Joe Rogan and Sir Roger Penrose

The Cosmologist and the Cable News Guy talked for over an hour and a half a few weeks ago.

Sir Roger Penrose is respected and influential, and also controversial. Joe Rogan is all those things too, for different reasons.

For all his honors, Sir Roger Penrose has espoused ideas that many established scientists think are crazy, most notably his framework for a theory of quantum consciousness.

Joe loves talking about consciousness, almost as much as he loves talking about elk hunting. Lots of people love hearing him talk about both topics and plenty of others.

‘This is Sir Roger Fucking Penrose!!!’ I was quietly screaming inside, because I knew back when everyone else was saying, ‘no way the brain could be a quantum computer because its biological reality is too gross to enable quantum effects,’ Penrose was saying, ‘there is something going on with consciousness that is not algorithmic and I think it has to involve quantum effects.’

Then Stuart Hameroff (an Anesthesiologist) began promoting the microtubule structures, a nicely shielded space in every brain cell for quantum-level processes, maybe, if you make a few assumptions we can’t test yet.

Hameroff and Penrose collaborated in the early 1990s. It seems so promising to me as a barely-informed non-specialist, but the whole idea of quantum effects and biological systems has received nothing but criticism. Even the well informed Comments on the JRE #1216 Reddit threads are mostly dismissive. Not possible and not necessary.

Still, nothing we’ve learned since the early ‘90s has invalidated the idea; plus, as Sir Roger said on the podcast, ‘I think it’s more than microtubules,’ then he went on to talk about components in the synapses; ‘I mean,why do we have synapses instead of soldered connections … ‘

Five days earlier, Joe spoke with Lawrence Lessig, who teaches law and ethics at Harvard and leads important national movements. That was right after he spoke with Dr. Andrew Weil, who helped Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, and Huston Smith start the Sixties.

I was strongly affected by Lawrence Lessig’s optimism. It takes some time to develop his argument that we need to fix the broken election system first before other issues can be addressed — and that it’s actually possible now. He almost never gets that time in other media appearances, so Lessig was clearly loving his long talk with Joe.

Like Penrose, Lessig is uber credentialed, but he wanders out of his assigned lane and he gets criticized for it. He’s supposed to be an intellectual, but he acts like a political activist and even ran for President.

Between them, Sir Roger Penrose and Professor Lawrence Lessig possess most of the intellectual status signifiers that matter in the Anglo-American world. Joe Rogan has none. Yet Penrose and Lessig were each grateful in their own way for the opportunity to be guests on The Joe Rogan Experience. It was always clear whose show it was.

I remember when Katherine Hepburn was on the Dick Cavett Show back in 1973 and Cavett, the host, fawned big time in the presence of Hepburn’s greatness.

Joe was respectful and he was there to learn, but there was never any sense that he was playing it, like, ‘oh, I need to show deference to their stature.’ Cavett did, in my recollection.

Times have changed and so has the nature of hosting, because back then Cavett was considered the maverick.

What I want now, in 2019, in a recorded conversation with Sir Roger Penrose, is someone to stand in for me. I want someone who is up on the field as an informed amateur, like me, who will be sure to ask the right questions, and not make long-winded comments designed to show how much he knows.

For me, Joe handled it just right. Sir Roger Penrose probably did 80% or more of the talking. They had the best conversation I could imagine myself having.

When The Joe Rogan Experience is accused of providing a platform for dangerous people, the first example cited is usually Alex Jones, not Lawrence Lessig or Roger Penrose. Are they in the Intellectual Dark Web too?

IDW membership is based on dangerous thoughts; ie, thoughts not explicitly endorsed by the official left or right tribes. The more controversial (Alex Jones) the better.

Dr. Jordan Peterson is currently the Grand Poo-Bah of the Intellectual Dark Web, another highly-credentialed intellectual who was struck by lightning and gained super powers as Lecture Man, intoxicating audiences world wide with his erudition — while simultaneously alienating just as many if not more who may or may not have listened to what he says but are nevertheless convinced that he is totally full of shit.

I’ve listened to four Rogan-Peterson conversations over the past few years and every one of them has kept my attention for the whole two or three-plus hours.

Like Roger Penrose and Lawrence Lessig did.

I see Peterson as a source of non-standard ideas, not as a life lessons guru, even though he is clearly representing himself as one.

I have only experienced Peterson in the context of the Joe Rogan Experience, which I see as some kind of early 21st century Best University Experience ever, the one I wish I was mature enough to have had at 18. Audit the stuff you want, screw the ones you don’t. No homework. Talk about any cool new ideas in real life with friends. Have fun arguing about ancient civilizations and lost technology.

Apparently lots of people didn’t get enough of it at 18, which is partly why more people download JRE episodes than watch most TV shows.

You can major in Comedy, MMA, or General Studies at JREU. He produces lots of excellent fresh content every week for all three programs. The archives are extraordinary. You have to focus to keep up.

There’s a consistent thread in the General Studies Program— non-mainstream ideas articulated by serious people, many with mainstream credentials. From stoned apes and bow hunting, to keto dieting, Ted Nugent and the multiverse, all the conversations walk that tricky path of excitement with the vision, struggling for enough supporting evidence to make it real in the culture.

Joe Rogan, wikimedia commons

But more importantly, there’s a consistent thread to the whole podcast.


He has shown that long conversations with a certain kind of person by a certain kind of interviewer can become must-listen media.

The operating principles he lives by are part of the Joe Rogan Experience. Like, ‘Doing something hard every day’ — he didn’t teach me that. But he brings the idea up sometimes and talks about it and you see how it works for him, and so it reminds me of something I already knew. It brings it to my attention in a way that’s easy for me to think, ‘why not try something hard today?’

I wanted my little ‘do-a-hard-thing’ experiment to work, which also helps, and it did. That was back in April, 2018. Today’s hard thing was a long fast walk on a route I’d never done with a five block section toward the end so steep my legs felt like setting concrete as I tried to keep them churning to the top.

The Joe Rogan Experience has influenced me, so I assume it has influenced others.

Influencers are most frequently thought of as stylish women with thousands of friends who wouldn’t know what to buy without Instagram.

As new independent media platforms emerge, new kinds of Influencers emerge with them.

Some influence more than this season’s fashion with ideas that go deeper and last longer.

Sir Roger Penrose is controversial because he makes grand pronouncements about other people’s specialties. Joe Rogan is controversial because he opens his platform to people who make grand pronouncements about other people’s specialties. I understand why that pisses some people off.

Plenty of really smart scientists have refuted Penrose’s ideas about quantum effects and the human brain. That’s great. I’m glad they took the time and I hope they keep up all their good work. We need them. We also need people to push our ideas and keep showing us new ways of looking at things even when we can’t see it yet. I’m pretty sure that’s how progress is made.

Penrose is an idea person, a Cosmologist — if he isn’t allowed to stretch some I don’t know who would be. Listening to him was pure enjoyment for me. But Penrose isn’t the Influencer.

Joe is.

Lawrence Lessig said so.

He said independent podcasts like the Joe Rogan Experience are one of the top few things happening now that give him hope.

I first wrote about the Joe Rogan Experience in July, 2018

Learning Technologist focusing on VR, Video, and Mortality … producer of Less Than One Minute and 360 degree videos