‘Attention is the new oil’

Jason Silva has been described as a modern day Timothy Leary, without all the drugs. The National Geographic filmmaker and host of the channel’s series Brain Games (premiering April 22) philosophizes on radical openness, exponential thinking and techno optimism in short videos he calls “Shots of Philosophical Espresso.” Yes, he really calls them that. And yes, they’re that caffeinated.

“Attention is the new oil,” Silva, 31, told an Austin South by Southwest Interactive audience in March. “It’s a limited resource, and it’s being devoured faster than ever before.”

The Venezuelan-born philosopher unveiled a new video to the Austin tech crowd, replete with fast-moving, cinematic imagery set to his own words on singularity, self-awareness and the power of human potential. 

Silva says his videos are only one and a half minutes because that's as long as he can go without catching his breath.

His concepts are vastly cerebral, but something relatable he does say is that the future is getting better. Sharing this school of thought with SUCCESS cover personality Peter Diamandis, Silva says our future is going to be better than we think.

SUCCESS caught up with Silva after SXSW to discuss:

Q: In the words of someone you’re often compared to, Timothy Leary, how do you “turn on and tune in”?

Silva: I have my own rituals and techniques for getting myself in the zone. Context plays a key role. Erik Davis has a fabulous article about "experience design and the design of experience" which I think is key: to create the spaces and contexts that inform subjectivity itself. That's how I create the zone for myself. That's how I enter flow.

Q: Do you ever get mentally “stuck”?

Silva: Sure- I've felt stuck in the past. But as Steven Johnson writes "our thoughts shape our spaces and our spaces return the favor"… So, if I'm mentally stuck I know I need to radically change my physical context and perspective. I find that my mind and mood quickly follow.

Q. How do you get yourself out of it?

Silva: By reconfiguring my perspective. I need to pull myself out of context until my entire subjective reality has changed. I have effectively "changed the channel."

Q: What scares you?

Silva: Non existence. Death. Entropy. Failures of the imagination. Banality. Boredom. Trivialities that distract from ecstatic illumination. I live and love ecstasy, rapture, radiance and inspiration. The absence of these states scares me.

Q: Why is the world not going to be like the movies Idiocracy or Wall-e, which both depict future humanity as bleak?

Silva: It might for some people. I suppose its up to us how we use these increasingly powerful  technologies to determine if they stupify us into a state of mindless diversion, or if we use these tools to radically extend the boundaries of our creativity and possibility. We have a responsibility to awe. Let’s not fail ourselves.

Q. How did you get involved with the new television series Brain Games, which uses man-on-the-street demonstrations, optical illusions, brain teasers and hard science to explore the mind?

Silva: National Geographic was looking for a host for Brain Games, and they had caught wind of my short videos online, and later approached me to host.

Q. What drew you to the project?

Silva: I was excited to host a series that would bring brain science to a wider audience, to explore ways of distilling neuroscience into digestible and entertaining content!

Q: What are you reading right now?

Silva: I’m always reading Techgnosis by Erik Davis. It's superb.

Q: What’s your secret productivity tip?

Silva: Existential agitation works wonders. It makes me not want to waste a minute!


Journalist, podcaster and southpaw Shelby Skrhak is the former director of digital content and social media for SUCCESS.com. Before joining SUCCESS magazine, Shelby launched the weekly suburban newspaper Plano Insider, and covered topics ranging from cops and courts to transportation and fashion. Her handwriting should be a font.

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