TR Interview: Brain Games Host Jason Silva

By Luke Y. Thompson in TV
Monday, May 13, 2013 at 10:00 am

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LYT: What's the biggest misperception you think that people have about the brain?

JS: I think the biggest misperception is that people think their experience of the world is somewhat empirical; that they see the world as it is, but they really don't. I was shocked to find out that we actually take in low-resolution, flat, 2-D images through our eyes, and that our brain takes that raw, incomplete information and literally creates a matrix of the high-definition, 3-D reality that we call "the world" or our experience. How shocking is that? The fact that our brain creates a 3-D world for us. It's really a guess-timation.

LYT: I was going to ask what the thing was that you were the most surprised by during the course of the show. Was that it?

JS: That was definitely one of the most surprising things. Also, attentional blindness is always hysterical to exploit. To realize that you can have something right in front of you and not see it because you're primed to focus on something else is insane. And we talk about having a multi-tasking society, but multi-tasking is a myth. You can't actually multi-task. You can switch rapidly between tasks, but you can't actually multi-task. In fact, if you try, it gives you bandwidth anxiety and what Douglas Rushkoff called digiphrenia.

LYT: Do you think that 3-D movies are the kind of artificial thing that some people's brains will never fully get into?

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JS: I think with 3-D movies, we haven't perfected the technology yet. That's why there are still flaws in it. But even 2-D movies, those we perfected. We figured out that if you put 24 still images per second in a row, in succession, your brain will see motion where there is none. So the fact that a regular film is an illusion that feels absolutely real is astonishing.

LYT: Have you seen the 48 frames per second stuff?

JS: I was going to see The Hobbit in 48 fps, but I did not. Did you?

LYT: I did.

JS: And?

LYT: It's very interesting. I loved it, and it's only in 3-D. It sort of feels like watching video, almost. I think people think that when they see something that looks like a daytime soap opera, that they're used to seeing film as reality, and their minds can't process that this actually feels closer to "real" real. But the CG in it is so perfect; it looks a bit more like you're there, but it doesn't look like what we're used to thinking of as reality on film.

JS: Yeah, I think reality on film is meant to feel like a dream, and I think that if we try to make it to sharp, it stops looking like a dream. Interesting stuff.

LYT: You used to work for Current TV. What sort of stuff did you used to do?

JS: Yeah, I was a film student. I went to school for film and philosophy at University of Miami, then Current hired me as a host to basically be one of their "omnipresent" VJ's, so to speak. I got to curate an hour, a show every night that was called "Still Up," where I basically featured citizen journalism around the world. My role was to contextualize it, to explain what was going on, tell you about the producer that made the film, and kind of break it down. It was a lot of fun, because it was alternative media, and it was a really fun place to get my feet wet. Current never really broke through, never really had much viewership, so it was more of a practice run for me than anything else.

LYT: I was also a film major in college, and it was interesting when you said your major becoming obsolete, I was in one of the last classes at USC to learn how to edit VHS and Super-8. Was it like that for you?

JS: Yeah, totally. I remember learning how to stop to light a feed and how to load a film, and I was always much more of a fan of video. Now you have video cameras that can shoot 24p, and it's like, forget about film.

LYT: Are you interested in making movies after this? It seems like you've done a lot of TV.

JS: Yes. I'm definitely interested in documentary, experimental content. I would probably be interested in directing something. Ron Howard has actually become a big fan of my short videos on the web. You can look them up on my video page if you want. I actually had a meeting with Ron Howard, and he was talking to me about maybe collaborating on something, and he was asking me about my creative process. It was totally surreal for me, because my short videos are kind of like technology/brain/beat poetry, which I try to bring that energy to Brain Games as well. It's always kind of surreal or flattering when one of your heroes says it's resonated with them.

LYT: Then I have to ask, what did you think of A Beautiful Mind, and how that represented John Nash's thought process?

JS: I thought it was absolutely brilliant! I loved A Beautiful Mind, and I told him that. I think it did a good job of showing pattern recognition as a source of intelligence, but also showing that too much pattern recognition is a problem, patternicity. So in the case of this guy, when he started to see patterns that weren't there, that's a problem. You cross that threshold, you go from being a genius to being a schizophrenic.

LYT: So let's close with a plug for the show - tell me where and when we can see it.

JS: Brain Games airs Monday nights at 9 p.m. Eastern and Pacific, and we'd love for people to go and check out the website, where there's additional content, at braingames.nationalgeographic.com, with extra interviews, brain teasers, mind puzzles, the whole thing. I'm also on Twitter @jasonsilva and I love getting messages from people, I answer all the questions, so hit me up with anything!


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