Jason Silva, the photogenic host of Nat Geo’s highest-rated series launch, Brain Games, may be better known as the “wonder junkie” behind a series of inspirational videos and TED talks celebrating big ideas. Like how technology can extend our reach as humans or how the future may unfold if we unleash our transcendent creativity. Silva’s predictions include contact lenses with LED circuits that “overlay the digital world on top of the real world” and curing illness through “blood cell-sized nanorobots.”
Silva’s intense, rapid-fire delivery is peppered with literary and cinematic allusions as well as some serious name-dropping but he always returns to the power of the imagination, of unbridled curiosity. He traces his fascination with big ideas to his parents’ divorce, when he was about 12 years old, living in Caracas, Venezuela, where he was born.
“I was one of those really philosophically sensitive kids—haunted by the transient passage of time…. The divorce of my parents was my first conceptual and visceral experience of impermanence…. I could focus on the dread and despair or I could find antidotes to that, which is what the artist does. Big ideas are the way we use our tools to transcend our limitations; they are how we defy entropy.”
Silva, 32, went on to earn a degree in film and philosophy from the University of Miami, and began to produce and star in a series of short videos and experimental films. He was soon co-hosting segments on Al Gore’s Current TV network, and later became known as a “performance philosopher,” producing lightning-fast techno-futuristic monologues such as Radical Openness, which have gone viral. Today Silva is a regular at TED conferences and brainfests like DLD Digital Life Design and the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, in addition to his Nat Geo gig.
The whole point of his work is “to infect people with a sense of boundless possibility,” Silva says.
“These epiphanies, these moments of exaltation… these ecstatic visions are usually saved for artists and shamans—the rest of us usually have to suffice by just reading or watching films about this stuff. I’m interested in not just conveying what the experiences are, what they are like, but I want to induce those feelings in others. I am not just trying to tell you what it is like to have an epiphany—I am trying to give you a taste of it.”
As for his own future, Silva is, as might be suspected, ready for many more wonder years.
“I want to be in the dialogue that makes ripples. I want to part of the conversation that says who we are and where we are going. What our future is. I want to be part of a profound techno-social conversation about our species. I want to be in the room.”
Silva Sound Bites
“People who watch [my] videos are not just fascinated—the content speaks to them on a very deep level—you really feel as if you are hitting a nerve. It makes me feel a sense of community that is incredibly important. We’re all in this together and that shared experience is quite sublime.”
“We need better maps and metaphors, better ways of connecting with that feeling that there is something larger than ourselves.”
“Two [ideas] that excite me: in biotechnology, gene sequencing. We can start preprogramming our biochemistry—we can start manipulating our genes. Google is getting into the life extension game. In terms of aesthetics, I’m really into site-specific immersive theater experiences—playing with parameters of what’s possible, in how the narrative is able to envelop you. It is analogous to virtual reality.”
“There is an element of the scientist in my sense of intuition, an inner compass. I trust my feelings a lot. All my work I do first for me and secondarily for everyone else. My work is how I work through my own obsessions and sensibilities.”
“I hate waiting around; I am terribly impatient. I want to move at the speed of intent. The speed of mind, the speed of agency.”
“[In terms of the recent government shutdown] I’m offended by these people claiming to represent the country. They’ve become obsolete. Let Google run the world.”
The new season of Brain Games starts Monday, January 13, on National Geographic Channels and airs Mondays at 9 p.m.