Michio Kaku – Reimagine Tomorrow

World-renowned physicist Michio Kaku reveals how a simple test using marshmallows can predict how successful you can be.


What is this marshmallow test?

Well, when you look at children, and you look at all the different theories about what makes successful kids, you realize that almost all the theories are wrong, because they haven’t been verified.

Like, for example, high IQ. You have a lot of high IQ people who become marginal members of society, and so what is the one psychological test that correlates with success in life? And I found out that it’s the marshmallow test.

You get kids, and ask them, do you want a marshmallow now, or two marshmallows a few hours from now? And the kids that want the marshmallow now tend to be those that want shortcuts. Those that don’t want to do the hard work. They want the quick kill, they grab that marshmallow. But the other ones say, now wait a minute. If I wait two hours, I can get two marshmallows. I can hold out, there’s a pot of gold waiting for me. They’re not gonna take the shortcut. And so, you say to yourself, well that’s a test for kids. But then you track them, decade by decade by decade, and you find that they are more successful, they have a lower divorce rate, higher income, higher status in society, that don’t want that simple payoff now, but are gonna delay gratification into the future. And so I realized that’s the key to success in life, not just science, but in life. Don’t take the shortcuts.

– But can it be taught?

– Well, part of it is your personality that is formed when you are very young, okay, let’s be very clear about that. But I think that yes. I think that, for example, it turns out that if you do the same thing with poor children and the same thing with middle class children, it turns out that poor children, in general, will go for the quick kill, because they know that things disappear real fast. If there’s money in the house, it’s gone in the future.

If you can show people that there’s a pot of gold out there, that yes, you hold out, you go to college, you learn a discipline, there’s a pot of gold out there. You can learn to appreciate that fact.

What we have in the brain that is different from animals is we understand time. We understand the future.

My grandparents came to California a hundred years ago. But imagine, back then, life expectancy was 49 years of age. I mean, you were born, you had kids, and died. Life was a bitch.

Now, we have an increased life span, we have all the luxury goods, instead of yelling out the window, which is what my grandparents did to communicate, we have the internet. And so when you look at it long term, decade for decade, you realize the enormous progress that we’ve made, we constantly daydream, we scheme, we plot, we constantly think about what could be.

Now let’s do an experiment. Go home tonight, and teach your dog the concept of tomorrow. Try it. Teach your dog the concept of tomorrow. The next week, the next year. And you realize, you can’t. Animals live in the present.

And that’s what I think intelligence is. Intelligence is being able to map the future, simulate the future. So if you get an experiment of people with low IQ, and high IQ, put them in the same room, and you give them the same job. Rob a bank. You’ll find out that the low IQ people probably do a much better job of robbing a bank, plotting the bank robbery, than high IQ people, who get all messed up with legal implications and stuff like that.

The point is that you can have some very smart robbers, because they see the future, and that’s what we humans do that animals cannot. We constantly daydream. We constantly create worlds that don’t exist. And to me, that’s what intelligence is.

Some people ask me, well what is the meaning of life, then? And I say to myself that is somebody gives you, from up high, the meaning of life, it’s too easy. I mean, is that all? My attitude is that it’s self discovery. We have to reinvent ourselves. That we have to recreate ourselves, that the meaning of life is rediscovery.