Join David Tian on the “DTPHD Podcast” as we explore deep questions of meaning, success, truth, love, and the good life.
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For over a decade, David Tian, Ph.D., has helped hundreds of thousands of people from over 87 countries find happiness, success, and fulfillment in their social, professional, and love lives. His presentations – whether keynotes, seminars, or workshops – leave clients with insights into their behavior, psychology, and keys to their empowerment. His training methodologies are the result of over a decade of coaching and education of thousands of students around the world. Join him on the “DTPHD Podcast” as he explores deep questions of meaning, success, truth, love, and the good life. Subscribe now.
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HENRY CHONG is our special guest speaker on this episode. Henry is Director of Fusang Capital, a fund management company that manages the assets of multi-family offices. He is also a Director at the Portcullis Group, Asia’s biggest independent group of trust companies, providing comprehensive wealth administration to high-net-worth individuals, providing a one-stop shop for corporate, trustee, and fund administration services to individuals, family offices, philanthropies, private banks, and investment managers. Henry is a graduate of Oxford University with a B.A. (Hons) in Philosophy Politics & Economics and is a founder of the Oxford Economics Society. He also holds a M.Sc. in Behavioral Science from the London School of Economics and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSC). He will be sharing with us from his deep insights in behavioral economics, finance, health, and psychology.
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Episode 7 Show Notes
2:06 What’s preventing you from understanding your life purpose?
5:56 How does the school system teach you to be an android?
10:22 Can thought and behavior be separated?
16:07 Do you need to identify your emotions, and if so, how?
20:02 Why you must pay attention to your feelings
Truth, love, and the good. Here we go.
David Tian: Welcome to the DTPHD Podcast. I’m your host, David Tian. And for the past 10 years — actually, almost 12 years, I’ve been helping hundreds of thousands of people in over 87 countries attain success, happiness, and fulfillment in life and love. I’m joined by my guest here, Henry Chong. Henry.
Henry Chong: Hi. I’m Henry Chong. I’m the CEO of the Fusang Group, and we help look after the assets and affairs of families of substantive wealth. When I’m not doing that and making investments, I read widely and look at things like life, love, and the universe, and talk to people like David Tian about all of it which is why we’re here today.
David Tian: Exciting. So we’re here in Singapore for — the second time we’ve done a podcast here in Singapore in the same room, and we’re using one mic and one video camera. We’re recording this right after the previous one. We’re supposed to go to dinner, so we’re just on a roll so we’ll put out another one. So today, or in this podcast, I want to talk about the android approach to life and learning, which is —
What I do is, broadly speaking, helping people with their lives. For many, many years, it was focusing on dating. But it’s been much broader now: so helping people discover their life purpose, discover their true selves, and finding freedom in life, freedom psychologically and so on, freedom emotionally. So, we were talking about principles in the last podcast. One of the principles I was trying to figure out was — what was underlying all of the difficulties people have in achieving success in all of these different areas?
Because it felt like it was the same difficulty, and it felt like there was a cultural difficulty with it. It wasn’t just the people who came to me asking for help. They were actually far ahead because they actually knew that they needed help and that they are actively looking for it. Many people in the world were much worse. They sucked at these areas, and they didn’t see that there was a way to improve in those areas.
Anyway, I was asking myself across the board, “What is causing the difficulty in not knowing your life purpose, not discovering your true self?” And it was very easy because I just asked myself what was the mistake that I made earlier on in my life and what was the main turning point that got me to the success now that people are asking me to help them? One of the most important — maybe the key turning point was the understanding — well, the appreciation and understanding the depth of what an emotion really is.
I grew up with the android approach to learning. I’ll give an example of why I call it the android approach. I was looking for a good way to encapsulate this point: android approach. I used to call it ‘robot’ but robot sounds — android is better, here’s why. Here’s an example. Star Trek.
The very first Star Trek with Kirk and Spock, Spock was the ultimate — he was like a super human being in a way. He had super human strength. He had strength that was far beyond the average human, and most of all, he was the most rational. He could suppress his emotions and that was the mark of a Vulcan, that they could suppress their emotions so strongly. That made them ultra-rational.
Whereas Captain Kirk was a mess: He was drunk sometimes and all this sort of stuff. Most guys in their 20’s haven’t watched the earlier TV series. They’ve just seen the new movies that came out in the past five years or so. Those movies actually depict the relationship between Spock and Kirk differently from the TV series. When the TV series first came out, the 70’s and 80’s, it made it seem as if Spock was the ultimate being.
Now, and I’ll show you why things have changed, we see that as a limitation. I think that lesson hasn’t taken hold yet in popular consciousness. But anyways, there’s that first Star Trek with Spock and the Vulcans. And then you fast forward to Star Trek: The Next Generation, it’s like 80’s and 90’s, and this is where we have Commander Data.
Commander Data was an android and he was far superior to any Vulcan because he didn’t have to suppress emotions. He literally didn’t have any. He was AI and he was super strong and all of this. He was like the ultimate warrior, ultimate soldier, and the ultimate scientist, and the ultimate everything. And through the whole seven seasons, of which I’ve watched every episode, multiple times, he was looking for the emotion chip because he had this creator. The creator died before he could insert the emotion chip into his finger. Finally, in one of the movies, he finds the emotion chip and his whole life comes full circle. He’s finally a whole, human being now.
But all his life he’s sort of like — not Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe —
Henry Chong: The tin man.
David Tian: The tin man looking for the heart. Same thing. That was the theme that they put out there in Season 1 Episode 1. So you have now come full circle between modernism and post-modernism, where post-modernism is telling you emotions are really important and everything is subjective and all that. I think we went way too far on that, but there’s an important lesson that came out of that: We are actually emotional beings.
If you could approach life as if you could just suppress the emotion and it would just go away, you’re going to have a very unfulfilling life. But most people in the world, most men especially, are still approaching their lives, and themselves, as if they were trying to become androids. The school system teaches you how to be an android. It teaches you, basically, to do math and science and read and write. They do not teach you about your emotions, and the school curriculum was devised — or what we’re using now, basically, the method of teaching in the early 1900’s. You sit there in a class and the teacher uses a lot rote learning.
You take that all the way through to university. And in university, you’re not taught how to cry. You’re not taught how to explore your emotions. You are taught instead emotions get in the way and you should be ultra rational. What happened instead, though, is that we suck as Vulcans. Basically, we’re trying to be Vulcans but we suck at it. So we suppress all of these emotions and they come bubbling — well, they’re always bubbling underneath, and then they’ll come out in ways that are uncontrolled and in ways that we’re not even aware of.
They color a lot of our thinking because we don’t understand them. That’s the Android approach to life and that’s the problem that people don’t understand, that they’re driven by emotion and by automatic, unconscious processes that they’re not aware of. And they think, instead, that they’re actually — they treat themselves and their interaction with life as if they were Vulcans trying to become androids.
Henry Chong: Let’s take it a step back. Let me ask you: What is rationality? When you talk about Spock, when you say he’s very rational, what does that mean? What is it about him that makes us say he’s rational?
David Tian: The idea is he’s supposed to be a computational process. Emotion doesn’t get in the way so that you can make that decision. Like, a utilitarian decision, whether to save that one guy or to save the train full of people.
Henry Chong: See, that’s really interesting because there have been a lot of medical studies started, the most famous of which was Phineas Gage. He was this guy with an iron spike that went into a certain portion of his brain completely functional. He could do math but he could not make decisions. Why? Because he had no more emotions. In a very basic sense, emotions or affectual aversion, that’s what gives us purpose in a sense. It shows us the things that we want or the things that we don’t want.
For you to be rational presupposes that you understand what the outcome you want is. So you say Commander Spock understands what the outcome he wants, and he’s a computing machine that can compute how to get there. The problem is that first step of understanding which is the good outcome requires emotion. And someone like Phineas Gage, again, he couldn’t make very simple decisions.
If you asked him to solve a math problem, no issue. If you told him just make a decision about which restaurant to go to, impossible. If you told him the trolley problem. Do I pull the lever or not? Do I save the people or not? He would — impossible to make that decision. He could do the calculation but he could not make a decision because he had no affectual tagging in that sense.
I guess the movies in that sense have given us this false image that rationality and emotion can be separated. This stems all the way back to Descartes, ‘cogito ergo sum’ and mind-body dualism, that the mind and the body are wholly separate — and they’re not. Even in a physiological sense, they are intrinsically connected. Your heart and your brain have a huge number of neural connections, literally almost like having a second brain in your heart.
Your gut has a lot of neural connections as well. So when you say “I have a gut feeling”, that really is your gut producing things like serotonin.
David Tian: And we, as in the academic community, are really just on the cusp of understanding that: how the gut interacts with neurology.
Henry Chong: Exactly. So you actually cannot have a thought without — we understand today that all thought is emotion [INAUDIBLE 00:09:39]. It’s almost like a filter, almost like a thought filter where it changes what you see. You cannot have a thought without having a mediating emotion. You can have an emotion without having a thought because not all thoughts come from the brain. Your brain stem, what you call the peripheral nervous system can also make decisions independent of your pre-frontal cortex being involved.
A lot of people are afraid of spiders. When you see what you think is a spider, your body will react before you even realize that you see the spider. That is your peripheral nervous system reacting to something. And only later does your pre-frontal cortex get involved and say, “Oh, it was a spider and that’s why I jumped.” You can have reactions. You can have emotions on things without conscious thought, what we call conscious thought, but you cannot have conscious thought without emotions.
Before who, for whomever, whatever reason have no emotions, find it extremely difficult to just live or operate. I think that a lot of ancient philosophers understood this intrinsically. The Chinese philosophers understood this. Again, the Buddhists understood this, that mind and body were intrinsically linked, that thought and behavior were the same thing. You can’t separate that.
David Tian: Yeah. There’s a great book called Descartes’ Error written by Antonio Damasio. I think everyone should read everything Damasio has published. I recently just got another book, two books, by Damasio on my bookshelf to be read soon. Descartes’ Error — I think it was published in the 80’s — really — Well, so, philosophy really took a bad turn, in my opinion, in the Enlightenment Period. We can trace it back to something around Descartes, but you look that in Locke, and Hume, and so forth.
Descartes is famous for thinking of cogito ergo sum. ‘I think, therefore I am’, and creating a disembodied mind. So thinkers started to treat themselves as if they were disembodied minds. And you’re right: all of ancient philosophy in the East and the West never looked at it that way. We were always this embodied cognition. Our bodies weren’t just conveyor belts or conveyance machines for our brains.
And in the Enlightenment, it went a different direction. It went into — it created the android approach to life. Or what may be a better term is modern enlightenment rationalism. That led all the way through — that was the dominant view all the way through until the 80’s and 90’s when post-modernism started to become more prominent.
And one of the things that post-modernism did was to say, “Look, you have emotions, you have feelings. These are important. In fact, they are the things that are driving your decisions.”
Like you were saying, if you have no desires, you can’t even decide between one restaurant and another. In fact, all of our goals are driven by desires. AI is going to have a problem unless we program desires into it because it won’t care either way. It doesn’t have any real goals that are intrinsically valuable to it.
Henry Chong: Right now, we have what we call dumb AI or weak AI. Basically, you give it a process and it executes on the process but it doesn’t have goals. Obviously, a lot of people are working on things like artificial general intelligence or strong AI. But to do that in a very real sense, we will need to give AI something that looks very similar to emotions. It needs to be able to look at something and say, “I like that” or “I don’t like that”, “That is good. I feel like I’ve got an affectual pull towards something, therefore I should go explore why.” That really is the difference between high-order thinking and not.
David Tian: In a sense, the android doesn’t even make sense. In the sci-fi movies, you have the androids — when they say like the emotion chip for Commander Data, it meant that he didn’t cry, he didn’t feel sad, he couldn’t laugh. And so, this was a very simplistic view of emotion, but he was driven by desires, self-preservation of course amongst them, but also affection for his crew members.
You could say that — the idea in Star Trek was that his creator programmed those principles into his operating system. Basically, we had to give them the emotions. If he indeed programmed those principles into his operating system, he already had emotions. In fact, to think, maybe that was the end of that — maybe the last one where he got his emotion chip, he found out he already had it the whole time. I can’t remember now.
But we don’t see it that way. We as in popular consciousness about how we go about learning things. One thing I see a lot that’s very alarming in the masculinity industry, teaching men how to be men because there’s a big crisis right now, is to toughten up. I got the shirt Man Up. I have a show called Man Up. It was sort of ironical, but I don’t think a lot of people realized that. Maybe it was too deep or something, you know, like, “Hey, Man Up.” Right? Because we’re talking about emotions and shit.
But really, there are some people who are like, “Just toughen up. Just pick yourself up and dust yourself off and get moving.” Like fuck your feelings basically, right? I understand where that is coming from. That’s how I’ve lived my whole fucking life. Fuck my feelings, go and do it. And like the soldier’s mantra, the military mantra. But something is really lost there.
Let’s say the feeling is I’m really sad, or I have debilitating feelings that don’t allow me to move forward and do the job. If the outcome is to do the job, then you want to treat your employee, who is not doing the job, like a fucking android because you’re paying for that. So you’re saying fuck your feelings, kid, go and do that job I’m paying you for.
However, if you’re the employee, you want to really stop and ask yourself why you’re having those feelings. What are the unmet needs? Is it that you don’t feel significant, you have no certainty now? You actually got to do the psychology because otherwise you’re just shoving it under consciousness — you’re repressing, basically, you’re suppressing and then it will read to repression of your feelings.
Henry Chong: Exactly. You feel emotion for a reason. Effectively, your brain is trying to tell you something. Again, interesting studies that people have done about — you take two decks of cards and you’re supposed to pick from the deck that has a higher value, sort of more high value cards. They’ve been stacked. So one deck has all the high-value cards, and you’re supposed to keep drawing until you figure out which is the high-value deck.
People will have an instinctual reaction to the high-value deck because they can consciously point to it. You can measure a Galvanic stress response to the low-value deck before they will say “That’s a bad deck.” Something in their physiology will go “I don’t like that” even before you can consciously compute it. All of these —
David Tian: A deck of cards.
Henry Chong: Exactly, right? So physiological feelings, emotions, your body, your brain, again, and those are quite frankly the same thing is trying to tell you something. If you are afraid, why? There must be a reason. And again, Buddha said that: Don’t try to ignore your emotions, examine why you’re having them. Now, having examined why you’re having them, you may decide, “Well, okay, I’m feeling fear for this reason.”
For example, hunger, the desire to eat three times a day is programmed in us for self-preservation. But in today’s world, most of us don’t really need to worry about getting enough food to eat. You aren’t actually going to starve even if you don’t eat every single day. So sometimes, you want to look at the emotion and say, “Okay, well, I’m feeling this and I have decided that I want to feel the fear and do it anyway, or I want to push through.”
And then I think the second thing that’s very important to remember is that just as thoughts as emotionally mediated, emotions are physically mediated. A lot of people — we’re talking about ego in our previous podcast. A lot of people say, “I am depressed. It is my identity. I am a depressed person.” The truth is, most of the time, you do depressed. You are physically in a state of body that is depressed, just like you can do happy.
You listen to a happy song and you feel happy. And in some regards, it is as simple as that. Obviously, there’s other things involved, but the way you speak, the way you move has a big impact on the way you feel. I think that’s a very important second step that people forget. You can control your emotions through very physical means.
I think a third step after that that a lot of people, again, don’t really think about is that you need emotions to — not just for you to understand what your goals should be, but in order to carry you through to achieve those goals. We’ve talked about this in previous podcasts about how understanding why you lose something is very important. Because if you’re trying to do anything significant, it’s very hard. Personal change is hard. Building companies is hard. And for you to see it through, you must feel a sense of purpose. You must understand why you’re doing that.
And if you understand why you’re doing that, you will feel an emotional response. You said some people are told just get up and get going even if you don’t feel I can get up and get going. But that only works in the short term. At some point, you need something stronger to carry you through. That purpose in a very real sense as you’ve been talking about is emotion. It’s that grit, that drive that says, “You know what? This is hard and I’m going to push through anyway because I have something deeper that’s driving me.” That’s an emotion too.
Again, I think a lot of people think that emotions are being happy or sad or crying. But drives are emotions just like [INAUDIBLE 00:19:19] drive for self-preservation that you give an android is a real emotion. If you’ve ever been in a situation where your life is under threat, I guarantee you that is a strong emotion. That overrides everything else.
And so, I think the first thing that people need remember: First, you need to identify the emotion and figure out why you’re feeling it. And then you need to realize that you can control it. There are very concrete steps, things that you can do to alter it. You need to realize that you need emotions to achieve your goals. Nothing else will ever give you the grit to carry through.
David Tian: Oh, man. I love that. We’re going to take that quote. What was it? “Don’t ignore your feelings. Find out why you have them or why they’re there.”
Henry Chong: They’re trying to tell you something.
David Tian: Yes, exactly. They’re trying to tell us something. And then on that last thought there about what to do with it, is that the goals that people set generally for what they want — so the things that they want in life, more money, maybe more mating opportunities, maybe esteem from others. All of these are driven — these are all emotion goals.
But they think, “Okay, so if I want more money, I have to hustle. I have to grind. I have to work harder.” But they don’t stop and ask themselves why they can’t experience the emotion now. A lot of people, I see on Instagram, on Friday night, they’re hashtagging that they’re working or something. I forget what the hashtag actually is, but they’re grinding on a Friday night. This sucks, but I’m going to do what no one else does so I can get what no one else can get or have, or whatever it is.
They don’t actually enjoy the process. So you know if they’re not enjoying the process, they’re not going to succeed. They’re not going to last. One of the lessons that we’ve learned from many psychologists, including Tony Robbins, is that you can celebrate right now. You don’t have to put off that gratification. Most android approaches to life don’t want you to celebrate. You’re supposed to do your homework and it’s not supposed to be fun, but you got to do it anyway. That’s how people approach life: employers set some task and they got to do it anyway.
They think that’s the masculine approach. But the masculine approach is actually taking a step back and asking yourself, “Why aren’t you happy at this job?” And to really think deeply about that, because maybe you should find a new career or a new calling. But if you just put your head down and keep going at it, 20 years later, you’re going to look up and really hate yourself. So I guess we’ll end with like — instead of the android approach to life, focus on your feelings and figure out why you’re having them.
You had another step, was to identify the feeling?
Henry Chong: Identify the feeling. Realize that, in many cases, feelings are — [INAUDIBLE 00:21:55]. You aren’t depressed. You do depressed. I’m not saying that it’s just as simple as changing the physiology. There are other things involved, but the point is, you can figure out what those things are. It is not an identity. It is just a set of circumstances that has created how you now feel.
Third, I would say that you shouldn’t reach for a life without emotion. Emotions are both what will help you drive you towards your goals. And as you were saying, they are the point. You don’t want money intrinsically. You want money because you think it’ll make you feel good. The problem is that until you can first learn how to feel good, no amount of money will ever give that to you. You have to first learn how to feel the emotion before you can go and chase other things.
David Tian: Yeah, I think the future is emotional intelligence. Everything else will be taken care by AI, and maybe we’ll be talking to an android therapist later, but it’s emotion all the way up and down. You start with the emotion. That’s what you want. Wanting is an emotion. And then you end with an emotion, the celebration. And then in the middle, there’s emotions. It’s all emotion up and down.
Henry Chong: If you can’t learn to be happy in this moment, you’ll never learn to be happy in any moment.
David Tian: Yeah. How to change your emotion in an instant, one is your thoughts. That was the first thing — identify why you feel that thing, why you feel the feeling, and that will lead you down the path of questioning those thoughts or getting at the root of which thoughts to change.
The second is your physiology, your actual body, your physical body. When I said celebrate now, you can actually celebrate as if you got that goal. It’s both of those things. In your mind, you think, “What if I had this goal now? What would it feel like?” And then you actually do that think with your body, and may be you jump up or down, shout at the top of your lungs or whatever it is.
Henry Chong: And focus, focus in the sense of — if you treat studying as something that has been imposed upon you, as something painful, of course it will be. As opposed to you saying, “Well, I intrinsically want to learn something. This is how I get there, and therefore this is great. I have the privilege of sitting and studying so that I may learn something.” I mean, everything is about framing.
David Tian: Yeah, interpretation and perspective. Yeah, awesome, so it’s a good note to end on. I’m hungry. It’s dinner. Thanks a lot, Henry, again, for hosting us here.
Henry Chong: No, thanks for having me.
David Tian: Technically, you’re the host here, and I’ll see you in the next podcast. Remember, there are two things: Join the private Facebook group. Click the link, join the group. The other is the show notes are available in davidtianphd.com/dtphdpodcast. You can find Henry where?
Henry Chong: You can find me on my website as well. It’s henrychong.com. I write a newsletter every Sunday. You can sign up for that at Fusang.co/newsletter.
David Tian: They can also find it on henrychong.com?
Henry Chong: Yes.
David Tian: Okay, cool. Awesome. Alright, I’ll see you in the next podcast.
Henry Chong: Talk to you soon.
Hey, it’s David again. Before you go, a couple of last things. First, all the show notes and links to resources can be found at DavidTianPHD.com/dtphdpodcast. Or you can just go to DavidTianPHD.com and find it through the top navigation menu.
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