Jesse Ausubel is the director of the Program for the Human Environment at Rockefeller University and the recent winner of the prestigious Nierenberg Prize. In his second appearance on the podcast (the first was on October 12, 2021), Ausubel talks about his new work on “peak human” and “peak humans,” why we appear to be reaching the limits of human potential, immunity to disease, “nature deficit disorder,” and why — after a lifetime of being a fan of the New York Yankees — he has quit watching sports. (Recorded December 7, 2022.)
Robert Bryce 0:04
Hi, everyone, welcome to the power hungry Podcast. I’m Robert Bryce. In this podcast we talk about energy, power, innovation and politics. And I’m pleased to welcome back to the power hungry podcast my friend Jesse. Awesome, Bill Jesse, welcome back to the power hungry podcast.
Unknown Speaker 0:17
Robert, good to be back.
Robert Bryce 0:19
So, Jesse, you know, you’ve been on the podcast, I’ve warned you, you’re going to introduce yourself, you have about 60 seconds, please introduce yourself.
Jesse Ausubel 0:28
I work in Environmental Science and Technology. The first decade or so of my career, I worked mainly for the US National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering in Washington, DC, with occasional forays to Vienna at some cold war adventures at the International Institute for Applied systems analysis. And in in Austria, US Soviet Think Tank. And for more than 30 years, I worked at the Rockefeller University here in New York City, I’m director of the program for the human environment. I both do research, I’m still working stiff. Still, publishing papers have papers in review. And I also manage research projects. And I’ve managed some big, complex global environmental projects, trying to count all the fishes in the sea, for example. My interests are environmental on the one hand, ecological trees, fish, climate, human population, but also I’m very interested in the history and evolution of technology that bears on the environment, technologies for farming, for mobility, for for energy, and I’m a little unusual, and that people tend to be either on the sort of green ecological side or more on the engineering side. And I’ve kind of pursued both together.
Robert Bryce 1:46
That’s a fair estimate. So Census of Marine Life, the new Edna project, there are many I won’t list them all. But let’s just recent history, you won the Nierenberg prize. previous recipients have included David David Attenborough and Jane Goodall. That’s pretty flattering. I mean, how does that feel?
Jesse Ausubel 2:05
Well, it’s the biggest recognition I’ve received in my career. And so it feels great. We just had a, an event out in La Jolla, at the University of California at San Diego and Scripps Institution of Oceanography in October. And I talked about some of what we’ll talk about in the in the next hour. And I would say the recognition came for, on the one hand, have, you know, some inventive ideas, but also trying to do science for the benefit of society, trying to do things that not only I’ll say, alerting people to dangers, but also trying to point out some solutions and ways to make things better.
Robert Bryce 2:52
Good. Well, let’s talk about that, because we spoke briefly about how you want the things you wanted to talk about before we started recording. And you gave a lecture in, in accepting the the Nierenberg prize, the title is peak human question mark, thoughts on the evolution of the enhancement of human performance? What is peak human?
Jesse Ausubel 3:13
People certainly are familiar with the idea of peak oil that sometime around now or in 10 years, or in 30 years, or at one time people leave believe 30 years ago, consumption of petroleum would peak we ourselves have worked on that I’ve also worked on the question of peak farmland is the amount of arable land used in the world at a peak? And so I posed the question of peak human with several dimensions. On the one hand, are we as machines, if you look at us a little bit like light bulbs, or automobiles? Are we at or near a peak? And collectively, peak, Poppy human population? A lot of people think that human population may peak later in the century. So could we be at peak humans? And then of course, as an American, I’m interested in, in the US, and in particular, what’s happening to the 330 340 million Americans? Are we in some way, peaking. So in the lecture, I tried to use some of the interesting long time series that we’ve developed for looking at things like the evolution of agriculture, or the evolution of, of transport, to look at at humanity in the way that we might look at hat at cars or computers.
Robert Bryce 4:33
Well, you were graciously shared your slides with me then in from your lecture and a lot of these things that you’re tracking and I’m you know, I’m a sports fan, although I’ve quit you watching television, but I’m still a sports fan. And you fit a lot of these these trends on to S curves. So I want to come back to S curves but you specifically focus in in your lecture on four dimensions of human performance, the physical that is how far how fast can people go? Lifetime, how long do we live, et cetera, cognitive and immune systems. Can you walk us through those? Because they’re, I mean, this is, these are big ideas you’re talking about. And I know we only have an hour here, but walk us through those different is that the structure that would work the best to talk about those four? Or is there a better way to approach this?
Jesse Ausubel 5:12
No, that’s great. I’m very grateful for the opportunity, because these are a new set of ideas. I hope some of them will soon be published. But I don’t think anybody else has ever really written or thought about this very much. So it’s I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to talk about it, get feedback and see how people react. All surfed? Yeah, well, if you think about, you mentioned, you’re a sports fan. And obviously, people are very familiar with the idea of peak performance from athletics, the Olympics, so to say or marathons. So that’s our framework. That’s the first part of our framework. And then another question is, as you say, how long do people live sort of things that are your eyesight, you’re hearing things that are associated with your, your lifetime. And then a third area is IQ and things like that, you know, How smart are we how literate, and then the fourth area that we look at very important, obviously brought to the foreground by COVID, is how resistant are we to, to, to illness, disease problems. So that’s our framework, these four areas, and then we were willing to look at all the different ways people may enhance their performance. So these could be who your parents are, who you whom you marry, how much sleep and rest, you get training and education, use of drugs, use of better sneakers, all kinds of things. So we are completely open to a very broad spectrum of the ways that each of these things, each of the the eight or nine or 10 different ways that performance can be enhanced.
Robert Bryce 6:58
Well, and so in that includes what since we, you know, we mentioned sports, I’m thinking about Lance Armstrong. And there’s a very interesting part where he in the in the, in the lecture, you talk about human potential is much higher than human performance. And you you have a slide in your slide deck where you talked about the energy density of humans, which you helped me understand very early on power, the importance of power, density, energy density, and you say, it’s three watts per kilogram. That’s for humans, I in my last book, and my fifth books, smaller, faster, lighter, denser, cheaper, I talked about makayley Ferrari, who was the one who helped Lance Armstrong cheat. And Ferrari said that for cyclists, elite cyclists, they have to have energy density twice at 6.7 watts per kilogram. So anyway, it’s fascinating to think about human output in watts. But can you walk us through that physical part, then the you know, and how that especially like the 100 meter sprint, which is when the Olympics is one of the most famous competitions in, in, in our culture with? Can you talk about that specifically? Or what part of that we want to talk about?
Jesse Ausubel 7:58
Let me just preface that briefly by saying what you point out is very important. First, were we within the human population, of course, there are going to be some people, let’s say, who were six watts, and some people who were three watts, so so so there’s a spectrum within and you can go up by training and so forth. So there’s the question of how we compare to one another, and what the averages are and what the, there’s the, the average and the the peak in the sense of where the average, you know, are people on average living 70 years or 40 years. And then there’s the question of the Methuselah. And the same is true in all these areas I’ll speak about and then there’s the question of how we compare to machines, of course, because for a long time, there was no alternative. But you know, then horse Hauer came along, I mean, we we harnessed, you know, oxen and horses, but in the last 200 years, of course, on the physical side, you know, we not only ran faster, but we invented cars and airplanes. Okay, but let me go now to the to the, to the, the the Olympic type events, like the sprinting that you talked about. And, of course, you know, the Olympics go back to Olympia in ancient Greece 2500 years ago. But they got really organized around 1900 or so. And so we have lots and lots of records of human performance since about 1900, for things like running, jumping, swimming. And what we see is that in these areas, there’s been just an incredible enhancement of performance. So you can think of it this way that basically, if the Olympics are going to happen in four years, you could always expect that a lot of new records would be set. And those might be set for because people had better training, or because better and better coaching, or because they had better sneakers, or because we were drawing the athletes from a bigger pool. You know, for example, Jesse Owens, African Americans or you know in in marathon running the Ethiopians and the Moroccans who are have Good lungs from working and living at high altitude. So there are a lot of different ways. But if you look, it doesn’t matter which activity you look at, there’s been this incredible improvement relative to 100 or even 200 years ago. If you go back in something like bicycling, you mentioned Lance Armstrong and Austin, Austin boy. There was a sort of 100 Year s curve of improvement in bicycle riding bicycle racing, culminating with a Belgian named Eddie mercs in the 1970s. And so you can think of all the bicyclists in the world, in a sense is a single cognitive formation, you know, it’s like the, it’s like the peloton of cyclists. So in a race, all of these people are, you know, they’re learning, you know, is it a better bicycle? Is it the way I bend on the bicycle? You know, is it the exercises? You know, is it the is it the drugs, I take whatever. So this cluster of, of, let’s say, a few 100 Top cyclists around the world, we’re pushing all the frontiers collectively, and behaving as in a sense as one organism like one sunflower in a sense, and going up this S curve, and really improving the performance. And then there was a second, so there was one big pulse on the bicycle racing. And then there was a smaller one that began around 1980. And this is sort of another pattern that we see whether it’s sprinting, again, there’s a big improvement. But then in the last 20 years or so it’s gotten harder to win gains at these physical kinds of things.
Robert Bryce 11:33
Because we’re reaching the limit of the absolute limit, whether it’s EPO or steroids or whatever elite reaching. I mean, this is you’ve I remember very clearly that Jonathan Vaughters, I believe is his last name, he, he’s now a cycling coach, if memory serves, and he competed in the tour, and he made it he wrote about cheating. And in fact, he said, the difference between winning the Tour de France and last place is about 1%. I mean, it’s just a very, very small margin. And so any bit of advantage that they can get from us from doping, then takes them from the end of the pack to the front of the pack. And so but but as your overall point here, that we’re reaching that, that those gains you pointed out, are plateauing. And that these incremental changes are incremental improvements are becoming harder and harder to achieve for anyone, whether they’re elite or not.
Jesse Ausubel 12:22
Yes. Well, not necessarily for the non elite, but the elite. Yeah, we and it’s, in a sense, if you were got into swimming, or cycling, or any of these activities in 1850, or 1900, or even 1950, there was an enormous amount of possibility. And now we’ve exploited a lot of those possibilities. And so it’s harder and harder to find things that still work. Now, in a sense, we would regard cheating as part of the game. That’s okay. I mean, in the sense that people are always cheating. So it’s, you know, crime is part of the system, so to say, so, but it’s gotten in all these things, it’s gotten harder and harder. So yeah, so this, this question of peak, you know, we have to ask it, let’s say in the, in the next Olympics, or the Olympics in 2040, or 2060, are as many records going to be set as we’re set recently. And my own view and the view of some college, terrific colleagues in France, a group led by Geoffrey bear Pallone, others, we think that, you know, it’s getting that’s it’s getting harder and harder, there will be more games, but it’s getting harder and harder. And some of it is really pretty exotic stuff, you know, like the, the the sort of spandex nylon swimsuits that the swimmers were using for a while and then were, then people decided that was cheating, and you couldn’t use them. But but so so I would say, at that very top, it’s getting harder and harder to go up. But imitating the people near the top, and getting better is still pretty easy. If you think of even something like three point baskets in the NBA. You know, it was looked like a miracle at the start when Steve Kerr somebody shot those or Steph Curry. But now there are dozens, it turns out there are dozens of pros who have learned to do that. And the same is true in marathon running, you know, it was amazing for people to do for man, let’s say to do two hours and 20 minutes or women to do two and a half hours. And now the score is that people can do that. So. So the fast follower phenomenon is really important. And this is a general comment, Robert, about technology, I would say in learning around the world. You know, the you take a lot of bruises and you try a lot of things to be at the very forefront. Once you’ve learned something, whether it’s how to make a nuclear weapon or how to build an automobile. A lot of other people can copy. And so part of what we see in the performance enhancement, part of the big opportunity is let’s say for you and me to become better swimmer, we’re not going to become the top swimmers, but But you and I or your children can can imitate and learn to shoot a three point basket or do a lot of things that 50 years ago would have been record breaking,
Robert Bryce 15:02
right? Because we have better sneakers, we have better training regimens, the regimens are the training systems, the weightlifting, all of these are much more refined than they were when I was a kid. Well, so then let’s talk about if we covered that enough, get what about lifetime, you also, one of the things we talked about was peak, baby. And there, there’s a difference between what you said, I think, peak human and peak humans, right. So we’re facing a demographic shift as well. And this is something Peter Zion talked in a recent, you know, there’s a lot of countries are facing this demographic plateau, we talk about the lifetime issues about how long we live and how well we live.
Jesse Ausubel 15:41
Well, the same way that again, if you look at if the expectation of our let’s say, our parents or our grandparents were that you could, let’s say run faster and jump higher. The expectation for in the, in the, in, at least in the prosperous countries, since about, since the Industrial Revolution, let’s say since 1750 1800, in countries like the UK, or Netherlands, Sweden, us is that you would live longer than your parents and that there would be more of you. And that you’re and that your children would be taller than you are. So the so through better diet, nutrition, the better ways to deal with the winter and the cold or the heat. Our population has grown, we’ve adapted to, to all kinds of things. So people live all over the world, they you know, the in North America, the GDP in Calgary or Edmonton is about the same as in Phoenix, or, or Miami. So people have learned to thrive, to have good performance in all kinds of places where it used to be that people said, well, people had short lives in the tropics, let’s say. But we’ve learned so So life expectancy, in in all in almost all countries went from, let’s say, the 35 or 40 years that was typical of the of what we would have topologists called hunter gatherer societies, up to 50 or 60. And then, you know, when Bismarck started Social Security in Germany in 1870 1880, it was easy to give people Social Security at age 60, because man especially basically died at age 60. Right, so So, but now we’re living longer and longer, and we’ve reduced infant mortality. And so the population has grown. So they’re there. So they’re more humans. We’re living longer. And we’ve also been getting taller, as I mentioned it for a long time, we thought of, let’s say Japanese as short. But if you look at Shohei Otani, the great baseball player, you know, He’s six feet three inches tall. And in 1950, he would have been an incredible freak in Japan. But now if you go to Japan, or Korea or China, you know, there are lots of tall people now. And so, so again, as a result of better diet, and maybe even electricity, it’s possible that the presence of electric fields help bones grow. So the it’s so we’ve gotten, we’ve gotten, we’ve gotten we’ve in our terms of our lifetimes, we’ve, we’ve things have changed to
Robert Bryce 18:30
Well, it’s interesting, because as you saying that I’m pulling up one of your slides here on global life expectancy. And I’ve shown this slide in lectures that I’ve done on the electrification and that how this huge jump in life expectancy was very closely correlated with the electrification around the world. But that is interesting that you know, everybody used to think of the Dutch Well, the Dutch were the tallest, you know, they just kind of naturally they’re tall Dutchman, and then and you mentioned Otani. So what else about this lifetime in mortality? We’ve seen I read something or maybe I’m looking back at your slides here, but that actually life expectancy in the US has fallen somewhat in other countries even developed countries, Russia, they’ve had seen increases in in or decreases in life expectancy. What? How do you explain that? What is natural, natural occurrence? Or is it bad diet? Are we eating too much? Too many cupcakes? What do you how do you attribute this?
Jesse Ausubel 19:23
Yeah, I want to speak about these offsetting things. But let me first just finish on the other big phenomenon in the lifetime performance is what we call rectangular realisation. So it used to be let’s say, people were born up here with high performance. And then already by the time they were 20, or 30, or 40. They were they were declining in their poor performance. But you know, 30 became the new 40 and 40 became the new 50 and 50 became the new 60 and 70 is now you know, the the or excuse the other 80 is now the new 70. You have all kinds of people. Run back
Robert Bryce 19:58
right back by the way. He feels every morning like I’m 85, even though I’m 62. But my, maybe my back is prematurely aging, but I’m sorry, go ahead.
Jesse Ausubel 20:06
No, but if you think again of the, I’ll say just the lifestyle of your parents or grandparents, especially when they were 60 or 70 years old, they didn’t ride bicycles, run marathons, do triathlons, you know, hike in the mountains. So, in many ways, you know, people are now this. So people are a be the healthy lifespan. And the active lifespan for most people in most countries now is much, much longer. So instead of this sort of, you know, decay starting in early people are, are having 6070 7578 80 years of life where they’re performing at a high level. So this rectangular zation is a really big phenomenon. But then we’re starting to see on the lifetime side, some offsetting things, this is the very sad and scary part of what’s going on. In countries, including the US very importantly, in the mid teens, let’s say 2015 2016, we saw the first drop in life expectancy in this country and have in a very long time, heavily associated with with opioids and substance abuse. And then during COVID, we’ve seen it again, partly coming from from COVID, but also coming from this drug epidemic. And 100,000 100 107,000 people died of substance abuse in the US and 2021. Many of those from fentanyl, and I’d say meth related, and those that takes people who were 20, or 3040 years old. So it takes a lot of life years away, most of the COVID people dying are over 70, even over 75. So they may be losing two or three or five years. But the younger people are losing a lot. So so we see this reversal in and that’s happening in Russia and a number of other countries. So we’ve seen associated with lifestyles, we’ve also seen that in vision. People’s eyesight, especially in Asia has really been deteriorating the last 3040 years. And more and more people are myopic. And it seems to have to do with lifestyles again, if children are outside and look to the horizon. And see, look for things far away, your eyes and your eye muscles get stronger and better. And if you if you spend your time staring at a cell phone or a tablet, computer and in the classroom, then your eyes when you’re young, apparently they don’t seem to, to develop as much. And so there are incredible epidemics of myopia in Korea, Japan, China, Singapore, Hong Kong. And it’s also starting to happen in the in the, the of the other OECD type countries. So. So after, again, if you add, if you compare 1750 or 1800 to 1950, even, let’s say 1970. You know, people were taller, they had better eyesight, on average, whatever they they live longer, but we’re starting to see as a result of a variety of factors, that maybe we’re hit, we’re, we’re hitting peaks, there’s a big debate about actual lifespan. And again, we are still on average in many societies living longer. But let’s say we’re, it’s harder and harder to win one more month of of, of life when you’re 90 than it was when you’re 70.
Robert Bryce 23:44
Well, let’s follow up on that myopia thing because that’s a totally new idea to me, and is and I’m going to challenge you a little bit. So is it a hypothesis that it’s a lot of the screen time that’s contributing to the to the vision issue? Or is there some science that backs this up about? I’m one of the few people in my family who doesn’t wear glasses, although I did buy some readers that are having to use some. But how do we know that this myopia the causes of this is an epidemic of myopia? Well, how do we know this?
Jesse Ausubel 24:17
Well, the I would say the actual decline in vision is very well documented and the Asian countries especially have led this and there are several studies. Now the cause and effect the hypothesis, they’re the hypotheses are about the things I’ve mentioned about lifestyles about I’ll say too much time reading or staring at things and not it’s part of a broader phenomenon that some people call nature deficit disorder. You know, that if you if you aren’t outside enough, I’ll come back to this. If you the in some ways the life that let’s say a Neanderthal had or a person had in a more agricultural society was healthy, and that being outside especially early in life, you You know, you learn a lot you educate your senses in a lot of ways as well as your muscles. And so it may be that the, again, the some of lifestyle changes, but particularly with people now, spending so many hours staring at at cell phones, tablets, computers, and again, living in small spaces, you know, at all all day long Oh, you know not so I mean people always were, people always spent a lot of time indoors. But when they were were at indoors for the hour or two they were outside. They were you know, if you were on the African savanna, you needed to see things far away.
Robert Bryce 25:46
Really, that’s really interesting. I, that’s a new term from a nature deficit disorder. But I guess what am I responses that Oh, because people aren’t outside being challenged or being stimulated that those senses then atrophy or something that build that muscle not is not being exercised, makes it flaccid, then I guess I’m just in just riffing here. But that sounds like I’m reflecting back what I’m hearing.
Jesse Ausubel 26:08
And that brings us to the third of the dimensions that I mentioned, the immune system performance, because similar things have happened with asthma and allergies, where asthma, allergies used to be relatively rare. And now in many societies, and especially in urban areas, that asthma and allergies and other immune and autoimmune diseases have become much more common. And there are a couple of hypotheses about this, again, which relate to two lifestyles. One of them is called the hygiene hypothesis that it was asked, it’s actually healthy to be exposed to mud, and dogs and cats, that again, your immune system, particularly, let’s say, the first 568 years of your life develops because you’re exposed to to microbes of various kinds, and you educate your immune system and you become stronger. Another variant on that has to do with over possible overuse of detergents and soap, I’ll say, it may be that we’re what cleaning our skin is so much that it’s easier for things, harmful things to get in. So we used to sort of be covered in a film a lot of the time if you took a bath once a week. So So there’s several hypotheses that relate to to modern lifestyles that suggest the immune system education that a child got on a, let’s say, a farm in in Oklahoma, in 1900 or 1950 or so including Native Americans whatever would have actually been a better immune system education than we’re getting, you know, we’ve gotten so interested in in sterile hygienic environments.
Robert Bryce 27:59
So I’d read that back is that it’s good for kids to eat dirt or to be out in the mud and you know, eat bugs or you know, whatever it is, oh, don’t eat that. Well go ahead and have a have a mouthful, it doesn’t taste very good. And you’re gonna learn with that too much coddling of the of the of this of the system right of the body is bad is that it? Would that be a fair a fair, reback
Jesse Ausubel 28:21
the French have this wonderful phrase, the nostalgia for the mud, the nostalgia boo. So which is you know, when you moved from the countryside to Paris, you know, but somebody would still have this nostalgia for the mud. Now, of course, some people might have died as a result of of an allergy or something like that. So it’s not to say that this was good for everybody. But we may be, we may be neglecting our own immune system education. Now we can artificially substitute with COVID vaccinations are a form of immune system education. And so obviously, those those work, and that’s great. And so as I say, there are good things like polio, or, you know, the whole set of vaccinations that have been enormously helpful in having in our human performance enhancement. But it may be that our lifestyles, you know, as with the, the vision, let’s say that the immune system education, this living in these more sterile environments, or what people wish were sterile environments, and not having exposure to dogs and cats and mud, you know, we need to make up compensate for that with lots of lots of vaccinations, so to say.
Robert Bryce 29:37
Yeah, that’s interesting. And there you have a really interesting slide in your slides, which I assume will be on the the program for the human environment website sometime soon.
Jesse Ausubel 29:46
Yes, we’ll the Nerenberg lecture will be posted on this on the University of California, San Diego. It was I think, within a week or two, and we’ll be publishing a a more polished version. ourselves here.
Robert Bryce 30:01
And that by the way, so again, my guest is Jessie, also Belle. He’s the director of the program for the human environment at Rockefeller University. You can find a lot about him at pH d.rockefeller.edu. It’s your 26th slide here, we just want to finish on this immune system idea. But there’s a really interesting paper. I think it was in the annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, comparing the Amish and the Hutterites that can you talk about that, because that seems in direct line with what you were just discussing about this exposure to, to dirty stuff or pooper, you know, whatever, but didn’t talk about that, because that, to me, seems very interesting comparison of two fairly similar groups.
Jesse Ausubel 30:40
So very good. Researchers at the University of Chicago and elsewhere have been studying the Amish and the Hutterites both of whom come from similar genetic backgrounds, I’ll say similar migrant German backgrounds, and also live collectively in rather similar ways and are engaged in agriculture. But the Amish continue to use animals for a lot of their work of courses. So forth, and they’re the Amish children have a lot of contact direct contact with cows with horses, also with cats and dogs, whereas the Hutterites are much more motorized. And also, in terms of their own homes, what goes on within the homes, there are many fewer pets. So so that the Amish children have notably low levels of asthma and allergy, whereas the Hutterites have levels that are much higher and more like the rest of us. So this is a kind of pretty controlled experiment in lifestyles. So yeah, so if you have children or grandchildren, and they, they, you know, it’s good to go to the beach and play in the sand, it’s good to play in the yard and roll around in the grass. And there was a finished study which found that two dogs and a cat I think we’re simplifying a bit, but that two dogs and a cat were good for good for for children.
Robert Bryce 32:10
Well, so then if I’m reading this back to you, then there’s some inoculation, I think would be even the right word about hat being around things that are messy and dirty, and that are in nature inoculates us against nature, is that it another way
Jesse Ausubel 32:24
to think about it? Well, again, the immune system is a learning system, the immune system is not that different from the brain in that sense, you know, and the same way you come to this now, I hope that you can learn to read, your immune system learns to recognize foreign objects, so to say and threats, and it learns to, to handle them. And so if you deprive it of that experience, let’s say until you’re 50, or 60, or 70, and then you’re hit by COVID, or whatever, you know, you may be more vulnerable than, you know, early in early childhood and youth. I mean, it’s as with your bones or whatever, you know, if you have a wound when you’re very young things heal very fast your system is it knows how to respond very well. So So yeah, so So I think this this concept of immune system education is one that we need to include in our lives.
Robert Bryce 33:23
Well, let me follow up on that for just a second because it’s to me it’s fascinating, and I’m, you know, watching what’s happening in China with these COVID lockdowns and the fact that China created these vaccines that didn’t work. And that now as a as a population group, now, they’ve had very little exposure to the to the virus. And so they’re all more vulnerable, the whole system, the whole society is more vulnerable, because they haven’t been gradually inoculating themselves, as we’ve done here in the US, is that a fair read of what we’ve seen in China?
Jesse Ausubel 33:55
Yes, well, Robert, as you know, in our area of energy and electricity, decades ago, people made a fuss about what they call brittle power, and systems. And I think one of the concerns one of the risks with these with our highly urbanized societies, in which, you know, people are born in very controlled environments, in hospitals, you know, with very little exposure, and then again, live in apartments with, you know, with HEPA filters, and whatever, and go to schools, again, with the H vac systems that highly controlled again, you could imagine we’re creating a population that later in life will be brittle, that, you know, that is now, again, science as with the mRNA vaccines, science may come along and quickly, you know, in six months or a year or two years, have a new solution, or a treatment, at least but but it’s possible that we’re that again, we need to think rethink this whole sort of lifetime of immune education. And it may be that again, what some of what people used to do, including playing outside at recess, in the dirt is good for your eyes and and your resistance to flus and other problems.
Robert Bryce 35:21
The word comes to mind and it is this a paraphrase the coddling of the human mind, we can’t coddle the body too much, then would be another way to think about this, I suppose.
Jesse Ausubel 35:29
Yeah, and we understand you were perfectly willing to do that with jumping jacks, or you know, or we understand that exercise is good for your muscles. But exercise in some sense, may also be good for your immune system.
Robert Bryce 35:42
So then the last area is the cognitive IQ and our education systems and the changes in how we learn and you know, the how the, I’ve thought about it from my own kids about well, I like books, I like the physical thing. And the thickness of the thing matters to me, but don’t talk to me about them. This other area about our we are reaching the limit of how smart we can be and how is this affected by all the screen time and the World Wide Web? How do you how do you how do you boil this down?
Jesse Ausubel 36:11
That may be the case. And there’s do seem to be analogies with you know, the physical performance, the Olympics sorts of things. Again, if you go back to 218 119 119 50, in first people didn’t know how to read and then literacy spread through through most societies. And now just about everywhere in the world, there’s 90% 95% literacy of adults. Similarly, education, you know, first there were kindergartens and primary schools, and then middle schools were added, and then high schools and requirements for urging people to get high school diplomas, and then, and then post secondary education colleges. And now you know, about half of all people start start university in America and in Europe, not everybody finishes. But you know, a lot of people are in school until they’re, let’s say, 2021 22 years old. And presumably, they’ve been learning. And then there’s just the IQ aspect, which may have to do with, with diet and, and exposure, not just formal education, not just book learning, but exposure to the world. And even again, for the people who didn’t have good eyesight. The fact you know, if they get glasses, so they can read and see things better. And they’re, they’re really quite phenomenal records showing that from 1900, up pretty much to 2000. IQ was rising everywhere, all the continents. So to the extent you believe educational testing, or intelligence testing, people were getting smarter every decade by the kind of at least by the testing that was going on. So if you look at this collection of things, again, of literacy, time, and educational attainment, IQ, it looks like I’ll say, in most societies, again, you could think your children were going to know more than you did when you were their age, whatever. And probably be in some peer, some sense brighter, but the same problem this sort of plateauing seems to have occurred. So fit
Robert Bryce 38:22
and fits and fits on an S curve as well. So yes, very nicely. So it will sue, can you tie these, we’ve talked about physical lifetime, cognitive immune, and you’ve plotted in your, in your slides, all of them pretty well, on an S curve. Explain that is that is that just a natural, you’ve talked about S curves before in your work, but this this bit of research and an inquiry, you bring it really to the fore is our S curve, something we should expect in all kinds of things like this, we’ll talk about the S curve.
Jesse Ausubel 38:56
Well, you know, there is some, you know, a lot of things do grow to limits. You know, if you think of something like a sunflower, you know, you can you can fertilize it, you can give it light and so forth. And you can, you know, you can grow much bigger sunflowers now than then people may have done 100 years ago, optimizing again, the water, light fertilizer, nutrients, maybe playing at the right music. But, you know, finally, there is some, I’ll say some potential, beyond which it gets very hard to, to to grow now, because
Robert Bryce 39:35
because you might have structural limit then that it reaches just a finite, it can’t grow any taller without toppling over or is it
Jesse Ausubel 39:43
yeah, there are real problems. Again, you could do other, you know, you can put a stake next to it or again, you might be able to now do genetic engineering, but you’ve exhausted a lot of the potential, you know, the sort of easy innate potential and so it so that idea of growing to limits the sort of in the kind of usually symmetrical S curve S curve way, that that. And that’s how lots of things grow. I mean, it’s documented for many, many biological processes, whether it’s for the individual sunflower, or for a collection of, of microbes growing in a nutrient agar. So they sort of exhaust the easy potential of what’s there. And so in this, in the, in this area of cognitive performance, it may be that over the last 200 250 years, with, again, with literacy, and also, you know, education in schools, and better instruction, and more stimulating environments, which could include, you know, movies, or TV or theater or travel, whatever it may be, again, that we’ve exhausted, you know, we’ve sort of harvested the easy stuff or taken advantage of the easy stuff. So it seems in this area, too, that if you look at in the US, especially it’s quite frightening, at a number of measures of standardized testing, educational attainment, the we seem to be sort of stuck on a plateau by many measures these last 2030 years.
Robert Bryce 41:18
So what occurs to me as you’re saying that Jessie, is that our brains are, in some ways dissimilar to our legs, right, we’ve reached about a limit of how fast we can go 20 to 23 miles an hour, and we reached the limit on how well our brains can perform. Is that Is that a fair way to think about it?
Jesse Ausubel 41:33
Well, I would say it’s, we don’t know for sure. And it’s a high potential again, as with the best basketball player, or, you know, the best marathon runner. So, you know, I think many, many, most people are way below their potential. So again, I think it’ll be much easier to raise the average or to raise the bottom quartile than it may be. But the the top performers to win further gains is going to be hard. But Peter, people are trying like crazy. And this is where we come back to the drugs like the, you know, whether it was Lance Armstrong, or Jose Canseco, or Barry bond, Barry Bonds, on the on the cognitive side, people have just gone crazy. Taking Abilify and Adderall and Ritalin and the consumption of, of what are called psychotropic drugs, would to help people concentrate to deal with what people call attention deficit disorders. It’s it’s just astronomical, not only in the US, it’s spread all over. So so people are really worried that, you know, they’re not learning fast enough, they can’t concentrate. And of course, there are tricks, you know, caffeine, and other traditional drugs are in this niche, too. So there’s this huge pharmaceutical industry, both licit and illicit, or on label and off label, where people are trying still to enhance their cognitive performance, through through the these further techniques, a bit like the vaccines, I mean, if you can’t do it naturally, then, you know, maybe you can take a pill or have some kind of, you know, some kind of aid to, you know, now people want to do deep brain stimulation, put electrodes in your brain, and I tried one of these with a helmet. I don’t think it had any effect. But you know, I did it as part of my research, I’ll say.
Robert Bryce 43:34
So, there may be the equivalent of the new track shoe for the brain, then there may be some equivalent of this that we could use to get further gains out of our own intellect then that we haven’t quite found yet.
Jesse Ausubel 43:47
Yes, there is there there is this transcranial stimulation there they say their ideas. And you know, science certainly will uncover new ways to do this. But sort of the general point now I think you’re getting the overall picture is that we’ve had this incredible 200 year run in America and England, in in France, Germany, Switzerland, but catching up in the last 100 years in, in Brazil or in in Thailand, where people run faster, jump higher, got taller, live longer, got smarter, got higher IQs. But winning the gains these last 2030 years now seems harder, and the offsetting problems are growing. So for example, obesity. So on the one hand, it was great to have more calories and protein for a long time, and we grew taller and ran faster. But now we have the problem. You know, this is a big part of the problem with COVID You know, the comorbidity with hyperlipidemia and obesity. So, you know, people are now we’re in a lot of people, you know, like a billion people are now overweight. You know, which is bad for your heart bad for your longevity, that bad for your immune system dealing with things like COVID So, so
Robert Bryce 45:08
I’m glad you talked about the obesity because that was one of the slides that I pulled up. Because then that also contributes, as I understand it, obesity, diabetes, these other morbidities that are, you know, really problematic and our lifetime types of of I hesitate to use the word disability but I think that’s the right word isn’t it? I mean, that these things tend to mean shorter lifespans and and lower quality of life over very long periods of time that not only affect the individual, they affect a beat dividuals are bound around them, and therefore the entire society. So it is a worrisome trend in but take us back to diet, is it too much calories? Is it high fructose corn syrup? What do you what, how do you? What do you think might be the reason for all this,
Jesse Ausubel 45:54
I think it’s mainly too much. This is in a way a somewhat different conversation. But let the, I’ll say broadly speaking, under capitalism, we don’t really optimize, you know, the shoe industry wants to sell you more shoes or sneakers than you really need, you know, the music industry, you know, Spotify wants more of your attention than, and, you know, the food industry wants, you know, they’re not interested in giving you the optimal amount of food, they’re happy to sell more product, this has been a lot of the criticism of the energy industry too, as you know, that, you know, people are wasteful with light or heat. And the electric power companies haven’t tried to, you know, be selling you the efficient amount of, of energy for your home. But you know, if you want to put in, you know, you know, whatever klieg lights for your yard. So, I think, broadly speaking, we have a, you know, an economic system, where, you know, people have, I’ll say, more shoes and, and more calories, and more things than they need. So it’s, so it’s, it’s very hard to, now you could, then you could offset try to offset it with more exercise and so forth. But, but the, but we tend to, yeah, we tend to encourage a lot of consumption, and a lot of consumption of calories, leads to obesity, which is a real threat. And it’s one as I’ve said, you know, there’s the declining eyesight. There’s the asthma. So, overall, you know, after this 200 year run, you know, we’re sort of getting fatter and fainter eyesight and maybe less resistant to some diseases. And even people worry, there are some studies, it’s hard to know how strong these really are showing that sperm counts are down, that testosterone is down. And this again, these, again, may have to do with lifestyle issues, diet, chemicals in the environment. So So again, the kind of overall picture in terms of peak human is, we had this great S curve, and now it’s harder to win gains. And as we win, the further gains, there seem to be more, there’s more more Fallout or problems associated, you know, you can think of something like steroids, you know, obviously, you steroids can help your performance, but they also can, you know, they, they affect your health in other ways. So, so as we’re winning these further gains, we’re, we’re, they’re offsetting things. So it’s, it seems that after, so we may be, maybe peak human is, you know, maybe it’s not so far away.
Robert Bryce 48:48
So if I’m gonna paraphrase one of my own book titles, it’s fatter, slower, dumber. fatter, slower, dumber. blinder? I don’t know.
Jesse Ausubel 48:57
Yes. Yeah. That’s the worry. No, that’s exactly right. That’s, that’s the worry. The good thing is this rectangular isation. So, you know, for a big chunk of your life, you’re gonna have, instead of just being sort of healthy and vigorous for 30 or 40 years, you may have a very long run, but it’s, but it’s a going from picky human. And then the total of us, I mean, this relates also to the things like the testosterone and the sperm counts, the drive, you know, there of course, this could be good for the trees in the fish. But the, you know, there’s a kind of the, we may also be near most of all the, I’d say all the major population projections now predict a plateau in the 20th. In the 21st century, some as low as let’s say 9.5 billion, some 10 or 11. So we may be within let’s say, 10% of peak humans, and we may be pretty clear pretty close to at the individual level. Well, the peak human also, America is a little bit of an exception in terms of population, because we’re still growing mostly because of immigration. But but you know, if you look at China, China as well, peak baby occurred in the year 2012. That was the year in which the globally the most babies were born about 140 or 144 million. And now there are fewer babies being born each year. And so we met to, I think 2012 may have been who knows, maybe that was the year of human and peak humans. And, you know, now we’re heading down, you know, in this will have big effects. I mean, if you think of geopolitics, China has 1.4 billion, but by 2100, China, maybe only six or 700 million people. And the US, which is now 330, or 340, could be 400, or 500. I mean, the US and China and 2100, may not be that, you know, now there are for Chinese for every American, it may be that they’re, you know, let’s say 1.2 or 1.3, Chinese for every American by 2100 If things continue this way, so there are big changes.
Robert Bryce 51:18
Yeah, the birth rate issue is one that is I am not a demographer, but I’m fascinated by that whole study. And Peter Zion is one of, you know, demographer, and using this in a lot of his work lately, I mentioned him before. Well, so let’s talk about sports. I know you’re a long
Jesse Ausubel 51:30
time, I might just say one more thing on this, the last aspect of this is, but machines are still getting smarter. And the, the, you know, they they play chess, you know, whenever almost any aspect of, of machines that you think about, you know, there’s a there’s this new Minecraft AI program that was created by open AI that watched 70,000 hours of Minecraft playing and now plays it top level. You know, the 5000 papers are being published every month now about artificial intelligence and machine learning. It’s an incredible, that’s a real S curve. So, so in the same way, that horsepower zoomed, let’s say, between 18 102,000 The the cognitive side of machines is now taking off just like the horsepower Did you know, with the Newcomen engine, and so during the century, even if humans stay sort of our performance sort of stays around where it is that machines are, cognitively are gonna zoom by us. So so we really have a lot to think about in the same way that we got we adjusted to, to the the motor and the engine. In the 19th century, you know, I think as many people are saying and 21st century, you know, the cognitive we have to we’re gonna have to learn to live with these, with the, these machines that just surpass us at pretty much everything.
Robert Bryce 53:05
Yeah, and who knows what I mean, how would you have predicted or how Henry Ford predicted in 1908? That what the Model T would have, you know, how it would would change society with maybe we’re at a similar situation there with her AI in terms of what that how that’s going to affect how we live in the years ahead. So let’s talk about sports. We’ve been we’ve been talking for almost an hour, Jesse. I know you’re a longtime Yankees fan, but you could go into games as I recall. And you we have a mutual friend John Hoberman, you you put on a seminar a few years ago, and John was there. He’s from UT Austin, I interviewed him a long time ago for The Austin Chronicle about his book Darwin’s athletes. I’m just recalling that talking with John about that. And I asked him if he watched sports anymore. He said, No, he said, I know too much that he you know, he’d written about doping. And you know, and about the, you know, what the corruption of sports and I still I see the corruption, but I also see the purity of it, right, like Morocco, beating Spain and the World Cup or something, you know, these improbable things, and it’s just, it’s such an amazing reflection of the human spirit. Are you still a sports fan? Do you still follow the Yankees? Where do you where do you how does all this peak human fit into your appreciation of sports?
Jesse Ausubel 54:16
Well, during COVID, one of the effects of the three years of COVID was to greatly diminished my interest, especially in professional sports. And I think this had been sort of simmering in a certain way for a while and it relates to some of the things we’ve been discussing. The good side of sports is that they’re, they’re a fantasy life. You know, they’re an alternate alternate reality. It’s a never ending soap opera. And you know, for most people, I mean, sports turned out to be the true opiate of the masses. Fentanyl is doing pretty well too. But I think if you know, in all of Karl Marx, you won’t find anything about soccer or a American football or the NBA. But in many ways, it’s turned out that, well, the Romans understood this. Anyway, in many ways, it’s turned out that you know, 4 billion people, half of the global population is watching the Soccer World Cup. And people love it. And it’s this, it’s a wonderful. Again, it’s a soap opera in which finally, aside from sometimes a broken heart, about your team losing, you know, the consequences are, you know, you don’t suffer. I mean, so. So it’s in many ways to wonderful form of, of entertainment. And it’s, again, it’s had this incredible development since the British and a few others sort of formalized it in, you know, 1850 or so the America to with basketball, and so forth baseball. But I feel it’s really suffered. It’s partly what I was saying about selling too many shoes, the money, everything has gotten too long. So games that were interesting for two hours or two hours and 15 minutes are now three and a half and four hours long. And the reason is simply money and advertising. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s tennis, or baseball, or football or basketball. You know, in the last two minutes of a basketball, an NBA game can last half an hour. Right. And it’s all about selling and commercialism. So partly, I think it’s just to me, partly, I think it’s gotten dull. Another thing that really troubles me is the gambling, gambling and gaming are also going through an enormous S curve, logistic growth now, not only in the US. And I think this is really problematic because the soap opera part, the fantasy, part of sports is that you root for players and teams. But gambling breaks your allegiances, you root for your route to win your bet, you know, if you bet that the next batter will strike out or if you bet that you’re, you know, your team will lose. You know, this is a famous problem, but you start to you bet you so instead of wanting the Houston Astros, or the New York Yankees to win, you start only caring about the outcome of your bets. And now people can bet on every, you know, on every point every toss every shot. And so I think I think the the the I think the combination of extending things too long for all the advertising and then the gambling I think I think it’s really changed. I think we sort of had a really good thing where sports sort of in the early days of professional sports, it was still had a lot of the charm of amateur sports and I some college football still has that the incredible enthusiasm. And that enthusiasm comes from this again, I’ll say this fantasy life, right? It doesn’t come from the finally the bedding, I don’t think provides that.
Robert Bryce 57:58
So the bedding then does disturbs that allegiance or interrupts the allegiance that had been there for years. And now it’s more about the allegiance to the latest bet. But I agree with you and some of my you know, taking my television out of the house was just a liberating thing. Right? I have much more time for it. Well, I work more and prior to that, but you know, my wife Lauren plays the piano more. I don’t play guitar, but I you know, I picked it up more. You know, it’s this. I’ve seen enough beer and pickup commercial ads, right? Have you seen enough of advertisements, I just finally got so frustrated with it. But the popularity of sports as you pointed out, it seems like it is completely undiminished. And the in this in the commercialization has only grown especially with this in IRL situation in college sports. We’re now Deion Sanders is going to Colorado. And he’s essentially essentially created a freelance college football team in which anyone can any athlete who qualifies can say, well, I’m going to Colorado to play for Dion because it just has changed this whole system that’s been very secure for a long time. And now it’s completely changed because of the money. And I, I tend to agree with you in terms of what that means. And it doesn’t have the stickiness to me as it used to.
Jesse Ausubel 59:14
I think it’s the breaking of affiliations and allegiances. So I think it may turn out to be a short term optimization. They’ll in the short run, the owners and the businesses will make a lot of money. But I think in the long run, you know your affiliation with Ozzie Smith or the St. Louis Cardinals or, or, you know, it could be a coach, it can be a player, a team, you know, I think it’s that’s that, you know, if all you want to do is just, you know, so to say watch, I mean, it becomes more like horse racing, all you’re doing is watching the bats. And I think that’s I think that’s to me, it’s much because it’s to be it’s less interesting and so that that combination of things also I’d say the third element I’d mentioned and your friend and guest, Roger Pilkey is one of the world’s leading experts and fascinating and smart about this. The other thing is, I think, some of the same kinds of analyses that I’ve been talking with you about human performance, I think are having not necessarily having a good feedback. The, you know, Moneyball, in baseball, too much reliance on on data. The part of what happened in baseball, I think was, in the end, it’s too much data, you know, so it led to have it leads to teams using 567 pitchers each, which again, makes the game longer. And then you know, poor Jesse, you know, I have some time to follow baseball. And you know, when I wanted to, you know, I could follow catfish hunter or I could, you know, follow some particular player.
Robert Bryce 1:00:52
In this game, you pulled Ozzie Smith and catfish Hunter out of the bag, they’re they’re playing baseball for 30 or 40 years. That’s okay. Well, so let me ask so you don’t even read the box scores or you don’t follow the Yankees.
Jesse Ausubel 1:01:05
I have watched some of the World Cup. Soccer has the advantage that the games are still relatively short. The added time is the stop stoppage. Time has grown. That used to be two minutes, and now they’re all nine. But But I would say soccer has the advantage that basically it’s you know, the game has 105 minutes.
Robert Bryce 1:01:25
Yeah, I agree. I love it. That it there no commercial. So the last few questions here, Jesse, because we’ve been talking for now more than an hour. And my guest again, is Jesse also Bell. He’s the director of the program for the human environment at Rockefeller University. You can find him at pH d.rockefeller.edu. You’re we’ve talked about peak human peak humans, what are the biggest challenges then facing us and my us, I’m using the royal people, we hear what it was the biggest challenges you think facing us as humanity. Now, given all these things you’ve outlined?
Jesse Ausubel 1:01:59
Well, I think it’s the single word is motivation. I think that’s the, the, you know, the, you know, it’s like this, you know, the the animated film, Wally, you know, do Do we just want to become couch potatoes, and just consume sports, consume potato chips, have everything delivered to us, you know, now to our door, you know, just order things on your phone? I think the real question is, you know, do we sort of want to break a sweat mentally or physically, it’s getting easier and easier not to do so. And I think the so in a sense, I think that’s one of the master questions. I think we, again, if you think of your parents, or grandparents or great grandparents, the incentives to work, and to do things were very strong, because people wanted to live longer to, you know, to do all these things. And now, in a sense, your people are sort of, in the rich societies anyway, are sort of guaranteed a lot. And so I think, you know, the big question for me is whether there, there really will be much motivation. A second question. And it’s actually a question, which I love to ask at dinner parties or whatever is, who is the real me? Right? Because if you’re, you know, if you’re it, I mean, it can be obviously, it’s, it can be eyeglasses and hearing aids, or I have dental implants, which I’m enormous ly grateful for. So, you know, I can still eat apples and chew on carrots and whatever. But the, you know, the, you know, if you think until recently, the real me was you sort of knew who the real person was, but but as we are using more and more pharmaceuticals, relying more and more on various kinds of prostheses, whether it’s sneakers or, or, you know, artificial knees or all of these things. You know, I think, as we go further, further and further into the century, I think this question is, of who is the real me is really important, that also relates to cosmetic surgery, because a lot of people want youth and beauty. They don’t just want, you know, to be able to read. So. So, you know, people there are all of these ways that people can change themselves. And then, but then, you know, I think at a deep level, you have to ask, who was the real me?
Robert Bryce 1:04:41
And that’s the closing slide in your presentation. Okay. Homo, right, which I guess is the am I Latin? I assume that’s Latin. You didn’t have a Latin in high school, but well, so then the last question is in Jessie and you know, I’ve asked these before so what are you reading? I know you pile of papers and books and you all Are your offices very busy with all kinds of reading material? What’s on the top of yours your stack these days?
Jesse Ausubel 1:05:06
Well, I have I have a lot here as I’m a big book person, as you know, as on a professional level, I’m reading books like exploring animal behavior through sound, a fantastic new book from Christine Arvon. In Australia. You know, sound is really important for animal behavior, especially in the oceans, but you’re a birder. So that’s something really interesting, and I’m starting to get Christmas present books. I just got this book, how plants solve crimes, planting clues by a botany professor. And the criminal always leaves traces of their presence as the great forensic scientist said, in this book, Gibson highlights the importance of plants when it comes to solving crimes. So that would be part of my Christmas reading.
Robert Bryce 1:05:57
I also don’t do read on a Kindle at all or you
Jesse Ausubel 1:06:02
know, I read all day at you know, at my computer, so a lot of scientific stuff and you know, the mag of the journals I read, and then I was also just given last evening, a new book called Wings of war by David and Margaret white a new book was just published this week about the P 51. Mustang the the aircraft that was really incredibly important for the the Allied victory in World War Two. Sure, and I on the more novel side, I think there’s something I mentioned to you I’ve been reading the murder the mysteries of the first set of American murder mysteries written in the 1920s by a man named s. s Van Dyne, the Philo Vance murder mysteries. So one is called like the canary murder case. And these were written from the mid 20s to the mid 30s. And they’re absolutely charming. They’re set in New York City. They’re not very violent or scary by modern standards. But they’re clever and fun. And Philo Vance was a name I heard as a kid people would say, because I was a sort of interested in science and detective in kinds of things. And so Philo Vance was the first American detective.
Robert Bryce 1:07:14
The wings of war sounds interesting, because, you know, I love airplanes, I love you know, engines in such a way, but it was the marrying of that that plane design with a more powerful engine was the Rolls Royce V 12, if I remember was, the increase in horsepower was the absolute essential part of it. And then high octane gasoline was the other part there that memory serves was the absolute it critical ingredient?
Jesse Ausubel 1:07:35
I haven’t read the book yet. But it’s so I don’t know the answer. But I think you’re right. And looks like I did look a little bit at a few pages last evening. It’s it’s very well written, David and Margaret, white wings of war. The last thing I’ll book I mentioned, my father. My name is Jesse, my godfather, Jesse Clarkson was a historian of Russia. And on the 1960s, he wrote an 800 page history of Russia, which I’d had on my shelf for 60 years and never read. I finally read it, it’s fantastic. And it’s 1000 year history of Russia. And nothing changes. I’ve been reading about. It’s research we add a lot of, there’s a lot about Ukraine, and, and Crimea, and anyone absolutely fascinating. And really, really, so if you want to read a history of Russia, there, I’m sure there are good new ones, but the Jesse Clarkson classic from the 60s published by Random House, you know, it was a, it was a you know, as a big, you know, wasn’t a it’s not for, you know, it’s well written and interesting. It’s not not just obscure.
Robert Bryce 1:08:48
Sure. So last question, Jesse, you know, you’re expecting this one to see what gives you hope. You’ve been observing in science for your entire career, and you have seen different technologies come and go different things come and go, what gives you hope, as you look at where we are now and where we’re going?
Jesse Ausubel 1:09:04
Well, certainly a lot of it is is science and technology on the science side. Some Australian colleagues, for example, just obtained 1 million year old DNA from some marine sediments, south of Australia toward near Antarctica. So just imagine a DNA molecule surviving a million years and marine sediments and of course, you can use that to identify the species it came from. So science keeps, I mean, it’s doing amazing things. Technology. Also, Robert, this is something more closer to our normal subjects. Germany, built a new LNG storage and gasification plant in 194 days. Wow. And you know, we worry about taking 10 years to do these things. So it shows you know if people really societies really mobilize You know, in basically in a little over six months, the Germans have built an entire plant so that we can win. Again. That’s the motivation question. So great things can happen. I always love the Internet Archive Brewster calles. It’s amazing to me that we’re still managing to capture an archive, the internet, the Wayback Machine. They’re there. They’ve just also put online a, an archive of 8000 cookbooks, including, so if you want to cook a Christmas meal from you know, 1890 and Tulsa, you could probably find it. So on the technology side, on the environmental side, the bear hunt is resuming in New Jersey, I say that because today is the first day of the Conference of the Parties on the biodiversity treaty in Montreal. And, you know, in North America, we’ve actually had some real successes and restoring biodiversity there are about 4000 bears in the state of New Jersey. There was a bear hunt for a few years, and then people felt it wasn’t. It wasn’t the right resin humane, but the bears there’s so many bears in New Jersey now that that the bear population has to be has to be managed. So you know that we can, I think the great restoration of nature, on land and in the sea. There are successes, there can be more. I’ll end with two more things that sure that gives me hope. One is that I just read an amazing new article in PLOS ONE by a guy named Gershman about witchcraft, witchcraft, witchcraft beliefs around the world and exploratory analysis, Boris garish fond GTRs H M, and open access. If you search on witchcraft beliefs around the world, I’m sure it’ll come right up. A billion people still believe in witchcraft. And I think this is good. I think rationality too much rationality is, is one of the problems. I’m not big on, I think what’s often called rationality or the meritocracy, I think they’re doing a lot of harm. And we really want heterogeneity of, of expectations and preferences. That’s really what’s good for evolution. And so I actually think it’s a kind of celebratory thing that a billion people are, are sort of its diversity. They’re sort of resisting, becoming, you know, like, what, what economists in Chicago tell you to do. So. So I think that’s good. And the last thing I’ll mention is that my mother is now 102 and a half. There’s rectangular realisation and there’s real rectangular realisation. She still lives independently on her own and drinks a mug of Italian espresso with every morning, and her favorite food is loin, lamb chops, and she takes the Broadway bus to buy them. So, you know, you can succeed healthy aging, successful aging, this rectangular realisation you know, it’s, it’s really a great thing. I mean, again, our grandparents and great grandparents and great great grandparents had their lives truncated for lots of reasons or their ability to, you know, they would have been rocking in the dark because they couldn’t see they couldn’t hear or they couldn’t and they wouldn’t have teeth. You know, they couldn’t eat. So,
Robert Bryce 1:13:44
I Met Your Mother, tell me your mom’s name again.
Unknown Speaker 1:13:46
Robert Bryce 1:13:49
Right. I met her she’s formidable in a small package. She doesn’t cast along she’s a big shadow but 102 and a half is amazing. So you have a long way to go Jesse your career is not over yet there mister. You got a lot of work to do. I hope so. It’s been it’s been a joy Jesse to reconnect. My guest again, has been Jesse osobowe looking firstname.lastname@example.org Jesse, thanks again for being on the power hungry podcast. A pleasure. And thanks to all of you in podcast land for tuning in tune into the next episode of the power hungry podcast. It might be as good as this one. Until then,
Unknown Speaker 1:14:27
see you later