September 24, 2014
[00:00] Greenfield Fitness Systems
[01:40] About Steven Kotler
[04:10] Pyramid of Abundance
[13:10] Growing Food In Water & Vertical Farming
[22:17] Quick Commercial Break – greenfieldfitnesssystems.com
[22:54] Using Plants As Fuel
[27:24] On Energy With Human Waste
[30:40] On Lab On A Chip
[35:55] On Genetic Testing
[41:48] Getting Involved
[45:10] End of the Podcast
Ben: Hey, it's Ben Greenfield here. Now occasionally, in lieu of our normal weekly, crazy Q&A podcast, I'll release a special interview that I find to be especially thought-provoking, entertaining, educational and extremely compelling and unique. So today is one of those specific interviews. I hope you enjoy it, and there will be, of course, because this is one of those special interviews, no Q&A or news flashes or special announcements. However if you want to support this podcast, you can definitely do so by going over to the one website where I store everything that I've ever recommended for you to get to your goals as quickly and safely and effectively as possible, and that website is greenfieldfitnesssystems.com. So check out greenfieldfitnesssystems.com. It helps to support this show, and now onto today's interview.
Hey folks, it's Ben Greenfield here, and a few months ago, we had this amazingly popular podcast episode with Steven Kotler who's the author of “Decoding The Science of Ultimate Human Performance”. A book called “The Rise of Superman”, and during that podcast, Steven actually mentioned another book that he co-wrote with a guy named Peter Diamandis who you may be familiar with as the founder of the X-Prize Foundation, and the name of that book was called “Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think”. When Steven mentioned this, frankly I thought it sounded like a little bit of an eerie fairy, positive thinking-type of book like the Everything-Is-Awesome, Lego Movie soundtrack, kind of a book, but then over the course of the next few weeks, three more people recommended it to me, and I was actually walking down the beach with Commander Mark Divine of SEALFit, and he mentioned the book to me. And so finally, I figured that I should probably read this book “Abundance”, and so I did. And the idea behind the book is it's based off of this contrarian view that exponentially growing technologies and other powerful forces are conspiring to better the lives of billions of people on our planet and that the gap between the privileged people and the hard scrabble majority is closing really fast and that's drastically affecting everything from water to food to energy to health care to education to our own personal freedom.
So in today's podcast, we're going to be talking with Steven about this book and about some of the things that I thought were really relevant in this book to you, to the future of health, the future of health care, some of the really cool technologies that he talks about in the book as far as like food and water and protein and labs on a chip and all sorts of really interesting technologies. So as you're listening in, I will be sure to put in a link to everything that Steven and I talk about over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/abundance. That's bengreenfieldfitness.com/abundance. So all that being said, Steven, thanks for coming on the call today, man.
Steven: Thanks for having me back, Ben. Appreciate it.
Ben: Well I want to jump right into this concept of abundance because you start off early in the book by talking about what you call the Pyramid of Abundance. Can you explain what the Pyramid of Abundance is?
Steven: Sure. I mean when we were talking about abundance, what we mean by abundance, it's good to clarify it upfront, right? We're talking about meeting and exceeding the basic needs of every man, woman and child on the planet, right? This is not about a life of luxury, this is not Rolls Royces and Mercedes Benzes, but it is meeting and exceeding those basic needs, and to drill down on it, to define it a little more, we created our Abundance Pyramid, and it's based on Abraham Maslow's. I call it Abraham Maslow's very famous Hierarchy of Human Needs which is essentially a theory arranged like a pyramid where there are five levels of human needs from very basic security and needs all the way up to self-actualization. So we based our Pyramid of Abundance on exactly those same needs.
Our basic level, on the bottom level is a three-tier pyramid. We have physical needs, air, water, food, warmth, things along those lines. Then at the middle level, we put energy and abundant education and abundant information and communication technologies which are all catalysts for further growth, and at the top tier, its freedom and health care which we believe are the two core group prerequisites shaping an individual’s ability to contribute to society. So that was kind of how we broke it down, and then we examined how four emerging forces are impacting at every level of this pyramid, and making this promise actually possible.
Ben: Gotcha. So one of the things that you talk about as you discuss how this pyramid of abundance actually works is the way that we're wired. I think that's one of the things that really leapt out to me, 'cause this is one of the first books that I've read in a while that wasn't like all doom and gloom that the world's going, hell in a hand basket, but the way that we're wired that you talk about in the book from a biological standpoint, the way that you describe it is you say if it bleeds, it leads. Can you go into why people are wired this way?
Steven: The macroscopic look at what we're talking about there is abundance sounds like this incredibly radical idea, right? And most of us when we first hear it have exactly your reaction. We bristle against it. It turns out there are very solid neuro-biological reasons why this is the case, meaning there are reasons why it's very, very hard to believe the world is actually getting better, and the first of those reasons is it all comes down to information processing, right? Our brain takes in billions and billions of bits of information every second. What makes it up to consciousness is a vast, vast reduction. Some people put the reduction at four hundred billion inputs a second, two thousand outputs make up consciousness. So the vast majority of what the brain does is it's an assistant, so it tries tease part to the critical from the casual. Nothings is more critical to an organism to survival.
The first up, almost all of this incoming information makes the amygdala which is our danger detector, the part of the brain that's in charge of really powerful emotions. Hate, rage, anger, fear, fight or flight response, and it is an organ, especially in our modern world that is almost always on high alert and there's a couple of reasons for this. One of the reasons is we are now bombarded by news, right? And we have millions and millions and millions of news outlets, and they're all competing for our attention, and how do they compete? They're vying for the amygdala's attention, which is why the old newspaper saying, if it bleeds, it leads. Meaning the goriest, most violent, frightening story appears above the fold because that's what's going to catch our attention, right?
If it bleeds, it leads works because the first stop, all incoming information makes is an organ that is already primed to look for danger. Now we can go on and on, there's a bunch of other factors that come into play here, but specifically you were talking about if it bleeds, it leads, and that's a reference to how the amygdala screens information.
Ben: Okay, gotcha. So when we're saturated with these news headlines, basically it's turning on our sympathetic, like our fight and flight nervous system response, and that almost hardwires us to continue to respond in that stressful way?
Steven: Well it's more complicated than that, there's a couple of things going on. First of all, we have what scientists call a negativity bias. This is a tendency, a very profound tendency shaped by evolution to pay way more attention to negative information than positive information. So if I showed you ten news stories, nine of them are positive and one of them is negative, you're going to remember the negative. As a general rule, if I mix it up and don't make it that lopsided, you're not even going to notice the positive 'cause your brain's just going to be so drawn to the negative. What makes this even worse is the amygdala emerged in an area of immediacy, right? On the velt, we're always at the tiger-on-the-bush variety. But we live in a world that is provelistic today, right? Terrorists might attack, the economy might nose dive, and a meteor might impact the earth. The amygdala can't tell the difference, and it can't switch off until the danger is gone completely. Provelistic dangers are never gone completely, so when you add all these things up, you start to see there are pretty good reasons why we think we're all going to hell in a hand basket and there's not a damn thing we can do about it.
Ben: Interesting, so the way that I read about this when it came to kids in the way that kids are programmed as far as stress goes as this can start at a very early age. It's almost like this sledding slope that you would ride a sled down. Every time that you bring a slide down that slope, it makes that particular sled run just a little bit more packed down, a little bit more smooth and slick and fast, and depending on which types of pathway the child is consistently exposed to, that's the pathway they're going to trend towards, the pathway they're going to slide down, and so you can almost program the amygdala to choose these stressful pathways.
Steven: Yeah, that's Rick Hanson's work at Berkeley, the neuropsychologist at Berkeley, wrote a really nice book called “Hard Wiring Happiness” where he talks about this, but you're very right. You know the brain is a plastic organ, but amygdala sensitivity. Once you start privileging the negative, very quickly the amygdala, at a very fundamental molecular level, becomes more sensitive to the negative. So it grows and it grows which is basically saying you start out a little scared by life, and after a little while, everything sends you into a panic.
Ben: Yeah, and you actually have a really good part in the book in chapter four titled “It's Not As Bad As You Think”. One of the quotes you have on there from this Oxford-trained zoologist, Matt Ridley. He says, “This moaning pessimism, this knee-jerk. Things are going downhill reaction from people living amidst luxury and security that they're ancestors would've died for. The tendency to see the emptiness of every glass is pervasive. It's almost as if people cling to bad news like a comfort blanket”. And that's actually what I really like about your book is because it comes as this from the perspective of the fact that all of these amazing technologies around us actually mean that it really isn't as bad as we think despite that all these headlines are telling us.
Steven: The best example I can give of this, this is Peter Gabriel, I think, is right now. You can look at the numbers and using pretty much any metric available. Life is so much better right now today than it ever has been before in history, but we don't believe it. And worse, we keep redefining, for example, what poverty means, right? If you look at America's poor right now, the vast majority of them has running water, flushing toilets, cellphones, a car, a television, air conditioning. You go back a hundred years, the richest people on earth had none of these things.
Ben: Yeah, that's a great point, and that's where I want to delve into. Some of these amazing technologies that you talk about because we got a lot of listeners who will be fascinated with this stuff, I'm sure. One of the things that you get into is this concept of growing food in water and vertical farming which I thought was really cool. Can you explain that whole concept of vertical farming and growing food in water?
Steven: Sure. So we have a food problem, right? The UN has said we have to double food production by 2050 to keep up with population. Airable land is eighty percent gone, meaning land with good soil that we can grow crops on. According to even the most conservative predictions, climate change can slow crop production ten to twenty percent over the next ten to twenty years, right? So the idea here is let's move farming from the country where it is to the city, and why you would do that, and more specifically to build farms inside of skyscrapers. Vertical farms is what they're called, and there are a lot of reasons to do them. One of them is that the average food stuff travels 1500 miles to your plate. That is insane. Not only is it a huge energy cost, it has a huge effect on the cost of the food itself, but every second a plant is out of the ground, it loses its nutritional value, right? So there's a health cost as well here, but if you move the farm to the city, but twenty, twenty-five, seventy percent of our population is going to be in cities, so you can reduce all of that. If you grow the food in the skyscrapers using hydroponics which, as you pointed out, is growing food and water or aeroponics which is actually a newer technology which actually missed the roots of the plant, the water savings is insane.
Put it this way, in a typical vertical farm, you can use one thirty-story skyscraper to feed about 50,000 and you can do it with eighty percent less land, ninety percent less water. Grow your crops inside a clean room which is you can have a hundred percent fewer pesticides and zero transportation cost. So it is a massive, massive, massively potent technology, and the kicker, and this is what is so great about vertical farms, is we are also suffering a giant biodiversity die-off, right? The scientists are calling it the sixth-grade extinction. The fifth is the one that killed the dinosaurs. We're losing about a hundred thousand species a year, and the only way to stop this side is to take land away from humans and give it back to the animals. You need indigenous wildlands to stop. That's been the agreed and found solution since the sixties. We know it will work, but where do you get the land? We need land to feed the people, and we've got more and more people. Here is a ton of land that suddenly can be re-purposed to stop this giant loss of biodiversity that has incredible consequences for humanity.
Ben: Yeah, it's crazy. You never thought about a skyscraper as being somewhere where you can actually grow enough food to feed nine billion people on the planet. Well obviously, it takes more than a single skyscraper, but the concept is really cool.
Steven: Yeah, Dickson Despommier, who is a Colombian, came up with the idea. Not obviously, we've been growing food indoors for a very long time. We fed most of the U.S. Army in World War II through food that was grown hydroponically indoors. So this is old technology, right? Re-purposed, done differently, but he calculated that a hundred and fifty thirty-story skyscrapers which given are a lot of buildings, could feed all of New York City. It’s kind of amazing.
Ben: Yeah, that's really amazing, and you're right, hydroponics? I think in the book you explain how it goes all the way back to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
Steven: Yeah, it's a very old technology, and you know it got really well-developed World War II-ish, but the Green Revolution came on. We started using chemicals to fight this war, and people forgot about it, and the only people who paid attention to hydroponics and aeroponics were marijuana farmers literally, right? So it had this horrible reputation that sort of retarded the technology and slowed it down for a very long time until the nineties when NASA started looking at it 'cause they wanted to know how to feed astronauts on Mars.
Ben: Yeah, it's crazy, and one of the things that is difficult about it though is the whole issue of protein because what you just described, it can increase crop reduction, but as far as protein and getting enough protein. Hydroponics doesn't actually produce protein-rich food sources, does it?
Steven: No, you're totally correct. We have a protein problem, right? Optimal health means that ten to fifty percent of your total calories have to come from protein, and we could eat more tofu, for sure, but for much of the world, meat is the preferred choice. As we all know, meat might not be murder, but it's certainly murdering the planet. To talk about this, I'm going to start with what happens with cattle. Cattle, for starters, are an energy hog. Standard ratio of energy in to beef out is fifty-four to one. They're a land hog. Seventy percent of our agricultural land and thirty percent of the planet's surface are used for cattle farming. Produces more greenhouse gasses, all the carbon in the world, leading cause of soil erosion, deforestation. I can keep going. There's enough water in a steer, that's a fully-grown adult steer to float a U.S. Navy Destroyer, okay?
Ben: Holy cow.
Steven: So we got this huge growing population, right? As people come out of poverty, they want more meat. We've seen this in China, right? UN says we need to double meat production by 2050, so how do we do this? How do we get people all this protein? And there's two answers. Aquaculture is the first, right? Fish farming which has already proven itself incredibly effective, right? Fish populations have been steadily declining, yet from 1992 to 2007, aqua culture went from two million metric tons to fifty million metric tons, right? So fish farming has allowed us to continue to eat fish. We can scale this up, we can do it in a much more eco-friendly and intelligent method that is going on right now, and it will stop a lot of devastation in the ocean. That's one answer.
Ben: And by the way, just to interrupt, and you touch on this in the book, how there are issues with fish farming, right? As far as concentration of waste and disease in the fish and things of that nature?
Steven: Yeah, there are serious issues, and a lot of it seems to be around the scale of the endeavor. This is something we're learning with meat as well, you know? Smaller may be better, I'll give you a really cool example. So Will Adam, who's a MacArthur Genius Award winner, has a company called Growing Power that is building a five-story vertical farm in Milwaukee, and the bottom floor is a fish farm. There's a hundred and ten gallons of water producing a hundred thousand tilapia leg perch and I think maybe blue gill a year, and they're going to pump this species up to use it to fertilize plants in higher levels of the greenhouse. So there are really cool ways to integrate these technologies, and solve some of those problems. There's a long way to go, but we're at the start again. And then there's in vitro meat.
Ben: It's a big fish tank.
Steven: Yeah, it's a big fish tank, and in vitro meat is I think the technology that's most exciting which is literally growing steak from stem cells, but it's a technology that's here today, right? We have been working on it for a while, we have gotten it really, really good. What it comes down to now is to power it, you need a lot of electricity, so you need these giant bioreactors and it's a power problem that's hopefully solar because it is not an exponential growth curve. It's going to help to solve, but it's no longer a question of can we actually make the meat? It's now just a question of can we scale up our energy technology?
Ben: Yeah, and I mean in many cases, if you break it down into it's individual amino acids, if you're taking a protein and you're growing it in a petri dish, you might actually get exposed to fewer omega-6 fatty acids and growth hormones and all the things that you're getting from a cow.
Steven: The crazy thing is we can actually, with in vitro meat, do the impossible, right? As new, we can nutritionally fortify it. We can put fish oil into beef, we can make fast food good for you. Fast food hamburgers that are good for you using this technology which is an insane thought.
Ben: Yeah, we still have to figure out the bun, but I guess we can always take the kale from the vertical farming and then the in vitro meat and we're good to go.
Steven: Ben Greenfield's Diet of the Twenty-First Century, recount?
Jessa: Hey, quick break here. This is Jessa Greenfield, Ben's boss. I mean wife. I'm not sure if you know this, but Ben, being the complete nerd that he is, keeps track of everything that he's ever recommended and found to work really well and puts it all over at greenfieldfitnesssystems.com. From books to lab tests to supplements, he has it all there, so whether you want to build muscle, burn fat, fix your gut, sleep better, balance hormones, and learn about smart drugs, whatever. It's all there. Check it out at greenfieldfitnesssystems.com. Okay, now back to the podcast.
Ben: Cool, so the other thing that you talk about, and this is actually related more to energy than to food even though when you talk about fish, it makes me think about DHA and algae and how you get a lot of other cool things when you're eating fish, but you also have a really good part of the book that focuses on energy and biofuels, and in particular, you talk about using synthetic life to create biofuels. Now I thought this was a really interesting part of the book because every year, I go to Ironman Hawaii, and I compete in Ironman Hawaii, and one of the parts in Ironman Hawaii is the famous Energy Lab, where you run though the hottest part of the course and you're running out in the Kona heat along the ocean and it's this Energy Lab. And what I think a lot of people may not realize is what is going on inside a lab like that in terms of developing this new generation of biofuels. Can you explain, specifically regarding algae, how we can use plants to make fuel? Because that's actually what's going on in that energy lab.
Steven: Sure, so synthetic biology, which is sort of the cutting edge of biology and genetic engineering right now, has turn essentially the four letters of the DNA code into the binary code. So we're learning how to program life much in the same way we program computers, and synthetic biology is advancing incredibly quickly, just to give you an idea. Moore's law which is what is driving our computers, and it's the reason the cellphone in your pocket is a thousand times faster and a million times cheaper than a super computer from the 1970s. So that's Moore's law, moving really fast obviously. Synthetic biology and all biotechnology is now moving at five times the speed of Moore's law, so this stuff is coming very, very quickly. What they're trying to do with algae is algae normally makes an oil. It normally secretes an oil, and it does visit at certain limited amounts, at certain limited times and in certain limited ways, but the idea is we can use synthetic biology to tinker with the algae's genome and to trick it into making huge amounts of oil. So that's the goal, and it's been a long goal.
There are a lot of companies working on it. It's moving forward and fits and starts. I think there's a lot of technologies we describe in the book, and our general reaction after the book came out is. “oh my god, these things are arriving far faster than we thought.” Turns out that using algae to prove biofuel which a lot of people thought it was going to be very straightforward. Turns out it's not straightforward. We're a number of years into the project, I've done tremendous amounts of the simple science, but it's not about just moving one or two genes now. It's about a whole genome level fix, and it's a new problem and we're still poking into it. So that's coming, how fast is an interesting question.
Ben: Okay, got it, interesting. That's very, very cool how you can actually use this algae, and you describe it in pretty good detail in the book about, I think, is it Venter who created the algae half-house?
Steven: Craig Venter, I mean he's one of the scientists working on it. His company's synthetic genomics, and Venter's most famous for being the guy who first sequenced the human genome and created the first synthetic life form on earth, and this is one of his next projects.
Ben: Yeah, and by the way, it's a very, very cool concept. Basically plants using sunlight to split water into hydrogen and oxygen and then combine it with carbon dioxide and turn that into a hydrocarbon fuel.
Steven: Yeah, and by the way, you hit on the cool part, right? The cool part is what do we feed the algae with? Carbon dioxide, same chemical causing global warming, so it's a great, great, great carbon sequestering strategy. Carbon repurpostration strategy, I guess.
Ben: It's very cool, and something for all of our triathlete listeners to listen in when you're running in Ironman Hawaii. Just think as you're running through that hot Energy Lab, its actually used to produce really amazing biofuel.
Speaking of global warming and really cool biofuel, let's talk about poop. We can't have a Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast without talking about poop at some point, usually. So you have, in your section on solving sanitation, a description of this new kind of toilet. Can you elaborate on this?
Steven: Sure. I mean the place you got to start is the fact that toilets haven't been upgraded in about a hundred and thirty years, right? Since Victorian England, basically. So in the developing world where sanitation issues cause tremendous amounts of death and disease. A new kind of toilet will obviously save millions and millions of lives. In the developed world, three-quarters of our water bill is wholly going to waste and running sewage treatment plants. So the goal here is how can you solve both those problems? How can you find a way for people to go to the bathroom that doesn't involve running water or sewage, that will still render human waste completely harmless? So this has led to a new kind of toilet, and there's a giant Bill and Melinda Gates foundation project dedicated to this. We're talking about that in this section, but imagine a toilet with no pipes, no plumbing, and no septic tanks. The toilet burns and powders the feces and it flashes, evaporates the urine, and you can essentially use the energy that comes from the fecal portion of the waste to completely clean up the urine. There's over a mega joule per day of energy in human feces. So we will then have electricity left over to charge our cellphones, power our lights, or if we have any smart grades, you can sell that electricity back into the very first time in history. Literally get paid to poop.
Ben: That's crazy.
Steven: And we have the technology today. We can literally do this with all, which we have parts. The question is cost. The challenge that Bill and Melinda Gates have set is they want to do it for five cents a day because that's the cost available to developing worlds, and obviously, it doesn't take a genius to tell you that this is a cost that mass production can solve, right? We know how to bring the cost of things down.
Ben: I'd never thought about this until I read that section of your book, but you describe it as that there is over eight mega joule per day of energy contained in human feces that can be turned into energy, like you're talking about, for like cellphones and lights.
Steven: So the really cool, closed loop solution to look back on a previous technology. One of the points we really try to make in Abundance is a lot of the leverage exists in combining these technologies together, to move them across this plane of the system level, and one example is this new toilet. You could literally run the vertical farms in New York City that are going to feed New York City with energy that you reclaim from poop that's excreted in New York City. You could close the entire loop on the thing.
Ben: It's amazing. I wonder how they could figure out how to do with the fish feces as well? You know, from these hydroponic tanks?
Steven: Well, fish feces makes phenomenal fertilizer. That's a transportation problem. It's a slightly different problem, but it's a good problem to have because we need the fertilizer.
Ben: Yeah, yeah, interesting. Okay cool, so let's go from the toilet to the lab on the chip, and I'm fascinated with this stuff 'cause I'm totally into self-quantification and I print out the form online and drive to my local lab, bring it in, get the tubes of blood drawn or the saliva as the case may be, and then it all gets sent off and a few days later, I'll get a PDF with my results e-mailed to me, but what you talk about in the book makes that something out of the old pioneering era. You talk about the lab on a chip, can you explain how lab on a chip would even work?
Steven: So I want to take you to the bigger picture which is the Tricorder. So I don't know if you remember Star Trek, but if you remember your Star Trek, the Tricorder is the medical scanning device that bums waves over people, and it tells them what's wrong with them, right? So Peter Diamandis, my partner, started the Tricorder X-Prize, the Qual Comm Tricorder X-Prize is a ten million dollar price for the first team that can diagnose. You build a hand-held device, like a cellphone-sized device that can diagnose illness better than a board-certified doctor, right? In the development world, this is a huge saving. One out of three times you go to the doctor, 45 percent they get the diagnosis wrong. So it's a huge cost, right? Huge health care saving if we get this right. In the development world where there are not enough doctors at all to begin with, this is a sea change, right? And to make this possible, you need three technologies, all of which are here today.
The first is lab on a chip, and lab on a chip is really simple. It is quite literally a silicon chip that you can put a drop of bodily sewage, spit, semen, blood, snot. Come go on this ship and it can break it apart, and it can diagnose. Break it down to a molecular level, and basically diagnose what's wrong with you and how it does this is it can kind of run a battery of tests on it, and then it uploads the information in the cloud. What is in the cloud? Do you remember Watson, the A.I. that won on Jeopardy? So the big deal about Watson is Watson understood natural language, meaning you can talk to Watson and joke with Watson and he would understand inflection and dialect and all that stuff, right? After Watson won on Jeopardy, they sent Watson to medical school where they have packed Watson with millions and millions and millions of pages of medical encyclopedia and case histories and doctor reports and everything else you can possibly think of. They basically put a medical diagnostic A.I. in the cloud, and then they've opened it up for everybody to partner with IBM to develop platforms to use, Watson The Cloud. So you attach a lab on a chip into Watson The Cloud, so you have a hand-held medical diagnostic device that can do exactly what the Tricorder did. And just to give you a timetable for this, Peter believe somebody's going to win the Tricorder X-Prize in the next eighteen months.
Steven: So we've got lots of versions of lab on chip. Everything kind of exists, it's getting it to get. Just putting it together and getting it to work seamlessly, but the parts are all there.
Ben: Right, you've got the Stanford student, I forget her name, who's got these little give-a-drop-of-your-blood-type of lab reading. They're like lab reading machines popping up in places like I believe it's in like a Walgreens or a CVS down in San Francisco, and then I pre-ordered on Kickstarter. There was this device called a Q, a Q Dot ME. I believe it was where it was at, and that plugs into your iPhone and allows you to get a few readings of glucose and testosterone and stuff like that using your phone. So yeah, you're right. All this stuff is just kind of floating around all over the place. One of the things that someone, I forget who I was talking to about this, but they were talking about how one of the big, big barriers to this is the FDA, and I don't think you get into this too much in your book, but how do you feel about that? Do you think there are some pretty big barriers here from like a governmental standpoint to developing and utilizing and making widespread the use of some of these heath technologies?
Steven: Yeah, I mean we flat out say in Abundance that a lot of these technologies are probably going to emerge in countries with less restrictive environments and migrate to the US, so we have a representative democracy that was designed by Jefferson to proceed slowly. We saw what happened in the French Revolution, he didn't want another one, so he balanced the houses and designed the government to move slowly. We are now in a world where technology is advancing on exponential growth curves, right? All information technologies are moving this fast, and there's no possible way for the government to keep up. We're just not designed that way. Here today, there are other environments that are better for this, but it’s tricky here.
Ben: Interesting. So another thing that you get into in the book is DNA and genetic testing, obviously another kind of emerging technology. I think it's really interesting that you talk in the book about obesity, and the link between genes and obesity and how we may be able to actually treat obesity genetically. Can you explain how that would happen?
Steven: So let me give you picture of where we are, and this is circa 2011 which is the last time I saw a meta-analysis of the field, but a really good meta-analysis I liked from 2011 that look at fifteen years of studies on genetics and obesity. They found nine different locations that are directly involved in genetics, obesity, and fifty-eight locations that contribute to polygenetic obesity, right? Now are there more? Yes, for sure. Are there lots of other contributing factors? Absolutely, but we have really started to understand what's going on with the genetic level with the disorder, and we know. I'm sure you know and I'm sure you've talked about this on the show. We existed in environments where food was scarce, right? So when we had access to large quantities of, of example, sugar, carbohydrates, that kind of thing. We stored it, we ate everything we could get out hands on and stored it for later 'cause we needed it. That's not the case anymore, food is nowhere near that scarce, but we're still genetically programmed to do that, right? And that is one of the big triggers for the obesity crisis. So the idea is can we basically block that programming?
Ben: Yeah, and the way that that's blocked is this process. You talk about in the book RNA Interference, so you're actually blocking the messenger RNA that these genes are sending out?
Steven: Yeah, before they can even code to make proteins.
Ben: Yeah, and they've done experiments on this. I believe in the book, you talk about experiments done in mice, on shutting off the fat insulin receptors.
Steven: Yup. There are a lot of different people working on this from a lot of different angles, right? It looks too many, like low-hanging fruit. This doesn't look as crazy as say the algae biofuel, but the one thing that I like to point out to people is this stuff, especially genetics. Genetics gives a tremendous amount of attention. We like talking about it, and it develops slowly. If you think about gene therapy, right? It was a big deal when the promise first showed up thirty-five years ago, but it's only now that we're actually moving into things. Some of the earlier versions killed people, they were had, right? It's only now that we're actually moving this, so I think genetics is a little slower than we anticipated where other technologies are moving much faster than we anticipated.
Ben: Yeah. Have you personally done any of your genetic testing, Steven, for like 23andMe or any of these other genomic sequencing organizations?
Steven: I haven't, and I'll tell you why I haven't and a lot of people disagree with me on this and it can go a lot of different ways, but I feel like we have done so much research saying there's mind-body connections, and we don't fully understand them. And getting information that I have 58 percent chance of getting an incurable disease, I can tell you right now, certainly going to help my stress levels, it's going to create more problems, and I don't, personally, think it's worth the risk yet. I don't think there's enough. Until the information can really be directly be useful to me, practical to me at a biohacking level, I don't want to know. You know I am in the minority among my peers on this, most people think it's the neatest thing since sliced bread.
Ben: Yeah, and for me from a biohacking level, I actually found the information to be relatively useful. Like for example, I find out I have higher than normal risk of Type-2 Diabetes. That certainly affected my decision to shift towards a more ketogenic diet and to begin using insulin stabilizers, like cinnamon and apple cider vinegar and stuff like that on more frequent basis. I found out, for example, that I'm a fast caffeine metabolizer, so that whole coffee-nap thing that was recently in the news, that doesn't work for me. If I take a cup of coffee, I'm wired within like five minutes, and it's gone within an hour right now.
Steven: Yeah, it's funny. Jamie Wheal, my partner on the flow gene, unbridled life, the coffee-nap idea, he can do it, and I can't. I'm with you.
Ben: So I think some of it's practical, but yeah. You're right. If, God forbid, I'd done the test and found out that I had a fifty percent chance of prostate cancer, something like that, then yeah. It would be probably a little bit of a mental issue, and it's a little bit scary to think about. What happens if you can believe yourself into having a disease or that you have a disease, so it is an interesting topic?
Steven: As you know, I spent three years in bed with Lyme disease and fought my way back from that and cured that, but the one lesson over and over was, Lyme was a stress trigger. And the more stressed out you get, the sicker you get because it's not an autoimmune condition, and so many diseases have stuff like that built in. For me, I think you're better off not knowing, but that's again, just my opinion, and a lot of people I know agree with you.
Ben: Yeah, and by the way for those of you who don't know Steven's story about Lyme disease, go back and listen to the other podcast that we did with him about the rise of Superman 'cause it actually is an incredible story, and again, the show notes for the episode you're listening into right now are at bengreenfieldfitness.com/abundance, and I'll put a link to that other podcast that I did with Steven.
I've got one more question for you, Steven, and that is about what we can do. There are a lot of resources that you have in your book about what the next step are and how we can take action, but as far as the big wins for the people listening in who do have the power to make a difference and to help push this story of abundance along, what are some things we can do?
Steven: Well it depends what level of involvement do you want, right?
Ben: I want to invent the Tricorder and win the X-Prize.
Steven: You know for that, Peter started Singularity University, which reoccurs well, which is a university in Silicon Valley that is dedicated to using exponentially growing technologies to go after the world's grand challenges. If you go to abundancethebook.com which is our website for “Abundance”, there's a join cap. There's lots of different ways to get involved. Since the book came out, we're coming out. The paperbacks for Abundance, it stands in two weeks. I literally got my copy today. So it's been out a while, and the craziest thing about it is it's had a global impact, and there are now Abundance groups all over the world. So you could find them through Facebook, you can find them through our website, but there are really tons and tons of ways to plug in and get involved, and in February, Peter and I had to follow up to “Abundance” coming out. It's called “Bold”, and it is literally a guide for entrepreneurs and organizations who really want to take this forward. “Abundance” is the big macroscopic big picture look at the four emerging forces that raise standards to live in, “Bold” is how to get there. It's literally a how-to manual for bringing about a world of abundance.
Ben: That's a book?
Steven: Yup, coming out in February.
Ben: Cool, cool. One last question for you 'cause I'm a big fan of blogs and syndicating content and keeping my finger on the pulse of this type of stuff, just so I can see where the action might need to be taken. Do you have a blog or do you have a resource that you think is a good resource for keeping up to date with emerging technologies and biofuel and lab on a chip and power harnessing toilets and all that stuff?
Steven: I read all about this stuff in Far Frontiers, which is the blog I write for Forbes.
Ben: Okay, cool. I didn't know you had a blog for Forbes.
Steven: Yeah, it's forbes.com/sight/stevenkotler and the blog is Far Frontiers, and I cover it there. You can also go to my website stevenkotler.com, and sign up for my e-mail newsletter, and you will get a monthly newsletter with all of my writings on everything from human capability to disruptive technology to the intersection of technology and culture.
Ben: Cool, just found the blog on Forbes. I'll be adding that to my feedly feed. Well cool, Steve, thanks so much for coming on the show today and sharing this stuff with us.
Steven: It was my pleasure, thanks for having me.
Ben: And if you're listening in again, you can go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/abundance, and check out the book, check out the other podcast that we did with Steven and also the link to some of the resources that we talked about during this episode. So until next time, this is Ben Greenfield and Steven Kotler signing out from bengreenfieldfitness.com.
A few months ago, we had an amazingly popular podcast episode with Steven Kotler, author of “Decoding The Science of Ultimate Human Performance“.
During that podcast, Steven mentioned another book he co-wrote with Peter Diamandis (famous founder of the X-Prize Foundation) called “Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think“. Frankly, I thought this other book sounded like a bit of an airy-fairy, positive thinking, Everything Is Awesome (cue Lego movie soundtrack here) type of a book.
But then, over the course of just one week, three more people recommended this book to me, including SEALFit commander Mark Divine. So I figured I should probably read it. And I did.
Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think is based on a contrarian view that exponentially growing technologies and other powerful forces are conspiring to better the lives of billions on our planet, that the gap between the privileged few and hardscrabble majority is closing fast, and that this is drastically affecting human access to everything from water to food, energy, healthcare, education, and freedom.
In today’s podcast, you’re going to learn why Steven believes that the future of health is better than you may think, and how you can help make all this a reality. During our discussion you’ll learn:
-What the pyramid of abundance is…
-What Steven means about your stress levels when he says “if it bleeds, it leads”…
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-How you can grow enough food to feed 9 billion people using vertical farming, skyscrapers “growing food in water”…
-Creative ways to get the world’s population more protein…
-Where “synthetic life” like algae come in for creating biofuel…
-A special new kind of toilet that can power your house with your own feces…
-How a Star-Trek like Tricorder and a Lab On A Chip would work…
-Whether we can actually use genetics to stop obesity…
-What the next steps are, and how can you can take action…