Dr. Martine Rothblatt — The Incredible Polymath of Polymaths (#487)

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Identify the corridors of indifference and run like hell down them.

— Dr. Martine Rothblatt

Martine Rothblatt (@skybiome) is Chairman and CEO of United Therapeutics, a biotechnology company she started to save the life of one of her daughters. The company offers FDA-approved medicines for pulmonary hypertension and neuroblastoma and is working on manufacturing an unlimited supply of transplantable organs.

Dr. Rothblatt previously created and led Sirius XM as its Chairman and CEO and launched other satellite systems for navigation and international television broadcasting. In the field of aviation, her Sirius XM satellite system enhances safety with real-time digital weather information to pilots in flight nationwide. She also designed the world’s first electric helicopter and piloted it to a Guinness world record for speed, altitude, and flight duration.

In the legal arena, Dr. Rothblatt led efforts of the transgender community to establish their own health law standards and of the International Bar Association to protect autonomy rights in genetic information via an international treaty. She also published dozens of scholarly articles and papers on the law of outer space, resulting in her election to the International Institute of Space Law, and represented the radio astronomy community’s scientific research interests before the Federal Communications Commission.

She has bachelor’s (communications studies, summa cum laude), JD (Order of the Coif) and MBA degrees from UCLA, which in 2018 awarded her its highest recognition, the UCLA Medal, and she holds a PhD in medical ethics from the Royal London School of Medicine and Dentistry. Her patented inventions cover aspects of satellite communication, medicinal biochemistry, and cognitive software.

Dr. Rothblatt’s recent books are on xenotransplantation (Your Life or Mine), gender identity (Transgender to Transhuman), and cyberethics (Virtually Human). She occasionally posts on Instagram at @transbinary and Twitter at @skybiome.

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What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

SCROLL BELOW FOR LINKS AND SHOW NOTES…

Want to hear another episode with someone who took a lightning bolt to her soul for science? Listen to my conversation with Columbia physics and astronomy professor Janna Levin, in which we discuss youthful indiscretion, omnivorous reading, Möbius strips, philosophy 101, UFOs, and much more.


SELECTED LINKS FROM THE EPISODE

  • Connect with Martine Rothblatt:

Twitter | Instagram

SHOW NOTES

Note from the editor: Timestamps will be added shortly.

  • Why is Martine such a fan of Alan Watts and his exploration about what it means to be human, The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are?
  • Did Martine find the movie Her to be a compelling presentation of how artificial sentience and human beings might coexist?
  • Who or what is BINA48? Does Martine think we’re anywhere near achieving convincingly realized simulations of humans as seen in Black Mirror season two, episode one Be Right Back?
  • Growing up, who did Martine count as her role models and inspirations?
  • How did Martine start a biotechnology company to save the life of one of her daughters in spite of only having taken biology in high school? What did it take to even comprehend the scope of such an endeavor, and what was the journey that made it a reality?
  • What were the three incorrect assumptions pharmaceutical company Glaxo Wellcome made in not pursuing production of the drug from which Martine’s company has since made billions of dollars?
  • When did Martine first fall in love with the satellite communication systems that would lead to the creation of satellite radio company SiriusXM?
  • What can we do to cultivate more scientific literacy in our society? Are there any resources Martine would recommend to someone looking to increase their own fluency in science? What one-word question fires the imagination of curious adults as well as any four-year-old?
  • Coming out as transgender at age 40, how did Martine relate to gender in her younger years? How did her American predisposition to question authority play into this?
  • What does Martine mean when she says she didn’t identify as strictly male or female, and how might this be expressed by others going through similar, but not necessarily identical journeys of self-discovery?
  • What were the biggest decisions Martine made along her gradual path of transition?
  • Now that we can map the human genome, Martine elaborates on the need for an international treaty to guarantee autonomy rights and genetic information protections.
  • How an isolated population in South America relates to Martine’s efforts to make the shortage of transplantable organs (like hearts, livers, and kidneys) a thing of the past.
  • What is the vagus nerve, and how is United Therapeutics attempting to manipulate it for the purpose of therapy in conditions such as Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and rheumatoid arthritis? How do recent discoveries in this area of research lend credibility to ancient therapies like acupuncture?
  • Martine talks about her patent for an Alzheimer’s cognitive enabler and what inspired its invention, and I recommend a documentary for people curious about how music can act as therapy for people in even the most advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • How did the family practice of “love nights” come about in the Rothblatt household? How is it observed now that Martine’s children have grown up and have households of their own in a year when COVID keeps everyone from coming together physically? What have been some of the most unique answers to the question “What does love mean to you?” and how might you answer this?
  • Does Martine believe it will be possible for machines to someday understand and experience what love means in the same way we do? If so, when might we expect the breakthrough that will make this possible?
  • For Martine, what are some of the most important ethical questions or considerations related to technology as we move into future decades?
  • What common contemporary practices does Martine think future generations will view as barbaric or backward?
  • Against popular projections that such a thing wouldn’t be possible on a grand scale until 2050 (or so) how did United Therapeutics build a zero carbon footprint headquarters in 2019?
  • Elevating the “Reduce, reuse, recycle” slogan to a new level, how does United Therapeutics refurbish lungs deemed unusable — a process that has so far saved over 150 lives?
  • “Identify the corridors of indifference and run like hell down them.” Why United Therapeutics didn’t hop on immediate efforts to create a COVID-19 vaccine, but opts instead to develop therapies for people suffering from the long-term effects of the virus.
  • What would Martine’s billboard say?
  • Martine’s advice for people who struggle to find the positives in life.
  • Parting thoughts.

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