The molecule is going to become the new microchip.
— Walter Isaacson
Walter Isaacson (@WalterIsaacson) is a professor of history at Tulane, has been CEO of the Aspen Institute, chair of CNN, and editor of Time. He is the author of Leonardo da Vinci; The Innovators; Steve Jobs; Einstein: His Life and Universe; Benjamin Franklin: An American Life; and Kissinger: A Biography. He is co-author of The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made.
You can find our first conversation from 2017 at tim.blog/walter.
Brought to you by Magic Spoon delicious low-carb cereal, LinkedIn Jobs recruitment platform with ~720M users, and Eight Sleep’s Pod Pro Cover sleeping solution for dynamic cooling and heating. More on all three below.
This episode is brought to you by Eight Sleep! Eight Sleep’s Pod Pro Cover is the easiest and fastest way to sleep at the perfect temperature. It pairs dynamic cooling and heating with biometric tracking to offer the most advanced (and user-friendly) solution on the market. Simply add the Pod Pro Cover to your current mattress and start sleeping as cool as 55°F or as hot as 110°F. It also splits your bed in half, so your partner can choose a totally different temperature.
This episode is brought to you by LinkedIn Jobs. Whether you are looking to hire now for a critical role or thinking about needs that you may have in the future, LinkedIn Jobs can help. LinkedIn screens candidates for the hard and soft skills you’re looking for and puts your job in front of candidates looking for job opportunities that match what you have to offer.
Using LinkedIn’s active community of more than 722 million professionals worldwide, LinkedIn Jobs can help you find and hire the right person faster. When your business is ready to make that next hire, find the right person with LinkedIn Jobs. And now, you can post a job for free. Just visit LinkedIn.com/Tim.
This episode is brought to you by Magic Spoon cereal! Magic Spoon is a brand-new cereal that is low carb, high protein, and zero sugar. It tastes just like your favorite sugary cereal. Each serving has 11g of protein, 3g of net carbs, 0g of sugar, and only 110 calories. It’s also gluten free, grain free, keto friendly, soy free, and GMO free. And it’s delicious! It comes in your favorite, traditional cereal flavors like Cocoa, Frosted, and Blueberry.
Magic Spoon cereal has received a lot of attention since launching in 2019 when Time magazine included it in their list of best inventions and Forbes called it “the future of cereal.” My listeners—that’s you—can get $5 off and a 100% happiness guarantee when you visit MagicSpoon.com/Tim and use code TIM. And some great news for Canadian listeners: Magic Spoon now also ships to Canada!
What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.
SCROLL BELOW FOR LINKS AND SHOW NOTES…
SELECTED LINKS FROM THE EPISODE
- Connect with Walter Isaacson:
- The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race by Walter Isaacson
- Walter Isaacson’s Lectures for The Digital Revolution: From Ada to Zuckerberg | Tulane University, YouTube
- Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson
- The Innovators by Walter Isaacson
- Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
- Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson
- Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson
- Kissinger: A Biography by Walter Isaacson
- The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made by Walter Isaacson
- The Louis Armstrong House Museum | Corona, Queens
- Ada Lovelace’s Letters and Work on Display at Oxford Library | BBC News
- Writing the History of the Digital Revolution | School of Liberal Arts, Tulane University
- Walter Isaacson on Diversity, the Tug of Home, and Recovering from Katrina | Via Nola Vie
- What is Jazz? | National Museum of American History
- CRISPR: A Game-Changing Genetic Engineering Technique | Science in the News
- After the Nobel, What Next for CRISPR Gene-Editing Therapies? | The Guardian
- Contrasting Prometheus with Adam & Eve | r/Nietzsche, Reddit
- The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA by James D. Watson
- Double Helix by James Watson (First Edition) | AbeBooks
- The Dark Side of CRISPR | Scientific American
- The Next Trick for CRISPR Is Gene-Editing Pain Away | MIT Technology Review
- Should the Rich Be Allowed to Buy the Best Genes? | Air Mail
- Double Muscling in Cattle: Genes, Husbandry, Carcasses, and Meat | Animals
- Belgian Blue | Beef2Live
- What is Bully Whippet Syndrome? | DDC Pets & Vets
- A Year In, 1st Patient to Get Gene Editing for Sickle Cell Disease Is Thriving | Morning Edition, NPR
- Meet the Human Guinea Pig Who Hacked His Own DNA | CBC Radio
- A Spur to the Biotech Century Ahead | WSJ
- A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution | Aspen Ideas
- What Caused the US’ Anti-Science Trend? | Harvard Gazette
- Learn to Code for Free | Codecademy
- The Human Genome Project | NIH
- Genetics 101 | CDC
- 100 Greatest Living Geniuses | The Daily Telegraph
- AI Protein-Folding Algorithms Solve Structures Faster than Ever | Nature
- P=MD | Merck Manuals
- The Story of Sleepy Grass | Hawaii Reporter
- Mona Lisa | Louvre Museum, Paris
- Why is the Sky Blue? | Scientific American
- Steve Jobs Took This (Surprising) Class in College, and It Helped Inspire One of Apple’s Most Creative Features | Inc.
- The Significance of Leonardo da Vinci’s Famous “Vitruvian Man” Drawing | My Modern Met
- The Scientific Method | Khan Academy
- Nobel Prize Winner: Give Scientists Time to Make ‘Curiosity-Driven’ Discoveries | Discover Magazine
- Curiosity-Driven Knowledge Is a Vital Form of Infrastructure | Scientific American
- Lovelace: The Programmer Who Spooked Alan Turing | Mind Matters
- The Turing Test | Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Benjamin Franklin and Electricity | Revolutionary War and Beyond
- What Franklin Thought of the Constitution | Pieces of History
- The 5 Whys | Lean Enterprise Institute
- Lies, Damn Lies, and CRISPR: The Legal Battle Escalates | Duke SciPol
- CRISPR Rivals Put Patents Aside to Help in Fight Against COVID-19 | Stat
- Robert Noyce and the Integrated Circuit | Cofounderstown
- The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History by John Barry
- Mask Resistance During a Pandemic Isn’t New — in 1918 Many Americans Were ‘Slackers’ | Discover Magazine
- RNA Vaccines: A Novel Technology to Prevent and Treat Disease | Science in the News
- Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes
- Putin Could Decide for the World on CRISPR Babies | MIT Technology Review
- A Year After the First CRISPR Babies, Stricter Regulations Are Now in Place | The Conversation
- Will GMOs Hurt My Body? The Public’s Concerns and How Scientists Have Addressed Them | Science in the News
- What Can the Trolley Problem Teach Self-Driving Car Engineers? | Wired
- Despite a keen interest in his life and times, why did Walter decide against writing a biography of jazz legend Louis Armstrong? What other projects has he similarly set aside? [07:23]
- Why did Walter add the job of college professor to what most mere mortals would consider an already overflowing schedule? [09:53]
- What makes home home? [11:42]
- What is CRISPR — who developed it, how has it been used so far, and what is its potential? [15:14]
- How did The Double Helix by James Watson influence a curious young Walter, and why did he choose Jennifer Doudna to be the protagonist of his latest book? [18:52]
- With fallible human motivations driving the use of this technology and the unintended consequences that are bound to result, What might a CRISPR-edited world look like — for better or worse? [22:09]
- How is CRISPR technology applied to adults, and what implications does this have, for instance, for competitive athletics and anti-doping efforts? [27:25]
- Walter riffs on innovation revolutions surrounding the three fundamental kernels of our existence: the atom, the bit, and the gene, and how he hopes The Code Breaker might galvanize future generations of scientists and scientific thinkers in the same way he and Jennifer Doudna were inspired by The Double Helix. [29:42]
- What does the education look like for someone who wants to better understand the molecule as the new microchip? [35:19]
- In a field with no shortage of legitimate geniuses, what makes Jennifer Doudna special? How was she able to work out a puzzle that had, until that point, eluded the efforts of every other scientist who tried? Was it just a matter of asking better questions? [39:47]
- As a biographer of many fascinating minds, with whom does Walter think Jennifer Doudna most closely compares? [46:53]
- How 19th-century computer pioneer Ada Lovelace and 20th-century computer scientist Alan Turing came to different conclusions about questions we may not even be able to answer in the 21st century. [48:57]
- Does Walter believe there’s a necessary seeking of wonder or awe — a motivation — behind the breed of curiosity shared by Lovelace, Doudna, and Franklin? [52:32]
- When science makes the leap from curiosity-driven discovery to practical application, a race to get credit and funding for related discoveries generally follows. What did this competition look like for Jennifer Doudna and partner Emmanuelle Charpentier when they realized that CRISPR could ignite a scientific revolution, and against whom did they compete? What are the pros and cons of such competition, and what prizes really motivate the participants? [55:12]
- What insights, counterintuitive wisdom, and memorable points about pandemic life past and present have been made clear to Walter by the work of fellow author (and, coincidentally, neighbor!) John Barry, who wrote The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History? [1:02:59]
- Like Albert Hoffman, Robert Oppenheimer, and Victor Frankenstein, scientists sometimes have to face the misapplications of (and the monsters created by) their discoveries. After a nightmare about how Hitler might have abused CRISPR technology, how has Jennifer Doudna been reckoning with the moral implications of her own work? [1:05:20]
- Is it possible to create globally enforceable guard rails for how CRISPR technology should be used, or is it too late now that Pandora’s box has been opened? What makes its regulation more tricky than other potentially destructive technologies, like nuclear weapons? [1:08:11]
- Is there any aspect of The Code Breaker that Walter worries some people might misinterpret or miss entirely? [1:10:35]
- Why it might finally be philosophy’s time to shine as a practical skill set, and responsibly asking “why not?” is just as important as asking “why?” [1:12:59]
- Parting thoughts. [1:17:25]
Related and Recommended
The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 600 million downloads. It has been selected for “Best of Apple Podcasts” three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it’s been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.