Bold Conjectures with Paras Chopra

Paras Chopra

My name is Paras Chopra and in the Bold Conjectures podcast, I interview experts from a variety of fields, asking them about unsolved questions in their field and what’s their conjecture for such open questions. Conjectures are ideas that are thought to be true but we neither have proof or disproof for them. Karl Popper, the famous philosopher of science, famously wrote the following in his debut book: “Bold ideas, unjustified anticipations, and speculative thought, are our only means for interpreting nature: our only organon, our only instrument, for grasping her.” All new groundbreaking ideas when initially proposed are in the form of a bold hypothesis. I love speculative thought which points to the direction of potential new knowledge. So, this is why I chose to focus on exploring what we don’t yet know for sure (rather what’s already settled consensus).

All Episodes

Does our subconscious exist? Today, I’m with Nick Chater, who is the author of the popular book “The Mind is Flat. In the book, he talks about how our mind is an imaginative storyteller making up things as it goes along in life. What we perceive as deep thoughts or emotions are not views into our deep self but rather a shallow, surface-level interpretation of whatever situation we find ourselves in. Nick is a Professor of Behavioural Science at Warwick Business School and works on rationality and language using a range of theoretical and experimental approaches. He has over 200 publications, has won four national awards for psychological research, and has served as Associate Editor for the journals Cognitive Science, Psychological Review, and Psychological Science. == What we talk about == 0:00 - Introduction 1:17 - What motivated you to study the mind and write a book on it? 10:47 - The ‘Self’ does not exist 20:54 - Most of what we do or say might be just confabulation 32:59 - Our past experiences influence our future actions 39:26 - We are all like coral reefs 42:10 - Why does evolution make us feel like we have mental depth? 47:41 - We are creating ourselves as we are going along 49:43 - The brain architecture 1:01:53 - The exceptional cases when your brain can ‘multitask' 1:05:54 - How to become a better thinker? 1:09:35 - What are your views on free will?

Nov 23

1 hr 12 min

Is there a limit to how much we can know? I talk to Dr. Chris Fields who is an information scientist interested in physics, developmental biology and cognitive neuroscience. He is a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Colorado. Currently, he’s an independent scientist. His recent publications include work in the foundations of quantum theory, morphology, and information systems. His research spans fields that aren’t traditionally overlapping which allows him to come up with unique and bold insights. Earlier in the podcast, I interviewed Dr Michael Levin and Dr Donald Hoffman and Chris has collaborated with both of them, so I’m excited to continue in the journey to understand how much we can know about the mysteries of reality and consciousness. == What we talk about == 0:00 - Introduction1:16 - How did you get interested in studying quantum mechanics professionally?3:37 - What made you explore so many different fields to study?5:59 - The difference between quantum and classical mechanics14:59 - What intuitions do you apply to understand the quantum theory? 16:39 - Deep diving into the quantum theory: systems and information 30:14 - What is a system? 44:58 - The reality is probably unknowable 50:10 - Why do you say that ‘double-slit experiment’ is a feature of our world? 1:04:09 - How does this all connect to panpsychism? 1:08:22 - Have you seen any changes in your beliefs or the way you live because of the conclusions in panpsychism? == Useful links == Chris Fields homepage: https://chrisfieldsresearch.com/ 

Oct 29

1 hr 10 min

Over the course of history, we've expanded our moral circle to arrive at equal rights for all humans in most countries in the world. Can we go beyond it and expand to include animals and other sentient beings? == What we talk about == 0:00 - Introduction 1:38 - How did you get interested in effective altruism (EA) and what made you focus on animal advocacy? 10:27 - The concept of replaceability, its connection with the EA community, and importance of scale of impact 20:08 - Why do you prioritize animal advocacy against helping the suffering humans? 31:05 - Do you see the number of users of animal products decreasing very slowly as demoralizing? 39:06 - Why is the transition from supporting animal advocacy to actually making an impact on people's food habits difficult? 41:15 - How would you guide someone who wants to pursue their career in animal advocacy? 44:25 - What are some things animal advocates do which accidentally harm animals rather than benefitting them? 54:24 - Being vegetarian and supporting pro-animal welfare are not the same thing 57:26 - Some effective altruists say helping humans is better than helping animals. Your take on that? 1:01:03 - Animals can’t protest for their rights and welfare / Animals can’t protest for their rights and welfare, Humans can 1:07:02 - Artificial sentience in animal advocacy and welfare 1:15:01 - What metrics do you use to keep a track of the impact you are making? == About the guest == Jamie Harris is the co-founder of and researcher at the non-profit Animal Advocacy Careers, a non-profit that seeks to identify and remove bottlenecks in the animal advocacy movement, with a special focus on farmed animal advocacy. Jamie is also a researcher at the Sentience Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to researching how we can expand humanity’s moral circle to include other non-human sentient beings like animals and, in the future, AI systems. Jamie’s career is inspired by the effective altruism ideology which aims to figure out how we can do the most good in the world. It’s about being rational about figuring out which of our actions have the biggest bang for the buck when it comes to improving the world. As you can imagine from Jamie’s focus, he believes that alleviating suffering for farmed animals is a high-priority goal. So, today I want to talk to him about why he believes that (v/s say helping poor or unhealthy humans), where is today’s animal advocacy focused, and what can we learn from previous social movements for achieving a world where animals are removing from the food supply chain (a cause that I very much believe in myself). 

Oct 14

1 hr 19 min

Winning feels great. But kindness feels even better. Visakan Veerasamy is the Internet's child. I call him that because he jokes that The Internet is his mum. In 2018, he quit his job in software marketing to write full-time. Today, he writes and tweets extensively on a variety of topics, which all converge on recurring themes around friendships, life, love, ambition, and nerdiness. Having interacted with Visakan before on Twitter, I reached out to him for a conversation after someone responded to my tweet where I asked which two people will enjoy being friends. That person said Visa and I will likely enjoy talking to each other, so here we are. Visa (as he's known) has a unique take on life and I try to capture all of it in our hour-long conversation. == What we talk about == 0:04 - Introduction 1:27 - What does ‘Friendly Ambitious Nerd’ mean? 5:05 - EVERYONE should write their own book 9:57 - Do you think about the words you want to use while writing? 13:38 - Who is your audience? Who are you writing for? 17:45 - The value of friendships 22:58 - How do you maintain the friendships you have or build new ones? 27:58 - How have your friendships helped you personally? 35:04 - Do you nurture your friendships in a specific way or is it a natural process? 46:46 - Being authentic is the best compounding game you want to play 55:25 - Can being friendly and being ambitious go together? 1:01:27 - The feedback loop in friendships 1:10:21 - How do you define taste? 1:17:33 - Have you seen anyone completely changing from being a negative person to a positive one? == Useful links == Visa's book (Friendly Ambitious Nerd): https://visakanv.gumroad.com/l/friendlynerdbook Visa's homepage: http://visakanv.com/

Sep 23

1 hr 22 min

DeFi is all rage these days, but have you heard of DeBi? DeBi stands for decentralized bio. In this podcast, I talk to Ethan Perlstein who is the founder and CEO of Perlara, a biotech startup that runs in a completely decentralized fashion. == What we talk about == 0:04 - Introduction 1:27 - Who is an indie-scientist? 2:59 - How did you go from being in academia to being an indie-scientist? 7:03 - While moving away from academia, what concerns did you have? 8:30 - As an indie-scientist, did you miss the academia’s collaborative science and affordable resources like labs? 11:39 - What is decentralized bio? And the three pillars of decentralized bio 28:46 - What does Perlara do? And the idea behind it. 33:04 - Since the scientists working on problems have different skillsets and expertise, how do you form teams and strategies? 40:08 - With the unpredictable nature of progress in science, how do you devise a step-wise roadmap? 44:08 - What is decentralized finance? 50:39 - Have you explored non-traditional ways of financing at Perlara? 52:16 - Why did you set Perlara up as a public benefit company? == About the guest ==Ethan is an aspiring orphan drug discoverer, evolutionary pharmacologist, and indie scientist. He has a PhD in molecular and cell biology from Harvard University, and was a Lewis-Sigler Fellow at Princeton University. He is the founder and CEO of Perlara.

Sep 10

55 min 52 sec

Why do dreams feel so real? It's because the same mechanisms that generate are waking reality also generate our dreams. However, unlike the awake state, during dreams, we're disconnected from sensory input and locomotor actions. This isolation from the real world makes dreams a perfect model system for investigating the nature of consciousness. I talk to Antti Revonsuo who is a philosopher and a scientist investigating dreams and their relationship with consciousness. == What we talk about == 0:04 - Introduction 1:54 - Why are you interested in consciousness? What aspect of it intrigued you to be interested in it? 4:55 - Is the mystery of consciousness a subject worth deep-diving into or is it a dead-end? 13:13 - The dreaming phenomenon 16:58 - We are dreaming all the time! 23:23 - All experiences are built inside our brains 28:30 - If it can be perceived, it is not consciousness 36:54 - Is consciousness a biological phenomenon? 43:50 - Psychophysical mapping of experiences 56:50 - Can we use your Dreamcatcher experiment in other species? 1:05:20 - The multiple levels of structures in our brain - and what makes them experienceable 1:18:00 - Views on panpsychism == About the guest == Antti Revonsuo is a cognitive neuroscientist who’s interested in understanding consciousness as a purely biological phenomenon. He believes we shouldn’t invoke unnecessary metaphysics until we’ve given a good shot at understanding consciousness fully in biological terms. Currently, he is a professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University of Skövde in Sweden and of psychology at the University of Turku in Finland. His work focuses on altered states of consciousness in general and dreaming in particular. He is best known for his Threat Simulation Theory, which states that dreams serve the biological function of rehearsing possibly threatening situations in order to aid survival. Antti Revonsuo is an advocate of the dreaming brain as a model of consciousness and he’s written a book on the same, which I thoroughly enjoyed. 

Sep 1

1 hr 23 min

What if everything continuously gets cheaper? Common sense suggests that is what paradise looks like. It's a world where everyone is able to afford more and more using less and less money. But why isn't our world like that? I talk to Jeff Booth, author of the popular book "The Price of Tomorrow", how to create a deflationary world. == What we talk about == 0:04 - Introduction 1:21 - As a tech entrepreneur, how did you get interested in economics? 4:33 - The game of inflation and deflation 14:47 - Why inflation is a theft 20:21 - If we can reset the debt to zero, will it be easier for governments to pursue deflation?23:04 - The inflation and climate change connection 26:42 - Money as a unit of information 28:46 - Is the government’s ability to print money beneficial for the poor? 37:52 - Is the free market a better system? 49:23 - How do we create a better world? 1:00:39 - How does the new deflationary system solve the problems of the world? == About the guest == Jeff Booth is the author of the popular book: “The Price of Tomorrow” where he analyzes the effects of technology-led deflation and monetary-policy-led inflation. He is also the founder of BuildDirect, a technology company that aimed to simplify the building industry, for nearly two decades through the dot-com meltdown, the 2008 financial crisis, and many waves of technological disruption. For his thoughts on technology, economy and recently bitcoin, Jeff has been featured in many publications including Forbes, TechCrunch, and The Wall Street Journal.

Aug 17

1 hr 4 min

Can there be a single solution to all of the following problems: malnutrition, climate change, biodiversity loss, and animal suffering? Varun Deshpande thinks so. In this podcast, he makes a compelling case that alternative proteins (such as those derived from plants, fungi, or those that are cultivated in labs) can fix all these problems in one go. == What we talk about == 0:04 - Introduction 1:29 - Journey of starting Good Food Institute (GFI) India 6:01 - Decision of making a leveraged impact by starting GFI India 11:00 - What are alternative proteins? 16:55 - If we keep eating meat, can we get to a zero-emissions world that's required to keep the climate crisis from worsening? 19:31 - Categories of alternative proteins 25:17 - Cultivating alternative food and the connection of food we eat with status and prestige 28:49 - How much should developing nations like India be responsible for emissions reduction? 34:10 - What has been the progress like and what are the barriers you foresee in the uptake of alternative proteins? 39:54 - Are you optimistic that consumers will make this switch to alternative food/proteins willingly? 45:19 - How do you measure the progress you are making? 48:07 - What advice will you give to someone who wants to enter this space? == About the guest == Varun Deshpande is the managing director of Good Food Institute India. The Good Food Institute is an international network of non-profits that promote plant-based meat, dairy, and eggs as well as cultivated meat as alternatives to conventional animal products. Varun started GFI India in 2017 with an aim to answer one question: how can we feed 10 billion people by 2050 - a sixth of whom will be Indian - through systems that do not negatively impact climate, biodiversity, and scarce natural resources? According to research, close to 80 percent of Indians are protein deficient. Traditional answers to fixing this nutrition gap is more animal proteins - i.e. more eggs, milk, and meat. However, livestock is a disaster when it comes to environmental impact and causes needless animal suffering. Can we do better? Varun thinks so. Good Food Institute India is laser-focused on enabling an ecosystem in India for alternatives to animal proteins and in the process of doing so, fixing many of the world’s urgent problems such as public health, malnutrition, food security, climate change, and animal welfare. == Useful links == GFI India: https://gfi.org.in/

Jul 23

52 min 27 sec

The tastiest food hasn't yet been invented. With the diversity of ingredients available to us for making dishes, the number of possible recipes is gigantic. Human chefs have only explored a fraction of this food-space. Perhaps computers can step in here. I talk to Ganesh Bagler who's pioneering a new field called computational gastronomy that aims to utilize machine learning techniques to understand food and create new recipes that don't yet exist. == What we talk about == 0:04 - Introduction 1:55 - What is computational gastronomy? 3:42 - You have been a researcher on computational biology, how did you end up getting interested in computational gastronomy? 8:04 - What is food and how do you model it in data? 11:07 - The data-centric approach in your research and recipe & flavor databases 17:34 - What have been some of the most surprising insights from the data you have? 22:25 - The evolution of cuisines across the world 28:39 - What is personalized food? And what can we expect to discover in the research you are doing? 36:26 - Food is personal - have you faced any objections to the work you are doing? 41:40 - What are the biggest unanswered questions about food that you want to answer? 46:32 - Your personal experience with food after you started this research == About the guest == Dr. Ganesh Bagler is a professor at Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology in Delhi, India. He is pioneering a new field called Computational Gastronomy, which combines machine learning, data and food. He holds a PhD in computational biology from Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, India. Food traditionally evolved via hit-and-trial methods. Someone thousands of years ago left wheat flour outside and when it tasted good, we got bread. The food we eat was culturally selected for many different reasons - nutritional, microbial, taste, digestion and so on. Ganesh Bagler is trying to use modern ML techniques to unravel the mysteries of food that we eat and then create intelligent algorithms that design totally new types of foods and recipes.

Jul 14

49 min 30 sec

Can you crowdsource your way to discovering a new drug? Alpha Lee's startup PostEra launched a crowdsourced effort (called Covid Moonshot) to discover drugs that are effective in treating covid-19. This was the first of its kind effort that combined research efforts from several groups across the world to design a drug that treats covid-19, is free from patents and can be made cheaply and easily anywhere in the world. == What we talk about == 0:04 - Introduction 1:28 - What does your company, PostEra, do? 4:58 - Why is the traditional method of discovering drugs inefficient and hard? 9:52 - How do you find whether a computationally discovered drug will work? 11:25 - How do you optimize the drugs for toxicity, solubility, and other properties? 12:03 - How are you able to come up with a chemical synthesis pathway in a finite time? 16:44 - What are the areas where deep learning models have become better than humans in drug development? 19:18 - What’s the origin story of Covid Moonshot? How did it grow into what it is now? 25:24 - How was the experience managing people from around the world working on this project, especially when there is no central authority? 27:47 - The process of finding the target molecule 34:17 - Since Covid moonshot is all pro-bono and you are not filing for a patent, how do you see the process of regulatory trials, which is very costly, being done? 37:19 - By the time your drug comes, do you think the Covid-19 will be a much lesser threat? 39-49 - Do you plan to use the same approach for different diseases? And do you also envision driving the whole process of drug discovery in the future, and not just enablement? 41:41 - How do you align your science research interests with commercial interests? 43:46 - Haș an insight, while working on a problem, inspired a scientific question? 45:23 - The marriage of use of basic science and real-world problems 46:38 - How can someone help in the Covid Moonshot mission? == About the guest == Dr Alpha Lee is the co-founder of PostEra, a start-up that offers medicinal chemistry as a service powered by machine learning. He did his Ph.D. at the University of Oxford. Currently, he’s at the University of Cambridge where his research group explores the integration of physics, statistics, and machine learning. 

Jul 1

48 min 33 sec

Schizophrenia affects 20 million people worldwide and there's no treatment for it. There is growing evidence that psychedelic drugs like psilocybin (as found in "magic mushrooms") could help treat it. I explore this fascinating topic with Gaige Clark who writes a popular blog https://mad.science.blog detailing the science of mental illnesses and their potential treatments. == What we talk about == 0:04 - Introduction 1:13 - How did you get interested in the science of psychedelics and the mind? 6:21 - What is schizophrenia? 9:10 - How common is schizophrenia? How does it impact people’s lives? 11:16 - The role of genetics and stress in being prone to these disorders including schizophrenia? 15:44 - Making sense of hallucinations as an aftereffect of schizophrenia 20:05 - How do you define psychedelics? And how do they work? 41:35 - It seems counterintuitive that the drugs which make you hallucinate can cure you of the hallucinations happening because of schizophrenia - how is this happening? 59:50 - How much have we progressed in using psychedelics as a therapy? 1:02:43 - Is psychedelics being researched upon to be used as a cure for anything else apart from schizophrenia and addiction? == About the guest == Gaige Clark is currently studying psychology at UC Merced, focusing on neuroscience, pharmacology, and neuropsychology, especially in relation to psychedelic therapy. He reads bucket loads of papers on the science of mental disorders and documents them on this blog. Through personal experiments and emerging support in science, he now believes in the hypothesis that psychedelics may treat schizophrenia.

Jun 16

1 hr 8 min

The best way to understand how life arose on Earth is to try to create it in a lab. But can we do it? Lee Cronin at the Glasgow University is trying to do make the simplest life possible using nothing but inorganic chemicals. == What we talk about == 0:04 - Introduction 1:16 - How did you become interested in the origin of life? 5:37 - How close are we to finding out the origin of life? 10:22 - The definition of life 17:47 - Low & high information objects 21:05 - Is the process of life a continuum? 24:53 - How will we know we've found life if it's too alien (say made of inorganic molecules)? 30:19 - What is the assembly theory? 44:06 - How inorganic chemicals become self-replicating systems? 48:32 - How far are we from starting a new branch of life on Earth? 50:19 - Why is all life on Earth DNA based? Why not a variety? 55:05 - Do you have any hopes that we will find life on Mars? 57:29 - What are the minimum viable conditions which have to be there for life to exist? 1:04:04 - What is a chemical computer? 1:08:42 - What is a chemical computer good for? 1:11:16 - Can you use your assembly theory to reverse engineer any chemical and then make it? 1:15:11 - What’s the reaction of the chemistry community on the work you are doing? == About the guest == Professor Lee Cronin is the Regius Chair of Chemistry in the School of Chemistry at the University of Glasgow, UK. He is interested in the intersection of computation, life and chemistry. His research group is trying to recreate life from scratch by mimicking the atmospheric and terrestrial conditions of early Earth. In his pursuit of figuring out how life arises, Prof Lee Cronin has ended up pushing chemistry to its limits, the most recent manifestation of which is the chemputer - a computer that can be programmed to synthesize almost any chemical you can imagine. Unlike many other scientists who study the origin of life, he is unique in his approach in trying to study life from its inorganic precursors - that is, how can complex organic molecules that life needs can form from inorganic molecules that get formed in the core of stars.

Jun 16

1 hr 17 min

How do our bodies know what to become? There are no instructions in our genes that code for the exact 3D structure of our bodies. There's no tiny human contained in our DNA. So, what powers the transformation of the first cell in the embryo to a full-blown organism? Dr Michael Levin is attacking this problem and, in the process of answering it, his lab is uncovering an entirely new way of looking at biology. == What we talk about == 0:04 - Introduction 1:20 - You were a software engineer. How did you get interested in biology? 6:50 - Can bacteria exhibit intelligent behavior? 7:46 - How do organisms take their final shape? 22:51 - How do cells in our body know when to stop multiplying? 27:49 - Analogs of software and hardware in developmental biology 34:20 - Where are the body plans stored in complex organisms like ours? 43:33 - What post-DNA paradigms are important in biology? 48:20 - What is regenerative medicine? 50:20 - How far have we progressed in regenerative medicine? 52:52 - Xenobots: world's first synthetic organisms 1:00:12 - How to program Xenobots 1:05:13 - How do you handle the ethical dilemma while you are working with conscious organisms? 1:10:22 - How do you enable the scientific creativity in your lab and amongst your students? And is it a teachable skill? == About the guest == Michael Levin is a Distinguished Professor in the Biology department at Tufts and serves as director of the Allen Discovery Center. He holds a PhD in biology from the Harvard University. At Tufts, his research group is interested in figuring out how our bodies know what to become. He believes that what guides our body plans is bio-electric communication between different units. Our bodies take shape the way they have because each of our subunits - cells, tissues, organs - collectively decides it to be that way.

May 25

1 hr 19 min

Hinting at the perceived sluggish rate of innovation in recent decades, Peter Theil famously said that “we were promised flying cars and all we got is 140 characters”. Today, I’m going to pick Jose’s brain on whether technological and scientific progress is indeed slowing down, and what that suggests for our society’s future. == What we talk about == 0:04​ - Introduction 0:50​ - What does being an independent researcher mean for you? 2:50​ - How did you become an independent researcher? 9:40​ - You don't publish in peer-review journals, why? 12:35​ - How do you pick your research subjects? 15:48​ - Being an independent researcher, how do you get feedback on your research? 21:14​ - What is the great stagnation and why do people believe that it exists? 28:24​ - What is the narrative behind it and why does it matter? 33:59​ - Is there great stagnation in technology? 43:07​ - How should we interpret the possibility of productivity slowing down? 49:21​ - Why should the world care about productivity and efficiency? 52:01​ - Is the marginal cost of new knowledge increasing? 59:36​ - Even when we have more cumulative knowledge, the rate at which the economy grows still has been constant. Your views on this? 1:02:30​ - How do you make sense of laws like Moore's law? 1:09:42​ - With your diverse research background, what have you changed your mind on? == About the guest == José is an independent researcher who likes to get into details of things. On his blog https://nintil.com​, among a wide range of topics, he writes about how science is done, advances in human longevity research, economics and innovation.

May 12

1 hr 17 min

How does our consciousness arise? In this episode, I and Dr Philip Goff explore the increasingly popular view that everything in our universe is conscious (panpsychism). == What we talk about == 0:04​ - Introduction1:02​ - How did you get interested in the problem of consciousness?5:10​ - The role of philosophy in understanding consciousness10:30​ - How can philosophy and science come together to help understand consciousness13:40​ - What is your definition of consciousness?22:35​ - The philosophical vs scientific frameworks in consciousness. And why does consciousness matter? 29:57​ - How do you situate the discussion on consciousness historically? 45:44​ - What is the current contemporary view of panpsychism? 53:43​ - Dualism vs panpsychism 56:33​ - What are the open questions in panpsychism? == About the guest == Dr Philip Goff is a professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Durham in the UK. He’s the author of a book called Galileo's Error in which he defends panpsychism, the view that consciousness is a fundamental and ubiquitous feature of the physical world. He acknowledges it sounds a bit crazy, but in his book and research papers he tries to show that it avoids the difficulties faced by its rivals which are materialism (consciousness can be explained in terms of physical processes in the brain) and dualism (consciousness is separate from the body and brain).

May 1

1 hr 4 min

Balaji is a deep thinker on crypto and its implications. Formerly the CTO of Coinbase and General Partner at Andreessen Horowitz, he’s seen how technologies evolve over time, which ones change the world and which ones fizzle out as a fad.He believes crypto technologies such as bitcoin represent the former. To him, crypto will emerge as something that’s as important as the Internet and influence our society for decades to come.What we talk about0:04​ – Introduction 1:28​ – How did you get interested in crypto? 7:40​ – Your sense-making algorithm when you come across something strange and new like crypto? 20:44​ – Role of dissatisfied entrepreneurs in changing the status quo 26:40​ – Decentralized vs centralized networks 29:20​ – The demonstrated benefits of crypto 41:27​ – Is crypto a general-purpose technology like the internet? 55:24​ – Is the money being made or being transferred in the crypto ecosystem? 1:12:00​ – Valuations in crypto – actual value vs speculation? 1:17:47​ – Hindsight bias when analyzing crypto 1:25:24​ – What are crypto states? And why do you think nation-states will evolve towards them?

Apr 12

1 hr 33 min

The way science is funded today is broken. Writing grant proposals for raising funds takes a significant amount of time and, unlike papers, they aren’t published in journals or valued for their scientific contribution. With grant rates now in single digits in many fields, scientists are spending more time raising funds than doing actual science. Is there a better way? Kevin Gross, professor at North Carolina State University, urges us to explore alternative ways of funding science. One such suggestion is using partial lotteries to award grants which, according to the models he’s built, generate more scientific output for the society than current methods.What we talk about1:55​ – How did you get interested in meta-science? 6:45​ – What progress have we made in the science of science? 8:45​ – Existing science funding mechanisms 16:15​ – Psychological pressure on scientists from the perspective of funding 22:54​ – Why hasn’t the funding been kept up with the number of scientists applying for funding? 26:22​ – How do the review panels rank the proposals for funding? 33:21​ – What are the most prominent issues with the current funding system? 36:48​ – Alternative ideas to improve the current funding system 54:04​ – Is there any empirical evidence for the alternative ideas you have for funding systems? 57:42​ – Why should society care about how science is funded?

Mar 31

59 min 52 sec

Can we eliminate suffering? David Pearce thinks so. He is a British philosopher who has played a key role in defining and promoting transhumanism – a movement that challenges humans to explore what it means to go beyond our biological evolved limitations and constraints. He is most known for Hedonist Imperative, a manifesto he wrote in 1995 which outlines how modern technology can and should be used to eliminate all suffering in all sentient life, replacing it with bliss. David calls this the abolitionist project.What we talk about4:13​ – How do you define suffering? 7:03​ – What is hedonic zero? 8:21​ – What is negative utilitarianism and why do you promote it? 11:45​ – Is painless death a type of suffering?13:16​ – Is suffering essential to create meaning for humans? 20:20​ – What are the steps you see for eliminating suffering? And can it start today? 29:07​ – After we reduce suffering, will our hedonic default reset and we’ll suffer anyway? 34:22​ – Why sensitivity between different hedonic states is important 36:31​ – Why did evolution design let suffering evolve? 39:40​ – Do depressed people have a better understanding of the world? 41:54​ – Delegating human suffering to machines 44:09​ – How do you characterise addiction? Is it good or bad? 49:21​ – Are short-term pleasures (like smoking) that turn into addiction worth it? 51:44​ – Are plants consciousness and if so, what is your take on veganism and vegetarianism? 55:36​ – Why would a human brain produce consciousness and a plant would not? 1:00:15​ – Have you noticed any progress since the time you published ‘The Hedonistic Imperative’?

Mar 19

1 hr 5 min

What are the origins of language? What role did evolution play in it?In this episode, Micheal Corballis backs up the idea that languages evolved gradually and some version of it existed much before Homo Sapiens arrived on the scene.About the guestMichael Corballis is an emeritus professor at the Department of Psychology at the University of Auckland. His research interests intersect cognitive neuroscience with language and evolution. He is deeply interested in big questions such as how did language evolve, why our brain is asymmetrical and what it means to be human. He has authored several books on language and mind.What we talk about1:23 – What led you to be curious about the evolution of language?2:49 – Why are our brains asymmetrical?6:36 – Noam Chomsky’s work on the evolution of language8:26 – Did language emerge suddenly?13:25 – How did language evolve?15:17 – Did the evolution of language start from gestural communication?17:34 – Transition from gestural communication to vocal20:34 – How do we prove the evolution of language when there is no archeological evidence?23:47 – Why did we not stop at gestural communication?28:35 – Theory of mind is a critical part of language31:29 – Mental time-travel and theory of mind in language for humans36:53 – Is there a connection between our open-ended imagination and language being generative?39:50 – What aspects of language differentiate humans from other animals41:03 – Do we think in languages?42:29 – Which language do differently-abled people think?44:45 – Language is not essential for thoughts, it is just a way for communicating45:34 – Why do we have so many languages?49:47 – Is there any language inherently better than any other language?52:53 – How do children pick up any language without formal teaching?54:37 – Why is there better adoption of vocal language than written language?58:20 – What is the future of language?Dive into Michael Corballis’ researchTEDx talk on language originsPublicationsBooks written

Mar 11

1 hr 1 min

Ever heard of meta-science?It’s the science of science. In this episode, I interview the meta-scientist James A. Evans who explains how science happens, why smaller teams do big scientific breakthroughs, similarities between startups and scientific endeavors, and what research shows about the path to success.His research shows how science is not an automatic machine that keeps on generating truth, but is rather a system where social dynamics of how scientists interact with each other determine what they end up discovering.About the guestJames Evans is the Director of Knowledge Lab, and faculty at the Sociology department at the University of Chicago. His research uses machine learning and large-scale data to understand how groups think and what they know. He studies collective efforts like science and Wikipedia to figure out how collective attention is distributed, how new ideas originate, and how shared habits of reasoning emerge.What we talk about0:04 – Introduction1:49 – How science happens?5:47 – Why science is going through a replication crisis?11:33 – Does science generate truths?15:14 – How does truth get established in any field?20:04 – Robustness vs replicability22:12 – Instead of open science, we should have more closed science26:05 – Why we need diversity in scientific thought and process28:40 – On risk in science and why failure is actually the success in scientific studies?29:34 – Funding in science studies vs funding in start-ups32:39 – How to push the system to increase the risk appetite in science?37:29 – On having a diverse portfolio of research directions to enable yourself to take more risks43:40 – Is productivity in science declining?47:28 – Why prevents getting more breakthroughs in science50:05 – Increasing failure to increase successful science discoveries55:34 – We need to treat new start-up theories charitably58:20 – How is success achieved across various fields?1:02:34 – Using data from failures to figure success1:04:35 – Difference between what you are doing vs others is the high ground of success1:06:35 – Your research on aesthetics of knowledge – what is it and why are you interested in it

Mar 3

1 hr 14 min

What is the long-term future of the US dollar?In this episode, I talk Lyn Alden who is an engineer in love with finance. She runs an investment research service for individuals and institutions at her website where she covers value investing with a global macroeconomic view.As a big theme, she has been exploring the strength of the US dollar in the rapidly evolving world order and what the future holds for the world’s reserve currency. She claims that the 2020 decade will see a weakening of the US dollar due to a phenomenon known as the Triffin dilemma and that’s what I discussed with her in this episode.What we talk about0:05​ – Introduction 3:52​ – What is a reserve currency?10:27​ – How did the US dollar replace hard assets like Gold as a reserve in foreign countries? 15:10​ – The arrival of fiat currency 20:37​ – What determines the strength of a currency 24:38​ – The role of the second World War in strengthening the US currency 28:33​ – Why did the USA want to push the US dollar as a reserve currency? 31:51​ – What pressures prevent printing too much money? 34:34​ – Triffin’s dilemma 39:20​ – What is the petrodollar system? 40:04​ – The case for the weakening of the US dollar weakening 45:53​ – Long-term implication of the US dollar getting weaker? And why has inflation not hit even when there are more US dollars in circulation? 53:25​ – Who benefits from a weak US dollar? 57:24​ – How would a weakened dollar influence the dollar’s status as a reserve currency? 1:01:02​ – Would the US maintain its global reserve currency status or accelerate its desire to not be a global reserve currency? 1:04:44​ – What happens when the US dollar is not the global reserve currency anymore? 1:08:40​ – Is the idea of having more reserve currencies a good one? 1:09:26​ – Do you think a cryptocurrency like bitcoin could also become a kind of reserve?

Feb 24

1 hr 11 min

Should we worry about AI?Connor Leahy is an AI researcher at EleutherAI, a grass-roots collection of open-source AI researchers. Their current ambitious project is GPT-Neo, where they’re replicating currently closed-access GPT-3 to make it available to everyone.Connor is deeply interested in the dangers posed by AI systems that don’t share human values and goals. I talked to Connor about AI misalignment and why it poses a potential existential risk for humanity.What we talk about00:05 – Introductions2:55 – AI risk is obvious once you understand it3:40 – AI risk as a principal-agent problem4:33 – Intelligence is a double-edged sword7:52 – How would you define the alignment problem of AI?9:10 – Orthogonality of intelligence and values10:15 – Human values are complex11:15 – AI alignment problem11:30 – Alignment problem: how do you control a strong system using a weak system12:42 – Corporations are proto-AGI14:32 – Collateral benefits of AI safety research16:25 – Why is solving this problem urgent?21:32 – We’re exponentially increasing AI model capacity23:55 – Superintelligent AI as the LEAST surprising outcome25:20 – Who will fund to build a superintelligence26:28 – Goodhart’s law29:19 – Definition of intelligence33:00 – Unsolvable problems and superintelligence34:35 – Upper limit of damage caused by superintelligence38:25 – What if superintelligence has already arrived41:40 – Why can’t we power off superintelligence if it gets out of hand45:25 – Industry and academia is doing a terrible job at AI safety51:25 – Should govt be regulating AI research?55:55 – Should we shut down or slow AI research?57:10 – Solutions for AGI safety1:05:10 – The best case scenario1:06:55 – Practical implementations of AI safety1:12:00 – We can’t agree with each other on values, how will AGI agree with us?1:14:00 – What is EleutherAI?

Feb 17

1 hr 17 min

How important is status-seeking?Kunal Shah is the founder of CRED, a fintech company in India that’s raised over $225mn. Previously, he started and sold Freecharge, one of the few fintech companies in India with a successful exit. He’s a philosophy graduate by education and today probably more people know him for his insights into human behavior and philosophy than for being a founder of two famous startups.His fundamental belief is that we’re driven primarily by status and even though the idea sounds simple, it has many interesting consequences for society, economy, and individual satisfaction.What we talk about0:05 – Introduction2:04 – What is status and how does it drive human motivation?11:54 – The role of status in shaping societies16:21 – Bootstrapping status18:57 – Why do we want to shape the society in our image?24:54 – Seeking status to seek immortality30:00 – Does status inequality exist in societies?39:53 – Competence vs being popular42:39 – High trust vs low trust societies and the correlation of status with wealth54:09 – How to scale trust in low trust societies1:00:06 – If you had the power to change India as a country, what would you do?1:07:20 – What factors do you attribute to your success with raising the money vs the other entrepreneurs?1:11:24 – Do the negative messages/comments on social media impact you psychologically?1:12:54 – What is CRED and why did you build it?1:18:47 – How did you justify making a huge investment in IPL ads? And how did this play out?

Feb 9

1 hr 23 min

Do we see reality as it is? I discuss this question with Donald Hoffman who is professor emeritus at the University of California, Irvine. He studies consciousness and perception from an evolutionary point of view. His research has led him to make a bold claim that while we do not yet know what the underlying reality could be like. Rather, reality as we know it now – including space, time, and objects – is a useful fiction that evolution invented for us.His TED talk on our perception of reality has been watched over 3 million times, and in his recent pop-science book for the wider audience, The Case Against Reality, he makes a convincing case on how our perceived reality is an illusion that has evolved to help us survive and reproduce.1:46 – Towards building a mathematical understanding perception5:12 – Evolutionary game theory to help understand perception6:26 – Computing truth is expensive, so evolution get rids of it8:00 – Mathematical proof that evolution doesn’t tune us to see the truth9:56 – David Marr’s ideas and inverse optics11:30 – What are fitness payoffs? Why do they matter? How are they determined?16:23 – Maximizing for truth vs maximizing for winning18:40 – Illusions that show physical reality doesn’t exist23:21 – Physical reality not being fundamental as a scientific claim24:23 – Existing physics points to spacetime not being fundamental30:25 – The basics of the interface theory of perception34:40 – We have to guess mathematically the deeper structure of reality38:00 – Model-free planning in reinforcement learning44:45 – Why should we care about what is objective reality?49:20 – How can we use science to go beyond physical reality?56:57 – Reality is a huge social network of conscious agents1:03:41 – Predictions from the mathematics of conscious agents1:09:26 – “We will be able to warp space and time”1:09:35 – Bridging conscious agents to physical reality1:15:32 – How far along have we come in his journey of building a fundamental theory of reality based on consciousness?1:17:31 – Is mathematics part of the underlying reality or is it a useful fiction too?1:30:12 – Does your research on reality and consciousness impact your personal life and beliefs?

Feb 1

1 hr 32 min

Do surgeries work? Most of us assume they do, but is there any scientific evidence that they do?In this episode, I talk to Dr Ian Harris who is a Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of New South Wales in Australia. He is a practicing orthopedic surgeon specializing in trauma surgery. Outside his practice, his research interests broadly cover the topic of surgical effectiveness and clinical research.1:38 – Science as a way of knowing things9:15 – Why medical professionals refuse to believe scientific evidence?15:05 – What is a placebo?19:16 – How strong is the placebo effect in surgeries?22:05 – History of bloodletting in medicine and how we stopped this practice24:31 – The myths of knee surgery28:26 – Why doctors need to be held accountable32:26 – Why are there no regulatory authorities in surgery like there are in new medicine?35:14 – Latest studies on why half of the surgeries are ineffective41:00 – Need for randomized trials for discovering which surgeries actually work44:48 – Why is surgery the ultimate placebo?47:12 – How much effort does it take to do a meta-analysis or a systematic review?47:29 – How to improve meta-reviews via living systematic reviews49:54 – What should you be asking your doctor if you are recommended a surgery?

Jan 20

55 min 52 sec

In the first episode of Bold Conjectures, I talk to Dr Anders Sandberg who is a Senior Research Fellow at Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford University.  His academic collaborators include nanotechnology pioneer Eric Dexler and the philosopher Nick Bostrom. The audio quality isn't perfect in this one as this is my first podcast. It should get better from here :)== We talk about == - Why intelligent life may be rare in the universe - What should we do as humans if that's indeed the case - How to model likely outcomes of the future of humanity == Papers by Dr Anders Sandberg mentioned in the episode == - The Timing of Evolutionary Transitions Suggests Intelligent Life Is Rare- Dissolving the Fermi Paradox- Blueberry Earth == Social media profiles == - Paras Chopra: https://twitter.com/paraschopra - Anders Sandberg: https://twitter.com/anderssandberg == Credits == Thanks to Sachin Vats (https://twitter.com/sachinvats97) for editing

Jan 9

58 min 20 sec