God and Ghosts and Robot Sorrow: Why They're All in the Mind

When you're an infant, the brain makes three dots and a line into a face; later in life, it turns a creak and a shadow into a ghost. Adults too often perceive bad luck as the work of a conscious (if vindictive) mind. You can resist it with logical thought, but the mind's default setting—what happens quickly, automatically, uncontrollably—is to believe its experiences were caused by living, thinking, feeling beings.

If you want to see how little the brain needs to trigger the sense that it's perceiving a person, look at the biomotion walker. All you'll see, literally, are a few lights moving on your screen. What you'll perceive, though, are people, and you'll be able to tell if they're male or female, angry or sad. Try it for yourself right here.


We are uncontrollably trigger-happy with our mental tools for perceiving objects as people. That can be a lot of fun. But along certain byways in robotics, it's getting a little creepy.

Stress is contagious–but resilience can be too

The way that you think about stress can actually transform the effect that it has on you – and others.

Big Think Edge
  • Stress is contagious, and the higher up in an organization you are the more your stress will be noticed and felt by others.
  • Kelly McGonigal teaches "Reset your mindset to reduce stress" for Big Think Edge.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
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Think of the closest planet to Earth... Wrong! Think again!

Three scientists publish a paper proving that Mercury, not Venus, is the closest planet to Earth.

Strange Maps
  • Earth is the third planet from the Sun, so our closest neighbor must be planet two or four, right?
  • Wrong! Neither Venus nor Mars is the right answer.
  • Three scientists ran the numbers. In this YouTube video, one of them explains why our nearest neighbor is... Mercury!
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Horseshoe crabs are captured for their blue blood. That practice will soon be over.

The blood of horseshoe crabs is harvested on a massive scale in order to retrieve a cell critical to medical research. However, recent innovations might make this practice obsolete.

An Atlantic horseshoe crab in an aquarium. Photo: Domdomegg via Wikimedia Commons.
Surprising Science
  • Horseshoe crabs' blue blood is so valuable that a quart of it can be sold for $15,000.
  • This is because it contains a molecule that is crucial to the medical research community.
  • Today, however, new innovations have resulted in a synthetic substitute that may end the practice of farming horseshoe crabs for their blood.
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10 novels that brilliantly capture the American experience

The distance between the American dream and reality is expressed best through literature.

American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin poses at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979. (Photo: Ralph Gatti/AFP/Getty Images)
Culture & Religion
  • Literature expands our ability to feel empathy and inspires compassion.
  • These 10 novels tackle some facet of the American experience.
  • The list includes a fictional retelling of the first Native American to graduate from Harvard, and hiding out in inner-city Newark.
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