Early in his career, the neuroscientist Andrew Huberman worked mostly in isolation. In his lab, he kept a list of the scientists he loved and admired. “I would read that list over and over,” he said. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but this is what is called introjection.” Introjection is the process of absorbing the qualities and ideas of others into the self. If you regularly listen to so-and-so’s podcast, Huberman explains, “the nervous system begins to ask questions like, what would so-and-so do? That’s a very real thing, and we’re not always consciously aware of it.” But we will be more consciously aware of it after this week’s newsletter…
The Vulcan Mind Meld
“Reading,” David Foster Wallace said, “just seems like a rare form of magic.” It uniquely allows us to access the great minds. “Their brain voice,” he says, “for a while becomes your brain voice…The Vulcan Mind Meld perhaps is [the best] analogy.” Vulcans are the fictional telepathic extraterrestrial humanoid species in Star Trek. The Vulcan Mind Meld is, “A touch technique that allows a Vulcan to merge his or her mind with the essence of another’s mind purely by using specialized contact via fingertip-points.” Only the rare Vulcan, Spock for example, on rare occasions were able to Mind Meld with humans. Reading is a rare form of magic.
Your Creative Elders and Betters
In 1957, a group of teenagers—John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr—started a band called The Beatles in Liverpool, England. They struggled to get stage. A club owner from Hamburg, Germany was traveling around England looking for bands, and he invited The Beatles to play in Hamburg. The Beatles travelled to Hamburg five times between 1960 and 1962, performing live an estimated twelve hundred times. To do so, The Beatles biographer Philip Norman said, “they had to learn an enormous amount of numbers—cover versions of everything you can think of, not just rock and roll, a bit of jazz too…When they came back, they sounded like no one else. It was the making of them.” After telling a version of this story of The Beatles in Hamburg, Malcolm Gladwell said, “starting out with other people’s music covers, and moving slowly to your own music, is an extraordinary way to learn about composition.” Gladwell said that’s how he approached learning how to write. “If you read my early writing, it was insanely derivative. All I was doing was looking for models and copying them. Out of years of doing that, emerges my own style.” When you introject the work of your Conceptual Ancestors, Gladwell says, “when you absorb on a deep level the lessons of your musical elders and betters…that’s what makes the next step, the next creative step, possible.”
The Great One
When he was 14 years old, Wayne Gretzky moved from a small town in Canada to the mecca of hockey, Toronto. He was undersized and after his first practice, his coach pulled him aside. “When you go home tonight,” the coach told Gretzky, “the Leafs are playing the Philadelphia Flyers—watch Bobby Clarke play.” Clarke was an undersized player on the Flyers who went on to be inducted into the NHL Hall of Fame. “And I studied him and I studied him and I studied him,” Gretzky said. “I would take out a piece of paper and draw a rink and then without looking at the paper, I’d watch the hockey game on TV, and I would take my pen and I’d follow the puck.” When Clarke got off the ice, Gretzky would look down at the paper and look for patterns. He observed that Clarke “played the game out of the corners, not so much in front of the net.” Gretzky introjected Clarke’s style and on the ice himself, “I started playing out of the corner and from behind the net…And I started using the net as a decoy. Consequently, I wasn’t standing in front of the net, getting knocked over, and being on my keister the whole time.” Consequently, Gretzky went on to set 61 NHL records—many of which he still holds—including most career regular season goals (894), assists (1,963), and points (2,857).
Watching YouTube and Living in the Gym
Joel Embiid was initially so bad at basketball that during a practice, the coach kicked him out of the gym. He thought about quitting and going back home to Cameroon. “But then I was sitting in my room,” Embiid writes, “and suddenly my competitive side took over. I got really, really motivated…I said to myself, Alright, I’m literally just going to work and work in the gym until I’m good.” He pretty quickly got good around the rim—rebounding, dunking, etc. But even after weeks and weeks of working at it, he was a terrible shooter. “So I’m chilling one night, and I go on YouTube, and I’m thinking I’m about to figure this shooting thing out. I go to the search box like,” he writes…
HOW TO SHOOT 3 POINTERS.
HOW TO SHOOT GOOD FORM
Then the light bulb went off, man. I typed in the magic words.
WHITE PEOPLE SHOOTING 3 POINTERS.
“Listen, I know it’s a stereotype, but have you ever seen a normal, 30-year-old white guy shoot a three-pointer? That elbow is tucked, man. The knees are bent. The follow-through is perfect. Always…Those are the guys I learned from on YouTube. Just random people shooting threes with perfect form.” Embiid would watch shooters with perfect form and then go to the gym and practice imitating them. It worked. “A year later, I committed to Kansas.” After a year at Kansas, he was drafted third overall in the 2014 NBA draft. “I seriously got to the league by watching YouTube and living in the gym. There’s no other way to explain it.”
Pretend To Be Someone Who Is Wise
An author once asked Neil Gaiman how to do something she wasn’t sure she could do. “I suggested she pretend that she was someone who could do it,” Gaiman writes. “Not pretend to do it, but pretend she was someone who could.” She reported back to Gaiman: that advice worked. “Be wise,” Gaiman continues, “because the world needs more wisdom, and if you cannot be wise, pretend to be someone who is wise, and then just behave like they would.” Introject, mind meld, absorb, trace the play of Bobby Clarke or type out the works of Fitzgerald. Then if ever you’re not sure what to do in the lab or on the stage, the ice, or the page—ask questions like, what would so-and-so do?