Wide Awake and Dreaming

Jason Silva shows us how to get the best out of life

Jason Silva has been called a media artist, futurist, philosopher, keynote speaker and TV personality. We just call him cool. A self-described “wonderjunkie” who is high on life and addicted to curiosity, he’s the creator of Shots of Awe, a short film series of “trailers for the mind”; this philosophical exploration of creativity, technology, futurism and the metaphysics of the imagination has been viewed by thirteen million people worldwide. The engaging entertainer is also the Emmy-nominated host of National Geographic Channel’s hit TV series Brain Games, airing in over 100 countries. He’s madly in love with nature, technology and human beings, and his zest for life is contagious—so contagious, in fact, that a simple video of him talking to a baby generated 40 million views on Facebook. We sat down with this ambassador of enthusiasm to talk about what makes him excited to wake up in the morning and what he spends all day dreaming about.
Jason SilvaYou seem so alive and awake compared to those who just drift along. What makes you excited to wake up in the morning? 
It’s a magical existential anxiety—my curiosity, my desire to understand the world, and understanding what it means to be human. We’re standing on a rock floating in space, we can dream beautiful dreams, but we’re also made of flesh and we’re temporary. If that’s not enough of a bizarre situation to make us want to be as awake as we can be, then I don’t know what is. 
What drives you to create? 
I think it’s circumstantial. I have a mother who is an artist and a teacher. I grew up in Venezuela, a country that has been falling apart for a long time. This meant that my philosophical introspection and desire to connect through art and poetry took place against a backdrop of a country of bad ideas and bad implementation. It made me realize that ideas have to be actualized. I learned very quickly that thoughts without action means nothing. If there’s no output or daily discipline, there’s nothing. 
How did your Shots of Awe videos come about? 
When you decorate your house or buy bumper stickers, all of these things are triggers—messages you surround yourself with that remind you who you are. I make the videos as information reminders in a digital form that I can watch. My videos are my feedback tools, my instrument, my song. The fact that other people enjoy them is a wonderful bonus. 
What does your typical day look like? 
When I wake up in the morning I usually have a double espresso, exercise, and catch up on emails. I tend to do what I call my “left-brain thinking” in the morning—getting things done, making the calls, creating some order. Once I’m done with that, I like to switch gears and go into creative daydreaming mode where I disconnect and let go a little. It’s kind of like an alternative state of consciousness. 
Who inspires you? Are there any books or philosophers you recommend? 
I’m really inspired by the Flow Genome Project. Essentially, it teaches people how to get into the zone. Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal are its co-founders, and they are fantastic guys. Kotler is also a writer—he wrote The Rise of Superman and Abundance. I also often talk about Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity Is Near and Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death—these are books that have really affected me. 
You’ve quoted the poet Keats by saying “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.” Can you explain this for fashion-conscious readers? 
I was referring to experiences people have when they’re overcome by an aesthetic work; when a painting, a film or a work of art seem to reveal more truth about the human experience than empirical science does. French New Wave filmmakers used to say that art came alive and revealed the truth, so there it is: Beauty is truth, truth beauty. 
What do you think of the role of social media in society today? 
I think we use social media in the same way as we use all our tools—in both positive and negative ways. In this case, I’d say it’s largely positive. I think we have the capacity to reach out to one another in a way we didn’t before. Of course people use their tools in stupid ways all the time. It’s the same with any new media technology—it’s all about how you use it. 
How do you approach the fashion world? 
Strictly from an aesthetic viewpoint, I enjoy beauty as much as anybody else. When I see a spectacular piece of advertising from the fashion world and I see a beautiful woman, I appreciate that. I appreciate the relationship between flesh and life, between color and cloth and texture—all these things are wonderful. But I’ve also been to fashion parties and I’ve seen how shallow and superficial it can be. I’ve found myself in situations with people who don’t always correspond to the aesthetic work they create, so I might say: “Wow, this fashion is beautiful,” but then I want to look more inside the ad than inside the party that celebrates the ad. I suppose it’s the same thing happens with celebrities. I love cinema, and I love actors and directors. I go to the movies and I fall in love with this beautiful projection of what’s in our minds and our hearts; but there’s a cult of celebrity that trivializes and monetizes, just like in fashion. 
What advice do you have for anyone who wants to live life in more awake state? 
I think we need to learn to look at things deeply. Why is it that almost anything, no matter how trivial or boring, when put under a microscope becomes fascinating? There is something to be said about focusing and paying attention to things just because there are so many things to pay attention to. It’s like opening up Netflix: you can’t pick just one, because there are so many to choose from. But the truth is that any good film, if you watch it and pay attention to it, is a marvel.