Get to the bottom of what's truly healthy in this crazy complex world, so you can take back what is rightfully yours. Welcome to the Health Sovereign Podcast. This is your host, Logan Christopher.
Logan Christopher: 00:18 Welcome everyone. Very excited about the call today. Today, I have with me Perry Marshall, and Perry is one of the most expensive business strategists in the world, and it is through a mastermind he runs that I've gotten to know him this past year.
But we're not talking business today. Instead, at London’s Royal Society, he announced the world's largest science research challenge, the $10 million Evolution 2.0 Prize, staffed by judges from Harvard, Oxford and MIT. He aims to solve the number one mystery in Artificial Intelligence and life itself.
The prize boils down to this: DNA is a code, not like a code, but a code. We do not know how this code came to be. If you believe in God, that's not good enough because it doesn't show how. If you don't believe in God, thinking it was a happy chemical accident, this also does not show how.
So, Perry, you're offering a $10 million to the person or people who can create a code from scratch. Is that all correct there? Anything you want to add?
Perry Marshall: 01:16 That is correct, and this is arguably the most fundamental question in science that can be precisely defined. It's right up there with, Where did the big bang come from? I think that's harder to get your arms around. What creates universes? I don't know. I don't know how to create a universe, but one thing that I do know is the cells in my body are creating code all the time, and living things create codes all the time and humans create codes all the time, and creating codes requires intentionality.
And so, this is really a search for the origin of intentionality. And if we figure this out, there's no telling what that would unlock. It would surely help us a great deal with cancer, and disease and aging, and all kinds of practical aspects of biology. I think it would also create a completely different kind of artificial intelligence. I don't really think our current AI is intelligent at all. It's just robots.
And so, this is very deep. It crosses into philosophical and religious questions, and so it's as deep in the swamp as I know how to dive. And so we're here talking about, What does this have to do with health and fitness, and exercise and probably philosophical stuff, too? And you're into all that stuff.
Logan: 02:48 Yeah.
Perry: 02:48 So, you're going to be very comfortable with this and I'm glad people have decided to listen to us today.
Logan: 02:54 Yeah, I have to say it's really … when you launched your Evolution 2.0, which I highly recommend people go out and read, that kind of drew me back into your world because I had seen the marketing stuff before, but I thought this was really interesting as I've gotten to health, and recognizing the importance of … Because, really, what we're talking about with Evolution 2.0 is kind of the foundations of biology and so many people are going around with this really simplistic version, the neo-Darwinist version of how things evolved, and it turns out to be wholly inaccurate.
Perry: 03:29 It is in fact what most people think of as evolution and the explanations that you're normally given is at least 25 years out of date, but the actual science has leaped far ahead. In fact, I hardly even know any evolutionary biologists that are even willing to defend the version that's in most people's heads now. It is literally that obsolete.
And, now, why should we care about this? You might think that this is just like people arguing about angels dancing on the head of a pen or it's some kind of academic ivory tower thing. No, because, Logan, we’re in business and in business or even in just at the bar, if somebody uses the word Darwinian, okay, what they usually are referring to is this grim, depressing elimination of the stupid and undeserving, or you just couldn't make it in that vicious competition out there, and it's very oriented towards just blind bloody competition. And that is not how nature operates and that isn't really how evolution happens.
Yes, there's an element of truth to it, but at the core it's misleading. And, well, it helps. It helped Hitler, his ideology. It helped Lenin and Stalin, and Mao. It's been horrendously disastrous and it's just not helpful. It shapes agriculture. It shapes nutrition. It shapes everything. And so, if we have a different understanding of evolution in biology, there's hardly any human endeavor that it won't touch. This is a very important conversation.
Logan: 05:30 Yeah, it's foundational and that's why I kind of gravitated to your work here, because you’ve got to understand these foundational principles of how cells and DNA actually works if you really want to understand greater capacities of health that are available.
So, for instance, one of the things that's a holdover of that whole viewpoint is genetic determinism. Now, most people recognize it’s not fully determined by your genes at this point, but it wasn't even 20 years ago. And still there's elements of this that are in there that's all about the genetics, and once we figured out genetics, it's always five to 10 years off down the road we'll figure this out and we'll be able to cure all disease. Right?
Perry: 06:09 That was the promise of the human genome project and it has never delivered on that. Now, I'm not going to suggest for a nanosecond that it hasn't been worth doing or anything like that. Okay? But, 20 years ago, it was like, We're going to figure out all of these diseases and we're going to be able to predict. We're going to be able to sequence people's DNA and predict what kind of person we're going to get from this.
And what we now know is that DNA does not completely determine even your physiologies, much less your attitudes and your inclinations and all of that stuff. And, even if we did or even to the extent that it might, we are probably many decades, if not hundreds of years from unraveling the details of how the genetic language is really structured. I mean, I would say, at most, we understand about 5 percent of it right now. And so, that project made a lot of promises that it wasn't able to deliver on.
Logan: 07:18 Yeah. So, I want to talk about the five blades of the Swiss army knife that make up what you cover in Evolution 2.0—these are transposition, epigenetics, horizontal gene transfer, symbiosis and gene duplication.
And for our purposes here, symbiosis and gene duplication are very important for evolution, but they happen once in a great while, so not necessarily the subjects I want to cover here. And then, horizontal gene transfer, this kind of seems to be outside of our control, but for people's health today and also the health of generations like our kids, it seems that the epigenetics and transposition are the two kind of relevant blades. Is that right?
Perry: 07:59 Yeah, I think that's accurate. And what you're referring to is that cells have a tool kit for re-engineering themselves. We used to believe that you had these genes and the genes made the organism and the information flowed one way. It flowed from the gene to the organism. And we now know that that assumption was spectacularly wrong because organisms modify their own genetics, too.
In fact, the Nobel Prize, which was just announced maybe a month ago, for 2019, was for research showing that cells reprogram their DNA based on oxygen levels in the atmosphere. That just simply by getting on your bike and consuming a lot of oxygen can cause genetic changes in your cells in real time, and this is a complete a reversal of a hundred years of assumptions.
Logan: 09:02 Right. So, one of my questions on that, and many people I've heard about epigenetics and I do have some questions there, but not as many people are aware of transposons or transposition, but is my understanding of this correct that, basically, with this, there is real time-editing of the genetic sequence itself, not just things turning on and off?
Perry: 09:23 Yeah, that's right. The person who discovered transposition was Barbara McClintock. This was before we actually understood the genetic code or the real nature of DNA. I mean, we knew that there was this genetic material and chromosomes and stuff, and they could look at all that. They didn't really understand what it was.
And Barbara was this renegade scientist who fought like a hacker, and she was like, What happens if I start hitting these corn chromosomes with x-rays, controlled amounts of radiation? What happens if I break these chromosomes? And she had this idea of what she thought would happen and the plant completely threw a curve ball.
The plant went and it got parts of its genome from other chromosomes and it basically copy-pasted bits of code into a damaged chromosome to repair the damage that was there. It would be sort of like, Logan, if I gave you a mystery novel and page 168 was ripped out, and I said, Hey, Logan, read everything before the ripped out page and everything after the ripped out page, and see if you can fill in what's missing.
This is essentially what these cells did. And so, you could think of it like adjectives and adverbs being moved around in order to make sentences make sense, and then you fill in the missing page, and nobody can tell that anything was missing. And then, the plant went on to reproduce, even though she had destroyed a critical part of it.
And this was so extraordinary that nobody believed her for 20 years. They basically laughed her out of the place, but some people believed in what she was doing. She kept her funding and she kept going on, and so, the discovery was made in the ’40s. She started publishing the research in the ’50s. In 1983, she won the Nobel Prize.
And so, there is a whole bunch of stuff in the human genome that we don't understand. In fact, up until about five to 10 years ago, it was very popular to proclaim that more than 90 percent of your genome was junk DNA. Well, that was an absurd and preposterous proposition made by bureaucrats who were not doing their jobs as scientists, and finding out why this is really there and what it really does.
And, right now, the hottest genetics research is in what is commonly called the “dark matter of the genome.” So, there's all this stuff that doesn't code for proteins. Well, what does it do? And so, the answers to these questions are going to hugely shape health care, cancer research, immunization, viruses, all of these fields. And so, I think we are just at the very, very beginning of genetics. I don't even consider it a mature field.
Logan: 12:35 Right. Yeah, me neither. With the transposons, are you aware of any research? That was when she was irradiating the chromosomes and causing damage they were able to fix via this mechanism. Is that being done when there isn't damaged DNA? Are you aware of anything like that where the -
Perry: 12:52 Oh, yes.
Logan: 12:52 - DNA is shifting all around for other reasons?
Perry: 12:55 Yes. There's a huge literature on transposable elements and there are textbooks going back 30 years. And so, transposable element events can be triggered by all kinds of things. Now, I didn't study up on this, but just before I jumped on the call and if you wanted a detailed accounting of, okay, so tell me exactly what triggers a transposon event other than damage? I would have to go look that up, but there's a huge body of literature on this.
And I will add, there is a school of thought among some biologists that transposons are basically just viruses in the human genome that are jumping around and they're not really of much help, and, first of all that's just a variation on the junk DNA theory. It's inherently antiscientific. It's based on not understanding what it does. It's not based on solid conclusions based on knowledge, and they're just a lot of questions that we still have, but this is very hot and any biologist who is up on the stuff knows that this is a major evolutionary part of the toolkit.
Logan: 14:15 Yeah, I just want people to think about that for a moment. Just imagine your sequence, based on these transposable elements, can shift around the code. So, our code is not static. It is changeable even within a living organism, not just passing down with random mutations or nonrandom mutations to the next generation.
Perry: 14:36 It's like an M. C. Escher, drawing the hand that is drawing a hand. It's really mind-bending like, Okay, so the genome has instructions for building the cell, but then the cell can modify its own genome, and then pass those modifications onto its offspring.
So, that leads to a question like, What is actually going on here? And Barbara McClintock in her Nobel Prize paper, she said a goal for the 21st century would be to find out what the cell knows about itself. I think that is the most profound question that anybody has asked in biology and I think that is the question—what does a cell know about itself?
Logan: 15:22 Yeah. On that note, I wanted to read this quote, and it's kind of a long one, so bear with me here. This is one of my favorite authors, Stephen Harrod Buhner. He says:
“Every living organisms has to have a means to perceive informational inflows in order to survive; every living organism possesses mechanisms to do so … Because all life-forms, irrespective of their nature, must, to survive, have a sense of not me, they all have a sense of self, they are in fact self-aware. Because all life-forms, irrespective of their nature, must, to survive, be able to analyze the nature of the not me that approaches them and, further, must be able to determine its intent, and further, be able to craft a response to that intent, all life-forms are, by definition, intelligent. Because all life-forms have to be able to determine the intent of the not me that approaches them, they also have to be able to determine meaning. In other words, all living organisms can not only produce data, they also engage in a search for meaning, an analysis that runs much deeper than linear cause and effect. Thus, three capacities—self-awareness, intelligence, and the search for meaning that have (erroneously) been ascribed as belonging only to human beings, are in fact general conditions for every living organism.”
Perry: 16:34 That is, bingo, absolutely right. In fact, you don't even have life at all until you have a boundary between what is the living thing and everything outside, which means inherently you need an immune system. Every cell is deciding, I'm going to let these things inside and I'm going to keep these other things out. It's just like a castle with guards.
So, everything you just read, Logan, is intrinsic to all living things. So, yes, all living things are intelligent. This is exactly what evolutionary biology has been very slow to accept, as it opens a huge Pandora's Box of questions that a lot of people just, frankly, don't want to deal with, but they're right here in front of us. I mean, the problems are here. The questions are here. So, what do we do about it?
Logan: 17:30 Right? Yeah, so seeing that, all living things, we can take this down to single cellular organisms, say, this bacteria or fungi, or all kinds of different things—not fungi. Those are multicellular, in general. I think there's some single ones.
Anyway, so with that understanding that every cell within your body is a living organism that has intelligence, self-awareness and this search for meaning, so it's able to interact and it comes together to create us. But we have to understand that it's not all top-down direction. Our conscious mind is not controlling our heart rate or our liver detoxes things, all these things going on. It's the body's own intelligence that really does these things, and if we think it's all just random and doesn't have any purpose, then our health kind of goes along with those same lines. That's why I feel this work is important.
Perry: 18:20 Yeah, that whole random accidental copying errors, natural selection, survival of the fittest narrative, it's depressing. It's disempowering. Richard Dawkins in his book, The Selfish Gene, says that we are just “lumbering robots” driven by our selfish genes. That is so wrong and it is so depressing, and I truly believe that that viewpoint is one of the biggest mistakes in the history of science.
So, what does physiology and genetics actually tell us? It tells us that even just the oxygen levels in your activity levels causes changes in your DNA. We know that what you eat and how you exercise, and whether you smoke or not, and what kind of habits that you have directly affect your offspring.
Let me give you two examples of this. Extremely practical. I have a friend named John Torday. He is a pediatric toxicologist at UCLA, and what that means is he has been studying the effects of secondhand smoke on children for 30 years. There are 300 effects of secondhand smoke on children—secondhand smoke being defined as smoke where you weren't smoking the cigarettes. Somebody else was. Okay?—so there's 300 effects of secondhand smoke.
The number one most severe effect is asthma in girls caused by a smoking grandmother and it is passed on epigenetically. And the grandmother could be dead. The grandmother could have never met the granddaughter. The granddaughter could have never been in a room with a smoker. But here's what happened: a woman smoked cigarettes. Her body makes epigenetic changes to deal with the toxins in the cigarettes. Those epigenetic changes get passed to her daughter, which gets amplified when it's passed to the granddaughter because it goes through the egg—it goes through the females—and a granddaughter inherits asthma from her grandmother. Okay? This is real.
John sent me another study where they took fruit flies and they ratcheted up the oxygen levels. So, normal oxygen in the Earth's atmosphere is 23 percent. They took fruit flies and they started increasing the oxygen levels, and in 13 generations, because of epigenetic changes, they got fruit flies to adapt to 90 percent oxygen. In 13 generations.
Now, what I just told you, this would have been laughed out of science classrooms 20 years ago. It is now known to be true. And so, so we don't even know the extent. If you smoke, if you drink too much, if you watch too much TV, if you exercise, if you don't exercise, we don't even know the extent to which these changes get passed to offspring, but we know that they do to some degree.
And this is why, if you go to Madagascar, you will find species you don't find anywhere else, and it's not just because of mutation and selection. It's because every generation of animals is adjusting its genome and its genetics to whatever environment it's in. It's constantly fine-tuning all the time.
And so, the fact that most people have never even heard about this, it just tells you we are light years away from fully understanding the complexity and the depth of our own bodies. It is utterly remarkable. It is beyond most people's imagination how sophisticated this is.
Logan: 22:37 Makes me curious because I was born, you might say, genetically, I'm not strong or athletic. I was not good at sports or anything for a long time, but then I got into this and kind of built those traits. So, I wonder how much of that is passed on to my daughter. Is she going to be stronger than average epigenetically because of the weights that I've lifted? And I'm not aware how much research has really looked into more, say, the positive sides of these, especially in humans. Very curious about that.
Perry: 23:06 I happen to know that most research on this topic is not even getting funded yet. I know of a grad student in the UK who is working on a PhD dissertation about this, who can't get $10,000 to do very basic research around these most fundamental questions. What we're talking about, Logan, is there's tons of scientific literature about it. There's more than enough, but it is still outside the purview of mainstream thinking in biology.
And so, it's kind of funny because, as an outsider, you can come into a profession and you can look around, and you can go, Wow, why aren’t these people over here talking to those guys over there? We're here now and we're talking about it, and it deserves attention.
And so, Logan, I'm kind of like you. I'm not an athletic guy. About 15 years ago, I started taking Taekwondo, and I remember how in the first few weeks it just felt ridiculously awkward for me to just do those moves and steps and kicks and punches. And then, I don’t know, after a couple of months, it started to feel a little normal, and I do not know, but you kind of have to wonder if your body is literally reprogramming itself on a cellular level in order to learn to do all that stuff. And then, what you said, does this get passed on to your kids? It might. There's a reason to believe that it does.
Logan: 24:42 Right. Yeah, because definitely there's going to be the myelination of the nervous pathways for that. But, yeah, how much of epigenetics is happening, genes turning on and off, or even transposable elements that are actually recoding you to be better at martial arts? Very interesting to think about and, as you said, a place we have not really explored at all in our science. It's also, on the flip side, dangerous.
This is another quote, much shorter one here, but this one has stuck with me since I came across it. When the top BPA researchers out there, Bisphenol-A, which is in many different plastics, although that is being kind of phased out but often just changed out for BPS or BPF, other types. But what he says about this is:
“A poison kills you. A chemical like BPA reprograms your cells and ends up causing a disease in your grandchild that kills him.”
So, what he's talking about there is the epigenetic stuff and understanding the chemicals around, and that they're causing these epigenetic type of changes. It does lead me to sometimes think, Have we already screwed ourselves over as a species and not quite even realize it? What are your thoughts there?
Perry: 25:47 Look, all of these questions scare me. I guess what I would say is there's a positive side to it as well, and the positive side is that, okay, maybe your parents did or I'm sure all of our ancestors did a bunch of stupid things, and all of our ancestors have passed things along to us, both genetically and otherwise, that are not very good. We can all agree on that.
The good part is the plasticity of our genome, of our DNA, of our programming. We can change it, at least to a degree. You are not a slave to your genes. You are not a robot. You have free choice. You have free will. You're not just a lumbering robot driven by yourself as genes. In fact, if you tried to tell people you were, it would make ridiculous consequences in your life. It's like if you're late for work and you go, Well, I'm sorry, Sir, but my genes just programed me to be late. It’s really hard for me to get out of bed … Well, we're going to get somebody in here who can get out of bed. Right?
There's really no point in crying over spilled milk. We have choices. We can make changes. Perry Marshall can go to Taekwondo and learn to be coordinated, even though I tend to be a klutz. There's nobody stopping me except my own inertia. And so, I think that life itself is a triumph of the will over inertia and I think it's all very positive. Logan, this is what your whole business is about, right? I mean, you wouldn't be here if you didn't believe that.
Logan: 27:35 Yep, absolutely.
Thank you so much. We will be back in the next episode with Perry Marshall once again to dive into why science taking 200 years to correct a problem is a big problem. So, stay tuned.
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