RIP, Seth Roberts

Last night, I found out that my friend Seth Roberts passed away.

You may not have known Seth, you may not even have known who he was, but he was a very important person to the lives of many people.

Though a professor a Berkeley, he championed personal science. He was one of the leading proponents of the Quantified Self movement. He was willing to not just test ideas on himself, he was willing to be one of the first academics to call personal science efforts legitimate.

He also helped start the Ancestral Health/Paleo movement (especially the Ancestral Health Conference). He lent his name and his status to a movement that was new and had very little credibility. But he knew the data was right, he knew they were onto something, and he backed them in every way. I started paleo in large part because of Seth.

Seth not only embraced new ideas, he came up with them and tested them himself. His blog is full of amazing ideas, ideas that other people used to improve their lives. Just his Shang-ri La Diet is such an incredible idea, and so far ahead of its time, it is still not understood. The mainstream immediately dismissed it–how can eating two tablespoons of oil between meals cause you to lose weight–without even engaging the idea. I tried it. It works. He didn’t even care that they ignored him, he just kept on trying new things, finding counter-intuitive ways to see the world.

Seth had real courage. Though a well respected academic, he took on other academics who lied, plagiarized and otherwise cared only about their status, and not about the quality of their information or their ideas, or how they helped other people. He called them out in public, and took the consequences that always come with attacking powerful exploiters.

Seth had intellectual courage as well. He examined ideas in themselves, not who they came from, and he defended and stood up for the things that were right, regardless of what they cost him.

Seth loved people as well. He listened to you when you talked to him, he didn’t just wait for his turn to speak, and he treated you like a person deserving of respect, no matter who you were. How many people do you know like that, not to mention professors?

Seth also made a profound impact on my personal life. He was one of the first people to not only take me seriously as a writer–long before I had much commercial success–he gladly brought me into his social network, introduced me to people he knew, and defended me and my writing in a far more eloquent way I ever have. In many ways, he showed me what was great about my writing. He saw me as an innovator and courageous writer long before I ever thought to look for those things in myself. And not only that, he explained it to me in a way that was so right, so awesomely eloquent, I now use his words to describe those parts of myself. Seth Roberts gave me–a writer–the words I use to describe myself.

People live and people die. Most people never impact anything or anyone outside of a very small circle directly around them. That’s OK, it doesn’t make them bad, it just means they lived a small life.

Seth was not like this. He changed me, and he changed many, many other people far smarter and more important than me. Seth changed the world he lived in. He made it better. He was a true thinker, an authentic innovator in a world of imitators. Seth’s particular mix of traits–incredibly brilliant but still highly empathetic–is exceedingly rare, and he used it to make a real impact. The world has suffered a terrible loss with his passing.

People like Seth Roberts are not replaced. They come, they do incredible things, and they are missed when they go.

And just personally, I will miss him so much. I can’t remember the last time I cried, but I am crying for his loss. I mean that literally. It hurts. I considered him a great friend when he was alive, but I honestly didn’t realize how important he was to me until he passed. This has been a very sad, very emotional time for me.

It isn’t just about his ideas and his blog all that other things he contributed to the world–he was such a kind, wonderful human. I often wondered how I could be more like him, especially the way he dealt with the intersection of ideas and people. I’m a better human being because I knew him…how many other people can that be said for? How many, when they pass, actually leave a hole?

Seth has left a hole in the world. I’m so glad I knew him, and I will miss him so much.


PS–Some other people have praised Seth in far better ways than I did:

John Durant
Richard Nikoley
Ryan Holiday
Ben Casnocha
Nassim Taleb