The Power of Spontaneity: Become Irresistible

“Keeping up with the Joneses” is actually an ancient notion. Humans are wired to compare ourselves to others and, as a result, we suffer a sense of restlessness about our lives. How do we know that the ancients wrestled with these same feelings of inadequacy? They had philosophies for conquering them. Back then, the greatest source of satisfaction and influence came from achieving spontaneity.

Cognitive scientist Edward Slingerland combines neuroscience and ancient Chinese philosophies in his latest book Trying Not to Try: The Art and Science of Spontaneity. For Big Think Mentor, Slingerland shares insights into how Confucianism, Taoism, and other philosophies dealt with physiological responses that could lead to undesirable urges and behaviors. Achieving wisdom meant giving off an irresistible aura that made others want to be around you and take your lead.

“When you’re in a state of spontaneity,” explains Slingerland, “you give off this charisma that people find appealing.  The early Chinese have a theological explanation, a religious explanation for this.  But I think from a naturalistic scientific perspective it makes sense that human beings are attracted to people who are not showing signs of conscious effort.”

It’s evident in everyday life: sweating through a job interview, bumbling through a presentation, and coming on too strong during a first date, guaranteeing there won’t be a second one. Slingerland points to the painful example of the single person who tries too hard to meet his or her match, repelling everyone; when the person finally learns to let go and achieve greater spontaneity they enter a flow state and give off an irresistible energy, creating the classic problem of "when it rains, it pours."

In this five part workshop from Big Think Mentor, Slingerland walks you through the various philosophies and examples of how they apply to common situations, from managing a team to attracting desired prospects.

For a limited time only, Big Think is publishing a free trial of our popular mentor program. This excerpt from our exclusive interview series with Slingerland will be available through May 7, 2014 only.  To learn more about Big Think Mentor and access workshops by leading thinkers, subscribe here.

How to make a black hole

Here's the science of black holes, from supermassive monsters to ones the size of ping-pong balls.

  • There's more than one way to make a black hole, says NASA's Michelle Thaller. They're not always formed from dead stars. For example, there are teeny tiny black holes all around us, the result of high-energy cosmic rays slamming into our atmosphere with enough force to cram matter together so densely that no light can escape.
  • CERN is trying to create artificial black holes right now, but don't worry, it's not dangerous. Scientists there are attempting to smash two particles together with such intensity that it creates a black hole that would live for just a millionth of a second.
  • Thaller uses a brilliant analogy involving a rubber sheet, a marble, and an elephant to explain why different black holes have varying densities. Watch and learn!
  • Bonus fact: If the Earth became a black hole, it would be crushed to the size of a ping-pong ball.

Project 100,000: The Vietnam War's cruel and deadly experiment

Military recruits are supposed to be assessed to see whether they're fit for service. What happens when they're not?

Flickr user Tommy Truong79
Politics & Current Affairs
  • During the Vietnam War, Robert McNamara began a program called Project 100,000.
  • The program brought over 300,000 men to Vietnam who failed to meet minimum criteria for military service, both physically and mentally.
  • Project 100,000 recruits were killed in disproportionate numbers and fared worse after their military service than their civilian peers, making the program one of the biggest—and possibly cruelest—mistakes of the Vietnam War.
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China’s artificial sun reaches fusion temperature: 100 million degrees

In a breakthrough for nuclear fusion research, scientists at China's Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) reactor have produced temperatures necessary for nuclear fusion on Earth.

Credit: EAST Team
Surprising Science
  • The EAST reactor was able to heat hydrogen to temperatures exceeding 100 million degrees Celsius.
  • Nuclear fusion could someday provide the planet with a virtually limitless supply of clean energy.
  • Still, scientists have many other obstacles to pass before fusion technology becomes a viable energy source.
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