When Science and Life Collide: A Q&A with Garth Sundem
Posted By Blaine McEvoy On February 9, 2012 @ 1:51 pm In Culture
Where did you get the idea to write this book?
I decided there were a lot of things in life that I was bad at. I also decided that someone had to know how I could everything better. As it turns out, those people are scientists. It’s strange: for everything that you can’t do — say, talk to girls, or hit a jump shot — there’s someone who has studied that, which was sort of a revelation for me. So this was the world’s most awesome excuse to call the world’s top minds and ask, “hey, how do I do that?”
You did 130 interviews in 180 days, sometimes talking to three or four Nobel laureates in a single morning. Who was your most intimidating interview?
My most intimidating interview was with someone I’ve admired for a long time: the Nobel-winning economist George Akerlof. But he turned out to be freaking hilarious. I loved him — he was willing to talk and talk and talk. My favorite stories, though, came from speaking with Wayne Winston, the former stats guru for Mark Cuban and the Dallas Mavericks. The whole time we spoke, he was yelling at officials from USA Basketball because his model for their current tournament predicted a wider point spread. He would give me an answer and then say, “fucking LeBron James can’t hit a jump shot!”
Who came in second?
Steve Strogatz at Cornell, who you might have heard on Radiolab a bunch of times talking about crickets and synchronicity. When we spoke, he talked about the time a bunch of people walked over London’s Millenium Bridge and got in synch in such a way that they nearly demolished the bridge on its opening day.
And what’s the lab-tested secret gleaned from that incident?
How to destroy shit with awesome powers! It’s possible to shake a bridge to pieces.
You’re telling me someone could take down the Brooklyn Bridge tomorrow?
They could try, and on bridges built before the Millenium, they might actually find some success. Bridges need to be designed so that they can’t get in sync with what is called vertical resonant frequency. In the 19th century, soldiers marching across bridges during wartime actually ripped bridges apart, and we learned very quickly not to design bridges that can be vibrated by vertical motion. But with the Millenium, people actually swung it side to side. When you watch video of the incident, all of a sudden the bridge starts to rock just a little bit. In a panic, everyone naturally widened their stance in a way that pumped energy into the bridge. No one had ever seen that happen before.
Can you share some quick tips from your interviews?
Here’s a really quick one: if you condense your eating to eight hours a day, even if you keep your calorie count the same as you would in a 16-hour window, you’ll lose weight. You’re not eating any less, and you don’t have to abstain from Cherry Garcia or potato chips or anything.
Have you tried that out?
Yup. I went about a month on that plan. It’s a good idea, and what it comes down to is liver function. Your liver needs a defined period of fasting everyday. It’s our evolutionary history: before there was electricity, we couldn’t do shit when it was dark. We had to get up in the morning, spend a bunch of time finding or creating food, and by then it was dark. So we’re optimized for having a long period of fasting during which our liver cells divide. They know there’s a time when they need to work and a time when they need to repair and replicate themselves. These days, we’re asking them to work while they’re repairing and replicating, and by doing that, we’re introducing a whole bunch of DNA damage.
That eight-hour weight loss plan – is that your favorite tip in the book?
You know, I really like some of the speed dating stuff, too.
What are some quick speed dating tips?
You want to be the sex that sits. If you sit, the other sex has to approach you. And studies show — I feel strange saying “studies show” — but studies show that the sex that sits is more liked than the sex that approaches. So if you’re going to speed date, you want to find a setting that has guys sitting.
As you mentioned in the introduction, all of these interviews were conducted in your car, correct?
Totally. I’m actually sitting in my car right now.
What’s the point?
I think it depends on how many kids and Labradors you have. Without my kids and Labradors, I’m not sure I would choose the car. One thing I’ve learned is you need to sit on the passenger side. Otherwise that damned steering wheel gets in the way.
What do you hope will be the ultimate takeaway from this book?
Well, there are 93 takeaways. But I think the overarching message is that it’s very possible to live the scientifically perfect life.
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