Stewart Brand – The Polymath of Polymaths (#281)

“Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” – Stewart Brand

Stewart Brand (@stewartbrand) is the president of The Long Now Foundation, established to foster long-term thinking and responsibility. He leads a project called Revive & Restore, which seeks to bring back extinct animal species such as the passenger pigeon and woolly mammoth.

Stewart is very well known for founding, editing, and publishing The Whole Earth Catalog (WEC), which changed my life when I was a little kid. It also received a national book award for its 1972 issue.

Stewart is the co-founder of The WELL and The Global Business Network, and author of Whole Earth Discipline, The Clock Of The Long Now, How Buildings Learn, and The Media Lab. He was trained in biology at Stanford and served as an infantry officer in the US Army.

I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did!

You can find the transcript of this episode here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

Stewart Brand - The Polymath of Polymaths

Want to hear another conversation with a fascinating polymath?  Listen to this episode with Kevin Kelly, in which we discuss population implosions, The Long Now Foundation, organizational methods for learning, and much more? — Listen to them here (stream below or right-click to download part 1 | part 2 | part 3):

Ep 25: Kevin Kelly - WIRED Co-Founder, Polymath, Most Interesting Man In The World
Ep 26: Kevin Kelly (Part 2) - WIRED Co-Founder, Polymath, Most Interesting Man In The World?
Ep 27: Kevin Kelly (Part 3) - WIRED Co-Founder, Polymath, Most Interesting Man In The World?

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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

Selected Links from the Episode

  • Connect with Stewart Brand:

The Long Now Foundation | Twitter

Show Notes

  • How I was introduced to Stewart’s Whole Earth Catalog (WEC) as a child, and what appealed to me most. [09:15]
  • What do people usually remember most from their early exposure to WEC? [12:11]
  • Stewart talks about time he spent with Steve Jobs and the question he regrets not asking. [13:49]
  • What was intended by WEC’s sentiment of “Stay hungry. Stay foolish?” [16:57]
  • Has the randomized course of Stewart’s life been by design or serendipity? [19:52]
  • What made Stewart give up skydiving? [23:08]
  • How did Stewart emerge from his post-WEC depression, and how does he keep panic at bay today? [30:35]
  • Stewart talks about his early experiences with psychedelics — and what made him stop using them. [37:38]
  • Stewart talks about his 1966 campaign to NASA (and its Soviet rival agency) for public release of an image of Earth from space. [44:07]
  • Stewart’s lessons from R. Buckminster Fuller, Peter Drucker, and Marshall McLuhan. [49:24]
  • On influencing civilization by changing its tools rather than the futile pursuit of trying to reshape human nature. [52:11]
  • The ongoing debate between artificial intelligence and intelligence augmentation. [54:44]
  • The ideas behind The Long Now Foundation and what Stewart aims to accomplish. [56:48]
  • Seminars About Long-Term Thinking (SALT) Stewart recommends as an introduction to the series. [59:13]
  • Thee woolly mammoth in the room: Revive & Restore’s quest for its de-extinction. [1:10:30]
  • What would Stewart say to people fearful of meddling with complex systems — like species de-extinction and climate change reversal? [1:15:09]
  • Reintroducing the idea of bioabundance. [1:19:51]
  • What Stewart believes environmental purists get wrong about providing for a sustainable future. [1:23:03]
  • What’s the secret behind Stewart’s powers of persuasion? [1:27:42]
  • How has Stewart made it this far without an archnemesis? [1:30:34]
  • Stewart’s favorite failures. [1:32:11]
  • What appeals to Stewart about CrossFit training, and how it helped him lose 30 pounds at age 75. [1:34:52]
  • Stewart’s thoughts on witnessing the beginning of something big — from CrossFit to Douglas Engelbart’s Mother of All Demos. [1:38:19]
  • Caution to anyone who might develop a myopic view of fitness based on one camp’s approach. [1:45:51]
  • In what ways does Stewart believe information wants to be free? [1:47:23]
  • The rewards of being a pack rat. [1:54:22]
  • What class would Stewart like to teach? [1:57:15]
  • Stewart’s approach to long-term projects at age 78. [1:59:09]
  • On a lifelong fascination with games, and how James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games has changed Stewart’s thinking. [2:04:37]
  • The contrast between goals and pathways. [2:16:45]
  • The power of changing one’s mind frequently along the way. [2:22:57]
  • Can politicians succeed if they have the courage to change their minds? [2:27:06]
  • Books Stewart recommends to someone who wants to learn to think more scientifically. [2:32:31]
  • What does Stewart wish he knew when he was my age? [2:35:46]
  • Final thoughts on how we might overcome a fear of — and learn to welcome — unintended consequences. [2:38:39]

People Mentioned

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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28 Replies to “Stewart Brand – The Polymath of Polymaths (#281)”

  1. Looking forward to receiving the new book! I am curious if there will ever be paperback options of your books. A random thing I never would have thought of until a loved one ended up incarcerated is that I cannot order hard cover books to be delivered as one of the rules of the prison. Your books are so valuable and contain such powerful wisdom for someone to consume while attempting to shift their life and experience while incarcerated. Thought I’d put it out there for considering.

  2. Hey Tim!

    I saw your post re personal meetups on the “Two Bullet Tuesday”. Are you having any European tours in the upcoming months? Maybe somewhere near Serbia? 🙂 You have quite a strong fan base here… If you ever find time to hop for a day to Belgrade (interesting city in many ways), it would be highly appreciated.

    Thanks for all the value you are adding to everyday life.

    Best wishes from sunny Beograd,


  3. Nice new design. However, I want to ask why I am not able to comment on the website. Can someone please check the Felix Dragoi wordpress account I have? I’ve already commented before but can’t anymore right now. I’d be happy if you could look into this and see if my messages are automatically marked as spam or something like that, since I can’t even see them after posting on the site (like it was before), but if I try to post the exact same message it says it’s a duplicate.

    Thank you for your time

    On Wed, Nov 22, 2017 at 4:47 AM, The Blog of Author Tim Ferriss wrote:

    > Tim Ferriss posted: ” “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” – Stewart Brand Stewart > Brand (@stewartbrand) is the president of The Long Now Foundation, > established to foster long-term thinking and responsibility. He leads a > project called Revive & Restore, which seeks to bring ba” >

  4. I am officially giving up listening to the podcast. Over 7 minutes of advertising as an introduction is 7 minutes of completely wasted time for me as a listener. By the time the interview started we are over 11 minutes. Come on. I understand that is how you make money, but there has to be a balance. Break the commercials into smaller segments through out the podcast.

    1. Please DONT interleave them through the podcast – easier to skip the 1st 7 minutes than have the conversation interrupted by ads. Also, sometimes i listen to the ads on 2x speed, just in case there’s something of interest, and as ‘payment’ for the podcast.

      1. I realised I’m even avoiding listening to the podcasts that are interrupted in the middle by ads. I know this is how they pay but it’s the most annoying thing 🙁 so much better just to skip first minutes if you don’t want to listen to the ads

  5. Immensely glad for you having given me the opportunity to hear from such brilliant minds, in this TimCast. Thank you, Tim!



  6. Hi Tim – The part of the podcast where you and Stwart talked about mysticism and your investigations to find the least layer of abstraction reminded me of Ken Wilber’s work. Who by the way would be an excellent podcast guest. His Integral Theory gives everything from science to weightlifting to spirituality a place in a coherent and logical framework. Well worth a year of study like I did. Thanks for your podcasts.

  7. This was an excellent episode – thank you for introducing me to Stewart Brand. He is very perceptive – behind hearing all of his wonderful thoughts and answers, it was great to hear him turn the tables from time to time to tease out more information from you about your thoughts and what you’re chewing on. Really enjoyed! Thank you Tim and Stewart – loved the depth of wisdom present here.

  8. Tim;

    I really like the new shorter format tribe of mentors podcast. While I like the way you drill down through a subject in the longer form, I have a very short commute. TOM is perfect for that.

    Please keep doing that.


    Orlando, Fla.

  9. I was glad to hear the recommendation for the book Naturalist by E.O. Wilson. That book was recommended to me twenty years ago by my college biology professor, and it helped shape my thinking at a critical time in life.

  10. For ME, the best segment was starting about 1h 5min, when you’re talking about experience. I have a degree in engineering, and have been ‘logically’ oriented for much of my life. Recently I have felt unfulfilled, and have been going through a process of self-discovery (with a Therapist, using methods developed by John Gottman). This is intended to allow my ‘true Self’ to guide my life (I have realized I’m overrun with logic).

    Through this, my realization has been: To be a better human, I must BE more Human. Humans are illogical, and we have certain senses about things. I read a quote yesterday, before I listened to the podcast (Meditations for Women Who Do Too Much Anne Wilson Schaef [Moderator: link removed.] ):


    “It is not primarily abstract ideas which affect our spirituality, that is, our experience of and with God.” –Sandra M. Schneiders

    We cannot approach God or the process of the universe through ideas. Theology is trying to think out God and often asks us to deny our experience of a power greater than ourselves.

    When we learn to trust our own perceptions and experience, we discover that we begin to have a relationship with the process of the universe. In fact, as we do our recovery work, we discover that when we are licing out of our own process, we are one with the universe. We are the holomovement.

    This living process that is us is, at the same time, greater than ourselves. When we are truly ourselves, we are more than ourselves. We do not have to look for spirituality. We are spirituality.

    * MY EXPERIENCE of the infinite cannot begin with my head. *

    To me, this really puts things into perspective. We KNOW how finite we are. What makes us believe we can even come near this while being ‘in ourselves.’ I also like how Stuart spoke (more than once) about being outside ourselves (whether basic training, or playing ‘slaughter’).

    Thanks for what you do!

  11. Abundance of wisdom, inspiration and food for thoughts – love this episode! Although i am not a fan of bullet point style questions – they are often quite reductive. With someone of the stature and wealth of experience like Stewart, it worked well.

  12. This is my favorite episode to date! I was not familiar with Stewart and his work, but am glad that problem has been remedied. I especially appreciated Stewart’s thoughts and experiences providing contrast between the pursuit of goals and pathways. Great conversation. Worth every minute.

  13. I am 41 and think I’m a worldly man but clearly I’m not since I had never heard of Stewart Brand until now. Thank you so much for the introduction, this is one of your best. I will be visiting the show notes often.

  14. Up there with Kevin Kelly’s three-part interview, this is one of my faves of all time. Thank you Tim and Stewart, and I leapt into the Long Now Foundation and have a date set-up in the Interval – magic!

    In particular, I loved the conversation around political perspectives and thinking about the telic and atelic at 2:28.

  15. I just finished listenting to this podcast. I am a year younger than you so the advice to the 40 year old was great to hear. Thank you for asking that question!

  16. Fascinating episode! Stewart Brand is one of those people I’d always been vaguely aware of, but I hadn’t realised his hand in so many things I remember, like the New Games movement or the Earth button, and his collaboration with other people I admire, like Gregory Bateson and Brian Eno. (BTW, you really must get Eno on the show!)