Michael Lewis and Martine Rothblatt - The Tim Ferriss Show

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Michael Lewis and Martine Rothblatt - The Tim Ferriss Show

Start (00:00:00)

  • Tim Ferriss introduces the episode's sponsors: Eight Sleep and Shopify.
  • Eight Sleep's Pod 4 Ultra offers automatic cooling, heating, and elevation adjustment for optimal sleep.
  • Shopify is an e-commerce platform that provides entrepreneurs with all the tools they need to start, run, and grow their businesses.
  • Michael Lewis is a financial journalist and author known for his books such as "The Big Short" and "Flash Boys".
  • He discusses his latest book, "The Premonition: A Pandemic Story", which explores the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic and the failures of the public health system in the United States.
  • Lewis criticizes the lack of preparedness and coordination among government agencies and the scientific community in responding to the pandemic.
  • He emphasizes the importance of listening to experts and taking proactive measures to prevent future pandemics.
  • Martine Rothblatt is a transgender woman, entrepreneur, and lawyer.
  • She is the founder and former CEO of United Therapeutics, a biotechnology company that develops and markets treatments for rare diseases.
  • Rothblatt discusses her personal journey as a transgender woman and her advocacy for transgender rights.
  • She also talks about her work in the field of organ transplantation and her vision for the future of medicine.
  • Rothblatt emphasizes the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace and the need for more women and LGBTQ+ individuals in leadership positions.

Notes about this supercombo format. (00:04:29)

  • This is a special episode curated from the best moments of the Tim Ferriss show podcast over the last decade.
  • The goal is to introduce lesser-known guests who have had a transformative impact on the host's life.

Enter Michael Lewis. (00:05:32)

  • Michael Lewis is a renowned author of over 15 New York Times bestsellers, including "Moneyball," "The Blindside," and "The Big Short," which were adapted into major motion pictures.
  • His latest book, "Going Infinite," explores the rise and fall of FTX and its founder, Sam Bankman-Fried.
  • Michael Lewis also hosts the critically acclaimed podcast "Against the Rules."
  • Michael Lewis describes Sam Bankman-Fried as a "sociopath" and a "pathological liar."
  • He believes that Bankman-Fried's downfall was due to a combination of factors, including his lack of experience, his arrogance, and his greed.
  • Lewis also discusses the impact of FTX's collapse on the cryptocurrency industry and the broader financial system.

Why Michael quit his well-paid job to become a full-time author. (00:06:10)

  • Michael Lewis worked as a bond salesman at Solomon Brothers before becoming a successful author.
  • While at Solomon Brothers, he wrote critical op-eds under the pseudonym "Diana Bleecker" for the Wall Street Journal, causing a crisis meeting but avoiding termination due to his sales performance.
  • Lewis continued writing under the pseudonym for about a year, honing his skills with the help of an editor at the New Republic.
  • After receiving a book deal from Ned Chase, a senior editor at Simon and Schuster, Lewis decided to leave Wall Street despite warnings about the financial risks of pursuing writing.
  • His decision to follow his passion resulted in the success of his book "Liar's Poker," which exposed the culture and practices of Wall Street.

Liar’s Poker is a cautionary tale, not a how-to book. (00:13:14)

  • Michael Lewis wrote Liar's Poker as a cautionary tale, not a how-to book.
  • He intended it to show the transformation of the financial industry and its impact on young people.
  • Lewis hoped young readers would realize the silliness of the industry and pursue other interests.
  • Despite Lewis's intentions, Liar's Poker was widely seen as a guide to making money on Wall Street.
  • Lewis received numerous letters from young readers seeking tips and advice on succeeding in the financial world.
  • Lewis realized that readers can interpret books differently than intended.

On ambition and the metrics of success. (00:15:32)

  • Michael Lewis does not consider money or fame as accurate measures of success.
  • He is more driven by the feeling of accomplishment and self-satisfaction from creating something great.
  • Over time, he has become less interested in external validation such as reviews or bestseller lists.
  • His ambition is to maximize his self-satisfaction.
  • Lewis starts writing by hand, then types it up, and finally edits it.
  • He writes in a stream of consciousness style, without worrying about grammar or structure.
  • He believes that the best writing comes from a place of vulnerability and authenticity.
  • He tries to write every day, even if it's just for a few minutes.

Maximizing self-satisfaction, optimizing the writing process, and learning to sing. (00:18:47)

  • Michael Lewis' natural writing rhythm is from 4 pm to 3 am, but he can't maintain this schedule with kids.
  • He now writes with headphones and a soundtrack that changes from book to book.
  • His wife and kids recommend songs for his writing soundtrack.
  • Lewis is working on the second season of his podcast, which involves coaching him in singing.
  • He has been taking voice lessons for three months and has to remove a song from his writing soundtrack because it distracts him.
  • The purpose of the music is to shut out interruptions and create a focused writing space.
  • Lewis is learning to sing for the second season of his podcast.
  • He is taking voice lessons for an hour every day for the past three months.
  • He has to remove a song from his writing soundtrack because it distracts him and makes him want to sing instead of write.

The value of having an impolite editor on your side. (00:21:07)

  • Michael Kinsley, the editor of the New Republic, had a gift for creating writers.
  • He was not polite and delivered withering critiques of writers' work.
  • Kinsley helped writers identify and stop using vices in their writing.
  • He was also gifted at seeing what made a good story.
  • Kinsley's bluntness helped Michael Lewis improve his writing.

On the merits of productive laziness. (00:24:08)

  • Michael Lewis discusses the concept of "productive laziness" and how it can help people find things that are really worth doing.
  • He explains that he grew up in New Orleans where there was not a lot of value attached to ambition or career achievement, which influenced his perspective on work.
  • Lewis highlights the importance of being able to step away from work and get into a state of mind where it's okay to not do anything for a while.
  • He believes that this allows for a better selection of potential stories and material to engage with, as it raises the bar for what he's willing to work on.
  • Lewis also mentions that it prevents him from doing the same thing repeatedly just to be successful and encourages him to take risks and explore new ideas.

How Michael determines if a project should proceed. (00:28:29)

  • One of the thresholds Michael uses to determine if a project should proceed is whether he would be sad if the story didn't get told.
  • He feels an obligation to the material and believes that he has privileged access to the story.

Michael’s billboard. (00:30:07)

  • Michael would put the mantra of his high school baseball coach, "Don't be good, be great," on a billboard if he had to reach billions of people.
  • He believes in pushing himself and not settling for good enough.

Enter Martine Rothblatt. (00:33:01)

Martine’s appreciation for Alan Watts’ book on human identity. (00:33:30)

  • Martine Rothblatt is a fan of Alan Watts' book "The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Really Are".
  • Watts' book helped Rothblatt see the dialectic aspect of everything in nature and find the positive in negative situations.
  • Rothblatt was introduced to Watts' work through the literature of transhumanism and by Jesuits.

Martine’s thoughts on AI-human coexistence in the movie Her. (00:35:50)

  • Rothblatt found the movie "Her" to be an accurate depiction of a likely way that AI could begin to arise in society.
  • She believes that AI will become very useful to people and start by performing simple tasks like cleaning up inboxes.

BINA48 and realistic human simulations in media. (00:36:47)

  • BINA48 is a digital simulation or a digital copy of Martine Rothblatt's personality and memories, created as a joint project between Martine and her partner.
  • The project aimed to combine science and art, inspire young people, especially girls, to pursue computer science.
  • BINA48 has impressed audiences worldwide and inspired many girls to consider careers in computer science.
  • Martine draws parallels to episodes in the TV series Black Mirror, where individuals are effectively resurrected through data and patterns extracted from social media.
  • Martine believes that creating convincing digital copies of individuals will become increasingly prevalent as technology advances.
  • In the future, digital doppelgangers may claim to be the original person, raising complex questions for psychologists, lawyers, theologians, and philosophers.

Martine’s role models and inspirations. (00:40:09)

  • Among Martine's role models were authors like Robert Heinlein, whose science fiction works, particularly "Stranger in a Strange Land," greatly influenced her.
  • She also admired Robert Kennedy for his positive and progressive approach to the world.
  • Martine found inspiration in both Heinlein's characters, such as Lazarus Long, and real-life figures like Robert Kennedy.

When Martine started a biotech company to save her daughter’s life. (00:41:36)

  • Martine Rothblatt, an entrepreneur without a formal biology background, learned about her daughter's rare illness, pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), through extensive self-education.
  • Rothblatt's legal training in "shepherdizing" helped her navigate medical research articles, and she discovered a potential drug treatment.
  • Despite challenges, Rothblatt created a biotech company, recruited a Nobel laureate, and convinced GlaxoWelcome to license the molecule for $25,000 and 10% of future revenue.
  • The drug developed from the molecule has saved thousands of lives and generated over a billion dollars in annual revenue for Rothblatt's company.

Glaxo Wellcome’s misconceptions about Martine’s successful drug. (00:53:00)

  • The odds of any molecule working in the human body are less than one in 100.
  • They thought that even if the drug worked, there were only 2,000 people in the country with the disease and the number of people wouldn't increase significantly.
  • They didn't imagine that the healthcare system would pay $1,000 per year for the medicine.

Martine’s interest in satellite communication systems. (00:56:33)

  • Martine Rothblatt fell in love with satellite communications while visiting a NASA tracking station in the Indian Ocean.
  • She was fascinated by the possibility of putting a satellite in space that could broadcast information to the entire Earth.
  • Rothblatt changed her major to communication studies and pursued a career in satellite communications.
  • She worked at Hughes Aircraft Company and helped design a satellite to cover South America.
  • Rothblatt eventually founded SiriusXM.
  • Martine Rothblatt describes the feeling of discovering the potential of satellite communications as "the best feeling."
  • She compares it to the excitement she felt when she realized that an electric car could have enough power to lift a helicopter.
  • Rothblatt believes that this kind of excitement can be experienced at any point in life.
  • She describes it as a "lightning bolt to the soul."

Promoting scientific literacy and curiosity. (01:00:49)

  • Cultivating scientific literacy is essential.
  • Relating science to people's everyday lives is crucial.
  • Carl Sagan was a role model in explaining scientific concepts in a relatable way.
  • Using step-by-step instructions and analogies helps build scientific literacy.
  • Asking students to relate scientific concepts to their interests can foster understanding.
  • Thomas Kuhn's book "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" is recommended.
  • Kuhn explains scientific revolutions and critical thinking in an accessible way.
  • Questioning authority and asking "why" is essential in science and practical life.
  • Reading and discovering new things can be exciting and rewarding.

Questioning authority and Martine’s transgender journey. (01:05:36)

  • Martine Rothblatt credits the American culture of questioning authority for her ability to explore her gender identity.
  • She describes having a constant vision of herself as a female during her teenage years, despite societal expectations and prevailing views.
  • Rothblatt found solace in literature and discovered a vast literature on transgenderism and non-binary identities, which helped her understand and accept her own feelings.
  • Rothblatt describes visualizing herself in a female form, without any dislike for her male body.
  • She saw herself as male only because the opposite of male was female, and her mind allowed her to envision herself as both.
  • Despite the prevailing view that being transgender was unacceptable, Rothblatt's questioning nature led her to explore literature and discover diverse perspectives on gender identity.

Martine’s non-binary gender identity. (01:10:44)

  • Martine explains that non-binary gender identity is not simply about masculine and feminine traits, but also includes secondary and primary sex organs, hormones, and surgery.
  • Martine identifies as trans binary, meaning they embrace both masculine and feminine aspects of themselves.

Key decisions in Martine’s transition. (01:12:50)

  • Martine's transition was gradual over several years.
  • They do not identify any specific decisions or actions that had a disproportionate effect on increasing their sense of alignment between their physiology and psychology.

The need for genetic information protection laws. (01:13:44)

  • Autonomy rights refer to the idea that people should have the power and freedom to make decisions about their own bodies.
  • Genetic rights refer to the human genome and the diversity of DNA among individuals.
  • Martine expresses concern about genetic mining, where pharmaceutical companies and researchers extract DNA from remote communities without their consent or fair financial return.

South American population and organ transplant research. (01:16:16)

  • There is a community of people living in Ecuador and Peru who are all a kind of dwarfism.
  • These individuals rarely grow taller than 4 feet tall and are descendants of Jews from 2,000 years ago who were forced into diaspora across the Mediterranean after the Roman occupation of Palestine.
  • This population has one gene that makes their body not receptive to growth hormone, so they don't grow very large.
  • United Therapeutics is trying to create an unlimited supply of transplantable organs by modifying the genome of the pig.
  • They took a page from the population of people in Peru and Ecuador and modified a growth hormone receptor knockout into the pigs so when the kidneys of these pigs are transplanted into people, the kidneys won't keep growing.

Vagus nerve manipulation for various therapies. (01:21:58)

  • The vagus nerve, the largest nerve in the body, connects the brain to organs like the heart, lungs, and gut.
  • Stimulating the vagus nerve can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, reducing inflammation and providing therapeutic benefits for conditions like Crohn's disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Certain heart rate variability training and acupuncture may also stimulate the vagus nerve, though the latter's effects are not scientifically proven.
  • Traditional Chinese medicine may have identified earlobe nerve patterns corresponding to the vagus nerve.
  • Decoding the human neuron could enable more precise and effective vagus nerve stimulation, leading to personalized wearable devices that provide targeted relief without medication or medical expenses.

Martine’s Alzheimer’s cognitive enabler patent. (01:31:41)

  • Michael Lewis and Martine Rothblatt discussed the potential applications of brain stimulation technologies like transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) for treating brain-related conditions.
  • Rothblatt shared her experience with her mother-in-law's struggle with dementia and Alzheimer's, which inspired her to develop an "Alzheimer's cognitive enabler" device. This device uses sensors to detect nerve impulses in the brain and is connected to a computer with visual recognition and speech comprehension systems to help patients communicate and potentially reduce stress levels.
  • Rothblatt also mentioned her work on the Bina 48 computer, demonstrating the possibility of meaningful relationships between humans and digital entities.
  • Tim Ferriss highlighted the remarkable effects of music in reviving cognitive function in individuals with advanced dementia, as seen in the documentary "Alive Inside."
  • Rothblatt emphasized the importance of music as a fundamental human technology and its potential role in therapies for dementia and Alzheimer's disease, suggesting that the younger generation, who has grown up with more music than ever before, should apply music to understand the human mind.

The Rothblatt family’s “love nights” tradition. (01:38:33)

  • Martine Rothblatt and her partner, Bina, created a special family ceremony called "love night" to strengthen their blended family.
  • Every Friday night, they would gather together and sing a song, followed by each person sharing what love meant to them during the past week.
  • Love night evolved over the years, with the kids' definitions of love becoming more sophisticated as they grew older.
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, they continued the tradition virtually, including their children, grandchildren, and friends.
  • Examples of responses during love night include appreciating morning walks with friends, a grandson's pride in a math test, and the joy of playing the piano.

The possibility of machines experiencing love. (01:44:10)

  • Marvin Minsky's book, "The Emotion Machine," describes how to create a computer that can feel love.
  • Advanced technology can replicate any aspect of life.
  • Martine Rothblatt's company is building artificial lungs and kidneys.
  • Elon Musk's company, Neuralink, is working on downloading a human brain.
  • Humans will eventually be able to replicate a human mind.
  • Society may not accept digital consciousness as being as conscious as a human.
  • Ray Kurzweil, a director of engineering at Google, believes that digital human consciousness is a human phenomenon.
  • Kurzweil thinks that we will eventually be able to move our minds into a digital substrate.
  • Martine Rothblatt is not a futurist, visionary, or prophet.
  • She works on projects with five-year time horizons.
  • Futurists tend to overpromise in the near term and underpromise in the long term.
  • Rothblatt believes that digital rats, dogs, and people will exist in 80-100 years.
  • Most people will eventually become digital.

Ethical considerations for future technology. (01:49:36)

  • People only consider the rights to implement a technology, not the obligations that come with creating it.
  • Every right to create a technology should be coupled with an obligation to obtain consent from anyone who could be adversely affected by that technology.
  • The right to build a nuclear power plant, for example, is coupled with the obligation to obtain consent from all surrounding communities that could be adversely affected.
  • In a democratic country, consent is issued on behalf of the country by the government, and in the field of health, it is issued by the FDA.
  • Before the FDA permits the transplantation of genetically modified pig organs into people, it requires demonstration that there is no risk of any kind of animal virus seeping into the human population as a result of these animal transplants.
  • The field of techno ethics is becoming increasingly important, as everyone who wants to create a technology will need to wrap that technology in an ethical envelope of consent.

Current practices future generations might view as barbaric. (01:53:00)

  • Surgery without or with minimal use of anesthetics on newborns and infants was common practice less than a hundred years ago.
  • Many current medical practices, such as the lack of asepsis in the 19th century, were once considered best practices but are now seen as barbaric.
  • Burning fossil fuels and releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere despite the known negative consequences may be viewed as absurd in the future.
  • The fear of nuclear energy, which has killed a few dozen people, while ignoring the millions of deaths caused by greenhouse gas emissions, may seem ludicrous to future generations.

United Therapeutics’ zero-carbon-footprint headquarters. (01:57:58)

  • Built a 150,000 square foot zero-carbon footprint building in Silver Spring, Maryland.
  • Largest zero-carbon footprint building in the world.
  • Produces more energy than it uses each year.
  • Uses geothermal heat exchange, solar panels, and natural ventilation to manage energy.
  • Serves as a role model for other buildings.

Martine Rothblatt's engineering projects with carbon neutrality or zero emissions as an objective (01:57:58)

  • Believes creating infrastructure with a zero-carbon footprint is an intellectual challenge.
  • Questions the notion that a zero-carbon footprint society is not possible until 2050.
  • Aims to build buildings, cars, and planes with a zero-carbon footprint.

Refurbishing unusable lungs to save lives. (02:00:48)

  • United Therapeutics refurbishes unusable lungs and makes them suitable for transplant.
  • The process involves removing the lungs from the donor, cooling them, and transporting them to a facility in Maryland.
  • In Maryland, the lungs are placed in a glass dome with artificial blood and air, and technicians work to remove mucus and perform surgeries.
  • Within four hours, the lungs are transformed into viable organs.
  • The refurbished lungs are then transported to transplant surgeons, who have a 100% success rate in lung transplants using these lungs.
  • Over 150 lives have been saved through this process.
  • The process of refurbishing and transporting lungs involves significant flying, which could lead to a large carbon footprint.
  • United Therapeutics is committed to minimizing its environmental impact and is exploring the use of electric helicopters powered by renewable energy to deliver organs.
  • The company believes that it will be able to manufacture and deliver organs with a zero carbon footprint by the end of the decade.

United Therapeutics’ focus on long-term COVID-19 effects. (02:05:01)

  • Martine Rothblatt's philosophy is to identify unmet needs and pursue them, rather than competing in crowded markets.
  • General Electric's former CEO, Jack Welch, advised that it's better to be a leader in a small market than a follower in a large market.
  • United Therapeutics is focusing on developing treatments for "long haulers," people who experience chronic lung problems months or years after recovering from COVID-19.

Martine’s billboard. (02:07:42)

  • If Martine Rothblatt had a billboard to share a message with billions of people, she would write "Think Different."
  • This message emphasizes the importance of thinking differently and questioning authority to solve problems.
  • Steve Jobs and Apple popularized the phrase "Think Different" to encourage innovative thinking.
  • Rothblatt believes that diverse thinking is the key to solving today's problems.

Advice for finding positivity in life. (02:08:43)

  • Michael Lewis suggests staying in touch with one's ancestors and considering the difficult circumstances they faced.
  • He highlights the progress made in society, with the majority of people now having access to smartphones and information.
  • Lewis believes that people should make the most of their lives and not waste the sacrifices made by their ancestors.

Parting thoughts. (02:12:04)

  • Michael Lewis and Martine Rothblatt had an engaging conversation on the Tim Ferriss Show, recommended by Paul Graham and da Wallik.
  • Rothblatt's social media handles are @transbinary on Instagram and @skybiomeme on Twitter.
  • Tim Ferriss's weekly newsletter, Five Bullet Friday, provides curated articles, books, gadgets, and discoveries.
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