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The Breakthrough Dialogues: Innovating Ideas

TED meetings, Aspen Institutes, SXSW, and Sundance are all billed as “thought-leader gatherings” where “rock stars” emerge from their “silos” to learn about “disruptive” ideas that have been carefully “curated,” as New York magazine recently described.  Yet in America's polarized culture, are these events as ideologically diverse and cross-cutting as they should be?


Convening experts from a diversity of political backgrounds at these types of forums is important on a number of grounds.  The social bonding, positive emotions, and competitive collegiality that develop within ideologically cross-cutting forums can serve as the engines for innovative policy ideas on issues ranging from health care to energy, forging networks of trust.  Universities in particular should view themselves as critically important sponsors and conveners of cross-cutting public dialogue. 

One of the more inspiring and cross-cutting thought leader forums I have had the opportunity to participate in occurred last year at the Breakthrough Dialogues, convened by the liberal think tank The Breakthrough Institute.  Below is a highlight reel on the weekend, organized around the theme of "Modernizing Liberalism."  You can also watch a range of the speakers discuss their ideas and proposals via a multi-media hub based on the event.  The next Breakthrough Dialogue is coming up at the end of June.  I am looking forward to attending and will be blogging about the ideas discussed.

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Scientists see 'rarest event ever recorded' in search for dark matter

The team caught a glimpse of a process that takes 18,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years.

Image source: Pixabay
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  • In Italy, a team of scientists is using a highly sophisticated detector to hunt for dark matter.
  • The team observed an ultra-rare particle interaction that reveals the half-life of a xenon-124 atom to be 18 sextillion years.
  • The half-life of a process is how long it takes for half of the radioactive nuclei present in a sample to decay.
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The mind-blowing science of black holes

What we know about black holes is both fascinating and scary.

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  • When it comes to black holes, science simultaneously knows so much and so little, which is why they are so fascinating. Focusing on what we do know, this group of astronomers, educators, and physicists share some of the most incredible facts about the powerful and mysterious objects.
  • A black hole is so massive that light (and anything else it swallows) can't escape, says Bill Nye. You can't see a black hole, theoretical physicists Michio Kaku and Christophe Galfard explain, because it is too dark. What you can see, however, is the distortion of light around it caused by its extreme gravity.
  • Explaining one unsettling concept from astrophysics called spaghettification, astronomer Michelle Thaller says that "If you got close to a black hole there would be tides over your body that small that would rip you apart into basically a strand of spaghetti that would fall down the black hole."

Space travel could create language unintelligible to people on Earth

A new study looks at what would happen to human language on a long journey to other star systems.

Cylindrical space colony.

Credit: NASA Ames Research Center.
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  • A new study proposes that language could change dramatically on long space voyages.
  • Spacefaring people might lose the ability to understand the people of Earth.
  • This scenario is of particular concern for potential "generation ships".
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