Jason Silva: On Love, Empathy And The Great Beyond

Image courtesy of National Geographic, published with owner’s permission
Image courtesy of National Geographic, published with owner’s permission

Edited by Ioana Casapu

Albert Camus once said,

Live life to the point of tears“.

But only once in a while do we manage to find people who hold up this thought and let themselves be defined through it.

One such person is film-maker, television personality and Emmy nominated host of National Geographic Channel’s TV series Brain Games, airing in 171 countries, Jason Silva. He also a digital filmmaker and the creator of the original series Shots of Awe. His videos have been seen over 100 million times across all channels. Jason is also an international keynote speaker, frequently giving speeches to companies like IBM, Microsoft, Intel and many more. Follow his Facebook page by hitting LIKE, here.

I managed to catch up with Jason for an exclusive interview that went beyond what we see on television screens, delving deep into the psyche of one of the best minds of this generation.

Here’s what went down when I sat down with Jason Silva:

Sayan – Let’s start at the start. You went to an international school. How do you think that shaped the way you interact and communicate with people?

Jason – Yes, attending an international school in Venezuela was an inspired, diverse, eclectic experience. It very quickly gave me a sense of the world, and an openness to other cultures in an environment of mutual respect and curiosity. This is the one world perspective. One planet. I developed a sense of intuition about how to relate to people of wildly different backgrounds.

– From what you’ve experienced over the years through all the places you’ve been to and all the things you’ve done, how would you describe the connection that one human feels towards another and how that is changing with the times and with the progresses in technology?

– There is a term I’ve come across that describes the magic of connecting with someone, that feeling of being understood. That term is “intersubjectivity”, which essentially means that when you ‘connect’ with someone else, two become one, two minds, two subjective worlds, temporarily merge. It’s a beautiful experience, and it is precisely this capacity for common experience that binds human beings together. Recently, neuroscientists have confirmed that when we click with someone, our brain waves actually begin to mirror each other. It’s called Brain Coupling, and it feels delightfully amazing. Technology will only augment and deepen the ways in which we can connect. Virtual reality will allow us to visit each other’s minds, share visions as never before. Tools will continue to break boundaries and warp geographies.

– How and Why do you think Cinema (given your love for it) with characters that we know mostly aren’t real, can actually transcend the barriers of communication and make people understand realities about themselves and the world at large, more than what real people around them can make them understand?

– When we watch movies a magical thing happens: we assume the viewpoint of the main character. Essentially we take on their point of view and vicariously experience whatever happens to them. Narratologists call this ‘the deictic shift’. This is pure magic. Our mind can mirror the character’s mind, we model their world, within our minds. When this happens, our self awareness disappears, we are quite literally outside ourselves. This is pure empathy because we assume the trials and struggles of the character, which means we move beyond our self conscious concerns. It’s a beautiful thing; and a glimpse of our most perfect moments, when we realize we are all one.

Image courtesy of National Geographic, published with owner’s permission
Image courtesy of National Geographic, published with owner’s permission

– We’ve talked about AI and I’ve heard you talk about how bots can be everywhere in the near future. Do you really think that these automatic machines can be empathetic, to the extent they mirror human emotions or even go beyond to create a kinder world?

– I do think that artificial intelligence will eventually model and mirror human intelligence in all of its spectrums – including having a rich emotional life. My view is that of Wired magazine co-founder Kevin Kelly who says technology is organismic, a living thing, the seventh kingdom of life. He calls it The Technium, and thus we should see the eventual emergence of true non biological minds as simply the next wave of evolution.

– Do you think art and technology go hand in hand in the sense that they serve the same purpose in terms of how they affect people and how they are indispensable to the human race?

– Yes. Art and science are two sides of the same coin. Two interpretive frameworks, two lenses for understanding the world. Two languages. I think the role of science is to push the boundaries of the quantifiable, of all that is empirically measurable…. and I think the role of art is to look deeper than the journalist’s literal grid, and quantify our subjective world, that which exceeds the empirical.

– Where do you think love figures in this age where everything is changing at a million frames a second and can technology in all it’s glory and pomp, ever be as important to the human being as love itself?

– Love stems from the religious impulse, from the human desire to merge with the transcendent, with the great beyond. We are hungry for some kind of ultimate meeting to absolve our existential yearnings and unending thirst for understanding— and love teases at an ultimate answer. Love, like God, is a cosmic stand-in for that which we struggle to articulate. And while it’s hard for any romance to bear the burden of godhood, we keep striving for this kind of ecstatic transcendence in the iris of a lover’s eye, because anything less would be giving up.

– In most of your projects we’ve seen you talk about the advancements in the sciences and how that’s going to radically change the face of everything human, very soon. How are these advancements going to help reduce the severely increasing mental strain that we are facing today in every aspect of our lives? And more importantly, can this strain reduce given how social media affects the common man now?

-We are dealing with turbulent times of rapid change. So much advancement can be dizzying, and have unintended consequences. I get that. But we must not lose sight of the prize, or our sense of direction. We are moving towards more possibilities, more communication, and more creativity. Things are getting better, even when our social media filter bubbles prevent us from seeing it. The challenge is to zoom out, pierce the veil, move beyond fear, and work together to leverage these technologies to make this a better world.

– How can we all contribute to giving back to our planet?

– Make your voice heard. Make media. Upload videos about things you’re passionate about. Contribute mindfully and passionately. Be curious. Stay alert. Be KIND. Above all, BE KIND.

– One advice you received and one that you’ll want to share with the world.

– FOLLOW YOUR BLISS AND BE KIND. ALSO: passion exists at the intersection of 3 or more things you’re really curious about.

– Finally, they say that we know where we were heading when we arrive there. So after all this time, does Jason Silva know where he is going?

– Ha. Jason Silva wants to understand it all. I am hungry for ultimate meaning and understanding. Poetic rapture. Bliss on tap. Neural nirvana. Truth. Visionary understanding. Love. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

Sayan Sen is a 19-year-old from Kolkata, India, with a deep affection for puns and football.

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