Transcripts > The Tim Ferriss Show > Edward Norton on Mastery, Must-Read Books, and The Future of Crowdfunding
Hello boys and girls, this is Tim Ferris and welcome to another episode of the Tim Ferris show, were it is my job to deconstruct world class performers. To tease out the routines, habits, influences, books, etc. that you can use or apply to your own life. And in this episode I sit down with Edward Norton. @EdwardNorton on the twitters, please say hello to him. Edward is an actor, filmmaker and activist. Of course, hes been nominated for 3 Academy Awards for his work in Primal Fear, American History X and Birdman. He has starred in scores of other films including the iconic Fight Club, The Things You Own and Aboning You, The Illusionist, and Moon Rise Kingdom among many, many others. Unbeknownst however to many people, Edward is also a serial star-up founder. He is a UN Ambassador for Bio-Diversity, a massive successful investor; for instance, very early in Uber and perhaps another half a dozen unicorns. A pilot and deeply involved with wilderness conservation. And as luck would have it at this exact moment, I am involved with one of his start ups - Crowd Rise. I have a campaign on there with Johns Hopkins supporting some fascinating psychedelic research. Check it out, it is to dress treatment resistant depression. Its fascinating. Go go to Crowdrise to check it all out and we have a very wide ranging conversation. We cover a lot including his beginnings, what early mentors taught him, some cool Marlin Brando stories, his physical prep for American History X, surfing, favorite books, documentaries, underrated films and filmmakers. That reindeer bell sound is Molly doing a little jig in the background and there are also some cats in heat outside my apartment for some reason, so excuse the extracurricular sound. Catastrophe of success would be one of the essays for instance, his advise to his 20 and 30 year old self, and much more. One bonus, a book that he recalled, one of his favourites, after we stopped recording, which I wanted to include is Buddhism Without Beliefs and without further ado, please enjoy my conversation with the incredible Edward Norton.
Edward, welcome to the show.
I am sitting here, looking out at the surfers and I know we got a start today because you had a session early this morning and it seems like surfing is a big part of your life. I know this is maybe an odd place to start, but how long has that been the case?
It’s definitely my most positive addiction. I think, I started.. actually my father lived in Indonesia from like 2005 for about 7 years and I was making a film in China called The Painted Veil and toward the very end of the film, I get chucked off a horse doing a shot and I broke my back in 3 places. Fortunately didn’t hurt my spine, just cracked 3 vertebrae and was really lucky. My back was like an oak table with no articulation in it, between my neck and the bottom of my ass and so I couldn’t twist, I couldn’t bend, I was really really racked and locked up and when the film ended my dad had just moved to Indonesia so I went down there for a couple of months to hang out with him and just try to recover a little bit. And that was like swimming and doing yoga and getting massages and things like that and there was a surf school on one of the beaches there and I had always wanted to do that and started realising that, it forced you into a reversed bowed position that was exactly what I was having trouble doing and so, initially I started doing it just taking a big padded board and paddling, just to try to increase my endurance and having at back arched and from there I just got completely hooked on it.
It seems to undo a lot of the posturaly induced problems of people who use computers too often right? I mean you have this protracted, rounded back and then when you’re forced into that thoracic extension, even for half a minute or half an hour of paddling or a few hours of paddling it just seems to undo and balance all that out
Its great physically, its actually great aerobically, it uses muscle in really weird ways, and you have to be nimble and retain your ability to hop up, and you’re looking at moving water all the time and I would say trying to figure out the micro variations in wave forms and the way they’re moving at you and where you should position yourself on them is better than any video game. There’s no video game that’s more complex than trying to read the nuances of moving water and put yourself in the right place. I actually totally, not facetious, its an addiction. I have friends who were serious addicts; heroine addicts, really struggled with things, who have replaced that with surfing because it hits parts of the brain that are completely…. its like dopamine and serotonin all at once and you come out of it so bliss-ed out and kind of, we were talking about this earlier, its like a re-boot on your stress, on your crowded mind on all of it. I just think I should meditate more than I do except I do surf and I feel like I get the meditative value out of surfing.
I think the mindfulness aspect of it is, and I’m not a good surfer, although I enjoy surfing, poorly, but the fact that the terrain is always changing like you said, makes it very distinct form something you might think of as similar like snowboarding. You constantly have to be in a present state, have a present state awareness of where you are relative to your surroundings, where you are relative to other people, its a necessity that you are paying attention to what happening int he here and now.
Yea its great. It makes me play hooky more than I do otherwise. I’ll suddenly find myself more able to be confident that I can push other things to the side, I can’t explain it, it re-calibrates my sense of urgency around my to-do list.
Its sort of alleviates the manufactured emergencies somewhat
What other morning rituals to do have that you find helpful or have you had?
I wish I had better ones is the honest answer. I think I would benefit from creating more ritual morning routines that are positive; be it exercise first thing when I’m not surfing or meditation or anything that sort of, as a matter of practice starts the day in a mindful way or however you want to put it. I too often just let the day begin by opening up the cascade of emails or things I think I’m supposed to do or, you know, its not the right way to jump start the mind. That’s a category I should do better on
I’m obsessed with routines of course, different types of habits. I’ve wanted to ask you this, I’m actually astonished I haven’t asked you this before in our previous conversations, but when you were getting ready for the role in American History X, what type of training did you do for that? What did your training regimen look like?
It was pretty specific to building mass. Doing that film created the strangest distortion of perception on me and I know that’s a weird thing to say but like its unbelievable the degree to which that film and the magic of camera and art and black and white photography and all of these things made a lot of people think that I was a larger and tougher person than I am. People who know me, I think almost couldn’t believe what was going on after that film because I’m like 6ft tall and I weigh 160 if I’m not in great shape, I have thin wrists, I’m not naturally big so it was a challenge for me to put that kind of weight on, so just did many things, you’d be more familiar with than almost anybody. you know I calorie loaded, a lot of lifting for a long time. For the first portion of it, didn’t concern [myself] with leanness at all, just tried to get muscle mass on. I wish I’d had your book back then but I didn’t. Probably would have helped me out but I did my own version of it. Increased diet, increased protein all that stuff and then I did it the old fashioned blunt force way, mostly a lot of, probably much more than had I read your book, sort of your minimum effort kind of maxim. i was probably going way beyond the bell curve in terms of effort required to get the result but that’s what I did. And then as we approached the film, I moved into kind of like just fat burning mode and I was running, I was doing everything I could to lean out because the camera is a magical thing, it doesn’t actually see absolute scale, it really only sees things relative so you don’t know how tall Al Pacino really is unless he’s standing next to Schwarzenegger or whatever. And you don’t actually know how big a person is, and lots of people, you know I had Jim Rats and go ‘what do you weigh? ‘did you weigh 2 bucks on that’, ‘did you weigh a buck 90?’ and I was like ‘no I wasn’t that big’, but if you get form and definition, the camera sees that and if you put people around you which we did very conscientiously who are smaller. The actor guy Tory, who played the black guy in jail who he becomes friends with, we cast, he was terrific but he was also really really small and it made me look really really big. Those things inflate the perception of how you’ve gotten, but it was hard but I really enjoyed it.
Was the eating more challenging or the training more challenging?
The eating was more challenging. I had trained, I rode crew in college…
That was light-weight crew?
No I rode heavy-weight crew.
What is heavy weight crew? Whats the…
Nothing. Light-weight has a cut off but heavy-weight doesn’t. I was not like a varsity, I rode my freshman year and I rode my sophomore year. But frankly probably should have rode light-weight cuz I was at my absolute maxed out, I probably weighted 175 when I was really really big and strong at 19 years old and everything and the guys who were true varsity a class rowers were like 215 and it was a whole other thing. but I loved it, I loved it. And so training, I was a runner, I did ultra-marathon kind of thing. Training hard wasn’t a new thing for me but building bulk was.
And was that self directed or did you hire someone to help you with that?
I did a lot on my own, but no, I had a guy who’s name is alluding me right now. I never worked with him again or had contact with him again after but he, Tony, he was terrific. Yea he designed [the protocol…]. Yes, designed it for me
When were you introduced to acting? or how did that come to be? I did do a fair amount of reading and for whatever reason, wasn’t able to pin it down exactly. I mean the summer camp came up, but I don’t know where things began
Mostly, my mother was an English teacher, she was a high school English teacher and was a real theater aficionado. Both my parents were theater aficionados and film lovers and stuff like that. They exposed me very early on to theater and plays and I had a strong pull toward that from the time I was 5 years old even. A babysitter of mine went and I signed up at the theater arts program outside of school that she was involved in and that’s how I got involve in it. I went through ebbs and flows. I loved it. It wasn’t like I knew I wanted to be an actor I just liked doing it and i loved writing stories. I wrote, I made up my own comic books and I made little VHS camcorder films where you use the pause button as your cut you know what I mean and just all that stuff I loved. Not exclusively, not in a way where I knew it was my live as an adult. And then I got really self-conscious about it in high school. I went to a public high school, it didn’t seem cool to me at all, I was doing athletics and things
And the athletics were at that time what?
I did a lot of stuff, I played tennis, I played baseball, I played ice hockey, I ran track
where was that?
Columbia Maryland. Its like half an hour south of Baltimore.
Who were your first, then, mentors in the world of theatre, acting or performing?
The woman who created this local theater arts school in our community in Columbia Maryland, her name was Toby Ornstein and its crazy to say but she really was, I still think she’s one of the great minds I ever encountered on theater, the craft of theater, the craft of acting. She was not a regional theater hobbist, she was my Stella Adler when I was young and infused us when we were really young with a sense of seriousness about it and of craft. Told us to read and told to be erudite on plays and it was really interesting and then I got kinda, in my teens, I got kinda self-conscious about it and then I saw Ian McKallen do a one man show in Washington DC when I was about 17 and it was so, it had such a huge impact on me that I thought wow this is something you could actually do as an avocation, this is something you can do as an adult and its like big and important and meaningful, that’s how I felt about it. And then I still didn’t really have a notion I was going to commit myself to that until a couple of years after college even.
What was your major in college?
I studied History, I got a degree in History, with a focus on Asian stuides and languages and stuff
if we go back to… what was her name again?
Could you tell a story or give an example of what type of thins she would emphasise? When she was working with you guys or any particular memories of her?
She was a great director. Mostly I think a lot of people would say that someone in their early life… If you are lucky you have someone when you are young who doesn’t talk down to you, who speaks to you as a serious person and exhorts you to be, to take something seriously, to take work seriously. And if a person does that in the right way, you feel elevated. As a young person you feel elevated, you feel someone is saying to you ‘hey, you wanna be taken seriously, then take things seriously. Do the work. Don’t coast. And I’d say that’s what she gave. Later, when I was in New York I had a teacher named Terry Schriber who ran a terrific theater acting studio in New York and he, I’ve often said about him that the thing I admired most about him was that he was a pluralist and by that I mean he basically rejected this notion that has infused a lot of the training of actors that a methodology, that one methodology holds the key to anything. He was basically like, all of these things are what a forehand, a backhand, a volley, a serve are to a tennis player. The Lee Strausberg method, the Stella Adler Imagination Focus, the Sandy Maizner exercises, he basically said if you don’t get yourself conversant with a lot of shots, you’re not gonna be great. You are not going to be able to address material with diverse skill sets as called for. And I thought that really resonated with me cuz I was really turned off dogma.
Right. Sounds like the Bruce Lee of acting and performance. Except what is useful, reject what is useless, and act on what is uniquely your own type of approach.
I never thought of it that way but I agree
I’ve always been insecure of stage. And I still pace around like a nervous wreck for every time I get up to give a keynote or whatnot. I’m actually taking, wasn’t planning on asking you this but it just came to mind, I’m actually taking my first acting class as an adult at the end of this month. It’s a 3 day, i think its gonna be focused on improv, I don’t know exactly what the curriculum is, but what advise would you give, and its not that i plan on acting per se, i just thought it would be a helpful exercise to get over my fear of doing this type of thing, what advise might you give me?
I always think that one of the most interesting things about the challenge of representing behavior which is basically what acting is, or representing emotion, representing whatever you wanna call it, is that everybody does this all the time. Very few people are perpetually speaking in their authentic voice you know? The Dalai Lama might but I’d bet hes got his moments where his sort of playing the role of a monk, you know what I mean? We put on faces, we put on postures, we adapt who we are depending on the circumstances that we’re in all the time and people do it seamlessly all the time and un-selfconsiously. And yet, the minute that you tell someone that other people are gonna watch them do anything; definitely I thinnk when we put a camra on someone, the effect of self consciousness is so profound on people’s inability to do that which is completely natural to them at most times in their lives and I alomst think that as soon as you put someone on stage or you out a camera on somene; its like if there was a circle and on one side of the cirlce is naturalistic behaviour, as soon as you through someone on stage it hurls them to the other side of the circle and they immediately become wooden, unnautral. And a lot of that has to do just with tension and a sense of urgency, nerves, you konw. I think like the old fight or flight thing. I think, this is a weird thing to reference but there is this European show that was like a candid camera type show. It did a lot of things like they were scaring people, or setting up a situation of a ticking suitcase in front of a train station and whats amazing is how paralysis is the most common response. People imagine in their minds what their behaviour is gonna be when presented with certain stimulus or circumstances. But the truth is, is that people go into a stone cold freeze in many many siutations. And theres a lot of studies on this and the behaviour of crowds and all that kinda stuff
The woman getting stabbed in the street and you have 40 people who all expect someone else to do something
And also just because it’s something deeply biological like there’s a lot of safety in freezing but I think it is very hard for people to find a relaxed comfort let alone a sense of pleasure within the idea that they’re performing in front of other people. And so they stop listening, you know, they start doing what I would call ‘up the middle choices’ like they start painting in color blue instead of doing the little things that I did that. One of the stories I ever heard about young people in an acting class, and the difference between sort of what happens to people typically and what are real authentic kind of genius is; is that Harry Belafonte talked about being in an acting class with Marlon Brando when they were both like literally like 19 or 20 years old in Greenwich Village and what they said it was okay one person is one person’s in his apartment and the other one enters. You’re the person who’s on your couch in your apartment the other one enters, scene ensues, just run with it. And all these people were doing all these kind of forced conversations or trying to create a scenario or something and supposedly Marlin sat on the couch and started reading a magazine and whoever it was with him walked in his door and he looked up and jumped up and grabbed the guy by his shirt front and threw him out the door and slammed the door, and everybody was like what are you doing? he’s like ‘I don’t know who that f** guy is, he just walked into my apartment, he scared the shit out of me’ you know? and it’s like oh wait a minute, yea, there probably wouldn’t be scene, there wouldn’t be a conversation, there’d a like who are you?
Super awkward confrontation
Exactly, like, get out. The most obvious true thing that you do, which is wonder, you know
What would the ‘up the middle choice’ have been in that scenario? Or what is another example of that because I’d love to get a better understanding
Put it this way, there’s an argument and there’s something about the writing of a scene that indicates the lines were it indicates stress or it indicates anger, so then the up the middle choice is to raise your voice and be angry but what we all, I think know on some deep level when we watch people performing who reeawlly grab is us that they have an intuition for the choices that reflect the way that those things actually manifest themselves sometimes. People who are angry, you know sometimes laugh or they go into silence or they go into slow burn. Anger doesn’t mean volume but if there’s an exclamation point on the end of the sentence in the script will go with that excamation point as opposed to, theres a great…film I love called The French Lieutenant’s Woman; its Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons. I think either Harold Pinter or Tom Stop who wrote the script but there’s a scene toward the end when Jeremy Irons’ character has been looking and looking for Meryl Streep and he finds her after literally years of searching and he’s become angry and they go to have a conversation and he’s so angry and overwrought and he goes to leave and she moves to stop him and he takes her and sort of in anger and ceases her by the shoulder and pushes her out of the way; and and the cameras three steps down in the low recessed room and there up the three steps and clearly it was a planned thing were would throw her and she did a staged fall down straight into the camera and very dramatic and then he’s struck by his violence he goes to pick her up and the scene continues on and if you watch, I remember watching it and suddenly realizing that, if you watch it closely, he throws her down and she strikes her head on the floor. You can you can see that she hits her head on the floor and you can see, if you look carefully, that her reaction, she really hits her head and you can even see it more on Jeremy Irons that he realizes she struck her head and his reaction is so alarmed he is broken totally out of the scene for a moment, runs to her pick her up and if you watch it really closely so you can see that he is checking in with her the actress for a second and is about to open his mouth, I think and just stop and say ‘are you okay’ and she puts her hand over his mouth like as though to say we’re going on and he realizes that she’s still in it and covers his own mouth with his hands to stop from smiling and what she does in this moment were you would think the whole thing is very melodramatic and she does this laugh and I used to watch it because it’s the strangest, it’s just the strangest, most wonderful choice but it’s so true cuz she just like, it’s completely absurd, she’s just laughing at the absurdity of it all and laughing at these things and then the scenes sort of settles and they go into this gentle conversation and everything but it’s amazing. It’s why she’s like one of the great great greats of all time because she like, I think it’s a completely counter intuitive choice and it’s a great example of like two great actors and one of them is even about to break out because like something’s happened that wasn’t supposed to happen so we should stop and she’s like no you know something’s happened it makes it really really interesting now so let’s not stop and and it’s beautiful
That level of judgement under duress, I was just thinking of battlefield medic or something like that I mean having the presence of mind to put the hand over the mouth off, I’ll have watch that I haven’t seen that
I asked them both about it and got confirmation that that’s what happened so I’m I know I’m not like that imagining it
If you were, say directing a film and you had the opposite experience; you had a novice actor who was intimidated by the people around them and they were paralyzed for whatever reason or being too robotic, what would you do or say to kind of knock them out of that?
It could be a bad question, [maybe] I’m out of my depth
It depends on the situation. The thing that makes that work interesting so much time is that its a chemistry. Theres a chemistry between the people involved that’s unique everytime. The dynamics are unpredictable and fluid and very unique to the people involed and you have to find your way every time. I think one of the things I like about it is that, if I walk into those situations feeling confident, I’ve probably been working too much, you know what I mean, like I almost think it’s almost better to feel at sea, if it’s good if it’s complex and a lot of uncertain discovery in the beginning and the sense that you’re at a loss or you’re finding your way and you’re, you know, means that you’re insecure you’re involved in something worthwhile I think if your cruising then it’s probably not that interesting
You’ve spent a lot of time honing your own craft, you’ve spent a lot of time with masters in many different fields; I’m curious if you have any Impressions or recollections of Hixon Gracie when you were filming ‘The Incredible Hulk’ were you able to spend any time with him?
Yea a little bit, not as much as I would have liked to. It’s funny, I started, when I was in College I started studying aikido and that was the era, that was exactly when Hixon Gracie won the first
yea it must have been like 92 or somewhere around there
UFC, exactly. Like I said I’m not a huge person, i’m tall and everything but one of the things that drew me to aikido was that it had a lot of, it was one of the first things I experienced where understanding physical leverage really persuaded me that a smaller person could, I don’t want to say defend themselves, but this technique actually worked on a smaller person who was with a larger person. I always felt like with certain things that studied It ultimately like if a person is bigger and stronger and faster they’re just going to steamroll you and aikido was one of the first things I ever experienced where much smaller people were commandingly overmastering much bigger people. And Hoist Gracie one that UFC, it’s hard to overstate the impact of that. If you’re interested in these types of things, that rewrote people’s sense of what the priorities in martial arts should be. After that like you had to be a grappler you had to be a Jijitsu artist you couldn’t just be like a striker and they were legend. I was interested in Japanese studies and aikido and things like that so the whole thing of the great season there form Jujitsu was like I was like, I would I was very interested in all that. So I wrote into the script that he’s doing great breath training with someone in Brazil and I wrote in parenthesis like Hixon Gracie but you like one of the Gracie’s but you’ll never get them. And then we found out he was down there and everything, it was amazing, those guys are magicians, they’re really like Ricky J’s to magic or you know Kelly Slater is to surfing it’s like when you we’re someone who’s got that level of you know Alpha over everybody else it’s really really really neat.
For those people listening you don’t know she don’t know who Hixon Gracie is, it doesn’t of course cover it completely but this chick out of the documentary choke, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that, its a great introduction to not only Hixon but also gives a decent dose of Japanese culture, now you spent time in Osaka in that right, how long are you there?
I was there for a long summer between my Junior and Senior year in college. I had a job over there.
What attracted you to Asian culture, Japanese culture?
I was interested in, I wish I could say it was something more evolved than then the Richard Chamberlain mini-series of Shogun but I think it was that. When I was a kid I think that Shogun was on and then I went and read Clavel’s book and then I devoured a lot of his Asia sort of historical novels and thought they were really neat and then it kind of grew from there. And then I became interested in Buddhism, you know history of Buddhism and stuff like that and Japanese Aesthetics really appealed to me and the idea of Zen really captivated me when I was like in my late teens and stuff like that and it was all just pulled me into it and then I love spending time over there and stuff and then one of my professors was one of the great Modern Chinese Historians, Jonathan Spence, and he wrote, to me, the definitive book about Modern Chinese History called The Search for Modern China, Death of Woman Wang, The Change China, all these great great books and he was phenomenal. He really activated history you know, he really was one of those people who I thought his lectures were just fantastic and drew me into that interest
Why did you decide to major in History?
Because I realized [in] my freshman year that I had no natural Mozart-like talent for Math and so that my dreams of like being Carl Sagan or a great astrophysicist were probably going to be hampered by my poor grasp of even, you know complex math let alone physics and so that became a hobby and a passion but I realized that I probably was a Humanities major. I’ve always really liked reading, to me studying history and travel are almost the same thing, it’s like having a sense of, you know, how things became the way they are and how people became the way they are is really interesting to me
Humans of New York. I’ve had quite a few fans ask me to explore this a bit, can you explain to people what is humans of New York and how did you come to be involved with it?
I’m not involved with it to be clear. My sister turned me on to the site and I think a couple of my friends in New York mentioned it to me and I like it, I thought the site was really, I don’t even know what to call it, a Blog, portrait series. Not to be too academic but there’s a great American cultural Anthropologist, Studs Terkel, and Studs Terkel was like the great chronicler of the American Working Man and the Common Man, he was the depression-era version of of that and I feel like what this guy’s got going with Humans of New York is like a modern-day Studs Terkel kind of thing, and it’s great if you’re a New Yorker or anybody it’s a really cool Vantage on people and so, actually, again my sister just said ‘have you seen this series he’s got going’? and he had just launched this series of profiles that he was calling the Syrian Americans about he’d gone to Turkey to photograph and interview and profile people who were getting asylum in the US and were coming, as though to say okay lets meet who these people really are and get out of the demagoguery of it all and just sort of see, and if you look at any of them they’re incredibly incredibly affecting stories
And how did that intersect then with Crowd Rise?
Crowd Rise, just last year, about this time last year, we made the decision to expand from hosting only peer-to-peer fundraising projects and crowdfunding projects for registered nonprofits and Charities; to also letting people raise direct assistance for other people. People who wanted to raise medical costs for a friend who had an accident or a friend who lost their house, so we decided to support fundraisers where people could help friends or loved ones with medical costs, crisis, education cost, tuition things like that and partly because so many people who use Crowd Rise were asking us that, they preferred to keep using their Crowd Rise profile Pages and mount those types of projects rather than have to go off-site to these, frankly in my opinion, fairly shitty, exchange utilities as I call them, places that are just transactional platforms with no real strategic support, no long-term capture of your personal philanthropic narrative and and that charge, in my opinion, way too much. So, because Crowd Rise on the charity side had already pioneered mechanisms for delivering donated dollars through, at an incredibly reduced rate compared to other platforms, often we’re able to offset even the credit card fees so Charities were already excited about it and benefiting from being able to get their donation dollars through at cheaper than they can on their own websites and as I was looking at the sites that support direct assistance fundraisers and I was looking at the rates of charge I was just like’ screw this man’ we we need to make our pricing model available to people who are trying to help their friends and family and so we did. I hadn’t even used that functionality on our own site and when I saw that story, I decided I was going to do my first direct assistance fundraiser to help that family and if we raise enough to help a couple of the Family series…
And how did the campaign do?
The campaign was tremendous. It raised the first 300,00 in like 30 hours. It really went fast and then it climbed towards, I think we’re at 460,000 or something like that across the next day or two. And what’s fascinating, I think, to give huge credit to Brandon, who’s the founder of Humans in New York and the photographer and writer and we didn’t put it out in any kind of Crowd Rise social media or mine or anything like that, I set up the page and Brandon posted on Humans of New York and a huge increment of that was driven very short order and I think donations that averaged 26 bucks are 27 bucks just from the Humans of New York reader base, and then we expanded it would let the media be done on it and stuff like that and I think when all said and done we’ll probably get up a we got a half a million but I loved it. I loved seeing that for the price of 3 venti frappuccinos people could, without putting any kind of a dent or making any kind of a stretch in their own capacity, just make the emotional gesture of responding to a story that touched them and demonstrate that in aggregate, if people will do this, you can generate transformative impact as a crowd and that’s the essence of why we set Crowd Rise up. And I think it was pretty thrilling, we had a lot of people on the Crowd Rise staff and Brandon at Humans of New York and we were all pretty emotional about it was really cool to see it unfold. And I think, by the way, again that it really was not a function of anything particular to my public profile at all it, it really wasn’t. It was driven almost exclusively by the authentic passion of the Humans of New York reader base, who also were responding to the story and just were happy that someone had created the vehicle to all gather around and respond together. And I think that that’s available to all of us. That’s what I like about it. I think, and you and I were talking about this earlier, I think we’re very strange time were resource concentration is a real thing, The relative share of national wealth is being held by, in larger and larger increments by fewer and fewer people, and at the same time we’re cutting aspects of the social safety net and food stamps as our friend Tony Robbins points out and I think that one of the things that’s exciting about the networked world and the empowerment of a distributed culture of people, outside of government agencies, outside of corporate constructs, outside of everything, to be able to assemble and rally together is that people can proactively address things like that. We can move resources without anybody else’s say so, we can decide that we want to get together around things and assemble resources and make things happen with incredible speed, like incredible speed, and I think that’s really really exciting
And what you mentioned also which I think worth underscoring, part of the reason I’ve been so excited by crowdfunding of many different types, is like you said, you can not only effect change, in some cases massive change, with incredible speed; you can do it without any given individual suffering a decrease in their quality of life or discretionary income or anything else. Because you have just a thousand tiny movements that build this groundswell, that can then get something to escape velocity and I’ve had a fantastic experience working with the Crowd Rise team; and for those people interested and you mentioned Tony, is also behind this, I think that depression and the mental health research in the US has a long way to go and particularly with classic compounds that could be called entheogens, they could be called psychedelics but I’m working with a team at Johns Hopkins Roland Griffiths and we’re looking at, we will be conducting a pilot study using psilocybin for the dressing of treatment-resistant depression. So major depression than subjects that has not responded to SSRI’s or other types of therapy; and preliminary data would suggest that one dose has a rapid, substantial and sustained effect; in some cases up to six months with the antidepressive effects and so we will be, not only conducting in the administration of the psilocybin and but also using things like functional MRI to track and analyze it so we can hopefully determine how to safely best administer psilocybin or some analogue of that and what’s so cool about it, the study would cost a lot less than people might expect $80,000 and have a roster of thought leaders from different areas who are in support of this including Tony so for people who want to check that out and also just check out Crowd Rise as a platform and see how well the entire page is put together go to Crowdrise/TimFerris, and I’ll link to that in the show notes. Is there anything else you’d like to mention about Crowd Rise?
I love that we’re going to work with you on this because I also think that, I was having a conversation with Tony Robbins yesterday, because he, like you, has a terrific community of people that rally around the ideas and that you share and put together and source for people and I do think its, to me what you’re doing and the notion that it doesn’t matter that Tony could write a check for it or you could check for whatever, the notion that you can open up a serious conversation about a blind spot that we’ve got about the potential in something, being taken off the table as an opportunity for people because it’s going to get lumped into a category of drugs viewed as negative you know what I mean and it’s crazy but the idea that, in many ways I think there’s much more potency in the idea of people of common mind about the rationality of something, rallying to the tune of 25 bucks a piece to collectively say lets make this happen. We don’t need a foundation, we don’t need a rich person, we don’t need you a say-so from the NIH, we’re gonna make this happen. I think it’s actually kind of like a twenty-first-century expression of… if you go back and read de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, he’s this french guy visiting America in the 1830s or whatever and commenting on ‘what is it?’, one of the most notable things he says is he goes around and says like ‘these people just get together and get things done’ is basically things what he’s saying. He comments on all the Civic groups and all the Community organizations and all the trade, he basically is amazed by what proactive, self-organization Americans do and this is you know nearly two hundred years ago. And I love it. I think is exactly what you’re doing is exactly that; it’s like saying ‘hey in this forum that you’ve got, we can get this done, let’s rally together and do it’ and I think we’ve only really scratched the surface of the potential in rallying crowds of people around needs, ideas, businesses. We’re in the earliest infancy still, people who poo-pooed it at first have now had to acknowledge that it’s a force but I think it’s still going to mature and become an even bigger part of our kind of cultural practice almost
I agree and I think the reason that I’m not just a funding this one study is that I really believe having observed millions of people now in my various outlets and on the blog and so on, for almost 10 years, hard to believe next year is the tenth anniversary of the first book, its insane, is that most people do not attempt great things because they don’t believe they can perform or achieve great things. Because the word great implies something as massive magnitude that engenders a lot of self-sacrifice, and the thing with the technology that we have now, what I want people to experience firsthand is that they can participate, make a very small chess move themselves and moving that pawn forward one square; that collectively with everyone else doing the same wins the the equivalent of like the World Series and puts a real positive bend in the universe. With this study, is a chance for people to become potentially part of history. I mean it could really be an Archimedes lever in reinventing how we look at treating depression and doing so with fewer side effects, and do that participate, even if it’s $1 or $25 or just say hypothetically $0, but you tell 10 other people about it and in that way participate
Well hat’s a part of what you’re talking about in terms of leverage is also I think a part of the philosophical conviction we have at crowdrise which Is that people’s capacity to effect change is not a function of their financial capacity. Everybody in the world we’re living in has a dozen assets they can leverage, their Facebook page, their social networks, thier friends and family, their schools, their institutions, their companies, everybody’s networks now it’s not just the Rolodex anymore, there’s a mini ‘Network Effect’ around everybody and available to everybody, but they have their energy, they have their creativity, they have their passion and they have their tools now that let so many more people, from the comfort of their couch, exert their brain, their creativity, without like massive logistical and cost constraints on them. And so we’re saying it all the time it’s not even a question of whether you’ve got even the capacity to donate 25 bucks to a psilocybin study, if you believe in it, almost everybody can ask 20 friends for ten bucks and donate 10x their personal capacity. Anything that you care about, you actually now and I think one of the reasons we reset crowdrise up not a kind of use and drop evaporative platform but a place where, like a Facebook or Twitter, it’s a permanent staging ground for a certain type of activity that you’re doing, is that people get proud when they do these things, they’re proud to participate, they’re proud of the things they’ve done, and so we give them the opportunity to stage multiple projects over time and capture the aggregate narrative on everything they’ve done year-over-year, that’s why I will do this with you and then you’ll do something else then we’ll do it again we’ll do it again and soon it won’t just be the individuated success of these projects that will sort of evaporate, it’ll be like Tim’s impact page will show… it’ll be a way of looking at the totality of what you’ve done over time and I think that’s the difference in a true platform versus what I would call just a payment utility
This to me, for those people who have heard my podcast with James Fadiman or Dan Engle and Martin Polanco, these types of comments about a huge impact in my life in ways that I couldn’t have imagined possible, and so it’s it’s less a transaction or even a campaign in my mind, then the beginning of a movement and so I felt like it was it was the right match
You want stickiness, you want recurrence, you want a micro platform Turn Key made easy for you that becomes something that can sustain
When you hear the word successful, who is the first person who comes to mind and why?
My dad is up there, my brother, I’m not sure, people who spring to mind so much as they like, I definitely find it almost in that child-like way of life role modeling, now in my life when I meet people who seem like they’ve got their aspirations and their engagement in balance with a lot of time for contemplative time, family time, personal health, physical health; I tend to look at that and go ‘wow, I want to be like that guy or that woman’, I definitely have seen more than enough people with success as defined by notoriety or money or whatever who look like like the Spectre of Despair to me. I’ve seen, as I’m sure you have, like lots of people with the Albatross of Success around their neck, that seem like an intense cautionary tale to me. So it’s more, my sense of what constitutes a successful problem is probably more defined by what looks like a healthy person
How do you prevent yourself from becoming intoxicated by the Culture or Cult of Personality that so seems to be so prevalent in the world of say entertainment? or that obsession with material wealth? I mean it seems to be that type of Albatross is very common, what has helped you to not succumb
I think everybody is constantly do battle with the voices in your head of ego, that’s what Birdman was all about. I think that the beauty of Alejandro took on in that film was being honest about the degree to which voices in your head like just hammer at you about what you don’t have and what you ought to be aspiring to and mattering, you know, in the world. And I think that anybody, very few people here are really free of that but I think that living in New York helps me oddly, just because it’s not it’s not a film industry town, there’s so much going on there and there’s so many things I’m interested and involved in, it keeps my life diverse and when I’m out here where we are, I do find that, like, being in the water, being able to hike, I’m a pilot, so flying and there’s just things tht take you out of your, things that take me out of my head help a lot, thats pretty key, but I’m ridiculously fortunate and I think I have more than enough and I think that sometimes, even getting a little bit of a taste of how much material possessions can really be a trap, it’s like there is that, you know, things that you own end up owning you kind of maxim and I do think it’s really true. I think you start realizing how much lighter you feel when you dispense with a lot of that stuff then that becomes of positive snowball you know
What books or books have you given most as a gift to the people?
There was a period where I really liked Antoine de saint-exupéry’s book, its called Wind, Sand and Stars, that’s a great great one
Were you interested in him because he was a pilot?
Yea, I was being a lot of books about flying
Real innovator in postal delivery
He was flying the mail from the Sahara to Paris and from Patagonia to Paris which is crazy
For the people who don’t recognize the name, also wrote The Little Prince. Wind, Sand and Stars, it’s as much a book about the philosophy of life as it is about flying. It’s it’s like zen in the craft of flying but it’s just beautiful. We were talking about this earlier, I really like that book The Black Swan, I give that to friends of a certain type
What type? I really enjoyed that book as well
Yeah I think if you absorb it right it’s got a really amazing capacity to prick certain bubbles of delusion or help you realize bubbles of delusion that we all operate in and I think it’s really cool
How not to fool yourself… You mentioned two essays, we don’t have to go too deep, I’ll just name them and then link to them in the show notes but there was Second Wind which was by the former Czechoslovakian president (Vaclav Havel) and then ‘The Catastrophe of Success’ and the author is Tennessee Williams. Any context that you’d like to provide for folks for those two?
The Catastrophe of Success is like one of the great essays by a creative person about exactly what you were just talking (about), the traps the traps that follow on achieving anything, really, that you were aspiring to achieve and then what happens after that happens. And Second Wind is sort of the same from a different perspective, more like how do you have the courage to kind of not repeat yourself, put yourself out of your comfort zone, in a creative sense but also in a life sense and what I like about Second Wind, as a playwright, he was sort of saying like that you kind of disgorge a point of view and you can keep doing that, but it’s some point if you don’t stop and go back into absorption mode, you’re going to be repeating yourself and you have to dare to yourself to stop, listen, live, absorb and then try again from scratch. It’s a great essay, It’s really great
Do you have any favourite documentaries?
Many. I love Bennett Miller’s film The Cruise.
Yea. He directed Capote and Money Ball and Fox Catcher, brilliant filmmaker. I think almost my favorite film of his is a documentary called The Cruise, it’s about a guy whose a tour guide host on the open double decker buses in New York City who is a poet and who… you just have to see it. I really like Adam Curtis’ films Great British documentarian; he’s got that 4 part film called The Century of the Self and then the three part one called The Power of Nightmares. I think those are absolutely brilliant films, dense but really eye-opening
Are there any other underrated movies using people should say they’re not necessarily documentaries?
That is one of my favorite films. Amazing.
I personally put A Prophet as one of the three best gangster films ever made. I think, for me, The Godfather, Goodfellas and A Prophet are at this point if I had to pick 3 gangster films, I think they are the best ones
People who haven’t seen A Prophet, the poster if you’re looking at it on Netflix or Amazon or iTunes or whatever it’s red and black but it’s Middle-Eastern (Algerian) Algerian young male who goes to prison and (what happens)
Rust and Bone was his next film and its just a brilliant film. Marion Cotillard, its like one of the Great Performances in the last few years and I love those all those films. I think, you know, excusing the fact that I happen to be in one of them, but I think Alejandro Iñárritu’s last three films in a row: Biutiful; Biutiful was an extremely extremely under seen Masterpiece. It was Iñárritu’s film prior to Birdman and it’s a masterpiece. (its just called beautfiul) yea, spelled wrong; its a masterpiece and it’s absolutely brilliant and again one of the greatest performances in a long time. And the third and his triptych I think is The Revenant, out right now, I think The Revenant’s one of the great films I’ve seen in the last many years, it’s like it’s an absolute unqualified Masterpiece. It’s like a Native American Spirit Myth or straight out of Joseph Campbell Myth or something, it’s just a magnificent piece of film making
We could have a whole separate conversation about Birdman which we won’t do today but also one of my favorite films in the last few years. 3 more questions:: if you could have a billboard anywhere that said anything what would you put on it?
I might put ‘pray for surf’, I might put the name of certain people from high school and just say like so-and-so, How You Like Me Now?. That would be very un-evolved. I don’t know what I would put on it… You know what, I’m, changing my answer. I would put I would put Paul Rudd’s cell phone number on it. It would complete a long-running series of jokes that would be perfect. Paul Rudd’s actual number - please call.
We’ll do a separate crowd funding campaign to raise money for the billboard rental. What advice would you give to your 30 year old self and can you just place where you were at the time?
Oh yeah, I was on the last two days of shooting a film I was directing when I turn 30 and I think I might tell myself at that phase to commit myself to a few fewer things then I did that time; that I’m still feeling obligated to and that maybe I wish, I had a few less of those things. Like I think my aspiration and my sense of my own energy and time was like limitless at that time, and now some of that has become a cage of obligation that I would like to… unlock.
Senior year in college; what advice would you have given yourself?
I might have told myself to golive abroad right then. I should have done it right then, like for a year or 2. I had lived abroad a little bit, I should have gone… that’s like when you think everything’s about to get started and it’s not, and I should have gone somewhere and lived somewhere, you know, interesting or different that I would be much harder to do later
Where would you choose for yourself?
I don’t know no I don’t know
We should take a trip to Japan together, get you back to Japan. Real question is do you have any ask or request of the audience, people listening, things they should do, ponder or otherwise?
If you’re looking to raise financial support for a friend or family member, do it on CrowdRise, not on other sites because much more of the money will go through them; that’s my entrepreneurial hat. And then, I’d say, and I’m not even joking I think, like you know, stay tuned into communities like this. I think these things are really cool. I think um you know maybe put more simply, like just participate, you know. What I think is cool about what you’ve assembled as I think it’s driven by people’s desire to like, not hack life but be proactive and participate and not be apathetic. And I like that, I think that’s a positive community and I think we all get really tired, you know. I think modern life is stressful and tiring and confusing and I think Nietzche has that great thing; that idea of self-overcoming. That the Over Man is not like a perfect person, it’s actually the person who is perpetually trying to self overcome and I really like that idea. I think staying engaged in the idea of evolving yourself this is really cool. So I think it’s awesome that you got this many people kind of linked up together around those ideas
Yeah I really hope people listening, no matter about how small you might feel or isolated you might feel, I know not everyone out there has a community like you or I might have in New York or SF; you can make this year the year that you astonish yourself with what you can do or be a part of. And look back on December 31st of this year and just hope to say holy shit, I can’t believe I was part of X or I did X to yourself because I think it’s a lot easier than people might think. Edward, where can people find you on the interwebs, on social, to say hello, keep up-to-date with what you’re involved with?
I’m not great at it, I throw tweets out now and then, mostly about things I’ve seen, like you were talking about, like things I’ve seen or read that I think should find a wider audience for the people to appreciate. (What is your name on Twitter?) Just my name. I’m not as cutting edge, I am on the crowd funding stuff, but I’m not as cutting edge with social media as I I maybe should be. Or I don’t know, maybe it’s a good thing.
Probably means you’ve melted less of your brain
Yea, I think about it, you know, I think about expanding no more robust ways of kind of, like what you’re doing in a much smaller way, but building up more of a forum of interactive conversation, but… I gotta finish things I started.
Might be a cage within a cage
I gotta finish things I started.
This is always fun I enjoy hanging out and I appreciate you taking the time
Definitely. Super fun. I’ve really enjoyed your books, I’ve enjoyed them as a resource and I think I learned a lot and I really do think it’s cool that what you’ve cultivated is people who are interested in continuing to explore, you know, like I think it’s that idea… ongoing education, ongoing discoveries, you know, that’s the zest in things.
Yea, you don’t necessarily find yourself, you create yourself, one little step at a time. So Edward thank you again and to everyone listening, check out Crowdrise/TimFerris to see what mischief, productive mischief I’m getting up to you and as always you can find the show notes, links to everything we talked about, fourhourworkweek.com/podcast and until next time, thank you for listening
Thanks, have a good one.