of food or unclean dishes on the counter, that thing is going to occupy much more of your attention.
The change in the optics of your eyes makes that object clearer. It puts it in portrait mode of your phone and it makes everything else disappear and go blurry. It puts you in a soda straw view of the world. You’re no longer seeing the world with this open gaze. That has an interesting effect. Your mental focus follows your visual focus, a lot of people don’t realize this, and that’s because the eyes are two pieces of brain.
The eye is connected to the brain. The rest of your brain is in your skull but there are two pieces of your brain that are outside your skull and it’s your neural retina. These aren’t the window to the soul. That’s cute and nice. I don’t know about souls. I’m a neuroscientist so I work on cells and not souls. It’s the brain. The brain is occupied by this thing and what’s interesting is that our perception of time shifts immediately. All of a sudden, time starts getting sliced finely. Everything seems like it’s going slow compared to what we’re experiencing inside of us.
For instance, you look at that and you’re like, “Oh my god.” It seems like it’s irritating in part because you’re now looking at it in a narrow time warp and you can’t place it in the big picture of, “Maybe someone had to rush and didn’t want to be late. I’m also stressing punctuality to my family.” All these other competing forces. Your brain is not available to make those kinds of judgments. It can only think about things that are in that immediate timeframe and space frame, meaning the area around you.
Knowing these things, the next time you feel agitation and stress, your immune system got a little boost. You are not thinking about time and space. I don’t mean this in any cosmos way or theory of relativity way. You’re not thinking about that the same way. You’re in a little tunnel of experience. This is why we say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing, and then later, we’re like, “Why? What was going on?” You weren’t crazy, you were in a different state of mind. It’s almost like you had a different brain and your eyes were different. You were a different person at that moment.
It is useful for people to learn how to take it down a notch. When I say take it down a notch, I’m referring to what used to be called the autonomic nervous system. I would love to rename it if I could because autonomic means automatic and it’s a total misnomer. For instance, if I want to calm down, one way I can calm down that’s slow is to eat a nice big meal. It triggers the activation of the vagus nerve, which is a nerve that connects my gut to my brain and I’m calm. It’s not autonomic. It’s slow.
There are fast ways to calm down. There’s so much interest in the vagus nerve that we completely overlooked the faster pathway. It’s almost like there’s been this discussion of this slow lane, the bike lane, and then you got the Autobahn next to it and that is a nerve called the phrenic nerve that connects the diaphragm to the brainstem. The diaphragm is unique in terms of organs. Unlike the heart, the spleen, or the liver, you can control it.
It’s skeletal muscle. Like your quadricep or your forearm, you can pick up a glass, you can do a squat, and you can do all these things. Those muscles can work involuntarily. When you’re walking around, you don’t think about every step where you can work them voluntarily. The diaphragm is perfectly happy to have you breathe and do its thing. It was designed to be the signal that informs the brain about what’s happening in the body.
The quickest way that I’m aware of to calm down in seconds is to do what’s called a physiological sigh. Two studies, one published in nature and one published in cell reports, describe a pattern of breathing that you naturally do and I do naturally during my sleep. Animals do this periodically throughout the day. People will do this under conditions of claustrophobia where you start depriving them of oxygen. It involves a double inhale and then an extended exhale. It’s through the nose on the inhales and exhales through the mouth.
There are 200 neurons and each one is a nerve cell in our brainstem, they are responsible for physiological sighs. That is not a coincidence. Mother Nature put those there so that when carbon dioxide levels get too high, there’s a pattern of breathing, the physiological sigh, two inhales followed by an exhale. The double inhale is key. It’s not just a big deep breath. That second inhale maximally fills the little sacs in the lungs but then pulls extra carbon dioxide from the bloodstream. On the exhale, you offload more carbon dioxide.
The reason this hasn’t been discussed much is that the papers are recent. The first description of physiological sighs was back in the ‘30s. Only recently have we identified which neurons they are and how this works. What I always say is if you’re stressed and you want to think more clearly and make better decisions, of course, you don’t always have the option to go meditate or work out but do something with the body. It’s hard to control the mind with the mind and say, “I’m not going to stress.” You’re going to react. You’re not going to be able to intervene in your thinking.
The double inhales followed by an exhale will rapidly bring down the level of the sympathetic nervous system, which is good. It will calm you quickly. The heart rate generally takes about twenty seconds. There’s about a twenty-second lag. You don’t want your heart rate to drop suddenly. People feel their heart beating and be like, “I’m still stressed.” No. Maybe you do 2 or 3 of these physiological sighs. Maybe I’m overstating it a little bit but if every child and every adult knew how to do the physiological sigh, which is cost-free, built into your nervous system, and trivially easy, we would avoid a lot of bad and we potentially could create a lot of good. It’s that simple.
I don’t know any better tool that can work that quickly. There are a few things like dilating your gaze and going into panoramic vision by keeping your head and eyes stationary, looking at that plate on the counter, but dilating your gaze as if you are looking at a horizon. It will allow your perception of time to become bigger. You’ll start to think in a more rational and deliberate way and bring in other things in other contexts but you have to remember to do it.
The nice one about going into panoramic vision is that it’s completely covert. I could be doing it right now. I can dilate my gaze as I’m talking. Whereas the physiological sigh, it’s hard to sneak that one in if other people are around. You could do it subtly. Some people believe that they can’t breathe through their nose because they’re like, “My nose is clogged.” Breathe through your nose. We have control over our autonomic nervous system and the stress response.
As a neuroscientist, my main orientation has been, let’s look to what mother nature created naturally to get us to calm ourselves. Dogs do this throughout the day. Right before they go down for a nap, they’ll offload all this carbon dioxide and they’ll drift into sleep. It’s quite nice as a way to shift into deeper states of relaxation and you can do it deliberately.
On the other side of the coin, it’s like, “How would I get it myself so that I don’t have to stress at all? That 500-millisecond response is a stinger because it’s fast. How can I prevent that from happening?” It’s like, “How can I keep my brand new car clean forever?” You can’t. You don’t always want to be tidying up messes. How can you prevent that stress response? You raise your threshold for adrenaline release and the way to do that is to put yourself into situations that hopefully are not tissue and life-endangering. It can’t be extreme heat, a knife blade, or heights. Sooner or later, you’re going to get hurt or dead. That’s where cold water, a reasonably hot sauna, and workouts like the one we did in the pool.
It’s still a form of positive stress. I’m looking for positive stress to put on the organism. Think about it, you’ll see some couples, they bicker and fight. In a way, it’s their way of looking for the stress but they don’t have these other outlets.
It’s even more diabolical than that. Not to go off on a tangent but there’s a guy named Robert Heath. In the ‘60s, he published two papers in the journal of science, which is a terrific journal. It’s hard to get papers in the journal of science nature itself. Those are the best in our field. He took human people. They weren’t even patients.
He drilled a hole in the skull and put a bunch of electrodes in their brain. You couldn’t do this experiment nowadays. Thankfully, he did it then. He allowed them to press little buttons to stimulate whatever part of the brain they wanted and tell him what they felt and which ones they liked and which ones they didn’t. They pressed the button a, rage. People were raging in the lab, throwing tantrums, and breaking things. Number two, they might be drunk. Three, they might be sexually aroused. He looked at all these things. He found all these areas of the brain that control different perceptual states. It’s cool.
He then found that everybody preferred to hit one lever that would stimulate one particular brain area whose name doesn’t matter. For the aficionados, it’s the central meeting nucleus of the midline shallowness. It’s right smack in the middle of your brain. They love it. They’ll sit there all day like a rat would press a lever for cocaine. What’s the subject of feeling? Mild anger and frustration. People love to argue because, somehow, there’s a reward circuit for it in the brain. People love that low level of bickering and arguing.
What do you mean by a low-level reward? You’re getting a release of some kind of chemical in your body?
It makes me want to take a nap. have a personality. I can’t engage in that.
That’s far out.
I’m not saying frustration and anger are healthy. What I’m saying is that there must be some underlying evolutionary reason for it. It’s probably the same circuit. Before language evolved, it was designed for us to lean into effort. Imagine going out and working through cold and discomfort to get the things that the rest of our people needed. In terms of stress inoculation, most people are not going to go off and do BUD/S, the Navy SEAL experience. Most people may or may not do an Ironman or something. Those are wonderful challenges.
In all of these things, ice bath, cold shower, the XPT workout, I felt it, there’s a wall. At some point, there’s a wall coming at you and that’s the adrenaline response and that’s dilating of the pupils. That’s the window of opportunity where you get to try and find a way to relax yourself. I wish it were easier to export in terms of saying, “Under those conditions, do something like the physiological side.” You’re not going to do that underwater.
An ice bath is a beautiful tool because it’s a little bit like driving on a gravel road. When you learn how to drive on a smooth parking lot or a freeway, you get used to some different types of interactions with vehicles and that kind of thing. At some point, you drive on a gravel road or in the fog. Sometimes speeding up is the right way to go. Sometimes you want to come off the gas. There’s that sweet spot in between. You can’t tell somebody, “When that challenge comes and things get shaky, lean in harder.” You don’t want to also say, “Back off and relax.” They’ve got to find it.
When you put yourself into a circumstance where you have to find it and you have high adrenaline in your system, people are figuring out how to access that other arm or the nervous system, the parasympathetic nervous system. They’re saying, “How do I calm myself in real-time while still engaging in the thing that I’m doing? Whether or not it’s a cold shower or ice bath, it’s super oxygenated breathing.
Rather than a physiological sigh and do something like 25 or 30 deep breaths then exhale and hold your breath for a little bit, what are you doing there? You’re learning how to be calm with lots of adrenaline in your system. You’re getting familiar with having lots of adrenaline in your system. For a guy like Laird, a giant wave. If I saw that wave coming at me, it would be an adrenaline overload. He understands how to work through that. Presumably, he worked up through waves that were smaller at first.
Everyone can learn this process and needs to find a way that they can do that without tissue damage or threat to life. Everyone needs to do it. Police officers, military, first responders, parents, professors, athletes, and everybody makes worse decisions when we can’t do this. Everybody makes much better decisions when we say, “I’m in an altered state. I know how to handle myself here.” It’s a real thing that reflects the activity of neural circuits in the brain and body. It’s not mystical. It’s not hormonal. Hormones take days, weeks, or hours. How good are you at steering this machine? The machine I’m referring to is the nervous system.
[bctt tweet=”People misunderstand gratitude. Gratitude is not complacency.”]
When I tell you, I can see the difference between my 12-year-old and my 16-year-old based on the smartphone and technology. If you could share some of the stuff you’re doing with VR. We’re having a conversation earlier about also this idea that Elijah and I are always talking about. He’s like, “It’s technology if we could get everybody there using it as a tool.” We were talking about consciousness. It’s called the God helmet. I’d love to hear about what you guys are doing with VR. In a way, it’s almost like needing technology to combat technology.
To your previous point, we got all these creature comforts. The COVID thing was rough. I have tremendous sensitivity and empathy for people that are struggling financially at this time, especially for people that got sick and first responders. The pressure that we’ve experienced with this so-called lockdown, the pseudo lockdown was nothing compared to some of the pressures that we’ve dealt with evolutionarily.
That doesn’t mean we need to throw ourselves into worse conditions. It’s all debatable. Information has been flowing through weird channels these days. I understand there’s a lot of confusion around this. Even before COVID, everyone’s stress threshold has been lowered. Like we can increase our stress threshold, we can lower our stress threshold. It means making it much easier to get triggered. That’s what happens in times of abundance if we’re not deliberately placing ourselves into these confrontational regimes, meaning real physical stressors that trigger the adrenaline response. Within it, we’re forced to figure out a way, figure it out.
In the pool, for instance, swimming across, breath-hold, you can get all the instruction in the world and that instruction is valuable. I’m extremely grateful for your instruction. Keep your arm tucked in so that you’re more streamlined. You can make it back and forth without a breath more easily. At some point, that stress response hits and it’s on you.
One thing that’s important to understand, especially for people that are experiencing a lot of stress, is to think about when you come into this world and you’re a baby, you don’t know what you need. You feel agitation because you need a diaper change. You feel agitation because you’re hungry. You feel agitation because you’re too warm in your onesie. What do you feel? Agitation. What do you do? You scream and cry and someone comes and handles the problem.
The brain’s fundamental rule if there were a constitution of the brain, article one is when feeling uncomfortable, look outside yourself to solve that discomfort. There are reasons for that evolutionarily but it’s our responsibility, each of us, that as we progress through adolescence and puberty and into young adulthood, we acquire the ability to do that without any external tools as well.
There’s nothing wrong with eating to soothe yourself every once in a while provided its healthy amounts of food. There’s nothing wrong with looking to others for social support. That’s important glue for our species but everybody needs those tools and we’ve somehow forgotten that. It’s a big part of becoming a functional adult. It should be required to get your driver’s license, something of that sort to learn how to calm yourself or something. I don’t know how to implement it into the legislature but someone out there might. You can’t get your driver’s license unless you can bring your autonomic arousal down a few points without any tools. That would be a fun one to do in simulation.
When I was in college, I had my college coach who’s still my dear friend. In my freshman year, she pulled me aside after we were flying back after NCAA and she’s like, “I hear you haven’t been going to math class. Do I need to get a new middle blocker?” I was like, “No, coach.” She’s like, “Okay, dear. Personal accountability.” She tapped my shoulder two times and said, “Good talk.” My point is that sometimes you realize that at the end of the day, even when it’s unfair, it’s still on us. What are we going to do? How are we going to respond? It’s hard. I’m not suggesting every situation. I’m saying many things happen in life.
Sometimes it’s okay to have a moment where you’re like, “I feel bad for myself right now,” or, “I am frustrated,” or, “I’m doing whatever.” At the end of the day, it’s still not going to get fixed by someone else. It’s connected to finding the way to go, “Am I going to be aggravated, angry, and unhappy? Am I going to try to figure out a way to calm down and find some homeostasis in this?” It takes a minute.
I love technology but it has a dark side. One of the darkest sides of technology that I feel is causing major issues is the ease at which I or anyone can pick up their phone and text somebody when they’re feeling distressed. That has undermined our ability to cope with a delayed flight, to cope with something not working out. It’s wonderful to text people and share things. I do it. Everybody does it. We are lowering that stress threshold further and further and it’s a serious problem. A lot of the problems of our species reflect failures to regulate our state.
People who are interested in high performance know this, the best way to get better and better and move from skill to mastery to virtuosity in your craft is by learning to control your state. It allows you to lean into more uncertainty, bring in new elements, more creativity, etc. People who are suffering from anxiety, depression, etc., from black on their heels to flat-footed, that’s a big part of what the VR platform is about. Maybe that’s a segue.
Do you also think that, in a way, now I can have this impulse communication? It’s like, “Andrew, can you believe it?” It’s coupled with many small unimportant distractions. I sometimes feel it even in my brain. I call it cement head where I’m having all this stuff coming at me that isn’t important but I’m having to deal with it mentally.
I have the ability to also do things on this lower threshold. It’s the duality of it. That’s why people are meditating and doing all these things. I hear you talk about Yoga Nidra and things like that for sleep. It’s two things. It’s not like, “We’re dealing with one side of this.” We’re then constantly bombarded. How do you get that wide view? You never get the wide view.
Part of the problem is the information coming in. Now I’m exposing myself as a scientist. We’ll break it down into variables. One variable is the information itself. Some of it is troubling, some of it is neutral, and some of it is awesome.
Very little of it is anything.
There’s the sheer volume of it, which is what you pointed out. There’s the fact that it’s coming through a device that’s about the size of a box of cigarettes that requires that I focus my vision on this little box. Scott Carney talked a little bit about this. He and I have had a lot of conversations about this. It’s bringing your vision into a little narrow channel. It also slices time. Space and time are linked in the brain in some interesting ways that we could get into. When your visual system is focused at a particular depth in a small area, we feel a sense of urgency. In virtual reality in my lab, if I want to stress somebody out, I put them into virtual claustrophobia. I haven’t changed the oxygen flow in the room. I bring the walls in a little bit. All of a sudden, we see it.
Does every person respond? Does anyone override that?
Some people respond more than others. Everybody responds a little bit. That is proof that the visual system is the strongest component or lever for our states of arousal or levels of stress or calm. Some people don’t like it. The same thing with heights. Everyone registers heights and some people don’t like it. The shark diving story was because Michael Muller, a phenomenal photographer, came to our lab and looked at our VR and was like, “Your VR is lame. You need real VR.” We’re like, “What’s real VR?” He’s like, “Retina resolution. 3D sound.” I’m like, “LA, Hollywood. We know how to do this.” I love the nerds in the Bay Area.
Stay in your lane.
I got dive certified. I got into the diving thing. That’s another story. People who come to my lab are placed in VR. We give them real experiences without injuring them. Heights without the risk of them falling. They get what’s called presence, this feeling that they are up on a high beam between two buildings.
No one thinks that they’re in the water with sharks because they’re standing in my lab. When you see one of those great white sharks coming at you in VR and mouth gaping and teeth there and it’s a real resolution and you look down and one of the divers you’re with is far away. All of a sudden, you forget that you’re in the lab. We can look at low levels or high levels of stress depending on who you are and your relationship with sharks.
Likewise with social stress. There’s another VR Lab at Stanford, Jeremy Bailenson’s lab, that has you do public lectures. There are some different modes where some of the students that are watching him in the public lecture are looking around. There’s one where they’re all following you, every move, with their eyes. I’ve done a lot of public speaking. I’m pretty comfortable with public speaking. Even that gets me. You can feel this uptick in your physiological arousal. We create these environments in the lab where we can control the visual environment.
To go back to the cell phone example, it’s clear that when we tighten people’s field of view, when we make the virtual room smaller, they can’t see as far, they can’t see a horizon, and they get stressed. It’s not just the information coming in on the phone or the tablet but it’s the fact that’s coming through this little box. There are ways to deal with this that could be applied to VR and technology. I’ve been in touch with some of the big tech companies although not with great traction frankly because there’s more incentive for them to draw us deeper and deeper into those boxes than to alleviate this.
A couple of things naturally relax us through the visual system. One is panoramic vision, not moving your eyes or head. You don’t have to be robotically rigid. Dilating your gaze so that you can see the periphery of the room and see yourself in the environment you’re in. You can see your body in this sphere of the world as opposed to narrowing the world. The other is looking at a horizon. It naturally brings your vision into a panorama and it calms you. It releases a set of circuits in the brainstem for vigilance and you feel an immediate relaxation response. Couple that physiological side if you do that also, you’re chill out quickly. We can do this in VR or people can do this and find a horizon.
During COVID, I was giving a lot of talks to some of the major groups behind the scenes at Stanford, Harvard, some other groups, business, military, etc., about how to cope with being inside more. There’s stress about COVID, finances, and things like that. Also, people weren’t seeing horizons enough. It sounds so trivial and basic.
The other way is to get into a self-generated optic flow. The visual system and the balance system are closely linked in some interesting ways. One of the most pleasurable things for any animal including humans is to get into a self-generated optic flow. Walking, swimming, biking, running, even for people that are mobility compromised, even with a walker, moving along, and not looking at your phone. Not walking and looking at your phone naturally puts your eyes into a panorama. It does something else as well. The eyes start making these reflexive side-to-side eye movements.
It has been shown in a series of five different papers, quality studies, and excellent journals including Nature, the Super Bowl of journals for us, when the eyes go into these lateral movements, it sends a signal that quiets the amygdala, the primary threat detection center in the brain. That’s because Mother Nature made it so that when we feel agitation or even if we’re not agitated and we move, we generate movement. These eye movements are generated and calm our stress. People are like, “How can I calm my stress? What should I take? What should I eat? What shouldn’t I take?” Move through space and see that movement.
Now I look around, we have a labyrinth at Stanford. There’s a meditation center and there’s a labyrinth outside where you’re going to walk the maze. It’s a meditative type thing. It’s hilarious. I see people walking and looking at their phones. I’m thinking, “You’ve taken this ancient practice, the unconscious genius of things like labyrinths, walks, horizons, and all these things. You’re bringing a device that undermines it.”
It’s like eating a very nutritious salad. You’ve been doing intermittent fasting. You think about all this stuff. You’re health-conscious. You’ve got an IV of glucose and high lipid content. Let’s wire a pizza into your veins. That’s essentially what people are doing. There’s nothing wrong with the phone but it’s a very sharp blade. For me, when I need to work or write, I have a difficult time getting away from the phone. I bought a gun safe, which you’ll time. You lock that thing in there. I had to get that one but there were times before that had a key safe. I didn’t go to this extreme but I almost thought about swallowing the key thing.
Neil is probably perfect because he puts all this stuff on timers and shuts it off. It’s maybe reminding people that it’s when you’re hitting it all day long, every note, every email. I understand people are at work and they have to be responsive. Can they put systems in place? Speaking about Neil Strauss, he’s intense about systems but he’s understanding it like, “There are pitfalls. How do I navigate the systems?” That’s everything in life.
We even talk about self-care. It’s not that I get out of bed every day and I’m like, “I’m excited to train or not eat this or not eat that.” Let’s put systems in place. So and so is going to show up at 8:30. We’re going to get it done. I love that food but I’m not going to have it in the house. Eventually, give me a stressful phone call, I’m going to go right to the kitchen and probably grab it. It’s also reminding people to put a little effort into the systems in place to support the behaviors or the feelings that they want to have.
We talked about the real-time tool, the physiological side to calm one’s self, and then there are these things where you might deliberately throw yourself into a higher stress environment to raise your stress threshold. That’s level 1 and level 2. Level three would be learning how to toggle back and forth between the stress of life and calm. I like to think of it as a seesaw. We want to be able to sleep well. We also want to be able to lean into stress. You can’t just sleep or just be stressed, of course.
Think about you’re sitting in the middle of a seesaw and you need to be able to run to both ends without it slamming down on one side. You don’t want to be asleep for three days. You don’t want to be stressed out for three days. Throughout the day, you want to use the phone but you want to understand what you’re doing when you’re using it. It is not a relaxation tool. Your extra fatigue and your failure to recover from things are because you’re thinking about it as a relaxation tool. Anytime your gaze is brought into that narrow box, even if it’s pleasantly scrolling Instagram, which is not in high demand, you’re still taxing the nervous system more than if you were in what I call deliberate disengagement.
You go check out a horizon or you lie on your back and concentrate on breathing smoothly for a minute. You pause in the kitchen and dilate your gaze for a second. Maybe laugh at how crazy I and everyone else can be in terms of our brain states and where they can take us. Throughout the day, you want to have a lot of variability in that stress, high stress, low stress, and medium stress medium. You want to orchestrate that on a timescale so that most of your activity is in the early part of the day and the afternoon and you’re not running around in the middle of the night.
Cortisol levels, the lowest so are the highest. You can handle physically the most amount of stress earlier.
The healthy pattern. The earth spins once every 24 hours. Every cell in our body is on the same 24-hour clock. The way that those cells get synchronized, the way you optimize your health at a foundational level is to match your body’s rhythms to the outside light-dark cycle. This does not necessarily mean waking up with the sun and going to sleep at sunset. For some people, they might enjoy that and most people don’t.
You get an early morning cortisol pulse that’s healthy. People think cortisol is bad but it’s not. It sets you up for energy and focus throughout the day. About sixteen hours after that peak, it starts to come down. A different hormone, melatonin, which is secreted from the pineal, starts to come up and that’s the one that makes you sleepy and it allows you to fall asleep. The way to set the overall foundation to regulate yourself well is to get some light in your eyes first thing in the morning. Ideally, within the first hour of waking. It doesn’t have to be the sunrise crossing the horizon.
Whenever I say sunrise, people think, “Oh no, I got to watch the sunrise.” It’s called low solar angle. The cells in the eye, which are called melanopsin cells, if you’re interested can read up on those. They see the quality of light from the characteristic of low solar angle, the sun low in the sky, as it’s moving toward overhead. Even if there’s cloud cover and you can’t see the sun, this is happening and it’s happening better than it will happen with artificial lights. You get that morning cortisol pulse and it sets a timer for melatonin to come on at the right times.
People do this regularly. If you do it every day, great. If you do it five days a week, fine. If you do it one day a week, you’re going to start running into trouble. You want to get sunlight in your eyes first thing in the morning even if it’s cloudy. Unless you live in the depths of Scandinavia, in the depths of winter, there’s enough photon energy outside. You don’t need to be beamed in the eyes with the light but it will help you.
The other thing is there’s an opportunity in the afternoon as the sun is going down. Low solar angle, these cells are sensitive to that. Seeing the sun going down for two minutes will help protect your melatonin response. It buffers the melatonin response against artificial lights in the evening. As you move towards sleep, if you want to optimize sleep or you are an insomniac and you’re having trouble sleeping, see that morning light, see the afternoon light. Especially try to start dimming the lights in the evening and bring the lights lower in the room. The cells that look at this live in the bottom half of the retina and look at the upper visual field.
There are now two papers in good journals. I have to give a shout-out to my friend Samer Hattar, who’s a Jordanian scientist. He’s a brilliant guy. He’s the Director of the Chronobiology Unit at the National Institutes of Mental Health. He’s very skilled. He had two major discoveries but both of them point to the same thing, which is that bright light exposure between the hours of 11:00 PM and 4:00 AM is bad. If it happens once, no big deal. Twice a week, no.
If you’re waking up in the middle of the night and you’re looking at your phone even if it’s dimmed, there’s a pathway from the eye to a structure in the brain called the habenula that then does two things, it suppresses dopamine release. It triggers depression. It inhibits learning and memory. Worse perhaps, that’s all bad enough, it triggers a pathway from the habenula to the pancreas and starts regulating blood sugar. We now know that in type 2 diabetics, especially in smoking-induced type 2 diabetes, this pathway is messed up.
[bctt tweet=”If you want good mentors and you want to keep mentors, the secret is you also have to work like your life depended on it.”]
It’s simple. Nothing I’m saying here means you have to live up a monastic life. Get some light in your eyes early in the day. It could be from artificial light but sunlight is better. Avoid bright lights in the middle of the night. If you are into the blue blocker thing, fine. You still need to dim things down. It’s not just blue light, it’s everything else. Those are things most people aren’t doing. I don’t know that it explains all of the depression and anxiety. We shouldn’t be surprised now how much depression and anxiety there is because most people are doing this all exactly backward.
I appreciate it. I heard you say something once about not making it a thing about not being a good sleeper. No one was coming into my room and was mean to me. I had a childhood where I slept with one eye open because I was a little bit taking care of myself. It’s taken me a long time and even still. The parents know about this, especially moms, once you have kids, you’re half-awake.
It’s interesting because they’re sleeping and you’re waiting for them to wake up and you’re like, “They’re sleeping. You should be sleeping.” I appreciate that. Most people have a hard time getting to sleep. Besides these practices and you’re a big fan of more meditation, yoga, and things like that for sleeping, it’s also not to put that stress around, “You don’t sleep good. You’re not a good sleeper. I’m not a good sleeper.” It ramps it all up.
A lot of times, people come to me. I’m not a physician. I always say, “I’m not an MD. I don’t prescribe anything. I’m a professor so I profess lots and lots of things.” People come to me with a bunch of different issues and the first thing I always say is, “How’s your sleep? Do you fall asleep easily?” If you don’t fall asleep easily, you have a hard time turning off your thoughts.
Turning off your thoughts can be accomplished easily. There’s a practice that some people call Yoga Nidra. My lab has studied something more similar to this although we stripped away all the naming and the mysticism around it. It involves lying down for about 10 minutes a day, it can go up to about 30 minutes and doing slow breathing where you move your attention to different areas of your body, your feet, or your legs. It’s a body scan type thing.
What we see is that for people who do this practice, the brain goes into states that are similar to sleep. I fundamentally disagree with some of the sleep researchers that say that you can’t recover lost sleep. I say that’s absolutely not true. We see that the brain goes into states that are similar to sleep and then cognitive performance recovers even when people are mildly sleep-deprived.
If I wake up in the middle of the night or if I’m feeling sleep-deprived, I’ll do this for 10 to 30 minutes a day. There are some scripts that I can provide you. All this stuff is available like Yoga Nidra Scripts on YouTube. Generally, people like one voice or another to walk them through it. I’m happy to put the script that my lab uses out there, which people might find more relevant to them. Doing this is good because you’re teaching your nervous system how to relax.
It’s the opposite of raising the stress threshold. It’s a little bit different from the physiological side because it’s designed to take you into deep states of relaxation. Not just chill out a little bit and adjust your stress but bring your thinking down and turn off that forebrain. The other way to turn off that forebrain and all that thinking, which people are familiar with, is to raise your levels of GABA. That’s what a couple of drinks will do but that has other issues. Having a behavioral practice that you can use to help you recover sleep and make you better at falling asleep is good.
For staying asleep, there can be a variety of things like the room being too warm, drinking caffeine too late, etc. This practice also helps with that. Of course, there’s the whole supplementation regime. You can look at magnesium or theanine. Those will help certain people stay asleep if they have a mild deficiency. I use those tools. I always say that the first line of defense should always be behavioral tools. You then look to diet and nutrition and then supplementation. Maybe, with a doctor’s help, drugs. People go all the way to, “What should I take?” That’s the most common question I get. It’s like, “What are you doing?”
As humans, we want to do everything easily. I get it. We’re wired for the path of least resistance and least energy expenditure. I’m always saying to people, “You should be your number one advocate for everything, not only your health but your sense of well-being.” That power is in your hands and it’s about talking to people like you and getting that information.
Before we leave the light conversation, I have heard you talk about maybe working with your hormones. Quite frankly, as you get older, you start getting interested in hormones. I know they take weeks and days but they still are an interesting player in the theater, that is your personality responses and another.
Hormones are powerful. The way I like to think of the endocrine or hormonal system is that it tends to give buoyancy to certain brain circuits making them more likely to engage and other neural circuits to be engaged. I don’t want to be poetic about it but Mother Nature is playing this symphony with us. She has a goal. The goal is for us to reproduce. That’s why I always say evolution is not about the parents, it’s about the offspring. Everyone’s trying to optimize their well-being.
Optimizing hormones can come in a couple of different ways. Generally, hormones make us feel good and work with neurotransmitters. I’m deliberately drawing these distinctions, men, women, etc. because for the sake of discussion about biology, it’s the only way to have a coherent discussion. Of course, I recognize that there’s a continuum and fluidity and all that stuff that is now a more prominent discussion.
You’re a scientist. You’re allowed to speak biologically.
In the laboratory, we talk about sex, male and female, as XX and XY, and sex, the reproductive act. Although there are laboratories that work on that too. It’s clear that the testosterone system and the dopamine system are closely linked. In fact, they both come from the pituitary. The signals to make testosterone and the testes come from luteinizing hormone, follicle-stimulating hormone, and gonadotropin-releasing hormone. They are right next to the neurons that promote the release of dopamine.
Dopamine is the molecule that is sourced somewhere between a neurotransmitter and hormone that isn’t associated with reward not just when you get the thing you want but when you are moving toward the thing you want and you get the sense or you tell yourself that you’re heading in the right direction. The excitement about sex also triggers the release of dopamine as does sex itself. The act of sex is an interesting example because immediately after sex for men and women, dopamine drops. In women, dopamine and the estrogen pathway are tethered to one another.
There’s no ironic joke.
Dopamine and testosterone in men. Women have a little bit of testosterone and men have a little bit of estrogen. Dopamine and estrogen in women primarily. After sex, what’s interesting is the actual orgasm response is high sympathetic nervous system activity. It’s like stress except it’s coupled with dopamine so it feels good. This is Mother Nature’s beautiful trick. Why couple it to stress and make it feel good? Immediately after a peak and stress, there’s a crash in stress. There’s what we call the parasympathetic rebound. This is post-coital bliss. That period tends to make people feel less like moving around.
I don’t know what world you live in. You don’t have a family. I’ve got kids. I got stuff to do after.
There’s a hormone that’s released called prolactin. It tends to promote a more relaxed response. The deliberate design of prolactin is to get both partners to exchange pheromone molecules that will solidify their bond and release a different reward transmitter or neurochemical, which is serotonin.
It’s happiness, feel-good.
Serotonin and oxytocin are the molecules that make you feel good with everything you’ve got, your family, the food you ate, and the pet you have. Gratitude triggers the release of serotonin. Dopamine is more about feeling good for things that are outside the confines of your skin and outside the reach of your immediate ability.
You can’t go to the cupboard and get the thing you want. You can’t just mate with your partner. It’s the seeking and pursuit. This has some interesting implications for a couple dynamics that I’d be happy to talk about. What’s interesting is if you look at the lifespan and you look at puberty, puberty is a period of high testosterone and estrogen depending on boys or girls and dopamine. All these systems are a little bit in chaos, which is why adolescence and puberty can be chaos.
Eventually, we settled into a regime where it’s clear that pursuing goals, dopamine, and testosterone, is the lifeblood of the desire to live. I have a story and I’ll make it brief. I had a close colleague of mine who was dying of pancreatic cancer. He was taking testosterone support for a variety of reasons. I sat with him for about a year as he was dying. One day, I was sitting there and he said, “I don’t want to live past the year.” It’s hard to see someone give up.
He’s like, “I’m done.” I said, “Ben, have you taken your Andrew cream?” He said, “No. I forgot.” The chemo messes with your memory. He said, “Bring it to me. Don’t take any.” I was taping this video. Thirty minutes later, he’s like, “I’m going to write twelve letters of recommendation today. I could pull off another year.” It was like the will to live emerged from him. That’s dopamine and testosterone, the idea that there are things outside your immediate experience of where you’re at.
There are things that can support that. First of all, having goals supports the dopamine testosterone system. It has to be balanced with the serotonin system. A gratitude practice or, for certain people, it’s a prayer. People misunderstand gratitude. Gratitude is not complacency. A gratitude practice can be pausing for a moment while still in motion and be like, “I feel blessed to have kids that are healthy enough to scream in the backseat.” I have friends that have kids that are severely autistic or that are severely developmentally disabled and would love to have kids that could scream in the backseat.
We don’t always reference those points and everyone’s guilty of that. A gratitude moment is not like being a navel gaze or, “I’ve everything I need.” What’s interesting is that the dopamine system and the serotonin system work on the seesaw. The moment you feel you have everything you need, Mother Nature gives you permission to then go look at the outside world into the things that you might want to bring into it.
For people that are down or depressed or they’re feeling like their hormones are crashing, a lot of it is paying attention. These are not subtle effects. Pay attention to what you do have. Pay attention to things you want to build. If you’re having trouble feeling into the things you want to build, chances are, you haven’t worked the serotonin system well enough. Mother Nature is not letting you get into that mode.
Some people do need some neurochemical support. There are antidepressants like Wellbutrin, which are dopaminergic. They tend to make people feel a little more anxious and they’re a little bit of a stimulant. There are things like Prozac, which make people feel perhaps more content but it tends to lower libido and lower appetite. Why? Your system thinks it has everything it needs. It’s not in pursuit.
We talked about suffering. This is something where you talk about someone’s suffering and you discuss, “This is going to pass.” They lose that perspective, that time and space of, “I lost someone important to me. In some time, I’m going to feel better. I’ll maybe talk to some people.” The people who get stuck in that black hole don’t have that capacity.
There are a lot of people who are suffering but if they did these practices, chemically, they could help get themselves into a better place. People who feel helpless label themselves, they’ve been labeled, “You’re this and you’re that,” “You’re OCD or ADD.” “You’re an addict.” “You’re depressed” All of a sudden, they then turn it over and say, “I have to have a pill.”
Humans, on some level, are always fighting misery. Anxiety and all those things that keep us alive, you’re combating all the time. I almost feel like I work from that place where you go, “I’m going to rejigger it. I shouldn’t feel happy and peaceful. What I naturally probably feel is anxious and stressed out. Now I’m going to figure out a practice to incorporate those other feelings.” We think there’s something wrong with us when we’re not naturally there. Instead of, “Let me rejigger this. Maybe it’s an organism. it’s natural for me to be anxious.”
If people took that orientation that we are wired for safety, it makes us mostly uncomfortable, happiness is a bonus but we have to work at it, and we can feel great most of the time but it takes work, that’s the ultimate. That’s the holy grail of all this. I always say the brain does sensation, perception, feelings, thoughts, and actions. We could dive into each one of those. It’s hard to control your perception. You can do it. It’s hard to control thoughts. You can do it. Feelings are hard to control. Actions, you can control.
One thing that is beautiful is some of these examples that we’re starting to see more and more in the public sphere. I consider you one of these examples. I consider David Goggins one of these examples. The message that Jocko Willink and other people are putting out there. There are many others. Put behavior first and the feelings and perceptions and all that will follow. You have to work the system backward. Waiting and trying to wait for your feelings to shift or motivation to kick in is often not the best way to go about it. There’s a real utility to focusing on behaviors but there’s another side to it. I have tremendous respect for you and them and many other people who are doing that thing.
I’m not sensitive.
There are people that end up in a state within which action, believe it or not and I know it’s painful for people to accept this, is not available to them. Heroin addicts down in Venice, you see them, it’s painful, and you’re like, “It’s a choice.” There is a point at which the neurochemistry and the neural circuits in the brain become skewed. Certain options are not available. They need an intervention. They need behavioral intervention. They need neurochemical intervention. There are great efforts to try and figure that out and what to do.
The message to emerge from this is don’t end up in the place where behavior isn’t an option and learn to play in the space where you don’t want to train. Maybe you do need a day of rest. I don’t know. You know. Maybe you don’t know. Train anyway and find out. Get sick over training. Next time don’t get sick from overtraining. Push yourself to not say a word during the hard conversation with your spouse or co-worker and wish that you had said something or not. have to be willing to experiment and do things and try. Don’t allow yourself to go that far down that path.
Once you’re at the place where you’re mostly good, then it’s time to ratchet into the supporting behaviors. Seeing sunlight in the morning and seeing sunlight in the evening. Practice your stress elevating tools. Practice gratitude. Practice compassion. Practice being uncomfortable. Practice, practice, and practice. Of course, do this in the confines of a life where you’re also doing other things. The things I’m talking about are fast. They’re cost-free. You can do them all the time. If you don’t do them for a while, you’ll slip.
I see this. I’ve been doing a daily yoga Nidra practice. I learned it from Michael Moeller. When we were out on the boat, he was like, “Bro.” Sorry, Michael. It’s funny because that’s a little bit how he talks but he’s also articulate. He says, “Come on. Let’s go.” It’s 5:00 in the morning. I’m like, “I don’t want to go to the top of the boat. I’m finally getting some sleep.” We get up there and we do this yoga Nidra thing and I was like, “There’s something powerful to this.” I started doing it every day, seven days a week and now I do it about five days a week. Michael still does his Nidra.
You get such tremendous buoyancy from that. It allows you to move through challenges in a better way. Likewise, with all the other tools. You have to put the tools to work. In terms of hormones, because you asked about this, the behaviors will support hormones like dopamine and these kinds of things to focus on gratitude. Focus on wins. One of the things I’m a big proponent of based on the science that’s out there is you can’t be gritty and resilient forever. That’s necessary, but it’s not sufficient.
Within the workout, within the week, or within the year, you need to learn to register your wins because the dopamine system is 100% mental and this is not positive self-talk. This is not, “I didn’t work out at all for three months but what I’m doing well because I’m resting and recovering.” Maybe that’s true but what this is, is registering, “I didn’t have a perfect day. I ended the day exhausted. Certain things aren’t working, but I’m still on the ladder. I’m still grabbing rungs on the ladder and that is going to get me where I need to go.”
This is a nod to a growth mindset, which is Carol Dweck’s discovery of these kids that seem to enjoy doing puzzles they know they can’t solve. Certain people learn to attach dopamine and reward to the friction process and people always say to me, “How do you do this?” I always say, “I don’t do this. You do this to you.” You can build this circuit and this is the secret weapon of people who are super high performers in a lot of different communities, which you and I know a lot of interesting people that somehow can keep coming back and getting better and better. They don’t expect perfection from themselves but they do expect that they’re going to continue to reach for higher and higher rungs.
It’s not about necessarily even reaching the rungs and grabbing onto it. They start to reward the stretch to the wrung. Does that make sense? I know it’s a little bit abstract. That ties into these systems. For some people, they need to embark on support systems for their hormones that are more robust. Some men probably do need TRT. There are interesting herb compounds. I’m fascinated by the world of supplementation. I’m happy to talk about them as long as I draw a box around them and say, “This is not what my lab studies. I’m not a physician. Check with your doctor.”
There are some interesting compounds that I’ve studied the chemistry of and I’ve definitely experimented with myself while doing blood work so it’s interesting. In men and in women, testosterone is the molecule that’s mainly responsible for goal-driven behavior, libido, feelings of well-being, etc. TRT is a pretty big leap. A lot of people do it. No disrespect, if a doctor feels you need it and you feel you need it but there are other things.
There’s a molecule it’s called Tongkat Ali which is Indonesian ginseng that is known to displace a protein called sex hormone-binding globulin from the testosterone molecule and frees up testosterone so it leads to anywhere from 10% to 15% increases in free testosterone which are small but non-trivial physiologically. People feel better. Of course, check with your doctor but it’s a real effect. I started to do a deep dive into the science of what is sex hormone-binding globulin and why is testosterone getting bound up? It turns out that sex hormone-binding globulin is promoted by stress.
[bctt tweet=”Bright light exposure between the hours of 11:00 PM and 4:00 AM is bad.”]
In primates, of which we are, when we’re stressed, Mother Nature doesn’t want us reproducing and gathering more needing more resources because nothing’s more resource-demanding than production. Mother Nature has a molecule that caps the free testosterone and prevents it from doing all the things that you want. That’s an interesting compound. What I take is 400 milligrams and sometimes up to 800 milligrams when I’m feeling I’m under more pressure and I’m working extra hard. You definitely want to take it early in the day because it can create a lot of heat in the body, so to speak, and it can give you a lot of energy.
I’m not going to let Laird have that.
Laird’s doing fine. You can regulate your hormones fine with behavior and people are starting at different places on the ladder. It’s clear that some people are coming into the game with high levels of natural testosterone and other people aren’t. Some people are stressed and their high levels of testosterone are being blunted. Other people are not.
What else do you like?
There’s an interesting molecule.
I like it when smart people go, “There’s this molecule…”
I love this stuff and here’s the reason. We have been unfair to the general public. We’ve said it’s either behaviors, meditating and going and taking a lot of vacations and soaking in the whirlpool bath or pharmaceuticals. This is a step in between and it’s an interesting one. It’s one that blood work can help you guide yourself through. Blood work is informative.
The other thing is a molecule from a Nigerian shrub. It’s called Fadogia Agrestis. It mimics the luteinizing hormone, which is the hormone that is secreted from the brain that triggers the ovaries and women to make more estrogen and men to make more testosterone. It leads to pretty substantial increases in testosterone and estrogen. As far as I know, it’s the only thing out there that’s in between nothing and full-blown hormone therapy.
There are a couple of other things that are interesting. One is that low doses of creatine can promote the release of dihydrotestosterone. In human primates, dihydrotestosterone or DHT is the dominant androgen responsible for aggression, drive, and libido, not testosterone. Creatine, in addition to having some other interesting properties for say, loading more water into muscles, promotes the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone. Does it make hair fall out in men, if you have male pattern baldness, maybe a little bit, but it’s not that strong in effect.
There are these things that are useful for giving buoyancy to the hormone system and taken in cycles of 12 to 16 weeks and then where people back off can be a reasonable option. As long as we’re talking about supplements, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say something about sleep because yoga Nidra can help morning sunlight viewing and all the things we discussed before. If you’re still having trouble sleeping, one of the things that are powerful is magnesium threonate and theanine which basically help you calm down and fall asleep and maximizes slow-wave sleep, which is the restorative sleep. You have to check the safety margins, but the safety margin seems good to me.
One warning about theanine. For people who have intense dreams or tend to wake up from intense dreams, once you get past 100 or 200 milligrams of theanine, you can start getting vivid dreams and sleepwalkers shouldn’t take it. These are reasonably powerful molecules and I encourage people who are struggling and who have done everything else to consider them. The website that’s wonderful is Examine.com. I have no affiliation with them but it’s a not-for-profit site that has links to all the PubMed studies on this stuff and every other supplement as well. It’s exciting that we live in a time when there are options.
I could talk to you forever but I won’t do it. I do want to cover a few things. What did you mean about the couple’s dynamic? I do want to hear about that.
I’m going to tell an anecdote, which I’m going to give a disclaimer upfront, which is not a push for polyamory. It is the opposite, in fact. Here’s the deal. There is an effect of a well-known pheromone effect. To be clear, hormones are molecules. Molecules are secreted in one area of the body and act on tissues and other areas of the body. Pheromones are molecules that are secreted by one organism and act on the biology of another organism. They have a profound impact on our lives and they have interesting effects. The pheromone effects are like the synchronization of menstrual cycles, which people have said, “The data aren’t that strong.”
I played professional sports and I traveled around with a group of 30 heavy-duty women and I have daughters.
It’s a real effect. It’s like the Bruce effect, which is the exposure of a female in early pregnancy to a novel male. In animals, it leads to a spontaneous miscarriage. In humans, it leads to lower levels of lactation in the postpartum. These are old and primitive things that can be overwritten but are interesting to think about in terms of why they would be there.
There’s an effect called the Coolidge Effect named after President Calvin Coolidge. The story goes like this. He was visiting a chicken farm. The person who was showing him and his wife around picked up this rooster and said, “This rooster is amazing. This rooster copulates thousands of times a day.” Apparently, Coolidge’s wife elbowed him and was, “Do you hear that? Are you feeling threatened?” Coolidge said, “Same hen or different hens?” The guy said, “Different hens.”
Here’s the deal, the underlying neurochemistry that can be leveraged toward healthy monogamous relationships. Here’s why. The reason that hen could reproduce again and again on the same day is the refractory period after orgasm. I don’t know if chickens have orgasms but the refractory period after ejaculation, which is the sperm leaving the body, is followed by this increase in prolactin. The refractory period is caused by prolactin so dopamine is high. The animal is going to mate. An animal or a person is going to mate. The dopamine crashes down, prolactin goes high, and prevents mating for a period of time.
The duration of the refractory period in animals in humans varies from person to person tremendously. What shortens it, in addition to vitamin B6, is to blunt the prolactin response. How do you do that? Dopamine. What is mother nature looking for to secrete dopamine? Novelty. I’ve seen a lot of couples who have been together for long periods of time and then split. You hear the same story. It’s the novelty, the thing, the this and that.
There could be a couple of different reasons or many different reasons and maybe they shouldn’t have been together. We have to understand the relationship between dopamine, testosterone, which we talked about earlier, and novelty. This is why if you want to kill the dopamine response, you spend a ton of time with that person all the time and you amplify the serotonin and oxytocin response. You push that and push that which will make people feel loving, cozy, and lovely together.
It will lull you to a nice sleep. They’ll be like brother and sister.
It will desexualize the relationship to some extent. The decentralization is neurochemical and hormonal. It’s taking testosterone and dopamine out of the equation.
It’s almost like you can have the same couple. If one cuddles all the time and the others get down on a consistent enough basis, if they can stay in those pockets, I don’t know. I wonder.
What we’re boiling down to is how do you reset dopamine?
It’s like you’re going to break up all the time. You’re like, “I’m out,” and then they’ll say, “I love you.”
I know some people who’ve had those sorts of relationships.
That’s too much drama, but I’m just saying, “I’ve written about this. I don’t care.” Now we’re going to get off science and get into life for a second. I wrote a book and I said in the book, “On the occasion, if you think you have your partner in your pocket, and you forget about them, think about is there anyone else who wants to be with them.”
It’s amazing how that psycho thought and all of a sudden, everyone’s like, “Wait a second.” It’s like, “Do that when you’re together.” Even if I have to pretend Laird’s got some hot red-haired whatever, it then also allows me to see him more objectively and he evokes those things about all the things I like about him and want about him.
I don’t know what games he’s played after 24 years to roll with me but I’m saying, sometimes, you don’t want to be like, “I love them and they communicate so well,” because that puts you into the weird zone. It’s that ability to see things, “We have our health here. We’re safe. We’re good.” It’s the ability to look at your partner and go, “That’s a badass person. They’re smart. They have a lot going for them. I want to have sex with them.” You talked about that vision and backing up in all these areas is helpful.
You mentioned objectification.
I objectify my husband all the time.
It’s wonderful to hear that couples continue to do that. There’s a book that I haven’t read but I have a friend who’s a psychoanalyst who said that this problem is basically in the psychoanalytic theory has been distilled down to the fact that when we objectify somebody it’s because we don’t rely on them for anything. We want something from them.
As we become dependent on them, we start to undermine what I call dopamine-like and testosterone-like processes of objectification. There are other ways to reset dopamine without bringing in other partners. I’m sure it can be destructive. As long as things are consensual, age-appropriate, and species-appropriate, you’re good to go. I’m not going to judge people.
There are ways to reset these dopamine pathways in males, especially, but probably, in females, also, competition with other males can reset dopamine in powerful ways but not over females, but in sports-level competition or competition with self, being in pursuit of something. None of this has to do with sex or relationships, per se, but it’s the reset.
I have this fundamental question. What can allow couples and people to reset over time so that healthy, monogamous relationships can continue to flourish? I have the belief, and yes, I’m probably speaking from my own experience a little too much here that fractures of the home and divorce, while sometimes they’re healthy, can be destructive. A lot of what we see in society right now reflects some of that disintegration. Some of it, not all of it, of course.
Figuring out ways to do this that are healthy and support the model of relationship where you have parents at home and this kind of thing are important. Realizing that competition in pursuit of goals, sports goals, writing goals, or any goals but having goals, taps into that dopamine system. The theme that I’d love to highlight for a second is everything we’ve talked about is some basic neurochemicals working in pretty generic ways. It’s not like there’s a separate dopamine circuit for competition or pursuit of goals or novel partners.
There is no new circuit. There’s no dopamine 1, 2, 3, and 4. It’s just dopamine. There’s serotonin for gratitude and how you feel after a good meal or looking at your child and registering what a gift they are, or friendships or the sunrise or whatever it is. That’s serotonin. There isn’t a separate circuit for everybody.
As different as we all are, these are Mother Nature’s tools. I like to think of them as the paints on the palette that she’s given us and get to paint our life the way we want. If you’ve ever got a painting where you’re like, “That’s too much blue,” maybe you need to paint with some of these other neurochemicals also and balance this out. The solutions to a lot of the challenges in couples and families lie in understanding.
You’ve talked about this before. Laird needs to go out and have his adventure surfing. He needs to be in pursuit of danger. He needs to find that edge and that makes him better for all of us when he comes back. Here, I’m speaking so forgive me for not nailing that. I was impressed by those examples because to me, the neuroscience lens on that is you’re allowing his neurochemistry to restore itself so that the relationship can continue and flourish.
On the women’s side, they need a lot of other elements too. Since I’ve only ever been male, all I can say is that it isn’t just about women bonding and friendship in this serotonin and oxytocin system. It’s that and it’s clear nowadays because we have so many impressive examples of high-performing ambitious women who are doing well in science and other pursuits, that there are additional needs there as well.
Anytime we see global or widespread unhappiness with some behavior telling us that we’re out of line with our biology in some way. I offer that as an explanation. They are partial answers that are maybe weaved into there but the relationship is a beautiful dynamic within which to discover some of these things because it’s all there, stress, fear, connection, thrill.
Every time I’ve seen a couple of our friends excited about each other and I always say, “Maybe the amount of dopamine early on predicts whether or not they’re going to be able to thread that out over long periods of time.” I always love the quiet feeling that you get when you’re in the presence of people that you know that they’re going to be okay.
At the end of the day, you have to make yourself happy and feel good. I don’t have words to describe what that meaning is for me with my children. They’re not here to make me happy and they won’t and eventually, they’re going to leave and get their own lives and probably forget to call. It’s also in the process if you choose to be married or have children or be in a relationship, that ultimately you don’t lose sight, even though it’s hard because it’s incredibly demanding, biologically, the responsibility once you have children and such, is to fight for your lane. When they’re younger, it’s smaller and then as they get more independent, it gets wider.
I am curious, though, when I see men like you who know too much. That’s why you’re like, “I’m in the lab and I’m studying.” I’d love to talk to you if you ever choose to go the family route because I wonder from your perspective. I have a friend Spiros and he redefined the second. I asked thin, “Do you believe in God? You know much about the world. He goes, “My religion is empathy.” Sometimes I wonder if people like you know what’s in the hood and under the hood if that makes it harder for you to say, “I’m going to get messy, get in real life, and do all that with someone.” Is it going to be, “I’m going to be out here observing and checking it out.”
Maybe. I’m wired this way but I feel completely odd all the time by all the dimensions of life. It isn’t that I don’t have bad days or there aren’t days where I’m stricken with grief, exhausted, or whatever it is, but I experience all of it. To me, science is one lens. Neuroscience is one lens so yes, I can look at my dog and say, “He hijacked the neural circuits responsible for child-rearing.”
Maybe I put too much into him and that’s why I don’t think about having kids even though I adore kids and they’re wonderful. Someday we’d love to have them. I like to think that it’s given me a deeper appreciation for the way I’m wired and what I’m wired for. Also, to realize that I don’t give myself a pass like, “You’re stressed. Of course, you’re stressed because it’s epinephrine.” It’s made me want to lean into the real world more.
I feel like I get more out of it. One reason why I’m doing things like this, and I care so much about public education is I don’t believe that science should be vaulted in laboratories and papers. I’ve had enough close colleagues of mine die to realize that the day I die, unless I either blab a lot or write a lot, the information is going to die with me. I’m one portal and connection to a set of information but as I move through life during the day, I’m rarely thinking in any way that’s not scientific. It’s just wiring to me.
Let’s say you come across a dynamic woman. She’s intelligent and you find her attractive. She’s single and whatever. Do you go, “Oh,” or do you start going like, “I’m having this response. Based on that…” or do you let it be?
I let it be but I’m careful with the dopamine response. I do regulate but a friend of mine who’s a well-known neuroscientist has a beautiful saying he says, “An intellectual is not somebody who breaks things down into their most reductionist form and it’s always nerding out about every detail. A true intellectual is somebody who can appreciate something at every level of granularity.” The finest detail or macroscopic looking down at top contour broad generalizations, can zoom in and out of that as needed. I’ve realized that we’ve got common friends who pointed me in this direction. It was Moeller being one of them because he’s got three daughters. He’s married.
He has a feisty wife. She’s amazing.
He works extremely hard and he said to me, “It’s all about the attention that we can bring to what we’re doing.” If I were to be in my head and think about underlying mechanisms and things like that too much, it would take me out of the experience. I certainly have colleagues that live only in the land of manuscripts and papers and things but I’ve also been blessed to know people in the world of science that are good humans and they’re good at being human.
The best scientists, the Richard Feynmans, know how to live life and enjoy life. That’s what I strive towards. I strive to be in the moment I’m in and bring as much attention and focus to that as I can. Inevitably, I’m thinking about stuff later, the underlying mechanisms, and how it might all fit together. I like to think I’m human enough that I could experience these things like anyone else would.
You talk about dopamine pushing you and driving in something outside. For Laird and I, it’s a version of hope or faith or love. Sometimes there’s a time where it’s like, “I’m performing and I have these hormones that I’m striving for.” Other times you’re like, “Right now is straight faith. I’m living in it.” I don’t know if that makes sense.
It makes perfect sense. As you’re saying, I’m realizing that my answer was poor. What I should have said is that life is messy and I accept that life is messy because the underlying biology is pretty simple. In other words, because the biology is simple. Life is messy. We’re trying to deal with complex things with pretty blunt tools. I do believe that understanding how those tools work can yet afford you an advantage but there is no perfect dopamine understanding norepinephrine serotonin that will allow you to match yourself perfectly to any situation. That’s the myth. That’s not the myth of science, that’s the myth of wellness and of life and of psychology.
[bctt tweet=”Like we can increase our stress threshold, we can lower our stress threshold. It means making it much easier to get triggered.”]
Anyone that’s chasing that is going to be badly disappointed. It’s because we’ve got these blunt tools that work well enough to allow us to keep going and that life is messy. The messiness of life is also fun, too because it’s my chaotic years being feral, my years in the laboratory, and my years now in the laboratory and doing some public education, it’s messy. People die, but babies are born too. Marriages end, but new ones spark so I’m optimistic.
Sometimes people don’t want to throw their hat in the ring. They’re like, “I’m good over here. It’s all organized.” I’m curious, everyone’s different. That’s the thing, too. I always say, “We’re all here for different reasons and contributing different things. In any way people do it, if they aren’t hurting themselves or others, it is the right way. I never said to my friends, “Are you going to get married? Are you going to have a kid?” That’s on you. It’s whatever you want to do.
One thing that you talked about was doing an experiment with the mice. It’s either having a fear response or a conflict response. You even said that, if the mice went into a combative environment or experience and they dominated or one would have the same experience even if something pushed them into that. They would have the same response. Jordan Peterson was talking about the number one lobster. The only thing I’m interested in is, is there a way to push humans?
In the experiment, they put two mice or two rats in a tube. This has been repeated many times, one pushes the other one out. The one that gets pushed out is the loser. The one that pushed the other one out is the winner. Give those mice a second combat in another tube with another mouse, and the ones that win tend to win more. The ones that lose tend to lose more. Even if you push the winner from behind so it wasn’t his or her own doing, it leads to this. So much so that even if you put a bunch of mice into a cold environment and there’s a little corner that’s heated with only enough room for 1 or 2 mice, the winner from the tube test gets out the warm spot, which is weird even in another test too.
They’ve analyzed what’s going on here and it turns out, it’s this frontal circuit. It’s this prefrontal cortex circuit that takes a certain level of stress and anxiety in the body and allows the animal to convert that into action. It’s all about the amount of time spent moving forward despite the stress or moving forward and taking the agitation and using it to move forward. It’s using it like a jet or a propeller. It’s using it as momentum to move forward. The more that we’re still, while in that high-stress response, the lower probability that we’re going to move forward.
This needs to be converted to human behavior in some way. The ice bath is an interesting one because in the ice bath, you get that stress but the way you move forward in the ice bath is to stay still. There’s some room for development here. Maybe the pool workout has elements of this already threaded into it and it does. I was experiencing this and I’ve had this happen before where you’re walking with weights on the bottom or you’re clearly out of air and you think you can’t continue and you continue to move forward. There’s a nice little dopamine hit that goes with placing the weight back up on the wall. You’re like, “I made it.” You breathe and you’re like, “I was far from drowning. Not even close.”
Sometimes, it’d be fun to brainstorm what could be exported to the elementary school playground to any environment, the business environment or home environment that is the equivalent of feeling stress and moving forward despite that in a way that’s adaptive and isn’t about defeating others necessarily. Competition is real and we were wired to compete and it doesn’t mean that some people should be winners and others should be losers.
I don’t get into these heavy evolutionarily laden conversations about winners and losers but competition is powerful. It may be that we’ve been backing off as a species from the real conversation, which is how we should be engaging with each other in order to maximize the well-being of everybody. Elevate one another.
Neuroscience has an important role to play. Psychology has an important role to play. Wellness and high performance have important roles to play. One of the reasons I move between communities as much as I can is because I feel we’re siloed and we need to bring people together. It’s starting to happen and this is a place where social media has been a wonderful tool. You can see people and exchange ideas freely.
For anyone reading who works with kids, especially adults as well, think about behavioral practices that can build on some of these themes. The scientific community probably isn’t going to do it at scale. Most of us are busy in our labs. Frankly, my lab works on mice and humans and more and more humans and even that is a bit unusual. We need people to take the ideas from science and implement practices. I’m hopeful that you and Laird, and others will do this.
You have some research that’s coming out that’s pretty interesting that you can talk about. Can you share it with us?
Sure. One of the things I’m most excited about that should be published soon is when people confront stress, it completely reshapes the way that they’re searching in their visual environment. We use AI tools and some machine learning to figure out that when we’re stressed, we enter a program of looking around our visual environment in a way that’s chaotic. What we’re trying to create are tools that are going to encourage, if not force people to change the way that they view a stressful scene in order to be able to move through that more readily.
In addition to that, we have a study I’m excited about where we have 125 people. WHOOP donated a bunch of WHOOP bands where we’re looking at sleep, heart rate variability, and we’re also looking at things cortisol and stuff that we do not with WHOOP, but with other tools. They’re doing a daily five-minute per day breathing practice and we’re looking at how that impacts sleep, stress, performance in different regimes, mental health, and things of that sort. That’s being done.
I should mention the collaboration with an amazing guy named David Spiegel, who’s the world expert on clinical hypnosis in our psychiatry department at Stanford. That breathing study is asking, “What pattern of breathing for five minutes a day is most beneficial for buffering people against stress? What pattern of breathing is best for cognitive performance?” It’s going to be 1 or it’s probably not even 2. It’s different patterns of breathing. You’re going to bring the nervous system into a better state. Those experiments are happening now.
If you’re interested in being a part of these studies, we’re going to be scaling them up. We’ll launch phase two and phase three. The way to get a hold of me is either to send me a direct message on Instagram but you have to put Breath Study and an email. If it’s embedded in a long about text, in fact, the less I know about you, the more likely you are to be included in the study. We have a clinical coordinator, not me, who decides who’s in and I’m not going to say what the criteria are because that would bias it. When people send me a lot of information in their backstory, it makes it unfair for me to include you because I’m no longer an objective researcher. Just say breathing study.
You don’t have a personal Instagram it goes to. You have a lab one.
Huberman Lab is where I talk about science and that’s the only one. That’s the only Instagram I’ve got. I have a lab webpage, HubermanLab.com. If you want to read some of our papers and things of that sort, but if you send me an email, and you say you’re interested in the breathing study, I’ll put it into the queue. We either pay you or we provide a valuable piece of technology like WHOOP with a subscription for a period of time. It’s a give-and-take. You get information.
More and more, my lab is going to become dependent on the willingness of people to participate in these kinds of things remotely. We still have people come to the lab and get in the VR and we wire them. We have people where we lower electrodes into the brain. A result that we’re excited about is we found a brain area called the posterior insula, that seems to register the stress response. It told us that the sweating response, the galvanic skin response, and eye movements far more than heart rate, or breathing, tell us how stressed or fearful somebody is. We’re going to be running with this and developing other tools. There are lots happening in terms of stress, vision, and breathing. Human studies are a lot of fun. If people are interested in that, it would be wonderful to get more subjects.
Does someone have to be right now near Stanford or can we start to encourage people who are remote?
We ship this worldwide because right now with COVID, bringing additional bodies into buildings is complicated and eventually we’ll have people coming back to the lab but right now we’re doing all of this. I’ve got a team of eight of us that will communicate with people, send them WHOOPS and troubleshoot.
Who doesn’t want to learn about that?
I would do it.
I would do it too.
I’m definitely biased there.
I know it’s complicated but I don’t want to miss the opportunity when we were talking about the bill that’s getting passed between China and the US about quantum computing. There are so many interesting things going on but that’s interesting and I know it’s public knowledge so it’s okay.
There are two things that are happening right now that the public should be aware of. I’m not going to deliberately voice my stance on this at this time, although I’d be happy to in the future. First of all, there’s a bipartisan bill. Meaning a Democrat from Delaware and a Republican from Ohio. There’s a bill in Congress right now. The bill allows the State Department more authority in deciding which foreign researchers, in particular researchers from China, although other countries, as well, allow the State Department some control over who’s allowed to do research here on American tax dollars.
The backdrop to this is that Chinese scientists and scientists from other countries are a critical part of the research that gets done in American universities. It’s critical and has been for many decades. With the changing political sphere, there’s been increased interest in what kinds of information people are learning in these laboratories. We now have technologies like CRISPR, which is gene editing that has not in the US, but in other countries, has now been accomplished in humans or at least that’s the claim.
There are concerns about the technology that’s being developed here using American taxpayer dollars and how much of that information might be going off to other countries to create technologies that might not be benevolent technologies. That might be technologies that could shift the arc of humanity in ways that are not good, as well as good. This bill is to give more oversight into who can be paid by federal tax dollars. Maybe your tax dollars go to the National Institutes of Health and eventually fund labs like mine. I encourage people to Google a bill in Congress about foreign researchers.
There’s a great New York Times article about this. There’s a great article about it in the Journal of Science where you can read both sets of opinions. They’re people who say, “This is too much oversight and we don’t want it.” There are others that feel like, “This is important. We never would have used US tax dollars to train people in nuclear physics during the Cold War era to take that back to other countries.”
This is an important topic that people should educate themselves on because nowadays, biology can be used to heal disease and it can be used as a weapon. The other thing is information and information transfer. This is not an area of expertise of mine, although I confess that my dad, whom I now have a good relationship with, is versed in the topic of quantum computing.
He’s a theoretical physicist. The way that he described it to me is that there are some principles from quantum mechanics, whereby looking at something and observing it destroys the thing you’re looking at. There’s the Internet as we know it and then there are modes of communication that in theory could be entirely cryptic. Meaning if a third party tried to view it, we get destroyed and recoated quickly so that the conversation could continue seamlessly.
Many countries are trying to develop such technologies, including ours. There is a big push now on the international scale to create communication platforms that are undetectable, as well as useful for communication, societies, militaries, financial organizations, etc. I will put the words quantum computing in people’s ears as something to Google and think about. It’s something that not unlike biotechnology, has reached the time in which it’s going to have real implications. We think of the internet, but there may be additional internet soon and they will have properties that are different from the current internet.
As I understand it, it’s a bit of a race of which country and which countries are going to achieve the quickest. You can imagine the implications of what this could do for good, as well as for evil. I would be remiss and a bit irresponsible, if I didn’t put this information out there that people should go and educate themselves about this. I definitely have my opinions and I’ll be happy to return to them. I’m still educating myself about these areas because no 1 or even 2 articles are going to give the complete picture.
I care so much about the progress of science and neuroscience has tremendous potential both for good and for evil. I care much about the next generation of scientists. The next Einstein, she’s out there, as we say. It’s important that information be distributed but it’s also important that we make sure that that information is landing in the right hands and not the wrong hands.
As someone who’s interested in self-care and trying to have conversations about how we make it easier and better for all of us, I appreciate you working so hard to be an interpreter of so much information that for a lot of us is hard to understand. You’re bringing it to a level that we can start to put in play, and even the fact that you’ve come here before, the fact that you also walk the walk and put yourself through things as an organism.
I appreciate the work that you’re doing. If people want to find you, they can go to Huberman Lab. Let’s get them signed up. The more, the better. We need all different kinds of people in getting your data. I know it’s extra work for you and I know you’re already busy enough. It’s appreciated. Thank you.
Thank you. I am grateful for the opportunity. I always learn so much when I come here. Thank you.
I don’t know what you could possibly learn from us, but okay.
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About Dr. Andrew Huberman
Andrew Huberman, Ph.D., is a neuroscientist and tenured Professor in the Department of Neurobiology at the Stanford University School of Medicine. He has made numerous significant contributions to the fields of brain development, brain function and neural plasticity, which is the ability of our nervous system to rewire and learn new behaviors, skills and cognitive functioning.
Huberman is a McKnight Foundation and Pew Foundation Fellow and was awarded the Cogan Award in 2017, given to the scientist making the most significant discoveries in the study of vision. His lab’s most recent work focuses on the influence of vision and respiration on human performance and brain states such as fear and courage. He also works on neural regeneration and directs a clinical trial to promote visual restoration in diseases that cause blindness. Huberman is also actively involved in developing tools now in use by the elite military in the U.S. and Canada, athletes, and technology industries to optimize performance in high stress environments, enhance neural plasticity, mitigate stress, and optimize sleep.