David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
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6 lessons to supercharge your communication and collaboration skills

Join Big Think's premium learning platform, Big Think Edge, and learn skills that will propel your life and career.

  • Big Think Edge videos this week focus on optimizing your effectiveness with other individuals, one-on-one and in a group setting.
  • Three complementary Deep Dives offer more insights to help you get along with others, and to help them feel empowered interacting with you.
  • If you're not a subscriber yet, join Big Think Edge today. Take our 7-day free trial — test it out. You can cancel any time.

At Big Think Edge this week, Reza Aslan explains the frustrating fact that facts don't change people's minds. Luckily, he also reveals what you can do about it. Shane Snow explains how to unlock the hidden genius of collaboration in diverse teams, and Charles Duhigg presents emotionally intelligent methods for fully empowering team members.

Constructing powerful arguments: Wield your data in an emotional way, with Reza Aslan

Facts alone don't change people's minds, says religious scholar and author Reza Aslan. We respond more readily to emotion. It's the reason that your most persuasive facts may be of frustratingly little use in winning an argument. Your opponent isn't fact-averse—you're just not connecting. Azlan explains how to wrap your facts in emotion if you want to change someone's point of view.



Available September 23 in Boost Your Analytical Intelligence


Harness your team's mental toolkit, with Shane Snow

It turns out, says Shane Snow, two heads aren't actually better than one. Groups are slower than individuals, and only as smart as their smartest member. Still, collaboration is often essential for large, difficult tasks. So if it's not speed or sheer brainpower that teams deliver, what's the point? Snow explains that collaborations develop a unique capacity for devising outstanding solutions when they utilize the diversity of members' individual perspectives and skills.

Available September 25 in Become a Better Leader


The science of productivity: Create psychological safety, with Charles Duhigg

Charles Duhigg, author of Smarter Faster Better, recalls how the millions of dollars Google spent analyzing the precise makeup of their most successful teams wound up revealing another, more important factor than their composition: Creating a safe emotional space in which each team member—not just the star performers—can do their best work. Duhigg lays out how to build the requisite social sensitivity into a team's norms, and offers a compelling example of what can happen when it's done right.



Available September 26 in Become a Better Leader


This week's Big Think Edge Deep Dives

Saturday Night Live

In this week's Big Think Edge Deep Dives, we explore group dynamics. We talk about how great decision-making requires the ability to first to sort out the facts, what to do to break creative logjams in groups that lack a diversity of perspectives, and take a look at how producer Lorne Micheals' emotional intelligence has been the behind-the-scenes secret to Saturday Night Live's success.

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When it comes to weird behavior, there's nothing quite like the quantum world. On top of that world-class head scratcher entanglement, there's also quantum tunneling — the mysterious process in which particles somehow find their way through what should be impenetrable barriers.

Exactly why or even how quantum tunneling happens is unknown: Do particles just pop over to the other side instantaneously in the same way entangled particles interact? Or do they progressively tunnel through? Previous research has been conflicting.

That quantum tunneling occurs has not been a matter of debate since it was discovered in the 1920s. When IBM famously wrote their name on a nickel substrate using 35 xenon atoms, they used a scanning tunneling microscope to see what they were doing. And tunnel diodes are fast-switching semiconductors that derive their negative resistance from quantum tunneling.

Nonetheless, "Quantum tunneling is one of the most puzzling of quantum phenomena," says Aephraim Steinberg of the Quantum Information Science Program at Canadian Institute for Advanced Research in Toronto to Live Science. Speaking with Scientific American he explains, "It's as though the particle dug a tunnel under the hill and appeared on the other."

Steinberg is a co-author of a study just published in the journal Nature that presents a series of clever experiments that allowed researchers to measure the amount of time it takes tunneling particles to find their way through a barrier. "And it is fantastic that we're now able to actually study it in this way."

Frozen rubidium atoms

Image source: Viktoriia Debopre/Shutterstock/Big Think

One of the difficulties in ascertaining the time it takes for tunneling to occur is knowing precisely when it's begun and when it's finished. The authors of the new study solved this by devising a system based on particles' precession.

Subatomic particles all have magnetic qualities, and they spin, or "precess," like a top when they encounter an external magnetic field. With this in mind, the authors of the study decided to construct a barrier with a magnetic field, causing any particles passing through it to precess as they did so. They wouldn't precess before entering the field or after, so by observing and timing the duration of the particles' precession, the researchers could definitively identify the length of time it took them to tunnel through the barrier.

To construct their barrier, the scientists cooled about 8,000 rubidium atoms to a billionth of a degree above absolute zero. In this state, they form a Bose-Einstein condensate, AKA the fifth-known form of matter. When in this state, atoms slow down and can be clumped together rather than flying around independently at high speeds. (We've written before about a Bose-Einstein experiment in space.)

Using a laser, the researchers pusehd about 2,000 rubidium atoms together in a barrier about 1.3 micrometers thick, endowing it with a pseudo-magnetic field. Compared to a single rubidium atom, this is a very thick wall, comparable to a half a mile deep if you yourself were a foot thick.

With the wall prepared, a second laser nudged individual rubidium atoms toward it. Most of the atoms simply bounced off the barrier, but about 3% of them went right through as hoped. Precise measurement of their precession produced the result: It took them 0.61 milliseconds to get through.

Reactions to the study

Scientists not involved in the research find its results compelling.

"This is a beautiful experiment," according to Igor Litvinyuk of Griffith University in Australia. "Just to do it is a heroic effort." Drew Alton of Augustana University, in South Dakota tells Live Science, "The experiment is a breathtaking technical achievement."

What makes the researchers' results so exceptional is their unambiguity. Says Chad Orzel at Union College in New York, "Their experiment is ingeniously constructed to make it difficult to interpret as anything other than what they say." He calls the research, "one of the best examples you'll see of a thought experiment made real." Litvinyuk agrees: "I see no holes in this."

As for the researchers themselves, enhancements to their experimental apparatus are underway to help them learn more. "We're working on a new measurement where we make the barrier thicker," Steinberg said. In addition, there's also the interesting question of whether or not that 0.61-millisecond trip occurs at a steady rate: "It will be very interesting to see if the atoms' speed is constant or not."

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