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Gad Saad: Parasitic Ideas, the Warping of Science, and the Recipe for a Good Life

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[FULL TRANSCRIPT BELOW] “I often joke that it takes intellectuals to come up with some of the dumbest ideas.”
In this episode, we sit down with Gad Saad, professor of marketing at Concordia University and author of “The Parasitic Mind,” as well as, most recently, “The Saad Truth About Happiness.”
What is the recipe to a good life? How do humor, grit, and gratitude factor into it?
What are parasitic ideas, and how can we build resistance to them?
And how has basic scientific inquiry been flipped on its head?


Jan Jekielek: Professor Gad Saad, such a pleasure to have you back on American Thought Leaders.
Gad Saad: It's so good to be back. Thank you so much, Jan.
Mr. Jekielek: I couldn't believe it. In the book, you let the cat out of the bag: you're actually a Mossad agent.
Mr. Saad: You are the first person on my media tour to actually either have read that far into the book, or to mention it. I thought it would be the top story in every show.
Mr. Jekielek: This is serious, and most people are not as candid about this stuff.
Mr. Saad: I thought that maybe I had extended the statute of limitation, and that they wouldn't come after me at this point. Do you want me to tell that story?
Mr. Jekielek: Yes, please.
Mr. Saad: Actually, that is something that I discussed in the chapter on play, the importance of living your life with a playful mindset. Now, you might say, how does the Mossad fit in with play? When I was about 18 years old, I had a cousin who had come from Israel who said, "I have a friend of mine who would like to meet and chat with you." I'm thinking, for what purpose? He said, "Oh, he'll talk to you about it." I meet this gentleman and he says, "There are some guys who would like to meet you and see if you're interested in working with them."
I meet these gentlemen, who don't introduce themselves as being Mossad agents. They said, "We're interested in checking the quality of our security in various environments. Would you be interested in being the person who does some of these tests for us?" I said, "Okay, tell me more." The first mission was going to an El Al airline office in downtown Montreal, walk in there, and everything was scripted. They told me exactly what to do. Walk in with a bag, ask some questions, and leave without taking the bag.
Mr. Jekielek: Did you actually look in the bag before you dropped it?
Mr. Saad: I did not look in the bag.
Mr. Jekielek: That was very trusting of you.
Mr. Saad: I'd like to think that there weren't any bombs in the bag. I did that, and then an El Al security person came and said, "You forgot your bag." I passed the test successfully. A couple of weeks later, they asked to meet me again. They said, "We have a more challenging mission for you. You will now be a student at the University of Montreal.”
It was a fake role that they were asking me to play, "You're working on a paper on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you'd like to interview the Israeli council in Montreal. In your gloves, you’ll be carrying a fake gun. The idea is to see if they catch you."
Now, this one was a lot more elaborate in that there were multiple layers of security. If I could get through all of the different checkpoints, in the final layer there would be a very detailed pat down. I remember asking them, "But what if they find the gun?" I mean the fake gun. They said, "Don't worry, we're behind this. It's secure." So, I go through all the stages.
The guy, and I notice that he's getting stressed, and they ask him to stop. Now, they're very happy. I don't have confirmation of this, but I think it was two tests that were happening. Test one is literally the security. Test two, is this guy someone that is worthy of working with them? Again, I'm speculating here, but I'm the dream of the Mossad and associated agencies, because I'm a Lebanese Jew who's a perfect Arabic speaker who left Lebanon.
The most famous case in the Israeli spy game was Eli Cohen, who was executed by the Syrians, after having infiltrated the highest ranks of Syrian society. He was a perfect Arabic speaker, and was able to infiltrate the high society of Syria. I can't know for sure that's where I was heading, but it certainly seemed as though they were testing me.
There was a third mission, and I was told I shouldn't speak too much about it, based on the legal review of my book from my publisher. Where I was going to go on a third mission raised the stakes of what I was being tested on. As I tell in the book, it ended with something that the Mossad is very afraid of, and that's the angry Jewish mother. Apparently, my mother found out.
I never told anybody. I didn't even tell anybody these stories for something like 25 years after the fact. It might have well been my now-wife. I was trying to impress her when we were first dating. It must have been my cousin who would have told her, because there's no other way that there would've been a leak that said, "Gad is doing really well. He's working well with these guys." My mother ended up saying, "This has to end." She was going to blow it out into the open. These guys don't really like to have a lot of attention. That was the end of my Israeli spy game career.
Mr. Jekielek: You tell this story in the context of explaining how being playful, or having a playful nature is something that's very closely tied with happiness. Let's talk about humor.
Mr. Saad: Sure.
Mr. Jekielek: Because we need it. In our current cultural moment, it's almost like you're afraid to say anything, because who knows who it might offend? Typically, humor is offensive. That's part of how it works. You said, “Ideas that cannot be mocked cannot be true.” This is one of the most profound statements in the book. You'll probably say, "There's more profound things than that." But that is a very interesting idea.
Mr. Saad: We were talking about the concept of anti-fragility. That speaks to anti-fragility, because if an idea cannot withstand the stressor of mockery, of derision, of being made fun of, that means it's too brittle. That means it can't be true. That's why dictators will often round up the satirists first, the guys with the sharp tongue and the mighty sword. They don't go after the guys with the big muscles. Those guys, they can handle them easily. It's the guy who can attack the legitimacy of their existence on the throne that they have to go after. That's the guy with the sharp tongue.
I use humor for two different reasons. I use humor because, number one, it often conveys the message in a very punchy, poignant, memorable way. But I also use it as a self-medication tool. When I'm seeing all the lunacy, it helps diffuse the pressure that's building in me, the pressure of frustration, so I can just laugh at it. There are really two purposes for my use of humor.
Mr. Jekielek: Is it obvious that having good humor, or being able to appreciate good humor, lends itself to happiness? Is that obvious?
Mr. Saad: To me, it should be. There's even research that shows that there are physiological benefits downstream from humor. There's the classic movie with the real character, Patch Adams, who used all kinds of humor in his medical practice. There's a famous quote in the movie that I actually quote in the book, where he starts citing some of the medical benefits of laughing, and of having a humorous, sunny disposition. Yes, even in the worst of circumstances, like when I went through the Lebanese Civil War, even worse, in the Holocaust, people found a way to retain their humor and to retain their playful attitude.
Even in the most precarious situations, we have this innate need to bond with things that are funny and uplifting. Linking my Lebanese Civil War story to the topic of happiness, paradoxically, has actually taught me to always attach myself to a sense of gratitude and happiness. Because whenever I feel bad about something trivial, or something a bit more profound, I can always contextualize it against the backdrop of what I faced in Lebanon, and what I might not have not escaped from.
We were talking earlier at lunch and I was whining about missing a flight that was canceled. I'm actually missing tonight's flight. Then I stop and think, “Come on man, you escaped Lebanon. Get it together.” Having gone through some of these trials and tribulations allows me to appreciate the majesty of life that much more. I'm fortunate.
Mr. Jekielek: You are a staunch advocate of an anti-victim mentality. This victim mentality is very pernicious, and it can sneak up on you. I'm speaking as someone who knows it, but chose a different path along the way. But that also makes me very sympathetic to the many people who are caught up in it. How do we deal with that?
Mr. Saad: I discussed this a lot more in The Parasitic Mind, where I talk about the orgiastic need to be viewed as a victim. You're no longer ascending the social hierarchy based on your merit. You're ascending the social hierarchy based on the status of your victimhood. If you're not truly a victim, then you manufacture a victim story. Just think about Jussie Smollett. Being a victim then becomes the fundamental marker by which you get street creds and social status. That's grotesque.
Because if you go to see a therapist, he or she's not going to tell you, "Forget about what happened to you in your childhood." They say, "Let's deal with it, and then let's find a way to overcome it." That's how you achieve good mental health. I recognize what I went through in Lebanon. My parents were eventually captured, tortured, and luckily, they were freed.
They were kidnapped by Fatah. But we don't sit around all day wallowing in the fact that these terrible things happened to us. On the contrary, we define our success by the fact that we went through those things and overcame them. That's a much more direct path to happiness than going, "Boo,hoo, I was a victim."
Mr. Jekielek: There's a few things definitive in our time, and big questions that we have to solve as a society. There's this Girardian idea that societies that end up worshiping victims are ready to blow up. You have to wonder if that's the case. If that is the case, how do we actually step back from that?
Mr. Saad: You need to reintroduce the importance of a meritocratic ethos. I've been a professor now for almost 30 years, and I've seen how the victimhood mentality entered into every nook and cranny of academia. We now grant fancy professorships as a function of their identity marker. The idea being that if you come from a certain identity, then you've been a victim, and therefore, you should be elevated. We need to correct historical grievances by lifting you up. We were talking earlier about a victimology competition. You had a guest that might even trump my victimology story, and you might indeed be correct.
I'm talking about Yeonmi Park, but neither of us wallow in that background. We've done something with our lives. That's because we've steadfastly hung onto the idea that it's our merit that should elevate us. I tell my students day one, "Never approach me with an attempt to negotiate your grade. Your grade is your grade.”
I don't go to my physician when he gives me my cholesterol scores and say, “Come on doc, give me a better cholesterol score.” My cholesterol score is my cholesterol score. If I want to improve it, there are a set of prescriptions that I can engage in; diet, exercise, maybe statins. But they're coming at me with that whiny mentality. I try to instill in them that meritocracy is the way to success, and certainly to professional happiness.
Mr. Jekielek: I'm 100 percent on board with you here, obviously. You can't see it when you're in that victim mindset, and that's partly why it's so pernicious. You have to become aware of it, and then you can choose to take steps to shed it and move on. These days it's codified in major institutions. You describe it in your own university, and the bizarre double life you have to lead.
Mr. Saad: How do I survive in academia?
Mr. Jekielek: Because you relish being the outside voice. That would be fair, correct?
Mr. Saad: But not by design. I don't do it to be contrarian. I do it, and maybe we'll talk more about this later, from a dogged defense of the truth, and an ethos of authenticity. If I see nonsense or if I see BS, my makeup doesn't allow it. In the same way that my eyes are the color that they are. It's a fundamental feature of my personality to speak out. I can't be silent.
You were mentioning your interaction with your religion of birth. I have a very similar story from when I was five years old, and I talk about this in The Parasitic Mind. When I was five or six years old in Beirut, we were going to synagogue, and I would ask my dad, "Why are we now standing up? Why are we sitting down? Why are we going?"He would say, "Shut up and just do it." That struck me as false, “What do you mean, shut up? Talk to me.” That's just part of who I am. I don't do it to be contrarian, it's just me.
Mr. Jekielek: How can we help people with this issue? Because I feel like this is a foundational question. We can't coerce people to do things. That's a fundamental truth, which I hold. At the same time, I see a lot of people caught up with these mind viruses, as you described them in your previous book. They're not interested in hearing about the virtues of meritocracy, because they're caught up in being a victim.
Mr. Saad: There's no other way than to keep hammering on it. One of the reasons my message and Jordan Peterson's message resonates with people is because we are preaching what is obvious to most well-functioning people, which is the need for personal responsibility and individual dignity. That's what made the West great. It said, “Check your collective identity at the door.”
Even without talking about victimology, I'm not a Lebanese Jew first. When I present myself to the world, I'm Gad Saad. Judge me for my merits and for my flaws. Part of my identity is that I'm Lebanese Jewish, that I have green eyes, that I like soccer, but I am Gad Saad. That's really how the West grew with this great experiment—we believed in individual dignity. Now, it's faltering, and we're going back to identity politics and tribalism.
Lebanon is the perfect experiment of what happens to a society that is fully organized along tribal lines. In the context of Lebanon, it's all about your religious heritage. Internally, everything is organized in terms of your ID card. There's a passport when you're traveling outside the country, but also internally, you have an ID card. The most conspicuous part of that ID card is your religion. If a cop stops you and says, "Show me your papers," they're looking at that.
Even the parliament in Lebanon is organized that way, and the number of seats you have depends on which religious group you belong to. In the context of a Western democracy, you could never imagine that. Yet, this is exactly what progressivism is trying to institute, “Are you a transgender or indigenous person? Are you this, or are you that?” No, I am Gad Saad. That's all.
Mr. Saad: Speaking about religion, I don't know if you consider yourself an atheist or not, but I get that sense. At the same time, you are quoting some deeply faithful people with deep respect and reverence. You even have Corinthians 13:4, “Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy. It does not boast. It is not proud.” You say that is a beautiful description of love, and I wholeheartedly agree. A lot of people that lack faith are very disparaging of people that have faith. But it's very clear that you're almost quite the opposite.
Mr. Saad: Thank you for saying that, because that's exactly right. If religion tries to enter the world of scientific explanations, then the more caustic God comes out which says, "No, don't try to date this rock by using a young earth creationist approach. That's wrong." This is my truth-defending side that comes out. On the other hand, to your point, religions have a deep well of wisdom. When I'm quoting that passage in particular, it has stood the test of time. There is something to be respected in the profundity of those wise words, and in that sense, I respect them.
Mr. Jekielek: During the last three years of our lives, people who clearly believed things that are not science, claimed science is the reason. It's scientism. It's unbelievable how unscientific a lot of this time period has been.
Mr. Saad: It's dogma.
Mr. Jekielek: I would call it an anti-religion.
Mr. Saad: Yes. Science is epistemologically humble, which means what? Science operates in truths, but they are provisional truths. That which we believed was true 300 years ago, we've revised it since then. In other words, we're always open as academics to incoming information that might alter our current position.
When scientists no longer abide by this, then they are entering religious dogma. Because religious dogma says, "Don't try to convince me that the revealed truths in my book might be false. They are true, because they’re in my book. The book says it's true, therefore it is true, period.” A lot of so-called scientists are engaging in the exact same parasitic thinking or dogmatic thinking.
They're saying, "It is absolutely the case that this Covid reality is science settled." I usually take these folks on in my usual playful way. For example, when some person says, "The science is settled on something," I'll write back, saying, "Let me ask you this question; can women have nine-inch penises? Is the science in support of that statement, or against it?" Then they usually do the following—they block me. I ask, “Why are you blocking me? If the science is settled on that issue, this should be terribly easy.” You're about to laugh, Jan.
By using a Socratic method where I corner you, forcing you to take a position, and embellishing it with some spicy examples like the one I gave, then it's checkmate. That's one of the reasons, and I don't mean to be haughty or presumptuous, why a lot of these folks will never debate me. Because I do have the unique set of skills of bringing in the knowledge, but then bringing in that spiciness, which then makes them look like fools.
Mr. Jekielek: You would purport epistemic humility, correct?
Mr. Saad: For myself, and for my conduct, absolutely. I'll tell you a quick story. I once had a graduate student. We had a wonderful project that we were working on, and I kept noticing that he kept delaying running the studies. We went for coffee once, and I said, "Do you mind if I psychoanalyze what's happening here?" He said, "Go ahead, professor."
I said, "You don't want to run the studies, because what if we ran the studies and our hypotheses were not supported? Right now, before we run the studies, we're living in this beautiful clean world where our hypotheses are so exciting. Once we cast the die, then they might be false." He goes, "My God, that's exactly it, professor." That story shows epistemic humility, which says that we've got this theoretical framework by which we're proposing hypotheses, but then the science is messy.
Sometimes you run the study and you're terribly disappointed with the results, but that's what also makes it such a playful endeavor. I argue that science is the highest form of cerebral play. I ask, “What am I doing as a scientist? It's a puzzle. There's a bunch of variables.” I'm saying, "This variable should cause this variable. Let's see if it's true."
Then I have a whole bunch of quotes in the book by other scientists that make the exact same point—that good scientists are playful. They have this childlike awe at just going to the lab and seeing what truth does, or how truth expresses itself. But they are epistemologically humble. They're often greatly disappointed when their experiment fails. That's life.
Mr. Jekielek: That actually drew me to science in the first place. I became a bit adept at doing various elegant experimental designs, ones that could tease apart these confounding variables, and I loved doing that. It was a puzzle, exactly like you say. I want to talk about this point of authenticity. For you, this is very important in your principles for happiness.
It's also something that is currently elevated, and everyone's talking about authenticity. Everyone wants authenticity. To be authentic is so important, and you hear about it. But I feel like the authenticity today is a lot weaker than it once was. It's almost performative. Can there be a performative authenticity? That is obviously not authenticity.
Mr. Saad: Virtue signaling is a form of faux-authenticity, which is taking a position as though it is authentic, but it's really performative. Oftentimes people say, "Gad, you seem so self-assured and so confident. What's the secret?" To your point, it's because I'm authentic. In other words, I don't have to keep in the back of my mind many full positions that I've taken because I'm trying to placate these guys or those guys.
The truth is only one thing. Therefore, I can enter any room fully self-assured as though I'm 20 feet tall, because I know exactly where I stand on everything. I know what I know. I know what I don't know. Therefore, that's why I come across as confident.
I'm not performing anything. That's why you very kindly said during our lunch, "I am drawn to you. I appreciate you. I like you." That comes from you responding to that sense of authenticity. People come up to me on the street who've never met me, saying, "I feel like I've known you for 20 years." That's what I'm exhibiting. Now, I know that different people have different abilities to do that, but if you could live in such an authentic way, it would free you. You don't have to retain any narratives. I am who I am.
By the way, I've been interviewed many, many times. You could ask me questions about, "What do you think about the legalization of marijuana in Canada?" My answer to you, Jan, would be, "That's a great question. I simply don't know enough about it to offer you an intelligent answer."
I don't have to be nervous about being interviewed by you, because if you ask me a question that I really know the answer to, you're going to get a good answer. If you ask me a question that is going to trip me up, I'm going to say, "You beat me. I don't know the answer to that." By having that epistemic humility, knowing what I know and knowing what I don't know, I'm never in any traps.
Mr. Jekielek: Could epistemic humility be something very different than actual humility?
Mr. Saad: Are you saying that I'm not humble? I'm self-assured, and I'd like to think it's self-assured, not arrogant. By the way, you couldn't be in the profession that I'm in if you weren't self-assured. Because if I would wilt at every attack that came my way. I would just go through my Twitter feed, and by the fourth line, I would be jumping off a bridge. But the fact is I can go on like this because I know who I am. I like to think I'm not arrogant, but I'm certainly self-assured.
Mr. Jekielek: Having a thick skin is very important. In the victimology culture, in the woke culture, you're taught just the opposite, like you're supposed to have thin skin. You're supposed to brandish that about. I hadn't really thought about it that way. You reference Angela Duckworth's book, Grit, which was actually a very important book to me back in the day. Please tell me about grit.
Mr. Saad: Let me give you a few stories, and I discussed these in the book. When I was a soccer player, on a whim I decided to run two marathons, in 1985 and 1986. My goal was to run one marathon per year forevermore, and by the age of 35, to complete an Ironman triathlon. 1985 came around, and I ran a marathon. 1986 came around, and I ran a marathon. Then 1987 came around, and the dream crashed. I never did it, and I never completed an Ironman.
The reason I'm telling you the story is because when you run a marathon, you might think that it's related to your physicality, how athletic you are, and what shape you are in, but the mind is where you will almost invariably hit what's called the wall. The wall is when you've depleted your body of any energy, and you start getting a physiological reaction where it's too painful to even take one step forward.
Yet, through grit, you take one step after another, and then suddenly, you've reached the 42 kilometer mark. Writing a book requires grit. Every single day, I would wake up, and it wouldn’t matter what my teaching schedule was, whether I had bronchitis or not, or whether my kids were annoying me or not. I had to write a certain number of words so that I could deliver the book to my publisher on time.
Everything that you do in life that is purposeful and that is meaningful requires grit. Without that trait, you're unlikely to achieve things. Yes, Grit is a great book, and I support this idea of persistence and resilience.
Mr. Jekielek: I'll tell you something funny. As I was reading, the title of your book, The Saad Truth, was on every page. I found myself subtly getting brainwashed, and at some point I was writing words with the letter A with two As.
Mr. Saad: I often get that with, Dear Gaad, G-A-A-D. By the way, just for you to know, the S-A-A-D in my last name, in the proper Arabic pronunciation, would be a guttural sound. I'm going to say it in Arabic. It's Gad Saad.
Mr. Jekielek: Curiously, it means happy.
Mr. Saad: It does mean that in Arabic. It means happy. It means felicity. I always joke that I was, just by name alone, predestined to write this book.
Mr. Jekielek: In this exploration of how to be happy, happiness can never be the goal. Actually you cite-
Mr. Saad: Viktor Frankl.
Mr. Jekielek: Exactly.
Mr. Saad: That quote I used perfectly captured my intention. In his case, he was using it for the pursuit of success, “Don't let the goal be the pursuit of success. Let success be the outcome of whatever it is that you're pursuing.” I said, "That's a perfect quote for the same exact point about happiness." I don't wake up in the morning saying, "How can I be happy?" I wake up in the morning and I say, "Oh, who's sleeping next to me? Oh, I really like this person.
Okay, that’s step one, and I'm good. Now I'm going to get up and go to work. I'm excited. I'm going to talk to Jan today, then I'm going to speak to these graduate students, and then I'm going to work on this paper." I'm filled with glee and anticipation, because professionally, I love my job. I don't willfully pursue Mount Happiness. I make a bunch of choices. I adopt a bunch of mindsets, which then lead me up to the top of Mount Happiness, which is the exact point.
Mr. Jekielek: In your chapter about regret, the top regret that people voice is about not having pursued an authentic life. Is that right?
Mr. Saad: That comes from a palliative care nurse who is treating people on their deathbed, literally. She had accumulated and documented all of their dying regrets. There were the top five, one of which was authenticity. But in this case, it's not so much authenticity on a personal level in the way we were. In the book, I talk about two types of authenticity. There's the realness, I'm authentic as a person, but then there's existential authenticity, meaning I'm living the trajectory that is true to my personhood.
Let's suppose I became a pediatrician, because my dad expected that of me, because his dad was a pediatrician. Then I had a very successful career as a pediatrician. But now I'm sitting at 85 years old, and I'm saying, "I really regret the fact that I never pursued my interest in art and architecture, because that's where my passion was."
In the chapter on regret, I talk about two types of regrets. Regrets due to action, versus regrets due to inaction. Regret due to action, where I regret that I cheated on my wife, and then that ended our marriage. Regret due to inaction, where I regret that I never pursued my artistic inclination. It turns out, Jan, that over the long term, most people's most looming regrets are about inaction. For my perspective, if I were to turn that lens inward, my biggest regret in life is that I was never able to instantiate my full potential as a soccer player.
I always knew that there were two things that I was interested in, and that I was really good at; soccer and academia. Even from a very young age, I was always a bookworm. I was really one of those rare kids that's both brawny and nerdy. Then I had a very serious soccer injury, which I discuss in the book. For all sorts of reasons, I could never really instantiate my soccer career. Whenever the World Cup comes around, I'm always filled with that sense of existential regret—I never lived out my full potential as a soccer player.
Mr. Jekielek: I want to switch gears, because I could really talk to you for a very long time.
Mr. Saad: Likewise, thank you.
Mr. Jekielek: We talked about the prevalence of victim mentality and the ideology around it. People are being told that this is how you should be, and that this is the correct way. To suggest otherwise is terrible, and makes you a bad person. There's a whole moral judgment. This is a foundational issue we have to figure out.
The other thing is, as human beings, we're very susceptible when the broader society has consensus, or the majority says there's a correct way to view things. When we perceive that, it affects us profoundly. We're living in a world where people have a rational, evidence-based perspective on 90 percent of the issues, but on 10 percent they hold an absurd view.
Mr. Saad: Absolutely.
Mr. Jekielek: How do we navigate this? What does this mean for us as a society?
Mr. Saad: What you're describing is in my book, The Parasitic Mind. These parasitic ideas or idea pathogens were created by professors. It's not as though it's idiots who are coming up with these ideas. I often joke that it takes intellectuals to come up with some of the dumbest ideas. Oftentimes, you will then see professors or public intellectuals also being the ones who fall victim to these parasitic ideas.
The only way that you can develop a mind vaccine against that, and I described this in the last book, is to have a set of epistemological methodologies that makes you immune to this nonsense. In The Parasitic Mind, I talk about the building of neurological networks of cumulative evidence. Now, I know that's a mouthful, but maybe I can spend two minutes describing it.
Mr. Jekielek: Please do.
Mr. Saad: A neurological network of cumulative evidence basically works as follows. Let's suppose there is a position that I take, and I want to demonstrate to you its veracity. What would I need to show you in terms of evidence, if you are the biggest detractor against that position, that even you, the biggest detractor, would start flipping? I would put on the hat of someone who's building that neurological network, and I'd say, “Can I get you data from across cultures that shows that it's true? Can I get you data across eras? Can I get you data across animals that shows that it's true?"
Take for example the sex specificity of toy preferences; the fact that universally boys have certain toy preferences, and girls have certain toy preferences. It's exactly like that. I could show you across cultures that it's true. I could show you across time periods that it's true. I could show you that across animals that it’s true. They've done the studies with vervet monkeys, rhesus monkeys, and chimps, showing that they exhibit the same sex specificity as human infants. Bit by bit, in building this network of cumulative evidence, it becomes impossible for you to go, "Ah, I don't want to hear it."
Mr. Jekielek: It is a terrible thing to rewrite history to suit whatever the ideological trend of the day is. With that loss of that wisdom, we have to face hubris, and we have to face nemesis. This has all been written about extensively over millennia, and there's profound learning there.
Mr. Saad: Specifically to that point, I tell this story in my current book, the Happiness book, about doing a deep dive into ancient Greek literature, which I was already quite familiar with. But I became even that much more familiar with it, because no one has written more about the good life, wellbeing, and happiness more than the ancient Greeks. I was faced with a deep sense of humility, and the opposite of hubris.
In the book, I tell the story of Nassim Taleb, a personal friend of mine, who once jokingly told me something, but he was also being partly serious. He said, "You know, Gad, I don't know what you study in psychology and behavioral sciences, because with everything there is to say about human nature, the ancient Greeks have already said it." I was like, "Ha, ha, that’s funny, Nassim." Then as I was doing my research for the book, I said, "I think he might be right." Because every time I would come up with what I thought was a brilliant new idea, they had already said it. Yes, there's great value in conserving these wisdoms.
Mr. Jekielek: Anti-fragility, as we've talked about it, is a beautiful, fantastic concept, but it's not that new.
Mr. Saad: Nassim might like to think that maybe he coined that term, but he didn't come up with the concept. I have an epigraph of one of the chapters where Seneca is saying that the strongest trees, the ones that have the deepest roots, are the ones who have been exposed to the most wind stressors. That literally is anti-fragility.
Mr. Jekielek: Professor Saad, we're going to have to finish, as much as I would like to continue the conversation. Any final thoughts as we finish up?
Mr. Saad: Life has a lot of curveballs that it throws at you. Of course, we go through a lot of trials and tribulations. Even your existence is statistically improbable, so just that alone should allow you to have a sense of existential optimism. Don't worry, be happy.
Mr. Jekielek: Gad Saad, it's such a pleasure to have you on the show.
Mr. Saad: Thank you so much.
Mr. Jekielek: Thank you all for joining Professor Gad Saad and me on this episode of American Thought Leaders. I'm your host, Jan Jekielek.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.