Interview by: Jaclyn Andie, Kelsey Pearson, MaKayla Zirvel, & McKayla Johnston.
Q: Did you see your segment on the Travel Channel? If so, how accurate was the depiction?
A: No I did not. I actively avoid watching anything on TV about me, as there is little redeeming value in watching other people take their own view of the world and project it into my “character”. I feel that we can either spend our time watching others live out their lives (by watching TV), or we can live our own life. I don’t have much time for the gossip game. There is a world of adventure to explore, and some fantastically mysteries in physics to wrestle with, and I’m focusing on those paths before I go to space.
Q: If you hadn’t been caught, do you think you would have success with your QST and your book?
A: In general I think counterfactual projections of how things might have been reflect a pervasive misunderstanding of how things actually work. There is only one history in this universe, and its casually connected. There is, and always was, only one way that things were going to evolve. Blame and praise are both misguided, but “success” may also be a false target. Instead of resolving itself in a lack of regrets or the appearance of success, the beauty of life is most present when we discover deeper truths about ourselves and the world, and when these discoveries enhance our own ability to see the truth more clearly and connect to others more genuinely. Lucky for me, the universe provided me with the motivation and time to geek out on the questions I find most interesting, and to stumble upon possible solutions.
Q: Following your incarceration, what has been the new direction of your career?
A: I don’t know if I have a true direction. I just ask questions and follow where they lead. I find many dead ends and then back up and ask more questions. Its a wandering life, full of adventure, ups and downs, passion and heartbreak, but it is honest and genuine. My perspective has certainly changed. When tragedy struck after being released from prison, I responded by exploring 58 countries for two years on less than $15/day, and sailing across two oceans on a 55’ sloop. I used to work hard for other people’s approval. Now I understand that true intimacy never seeks the reigns of approval, nor does it ever give them away. I’m currently employed at a think tank, a place where my natural curiosity blends well with the aims of the group, but I don’t really think of myself as having a career, more of a life. What will change tomorrow? I have no idea, but when it comes I’ll follow that new direction with wide eyes.
Q: Were you hoping your actions were going to serve a greater good (i.e. Edward Snowden)?
A: Edward Snowden is a hero for taking on great personal risk in an attempt to create a better world. The world conversation that has followed has already made a difference. My risk was much smaller and more personal. I was hoping to be able to secure a life for myself and the girl I loved, defined by pure scientific research, unhindered by the usual processes of grant approvals, and political tides. We had very fundamental questions in biology and physics that we intended to devote our lives to. She wanted to spend time in remote parts of Africa and South America, searching for plants that contained uncategorized compounds that could be used to cure cancer or other diseases. I wanted to shake the ontological foundation of what we believe about the physical world, searching for a new foundation that might naturally bring the current mysteries within that picture and extend Einstein’s work. Sure, we wanted to make the world a better place, but the changes we were after had less to do with the political arena and more to do with making way for a new worldview.
Q: Do you think NASA should be as secretive as they are, or should they have more transparency?
A: I didn’t really find NASA to be secretive. The thing that ties NASA down is their political and hierarchical constraints – like any other governmental organization. I think that NASA did a great job lighting the fire of the space age, now it is time for other entities to really fan that flame and take it further. The private sector has much more potential to take the space age to where it needs to go.
Q: If there’s anything else you would like to add, it’d be greatly appreciated and beneficial. Thank you.
A: Random thought… there are two ways for life to go the way you want it to go. One, pick a specific evolution that you want to happen and then become extremely lucky. Or two, recognize that you have no real control over how the details of life will unfold and set yourself to the task of being happy to have the opportunity to deal with life as it comes. The thing that often gets in the way of our happiness is our sense of entitlement. As a good friend I met in prison once pointed out, there are babies that are born and die ten seconds later. We deserve nothing in life. Being among the living should not be wasted on silly notions like entitlement. We are alive, so let’s go out and live!