On Consciousness, Life Extension, etc. (Interview)

Q: Josh, you’ve decided to interview yourself. Tell us why?

A: The idea came after a real interview I gave recently. It left me in awe of how much material we covered and how easy it was. I put zero prep time into it and it went off well anyway. Compared to prepared talks I give where I agonize over the material and its organization, the interview was effortless. I tend to agonize the same way when I write. So I’m wondering if interviewing myself might make it easier to get some ideas out there.

Q: So what big ideas are catching your interest these days?

A: More stuff about the mind. Last year I was all about the unconscious — I finally understood that there was this vast realm of the mind that I had little control over. Or rather, that controlling it is way more like controlling another person than controlling your own consciousness. You can make suggestions to another person, requests, and such… and they can do the same to you, and you both respond somehow. I discovered the mind is more like that — more of a community I’m a member of than a calculator for my use.

The next major realization was that some of the members of my mind were cut off from the rest. Dissociated parts, complexes, exiles… they go by different names in different systems of psychology. By cut off I mean that they don’t have access to the knowledge and experiences of the rest of the community. We often fall into the dark caves where these parts live and momentarily become them, and in those moments we forget all sorts of stuff we thought we knew… about how complex life is, how other people feel, wonderful experiences we’ve had, beautiful things we know about ourselves and the world — suddenly we don’t know any of that and we become hurtful spiteful people or frightened little children. And then after this part has had its way and reacted to the perceived threat we come out of it and say, “Sorry, I don’t know what came over me,” or “So and so really knows how to push my buttons,” and there’s this whole slew of phrases in common parlance to help sweep these embarrassing episodes under the rug. They’re really incredibly common. I don’t think anyone is free of them and it’s all because these little splinter selves have formed out of traumatic or painful experiences.

Q. Interesting. What now?

Well, we’ve all heard the word integrity but the way it’s used is so ambiguous and un-actionable that it’s practically useless. But now I’m thinking of having integrity as meaning that the different parts that make up our mind are integrated, that is that they can talk to each other and share information and benefit from what the others know. A healthy, conversant community that makes for a robust self rather than a mind made of fragmented selves living in isolation who take turns taking over and cause us to be Jekyll and Hyde.

So the next big idea is about integrating these parts. It’s entirely possible. There are some really interesting psychological techniques that can help build connections to these lost parts and bring them back into healthy relationship with the rest of the community. The first one I found is called EMDR. Friends and I have been practicing it and trying to figure out how it works. IFS is another technique that may accomplish the same thing. Someone told me the other day that NLPt is yet another. At any rate the point is that there are these psychological technologies that can absolutely improve people… that can make them more reliable, less volatile, better people. I’ve seen people go into these sessions as one person and come out with a different personality, one that’s been modified and improved in important ways.

I’ve been revisiting Jung lately and stuff is jumping out at me now that pertains to this: I looked into his idea of integration and found him saying stuff about how if you undertake this work you’ll be rewarded with an “undivided self.” It’s the same stuff, I’m sure of it and I think his technique of active imagination is, at bottom, doing the same stuff as EMDR and IFS. It’s wild… like stumbling onto some hidden path and finding the journal of earlier explorers who went that way.

There’s more that I won’t get into much now, but in the same way that ‘integrity’ means something more specific and practical to me now, so do levels of consciousness as in ‘higher levels of consciousness.’ Again, another typically useless or hippy-dippy phrase that suddenly means something to me now. A high level of consciousness is one where the wisest most mature members of your psychic community are participating in your perceptions and actions. In times of, say, conflict… you’ll be able to see how your own actions contributed, the misunderstandings present, the other persons feelings as well as your own, and you remember that there is a future that depends on the present actions being taken. It’s a wise state that most people have experienced and can remember… times when confronted with responding A or B, they suddenly came riding in with C, which proved to be simpler and more ingenious and way healthier for all involved. The ‘third way’ it’s sometimes called. Like how Gandhi’s nonviolent non-cooperation was superior to violent resistance or complacent passivity. In a low level of consciousness none of that is going on. There is just you are right and justified and the other person is wrong and evil and lashing out at them without regard for them or the future — or feeling powerless and enslaved. It’s a very myopic state to exist in and it’s one that fuels or perpetuates all sorts of fundamentalism, prejudice, and violence.

Q. So what are you doing about all this?

A: Well, friends and I are learning these psychological technologies and trying to improve the integrity of our own minds. A lot of innovation goes on too because this is really uncharted territory. Not many people have ventured here. I’ve even been doing it to almost total strangers lately — one interesting characteristic of these technology, unlike traditional therapy, is that you don’t need to know much about a person. Part of their mind knows where the exiled part is and why and will help us go there. Indeed the psyche is trying to move toward wholeness, as Jung said.

Q: So are you becoming a therapist?

Well, not formally. One of my friends is headed off to become a therapist so he can do this for a living instead of in his spare time. Becoming a therapist probably isn’t the right thing for me. Honestly, when I try to get an image of who or what I want to be, it keeps coming back a Jedi Knight or Gandalf. (shrug) I know as a sophisticated modern I’m not supposed to identify with something so mysterious and mythical but it’s what resonates. Essentially it’s a life of possessing and wielding rare knowledge for good.

As an entrepreneur, I’m wondering how an entrepreneurial mindset could take these under-employed psychological technologies and apply them to humankind in a more widespread way. In the grand scheme of things almost no one is benefiting from them right now. Comparatively few people go to therapy and even when they do most therapists don’t know this stuff and just ‘listen’ to you and support you and let you blather on for three years without achieving the integration of the psyche that we may be able to achieve in an hour.

Seeing important technology live up to its potential sounds like a job for an entrepreneur. It’s tough though because we’re talking here about spreading psychological technology with an ROI that isn’t money but a sum increase in the level of consciousness of the human race. I’d like to figure out how to help pull that off.

Q: If this stuff about the mind and consciousness is so important, how come you’re mostly writing about diet and health these days?

A: Good question. What’s ironic about writing is that the stuff you feel is most important becomes the hardest to write about. That’s why so many writers are neurotic… because there’s something they want to say so badly and they’ll explode if they don’t and that’s the one thing they find it hardest to say. As William Zinsser says… you sit down to write a little something… shouldn’t be too hard, you figure, and suddenly you’re trying to commit an act of literature and the gravity of it all is just paralyzing… you want it to be perfect, you want it to go and do an important work in the world and withstand the test of time and all that. But writing about what I ate and why is so homely that it resists being draped in too much grandiosity and so it’s easier to get down.

I’m also trying to get into a habit of simply writing about whatever I’m learning about and my attention has swung to health and lifestyle since encountering the paleo movement recently. It makes sense, I’m seeing results from it, and continuing to learn tons about it. In a few months I’ll be learning something else and hopefully writing about about that in a pretty carefree way.

Q: What are you focusing on in health and nutrition now?

A: Well, for the past few days it’s been on how to slow aging. We absolutely know that diet can do it. They’ve taken everything from monkeys on down to worms, put them on unusual diets and extended their lives up to 60 and 500% respectively. And it’s not that they live longer as pitiful decrepit creatures but are younger and sharper and quicker the whole time. I find that terribly interesting and I’m willing to eat a pretty bizarre diet to achieve the same. I find more satisfaction in wielding dietary technology than I do in the taste or appearance of food.

I’ve attempted one such life-extending regimen in the past, but could never stick with it because it involved maintaining a state of semi-starvation and though I could handle it when I was at home it was more than I could manage to be at some party or function that had a bunch of free food. Some part of my mind, the part that tries to keep me from starving, would suddenly stage a coup and take control and I would just watch myself eating as if I was having an out of body experience.

But the good news is that a diet that achieves all this may not require semi-starvation and may even be the diet I’ve been experimenting with for the past three months, which is really satisfying and tasty.

Q: So what is this fountain of youth diet?

A: I can’t say for sure, and there may be several, but one may involve dramatically reducing one’s exposure to glucose and insulin, and also by triggering autophagy.

Q: Intermittent fasting doesn’t sound like fun. Is it worth living a long life if it’s so unpleasant?

A: Pleasure isn’t so simple as that. Pleasure is more complicated, because we’re complicated. For example, not eating can definitely be uncomfortable. But almost everyone who tries it simultaneously finds pleasure in the increased productivity and mental clarity that comes from being at the helm of a mind unfettered by digestion. Digestion competes with the mind for energy and taking a break from digestion tends to result in an energy boost for the mind. And since a higher-powered mind improves almost every other human pursuit, it can be a rather pleasurable trade-off.

Also, skipping a meal here and there isn’t so bad on a high-fat diet because the meals in general are so incredibly satisfying (fat being the most satisfying of calorie sources). It much more difficult on a high-carbohydrate diet.

Q: Well, we’re coming up on the end of our interview. How have you liked it?

A: It’s been great. I say we release it without any proofing or corrections or re-writes. No swapping out casual words with more precise and impressive ones, no stressing about some improved order. I’ll probably sleep really well tonight.

Q: Are you at all worried that people will consider this whole business of interviewing yourself to be a new self-absorbed, narcissistic low?

A: Not really. Admittedly, I am pretty self-absorbed, in that I enjoy studying the mind and conducting experiments on human beings and I’m the most willing specimen I have access to. And in all honestly, it really is more about the ideas than me. All this stuff about integrity and boosting consciousness and getting the most out of these bodies before they shrivel and die… I think it really matters. And if this is what it takes to bypass my neurotic writing tendencies and get those ideas out there, so be it. I encourage anyone else who has something important to contribute to do whatever they need to overcome barriers.