Dr. Daniel J. Levitin is a cognitive psychologist, neuroscientist, musician, and the author of multiple NYT best-selling books, including This is your Brain on Music, A Field Guide to Lies, and Successful Aging. Levitin has published more than 300 articles, in journals including Science, Nature, PNAS, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and The Wall Street Journal. His TED talk How To Be Calm When You Know You’ll Be Stressed is one of the most viewed ever, at over 20 million views.
Fred Pinto is a technology lawyer, entrepreneur, writer and host of the Fred Pinto Podcast.
For more podcasts, check out https://fredpinto.com/podcast or subscribe to Fred's Guerrilla Wisdom Substack.
Isn't democracy? The idea that once we have access to the same set of facts and we know that they're unbiased and not manipulated to the extent possible, we know that then it's for everybody to make up their own mind. And again, we don't all like the same thing. Welcome, everyone. This is my podcast conversation with Dr. Daniel J. Levitin. I met Dan when he was lecturing at McGill University years ago and writing his first book, This Is Your Brain on Music. At the time, I was also lecturing there and a course, about the legal and business impact of the streaming revolution with a common friend of ours, the late and great Sandy Pearlman, who was the producer for epic bands like The Clash and Blue Oyster Cult. Dan is truly an anomaly in that he's a world-class, super-accomplished artist and scientist. He's an award winning musician who's written and recorded music for Santana, the Grateful Dead, Stevie Wonder, and many others. He's been credited with major findings in the field of neuroscience, where the Levitin Effect is now a commonly known phenomenon. People can apparently remember music in absolute pitch, not just in relative pitch. He taught at Stanford and McGill. He's a founding dean at the Keck Graduate Institute. He runs his own neuroscience lab. And one of the things we dig into in this talk are the similarities between science and the arts. They seem very different. Science is supposed to be hard and rational and logical. The arts are supposed to be endlessly malleable and all about subjective taste. But really they both have very similar concerns and processes. They search for novelty, but they attack them in very different angles using very different tools. And there are few people in the world as qualified to have that conversation as Dan who doesn't just write or think about these things. He puts them into practice at a very high level. In this interview, we touch on all the that have marked Dan's career from what music is all about in the human brain to how to deal with the information overload that marks the digital era to the culture of lies that we see in the media. To the latest findings on the science of successful aging, which is what his latest book is about. For those who don't know him, you'll see right away. Dan is not a typical scientist, even though he pursues science at the highest levels. He's warm down to earth. In fact, he moonlights as a standup comedian and as a musician when he's not writing New York Times bestselling books or making major neuroscience breakthroughs. I had an amazing time learning from Don, and I think you will as well. Enjoy. Dr. Daniel Levitin. Welcome and thanks for coming on today. Thank you for having me. Nice to see you again, Fred. Great. So I've been reading your work for years. For those who don't know, you're a widely published, an award-winning author, cognitive psychologist and musician. Your bestselling books cover a range of topics from the neuroscience of music to coping with media lies and cognitive overwhelm to the science of successful aging. You combined the most rigorous scientific standards with an open mind and a human touch. You gave one of the most popular TEDTalks of all time on how to stay calm under stress, which I think people really need nowadays. And that's got almost 20 million views. And you've been credited with major findings in neuroscience. There's actually something called the Levitin Effect in the Brain science of Music, where you discover that people tend to remember music in the correct absolute pitch and not just in relative pitch as what as was previously believed. Dr. Levitan, welcome. Thank you for that introduction and for choosing to focus only on the more productive parts of my life, not the many hours I spend sitting on the couch watching television. Well, we can talk about that if you'd like. Is that part of the productivity that you need, sort of that rest and recovery time or. Oh, that's good. I'm going to use that. Yeah, that's it. Yeah, exactly. Fred. That's it. I need that time. Right, Right. It's like, sort of like. Like passive. Like you're letting the ideas marinate. Yes. It's actually very planned that I did it that way. Great. So I want to talk to you about how you got into cognitive science. You actually started your career as a very accomplished musician. You played with legends like Sting, Blue Oyster Cult, Neil Young. You've been part of making records for Santana, Stevie Wonder, the Grateful Dead, Joni Mitchell, and many others praised your songwriting. But despite all of the success in music, you decide in your thirties to go back to school to study cognitive psychology. And you went on to have this remarkable career publishing widely making breakthrough discoveries. I've worked with people in the music industry before and I know the musician type, and it's really, really rare to see this kind of leap, right? You just don't see a lot of people that went that deep into a creative career in music go even deeper in highly technical and scientific field, like cognitive psychology, where you have to be really meticulous and, you know, dig into the research, dissect serious science, grapple with complex ideas. Usually those are two different kinds of of people. How did this transition come about in your life and how does it play out today? Or are those just two different parts of you or is there a common thread underneath? Well. So, you know, my experience with musicians was that the musicians I enjoyed spending time with the most. And the ones whose. And by spending time, I mean either in person like you and me just talking or just. With one one way communication where they've made a record and I'm sitting and listening to it and they're not there, you know, spending time with them either artistically or interpersonally. They're very curious. They have a an innate curiosity and a thirst for knowledge. And know Joni and Sting, who you mentioned, are great examples of that. But they're by no means, in my experience alone in having that engagement with the world, and they bring that to their music. And, you know, Sting contacted me because he was interested in learning more about the science, getting his brain scanned to the people. I know I'm talking to my friend Michael Brook, who made a number of records with Brian Eno and was the in-house producer for Peter Gabriel's Real World Records and an accomplished guitarist with solo albums. Michael is also an inventor and a scientist. He invented the infant guitar, which The Edge and U2 plays, and he he reads widely in science and always has. And. So you and I were talking about our mutual friend Sandy Pearlman earlier. Yeah. When I was working with Sandy in San Francisco in the eighties, we discovered that we were both interested in brain science. And so we used to drive down to Stanford together. A couple of times a week and sit in on classes and that just seem normal to us. So I think if you were to ask Sandy, who is my mentor. He would give the same answer I would give there. Not two parts of us. They're just us. Hmm. So it's that. Curious. Just like I could say. Are you a podcaster or are you a lawyer or are you a entrepreneur? Or you have somebody? Son, you're all of those things. Right, Right. And Mike is it's really like the love of learning that sort of like connects everything. And that's kind of the running thread and all these different aspects of what I do, and that's what I hear from you. Like the curiosity, the wanting to know how things sort of come together. And it's just that music is usually associated with something a bit more creative and emotional. And science is supposed to be this objective, dry understanding of how things work kind of technically. And I wonder how you see that that distinction that people often make between creative endeavors and scientific endeavors. Well, in some senses I understand why people say it, but I see it as a false duality. I don't see them as opposite ends of the continuum with nothing in between. You're one or the other. Actually, I would say it's more like a circle. And they come together at one point on the circle. The you know, so many of the musicians I know, Fred, describe their work as experiments. Hmm. I'm experimenting with some new chords. I'm experimenting with some new instrumentation. Well, we scientists do experiments, too, of course, And. So many musicians I know. Are looking for some kind of an emotional truth. And when they hit it, they know it and other people feel it. And so in that sense, it becomes. Not an objective truth like "E = MC2, or in electronics E= IR, but it becomes something that's widely accepted. So. Robert Sapolsky, a friend of mine who's a biologist at Stanford, says science is not meant to cure us of mystery. It's meant to reinvigorate it. Hmm. And so I think, yes, some scientists are dry. But the ones who tend to be making advances like the musicians who make advances. Our child like with their sense of experimentation and wonder and their giddy enthusiasm for what they're doing. And then on the technical side. Although very few people want to hear a musician who's just using technique and nothing else. There is a certain amount of precision required to be a good musician. You can't always go for a C-sharp on your saxophone and hit the C C instead by mistake. Just like with science, you can't get the numbers wrong. Right? There's a level to which you've got to play the chords correctly. There's a timing element you can't get wrong. And so these are broad categories that people kind of think about. And when you listen to practicing musicians, they do very often kind of break it down into like these technical abilities that you've had to develop. And so so that's interesting. So your first two books are about the brain science of music and the power it has. And a fascinating concept that you write about is that even the building blocks of music like Pitch only exist in the human brain. In other words, they don't exist out there in the universe per se. They require a brain to sort of construct and make sense of them. So you write that music is a kind of a relational concept, almost like taste. Right. It only exists when you put something in your mouth and it's the relationship between the sounds that creates the more advanced concepts like melody and harmony, and then all the emotions we experience when we listen to music. You write this music can be thought of as a type of perceptual illusion in which our brain imposes structure and order on a sequence of sounds. Just how this structure leads us to experience emotional reactions is part of the mystery of music. Knowing the powerful emotions and experiences that music can give us. You also write about how unlike language, which only lights up parts of our brain networks, music tends to light up almost all of our brain networks at the same time. What is it exactly from a neuroscience perspective that makes music so powerful and so emotional for us? We don't know. Hmm. I mean, it's it's. It's still mysterious. We don't really know. There are a bunch of stories that need to be tested. I guess when they go beyond stories to the point where somebody figures out how to conduct an experiment, then they're hypotheses. But for the most part, we don't even have those yet. It might be that. Music is a in many respects. A richer. Stimulus. That language. Now. You know, all those elements that we talk about with music, some of which you mentioned pitch and rhythm language has that, you know, there's the melody of language. I can say, isn't that exciting or isn't that exciting? And the melody is telling you two different things about my intention and if I'm really upset. You might hear a shake in my voice or something. And, you know, there are all these different things that music and language share. But music tends to have more repetition. And the point at which language and music approach one another is with great oratory. Like the Reverend King's famous I Have a Dream speech. Or, of course, with poetry. The. So part of it is that music, because of the repetition that's built into it, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, that kind of thing. And because there are. It's possible to have multiple musical lines going at the same time. Very difficult to have multiple speaking gestures, multiple conversations going on at the same time and be able to follow them. So I'm kind of waving my hands and giving you some imprecise answers because that's all we've got. No, that's really that's really, really interesting. So. So okay, so that idea right there and because you write about how you know, the social function of music, how it brings groups of people together, how so? So with language, Right. Is it the case that language is a little bit more top-down just because, like you say, it's really hard to listen to more than one person speak at the same time, whereas music can be this sort of symphony of different elements. And would music be maybe a language that's a little bit more compatible with sort of group phenomena? Is that is that maybe part of the answer, how music sort of tends to bring really, really large groups of people together, or is that kind of simplifying it too much? Well, there is some neuroscientific evidence for what you just said, and that is that it comes out of my laboratory in collaboration with the Node men at Stanford, and that is that when we listen to music together, our brainwaves actually synchronize with one another. That doesn't happen with speech, with language. So the brainwaves synchrony partly driven by tempo. Music tends to have a beat. You know, the part that you snap your fingers to or clap your hands to is called the tactics, and that tactics that that moment in time when you're compelled to move is related to the meter and the tempo and the neural populations that synchronize to that if you're running. You know, if you're a runner and you want to get your times lower. Meaning you want to run faster if you listen to music that's slightly above your gait. Your brainwaves will synchronize to that tempo and you'll run a little bit faster. So part of it is that the brainwaves synchrony. Part of it also is that language, although not always tends to refer to things. It's very specific. Please open the window. I think I'll have the turkey sandwich. These are, you know, things out there in the world. There's no song I can play you that says I'll have the turkey sandwich. Unless that song is. Fred. I'll have the turkey sandwich now. I'm being silly, but music has this ambiguity built into it, and that causes us to hear in it what we're feeling and what we want to hear in it, to interpret it for ourselves. That makes it a more active process. If you tell me to shut up because I'm going on too long, that's a very clear message. If you. Play me some piece of music. It's not as specific. Usually, unless you were to play me that music they play when the Oscar speeches go on too long and I'm supposed to infer. And we know that because of the context of, you know, the award show is doing that over and over. And here we are, you know, we're trying to sort of make sense of what music is, and it gives us so much and we're trying to understand it. On the other end of the spectrum and the theory of the meaning of music. Steven Pinker once wrote that music is just auditory cheesecake, that it's nothing but a pleasant byproduct of evolution, not something that's essential. He writes, As far as biological cause and effect are concerned, music is useless and music could vanish from our species and the rest of our lifestyle would be virtually unchanged. It's a really odd idea to consider for many of us who intuitively believe that uses music, gives us access to something really special in human experience, you know, it amplifies our emotions. It's part of our sense of identity, the music we love. It makes powerful statements about life. It's it was a huge part of cultural revolutions. There's even forms of music therapy out there. I don't know what you think about those, but at the same time, you know, the idea comes from Steven Pinker, so it deserves to be taken seriously. And I know that you've responded to this argument before. First of all, is there a steal-a-mind version of Pinker's argument that I'm missing here? And have you updated your views on the evolutionary and human utility of music overall? Or is it just we really, really love cheesecake? Well, this is not a simple. Well, it. It's not matter whether it's simple or simple. It's a matter of it's not an easy thing to unpack with the care it needs in a short amount of time. But the Steel Man version of Steven's argument is that it's not derogatory to say that music is a byproduct and that it wasn't an adaptation directly. It's not meant to disparage music. It's a very you were talking about scientists being dry and technical. It's a very dry and technical argument about what might have happened 250,000 years ago that led to current Homo sapiens and was, you know, was a set where there a series about applications that first gave us language and then music built on that. Or was it vice versa? And he's saying that just because you like something doesn't mean that it was an adaptation. And he gives cheesecake as the example. We like cheesecake, but it's actually harmful, at least to diabetes and obesity and sugar, insulin signaling problems. But you can have a bite now and then. I've actually seen Pinker eat cheesecake and listen to music at the same time. But if that if he were taking heroin also, he'd have the trifecta of things in his mind we didn't evolve for. But there's. A heck of a visual. There built upon a. According to Pinker, they're built upon systems that evolved for something else. There are lots of cases of this. We look at birds and we think, Oh, well, their wings evolved. Their wings and feathers evolved for flight. And we now know that they didn't. They evolved to keep them warm. And it later became the case that they use them to fly since it was already there. Pinker and I have reached. Some sort of truce in this. We went for a hike a couple of summers ago in the redwoods in Northern California and kind of hashed it out because this had been bothering him for over a decade. And it is bothering me. Well, I'll tell you a little story. You may or may not use it but before my, I know. I know, Steven. I mean, I've met him many, many times. He had been a student at McGill. I was a professor at McGill. He'd been a student of Al Bregman, who was my close collaborator. He gave a he gave a commencement address at his junior college, Dawson College. Well, Cegep in Montreal. And I was in the audience and went to the reception. Met many times, had dinner many times each time I met him. Well, each time I saw him, he'd say, Nice to meet you. And I'd say, Well, we've met five or six times before. Oh, yeah? Well, you seemed uninterested. And then before my book came out, as an homage to him, as a tribute to him, I named one of the chapters, The Music Instinct, because he has a famous book called The Language Instinct. And. I wrote to him and I said, you know, I want to be sure that I've represented your views fairly here. And would you just take her? You don't have to read the whole book. I'm sending you the whole book. But just look at these few pages. And he never got back to me. And I wrote and I called. He never got back to me. And so finally I asked Al Bregman, his former research supervisor, to call him, and he called Al back and he said, I'm sorry, I'm not interested in this topic. And then I went on a radio show, NPR on point to discuss this. And usually, it's, you know, in point-counterpoint format. So they asked Stephen to come on. No, not interested in this, he said. So there was never any public opportunity to engage with him after the book came out. More importantly, never any private opportunity. To see what his thoughts were. It just he didn't engage. So. I think what we've come to agree on is that. We don't really know if music was an adaptation or not. And whatever happened, music and brains co-evolved. So the emergence of music caused brains to evolve differently, and that evolution led to different music and. So on. Okay. Well, yeah, I can understand how you guys could come to an agreement on that point, and I feel it in the book. How very carefully you take that argument. That's not in the style of writers who sort of, you know, the opposite, like straw man, the an opinion of something that they happen to disagree with. You do the opposite. You really go very much in-depth. You try to give it proper its proper respect. I believe you refer to it as a scandal in evolutionary theory as something that just co-evolved with something else that was useful. But this thing in and of itself is not necessarily part of the evolutionary process and the part that that kind of really I mean, I'm just going to say it maybe again, I'm such a cheesecake lover that, you know, my opinion is super biased and I'm not a cognitive psychologist by any stretch of the imagination. But my sort of intuitive reaction to a statement like this is if we can agree that music makes our lives better and you can sort of measure that with certain objective metrics, if it makes your health better, if it makes your mood better, if it makes your social interactions a little bit easier, if we can agree to that, can we really also simultaneously argue that our life would be unchanged if we lost it? That's sort of where and I'm not asking you to, but I know with your intellectual integrity you will. You would be comfortable taking a Pinker's side in this in this argument. But that's sort of the way I sort of approach it. If we could agree that we derive these benefits, some of which are measurable, can we really say that music would leave us leave our life unchanged if it disappeared? And let's. Unpack this. You're very carefully, studiously not saying that if we could lose it and our lives wouldn't change, that means it must. Not be an evolutionary product. It could only be an evolutionary product if we lose it in our lives or the worse. You're not saying that because there are many examples of things that if we lost them, our lives would be worse. But we clearly haven't evolved for them, like the Internet. Your brains aren't evolved for the internet, so that if we lost, but if we lost it, you and I wouldn't be talking right now and so forth. I wouldn't be able to. To Google. How many films has Kevin Bacon been in that kind of thing? But the an interesting question is, yes, would our lives be worse if we lost music? I think so. I think most people think so. But the other side of it is that not everybody likes music, to begin with. Pinker doesn't particularly like music, and as David Herren says, there's probably five or 10% of the population who don't understand what the rest of us are spending all our money on. But this falls out of evolutionary theory. You know, descent with modification means that there are going to be these random mutations every now and then that are just odd. There's people who don't like chocolate. There's people who don't particularly want to have sex. There's people who like different things and you can't really explain it. And so we are sure there's some percentage of the population don't like music. But as my grandpa used to say, if everybody liked the same thing. They'd all want to get with your grandma. Right. That's an interesting way of putting it. So? So, okay. I mean, I love music. I'm going to keep listening to it. I get tons of benefits from it. It's just when I that and I think you also argue for, you know, that music and also the note of sexual fitness and that it can sort of promote group bonding. So I believe that's how you responded to the argument in this is your brain on music, Correct? Do you use Jeffrey Miller's argument? I pulled together half a dozen or so arguments from others and just said, you know, these are the arguments against Pinker's view. The whole thing came about in a really interesting way. I tell the story in the book, but we were all, you know, people in the field of music, cognition, music, neuroscience. We were all at a conference in 1997 at MIT. Conferences moved from one university to another, and Pinker was asked to give the keynote. And he started out by saying, I don't know what any of you do. I've never read any of your work, but I'm going to spend the next 40 minutes telling you why I think you're wasting your time. Wow. And so I remember sitting between David Huron and Ian Cross, who were two very eminent people in the field and you know, the conversation there was, you know, we've got to get to work and show, you know, dig up evidence. In an unbiased way so we can weigh it and figure out, is he right or not. It's not like we had an ax to grind and we wanted to prove him wrong. It was more like, Well, okay, he's thrown down a testable hypothesis to some degree. I know, I know. Earlier I said, we don't really know and it's not testable. We just have stories. But that was about why music activates the brain so widely in terms of whether it's an evolutionary adaptation or not. You know, we've collected some evidence and anthropological archeological, neuroscientific. But ultimately what I try to do in this book, this is your brain on music in all my books, is not to cajole the reader into believing something, but to lay out the evidence so they can make up their own mind. I don't see that as a professor. I don't see it's my job to tell anybody what to think. I can teach a student how to think and how to evaluate the evidence. But ultimately, isn't democracy the idea that once we have access to the same set of facts? And we know that they're unbiased and not manipulated to the extent possible. We know that then it's for everybody to make up their own mind. And that's what. I guess we don't all like the same thing. And that's something I really love about your books, is that, first of all, the respect for evidence. So sometimes it brings you down a certain path. And even if you can't tie it up with a bow tie and make it sort of the super neat, coherent story, you still sort of leave it out there and it's you make it possible for people to draw different conclusions and to draw multiple conclusions from the evidence. And that's what I really, really enjoy because I could sort of just settle down and just kind of taken all these really interesting raw materials and kind of slowly, slowly piece it together. Obviously, these are very complex problems. I mean, music is just I just love your first two books about music. Then you go on to write two books on sort of like information related problems, the organized mind on how to deal with cognitive overwhelm and a Field Guide to Lies, which won many prizes on how easily truth can be twisted and falsified. In today's media culture. Technology's changing everything super fast today, right? And we sometimes have a hard time catching up to it. You just mentioned the sort of the evolutionary mismatch there is between what our genes have evolved. This for focusing on a few things being really connected to our immediate environment and the pressures of our super fast, modern, highly technological environment. And one of those pressures is just the volume of information we're bombarded with daily seems to be just exponentially growing and not just on the Internet. You give the example of how grocery stores went from 9000 products to 40,000 products, and you can get pretty much everything you need in 100 products and how the brain consumes energy to make all of these little decisions, even when they're small and trivial. And then it can sort of leave us distracted and depleted and distorted when we've got to make bigger decisions. It seems like we're stuck in this reality, whether we like it or not. With VR and the Metaverse and all that stuff on the uptake, we're only going to be more immersed in technology and more bombarded with information as we go, not less. What do you think of this reality for overall? Like, is it good for us? Is it bad for us? And what can we do practically to better cope with it and make better decisions? Well, I'm probably not. In a position to. To say what's going to happen. I mean, I'm an old white guy and. We're talking now. My students are millennials. They are digital natives. They grew up in a very different world. And. You know, when the telephone and the automobile first came out, there were people that didn't like them. And as I wrote in the book, Seneca, the ancient Greek, was petrified that once people started writing things down, the art of conversation would be lost, which was echoed in my own childhood. I was born in the fifties and most people I knew didn't have a television set until well into the late sixties. But, you know, there was all this talk, well, television is going to rot your mind and people will no longer talk and they won't play musical instruments anymore because they'll just sit like zombies in front of the TV. So change is inevitable. So to pronounce that it's good or bad, I think is not something I'm qualified to say. But I can tell you the effects that I've observed because I get a new crop of 18-year-olds every year. As students and in general, not I mean, this is not to a person. These are just statistical trends. People born in the last 20 years, in those 25 years have shorter attention spans in general. Are uninterested in or unable to sit and read a book for half an hour. They're accustomed to constant distractions now, not speaking as a neuroscientist, but just as an art lover. I think that's a shame because I don't think that the Police album Ghost in the Machine is to get back to staying. Or for that matter, Beethoven's Six Symphony could have been written if those writers had cell phones and were checking their Twitter feed every 2 minutes. You need sustained concentration to do many of the things we want to do that are worthwhile. On the other hand, digital natives say that they're able to synthesize information from a wider variety of sources because they're constantly grabbing. So far, though. You know, the brain doesn't really like that. As you alluded to earlier, all this information processing and decision-making is. Tiering. It uses up glucose in the brain, which is in limited supply. And. What I recommend to anybody who listens. Is that you do try and turn off. Your communication devices now and then. I have a no email block every morning when I'm writing. Turn off the email. Turn off the phone. Now. Right now, my father just got out of the hospital and so I leave the phone on. But the particular brand of phone I have, which I'm not necessarily endorsing, but it has the do not disturb function that set up. So only my mom and dad can get through right now. But normally I don't take calls between six in the morning and ten because I'm writing then and later on in the day I'll just turn it off if I'm having. Right. Right now. I'm not. I'm talking to you, Fred. I'm not checking my email and my phone and texts and WhatsApp and Twitter. And, you know, I made a posting on Facebook. Did somebody else like it in the last 5 minutes? You know, I don't think it's polite to do that. And I also don't think it's brain healthy to do it. I think I'm getting a sense that you are open-minded to a fault. In other words, like even if you sense that a certain conclusion might be warranted, that you will not completely take it because you try to stay sort of humble at the level of your hypotheses. And I love that because it's true. Maybe digital natives do are going to do things just differently, right? Maybe this is just, you know, older folks kind of reacting to change. But at the same time and this is like, I'm going to bring to you an argument that I felt very strongly when I was reading your books. I feel like this is an argument that and I may be overreading it, I may be overinterpreting your perspective, but it seems like there are certain decisions that simply require a certain amount of bandwidth, like biologically in the brain. We have to be able to sort of sink a little bit deeper into concentration. We have to be able to dedicate sort of mental resources to make certain decisions. And this clutter that we're getting up here. Right. Social media and all the notifications and all of this bombardment and all of these different institutions sort of arguing with one another. And we don't know what's true, what's not true. It seems to me that that would sort of sap away a lot of the brain resources that we would need to make certain important decisions. Am I overshooting the state of brain science as you've explained it, or am I doing a decent job of bringing an argument that I think follows from a lot of your analysis? I think you nailed it. You said, I believe what you said is, is the current state of knowledge. Well, I'll circle back to something you said at the beginning of that question about open-mindedness. It is, of course, a cornerstone of science that we don't prove anything. There is no finding that is 100%. and undoable we the whole point of science is that we have to be open-minded, that some new observation may come along. Will completely change our understanding of things. That's been the history of science, particularly in the last hundred years of physics. And it'll be the future of science if science progresses. It's not inconceivable 500 years from now, we'll look back on us. People. People 500 years from now will look back on us and say, How could they believe those crazy things about physics and chemistry and biology? That's nuts. I mean, there's it's always a matter of how sure we are. We have very, very high confidence, but never 100%. And I would say musicians also have that open-mindedness or more accurately, the really good ones. Mm hmm. If you watched the Beatles Get Back series, they're playing around all the time with the approach to the songs. They're speeding them up, they're slowing them down. They'll switch instruments. Lennon will be on the drums. Paul will give up the bass and put Lennon on the bass. I mean, they're just. They're open-minded and. Open to the possibility that the first thing that sounded good to them might not be the best thing. And, you know, I had the great fortune. Two tours with Victor Wooten across about 20 or 25 gigs. Richter's the five-time Grammy-winning bass player, a solo artist, and also perhaps best known as the bass player for Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. And we never played the song a song the same way twice. And. It was. Victor was always encouraging us in a miles Davis like way to experiment and just be free and just not assume that what we did before is the best way. Or maybe it is that it was only the best way for the Minneapolis crowd. And what's best with the Saint Louis crowd is something different. I think that's the first time I hear this analogy between the open-mindedness of the scientists, let's say, at the level. Right. In order to generate new hypotheses and be open to new evidence and not sort of get locked into confirmation bias and the sort of esthetic openness of the artist who's always trying to find maybe a better way or a new way to express a song. So I guess that would be another connection points between the artist and the scientist that I was referring to at the beginning. So that's really interesting that that sort of analogy between the two forms of open-mindedness and who better to bring it forward than the new. You've got so much experience in both in both modalities, but both ways of thinking going back this information overload thing. I often wonder whether the price we paid for this, you know, this great thing that we celebrated in the nineties and 2000, the democratization of information, right? Anybody can produce information. Anybody can spread information with anybody. And it's led to a lot more information is simply just tons more bad information that we have to sift through and we have to work just to sort of get to the quality information, let alone truth. And if it's harder to construct truth because there's just so much more information out there and, you know, you don't know if the information is biased, you don't know if it's true, if it's not true, if the source is kind of just spinning it, if people are just making an argument, if it's 50% true, if it's 30% true, if it just looks impressive because it's got a brand attached to it or a graph attached to it at various places in your books, you write that neurochemical And you cite some studies on this in successful aging as well, dealing with a lot of uncertainty on a regular basis can increase stress. So you call it alo static load and sort of increases in cortisol and how this can have negative effects on your health, cardiovascular health, immune function, so on and so forth. Do you think And yeah, maybe I'm trying to connect dots here, but I'm trying to sort of get to a picture where I'm kind of drawing conclusions from a lot of your research with a lot of the stuff that that I'm living today that a lot of people are living today in terms of the information society that we live in. Do you feel that this information overload, even before social media, COVID and the sort of the marriage between the two that we're living today, but especially since then, can contribute to this kind of low grade, long term chronic stress that so many people suffer from today and that could be so detrimental to our health. I very much do believe that the information overload is a major stressor. And stress leads to all kinds of bad health outcomes. It's not just in your head. I mean. Not just something you made up. The other thing you said about the democratization of information. I do have a strong opinion about that. And. When Jimmy Wales and Lauren Sanger founded Wikipedia on the idea that they would crowdsource knowledge. It seemed like an interesting idea. There had been some research showing that if you put a jar of jellybeans at a county fair and you ask people how many are in there. Nobody comes up with the right answer. How could you? I mean. It's. You can't count them. You know, you can guess. Rarely do people come up with the precise right answer, but the precise right answer tends to be about the average of what people guess. So there's this series of weird experiments on crowdsourcing, things like that. I don't actually know what the explanation is for that. I've never looked into it, but I'm sure there are explanations. But the. The idea that you could crowdsource information backfired horrifically. And part of it was that by design. Wikipedia doesn't accord any more respect to an acknowledged expert. As to a non-expert. Anybody can edit Wikipedia. And. In general, the idea was, well, okay, let anybody at all edit it. And then, you know, there are enough people who know the answer, the correct answer out there. It'll be self-correcting. Sort of like newspapers that publish an article and then somebody calls it and complains and they say, Well, it wasn't right. And then the newspaper prints a retraction and then they make a typo in the retraction. Somebody else calls it out. I mean, the idea is that in the end, it works out. But that's not true. I have been a Wikipedia editor for things that I know about and had contributed to a number of entries, created entries and contributed to entries on things having to do with brain science. Or albums that I worked on and every once in a while an edit I had made would get reverted or removed. And then you have to go to the editor's discussion page where you say, well, you know, why did you do that? And they say, Well, I don't believe your source. And they say, Well, this is in the. The journal Nature Neuroscience, and it was peer reviewed. And here's a couple of more sources that back that up. And then the other person says, Well, I just don't think it's true. And, you know, those sources don't mean anything to me. And, you know, then I can say, well, peer review matters and not everything that gets published in the peer-reviewed journal is correct. But it's better than. Than anything else we've got. And. In the end, it turns out I was arguing over a period of months with a 12 year old who just happened to have more time on his hands than I had. Wow. And so I couldn't keep up. And this I've seen this happen in all kinds of articles, not involving me where, you know, the expert just throwing in the towel. Or a bunch of experts throw in the towel because some it doesn't have to be a 12-year-old. It can be a conspiracy theorist. They're just going to win if they've got more time on their hands. That is not democracy that, you know, democratization of facts. Isn't the same as having a democracy. Right. The notion that everybody has equal access to facts, that's the democratization of it, the fact that everybody has equal access to being able to change those facts. Or make arguments that are not sound, but through the sheer force of will get those arguments pushed out to lots of people. That's going to undermine democracy in the long run. As Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said, something like, You are entitled to your own opinions. But you're not entitled to your own facts. Right? But that's that's really, really interesting because there's a real falsification of our relationship to truth. And if you look at the idea of science, that truth gets arrived, too, after this really rigorous process of experimentation, of acquisition of previous generations of knowledge, sort of this very incremental building and testing and constant challenging of information on one hand. And then on the other, you've got this notion that everybody's got an opinion and that's it. You know, your opinion and the 12-year-old's opinion on a matter of brain science. Right. Well, it's just your opinion. Right. And I think you've written about this as well, Like there's there's a real price we pay when we start compromising our relationship to truth in this way, correct? Yeah. And, you know, have you read anything by Lee McIntyre overnight? You might have him on your show. I think he'd be a great conversation. He's a philosopher who studies the spread of fake news. . And one of the things that he points out is that it was humanities departments some years ago that helped to accelerate this notion that everything is equally valid. Yeah. When they said, okay, well, your interpretation of this artwork is just as valid as anyone else's and. To some degree. I believe that if you tell me. That listening to a particular song makes you feel happy. And then I tell you, Well, you're an idiot. That's a funeral march in Poland. You know that. I'm negating your experience and your feelings and. What it was written for and what other people take from it is, is their business. And of course, you can have your experience. But for you to say. This is a joyous piece. It was written as a joyous piece. And everybody in the world who is sane must find it joyous. That might be contradicting facts. And often what would happen in humanities departments is students would say just crazy stuff. And then the historical record would show, well, no, this the author didn't know this person and so couldn't have based it on that person. They lived 100 years apart. I mean. Right. Historical facts intrude, but we weren't allowed to negate the student's opinions. Hmm. Which is crazy. Which is absolutely crazy. And it's one of the things that changed my in my life so dramatically was in 2013, Stephen Coslin from Harvard reached out to me and said he was starting a new university. In San Francisco from scratch, along with Ben Nelson and Jonathan Katzman and some other very talented folks. And the idea was they were going to teach evidence based humanities. And would I be the founding dean of Humanities? And I said, Yeah. And the idea was to turn back the tide of anything goes and say, well, look, you're entitled to your opinion. But there are also factual records. You know, students would come in and they say, well, I think Shakespeare was one person and another student would say, well, I think he was actually several people. And we said, Well, let's test it. There are linguistic tools that will allow you to do an analysis and give you a probability as to whether these works were written by the same person or not having to do with diction and word choice and flow and poetic qualities and things like that. It's not definitive, but it's evidence. Right. Let me ask you a question on that. Do you believe and I know your answer, but do you believe evidence-based is just a social construct intended to impose power structures of some on others? Or is there something else going on? Well. The difficulty here is that evidence has been held. For centuries by mostly old white men. And people who are not old white men weren't taken seriously when they wanted to contribute to evidence or when they wanted to challenge it. And that's a tragedy. And worse than that, it's immoral. It should never have been that way. And so in this long overdue time of reckoning. We have to consider that. Some of the facts. Our biased. Against non-whites and against non cisgender men. And the case of that that that comes to mind is the IQ test. So since we've had IQ tests over the last hundred years or so, we tend to think, Well, your IQ is your IQ. It's an objective fact. You take a test, maybe you point or two different on test, retest, Basically your IQ is this That's what it is. But we now know that IQ tests are tremendously biased against people of color. They skew towards as a function of status, education level of the parents, how much money the family the bank and sorry. And so they're very far from objective and they're very far from factual. And Howard Gardner and myself and others have trying to get rid of their use and for that matter, the use of S.A.T., .R.E Tests because they have the illusion they give the illusion of a factual illness. But you're still aiming for factualness. And in other words, the corrective to that is just better evidence, right? Or a higher standard of scrutiny, a fact. It's not doing away with the approach of scrutinizing, you know, a test in light of the facts. I always think that, like, you know, proper science would by definition be diverse and inclusive because it shouldn't matter what your gender is, it shouldn't matter what your sexual orientation is. None of that stuff would matter to a truly evidence-based approach where you're looking at the evidence for what it is objectively. And right and it shouldn't. And in many cases it doesn't. But there are still barriers to entry. We have very few Hispanic and African-American neuroscientists. And so it's not that their observational style would change something like looking at blood flow in the brain, but it's questions I might not even be able to think of hypotheses I may not even generate or issues I might not know are there to study on the basis of background. They're not being addressed because they're, you know, they're underrepresented. And by the same token, very few members of the LGBTQ community in neuroscience. The I, I imagine that. The established neuroscientists didn't. Allow for a comfortable environment or that they were discouraged early on, maybe in high school from. I don't really know. I mean, we're not talking about when I talk about brown people or black people, people of color in general, LGBTQ in general, they're one thing. They just everybody in that who would identify in that group differ from one another as much as. As others, people in other groups. Really interesting though, because so so where you situate that need for inclusiveness is again at the level of open-ended hypotheses, right? They may think of things, they may set up different experiments, but it's not like you're looking for a different outcome or it's not like you would ever justify their difference on some metric to sort of taint your evaluation of a particular outcome. It's more on the level of the openness of that first step of the scientific process that we've got to be as open and inclusive as possible so as to bring as many ideas, as many different hypotheses as possible. Is that is that is that Yes, But, you know, I'm probably being hamfisted here and I'm not describing it the way someone else would. Look, I. I am, quite frankly, child of privilege. I was born into a family where my parents were college educated. They were both professionals. My mother was a My father was an attorney and a CPA. I had a good education. I went to very good schools. We weren't wealthy. We could only afford for me one pair of shoes a year at the beginning of the school year. But I worried that there wouldn't be food. So my life experience is tremendously privileged and I don't feel comfortable talking about these issues of inclusiveness in the sense that. I think it's presumptuous of me to. I think I'm aware that there's a problem, but I'm also aware that there are a whole bunch of aspects to this that I don't know. Again, that that that beautiful humility and open-mindedness that you that suffuses all of your work. I want to talk to you a little bit aging. It's the topic of your latest book, Successful Aging, which really I think everybody should read. I mean, aging is something that we're doing all of the time, unless we're dead, of course. Aging sucks, but what are the options? In the words of Steven Wright. There's a commonly held belief, at least in Western culture, that aging is just the kind loss and decline. And you start the book admitting that's how you initially saw it, that aging was only a failing of the body of the mind and even of the spirit. But empirically, you show that aging is not all entropy. There are some very specific and important aspects of human life that seem to actually get better with age in large population sizes. So many forms of intelligence like abstract thinking get better with age. Also, we seem to get happier with age. People tend to more happiness in their seventies and eighties than they do in their forties. How can this be? Is this just like an optical illusion? Like a coping mechanism? In other words, like is it just that we accept more things as we age because we kind of don't have a choice? Or is there something deeper here? Is there are the actual reasons we get better with age in some very meaningful and measurable ways? Yeah, there are reasons. We see evidence-based, demonstrable these things happen. One thing is that we as humans machines. We look for patterns. I remember being in a hospital bed once as a kid, and they had those ceiling tiles with the little holes in it, and I was running a fever and my brain was just making all kinds of pictures out of those holes, connecting them like a paint by kind of a drawing and. I realized although the holes were random, my brain was not. It wasn't. It wasn't having it. It was trying to import problems, order on that chaos. And so by the time you reach the age of 70 or 80 or 90, you've seen so many more things on average than a younger person. And if your pattern-matching brain is intact, it's learned to predict outcomes better across a variety of scenarios. So older adults tend to be better at making predictions about what will happen. to be better problem solvers because they're able to see. Having experienced so many different things, they're able to see how they fit together in a way that somebody like that experience might not see it and they become happier because of changes in neurochemical balances that, well, for one thing, structurally the amygdala, the fear the brain shrinks as you get older, right. And your body is producing effectively a different neurochemical balance that makes you worry less. And older adults tend to feel more gratitude. Part of that's neurochemical. Part of it is what you might call psychological, meaning that I mean, all of psychological things have a neurochemical basis, of course, but that it lends itself more to a lack of an explanation that doesn't rely on a bunch of Latin words. So the Greek words, So then chemical names. So in the psychological terms. You realize your not have. I was lost nearby. But I still got you. Hmm. You realize life may not have come out the way that you wanted it to, but you're still alive. And things are pretty good. And you. You just enjoy what you My father, who is 89. Just got out of the hospital four days ago where he had COVID and pneumonia. And he's doing really well now, and I've never seen him so happy. And he says, I am just so happy not to be in the hospital. I've never been this happy, you know, sort of like one of those things where you take away something you take for granted, like being at home. Yeah. And then you get it back again. He's very, very happy. So it's that perspective you gain can actually be an advantage from, from a sort of subjective well-being perspective as you get older. I found same thing with my parents. My parents are in their seventies. far the happiest I've ever seen them. And it's a strange kind of thing, right, where like, like you said, like the cultural belief that aging just loss and decline. And then that's the beauty of evidence-based science, is that you sort of look at the data sets and it kind of points to a very different story. And now there's an opportunity to sort of shine, shine a light on that story. According to the research that you cite in the book, the number one predictor of successful aging is quality relationships. And you cite one study in particular that gets real, real, real specific and says that it's your quality relationships at age 47. And I thought that was really interesting as it creates a kind of focus and I'm in that age group and I find that this is a time when a lot of relationships fall by the wayside. People just get super overwhelmed with work, taking care of young children, family obligations, financial obligations, etc. You've mentioned that even things like religious belonging and not ever retiring can be good for aging because they come with sort of social contact and relationships. What is it about relationships that make them so beneficial as we age, and what kind of relationships should we aim for as we get older? Well, relationships. Are a lot of different things depending on the relationship. There are people that, you know, you can rely on who care for you and have your best interests in mind and help you make decisions. Many people have had the experience that they had a tough decision to make. So they call a friend and they talk it over with them and then that helps them too. It's not that the friend necessarily tells them what to do. It's that through the process of talking it out, the person who asked for help is able to see themselves more clearly through the eyes of this person. They've been through a lot with relationships. Also, particularly new ones require you to be on your toes. And to think carefully about. What the other person knows and what you know, and you want to not offend them and you want to. I can't just tell you out of the blue. Oh, I notice that Bill's parked his Volkswagen in front of Sue's house. We don't have that common, you and I don't know. I don't know. Bill and Sue are. And I know what the Volkswagen has to do with all this, you know? So talking to you means I have to work a little bit differently. Then somebody. I don't have a lot of shared life knowledge with. And that keeps me keeps my brain active. It keeps me tuned. And particularly you ask what kind of relationships are good to have when you're older, relationships with people who don't make you feel bad about yourself, who aren't. That's certainly a start. Yes, they are not scolding you, telling you you're an idiot or whatever. And relationships with younger people, people who are and people who have a different perspective. So people from another country, from another city, just from a different background. All of that challenges you to. Crawl out of yourself a little more and engage with another person. It's tremendously stimulating for the aging brain to do that. And I feel like we're touching again on the theme of openness. So relationships with younger people and people that you don't know kind of forces you to adapt and to open up. And you've analyzed the phenomenon of aging in relation to personality traits and the Big five personality traits and two of the Big Five personality dimensions stood out as being particularly predictive of successful aging. You had conscientiousness and you had openness to experience. And what I found really interesting in the studies is that conscientiousness seems to sort of naturally go, I don't know if natural is the right way to put it, but it seems to sort of go up with age while openness to experience tends to kind of naturally go down with age. And you write that, you know, with aging, for example, our dopamine receptors deteriorate and we have more cognitive and physical limitations. And all of this can make sort of learning and doing new things more difficult. So this seems to be a really key challenge to successful aging, right? How do we find ways to promote openness to experience as we age? So the other personality trait conscientiousness, we seem to have an easier time getting better at as we age. And one thing I find interesting is so one of the concrete ways you referred to is the use of psilocybin and how even a single dose in older adults caused a lasting positive change in openness to experience. So more magic mushrooms in nursing homes. Is that part of the solution? And, you know, jokes aside, what would be a smart and safe approach to mind-opening substances as we age? And what else can we do to sort of stimulate more openness to experience as we age? Well, I think the first thing is to recognize that we're going to become more complacent as we age and less open to new experience and fight against that push against it. And that could that could happen from a group of people who are younger than you who are pushing you to do that, or just your peer group. If they're more open than you, it could come from therapy. It could come from reading a self-help book, being inspired by a fictional character in literature who went out and did great things are real people like Julia Hurricane Hawkins, 104-year-old retired school teacher from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who took up competitive running at age 100 and has been sweeping the senior games with all kinds of gold medals and such. So unbelievable. You know, there are all these inspiring stories and there's no one way to do it. I do. The others I mentioned, I would add meditation and yeah, medication, maybe something that stimulates dopamine, maybe psilocybin, maybe cannabis. If you're going to do something that involves a mind-altering drug, of course, you want to be careful that it doesn't interfere with other drugs you might be taking, and you want to make sure you check with your doctor to make sure it's safe for you. And you know, what is my heart going to be able to take it, that kind of thing. And then, of course, although psilocybin is now legal in a handful of states, it's illegal in most. And I am not going to advocate that anyone break the law. Of course, of course. I just I'll tell you one thing. A way to not age successfully is end up in prison when you're 80. I'm sure that's not great for the aging process. But you also talk Michael Pollan's book or first-person account of that, which means and I know that it's a burgeoning sort of scientific literature around the use of psilocybin and use in certain therapeutic settings as well. So I just found that interesting. And I know that you're not the type to sort of hunt for that kind of stuff, but it's just like, wow, you know, that the evidence, and again, you just sort of laid it out very, very honestly and truthfully. And now it's like, okay, like obviously, you know, you've got to sort of be careful how you interpret it. But here it is. You know, the fact is there and that's interesting. Let's see where this goes. Well, that sort of happened. I'm open to serendipity. So Michael called me on the phone while I was working on my book, and he just said, Oh, I thought you'd like to know. I had this new book coming out in a couple of months and this is what it's about. And I said, Tell me more. And we talked about it. And then I went, Oh, I can use that in my book. That's great. So looking at the road ahead, you've already done so much and contributed so much in your fields of interest. From music to cognitive science to aging, all these different aspects of the human condition. What exciting challenges and topics do you want to tackle next? Well, we always have a lot of work going on in my laboratory. So the big ones now are we're looking at ways to combat the proliferation of fake news, little videos that we can make that will help people to think twice. We're looking at. The future of higher education. What can universities do better at in terms of the kinds of diversity, equity and inclusion we were talking about in terms of preparing people for? Jobs in a global digital economy. We have another project that looks at. The impact that COVID had on music and music listening. And that's we've got neuroimaging going on, looking at musical structure and music listening. And then apart from that, I've gotten back in touch with my earlier self and. Been more diligent and more. I'd say. I've applied more of a work ethic towards my own songwriting and musicianship over the last few years. And just a few weeks ago, I released an album of my own material with the live band in the slide, in the studio band, great musicians, and so I'm doing a little bit of publicity about that and getting ready to make another record. That's cool. That's all. You're going to like this. The title of this record is called Sex and Math. That's good. That make for a great T-shirt. Sex and math. That's really cool. So you're sort of going back to that original passion you had for music and getting more into that. And I also notice that you you've dabbled quite a bit in standup comedy. And when I say dabbled, you've done some pretty remarkable things. You've performed at the Democratic National Convention with Robin Williams. You've contributed jokes for Jay Leno and Arsenio Hall. You know, I look at your work and it's been this sort of the way I perceive it, the sort of relentless pursuit of novelty combined with scientific rigor and depth, but also around topics that are very intimately connected to regular human life. And I was just thinking as I was sort of putting these questions together, Wow. If Daniel Levitan wrote a book about the neuroscience of comedy, that would be something. Is that a topic that might interest you? Might interest you? I know already that you do standup comedy, right? Have you ever thought of kind of turning the neuroscientific lens on it? I do think about that. And it's something I could see myself doing. I have a friend named Eric Kaplan, who is a professional comic writer. He writes. He wrote for The Big Bang Theory and The Simpsons, Futurama. He now writes for young Sheldon. And he came over to my house yesterday and we were having coffee. And it's clear that he he is a professional comedy writer. He comes up with stuff without even thinking about it. That's the funniest thing I ever heard. And. In my case, I came up with funny stuff every once in a while that I was able to sell the gags and I loved doing it, but. I'm you know, it's the same with me and guitar. I'm good enough that I can go out and do it and not embarrass myself and appear on a stage with someone else, not who's really good at it. And I don't embarrass them, but I'm not at that level. I just enjoy it. And I that's the reason for it. But yeah, I have thought about this is your brain on comedy and this is your brain on drama acting. Hmm. Haven't gotten there yet. Those would be some pretty, pretty awesome topics for book. Do you think? Just looking at the general climate, the general sort of cultural climate that, you know, in the midst of the culture wars and cancel culture-covered politics, all that stuff that we're taking ourselves a little bit too seriously, that we're losing our ability to laugh and connect a little bit more naively. Is that something that occurs to you? You'd have to ask a sociologist. I don't know. I still laugh all the time. Love it. Love it. Dr. Dan Levitin It was an absolute pleasure and honor, and I hope we can do this again sometime. Maybe. Maybe when you're in Montreal. Thank you, Fred. Thanks a lot.