Ideology drives us apart. Neuroscience can bring us back together.

A guide to making difficult conversations possible—and peaceful—in an increasingly polarized nation.

SARAH RUGER: People aren't naturally equipped to deal productively with difference. In fact, neuroscientifically, psychologically, socially, we're very wired into fear and to retreat from the 'Other' or the different and it takes an intervention of some sort to promote openness mentally.

If you throw highly different, highly diverse, highly divided people together without a framework or without some sort of bonding experience first it can have the opposite of the intended effect and actually cause more of a clash, more of a feeling of discomfort and ultimately more otherization between those divided peoples. So some of the things that can break down those barriers when you bring them together are things like awe. So there's a fantastic neuroscientist out there by the name of Dr. Beau Lotto, who I believe you all have spoken with before, he's done some interesting work on how things like awe or how things like play can cause people to let go of their fear, let go of their anxiety so that they enter a mental state where they're capable of being curious and entertaining a new experience. Or maybe it's having some sort of shared trial or tribulation that bonds you before you actually deal with the difficult issues.

There is a really fantastic commercial from about a year ago that I think Heineken put on, where it showed two very different people, what the audience knew to be very different people, building a bar together and just talking with each other and struggling to build this bar. And then once the bar is constructed they realize that they held wildly differing beliefs, whether they were differing political beliefs or maybe some prejudices towards each other that they weren't even aware of, and the commercial revealed this to them and then asked if they wanted to sit down and have a drink together now that they knew about this divide. And since they just spent that previous hour toiling over the building of the bar and getting to know the other person as a human being before they got to know them as a set of tribal political beliefs they all sat down and shared a drink together and bonded.

It's important to take the time to have an icebreaker moment before engaging in that conversation, before jumping right into the hot topics that are going to make an individual inclined to jump out of their seat and stop listening and start fighting. So begin with a dinner, began with a meal, begin with literal breaking bread and asking questions of each other in a personal context that help you get to know the other individual as a human being. Some of the other icebreakers that neuroscience and psychology are showing are productive and facilitating active listening and an open mind are things like humor. So take in some humorous content or some awe-inspiring artistic content or go do something active like go for a hike, go for a walk. Studies show that engaging in nature or going through some sort of tribulation, even if it's something as minimally challenging as physical exercise, actually helps break down some of the mental barriers we have between us. And then begin to ask questions around the difficult topics.

We're looking at huge, complex, intractable problems in our country today. We're talking about a broken criminal justice system, we're talking about a broken immigration system, we're talking about healthcare, we're talking about free expression in a digital age. These are not things that any one person has the answer to and anybody who says they have the absolute right answer is probably trying to sell you something or has a self-interest that you might want to be a little bit skeptical of. We're going to solve these problems by coming together across divides and having conversations with anyone to do good and no one to do harm and to look forward and discuss possible solutions. I become deeply concerned when those conversations are not possible.

  • How can we reach out to people on the other side of the divide? Get to know the other person as a human being before you get to know them as a set of tribal political beliefs, says Sarah Ruger. Don't launch straight into the difficult topics—connect on a more basic level first.
  • To bond, use icebreakers backed by neuroscience and psychology: Share a meal, watch some comedy, see awe-inspiring art, go on a tough hike together—sharing tribulation helps break down some of the mental barriers we have between us. Then, get down to talking, putting your humanity before your ideology.
  • The Charles Koch Foundation is committed to understanding what drives intolerance and the best ways to cure it. The foundation supports interdisciplinary research to overcome intolerance, new models for peaceful interactions, and experiments that can heal fractured communities. For more information, visit charleskochfoundation.org/courageous-collaborations

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Inventions with revolutionary potential made by a mysterious aerospace engineer for the U.S. Navy come to light.

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Credit: Getty Images
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  • U.S. Navy holds patents for enigmatic inventions by aerospace engineer Dr. Salvatore Pais.
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China's "artificial sun" sets new record for fusion power

China has reached a new record for nuclear fusion at 120 million degrees Celsius.

Credit: STR via Getty Images
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

China wants to build a mini-star on Earth and house it in a reactor. Many teams across the globe have this same bold goal --- which would create unlimited clean energy via nuclear fusion.

But according to Chinese state media, New Atlas reports, the team at the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) has set a new world record: temperatures of 120 million degrees Celsius for 101 seconds.

Yeah, that's hot. So what? Nuclear fusion reactions require an insane amount of heat and pressure --- a temperature environment similar to the sun, which is approximately 150 million degrees C.

If scientists can essentially build a sun on Earth, they can create endless energy by mimicking how the sun does it.

If scientists can essentially build a sun on Earth, they can create endless energy by mimicking how the sun does it. In nuclear fusion, the extreme heat and pressure create a plasma. Then, within that plasma, two or more hydrogen nuclei crash together, merge into a heavier atom, and release a ton of energy in the process.

Nuclear fusion milestones: The team at EAST built a giant metal torus (similar in shape to a giant donut) with a series of magnetic coils. The coils hold hot plasma where the reactions occur. They've reached many milestones along the way.

According to New Atlas, in 2016, the scientists at EAST could heat hydrogen plasma to roughly 50 million degrees C for 102 seconds. Two years later, they reached 100 million degrees for 10 seconds.

The temperatures are impressive, but the short reaction times, and lack of pressure are another obstacle. Fusion is simple for the sun, because stars are massive and gravity provides even pressure all over the surface. The pressure squeezes hydrogen gas in the sun's core so immensely that several nuclei combine to form one atom, releasing energy.

But on Earth, we have to supply all of the pressure to keep the reaction going, and it has to be perfectly even. It's hard to do this for any length of time, and it uses a ton of energy. So the reactions usually fizzle out in minutes or seconds.

Still, the latest record of 120 million degrees and 101 seconds is one more step toward sustaining longer and hotter reactions.

Why does this matter? No one denies that humankind needs a clean, unlimited source of energy.

We all recognize that oil and gas are limited resources. But even wind and solar power --- renewable energies --- are fundamentally limited. They are dependent upon a breezy day or a cloudless sky, which we can't always count on.

Nuclear fusion is clean, safe, and environmentally sustainable --- its fuel is a nearly limitless resource since it is simply hydrogen (which can be easily made from water).

With each new milestone, we are creeping closer and closer to a breakthrough for unlimited, clean energy.

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