Michael Stevens is an American educator, comedian, editor, and Internet personality, best known for creating and hosting the popular YouTube channel Vsauce.
• Bill Nye (William Sanford "Bill" Nye, popularly known as Bill Nye the Science Guy, is an American science e...)
• David Boaz (David Boaz is the executive vice president of the Cato Institute, an American libertarian think t...)
• Archie Griffin (Archie Mason Griffin is a former American football running back. Griffin played seven seasons in ...)» All Educator Interviews
Hello Reddit! I am Michael Stevens, creator of Vsauce and host of Vsauce1, a YouTube channel where I make videos that dive into whatever topic has most recently excited or confused me and share some of the awesomest things people have said, done, found, forgotten, or seen. I'm about to go on tour with Adam Savage, have a new show on YouTube Red, a subscription box full of my favorite experiments and brain-tickling toys, and am currently really in love with circles. Since I love questions and answering them, AMA!
~~EDIT: I'm going to go home for dinner now but I'll be back in a few hours (around 9pm PST Jan 26) to keep answering. So keep asking! Thanks for all your questions so far. Thanks for supporting educational videos. And as always, thanks for watching! See you all back here soon!!~~
~~I'm back! Answering more now!~~
~~OK! Getting ready for bed now. I'll check again in the morning and answer a few more! THANK YOU for your time and for all your great questions. Thanks for supporting educational videos! And as always, thanks for watching.~~
~~I'm back for one more round! AMA!~~
Okay, I'm actually finished now. Got to get back to work on my next episode! I really appreciate all of your questions. Thanks again for your support and for being curious and thoughtful. And as always, thanks for watching.
Is iDubbbz your son?
Can I pm you a picture of my cat?
What made you switch from "pooplicker" to v-sauce?
I stopped licking poop
In episode 1 of Mind Field there was a scene when you woke up and appeared quite disoriented and confused, so confused that you needed to open the door to the test chamber to confirm your reality. I'm dying to know what were you dreaming about?
Essentially, I had started to lose the ability to differentiate dreams from reality. For some reason, I was in the room in both.
I dreamt that someone (not anyone I'd ever met, but someone who seemed familiar in the dream) had come into the room and told me I was done. That 72 hours was up. But then I woke up. But I didn't realize that I'd woken up. I saw the door closed and wondered why they'd left and closed the door behind themselves. I figured everyone was just busy or something and that I could come out when I felt like it.
So I opened the door but it was so dark and nothing was moving. I was really confused and anxious about being confused. Who had been in the room? Why was I alone? I had been so certain that I was finished. That I could come out. But no. I was still alone. Always had been.
I received it. thank you.
How often do you get recognized as "the Vsauce guy" in public? Do people ever introduce themselves as "HEEEY. _ here!"?
A few times a month. Depends on where I go. Public places like museums and restaurants are more common than like, when I'm commuting or on a subway or something where people are all busy and rushing around.
Everyone who's said hi has always been so nice about it. If you've recognized me in public and said, "hi," thanks for being so respectful. Oh, and of course, thanks for watching. It's so great to meet the actual flesh-and-blood that's out there watching. Since I'm always working on my next video, I usually start giving them spoilers as to what it'll be about and my favorite things about it.
A few times a month. It's awesome! I love giving 'spoilers' about the next video I'm working on (actually I'm just running things by them to see if they find it interesting or if I should take a different approach). Very few (none, I think, really) have ever just STARTED with Hey, Michael, ___ here." It sounds really weird and stilted to talk like that in real life :)
What's one video you wanted to make but couldn't?
I want to make a video about death. I really admire a friend of mine from college who wrote a great book about working in a crematory. We are afraid of death. Of dying. Of things that are dead. But death is important. It's the most significant thing, in fact. When I die, please film me dying. All of it. And don't stop. Show how my body changes. Where my body is taken. Who the professionals are we trust with our dead. Leave no curious soul's questions about what it looks like and feels like unanswered. I want to interview scientists, authors, pastors, mystics, moms, dads, young people, old people about death. Death is obvious and unavoidable and necessary for life and yet we can't easily study it scientifically. At least not the conscious experience of it. For that matter, what is life? What defines whether something is living? Ought we even ask? Can we even pretend that there's an adequate answer to that question?
Did you recover without any mental problems after the 3-day isolation?
Surprisingly, yes, I did. I stayed up really late the night I got out talking about the experience with my wife. Slept well. The next day I was very clear and happy. FYI: this is the video we're talking about.
can you tell me 3 spit facts?
Its population is 2,816
It's a popular spring break destination
It has a warm humid subtropical climate
What is your favorite question you ever answered?
How many people are involved in vsause 1,2,3 with editing and production?
There are six of us now:
Me, Kevin, and Jake.
Eric, who helps with 3D graphics, production, editing, etc.
Hannah, who writes, researches, and edits DONG
and Alisha, who coordinates everything (especially the Curiosity Box) and keeps the company running smoothly
How do you come up with video ideas?
Ideas come from things I've read or heard or seen, people I've met ... anything that makes me confused or surprised and then turns out to be a challenge to wrap my head around is something I want to make a video about.
You say you're in love with circles, why? They're pointless IMO
I've been hanging aROUND a lot of circles lately. And playing with them and thinking about them a lot. Spheres too. So simple and important and useful in geometry.
Have you noticed any long-term changes after being in the isolation room for three days?
I learned to meditate better. And panic less.
In the room, whenever I wasn't sleeping or pacing I was watching memories play in my head like movies. Things that really happened ... but then they'd take on a life of their own. Waking dreams.
I think (just guessing here) that that process is good for your brain. Perhaps it's its way of sorting things out. Arranging experiences. Very interesting.
are you a tits man or a ass man?
the human bottom is magnificent
There is one thing, you've said that has stuck with me since I saw the video of you doing a Ted Talks.
"The trick to education is to teach people in such a way that they don't realize they're learning until it's too late" - Herald Egerton
Is that your mantra when you release a new video on Vsauce now/after you made the Ted Talks, or has it always been what you were trying to do?
EDIT: Rephrased the question so it makes more sense to the answer I got from Michael.
It's always been my mantra. Even before I heard it articulated so clearly. At first, it wasn't about accidentally teaching, it was just about the fact that being funny or asking weird questions (aka good video topics and titles and thumbnails) brought more people in.
>Ideas come from things I've read or heard or seen, people I've met
So for the video about butts, which ass was your muse?
What's the most exciting thing you've done with Adam Savage?
The brachistochrone was a dream come true. There was NO way I could have built something like that in any reasonable amount of time with any reasonable amount of quality. It took Adam about 2 seconds to know what to do and where to find everything we needed in his shop.
Besides that, we just spent the last couple days diving really deep into our upcoming live show, Brain Candy. Seeing the pieces all falling together and the mechanisms being built is really thrilling.
Besides even THAT, it's his stories about things he's built, people he's met, ideas he's had. The guy's about a million times smarter than me so hanging out is like free experience/knowledge/idea-osmosis. If that makes sense.
Education and degrees?
Bachelors in English Literature and bachelors in Neuropsychology.
Both from the University of Chicago.
What's Adam Savage like off camera? I always imagine he's just as enthusiastic all day long as he is while shooting
That's exactly right. He's contagiously enthusiastic -- but also very thoughtful. Not sure where he gets the energy. It's crazy.
it's sad that a lot of people don't take vaporwave seriously. It has such a great surreal dreamy vibe, and it's a really creative genre.
What do you think about other youtubers and online makers of video borrowing your vocal style? I feel like I hear it everywhere.
I haven't noticed this. Hmm... perhaps it's like how we enjoy/don't mind the smell of our own farts dislike other people's? I'm probably too close to my own voice to really understand it or know it.
My vocal style on Vsauce is pretty much just how I talk in real life (Would you agree, Adam? If you others want proof come to Brain Candy and say, "hi!").
I'd be interested to see if there's any research on what kinds of cadences/accents/etc. keep people's attention the best. Or leave them with the most comprehension or retention.
Wish I could say I already knew and was using that knowledge on Vsauce, but I'm just talking to the camera the way I'd talk to you if you ran into me on the street and asked me to talk about infinity or books or juvenoia or whatever :)
Hey, I met you one time in a mall right before closing time and you were on the phone with your bank. My question is: Why were you on the phone with your bank in a mall right before closing?
My credit card had been declined while I was trying to get a gift for my wife (sunglasses). It was very annoying. Hope I wasn't a huge grump!
thanks for linking that answer!
what are your favourite songs right now?
at this very moment I'm really digging "Mood" by Porches
And to be honest, vaporwave. I mean, what's going on when I listen to it? It's like the past trying to get ahold of me. It's like the past but easier to analyze and take seriously. It's like being a kid again with the brain of an adult. Or not. I don't know yet but it really helps me write and edit and think.
Just wanted to add one more thing. I discovered the sound by stumbling on a channel called b0dyg0d years ago. I have no idea who it is or who made the songs, but the way they're stretched, the way they repeat the same phrase over and over again like a chant, the melancholy ... I love it. I made a playlist of it all so I could just let it play. For the last few years I've used that playlist when writing.
Where did you meet Jake, and Kevin? And what was your motivation to create Vsauce 2 and 3?
P.S. Love your videos! So far loving the mine field series.
I met Kevin because I was a fan of Jerry Bloop. I contacted him about working with Vsauce (which was 'gaming' 'comedy' at the time). He's incredibly talented and a top-notch researcher. Want something? He'll find it.
As for Jake, Vsauce gets a tax break for hiring felons.
JUST KIDDING. That was a goof. Jake started working at YouTube and sat next to me and started helping me edit episodes of DONG. It became clear that he would be a great fit for something we really wanted to do: cover the science and ideas and questions behind fictional creations. Thus, Vsauce3 was born.
May I recommend the first pages of My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgard? It's a similarly beautiful mediation on society's relationship with the body.
Thank you for that recommendation!
Do you think a brightly lit room is more difficult to spend 72 hours in than a pitch black room?
I don't know, but I really want to try a dark room. It's not a fun thing, though. It's not a carnival ride. It's a serious adventure into your head.
Is a hotdog a sandwich?
It's a sandwich. But not a sandwich sandwich.
Well, not sure I'll get a reply but I figure it's worth a shot:
Hey Michael! A few years ago, I stumbled across Vsauce by accident, and have been watching you religiously ever since. I have 2 questions!
1) As a Nuclear Engineering student, I get to take a lot of fun classes. Is there a class on any particular subject matter you would suggest that every college student should take?
2) If I one day had the money to compensate you for a day off and fly you out here, would you like to join me for tea, a friendly discussion, and maybe a game of cards? :-)
EDIT: Wow! This is now my highest rated comment, by a longshot... thanks, guys!! And a huge shout-out to Michael for being so kind and open to answering questions.
(2) Of course
Thank you for taking my question, but I liked your first answer better. ;)
hahaha, okay so that was caused by me having multiple tabs of this AMA open. Oh well, DOUBLE ANSWER! How embarrassing would it have been if they'd contradicted each other?
Love your videos so much, how long does it take to film a single Mind Field episode? And how long does it take to be released after it is recorded?
Mind Field was filmed in one month. September of 2016. Before that, there were months of planning, talking, writing, researching, experts to reach out to, ideas to have and then scrap (or fall in love with).
Editing took a couple months. Unlike my regular videos (which I edit myself -- though often with the 3D graphics help of the talented Eric Langlay), Mind Field had a team of people (great talented ones) working with me in post-production. That was VITAL. So much footage and so many camera angles and episodes... it was a lot of work to mold it all together into the story I wanted to tell.
What is the script writing process like? How are you able to jump from one idea to the next so seamlessly to explain a concept that emcompasses everything you're talking about in a video? Greetings from Colombia, translator here but big fan! :D
Basically, I start with a topic or question and then I begin gathering books, articles, experts I can email/call/meet/tweet at/etc.
Then I start jotting down everything about the topic that surprises me or that I don't understand. Then I start figuring out what needs to be dove into deeper and explained. And how. I try my best to blend it all together, but in the end it's just the highlights of what I've been up to for the last few weeks. It's like meeting a friend and asking what they've been doing.
I will say that as a result, I think my information-finding and -synthesizing skills have really improved. If I had to say what one skill is most worth exercising and working on, it's your ability to ask questions more articulately and find answers more efficiently. Step one is to admit when you don't understand something. If you're not 100% satisfied that you could explain it to someone else, keep reading. Eventually you'll find someone who's explain it or approached the topic in a way that helps you. Keep looking.
Dog or a Cat person?
Both have my respect and admiration but the cat is subjectively my favorite. I have two: Elsie and Corn.
Hey Michael Stevens from Vsauce, How do you know that you exist?
I don't. I believe I do. But I wouldn't feel comfortable saying that I know I do.
Why the hell didn't you make the title of this "Vsauce. Michael here. What is an AMA?"
Because you all aren't Vsauce. You're reddit. Though I agree that "What is an AMA" would have been nice :)
What video was your favorite to do the research for?
I got to talk with Hugh Woodin. A legend. He's got sizes of infinity named after him! He was so good at helping me understand the topic.
I also spoke with David Eisenbud. Both of them were so eager to help and importantly: they were patient with me as I tried to better learn and understand the topic. I am so appreciative of their time.
What was the scariest thing you've ever done in your life?
Running the nocebo demonstration for Mind Field. The episode isn't out yet, but that was the most uncomfortable I've been. However, the results were very very powerful and the participants were incredibly helpful and understanding of the test's significance. We took extreme care to debrief everyone and keep everyone safe.
In a few words, the nocebo effect is when 'nothing' produces a detrimental effect. The detrimental effect we were able to cause in people who thought what we were doing was serious and dangerous (it was, in reality, almost comically trivial) was a real testament to the power of imagination and the fragility of our conception of what's real.
To everyone who participated, I thank you. And science thanks you.
Hey Micheal! So one things that's always bamboozled me in your videos was that weird noise/song that recurres in your videos. It happens at 1:34 in your most recent video ( The Brachistochrone ) What's it's name? And origin?
Moon Men by Jake Chudnow
What was your favorite question you never answered?
I still don't think we've got a good understanding of the Zipf mystery
If you burn bread is it burnt bread or burnt toast?
In my opinion, it is burnt bread which is a kind of toast. Or at least, on the toast spectrum. I suppose this makes "burnt toast" a tautology, though. Hmm... how much of a 'well made' piece of toast is actually 'burned'? What is burning? A certain reaction between carbon in the bread and oxygen in the air? I would need to learn more about the physics of 'toasting' to be confident.
I'll make an assumption that you are introverted, here. How do you recharge?
Watching documentaries, reading, solving disentanglement puzzles ... sometimes the best is pacing around one of our studios alone talking out loud to myself. It's not always even coherent, but there's no audience. For some reason it's really relaxing and recharging. Takes the stress away. What do I talk about? Usually I talk through some problem or issue I'm having (like venting but to no one). OR I attempt to explain something that I'm trying to get better at explaining for a script.
What is the favourite video that you've made so far?
What is the answer you never questioned?
most of them. I accept so much. There just isn't time to investigate everything. We need to trust others and those who teach and observe the world have a gigantic responsibility to be honest and objective.
Favourite movies/tv shows of the 21st century
If you could choose one aspect of science to learn about further, what would it be and why?
Supreme tacos. I love sour cream.
Louis Theroux's Extreme Love: Dementia
Theoretical physics. But first, math. Lots and lots of math. I want to go back to college and study mathematics.
Why do you like to jump for intro?
mainly just to avoid jump cuts (i.e. if I have to stop and start over I'll just 'pop in')
It also helps keeps my energy up.
Why did you decide to be humorous and scientific? Even if you claim to not be the "Bill Nye of Youtube", is it possible you took inspiration from him?
Bill Nye really inspired me. He was the first voice I heard that was educational AND funny. And in a clever, dry, sometimes ironic way that I always thought was cool (not lame and socially ostracizing). Especially as a kid. Even the kids who made fun of 'smart kids' or learning or reading or chess club or whatever always LOVED when Bill Nye was shown in the classroom. Beakman's World was also really influential. Paul Zaloom could be a rapid-fire goof that entertained you and then ... yep ... you'd realize you just learned a lot and were fired up to learn more.
I am probably your biggest fan. I want to thank you for doing what you do. You have made the biggest contribution to my core of my personality. You have sent the hardest of the goosebumps down my spine. I am left in awe after your videos, Michael. They have defined me as a person. You make the nerds inside all of us be more proud. I have watched your videos so many times and made all of my family and friend forcefully watch it.
Thank you so much. I love you.
I’d like to ask you,
You can choose to answer any of the questions but please acknowledge this.
Thanks for reading.
Thanks for watching!
If I wasn't a youtuber I'd probably be a teacher who did some theater acting on the side.
Mathematics. Specifically set theory.
Both. BUT: the virtual worlds we create and explore will be richer and more popular and easier to navigate. Of course, if faster than light travel is possible in some form maybe they'll be nearer to equal....
Is there going to be a mind field season 2?
I sure hope so. I have more than enough ideas (and bigger & better ones now that I have the experience of season 1 and have met the people I know I need to make it possible). Now that I've had a taste, I'm hungry to show more and do more. Be even more ambitious. No matter what, I will find a way to document the studies I want to do next.
I've really enjoyed the recent Youtube collaborations with people such as Adam Savage and DubbbzTV. If you could make a collab video with anyone on Youtube right now, who would it be?
I really want to collab with 3Blue1Brown. We're actually already talking over email. Shout out to Henry from Minute Physics for introducing us!
Oh, and I also want to get e-doops on Vsauce.
how many languages do you speak?
just one, unfortunately. I keep saying I'm going to learn Spanish, but I haven't yet. It's a real disadvantage to only know one language. I'm definitely going to give my kids (none yet) as many opportunities to learn other languages as possible!!
Hey Michael, do you plan on writing a book?
Yes. I have the treatment. It's the book I've always wanted to write (well, at least since I made "Our Narrow Slice".
It's an idea that works best as a book. Not as a video. I would only do a book if that were the case. But it's not something I can throw together in a few weeks. Perhaps while on the road with Brain Candy ...
How bad was that isolation chamber, like did it really mess with you as much ad the video showed?
More. Unfortunately we couldn't record my thoughts and how scrambled they were. And I can't now, with a clear head and voice, get across just how lethargic but nonetheless panicked and lonely I was. Being separated from the Earth's cycles and any feedback as to my sense of time was disorienting. I felt perhaps like animals feel (or don't. we don't know. But I wish we did). I had no idea how long ago things had happened or how far away the future was. every moment was the same. I believe that a life like that is one in which death is much less scary.
Hi, Michael, Drayke here. Were you friends with Adam Savage before showing up on Tested? Or did you become good friends afterwords?
Brain Candy has turned us into friends. Before we'd ever met, I heard that he was looking for a touring partner. I was obviously interested but didn't expect anything. A couple months later I got a text from him asking to chat. We talked on the phone and went over our backgrounds, out goals, and it became obvious that our styles and approaches would fit really well together. We can both talk about things and tell stories, but Adam can BUILD things and ENGINEER things and MAKE things. It's a great combo :)
Hey Michael big fan of all your work. How would you say is the best way to approach learning new things? I always find it so daunting jumping into something I know nothing about.
honestly, wikipedia. It's a great jumping-off point and so full of hyperlinked connections. And sources to learn more and go deeper.
First of all, you make fantastic content. But that's obvious and everyone here knows that. As a fellow Blue Valley High School alum, I wanted to know, what is your favorite memory of your time there or just something about it you remember fondly? Cheers.
My best memory was pretty much every forensics tournament. I did informative speaking and oration. I especially loved the stakes at national-qualifying tournaments. I highly recommend participating in speaking competitions. Articulation and writing and preforming in front of people are VERY powerful skills to hone.
Whaaazzaaap? Sice you mentioned circles, I have to ask what your opinion on tau τ is. Are you in favor of it replacing pi or acting alongside it, or is it just silly?
Michael, my girlfriend is a massive fan and when we moved to London a few years ago (Angel). We went to the VUE nearby and you were in the queue in front of us, or so I thought. My girlfriend was too nervous to say hi, and I was too worried about interfering with your date night, so we kept to ourselves. Since then, we've always wondered if it was you after all. You hang out in Islington?
I used to live in Islington! I now live in LA. Do you remember what movie you saw? If it was during the day it could have been when I saw Mad Max: Fury Road there.
How concerned were you when Adam Savage was messing with your glasses?
Not concerned at all. He's a pro. If he'd been nervous I would have had second thoughts, though :)
While shooting Mindfield, did you ever have to skip a test subject because they recognised you?
We didn't have to. I could always just be myself. I think only a couple recognized me and it didn't make a difference. They just understood that I was doing a study. But they didn't necessarily know what was REALLY being studied. That's the part that matters.
Can you give us a hint about an upcoming Vsauce video? (Not Mind Field)
shadows that burn
Where did the inspiration for the name 'vsauce' come from?
Will the Bearded-Nun ever return?
Yes. But stronger.
Seriously though, Mark Douglas and I have been kicking around a really cool idea (not the Bearded Nun, sadly) that I hope to get back on top of because I really think it's gold. And really needed today and really different but better in certain ways that what I'm already doing. Stay tuned...
hey michael what kind of soup do u like?
clam chowder and potato.