So who is this guy with the podcast, and what makes him an authority on smart drugs or human brains or any of that?
The who part is an easy answer, at least.
I’ve sometimes been called a pan-disciplinary enthusiast — which is a nice way of saying I’ve dabbled in a lot of different things over the course of my life. I’ve written enterprise software for beer companies, produced zombie films, been a featured speaker at business conferences, and slept outdoors at gas stations (twice!). I’m curious and a do-it-yourself’er, which probably made my “going entrepreneurial” somewhat inevitable.
I am hugely lucky to have parents who were teachers (primary school and university-level English) and my childhood was rich in learning and devoid of meaningful threats. Rightly or wrongly, I was never scared of much. Certainly not of oddball ideas about the future, and fantasy and sci-fi reading made up a big part of my youth.
I’ve been consistently pulled between scientific and creative pursuits, and that tug-of-war rages within me still. I’ve flirted with paleontology and genetic engineering, screenwriting, green-tech, software engineering, photography, and neuroscience.
Every aspiring polymath probably has a long slog through decades of dilettantism, and I am somewhere along that path.
You may have noticed my lack of medical credentials.
I am not an M.D., nor can I even pronounce most medical terminology very well.
This puts me on shaky conceptual footing for some of what we talk about on the podcast — a shortcoming I’m aware of and am seeking to remedy without interrupting my life with (as one doctor put it) “a quick bout of medical school.”
However, I think there are two silver linings to my layperson status:
- One big problem in science these days is that ultra-specialization is so necessary to career advancement that many professional scientists have extremely tight-focus blinders on, without much lateral knowledge in other fields. My own learning is more “a mile wide and an inch deep.” I like to think this has a value unto itself.
- Primary-source medical journals are not my native language. I need to down-convert those ideas into regular-people-talk before I can wrap my own brain around them. Once I’ve done that, I have something that is probably easier to assimilate for the rest of the non-MD public. (Hopefully without losing too many devils-in-the-details.)
The quest for asymptotic good health.
Isn’t it interesting that there is no broadly-accepted definition of what “health” actually means? We know it intuitively… But it’s not a pinned-down, quantified state that all doctors, nutritionists, athletes, and mad scientists agree on.
And strangely, there’s a see-saw between what we think of as “performance” and “health” — i.e., the ability to perform amazing feats versus the ability to continue breathing. (Fun fact: Pheidippides, the courier whose runs between Greek city-states inspired the word “marathon,” died from exhaustion after delivering his most famous message.) The cognitive correlate to this idea would go something like the following: The amazing mental focus available through Ritalin or euphoria through MDMA are not (currently) sustainable in the long-term without disastrous health consequences.
Despite all that, the pursuit of the best possible health/performance combo has always struck me as a worthwhile goal. And fun. So I’ve experimented a lot — which has resulted in dramatic lifestyle zigs and zags when new information (or misinformation) has changed my thinking. Some examples:
- In 2002, I rode my bicycle across the US without training, because I heard it was possible. (It was.)
- In 2005, I cut out all alcohol (never to return) from my diet.
- In 2006, I got turned on to the idea of “raw foods,” and I spent all of 2007 as a raw vegan — something which I respect more now as a statement of willpower than a proper pursuit of optimal heath.
- From 2006 through mid-2012, I was 100% vegan — the no-animal-food kind, not the “won’t wear a leather belt” kind.
- I’ve done several multi-week juice fasts, something which I can’t swear to the results of, but do find interesting.
- In 2012, I made a very committed attempt at the Ubermann Sleep Schedule, something I now feel is antithetical to good cognition, though it may be physiologically possible. (I will write about my attempt in the future.)
- In mid-2012 I pulled a massive dietary switch and went from 100% vegan to 100% Paleo, and at the time I write this, I am Paleo still. My cholesterol is 100 points higher but I feel great. (Although, I felt great as a vegan too – my internal jury is still out.)
My opinions on supplements and pharmaceuticals have changed a lot too… From a sort of if I eat enough raw vegetables, everything will sort itself out heuristic to my current belief that supplements and drugs may be able to push me beyond any “natural” peak I could reasonably hope for. Along with this is an acceptance that our modern scientific understanding is subject to change, and that today’s wonder-drugs might be reclassified as tomorrow’s Fool’s Gold (or worse).
My aim these days is to seek out the best information to educate myself and others so that the choices we make for our brains and bodies can maximize our chances for long, rich and thoroughly engaging lives. Heck, if the Transhumanists are right, maybe indefinite ones.
And — hopefully you know this already — you’re invited along for the journey.
PS: If you want more Jesse-writing, make sure you’re getting our weekly Brain Breakfast email.