History binge

History may not repeat but it does rhyme.

The fascist philosopher behind Vladimir Putin’s Russia

Some ideas lie dormant for decades, and such is the case with Russian philosopher Ivan Ilyin, whose anti-communist stance got him—along with about 160 other intellectuals—expelled from Soviet Russia in 1922 aboard the 'philosopher's ship'. So who was Ilyin, and why has Russia's President Vladimir Putin breathed new life into his writings more than 60 years after Ilyin's death? Yale University's Professor Timothy Snyder gives a crash course in three pillars of Ilyin's philosophy of fascism and explains why this worldview is so appealing to Putin: it defines freedom as knowing your set place in society, asserts that democracy is a ritual and not a reality, and maintains that there are no facts in the world—Russian nationalism is the only truth. Perhaps the most fascinating part of this is how new technology—like Facebook—is turning old fascism into political warfare. "The fundamental way that Russia works in American politics is by transmitting the idea that's nothing is real... What the fascist ideas do with the new technology is they drive [Americans] into a situation where we think the real stakes of politics are all emotional and all about enemies—usually enemies at home," says Snyder. Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. election in such a way that Americans couldn't see where the trouble was coming from. "A lot of us are still having a lot of trouble seeing what was happening," he says. Snyder's most recent book is The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America.

Pablo Escobar’s hippos: Why drug lords shouldn’t play God

Lucy Cooke—an acclaimed zoologist, author, and TV presenter—talks to us about Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar's animal menagerie, which included four hippos illegally stolen from Africa. Four became eight, and eight became sixteen, and so on, and since these hippos have no other hippo competition there's a strong potential that you may have a brand new species of hippo, which Cooke refers to as "Hippopotamus Escobarus." Her latest book is The Truth About Animals: Stoned Sloths, Lovelorn Hippos, and Other Tales from the Wild Side of Wildlife.

How Ernest Shackleton survived a doomed Antarctic expedition

Great leaders are few and far between but Nancy Koehn, a historian of business at Harvard Business School, has put together a compendium of anecdotes from five great leaders throughout history. It reads like a whos-who of humanitarianism, with true stories of grit and determination from the likes of explorer Ernest Shackleton, American president Abraham Lincoln, the abolitionist Frederick Douglass, the Nazi-resisting Lutheran minister Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the environmental activist Rachel Carson. Here, Nancy Koehn talks to us about how Ernest Shackleton overcame some incredible odds to hold his team together on a doomed Antarctic expedition, and how we can learn from his stories. Nancy's great new book is Forged in Crisis: The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times.

The chronology of crazy in the USA

Since a boat of religious fanatics with buckles on their hats hit the shores near Plymouth Rock and claimed that this was their utopia, America has always been a little bit crazy. It's this kind of wide-eyed "anything can happen if you believe" mentality that, at its best, can produce incredible art. But at its worst, it can be cruel and conspiratorial. We live in a country where people refuse to believe vaccination can help you and where a White House is spinning "alternative — but Kurt Andersen is here to say that this is nothing now. At the time of the Civil War, society had become split by two sides that refused to listen to each other. Back then, the political and social divide is stoked by a hyperbolic partisan media where anyone could publish whatever they wanted in a pamphlet without fact-checking. Sound familiar? It definitely should. Kurt's latest book is appropriately titled Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire.

The feats and failures of hierarchical power: Stalin, Xi Jinping, Macbeth

If you want to understand what a truly hierarchical political system looks like, just look at Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union, says historian Niall Ferguson. Stalin wanted to be all-powerful and omnipresent; he tapped phones, policed relationships and spied on everything—he was totally paranoid, says Ferguson, and for good reason. Social networks are lethal to top-down hierarchies and dictatorships, which is what makes this model of governance so unsustainable. But there is an exception that has stunned observers, Niall Ferguson included: China. Under leader Xi Jinping, China's economy has soared over the last 30 years, but it is now vexed with the largest middle class in history. Can this system endure through the 21st century? That's a huge question for China's leaders, and for the world. Niall Ferguson is the author of The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook.

"Never Again?" How fascism hijacks democracies over and over

Rob Riemen — founder and president of the Nexus Institute — posits that the type and level of toxicity in today's political climate is a breeding ground for fascism. He argues that most people in fully democratic Germany in the early 1930s didn't think that by decade's end they'd be a fully fascist country, and goes further to say that perhaps history will look back on the 2016 American election in the same way. Is he correct? You be the judge. Rob Riemen's latest book is To Fight Against This Age: On Fascism and Humanism.

How social networks shaped 500 years of revolutionary progress

Facebook might be the biggest social network but it's far from the first, despite what those in Silicon Valley will have you believe. Stanford University fellow and Oxford University historian Niall Ferguson argues that social networks have been around for centuries and the most prominent of which — the Freemasons — could very well be responsible for democracy as we know it. Started in the 1700s in England and carried over to what would later become America, it was a place where class and social strata didn't count and people could exchange ideas freely... and its members included none other than George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. Niall's latest book is the tantalizing The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook.

A lesson in power and influence from Abraham Lincoln

Class and race: Driving American politics since revolutionary times

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People have searched for sex differences in human brains since at least the 19th century, when scientist Samuel George Morton poured seeds and lead shot into human skulls to measure their volumes.


Gustave Le Bon found men's brains are usually larger than women's, which prompted Alexander Bains and George Romanes to argue this size difference makes men smarter. But John Stuart Mill pointed out, by this criterion, elephants and whales should be smarter than people.

So focus shifted to the relative sizes of brain regions. Phrenologists suggested the part of the cerebrum above the eyes, called the frontal lobe, is most important for intelligence and is proportionally larger in men, while the parietal lobe, just behind the frontal lobe, is proportionally larger in women. Later, neuroanatomists argued instead the parietal lobe is more important for intelligence and men's are actually larger.

In the 20th and 21st centuries, researchers looked for distinctively female or male characteristics in smaller brain subdivisions. As a behavioral neurobiologist and author, I think this search is misguided because human brains are so varied.

Anatomical brain differences

The largest and most consistent brain sex difference has been found in the hypothalamus, a small structure that regulates reproductive physiology and behavior. At least one hypothalamic subdivision is larger in male rodents and humans.

But the goal for many researchers was to identify brain causes of supposed sex differences in thinking – not just reproductive physiology – and so attention turned to the large human cerebrum, which is responsible for intelligence.

Within the cerebrum, no region has received more attention in both race and sex difference research than the corpus callosum, a thick band of nerve fibers that carries signals between the two cerebral hemispheres.

In the 20th and 21st centuries, some researchers found the whole corpus callosum is proportionally larger in women on average while others found only certain parts are bigger. This difference drew popular attention and was suggested to cause cognitive sex differences.

But smaller brains have a proportionally larger corpus callosum regardless of the owner's sex, and studies of this structure's size differences have been inconsistent. The story is similar for other cerebral measures, which is why trying to explain supposed cognitive sex differences through brain anatomy has not been very fruitful.

Female and male traits typically overlap

Chart showing that male traits in blue and female traits in pink overlap quite a bit.

A chart showing how measurements that often differ between sexes, like height, substantially overlap. (Ari Berkowitz, CC BY)

Even when a brain region shows a sex difference on average, there is typically considerable overlap between the male and female distributions. If a trait's measurement is in the overlapping region, one cannot predict the person's sex with confidence. For example, think about height. I am 5'7". Does that tell you my sex? And brain regions typically show much smaller average sex differences than height does.

Neuroscientist Daphna Joel and her colleagues examined MRIs of over 1,400 brains, measuring the 10 human brain regions with the largest average sex differences. They assessed whether each measurement in each person was toward the female end of the spectrum, toward the male end or intermediate. They found that only 3% to 6% of people were consistently "female" or "male" for all structures. Everyone else was a mosaic.

Prenatal hormones

When brain sex differences do occur, what causes them?

A 1959 study first demonstrated that an injection of testosterone into a pregnant rodent causes her female offspring to display male sexual behaviors as adults. The authors inferred that prenatal testosterone (normally secreted by the fetal testes) permanently "organizes" the brain. Many later studies showed this to be essentially correct, though oversimplified for nonhumans.

Researchers cannot ethically alter human prenatal hormone levels, so they rely on "accidental experiments" in which prenatal hormone levels or responses to them were unusual, such as with intersex people. But hormonal and environmental effects are entangled in these studies, and findings of brain sex differences have been inconsistent, leaving scientists without clear conclusions for humans.

Genes cause some brain sex differences

While prenatal hormones probably cause most brain sex differences in nonhumans, there are some cases where the cause is directly genetic.

This was dramatically shown by a zebra finch with a strange anomaly – it was male on its right side and female on its left. A singing-related brain structure was enlarged (as in typical males) only on the right, though the two sides experienced the same hormonal environment. Thus, its brain asymmetry was not caused by hormones, but by genes directly. Since then, direct effects of genes on brain sex differences have also been found in mice.

Learning changes the brain

Many people assume human brain sex differences are innate, but this assumption is misguided.

Humans learn quickly in childhood and continue learning – alas, more slowly – as adults. From remembering facts or conversations to improving musical or athletic skills, learning alters connections between nerve cells called synapses. These changes are numerous and frequent but typically microscopic – less than one hundredth of the width of a human hair.

Studies of an unusual profession, however, show learning can change adult brains dramatically. London taxi drivers are required to memorize "the Knowledge" – the complex routes, roads and landmarks of their city. Researchers discovered this learning physically altered a driver's hippocampus, a brain region critical for navigation. London taxi drivers' posterior hippocampi were found to be larger than nondrivers by millimeters – more than 1,000 times the size of synapses.

So it's not realistic to assume any human brain sex differences are innate. They may also result from learning. People live in a fundamentally gendered culture, in which parenting, education, expectations and opportunities differ based on sex, from birth through adulthood, which inevitably changes the brain.

Ultimately, any sex differences in brain structures are most likely due to a complex and interacting combination of genes, hormones and learning.The Conversation

Ari Berkowitz, Presidential Professor of Biology; Director, Cellular & Behavioral Neurobiology Graduate Program, University of Oklahoma

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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  • Lions help maintain balance in their ecosystems, but they also kill cattle.
  • The big cats are ambush predators who depend on the element of surprise.
  • In an experiment, eyes painted on cow backsides appear to deter lions from attacking.

For cattle-owning subsistence farmers in Botswana, lions pose a threat to the livestock on which they depend. Attempts to keep cattle safe often result in the shooting or poisoning of the big cats. Aside from the obvious moral discussion of what makes the life of one animal more worthy of preservation than another, large predators play a vital role in preventing trophic cascades in which the loss of one species throws an entire ecosystem dangerously out of balance. The African lion population is in decline, with the estimated number of adults ranging from 23,000 to 39,000, as opposed to more than 100,000 lions in the 1990s.

As part of the search for a non-lethal remedy to the farmers' problem, a collaboration between the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust (BPCT) in Africa and the Centre for Ecosystem Science at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), and Taronga Conservation Society, both in Australia, recently completed a program they called the "i-cow project." Its tongue in cheek [pun intended] moniker might just as easily be spelled "eye-cow," since what it involved was painting large eyes on cows' hind quarters to see if they might deter lion attacks. They did.

Sneak attackers

Image source: Bobby-Jo Photography/The Conversation

Lions are ambush predators who sneak up on their quarry. Ambush predators are common in nature, on land and sea and in the air. They come in all sizes, from the praying mantis to the orca, and what they have in common is a sit (or swim)-wait-pounce strategy.

The element of surprise is a critical part of an ambush predator's method, and previous research on lion and leopard behavior in Africa's Okavango Delta suggested that an attack may be called off when an ambush predator believes it's lost the element of surprise.

Conservation biologist Neil Jordan of UNSW's Centre for Ecosystem Science has seen this in action. He tells UNSW Newsroom about how he got the idea for i-cows as he was watching a lion about to attack an impala near a village in Botswana where he was staying. "Lions are ambush hunters, so they creep up on their prey, get close and jump on them unseen. But in this case, the impala noticed the lion. And when the lion realized it had been spotted, it gave up on the hunt."

There's also support for this deterrent effect in nature, where having markings that look like eyes staring back at a predator appears to provide a distinct evolutionary survival advantage for a range of species, including butterflies, moths, reptiles, fish, and birds.

No mammals, however, have eyespots, and the i-cow team believes this is the first time that humans have investigated the effect of adding eye markings to them.

Eyes, crosses, and bare backsides

Prepping a cow

Image source: Bobby-Jo Photography/The Conversation

Jordan and his colleagues painted markings on cattle from 14 herds. 683 cows had eyes painted on their rumps, a cross was painted on the posteriors of 543 cows to learn if a natural eye shape was required to deter predators, and 835 cows were left unpainted.

Most lion attacks occur during that day — cattle are more likely to be securely penned at night — so the test cattle were painted in the morning and released to forage as usual. There were 49 painting sessions with each lasting for 24 days.

While 15 of the unpainted cows were ultimately taken by lions, not a single eye-painted cow was killed. Unexpectedly, a painted cross seemed to help a bit, if not as much as an eye painting — only 4 cross-painted cattle were attacked.

A few caveats

The researchers point out a couple of potential issues with their research.

First, the presence of completely unmarked cows in their experiments may have provided a more obvious target for lions in that they had no potentially off-putting (or even confusing in the case of the crosses) markings.

Second, animals learn. It may be that the area's lions would eventually habituate to or figure out the humans' subterfuge. The researchers note in an article for The Conversation noting that this tends to be a problem with non-lethal anti-predator remedies in general.

  • The public Facebook group, Survivor Corps, is a place where long haulers and survivors congregate.
  • Months after recovering from COVID-19, some are suffering from joint pain, hair loss, and cognitive issues.
  • These cautionary tales are important in a county where many remain skeptical over the dangers of this virus.


A concerted effort to stop famines in Africa spread across America in the '80s. Every Gen Xer remembers "We Are the World," which, as a 10-year-old, is burned into memory for life. There were also the heartbreaking videos from Ethiopia. Relief commercials centered on one young boy to make the most emotional impact. The team might have been borrowing a page from what appears to be a Joseph Stalin quote: "One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic."

That idea is relevant today as Americans shrug off over 160,000 deaths to the novel coronavirus—except when that death is someone close to them. As a nation, we've reached peak conspiracy theory, with every study or mandate being challenged and decried. Yet for a certain segment of the population, COVID-19 is very real. For some, it remains real months after the infection begins.

The COVID-19 Survivor Corps public group on Facebook offers opportunities for people to share their singular tragedies—the struggles many Americans aren't taking seriously. From immune system- and obesity-shaming to flat out calling the pandemic a lie, the lack of empathy is stunning. This group offers a stark reality check.

Below are posts from that page. While the group is public, I have not included names. These are anecdotal cases. The point in sharing these stories is not to make a definitive statement, but to remind Americans who have not personally grappled with the virus, or who were fortunate enough to be an asymptomatic carrier, that the struggles are real.

Five million cases are just a statistic. These people, and the 90,000 other members, are real. If you're struggling with COVID-19 or simply want to support those who are, considering joining the group. It's one of the few places of refuge on social media that offers support, advice, and valuable information. (I've lightly edited the posts for grammatical mistakes.)

Coronavirus - The Latest: The Covid-19 'long-haulers'

I've been out of the hospital from COVID-19 for four weeks now and started having severe pain in my big toe, almost like I stepped on a piece of glass or have a severely ingrown toenail—I don't and there's no cut or intrusion. Now my toe is really swollen and red. It hurts to walk or put any pressure on it. Is this what's called COVID toe, and what's the protocol?

I am on 18 days in bed with COVID. Luckily, I've been able to manage this horrible beast from home (so far). I actually thought I was feeling better yesterday, and then today I'm going in another direction. I'm having terrible pain when I breathe (right side), and I'm exhausted. I just finished Augmentin, and a week prior, a Z-Pak. I have an inhaler. Today, my doctor wants me to start a Medrol Dosepak (steroids). Has anyone else tried this and has it helped? I'm desperate to try anything right now as long as I can get better. Please give me your thoughts on the steroids; I'm seeing mixed reviews in here.

I've been sick with COVID symptoms for 22 weeks. I'm not getting better. My original symptoms haven't gone away, and I just develop new ones every few weeks. I read an article on three immune responses to this virus. 1) Overactive immune response 2) Normal immune response 3) little or no immune response.

I am having little or no immune response to this virus.

It's taking over my body slowly. My primary doctor can't help me. My family and husband don't believe my symptoms and I have nowhere to turn.

I am so frightened.

How many of you are experiencing hair loss, especially hair loss after 5 months? I'm shedding like a dog.

I had COVID in June. At least 15 straight days in bed. No smell, no taste except certain spices. I've been diagnosed with two eye conditions now. Fatigue won't go away. Simple things like unloading the dishwasher or taking a shower exhaust me; I need to sit down. Has anyone recovered from these symptoms? If so, how long did it take?

Has anyone experienced increased joint pain, specifically in your hands, after COVID? I've had some joint pain in the past, but never this much. It's been four months since I had the virus and the pain seems to have increased since then. [147 comments on this, nearly every one verifying joint pain, especially in hands, ankles, and elbows.]

medics wearing face masks

Medics wait to transport a woman with possible Covid-19 symptoms to the hospital on August 07, 2020 in Austin, Texas.

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

I had COVID symptoms for 2.5 weeks in March (could not get tested). I was a lot better for two months and then started the whole ordeal again 70 days ago (and am still sick). I have been to the ER twice and told that they think I have COVID. My clinic nurse said the same thing, as did my friend, who is an Urgent Care doctor.

I have had weeks where my fever went away and other symptoms decreased. But several times now, it comes back full force with a vengeance. The roller coaster is depressing.

I was fortunate enough to be accepted into the Mt. Sinai post-COVID treatment program and was really happy to have some experts keep an eye on my long-term effects. Four months after COVID, my EKG came back normal, my antibodies high, and my bloodwork normal. My next tests were a lung function test and CT scan to see if there's long-term damage from the pneumonia. I just got a letter from my health insurance company, Oxford, rejecting the cost of the CT scan. I'm so disappointed. Is anyone else having their COVID treatments rejected by health insurance?

I'm new here and it looks I'm one of the youngins in the group (19 btw). I got COVID about a month ago, and I got out of quarantine about a week-and-a-half ago, and I still have yet to see any of my friends. I wouldn't say I'm super popular but I do have a lot of friends, so I thought most of them would want to see me. I was super wrong. The stigma around COVID, especially with the younger demographic, was a joke before I got it in my friend group. Every single one of my friends didn't take it seriously and thought it would never appear in anyone they knew. When I got the virus it sent them all into shock and a couple of them hated me saying it was all my fault telling me that I shouldn't leave my house for a couple months and to not talk to them until next year. Now that I'm fully recovered I thought some friends would want to see me, but actually nobody does.

Rapid heart rate when standing (160s-170s). Advice on how to deal with it? Twenty-three days from a positive test. Fever is pretty much gone but I'm trying to get back on my feet, literally. I'm kind of at a loss—whether this is temporary or I should ask my doctor for certain tests. My heart rate is elevated even when lying down (and is tolerable) but even more elevated when sitting. Seems like this isn't just "fatigue."

My husband recovered from COVID last month but has been in a lot of pain. Weak and tired all the time. He gets tingly fingers and hands and feet and his ankles feel weak, like his bones are brittle. Has anyone else had this? He's rolled his ankles two or three times since and this has never happened before. His body just feels worn out and exhausted all the time, like he's a 70-year-old man, and he's only 34.

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Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter, Facebook and Substack. His next book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."