"I am not who I think I am," declares Jason Silva, the host of National Geographic's show, Brain Games. "I am not who you think I am. I am who I think you think I am. Because when we communicate, I make a model of your brain in my brain. And then I make a model of how your brain is modeling my brain, in my brain. And then I respond according to who you think you think I am."
Silva ends his supercharged sermon on human consciousness with a chuckle. But is he laughing at the serpentine logic of his own ideas? Or is he enjoying the ease with which he articulates a stream of symmetrical sentences, each of which seems designed to tangle the brain as well as the tongue?
It's hard to say with Silva. In conversation, it can be hard just to keep pace with the self-proclaimed "wonder junkie". At his best, the beauty of his words are a poetic match for the grandeur of his ideas. One minute, he's a caffeinated Carl Sagan on a rapid-fire patter about the ethical dilemas posed by sentient robots in his favorite film of the year, Ex Machina. A few femtoseconds later, he's expounding on the convergent prognostications of contemporary futurist Ray Kurzweil and Romantic-era poet John Keats, all of which he conveys with the trippy enthusiasm of an internet age Timothy Leary.
Silva's day job is hosting Brain Games, a reality game show that attempts to explain the strange inner workings of the human mind. Now in its sixth year, it's the highest rated show in the history of the National Geographic Channel. The new season, which begins on Feb. 14th, continues the winning formula.
"The episode I'm most excited about is called 'The God Brain,' " says Silva. "It's shot in Jerusalem... and it's about the neuroscience of religious experience."
Not content to host one hit program, Silva's new web series, Shots of Awe takes the intellectual journey a step farther. It's a hallucinogenic smorgasbord of free association – short videos played out in words and images – that ask some very big questions about the future of technology, God, sex, and the limits of human consciousness.
Silva's commentary would be tiresome without a measure of self-awareness and proportion. In conversation, he's acutely aware of the differences between his poetic presentations of techno-utopia and the hard limits of contemporary scientific knowledge. Even his most outlandish notions cling to the edges of plausible speculation, never veering into New Age or supernatural explanations. Sometimes the wide-eyed optimist flirts with self-doubt.
"Shots of Awe is art..." Silva reminds us, adding that his work shouldn't be subjected to the rigors of academic scrutiny. "I am not a professor. I am an enthusiast and an artist."
In the film Contact, based Carl Sagan's novel, the astronomer Ellie Arroway travels alone to a distant galaxy. Marvelling at the beauty of the stars, she laments, "It's so beautiful. They should've sent a poet."
That feeling of wonder is what Jason Silva is all about.
Runs about 21 minutes.
Produced, edited, and hosted by Todd Krainin. Cameras and audio by Josh Swain.
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