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David Pace 0:00

Hi. My name’s David Pace


Alex Barilec 0:05

And I’m Alex Barilec. And this is Pace Yourself, a University of Utah College of Science podcast on Wellness. 


David Pace 0:13

Yes, and today… Well, actually, just as background, we’re talking about the eight dimensions of wellness that the National Institute of Health has put out. And today we are going to talk about intellectual wellness. So I’m going to give you a definition. The definition of intellectual wellness is growing intellectually, maintaining curiosity about all there is to learn, valuing lifelong learning and responding positively to intellectual challenges. So I think we all have an intellect. We all have a mind, at least that I’m aware of. I think you do, Alex. In fact, you probably do more than I do. But let’s just go from there. What do you think the benefits are of your own intellectual wellness and intellectual wellness in general? 


Alex Barilec 1:07

Well, as a learner, both as an intellect, but also we think of like our strengths finder, a learner is actually my number one strength. This is super interesting to me. This area of wellness is something that really lights me up and some of the benefits that I’ve found in my life, but the NIH also talks about when we think about cultivating intellectual wellness is it improves the clarity of our thought and our focus. It helps to improve our mood, helps to expand our mindset, and it also helps to decrease stress. It also helps us to create new neural pathways to support brain growth and intellectual wellness is really all about growing our personal knowledge, skills, and overall well-being. So as we’ve seen through our conversations, none of these areas of well-being stands on their own. They really are interwoven in our intellect and stands in a lot of ways, kind of interwoven into many of these. And, you know, we’re just talking offline about framing this conversation for people to think about doorways in their life that they might be aware of or they might be missing and helping them see what are some doorways to help expand and to cultivate intellectual wellness. So I thought I’d start by asking you, what’s a doorway in your life that’s opened up your idea of intellectual wellness? 


David Pace 2:24

Well, having come out of the humanities, and now that I’m writing about science, that has been a doorway that continues and is ongoing right now for my own intellectual expansion, mostly because this is an area that I have never really delved into. I mean, we all talk about science, we all rely on science, but the actual language around it was something that I never really explored. So I’m doing that right now. And what we were talking about, what I was talking about earlier, was that when I was right out of college, I loved the theater so much so that I wanted to write about it. And so I did. And what I found in those ten years of being a theater critic, both here in Salt Lake City and then later in New York as a freelancer, was that it was my doorway into not only learning about theater and getting conversant with, you know, what was going on on Broadway and the regional theater scene and small theater scene was that plays, if you think about it, talk about everything. Right? And so that was my doorway into researching about before I would see a play, I would find out what the topic was, and I’d research about it so that I could be kind of an informed theatergoer. And so that was my door. For ten years I basically saw the world through a theatrical lens, and it was fascinating because it took me around the world several times. And so I learned a lot about everything from politics to religion to, you know, everything from the inner mind that we all have. And, you know, a lot of plays are about that, about the interior, psychological makeup of characters and so forth. So I got into the social sciences, I got into the art world, I got into the sports world. At a certain point, gender issues, big deal, you know, and everything.


Alex Barilec 4:35

And how did you get into theater? How did you find that doorway in your life at an early age or whatever age it was, just curious because that seems to have opened up all of these other ones for you. 


David Pace 4:47

Yeah, it was definitely my on-ramp into intellectual curiosity and creativity. I think that I came from a family of talkers, and so that’s what theater is drama, comedy. It’s about conversation. So and maybe that’s why I’m doing this podcast. For all I know, it’s baked in, and my older sisters were in the theater, but when I got into college, I was a history major originally. And then I found that literature was more interesting to me because it talked about history and everything else. So when you’re in literature and an English major, you tend to gravitate towards a genre. Not always, but I did. And drama was definitely… I wanted to read theater scripts and look at it from a literary perspective. So yeah, I wrote a couple of plays when I was in college. It didn’t go anywhere, but I was really that. That was my thing I pinned my body to. And I just kind of leaned into it and one thing led to another. And when I got out of college and I had a job and a part-time opportunity opened up to be a freelance theater critic for a rag here in Salt Lake. I took it, and the rest is history. Now, what happened later was something else. I mean, I left that behind at a certain point and went somewhere else. But for, like I say, ten years, that’s what motivated me to move to New York, which was a huge decision. 


Alex Barilec 6:26

That’s really cool. That’s a big part of the culture there. And so it sounds like for you, like your family influence played a big role in that, right? You say that your sisters were a part of this, but something about this pursuit really, gripped you and you almost, you know, you got on the ride, he got on board and you took it and you explored it. And, you know, for me, when I think about exploring how these different areas of intellectual interest piggyback off one another, for me, it becomes very intuitive. And it seems like you have that experience as well. You cited everything from religion to politics to the inner workings of the mind to theater. But all of this started from entering through one door, through the theater. And I think we share this because, you know. 


David Pace 7:13

You had a door too dude!


Alex Barilec 7:14

I did have a door too and sometimes when we look back, these doors, they were there all along, we almost didn’t even realize them. I mean, for me, it was like the world map. It was geography. If we want to talk about a subject, I can remember spending a lot of time at my grandparent’s house and my grandpa always had a big world map on the wall. I have something very similar in my room today, and I was enamored with looking at the map and my earliest memories of that were around my family. So my grandpa used to have thumbtacks on the map for every place that my aunt who worked for the State Department and had worked in the Peace Corps everywhere she lived, my grandmother had marked and she spent time in wild places in Amman, Jordan, and in Beijing. And then Slovakia and in Moscow. And then my uncle had also traveled extensively. He’d lived in Turkey and he’d lived out in Utah for most of my life. And so I had these stories of people in my family that had been out exploring the world. And I was young and wanted to explore the world, too. But very quickly that led me to think more about how these people live and culture and then individual emotions and the individual people and stories and how we relate and we share. And history is a big part of that. I’m a you know, you like geography. You very quickly learn about history, about how the makeup of the world has changed over and over again. And just in the way that you took theater into all of these areas. You know, then for me, I started to come into religion, into politics and the intersection and the combination of all of them and throughout all of it. Like when I think of early days, my sister still makes fun of me for this. But when I was very young, I used to do research projects on my own outside of school. 


David Pace 9:04

Oh, that’s really nerdy. 


Alex Barilec 9:06

Yeah, totally nerdy. I used to like, do I remember doing one on, like, France and skiing and the Alps. And I was doing all this research about Germany. But I think I share that story because this really improved my mood and my clarity of thought and my understanding of the world around me. And it always decreased my stress. You know, I very much sometimes to my detriment, like I love to learn new things and read new things. So I get a lot of, you know, positive benefits in my life from a state of well-being by pursuing this. 


David Pace 9:47

And I’ll bet if we did a dissection of your brain right now, those neural pathways would be very robust. 


Alex Barilec 9:52

You as well. Yeah. Thank you. 


David Pace 9:55

I’ll take that as a compliment. 


Alex Barilec 9:56

But there’s there’s something that happens as we learn more about these different subjects and we’ve cited far and wide, something that I found really interesting and you have had this experience as well, is that the more that you know, the more that you realize that you don’t know. 


David Pace 10:11

That’s pretty true of just going to college. I think that was the first real lightning bolt I got, was sitting in class and, you know, when I was a teenager, I knew everything, of course, because teenagers do. I’m remembering the bumper sticker hire a teenager now because he or she knows everything. 


Alex Barilec 10:38

That’s still true today.


David Pace 10:39

It’s still true today. And I don’t mean to diss the younger crowd, but we do go through a period where it’s like knowledge is power and we pick up on that right away. And I think that when children do get obsessed, we would call it with something. That’s what they’re doing. They’re creating those neural pathways and they are exploring the world through a lens that they’ve been able to grab on to and find power in. So yeah, but to get back to the more we know, the more we know, ‘we don’t know’ is a powerful motivator and engine for intellectual wellness and also part of learning as you know is recognizing and being humble about the fact that you are just a small cog in a very big wheel and that there’s a lot to learn. And so you can’t you can’t just pretend. And it really is a pretense to know everything about even one subject. And I think we see that all the time here with scientists. I think they know that the best scientists are the ones that know that you get to the top of that hill and there’s five other peaks that I’ve got to climb, and I didn’t even know they were there. And that’s that can be exhilarating in a way, if you allow it to be. 


Alex Barilec 12:01

It can, it can also be overwhelming, right? Because we’ve talked about a lot of different subjects that we have interest in. But I wouldn’t sit here and say I’m an expert in politics or religion or hardly any of these, but I am interested in the intersection of a lot of them. And so when we think of being on the other side of this, you know, the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know, then you can kind of find yourself in this like a desert. And it’s like, what? What do I do with that? And there’s a couple tools that I have really used that have helped me to congeal some of this knowledge on the way to wisdom. And I have a long way to go to get there. And two of these tools that come to mind are thinking in mental models. So when we think about bringing information together from a lot of different areas to make sense of the world, mental models are ways in which we can bring these different bits of information from disciplines, simplify it and then make it applicable in our life. And I like to think if I’m building a beautiful building or cultivating wisdom in my life, I like to think of these mental models as being the scaffolding to help me continue to go up another rung and the scaffolding being something that needs to be secure, that needs to fit together. We need to take time to build the scaffolding, because without building scaffolding on the building, we’re not going to be able to reach these higher rungs. So these mental models have really helped me. And one of them that comes to mind that relates to what you’re saying is this idea of the scout mindset, so I learned about the scout mindset from Julia Galef, who works for the Center for Applied Rationality and Julia Galef’s idea, is that your goal in pursuing intellectual pursuits is to be kind of like a scout. So if you imagine what a scout does is they just go out and they want to see what’s going on out in the future. I always think of it like, you know, a war metaphor of going out into the battlefield and seeing what the enemy is doing. And they want to clearly and objectively see what’s going on, What do we know and also what don’t we know? And I think the reason I bring this up is because the scout mindset is really the anecdote to a lot of the ways in which we see information being disseminated or people conversating, where it seems like the default has been to attack other people and to just defend your position where the scout mindset really opens us up to be like, How might I be wrong? How are things really playing out here? How are they clearly and objectively happening? And I share this as a tool because this has been really helpful for me to kind of sort through the intellectual landscape of the 21st century. 


David Pace 14:49

Yeah. So one of the scouts that is famous out here in Utah, in the Southwest is John Powell. And in fact, Lake Powell is named after him. But he did two famous trips down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon in a scouting mentality, if you will. And what’s interesting about that, other than the fact that he also only had one arm, which is kind of interesting.


Alex Barilec 15:17

That’s amazing, he was a Civil War vet, right?


David Pace 15:19

Yeah. And he went through that not in a rubber boat. He went down. It was a wooden crate basically. But anyway I bring him up because I think that openness gave us some of the best pictures of the indigenous people that were here at the time, including the Southern Paiute, and he was able to speculate and philosophize about what it meant to live in the Southwest. And as we talk about water conservation now, guess who had some really great ideas about how that was supposed to happen. And it wasn’t big cities in the Southwest. It was small agrarian communities that John Powell said, this is the only way we’re going to be able to live out here is in a smaller micro community, not unlike the indigenous who also traveled a lot. But even the farmers that he was thinking about coming out here and the settlers and the homesteaders, he had very strong opinions about how, you know, which he took back to Washington about how we were to settle this area. Of course, we ignored all of that. And we have huge cities out here that are gobbling all kinds of water. So my point is, I think that it was probably that scouting mentality rather than the conquerer mentality, which was also a part of the frontier and a part of settling the West, really kind of helped him get to a place of wisdom, which is, I think, the final goal here of all of this intellectual wellness is getting old like me and hopefully being wise. 


Alex Barilec 17:05

Yeah. And as you’re saying that about John Powell’s beautiful story and one I’ve been very inspired by too, particularly growing up back east and exploring the desert is just the most unique and beautiful, but also like harsh and desolate climate you can imagine. And something that it seems as though you’ve been inspired by it. He practices what I would call intellectual humility and recognizing that there are gaps in our knowledge and that we have to try and strike this balance between understanding different aspects of all of these subjects and bringing these ideas together. But also the way I like to think about it is having strong opinions but holding them really lightly and recognizing that we might be totally off or you might be missing really important information. My wife and I often have conversations and debates about these things, and she tells me she’s like, You always seem like you’re coming from the perspective of being right. And I think if we’re all honest with ourselves to some degree, we all think that. And what I share with her is when I do present these ideas to you, I’m doing my best with the information that I know, but I hold them really lightly. And what I would love for you to do is, challenge me, keep me open to new ideas, share information with me that you might have that I don’t know, so that I can continue to expand my understanding of the world and my scaffolding. I think that, we really can do that for each other in conversation, whether it’s, you know, with our loved ones, but also with coworkers and with people in a whole lot of different avenues. 


David Pace 18:37

Yeah. So Aristotle, the famous Greek philosopher and rhetorician, talked about the dialectic. 


Alex Barilec 18:44



David Pace 18:45

So dialectic is basically a conversational model of acquiring knowledge, if you will. And it starts with a thesis, a claim, and then there’s the antithesis or the antithesis that is posited in opposition to that. And then the dialectic begins going back and forth like a pendulum where you, you have another thesis or another antithesis or antithesis, which is where we get those words. Of course, in the end there’s synthesis because you come down like a pendulum, hopefully in an ideal situation, which is of course the Greek world, and you do come to a synthesis of an understanding. And I think that’s a huge part of communication theory, is that it’s not, you know, communication, in my view, is about understanding. It’s not about proselyting, it’s not about convincing, it’s not about propaganda. And we can forget about that very quickly. And mostly in our marital bliss. 


Alex Barilec 19:50

Yeah, certainly. 


David Pace 19:53

And the difference that I wanted to make is that there’s a difference between being doctrinaire and being principled. And I think you mentioned this in your notes is that being principled, you have principles, but you hold on to them lightly because you can always be wrong and there’s always going to be an antithesis to what you’re saying. And you need to be open to that if you really want to arrive at this synthesis position. 


Alex Barilec 20:19

Yeah, and I love how, you know, we talked earlier about how these different areas of wellness are interwoven. And he started to bring in the social and the emotional there. Right. So I think of intellectual pursuits as being things that we’re learning, that we’re growing in, that we’re studying on our own, but we don’t live in a silo. We have to take this information and we have to bring it out into the world. I mean, that’s something that you and I are trying to do here, right? Is like take the information that we have and bring it out into the world. And that’s where the emotional piece comes in of, you know, self-regulating and recognizing how other people might be receiving us. And the social piece of creating trust and rapport and connection maybe before we dive into deep topics. But there’s something that kind of underpins all of this. And if people are looking for avenues to maybe open more doors in their life or to knock, to open, and then to explore, I think one of the things you’re talking about is listening, listening to our intuition and to where these ideas follow us, but also listening to other people because we can learn so much if we’re really listening to understand people rather than listening to respond. And that kind of ties all these aspects of the scout mindset and intellectual humility, like in listening to something so simple to say, but it’s really, really hard to do. 


David Pace 21:38

Mmhmm. Yeah, I think most often I have found myself just waiting for the person to stop talking because I’m already formulating a response in my mind. I’m writing a script if you want to be theatrical about it. And that’s just deadly, you know, because you’re not really being empathic in your listening. And that’s I know that the Dalai Lama often talks about empathic learning and empathic conversation. And if you’re not, you’re practicing empathy when you’re listening in the end. So you have something you’re about deep work. You want to talk about that? 


Alex Barilec 22:13

Yeah, I think that’s a great place because you know, what was just coming up for me in my head is I think that a lot of people, if they listen to their interests and they think back to when they were young, like we were sharing stories about how our intellectual pursuits kind of grew and blossomed. I think a lot of people can find those. But if we’re honest, like work and the speed of life can kind of cloud this area, I think, and kind of like push it to the side and be like, This isn’t so important. And this idea of deep work versus shallow work from Cal Newport really helps you to think differently about how to strengthen your intellectual wellness at later stages of our life. So the ideas are this: shallow work, are smaller tasks throughout the workday. These are things that they have like a purpose to them, but they don’t require a certain level of intellectual knowledge or complexity that we all have to do them. Like sending text or emails is a form of shallow work, but deep work is the way in which we strengthen our intellectual muscles. And it’s a state of distraction-free concentration where our brain can work at its potential, it can make connections, it can think deeply, it can help us to learn and to rewire and really like recall and understand complex topics so that we can have a better understanding of the world. And the idea is to carve out time in our life like we’ve talked about with many of these areas of wellness, right? Carving out time to exercise, carving out time to socialize. I think when we think of intellectual wellness, carving out time for deep distraction-free work is something that is like maybe, as I said before, like a really low barrier to entry, but really effective way to improve this area. 


David Pace 24:04

I think we’re all creative too, and I think that’s where creativity comes into play. If you don’t give your space, your time spent in your life space for this kind of deep work, then you’re not going to find the creative juices to be creative. And I’m not just talking about being an artist. I’m talking about being an entrepreneur, somebody in business, sports, whatever creativity is, and science. But, you know, we could talk for a long time about the creative element to science. You know, Einstein talks about the theory of relativity for Dancing in the Air. I mean, that’s not exactly empirical experiments, but yeah, any more tools that you want to talk about briefly before we move on? 


Alex Barilec 24:51

Yeah, I mean, I think, you know, if there’s people out there that are just like, okay, I kind of feel stuck on this or this area of stagnant, like deep work is just like the scout mindset and intellectual humility. And these mental models are ways of thinking about how to create this in your life. Some people might just be like, ask me what can I do? I need to reignite that spark of creativity and that spark of really passionate interest in areas. I mean, travel is a great way to do that. You don’t have to travel internationally either, right? Like for me, I’ve traveled almost exclusively domestically in the past seven years, and the Western United States has so many opportunities in areas of novelty to learn about. Like I’ve loved learning about the people that used to live here. And I know very little, but it’s been really interesting. So travel is one that comes to mind to reignite that flame. What else would you throw in there? 


David Pace 25:42

Pick up a hobby. So I’m trying to finish a braided rug that my spouse’s grandmother had started back in Maine and never finished, and she did these braided rugs all the time. And so I set sit there and do braided rugs and I’m going to finish it if it kills me. But it’s been very meditative, but it’s also given me a historical view of what it was like to live in the 19th century, which is when her grandmother was born, in 1900. And I would say another one is to read. So I’m a big reader and not just read texts, but read long-form narratives. Yeah, and I know you’re reading one of those right now. Tell us about it. 


Alex Barilec 26:30

That I am. I’m reading some Dostoyevsky and reading some Russian literature that is just beautiful and striking. And I think the thing for me that I’ve learned from reading that is it’s really different than a lot of the things that I read. So the one thing I would tack on to what you said for people is like, if you’re used to reading nonfiction, or you’re used to fiction, try reading the opposite. Try expanding. Because for me, I’ve actually learned a lot about these nonfiction concepts in fiction. It’s brought it to life for me in a totally new way. So those are some last little, you know, tidbits, I think, of places that people can reignite their spark of intellectual wellness because I think that in closing, it really is this lifelong journey. And as you’ve shared, it changes and it grows. So if we can continue to reignite that spark and follow that passion, I’m not as interested in geography as I once was, but for me today, it’s really responding to people and really understanding the human experience on a deeper level. And so if people are looking for resources here at the U, what are some places that come to mind? 


David Pace 27:40

Yeah, continuing education here has great classes for adults. If you’re over 50, the Osher Learning Institute is great as well. 25 bucks and you’re in for each class and they’re non matriculated. You know you’re not looking for a degree, you’re just looking to expand your intellectual wellness and in closing, I would just like to say I really like your metaphor of scaffolding and don’t forget that sometimes you’re on a scaffold to reach something higher up, if you will, to ascend. And don’t forget the scaffolding is going to come down someday. So don’t don’t pin your doctrinaire views on the scaffolding. Always be reaching for that top of that building that’s being built. 


Alex Barilec 28:30

I love that. And I think the you know, the last thought from my area is, don’t forget and ignore this as an area of wellness. I think when we think of wellness, this one can very much be like, well, I have to learn for, you know, my professional pursuits, but we can maybe like separate those personal and those professional intellectual areas and remembering that this is as important. And as we’ve talked about today is very much interwoven into the other areas, because I think this one can be sat on the shelf at times when it very much is an integral part of holistic wellness. 


David Pace 29:04

Absolutely. I like the way you ended that. Let’s go to lunch. 


Alex Barilec 29:08

Sounds good. 


David Pace 29:08

All right. Nice to see you. 


Alex Barilec 29:10

Take care, David. Bye bye.