Anxiety Is a Natural, Even Beneficial Result of Human Intelligence

Anxiety is typically a helpful evolutionary tool, but it can sometimes become a pathology.

Big Think and the Mental Health Channel are proud to launch Big Thinkers on Mental Health, a new series dedicated to open discussion of anxiety, depression, and the many other psychological disorders that affect millions worldwide.

Dr. Anne Marie Albano, director of Columbia University's Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders, says that anxiety is rooted in our biology. We know it's a product of our biological evolution because worry and anxiety produce in us a fight-or-flight response.

The 21st century has created conditions that make is easy for us to worry. But our brain has developed coping mechanisms to reduce anxiety when it arises. 

The brain responds to extreme anxiety by fighting, fleeing, or freezing. Or in milder cases, our rational side can sustain us through temporary periods of unease.


Dr. Albano points out that without worry and fear, we as a species wouldn't have been as skillful at overcoming surmountable obstacles and staying clear of ones that threaten life and limb.

Anxiety is typically a helpful evolutionary tool, but it can sometimes become a pathology. 

When this occurs, Albano says traditional tools like cognitive behavioral therapy can be augmented with technology. Watch as she explains how digital tools could be brought to bear on disorders of the mind in ways that were previously unimaginable.

3D printing might save your life one day. It's transforming medicine and health care.

What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.

Northwell Health
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
  • Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
  • Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
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Big Think Edge
  • In some fundamental ways, humans haven't changed all that much since the days when we were sitting around communal fires, telling tales.
  • Although we don't always recognize them as such, stories, symbols, and rituals still have tremendous, primal power to move us and shape our lives.
  • This is no less true in the workplace than it is in our personal lives.

Has a black hole made of sound confirmed Hawking radiation?

One of Stephen Hawking's predictions seems to have been borne out in a man-made "black hole".

Image source: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Surprising Science
  • Stephen Hawking predicted virtual particles splitting in two from the gravitational pull of black holes.
  • Black holes, he also said, would eventually evaporate due to the absorption of negatively charged virtual particles.
  • A scientist has built a black hole analogue based on sound instead of light.
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Big Think Edge
  • The word "creative" is sometimes waved around like a badge of honor. We speak of creativity in hushed tones, as the special province of the "talented". In reality, the creative process is messy, open, and vulnerable.
  • For this reason, creativity is often at its best in a group setting like brainstorming. But in order to work, the group creative process needs to be led by someone who understands it.
  • This sense of deep trust—that no idea is too silly, that every creative impulse is worth voicing and considering—is essential to producing great work.