MEET: Mathieu Renard

What’s your current occupation? 
I am a PhD in behavioral neuroscience at the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and also an educational content creator on Youtube as Dr. NEMO.
During the day I study the incredible camouflage abilities of cephalopods, at night I make videos where I mix my passion for science with music, animation and humor, for an explosive cocktail of fun. If you’re asking yourself: No, I don’t have much time to sleep.

Where are you currently living (city & country)?
I am currently living in Frankfurt, Germany.

Tell us about yourself:
Well, like every other human being, I am many things. Overly pragmatic and deeply spiritual. Naturally extroverted and eternally tired. When I find a bit of time outside my main occupations (research and youtube), I love to sleep, to boulder, to tattoo my friends and to repair old Game Boys.

What do you connect with our theme “Fear Less”?
(if you mean in general)

Fear is an integrant part of our lives. It’s a feeling that carries relevant information, but when it takes over our emotional state, it becomes crippling. An obstacle between us and the things we really want. I had a lot of ambitious projects in my life and those were always inseparable from fear. What I’ve learned with time is that the more I was afraid of doing something, the more important it was for me to really do it and succeed. I like to think I’ve learned to hear what “fear” has to say to me, but that I am enough in control to not succumb to it.

(if you mean regarding my talk)

You’re being chased relentlessly by a predator, what if you had the power to become truly invisible in a fraction of a second? Undetectable to the eyes of others?

A group of animals called cephalopods have harnessed this evolutionary superpower to deceive the eyes of their enemies. An invisibility cloak integrated in their own skin. If you could do the same, would you be less afraid in normally fearful situations? 

What are you afraid of?
I am afraid of many many things, but they all have one thing in common. I have fear of heights and surgery. I’m scared of big ferocious animals, but also of getting old. So, I am ironically scared to death of… death itself. The possibility that our state of consciousness might switch from such a vivid and personal experience to an inert void of darkness just gives me chills…

How do you overcome your fear/-s?
The fragility of my human body and mind integrity has always been a concern, but don’t we all do that? Isn’t what fear in its primal form is? Fear is an emotional mechanism to avoid the decrease of biological fitness.

It helps me to think of fear this way, as a primitive emotion which doesn’t necessarily have a big positive impact in my life anymore (‘anymore’ on an evolutionary scale). Our technology has advanced well enough so that heights, big predators, surgery or getting old have all become unproblematic experiences, if not pleasant in some cases.

Share with us your top 5 experiences from your bucket list:
(not sure if you mean things I’ve done or that I would like to do)
Things I’ve done:
– I had out-of-body experience while getting my most painful tattoo

– I got lost in the desert in Arizona, during a coast-to-coast road trip

– I learn to free dive and met several and cute cephalopods

– In high school, an Mtv crew followed me during the student body president campaign

– I had an entire natural museum for myself for a whole day in order to film a YT video

Things I’d like to do:
– Swim with a whale (preferably a blue whale)

– Meet inspiring fellow youtubers (Veritasium, Vsauce, Kurzgesagt)

– Skydive

– Reach 1M subscribers on my YT channel

– Write and direct a movie

What was the most challenging moment/ situation in your life?
This is very hard to answer. You know how sometimes stars align in your favor? Well, sometimes stars align at the antipodes of what a favor is. I had a very stressful period in my life where stress, health issues, interpersonal problems and existential crises all collided into a big black hole of exhaustion and sadness. Fortunately, I was surrounded by great people and gave myself the time to slowly heal. Time and friends are usually a good combo.

What is your favorite TED Talk? 
Why you should make useless things | Simone Giertz

What a lovely talk from such an inspiring person.

Share with us your favorite quote you identify the most:
“I have lived a long time, and one thing I have come to see is that one is well served by a degree of both humility and charity when judging the inner workings of another person’s heart”

― Khaled Hosseini, And the Mountains Echoed

What is your talk about?
I am very passionate about cephalopods, a group including animals such as squids, octopuses or cuttlefish. Cephalopods are incredible camouflage artists, which possess the power to become invisible to the eyes of their predators and prey. In my talk I’d like to guide you through what it means to become invisible, why it is important to study cephalopods’ unique abilities and how all that impacts brain research.

Watch Mathieu’s talk: Yes, you can be an octopus too