Intro. [Recording date: January 12, 2023.]

Russ Roberts:

At this time is January twelfth, 2023, and my visitor is neuroscientist, thinker, and writer Sam Harris. He hosts the podcast Making Sense and is the creator of the meditation app Waking Up.

Sam just lately hosted me on his podcast Making Sense, and he graciously invited me to vary locations on the desk and let me interview him. Sam, welcome to EconTalk.

Sam Harris: Hey, nice to see you, Russ.

Russ Roberts: I wish to let mother and father listening with younger youngsters know this dialog might stray into grownup themes, so be happy to vet it earlier than sharing.


Russ Roberts: And our first subject, Sam, is you. Give us a thumbnail of the way you got here to be the place you’re, with an extremely common podcast, an extremely common meditation app. How’d that occur?

Sam Harris: Nicely, I began as a author. And, I began type of in an unconventional spot there as a result of I wrote my first ebook in the course of what ought to have been my Ph.D. [Doctor of Philosphy] thesis starting. I had simply completed my analysis doing fMRI [functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging] scanning of individuals on the Mind Mapping Middle at UCLA [University of California, Los Angeles], and–actually, no, sorry, I simply completed my coursework and I used to be starting my analysis.

And, then September eleventh occurred and I wrote my first ebook, The Finish of Religion. And, that proved so controversial, and the dialog round these points was so wealthy and attention-grabbing that I rapidly wrote a second ebook in response to the pushback there, Letter to a Christian Nation. And that, primarily sidelined me for about 4 years throughout my Ph.D. I had a toe within the lab, however barely a toe for 4 years. So, I took 9 years to complete my Ph.D., and that is actually what writing was doing to me throughout that point.

However, it was actually on the idea of my writing platform that I launched my podcast after which subsequently the Waking Up app.

So, I used to be pretty early to podcasting. I had been a visitor on just a few podcasts. I had been a visitor on Joe Rogan’s podcast and I feel Tim Ferris’s; possibly one or two others. And I simply thought, ‘Nicely, that is attention-grabbing.’ If you happen to had advised me that I’d sooner or later go into radio, I’d’ve advised you you have been insane. However, one thing concerning the medium made it appear completely different.

And so, I simply began recording items of audio. Initially they have been solo audio riffs or essays, and I used to be releasing these sporadically with out actually even pondering that I had a podcast. And, then at a sure level, I used to be interviewing different individuals kind of as soon as per week, and I had a podcast in earnest. And that is the way it began.


Russ Roberts: What have you ever realized from being a podcaster? Have you ever modified in any method?

Sam Harris: Nicely, personally, I’ve realized concerning the energy of incentives, as a result of as a lot as I’ve needed to get again to writing books, having a podcast has proven me that–this will not shock you as an economist–but like just about everybody, I’m a creature of incentives, and all the incentives are aligned away from writing books for the time being. Podcasting is less complicated, I attain many extra individuals, and it is a greater enterprise.

So, for me to return to writing and embrace the chance value of writing for the time being, I actually should resolve, ‘Nicely, I do not care about doing the tougher factor. I am completely happy to do the tougher factor. I do not care about reaching fewer individuals. I do not care about it taking for much longer to achieve these fewer individuals. And, I do not care about shedding cash.’

So, all of the incentives are flawed for writing my subsequent ebook. So, as if by magic, I have never accomplished that.

I feel I’ll in the end do it, as a result of I feel writing is only a muscle. As a thinker, that you must work and you actually do not assume as clearly as you’ll be able to until you are writing your ideas and at last producing the sentence that you simply assume is the very best model of any particular thought.

So, that could be a loss to me, but it surely’s been nice. I imply, podcasting is, as you recognize, so completely different from writing since you’re not doing it alone. You realize, you and I are having a dialog now and now we have an excuse to have this dialog. And, the reality is, it is a dialog I might wish to have anyway without cost, proper?

So, it is actually an incredible alternative to make use of media to assist the individuals who wish to hear these conversations and to have enjoyable ourselves. I really feel immensely fortunate.

Russ Roberts: However, has it taught you something? I imply, you possibly can have learn the books of all of your company. A lot of them write books.

Russ Roberts: Do you discover speaking to the moderately various vary of individuals that you simply converse to, does it have an effect on you in any method? Has it affected your pondering?

Sam Harris: Yeah, actually. As a result of, you recognize, as a author, I am not somebody who interviews individuals for probably the most half by means of analysis. I clearly learn a variety of books to be a author of non-fiction, however there’s something about speaking to sensible individuals and having them push again towards your views in actual time that is–it’s one thing you’ll be able to’t actually provide for your self in the identical method.

I imply, studying a ebook, I assume, offers that. I imply, it’s conversational in a method, but–I do not know. I feel it is extremely helpful to be in dialogue and to have the time-course of 1’s suggestions be shorter and shorter.

Whenever you write a ebook, it takes you a 12 months or extra to put in writing it. It then sits together with your writer for 11 months or so, after which it goes out into the world, then you definately get some suggestions if individuals evaluate it or individuals react to it. However, the time-course of correction and fertilization of additional dialog is so gradual. They’re virtually not even analogous processes, though they’re fairly comparable: that, the time-course adjustments every part.

Russ Roberts: Yeah: I by no means considered that. I usually will get on a subject and interview a collection of individuals in clumps. You realize, I am going to learn anyone’s ebook, after which three weeks later or a month later, I am going to interview an individual on the opposite facet, or a associated theme.

Such as you, I am very interested by consciousness, so I’ve accomplished a bunch of interviews on that. And I’ve by no means considered the truth that, you recognize, you learn a ebook about consciousness by an writer after which possibly you learn one other one down the highway that has a special take, completely different perspective. However in podcasting, you are virtually inevitably doing it over a comparatively brief time period. And then you definately’re in dialogue moderately than in your personal head, the way in which you’d be as a reader with various concepts or completely different takes or views. And, I assume it quickens the tempo.


Russ Roberts: One of many issues I discover extraordinary about podcasting for a very long time, as you’ve got, is what number of connections I see between matters and episodes that do not essentially appear associated.

And, when these are coming rapidly and also you’re seeing these connections, I discover it–people declare to be taught issues from me, which I recognize, however I’ve realized a lot from being an interviewer, not simply from the content material I’ve consumed to organize for them, however to have that dialog like we’re having now, and to have it–it’s 8:00 at night time right here in Jerusalem, and it is 10:00 within the morning in California the place you’re, and–well, that is a miracle.

Russ Roberts: So, it isn’t simply good to have the dialog: if we weren’t podcasting, we most likely would not be speaking. And so, it is extremely particular.

Sam Harris: Yeah. Nicely, that’s–what I’ve appreciated about it most, actually, is writing is such a solitary endeavor. And podcasting, particularly for those who’re largely doing interviews, is a fully completely different expertise, since you now have a venue to ask individuals to. And, you are serving to them. You are serving to them launch their books in lots of instances.

However, it is rather like this responsible pleasure, to have the ability to discuss to the neatest individuals on the earth about something.

And, when you’ve got a profitable podcast, you are not likely asking a favor of them: you are doing them a favor, if something. And so, it is fantastic to have the ability to do.

And, it is simply good firm. Proper? You simply get to fulfill individuals you would not in any other case have an excuse to fulfill. I would not attain out to even a popular writer simply to achieve out to them, however as a result of I’ve a podcast and since their publicist might have even hurled their subsequent ebook at me, it is simply that we’re naturally thrown collectively in dialog. And, yeah, it builds relationships. It is fairly wonderful.

Russ Roberts: Only for the record–I simply wish to get this down on January, 2023–I wish to interview Tom Stoppard and Mark Knopfler, and I can not get to them. So, if anyone on the market is aware of how I can get ahold of them–mark Knopfler is my favourite songwriter and guitarist most likely of all time, and Tom Stoppard is my favourite playwright. And, it is attainable.

Sam Harris: It’s attainable. Yeah.

Russ Roberts: Such as you say–normally you’d say, ‘Nicely, you’ll be able to go watch him in live performance, or go to one in every of his performs,’ however in any other case, that is it. However, I’ve a dream that in the event that they knew I needed to interview them, they may come on. Both of them. Possibly each. Possibly each on the similar time.

Sam Harris: Even odds, I’d say, for these guys. Yeah.


Russ Roberts: How a lot time do you spend studying? Not for podcasting, simply typically.

Sam Harris: Nicely, that is a tough line to attract as a result of I’ve, to a big diploma, designed my podcast round what I really feel like studying subsequent, proper?

Russ Roberts: You do–

Sam Harris: So, I simply resolve what I wish to learn. After which the afterthought is, ‘Oh, wait a minute, if this particular person’s alive, I’d have the ability to discuss to them.’

Russ Roberts: Yeah. Why not?

Sam Harris: And so, there’s important overlap between what I am studying and what I am studying for work.

Once more, this comes again to being immensely fortunate and feeling simply pure gratitude for the existence of this medium.

And, it is psychologically inscrutable to me that it appears so completely different from radio. Like, I might never–superficially it’s the very same factor. That is simply radio on demand, proper? However, I could not have imagined going into radio, and I nonetheless do not feel I am in radio now, and but principally that is delayed radio.

Russ Roberts: You realize, once I began, I advised my dad I used to be going to go for an hour. That was my objective: an hour every episode. And, he and lots of, many others mentioned, ‘Oh, no, no, no, audio–10 minutes is an eternity.’

Russ Roberts: ‘Three minutes is a typical factor.’ And, like, ‘NPR [National Public Radio] may do a 10-minute phase, however nobody goes to hearken to an hour.’

And, boy, have been they flawed. Individuals, in fact, will pay attention for 2 and three and 4 hours.

There is a demand for longer and longer podcasts. And, that is–the apparent cause: it is very completely different from radio. It is an extended–it’s type of the distinction between a miniseries and a sitcom. It is only a completely different phenomenon, though on the floor they’re considerably comparable.

Sam Harris: Nicely, simply on that point–and once more, I discover that is additionally psychologically considerably inscrutable: Not having a schedule and never having a tough time-limit to an episode, it truly adjustments the dialog considerably.

I imply, even in a radio phase the place you’ve got a full hour, the truth that you’ve got precisely an hour adjustments the dialog. Even only a freewheeling dialog that occurs to finish at 59 minutes, I really feel could be very completely different from a dialog that has to finish at 59 minutes. [More to come, 13:50]

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