Robert Greene: The Laws of Human Nature @ Talks at Google (Transcript)

So the qualities, these forces that I’m talking about here and now about human nature, they are all within all of us. They are governing all of our behavior. Nobody is excepted from these laws.

And so as I started writing the book, I got kind of excited, and I kind of had a weird sensation. It was making me understand myself in a way that was making me a little bit uncomfortable. I was realizing some of the dark, irrational qualities in myself, some of the sources of my own bad habits and patterns.

It was also making me very aware of the things that I was observing in the people around me. And I started to sense that there’s incredible power in this knowledge, that it can help me break these habits, and it can help me get along with people on a much higher level.

But also, more importantly, at the time that I was writing this book, a lot of strange things were going on. There was the bitcoin craze. There was the whole transformation of social media into this giant feeding ground for trolls, et cetera, and all the stuff that we’ve seen happening in social media. A new president was elected — and that was a very strange experience — and all the things that were going on around that and the kind of tribalism in our politics and the heated nature of it.

And I thought what I was uncovering in this stuff about human nature is explaining, in many ways, all of the stuff that I was witnessing. And I had this metaphor that I included in the introduction to the book that came to me. And the metaphor was that human nature, this stuff that I’m talking about that evolved very deep in our past, it’s like a puppet master, and we are the puppets. And it’s kind of moving us around and making us do things.

We’re not aware that human nature is making us do these things. But the puppet master is there. And we die, a new generation comes, and this puppet master is going to move them around in the same way. And the only way to escape that is to understand these laws, to understand what is really going on.

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So I want to take you now through some of these — I told you about these kind of powerful, primitive forces that intersect the modern. I want to take you inside four of these forces that kind of inspire or ground many of the chapters in the book. And the first one has to do with chapter 1, which is basically the law of irrationality.

And the point of this chapter is that we like to think of ourselves as these rational, thinking, very strategic creatures, when in point of fact, we humans are deeply irrational. And what I mean by that is that we are governed by our emotions more than anything else, which explains the kind of madness that overcame even the great genius Isaac Newton.

And I referred to neuroscience once again to explain this kind of madness that exists inside all of us. And basically, what neuroscience shows is that the human brain evolved. It’s kind of like a ladder. The brain has different layers, literally going from the bottom to the top.

The bottom part of the brain is the oldest part. It is where the autonomic functions that govern our hormones, et cetera. You move up, and then there’s the limbic system that governs our emotions. And at the very top is the frontal neocortex that developed very recently. It’s where our language and our reasoning powers came from.

And what this means is that these two parts of the brain, emotions and reasoning, are not in the same area. They’re separated by other layers, and they don’t communicate with each other.

Now this is very powerful idea that I think we all need to understand. So emotions are a very, very ancient system. Reptiles have a fear response. So this is something that goes back millions and millions — hundreds of millions — of years. And basically, emotions originate as a kind of hormonal nerve signal that is sent to the brain. And these signals are much stronger than any of the signals that the frontal cortex sends.

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And what that means is emotions consume so much more of our attention than any kind of thought. They grab our attention more because they’re involving these very powerful physical forces.

The other thing that comes from this is that, because they’re in two different parts of the brain, we don’t really have access to our emotions. So it’s very hard for us to put our feelings into words. I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced that. But the word depression doesn’t really describe exactly sometimes the feeling of depression or the same with anger. They’re more complicated. There’s something more going on. It’s hard to verbalize these emotions.

The other thing is we have no access to the source of our emotions. So we could be angry and depressed but not really know consciously why we’re angry or depressed.

And finally, because these are separated functions, we don’t really realize to what extent emotions are infecting our strategies, our plans, our ideas. We don’t realize how much the ideas that we have are being infiltrated by our emotions. And to make all of this more complicated and worse — I don’t mean to overload you with all this information, excuse me — our brains operate by simplifying information.

The human brain takes in so much stimuli in the course of a day that if we had to sit there and look at all of that, we would go crazy. So the brain operates by simplifying the material that we receive and tells us a story so that, for instance, when you’re feeling angry, your brain tells you you’re angry because of this person or that. You’re depressed because of this event or that. But it’s not necessarily the truth.

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