Jason Silva wants to blow your mind -- or better yet, he wants you to blow your own mind. Every day.
The high-energy host of National Geographic Channel's "Brain Games" is excited about the exponential growth of technology as well as our knowledge of the universe, and he's always up for talking about it. Speaking to International Business Times, futurist Silva discussed the implications for recent scientific discoveries such as gravitational waves, and why he's addicted to awe.
Looking at the world with a wide-eyed optimism that has helped him attract a large following, the self-described "awe junkie" talked about building on the success of the first season of "Brain Games," which had the highest-rated premiere for a NatGeo series and airs in more than 100 countries. Silva said Season 2 will be bigger and better: "It’s kind of cool because it shows there is an audience for smart content. In the documentary genre, in the reality genre, in the nonscripted genre, here’s a show that teaches you about neuroscience. People are going to watch with their kids; adults like it and kids like it, it’s participatory, it’s interactive, it’s lean-in programming. Amazing!"
Of the show's recent Emmy nomination, Silva said: "For me it was like a dream to be involved in a project that was so in line with how I feel about spreading ideas. I have a Web series, "Shots of Awe," where I make videos about futurism, technology and creativity and all these things are products of the brain. It all comes from the brain, so to be involved with such a big show about the ins and outs of your brain and its capacity to perceive reality is wonderful."
"Brain Games" Season 2 follows the massive success of "Cosmos," which aired on Fox on Sundays and National Geographic on Mondays, among recent science programming featuring engaging hosts (Neil DeGrasse Tyson hosts "Cosmos") that has paid off for networks.
"Brain Games" is nearing 2 million likes on Facebook and Fox aired a double feature leading up to Monday's premiere. Silva said of the buildup leading to the second season, "It’s been great to have the support of Fox and them believing there is an audience big enough for “Brain Games.” I think the race to the bottom we saw in some reality TV, let’s see how scandalous we can make stuff, you know, that circus, I think it’s cool to have an alternative and I think people are realizing entertainment can be more than mindless. Entertainment can be 'mindfull,'" said Silva.
What interests Silva most about science is its effect on the brain. There have been some amazing discoveries in the past few years, from the Higgs Boson to gravitational waves, although the latter discovery has been challenged by new analysis, which has led to new theories about the universe, such as the idea of multiple universes.
Such theories feed the need for awe. "I often cite that Stanford study that got all that press about awe, where they say any experience that is of such perceptual expansion, or perceptual vastness, that you need to upgrade your mental schemata, your mental models of the world to assimilate the experience," said Silva. "Any time you blow your own mind with something so outside your frame of reference, so outside of your realm of awareness that you need an upgrade…there was you before you knew about black holes and then there was you after you knew about black holes."
Maintaining a sense of awe can also have physical benefits. "It turns out [that awe] leaves all of these residual benefits: residual well-being, residual altruism, residual feelings of increased compassion. So when people have their minds blown, they’re left humble, they’re left grateful and they’re left kinder," Silva said, adding, "Not to mention more productive and more creative. It’s like a great currency to be trading in, like, 'Oh my god, let’s go blow our own minds.' This is therapeutic and I try to do that with "Shots of Awe," with “Brain Games” and with my keynotes. I tell people I’m a wonder junkie, I’m an awe junkie. That’s my drug, awe."
Taking science a step further, the interesting, and complicated, world of quantum mechanics has led to some interesting theories normally reserved for science fiction. Quantum entanglement has made headlines recently as researchers from the Delft University of Technology have "teleported" information. There is also the idea of the world is a futuristic simulation, all of these theories fascinate and delight Silva.
"The 'many worlds' theory of quantum mechanics, parallel universes... I’ve been obsessed with this since I was 12. I remember reading a novel, 'The Man Who Turned Into Himself,' which played on that idea. It was about a guy who learns how to transport, go across wormholes and into parallel realities in which everything was the same except for one small thing," Silva said.
Silva continues, "So, parallel universes, I think it’s so fascinating. Michael Crichton’s 'Timeline' is about that. So, why not? We certainly had our realities smashed before, you know? There’s a great article by Kevin Kelly called 'The Fifth and Sixth Discontinuities' where he talks about how something we know as truth was smashed by science. So, Earth was flat, Earth is the center of the universe, all these things that we were so sure about and now we laugh. I think a lot of what we perceive as real is up for grabs."
"The simulation theory, as well. Can you prove that this not an elaborate 'Matrix' that is all a projection of my mind. Or can you prove I’m not a projection of your mind," Silva said, "There is no way to prove it, and Hollywood has been flirting with the false-reality genre forever. 'The Truman Show,' 'Jacob’s Ladder,' 'Vanilla Sky,' 'The Matrix,' 'Inception.' Dream within a dream! I think all of that stuff is fascinating. Mind candy!"
"We could be a piece of software that’s being run the same way like we have ant farms, where we study how the ants behave. We could totally be in that situation and have no way to prove otherwise. It’s a wonderful thought experiment because it certainly changes the context of how we see ourselves," Silva said.
No discussion of the universe and our place within it would be complete without covering the possibility of life on other planets. New technology such as the James Webb Telescope will aid in that search, but so far there has been no evidence of life in the universe. "If you want to get even crazier, there is a theory called the transcension hypothesis that tries to account for Fermi’s Paradox. So, Fermi’s Paradox says the universe is so big, there are so many conditions for life, so many exoplanets that seem to be in the Goldilocks Zone, yet we don’t see any evidence of advanced technology or advanced civilization anywhere," said Silva.
"And transcension basically says that we only advance outwards during our technological adolescence. Building rockets, exploring planets; that’s early stages. As we expand outward we’re also expanding inwards, denser and denser computational substrates. The computer used to be half a building, now it’s this size and in 25 years it’s going to be the size of a blood cell," Silva continues. "So imagine when we get to Femtose scale density. Smaller than an atom and trillions of times more powerful computational substrates, we’re approaching black hole dimension which is the ultimate computational substrate because it’s the ultimate density. And imagine then, eventually, leaving our biological bodies behind and living in virtual spaces."
"So, non-biological sentients living in Femtose-scale computation substrates, these virtual worlds that disappear out of the visible universe and are slingshotted to the end of spacetime. That’s where every advanced civilization goes, that’s why we can’t see them because they don’t fit into the observable universe anymore," Silva said. "Things that appear impossible then become normal and then we say, ‘Well, duh.’"