Daniel Schmachtenberger

What We Must Do Now to Stop the Destruction of Civilization

Daniel Schmachtenberger is a founding member of The Consilience Project, aimed at improving public sensemaking and dialogue.

The throughline of his interests has to do with ways of improving the health and development of individuals and society, with a virtuous relationship between the two as a goal.

Towards these ends, he’s had a particular interest in the topics of catastrophic and existential risk, civilization and institutional decay and collapse as well as progress, collective action problems, social organization theories, and the relevant domains in philosophy and science.

Motivated by the belief that advancing collective intelligence and capacity is foundational to the integrity of any civilization, and necessary to address the unique risks we currently face given the intersection of globalization and exponential technology, he has spoken publicly on many of these topics, hoping to popularize and deepen important conversations and engage more people in working towards their solutions. Many of these can be found here.

Right now, we are living through times that have many people wondering about the end of the world. On this episode of Conversations with Tom, host Tom Bilyeu and guest Daniel Schmachtenberger engage in a fascinating discussion about social media, neural warfare, game theory, power itself, and the ways that our society has over-optimized. In particular, they talk about why it’s so important to stop trying to be right, why we need to start thinking in more complex ways, and why the real battlefield is the human mind.



Daniel was home-schooled, allowed to study whatever he thought was most important [0:30]

Daniel’s parents actually referred to his family as an “experiment” [3:40]

By the time a child goes to school, civilization has already been imprinted on them [6:04]

Daniel advocates that optimization is actually a part of the problem [8:37]

Daniel details exactly why trying to optimize leads to serious problems [13:14]

Daniel talks about how to understand civilization’s history through game theory [18:40]

Some kinds of value can be extracted and lead to power, and other kinds can’t [20:57]

Daniel uses the example of COVID-19 to illustrate the problems with optimization [25:48]

How can we think in complex ways that respect the interconnected nature of existence [30:41]

It’s much easier to break things than it is to build complex systems [35:39]

Tom and Daniel discuss whether it’s possible to nudge people in the right direction [38:16]

Social media will lead us to war even though no one wants it [46:01]

Daniel and Tom discuss the connections between high school bullying and terrorism [51:12]

If you aren’t considering counter-responses, you are just being emotionally hijacked [58:56]

People’s minds are the battlefield [1:04:17]

There are no authorities that are trustworthy enough to just assume they are right [1:09:59]

Do you want to be effective or do you want to be right? [1:15:15]

Daniel explains how people become fundamentalist about things they are wrong about [1:19:45]

Debates are often not about understanding. They are just dogfights. [1:28:48]

Legitimate power is when I am trying to influence someone to be more self-directed [1:32:03]

Tom explains the relief of focusing on finding the right answers instead of being right [1:35:35]

If you want to be right, you are very easy to control. Fragile egos are vulnerable. [1:39:55]

Capitalism, the Trump campaign and Christianity have all been antifragile so far [1:42:33]



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