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A Less-Than-Planned Sabbatical

Smart Drug Smarts has been on an extended summer vacation since the start of July, and I feel I owe everyone an explanation.

Of course, a really good explanation would have come before-the-fact, rather than now - but honestly, I didn’t think at the beginning I would take an extended break.  Or that it would last this long once it had started.

What’s going on?

First off: there’s no cause for alarm.  I remain healthy, happy, cognitively intact, and deeply enamored of all things neuroscience.

However, throughout 2018 I’ve felt increasingly pulled in different directions (more on this below), and that I was failing to give Smart Drug Smarts its full measure of time and attention that it deserves, and that I was used to delivering over the past few years.

I’ve been vacillating over whether to put out episodes that might not have gotten their full share of love and prep-work, or to loosen up the production schedule a bit, or to just to take a “summer sabbatical.”

In the end - more by default than by an explicit decision - I’ve opted for the latter.

The podcast’s past, present and future.

As you know if you’ve been listening for a while, Smart Drug Smarts began as an exploration of smart drugs and nootropics - as well as providing a crafty excuse to get myself on the phone with neuroscience researchers I didn’t otherwise have an “in” to contact.

As time went by, the show’s subject matter expanded to cover a range of topics related to cognitive enhancement - straying pretty far from the original idea of chemicals that cross the blood-brain barrier.  We’ve hit hypnotism, psychedelics, and Traumatic Brain Injury, among other topics.

I’ve often wondered if we’d reached the point where I should re-title the show something more like “Jesse’s Brain Exploratorium.”  Not that exact name, but something with more truth-in-advertising as to what the show is today.

But I’m not sure (and I’m still undecided, as of this writing) if it would be better to reboot Smart Drug Smarts with fresh branding and a wider array of topics, or to come back from hiatus with episodes more strictly focused on nootropics - or even to put a nice completion-ribbon on Smart Drug Smarts and begin something new, inviting along any listeners who choose to follow.

Each approach has its pros and cons.  And I’m still giving it thought.

What else has been keeping my brain busy?

My mental space this year (aside from Smart Drug Smarts) has gone in three main directions.  Each one, by itself, contains an infinitely deep warren of rabbit-holes capable of siphoning off attention - which means I’ve been pretty reckless with my mental resources.*

* Guilty as charged.  And I’ve certainly made use of nootropics and even sleep-avoidance on more than one night this year.  No one is perfect, and I don’t even try to fake it.  🙂

My three current non-neuroscience fascinations:

I’ll explain a bit about each one, and why it has gripped me, in case you’re curious.

Computer Programming

I have long been a software developer.  (I’ve mentioned on a few episodes that software development is what originally turned me on to smart drugs - the overlap between the nootropics community and the programmer community is large.)

I’ve always had at least a couple side projects in software going at any given time, but this year I’ve started feeling “the itch” to sink my teeth into a software project that is larger and self-directed.

I’ve got my own pop-psychology analysis on why I feel this way at this time, but a) I’m not a big believer in self-analysis, and b) even if I were, I’m not self-indulgent enough to write about it here.  But I have been heeding the call, and am currently waist-deep in a code-writing blitz that I’m quite enthusiastic about (although there’s nothing public to see yet).

National Politics

I had been tuned-out to most aspects of U.S. politics for a number of years.  Aside from being distinctly disappointed that a number of banking executives weren’t jailed for life following the 2008 economic crisis, I had my blinders on, assuming that politics was plodding along as politics does.

My personal peccadillos - mainly, that I really wish the U.S. government had a coequal branch filled exclusively with scientists and statisticians - seemed fanciful.  Other than snarky comments, I was mostly content to ignore day-to-day politics, think instead about what future-tech might do in the future, and stay on the sidelines.

Trump’s being elected president* changed that.  Like many people, I feel as if we’ve skipped timelines into the alternate reality from Back to the Future 2 where “Biff” became all-powerful.  I’m also well-read in history, and I find the parallels between modern America and the early years of the Third Reich too close to ignore.* I feel obligated to do what I can to help derail America’s authoritarian course, and this too has taken a big chunk of my attention - one that continues to feel warranted.

* If we succeed in U-turning America–which I believe we will–it is probably because of the historical examples we have that weren’t available to citizens of the 20th century’s proto-fascist states.  We all owe a debt to the authors, playwrights, novelists and filmmakers who have kept the 1940s alive in our memories for the better part of a century.

Macroeconomic Research

As hinted at above, I was profoundly affected by 2008’s financial crisis, which altered my life trajectory a great deal.  In the years after that, I put a mental Post-It note on the fact that my understanding of macroeconomics was quite weak (along with almost everyone else’s), and that at some point I ought to try to find my conceptual footing.

A combination of events last year brought this reminder back to front-of-mind for me.

One was being whip-sawed by the payment processor for Axon Labs, who, over the course of a few months approved and then disapproved our ability to accept credit card payments, for what seemed like infuriating, bureaucratic and nonsensical reasons.  This back-and-forth highlighted to me just how reliant I was on major economic players over which I held no sway.  (I know, I know - we all are.  But this incident rubbed my nose in it in a particularly aggravating way.)

The second event was my recognition that we were on an eight-year uptrend in the US economy (now nine years), and we had a president* with neither a firm understanding of global economics nor the sense to keep his hands off the controls.  The economy tends to be cyclical, with periodic major crashes (1987, 2001, 2008…) and the combination of a nine-year winning streak and a criminal nincompoop in the Oval Office made me feel - based more on gut instinct than data - that we’ve got a major market correction coming.

Unlike 2008, when I was a young single guy, I now have a family - and I’m trying to get both educated and better positioned for a changing economic landscape.

What to expect for Smart Drug Smarts?

I love podcasting and I love the community that has grown up around Smart Drug Smarts. And - hopefully needless to say - I remain fascinated by neuroscience and the far-ranging topics I’ve been able to discuss with the show’s hundreds of brilliant guests.

I want to return to Smart Drug Smarts fully recharged, in a big way - and possibly with an updated format for the show.  But in order to do that, I’m going to extend my “sabbatical” for a bit longer-probably through the end of the 2018 calendar year - so I can continue to focus attention to these other issues which are also important to me, and are in many ways more time-sensitive.

I thank you - especially if you’ve read all the way here - for the attention you’ve paid to Smart Drug Smarts.  I’m both thrilled and flattered that you’ve become a fan of the show.

Stay tuned, stay smart…and count on my re-emergence before too long.

Jesse

13 comments

  1. Blair says:

    Take all the time you need! Your instinct to expand SDS beyond that which crosses the BBB was spot on as is your current inclination to broaden your scope. You’ve proven yourself to be a master at the art of podcasting–infusing intellect, novelty, creativity with an air of importance and value that entertains as much as it informs! Looking forward to hearing from you again, but not until you are ready.

  2. John says:

    Gday Mate, enjoy your sabbatical, the fans will be waiting for your return.
    JP from Australia.

  3. Gary K says:

    Simply put: Do what you need to do, so that you can do what you need do.

    Thank you for your thoughtful explanation. I was beginning to worry. If my vote counts for anything and you do return to the podcasting arena, keep the name and continue on as you always have.

    If you decide to move on to something other than podcasting, thank you for all of your effort in putting quality information “out there”. You have helped me greatly (as well as others in my life), and have given me solid jump off points to further research and explore.

    Whatever you do, stay true and keep pushing forward.

    Thank you, sir.

    Until then,
    Gary from Chicago

  4. Ro says:

    Ahhhhh….I was wondering what was up. Would you consider a quick update/sign off podcast post? Might stop people seeing your last one and then thinking you might be dead

  5. Ernest TC says:

    It would be a pity to put a ribbon on Smart as it is without a proper goodbye episode. But I totally understand your reasons and 100% support your decision and approach to the matter. Just know that we’ll be here when you come back ;).

  6. Katarina says:

    I miss you!

  7. Stephanie D'Ambra says:

    Thanks for letting us know Jesse.
    I still believe there has been no rival in this podcasting universe like your show. It has been a unique educational and amusing show that has helped me through out all the years you’ve been producing and week after week no less! I will miss you but fully understand your circumstances. We all have to be part of this course correction in our country one way or another. Best to you!
    From one blueberry lover to another.
    And get some good REM sleep!
    Stephanie D. New York

  8. kat roy says:

    hey Jessie. I miss your energy and intelligence too but in your soul searching maybe you could look at your aversion to Trump in terms of whom you have surrounded yourself with and why you think your opinion is superior to over 50% of Americans. I am willing to consider you may be informed on much of what you say. But as an Economist, Business Woman and open minded budding neuroscientist, I think you might not be as well informed on business and economics.

  9. Andrew Engelhart says:

    Thank you for posting this, Jesse. I had been wondering, and worried, about why the podcasts had stopped. Your perspective and hunches about #45 are spot on, how in the world did we get here! Enjoy your time off.

  10. Romano says:

    Just simply you have to comeback!

  11. Tim says:

    Hey Jesse! Have no fear, the community will be ready and waiting for you whenever you can return. Personally though, I’d love your more wide-ranging topics, and don’t think you need to limit the show to just nootropics. But whatever you choose, whether it be a revamp or a new thing entirely, do what your gut says.

  12. Meg says:

    What a relief to hear you’re alive and well! I do hope to hear your voice again soon. No pressure, whenever the time is right for you. Take good care!

  13. thomas shepard says:

    I have great admiration for your body of work and do not think you have strayed off the path.

    I have eliminated all news from my eyeball and ear diet. It is best for your mental health.

    The best payment platform is Stripe. Patrick Collison is a phenom. https://soundcloud.com/conversationswithtyler/patrick-collison-stripe-cowen

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