Memetics – How Peter Thiel Turned $500K Into $1 Billion+

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In their recent episode of the VALUE: After Hours Podcast, Taylor, Brewster, and Carlisle discussed Memetics – How Peter Thiel Turned $500K Into $1 Billion+. Here’s an excerpt from the episode:

Jake: Anyway, let’s see if we can keep going on this and then pull in memetics, which is a topic that I’ve actually been wanting to talk about for a while, but I’ve just been lazy and/or waiting for the right segue or time to do it, but now’s a good time to do it. The father of memetics is this guy named René Girard, and he was a French born professor. He studied history mostly, but he was a polymath. He bounced around at different universities, finally ends up at Stanford, but the only class that they give him is like a literature class.

He hasn’t read most of these books that he has to teach on and he’s staying basically one week ahead of the students as one does. He’s starting to look for patterns in these books so that he can work less hard, like “Well, if I could just find the common pattern between all these, I don’t need to read the next one.” What he what he realizes, and I guess it may be from historical relevance too, that the accidental nature of discovery and innovation often, I think, we discount that.

He realizes that all the characters and all of the classic literature from the Bible all the way up through the great Russian works, all those guys, all the characters rely on other characters to show them what is worth wanting. There’s always a character who influences the desire of the main character, and that’s a really important part of all these stories. That guy, Girard, thinking about, “Why do you want what you want?” You might be saying like, “Oh, well, Maslow’s hierarchy.” Well, this isn’t quite like– Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, not wants. Let’s separate that to start out. Girard is talking about the wants and desires, where does that come from? Why do you want to wear that brand or why do you think that’s the right house for you or the right car or anything [unintelligible 00:19:40]?

Bill: NFT?

Jake: Why is that NFT worth more than a Monet? Who knows?

Tobias: [laughs]

Jake: He comes up with this idea– and by the way, I read a couple of Girard books to try to wrap my mind around this, because I think it’s an important topic, and they are just rough. I’m not going to say impenetrable, but it’s damn near. But thankfully, this guy named Luke Burgis, who was actually in the startup scene, he wrote a really approachable book that explains a lot of this stuff for the layperson like me. It’s called Wanting, and I really enjoyed it. I think it’s well worth the read, especially, the first half of the book. So, Girard is describing memetics as basically the psychological– it’s like what gravity is to physics, this is to psychology. Where I first heard of memetics was actually from Peter Thiel. He saw Girard giving lectures at Stanford, that’s where Peter Thiel went. He saw him giving lectures in the late 80s, and he learned about memetics firsthand from Girard, and this then allowed Thiel to see Facebook really, really early on it and see that it was just a mimetic generation machine. He put $500,000 into it, and that’s turned into about a billion for Thiel, probably also recognized that Zuck is like a stone-cold killer.

But anyway, the basis of mimetics is really about role models and models, and then seeing what it is that they want and then you adopt what that role model is. It actually starts at birth. Babies who are just a few hours old even, if you make faces at them, they will tend to copy those same faces. Like you stick your tongue out, and they’ll stick their tongue out back. We are hardwired from the gate to be mimetic, copying creatures. Even by the time you’re 18 months old, we understand the intentionality of wants.

They do these little studies with 18 months old, their pre-language. They will see an adult trying to do something and not able to do it, and they’ll hand it to the kid and the kid knows like, “Oh, that’s what you were wanting to do.” They understand intentionality that way. If it goes down into our mirror neurons. A mirror neuron is basically, let’s say, seeing someone else eat a grape will trigger the exact same neurons inside you as if you were actually eating it. We have this amazing empathy. Even apes have the same thing.

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